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 Only someone hopelessly outdated and provincial would turn away from Dan Savage’s advice to accept that it’s normal and healthy for people to want a variety of visual stimulus in their sexual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.
Monday, March 05, 2012 5:18 PM
As time slips away, we find ourselves looking around in amazement at how things have changed in a flash: a job ending just when you were really getting settled in, children grown well past the magical toddler stage in which you remember them, middle age not some strange far-off place but well behind you now. Author Mark Phillips explores the fleeting nature of time in Notre Dame Magazine, where he writes about meeting up with his daughter at a Manhattan pub for drinks:
As parents often are when they study their grown children, I was moved by banality; during a pause in our conversation … I wondered where the time had gone and felt overwhelmed by love. Or was it self-pity? I pictured my daughter, bluish pink and weakly squirming, placed in my arms for the first time—none of the hair on my forearms yet gray.
It’s this kind of nostalgia, incidentally, that inspired the backlash post “Don’t Carpe Diem,” which recently made its rounds of the mommy blogosphere. That writer, a woman with young kids, is sick of older folks stopping her in the grocery store to say, hand over heart, “Oh, enjoy every moment! This time goes by so fast!” She clearly has not yet entered her time-has-slipped-away phase.
But for Phillips, the question of how rapidly the years disappear is a central theme in his life—and one to which he wants answers. The best answer, by far, comes from his grandmother, a widow:
The question I wanted to ask was in itself benign, but maybe not when directed at a person who is marking time on her final calendar….
…I asked, “Did it go by fast? The time?”
She nodded, dropping the slice back onto the platter. “Oh, yes.”
The raised window glass still rather damp from the steam, she looked through a cotton-plugged screen and past the bug-zapper hanging from baling twine tied to a beam of the white front porch and on past the marigolds and petunias and pansies edging the curving length of gravel driveway, into a pastured distance that I didn’t know like she did. She smiled almost imperceptibly at whatever it was she saw there. “It went like Grandfather ate a piece of apple pie.”
Source: Notre Dame Magazine, Momastery
Image by Nikki L., licensed under Creative Commons.
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.
Friday, March 02, 2012 1:59 PM
Déjà vu on steroids—that’s how an epileptic might explain the few surreal seconds before a seizure hits. Aura is the technical term for the pre-cursor sensation, explains Richard Farrell in his creative nonfiction essay “Accidental Pugilism,” published in Hunger Mountain (2011), an annual journal put out by the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Farrell’s essay contains the most beautifully vivid description of an aura that we at Utne Reader have ever read:
One of my most intense episodes happened two years ago, while living in Spain. It was a hot summer day and I was running on a deserted road along the ocean. As the road curved, a large stand of trees appeared before me. I felt a shallow moment of déjà vu, something about the sight of those trees seemed to trigger it. Then it grew rapidly, into an almost mystical series of sensations, images really, which appeared intimately familiar, like the most intense daydream. In those weird seconds, as the aura passed from something subtle to something more sinister, everything that was happening, every detail, every sight, sound and smell, seemed to have happened before in the exact same order and sequence. I became intensely aware of things: the trees, the angle of sun, the curvature of the road, the crisp blueness of the sky, bluer than I’d ever seen it. The road bent around to the right and a guard rail separated it from a low wash filled with reeds. I felt like I knew what was waiting beyond the curve, even beneath the reeds. The world became hyper-real, an intensely emotional feeling, not of the brain or body but, please pardon the over-amped language, of the soul. The moment felt familiar and strange, recursive in a way. I was filled with the oddest sense that something profound was about to happen, something almost indescribably sad but predestined, too. The future felt fully accessible—I knew exactly what would happen next. Then things shifted, and the sensation rose into an almost crippling weariness; I became nauseated, cold and dropped to a knee. The pleasant déjà vu had been infused with darkness, with fear, something Jones describes as the “typical epileptic aura, which is that of terror and impending doom.” But these darker sensations blended delicately for me. As loopy as this may sound, the moment felt life-altering, epiphanous, expansive and eerie all at the same time. Both terrifying and inexplicably peaceful. I felt no panic, just dread and calm, roiled together in a cocktail of lucid emotions.
Then the aura, which had hijacked my consciousness, almost as quickly, let go.
The feeling simply receded. It disappeared, reversed directions, and I woke from the dreamlike trance. The entire episode lasted less than a minute, I suppose, though I was alone and have no way to know for sure. All that lingered after was a slippery sense of uncertainty. Unsure what to do, I finished my run, as if nothing had really happened.
Don’t miss Hunger Mountain’s interview with Richard Farrell, about the author’s inspiration and writing process, or the rest of his insightful essay. The opening line will grab you—“My first diagnosed seizure occurred in the cockpit of a Navy T-34C Mentor, on a formation flight”—and it just gets better from there.
Source: Hunger Mountain
Image by martinsillaots, licensed under Creative Commons.
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.
Friday, February 17, 2012 10:54 AM
Check out the January/February 2012 issue of Humanities magazine for a terrific article about the historic U.S. Supreme Court case that gave interracial couples the legal right to marry in the United States. At the heart of the case is a couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, whose uncompromising love survived despite a hostile environment, multiple arrests for living together as husband and wife, and an eventual 25-year banishment decree from their home state of Virginia. According to Humanities:
The Lovings had broken the state’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act, a law that went to nearly insane lengths to keep anyone with even one drop of black blood from mixing with a white person.
It’s hard not to notice the striking similarity between the Racial Integrity Act, struck down by Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and the Defense of Marriage Act. Both rely on morally weighted language (“integrity” and “defense”), trying to disguise what the laws really are: one racist and one homophobic, both profoundly discriminatory.
Another detail that bears mentioning as the world discusses whether or not loving couples should have the legal right to marry: The Lovings were not exactly activists looking to rattle the nation, just everyday people trying to go about their everyday life:
Richard Loving refused to attend the Supreme Court hearing—he was a private man, averse to publicity. He was not a rabble-rouser, nor was his wife, who opted to stay behind with him awaiting the verdict that would transform their life—one way or the other. But Richard, the man of few words, did have something he wanted his lawyer to convey to the nine justices deciding his fate: “Tell the court I love my wife.”
: See the new HBO documentary,
The Loving Story
, about the Loving v. Virginia case.
Image by Grey Villet, Courtesy HBO.
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.
Monday, February 13, 2012 6:18 PM
How many children in the United States do you think are repeatedly raped for a tidy profit, pimped out by a relative, kept at a truck stop or hotel against their will for sexual servitude, or photographed for online porn? “As many as 100,000 girls are trafficked as sex slaves within the U.S.,” reports Sojourners, a magazine devoted to social justice. And the average age of entry into child prostitution or pornography? Between 12 and 14 years old.
Human sex trafficking might strike us as a distant overseas problem that plagues countries like Thailand and Cambodia, writes Sojourners, but “the United States has also been a leader of the pack.” The U.S. child sex trade is neatly facilitated through seemingly benign classified ad sites like Backpage.com and Craigslist.com, where users can purchase anything from a used Honda to an escort, stripper, or other “adult job”—except by no means are all the people performing the sex work limited to adults, nor are they there by choice. “Girls as young as 11 have been identified in ads,” writes Andrea Powell in a Huffington Post article about ways to fight sex trafficking online. “Traffickers like the online world,” writes Powell, “because rather than having to move girls around, risking arrest, they hide in hotels where their victims are out of sight and much less likely to try to run away.”
To be a part of the solution: 1) Sign a Change.org petition to stop child sex trafficking on Backpage.com. 2) Think before you masturbate. By partaking of many online porn sites, you are very likely contributing to the sex trafficking of minors. 3) Educate yourself. Polaris Project and FAIR Girls are two excellent nonprofits devoted to ending sexual slavery in our country. 4) Shop on Etsy. Really? Yes—the online marketplace’s JewelGirlsShop features handcrafted jewelry made by former trafficked girls who are now being empowered through art therapy. 5) Ask your political representatives to turn their attention and resources to the domestic child sex trade. As Sojourners points out:
The meager federal resources spent on human trafficking ($60 million per year) are 333 times less than the $20 billion per year Washington has squandered on the drug war—it’s apparently all right to sell children, but not drugs.
Source: Sojourners (requires free registration), Huffington Post
Image by clairecarey, licensed under Creative Commons.
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.
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.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012 3:43 PM
Ryan O’Connell warns viewers that “Unless you’re made of stone or a homophobe, this video will make you weep openly.” That’s quite a dare, so I took it. And within a minute, I was weeping. Openly. And I think you will too.
The video is Second Class Citizens by Ryan James Yezak, a short but powerful tribute to how dramatically the gay rights movement has evolved over the past decades. “Sometimes it feels like we’re crawling very slowly with gay rights,” says O’Connell in Thought Catalog (Jan. 17, 2012), especially as we watch the current Republican presidential candidates battle it out over who hates gays the most and is willing to strip away rights the fastest. “After viewing this video, however, one gets a healthy dose of perspective and realizes that, in fact, we have come a long way.”
Ryan O’Connell has a great little piece about being a blogger in The World’s First Perfect Zine (Oct. 2011).
Source: Thought Catalog
Image courtesy of www.brokebackmountainmovie.com.
Friday, January 13, 2012 2:44 PM
During a late-night college powwow session many years ago, a guy asked me, for some reason, how much I weighed. I was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and pretty scrawny at the time from biking and walking across campus every day. I told him: 120 pounds.
“What!” he said. “Don’t worry, you don’t look that heavy.”
He was just a clueless college boy, but this bizarre line of thinking—that 120 pounds could possibly be construed as overweight for a 5'8" woman—isn’t limited to frat boys. It exists all over our advertising and our media. Every model in every commercial and every catalogue has stick-thin arms and legs, often made even more emaciated by Photoshop. Watch an episode of Project Runway and you’ll see the contestants picking apart the so-called flaws of a model who looks like she hasn’t eaten in a month—pointing out her “pouchy stomach” or her “big booty.”
PLUS Model Magazine, a publication celebrating the plus-size fashion industry, recently printed some revealing statistics about the models that exhibit our clothes, sell our products, and generally define female beauty. The highlights:
- Twenty years ago, the average model weighed 8% less than the average woman; today, she weighs 23% less.
- Most models meet the Body Mass Index physical criteria for anorexia.
- When the plus-size modeling industry began, the models ranged in size from 14 to 20; today, they average between a size 6 and 14.
- Half of American women wear a size 14 or larger, but most standard clothing outlets cater to sizes 14 or smaller.
As Madeline Figueroa-Jones points out, “we are not talking about health here because not every skinny person is healthy.” We’re talking about an abnormal body image that promotes anorexia-thin women as the standard. What’s almost as fascinating (and dispiriting) as PLUS Model Magazine’s revelations are the reader comments that follow the online article, largely focused on whether or not the (gorgeous) plus-size model featured in the accompanying photographs is “fat.” Which tells you that we’ve still got a long ways to go before that college boy mindset is in the minority.
Source: PLUS Model Magazine
Image by PLUS Model Magazine, courtesy of PLUS Model Magazine.
Friday, January 06, 2012 11:36 AM
It’s always a little heart-wrenching when an expectant mother loses her job. Being in the “pregnant and fired” position myself, I can attest that my news has elicited a lot of handwringing from family and friends. (Okay, so “fired” is an exaggeration. I’m just laid off, along with all my Utne Reader colleagues as we watch our beloved magazine close down its Minneapolis office and move south to company headquarters in Topeka, Kansas, come March.) Fortunately, it’s nothing personal. Bad economy, decreased profits, budget cuts, the usual. The Utne president didn’t fire me for requesting maternity leave (as happened to a Canadian army reservist), for having a growing baby bump (as happened to a server at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club), or for using artificial insemination (as happened to an employee at Holy Family and St. Lawrence Catholic schools in Cincinnati). Nor did he badger me to get an abortion (as happened to a worker at Cookie’s Deli in New York). These are real-world examples of ways in which expectant mothers are mistreated in the workplace, even though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes it illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant. These are all also real-world examples of women fighting back—suing their employers and bringing the cases to the media.
It’s inconvenient to spend 9 months growing a tiny person inside you. Between the swelling belly, the morning sickness that can make it difficult to perform your job, early complications that can make work dangerous altogether, needing a few months off after the child is born to attend to its constant needs, and needing a more flexible schedule in the months and years to come as you deal with daycare and school and illnesses—it’s a real zinger for you and your employer. But just like our society recognizes that military reservists need regular time off to attend to important duties without jeopardizing their job, we recognize that mothers-to-be need similar flexibility and time to attend to their valued duties. For more information on how to protect yourself and your children, visit the group MomsRising, a nonprofit devoted to building a more family-friendly America.
Source: CANOE, New York Post, Care2, NineMSN
Image by mahalie, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 22, 2011 9:59 AM
“We used our pains, broken bodies and scarred emotions to confront the injustices and terror of our nation,” said this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, when accepting her award (News.com.au). The pain: rape. The bodies: women’s. The nation: Liberia, West Africa.
The violent crimes committed against women have been at the forefront of protests in Africa and the Middle East for years, writes News.com.au, and the Nobel committee recognized the successes and value of feminist protesters with its prestigious award:
Ms Gbowee, 39, challenged Liberia’s warlords as she campaigned for women’s rights and against rape. In 2003, she led hundreds of female protesters through Monrovia to demand swift disarmament of fighters, who continued to prey on women….
She called the peace prize a recognition of the struggle for women’s rights not only in Yemen and Liberia, but anywhere that women face oppression.
Gbowee shares the prize with fellow protesters Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was elected president of Liberia in 2005, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, who was instrumental in the Arab Spring demonstrations and is the first Arab woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Says Gbowee, “There is no time to rest until our world achieves wholeness and balance, where all men and women are considered equal and free.”
Source: News.com.au, Nobelprize.org
Leymah Gbowee portrait by Michael Angelo for Wonderland, courtesy of Michael Angelo for Wonderland; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf photo by Center for Global Development, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011 4:02 PM
In theory, I love the idea of the newly debuted Man Cave. Hosted by Adams Media, it’s an online bookstore targeted directly at male readers and those who buy gifts for them, according to Publishers Weekly. How perfect! I’m always looking for great book ideas for my husband, who isn’t a big reader but can be drawn in by a combination of good writing and a nice manly topic like roughing it in the wild.
“Men tend to be the most challenging people to shop for,” says an Adams Media marketer. And the Man Cave site boasts of having the solution: “Yes, guys do read—they like it, in fact. It’s here that you’ll find the perfect gift for the man in your life.” But check out the selection of titles: How Do You Light a Fart?, 100 Sexiest Women in Comics, and Sweet ’Stache: 50 Badass Mustaches and the Faces Who Sport Them, to name just a few.
Ahh, so they didn’t mean literary novels and memoirs that might appeal to not-big-reader guys. They meant gifty books that nobody really wants but that are stamped “For Guys.” Books about farts and mustaches. You know, the book equivalent of a tie printed with golf tees.
I’d love to see a Man Cave bookstore that features post-apocalyptic tales like George Saunders’ CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Or books that explore the physical and emotional terrain of the Western mountains, such as Pete Fromm’s Indian Creek Chronicles and James Galvin’s The Meadow. Perhaps some classics like Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki. (See also All the President’s Books.)
Please add your title suggestions below. We can build our own literary Man Cave, Utne Reader style.
Source: Publishers Weekly
Image by Martin Cathrae, licensed under Creative Commons.
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.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011 3:57 PM
I like to visit the Christmas tree lot when it’s snowing. There will be free hot cider, a small bonfire in the center of the yard, and children running around between the blue spruces and Fraser firs. And happily, a real tree makes for a healthy holiday, according to Organic Gardening.
You might think one of those horrid artificial trees would be the more environmentally friendly route. After all, you reuse it every year instead of chopping down a living tree each December. But real pine can be mulched, composted, chipped, or fed to birds and animals. Growing up on the farm, we gave our leftover Christmas tree to the goats, who greedily stripped it of every last needle in no time. If you don’t happen to have a goat yard, it’s likely your city collects curbside trees for recycling after the holidays.
In contrast, an artificial tree is made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), can never be recycled, and eventually ends up in a landfill after you’ve gotten your years of service out of it. A fake tree is used an average of 6 to 10 years before being dumped for a newer model. Speaking of, the longer you have that artificial tree in your home, the more likely it is to be toxic to you and your children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency:
Artificial Christmas trees made of PVC degrade under normal conditions. About 50 million U.S. households have artificial Christmas trees, of which about 20 million are at least nine years old, the point at which dangerous lead exposures can occur.
And as Organic Gardening points out, Christmas tree farmers are leaders in conservation agriculture. Their product emits healthy oxygen during its 15 or so years of growing, requires little to no supplemental irrigation, and thrives in tough terrain that is otherwise unsuited for agricultural crops. The Coalition of Environmentally Conscious Growers holds high standards for its tree farmers. (Check out these tips from Utne Reader’s archive for choosing a locally grown, environmentally friendly Christmas tree.)
So if you, too, love listening to holiday tunes while scouring the tree yard for that Charlie Brown gem under lightly falling snowflakes, rest assured that it’s the healthiest yuletide option for your family and the Earth.
Source: Organic Gardening
Images by jumpyjodes, arvindgrover, and cogdogblog, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 1:21 PM
Perhaps, like me, you’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving this year with a full heart. Likely you know someone who has lost their job, someone who is battling disease, someone whose plate of worries has been heaped full. Perhaps that person is a friend of a friend, a close loved one, or yourself. At the same time, you probably have a lot to be grateful for. Maybe you are blessed with a loving partner or supportive family or true friends—or all three. Likely someone you don’t know has touched your life in a positive way. That’s what nonprofits do every day: work for people in need who they don’t know personally. With this in mind, Nonprofit Tech 2.0 has published a list of 50 nonprofits to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. You’ll be familiar with some of the organizations; others will be new names. I’ve highlighted five here that you might not know about and that are doing exceptional work:
Communities in Schools: Because America ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math.
Darkness to Light: Because 1 of every 4 girls and 1 every 6 boys in the U.S. will be sexually abused by the age of 18.
Moms Rising: Because the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world without paid maternity leave.
Polaris Project: Because at this very moment 100,000 minors are being trafficked for sex in the United States.
Southern Poverty Law Center: Because hate, bigotry, and intolerance continue to thwart and undermine the American Dream.
Source: Nonprofit Tech 2.0
Image by WishUponACupcake, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 10:12 AM
During my school years, my university implemented a new email filter. It wasn’t a censor, per se, since you were able to send any message you wished, regardless of swears or sexy words. However, it rated emails by how “hot” they were and a racy message incited a pop-up asking something to the effect of, “Are you sure you want to send this message as is? Your recipient may find some of the language offensive.” A mild message earned one chili pepper, a racier message earned two, and a message with a big gun like the F-word earned three spicy peppers and a more strongly worded caution against sending. It was a whole lot of fun to see what words piqued the attention of the censor program, and we spent hours testing the system with combinations of curses and scandalous language. Vagina, we were outraged to learn, earned a couple of peppers, but penis didn’t set off any alarms. Occasionally it was mystifying to type an ordinary message to a friend or colleague only to have the filter message pop up: “Are you sure you want to send this message as is?” You’d go back and read your email to find the mysterious naughty phrase that had set off the alarm, like I cocked my head or the exam was harder than I thought.
It looks like texters in Pakistan will have a similar hurdle to jump through while composing their mobile phone messages. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has dreamt up 1,500 “obnoxious” words to ban, according to The Guardian (Nov 17, 2011). It must have been quite a brainstorming session coming up with all the no-no words: everything from quickie to deposit to love pistol to flogging the dolphin. So no more asking your friend if she has time for a quickie lunch, your husband if he has made the check deposit yet, or your lover if he is done flogging the dolphin. And unfortunately for users, a flagged message won’t just get a few chili peppers tacked on, it will get the text blocked and, in the event of repeat offenses, service disconnected. “Mobile phone firms were ordered to stop messages including the offending words this week,” reports the London newspaper, “although tests by the Guardian suggested the blocking technology was not 100% effective.” (Just like my classmates and me, it seems Guardian editors couldn’t resist going straight to testing the system and snickering over which words were banned and which weren’t.)
The ban was enacted in response to consumer complaints about offensive texts, says a PTA spokesperson: “Nobody would like this happening to their young boy or girl.” I should think alerting kids to fun new dirty phrases like pocket pool and beat your meat wouldn’t be the most effective way to keep communications clean. But as Mashable (Nov 21, 2011) reports, “Pakistan is no stranger to digital bans from the government. In May 2010, the country blocked Facebook for two weeks after a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed sparked controversy. YouTube was blocked temporarily in 2008 following news that images from a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed had leaked onto the site.”
Sources: The Guardian, Mashable
Images by tore_urnes and Emily Rachel Hildebrand, licensed under Creative Commons.
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.
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 10:12 AM
When you start up an opinion blog, you voluntarily expose yourself to the world. If you also happen to be a woman, writes Helen Lewis-Hasteley at New Statesman (Nov. 3, 2011), you “open the front door to a chorus of commenters howling at you about your opinions, your name, your appearance, your sexuality.” To learn a little more about the state of internet misogyny and incivility, she asked several women bloggers to describe the comments they’ve received from online trolls. (For those of you fortunate enough to have escaped contact with a troll, it’s a person who posts intentionally inflammatory personal attacks in an attempt to get a rise out of their target.) Here are some enlightening highlights:
Dawn Foster, blogger at F For Philistine:
The worst instance of online abuse I’ve encountered happened when I blogged about the Julian Assange extradition case. As more people shared it on Twitter with positive comments, a growing trickle of abusive comments appeared. Rather than simply being negative, it was clear the commenters hadn’t read the post: just clocked the title, my gender and started punching the keyboard furiously.
The emails rarely mentioned the topic at hand: instead they focused on my age, used phrases like “little girl”, described rape fantasies involving me and called me “ugly” and “disgusting”. Initially it was shocking: in the space of a week, I received a rabid email that included my home address, phone number and workplace address, included as a kind of threat.
Eleanor O’Hagan, freelance blogger:
On the whole, I’ve managed to avoid the worst threats and misogyny that other women writers endure but I don’t think that’s luck or because my opinions are more well-argued. I think it’s because, very early on, I became conscious of how my opinions would be received and began watering them down, or not expressing them at all. I noticed that making feminist arguments led to more abuse and, as a result, I rarely wrote about feminism at all.
Natalie Dzerins, Forty Shades of Grey blogger:
Last night, I was informed that if all women looked like me, there would be no more rape in the world…. If there is one thing I have learned about being a woman with vocal opinions, it is that everything I ever do or say is wrong because of my physical appearance….
I do sometimes wish that I were a man though, so that if I were to get abuse, it would be for my ideas, not for having the gall to have them in the first place.
Source: New Statesman
Image by Anonymous Account, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011 3:21 PM
Public defenders, who represent clients too poor to pay for a lawyer, are notoriously overworked and underfunded. “The average state public defender works about 70 percent more cases per year than is recommended by the American Bar Association,” explains David Stowman, chairman of the Minnesota Board of Public Defense. This translates into about 12 minutes per client per day. Yet one more public defender office in the state is slated to close, increasing the case loads for those who remain (MPR News, Nov 7, 2011).
Elsewhere, state boards require “that public defenders do not exceed certain case loads to represent clients ethically,” writes NOLA.com (Nov 5, 2011). The Louisiana Public Defender Board is drafting a new “restriction of service” guideline for overworked and understaffed defender offices that could result in “slowdowns in case-processing times and possibly waiting lists for attorneys.”
Same goes for prosecutors. All the recent hullabaloo about Topeka, Kansas, trying to decriminalize misdemeanor domestic violence can be attributed to lack of funding and budget cuts. The story made for sensational headlines that cast a judgmental eye upon a supposedly backward Midwestern city, but no one was looking to make spousal abuse an unpunishable crime; we were just witnessing a depressing game of hot potato between the city and the county as to who would bear the crushing burden of even more cases.
In Minnesota, Stowman says that public defenders may have to resort to representing some of their clients in court via video hookup. For some, that’s yet another terrible solution for overloaded attorneys and those they represent. “No matter how tired and overworked I feel, video lawyering with my clients will happen over my dead body,” says juvenile public defender Carrie Prentice. “I have an obligation to EVERY client to give them my best representation. Period.”
Sources: MPR News, NOLA.com
Image by Dan4th, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 04, 2011 1:49 PM
“Whats 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? my knife.”
“You know she’s playing hard to get when she trys to break out of your van.”
These sayings exist as fan pages on Facebook, with 60 people liking the former and 921 liking the latter. They’re just two among many rape jokes on the social networking site. When asked to remove the offensive content, reports Ms. Magazine, Mark Zuckerberg maintained that the pages will stay put on Facebook and issued this statement:
It is very important to point out that what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining, just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook.
Apparently freedom of speech reigns supreme on Facebook…except that the site has an explicit statement of user responsibilities that dictates: “(3.7) You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” And “(5.2) We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement.”
If Facebook were an unpoliced free-for-all, I would shrug my shoulders defeatedly at the stupid rape joke and move on. But it’s a policed community. Facebook regularly monitors and removes content it deems inappropriate to a public forum, including anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and even I hate my teacher pages. The site is particularly vigilant in removing any promotion of cutting, eating disorders, or drug use. Facebook even yanks photos of breastfeeding mothers.
Furthermore, on its safety center help page, Facebook says: “If you see something that is inappropriate or makes you uncomfortable, speak up and let us know. We take reports from our community very seriously, and work hard to respond quickly.” Yet more than 180,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding Facebook remove pages that promote sexual violence—and Zuckerberg has done nothing.
I’m trying hard to wrap my mind around the inconsistencies here. A photo of a baby feeding from an exposed nipple gets pulled as quasi-pornographic, but a page that lets you “like” an illegal crime against women is okay? Thousands of upset users have spoken up against the rape joke pages, exactly as the site says to in its safety center, but Facebook does nothing? Racist material is regularly removed, but misogynistic material is seen as harmlessly "entertaining," nothing but a "rude joke"? Why is violence against women getting a free pass?
How to put this clearly: The images evoked here—of a woman being raped at knifepoint or struggling to get out of a rapist’s van—are hateful and threatening. They make me—and all the people who signed the petition—uncomfortable, to say the very least. So much more uncomfortable than nursing photos ever could, they aren’t even on the same planet. Please sign the petition to have them removed.
: After 186,000 signatures on the Change.org petition and a furious Twitter campaign, Facebook finally began removing some of its rape joke pages, reports ZDNet, including Whats 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? my knife. Kudos to Change.org and Ms. for uncompromisingly pursuing the issue. However, other rape pages remain on the social media site, including, You know she’s playing hard to get when she trys to break out of your van and a whole host of variants on the hard to get theme: when she resists the chloroform (114 likes), when you have run out of rope (134 likes), when you use another roll of tape (339 likes), when she gets a restraining order (81,435 likes). Message to Mark Zuckerberg: It’s time to start self-policing the sexual violence pages just as you do racist or pornographic pages.
Source: Ms., ZDNet
Image by Guillaume Paumier, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, October 31, 2011 3:56 PM
The world’s 7 billionth child was born today (10/31/11), carrying the global population out of the modest 6 billions after just 13 short years. It’s a figure Earth has been racing toward by the second, according to a new population app, since each new second sees 2 people die while another 5 are born (Mashable).
“We don’t know precisely where the seven-billionth person will arrive,” writes Irish Times, “but we can say with about 90 percent probability that the child will be born in low-income Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.” It’s true that a skyrocketing birth rate isn’t the case in wealthy nations like the United States but rather in developing countries like Ghana, which this morning reported 11 births at its Tamale Teaching Hospital as a nod toward World Population Day (Ghana News Agency). Perhaps baby number 7 billion was among them.
Of course, The New Zealand Herald points out that today is largely a symbolic day established by the United Nations, since no one knows for sure exactly how many people inhabit the Earth. Perhaps we won’t reach the magic number for several more months, or perhaps we’ve been there for awhile. Regardless, “The UN’s reason for naming a symbolic date as seven-billion day is to draw attention to the speed of population growth.”
Even though the finger is pointed at developing nations for the bursting population, BBC News turns that finger around and aims it squarely at developed countries when it comes to exhausting our planet’s assets, reminding us on this historic day that “the richest countries consume double the resources used by the rest of the world. The UN estimates that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us.” (The ever-brilliant BBC also has an online tool to show you exactly where you fit into the 7 billion paradigm.)
So if developed nations have a stagnant or even dwindling population, what should they do in the face of the milestone figure? Ultimately, reports Irish Times, the leaders of the most powerful economies “should take note of the burgeoning population and … agree to help girls around the world, especially in the poorest countries, to stay in school and to complete at least a secondary education. There is no measure of greater significance than universal secondary education (for boys and girls), to empower young women, boost economic development and lower fertility rates.” Amen.
Sources: Mashable, Irish Times, Ghana News Agency, The New Zealand Herald, BBC News
Images by neate photos and James Cridland,
licensed under Creative Commons.
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.
Monday, October 24, 2011 10:43 AM
As a creative writing student reading Minneapolis feminist Brenda Ueland’s bestselling 1938 book If You Want to Write several years ago, I was smitten. She was funny and fierce and wise and had an utterly engaging voice; there was nothing precious or false or pompous like so many writing guidebooks. It propelled me to read her autobiography, Me: A Memoir (1939), which turned out to be equally dreamy—full of heartbreak and energy and adventure. I was thrilled, then, to learn recently that Utne Reader founder Eric Utne is Ueland’s step-grandson—and that he was editing a book of love letters between Ueland and the Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, with whom she had a passionate, albeit largely epistolary, affair. Ueland and Nansen met in person only in one flaming-hot weekend in 1929, when she was 37 and he 67, and thereafter wrote letters overseas for a year until his death.
Titled Brenda, My Darling, the book is being published simultaneously in Norway by Orfeus Publishing as Nansens siste kjærlighet (Nansen’s Last Love) and launched this week. Here in the states, Fridtjof Nansen’s name may be known only to the most ardent Arctic explorer enthusiasts among us, but he’s a hero in Norway—a Nobel Prize winner whose humanitarian work famously saved the lives of millions of refugees and prisoners of war. The letters to Brenda reveal an entirely new side of the austere hero as a sensual and vulnerable lover: “O Brenda,” he wrote, “there is not a corner of my heart or soul which I do not wish you to look into.”
The Norwegian edition of the book also reveals the full frontal: nude photos of Nansen that he mailed to his extramarital lover. These photos have erupted in controversy in Norway, where Eric Utne is currently launching the book (Views and News from Norway, Oct 19, 2011). The newspaper Aftenposten (the Oslo equivalent of the New York Times) reproduced the nude photos in an article—an act that has the public focused more on the sex sex sex than on the romance and humanity of the letters. According to Views and News from Norway:
Utne regrets how the naked photos were used in the media … explaining that he opted to crop them in the American version of his book “because I was uncomfortable” with running the full frontal photos as they’re displayed in the Norwegian version. [Orfeus Publishing director] Høisæther argued that “there’s a different view on nudity in Scandinavia” and he ran them unaltered, but complains the media blew them up and took material in the letters out of context.
It’s reassuring to know the urge to bare body and soul for a heart-thumping romance isn’t limited to the internet-scandal-ridden present but transcends time and place to include stately heroes and old-school feminists. The pictures, by the way, seem quite dignified by today’s standards, with Nansen assuming a series of statuesque poses. And Utne Reader will proudly be publishing an excerpt from Brenda, My Darling in our January–February 2012 issue—although we will primly be abstaining from the nudie pics; for that treat, you’ll have to special-order a copy of the Norwegian edition.
Source: Views and News from Norway
Image from the
Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Thursday, October 20, 2011 1:39 PM
Halloween has become a consumer orgy to rival Christmas. We can buy costumes for our kids, our dogs, and our cell phones; personalized trick-or-treat bags; and every make and model of miniaturized, individually-wrapped candy conceivable.
For the socially conscious parents who still want to take their cute little tyke out into the beautiful October evening in their adorable cowboy or octopus costume, we’ve got a few ideas. Two great tips come from the Utne Reader archives: fair trade chocolate (don’t support child slave laborers on the Ivory Coast) and eco-friendly costumes (farewell, toxic vinyl).
And here’s a new tip from Tina Hay at The Penn Stater (Oct 20, 2011): You can recycle all those mini plastic candy wrappers and even the bags they come in. Turns out a company called TerraCycle in New Jersey sponsors a Candy Wrapper Brigade to collect these items that typically land in the trash. As Hay explains: “TerraCycle specializes in stuff that’s otherwise hard to recycle: They have a Chip Bag Brigade, a Yogurt Container Brigade, a Cork Brigade, a Drink Pouch Brigade … you get the idea.”
So pair up with your coworkers, your kid’s school, or any other organization and pile together the many, many empty candy wrappers that will emerge from the Halloween sugar frenzy. One more notch for recycling stuff you didn’t think could be recycled.
Source: The Penn Stater
Images by wwarby and terren in Virginia,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, October 17, 2011 2:13 PM
For the past decade, a team of researchers led by Penn State English professor Sandra Spanier has been searching the world over for Ernest Hemingway’s personal letters. They’ve managed to bring together—and clear permission to reprint—6,000 previously unpublished letters that were scattered throughout 70 libraries, universities, and institutions as well as many more from the personal collections of Hemingway’s family, friends, and descendants. “For instance,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education in an article about the Hemingway letters project, “a descendant of the pilot of the plane that crashed with Hemingway aboard during an African trip in 1954 got in touch to share some letters the editors hadn’t known about.”
It’s an enormously ambitious project that Spanier hopes will span 16 published volumes. The first volume, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1907-1922, has just been published and is now available in bookstores. According to The Chronicle:
Volume I covers not just the budding writer’s childhood in Oak Park, Ill., but also his time as a reporter for The Kansas City Star, his experiences as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War I, the heartbreak of his romance with Agnes von Kurowsky—an episode that helped inspire A Farewell to Arms—his marriage to Hadley, and their plunge into artistic life in Paris.
The correspondence is published with the blessing of son Patrick Hemingway, who believes the letters will reveal a truer side of his father, labeled by many scholars as a tortured and tragic misogynist. “My principal motive for wanting it to happen was that I think it gives a much better picture of Hemingway’s life than any of his biographers to date,” says Patrick. “He had the misfortune to have mental troubles in old age. Up until that, he was a rather lighthearted and humorous person.” Spanier agrees that the letters will have a revolutionary impact on Hemingway’s personal reputation. “It’s sort of a commonplace that Hemingway hated his mother, and it’s true that they had a very strained relationship later on,” she says. But “what’s striking about these early letters is the closeness of the family, the loving tone in which he speaks to both his parents.”
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education
Image courtesy of Cambridge University Press.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 2:48 PM
Utne Reader’s mission is to bring our readers the best of the alternative press: independent, excellent magazines and journals and websites. You might not think that would include a site called The Frisky and billed as “Celebrity gossip, relationship advice, sex tips and more for real women everywhere!” But under the candy-pink veneer hides a true feminist heartbeat and genuine reporting about women’s issues.
You’ll certainly want to bookmark The Frisky’s feminism page, otherwise known as Today’s Lady News. It’s an assemblage of newsworthy items curated by Jessica Wakeman, who has a long list of outstanding credentials to her name (check out this interview with her at The Daily Femme). Written in an accessible and sassy voice, Today’s Lady News has become my go-to page for the most up-to-date news on abortion law, rape crimes, gay rights, and international women’s politics. Honestly. And if that starts to feel a little heavy, you can always toggle back and forth between The Frisky’s sexy Halloween costume tips or its list of bizarre sex injuries, if that’s your bag. Just don’t forget that amid all the sex quizzes and celebrity nods, some first-rate articles will pop up, like this great rant about birth control rights.
Love. Life. Stars. Style. Feminism!
Source: The Frisky, The Daily Femme
Image by TaniaSaiz,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 10:09 AM
President George W. Bush made it legal for government-funded religious organizations like World Vision to hire and fire employees based on their faith, writes Lauren Markoe in The Christian Century (June 22, 2011).
Six years later, presidential hopeful Barack Obama campaigned against this idea, saying it’s discriminatory to hire people using federal money based on their religious beliefs. And yet, now that he’s president, the legislation hasn’t been overturned, even though President Obama could issue an executive order. Baptist Press (October 7, 2011) reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has just reinforced the notion that a federally-funded Christian organization may hire only Christians and fire those who disagree with their doctrine.
Lawmakers as well as some religious leaders are urging Obama to change these discriminatory faith-based hiring rules and make good on his campaign pledge, writes Markoe. These types of practices are plain discrimination, say supporters of overturning the legislation:
“It is shocking that we would even be having a debate about whether basic civil rights practices should apply to programs run with federal dollars,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D., Va.). “There is just no justification for sponsors of government-funded programs to tell job applicants, ‘We don’t hire your kind.’”
Source: The Christian Century, Baptist Press
Image by Duncan~,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 30, 2011 1:35 PM
In my younger days, I never seemed to have a valid driver’s license on election day. Either I’d just moved to the neighborhood, or more likely I never got around to updating the address on my ID when I had moved 12 months before. Happily, a utility bill sufficed as proof of residence in one instance; in another, my neighbor vouched for me. That one always struck me as genius: In Minnesota, a registered voter may pledge an oath that up to 15 other voters live in his or her precinct. In this age of microchipped pets and smartphone barcode scanning apps, it’s wonderfully old school to know that something as prosaic as facial recognition fuels the democratic process.
However, 30 states are trying to mandate voter ID requirements that will overturn these inclusive policies. “While this may strike some as a relatively minor technical adjustment in voting security, what is really going on is far more significant,” writes David Carroll Cochran America: The National Catholic Weekly (Aug 1, 2011) in an article about how the new voter ID laws subvert democracy. “There are two things to know about this campaign. First, the [voter fraud] problem it points to does not exist. Second, the real purpose of its proposed solution is to keep certain kinds of American citizens from exercising their legitimate right to vote.” These citizens include the young, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, and women. Note that Texas law will prohibit university IDs but allow a concealed handgun permit to be used. As Cochran explains:
Photo ID laws do allow those who do not have a driver’s license to present an alternative ID, but this must be obtained well before election day. To acquire such an ID, they need to collect documents like a certified birth certificate, take time off work (for the poor, usually unpaid time) and find a way to get to county offices to wait in line for the ID. Political science has long established that requiring additional steps for such voters, especially steps that are time-consuming and inconvenient, will reduce the rate at which that group votes. Voter identification laws clearly have this effect. Studies show that while they do not prevent fraud, they do significantly lower turnout among Democratic-leaning groups, especially low-income African-American and Hispanic voters.
The U.S. Constitution originally restricted the vote based on race, sex, and wealth (granting it only to white male landowners), but we’ve come a long way since then. “Conservative legislatures in 30 states are attempting to turn the clock back,” reports HERvotes, a feminist campaign seeking to protect advances in women’s rights. “As many as 32 million women of voting age do not have documentation with their current legal name.”
Keep in mind that voting for our leaders is not a privilege but a sacred right. A disenfranchised person’s vote has the same weight as that of a wealthy and powerful person—and that’s the way it should remain.
Images by kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop) and adria.richards,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 10:59 AM
The September/October 2011 issue of Mental Floss magazine is worth picking up for its “6 Freakishly Effective Ways to Court the Muse” alone. The article offers some excellent tips for conquering writer’s block, provided, of course, that you have a few rudimentary resources at hand:
A Faithful Servant
In the tradition of The Hunchback of Notre Dame novelist Victor Hugo, you could order your servants not to give you clothes until you’ve finished a chapter. Hugo found complete nudity—in the privacy of a room furnished simply with a desk, pen, and paper—to be his most inspiring method of getting work done. That is, until later years, when he found it even more inspiring to pour a bucket of water over his head and then work in an outdoor glass cage, standing up and writing at a podium. A bit eccentric, you say? How long did it take you to finish that last story? Get thee a servant and a glass cage!
A Fresh Fruit Budget
Friedrich von Schiller, otherwise known as Fritz, is a German playwright considered by some to be second only to Shakespeare. He also wrote the poem “Ode to Joy,” which later became the basis for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Fritz’s tried-and-true method of conquering writer’s block was stuffing his desk drawer with stinky, rotten apples. According to Ethan Trex and Linda Rodriguez McRobbie at Mental Floss, “The poet insisted that he needed the smell of the putrifying fruit in the air to write.” If you’re not entirely convinced, consider this: A 1985 Yale study found a correlation between the smell of spiced apples and decreased panic attacks.
Demosthenes, a Greek speechwriter in the 4th century BC, had a simple trick to keeping himself home, focused, and at the writing desk. He’d shave half his head. That kept him sequestered and writing for at least a couple of months. Because, you know, it would be unthinkable to go about in ancient Greece among the other statesmen with a goofy hairdo.
For the other three tips (hint: they involve dogs, nemeses, and coffins), pick up the latest issue of Mental Floss.
Source: Mental Floss (article not available online)
Image by alison e dunn,
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 3:29 PM
Impressionist artwork was once seen by some to be rough and incomplete. “A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape,” scoffed one critic of Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, which was being exhibited in a salon alongside works by Renoir, Degas, and Cézanne. Close up, the pieces were thick smudges on a canvas. Only when stepping back could viewers perceive the beauty of the scene itself created from the rich layers of paint.
Modern artist Tom Deininger takes impressionist perception to a whole new level with his re-creation of Monet’s 1899 masterpiece Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, which is composed entirely of found objects like plastic forks, phone cords, bottle caps, markers, lighters, combs, and children’s toys. “When you can take something out of context and put it together with a variety of other things,” Deininger says, “you can coax a new definition out of it and maybe a new purpose”—in this case, natural landscapes recreated in junk, writes 1-800-Recycling.com. Deininger creates his assemblages on a grand scale, as large as 12 by 20 feet, making them a lovely scene from far away and a hodgepodge of junk up close. “I think that all art, even reality, is about perception,” says Deininger, calling to mind the Impressionists to whom his art pays strange and beautiful homage. “And so you’ve got one thing up close and it coalesces into something else all together from a distance.”
Images by Tom Deininger, collection of Billi and Bobby Gosh, used with permission
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 2:47 PM
Quick, draw a picture of a scientist. Just a quick sketch on a piece of scrap paper.
What does your scientist look like? Frizzy-haired or long, shiny tresses? Happy or hangdog? Male or female? Working in the lab or out in the field?
If you drew an older white man in a white lab coat holding a test tube amidst a lab disaster, you’ve got the old stereotype of a scientist in your mind—and you’re not alone. “No wonder we have a problem recruiting scientists,” says science journalist Quentin Cooper in a New Scientist interview. Too many people, young and old, still have this old-fashioned image unshakably embedded in their head, when in truth the exciting field of exploration and investigation into the natural world is open to everyone. Scientists aren't just harried old men working away in a lab. They dive in oceans and ski on glaciers. They can be young, female, and ethnically diverse. They study soil in crop fields and help in the cleanup of oil spills. One way to combat the old image, explains Cooper, is to supplant the stereotype with the reality:
[S]omeone had the idea of introducing children to a real scientist after they had drawn one, and then asking them to have another go at drawing. One of my favourite examples is of the schoolgirl who initially drew a man with frizzy hair and a white coat, but afterwards depicted a smiling young woman holding a test tube. Above it is the word “me”. I still find myself choking up when I show it.
Source: New Scientist
Images by NOAA’s National Ocean Service and NOAA’s National Ocean Service,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 09, 2011 4:38 PM
President Obama’s summer reading list features five books by men authors (including Aldous Huxley and Abraham Verghese) and just two by women writers (Isabel Wilkerson and Emma Donoghue). That’s 70 percent male, reports Robin Black at Salon (Aug 24, 2011) with a gasp of disapproval even while admitting that this turn of events “is not the greatest crisis facing the arts, much less the nation.”
It’s true, critiquing the author gender ratio of the president’s beach reading at Martha’s Vineyard makes about as much sense as the media castigating Princess Kate for spending too much on candles to furnish the palace. But it is the perfect opening to suggest some terrific books by women that President Obama—and all men—might enjoy reading. Because it is true that, as a general rule, men tend to read men, and male-authored books get more airtime from critics. We know it anecdotally, and we know it statistically: The New York Times, for example, reviewed 524 books by men in a single year versus 283 by women, reveals a VIDA study.
So what books by women authors do you invite men to read? I’ll start the list off with Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful interconnected story collection; Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir of growing up in Somalia; and West With the Night, Beryl Markham’s 1942 autobiography of bush piloting over Africa. What other gems, new or old, do you recommend?
Image by ruifernandes,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 08, 2011 9:37 AM
If your writing is sprinkled liberally with first-person pronouns (I, me, myself), you’re probably a pretty honest person. If, on the other hand, you eschew what The Secret Life of Pronouns author James W. Pennebaker calls “I-words” and use lots of articles (the, a, an) and prepositions (up, with), you might be hiding something. That is Pennebaker’s conclusion after 20 years of language research from a psychosocial perspective, he reports in New Scientist:
Hidden inside language are small, stealthy words that can reveal a great deal about your personality, thinking style, emotional state and connections with others. These words account for less than 0.1 per cent of your vocabulary but make up more than half of the words commonly used. Your brain is not wired to notice them but if you pay close attention, you will start to see their subtle power.
Pennebaker began his pronoun studies in the 1980s after discovering that people who had kept secret a traumatic event in their life experienced more health problems than those who experienced similar trauma but didn’t cover it up. When he prompted patients to write about their secrets, he found that their health improved—and their pronoun use changed remarkably:
[O]ur most striking discovery was not about the content of [traumatized] people's writing but the style. In particular, we found that the use of pronouns—I, me, we, she, they—mattered enormously. The more people changed from using first-person singular pronouns (I, me, my) to using other pronouns (we, you, she, they) from one piece of writing to the next, the better their health became. Their word use reflected their psychological state.
To read more about Pennebaker’s findings—and get a sense of where you stack up on the scales of honesty, health, and other personal characteristics—read his article in New Scientist.
Source: New Scientist
Image by wheat_in_your_hair,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 02, 2011 5:04 PM
“The main thing would be films: riveting, fascinating, beautiful, controversial. For one afternoon a week, we would watch great movies, then talk about them. I’m hypnotized by movies, utterly rapt, even when they are bad. I would allow myself to project this far, to imagine that at least some of the students are like me, happy to escape for a few hours from their current situation.”
So goes Ann Snitow’s terrific essay in Dissent (Summer 2011), about her opportunity to teach 14 films to medium-security prisoners—men who have committed armed robbery or murder, but who were carefully selected by the college selection board from the penitentiary’s 900-some inmates as the most cooperative and promising:
The room is much too bright to show films. (“Can I darken the room?” “Of course not!” “Can I cluster the chairs close together around the monitor?” “Of course not!”)[…]
The twelve men filter in. As far as I can tell, the class is eleven African Americans and one Hispanic, ranging in age from thirty to fifty. They are friendly, a few elaborately polite and happy to help sort out the mess, set up chairs. They are used to this level of chaos, both patient and gracious.
Snitow, a longtime feminist activist, tailors the course around the themes of childhood, manhood, and womanhood. Crooklyn, The Hurt Locker, and Thelma & Louise make it into the final cut, along with other provocative films addressing everything from immigration and abortion to nostalgia and joy. The students ask and explore compelling questions: Is it OK to break the law to do the right thing? Is part of the dream of heroism making your own rules? Is violence human nature? Does heroism look different when women do it?
Snitow reveals the major missteps she makes—like when she calls out a student publicly for having plagiarized and then realizes she may be jeopardizing his upcoming parole—as well as her true victories. A Harvey Milk documentary leads to a heated discussion of the word faggot, after which one of the students—“the dignified and usually silent David”—stops by privately to comment on Snitow showing the film: “I’m gay and you can see what hell it is in here. Thank you.”
Ultimately, Snitow hopes that the films will chip away at the hard-edged visions her students have formed of what it is to be a man:
I know that all this [class discussion] is unlikely to make a dent in the essentialist views of manhood and womanhood that often seem to prevail in the room. But these are belief systems with big cracks in them. Elijah, Harry, David, and Phillip have been working on themselves for a long time, self-consciously cultivating inner calm and wisdom. A different idea about manhood might be a lifeline. Who knows? Since they are near the end of their terms, the question of how to be a free adult outside (and how to avoid returning here) is in the air every minute. In a long teaching life, I have rarely encountered students with such intense motivation.
Image by daniellekellogg,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 01, 2011 1:43 PM
It’s always disconcerting, in hospital shows, to see the cooler containing a human heart being unloaded from the helicopter. The cooler is the same brightly colored, insulated style we cram with ice and Miller Lite for family camping weekend. But, hey, it works. Pack that kind organ donor’s heart on ice and head for the hospital to save a life.
It’s disconcerting in a wholly different way to see the new organ-transfer method, profiled by The Inquisitr (Aug 30, 2011) and devised by a company called TransMedics—a method that keeps the heart beating. Yes. A live beating heart in a box. Check out the video below.
Right now, matching donor organs with recipients is a game of speed and geography. The short lifespan of an organ on ice is “the biggest problem facing heart transplants,” explains The Inquisitr. The beating-heart transfer method will allow the harvested organ to travel long distances, still warm, in a “near-normal physiologic state,” says transplant surgeon Abbas Ardehali.
The beating-in-a-box method is currently under clinical trial for FDA approval at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “I feel like I am in the first Apollo mission to the moon,” says UCLA heart transplant medical director Ann Hickey. “This is really the start of something that’s going to be an incredible revolution.”
Source: The Inquisitr
Image by MT Silverstar
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 26, 2011 12:50 PM
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”—19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, signed August 26, 1920
My college women’s history course was taught by a brand-new instructor, eager and idealistic and ambitious, who piled us down with tons of intensive reading and writing and discussion (to the dismay of certain disinterested students who thought “women’s history” would be the light history-credit alternative to Origins of Asian Civilization). We studied, of course, first-wave feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for the right to vote and drafted a constitutional amendment in the 1870s. Neither woman lived to see the amendment signed into law on August 26, 1920, but you have to think they whooped it up in their graves.
In celebration of Women’s Equality Day and the 91st anniversary of our right to vote, Ms. Magazine announces that modern-day feminists have launched HERvotes, a campaign to preserve the top 10 historic advances for women that are at risk of being overturned or weakened by conservative policy-makers—key advances like Roe v. Wade, Title IX, and the Violence against Women Act. Even voting rights are threatened. And Erina Davidson in Bust Magazine (August 26, 2011) reminds us that true equality, at the ground level, means respect and inclusivity for all kinds of women:
While we’ve won quite a few battles and planted many flags over the years, the women of 2011 have a long list to tackle. Women still earn only 78 cents on the dollar compared to men more than 47 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Justice continues to go unserved for the victims of sexual assault. Sex workers face the struggle of being denied basic human and labor rights. Victim-blaming and slut-shaming are rampant in today’s dialogue. And women are criticizing other women for partaking in activities that were once deemed ‘unfeminist’ and ‘housewife-like’. (If she loves nothing more than making delicious pumpkin bread, then let her bake, for pete’s sake!)
Whether you’re a cupcake-baking porn lover, a Summer’s-Eve-hating urban farmer, a mom working a part-time job, or an avid activist waiting for the day that women can bring their girlfriends home without being shunned by family, we’re all fighting our own battles every day. And we’re fighting them for each other.
Source: Ms. Magazine, Bust Magazine
Image by ginnerobot
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011 7:33 PM
Modern literature is uninspired, complains poet Bei Dao, whose acclaimed poems helped fuel China’s pro-democracy movement in the ’70s and ’80s and led to his exile for decades. He blames the literary decline on mindless consumerism and base entertainment, reports China Daily/Xinhua in an interview with the poet:
[Bei Dao] pointed out that previously a clear-cut division existed between “vulgar” culture and “serious” culture, but today vulgar culture is swallowing serious culture like a black hole, and unfortunately, many writers are forced to lower their writing standards to cater to vulgarity.
To overcome this debasement, he calls for a new generation of smart readers to reignite the art. And the place to start is the poetry classroom: “Modern education kills young people’s imagination and creativity, so we need to promote poetry instruction to sharpen their awareness of literature,” says Bei Dao, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Critics, it seems, are the key to our literary future.
Bei Dao’s most recent book is The Rose of Time: New and Selected Poems (2010). Best known for his 1976 poem “The Answer,” written in response to an early Tiananmen Square protest, the meditative poet continues to write long-form poetry, saying, “I’ve always believed my best poem should be the next one.”
Source: China Daily
Image by DoNotLick
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 18, 2011 5:29 PM
Doctors cut off newborn boys’ foreskins less and less these days. Once upon a time, more parents than not chose to have their sons circumcised; today, the U.S. circumcision rate is just 30 percent. The practice is so out of favor that San Francisco has been discussing banning circumcision outright.
An activist group collected enough signatures to get a male genital mutilation bill listed on the city’s November ballot, although a judge recently ordered the bill off the ballot, citing the illegality of voters regulating medical procedures. The proposed ban would have turned snipping foreskins into a misdemeanor and subjected MDs who perform the act to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
All this talk of criminalizing circumcision dismisses its very real health benefits, argues pediatrician Edgar Schoen in The Bay Citizen. For many medical professionals, the infections and diseases that can plague those with intact foreskins make circumcision the most sound decision. Eliminating this tricky fold of skin results in “tenfold protection against severe infant kidney infections [and] lifetime prevention of foreskin infections [and] retraction problems,” Schoen explains. “Penile cancer is found almost exclusively in uncircumcised men and cervical cancer is more common in women with uncircumcised partners.” A foreskin also makes men more vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
On the other side of the blade stand activists such as Lloyd Schofield, who led the campaign to ban circumcision within San Francisco city limits, as well as ordinary parents who choose not the circumcise their kids for a variety of compelling reasons, such as: It’s natural to keep your child’s penis intact. The surgery itself can be botched. Sexual sensation is increased because penile nerves are preserved. Some argue that health problems can largely be kept at bay with adequate cleansing, which is accessible to most middle-class Americans.
Schofield is considering an appeal of the judge’s ruling. Ultimately, though, with good reasons for and against, circumcision belongs squarely in the “choice” category. As Dr. Emily Blake says to The Jewish Daily Forward:
It is anathema to me that a city as open as San Francisco would begin to discriminate and limit options for anybody. If the person who started the movement wanted to initiate discussion or a thoughtful engagement, that would be wonderful. But an outright ban is just an infringement on everybody’s rights.
Source: The Bay Citizen, The Jewish Daily Forward
Image by Franco Folini
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 4:54 PM
My master’s degree is worth less than my husband’s bachelor’s degree, according to a survey report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Of course, I don’t need the survey to tell me, since I know it from our paychecks, wherein I earn 79 cents for every dollar he earns. Hey, I must be doing something right: That’s one generous penny more than the national average.
Yes, the most recent census reveals that women workers are still paid a scant 78 cents on the dollar earned by men. If I wanted to make as much money as my husband, the Georgetown report says, I would need to earn a PhD. “All told,” writes Kristina Chew on Care2, “over their lifetimes, women with the same educational achievements as men earn about a quarter less than their male counterparts.”
Naysayers argue that these statistics are skewed by women with advanced degrees who exit the workforce for years to be stay-at-home moms. But the survey accounts for the time-off disparity, and the report makes clear that its numbers are actually a conservative estimate of the gender wage gap, concluding, “The findings are stark: Women earn less at all degree levels, even when they work as much as men.”
Solutions, anyone? Mine is to move salaries out of the realm of used car haggling and into that of a modern and healthy transparent business model, wherein each employee’s wages are listed in the employee handbook for all to see and shared with new hires during the interview process. Just one dreamy step toward equal pay for equal work.
Image by j.o.h.n. walker
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 12, 2011 5:40 PM
Superman was born from the creative minds of two Jewish teens whose boyhoods were steeped in comic books and science fiction. At age 18, co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first drew the caped superhero that would capture the imagination of future generations. Academics have attributed the boys’ inspiration for Superman to the lofty pages of literature (Shaw), philosophy (Nietzsche), and religion (the Golem). But a far more likely muse, according to Reform Judaism magazine, was something much more accessible to a couple of sci-fi geeks:
[O]f all the speculative theories surrounding the creation of Superman, one exceedingly likely influence has been virtually ignored—a real-life Jewish strongman from Poland who 1. was billed as the “Superman of the Ages”; 2. advertised, on circus posters, as a man able to stop speeding locomotives; 3. wore a cape; 4. looked—with his chiseled movie-star face, wavy hair, and massive upper torso—like the future comic book idol; and 5. performed his death-defying feats in 1923 and 1924 in Cleveland and Toronto, Siegel and Shuster’s respective hometowns, when they were impressionable nine year olds.
Thus Superman’s creation story expands into the utterly accessible realm of a 1920s-era traveling circus strongman named Zisha Breitbart. If you’ve got a little comic book worship in you, check out Breitbart’s life story and his superman stunts of bending iron, wrestling bears, and withstanding beds of nails. And imagine the seeds of America’s favorite superhero being planted in two young minds.
Source: Reform Judaism
Image by greyloch
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 5:41 PM
A bibliophile’s personal library might start out neatly contained on bookshelves—perhaps even organized alphabetically within genre—but soon enough more volumes are wedged willy-nilly above the orderly rows, stacked on the floor, jammed into nooks and crannies around the house, and perched atop the refrigerator.
If this describes your home, you’ll appreciate the seven-story tower of books built by visual pop artist Marta Minujín on a pedestrian plaza in Buenos Aires. Composed of 30,000 donated books encased in protective plastic, the art installation spirals 80 feet above passersby, writes 1-800-Recycling.com. Called the Tower of Babel, the artwork stood in the plaza for three weeks, after which it was dismantled and some of its building blocks given away to visitors.
Minujín, who specializes in large-scale “livable” art events that engage the community, conceived the tower to celebrate the Argentinean city’s designation as the 2011 book capital of the world. Many of the volumes were donated by foreign embassies, creating a multilingual piece of art. As Minujín says, “Art needs no translation.”
Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 05, 2011 5:53 PM
I’m a recent bride. That means in the midst of our discussions of tulle, tuxes, and possible rainouts a couple of months ago, my fiancé and I applied for our marriage license, which required that we solemnly swear, under penalty of perjury, “that one of the applicants is a man and the other is a woman.” Ugh. Signing that application is an unpleasant step for those of us who strongly feel marriage is the right of everyone, gay or straight. And while the “one man, one woman” oath outright prohibits gay marriage, it can cause a tricky mess for transgender people who have had their sex changed.
Here’s the breakdown: In most states, your post-surgery gender determines who you can marry—so if a man transitions to a woman, she can use a court order to have her sex changed to female on her driver’s license and legally marry a man. In a tiny minority of states, the courts refuse to acknowledge the new gender, leaving the transitioned person in a strange no-heterosexual-marriage-allowed-for-you limbo. In one very special state (Texas), the governor (Rick Perry) has bungled the issue in a Republican debacle (wherein he accidentally signed a bill in 2009 okaying a transitioned person to marry their opposite-sex partner) and is now supporting efforts to strip away this right (which would nullify the transgender marriages that have taken place during the past two years). As the Huffington Post (4/25/11) puts it:
Gov. Rick Perry’s spokesman Mark Miner said the governor never intended to allow transgendered people to get married. He said the three-word sex change provision was sneaked through on a larger piece of legislation Perry signed.
It’s a rough world we live in where a leader can openly say, I never intended to allow you this basic human right—and now I’m trying to take it back. The rescinded rights would have real effects on Texas widow Nikki Araguz, who was born male and had her gender reassigned through surgery; she married her volunteer firefighter husband in the two-year window unwittingly opened by Governor Perry and is now battling for the right to his estate.
Which brings us back to the same-sex marriage debate and the dire need for legal recognition of life partnership, no matter who is signing the marriage license.
Source: Huffington Post, Miller-McCune
Image by virtualphotographystudio,
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.
Friday, July 29, 2011 5:36 PM
“Land! An island! We devoured it greedily with our eyes and woke the others, who tumbled out drowsily and stared in all directions as if they thought our bow was about to run on to a beach. Screaming sea birds formed a bridge across the sky in the direction of the distant island, which stood out sharper against the horizon as the red background widened and turned gold with the approach of the sun and full daylight.”—Kon-Tiki
It was July 30, 1947, when the Kon-Tiki expedition first sighted Polynesia’s Tuamotu Islands. The handmade raft had been drifting across the Pacific Ocean for nearly 100 days and 4,300 miles, captained by Norwegian experimental archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl.
Sixty-four years later, a different kind of adventurer—backpacking travel blogger Ben Groundwater—visited Heyerdahl’s Tuamotu Islands and found a small organic-worshipping New Testament Church cult that harvests its own sea salt and ferments its own fish sauce along with raising vegetables, chickens, and pigs in a tropical paradise. “As places in which to save yourself go, you could do worse,” points out Groundwater, author of the travel memoir Five Ways to Carry a Goat: A Blogger’s World Tour. “You putter up in a little boat, moor in the clear, green waters of the lagoon, walk up the wooden pier and enter the Garden of Eden, which, whether by chance or design, seems to have a distinct lack of apple trees.”
Headed by Taiwanese prophet Elijah Hong, the cult comprises just four women and five men, along with their children. Groundwater had a chance to tour the island encampment:
[W]e come across the island’s kitchen facilities, with a few wok burners fired by dried coconut husks. I figure in a God-given utopia such as this, it would be a one-in, all-in sort of situation when it comes to chores.
“So, who does the cooking?” I ask Jacob. “Do you share it around?” Jacob smiles and shakes his head.
“No, the women do the cooking.” Oh. Well, hardly utopia for them then, is it?
Ah, well. In any case, it’s a great excuse to excavate your bookshelf for your schoolchild copy of Kon-Tiki and head outside to reread one of the world’s greatest real-life adventures.
As an update of the 1950 Academy Award–winning documentary Kon-Tiki, a dramatized film version is currently being filmed by a Norwegian production company.
Sydney Morning Herald
Image by Poverarte,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011 10:07 AM
If the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, as Edgar Allen Poe famously argued in 1846, then is the death of a beautiful woman’s child the second most poetical topic? So it would seem to filmmaker Terrence Malick, whose artful Tree of Life tries to gain emotional weight from actress Jessica Chastain’s soulful eyes and shapely ankles in the role of Mrs. O’Brien, a 1950s housewife whose son tragically dies.
It’s an image-driven film. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki finds transcendent beauty in everything upon which he turns the camera, from fluttering dresses to bursting sunspots. But even as Malick’s sparse script teases out complexities in Mrs. O’Brien’s husband (played by Brad Pitt)—by turns domineering and vulnerable and loving, a man tormented by lost dreams of becoming a classical pianist—it grants no such depth to Mrs. O’Brien. Despite being a central character, she has no back story before motherhood, no vices, no lost dreams, and almost no dialogue. Instead, the camera roves insistently over her lips, her clavicles, the nape of her neck, her calves, and her slim waist with a single message: Feminine beauty equals virtue.
The New York Times calls the storyline archetypal, familiar, recognizable. In his exploration of the family’s tragic loss, Malick certainly seems to be striving for the universal, even bringing the viewer back to the creation of the cosmos in a mid-film nature documentary tracing the origin of God’s inscrutability. Filmspotting critics Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson, who loved the film, wisely point out that “the connective tissue that runs throughout this film will impact so many people in so many disparate ways.” For me, the familiar impact was that of a woman being voiceless.
Source: New York Times, Filmspotting
Image by LollyKnit,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 22, 2011 2:56 PM
As homes go into foreclosure and offices acquire a ghost town emptiness, it’s hard not to feel skeptical when San Francisco architect Kurt Lavenson praises the effect of the recession. “For my part,” he claims in ARCADE (Spring 2011), “I am learning to embrace the slowdown for its cathartic qualities. The stillness has within it another kind of wealth—one of reflection, grounding and opportunity. I have come to appreciate the fallow period.”
It’s a provocative statement issued to a world of underwater homeowners and laid-off workers. But Lavenson doesn’t write from a position of economic immunity. His own architecture firm has experienced the profound slowdown that has plagued so many businesses. A once-constant list of ready clients, built over decades, has been lost to gaping periods of time without work.
Still, zenlike, Lavenson values this fiscally sparse time the same way a farmer values a crop field lying idle for a season, regenerating its soil for the next round of planting. It was a midlife economic low, he tells us, that propelled 49-year-old Frank Gehry from a conventional architect to a worldwide icon. “Taking time to pause, to lay fallow, allows us to connect with that wisdom and reach a fundamentally new kind of productivity,” Lavenson contends.
If you feel doomed by the economy that has put your job, your home, and (seemingly) your lifelong success in jeopardy, you need to read Lavenson’s inspired article celebrating the downturn. Despite initially raising my eyebrows, Lavenson ultimately convinces me—reminds me, really—that in loss there is beautiful opportunity, in crisis there is beautiful reward.
Image by TimWilson,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, July 18, 2011 5:28 PM
More than 270,000 organic farmers are taking on corporate agriculture giant Monsanto in a lawsuit filed March 30. Led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the family farmers are fighting for the right to keep a portion of the world food supply organic—and preemptively protecting themselves from accusations of stealing genetically modified seeds that drift on to their pristine crop fields.
Consumers are powerful. For more than a decade, a cultural shift has seen shoppers renounce the faster-fatter-bigger-cheaper mindset of factory farms, exposéd in the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. From heirloom tomatoes to heritage chickens, we want our food slow, sustainable, and local—healthy for the earth, healthy for animals, and healthy for our bodies.
But with patented seeds infiltrating the environment so fully, organic itself is at risk. Monsanto’s widely used Genuity® Roundup Ready® canola seed has already turned heirloom canola oil into an extinct species. The suing farmers are seeking to prevent similar contamination of organic corn, soybeans, and a host of other crops. What’s more, they’re seeking to prevent Monsanto from accusing them of unlawfully using the very seeds they’re trying to avoid.
“It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement,” says Public Patent Foundation director Dan Ravicher in a Cornucopia Institutearticle about the farmers’ lawsuit (May 30, 2011), “but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement.”
Even as the megacorporation enjoys soaring stock, the U.S. justice department continues to look into allegations of its fraudulent antitrust practices (The Street, June 29, 2011):
Monsanto, which has acquired more than 20 of the nation’s biggest seed producers and sellers over the last decade, has long pursued a strict policy with its customers, obligating them to buy its bioengineered seeds every year rather than use them in multiple planting seasons. Farmers who disobey are blacklisted forever.
It’s a wide net Monsanto has cast over the agricultural landscape. As Ravicher points out, “it’s actually in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply.” Imagine a world devoid of naturally vigorous traditional crops and controlled by a single business with a appetite for intellectual property. Did anyone else feel a cold wind pass through them? Now imagine a world where thousands of family farmers fight the good fight to continue giving consumers a choice in their food—and win.
Source: Cornucopia Institute, The Street
Image by NatalieMaynor,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 14, 2011 6:07 PM
The epistolary genre bursts with warmth. From love letters to modern e-epistles, personal correspondence may contain little complaints, funny stories, and big successes piled together with equal weight and candor. The reader of such a letter, after all, is generally a sympathetic listener, a person predisposed to find the complaints valid, the anecdotes amusing, and the triumphs worth applauding.
There are charming epistolary fiction books that make me want to write letters, like Anne of Windy Poplars (1936) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (2009), but occasionally we are granted the voyeuristic pleasure of reading a real letter between friends, as in Joan McClure’s wonderful 1969 letter to her college friend Aliceann, reprinted in The Brooklyn Rail (May 2011). A mother and graduate student, McClure writes about passing her linguistics exams, grouses about ironing her children’s clothing, and gossips about her neighbors with equal fervor and dry wit.
“I agree with you that housework is a total bore, and the only thing that has kept me going these past few years is my studies,” writes McClure to her friend, clearly a kindred spirit. The letter provides an honest, ungutted glimpse into the late 1960s, when an aspiring linguist felt the pressure to also be a perfect housekeeper and mother:
One day this week it was 90 degrees and [my neighbor] Maria got up at 3:30 a.m. and cleaned, and did three loads of wash and some ironing. By the time the kids got up, she was ready to go shopping. First she gave them baths and washed their hair. Then they went shopping all morning. After lunch she took an hour’s nap, which restored her for the evening’s activity: painting one wall in the playroom, cleaning the paneling, cooking a big meal for her husband…, putting the sprinkler out and watching her kids and mine because I had to teach that evening, and after the kids were in bed, washing the entire living room wall. You can imagine how much she does on a cool day.
Like tiny brushstrokes, the details of McClure’s letter reveal the portrait of her life now, distanced from her college days. It’s a privilege to read such a correspondence, to be privy to the unguarded intimacy between friends. “I’m going to have another party for my students this summer,” writes McClure toward the end of her long, tender missive. “How I wish you could come.”
Source: Brooklyn Rail
Image by Muffet,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011 11:38 AM
The art of cursive handwriting is at a crossroads. Touch-typing on a computer keyboard has replaced hand-writing on a sheet of paper so fully that the Indiana Department of Education, in a memo to the state’s elementary school principals (April 25, 2011), has officially canceled cursive writing from the state curriculum, replacing it with keyboarding.
Some educators have been calling for the end of handwriting for years. But handwriting is not an antediluvian method of communication to be tossed aside in favor of e-learning, reports the Los Angeles Times (June 15, 2011). The motion of writing out letters and words and sentences by hand stimulates the brain in a way that keyboarding does not. Perhaps it is not so different than the way reading a book activates the brain differently than hearing the same information or watching it on a television screen. None of this is to say that computers and TV can’t be educational, but the tactile, memory-creating relationship between you and your language lessens once the re-creation of the letters by your own hand is taken out of the equation.
Like math class, the brain-taxing work of penmanship is not simply about its practical application in daily life, Jason Wire reminds us (Matador, July 8, 2011):
I get it. We type more often than we write nowadays. But I also use calculators more often than I long-divide, and I’ve never once used the slope formula in my everyday life. In high school I loathed calculus, seeing it as pointless and irrelevant, until I realized math class is more about exercising the brain than ensuring life-long memories of equations. Why is cursive handwriting not seen the same way?
It bears mentioning that a child who never learns to write cursive will also never learn to read cursive. The neglected art has already created a generation of schoolchildren, from third graders on up through high schoolers, to whom cursive is a foreign alphabet. Claudette Sandecki met the written language barrier head-on (Terrace Standard, July 6, 2011):
Replying to my posted letter written in the cursive style I was taught 70 years ago, a teenager told me bluntly, “I can’t read your handwriting. Type.”
...[A] teen said she leafed through her grandmother’s journal shortly after she died, but could barely read her cursive handwriting. “It was kind of cryptic, like code.”
Is it flimsy nostalgia that makes me want the next generation to be able to read a historic text or a card from their grandpa? I think not. I think, rather, that it’s wildly practical to maintain cursive in the classroom and not turn handwritten documents into indecipherable codes.
And we needn’t fear that classroom time on penmanship will have a luddite effect on our children. The Zaner-Bloser Company, venerable publisher of handwriting lesson plans, has revitalized its handwriting curriculum for the modern era, including interactive whiteboard-ready digital resources that allow students to handwrite letters on a touch screen.
Source: Los Angeles Times, Matador, Terrace Standard
Image by EraPhernalia Vintage,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 08, 2011 5:10 PM
My neighborhood coffee shop, housed in a historic red brick edifice on a shady intersection, no longer sells bottled water. The barista posted a small, handwritten sign explaining why:
Nina’s Coffee Café took the pledge to think outside the bottle and serve St. Paul’s finest tap water. Join us in this effort. Fill your own bottles at the watering hole.
Thank god, I say. Or more accurately: Thank you, café owner June Berkowitz. Inviting customers to drink their fill of free water is such a novel concept after decades of cafés, fast food joints, and movie theaters, when asked for “just water,” either handing over a tiny Dixie cup that lasts two gulps or making patrons pay for a disposable plastic bottle.
It will have to be a tandem effort between patrons and businesses if we are to break our dependence on bottled water, writes Peter Gleick in his book Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water(Island Press, 2010):
An increasing number of restaurants have also been in the front lines of the campaign against bottled water, despite the fact that bottled water can be a significant source of revenue. Restaurants know that they can boost profits, and servers can boost tips, by making water another commodity. Yet more and more restaurateurs are shifting to encourage healthy foods and sustainable agriculture grown nearby—a campaign many call “local food.” Maybe it is time to launch a “local water” campaign as well to encourage consumers to turn away from bottled water and back toward local sources of supply.
I’ll leave it up to someone else to come up with the “local water” version of locavore, but in the meantime, a loud round of applause to Nina’s café for taking the tap water pledge, regardless of its effect on their bottom line. With plastic water bottles leaching cancer-causing toxins and being disposed of at a heart-stopping rate of 85 million bottles per day in the United States alone, I am thrilled to bring along my BPA-free, stainless steel bottle and fill it at your watering hole.
Source: Bottled and Sold
Image by Dan4th,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 06, 2011 9:48 AM
“I cannot tell you a lie my friends, that is the most stigma I have faced up to now, but I have a strong heart,” writes Grace Lamwaka (July 1st, 2011) on the TB&ME blog launched by the nonprofit organization Doctors Without Borders, otherwise known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Grace is a 26-year-old woman from Kitgum District, Uganda, who has been diagnosed with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, a neglected and stigmatized disease that currently demands long, painful treatments. She has been blogging about her experience for seven weeks, starting with a post titled “The beginning” (May 17th, 2011).
She is one of eight bloggers so far who has been enlisted to tell the world about her life with tuberculosis in her own words. The project was initiated to give voice to patients from around the globe and to help bring about improved treatments. According to the TB&ME site:
Many of the patients sharing their stories (especially those in MSF projects) do not have access to computers or the internet. In these cases, the patients record their posts and it is translated/transcribed and posted by MSF…. Where patients in this situation receive questions and comments, any answers they choose to give will be recorded and transcribed.
Sarah Boseley’s global health blog at the Guardian (30 June 2011) provides a glimpse into the history of tuberculosis. For more on the future of this disease, check back with Grace Lamwaka as she continues to tell her story. “Thanks again for reading,” she writes in her most recent post.
Source: TB&ME, Guardian
Image by rabble,
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.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011 5:33 PM
Where does the story begin? Perhaps in the delivery room, when the doctor hands the newborn baby, still slick with blood and mucus, to the ecstatic parents but isn’t able to say definitively, “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.” Or it could start earlier, in the womb, when the cells are dividing like mad to create the many complicated and wondrous parts of a new human being. Perhaps the story really gets going later, when the surgeon slices into the baby’s phallus—considered either a micro-penis or an overlarge clitoris—in the first of many treatments to cosmetically assign a crystal-clear gender. Or maybe the heart of the story is the slow cultivation of shame that comes from the years of secrecy and misinformation that follow infant gender reassignment.
By far the happiest place to dive in, for this particular rendition of the story, is when Jim met Alice Dreger a few months ago and told her: “You saved my life.”
Jim is a 50-year-old man who was born with a disorder of sex development (DSD), formerly known as intersex, formerly known as pseudo-hermaphrodism. Alice is a bioethics professor and advocate of the basic human rights of DSD patients: the right to grow up without devastating cosmetic surgeries that take away sexual sensation or, in some instances, the ability to experience orgasm; the right to know one’s own medical history; the right to make one’s own medical choices.
Alice tells Jim’s story in Bioethics Forum (02/14/2011):
[Jim] was born with ambiguous genitalia—with hypospadias (where the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis), with a smaller-than-average penis, and a herniated testicle. Against doctors’ advice, his parents raised him as a boy. The docs of course had recommended sex reassignment, as was standard. His parents did not resist because they were radical; they resisted because they were terrified and young and I’ll bet they didn’t understand why you would take a baby with testicles and make him a girl.
Of the 2,600-some babies born with ambiguous genitals each year in the United States, Jim is among the rare few from his generation who escaped having his sex organs resculpted to look like a vagina. And because of social activists such as Alice and others with Accord Alliance (previously the Intersex Society of North America), he eventually learned that he was not alone—a priceless gift.
Today Jim has some really beautiful things in his life: A wife. A daughter. A doctor who listens to his concerns and helps him make the right choices for his body. And he had the honor of meeting Alice and telling her his story:
He said that he knew, from my Web site, that some people had objected to the move from talking about “intersex” to talking about “disorders of sex development.” But, he said, “I love the new term, DSD.” He said it captured his experience—that what he has is a medical condition. He doesn’t have double sex, or double gender, as people seem to think when they hear the term “intersex.” He has a DSD.
Source: Bioethics Forum
Image by clevercupcakes,
licensed under Creative Commons.
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