Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Bad Poetry Hour

I'm BA-A-A-Ck! (Imagine horrible red eyes winking at you above a large scaley snout. Or a divine goddess with neon-green teeth.)

Anyway, I have spent much of the last week on the road. Hence this old Travel Poem:

I have traveled far
on the I-95
cocooned in my car.

I have eaten
at a hundred McDonalds and Burger Kings,
and chewed on chicken wings
from dozen Kentucky Fried Chickens.

It is the beaten
path I travel.
The plot never thickens.

As in a dream
I have glided past
a hundred times the same shopping center,
floated in a stream
of identical cars, all going too fast
to give way for those who enter.

I have seen the same wary look
on all the passing faces
and on every break I took
in all the resting places
I have sought
an answer to the same horrid thought:

Am I still me
or does my name
belong to someone else
who only looks the same?

Good, eh? Heh.

And here's a religious poem:

There is but one righteous God and that is mine.
I know, I know His gaze.
He speaks through me and His words do shine.
I run, I run in a maze.

There is but one righteous God and He is mine.
I own, I own His rage.
He is hungry and thirsty and I am His shrine.
His war, His war I wage.

There is but one true truth that I have written.
In me, in me put your trust.
And all who doubt it are righteously smitten
By God, by God in my lust.

There is but one true God and I am His servant.
He has spoken to Me but speaks no more.
His silence is fervent and I am its token.
Mine is His Holy War.

That one is a little bit too realistic, sigh.

Friday, January 02, 2009

"The good kind of feminist' (by Suzie)

          Perhaps because I have keen, dog-like hearing, I talk softly. (Why is everyone else shouting??) I dislike confrontation. For much of my life, I was slender. Sometimes I wear skirts and dresses, and I really do think that they can be comfortable and that men should have that option. I’m compulsively* heterosexual. At times, I wear makeup, not because feminism gives me choices, but because I was indoctrinated with the idea that I’m more attractive that way, and I can’t get that out of my head any more than I can shake the idea that I need to be attractive. Sometimes I pull the hair out of my legs with a little torture machine, not because I like smooth legs or think torture is sexy, but because I have enough to deal with, without some idiot making fun of me for having hairy legs.
           Radical feminists may think less of me for these things (sorry! I’m trying!). Like most women, however, I get a lot of positive reinforcement for anything considered feminine. I’ve had liberal/leftist/progressive/feminist men confide that they like me because I’m more feminine than some feminists they know. I want to cry, “That’s not a compliment!” But I don’t because of that problem-with-confrontation.
         I felt that same anguish this week when I read this comment from Comrade Kevin to the author at Liberality:
You're the good kind of feminist. The one I can listen to, I mean. No point in eschewing your femininity and expression of it in the process of seeking empowerment.
         To Kevin and all similar comrades: If I want equal rights and opportunities, including a reduction in the epidemic of male violence against women, will you listen to me only if I wear skirts and smile winningly?
         I'm low income and disabled. If I want to discuss class and disability, will it help if I look demure and speak softly?
        When men talk political theory or philosophy, privilege or oppression, do you listen only to those who do not fear expressing their masculinity? What combination of masculinity and femininity do you require from lesbians and gay men seeking rights?
        Kevin’s comment on femininity relates to my recent post on masculinity. It suggests that men and women are masculine or feminine by nature. In other words, there is something in my genetics that encourages me to wear dresses and makeup, avoid confrontation, etc. If I don't act in ways that society deems feminine, I must be eschewing my femininity, or denying my nature. 
        On his own blog, Kevin calls himself a feminist and criticizes the “second generation.” (That would be the “second wave.” As I’ve said before, these terms are imprecise, but even the first wave included more than one generation.) He says:
Feminism should not be a myopic viewpoint pitting men against women. True feminism is egalitarianism and moves the entire human race forward: women of all colors, creeds, and sexual orientations, and men of all colors, creeds, and sexual orientations.
Once again, we see the idea that feminism must fight all oppressions and not focus (solely? too much?) on gender and women.
          Going back to his comment on empowerment: Some people talk about it as if it's all good! No one has to make any sacrifices! Men and women can both win! Sometimes, however, some people have to give up power in order for others to be empowered. If women had parity in Congress, for example, it would mean fewer men in Congress. The post on masculinity noted that some men feel less powerful when they are no longer needed as providers and protectors.
          The idea that men would listen if only we were "the good kind of feminist" plays into the good-girl trap: If only we tried harder, if only we were more understanding ... It's as if we were asking for special favors, and men had no responsibilities. (Amananta's post on "the latest false woman-dividing dichotomy" also applies here.) If women could win equality by pleasing men – if all we had to do was look at them sweetly and bat our mascaraed eyelashes – the revolution would be over tomorrow.    
*Joke. See “compulsory heterosexuality.”
ETA: See the comments for Kevin's response.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year And Thanks For The Past Year!

Let's work to make it as good as it can possibly be, both for this planet and for all who live on it.

Thank you for your company and for sharing what you know with the greater community that we have built in the spider web of the cyberspace. My life would be poorer for not knowing you. In the emotional and spiritual sense, natch. Add a winky emoticon here.
P.S. This was future posted earlier in the week.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Situational Ethics of Jeff Jacoby by Anthony McCarthy

As an example of distortion for the purpose of defending bigotry, Jeff Jacoby’s column in today’s Boston Globe is classic. His claim is that religious liberty is in danger from the might of gay people.

His absurd claim in a nutshell, “But religious liberty is under assault by gay activists, and the First Amendment is getting battered.”

What liberty is it that is under assault? The liberty of people to deny gay people public accommodation using religion as an excuse.

In April, photographers Jon and Elaine Huguenin were fined $6,637 by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission for declining to shoot a lesbian commitment ceremony. The Huguenins didn't want to take a job that would have required them to disregard their Christian values. But the commission ruled that in turning down the work, they had illegally discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation.

Presumably the Huguenin’s were offering an advertised, professional service. Perhaps their business is incorporated by the state. If New Mexico has made gay people a covered class in its civil rights laws and regulations businesses would have no right to deny their services because prospective clients were gay. Jacoby might see if differently if they claimed their religious convictions opposed inter-racial or inter-religious marriage or commitment ceremonies. I’m fairly certain that if a business refused professional services to a couple because one was Christian and the other Jewish, Jacoby would have no problem understanding that there is no religious liberty issue, it was a straight forward issue of public accommodations.

His second example is more interesting because it contains what I’d consider a breach of professional ethics.

Marcia Walden, a licensed counselor in Georgia, was fired for referring a lesbian client to someone better suited to help her. "Jane Doe" had approached Walden for counseling on her same-sex relationship, a request with which Walden recognized her own religious beliefs were in conflict. Rather than provide insincere counseling, Walden referred Jane to a colleague. That colleague commended her for doing "the right thing" by making the referral, but Jane later filed a complaint, and Walden lost her job.

Walden is, apparently, a licensed counselor in a state that is hardly friendly to gay rights. I’d imagine she might consider herself something of a health care professional. If her religious beliefs make it impossible for her to provide counseling to clients based on their gender orientation it’s clear she’s in the wrong line of work. Should religious bigots be putting out a shingle as a “counselor”? Again, would Jacoby think if she wanted to deny services to members of one of the classes covered under the Civil Rights Acts would he be pretending that she is a victim of religious persecution?

If these two examples don’t have you crying into your hanky, flannel or linen, he goes into the passion of “evangelical psychologist Neil Clark Warren”, the e-harmony mogul, pressured into providing his public accommodation on a non-bigoted basis.

Jacoby, pretending that these people are victims of the gay juggernaut is a lazy, dishonest play to the feeling of victimization that bigots always feel when their “right” to continue to discriminate is taken away from them. His act reminds me of the whining and sniveling among the fans of Don Imus during his all too short hiatus due to racism and sexism.

Jeff Jacoby, who has had a checkered history of journalistic ethics, is a pretty pathetic example of a columnist. His advocacy of liberties and civil rights is notably spotty as well. Just about all conservatives have no appreciation for the rights of anyone unassociated with themselves. The Boston Globe has a history of hiring some pretty doofy conservatives for its op-ed page and retaining them well past the point they’ve proven their being total meatballs. All I can say, doesn’t anyone edit that page? Shouldn’t Jacoby at least be held to account when he so blatantly mis-identifies his defense of bigotry as a defense of religious liberty? Why wasn’t Jacoby gotten rid of when he gave the Globe a perfect reason to fire his sorry self. Instead they’ve let go much better writers than he in the various buy-outs and down sizings.

Some Interesting Reading For the End of the Year

This Vanity Fair article looks back on the last eight years by using quotes from all sorts of powerful people. Ver-ry interesting though perhaps not reassuring reading.

And on the indirect effects of the economic troubles, an earlier newspaper article (found via notes that finances might make getting divorced harder. Not a terribly big problem for people who are planning to get divorced on civil terms but what if that is not the case? This could be a good time to send money to shelters for domestic abuse victims/survivors if you can afford it, so that not all options close for those who are most frightened.

In fun reading, check out the early science-fiction stories of James Tiptree Jr., one of the many women in the history of publishing who wrote under a male pen-name. She was never as popular after she came out of the gender closet, by the way, though it could of course be that she wrote her best fiction early in her career. Still, it's fascinating to think about the impact of even pretending to be a guy when you are not. Or the reverse.

Finally, read Digby's post on Female Genital Mutilation in Kurdistan. Remember that the kurds are the good people when it comes to women? What's weird about any posts on FGM is how quickly they revolve into a discussion of male circumcision. Perhaps it's because people here mostly agree that FGM is not a good idea but are not equally agreed on male circumcision. On the other hand, the reason for the topic of conversation changing could be something different.

Future-written in the past.

Useful Things I’ve Learned in 2008 by Anthony McCarthy

- Coffee made with water that is just steaming instead of boiling tastes better. At least when you let it steep for five minutes in a Pyrex measuring cup) and filter it through those natural paper filters. Measuring helps to monitor and so control my coffee addiction, yeah, that’s right. Controls it.

- Getting over squeamishness about washing and using flannel handkerchiefs instead of paper tissue was a big improvement to life. It’s better for the nose during a bad cold (doesn’t chafe), saves money and is better for the environment. Mine are cut from old flannel shirts so they were free too. And if you forget them in the wash, no tissue lint all over everything. Get a lot of them, you’re not going to feel like washing them when you need them most. Two more words, pre-soak. Twice.

Got any hints for the coming year?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Proving our innocence (by Suzie)

         Women, don’t drink too much tomorrow. Otherwise, you’ll have no defense if a man assaults you. And, hey, have a happy new year!
          (If you don't know what's wrong with this picture, read Andi Zeisler's essay "Can We Mention the Men?")    
          The National Crime Victimization Survey shows a great increase in sexual assaults and domestic violence from 2005 to 2007. Although the increase may be due to better methodology, the numbers are way too high. Sarah Tofte, researcher for the US Program at Human Rights Watch, said:
The Obama-Biden administration should make prevention and protection against all forms of domestic and sexual violence a top priority.
          While we wait for that to happen, consider this case: In Tampa in 2005, a woman left a bar and was walking down the street when, she said, a man grabbed and raped her. (Continue reading at your own risk.)
Detective Mark Sutkoff … lauded the steely resolve of the victim, who returned with detectives to the site of the attack and guided them to the different locations where he raped her over a 3 1/2-hour period. She also spent four hours with detectives to create a composite sketch of the suspect that was released late last month.
"If it wasn't for her, we never would have made this case," Sutkoff said. "For her to survive, it is a miracle. For her to be strong enough to be this cooperative is truly amazing."
          DNA testing turned up Amos Busby, who has a “lengthy criminal history,” including a conviction of aggravated battery on a pregnant woman. After his arrest, Sutkoff said, “she can focus on recovering from her nightmare.”
          Sadly, no. In court recently, she testified she couldn’t remember all of the details from that night. Busby’s lawyer seized on that as evidence that she was lying. He said she had consented to sex.  A pathologist for the defense “acknowledged the woman was covered in bruises, scratches and scrapes but said there weren't sufficient injuries to her genitalia to support a rape conclusion.”
          After three years in jail awaiting trial, Busby was acquitted and freed.
          Rape victims are not supposed to be on trial. When a man claims consensual sex, however, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he's guilty, i.e., the woman didn’t consent or couldn’t have consented. For all intents and purposes, she must prove she’s innocent. If the jury thinks it’s possible that a woman wandered off into the bushes with a strange man to have “rough sex” … oh, good grief, where do they find these jurors?

Laura Siersema's latest (by Suzie)

         Her music sounds like sunlight on the waves, bright notes dancing on the smooth flow. 
         You can sample Laura Siersema's third CD, "Talon of the Blackwater," here and at her MySpace page, which says: "Laura melds classical, jazz, folk and an inventive, textured & rhythmic keyboard style with 'the soul and lyrics of a true poet.' (Indie-Music Reviews). CDBaby describes "Debussy with a little jazz, Rainer Maria Rilke with some wacky sticks." Click on the title song, and you can hear Laura's love of Joni Mitchell. 
        Her parents played in a folk group. She became a nurse, but finally gave in to her love of music and poetry. She studied voice and songwriting at Berklee College of Music.
         I encountered her music when I worked for a newspaper that got free CDs to review. I would look for music by women, knowing they had less chance of being heard. The majority of music critics are men, the majority of CDs they review are by men, and the majority of music played on the radio is by men. So much beautiful music goes unheard.      

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Short Interruption

To my scheduled programming on this here blog is in order, sniff. I'm going to have only sporadic Internet access the rest of this week, but, goddess willing, I shall be back by the end of it. In the meantime, my lovely guest bloggers (hugs) might post a thing or two. Or not, as I gave them no prior warning and they have lives, too. There will also be a few posts I have sent into the future.

You could always go through my archives and help me select posts for a book on feminism and another one on goddessing and so on. I'm trying to use the psychological insights of the Tom Sawyer fence-painting incident in new and creative ways, if you didn't get it. Now you know the worst.

The Year In Retreat, With Words Disappearing

'Retreat' is not the word I need there but it will have to do as I'm having a dyslexic day. I have never liked those retrospectives that we write at the end of the old year but neither have I ever cared enough to worry out the reason for my mild dislike.

The awful events in Gaza showed the reason far too clearly: Time never takes a break for us to sit back and to evaluate the last year or so, and no particular date is in any sense the proper time to stop. Neither have we enough distance from the events, oh say, last November, to suddenly see clearly. The old year is not a decrepit old guy with a long white beard, just as the new year is not a newborn baby boy (I never noticed the gender of those two before, either!). Time is a continuum and the sins and virtues of the past have already stained the next year. The pedals of that enormous bicycle of Time keep moving even when we lift our legs off them for a short 'Remember when?' break.

Does that seem too strong a loathing that I express there for something unimportant and even vaguely useful? But then you haven't tried to compose a 'Year in a Feminist Rearview Mirror' post for the last seven days or so. Doing that makes a goddess have acid indigestion, even when she hasn't managed to gobble up one fat demon since summer.

I much prefer to look forwards, like one of those carved goddesses parting the waves for old-time ships, with my paint slowly crackling but the mysterious smile growing ever wider (now tell me what those things are called, dammit). (Where DO words go when you can't remember them and why do I remember 'keulakuva' and not whatever bloody thing it is in English?)

So, let us look forwards, into the gray and stormy seas while the salt spray stings our divine eyelids. What do we see that might be optimistic or at least hope-filled? A lighthouse beaming across the emptiness? Someone bringing us a dictionary of seafaring terms? A new Grand Feminist Awakening?

That's it! I truly smell it in the air. Estrogen rising. What do you think?

End Of Year Critter And Nature Blogging

Stolen from Tintti. First the picture of the tail:

Which is also a picture of the low sun of December. Then the proud owner of the tail, Onni (who is growing out of his collar rapidly):

Then a picture saying goodbye to the old year:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Prelude To 2009 by Anthony McCarthy

Some people who have read my posts here might come to the conclusion that I’m what’s called a “centrist” due to my insistence that we should work for what’s possible in the near future instead of insisting on having what we really want right now. I reject that analysis. Making progress in real life, changing life for the better has to be the acid test of all parts of leftist politics. Placing an abstract ideal over the fact of what really happens is often an impediment to making that change. Those “leftist” positions are empty and futile.

The facts of our politics mean that the change we can manage and secure will be incremental, not whole hog. Living in a rural, blue-collar milieu, it’s clear to me that those increments can make an enormous difference in peoples’ lives and in the environment we all depend on. And the less money you’ve got, the bigger that change will seem. From here it is also clear that some of the most insistent “all or nothing” purists are economically or geographically comfortable enough so any resultant stagnation and retrenchment in reaction to their loud instance on doing what’s not presently impossible, isn’t going to inconvenience them in any basic way. I’ve written tens of thousands of words on that theme.

But at the bottom of it all is what would be taken as a pretty radical program. I’m a socialist, a leveler - probably the most radical of all political positions, an absolutist on issues of equality and justice. I favor a national, single payer, health system, universal free education including college and post graduate education and an absolute separation between church and state. I have noticed that my ultimate goal is often far too radical for many of those who have accused me of wishy-washy centrism. Those are all aspects of public life which the government could make happen on the basis of laws and policies. Those changes through the law are the most possible to achieve.

It’s a radical program in personal relations, those parts of life outside of the reach of government and the law, which will be the hardest to achieve. You have to change peoples minds and hearts to do that, you can’t achieve that by legislation or even court rulings.

This being a feminist blog, me being a radical, gay man writing for it, many of the issues we deal with are at the intersection of private and public life, the intersection of the law and how we govern our daily lives. That meeting of the two makes the problems we deal with far more difficult to understand and to develop programs for getting change. You can’t legislate much of what is at the heart of the oppression of women and gay people, some of it you can. I often have found that my thinking on these topics needed to pass through the filter of what can be the subject of the law and what can’t be. There’s nothing you can do about someone who is determined to hate you because of your gender or sexual orientation, you can, however, outlaw their discrimination in public accommodations on that basis.

You can go only so far in pressing even those legislated rights, especially for those of us who lack federal protections of our legal equality. In many states in the country, gay people can be legally discriminated against in a whole range of areas exactly BECAUSE they are gay. We do not have equal rights to straight people in any state simply because what rights we have in some places are not portable through out the country. The courts have been unwilling to assert our federal equality and until some of the five bigots sitting on the Supreme Court are replaced with Justices, that is not going to happen. That is simply the way it is. And, as seen in California, the finality of Supreme Court rulings is far from a sure thing. In the end it will be changing the majority of peoples votes that firmly secure our equality. That is something I’ve also pointed out continually.

Frank Rich’s column yesterday is one of the best I’ve read on Barack Obama’s Rick Warren invitation. I agree with a lot of it, including his points about Obama’s personal flaw of hubris. But I have a lot of faith in his ability to learn from mistakes and to admit when he is wrong. I frimly believe that Barack Obama will produce some positive change forward in areas where the government has been going backwards for most of our lives. I believe he will overturn “Don’t Ask”, he will overturn many of the policies that have harmed the lives of women and gay people and others. He will try to change laws that restrict our rights and impede our progress. But don’t expect him to try to do what is not possible. He certainly noticed what happened in California with prop 8, that it was able to pass in CALIFORNIA! is strong evidence that equally available gay marriage is not a possibility now. How fast it becomes possible is not a matter that can be predicted. If California isn’t ready to make the leap, the country isn’t. Does anyone really believe that it is realistic to insist on having it now? Why should anyone who denies the evidence in front of us be taken seriously? Wanting it isn’t going to make it happen, making gay marriage the make or break issue for the Obama administration will result in whatever vehemently anti-gay, anti-feminist figures the Republicans put up in 2010 and 2012 gaining office and driving the country into reverse again.

Getting what we can get AND CAN KEEP is the really radical stand on the issue of gay rights. Building on progress is the real way to get closer to the presently unattainable goal. That progress improves lives now and gains us support to make even more progress. Any progress is more radical than regression. I’m not willing to exchange what can be in the next four years for what isn’t going to be in the same period of time. I’m not willing to defer equal public accommodations, employment rights, housing rights, for all gay people and in a futile attempt to insist on the immediate provision of a right that, even in Massachusetts, isn’t exercised by most of those who can marry there now. That position, which would improve the rights of millions of gay people now, is the more genuinely leftist position. I do favor marriage rights and civil unions for consenting adults of all gender orientation where they can be obtained now. Civil union should also be available to adults who wish to form a household but who have no intention of having a sexual relationship. Those people who choose or reject civil unions are the best judge on whether or not they consider it beneath their dignity to enter into. They should feel under no obligation to defer whatever rights they can exercise on the say so of someone unconnnected with them.

I don’t like Rick Warren, I don’t find his religiosity authentic or sincere. It looks like materialism in a robe to me. There are a lot of people who disagree with me, which is their right. I’m willing to lodge my objection and wait for the executive orders and legislation. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes apparent that Barack Obama has a reason for inviting Warren that might, might, further progressive legislation. The invitation was clearly going to provoke a strong reaction from many of us who supported Obama and whose support he and the Democrats will need. I’ve heard stories about Obama being a great poker player. My guess, this is something we won’t fully understand till the cards are on the table.