Sunday, January 30, 2011

in my opinion there aren't enough universalistjokes...

3 men on opening their eyes after death found themselves in a kind of boiling pond surrounded by wailing demons and licking flames. they looked at one another.

finally, one said to the other 2, "well, I was a catholic priest in life and I suppose I liked the fermented grape just a bit too much. I drank to excess more than once and so I guess I've got what was coming to me."

another of the men shook his head and said, "I was a rabbi in life. I used to love lobster and crab legs, and whenever I went traveling I hit the seafood buffet and filled up on shrimp. I suppose it's my love of treif that determined I should end up here."

they looked at the other man expectantly, but he just sat there, glaring at them. "c'mon," the rabbi said, "we told you what we did wrong. politeness says you should do the same." "sure," said the priest. "look, we're all sinners here and there's nothing to hide."

finally, the third man sputtered, "I am a universalist minister. this place is not hot and I am not here!"

Saturday, January 29, 2011

saturday night reading and africa

"'you're our secret weapon, sinclair. star of the show and don't forget it. how many times in life does a fellow get a chance to give a shove to history?'

"'once if he's lucky,' I rejoined loyally.

"'luck's just another word for destiny,' maxie corrected me...'either you make your own or you're screwed. this isn't some candy-arsed training caper. it's delivering democracy at the end of a gun barrel to the eastern congo. get the right groundswell going, give 'em the right leadership, and the whole of kivu will come running.'

"my head was swirling from this first glimpse of his great vision and his next words spoke straight into my heart...

"'greatest sin committed by the big players in the congo till now has been indifference, right?'

"'right,' I replied heartily.

"'intervene if you can make a fast buck, get the fuck out ahead of the next crisis. right?'


"'the country's in stasis. useless government, chaps sitting around waiting for elections that may or may not happen. and if they do happen, will likely as not leave 'em worse off than before. so there's a vacuum. right?'

"'right,' I echoed yet again.

"'and we're filling it. before any of the other buggers do. because they're all at it, the yanks, the chinese, the french, the multinationals, the lot. trying to get in before the elections. we're intervening and we're staying. and this time, it's the congo itself that's going to be the lucky winner.'

"I attempted yet again to voice my appreciation of all that he had said, but he rode through me.

"'congo's been bleeding to death for five centuries,' he went on distractedly. 'fucked by the arab slavers, fucked by their fellow africans, fucked by the united nations, the cia, the christians, the belgians, the french, the brits, the rwandans, the diamond companies, the gold companies, the mineral companies, half the world's carpetbaggers, their own government in kinshasa, and any minute now they're going to be fucked by the oil companies. time they had a break, and we're the boys to give it to 'em.'"

--from the mission song by john le carre

I adore le carre and I'm about a third through this 2006 novel that, like most of his novels taking place after the fall of the ussr, happens in sub-saharan africa. the mission song, unlike most of those novels, doesn't involve a white british spy but a britishized former child of colonialism, the product of a catholic priest and unnamed tribal woman from east congo--and whose name isn't really sinclair--a professional interpreter who has been recruited by her majesty's government for listening in to other people's conversations. this being le carre and this being only a third of the way through the book, you have to know that even if maxie, the impassioned speaker of the above, is sincere in what he says, the whole good-intentioned mess will flood the shitter eventually.

this novel's protagonist being a translation genius, words are very important to him, as they have always been to le carre: there's not a word out of place, or at least none I would pare, and run-ons and syntactic errors rife and absolutely intended. the man has never lost his ear for the way other people speak, and I am already drenched in his world again.

is it also kismet that I chose to read this novel 2 weeks after the riots in tunisia and mere days after those in cairo? or is it an attempt on my part to understand some of what happens before riots occur?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

my favorite uu definition

unitarian universalists believe in life before death.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

my favorite buddhist joke

this guy is working the counter at a pizza joint in the bronx and the dalai lama walks in. says, "make me one with everything."

guy thinks to himself, "clever man." rings the pizza up and says, "that's $15."

the dalai lama hands him a $20 bill. guy puts it in the register. the dalai lama says, "hey, where's my change?"

guy says, "change must come from within."

Monday, January 24, 2011

coffee prana

I love coffee. I love the taste, the aroma, the tang on my tongue from a good cup of recently-roasted, freshly-ground beans. I love the way it settles my gut first thing in the morning. I love the texture of coffee, the slurry sludge of strong brew. The Turks say that “coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.” The speakers of Sanskrit have a word, prana, “vital life,” a gift made to the individual to help him along in his journey, a gift not of necessity but of comfort, not something to help him live but to help him feel more alive.

Like nearly everyone else I grew up smelling coffee early in the morning in my parents’ house. Also like nearly everyone else, I gagged on the first cup I snuck. Their instant coffee was watery, weak, like a brown crayon dipped in a cup of hot water, nothing like what I smelled. That scent was more like plowed earth after a summer rainstorm, what you might smell with your nose close to the ground. I didn’t have my first real cup of coffee until I was 30. I was at a Rainbow Gathering near Lutsen, Minnesota, 10,000 naked hippies in the woods. It was shortly after midnight and I’d dropped 2 tabs of acid earlier that evening and didn’t want to sleep. The Gatherings have multiple impromptu free kitchens set up all over the site devoted to specialties: there’s High Tea, Lovin’ Oven, Taco Mike’s, and Rice Dream. I stumbled onto one called The Mudhole, where a lone guy in western regalia tended an old pot that was brewing cowboy style over a fire pit. I said, “Got any water?” and he said, “Nope, got mud.” “Got any coffee?” “Nope. Got mud.” He gave me a steaming mug of the stuff, threw a sprinkle of sugar in it, and we sat on logs, gulping it down. It was a shot of adrenaline straight to my brain and I felt reborn, or more accurately newly-born, the sort of sensation Hare Krishnas say you’ll have when God touches you. The next thing I remember I was on top of the mountain watching an ornate sunrise of yellows, ochres, oranges and reds drawing mist out of the trees around me.

Twenty years later I can’t go a day without the stuff and I’m not at all certain I’d want to. It helps focus my concentration, settles me into my morning routine, and keeps me regular. I mix up a strong brew first thing at about sunrise, using a rough estimate of 10 spoonfuls of unground beans for 12 cups of manic juice, mixed with a little milk to sweeten the sting. The feel of it first thing on my tongue is like I’ve licked a live wire, but by the time it reaches the back of my throat it’s mellowed so it’s like a river of warm, thick, comforting prana blessing my life.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

watching tv

I'm not much of one to watch television often anymore but tonight I'm watching independent lens on pbs while it shows the documentary chicago 10. this is a lot of fun; this is what tv is meant to do.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

what's hidden

this is from the essay "I can find out so much about you" by ada calhoun who did internet background research on people, usually recently dead, for a tabloid (presumably the nypost).

"Sometimes, I found useful things hiding in plain sight: the wedding photo of the Times Square Bomber on his brother-in-law's abandoned MySpace page, for example, or the name and number of the anonymous guy whose fistfight during the U.S. Open went viral on YouTube...Plenty of what I found was noise, but sometimes there was something that provided a useful lead -- say, a killer's high school baseball team picture, with captions that led to a good interview. Any original trace of information, I learned, could be a place to start tracking down someone's bitter ex-girlfriend, or paranoid, self-published novel.

"Particularly in the case of Internet-addicted 20-somethings, I often wound up with way too much information. Sifting through some young people's mountains of blog posts and photos taken with their iPhones has taken me a full workday of nonstop reading. At the end of those days, I almost felt like I knew them.

"But the Web tells only a limited story, and its common wisdom is often painfully, stubbornly wrong. I've conducted enough celebrity interviews to know that even the most detailed, oft-visited Wikipedia pages have major errors. Still, I don't know that a profile gleaned from online information would be any less accurate than one created by talking to your neighbors. We hide parts of ourselves from both, or try to...

"The supposed overexposure of young people, the 'sexting' and the bong photos and all the rest that suggest we are too dumb to realize that human resources people can Google, too, may not be so stupid after all. Maybe it's a modern-day defense mechanism, a fortress of voluntary exposure. The more stuff we put out there, the less of what other people put out there about us dominates our online identity...[W]hat happens on the Internet (lunatics post crazy rants) and what happens in the real world (lunatics murder people) are very, very different. The Internet is a shadow of the real world, not the real world itself.

"Maybe that's the moral for those of us who have Facebook pages and other online profiles: to put any stock in our online identities is wrong. The creations we, or others, build up around our user names and profile pictures are shadows -- sometimes a close approximation of the truth, sometimes deeply distorted by ourselves or others, sometimes so appealing to us we prefer them to the messy realities of our flesh-and-blood selves. But they are not real.

"What is real: our bodies, our families, our friends, our co-workers, the thoughts and feelings we have that never see a computer screen. What we do in the world is real...In October, I was put on a story that was almost the mirror image of [Tyler] Clementi's. In researching a wild person, I found a quiet one online. The porn star Capri Anderson, found cowering in Charlie Sheen's Plaza hotel room, has the online profile you'd expect: making out with other girls on Twitter, covering herself with whipped cream on her club site, leering on MySpace.

"But then I found public photos posted online years ago by a relative, and there she was in photo after photo, untagged, smiling and without makeup. She was at a relative's wedding, mugging with her father. She was at a restaurant, smiling on her sister's shoulder. Maybe those photos aren't any more 'her' than the vixen ones. But to me, they felt more real. Maybe it's because she'd tried to keep them secret."

(it might be relevent to note that, while I had no trouble coming up with dozens of photos of capri anderson in her 'vixen' poses and of her giving interviews, I could not locate a single one of the "more real...secret" ones calhoun describes. maybe what's meant to be hidden can stay hidden.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

tuesday reading

"'boarmus,' [the voice] said of the female-sounding ones.

"'I have been considering what you said to me last,' said boarmus, putting his hand on jacent's shoulder.

"'there is an unauthorized person with you.'

"'true. he is here as an example.'

"'an example of what?'

"'an example of the awe in which the people of tolerance hold you,' said boarmus. under his fingers, jacent shivered. very good, boarmus thought. let the boy be scared half to death...'an ordinary person of tolerance. not a provost. not a member of the inner circle.'

"'does he hold me in awe?'

"boarmus shook him. 'do you hold, awe, boy.'

"'oh, yes,' jacent shivered. 'yes, I do.'

"'in reverence?'

"jacent nodded and had to be prodded into speaking aloud. 'oh, yes.'

"'what does he think I am?' the voice managed to sound curious...

"'well,' said jacent from a dry mouth. 'some people think you're god. but others don't.'...

"'why don't they?' still curious, not yet angry.

"'well, because,' jacent said. 'god is omniscient. god knows the answers to all questions. if you are god, you'd know the answer to the great question. I mean, people say if you're really god, you'll answer that questions. then everybody will know you're god. everybody will know.'

"'how do you know I haven't answered the question?' another voice, this one edged with anger, displeasure. boarmus held on to the boy's shoulder, keeping him steady...

"'you'd have told us,' said jacent in a firm voice. 'in order that we might work toward our destiny properly. you see, that's how we know all gods before now were false, they never told us what our destiny really was. so, if you do tell us, you'll be the only true one. and the answer will be so self-evident, we'd all agree with it. because when a true god truly answers a question, that's what happens. everyone knows that.'

"'but I am god,' muttered a voice. 'we are god.'

"'of course,' quavered jacent. 'I already believe that. but everyone will believe it when you answer the great question.'

"'I don't need you to believe. I can make you do what I say even if you don't believe.' a sulky-sounding voice, this. 'god doesn't need to prove anything, not if god can make people do what god wants.'...

"'boarmus said, 'that's true. but if people only do what you say, then you'll only get what you're already capable of. gods create beings as tools to explore beyond what they already are and know. to create randomness, chaos, chance. to create discovery. you created man to discover new things for you, and man will discover them, if he knows you're god, if he wants to please you. that is what you created mankind for, wasn't it? after all, you're god, you're very busy. you created man as a kind of tool, to find things out for you."

--from sideshow by sheri s. tepper

Monday, January 17, 2011

two takes of mlk

if you have never watched dr. king's "march on washington/'I have a dream'" speech, you really ought.

and you ought also to watch aaron mcgruder's followup decades later to get an idea how far america has come and how far it has yet to go.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"everywhere we look, there is work to be done"

A Homily Delivered to
Dakota UU Church, January 16, 2011,

Tomorrow we break from our busy lives to commemorate the life of a man whose passion for equality and peace was ended by an assassin’s bullet 48 years ago. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a particular hero of mine. Despite his faults, and as we’ve discovered in the decades since his death he had many, as any man does, he was a good man who wanted good things for his people. Usually that phrase when used in connection with King means black people or poor people or the disenfranchised, but Dr. King considered all Americans his people and he wanted all of them to be safe and happy and equal with one another.

It’s not a struggle that ended with his death or shortly after it. As President Barack Obama said in his 2008 inauguration speech, “everywhere we look, there is work to be done.” Everywhere we look, children sleep on the street huddled next to their parents. Everywhere we look, people lose their jobs and their homes in a desperate and halting economy. Everywhere we look, angry people seeking scapegoats for their losses and their problems try to cull the weakest from among us by eradicating programs and rolling back progressive gains, as if to have a good life is a finite thing and the fewer others they share it with the more there is for them.

Their photographs have become ubiquitous. Smiling Christina Taylor-Green, nine years old, killed at a political gathering. Federal judge John Roll, killed at the same gathering. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the brain at a public meet-and-greet in a grocery store parking lot. Grinning, shave-headed Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter who, by accounts we piece together after the fact, intended to die in a hail of police bullets, a martyr to the cause of—well, we’re not entirely certain of that yet, but it seems to involve grammar. Less known are the names of the other people killed and I mention them here because they ought to be remembered. In addition to Taylor-Green and Roll, they are Dorothy Morris, a retired secretary; Phyllis Schneck, a homemaker; Gabriel Zimmerman, a member of Giffords’ staff; and Dorwin Stoddard, a retired construction worker.

Nearly five decades after Dr. King was killed by a single bullet on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and on a day when we ought to be reflecting on the life he gave in the cause of freedom, we mourn the deaths of six people killed by automatic gunfire at a political event in a public place. Clearly, everywhere we look, there is work still to be done.

That Laughnor is mentally ill seems an inescapable conclusion but one that neither excuses nor explains the actions he took and the lives he ended. A week after the event, we remain a society gripped by the conversation of why he did what he did, who was responsible, and what we ought to do in the future to avoid a repeat. On a day like tomorrow, we would do well to reflect that for months after his assassination, we had no idea who killed Martin Luther King, Jr., and why and rumors and theories abounded. In this instance, while we have the killer in a shorter time and are reasonably certain of his identity, we are no closer to understanding why he did it than we were those terrible months in spring and summer 1968. Nearly five decades after Dr. King was killed, we remain mournful and no closer to understanding why some people take up a gun and shoot it at other people. Clearly, everywhere we look, there is work yet to be done.

In this national conversation the idea that rhetoric can have consequences, that words spoken for calculated political effect can lead to actions that they aren’t intended to lead to, should not be denied. That the easiness with which a young troubled man banned from a campus for violent talk and angry behavior can legally purchase both a Glock 9mm automatic pistol, a weapon that has no target or hunting value, a weapon which exists only to kill people in as efficient a way as possible, and 30-round magazine ammunition for it, ammunition until recently banned by federal law because it too only existed for one thing and that was to hit as many people as possible in a short burst, that the easiness and legality with which this happened suggests that something is wrong also should not be denied. Clearly, everywhere we look, there is work still to be done.

What do we do in a world where men and women and nine year old girls become targets and collateral damage? We are doing it. We mourn. We celebrate the lives of those who work for a better, more peaceful world. We work toward peace ourselves, sometimes putting ourselves in the line of fire whether we are aware of it or not, we venerate the names and lives of those who have done so. We look around us. We see that everywhere we look, there is work to be done. And we get to work.

Friday, January 14, 2011

the cultural coop

last night an old friend, a really good friend, called out of the blue and we talked for an hour or so. we talked about her marriage and her kids and our lives and why my wife is in the phillipines and various sundry topics. and at one point in the middle of talking about nothing in particular, she reminded me of a place where we used to spend a lot of time. this was the cultural coop in stone ridge, new york, outside new paltz.

the place was a big old 2 story building that had recently been a family's home, but paul and nicci--I can't remember their last names--bought it and reworked it and made it a place for plays and concerts and potlucks and meetings and gardens and art exhibits and anything else they could crop in. paul was an aging hippie, all wrinkles and white hair and bifocals. nicci was younger and heavier, an earth mama who played up the role and financed the place through selling her designed clothes.

the place was all exposed wood and lath and stone, mismatched tables and chairs and big rooms that smelled like sawdust and polish and thousands of candles, candles on every table and in every nook and window. the 2nd floor were paul and nicci's place and the 1st was public space. they provided a place for us to put together a small free newspaper, our ridge, that I edited and wrote a community AIDS column for.

they provided a center for a tribe that gathered for meals and music and sometimes just for the hell of it. it was close enough to woodstock to provide for members to live there and hang out and smack dab in the middle of the distance between there and new paltz, sort of 2 points of a triangle of which new york could be the 3rd. it was the place where we didn't live but we were most alive.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

thursday reading

"the astonishing transformation since china adopted, in 1978, what deng xiaoping described as 'socialism with chises characteristics' poses a big challenge to western ideas about politics and about promoting the development of a dynamic, competetive economy within the confines of a 1-party state, the descendants of chairman mao seem to have arrived at a new social contract that says to the governed: go and engage with the global economy, set up businesses, invest, make as much money as you can, but leave the politics to us...

"from a jeffersonian perspective, what's going on may look like [a] repressive [regime] foisting unpopular policies on people striving to be free. but...these policies enjoy a good deal of popular support. "given a choice between market democracy and its freedoms and market authoritarianism and its high growth, stability, improved living standards, and limist on expression--a majority in the developing world and in many middle-sized, non-western powers prefer the authoritatian model,' [stephan] halpern writes.

"[however,] history suggests that 'market authoritarianism' is often a transitional stage of development. during the 1970s and 80s, a number of southeast asian countries employed it to drag themselves out of poverty. today, south korea, thailand, and indonesia are democracies, of sorts. singapore, on the other hand, remains essentially a 1-party city-state. who can say for sure which of these paths russia (already a democracy, albeit a distinctly curtailed one) and china will end up following? despite recent developments, still a pretty poor place, with a per-capita gdp of about $3000 in 2008. by 2050,...this figure wil rise to about $33,000, which would place china roughly where spain is today."

--from "enter the dragon" by john cassidy in the december 13, 2010, issue of the new yorker

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

monday reading

"There are two reasons for our toleration of political violence, despite all our sincere words of grief and castigation. For one thing, America has a long history of political violence -- a dark river of brutality, even savagery, that runs through our entire national experience. For another thing, we don’t like facing up to that fact as a people or as a nation. Americans prefer instead to see each outburst of violence -- whether in physical attacks on political figures or in blasts of gunfire in our schools and shopping malls -- as aberrations, isolated incidents committed by deranged individuals who cause mayhem and slaughter like human whirlwinds. When the wind has subsided, and the casualties have been counted, we proceed as we have done before, dismissing the event as an exception, waiting for the next act of lunacy to occur, at which time we will express our shock and dismay all over again...

"[Political violence]is a troubling, but inescapable, bequest that stems from the fact that our nation was born in violence, and it derives from the reality that violence has ever since become not only the device of criminals, but also of government and those who disagree with the government. Public officials who condone the use of torture in recent times should, by rights, give pause when they try to condemn the actions of Jared L. Loughner, Timothy McVeigh or the Unabomber. But, typically, our public servants see no contradiction, no hypocrisy, in advocating extreme political violence against our alleged enemies around the globe while condemning political violence when it is aimed against the government -- or, more precisely, against them. In other words, political violence is legitimate when the government commits it; but it is appalling when individuals commit it against the government or its representatives. Political violence committed by individuals is explained by marginalizing those perpetrators as crackpots. Political violence committed by the government is justified as guaranteeing national security...

"]However,] confronting that violence, admitting its prevalence, and committing ourselves to actually doing something about it has proven to be, over the course of the American experience, something we never quite seem able to handle. In our own time, the NRA and its powerful gun lobby have ensured that deadly weapons can be easily obtained and placed in the hands of every member of the American populace, including children. Finding a weapon of choice for committing whatever act of political violence you may be contemplating is, in fact, probably easier than picking an appropriate target for that act. We console ourselves with the propaganda that guns don’t kill people, people do -- particularly crazy people. And that slogan gets us all off the hook. Violence is not an American solution. It is, we try to convince ourselves, only the solution of wingnut Americans.

"But we’re wrong. Over and over again we deny the American heritage of political violence, for though we understand that much of our past has been filled with violence, or at least marked in prominent ways by violent acts, we find it very difficult to admit that we are, in the end, a very violent people and that aggression may be found at the very core of our culture. As Americans, there is much violence that we justify and even legitimize, particularly when it comes to looking at our past. We have been ready -- proud, even -- to justify the violence of the American Revolution that won our independence from Great Britain as a necessary means toward a positive end. Likewise, our participation in wars always seems to have been for the best of reasons -- or for what at least looked like the best of reasons at the time. Violence in many forms, then, is often seen as a legitimate means to accomplish a positive purpose...

"Violence has actually formed a seamless web in our history, but the subject of violence has been suppressed in our national consciousness. As one historian, Richard Hofstadter, has put it: 'What is most exceptional about the Americans is not the voluminous record of their violence, but their extraordinary ability, in the face of that record, to persuade themselves that they are among the best-behaved and best-regulated of peoples...'

"While confronting the fact that violence erupts around us every day, not only in the cities but often in the house next door, and while we live in utter fear that violence -- especially random violence or terrorist violence or the kind of political violence that felled Rep. Giffords and so many other innocent bystanders in Tucson on Saturday -- could easily touch our own lives, we nevertheless prefer to look away from the record that shows how commonplace violence (particularly political violence) has been throughout our history, how frequently it has occurred, and how it has persisted from the past into our own times."

--from "Our Permanent Culture of Political Violence" by Glen W. Lafantasie in the 1-10-11 edition of Salon

Sunday, January 9, 2011

arizona assassination attempt

the irony that my last post asked the question of whether we are too safe, and that that question was forcibly answered in the negative the next day in the situation of the shooting of arizona congresswoman gabrielle giffords, is not lost on me. we are still waiting to find out what led to the attempt on her life that led to the deaths of 6 people and the injuring of others, and we may never "know" why it happened. in a very real sense the "why" doesn't matter: all that matters is that jared lee loughner opened fire on a number of people at a public event. that's reason enough to punish him and ask ourselves how a repeat can be avoided in the future.

there are certain dangers for which I'm glad we have. I want to live in a world where if I go too far into the wild I might get mauled by a cougar or bear, where if I swim in the ocean I run the risk of being attacked by a shark or stung by a jellyfish, where if I ski or trek the high mountains I could be swept up in an avalanche. by the same token, I want to live in a world where I am relatively safe from the murderous impulses of other people.

there are, of course, no guarantees. people kill, sometimes for reasons even they can't articulate. that's how we're wired and sometimes the wiring gets damp and sparks fly and a 9-year old ends up dead. but just as I don't appreciate faux-gangstas or real ones suggesting someone ought to pop a cap in my ass, neither do I appreciate political operatives using terms like "reload" and "2nd amendment remedies" or suggesting someone ought to take out someone or targeting opponents using sniper imagery. to do so is simply wrong, as shouting "fire!" in a crowd when there is no fire is wrong.

is it unfair for me to use a charged image like the photo of a young victim of an attempted political assassination to argue that the rhetoric of conservatives in this country has gotten out of hand? yes it is. so what. the fact remains that while we moan about the death of civil discourse real people have been dying. there is no leftist equivalent of the tea party or glen beck or sharon angle or sarah palin and the last right wing american politician to have been shot was ronald reagan. there has been a concerted effort on the part of conservative commentators to pin a target on the backs of liberals and leftists and whether loughner was a listener to rightist radio is moot. radio and television commentary has itself become a weapon, and like any weapon it must be handled with respect. its use has consequences.

only some of the names of the injured have been released but the 6 who died have been identified:

Christina-Taylor Green, 9
Gabe Zimmerman, 30
John Roll, 63
Dorothy Morris, 76
Dorwan Stoddard, 76
Phyllis Schneck, 79

that these people have died should give us all pause. we must temper our rhetoric.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"shots fired on campus": are we too safe?

I'm not entirely certain how I feel about this yet, but at the least I'm concerned about the unspoken assumptions of it. for the 1st time since I've taught, we faculty were trained for 45 minutes on what we should do in the event of a shooter on campus.
that there've been too many incidents to remain complacent, I agree. I show this timeline to my student each semester when talking about current school shootings (and there have rarely failed to be at least 1 shooting happening each semester). (note too that the timeline stops in early 2009; I don't know why infoplease hasn't thought to update it.) there was a school shooting only 2 days ago which left 3 people dead, including the 17 year old assailant. that students or others come to school with weapons to put us and the students we're responsible for at risk is true and I don't want to diminish that.

at the same time, what does it say of us that schools, when I was a kid thought one of the safest and dullest places in a community, are now targets?

the analogy I draw is this: what does it say of the trust we put in students, the youngest of which are in their late teens and the oldest sometimes in their 90s, that we lock them out of classrooms between classes? during the 1st weeks of class I approach this, asking them as I walk up to the door with my key out, "why are you treated like kids we can't trust?" sure, there are computers and other equipment in those rooms which would cost thousands of dollars to replace, and sure I'd be pretty pissed if I walked into a classroom where I'd intended to show a dvd only to find the equipment had been stolen. but so what? it's money and it's inconvenience, but the alternative is to treat adults as if they can't keep their hands off the candy.

as I've pointed out to students, so far as I know none of them has a history of theft. but I do. and they give me a key.

and while I don't have a history of violent behavior in school, I think we ought to err on the side of assuming that neither do our students. I'm not advocating that the training be discontinued--far from it, I think it was well done and to the point and campus security was at pains not to sensationalize the issue. unfortunately, I fear we are at a point at which teachers need to consider the possibility of student assault on them and on other students, and to that end it's good to be aware of what our options are and how we ought to deal with it. the video we watched (not available, as near as I can tell, on the internet but its title was "shots fired on campus": if you google that for videos, you'll come up with dozens of hits, most of them the titles of local stories) and the security officer presenting made mention several times that campuses are designed to be welcoming, open spaces where people feel free to enter the buildings or the property any time campus is open. such places are not intended to provide escape routes or cover against getting shot.

and there is where my concern lies. education, to be a social good, has to be available to everyone and a part of that availability is presenting itself that way. we may be on the way to locked buildings we need to enter using a swipecard and fenced grounds we need to show ID to enter, and while that may be safer, I don't think it would be right. school shooting training is not going to get us there. it makes sense to be prepared. but I still wonder what the need for it says about us and what it could say to people who'd like to join us.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

lady gaga's parts: wednesday reading

"the hall was a cauldron of enthusiastic support for theoretical and consumer-saturated academic feminism. judith 'jack' halberstam, a gender-studies professor...who favors crew cuts and men's suits, was the most popular the lectern she promised to 'smash' what she called 'this whole mother-daughter thing [that] keeps coming up.' by which, it soon became clear, she meant that she would be smashing just the mother part of the equation. 'for people of one generation to be complaining about the next generation not reading them, give it up!' she said. 'if you're not relevant anymore, you're not relevant. move on.'

"if the older feminist scholars were not 'relevant' anymore, who was? halberstam had an answer: lady gaga. she cued up her power-point* presentation to show us an excerpt from the music video telephone, in which...lady gaga, modeling various wacky outfits on her mannequin torso, gets tossed in jail, (wo)manhandled by butchy guards, and ogled by cat-fighting sexpots--until babelicious beyonce springs gaga out of prison and the gal pals head out to a diner, where they poison all the men (and women, and a dog), before heading off to points unknown in their 'pussy wagon,' shadowed by a police helicopter.

"in telephone's 'brave new world of gaga girliness,' halberstam said, 'we are watching something like the future of feminism.' a future that the new wave of feminist theorists will usher in. 'what one wants to inspire is new work that one barely recognizes as feminism, and that's what I'm going to call gaga feminism,' halberstam said. this will be feminist scholarship that breaks with 'god help us, longevity,' commits acts of 'disloyalty' and 'betrayal and rupture,' and even denies one's own sex: 'instead of becoming women, we should be unbecoming women--that category itself seems vexed and problematic'...

"on the last afternoon of the conference I caught up with halberstam at the farewell reception. I told her I didn't understand how...telephone could be the 'future of feminism.'

"'adapt or die!' she responded cheerfully. 'pop stars are where the inspiration for feminism is going to come from.'

"but how was telephone a feminist inspiration? halberstam pointed to the way the video dealt with rumors that gaga was a hermaphrodite.** 'she didn't deny them. she played with them. you have that great moment where the prison guards take off her clothes and say, too bad she didn't have a dick...'"

--from "american electra" by susan faludi

*is it too postmodern to note that anyone introducing her theory at a conference using power-point can hardly lay claim to being on the cutting edge of anything?

**also, the rumors weren't just that gaga was hermaphroditic--which was unlikely--but that she was transgendered, which makes for an even more interesting reading.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

tuesday reading

"I've been to a feminist 'mother-daughter dinner party' where the feel-good bonding degenerated into a cross fire of complaint and recrimination, with younger women declaring themselves sck to death of hearing about the glory days of 70s feminisim and older women declaring themselves sick to death of being swept into the dustbin of history. I've been to a feminist conclave convened to discuss the intergenerational question where no young women were invited...I've delivered speeches on the state of women's rights to college audiences whose follow-up questions concerned mostly the liberating potential and stripping, their elders' cluelessness about sex and fashion, and the need to distance themselves from an older, 'stodgy' feminism.

"at the age of 51, and by birth cohort a member of neither [feminism's] 2nd nor the 3rd wave, I am not exempt. sometimes I find myself in rooms where, by default and despite my years, I'm expected to represent the youthful feminist viewpoint because there's no one younger around. more often, a middle-aged grumpiness tends to place me of the 'old' side, as when I open a leading feminist work and find a prominent 3rd-wave feminist defending her 'extreme bikini wax' or read a feminist blog in which a young woman avers that 'wearing a wonderbra is a statement of empowerment' and expounds on the pleasures of 'choosing between "apricot sundae" and "mocha melt" eye shadow'...when I 1st began writing about womens' rights nearly 2 decades ago, I liked to say that feminism was the simply worded sign hoisted by a little girl in the 1970 women's strike for equality: I AM NOT A BARBIE DOLL.* now I'm not so sure.

"feminism takes many forms and plays out in efforts in which younger and older women do collaborate over serious issues, usually out of the spotlight. it would be inaccurate to say that the generational schism is the problem with feminism. the primary hurdles feminism faces are the enduring ones. basic social policies for working mothers are still lacking and sex segregation in the workplace and the attendant feminization of poverty have hardly changed (the top 10 full-time jobs for women in the US--secretary, waitress, sales clerk, etc.--are the same as 30 years ago, and over the course of their prime earning years women make 38% of what men make); male dominance of public leadership is still the rule (men occupy 80 to 95+% of the top decision-making positions in american politics, business, the military, religion, media, culture, and entertainment); sexual and domestic violence remain at epidemic levels (nearly 20% of american women report having been sexually assaulted or raped, and 25% of women are physically or sexually attacked by their current or former husbands and lovers); and fundamental reproductive freedom is perpetually imperiled (mounting, onerous legal restrictions; violent attacks on family-planning clinics; and no abortion services in more than 85% of US counties).

"but these external obstacles also mask internal dynamics that...operate as detonators, assuring feminism's episodic self-destruction. how can women ever vanquish their external enemies when they are intent on blowing up their own house?"

--from "american electra: feminism's ritual matricide" by susan faludi in the october 2010 issue of harper's magazine

*I wanted desperately to illustrate this post with that photograph, but I am unable to locate it in any database open to me or anywhere online. in addition, somewhat disturbingly, the only references to the existence of this photo is by faludi in her 1991 introduction to backlash titled "blame it on feminism," and references after her are all references to this introduction. I wonder if faludi is the only person to have seen this photo and where. I should also note I'm only guessing, based on her hints and research, that my links to sisterhood, interrupted and feminine feminism are what faludi is referencing.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

happy new year

we often treat it as a secular holiday--and in some sense I suppose it is, one devoted to change and rejuvenation--but we rarely discuss new year's day in any way other than as a frame for resolutions, top 10 lists, and hangover tales. but it should have greater meaning for us.

while it seems randomly picked, especially in relation with other calendars, it holds incredible sway over us. we launch new enterprises and use it as a baseline for determining important things about ourselves, saying that some event happened this year instead of another. we greet the new year with toasts and cannons, promises of change and downtime. it's a day set aside to treat one another, not necessarily better or even differently, but with some recognition that this day is unlike the ones before and after it.