Archive for the 'Editorials' Category

The Ethics of Origins Cosmetics – Organic Doesn’t Mean Good Labor Practices

Posted in Editorials on September 2nd, 2015

There’s and article in Pacific Standard about the child abuse perpetuated by a Christian cult called “The Twelve Tribes.” The article asks how far the First Amendment goes – can religious freedom really protect the harming of children? It’s a disturbing but important article and you should read the whole thing.

Something that jumped out at me though was this paragraph about how the children in this cult were often taken out of school and made to work at businesses.

The Jones children were put to work at an early age. For several weeks when she was seven, for example, Shuah boarded a 15-passenger van at dawn with other grade-schoolers and drove to the Tribes’ Common Sense factory in Rutland, an hour away. One of the Tribes’ biggest clients was Estee Lauder, which contracted the group to make its popular Origins salt scrub. Shuah spent 10 hours a day labeling and packaging the scrub and other products. At a certain point, she told me, the elders passed out sleeping bags so the kids could sleep on the factory floor. “We’d take little breaks and run around and play and get spanked for it,” recalled Alicia Gonyaw, who worked at the factory when she was 12. “We weren’t allowed to be kids.”

I was shocked. I’ve heard that there is child labor and sweat shops in the United States, but it’s something I don’t like to think about. It’s something that happens in other places. And I felt guilty! I love Origins products and I have reviewed them glowingly on this blog. But my mistake was in assuming that because a product is organic, it’s produced in accordance with fair labor standards too. And as I have found, that is just not the case.

I buy organic products not just for my own health and for the quality of our water and soil, but because I believe it’s a labor and human rights issue. Farm workers who are exposed to pesticides can have serious health problems including higher rates of cancer, infertility and birth defects.

But makeup isn’t like a blueberry or an apple. It must be processed, and there are ingredients that aren’t plant based. Mineral ingredients must be mined, and there are numerous abuses in the mining of minerals for makeup.

Children toiling illegally in Indian mines are producing a key ingredient used in the products of some of the global cosmetics industry’s most prominent names.

A report by campaign group DanWatch said child labour is being used in the eastern states of Jharkhand and Bihar to extract mica, which is then added to the make-up produced by at least 12 multinational companies.

At least 5,000 children may be producing mica – used to add glitter to natural cosmetics – which is bought by intermediaries and then exported to high-profile international customers such as L’Oreal and Estee Lauder.

Estee Lauder is the parent company of Origins.

I tweeted at Origins hoping for a response yesterday – Shuah’s story happened many years ago and perhaps they have new safeguards in place. But I have received no response except for some conversation with Stacy Malkin from

Knowing what I know now, though, a response from Origins stating that they don’t or won’t use that specific factory anymore isn’t enough. We need more transparency about how the ingredients in our makeup are mined, not just how they are farmed. The jewelry industry has the Kimberly Process and the No Dirty Gold campaign. Cosmetics companies need to get on board.

For me, makeup is something fun I like to use on weekends or special occasions. No matter how a person chooses to wear it, it’s production should not involve the endangerment or exploitation of children or adult workers.

Pope Francis’ Holy Year Abortion Forgiveness – You Have To Say Sorry First

Posted in Editorials on September 1st, 2015

The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a grave sin which is punishable by immediate excommunication.

Canon 1398 provides that, “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated.

This is part of the reason why I am no longer Catholic – once I became a Clinic Escort, which I’m sure counts as being a “formal conspirator,” there was no going back.

Pope Francis’ announcement that women could be forgiven for abortion during the upcoming Holy Year is making headlines, and I think a lot of people are missing an important point. (Emphasis added)

The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.

First, there’s some patronizing stuff about how women who get abortions don’t know what they are doing and only have a “superficial awareness” of it. He acknowledges that the reasons a person may seek an abortion are powerful pressures, but says nothing of what can be done to alleviate those pressures. Yes, Pope Francis has talked a lot about poverty, but he really should have linked the two issues right here if he wants to maintain credibility.

More importantly, the media is brushing off the hoop that women who have had abortions must go through to receive forgiveness. They must sincerely be sorry for it and they have to say they are sorry to a priest during confession. This is a big ask when you consider that 99% of women who have had abortions do not regret it. Pope Francis is asking women to apologize for something they are not sorry for. He is asking them to lie to themselves, their priests and to God. For someone who claims to have such compassion for women who have had abortions, that’s a rather manipulative thing to demand.

President Obama and Bear Grylls, the next Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir?

Posted in Editorials on August 31st, 2015

Today’s news that President Obama will be on Running Wild with Bear Grylls has many fans excited for what promises to be fascinating television.

According to USA Today:

The president and the host will be trekking through the Alaskan wilderness. The episode, to be taped, will air on NBC later this year. It will highlight the effects of climate change in that area.

This is a great way to educate people on this important issue and it might even lead to policy changes. I’m especially hopeful because of the historical precedent.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt went on a camping trip with John Muir in Yosemite. Muir founded the Sierra Club and was one of the first American conservationists and advocates for Yosemite. Although his thin build and long beard don’t project the same image of rugged masculinity as Grylls does today, Muir was known for taking risks in the wilderness – climbing trees during windstorms so he could better understand both the tree and the power of the storm. The famous trip Roosevelt and Muir took together led to federal protections for Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove. There’s an interesting account of their journey in the Ken Burns documentary series “America’s Best Idea.”

It’s not a new idea that conservation and recreation go hand in hand. We need to protect the national parks, public space and wilderness that we have and fighting climate change is part of that.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s recent decision to allow Shell to drill in the arctic makes his conservation themed trip to Alaska seem hypocritical. But in the time he has left in his presidency, there will be other permit applications, and other decisions – like the one on the Keystone XL Pipeline – which he will have to make. Perhaps once he has seen the destruction that is taking place he will reconsider making it worse.

It would be ironic if a genre as problematic as reality television could steer us back on course to a greener planet. But as we have seen with his usage of Buzzfeed and “Between Two Ferns” to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance, President Obama is good at using new media to advance his agenda. And while the new 1560 page Clean Power Plan doesn’t easily lend themselves to a viral video, a camping trip with Bear Grylls certainly does.

Fuss Over “Fun Home”

Posted in Editorials on August 26th, 2015

Amanda Marcotte has a great piece up at Slate about the students who are refusing to read Fun Home because it violates their religion.

I find myself thinking “Fun Home” is a bittersweet graphic novel about a woman growing up as a lesbian and coming to terms with her father’s suicide and that he was a closeted gay man. These Duke kids got off easy!

The first book I had to read in college was Querelle by Jean Genet. I was pretty sheltered 17 year old Catholic kid. And so in my first week at college, it was kind of mind blowing to be handed this piece of French nihilist literature which the internet tells me is about society’s hypocritical attitudes about sex – especially gay sex – and violence. All I remember is a sailor having graphic sex with a man he didn’t particularly like. I was wondering why he had to make it sound so awful – it wasn’t loving or sexy at all. I was very uncomfortable, but it never would have crossed my mind to refuse to read the book or drop the class. And even though I was still very religious, I NEVER would have thought to use my Catholicism as an excuse to not do my assigned reading. I really wanted to be taken seriously so I toughed it out.

I survived and I think I even learned a few things – that old people were lying when they pretended gay people were some new fad, that there were a ton of themes in literature that my high school English class didn’t even touch, and that I didn’t like nihilism.

Brian Grasso writes:

Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he says in Matthew 5:28-29. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.” This theme is reiterated by Paul who warns, “flee from sexual immorality.”

I think there is an important distinction between images and written words. If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex. My beliefs extend to pop culture and even Renaissance art depicting sex.

If comic book drawings of sex compromise your morality and your faith, neither is very strong. He comes off as deeply insecure rather than someone taking a strong ethical stand.

When I was in college, a favorite prank was for people to draw cartoon penises on the chalkboards. (Do people still do that?) This even happened in my Comp Lit class where we were studying Querelle. The instructor rolled her eyes and erased it, letting out a few giggles before she turned back around to face the class. If someone repeats that juvenile prank in one of the classrooms Brian Grasso is scheduled to attend will he wait outside until the board is wiped clean?

Building A New Way – Black Lives Matter at UU General Assembly

Posted in Editorials on August 24th, 2015

This blog post is modified from a service I co-led at my UU Congregation on August 23, 2015. The theme of the service was “Building A New Way” – the same as this years UU General Assembly. I and others who attended reported back to the congregation on our experiences. Although the events described happened almost two months ago, they still weigh heavily on my mind and my heart.

This past June I attended my second Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. It was a rewarding experience. I got to see Portland, Oregon, a place I had wanted to visit for years. The Rose City charmed me with it’s magnificent gardens, strong coffee, and hipster bohemian vibe.

I proudly carried the banner for my congregation in the banner parade, and I said hello to friends I had not seen in years.

I watched UUA President Peter Morales call up all of the same sex couples in attendance to the stage to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling which struck down bans on same sex marriage throughout our country. People sang and danced with joy.

I attended an event where members of the Lumi nation told us of the destruction that coal mining was threatening to do to their land, and I got to see Civil Rights hero John Lewis accept an award from the UU Service Committee.

I participated in my second General Assembly Sunday morning worship service, where Rev Alison Miller brought me to tears with her eloquence and I got a taste, just for a minute of what a UU megachurch might be like.

But what stayed with me the most, what I know will stay with me the longest, is something that happened hours before the convention drew to a close. Every year at General Assembly, the delegates vote on three actions of immediate witness or AIW. During the first few days, anyone can propose an AIW and collect signatures for them. Later a vote is taken on the AIWs that meet the criteria and the three with the most votes are brought up again on Sunday afternoon for final approval. The first AIW passed quickly – End Immigrant Child and Family Detention Now. The second had a few minor amendments “Support a Strong, Compassionate Global Climate Agreement in 2015: Act for a Livable Climate.” The third one though, “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement” That took a while.

Our statement on Immigration was approved in 90 seconds. Climate change? Six minutes.
But the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association took one hour and forty five minutes to affirm that Black Lives Matter.

The main controversy was over the portion of the action which stated that it “encourages member congregations and all Unitarian Universalists to work toward police reform and prison abolition.”

Prison abolition can sound like a scary concept if you’ve never heard of it. Perhaps it conjures visions of the horror film “The Purge” where society suspends all laws for 24 hours. Murderers and rapists would rampage about destroying society. That’s not what prison abolition is.

I like to say that my motto is “Word have meanings, context matters.” And context in this case is everything.

The prison abolition movement is a movement that seeks to reduce or eliminate prisons and the prison system, and replace them with more humane and effective systems. Delegates in favor of the statement tried to explain this, but it was very difficult for them to be heard. People were so caught up in what they thought prison abolition meant, they were risking the passage of the AIW at all.

When I returned home, I educated myself further – I read “Are Prisons Obsolete?” and “Abolition Democracy” by Angela Davis. And what I begun to understand is that the prison abolition movement is about moving away from a punitive system which seeks to punish those who have done wrong to a rehabilitative, restorative system where the outcomes look more like justice than vengeance.

During the debate at General Assembly, Elandra Williams, a Black Lives Matter activist from Tennessee spoke powerfully when she said “Jails aren’t a solution. If you pass something weak, you’ve passed nothing at all. If you pass it to make yourself feel good, you didn’t do it. It means nothing. Fight for what we asked for, not for what you want.”

Another speaker said “To be good allies, we should not try to lead when we ought to follow.” And that was the heart of the matter. Were we making a statement of support and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement? Or were we telling the Black Lives matter movement what we wanted them to do?

The Youth Caucus started to tell people that if the prison abolition language was removed, they would be withdrawing the AIW altogether.

There were votes and recounts and procedural mayhem. The tension in the room was palpable. Being a religious organization, there were breaks so that people might cool down. Moments of silence, prayers for guidance. Someone ran out to find Matt Meyer. He took the stage and led us all in meditative singing.

I wanted to do what was right, even if it seemed hard. I tweeted, “I want a faith that challenges me. The idea of prison abolition pushes me out of my comfort zone but I want to get there so I’ll vote for it.”

Eventually, eventually, there was a compromise. Through some parliamentary jujitsu we left in the words “prison abolition” and added after them in parenthesis “which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable.”

The motion passed, and I know I was not the only one who felt exhausted.

I’ve been attending my UU Congregation since 2008, I signed the book in 2009. But I know my history. This is not the first time that Black UUs have told our denomination that they are not being heard. And sadly, I don’t think it will be the last.

Some UU Congregations have posted “Black Lives Matter” signs in front of their congregations. Some of those signs, like the one in River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda Maryland have been vandalized. Members of the congregation were shocked but undeterred. According to a local ABC news affiliate, “In a couple of days, the church said the damaged banner will be replaced with another one with the very same message. If vandalism happens again, congregants said they will only put up another sign.” That article was published on July 30. True to their word, RRUUC put up another sign. On Tuesday, August 11, it was vandalized again. They put up a third sign. On Tuesday August 18th, that third sign was reported stolen. RRUUC plans to put up a fourth sign.

Building a new way means supporting emerging social and civil rights movements that are in accordance with our values.

At the Starr King’s Annual President’s Lecture at this year’s General Assembly, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt suggested Robin DiAngelo’s essay “White Fragility” for allies who don’t know where to start. It’s available free online and I encourage everyone to read it.

New York City based writer, social worker and activist Feminista Jones organized the “National Moment of Silence” last year – a vigil for victims of police brutality. Last week she started the hashtag #NoMoreSilence encouraging people to speak out. She wrote “You can tweet that Black Lives Matter but imagine the impact when you add a councilwoman’s name? A state senator? What if you emailed your local representative every single week demanding action re: police brutality? When was the last time you talked to your councilperson? The person you elected? Do you know their names?

This month’s edition of UU World, contains an article “Five ways UUs can support the black lives matter movement” by Kenny Wiley. He writes “It is imperative, whatever our level of education or our privileges, that none of us looks away. If we are to live up to our First Principle, and truly honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person, then we must proclaim, with words and deeds, that black lives matter.”

Mayor DeBlasio’s War on Boobs Misfires

Posted in Editorials on August 21st, 2015

I voted for Bill DeBlasio. In general, I think he’s doing a good job. But this week he’s gone off the rails a bit. In Times Square, there are women who call themselves “desnudas” (Spanish for naked) who wear body paint and thongs. They take pictures with tourists and ask for tips. Apparently this is a crisis. Because tourists are SHOCKED and WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

But since it’s legal to be topless in New York, and it’s legal to panhandle, it seems like there’s nothing illegal about what is going on here.

From The New York Times:

So complex is the issue that Mr. de Blasio, who has angrily vowed to put a stop to the practice, suggested on Thursday that one option would be to simply tear out the pedestrian plazas where the women operate.

The mayor met this week for almost three hours with police and city officials on how to restrict the women’s activities before deciding more study was needed, his aides said. On Thursday, he announced that he had formed a task force of city officials, local politicians and business leaders and gave it until Oct. 1 to come up with strategies.

There is something shady going on in Times Square, and it’s not the presence of breasts. It’s wage theft, tax evasion and violation of labor laws. According to this Daily News Article, the desnudas are not just a bunch of women doing this for fun and profit, but seem to be employees of a business. They work 12 hour days with no breaks, and share tips with their painters, managers and a boss. According to the article that leaves them with an average of $90 a day. That’s a mere $7.50 an hour – which is $1.25 below the minimum wage in New York City. And I doubt their boss is making sure that taxes and social security are being withheld.

As with the Lingerie Football League we should not be distracted by the spectacle of sex or the cheap moral outrage. It’s a ridiculous position to seem so upset by nudity. And I must point out the striking discordance that we live in a culture where women’s bodies are decorative sex objects but we are outraged when they attempt to make money from that objectification.

Where we should be focused is on the rights of these women. They, like millions of people in this country who work “off the books” in restaurants and other businesses due to immigration status or the inability to find work elsewhere, are being exploited by their employers. If Mayor DeBlasio really wanted to clean up this city he could start by enforcing our labor laws. Because if all he does is make it impossible for the desnudas to work in Times Square, who is going to care if they wind up at jobs working even longer hours for less money but wearing more clothing?

Tim Hunt’s apology reveals he still has a problem with women.

Posted in Editorials on June 13th, 2015

By now you have probably heard about Nobel laureate Tim Hunt’s ridiculous comments about women scientists:

“Three things happen when [girls] are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.”

Having worked as a research assistant in college and graduate school and never once crying over any constructive criticism offered by my supervising professors, I was rolling my eyes pretty hard. Besides what work environment doesn’t have some degree interpersonal conflict? Learning to work effectively with different people and managing romantic entanglements is just part of life – isn’t it?

Women scientists on Twitter responded with the clever #DistractinglySexy. And now Hunt has said he was forced to resign from the University college in London.

Although I think his remarks are quite stupid, at first I wasn’t sure as to whether they were worth being fired over. But then I read his (second) apology, which begins (emphasis added):

I accept that my attempts at a self-deprecating joke were ill-judged and not in the least bit funny…

So his comments were meant to be a self depreciating joke? Hunt wasn’t saying that women are bad scientists, just that he has personal problems which render him incapable of working with women. And we should find this inability humorous. Ok then, I’m totally on board with his employment being terminated. He has stated that he cannot work with women, thus University College of London has an obligation to their women employees to fire him.

It has been said that the definition of a gaffe is when a person says what they are really think. And I think that the idea that Hunt sees this joke as “self depreciating” is incredibly telling. I would recommend he and anyone else upset about other’s reaction to his “joke” refer to Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

Themes of Reproductive Justice In The Second Season Of Star Trek Voyager

Posted in Editorials on March 9th, 2015

Star Trek Voyager is a very feminist show. A lot of television in the 90′s took feminism for granted, and Voyager is no exception.
I think in part this stems from having so many great women characters.

The second season of Voyager is considered by many fans to be the weakest, and I’m not sure if I agree. But even if that’s true, I did notice that there was a strong theme of Reproductive Justice underscoring a few of the episodes.

It starts with Elogium. In this episode, the ship flies into the mating ground of some giant space slugs and this throws Kes into heat, many years before she expected to have to decide whether or not to have a child. Trekkie Feminist has a great review of the episode, but what stood out to me were that:

  • Janeway stated plainly that she will not institute a blanket ban on “fraternization.” If the crew wants to hook up, that’s their business
  • Janeway acknowledges that some members of her crew may have children. But again she’s not going to encourage this or discourage it. She doesn’t think this is any of her business.
  • Kes considers whether or not to have a child and concludes that just because she can, doesn’t mean that she should.

At the end of the episode we find out that Ensign Wildman is pregnant. She and her husband were trying to conceive before Voyager left the Alpha Quadrant and she has just confirmed it now. They’ve been lost in space for months, but the show glosses over this. Perhaps it’s because Wildman’s husband is Ktarian and that species has a much longer gestation period. Or maybe Ktarian sperm can live a lot longer than human sperm in fallopian tubes waiting for the right egg.

When Wildman comes to tell Captain Janeway, the tone is serious:

WILDMAN: I know this isn’t the best place to have a baby, but it’s all I have left of my husband.
JANEWAY: Well, congratulations, Ensign.

At first I wondered why they didn’t seem happier about it. But their serious tone is fitting. Being lost in a hostile area of space 70 light years away from family and a support network is not the best place to have a baby. Gushing and squeeing would not have been appropriate. The show takes this very seriously. Wildman’s baby is wanted and yet arriving under less than ideal circumstances.

In the episode Deadlock, Wildman gives birth, and there is a complication:

EMH: Push!
KES: Don’t forget to breathe, Samantha. Deep regular breaths. That’s it.
EMH: Cervical dilation is at ten point two centimeters. Prostaglandin levels are normal. Push, Ensign.
WILDMAN: You push, damn it! I’m sick of pushing!
EMH: I know you’re fatigued. Try to focus on your breathing. Remember the exercises we did. When you feel a contraction, bear down.
WILDMAN: Oh! Oh, what was that?
EMH: What’s wrong?
WILDMAN: A pain in my abdomen. It’s different. Sharp. Oh, God!
EMH: The baby has shifted position, and its exo-cranial ridges have lodged in the uterine wall. This is a rare complication, but it’s been known to happen in human Ktarian pregnancies.
KES: Can we reposition the baby?
EMH: No. Its spinal column is too fragile. I don’t want to risk nerve damage. If we don’t deliver the baby now, its ridges could perforate the uterus and cause internal bleeding. Kes, prepare for a foetal transport.
EMH: I’ve locked onto the baby’s coordinates. We’re ready to begin. Initiating umbilical separation. Energizing.
EMH: Congratulations, Ensign. It’s a girl.
WILDMAN: Is she all right?
EMH: The transport caused a slight hemocythemic imbalance, but we’ll stabilise her cell membranes with osmotic pressure therapy.

Although there was a risk to the baby (she born with something like decompression sickness) the Doctor and Kes did not think twice about saving Wildman’s life. She was in danger of dying and they saved her. Immediately. Without question.

When I was a teenager I probably watched this episode at least three or four times, and I never noticed this. But now I know that we live in a climate where for many, saving a pregnant woman’s life at any risk to the fetus is taboo. Governments in places like Ireland and El Salvador force women to die on the table for their babies. Religion lauds these tragedies as beatific. Those who dissent are condemned. As recently as 2011, the United States was considering a bill that would free hospitals from any liability if their religious refusal to treat a pregnant woman resulted in her death. But on Voyager, this was never even considered to be an option. Not for a millisecond.

Finally there is the matter of Seska’s assault on Chakotay. She tells him that while he was being held hostage by the Kazon, she took a sample of his DNA while he was unconscious and impregnated herself with it. When the baby is born she sends a message saying that she and the baby are in danger. This is clearly a trap. Janeway and Chakotay know this. Janeway tells Chakotay that it is his decision whether or not they decide to attempt a rescue. In his review of this episode, Jammer says,

If you guessed that Chakotay decides to go after his son, you win today’s prize. Still, despite the tough-to-judge arguments early in the show regarding whether it would be wise to indulge in such an emotional response over a child that was born under such manipulated circumstances, the bottom line is that it is downright foolhardy for Janeway to divert the course of the Voyager into what is the heart of Kazon territory and what may very likely be Seska’s latest snare attempt. Just how many times has Seska duped the Voyager crew in the past?

But this is only true if you consider that Janeway’s only objective is military success. It’s not. She frequently places the heath and welfare of her crew, and the existence of other civilizations above their goal of getting home or winning battles. Even though she’s his superior officer, Janeway does not want to stop Chakotay from rescuing his son and having his chance at fatherhood – even though it might put them all at risk. When you include Chakotay’s rights as a parent her calculus makes more sense.

It’s clear that for Captain Janeway, the reproductive rights of her crew are a priority. One more reason why Star Trek is a utopian vision of the future.

I just wrote a thousand words about reproductive justice in the context of a television season that aired twenty years ago. But I’m also doing something for the cause of reproductive justice today. For the third year, I’m participating in the National Network of Abortion Funds Bowl-a-thon. Abortion funds are local, grassroots groups that work tirelessly to help low-income and disadvantaged people who want an abortion and do not have enough money to pay for it. I’m bowling because I believe that everyone should have access to the abortions they need, regardless of how much money they have. Click to follow the link and find out more. Please donate if you can.

Seven Seasons Of Questions About Odo

Posted in Editorials on February 2nd, 2015

Adam and I have recently finished watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9. It’s a really good show. Perhaps the best one. As Zack Handlen of the AV Club explains so well, it’s strength is in how it deconstructs the premise and tropes of the two previous series:

Cracks in the facade have been showing for a while now, though. DS9 hasn’t given up the dream of the unity, but it has addressed the way the base metals of the individual often react in ways no one can predict. It used to be that just wanting to be friends was enough; now, though, there are conflicting allegiances, religions, philosophies. Communication helps, but it’s not a cure all, and situations arise in which there is no real right answer—in which the most two sides can hope to achieve is an uneasy compromise until the next great crisis. There’s no definitive protagonist on DS9, no single hero like Picard of TNG or the Kirk/Spock/McCoy trifecta of TOS. Sisko may get top billing, but he’s first among equals. All viewpoints are welcome, all are treated with equal respect.

Still, what I want to talk about is how mind shatteringly awesome Odo is. Deep Space Nine’s chief of security is a shape shifter in a Bajoran militia uniform. He’s far better at security than Worf ever was, and he makes the most convincing case for an all seeing all knowing police state I’ve ever heard (no, really.) He has Data’s longing for connection, Spock’s vulnerability and Worf’s torn allegiances. But still, there’s so many unanswered questions about what he can do. You could ask similar questions about Q, but he’s used sparingly. Odo is a regular cast member.

Sometimes it seems like Odo had no idea what the answers are to these questions himself!

For your discussion and consideration: the grand list of questions about Odo that Adam and I have been compiling for months:

How does he get energy? Odo doesn’t eat or drink. (Except that one time in “Facets” where he was hosting Curzon’s memories and drank Tranya.) He needs to regenerate, but where does he get the fuel for that process?

How can he change his mass? We see Odo transform into a few small things, and people pick him up with ease. How can this be?

Is there a limit on how big or small he can become? We see Laas become a giant creature that can fly through space. But can changelings get even bigger than that? Could he make himself small enough to fix problems on a molecular or atomic level? The possibilities here are endless.

Why don’t O’Brien and Dax and Bashir follow him around asking him questions all day? If generating this list of questions was a fun game as we watched the show, wouldn’t the curiosity be just torture for inquisitive scientists? Perhaps they understand that he doesn’t like being treated as a science experiment but we don’t see them even asking the occasional, respectful question.

Can he see in 360 degrees? There’s no indication that he can do this, but shouldn’t he be able to?

Are all parts of his body equally sensitive to light and/or touch? And if they are…

Does he/can he echolocate? It seems like he should be able do do this too. If not, what does he hear with?

What’s a “morphogenic matrix”? Is it like a neural net?
What does he think with?

How does he understand gender – his own and that of humanoids? Odo takes the form of a Bajoran male because the doctor who studied him was a Bajoran man. If Doctor Mora had been a woman, would Odo had taken a female form? Is there anything about him that’s inherently “male?” Does changeling reproduction require two (or more or fewer) biological sexes?

How does he understand/experience friendship/love/sex etc? Does he have a limbic system? Odo seems to easily assimilate to humanoid concepts of friendship and camaraderie. He appears to approximate heterosexual cisgendered male sexuality. But he also says that changeling relationships within The Great Link are not understandable to humanoids. How is it that he can so easily adapt to our social structures?

Odo seems to equivocate The Link with other changelings with having sex with humanoids. How similar are they really though? Is The Link an erotic experience or just pleasurable and intimate? Does it have anything to do with changeling reproduction? The way he links with himself in Children of Time and with a changeling he barely knows in Chimera is very different from the way he establishes sexual relationships with humanoids.

Can he turn himself into a machine with working parts? If so how complicated? Like maybe he could be a pair of scissors or a pulley but not a power drill or a transporter?

Does Odo have Bajoran citizenship? This is implied but it never really comes up. I think it would be interesting to know how the Bajoran government classifies him.

Can he make himself rain down Sulfur? Or can he turn into any caustic or explosive substance? Could he turn himself into a bomb that explodes and still survive? Alternately, if he was on a ship that was about to explode could he turn himself into some kind of inflammable or shock absorbing material to survive?

Does he have any way of proving his own unique identity? If another shapeshifter was pretending to be him would there be any way to tell the difference? Does he have any kind of tissue with any kind of DNA like substance that he sheds? (Like dead skin cells?)

How does the universal translator work with Odo? Does he have an implant? It makes sense that he can speak Bajoran and Cardassian, but what about other languages?

Does Odo use his bucket on The Defiant? Not as important, but I’m still curious!

In case you are going to tell us to repeat to ourselves “it’s just a show” and that we should really just relax, or to get a life, we know this is a little silly. In fact, we kind of recognize ourselves in this episode of After Hours

Michael:You guys ever think that maybe we think about movies more than the people who made the movies?
Soren: Yeah, like maybe we’re projecting? Yeah I think about that…
Michael: Right, like maybe the guys who wrote Aladdin maybe wouldn’t have if they knew a bunch of assholes were going to sit around tearing all their choices apart?
Katie: Well no matter what you make, some dickhead is going to comment on it.
Dan: I’m going to stop making things forever now, because of comments.

But we also find ourselves agreeing with SimonF:

Watch enough Deep Space 9 and you will begin to generate a list of pretty fucked up questions about Odo…

And if you still doubt that I have a sense of humor about Trek, check out my Deep Space Nine memes:
It Had To Be Done
The Answer To An Age Old Question
That’s a Good Question

My Favorites of 2014

Posted in Editorials on December 31st, 2014

All the best in 2015. Here’s some of my favorite things from 2014.

Link Roundup – Some of these are long reads, and some are shorter. Here’s some posts from the year I hope you didn’t miss.
Dear America, I Saw You Naked
Popular Delusions: Sovereign Citizens
Survey: Overwhelming Majority Of U.S. Doctors Seeing Patients With Drug-Resistant Illnesses
Invisible Politics
Notes from a Pornographer on Sexist Sexual Imagery and Behavior
Why Did Anti-Choice Activists Harass Unitarians in New Orleans?

Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner speaking at the UN Climate Leaders Summit in 2014

My favorite book of 2014 is a novella published as an ebook by Atavist Books. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

A crisis has swept America. Hundreds of thousands have lost the ability to sleep. Enter the Slumber Corps, an organization that urges healthy dreamers to donate sleep to an insomniac. Under the wealthy and enigmatic Storch brothers the Corps’ reach has grown, with outposts in every major US city. Trish Edgewater, whose sister Dori was one of the first victims of the lethal insomnia, has spent the past seven years recruiting for the Corps. But Trish’s faith in the organization and in her own motives begins to falter when she is confronted by “Baby A,” the first universal sleep donor…

Sleep Donation is so engaging I couldn’t put it down. The universe is rich and easy to get lost in. A quick and very satisfying read.

Honorable Misandry Mention:
Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation by Laura Kipnis
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

My favorite new show of 2014 is Broad City on Comedy Central. I first heard Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer on the Ronna & Beverly podcast. I immediately became a fan of their hilarious web series. It was originally supposed to be on FX, but they cancelled the show and then Comedy Central Picked it up. I swear I remember articles at the time that FX didn’t know how to market a show about women to advertisers, but those links seem to have disappeared. But I’m so glad the show came to be. It’s the funniest thing on television.

Honorable Mention:
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver Adam and I subscribed to HBO to watch this show. John Oliver is brilliant.

I watched every episode of Married at First Sight on the new FYI network. I liked it, but I feel kind of guilty about that. Ultimately I think the show was somewhat exploitative of the couples. But I suppose that’s the point of reality television. Here’s some thoughts from Sarah Moglia Is “Married at First Sight” a Legitimate Science Experiment?

The PinkPrint by Nicki Minaj. (More about all of my feels for Nicki Minaj here.)

Honorable Mention
Barefoot and Pregnant by the Dollyrots.


As everyone has probably already seen Guardians of the Galaxy and Birdman, and Horns disappointed me because it took out almost everything that made the book was so amazing, I’m going to recommend everyone go see Particle Fever right now.

This movie is accessible to people with all levels of scientific understanding. I’ve never taken a day of Physics in my life and I didn’t feel that lost at all. “Why do humans do science? Why do they do art? The things that are least important for our survival are the very things that make us human.”

Unitarian Universalism

I have to share these videos by some of my fellow UUs.

Here’s “Love Reaches Out” a song written about the theme of this year’s General Assembly

The Reeb Project is a movement to restore the Voting Rights Act in the United States by All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC. It’s named after Rev James Reeb a Unitarian minister who was beaten to death while protesting against segregation in Selma Alabama in 1965. This summer, The Reeb Project held a protest, and it’s the first (and possibly only) flash mob video I will share on this blog.

Other people’s Year End Posts You Should Read
It’s Been a Terrible Year for Reproductive Rights
The Frozen River: A Humanist Sermon

Political Flavors
Most popular posts on this blog this year:
Contradictions made by people insulting my husband (AKA, Misogynist Troll Insult Fails Part 2)
“That’s some training to give to girls.” The criminalization of female self defense

My favorite posts from the year:
Out, Damned Sperm! Why Everyone Is Freaked Out About Fruit Flies.
Our mockery of Fox Sports Sexism
Who Will Be The Next Republican To Endorse Andrew Cuomo?
The Untenable Incel
Red Pillers – Very Concerned about Ladies’ Fashion

Previously: My favorites of 2013