Thursday, May 22, 2008

Art Post

Constantin Brancusi, Romanian, 1876-1957

Monday, May 19, 2008

Virago Tales

Apropos of what I posted a couple of days ago... I was alerted to this article in the New York Times via BitchPhD. In it, Peggy Orenstein discusses the misogyny evident in reactions to Hilary Clinton's campaign. She eschews abstract debates in favor of a more personal approach, wondering what to think about such misogyny and how to teach her daughter about the real world. 

"Will the senator be my example of how far we've come as women or how far we have to go? Is she proof to my daughter that 'you can do anything' or the hell that will rain down on you if you try?"

She goes on to point out the inherent problem in books that are meant to espouse a 'can do' attitude for girls: namely, that there is anything that says they 'can't do' in the first place. Orenstein is hesitant to even mention this aspect of the problem to her daughter and I wonder if she hasn't struck on something quite important.

While we are not yet at a point where women can take opportunities for granted (see Orenstein's statistics on women in powerful positions) the consistent reminder of the barriers seems a double-edged sword. 

Because things are still so difficult for women entering traditionally male professions it would be disingenuous to teach our daughters that all those open doors come with no price. At the same time, it does seem to bolster those same misogynistic traditions by suggesting that women can break the rules but not change them, or that any women entering these professions are precious exceptions rather than a new rule. 

I'm not saying I dislike these stories where girls or women overcome male obstacles - but do they really show up how stupid these traditions are? Or do they simply put an extra sheen on a woman's achievement - that is, she could do these things all along but now she has been accepted by the men and so can be considered successful? 

And how often in these stories do we see what other women think? Do other women come in to support and speak up for the heroine? Is their approval enough?

I guess this all goes towards the fact that women entering this male-dominated and male-created institutions may become engulfed in those male fraternities. When a woman is accepted by the men is she accepted for being herself or does she have to change herself to fit that institution (in which case, is it much of a victory)?

** Quick addendum to this post. I just read this article by Arianna Huffington regarding the Hilary campaign and was touched by a personal approach similar to that in the Orenstein article. It gladdens my heart to see that which is so often lacking in politics and political commentary: respect.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Is It Easier to Hate the Ladies?

A BBC article looks at the disproportionate number of women on a list of most-hated celebrities (and all of the most-loved seem to be men).

It's a British study and they have a particular kind of relationship with their celebrities here. A lot of this has to do with the type, and volume, of tabloid news-magazines they have here. This, of course, suggests that the reason why more of the hated celebrities are women is because of the way they are portrayed in that press. 
Okay, so if most of the readers are generally accepted to be women, why do the tabloid editors see it as good business to dish out dirty gossip on so many women, while lavishing praise on men (at least the handsome ones)? The glib answer would be that of course, "Women hate other women and love men." 

Another answer, suggested in the article, is that the readers of these tabloids hold women to a higher standard than men. A double-standard?

I'm a bit too tired to tackle this issue fully tonight - but I'll leave the link here. Feel free to comment.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Organic Debate

I just read this article in The Independent regarding organic food. It is a measured response by Peter Melchett of the Soil Association to a previous article written by Rob Johnston. 

I have had good experiences with organic food - specifically organic yogurt, which I find tastes better than non-organic yogurt. I feed my daughter as much organic food as possible, given our budgetary constraints (because, yes, Organic food is still a bit of an elitist product). 

Both Melchett and Johnston used statistics and studies to their advantage. There does not seem to be a hard and fast reality here that the average consumer can take hold of. 

Here is one choice bit from Melchett's pro-organic article:

"Published research shows that, on average, organic food contains higher levels of vitamin C and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and chromium, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants...
Ten per cent of children in the EU now suffer from eczema. Following research in Sweden, a Dutch government-funded study published last November showed a 36 per cent lower incidence of eczema in children fed on organic dairy products compared with children consuming non-organic dairy products."

What parent or guardian wouldn't read that and think twice about non-organic products. The other key statistic regards the pesticides found in children's urine, which disappear if they are fed on organic products. That's all well and good - but if the pesticides are being pissed out then they're not staying in the body, are they? The truth is, besides vague proclamations about an increased cancer rate (an apocryphal story, says Johnston) there are no clear links between the pesticides that are now allowed and illness. 

What's interesting is that, despite Johnston's claim that GHG emissions are higher in organic farming, there does appear to be a clear difference in benefit to the environment and the animals and plants within it. Those farms that dedicate themselves to organic farming and wildlife cultivation, as well as good treatment of their animals, are certainly doing the environment a favor. 

Why isn't that enough?

Many of us who buy organic food, whether regularly or (like me) sporadically, are attracted to the idea that we are buying a product from people who are at least pausing to think about the effect their farming techniques will have on us and on the environment. That's not to say there isn't a lot of bandwagon-jumping and some organic farming that leaves much to be desired.

All in all, however, organic farming and the larger movement that supports it are part of a trend towards more conscientious living. Many that support organic farming are not just concerned with their own local markets, but want to see sustainable solutions for the rest of the world as well. 

It's not just a matter of focusing on one issue or another - such things are rapidly embraced and then forgotten - it is a matter of changing our lifestyles.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Alan Watts - Animated!

An animated take on some lectures by Alan Watts, by the South Park creators 

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

KtB Says Goodbye

I mourn the passing of Killing the Buddha. I've linked it on blog after blog before and it should still be a useful site for those interested in exploring ideas about religion - how it's practiced, what it means...

The archive will be around, as site says, 'until the internets fall down'.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sex in Politics

I'm not sure where to start with this article from Vanity Fair. It's basically a man arguing for greater understanding for men who cheat on their wives - or, sorry, politicians who cheat on their wives. 

His argument is that it is simply a matter of male desire (though he does offer a brief and garbled look at Hillary Clinton) and that, since sex matters anyway in our voting, we should let it out in the open.

This article is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Michael Wolff would have us believe two things to support his argument:
1) "The middle-aged man's middle-aged experience, lacking sympathetic and firsthand interpretation, has become mere reality TV - just about humiliations and buffoonery." That is, since men (according to Wolff) no longer write as many novels detailing their illustrious careers as conquering heroes, or tomes about their miserable and oppressed middle-aged lives, they cannot rush "to defend and explain the exigencies and nuances of the actions and desires of middle-aged politicians."
That is, they can no longer defend themselves against...
2) the "consensus on sexual politics that is driven by women, striking in its asperity and lack of generosity." 

If this is true, it certainly smacks of hypocrisy - after years of sexual oppression women should now be fighting for sexual liberation for everyone (especially if it's like the sexual liberation involved in, say, the Open Source Boob Project). But Wolff's only evidence that there is such an active, puritanical female consensus is that men now feel oppressed and unable to properly justify their dalliances - only women would do this to men, of course. Because of these damn women it's no longer just a quirk of a man's personality that he is unable to sexually commit (and let's not forget all the men that manage to achieve this remarkable feat of fidelity), it's an actual fault.

But let's think about who runs the most newspapers? Who has most of the talking-head shows on TV? Who draws most of the political cartoons? Wolff cites one paper, reputed to be aimed at women, which had a (rather unoriginal) cartoon on the front regarding the Elliot Spitzer affair (except it wasn't just an affair, it was consistent use of prostitutes, but I digress). So does Wolff simply think that men are so berated by their wives/partners/mothers/daughters that they adopt this puritanical attitude towards sexual freedom? 

Wolff also seems confused. On the one hand he bemoans the current lack of texts and movies that can assuage the guilt of the lecherous middle-aged man - on the other hand he seems disappointed that men can no longer hide their affairs because of too much media scrutiny.
I agree that America needs to learn how to let go of some of its hang-ups about sex, certainly when it comes to politicians, but also with women, homosexuals, transsexuals, etc. Wolff's approach, however, involves shrugging our shoulders at behaviour that is illegal (in the case of prostitution) and incredibly selfish (in the case of banging the secretary). 

And lets not even get started on the question of prostitution and the objectification of women (Wolff certainly doesn't).

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Short Saturday Post

Rob Helpy-Chalk writes, 'The more I think about it, the more Chris Rock is right on Reverend Wright: 'A 75-year-old black man who hates white people. Is there another type of 75-year-old black man? Do you realize his whole third grade class was lynched?'"

Good stuff. It does make me despair that we don't seem to be able to dialogue very openly about things that truly concern us or make us angry. We're not supposed to be angry, right? Either you are supposed to get over so-called past ills or current setbacks and look on the bright side (a distraction tactic that Karen Healey calls "Look: a monkey!"), or you are so privileged what right do you have to be upset about anything, or you are lucky you're allowed to exist at all so shut up.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Goddess and The Boob

After a slight dressing-down yesterday regarding my ignorance over the Lincoln-Douglas (not Douglass) debates discussed on Fox News, I am licking my wounds and dipping my toes into the comfortable waters of comic books.

Whenever I need to get my energy levels up and really get the blood moving I can rely on Karen Healey. 

I just read her post from April 24 regarding the Open Source Boob Project at Penguicon. That is where girls wearing a button stating willingness had men approach them asking to touch their breasts.

"Livejournal's the Ferrett, an early adopter of this... oh, let's say 'astonishing' endeavour, wrote a rapturous post about how great it was that he "touched at least fifteen sets of boobs at Penguicon" in the spirit of totally non-tawdry empowerment of women.
For some bizarre reason, not everyone responding embraced the notion that empowering women to mystically heal the wounds of men with their breasts heralded an exciting movement towards a feminist utopia."

The link to The Ferrett's page now comes up with an updated post apologetically stating that "what works in a microcosm does not work in a macrocosm". 

His arguments stink of misogyny however and even more so when I scrolled down and read the original post. Here's just a delicious taster:

"This should be a better world," a friend of mine said. "A more honest one, where sex isn't shameful or degrading. I wish this was the kind of world where say, 'Wow, I'd like to touch your breasts,' and people would understand that it's not a way of reducing you to a set of nipples and ignoring the rest of you, but rather a way of saying that I may not yet know your mind, but your body is beautiful."

Ahem - I had trouble typing there because my fingers started shaking in anger. I don't even know if I can comment on this because it seems so damn obvious. But let's just consider briefly the fact that if you meet someone you find attractive perhaps it would be less reductive to try to get to know their mind, rather than focusing on touching their tits. 

And why does it have to be touching? Can't it just be "Wow, you have nice tits" - some men already don't mind saying these sorts of things. But then there is that old power move of conquering - touching as having/owning, putting their mark on you. A compliment, however brilliant and eloquent, is just too cerebral. It asks for a response. Whereas if you're touching someone's boobs all they have to do is stand there.

While Ferrett argues that this 'project' was meant to make women feel safer, marking out the physically open from those not interested in letting men paw them, it seems, especially given his 'friend's' comments, that it is meant to make men feel safer.

I am also curious as to what Ferrett really thought was happening when women pushed their chests towards him. Did they all really think he was 'worthy' of touching them? This is part of that whole Goddess myth - that men truly worship women and feel privileged when allowed near or in their bodies. 

Let's disabuse anyone of that notion: 
"By the end of the evening, women were coming up to us. 'My breasts,' they asked shyly, having heard about the project. 'Are they... are they good enough to be touched?' And lo, we showed them how beautiful their bodies were without turning it into something tawdry."

As Healey puts it, the demarcation (where some women could opt-in with a button, while others did not participate thus opting-out), was simply a "reification of the cultural gender binary where women's bodies are always rendered as either 'available' or 'unavailable', and never as a body actually belonging to the woman in question."

I guess it also comes down to the fact that, even if women participated in the project, how many women who want sexual liberation (vaguely defined, at best) are thinking "Gee, I wish men felt more comfortable asking to feel my boobs"? Let's think back to the sexual revolution and all of those Free Love groups where many women felt pressured to have sex with multiple partners.

While Ferrett admits that the expression of male power makes such an experiment potentially dangerous one feels, if he was a socially minded as he seems to think, he should have thought of all this before. But of course, when a man gets a handful of generously proffered boob he must have more and finding a way to do that with minimal conversation (aha! buttons) becomes a passion if not a grand quest.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

"None of them seem to know how this state of affairs came to be."

I just have to share this from Atrios.

More evidence of the media being unable to see itself for what it is. It's quite funny, really. {sob}

The Flow of Money

From The Independent, Unholy Water: Delhi's rotting river: 

"On Delhi's sacred Yamuna River, beneath a wrought-iron bridge built by the British more than 100 years ago, the remains of the dead were falling on the living." 

The article goes on to say how children waiting below the bridge, like the girl in the picture, gather the bags of ashes and flowers after they fall and rip them open to collect the polythene. 

Despite the fact that the Yamuna is worshipped by those of the Hindu faith it is pumped full of sewage. "For the vast majority, the toxic black ribbon that slices through the east of the city ... is largely out of sight and out of mind. For those not forced to scrape their survival, there is little reason to visit the Yamuna, except for cremating the dead and scattering their remains according to Hindu tradition." (italics mine)

It is interesting to me that something involved in a holy tradition is not more protected, suffering because of more worldly concerns. 

"Manoj Misra, who heads... Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, or Save the Yamuna,... said that because the river received no fresh flow of clean water," due to a dam used to extract water for the city, "and yet received a huge daily input of sewage, the toxicity of the water was getting ever more concentrated."

The sewage apparently comes from corroded pipes that do not allow the waste to reach treatment plants,  not to mention those parts of the city that are not even connected to the main sewage system.

I wonder about this lack of proper infrastructure, especially in such a populated place, and looked for more information as to the divide between rich and poor in India. According to a 2006 Guardian article, water subsidies in India "skew benefits to the rich....While incomes are going up, public cash is not percolating downwards. A large part of the reason is the government, which cannot seem to funnel wealth generation into human development."

Of course, as in other countries, the problems do not lie solely with governmental mismanagement or corruption. This 2006 article in The Guardian discusses controversy surrounding Coca-Cola's misuse of water in countries like India, where supplies are limited. Such companies give token effort, and sometimes just words, towards investment in improving living conditions. 

Setting aside the problems these companies create when they abuse the environment and people directly, how far can we expect companies to go in terms of investment in local issues? I am thinking specifically of infrastructure issues, such as those corroded sewage pipelines in Delhi.

On the positive side, those living in rural communities in India are getting help from NGOs like WaterAid, which is building latrines and initiating education programs to teach people about hygiene. What might be useful is if more huge multi-nationals invested in NGOs already working in the areas near their factories or plants. This may save the money from being misdirected by corrupt or inept governments.