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Archive for March, 2013

The Guilt of Good Friday

Posted in Editorials on March 29th, 2013

For most of my life, I have dreaded Good Friday. When I was a child and old enough to understand what the day meant, I felt sad and a bit afraid. Catholic Churches drain the holy water from the fonts where you could bless yourself – a dramatic gesture which I found alarming.

Schools were always closed, and my mother and grandmother told me stories about how when they were children, they were not allowed to play or talk or watch television during Good Friday, especially between the hours of noon and 3pm, when Jesus was said to have been crucified. I attempted this over and over, but the stories in my children’s bible and saying the rosary would only last about an hour. I inevitability opened a novel or a magazine, though wracked with guilt and a bit ashamed.

When I was in college, I fasted several times on Good Friday, but I never got the sense of spiritual closeness to God it was supposed to bring. I just felt hungry and irritable and headachy. Crabbiness didn’t feel very holy.

But fasting or not, failing to spend three hours in contemplation of Jesus’ crucifixion or doing schoolwork instead – I always felt a sense of dread all day. Some years, it was easier because our family would often spend a Passover Seder with my Jewish relatives and the holidays often overlap. The celebration brightened an awful day, but on the way home my mother would grouse about how it was terrible that we had just spent the evening enjoying ourselves when it was Good Friday! And….oh my God… matzoh ball soup is made with chicken broth and we were not supposed to eat meat today! I always figured the holidays cancelled each other out in God’s eyes.

Since I started working, I have always worked on Good Friday. It’s much better than contemplating the violent death of a man who preached love and charity. And that I am at work absolves any residual guilt for the most part.

I still think about how guilty the day used to make me feel. Guilt for the death of Jesus, and guilt at not observing it as properly and solemnly as others seemed to be able to. And I wonder if there’s another way to do it – different from how I felt when I was younger, or from the way I try to ignore it now. Would it work as a day of service, like some have suggested we commemorate 9/11 or MLK Day? Or maybe it would be a good time to open a Jefferson Bible?

Holy Saturday was always one of my favorite days of the year. My family would visit the gardening supply store and buy pink and purple hyacinths. We would dye Easter Eggs. I loved the feeling of anticipation for the holiday. Looking back I wonder how much of it was relief that Good Friday was over and that I wouldn’t have to face it again for another year.

I still like the day before Easter, but it no longer packs the same punch it did when I was a Catholic. I’ve shed much of the guilt, though I’m not sure what should take its place.

I’m A Contributor At Paradigm Shift!

Posted in Site News on March 26th, 2013

I’m happy to announce that I am now a contributor at the Paradigm Shift NYC Blog, the New York City metro-area’s critically acclaimed and largest feminist community group and event series.

My first post is a review of Cinderella on Broadway. The classic Rogers and Hammerstein songs are all still there, but the book has been updated…with mixed results. Check out my take on it!

They Don’t Even Want Consensus

Posted in Editorials on March 25th, 2013

The March 16 episode of Both Sides Now featured Ron Reagan Jr. and Torie Clarke. The two were discussing Rand Paul’s filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination. Both agreed that it was grand standing, and that the President should be more transparent about the drone program.

Mark Green the host said “Consensus Alert!” To which Clarke responded, “Don’t you hate that? You just hate that as the host of the show.”

“No, we love it!” said Green.

“We actually live for those moments,” Reagan replied.

The topic was quickly changed, but I think the exchange was telling. Clarke’s mocking question was followed up with Reagan and Green’s enthusiastic reassurance. This is an almost perfect metaphor for the gridlock in the American government right now. Republicans don’t care about governing and Democrats are begging for table scraps of common ground.

Is it Too Late to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Posted in Editorials on March 20th, 2013

In February, Adam and I went to a rally and march in Washington DC to protest the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. On March 8, a draft Environmental Impact Statement was released for the project. The deadline for public comment is this coming April 22 – Earth Day.

As I have some experience with Environmental Impact Statements and I am a hopeless wonk, I decided to look over the document and see if there was anything I could comment on. The Sierra Club has created a petition on their website urging people so sign it and tell the President not to approve the project, but I wanted to see if I could take more direct action.

I’ve read the executive summary and a few sections that interested me in the full document. What I have found is discouraging.

It’s much later in the process than I had originally thought. This is the second draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project, written to address the impacts of a new stretch of pipeline. The route of the original pipeline was the only thing objectionable enough for the project to not have been approved the first time.

The “no action” alternative assumes that the production and consumption of Tar Sands oil would remain unchanged. This seems like a giant assumption! It also seems to go against the spirit of the law. The no action alternative is meant to serve as a baseline/control measure, not as conjecture. This is also why the dEIS has been quoted as saying that Keystone XL is “unlikely to have an impact.” The document states that whether or not the project goes forward, there will be on impact on the rate of development of the Tar Sands – not climate change in general.

Obviously, a rebuttal to this point would be that the United States cannot control the actions of a Canadian corporation or the Canadian government. This is true, but I still find it highly disingenuous.

The dEIS also addresses Native American involvement in the project. Many Native American tribes were contacted and asked to participate in writing the dEIS and in identifying land they did not want the pipeline to go through. This seemed to be exactly the opposite of how the government was portrayed at the Forward On Climate rally. Leaders from several tribes spoke about how their wishes were being ignored and that they would be displaced by this project. After further research, most of these leaders were from Canada – and the dEIS does not have to address impact on Canadian First Nations people.

President Obama has recently announced that Environmental Impact Statements must address climate change. But because this document only applies to the pipeline itself, and not the burning of the oil it will transport – remember: it assumes that that oil will be burned no matter what happens, this announcement will not impact this project at all.

Bill McKibben has asked for people to call their Senators because another vote is going to be taken on the issue.

I’m trying to find some light at the end of the tunnel, some hope that this project can be stopped…and I got nothing. The Sierra Club, 350.org and others are moving public opinion, but not fast enough. The way the dEIS is written, with ridiculous assumptions that are apparently legal don’t leave any room for my objections. I wish I could say I trust the President to make the right decision, but I don’t.

Feeling Alienated From My Catholic Friends

Posted in Editorials on March 19th, 2013

Last week when Francis I became Pope, my Facebook feed was alight with people celebrating and excited over the news. My reaction was one of indifference and cynicism. Meet the new Pope, same as the old Pope, I thought. Francis I is opposed to contraception, to legal abortion and has said that same sex marriage is satanic.

But seeing my Catholic friends joy was disquieting. When Pope Benedict XVI became pope, I had already stopped going to church for over a year. I was busy with school and didn’t have much time to reflect on it. This time it’s different. I spend a lot of time on social media, so I was able to read all about the misguided Catholics who were hoping for reform, the outraged feminist and LGBT activists at the selection of Francis I, and most troubling my friends and family rejoicing at the news.

For the most part, I’m really glad that I have left the Catholic Church and I’m proud to be a Unitarian Universalist. While there were things about Catholicism that made me feel happy and spiritually fulfilled, the hierarchy wasn’t one of them. Perhaps it’s because my parent’s house didn’t have a picture of John Paul II framed adoringly. Maybe it’s because my parents always loudly disagreed with the idea of the Pope – and questioned how it’s possible for any one person to be closer to God or holier than another. I just don’t get what there is to celebrate.

I suppose I might feel a little left out. But more than that, even if I accept that my friends can accept or ignore the church’s teachings on contraception, abortion or gay rights, I don’t understand how people could just brush aside child abuse.

I don’t know what to do with this feeling. There’s no nice way to ask my friends why they are celebrating an institution that covers up for people who rape children. Our norms around religion dictate that it’s not polite to ask someone why they believe what they believe. I can understand that my friends don’t need to justify the private intricacies of their consciences to me. But when their support for the Church infringes on my rights, and the rights of others, when it causes death and pain – there is still no frame for the conversation.

Quiverfull: Inside The Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

Posted in Book Reviews on March 8th, 2013

Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull makes clear the inherent conflict between The Bible and feminism. Although the idea that this conflict exists is still controversial, even among feminists, this is the implicit message of the book.

Quiverfull is divided into three parts: wives, mothers, and daughters. Although the title refers explicitly to the Bible verse that informs a specific view of childbearing, the book looks at Christian Patriarchy as whole. Christian Patriarchy is a way of life defined by a strict interpretation of the Bible’s prescriptions for gender, marital and family roles – including that wives be submissive to their husbands, that men be the heads of their households and that children – especially daughters – be subject to their fathers in all matters.

The first section explains the Christian Patriarchy’s view of marriage. Joyce spent a weekend at a retreat of “The Apron Society,” an event designed to fulfill the commands in Titus 2, which calls older women to instruct the younger ones about marriage and family life. The weekend did not focus on improving communication skills or child care, but about Proverbs 31 and hospitality. What struck me as I read about these incredibly earnest women was a comparison between their attempts at “Biblical Womanhood” and that of Rachel Held Evans. Evans made her attempt to live precisely by the Bible in good faith, but also with a smile and an easygoing, carefree attitude. There was no friendly wink to the reader here. To the women of The Apron Society, being a good hostess wasn’t just something to do for fun or to be kind – it was a matter of their eternal salvation itself.

A disturbing undercurrent of Christian Patriarchy is that women’s lives don’t matter. This is made clear when Joyce reviews the writings of Debi Pearl, author of Created to Be His Helpmeet and other books about marriage for Christian women. Perl explains how women don’t need to enjoy sex, that close female friendships can be a sinful “spiritual masturbation” and that your life itself is worth sacrificing for the sake of being a properly submissive wife. Perl writes about a woman who came to her for advice after her husband had tried to kill her with a knife while she was pregnant. Perl said this might be grounds for divorce, but that she could also try to win him back by being kind and never speaking of the abuse again. According to Perl, once the woman kept quiet, everyone lived happily ever after. That this is extremely dangerous advice is beside the point. Perl sees nothing wrong with suggesting the woman risk her life and the lives of her children for the sake of her religion.

The section on motherhood was very different than what I had expected. I thought I was going to get a TLC like view into homes with dozens of smiling and identically dressed children, or alternately, horror stories about endless housework and abuse. What Joyce described was a group of people who worship fertility almost as much as they worship Jesus. When common sense or medical advice suggests something incompatible with their worldview, they of course side with their faith.

Christian Patriarchy is not just an ideal for family life. There are a set of political values and beliefs that go along with it. Conservative think tanks and churches have funded such projects as the Natural Family Manifesto the World Congress of Families, and the Population Research Institute. And these aren’t just places for conservative Christians to get cushy jobs. Their lobbying has real impact on the laws of the United States. Joyce does not go into the policy implications specifically – but it’s easy to guess what some of them might be. The WCF has lobbied extensively against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and of course, CEDAW – the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Within our own borders, PRI would like to make all abortions illegal. Reading through the parts of the book about these organizations made clear to me the links between theocracy, natalism and fascism.

The section about daughters is the shortest in the book, and much of what Joyce talks about is similar to what Jessica Valenti covered in the Purity Myth. Young women in these homes are taught to prize virginity above all else, to revere their fathers as the ultimate authority in their lives and to wait patiently to be betrothed.

Although Joyce meets many Christians in the book who are kind and warm to her, and some who seem like they are genuinely nice people, it was clear to me that their fundamentalism has elegantly solved the obvious conflicts between feminism and Christianity. While I think that treating women with dignity and respect is more important than leaving yourself open to charges of hypocrisy, the choice is not as clear for others as it is to me.

To be clear, I know lots of Christians who are also feminists. How they resolve their belief in women’s equality with their belief that the Bible is a Holy Book is something I don’t understand. It must require a complicated set of caveats and a faith so strong as not to be shaken by the conflict between their belief in women’s autonomy and the Bible’s decrees that women are unworthy. The Christian Patriarchy movement is by comparison incredibly simple. Dark, bizarre, harmful and hurtful. But as plain as the words on the page.

Letter Writing: Support The Shield Act!

Posted in Editorials on March 7th, 2013

When I had first heard about patent trolls, I thought that it was some kind of sick joke. But recent coverage on The Majority Report and WTF with Marc Maron have informed me that they are real, and someone who claims to own the idea of podcasting has been suing popular podcasts. This is an outrageous abuse of the system. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a web page where you can contact your elected officials and ask them to support The Shield Act.

The SHIELD Act spears patent trolls’ incentives right through the heart: if a patent troll sues someone, they better believe that the defendant actually infringes a valid patent. If not, the troll could be on the hook for the winning party’s full litigation costs, which often stretch into the millions of dollars.

This “fee shifting” system would empower innovators to fight back, while discouraging trolls from threatening lawsuits to start.

Please visit the Electronic Frontier foundation website today to email your Congressional Representative and Senators about this issue. If you are feeling ambitious, print out the sample email and send it to them via snail mail as well!

Jonathan Product Mousse

Posted in Green Product Reviews on March 6th, 2013

Ever since I read “Not Just A Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry” by Stacy Malkin, I’ve slowly started to change the way I purchase and use cosmetics. I frequently consult the Skin Deep Database at The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. I don’t have any hard and fast rules, but I try to purchase products that are at least one of the following: fragrance free, have organic ingredients and/or do not contain phthalates or parabens.

I will be reviewing some of the brands of natural cosmetics that I use regularly. To see all of the posts in this series, click here.

I was browsing my local pharmacy’s hair care aisle to see if there was anything that fit my criteria that I could use because I was running out of styling product. I have thick, wavy hair and I generally use mousse to tame it, but sometimes a little bit of gel or anti-frizz spray can do the trick also. I noticed Jonathan Product Infinite Volume Thickening Foam:

I’m not particularly observant of the aesthetics of design, but I really did like the simplicity of the package and how clear and pure the liquid looked. The label assured me it was paraben free, and fragrance free. The ingredients included a variety of extracts (pear, almond, papaya, white tea, pomegranate, ginger) that I hadn’t seen before on a mousse label. I was intrigued.

At $24 I admit it was a little bit pricey. But I don’t use a lot of product and I would rather splurge on something I know is safe and support business that make products I know won’t harm my health than spend any money on something loaded with carcinogens.

Only after I got home did I notice that it was labeled “for fine/thin hair.” I am happy to report that it defined my thick curls very well and I have no complaints about the level of hold. I would recommend it for anyone who uses mousse. It also smells amazing, and I get complimented on that a lot, people think I am wearing a new perfume!

My one complaint is that like Yarok Feed Your Roots Mousse (which I also like) when traveling with Jonathan Product I have to pack it in a separate plastic bag because it leaks. It doesn’t leak as much as the Yarok did, and I think because the liquid is slightly thicker. But at $24 for 5.1 oz a bottle, it’s disappointing to lose any to the inside of my luggage.