Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Playing Poker with Our Economy

A friend of mine published this marvelous letter to the editor in yesterday's Athens News, the local free, independent paper. You have to imagine it read out loud in a rich Scottish brogue:
To the Editor:

I would like to share with you a letter I mailed to Treasury Secretary Henry, aka Hank, Paulson. I am sure that I will receive a reply in due course, reflecting the honest generosity of the man when it comes to doling out taxpayer dollars to the fiscally distressed.

“Dear Secretary Paulson: Or can I just call you Hank? You seem like a decent sort of chap. I see from the news that you are seeking to help your cronies after they made some bad bets. I am hoping you can help me out, too.

On Friday night, I had a straight to the five in a five-card poker game. I stoked the pot as best I could, but incredibly my opponent had a straight to the Queen (God bless her and all her heirs). I took a significant hit with this malinvestment. I assure you I was not at all at fault; it was just the way the cards were dealt.

I see that some of your old cronies have gotten into the same position with some unfortunate bets, and you’ve been funneling them some of Dr. Bernanke’s freshly inflated dollars. Luckily, I did not have time to leverage my bet prior to it going down, as I’d then have been in the hole for much more – like what happened with your chums. My tin of coins is, however, much lighter than it was, and for the next game I am facing a liquidity crunch. I was wondering if it could be arranged for my toxic investment to be sold as an illiquid asset to the taxpayer?

Your obedient servant, etc.”

I am awaiting the check in the mail once our gutless Congress again caves.

David Young
Yes. We're waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

As for David's poker losses: I can confirm they're not just a literary device. We talked about his Black Friday Night at the after-school pickup. Luckily for us taxpayers who'll bail him out, David's losses are still in the two-digit range.

The disheartening thing is that it's Hank and his cronies who are holding all the cards.

Photo by Flickr user Fabio, used under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Birthday Overshadowed

It's my birthday but I'm feeling too sad right now to say much. My sister had to put her eight-month-old puppy to sleep today due to a mysterious and painful paralysis. I know how miserable she's feeling tonight, so I can't really feel celebratory either. Most of my family loves their pets beyond all measure and reason.

Chickie Bunny (my niece and nephew named her after her Easter arrival) was a sweet and funny yellow lab. She loved the water, kids, and especially my sister's family. This is her at my mom's house in California last July. She's about to jump into the pool. I want to remember her like this.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Not Such a Quick Study after All

When Sarah Palin was first chosen as the Republican VP pick, I wasn't exactly easy on her, but I did give her the benefit of the doubt when it comes to her intelligence. I still think she must have some degree of political savvy, or she wouldn't have captured the governorship. I'm also fed up with the assumption that a pretty woman can't be smart, too.

As for the rest? If you saw her Katie Couric interviews last week, you'll forgive me for saying I just don't think Palin is very sharp. She repeats phrases almost meaninglessly, as if they were popping out of a Random Talking Points Generator. I'm getting nostalgic for Dan Quayle. (Glenn Greenwald came to the same conclusion a few days ago, though more elegantly.)

No wonder the McCain camp was desperately trying to postpone the vice presidential debates.

Yet another scary thing about Palin's Couric interview: It barely needed to be tweaked for Tina Fey to lampoon it ferociously. (If you still need evidence that beauty doesn't rule out brains, Tina Fey would be Exhibit A.) Enjoy ... and then go back and view excerpts from the originals.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Caturday! B & W & Grey Kitty

From I Can Has Cheezburger?

That kitteh in back looks so like Grey Kitty. Actually, they all do, right down to their elegant saggy bellies.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ten Reasons Why I, Sungold, Am Qualified to Be Vice President

Underneath the seemingly mild-mannered surface of Sungold the professor is a cauldron of seething ambition. I think John McCain is already regretting he didn't cross party lines - not for Joe Lieberman, but to pick me as his running mate. Here's why I would be ultra-qualified to become vice president:

1. I'm from an even smaller state than Sarah Palin! According to Wikipedia, Alaska ranks 47th with 683,478 residents, while North Dakota is in 48th place with 639,715. She's got me beat when it comes to low population density, though.

2. My state of origin borders a foreign country, too! Granted, I couldn't see Canada from my window, but as a teenager, while Palin was sharpening her barracuda teeth on the basketball court, I spent a few of my summers attending the International Music Camp at the International Peace Garden, which straddles the U.S.-Canadian border. Palin now touts her proximity to Russian airspace; I can claim to have shared a cabin with actual Canadians.

Oh, and besides having spent a decade in Germany, I sleep next to an actual foreigner every night. That makes me at least this prepared to face down Putin:

3. Curiosity: I has it! It might be hazardous to cats, but in political leaders, it's generally considered a Good Thing. Unless, of course, your only mission is to memorize talking points at Joe Lieberman's School of Foreign Relations.

4. Like Palin, I too had a perm in the mid-1980s! Unlike hers, at no point during the 1980s was my hair easily mistaken for a mullet.

Collage from cityrag, who I hope won't mind my borrowing it; go there for more.

5. I too am 44 years old, which appears to be exactly the very bestest, most optimalest age for a vice presidential candidate! You're old enough to have some experience (see point 2, above) but still young enough to be hot hot hot. Okay, so most days I'm merely lukewarm. No amount of silicon could ever put my boobs in the same league as the gubernatorial mammaries. But I'm still way cuter than John McCain. Why, I'm sexier than Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney combined!

6. I took some economics classes in college! And so I understand not just the human but also the economic rationale for coupling any Wall Street bailout with an effort to slow housing foreclosures. That is, if all these bad mortgages can be rendered less-than-worthless, the mortgage-backed securities that are currently tanking Wall Street will also be worth something again. Of course, I can't roll as many garbled talking points into my explanation as she did:

7. I only went to one college, not five, but I've still spent my whole adult life in universities!

8. During my first pregnancy I flew from California to Germany while so bulky I couldn't flip the tray table into a fully horizontal position! That's way farther than from Dallas to Wasilla. This oughtta prove my chick-cojones ... even if I wasn't leaking amniotic fluid along the way.

9. I love me my lipstick!

That's me, Sungold. No pit bull here, just feline cunning.

10. I too can hide my inner viciousness behind perkiness - yay exclamation points!

Update September 27, 1 p.m.: When I posted this I meant to ask about your qualifications for the vice presidency, dear readers. Then I hit "publish" precipitously because the debate was starting. So: If you want to turn this into a meme, as Heather at Knitting Clio has threatened to do, please leave a comment linking to your list of awesome qualifications!

The Wheel Is Turning and You Can't Slow Down

Blogging has been thin lately because this is my life:

LOLcat by Flickr user wotthe7734, used under a Creative Commons license.

I'm teaching three classes (plus helping with a fourth) and chairing a committee (for the first time, which is new enough to be cool). Then there's herding cats (uh, kids) to playdates, several hours of soccer each week, and music class. There's my very modest volunteer work for the Obama campaign. And like most of you I spent my free moments this week trying to figure out WTF is going on the economy. Not that anyone is likely to ask me for a solution. But hey, when they do, I'll be ready.

And now I'd better dash to pick up the kids from school before they start to wonder what happened to their mama.

I'll try to get a real post written in the next day or two.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Prince Chunk Has Found a Home

Remember the 44-pound cat that was abandoned in New Jersey last summer? Prince Chunk has found a home. (No, not Princess Chunk, as previously reported - I guess sex is hard to determine through so much fat and fur.)

Warning: Seeing the other kitties who need a home in this video made me teary, wishing my mate didn't have an allergy problem that rules out adopting another cat. (He developed asthma back when Grey Kitty was still alive.) But maybe someone who watches this has room for (another) cat in their home?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Dominoes Start to Fall in Our New Economy

Photo by Flickr user Mirko Macari, used under a Creative Commons license.

Today my university announced a hiring freeze in response to the mess on Wall Street. No new searches will be authorized for either faculty or staff, though open searches will be allowed to continue. From our president's memo:
Over the past two weeks, the news about the evolving economic situation at the state and federal level has intensified. These events underscore the importance of being prepared so we can continue to foster academic excellence and remain a strong institution, now and in the long run.

For that reason, the most responsible step we can take at this time is to institute a hiring freeze, effective immediately. This initiative will allow us to preserve funds so that we can strategically respond to potential future state budget cuts or other negative effects caused by external economic factors.
No word on whether this will affect our president's whopping 29% pay raise that he received this summer, which gave him an $85,000 bump to a total annual salary of $385,000.

Translated: What the prez is getting for his raise alone would finance a couple of instructors like me in my current incarnation, or six of me at my old adjunct level (not counting the cost of benefits.) Not that I'm saying this place needs clones of me; one is probably plenty.

But even so. Who generates academic excellence? Administrators? Or the people who do the actual teaching and research?

At any rate, it's interesting (in that Chinese-curse sense) to see how upward redistribution functions beautifully even at the local level.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Redistributing Redistribution

Photo by Flickr user jonnystiles, used under a Creative Commons license.

In yesterday's post on Sarah Palin and Hugo Chavez, I implied that redistribution of wealth runs contrary to Republican principles. As the past few days have shown, there's one massive exception to that: when redistribution all goes up the food chain instead of down it.

The whole mess is complicated and I don't pretend to understand all of it. Basically, though, it's clear that Wall Street fat cats gambled with their money, and those of us who are very small kittens by comparison will now be forced to cover their losses. Scandalously, the Bush Administration's plan does not provide for any oversight, re-regulation of the banking industry, or restrictions on the compensation of executives in these high-flying financial companies.

We do need some sort of a bailout, I think, because the alternative would risk economic collapse. But any bailout should enforce accountability on these people who have not shown themselves to be trustworthy. Also, if we taxpayers are forced to make what amounts to a massive involuntary investment in these highly risky companies, we should at least gain a serious equity stake in return! That is, as investors we should partake in any future profits.

Ideally, the Wall Street bailout should be coupled with relief for homeowners facing foreclosure. I don't know if this is politically feasible right now, but justice demands it. So does economic good sense: Our economy depends, after all, on consumers being financially healthy enough to actually consume.

Glenn Greenwald has a great analysis that puts the radical magnitude of the problem - and its proposed solution - into perspective.
The headline in the largest Brazilian newspaper this week was: "Capitalist Socialism??" and articles all week have questioned -- with alarm -- whether what the U.S. Government did has just radically and permanently altered the world economic system and ushered in some perverse form of "socialism" where industries are nationalized and massive debt imposed on workers in order to protect the wealthiest. If Latin America is shocked at the degree of nationalization and government-mandated transfer of wealth, that is a pretty compelling reflection of how extreme -- unprecedented -- it all is.
Yeah. Funny how it's only "socialism" when the little guys are getting help. This sort of redistribution? It's just hard-nosed capitalism. Help me out - can somebody please explain that to me again??

The Democrats are as panicked as anyone about this, and I'm afraid they are going to just go along with the bailout sans accountability unless we hold their feet to the fire. We're talking about at least $700 billion and maybe upwards of a trillion dollars that our children and grandchildren will still be financing. It's time for the Democrats to grow a pair.

I don't often urge my readers to take some specific political action, but I really think this warrants a call to your representatives in Washington. I called Senators Sherrod Brown and George Voinivich today, along with Rep. Charlie Wilson. If you don't know your representatives' numbers, the Capitol switchboard is at (202) 224- 3121. Please let me know in comments what you think ought to be done about the mess - and what you're doing about it.

Update, 9/24/08: Here's another reason why we can't give the fat cats a blank check without any accountability. The FBI is investigating AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Lehmann Brothers on possible fraud charges.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hugo Chavez with Lipstick

Photo by Flickr user Christina007, used under a Creative Commons license.

I'm trying to figure out how Sarah Palin's approach to redistributing oil wealth differs from the approach Hugo Chavez has taken in Venezuela. Here's Palin's philosophy on this, according to an Alaskan reader of Andrew Sullivan:
If you want to dig more deeply into Sarah Palin's economic theory -- or lack thereof -- I think you will find that while she espouses the free market, she has adopted a quasi-socialist and populist belief in the commons. One of her champions is former Gov. Walter Hickel, who has argued that commonly owned resources should be developed for the maximum benefit of the people -- and that this system of economic organization represents a new paradigm for states and nations. ...

In Alaska's case, that means no individual ownership of mineral rights, which has led to the idea that government surpluses should be distributed to "the people" as direct handouts. Hence the recent $1,200 "energy dividend" given to all Alaskans. It has also resulted in the Permanent Fund Dividend, the direct payout to Alaskans every year from what was originally conceived as a rainy day account set aside for when Alaska's oil wealth runs out.
I'll grant there's one real difference between Palin's policy and "twenty-first-century socialism" as practiced by Chavez. While he has invested petrodollars in education and programs to combat poverty, Palin put the money directly into people's pockets.

But it's still redistribution. It's still extracting money from corporations and transferring wealth to citizens. It's still a universe removed from the rampant free markets that right-wing Republicans normally espouse. I personally think redistribution is important in a just society; I'm just pointing out that on this point, Palin is out of step with her party. She's closer to Hugo Chavez than to Grover Norquist.

Palin is also not so dissimilar to Chavez in her approach to governance. They're both self-styled reformers with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. They both seem allergic to scrutiny and criticism. They both claim transparency while achieving just the opposite. They both consolidate their party by intimidating their opponents.

So why is only Chavez accused of being an anti-democratic communist? Granted, Palin's a lot prettier than him. But here you see him embracing a fashion point that Palin has long known: Holding a small child as an accessary can really soften that autocratic look.

Photo posted on Flickr by Presidencia de la Republica del Ecuador, used under a Creative Commons license.

Now Chavez just needs to learn how to pick a flattering shade of lipstick.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

White Privilege and the Republican Ticket

This week we discussed white privilege in my intro to women's and gender studies class. By coincidence, earlier this week Tim Wise published a nice list of thirteen ways John McCain and Sarah Palin have benefited from white privilege. Here are a few of my favorites:
White privilege is when you can get pregnant at 17 like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay. ...

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action. ...

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she's being disrespectful.
Go read the rest of it. The whole thing is pretty good. I just wish I could figure out a way to use it in my class without being perceived as overtly partisan. (In the interests of disclosure, I've told my students I support Obama, but I'm careful to be even-handed when it comes to partisan politics, making sure Republicans don't feel squelched and criticizing Democrats on such points as Bill Clinton's complicity with the Defense of Marriage Act.) Maybe one could ask how Joe Biden, too, has benefited from white privilege?

Anyway, what's missing for me in Wise's list is a serious attempt at intersectional analysis. While he rightly skewers white privilege, he doesn't attempt to address how it intersects with class privilege and male privilege. No, I don't expect him to throw around academese like "intersectionality" in the popular press. I would expect him to incorporate it implicitly into his analysis.

For example, the last paragraph quoted above shows how Michelle Obama was criticized as a black American for not fulfilling a public role - but as a black woman, she would be equally vulnerable to charges of bad mothering. This puts her in a double bind; she had no "right" choice in that situation.

More significantly, Wise almost seems to assume that white privilege negates the effects of sexism for white women:
White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women and made them give your party a "second look."
As I wrote a few days ago, women have waited a long time to vote for a female presidential candidate. Some still yearn for it in this election cycle (even if the female candidate is only running for VP). Of course, unless they're conservative fundamentalists, they'd be loony to vote for McCain-Palin. But some of these women definitely are giving Palin a second look due to her sex. Luckily, they also seem to be giving her a third look, and what they're learning about her positions so far explains why her favorables are plummeting.

I'm sure some white women will vote for Palin simply because they feel they can identify with her. The same may be true for a fraction of black men who vote for Obama. But would we attribute their choice solely to male privilege if they vote for Obama even though they mostly disagree with him on the issues? That's basically the move Wise makes for white women. Or can we empathize with the thrill that members of historically oppressed groups might feel - even to the point of irrational voting decisions - just to see someone like them who's running?

This isn't rocket science. But it's a point you can miss if you overlook the fact that racism doesn't operate independently of sexism, classism, and all those other charming -isms.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Good Thing the Tiger Has a Hard Noggin

Political blogging will resume tomorrow, I hope, but this evening I'm pretty wrung out. Tonight at the Bear's soccer practice, while the younger siblings were playing on the sidelines, a six-year-old threw a rock at the Tiger and hit him in the head. Hard. I wasn't there, but I heard all about it from the rest of the family.

The Tiger proved once again that scalp injuries bleed like crazy. He'll be okay, but he arrived home looking like a refugee from one of those scary movies I haven't watched since my high school days.

It was a deep cut and hurt like hell, but worse, the incident wasn't an accident. It was deliberate and unprovoked. The child's father didn't say a word to my husband. Not cool.

It's hard to know how to handle this; the family is new to this team. I'm not one to hold grudges, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect an apology from the parents, or at least a word of concern. (The dad did insist his son apologize.) I'd also like some reassurance that in the future, they'll keep an eye on both of their children, especially if their younger son has a history of aggression.

Here's what the Tiger's noggin looked like up 'til a few hours ago, before it got bloodied and then shaved like a big bullseye around the wound. (Out of privacy concerns, I don't normally post pictures of my kids, but this one doesn't reveal his identity.)

Update 9/20/08: The mom of the other little boy sent us an apologetic email earlier today. That made me feel a lot better. Kids stand so much better a chance of getting it if their parents do, too. Although I really don't know these parents, I sort of suspect they may have a division of labor where the wife is charge of dealing with social situations, including the touchy ones.

What's Bad for America Is Great for Comedy

"OMG It's Tina Fey and Amy Poehler!!"

- Caption and photo from Flicker user Zadi Diaz, used under a Creative Commons license.
What she said.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"I Just Wanted to Vote for a Woman"

I'm starting to think that if John McCain had picked a female VP candidate who was slightly less wingnutty, he'd have picked up a slew of disenchanted Democratic women.

While making my volunteer phone calls for the Obama campaign today, I spoke with a woman who firmly said yes, she was supporting Obama in the general election, and yes, she'd definitely vote. When I followed up by asking if she might be interested in volunteering with the campaign, she just as firmly said, "Definitely not! I was a Hillary supporter and it just about broke my heart. I've been waiting to vote for a woman my whole life."

I made a few sympathetic noises about feeling the same way since sixth grade and appreciating Clinton's candidacy. (I left out the fact that in sixth grade, *I* wanted to be that woman running for the presidency. My, how things change.)

This unleashed a torrent of words that came so fast I may be misquoting, but the gist was: "Oh, when Sarah Palin was announced, I thought YES! I wanted to vote for her so bad. I just wanted to vote for a woman." But then she looked into Palin's positions and couldn't quite stomach them, being a good Democrat and feminist.

Two things I took away from this: One, while we might wish Obama were still running against John McCain, de facto he's running against Palin. She's getting roughly three times as many Google hits as McCain. At McCain rallies this week in Cedar Rapids and Youngstown, audience members began streaming out during McCain's speech; Palin had already spoken and they'd gotten what they came for.

Even the candidate herself may have started to believe she's heading the ticket, if this clip is any indication (via the HuffPost):

The second thing I learned from my short chat with one of Hillary's mourners is that there really are two basically different conceptions of feminism afoot in this land, and this is what the McCain campaign failed to exploit.

I think many self-identified feminists still see working for women's advancement as the purpose of feminism. That's obviously very central to it, but to my mind that can't be the whole story. I like bell hooks' definition of feminism as a struggle against sexism. If you take that as your standard, it's immediately evident that women can uphold sexism, too, and you don't have any obligation to support them. It's equally clear that men can be excellent allies. And it's glaringly obvious that no feminist should support a wingnut, no matter how many X chromosomes said wingnut might carry.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Bloggy Purity Redeemed

After I got that NC-17 rating a few weeks ago, I figured I'd joined the ranks of the disreputable. Since I'm feeling burnt out on politics tonight, I took the Cuss-O-Meter test and at first glance I still look pretty skanky:

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?

Uff da. I thought I was really restraining myself - I can be a whole lot saltier but you never know when your students, current or former, might read your blog. Or your mom, the retired church secretary. (Okay, I do remember using the F-word recently, but my goodness, I meant it literally as a verb - that's gotta count for something.)

But wait! It's more complicated. The results page tells me:
Around 22.2% of the pages on your website contain cussing. This is 92% LESS than other websites who took this test.
Um, hello? I'm not sure if that's a percentile ranking or a percentage of other people's average scores. Or maybe something else entirely. But "High," it's not.

Go here and let me know how you ranked, okay?

That said, the Cuss-O-Meter has no scientific pretensions. The entry page announces:
Average Cuss Level: 269%

The average percentage of pages that contain cussing for all the websites that have taken the Cuss-O-Meter is 269%.
Uh huh. No mathematical pretensions, either.

I think the Cuss-O-Meter would make an excellent Republican presidential candidate.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is Porn Virtual Adultery?

Does viewing Internet porn amount to adultery? In his column at the Atlantic, Ross Douthat says yes, it does. Basically, Douthat argues that hard-core porn is not fantasy and that the privacy offered by the Internet allows a degree of intense and personalized interaction that could not happen in the good old days when men stashed a magazine or two under their mattress:
Over the past three decades, the VCR, on-demand cable service, and the Internet have completely overhauled the ways in which people interact with porn. Innovation has piled on innovation, making modern pornography a more immediate, visceral, and personalized experience. Nothing in the long history of erotica compares with the way millions of Americans experience porn today, and our moral intuitions are struggling to catch up. ...

Masturbating to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model (like Christie Brinkley, once upon a time) or a Playboy centerfold is a one-way street: the images are intended to provoke fantasies, not to embody reality, since the women pictured aren’t having sex for the viewer’s gratification. Even strippers, for all their flesh-and-blood appeal, are essentially fantasy objects—depending on how you respond to a lap dance, of course. But hard-core pornography is real sex by definition, and the two sexual acts involved—the on-camera copulation, and the masturbation it enables—are interdependent: neither would happen without the other. The whole point of a centerfold is her unattainability, but with hard-core porn, it’s precisely the reverse: the star isn’t just attainable, she’s already being attained, and the user gets to be in on the action.
I'm not convinced. I have other problems with porn. Most of it objectifies women while being trite and frankly not very sexy, in my opinion. I'd have a problem if a partner neglected me in favor of a tete-a-tete with his computer. I would definitely be squicked if a partner was into barely-legal porn, or fetishes that would gross me out in real life, or the gonzo stuff that implies women get great pleasure from men destroying their orifices. But even then, while it might be represent a serious problem for our compatibility, it would fall far short of what I'd consider adultery.

To my mind, sex by any reasonable definition has to involve more than one person. It has to involve some sort of reciprocal interaction. Otherwise, masturbation would be cheating - and that's just silly.

By this definition, yes, it's possible to have sex online. But Douthat is not talking about cybersex, or phone sex, or any sort of interactive encounter. In porn, the only people interacting are on screen. The guy (or gal) at home is still a viewer. It's not like he's giving the actors direction. It's not like he can say, "Mmm, move a little to the right so I can get a better view." All he can do is open another browser window if the images aren't doing him right. No interaction - no sex.

I don't think porn is adultery. I don't even think it's virtual adultery. Porn is just porn.

I'm curious what you think. Are there any instances where porn would amount to adultery in your book? Please tell me in comments.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sex and the Over-50 Male

Alternet has a well-meant but frustratingly stereotypical article on why sex is better with men over age 50. Written by a sex educator who works with older people, Katherine Anne Forsythe, the piece suggests that a 25-year-old may have six-pack abs and stamina, but he's also apt to be a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of guy. Older men, she says, take time to smell the roses.

Well, it's laudable that Forsythe acknowledges that people's sex life doesn't and shouldn't end when they turn 30 and cease to be hawt. It's also great that she argues there's more to sex than just bonking.

But it's annoying that this piece still traffics in so many stereotypes. First, there's the hunky but insensitive young man:
The whole scene, start to finish, took twenty minutes, max. Fortunately, he is resilient. He has a brief recovery time-out, and you start all over again. This time, if you are lucky, he thinks about you and your orgasm. If you are in a typical situation, you may reach orgasm or you might feel pressure to fake it. Of course, he thinks you are loving it. And, why wouldn't he? You are telling him so, over and over, as we are taught to do as women.
Hmm ... how can the poor guy know he's doing it wrong if no woman is willing to diplomatically guide him? Sure, women are socialized to please men, but that doesn't let us off the hook. Even when I was in my early twenties, half a lifetime ago, I knew enough not to fake it unless I wanted to write off the real thing.

Also, twenty years ago, very few men had six-pack abs. We young women agreed that Schwarzeneggar and his ilk were ridiculous. Back then, young men were under less pressure to conform to a rigid ideal. I don't know that sex was better or worse for that, but I for one have never seen the appeal of absurdly hard bellies. Rigidity and hardness are better placed elsewhere.

Most of all, it's a gross distortion to say that for a young man, sex is all about him. For some guys, sure. Others care very much about pleasing their partners. I'm not at all convinced that this basic attitude shifts dramatically over time.

Forsythe seems to think that men almost automatically become selfless lovers, just due to time and experience:
Older men have a quiet confidence and patience that allows enjoyment of the entire sexual experience, yours and his. The mellowness of having been "around the block" with age -- and, most likely, a high number of partners -- permits him to let go of having to rush, and prove, and perform.
Yeah, experience counts. Confidence is good.

I'm waiting for an article explaining why age and experience make women irresistible.

But if a guy was self-centered in his twenties, that basic personality trait probably won't reverse itself. While a man may indeed feel he has less to prove, he may also have a thicker sense of entitlement. There are plenty of middle-aged men who still think it's all about them. We've no shortage of male politicians illustrating this point. I don't know whether Elliot Spitzer or John Edwards are selfish in the sack, but their public sense of entitlement - as reflected in their assumption that they could get away with extramarital dalliances - isn't exactly a turn-on.

Or take Philip Weiss. (If you can stand to - I sure won't fight you for him.) He's over 50. His douchebaggery is not improving with age. Again, I would never get as far as sexual intercourse with him because the social intercourse would be so painful. (Forsythe is definitely right when she says sex also includes the teasing and mutual seduction. This does not include admitting that you'd be "as lost as plankton" without your wife organizing your life for you. Nor does is it very seductive to insist that men have needs - women, not so much.)

Look. Men over 50 are great. I don't much notice men younger than myself, and if you round people's ages up to the nearest decade, that puts me very much in Forsythe's demographic.

Experience is a wonderful thing - but only if the guy is wonderful to start with.

Aging does bring real challenges for most people. It's frustrating that Forsythe plays them down to the extent of disregarding real pain and losses. She acknowledges that ED becomes increasingly common. At the same time, she blames ED drugs for making men dependent on them and thus robbing them of confidence. This is way too simple. Most guys are so reluctant to ask a doctor for help that they won't do it unless they've got a serious, ongoing problem with ED - and even then they may balk at it. In fact, doctors sometimes use ED drugs to help rebuild confidence when they believe ED has psychosomatic causes.

This brings up (if you'll pardon the awful pun) a final set of stereotypes that permeate Forsythe's article: that women really don't get much out of intercourse. This assumption is tangled up with a set of questions that are basically really good ones:
What if we took the emphasis off erections, and off intercourse, and off orgasm? What a concept! What if we decided that having sex was about pleasuring each other, taking time to explore bodies, building up passion intentionally, gradually, bit by bit, savoring each move? What if intercourse became just one option on a menu of lots of options?
Yes, by all means, let's expand our definition of sex. Let's not be performance driven. Let's enjoy the ride and not just the destination. If you want to carry on Forsythe's food metaphor, let's nibble from a smorgasbord of delicacies.

But when aging, illness, relationship problems, or other issues take some of the options off the menu altogether, that's a real loss. This loss goes beyond "male ego" or the social construction of masculinity. I know from my involvement in the prostate cancer community that - while it's true that ED causes a real blow to men's self-image - men are at least as concerned that their partners are suffering. Their female partners - while grateful for the efforts their mates make to become more creative lovers - often mourn the loss of plain old vanilla intercourse. If they don't, they probably didn't much enjoy intercourse in the first place, but that's a separate issue.

Forsythe seems to assume that women just don't care much about sex, only about intimacy. It's possible to find new paths to intimacy, and I appreciate Forsythe's effort to provide a map. But darn it, sometimes girls just want to fuck. Even when those "girls" are themselves over 50.

Behind the intimacy assumption is the idea that all women are shortchanged in intercourse. This is an incredibly reductive view of the variety of women's experiences. It also suggests that men are "always and only interested in erections for own pleasure," as figleaf puts it. This insults men, denies the pleasure that women may find in their partners' reponses, and overlooks the link that many people - men and women - feel between intercourse and intimacy. (Clearly, they're both "innies.")

The forms taken by sexuality and intimacy have to change, by necessity, when our bodies change. Creativity is essential if you want to keep sexual pleasure in your life and not just give up, as I think too many people do, when aging slows our responses. (Okay, creativity is great at any age!) But doesn't creativity have to start with us giving up stale gender stereotypes about selfish men and sexless women?

Oh, and that article about women growing sexier with experience? Do let me know when that one comes out.

Volunteering: The Poor Woman's Ambien

I've been sleeping very restlessly lately, and I think my slow-motion freakout over Palin is partly to blame. So this evening, I went to an organizational meeting for the other guys. It's not like I really have a lot of free time these days, but I keep saying how this election is a major historical turning point.

I don't know if I'll really sleep better tonight, but it felt wonderful to be with other people who also see what's at stake. More wonderful yet, several of them are my friends and neighbors. We didn't plan to find each other there - we just all showed up.

Ohio could go either way. I'm not going to be the one person who sways the state into Obama's column. But I also don't want to be the person who failed to act if we wake up on November 5 to find McCain and Palin measuring the Oval Office for new drapes.

As Monk might say: Living in a battleground state: it's a blessing ... and a curse.

Today's heavy-handed gardening metaphor for hope against the odds: I grew these wave petunias from seed and they survived a hot, dry Ohio summer without irrigation while I was away in Germany for five weeks.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Echoes of Dubya in the Alaskan Wilderness

funny pictures
From I Can Has Cheezburger?

Quick follow-up to my last post on Tina Fey's wonderful Sarah Palin send-up (and also my earlier fretting on what seems to be her willful ignorance of foreign policy).

James Fallows at the Atlantic cogently analyzes why Palin is clueless about the Bush Doctrine and why this should rob us of our sleep:
How could she not know this? For the same reason I don't know anything about European football/soccer standings, player trades, or intrigue. I am not interested enough. And she evidently has not been interested enough even to follow the news of foreign affairs during the Bush era.

A further point. The truly toxic combination of traits GW Bush brought to decision making was:

1) Ignorance
2) Lack of curiosity
3) "Decisiveness"

That is, he was not broadly informed to begin with (point 1). He did not seek out new information (#2); but he nonetheless prided himself (#3) on making broad, bold decisions quickly, and then sticking to them to show resoluteness.

We don't know for sure about #2 for Palin yet -- she could be a sponge-like absorber of information. But we know about #1 and we can guess, from her demeanor about #3. Most of all we know something about the person who put her in this untenable role.

(My emphasis. Read his whole commentary here.)
Now, I did follow European soccer when I lived in Germany, and it's great fun - but only if you're willing and able to invest some effort in it. Otherwise, you're left with a sea of furrin names that don't mean much. Same for furrin policy. But darn it, virtually everyone I know who's involved in local politics has more of a clue about the Bush Doctrine than Sarah Palin does.

That, to me, is pretty strong evidence that Palin suffers from congenital lack of curiosity about foreign affairs. Seems to me that Fallows really underplays his second point. His third point - about "decisiveness" - is pretty well illustrated by Palin's approach to preterm labor. If you object that this was a "personal" arena and thus no predictor of how "resolute" she'd be as president, please recall her "I did not blink" mantra in the Charlie Gibson interview.

Fallows could've also added a fourth similarity to GW Bush: Palin's penchant for cronyism, secrecy, and intimidation, as reported in the New York Times. Apparently her attempt to fire the Wasilla public librarian was only her warm-up act. And Troopergate is only the most publicized manifestation of her Nixonian qualities.

All of this adds up to someone who I wouldn't want on my local school board, much less a heartberat away from being Leader of the Free World. The only person I trust less, at this point, is the guy who picked her.

Palin, Impaled (Brilliantly, by Tina Fey)

This is what Tina Fey nailed last night on Saturday Night Live: Sarah Palin's incuriosity. Her flirtatious way of finessing her ignorance of the issues. Her provinciality - and I don't mean just her odd vowels, although Fey was pitch perfect on them, too.

(WTF is up with those vowels, anyway? I know a few people from Alaska, and none of them ever spoke like that. They almost have a North Dakotan ring to them. I say this with some authority, since my own vowels still have a slight Dakotan/Minnesotan cast.)

I don't know if comedy can steer the course of an election. I don't know if it should. I do know that I get better TV news from Jon Stewart than from any of the "news" channels. And that Darrell Hammond's impersonation of Al Gore and his "lockbox" on SNL in 2000 is still with me, much clearer in my memory than the actual presidential debates.

If comedy should function as a kingmaker (or a queen-breaker?), then Tina Fey is the gal I want in charge. The only part of her impersonation that didn't quite convince me? The laughing intelligence in her eyes that Fey can't quite hide, no matter whose glasses she's wearing.

Alaskan Women: Color Them Unimpressed

My friend, reader, and frequent co-conspirator, Chris, sent me a link to a wonderful set of photos from yesterday's Alaskan Women Reject Palin rally. Here are a few of my favorites. I hope the blogger who posted them, Laura, won't mind me reprinting them. They're really meant as bait for you to check out the rest of her set.

It's refreshing to see that skepticism is alive and well even in Sarah Palin's backyard - almost as refreshing as the sight of demonstrators in fall jackets. (We are sweltering in unseasonable 93-degree mugginess here in southeast Ohio.)

Enjoy - and then go visit Laura at her place. Her blog also features some grand pictures of Alaskan scenery that lifted my politically-depressed spirits.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Parenting in the Shadows of Atrocity

Pictures from a few hours ago:

We're in the mountains. The sky is preternaturally blue. Maybe I'm in Colorado.

An airplane approaches, too low. It breaks into two pieces. There's no fire, smoke, or explosion. The fuselage just snaps in two, breaking right behind the wings. It goes down instantly, silently.

In the dream, everyone knows it's September 12. Oddly, I'm the only one who immediately realizes that this isn't just a technical malfunction.

I wake up. Sometimes, commemoration doesn't involve flag pins or pious moments of silence. Sometimes, it's neurotic and lonely and feels as real as the rubble of history.


We haven't yet told our kids about the 9/11 attacks. Each year, we keep the news off the TV and radio so that the Bear won't pick up on the story. I realize he needs to hear about it from us before he hears about it from other kids; I know that time is running out on our policy of avoidance. He was not quite two in 2001. It was easy to shield him, then, and he was too young to ask why my eyes were so red-rimmed.

Now, as he approaches his ninth birthday, he's a very sensitive kid - so much so that he asks me to turn off NPR if a report about the Iraq War comes on. He understands that war is not a game, that it's about death and destruction. I've never discouraged him from gun-play because it's never really come up; he's scared of guns, plain and simple.

He's familiar with the word "terrorist." He knows about the shoe bomber. We fly regularly and he hates taking off his shoes for security. I explained that a bad guy tried to sneak a bomb onto a plane in his shoes, and that it won't happen now because the TSA is watching for it. I believe this is true. Something else will happen, but it won't be a shoe bomb.

It's much easier to provide reassurances about those attacks that never happened.

How do I explain falling buildings? How do I make sense of the kind of zealotry that guides a plane into a skyscraper? How do I assure him that we can still get on a plane without fear?

I'm not looking for advice. Legions of child psychologists dished out tips on managing our children's fears after 9/11. None of it struck me as very helpful. These are questions without an answer, and I know it.

Maybe I'm overprotective. I think it's more complicated than that.


I'm a historian. I don't understand how people can be "history buffs." History is not a hobby. History is a chronicle of atrocity, disaster, and horror. Every once in a while the archives give you a glimpse of love or heroism or honor. Mostly, it's war, plague, oppression, and one child in five dying as an infant.

I am as thin-skinned as my Bear. I cried the first time I saw Night and Fog - not discreet, dignified tears, but big gulping sobs. My doctoral adviser was sitting right next to me. I was afraid she'd conclude that if I lost it while watching a documentary on the Holocaust, I wasn't tough enough to study German history professionally. Instead, she kindly told me: There would be something wrong with you if this left you untouched. Once I'd calmed down, I realized she was right.

It's possible to be that thin-skinned and still stare down history without blinking. I want that for my children. I don't want them to become impervious.

Given that my kids are half German, they'll have to live with the legacy of the Holocaust. From me, their American mother, they inherit the legacy of slavery and the persecution of American Indians. We've talked about this things in age-appropriate ways. The Bear knows about slavery, Martin Luther King, and Huckleberry Finn. He knows Germany had a very bad ruler who was mean to the Jews and started a huge war when his Oma was a little girl. There's time enough for the harsh details when he's old enough put them into context: A great-grandfather who made his peace with the Nazis. A great-grandmother who was killed in an air raid while his Oma was buried alive. The deportations and the death camps.

Is it ever possible, really, to put such stories into context? Or do we just learn to hold ourselves at an ostensibly safe distance?


I also don't want my children to be ruled by fear, which is surely what will happen if they're exposed young to all the world's dangers. We have become a nation of cowards that specializes in saber-rattling. We are "governed" by chickenhawks who think invading Iraq worked out so well, we might as well take on Iran and Russia next. I don't want to raise my sons with the sort of false bravado that becomes a defense against otherwise unmanageable fears.

The same people who peddle fear promise to deliver us from it. Vote for them, and they'll snuff out the evildoers all around the globe. Give them power, and we'll be freed of the stuff of our nightmares.

I don't want that freedom, bought with the blood of innocents. I want a leader who will say yes, there is evil in the world, and I can't make all your bad dreams go away. I want to hear that even when the world bristles with real threats, we can be brave without being belligerent.

I want to be told that it's our job to be the grown-ups.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Preemptive Ignorance

I don't know if it's just the weather or if it's the wretched political climate, but I'm feeling too droopy to write anything. By now you've probably heard that in her ABC interview last night, Sarah Palin showed she didn't know WTF the "Bush Doctrine" refers to. Here she is, displaying her ignorance.

The problem is, you can hardly go after a candidate for their ignorance without a nasty bumerang effect. Too many Americans are ignorant, themselves, and they'll identify and sympathize. It seems to make no difference that John McCain can't tell Shiite from Sunni. And Palin's cluelessness about the Bush Doctrine's "justification" of preemptive warfare is unlikely to bother anyone except nerds like me who weren't going to vote for her anyway.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Penis Spam, Not Even Close to Barely Legal Edition

This, in my junk mail box:
Miley Cyrus was shocked at the size of my tool when we started getting it on ...

My Gender-Confused Blog

Photo by Flicker user andycarvin, used under a Creative Commons license.

It's just like the anti-feminists always said: Flirt too much with this crazy idea of equality between the sexes, and you'll end up with a world full of people with gender-identity issues.

Which have now, tragically, struck me and my blog. I put the Kittywampus archive for August through the Gender Genie, an algorithm that purports to predict the gender of an author.

I came out of the Gender Genie ... a boy.

So I tried July's posts. Then June's. Boy oh boy!

There's no shortage of irony here - me, who teaches and researches and writes on gender issues! who's been an academic feminist for nearly half my life! who's been a gal for all my life! (Or so I thought!?)

So much for l'écriture feminine; I've apparently gone over to the phallogocentric dark side.

I'm curious how my reader stack up. (If you're not a blogger, you can also put any non-fiction text through their wacky algorithm - oddly, it looks mostly at tiny, super-common words.) Please let me know in comments, or leave a link there.

(Hat tip to my husband for the Gender Genie link.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Glazed Doughnuts: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

Doughnut photo by Flickr user aprilandrandy, used under a Creative Commons license.

I've been such a doomsayer lately, I desperately need to lighten up. And so ate up every word of this post by Latoya at Feministe: Five Reasons I Love Cosmo.

The number one reason?
It is like The Onion, for feminists.
But let's be honest, we all read Cosmo for the sex tips. The ones Latoya reprinted are outstanding, if slightly obsessed with one basic technique:

* When fondling your man’s penis, slip a hair scrunchy around the base of it. The tight scrunchy combined with your touch creates an amazing sensation. ...

*Mak[e] a tight ring with your thumb and forefinger around the base of his penis, for[m] a second ring around the head, and then g[o] up with one hand and down with the other. ...

*Slip a glazed doughnut around his penis and nibble it off.

Someone needs to tell the poor writers at Cosmo that there's a handy device that does all this at once without leaving crumbs in the bed. (Psst! It's called a cock ring! It makes the dude's "package" girthier and his erection more stable - without disturbing your hairdo or making you fat right before bikini season!)

What's with this "package" terminology, anyway, so beloved of Cosmo editors? For me it conjures up all kinds of mental images, none of them remotely erotic. A beaten-up box delivered by UPS. A Christmas gift tied up in a shiny red bow.

Hmm, one guess where you're supposed to wrap that red ribbon - nice and tight?

The Math of Distraction

While burning some grilled cheese sandwiches for tonight's dinner, I heard an NPR report on the presidential candidates' day. The reports on Obama and McCain were roughly equal in length. They had quite a few sound bites from Obama. At least half of them addressed the "lipstick on a pig" non-issue.**

Virtually the entire report on McCain foregrounded Republican outrage over the "lipstick on a pig" comment.

So: One-half of Obama's report was devoted to this distraction, as was all of McCain's, or
(1/2 x 1/2) + (1 x 1/2) = 3/4.
This is how Rove and his minions get three-quarters of the news coverage to focus on utter crap!

This kind of politics doesn't add up to democracy.

Nor does this kind of media. Especially when the supposedly liberal reporters at NPR frame the day's event as Obama being put "on the defensive" in their lead-in comments.

** Here's Obama's remarks in context, as reported by the L.A. Times:
Obama compared the policies of McCain to those of President Bush.

"John McCain says he is about change too, and so I guess his whole angle is: 'Watch out George Bush, except for economic policy, healthcare policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics, we're really going to shake things up in Washington.' That's not change. That's just calling the same thing something different.

"You can put lipstick on a pig," Obama said. "It's still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still going to stink after eight years."

I'm Not En-Raptured

From I Can Has Cheezburger?

A few days ago, I raised questions about Sarah Palin's religious beliefs. I basically consider people's faith a private matter - unless it impinges significantly on how they would shape policy. So Joe Biden personally believes life begins at conception; he personally has serious qualms about abortion; yet he wouldn't stop others from choosing abortion. I'm fine with that. When making policy, he keeps his convictions in the personal realm, recognizing the religious pluralism of American society.

Sarah Palin is on record as believing that God favors certain pipeline projects (not to mention certain wars in Mesopotamia). She sees direct her faith as directly applicable to the public realm.

This isn't surprising in light of reports that came out this week about Palin's home church. Now, people aren't responsible for everything their pastor says. I'm not going to apply a totally different standard to her than I did to Barack Obama when his former pastor, Reverend Wright, made some highly impolitic remarks.

I do think Palin needs to respond to this, however. Writing in Alternet, Bruce Wilson reports:
Sarah Palin's churches are actively involved in a resurgent movement that was declared heretical by the Assemblies of God in 1949. This is the same 'Spiritual Warfare' movement that was featured in the award winning movie, "Jesus Camp," which showed young children being trained to do battle for the Lord. At least three of four of Palin's churches are involved with major organizations and leaders of this movement, which is referred to as The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit or the New Apostolic Reformation. The movement is training a young "Joel's Army" to take dominion over the United States and the world.

Along with her entire family, Sarah Palin was re-baptized at twelve at the Wasilla Assembly of God in Wasilla, Alaska and she attended the church from the time she was ten until 2002: over two and 1/2 decades. Sarah Palin's extensive pattern of association with the Wasilla Assembly of God has continued nearly up to the day she was picked by Senator John McCain as a vice-presidential running mate.

Palin's dedication to the Wasilla church is indicated by a Saturday, September 7, 2008, McClatchy news service story detailing possibly improper use of state travel funds by Palin for a trip she made to Wasilla, Alaska to attend, on June 8, 2008, both a Wasilla Assembly of God "Masters Commission" graduation ceremony and also a multi-church Wasilla area event known as "One Lord Sunday."

At the latter event, Palin and Alaska LT Governor Scott Parnell were publicly blessed, onstage before an estimated crowd of 6,000, through the "laying on of hands" by Wasilla Assembly of God's Head Pastor Ed Kalnins whose sermons espouse such theological concepts as the possession of geographic territories by demonic spirits and the inter-generational transmission of family "curses". Palin has also been blessed, or "anointed", by an African cleric, prominent in the Third Wave movement, who has repeatedly visited the Wasilla Assembly of God and claims to have effected positive, dramatic social change in a Kenyan town by driving out a "spirit of witchcraft."

(See also this version at the Huffington Post.)
Again, none of this indicates directly what Palin herself believes. Even her appearance on stage at her home church doesn't mean she agrees with every particular of Reverend Kalnins' theology. (I'll admit that seeing video Wilson provides of them sharing a stage is pretty suggestive, however.)

Everything Wilson writes about the Third Wave is consistent with scholarship that I'm intimately familiar with. (I translated a 15,000-word book chapter on the Pentecostal movement a few months back.) Spiritual Warfare is a real and growing movement. Lots of Pentecostal and Charismatic worshipers sincerely believe in the efficacy of demons, curses, and exorcisms. While blending these ideas with a belief in witchcraft is particularly common in Africa, the difference between witches and demons is mighty slender.

I, for one, would prefer political leaders who don't fear demons. Who can separate the secular from the sacred. Who haven't bought stock in Armageddon. And who don't believe in the Basement Cat.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Palin, Clinton, and the PUMAs: What My Students Taught Me Today

Discussing Sarah Palin in class today challenged my belief that the support for McCain among former Clintonistas is mostly a media mirage.

Several of my students reported family members or friends shifting their support from Clinton to McCain. And they said McCain's choice of Palin really cemented this shift. It's mostly women who are migrating to McCain, though not exclusively so: one student's grandfather wants to vote for a strong woman, and to heck with her policies! (Oooh, a Freudian could have some fun with that!)

I am PUMA, hear me roar. Gosh, I wish this were just a phantasm of the media. Or a Daily Show sketch.

No, this isn't an actual puma, it's just a wonderful she-lion at the Berlin zoo. She was having a great time toying with that rope. Photo by me, Sungold.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Meet the New Prof - Same as the Old Prof

Except not entirely. Today was my first day teaching as an "assistant visiting professor." Never mind the "visiting" part of it; I still felt a lot less tenuous than I did as an adjunct. I know what I'm doing through early June, and that feels wonderful.

I also seem to have a wonderful group of students in my feminist theory class. It's a small group, and they seem curious, lively, and glad to be there. Funny thing - that's how I felt about it, too.

Soon enough, I'll be grading papers and exams, and I'll be a little less jubilant. For now, I just want to celebrate. There's time enough for politics again tomorrow. (Well, okay, we talked about Palin in class today, but that, too, can wait.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Criminality versus Dumb Decisions

Earlier this week Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, published an open letter to Sarah Palin in Alternet, asking her to reconsider her position on abortion:
According to press reports your water broke while you were giving a keynote speech in Texas at the Republican Governors' Energy Conference. You did not immediately go to the hospital – instead you gave your speech and then waited at least 11 hours to get to a hospital. You evaluated the risks, made a choice, and were able to carry on your life without state interference. Texas Governor Rick Perry worried about your pregnancy but didn’t stop you from speaking or take you into custody to protect the rights of the fetus.

After, Ayesha Madyun’s water broke, she went to the hospital where she hoped and planned to have a vaginal birth. When she didn’t give birth in a time-frame comfortable to her doctors, they argued that she should have a C-section. The doctors asserted that the fetus faced a 50-75 percent chance of infection if not delivered surgically. (Risks of infection are believed by some health care providers to increase with each hour after a woman’s water has broken and she hasn’t delivered).

The court, believing, like you that fetuses have a right to life, said, "[a]ll that stood between the Madyun fetus and its independent existence, separate from its mother, was put simply, a doctor's scalpel." With that, the court granted the order and the scalpel sliced through Ms. Madyun's flesh, the muscles of her abdominal wall, and her uterus. The core principle justifying an end to legal abortion in the US provided the same grounds used to deprive this pregnant and laboring woman of her rights to due process, bodily integrity, and physical liberty. When the procedure was done, there was no evidence of infection.

(Read the whole thing here.)
Paltrow doesn't specify how many hours passed before Madyun's doctors pressed for a c-section. An old New York Times article says she'd been in labor for two days and in the hospital for 18 hours. Rachel Roth's excellent study Making Women Pay: The Hidden Costs of Fetal Rights states it had been 48 hours since her water broke. That's long enough that Madyun's decision starts to look fairly foolish by my standards and by most medical guidelines.

But here's the thing: People do lots of things that are stupid, risky, macho, or otherwise blameworthy. Some of these risk other people's lives as well as their own. Not all of these things are illegal. One example would be driving while very sleepy or distracted.

This is naturally true for childbearing, as well. Some people choose unassisted home birth, where the father catches the baby and no midwife or other trained assistant is present. Many of the people who propagandize for unassisted birth believe that birth, like sex, should only involve the couple; some of them also subscribe to right-wing religious ideologies. This is loony and irresponsible, in my view. (Not to mention it's asking a hell of a lot of the father!) Still, it's not illegal. Nor should it be. Imagine the mess if every baby born after a precipitous labor triggered a court case.

Another example Paltrow cites is of a woman who insisted on a VBAC at home. There are good reasons that no reputable doctor should condone this. If you give birth vaginally after a cesarean, there's a heightened chance of uterine rupture, which endangers the mother's life as well as the child's. If that occurred at home, odds are great that you'd bleed out before you could get help.

This woman, too, was forced by court order to have a c-section. This goes against our law on medical treatment in every other instance. A person cannot be forced to have surgery or undergo radiation even if they would surely die without the treatment. No one can be forced to donate a kidney - even if he or she is the parent of the patient needing a transplant.

If you believe humans have a right to bodily integrity and autonomy, you cannot legislate women's childbearing decisions. You certainly can argue that these people have an ethical obligation to make wise decisions and that some decisions are so irresponsible as to be unethical. However, unless you want to reduce the woman to an incubator and deprive her of basic rights of personhood, the law has no place intruding on ethics.

This is a long-winded way of saying that it's possible to fully agree with Paltrow's arguments and still maintain that Sarah Palin's choice to board a plane while she was at astronomical risk of going into active labor was a foolish decision. She wasn't taken to task for it legally, nor should she be. Her privilege protected her from any legal action. (Women subjected to forced childbearing decisions have been disproportionately young, poor, unmarried, and non-white.) If we trust women to make their own reproductive decisions, we have to acknowledge that while most women are remarkably altruistic and sensible, there will always be some who make decisions that we personally would never countenance.

But Palin's privilege shouldn't stop us from regarding her choice as 1) reckless and 2) completely hypocritical for someone who preaches the sanctity of fetal life. What's legal - and should remain legal - is not always ethical in every situation. We have a right to demand leaders that understand this distinction.

Palin, the Object of Our Obsession

I know it's time to move on from Sarah Palin. Somehow, we have to shift everyone's focus off of her and back to Obama's promise of - well, not salvation, maybe not even transformation, but at least starting to remedy the fuck-ups of this country that I love.

So why am I having trouble shifting focus, myself? Yeah, I'm scared because she's a wingnut who could too easily become President. But I'm not normally this obsessed about any individual 'winger. Huckabee alarmed me, too, but you didn't see me blogging about him for ten days straight.

I think I've finally figured it out after reading this post by Jessica at Jezebel:
When Palin spoke on Wednesday night, my head almost exploded from the incandescent anger boiling in my skull. ...

And the question now is why? Why does this particular pitbull in lipstick infuriate — and scare us — so viscerally? Why does her very existence make us feel — and act — so ugly? New York Times columnist Judith Warner calls Palin's nomination a "thoroughgoing humiliation for America’s women," because "Palin’s not intimidating, and makes it clear that she’s subordinate to a great man." ...

I think what Ms. Warner is dancing around, but not saying outright, is that for a certain kind of feminist, Palin is a symbol for everything we hoped was not true in the world anymore. We hoped that we didn't have to hide our ambition or pretend that our goals were effortlessly achieved ("I never really set out to be in public affairs, much less to run for this office," the Governor has said.) We hoped that we could be mothers without having our motherhood be our defining characteristic, as it seems to be for Palin. We hoped that we did not have to be perfect beauty queens to get to where we wanted to be in life, that our looks, good or bad, wouldn't matter. ...

I think the correct high school stereotype is of the homecoming queen. For many of us looking back at high school, we can now feel a smug superiority towards the homecoming queen. Sure, she was pretty and popular in high school, catering to the whims of boys and cheering on their hockey games, but what happened to her after high school? Often, she popped out some kids and ended up toiling in some not particularly impressive job. We can look back and say, we might have been ambitious nerds in high school, but it ultimately paid off. What's infuriating, and perhaps rage-inducing, about Palin, is that she has always embodied that perfectly pleasing female archetype, playing by the boys' game with her big guns and moose-murdering, and that she keeps being rewarded for it. Our schadenfreude for the homecoming queen's mediocrity has turned into white hot anger at her continued dominance.

(I've excerpted a lot of it but the whole post is worth reading.)
You know, I don't have any real issues with Palin's beauty queen past. I'm not a great beauty, myself, but I'm also not hideous. I don't know what it's like to have men drool en masse over me, but I've always been attractive enough for nearly all of the men who interested me. So I don't have jealousy issues about beauty. Nor do I discount the intelligence of women who happen to be conventionally beautiful. In high school, I even got along just fine with the homecoming queen, who was the band's drum major.

(In fact, in an odd chapter of my past life - which I'd forgotten until very recently - my band friends nominated me for "basketball homecoming queen" my senior year of high school, a very obscure honor indeed. It was mostly of a joke, and I was sort of an anti-candidate. I so didn't fit the type and I was never "popular" but I did have plenty of friends. I vaguely recall coming in second.)

But the cheerleaders! A few of them had this slightly simpering, dumbed-down way of dealing with boys. They weren't dumb, they just played the part. They hung out with the girls who were "popular," which - as in most high schools - was not at all the same as being well-liked. They acted just slightly frosty to the rest of us, enough to register with the girls but pass under the boys' radar. (Just to be clear, I have a couple of friends who were cheerleaders in high school. I'm not casting aspersions on all cheerleaders, just a select few from my high school.)

To this day, I have a real allergy to that sort of woman. Sarah Palin strikes me as one of them - as a woman who will fake and flirt and cajole and act stupid to please the menz - and then turn around and stab women in the back, individually and collectively.

Patriarchal systems have always required women like these. Every era has had its Anita Bryants and Phyllis Schaflys. Madame Bitch at Open Salon suggests that far from being the target of sexism, Palin is the very apogee of playing by the patriarchal rules:
What are the ways in which Palin embodies these sexist rules?
  • She's number 2, not the top of the ticket.
  • Her very appointment is a testament to the paucity of women leaders in the GOP -- had there been more choices, perhaps McCain would have chosen someone with fewer drawbacks.
  • She's a mother of 5 children, so her "woman" credentials cannot be challenged.
  • She constantly downplays her ambition and her accomplishments, even though the ambition is oozing out of her ears.
  • She dumbs herself down.
  • She embraces the frantic mommy role, both literally, and figuratively for her leadership roles.

To me, Palin seems not like a trailblazing, hard-charging battering ram, but a gray fascimile of that ideal, and one that is neatly confined into the small allowed space for her to exist, completely controlled for the comfort of the men who created those rules.

(Read the rest here.)

Palin is quite literally being controlled by the men, at least for now. She's being groomed and prepped and the press is not being allowed access to her - although word came out today that she'll grant an interview to Charlie Gibson later in the week. It reminds me a little of Old Testament descriptions of girls being prepared for entrance to the king's harem. The Book of Esther recounts how they spent a full year being beautified with oils and perfumes and makeup before they ever had a private audience with the king.

Palin has her beauty routine down pat, but the patriarchal grooming is no less intense for being focused on the names of foreign leaders and the pros and cons of privatizing Social Security. (I'm not suggesting that these are in any way "patriarchal" subjects. It's only the GOP take on them that's steeped in patriarchal assumptions.) My hunch is she's a quick study, judging from her convention performance. She seems to be smart and very, very tough. If Palin were transported back to the Old Testament, she wouldn't be a girl in the harem. She would be the woman who runs it. (For those of you who've read The Handmaid's Tale: Palin would be Aunt Lydia.)

Palin's experience in beauty pageants is not irrelevant; pageants teach and reward poise, self-possession, and smooth performances. So does cheerleading. I say this sincerely, not snarkily. These are good life skills for anyone. They're invaluable if you're a politician.

I'd like to think we're all beyond knee-jerk high-school emotions, despite the results of the past two elections. But I can't help thinking of another memory, this one from the back of the school bus, where my friend Kate and I were using our halting French skills to disparage the cheerleaders in what we assumed was our secret language. Eventually, one of them - a platinum-blonde named Mary - turned around and glared at us. We'd forgotten that Mary was in third-year French. Oops.

We underestimate the cheerleaders at our peril.