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Archive for February, 2012

I Speak For The Lorax

Posted in Editorials, Pictures on February 29th, 2012

During this year’s Superbowl, I had my first look at the trailer for “The Lorax” a new animated film adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic. I was not amused. Adam reminded me that this version didn’t stick to the story of the original book – I was tipped off by a stupid joke about a “mannish” looking woman.

A few days later I was browsing in a store and saw a box of Lorax Valentine’s Day Cards for children. How could a movie about saving trees have a marketing tie-in with a paper product?! I looked closely and did see that the Valentine’s were printed on recycled paper, but they were being marketed more as an advertisement for the movie than as a green alternative to other Valentines.

On Thursday night, Kate Sheppard from Mother Jones tweeted a link to her article about the movie’s tie-in with a new Mazda SUV. No, it’s not a hybrid or a plugin.

I was able to push the whole mess out my head, until Saturday afternoon. I was clipping coupons and saw…

…this atrocity

“The Lorax’s Breakfast With Green Eggs & Ham, Truffula Chip Pancakes”

I just felt so overwhelmingly frustrated at the bitter irony of it all. The Lorax was a very important story in my childhood, and to see it undermined in this fashion is heartbreaking. It’s not just the blatant commercialization. I dig Star Trek and Star Wars and Archie Comics and Harry Potter – fandoms with endless merchandising, that I know is not always the best thing for the environment. But SUV’s and pork are two incredibly destructive products with regards to human health, climate change and biodiversity.

According to the EPA, after electricity production at #1, Transportation is the #2 source of Carbon Dioxide emissions – the greenhouse gas most abundant in the atmosphere that is contributing to climate change. This is why advertising an SUV – one of the most inefficient forms of transportation – in conjunction with a movie that is based on a book about preserving the Earth’s ability to sustain life is so distasteful.

But what about the green eggs and ham? Can’t a kid have a nice brunch with family? According to The Sierra Club, those eggs aren’t so bad – at only 4.8 pounds of CO2 emissions per kilogram of food, they are a reasonable indulgence. But pork produces much more CO2 – 12.1 pounds per kilogram of meat. And that’s not all. In the United States, most pigs raised for pork live in CAFOs – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The EPA defines a CAFO as an animal feeding operation that:
(a) confines animals for more than 45 days during a growing season, (b) in an area that does not produce vegetation
(c) meets certain size thresholds

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? It’s like a chicken coop! But for pigs. Not quite. The thing about raising pigs – for those of you who never think about where your bacon comes from – is they create an incredible amount of manure8 pounds or more per hog, per day. And all of that fecal matter has to go somewhere. Most farmers or factory farms are responsible, I’m sure. Generally, pig manure is stored in lagoons to decompose. Yes, lagoons. And sometimes, accidents happen. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:

In Oklahoma, nitrates from Seaboard Farms’ hog operations contaminated drinking water wells, prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue an emergency order in June 2001 requiring the company to provide safe drinking water to area residents.

Large hog farms emit hydrogen sulfide, a gas that most often causes flu-like symptoms in humans, but at high concentrations can lead to brain damage. In 1998, the National Institute of Health reported that 19 people died as a result of hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure pits.

Huge open-air waste lagoons, often as big as several football fields, are prone to leaks and spills. In 1995 an eight-acre hog-waste lagoon in North Carolina burst, spilling 25 million gallons of manure into the New River. The spill killed about 10 million fish and closed 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shellfishing.

When Hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina in 1999, at least five manure lagoons burst and approximately 47 lagoons were completely flooded.

Runoff of chicken and hog waste from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina is believed to have contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, killing millions of fish and causing skin irritation, short-term memory loss and other cognitive problems in local people.

That’s why I was seeing red when I looked at that IHOP advertisment. I was thinking of all the lakes of pig feces in our great nation that are making people sick. And the flesh of the pigs who produced it was being marketed to me as a delicious family breakfast. By The Lorax.

I’m not even going to write anything about the diaper tie-in.

I want to be clear, I’m not a saint. I eat meat a few times a week – mostly poultry and the occasional grass fed beef if I can find it. (Writing this post might have been the motivation for me to give up my weekly BLT once and for all). I try not to be wasteful, and to research the environmental impact of products I buy before purchasing – but I’m sure I mess up on occasion. That’s not the point. My achievements or failings as an environmentalist are not being portrayed to market a children’s movie based on a book about saving endangered species and taking care of trees.

The marketing team for The Lorax did choose some partners that make sense. Stonyfield organic yogurt, Ecotourism in Costa Rica, and the EPA Energy Star Program are all much more appropriate sponsors – because even though they are consumer products, they are ones produced ethically and have a smaller environmental impact than SUV’s, diapers, and ham. The movie’s producers did not stop there, however. It’s almost as if they watched Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold as if it was an instructional film about movie marketing. I can’t pretend to know how these decisions were made – but I would wager it would have something to do with taking for granted that most people are stupid and uncritical of their media.

I speak for The Lorax, and this is an unconscionable exploitation of the story told in Dr. Seuss’ book. Whether or not you see this movie, think about where your money goes, where the products you buy come from, and about what assumptions are made by those trying to sell you something.

LI Families Responds

Posted in Site News on February 28th, 2012

Proof that a firm but polite email can work wonders, LI Families has taken down the paragraph suggesting that there are no risks at all for pregnant women to get manicures, pedicures or hair treatments that I objected to in my “Not So Healthy” post. Well done, LI Families!

In Defense of “The Contraceptive Mentality”

Posted in Editorials on February 28th, 2012

Sara Robinson wrote an article in Alternet last week, “Why Patriarchal Men Are Utterly Petrified of Birth Control.” (Hat Tip, Amanda.) It’s an excellent article and I believe it really underscores the heart of many of our current arguments about sex and feminism.

What I think needs to be added though is that it’s not just the technology that has changed, it’s that our attitudes have changed with it that creates the panic. Humans have always sought methods of contraception. Condoms have been around for hundreds of years. Diaphragms and the use of substances thought to be spermicidal dates back thousands of years. As the story of Onan reminds us, people have known about withdrawal since the beginning of recorded history – and recent studies show is it is incredibly effective if used correctly.

The other thing we learn from the way some religious traditions have interpreted the story of Onan is that the opposition to contraceptives has existed for centuries. And yet people continued to use them. It’s almost impossible to separate out the changing role of women with the decrease of taboo around contraception use, especially as technology made contraceptives more effective and easier and safer to use. The two trends obviously fed off of one another. Diaphragms made from vulcanized rubber allowed women some freedom, and then the pill and IUD gave even more. But those working women with planned pregnancies were the ones demanding more and better contraceptives. Now we have arrived at a point in history where not only is contraception incredibly effective – it’s also overwhelmingly popular – and that is what is creating a crisis for patriarchy.

New technologies are not always more popular and more frequently used as they advance. To draw a contrast – technology has also made weapons more effective and efficient. We can kill people with predator drones, atomic bombs and machine guns far easier than in the days of bows and arrows or even cannon balls and muskets. And yet we are growing less violent over time. If we were using modern weapons at the pace we are using modern contraception – there would be no people left on Earth at all.

Conservative Christians who oppose any form of contraception (and even those who allow Fertility Awareness Method) frequently refer to the popularity of contraception as “The Contraceptive Mentality.” It appears that this term was first coined by Catholics. The argument goes that if people use contraception and it fails, the woman will probably get an abortion because the fact that she was using contraception is evidence that the couple did not want a child. Somehow, Catholics believe that this makes contraception itself the cause of abortion. The logic is faulty, because before contraceptives were so widely available, women still sought abortions – and as contraceptive use goes up, the abortion rate goes down.

These people reject the rebuttal that we just need more and better birth control and better education about how to use it because they believe that contraception causes people to have sex when they do not want to get pregnant, and that if it did not exist those not ready for a(nother) child would simply abstain. There is no evidence for this belief, and Guttmacher Reports that “Forty-six percent of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant.” This does not include whatever percentage of women who giving up babies for adoption who did not use birth control when they got pregnant. That these women went ahead and had sex without using contraception even though they did not want to give birth proves that people will have sex, even when they do not wish to procreate. Additionally, if that 46%+ had improved access to contraception and information about how to use it correctly, many of those women would not have gotten pregnant unintentionally in the first place.

If there is such a thing as “The Contraceptive Mentality” I would argue that it is a good thing. When Margaret Sanger was teaching people how to use contraception, she was doing it because her dream was for every child to be a wanted child. Contraception does not cause a lack of interest in parenting. There have always been people who could not bear the burden of child rearing. We had ways of dealing with those people, whether they be abortions, early forms of contraception or “foundling wheels” where people could abandon unwanted children no questions asked. Instead, now we have the knowledge and the technology to prevent the burden of unwanted pregnancy. I find it far more humane to teach contraception than to build orphanages. It’s much better for people who love each other to be able to share their sexuality on their own terms than for them to live in fear from the exhaustion and bankruptcy that more children than they could handle can bring them.

What scares patriarchs is that more people agree with me. It’s not the mere existence of contraceptive technology – that’s been around for ages. The way that feminism and contraception have advanced and strengthened each other – and that this has culminated in a world where people accept contraception as a good thing and women’s equality as self evident are the revolutionary ideas they are attacking.

Awesome Clubs Beer of the Month Club February 2012

Posted in Food and Drinks on February 27th, 2012

For Christmas this year, Adam’s parents gave us a three month subscription to Awesome Clubs Beer of the Month Club. You can read my review of January’s selections here.

This month featured selections from Mendocino Brewing Company
in California and Lancaster Brewing Company in

White Hawk IPA by Mendocino Brewing Company

Although I’m not a fan of IPA’s I am not one to let beer go to waste. This beer tasted fresh and crisp, and fairly light. It was definitely hoppy but I was able to enjoy it with a meal.

Black Hawk Select Stout by Mendocino Brewing Company

This beer has a rich dark color. It was medium bodied, and has a pleasant mouthfeel. Black Hawk is nicely carbonated black and tastes of black coffee with a hint of chocolate. What I liked most about this stout is that it’s drinkable. You can sip and savor it but you don’t have to. It’s not too strong to drink as you would a lighter beer.

Amish Four Grain Pale Ale by Lancaster Brewing Company

This beer poured with a nice head and pleasant amber color. It smelled fruity to me. It’s medium bodied with a rum rasin taste, and while it’s an American Pale Ale, I did not notice a particularly hoppy taste. There were hops, but it wasn’t the defining characteristic of the beer.

Amish Milk Stout by Lancaster Brewing Company

This beer has a very dark color. It smelled of coffee and caramel. It was more carbonated than the Black Hawk, but not too much. I tasted dark coffee and caramel, with a hint of bitterness and hops.

Fun Fridays: Podcast Review: Opinionated

Posted in Podcast Reviews on February 24th, 2012

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.

I was excited to hear that two of the feminist blogosphere’s most prominent writers were going to collaborate on a podcast. Amanda Marcotte and Samhita Mukhopadhyay record “Opinionated” the latest production from Citizen Radio. Their tagline, “The Feminists You Were Warned About” fits the show perfectly, and has quickly become one of my favorite podcasts.

Amanda and Samhita discuss current events and pop culture from a feminist perspective, providing insightful analysis with a deliciously
snarky brand of humor. Frequently, discussions involve the intersectionality of feminism with other social justice movements such as a recent discussion about interracial marriage or the way access to contraception and abortion care are more difficult for poor women. Other times they will talk about how a particular issue has impacted them directly – trying to navigate sex and relationships as a feminist or how to deal with the misogyny inherent in much of popular culture. They have excellent chemistry together – I feel more like I’m listening to an interesting conversation between friends over drinks than to a podcast.

Some episodes feature guests, Sady Doyle was interviewed about an article she had written on dating advice for teenage girls. Another recurring segment involves a twitter hashtag – #femquery – which was created to solicit questions about feminism which are answered during the show.

Highly recommended for any feminist with a sense of humor.

LI Families – Not So Healthy

Posted in Editorials on February 23rd, 2012

EDIT: The paragraph I objected to has been taken down. LI Families did not inform me directly, but when I shared this post on their message board another commenter pointed it out. Good work, LI Families!

On February 10, the website Long Island Families sent out an email and posted an article entitled “Mommy To Be Myths” debunking various old wives tales about pregnancy. I’m no expert, but most of it seemed to be sound and healthy advice that I had heard before. But the last one startled me.

Cut out your routine manicures/pedicures/hair appointments False. Although being in a very fume-filled environment is not the best for long periods of time for anyone, you will not harm your baby in any way by getting your routine mani/pedi. Scheduling your appointment for a quiet time at the salon will help cut out any fumes you may be exposed to.

I really object to the way this downplays the risks of the chemicals found in many nail polishes, nail polish removers, hair dyes and hair straighteners. It’s true that some brands of nail polish have become safer in recent years, but risks still remain in brands that haven’t changed and in many nail polish removers.

Additionally, the post mentioned nothing of the recent controversy about formaldehyde in a popular hair straightening treatment or the health risks of breast cancer and fibroids from hair care products frequently used by black women.

Finally, there was no mention that phthalates found in many common cosmetics pose a risk of hyperactivity once the child is born.

I know that pregnant women are bombarded with all kinds of pressure and unsolicited advice. But to simply hand wave away a legitimate concern is irresponsible. There are plenty of ways for a mother to be to relax without increasing the risk of harm to her or her baby.

Ash Wednesday Thoughts

Posted in Personal Essays on February 22nd, 2012

If you follow me or my husband on twitter, you might have noticed that we were in Las Vegas for the long weekend. Today was our first day back in civilization. Waking up I felt a little bit jet lagged, but I survived.

I dozed on the train, but walking out into the sunlight this morning in Manhattan I immediately was confronted with Catholics who were observing Ash Wednesday. It usually reminds me of when Rodney Dangerfield joke that every New Year’s he resolves not to ask his Catholic friends at the beginning of Lent, “Hey what’s that schmutz on your forehead?” Others on twitter were having similar fun.

Sometime in the early to mid nineties I noticed – in the NY metro area anyway – that Catholic priests stopped just gently pushing their thumbs into peoples foreheads to distribute ashes, and started making crosses. I am not sure if this was to add to emphasize that this was a Christian ritual, to make it more aesthetically pleasing or for some other reason, but every year I catch myself admiring people with perfectly symmetrical crosses on their faces.

It brings me back to when I was a very observant Catholic in college. Our campus chaplain would give the same sermon every year on Ash Wednesday called “Gettin’ Ashes.” He would print it in the bulletin, which I wish was still available online. But the heart of it was that receiving ashes was an outward symbol of an inner desire to change – the custom came from a time when people covered themselves in ashes to mourn but also to atone for wrongdoing. He said that we should not receive them if we did not intend to focus on spiritual growth throughout Lent. And then when the service was almost over, he would harken back to the Bible reading we had just heard,

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And he would tell us to wipe the ashes from our foreheads before we left the chapel, wiping the ashes from his own forehead. Usually people would gasp at this point and he would say “I know what your grandmother told you, she had good intentions. But ashes are not a badge, they aren’t a fashion statement. They represent what is inside you.” Then before the closing prayer – he would advise us that Lent is not a self improvement project, we shouldn’t give up sweets so we would look great on the beach during spring break. He only advised giving up smoking (for good) and doing more volunteer work. Then he would tell us that if any of us were working too hard and not getting out at all we should go to a concert by our university’s music department, consider that our ability to appreciate it was a holy gift, and that this would be a great way to observe Lent as well. Usually a few students would sneak out without wiping their ashes off, totally confused and visibly shaken. I wish I would have asked them what they were thinking, but it was never any one of my friends so I never did.

This sermon, which I heard four times in four years was extremely impactful in my decision to leave the church – I stopped observing Lent because after a while, I felt it didn’t help me much spiritually. Why should I receive ashes if I didn’t feel like making the 5 week commitment to be more pious? I experimented a few times with fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – combing my hair, washing my face and taking Advil for my fierce headache as advised in the Bible. But it didn’t make me feel close to God. It made me exhausted and grumpy.

This all came rushing back to me not this morning, but this past week, when meeting a (atheist) friend and her (Catholic) boyfriend for a meal, she asked him what he would be giving up for Lent. He told her and then she asked me what I would be giving up. We had spoken previously about my conversion to Unitarian Universalism and I told her and her beau much of what I wrote here. I do remember as a teenager sometimes spending Lent giving something up, praying more, going to church every Sunday and feeling so special on Easter Sunday. I still appreciate the joy of Easter as a UU – on a different level. I am grateful for all of the love in my life and the opportunities I have had for forgiveness, and appreciate the coming of spring. If I go to Mass with my family (which I have the past few years on Easter as we usually visit family out of town) I like seeing the children in their bright pastel outfits, excited about their chocolates from the Easter Bunny, and my Aunt’s priest usually gives a Homily I don’t find entirely objectionable. Then we do something fun in their town and have a wonderful meal as a family.

But Easter does not have the same anticipation it did when I observed Lent. I have often thought about how to bring it back – a way I could “do Lent” as a UU that would feel fulfilling and authentic. I tried one year giving $1 to all of the homeless people who asked me for money during Lent. But I have since redirected my giving elsewhere. I’ve searched the internet and read a few other UU blogs about this topic, but like this post, they offer more questions than answers. I suppose that’s a start.

What the Founding Fathers Wanted

Posted in Editorials on February 6th, 2012

Citizens of the United States respect our Political Ancestors, the “Founding Fathers”, more than the citizens of any other nation on Earth. Most nations respect their major historical figures, but we practically worship ours. We name our streets, social clubs and companies after them, even putting their images on our currency -as a reminder of what ideals we value. Thorough study of their deeds tells us much of the origins of our nation, but they should not be Iron Rails upon which we should set our future.

The Founding Fathers -or “Founders” if you’re into that whole brevity thing-  are a hard to pin down group -there were over 100 men we could call “Founding Fathers” -participants in the Continental Congress, the American Revolution, and Constitutional Convention. Many were lawyers, many were soldiers, all were white, male, and of some means. There’s a prevalent belief among politicians and pundits that if one could simply latch on to a Founding Father that shares one’s opinions, one could win every single argument they have about politics. This is not so, for many reasons.

Firstly, we must stop projecting our own political labels onto the Founders. Were they liberals rebelling against a heartless stodgy authority? Were they Conservatives securing their ability to make money without interference by bureaucrats? We cannot claim them as “Liberal” or “Conservative”, as these labels did not yet exist. The modern political spectrum is a product of the French Revolution, which began after the American Revolution ended.

Secondly, the Founders often contradict one another. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had a very public, very embarrassing feud during George Washington’s first term. Furthermore, one could easily contrast Benjamin Franklin with his fellow Pennsylvanian, Dr. Benjamin Rush. The famous deist libertine is nothing like the priggish puritanical physician (in his defense, Dr. Rush was a very charitable man, if a little boring). There has been more than enough ink spilled about every Founder, and they were not always in Harmony. The Constitution was vaguely worded to ensure it would actually get ratified, and each of the signatories argued what it actually meant after ratification.

Thirdly, just because an opinion was held by a Founding Father doesn’t make it correct. Jefferson didn’t believe black people were equal to white people. Despite his native brilliance, he held a very wrong-headed belief. Additionally, being racist doesn’t automatically make one as smart as Jefferson.

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, there are various topics on which we will never know the opinions of the Founders. They all died before medical science had developed to the point that surgery could be considered remotely safe -the danger of infection made it a last resort. Abortion as we know it did not exist yet. They also didn’t know about heavier-than-air-flight, radio waves, or modern medical science. Were we to apply “Original Intent” consistently, we would not have the FAA, the FCC, or FDA. Say what you want about the effacacy these organizations, but the fact remains that there were things that the Founding Fathers could not anticipate, and in the passing centuries, we had to sort it out without them.

Most of the Founding Fathers were concerned about posterity, and imagined the United States was a “new order for the ages”, that would outlast them, their children, and their children’s children. No one doubts that they’d be pleased with the result, and pleased that people still honour them. But a country that devotes all its energy pleasing men long dead will not survive in the face of new challenges. We now have to trust ourselves. America needs to embrace the idea of a living Constitution, cease the deification of the Founding Fathers, and approach challenges in a way that is effective but just.

At least, I hope that’s what the Founding Fathers would have wanted.