Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Those immoral, sinful, perverse, lucky lesbians

From How to be a Retronaut: Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1935-1958

The description at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library site reads:
Included here are twenty-five illustrated front and back covers from pulp fiction novels dating between 1935-1958. This small collection of novels is part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library's growing collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer materials representing the fields of history, literature, cultural studies, popular culture, the arts, and design. These novels, named after the inexpensive wood pulp paper on which they were printed, could be found at magazine and newspaper stands, drugstores, and bus terminals. Publishers included mainstream companies such as Bantam, Viking, and Fawcett as well as smaller houses specializing in erotica like Bedside Books and Nightstand Books. Several established authors wrote pulp novels under pseudonyms, including Mists of Avalon author Marion Zimmer Bradley (as Lee Chapman, Miriam Gardner, Morgan Ives) and the mystery writer Lawrence Block (Jill Emerson, Sheldon Ward, Andrew Shaw).
Not all of them condemn same-sex relationships right there on the front cover-- I just picked the worst offenders. I'd be interested to know what the readership of these novels was like...the proportion of straight men to self-hating lesbians. Or maybe not self-hating, but willing to ignore the blatant attempts at guilt-tripping accompanying the titillation.

Gotta go now...Mom says I have to take a nap with my 35-year-old twin. I hope Bill, who might well be our brother and is pushing 40 himself, isn't too jealous.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The perfect comment on Pixar's new film

I'm happy that Pixar is finally producing a film, to be released next year, with a female protagonist. I am, really. I'm also in shock that it has taken this long...but anyway. Here's the plot synopsis:
Brave is set in the mystical Scottish Highlands, where Merida is the princess of a kingdom ruled by King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). An unruly daughter and an accomplished archer, Merida one day defies a sacred custom of the land and inadvertently brings turmoil to the kingdom. In an attempt to set things right, Merida seeks out an eccentric old Wise Woman (Julie Walters) and is granted an ill-fated wish. Also figuring into Merida’s quest — and serving as comic relief — are the kingdom’s three lords: the enormous Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), the surly Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson), and the disagreeable Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane)
Dingwall? Seriously? Anyway, originally Merida was to be played by Reese Witherspoon, but she had to bow out due to a scheduling conflict. So instead they got Kelly Macdonald, which is actually Scottish. That's good as well, considering the fact that in How To Train Your Dragon the fact that all adult characters were Scottish whereas (I think) none of the children were drove me up the wall. But also, I could not possibly agree more with this remark:
while I’m thrilled that they’re finally making a movie with a female protagonist (and director, for that matter), I really, really wish they hadn’t made her a princess. I mean, yes, knowing them it’s going to be an awesome movie, she’ll kick all sorts of ass and subvert all sorts of princess expectations. So did Mulan, and she ended up just another sparkly dress-up doll in the Disney Princess line (to which Disney has already confirmed Merida will be added). 
I mean, Pixar practically specializes in unexpected heroes. An old ragdoll. The monster in your closet. A trash-compacting robot. A rat who likes to cook. Ed Asner. Surely they could’ve come up with something for their very first female protagonist other than princess. I’ll still see it, and I’m sure I’ll love it, but still. 
 Indeed. Also since he describes himself as a "Pixar fanboy," I assume that means he's male.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"It would be nice if we remembered that torture is immoral."

That was a quote from a comment about one man's experience of solitary confinement in prison. I would say it sums it up for me, but it has become all too clear to me that there are many people who are not able to remember it. They never knew it to begin with. The man in question is Thomas Silverstein, who has been in solitary for 28 years so far. He is serving life without parole for having killed two fellow inmates and a guard (he says in self defense) after having originally been imprisoned for armed robbery at 19. Here's his description of what he has experienced since then:
The cell was so small that I could stand in one place and touch both walls simultaneously. The ceiling was so low that I could reach up and touch the hot light fixture.  
My bed took up the length of the cell, and there was no other furniture at all…The walls were solid steel and painted all white.  
I was permitted to wear underwear, but I was given no other clothing.  
Shortly after I arrived, the prison staff began construction on the side pocket cell, adding more bars and other security measures to the cell while I was within it. In order not to be burned by sparks and embers while they welded more iron bars across the cell, I had to lie on my bed and cover myself with a sheet.  
It is hard to describe the horror I experienced during this construction process. As they built new walls around me it felt like I was being buried alive. It was terrifying.  
During my first year in the side pocket cell I was completely isolated from the outside world and had no way to occupy my time. I was not allowed to have any social visits, telephone privileges, or reading materials except a bible. I was not allowed to have a television, radio, or tape player. I could speak to no one and their was virtually nothing on which to focus my attention.  
I was not only isolated, but also disoriented in the side pocket. This was exacerbated by the fact that I wasn’t allowed to have a wristwatch or clock. In addition, the bright, artificial lights remained on in the cell constantly, increasing my disorientation and making it difficult to sleep. 
Not only were they constantly illuminated, but those lights buzzed incessantly. The buzzing noise was maddening, as there often were no other sounds at all. This may sound like a small thing, but it was my entire world.  
Due to the unchanging bright artificial lights and not having a wristwatch or clock, I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Frequently, I would fall asleep and when I woke up I would not know if I had slept for five minutes or five hours, and would have no idea of what day or time of day it was.  
I tried to measure the passing of days by counting food trays. Without being able to keep track of time, though, sometimes I thought the officers had left me and were never coming back. I thought they were gone for days, and I was going to starve. It’s likely they were only gone for a few hours, but I had no way to know.  
I was so disoriented in Atlanta that I felt like I was in an episode of the twilight zone. I now know that I was housed there for about four years, but I would have believed it was a decade if that is what I was told. It seemed eternal and endless and immeasurable…  
There was no air conditioning or heating in the side pocket cells. During the summer, the heat was unbearable. I would pour water on the ground and lay naked on the floor in an attempt to cool myself…  
The only time I was let out of my cell was for outdoor recreation. I was allowed one hour a week of outdoor recreation. I could not see any other inmates or any of the surrounding landscape during outdoor recreation. There was no exercise equipment and nothing to do… 
My vision deteriorated in the side pocket, I think due to the constant bright lights, or possibly also because of other aspects of this harsh environment. Everything began to appear blurry and I became sensitive to light, which burned my eyes and gave me headaches.  
Nearly all of the time, the officers refused to speak to me. Despite this, I heard people who I believed to be officers whispering into my vents, telling me they hated me and calling me names. To this day, I am not sure if the officers were doing this to me, or if I was starting to lose it and these were hallucinations.  
In the side pocket cell, I lost some ability to distinguished what was real. I dreamt I was in prison. When I woke up, I was not sure which was reality and which was a dream.
By any sane reckoning, this man has been tortured. For years. There is no reason that solitary confinement has to be like this. And yet, I've seen multiple people already both in the comments on the article and on Dispatches saying that there is nothing wrong with this, that he deserves say nothing of the people who are actually responsible for Silverstein's treatment.

I've written before about how I don't think anyone deserves life in prison, full stop. That means of course I don't think that anyone deserves to be confined like this. But that's really beside the point, because it shouldn't be about what he deserves-- it should be about how we as a society are entitled to treat him. We are entitled to imprison violent criminals to keep them from being violent again, to isolate them if necessary for the safety of others. We are not entitled to determine how to make life as much like hell as possible and then inflict that on them for the rest of their lives. We are not entitled to deliberately and methodically drive them insane. If those statements are controversial, if they make me sound like a "bleeding heart," something is horribly, horribly wrong. Well, obviously something already is horribly wrong, and it's government-sanctioned.

What this man did to get into prison in the first place, and what he did to stay there, are likewise irrelevant. If it is not acceptable to torture a terrorist for information, it is not acceptable to torture a criminal for satisfaction. What is on the line is not his ability to be civil, to refrain from barbarism, but ours.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Taming the tiger

Ed posted at Dispatches today about Slut Walk and Vox Day's reaction to it. My favorite comment of the thread so far, hands down, comes from Eric:
Just as you don't teach a tiger to stop devouring steak by continuously waving a bloody t-bone in front of it...  
He's not just wrong in comparing men to beasts, he's wrong in his understanding of beasts. Multiple-fold analogy fail.  
Because you do in fact train animals to ignore food by putting food in front of them, then giving them an alternate reward when they succeed in ignoring it. Over time, you can balance a steak on a dog's nose if you really have the patience to go that far. Though I'm not sure I want to try and analogize that. :)
I think I do, actually. The Vox Days of the world are apparently rape-tigers. No, that's too flattering an image...let's stick with rape-dogs. And the only way they can learn not to eat the tempting steak/rape the scantily dressed woman in front of them is to be desensitized. So the solution, the way to get them to stop, is by repeated exposure to tempting steaks/scantily clad women. The way to reduce sexual attacks, or at least the belief that sexual attacks are provoked, is to have more women dress like "sluts." Which is precisely what the Slut Walkers are encouraging.

So congrats, Vox, you actually stumbled onto a viable hypothesis. It's unfortunate that it happens to be diametrically opposed to what you thought. That's what happens when you switch the responsibility for rape from victims back onto rapists.

Of course, it's not actually true that there's a direct inverse relationship between the amount of clothing women wear in a given society and their personal safety. But it does seem to be the case that in societies where women are free to be more sexually liberated they are also safer, and vice versa. You'd think that would be common sense, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This just in: opponents of Slut Walks identify with rapists. Shocking.

"I see cleavage!  Must rape!"
Holy cats. If you have a need to troll for misogynists, apparently there's no better way than to have a Slut Walk. Articles on the subject appeared in the Guardian and the Daily Mail yesterday, and Dawn Foster found these in the Mail's comment thread:
If women were a little, just a little, more interesting then men wouldn’t treat them as mere sex objects. But tell me this – If women are NOT sex objects, what exactly is their purpose? To Women, men are nothing than an alternative source of income and to men, women are nothing more than a source of relief so I think women should just accept this fact and get on with it. Also, as a minor point, those so called women in the picture are those that should not worry about being viewed as sex objects, because they most certainly are not. They would turn most men into using their hand for relief, rather than a sex object. – Adam, Sutton Coldfield – UK, 10/5/2011 14:31  
…the way some women dress encourages men to have inappropriate thoughts and, for the less principled and disciplined males, inappropriate behaviour often follows those thoughts. If women can’t accept this or don’t/won’t understand it, then they don’t know much about the male species and have no one but themselves to blame when it goes wrong for them. - Reubenene, Somewhere In The World, 10/5/2011 13:13  
The one holding the banner sayins ” SEX is something people do together…” must have read it in a book. She can’t possibly be speaking from experience. - Peter, France, 10/5/2011 12:05  
Judging from the photos you are all quite safe “ladies”. - Mike Roberts, Stevenage, Herts, 10/5/2011 12:30 
Yes, yes, I know people call it the "Daily Fail" for a reason. It's sensationalistic, lurid, and often misleading. There was never a celebrity drug problem the Daily Fail didn't like. But these comments, especially the first one, verge on sociopathic. I'm starting to think it's axiomatic that in any online discussion about male/female sexual relations, there will inevitably be at least a few men who not only effectively declare themselves to be misogynistic, but also insist that the same is the case for the entirety of the male "species." I like how Reubenene, while acknowledging that not all men are inspired to rape at the sight of a woman who is dressed in a certain way, attributes the reason for that to "principle and discipline." As though looking at a woman appreciatively and raping her are on some kind of continuum, and the only difference between an admirer and a rapist is that the admirer stops a bit earlier-- rather than attraction and attack being, you know, two rather fundamentally different things.

In response to this, Dawn says:
So we’ve learnt that two stubborn false preconceptions about rape exist: 1) If women don’t modify their behaviour, rape is inevitable, and always their fault. 2) Rape is about physical attractiveness, not power. I’m so bored of hearing people with no concept of what rape is, and how it occurs, argue that rape occurs when one person finds another attractive and the object of desire doesn’t reciprocate. This is patent bullshit – rape is about power, not sex. Inches of column space were spent pondering why the “Night Stalker” in London had raped elderly people, querying why he found them attractive, rather than looking at the fact that he was targeting the vulnerable.
I don't like the "power, not sex" explanation. Never have. It seems to me that there is already a multiplicity of reasons why rapists rape, and narrowing it down from two to one motivations is working in precisely the wrong direction. I think rape is "about" power and sex, along with a lot of other things, but the insistence that it's about power only is useful because it makes it easier to assign responsibility for a rape-- on the rapist only. Unlike a fist fight outside of a bar that erupts because an argument got too heated, a rape is one-sided in terms of moral responsibility. I don't think it's invalid to ask why a rapist might be sexually interested in his/her victim, but to make it all about sexual attraction is missing the point completely. For the purposes of assigning responsibility, a rape is a kind of attack-- period.

I do agree with Dawn, however, on this point:
I’m always amazed men aren’t more furious at the way the rape problem is framed. If women dress “provocatively” and are likely to be raped as a result that means you men must, if you see an attractive enough woman, feel the urge to rape. You are so unable to control yourselves, that essentially you are purely animal, you are a baser human than women. Do you honestly feel like this? At any point in your life, have you been walking home, and thought “Gosh, I’d really like to rape her”. Because that is what these kind of stories and comments are claiming. 
Exactly. Comparing women to meat being dangled in front of the cages of predators is the road to putting all of us-- well, all of us women-- in burqas. It's a sexual heckler's veto. We might as well just cover ourselves completely and call it a day, because men can't be expected to control themselves within sight of a women who is sufficiently uncovered (all existing evidence which takes place nightly in clubs and bars across the world to the contrary). It couldn't be at all possible that the urge to brand women as "sluts" if they dress a certain way and tell them to cover up if they don't want to get raped stems from the very same thinking (that "slutty" dressed women deserve to be raped, or at least it doesn't matter much if it happens) that causes rape in the first place. Nope, not at all.

I wonder how many rapes take place in nudist colonies.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Slut walk conversation at The Agitator

While Radley Balko's on vacation, various people are guest blogging at his site. Dave Krueger wrote an entry on the Slut Walk topic, which resulted in a really interesting discussion. In reply to a commenter's question “But how can you tell the difference between blaming the victim and acknowledging that women do have some responsibility for protecting themselves?” someone named JOR said:
Everyone has the responsibility to defend themselves, in the purely practical (and trivial, and uninteresting) sense of “responsibility”. What victim-blaming does, is try to conflate this purely practical, trivial, uninteresting sense of responsibility (the sense in which one is responsible for absolutely everything that happens to them, whether by the acts of others or some other forces) with some morally relevant sense of responsibility, or blame (the sense in which violent criminals are wholly and entirely to blame for their crimes, even though in 100% of cases their crimes would not have occurred had their victims been stronger/faster/tougher/more skilled/more vigilant/more knowledgeable/wiser). How to tell whether you’re blaming the victim or simply offering practical (if ill-timed) advice? Well, if you ever find yourself attempting to invalidate a rape victim’s feelings of violation – of having suffered a genuine wrong and injustice – or if, god help you, you ever find yourself waving off a case of rape by insisting that the victim “should have known better” or in any way brought the rape on her (or his) self, then you are not simply offering practical advice, but engaging in honest-to-god all-out victim blaming and rape apologism.
Absolutely right.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Man-in-a-banana na na

From Crookedbrains:
Japanese artist Keisuke Yamada transforms regular bananas into 3D sculptures. This 23-year-old electrician takes about half an hour using just a toothpick and spoon to create these amazing banana sculptures. 

My guesses: 1) toothless Dick Cheney with an afro 2) Cthulhu, or maybe Davy Jones 3) Bruce Campbell

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Now that's how you counter-protest

Confused? Here's the context.

Un-toasted terrorist

Hemant Mehta looks at the revenge party after Osama bin Laden's killing in which t-shirts, political cartoons, and newspapers exult and proclaim that bin Laden is burning in Hell, which a CNN poll says a majority of Americans actually believe, and says simply:
Osama bin Laden is not in hell. 
Because hell doesn’t exist. 
Damn, it feels good to get that off my chest. 

And if it did exist, by the way, I would not wish him there.

Sluts of the world, unite and take over

Remember the Slut Walk in Toronto? When during a talk on how to be safe from sexual attack, a police officer informed a bunch of students to "avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized," and that got them kind of angry, so they took to the streets waving signs?

It continues and spreads:
Fast forward three months from Sanguinetti's unfortunate remarks, and a movement that was born in riposte to his loose talk has now gone international. "SlutWalking" is attracting thousands of people to take to the streets to put an end to what they believe is a culture in which it is considered acceptable to blame the victim.  
Some 2,351 people have signed up via Facebook to attend a SlutWalk through Boston on Saturday, when they will chant "Yes means yes, no means no," and "Hey hey, ho ho, patriarchy has to go."  
Further SlutWalks are planned in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.  
And that's before you get to Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK.  
Had it been under any other circumstance, Sanguinetti might have been quite proud of his global impact. In the circumstances, facing internal discipline by the Toronto police, he has grovelled profusely.  
"I am embarrassed by the comment I made and it shall not be repeated," he said.  
But there is no holding back the SlutWalkers now. Word spread like wildfire through Facebook and Twitter, and anger about the comments began to coalesce around the idea of taking to the streets in protest. The SlutWalk was born. The first march was held in Toronto itself last month. Organisers had expected about 100 people to turn out, and were astonished when almost 3,000 people did so.  
The participants, both female and male, carried placards saying "Met a slut today? Don't assault her," "Sluts pay taxes" and "We're here, we're sluts, get used to it."  
Another sign at the rally read: "It was Christmas Day. I was 14 and raped in a stairwell wearing snowshoes and layers. Did I deserve it too?"  
Some women attended the protest wearing jeans and T-shirts, while others took the mission of reclaiming the word "slut" – one of the stated objectives of the movement – more literally and turned out in overtly provocative fishnets and stilettos. But they were all united by the same belief: that rape is about the rapist, not his victim.     
Generally speaking, I reject the word "slut." Rarely is it used without a tone of condemnation for someone because of her (inevitably a "her") presumed sexual practices, and I think that provided someone's sexual practices are consensual and occur with adults, condemning her for them makes you an asshole. That, in addition to the suggestion that dressing a certain way means that women are "asking for it" or at least share some part of the responsibility if they are raped, is what's wrong with telling women not to dress like sluts.

I don't think that advice on how to avoid rape is inherently more about blaming the victim than advice on how to be safe in any other way, but the kind of advice offered obviously matters. Given that the vast majority of college students who are raped know their attacker, it seems that suggestions like these on how to avoid acquaintance rape would be most appropriate:
Trust your "gut" feelings. If you start to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a situation, listen to your feelings and act on them. Get yourself out of the situation as soon as possible.  
Don't be afraid to ask for help or "make a scene" if you feel threatened. If you are being pressured or forced into sexual activity against your will, let the other person know how you feel and get out of the situation, even if it's awkward and even if you embarrass the other person or hurt his feelings.  
Be especially careful in situations involving the use of drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol can make you less aware of danger signs and less able to communicate clearly. Be especially aware when you are in a new situation or with people that you don't know well. You need to be able to make good decisions to protect yourself from sexual assault.  
Go to parties or clubs with friends you can trust and agree to "look out" for one another. At parties where there is drinking or drugs, appoint a "designated sober person," one friend who won't drink and who will look out for the others in the group by regularly checking on them. Leave parties with people you know. Don't leave alone or with someone you don't know very well.
None of those blames the victim. Each is infinitely more useful than telling someone to avoid dressing "like a slut"-- whatever that means.  Never in my life has the clothing I've put on to go out at night been more important in terms of safety than the very obvious factors of a) who I'm going out with, b) how much I'm drinking and what, c) how I'm getting home, etc. What I'm wearing or, for that matter, how many people I've slept with has generally been beside the point.

So I support the sluts, if they want to call themselves that-- though inevitably, their use of the word will legitimize in the minds of many morons the notion that it's therefore okay for them to use the term un-ironically.  After all, faggots sometimes call each other faggots, don't they? Har har. And it's probably folly to imagine that these marches will reduce the incidence of stranger or acquaintance rape. But that's not really the point, from what I can tell.  The point is to give a great big middle finger to people who think that dressing in a way which creates impressions in someone's mind about your sexual preferences and activities counts as the equivalent of "fighting words." That women who dress to reveal their bodies should not be considered to be provoking anything but appreciative looks. Concepts which are still woefully absent in the minds of many people across the world.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The dangers of superstition coupled with despair

Best to skip this one if you don't want to be depressed. Reuters reports:
Hundreds of girls raped, murdered in Tanzania for black magic AIDS ‘cure’
Hundreds of albinos are thought to have been killed for black magic purposes in Tanzania and albino girls are being raped because of a belief they offer a cure for AIDS, a Canadian rights group said on Thursday. 
At least 63 albinos, including children, are known to have been killed, mostly in the remote northwest of the country. 
"We believe there are hundreds and hundreds of killings in Tanzania, but only a small number are being reported to the police," Peter Ash, founder and director of Under The Same Sun (UTSS), told Reuters. 
"There is belief that if you have relations with a girl with albinism, you will cure AIDS. So there are many girls with albinism who are being raped in this country because of this belief, which is a false belief." 
Around 1.4 million Tanzanians among a population of 40.7 million have the HIV virus that leads to AIDS. 
Albino hunters kill their victims and harvest their blood, hair, genitals and other body parts for potions that witchdoctors say bring luck in love, life and business. 
"(It is believed) a person with albinism is a curse. They are from the devil, they are not human, they do not die, they simply disappear," said Ash. . . 
The Tanzanian government says it is determined to halt the macabre killings, but has been widely criticized for inaction. 
I wonder if the effort to halt these rapes and killings has included telling people that there are no such things as witches, that black magic doesn't exist. That medicine is how sick people become well (if becoming well is possible), you can't cure a disease by attacking someone, and albinos are people just like anyone else.

Even sadder is that this isn't actually news-- the report above is from today, but the slaughter of albinos in Tanzania for black magic purposes has been going on for years.  In 2009 the government instituted a "ban on all traditional healers," but it doesn't seem to have stopped the practice.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Why I can't celebrate"

Valarie Kaur, a third generation Sikh American film maker, writes about why she isn't celebrating Osama bin Laden's death:
The last time a sudden burst of nationalism rallied us against America’s turbaned and bearded enemy, an epidemic of hate crimes swept the country.  In the yearlong aftermath of 9/11, the FBI reported a 1700 percent increase in anti-Muslim violence. At least 19 people were killed in hate murders. In the last decade, we have seen resurgences of hate violence whenever anti-Muslim rhetoric reaches a fever pitch, as it has since the firestorm around the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” last election season confirmed to politicians that they can use anti-Muslim sentiment to win political points.  
In the last few months alone, Congressman Peter King held controversial congressional hearings investigating “radicalization” in the Muslim community, Tea Party protesters yelled “Terrorist!” and “Remember 9/11″ at Muslim families at a fundraiser, legislators proposed a flurry of bills banning sharia in more than a dozen states, and Arizona tried to pass a bill that would remove names of victims killed in post-9/11 hate crimes from its 9/11 memorial. It was only a matter of time before we heard news of violence.  Just a few days before the congressional hearings, two turbaned Sikhs were gunned down in likely hate crimes in Elk Grove, CA.  Another was murdered in Las Vegas.  
Today, the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing does not bring an end to the hate; it refuels it.  In a decade-long “war” against terror, each time our government decides that some people are so bad that they must be placed outside the reach of law, our national imagination shrinks.  Human beings, in their fullness and complexity, become one-dimensional enemies.  It’s hard to kill people; it’s easy to kill enemies.  Frightened by Islamic fanaticism, we turned Osama bin Laden from a frail sick human being into a mythic super-criminal who embodied pure evil. So, no wonder people are celebrating his destruction.  
We would never celebrate the murder of a person.  But thousands are pouring into the streets to rejoice in the death of evil incarnate. And those who “look like” him — especially Sikh men and boys with turbans and beards who have endured a decade of “hey bin Laden!” on our city streets — are waiting and hoping that Americans might change how they see. 
Update: Breaking News –  5/2/11 at 1PM PST 
Fears confirmed.  A Portland mosque was vandalized just hours after President Obama announced that the U.S. had killed bin Laden.  The graffiti reads: OSAMA TODAY, ISLAM TOMORROW. 

bin angry-- a rant

If there's something that could inspire me to the kind of nationalistic joy that prompts a person to dance in the street waving a flag and chanting "USA! USA!," I don't know what it is. But Osama bin Laden's death it isn't.  As eloquent as Obama's address last night was, the phrase "justice has been done" and the ensuing interviews by news anchors with the friends and family of people who died on 9/11 turned my stomach. It's as though they were being asked to give official approval to everything the U.S. has done in the name of the "war on terror" since that day, now that finally the attack's ringleader has been located and summarily blown up. Osama bin Laden has become a caricature of ultimate evil-- now that he is dead, the ends justify the means and we can celebrate. Justice has, after all, been done.

Aside from the generally repellent idea of dancing in the street because a man-- any man-- was found and killed, there remain all of the concerns that Radley Balko outlines in a post this morning grimly titled "He won." America has not become better toward its own citizens or the citizens of the world post 9/11. We have sacrificed liberty for security in spectacular and unnecessary ways. We have displayed the full colors of our fear and willingness to clamp down on the freedom of expression and religion when prompted with an outside threat. In seeking revenge for the deaths of almost 3,000 Americans we have offered up the lives of almost 6,000 soldiers and $1 trillion dollars in order to occupy two countries which did not threaten us, not to mention who knows how many lives of the residents of those countries. None of these revelations about America's character gets to be wiped from the slate now that bin Laden has been located living in a mansion in Pakistan, shot in the eye and buried at sea somewhere. Congratulations to the soldiers who accomplished it, and it's good that it happened-- though it would have been better to take him alive, so that he could have received a trial and been held accountable for the full extent of his actions. Being handed the kind of death that so many better human beings from so many countries have unjustly received (and which I might guess some currently languishing in Guantanamo would prefer to receive) seems like rather a cop-out. Though I suppose it's fitting considering that like most residents of Guantanamo, he didn't get to face his accuser and be confronted with the evidence against him.

So I propose this: let's be glad bin Laden is dead, but not pretend that his death satisfies some kind of karmic debt to 9/11 survivors. That presumes that bin Laden bears the full responsibility for the deaths of their loved ones and that the suffering they have been experienced can only be assuaged by his own death. It portrays them as simple revenge-seekers. And let's also not pretend that all or even most of what America has done in response to 9/11 has been about locating the guilty parties and punishing them. New justifications have been invented and accepted until the War on Terror became an everlasting battle between Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia, with everyone's freedoms scattered by the wayside. You can't treat bin Laden as an essential kingpin, an Arabic Wicked Witch of the West, and then turn around and say "Killing him was great, but nothing will change."

Bring the troops home-- all of them. Restrict any intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq to humanitarian efforts to repair all of the damage caused.  Make it possible for people to migrate to (heck, even visit) the country without being suspected of being 9/11 terrorists Part 2. Own up to the fact that the U.S. government has approved torture and extradition, and hold responsible parties responsible. Acknowledge for each Guantanamo prisoner the right of habeas corpus, or send them home. And stop using the "we're at war" excuse to daily invent new ways to deprive American citizens of their dignity and privacy. Make America into the place our popular imagination still celebrates without irony, a land of the free and home of the brave. Do this, and then maybe you'll catch me waving a flag. I don't currently own one, but am pretty sure there's plenty of time to head to the shop.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The "E" word applied to food. No, it doesn't stand for "educated." Or "empathetic."

Eric Schlosser lays down the law in the Washington Post:
At the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting this year, Bob Stallman, the group’s president, lashed out at “self-appointed food elitists” who are “hell-bent on misleading consumers.” His target was the growing movement that calls for sustainable farming practices and questions the basic tenets of large-scale industrial agriculture in America. 
The “elitist” epithet is a familiar line of attack. In the decade since my book “Fast Food Nation” was published, I’ve been called not only an elitist, but also a socialist, a communist and un-American. In 2009, the documentary “Food, Inc.,” directed by Robby Kenner, was described as “elitist foodie propaganda” by a prominent corporate lobbyist. Nutritionist Marion Nestle has been called a “food fascist,” while an attempt was recently made to cancel a university appearance by Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” who was accused of being an “anti-agricultural” elitist by a wealthy donor.

This name-calling is a form of misdirection, an attempt to evade a serious debate about U.S. agricultural policies. And it gets the elitism charge precisely backward. America’s current system of food production — overly centralized and industrialized, overly controlled by a handful of companies, overly reliant on monocultures, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, chemical additives, genetically modified organisms, factory farms, government subsidies and fossil fuels — is profoundly undemocratic. It is one more sign of how the few now rule the many. And it’s inflicting tremendous harm on American farmers, workers and consumers. 
During the past 40 years, our food system has changed more than in the previous 40,000 years. Genetically modified corn and soybeans, cloned animals, McNuggets — none of these technological marvels existed in 1970. The concentrated economic power now prevalent in U.S. agriculture didn’t exist, either. For example, in 1970 the four largest meatpacking companies slaughtered about 21 percent of America’s cattle; today the four largest companies slaughter about 85 percent. The beef industry is more concentrated now than it was in 1906, when Upton Sinclair published “The Jungle” and criticized the unchecked power of the “Beef Trust.” The markets for pork, poultry, grain, farm chemicals and seeds have also become highly concentrated. 
America’s ranchers and farmers are suffering from this lack of competition for their goods. In 1970, farmers received about 32 cents for every consumer dollar spent on food; today they get about 16 cents. The average farm household now earns about 87 percent of its income from non-farm sources. 
While small farmers and their families have been forced to take second jobs just to stay on their land, wealthy farmers have received substantial help from the federal government. Between 1995 and 2009, about $250 billion in federal subsidies was given directly to American farmers — and about three-quarters of that money was given to the wealthiest 10 percent. Those are the farmers whom the Farm Bureau represents, the ones attacking “big government” and calling the sustainability movement elitist.
From Joel Salatin's article in Flavor magazine last year, Rebel with a Cause: Foodie Elitism:
This winter, the Front Range Permaculture Institute invited me to come to Fort Collins, Colorado, and give a speech at a fundraising event. They filled a huge community theater with people, and ticket sales were enough to pay my travel and honorarium—with enough left over to buy 40 CSA shares for poor families in their community. What a wonderfully empowering local effort. (They didn’t wait for a government program.) Perhaps nothing would reduce perceptions of elitism faster than foodies buying CSA shares for impoverished families.  
At the risk of sounding uncharitable, I think we need to quit being victims and bring about change ourselves. Don’t complain about being unable to afford high-quality local food when your grocery cart is full of beer, cigarettes, and People magazine. Most people are more connected to the celebrities in People than the food that will become flesh of their flesh and bone of their bones at the next meal. . .  
We can all do better. If we can find money for movies, ski trips, and recreational cruises, surely we can find the money to purchase integrity food. The fact is that most of us scrounge together enough pennies to fund the passion of our hearts. If we would cultivate a passion for food like the one we’ve cultivated for clothes, cars, and entertainment, perhaps we would ultimately live healthier, happier lives.  
To suggest that advocating for such a change makes me an elitist is to disparage positive decision making and behavior. Indeed, if that’s elitism, I want it. The victim mentality our culture encourages actually induces guilt among people making progress. That’s crazy. We should applaud positive behavior and encourage others to follow suit, not demonize and discourage it. Would it be better to applaud people who buy amalgamated, reconstituted, fumigated, irradiated, genetically modified industrial garbage?  
The charge of elitism is both unfair and silly. We foodies are cultural change agents, positive innovators, integrity seekers. So hold your head high and don’t apologize for making noble decisions.