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Archive for July, 2011

From The Mouths Of Babes

Posted in Personal Essays on July 25th, 2011
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Greta Christina recently commented on facebook:

[I] Am very puzzled by the troll on my blog who thinks I’m a vegetarian dog owner. And who apparently thinks these would be bad things. ?!?!?

And it brought me back to the eighth grade. I was sitting in Art class. At my assigned table were two other girls I didn’t know well but were fairly neutral towards me and two boys who, for some reason had decided to pick on me. They bullied me while the two girls said nothing, for fear that they would become the targets next. They made comments about my clothes, or anything they could think of. I was a slightly awkward 13 year old, growing out my bangs and without much fashion sense, but my biggest crime, in retrospect is that as a new student that year I hadn’t yet found a stable group of friends to back me up. And I also had not learned how to project confidence and a “don’t fuck with me” vibe – my adolescent vulnerability was on my sleeve.

I was a part of my school’s Conservation Club – an extra curricular activity for young environmentalists with maybe 4 other kids but somehow the boys in my Art Class had found out about this and thought it was hilarious.

“Hey! Those acid wash jeans are sex-y!” he said mockingly.
“Shut up.” I thought I was being forceful, but it probably made the bulls-eye bigger.
“Do you know how you are going to end up? You’re probably going to never get married, because seriously, what man would want you? And you will be living in a big mansion, as President of Earth Day adopting Korean kids.” So much to unpack there. Sexism, racism, and more from some middle school jerk.
I thought about it. I knew the “forever single” was supposed to hurt my feelings, but I was more interested in his career prediction. President of Earth Day, I already knew, was not a real job, but it sounded pretty fucking cool.
“Ok, whatever.” I said. The bell was about to ring.

I’ve often thought back to that day and how much his insult(s) revealed the amount of toxic hatred our culture spews and is picked up by kids and teens. I thought of it the night before my wedding and laughed that he was so far wrong on two counts (My job is white-collar boring and administrative, and I have not yet see President of Earth Day on Monster.com). The mansion and Korean children have also not materialized.

So yes, Greta, trolls have a way of picking out stereotypes they feel represent the “worst” about a group and flinging them back at us in a way that both fails to insult and reveals a lot about their own warped ideas.

From The Creators of Vag Magazine, “That’s Not Feminist!”

Posted in Videos on July 15th, 2011
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I’ve written before that I think Vag Magazine is hilarious. While we are waiting for season two, they are doing a series called “That’s Not Feminist!” Episode One is Here.

Fennel answers a question I sent her in Episode Two:

What It’s All About

Posted in Editorials on July 14th, 2011
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Pollution from coal-fired power plants is making our kids sick — 1 in 10 already suffer from
asthma. Our kids deserve better than a city with smog-filled summers. Tell President Obama
to stand up to polluters. Text COAL to 69866 to take action for cleaner air. sierraclub.org/coal

The environmental movement is often characterized by the right as being loony or wacky or valuing inanimate trees over human life. I do believe that nature has an inherent value and I agree with John Muir that “Nothing dollarable is safe, however guarded.” We must protect our natural resources because they are priceless and because they are essential to human health. Clean air is a natural resource, and when others are fouling it and making us sick we should be outraged.

Children’s bodies are more susceptible to harm from pollution than adults are. This is something rarely brought to the table, especially by those who consider themselves to be pro-life. However it’s a vital issue, not only in terms of children’s health in general, but to environmental justice. Poor children and children of color are more likely to be exposed to dirty air and water, and combined with other risk factors of poverty like low quality health care, lack of access to exercise and food desserts and the outcomes don’t look good.

So, three cheers for the Sierra Club. I’m really digging their new thought provoking advertisements. It’s important to explain to people how these issues impact them, especially when it can feel like environmentalists are out of touch with the general public. I think about that every time I see climate change come in dead last on the list of issues Americans are concerned about (although “environment” in general fares better).

Why The Jamie Leigh Jones Verdict Isn’t A Surprise

Posted in Editorials on July 13th, 2011
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A few weeks ago, I simply posted a link to a story about the beginning of the lawsuit Jamie Leigh Jones filed against KBR-Haliburton. Since then, people have come here searching for “jamie leigh jones pics” and “jamie leigh jones sexual partners.” The defense decided to dig up information on her past, which could explain the search terms. But they way rape victims are sexualized (i.e. Lara Logan) might have played a role as well.

Last week, a jury found that Jones was not raped. It’s not surprising. Few rape cases end in a conviction even in a criminal trial. I had thought that the damage done to her pectoral capsule, genitals and anus would be enough to convince anyone that she had not had consensual sex, but it’s unclear what the jury was allowed to hear, and KBR has done a good job of muddying the water. One of the most powerful corporations in the world used popular narratives about women being liars to avoid liability. Considering the number of American soldiers they have killed through negligence, the fact that they gave our troops dirty water to drink, and the allegations that they participate in human trafficking, it is a deep and cruel irony for KBR to question the credibility of anyone.

Jessica P at Care2 has a lot to say about they way the sexism inherent in our culture is still obvious from this verdict.

It’s hard to write about something so disturbing, with a faceless, amorphous, villain right out of central casting. By my count, they imprisoned a rape victim, electrocuted our soldiers to death, serve troops disgusting muddy brown water and are modern day slave mongers – almost too evil to be real, as if from a children’s story. The good news is that the number of rapes is at an all time low. The attitudes of some people make it difficult to convict rapists, but collectively we are doing something right with preventing the crime to begin with.

Get Real Belgian Festival 2011

Posted in Food and Drinks on July 11th, 2011
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On Saturday night I went with some friends to the evening session of the Get Real Belgian Festival at the Altman Building in New York City. The price was a bit steep compared to other beer festivals I have been to, but there was a discount code for 20% off and many people got last minute tickets with Groupon. I think it was worth the price, because the event was crowded but not oversold. I like the idea of paying extra to have room to breathe, to move through the crowd, and not have to wait on ridiculous lines for everything.

I tasted many of the beers and I think I’m really starting to get the hang of the idea of tasting versus drinking. I definitely poured out more samples at this festival than I had ever done previously, and it’s not because there were more bad beers. The sample glasses were a little bigger than what I was used to (and actually made of glass!) and this often resulted in a larger pour. It wasn’t worth the calories/sobriety/stomachache to drink so much of a beer I didn’t absolutely love.

A lot of craft brewers I’m a fan of were there, like Allagash and Ommegang, as well as beers from home brewers, which I though was a really great opportunity for the brewers and festival goers alike. My favorite beer of the night was the Harbinger Saison from Sixpoint, it was just perfect. I also tasted my first Flanders Red Ale, which was an entirely different gustatory experience, that I don’t know if I will seek out again. But I never thought I would like the hoppier beers and they are growing on me, so who knows?

The festival also included some delicious food from Petite Abeille, great tunes from Lifted Crew and I spent some time perusing the brochures and fliers at the Belgian Tourism table. A beer pilgrimage is definitely on my bucket list.

My friends and I checked out the seminar on pairing beer and chocolate. The presenter was knowledgeable and very interesting, but even though he had a microphone the crowd was talking over him. I’ve got nothing against a little cheer and rowdiness at a beer festival, but why would you do while a class is going on? That’s what the main floor is for, really.

Overall, I had a wonderful time. Get Real is planning an “All American Craft Ale Festival” in September and I am looking forward to another well done event showcasing great beer.

Elmer Gantry

Posted in Book Reviews on July 8th, 2011
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After hearing many compare Glenn Beck to the title character in Sinclair Lewis’ classic novel Elmer Gantry, I was very curious to read it. It Can’t Happen Here is one of my favorite books, and so I was looking forward to another sharp political classic that has stood the test of time.

I was completely engrossed in this book from the start, when young Elmer is in college in Kansas in 1902. The first of many surprises in this book was that college kids haven’t changed much. The scenes describing the landmines of social interactions and the earnest piousness of college ministries could have come right from any campus in the 21st century. Throughout the novel, Lewis’ dialogue is realistic and does not sound dated at all, aside from a stray reference here or there. There is a running gag in the book which had me delighted every time it was used. The humor has not gone stale, and I found myself laughing out loud a lot.

The story follows Elmer Ganrty from avowed college atheist through his conversion, time in divinity school, and his work as a minister. His journey takes him to places unexpected but the narrative works; though there are several distinct stories that are much like acts in a play or episodes of a miniseries.

Elmer is conniving, but not quite evil. His womanizing and the liberties he takes with theology were enough to get the book banned when it was published. Like Brave New World, scenes and subtext that are not at all shocking today were scandalous when it was published, especially when concerning the life of a clergyman. Elmer is intelligent, but not as smart as he thinks he is. His charm and tenacity make him impossible to hate, though you get the feeling you probably should. Despite the fact that it is fashionable to say so, I found him nothing like Glenn Beck. Gantry is a gifted orator with the power to sway people. There are dozens of conservatives with more charisma than Beck. Beck’s talents are not in speech writing or delivery but in both subtle dog whistles and angry, paranoid ranting. Although there is one scene in particular where Gantry gets a bit carried away where I do see a slight resemblance, that they are both ambitious people who use religion to further themselves is where the similarities end. If anything, Gantry is part Roissy (without a blog), and part Ted Haggard (without the gay). Perhaps people are referring to the film adaptation for the Glenn Beck allusions?

Sinclair Lewis spent time in several churches researching this book, and so it’s no surprise he has something to say about many different denominations. A few of the stereotypes have been lost over the years, but he meant to critique all religions, not just one. The book sometimes strays in to Stranger In A Strange Land territory in that a short vingette seems only there to tell us Lewis’ opinion on a topic rather than to advance the plot, but these are few and brief.

We do see how life turns out for several of Elmer’s classmates and their endings are sometimes bittersweet. The women of this novel are more than a backdrop, they are as three dimensional as the supporting men are but we only really see them through Elmer’s eyes. As the book spans the course of decades we can see how his relationships or all kinds change over time, and this is a powerful device.

Elmer Gantry is such a good read. The humor and story have aged so well. In part it’s because Sinclair Lewis is a masterful storyteller. But it’s also because the strong influence that religion has in the United States has not left our politics or private lives. Elmer uses religion to influence both in all the ways we fear it can be used. This is why his story still resonates.

Movie Review: If A Tree Falls

Posted in Editorials on July 5th, 2011
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When I was a teenager, I remember reading about the radical actions of “Earth First!” I was both horrified and fascinated at the same time. I wondered who its members were and what they were like. Were they young? Were any of them women? I devoured all of the articles on Salon about them and anything else I could find on the internet of the late 1990′s. This perverse interest was what first made me question the idea of radicalism, a skepticism I haven’t yet abandoned.

It was this adolescent curiosity that made the latest documentary from Marshall Curry absolutely irresistible to me.

I was more than surprised to learn that the infamous “eco-terrorists” were not quite the white-people-with-dreadlocks clique from college who made me feel conspicuous for shopping at the mall and not being vegan. They were instead political activists who worked day jobs at places like Burson-Marstellar, the public relations firm that consulted with the likes of Exxon and Phillip Morris.

The movie follows Daniel McGowan, arrested in 2005 on charges of arson, while he is out on bail awaiting his fate. McGowan became involved in Earth First! after coming to believe that traditional forms of activism were not effective – as they hadn’t prevented the Forest Service from selling old growth forest to loggers. Increasing episodes of police brutality against tree sitters and similar protesters also led many to the conclusion that current tactics were not going to work anymore.

A harrowing moment of the film shows two women during a sit-in having their eyelids forced open by cops and cotton swabs dipped in pepper spray stuck into their eyes. One of the women squealed that violent force should not be used against peaceful protesters. I wondered if her cries haunted the police officers as they will many people who watch this film.

The film centers around two questions. Is what Daniel McGowan and his Earth Liberaton Front cell did terrorism? They did destroy millions of dollars of property, but not a single human being was injured or killed as a result of their actions. The same cannot be said for other radical groups in the United States that they are sometimes compared to, like pro-lifers or the white power movement.

In my opinion, terrorism requires violence, and violence requires harm to a person. I understand arguments about mental or emotional harm, but I am not swayed that this standard is met by ELF’s actions. A law enforcement officer interviewed by the filmmakers said “One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” I don’t really think that “freedom fighters” is an apt description either. I see them as deeply misguided vandals, who, while deserving of some punishment in prison, are not terrorists. They are criminals.

The second issue the movie explores, is the idea of the prisoners dilemma. Six members of the cell had been arrested. The ones who would cooperate and agree to testify against the others were told that they would be given immunity. The ones who don’t face life in prison. (Today I Learned: Arson can carry a life sentence.) Each time Daniel insisted that he could not turn against his former colleagues, I wondered cynically, “Why is he trusting arsonists with his life?” Especially when, according to him, the group broke up because of an argument over whether or not to begin assassinating people.

“If A Tree Falls” illustrates the failure of radical environmentalists who used destructive and criminal means to draw attention to their cause. At the same time peaceful activists had won gains, forcing corporations like McDonald’s to stop using styrofoam, for example. In New York State, we have finally passed the bottle bill, which will increase the rates that plastic water bottles get recycled because of grassroots activism and good old fashioned lobbying. Radicals today are more adept at using the media than they once were. The Yes Men do quite a better job of communicating their ideals via creative activism than the ELF ever did in their anonymous press releases.

Do we need a more powerful environmental movement? Yes. But I remain unconvinced that the radicals – especially criminal ones – will give us traction that more legitimate outlets will not.

“If A Tree Falls” is a spell-binding, well researched documentary that I highly recommend. Screening information is available here.