Archive for February, 2011

Commodification and Dehumanization

Posted in Editorials on February 28th, 2011
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This recent article by Mark Regnerus of Slate has been making the rounds. Christopher Ryan is quoted at the end but stated on facebook that he disagrees with it and Violet Blue explained why it makes her uncomfortable (blog contains NSFW advertisements.)

I agree with Violet that the premise is inherently “slut shaming.” That is, it challenges the idea that women’s sexual autonomy is a good thing.

If women were more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired, we’d be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on.

This conclusion, upon which the entire article is based is stated as if it were self evident. It’s not. What people say is their ideal age for marriage is within a year of the average age most people do get married. I don’t think you can blame this year gap entirely on women having premarital sex. Economic factors like the price of student loans, the job market for young people and cultural factors like the acceptability of delayed marriage also play a part.

Regnerus is also extremely vague. What are more impressive wooing efforts? Our cultural fascination with engagement rings and extreme proposals has created an unrealistic standard for men to live up to. But I think Regnerus was saying that if women had their way they wouldn’t be having sex without those types of grand romantic gestures during early courtship. This is patently ridiculous – he’s painting grown women as little girl children demanding grand gestures and valuing sex with a partner no more than a sex worker does with her clients.

And that’s the heart of what I disagree with about this article. To reduce all sex to a commodity is dehumanizing. It removes all other factors from a persons behavior. Under this model a man never has tender or loving feelings for his partner, and a woman is incapable of lust. There is no such thing as mutual affection and pleasure, only a calculated transaction. Some people might view their sexuality in these terms, but it is patently false to insist that every human person does, not to mention the way this erases gay, lesbian and polyamarous people.

Imagine if we commodified other types of interpersonal interactions the way we do sex. What if we were shaming people and blaming advances in telecommunication for how it’s lowered the “price” of a conversation. In the olden days it took months for letters to travel across the ocean. Now with fairly cheap cell phones, people don’t wait for important events to communicate. They can call to say hello and chat at any time! It used to be you had to wait until Sunday afternoon or evening to make a long distance phone call without ruining your budget. Now people can Skype every night! Not feeling outraged? Me neither.

The role that the acceptability and reduced risks of premarital sex might play in delaying marriage is probably a good thing. It’s inadvisable for someone to make the serious life long commitment of marriage just because of lust and curiosity. Those who would say otherwise are usually pushing an agenda be it religious or natalist, but never with the interest of the young person held first.

Jill, a 20-year-old college student from Texas, is one of the many young women my colleagues and I interviewed who finds herself confronting the sexual market’s realities. Startlingly attractive and an all-star in all ways, she patiently endures her boyfriend’s hemming and hawing about their future. If she were operating within a collegiate sexual economy that wasn’t oversupplied with women, men would compete for her and she would easily secure the long-term commitment she says she wants.

Get that? Jill doesn’t want to marry her boyfriend because she loves him. She wants long term commitment – the unspoken assumption is that any man would be sufficient. This is what I talk about when I say that these narratives portray women as incapable of love. It’s disgusting.

And Regnerus doesn’t stop at misogyny – he is decidedly man hating as well:

Don’t forget your Freud: Civilization is built on blocked, redirected, and channeled sexual impulse, because men will work for sex. Today’s young men, however, seldom have to. As the authors of last year’s book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality put it, “Societies in which women have lots of autonomy and authority tend to be decidedly male-friendly, relaxed, tolerant, and plenty sexy.” They’re right. But then try getting men to do anything.

Do you understand that men? If you are getting laid, you are incapable of contributing to society. But it’s not your fault for being lazy, it’s those nasty women’s fault for having the sex with you that you thought you both wanted. The evil sex is why there has been no scientific, artistic or social progress made by men since the birth control pill was made available in 1960.

It’s really incomprehensible to me why feminists are the ones who supposedly hate men in this discussion. People like Regnerus can argue for stripping women of their autonomy and paint men as loutish slaves to their sex drive and it’s not immediately understood as hateful to both men and women. Instead, people nod along as if he’s speaking some great truth about human nature. He’s not. He’s simply repeating outdated tropes that have yet to fade into obscurity with the passage of time.

Fun Friday – Podcast Review – The Majority Report

Posted in Podcast Reviews on February 25th, 2011
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If you follow me on Twitter, you will see that one of the descriptive terms I use for myself is “podcast addict.” They are an integral part of my exercise routine, daily commute and errand running. In no particular order, I’d like to review some of my favorites. To see all of my podcast reviews, click here.

Sam Seder’s daily internet radio show and podcast is both very informative and extremely entertaining. I’ve listened to Sam Seder since his days at Air America, although never as loyally as I have been during his newest endeavor. Seder is smart, funny and delivers insightful analysis on current events from a liberal perspective. He jokes about his lack of up to date audio equipment, and recording in the dollar lunch district, but his guests are top notch – Robert Reich, Glenn Greenwald, Digby, and also comedians Sarah Silverman and Marc Maron (I know he is personal friends with those two, but I really enjoy his segments with them.)

I enjoy Sam Seder’s take on current events. He has a way of stating his views in a very concise and straightforward way without apologies. It’s a fine line between distasteful brashness and intoxicating bravado, and he walks it well. When recently discussing the Republicans numerous attempts to destroy women’s rights, Seder called them out for blatant misogyny. It was refreshing to hear that kind of feminism (especially from a dude) in a direct and unqualified way.

Every Friday (Casual Friday) Seder welcomes Chris Rosen from Movie Line and asks for suggestions of what movies to stream on Netflix or watch instantly. He also does a bit called “name drop Fridays” were he non nonchalantly mentions encounters with celebrities. This has lead to many people staring oddly at me on the subway or at the gym as I erupt into giggles.

As of this week, The Majority Report has sequestered the second half of the show for members only. During this time Seder answers questions sent to him over instant message and may include bonus interviews. Honestly, I’d prefer to buy a year’s subscription and forget about it rather than be charged every month, or to have the option to purchase premium episodes individually like Marc Maron’s WTF does. But I’m probably going to purchase a monthly subscription just so I can finally watch “Pilot Season,” the miniseries written and directed by Sam Seder from 2004 that I have been hearing about and probably having inside jokes from go over my head for the past seven years.

Check out the Majority Report for great liberal talk radio with lots of humor.

CSS…and I don’t mean the Brazillian Rock Band

Posted in Site News on February 23rd, 2011
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I’m experimenting with the theme. Please bear with me if things are a little strange the next day or two. Any suggestions or feedback are welcome.

First Amendment Solutions Sunday – Call Your Senators!

Posted in Editorials on February 20th, 2011
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First Amendment Solutions Sunday is a series of posts with a quick link round up of actions you can take to exercise your First Amendment rights to help feminist, environmentalist or otherwise progressive causes.

Here are three reasons to call your Senator this week:

1. The League of Conservation Voters released its annual scorecard for Senators this week. How did your Senator do? Call to congratulate them for a job well done or urge them to do better next time

2. Congress voted to give themselves a few more months to decide what to do about the Patriot Act. It’s not too early to get yourself on the record with your Senator about opposing Civil Rights violations in the name of security theater.

3. The House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Call your Senators and tell them you stand with Planned Parenthood.

Other ways to get involved:

I was deeply disturbed by the sexual assault of Lara Logan, a reporter covering the revolution in Egypt, and the subsequent victim blaming that went on in the media. I have decided to make a donation to the women’s shelter and rape crisis center in my neighborhood. Women are victims of violence all of the world, not just when it makes international news.

Planned Parenthood New York City is having a rally this Saturday February 26th. Plan to attend here.

Finally, former Senator Russ Feingold is starting a new political action committee, Progressives United. It’s not clear yet how it will function – will it be similar to Move On or something else entirely?

Fun Fridays – Podcast Review Radio Lingua Network

Posted in Podcast Reviews on February 18th, 2011
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If you follow me on Twitter, you will see that one of the descriptive terms I use for myself is “podcast addict.” They are an integral part of my exercise routine, daily commute and errand running. In no particular order, I’d like to review some of my favorites. To see all of my podcast reviews, click here.

Although my father’s first language is Spanish, I never made a serious attempt to learn it until junior high school. When school was over I have attempted to continue learning in various ways – mainly practicing with family members and occasionally listening to Spanish language music stations. I’m not fluent, I can get by in a restaurant or asking for basic directions, but my skills are more Sabado Gigante than Don Quixote. I had seen “Coffee Break Spanish,” one of the many podcasts put out by the Radio Lingua Network on iTunes and decided to give it a shot.

The initial lessons of Coffee Break Spanish start assuming you have no knowledge of the language, and over the course of 80 lessons get more advanced. Mark Pentleton presents the course with a student learner, Kara. They are Scottish, and while I think their accents are charming, others find it a distraction.

There is an intermediate course, “Show Time Spanish.” It has additional presenters and features a short soap opera about a teenage girl moving to Spain for the summer serialized into the episodes. This is the best of the Radio Lingua podcasts I have listened to, and it focuses on conversation, speaking and listening at native speeds.

In addition there is a third Spanish program, News Time Spanish where current events are discussed in Spanish. I’ll admit this one is a bit of a challenge for me, and I have to listen several times before I understand everything. It’s the only Spanish language podcast I have purchased the bonus materials for.

Radio Lingua also produces similar in depth podcasts for French, German and Italian. There are “one minute” podcasts for seventeen other languages. These are shorter and focus more on learning basic phrases than developing language skills. I have purchased the bonus materials for the One Minute Irish (Gaelic) course and enjoyed learning a few words in that language. I would recommend it for anyone wanting to dip their toe into a new language without too much commitment.

I really enjoy practicing my Spanish with these podcasts. Mark Pendelton, the instructor for both the Coffee Break and Show Time series is an excellent instructor and is very entertaining as well. His enthusiasm for languages is infectious and I find myself laughing in spite of his corny jokes and when he hams up a short song for the podcast to show off his singing voice. The other presenters I’ve heard are also wonderful. If you are thinking about learning or want to get back to your study of another language, you should check out the Radio Lingua Network.

John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story

Posted in Book Reviews on February 14th, 2011
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In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to write about John and Abigail Adams. They have been called America’s first power couple, and it’s said they shared the great American romance. My sources for this post are from the musical 1776, the book by David McCullough and HBO Miniseries John Adams and the book Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey.

I read John Adams in anticipation of the HBO miniseries. Before that, I had only thought of them as characters in one of my favorite musicals. McCollugh is an amazing storyteller, and he makes it easy to lose yourself in history. The pictures he paints of Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Paris of the late 18th century are so engaging. He quotes heavily from John and Abigail’s letters and personal diaries. They both had strong personalities which shone through in their writing.

The excerpts of the letters I have read are fascinating from a historical perspective, and so charming and moving. John and Abigail wrote to each other of their daily lives while he was away in Congress and later representing the United States to France, Britain and Holland. But the letters from their courtship are worth a read as well. They wrote to each other while John was traveling for his law practice, and when he went to be inoculated for small pox very soon before their wedding. The HBO miniseries really captures the trials of their marriage, and how much time they spent away from each other. This profoundly effected them and their relationship, and I think it’s what has captivated people about them. We romanticize separated lovers and John and Abigail’s story was not only true, it had a happy ending. They were reunited after years apart and spend their remaining years together.

I am currently reading Withey’s Dearest Friend which focuses on Abigail’s life. It’s very good so far and I would also recommend it.

Some have paralleled the pamphlets of the American Revolution with today’s blogosphere. The similarities are numerous. One of my favorites is that people in those days often took pseudonyms, like today’s screen names. Abigail went by Diana to some of her friends as a teenager and later as Portia. She often called John Lysander.

The thing I find most compelling about John and Abigail’s relationship is the deep respect they had for each other and that it was known to everyone that he valued her advice above all others. They were products of their time, but progressive on their ideas about the role of women. Of course, we only know of Abigail’s talents because of her husband. But that he was enthusiastic about her participation is remarkable for the time, and still admirable today.

The one thing I would really like to know about their story is whether of not there was a place called Cupid’s Grove in Massachusetts. Obviously in 1776, the term is used as a euphemism for having sex. It might very well have been… but John Adams referred to it with regard to both Abigail and her cousin Hannah, who he unsuccessfully courted before her. And in his memoirs he was adamant that he was chaste before marriage so I’m left wondering if it was a name he bestowed on a particularly scenic portion of countryside.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

First Amendment Solutions Sunday – The Patriot Act

Posted in Editorials on February 13th, 2011
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Despite the surprise stalling on the renewal of the Patriot Act earlier this week, on Thursday, there were enough votes for it to proceed. You can see a list of how each member of the House of Representatives voted here.

Something I have not been blogging about but have been meaning to get into is contacting my representative after a vote and letting them know that I was pleased with their vote or that I was disappointed. I’m going to do that today. You can find out how to contact your Representative here. An email, phone call or even a tweet might be a good strategy in this case because the reaction should come soon after the vote. Contact information for Members of Congress is here.

Fun Fridays – Podcast Review – Both Sides Now

Posted in Podcast Reviews on February 11th, 2011
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If you follow me on Twitter, you will see that one of the descriptive terms I use for myself is “podcast addict.” I first got into them during the days of Air America Radio and they’ve since become an integral part of my exercise routine, daily commute and errand running. In no particular order, I’d like to review some of my favorites. To see all of my podcast reviews, click here.

Both Sides Now

Liberal icon Arianna Huffington debates Republican strategist Mary Matalin every week while Mark Green, a New York City Democratic politician moderates. It’s not as annoying as it sounds. In fact, it’s worlds beyond any television counterparts like the past Hannity & Colmes or the current Parker Spitzer.

Huffington is always delightful and brings her sparkling personality, sharp wit and intelligence to every show. Fans of hers will not be disappointed.

I’ve come to really respect and admire Mary Matalin. She is an extremely intelligent woman, and she is much warmer and wittier on “Both Sides” than anytime I have seen or heard her acting in an official capacity for a Republican politician. Although she does occasionally drop a buzzword or talking point that makes me cringe (like this past week on climate change) she is genuine on this show in a way most conservative talking heads never are. For example, when she spoke about hugging her daughters and shedding a tear when Hillary Clinton dropped out of the Presidential race in 2008, I was really moved. And I give her credit for talking a stand on gun control in the wake of the Giffords shooting.

As for Mark Green, I was a bit apprehensive about another foray of his into radio – Air America collapsed under his watch. But he does do a good job moderating the show with a goofy charm. Civil debate is a cornerstone of Both Sides, and so there is no screaming to shout over or name calling to be reprimanded. No one pretends that Green is not unbiased, he is admittedly left of center, and I do like the questions that he asks of both women.

Several topics are covered every week, with enough time for some nuance, but it’s not a heavily wonky analysis either. At the end of the show each person shares something going on in their personal life and also something they are looking forward to in the coming week.

I come away from listening to Both Sides Now usually having learned something new about current events and like I just had a really stimulating discussion with smart, genial friends. Huffington, Green and Matalin are more like college professors debating their opinions at a department brown bag lunch than gladiators fighting to the death for the last word. It shouldn’t be so refreshing to hear people talk about politics in a fair and respectful way, but it is. It’s also the only space I’ve ever seen a liberal debate a conservative without any absurdities like the phony false equivalence insinuations made by the Daily Show and others. No one pretends that Democrats and Republicans don’t have deep philosophical differences. Both Sides Now is also unique in that it features two highly savvy women pundits, something I only otherwise see when Rachel Maddow welcomes a female guest.

Both Sides Now will probably never be as popular as forums where more sensational arguments occur, but Arianna Huffington has created something worthwhile and I hope that it is around for a long time.

Congressman Gary Ackerman Responds on Climate Change

Posted in Editorials on February 8th, 2011
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Congressman Ackerman sent a response to this letter via email on February 7, 2011.

Thank you for contacting me to express your concern about global warming. I am happy to share my views with you on this very important issue.

I believe global warming is one of the most serious threats facing our nation and our planet. The evidence supporting anthropogenic global warming is overwhelming and, despite the claims of some politically motivated commentators and pundits, climatologists nearly unanimously agree that the earth is warming, that man is having a significant impact on this trend, and that there will be major consequences if it continues.

The implications of these findings are dire. Over half of the United States’ population lives in costal regions; an ocean rise precipitated by increasing global temperatures could have catastrophic effects in these communities. Moreover, numerous sectors of our economy depend on a stable climate. Our agriculture, fishing, and tourism industries—along with many others—rely heavily on consistent seasons and temperatures. Climate change could cause major financial losses in these areas and do serious damage to our economy.

The only response to this looming crisis is to proactively reduce carbon emissions and invest in alternative energy technologies. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, H.R. 1, signed into law by President Obama two years ago, took important and unprecedented steps towards investing in alternative energies and the “green” economy. In addition, on June 26th, 2009, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which, for the first time in our nation’s history, would limit America’s carbon emissions and put our nation on the path to a sustainable future.

Unfortunately, this important legislation died when Republicans blocked its consideration in the Senate. Now, they threaten to roll back the crucial—if limited—progress that the Environmental Protection Agency has made toward curbing emissions through the authority granted in the Clean Air Act. Rest assured that I will continue to oppose these efforts, and work for strong environmental protections and stringent clean air standards

I thank you again for contacting me about this important issue. I hope you will continue to share your concerns and suggestions with me.

The Sting Video You Haven’t Seen This Week

Posted in Editorials on February 7th, 2011
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While I’m waiting patiently for a time when we can have a discussion about reproductive justice and human trafficking without Young Republicans dressed up like pimps, I want to call attention to another video sting operation going on in the United States. Since 2009, the city of New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been collecting evidence that people can buy guns illegally at gun shows around the United States. I learned about this project on The Rachel Maddow Show.

I had known that the mayor was working with other city and state governments on reducing the amount of illegal guns brought into NYC but I did not know that sting videos were being made.

I think that this project is a good idea and it’s different and from what Lila Rose and Live Action Films are doing for several reasons.

First, Mayor Bloomberg has solid evidence that these illegal guns kill people in New York City every year. Live Action Films has no such evidence that Planned Parenthood has ever aided or abetted sex traffickers. The issue of trafficking is being used to stir up outrage for the purpose of making abortion illegal and impossible to do safely.

Secondly, saying “I probably/don’t think I couldn’t pass a background check.” is deliberately vague enough that the sellers are breaking the law in not asking for a background check and yet this is not the same lying that went on in the Planned Parenthood sting videos. These actors are not saying “I am an ex-convict” for example, they are stating an opinion about their own ability to meet a standard.

Finally, Mayor Bloomberg has not named the dealers who sold the illegal guns to the public. Yes, their images and voices have been made public but there is no demonizing of them personally they are not called “murderers” or “gun runners” or “merchants of death” which they quite easily could be. They are simply part of a larger systemic problem of ignored gun laws in the Unites States. Bloomberg’s plan is to work within his network of mayors and governors to try and convince the Federal government enforce the law. Lila Rose’s goal is not for mandated reporting laws to be enforced – which in the firing of an employee, and reports to the police, FBI and US Attorney General they were. She has stated she wants to “bring down Planned Parenthood” and has no intentions to help trafficked women and children. Rose and her ilk want personal ruin for Planned Parenthood employees, and has proposed no alternative for the people who get contraceptives, care and testing for STIs and prenatal care from Planned Parenthood clinics.