Thursday, March 30, 2006

Cosmetic Pharmacology Blues

Uncle John's Blues Band

You won't believe how hilarious this band is, and with an album called Beta Blocker Blues, who could ask for more.

My favorite tune, of course, is Cosmetic Pharmacology.

Here are the lyrics so you can sing along:

Cosmetic Pharmacology

We’re the Prozac generation
Turning on to Viagra
Gotta have its Viagra
Take a pill to keep us happy
Take a pill if we feel sad

Now the Prozac generation
Has to turn to Viagra
‘Cos the Prozac generation
Don’t believe in Natura
Can’t have mood swing oscillations
Normalize the way we are

Cosmetic pharmacology
Viagra and Prozac
The darlings of the media
Filling magazine racks
But in terms of human suffering
Their impact’s almost nil

The therapeutic version
Of a couple of Spice Girls
We’re the Prozac generation
Turning on Viagra
Take a pill to keep up happy
Another pill to make things hard

Cosmetic pharmacology
Prozac and Viagra
Change your personality
Be like a movie star
Vivacious and exhuberant
Instead of shy and bland
Get passion by prescription
Arousal on demand

Prozac generation
Turning on to Viagra
Take whatever is in fashion
Got to have the latest fad

Hat Tip: Ralph (He really finds genius stuff out there!)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

NYU, Danish Cartoons, Censorship

I am a recent convert to the importance of the campus watchdog group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). I like the new president, Greg Lukianoff, and believe he truly cares about all free speech violations, not just aggrieved conservatives. Today, he just alerted me to this story at NYU:

NEW YORK, March 29, 2006—In violation of its own policies, New York University (NYU) is refusing to allow a student group to show the Danish cartoons of Mohammed at a public event tonight. Even though the purpose of the event is to show and discuss the cartoons, an administrator has suddenly ordered the students either not to display them or to exclude 150 off-campus guests from attending. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is urging NYU’s president to reverse course and stand up for freedom of speech.

“NYU’s actions are inexcusable,” declared FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, who is slated to speak at the event. “The very purpose of this event is to discuss the cartoons that are at the center of a global controversy. To say that students cannot show them if they wish to engage anyone outside the NYU community is both chilling and absurd. The fact that expression might provoke a strong reaction is a reason to protect it, not an excuse to punish it.”

Earlier this month, the NYU Objectivist Club decided to hold a panel discussion entitled “Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons,” at which the cartoons will be displayed. Similar events, sponsored by the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), have taken place on several other campuses. Like previous NYU Objectivist Club events, the discussion was to be open to the public.

However, on Monday afternoon, NYU Director of Student Activities Robert Butler sent an e-mail requesting a meeting with the leaders of the Objectivist Club the next day. He also informed them that NYU would now “require that this event be open only to members of the NYU community.” Butler cited “the campus climate and controversy surrounding the cartoons,” ordering the students to inform the “non-NYU people” who had already registered that they “should not plan on attending.” He concluded, “This is not negotiable.”

Following the meeting, Butler sent another e-mail clarifying that the students have two choices: they must either not display the cartoons, or not allow anyone from off campus to attend the event. Approximately 150 off-campus guests are currently registered to attend.

“This is a classic case of the heckler’s veto,” noted FIRE’s Lukianoff. “NYU is shamelessly clamping down on an event purely out of fear that people who disagree with the viewpoints expressed may disrupt it. These immoral, last-minute restrictions must be lifted.”

FIRE was informed of NYU’s actions just yesterday. Hours later, Lukianoff called NYU President John Sexton to remind him that NYU’s own policies recognize student groups’ right to open events to the public and proclaim that “the use of physical force or other disruptive means to obstruct and restrain speakers” is “destructive of the pursuit of inquiry and learning in a free and democratic society.” FIRE has not yet received a response.

NYU’s actions notwithstanding, Lukianoff still plans to speak at the event, which will take place at 7 p.m. tonight in the Eisner and Lubin Auditorium of NYU’s Kimmel Center.

First let me make some preliminary disclaimers (of course). I am no fan of Ayn Rand devotees. I also think the "danish cartoons" trade on racist, bigoted images. However, I do believe in Free Speech and I have very little trust in most Dean of Student type administrators. I get twitchy when I know such folks are making these type of fascist decisions to shut down free speech. College campuses should be exactly the places that most fervently protect free speech.

I am also quite familiar with what Lukianoff calls the "heckler's veto." We had our own experience of that here on my small campus two years ago. We were bringing in John Sims doing an exhibit on the history of lynching ("The Recoloration Proclomation"). Now, my campus is right in the middle of a civil war battlefield. And, Sims was going to make an installation piece specifically for this exhibit that would "lynch" the confederate flag. The usual suspects (Sons of the Confederate Veterans) protested this exhibit, claiming it was tasteless, racist, disrespectful, undignified. Some college administrators opted to keep the exhibit but asked the artist if he would move the gallows inside for safety measures (to protect the students from potentially violent protestors). Understandably, this pissed of the artist, who decided to protest the college's decision by not appearing at the opening.

This issue was a disappointment to the faculty who nearly unanimously defended the artists' right to exhibit his installation piece. The day of the opening a handful of the "sons of the confederates" showed up in their pick up trucks, circled around town because they couldn't find a parking spot, and ended up drinking at a local pub (that they had earlier threaten to boycott). The college had blocked off the street in front of the gallery to allow for them to march. Apparently, they had no desire to march but wanted to drive their pick ups through town and wave the confederate flag around. Unable to park, they missed the whole opening. So much for the hecklers.

The most disappointing aspect of that exhibit was how little the students (on the whole) cared about the free speech issues at stake in this debacle. The students who did get exercised were largely angry that the college would allow such a tasteless exhibit on campus. I guess defending free speech is only worthwhile when the speaker is saying what you want to hear. I wish we had had FIRE here during that issue.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Better Off Dumped

A few days ago I was having a long talk with Za about how crazy people act when they get their heart's broken. What was of particular interest was the way that otherwise grown-up, normal people, became totally unglued when they were dumped. I am generally sympathetic to the pain of heart break, but I find myself less and less sympathetic to the childish way that the dumpees can behave. I was trying to analyze why I get irritated by the sore loser behavior of the broken hearted. While working this thought out, I suddenly said: "You know, I have been dumped plenty of times Za! I guess after getting dumped a lot, you learn what NOT to do." (You can imagine my little smug, self-righteous tone)

For whatever reason, the comment that I had been dumped many times before stuck in Za's brain. He just called me to tell me that last night he dreamt about that whole conversation again. But, this time after I said "I have been dumped plenty of times Za!" he responded: "Poor little 'Spaz, why would anyone dump a perfectly good 'Spaz like you."

(Did any of you see Better Off Dead in the 80's?)

P.S. In case this wasn't clear from my post, "Spaz" is an affectionate nickname.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Melancholy Monday: What it Means to Educate

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, speak on my campus. While his talk was entitled "Struggling Toward Peace: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," the insights he shared with the audience were far more universal in their scope. What really struck me in his talk was how much more impressive and inspiring a speaker and human being he was than Stanley Fish, who gave the plenary address at the free speech conference.

Stanley Fish essentially argued that there is no such thing as "academic free speech," if we mean some metaphysical entity enshrined in laws. Rather, academic free speech is a necessary prerequiste for any academic to be able to do her job. What an academic needs to do her job is the widest latitude possible to pose, test, and teach various hypotheses or methods for seeking answers. For Fish, being an academic is a rather clinical, disembodied endeavor. He stressed that professors have no business trying to make their students "better people." And, he was clear that professors should absolutely not endorse any political positions in the classroom. I had the opportunity to ask him what he thought should happen to a faculty member--tenured or not--who did endorse a political position in the classroom. He responded that either the faculty member should be fired or suspended without pay. I wasn't at all surprised by this answer, although I wondered why he hadn't just signed on with Horowitz' mission, since his own understanding of what it means to educate is as short-sighted, narrow, and soulless as Horowitz' position is. (I should also note, to my surprise, that the President of FIRE argued that facutly members absolutely should be able to endorse a political position in the classroom).

I am baffled that any educator would actually think it is possible or preferable to make such a total and artificial distinction between endorsing an academic position and endorsing a political position. It is simply untenable. While certainly you can give many examples where the distinction is clear and where a professor who decides to endorse partisan positions in class is rather tasteless, you can also summon a great many blurred examples, where it's not at all clear if a faculty member is endorsing an academic or political position. My colleague brought up one good blurred example: taking Defense money for your academic research. How about taking Big Pharma money for your research? What about teaching a Service-Learning course?

Anyway, I don't want to talk about Fish anymore. He was such a disappointment and I am much more inspired by Avraham Burg. Speaker Burg clearly sees the value of education--unfettered critical inquiry that is curiousity driven, that breaks with conventions, and that is willing to take risks. More importantly, Burg understands that an ethics of responsibility to the Other underlies all intellectual pursuits. Part of being educated means listening to, paying attention to, and dialoguing with those who are radically different from you and your own experience. Being an educator and and at truth-seeker requires you to break with provincialism and chauvinism. You can't just shut the world and others out if you want to understand what humanity is.

This is what we should do in the classroom. It is not our job to simply tell people what they want to hear, to tell them a history that they are more comfortable with, or to endorse political and religious positions that don't call into question their own views. What we should be doing, in part, is teaching our students how to be fully engaged as democratic citizens. And, part of being in a democracy is learning how to speak to, understand, compromise with those who are completely different from you. Democracy is the absolute antithesis of Theocracy or Unilateralism. Democracy is a political system that requires dissent, debate, discussion and the will to empathize and understand other viewpoints.

Burg pointed out that we can go the way of war, bombs, and security measures, which is in the short-run effective and powerful. But, the outcome of war is always more trauma, death, violence, destabilization, and a destruction. The slow run is RESPECT for the other. What I hope that I am teaching my students is this important democratic value.

Now, before some of you dismiss this post or Burg's talk as pollyannish, let me clarify that neither I nor Burg think that you can talk, discuss, or dialogue with irrational extremists or fundamentalists (whether they be here in the US, Darfur, the Middle East or Israel). Sure, we need to acknowledge our need to protect ourselves. But, Burg's point is to emphasize the long view here. If you do not work toward a society of respect for the other, of dialogue, compromise, openness, cultural and spiritual exchange, but rather further build walls to keep the Other out, then the immediate future looks bad, violent, horrific.

I had tears in my eyes by the end of Burg's speech. He reminded me why I get up and bother to educate every day, why I am willing to work myself to the bones and endure a lot of the bullshit: I care about the future. I want a humane, peaceful and spiritually rich future for my students. I have zero interest in participating in allowing my students to avoid any encounter with difference, to ignore the world, and to ignore the humanity of those they take to be their bitterest enemies. I am not in the business of indoctrination, which is what these supporters of Horowitz and ABOR are interested in. I am in the business of education.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Suffering from Too Much Gender Balance

I found this op-ed,"To All the Girls I've Rejected" , by an admissions counselor at Kenyon college to be utterly depressing. Most of the op-eds about the gender imbalance in higher education has focused on how "at risk" our young boys are because of the feminization of higher education. This op-ed, however, takes a refreshing look at another, equally (if not more) concerning unintended consequence of the higher numbers of women applying to college: that the standards for admission are much higher and more competitive than they are for male applicants.

Last week, the 10 officers at my college sat around a table, 12 hours every day, deliberating the applications of hundreds of talented young men and women. While gulping down coffee and poring over statistics, we heard about a young woman from Kentucky we were not yet ready to admit outright. She was the leader/president/editor/captain/lead actress in every activity in her school. She had taken six advanced placement courses and had been selected for a prestigious state leadership program. In her free time, this whirlwind of achievement had accumulated more than 300 hours of community service in four different organizations.

Few of us sitting around the table were as talented and as directed at age 17 as this young woman. Unfortunately, her test scores and grade point average placed her in the middle of our pool. We had to have a debate before we decided to swallow the middling scores and write "admit" next to her name.

Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit. The reality is that because young men are rarer, they're more valued applicants. Today, two-thirds of colleges and universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women. Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men.

We have told today's young women that the world is their oyster; the problem is, so many of them believed us that the standards for admission to today's most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men. How's that for an unintended consequence of the women's liberation movement?

The elephant that looms large in the middle of the room is the importance of gender balance. Should it trump the qualifications of talented young female applicants? At those colleges that have reached what the experts call a "tipping point," where 60 percent or more of their enrolled students are female, you'll hear a hint of desperation in the voices of admissions officers.

Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women that they must, nearly 25 years after the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, be even more accomplished than men to gain admission to the nation's top colleges? These are questions that admissions officers like me grapple with.

In the meantime, I'm sending out waitlist and rejection letters for nearly 3,000 students. Unfortunately, a majority of them will be female, young women just like my daughter. I will linger over letters, remembering individual students I've met, essays I loved, accomplishments I've admired. I know all too well that parents will ache when their talented daughters read the letters and will feel a bolt of anger at the college admissions officers who didn't recognize how special their daughters are.

While the right-wing loves to pummel the "liberals" for lowering their standards (what they take to be Affirmative Action) in order to be more "inclusive," it appears that the group that is really the beneficiary of lower standards in admission policies is young men. I have been told this countless times by my own friends who work in admissions.

I also learned a few weeks ago that one way in which we are able to avoid lowering our standards too much by choosing unqualified male applicants is by keeping our "management program." It appears, at least according to one theory, that many qualified male applicants won't apply to liberal arts colleges without a business degree. Hence, because we have a business degree at our college we get slightly more qualified men than we otherwise would, allowing us to achieve greater gender parity, without lowering the standards for admitting male applicants.

I find this question--" What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options?"--to be the most bittersweet one asked in the course of this op-ed. While many wingnuts suggest that women and minorities get jobs and into college simply because they are women and minorities, it appears that the opposite is true. Men now get into college because they are men. Our unquestioned assumption that gender imbalance is an unthinkable social disaster on college campuses has made them valuable, just because of their XY chromosomes. What irony. Before the feminist movement, women had to work three times as hard as men to have any hope of getting into one of the few slots alotted to women applicants. Now, after the feminist movement, women have to work three times as hard to get the positions that they deserve because they have to compete with less qualified men who are sought after, just because they are men. Women are punished for their success.

What I find fascinating is that for many years, college admissions didn't feel the need for gender balance. Many colleges simply did not allow women in. But now that we have dismantled many of those archaic and hopelessly sexist institutional rules, women are suffering from a new rule: gender balance.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Shero of the Week: Cecilia Fire Thunder

Cecilia Fire Thunder, President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, has stood up to the misogynist legislators of South Dakota by vowing to build a full-service women's health clinic on reservation land (hence, land that is not under the jurisdiction of the government).

Bitch PhD has more on how to donate money to President Fire Thunder.

Why Americans Suck at Talking About Ethics

My brilliant colleague, SteveG, has finally gotten himself a blog entitled the Philosopher's Playground. He just posted an excerpt:

In a nation that purports to be a democracy (with the possible exception of Florida), little could be more important than serious, passionate, and rational discussion of ethical issues. Virtually every concern of modern life has an inescapably moral dimension and yet, today, it is more polite to fart at the dinner table and exclaim, “Boy, I’m glad I can’t pass on my gonorrhea that way” than to broach discussion about abortion, cloning, or stem cell research. And it is no wonder. Americans are horrible at discussing difficult moral issues. Most dinner-table discussions will quickly devolve into either high horse moralizing or "who's to say" shoulder shrugging, raised voices, insults, Nazi references, hurt feelings, lingering resentment, and on a good night, flying mashed potatoes. The real issues, the hard and intricate ones, rarely receive anything close to an honest treatment. The trenches are dug, our party affiliation determines with complete accuracy what side we are supposed to be on, and the key is to simply be louder than the other side so we need not hear what they are saying.

Not only are there just two choices about which side of any given moral argument you are to support, but there are also only two ways to engage in ethical discussion. One is to believe that there is an absolute right and absolute wrong and anyone who disagrees with you is not only wrong, but evil. Thus you need never listen to anyone else, only try to convert them while speaking in the most obnoxious, arrogant tone possible. Or you could be a subjectivist and just repeat the phrase "who's to say?" until someone punches you in the mouth. You think that if Stalin really thought that mass murder was ok, then it was ok for Stalin. If we want to engage in discourse about pressing ethical issues today, our choice is between being a dogmatic, holier-than-thou jerk or an anything-goes, relativist buffoon.

This sense of uneasiness is only exacerbated by those who are supposed to represent the apex of public discourse, the popular media. Of course, every moral judgment has political ramifications, so our wonderfully thoughtful media outlets invariably take one of three routes in discussing issues of ethical concern: 1) he said/she said reporting where the legitimate and intricate ethical dimensions of complex issues are minimized and treated as if it were nothing more than mere partisan demagoguery that minimizes the ethical dimensions of the complex issues, 2) nothing more than mere partisan demagoguery that minimizes the intricate ethical dimensions of complex issues replete with handy-dandy talking points to be drilled into your head and repeated, and repeated, and repeated, and repeated,..., or 3) "FOODFIGHT!" (Of course, the third option requires finding a liberal willing to fight and a show willing to present a liberal fighting back and therefore is becoming quite rare).

You really need to go read the rest of this piece here. Steve's writing is the perfect balance between clear philosophical prose and Lenny Bruce-like zingers. And, more importantly, Steve is onto something. I can attest to how demoralizing the politicization of ethics is to a philosophy professor trying to engage students in meaningful conversations about ethics. The last time I tried to get students to talk about prisoner abuses, a young man in the back row raised his hand and merely repeated Karl Rove's line that liberals think that what we should be doing is getting the 9-11 attackers therapy.

I shared a panel with a Communications professor who pointed out that 8 years ago if you asked students to distinguish the Democrats from the Republicans on a variety of issues, they were little capable of it. However, these days, with a coordinated, well-funded, and "on message" right wing media, spreading the gospel of "patriotic correctness" students inhale daily what counts as a liberal position. In this climate, one first figures out what political outlook they identify with--the "mommy or daddy" party--and then get the memo on what ethical stances to take.

Ok, stop reading what I say, go check out Steve.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Britney Spears: The First Pro-Life Monument?

I just got home from a really long, yet productive day on campus. The Free Speech conference was excellent, and now, just as I am unwinding, I open my email to find a link to this photo of the Britney Spears Pro-Life Statue. I have no idea what the real scoop on this is. I am too tired to get the bottom of this. But, I couldn't pass up linking to this.
Hat Tip: Ralph

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More on My Evil Indoctrinating. . .

I know I promised to tell you about how I got the reputation of being a liberal indoctrinator on my campus last year. But, I have been scrambling to get this paper done for the "Freedom Threatened" conference.

What I will leave you with is an image of the first time I discovered that conservative students were setting me up to be the type of "looney liberal" they were trained to go after (trained by groups like the Campus Leadership Program, which helped our students start up their "independent" newspaper)

Below I have given you a snap shot of a "professor review" that was written about me on the bulletin board attached to the "independent" newspaper.

Because I know you won't really be able to read this, I am going to write out for you what this says about me:

I believe the main classes she teaches are Contemporary Moral Issues and Ancient Philosophy.

She is nice but a HARDCORE liberal whom I believe is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area and raised by Hippie parents or so that was what I was told.

If you are a conservative or Republican, expect to be treated in a condescending way. This is not only true for her but for much of the Philosophy Department for none are wiser than them.

She once told the class that the September 11th attacks were no different than what are military has done to supposedly other countries in the past few decades. Maybe I am not that wise or something, but when was the last time the U.S. Military went on a suicide mission with the goal of killing as many innocent civilians as possible? Please someone let me know.

Despite her looney views, her grading isn't too bad.

I highlighted the accusation that I said the September 11th attacks weren't that bad, for two reasons: (1) I never said anything like this in my class and (2) it is exactly the kind of accusation conservative students are trained to make of their marks. I discovered this when I attended their conference and watched an entire session run by a college junior teach the students present how to get your professor fired or in trouble with the trustees. His examples were either send out emails that expose their terrorist sympathizing or their opposition of ROTC. I discovered this post about me only after I had attended that session and knew that I was lucky enough to be one of the professors they wanted to go after.

A quick note: when I showed this piece of propaganda to my father, what pissed him off the most is that he was called a Hippie. As a Goldwater man, Ronald Reagan devotee, and long supporter of the Republican party, he was incensed that anyone would call him a hippie. Oh well, at least he was upset.

What pissed me off the most (and my colleague Ralph, who emailed me from Germany when he saw this) was the accusation that I was a lenient grader. Hell no people!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Slight Remodeling Job

I made a big boo boo fiddling around with the html on my other template and so decided to pick a whole new one. Many might think they found the wrong site when they see the design change, but I assure you, this is still MMF. I also unveiled my real self on the blog in the right-hand corner. It is becoming ridiculous to maintain total anonymity, so while I am not exactly announcing my name here, I am willing to give you a look-see of what "Aspazia" looks like. I am not going to pressure Antheia into unveiling herself, however.

11th Carnival of Feminists

Check out this new installment over at Angry for a Reason.

Pat Robertson Swears that these Liberal Professors are Beating Students

Check out Pat Roberston's interview with David Horowitz over at Crooks and Liars. You won't believe what is going on in higher education these days. Frightening. Get your son or daughter to Liberty University or Hillsdale College, and soon!

Hat Tip: Goldbricker

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

How to Get Reported by Students of Academic Freedom

As promised I have more to say about the SAF handbook on how to start up an SAF cell on campus. What I will focus on today is what they consider to be "violations of the AAUP conduct code." Before enumerating these violations, I just want to note an odd phrase (well, at least odd to me) that SAF uses, which is "lesson plan." They claim "According to the AAUP's professional guidelines, professors have an obligation to present their students with a diverse range of scholarly opinions on subject that they teach and should not deviate from their lesson plan . . ." First of all, I have no idea how to put together a "lesson plan." I am a college professor. We are not required to take a bunch of education courses that teach us how to put together a lesson plan. We might come up with an outline of the material we will lecture on, or we might just come in with a list of questions to start discussion. As a college professor I operate with the assumption that the students are mature enough to do the reading I have assigned, to ask me questions if they don't understand the reading, and then to participate in class discussions that test out hypothesis, consider counterarguments, or pursue the consequences of a certain line of argument. I view the students to have a rather active role in their own education in college. I don't see my role as one who merely transmits what is already in the reading to them during a class period. That is a waste of all of our times. They can read, so class is for getting to the nuances of positions or considering how Aristotle's Politics might clarify what we mean by "equal treatment under the law."

Enough of my rant on the idea of "lesson plans." Now to the violations:

(1) Assigning required readings or texts covering only one side of a controversial issues (e.g. texts that are only pro-or anti-affirmative action)

If you read my post from yesterday, then you already know that the SAF group has no explicit criteria for determining something like what a "controversial" idea is. Ideas are fundamentally politicized, put forward by those with an investment in a particular view, and therefore I am not sure what counts as "controversial." Is a controversial idea one that is put forward by those less in power? Does evolution count as a controversial idea? Do news stories that claim prisoner abuses in Abu Ghraib or Gitmo count as controversial? Who decides what is or isn't controversial?

(2) Introducing controversial material tht has no relation to the subject of the course (ex: making remarks on political issues in math or science class; lecturing on the war in a class that is not about the war or about international relations)

We still don't really know what counts as controversial. However, I can't help but find these examples of what is not appropriate to discuss in class. Why on earth can't scientists or mathematicians talk about politics. Why shouldn't my friend Jack, the Astrophysicist talk about the Mars mission? Can't a mathematician point out poorly reasoned studies? How about global warming? Is that a "controversial issue." And for goodness sakes, of course people not teaching war or international relations can talk about the war. Give me a reason why it is inappropriate for me to ask my students about the justification of war in a moral issues course?

(3) Compelling student to express a certain point of view in assignments (e.g., at a college in Colorado a professor assigned students in a mid-term evaluation to explain why George W. Bush was a war criminal).

This is going to sound crazy, I know, but I just don't see what is wrong with that assignment. Every year I regularly make students adopt positions that they don't personally hold in order to be able to understand counterarguments to their position. For example, I have my students debate every year whether or not God is guilty for all the unnecessary pain and suffering in the world. I first who wants to defend God. Then I make those students prosecute and vice versa. I do the same thing with moral issues. When you ask a student to be able to defend a certain viewpoint, they still have to do a good job to earn a good grade. Its not like the assignment merely says True or False: George W Bush is a war criminal.

(4) Mocking national political or religious figures in a one-sided manner (e.g., singlin out only liberals for ridicule, or only conservatives).

Cool, does this mean Harvard students are making complaints about Harvey Mansfield? Seriously, though, what constitutes "mocking national political or religious figures"? If I claim that President Nixon was a crook, do I have to also add that Bill Clinton lied about getting a blow job from Monica Lewinsky? First of all, it seems to me that mocking anyone is a rather ineffective way to teach your students how to critically consider the acts of such national/religious figures. Ad hominem attacks are poor arguments. But, I think this "violation" is simply too vague to make any sense of it.

(5) Conducting political activities in class (e.g., recruiting students to attend political demonstrations or providing extra credit for political activism-type assignments).

This reminds me of a story a colleague just told me at lunch. He asked his students if any of them had participated in any protests for any reason before. Only one had. He then asked what would get them so fired up that they would attend a political rally. They all said: "if you give us extra credit." What is wrong with asking students to attend a political rally or speech? What if you gave them extra credit for going to hear G. Gordon Liddy speak (which I did)? Or, how about listening to Jonathan Kozol's speech? I gave students extra credit if they wrote thoughtful analyses of the lecture, without telling them whether or not they should agree or disagree. What if I was an anthropology professor and asked students to do field research at an anti-war rally? What's the problem here?

(6) Grading a students' political or religious belief (e.g., grading a student more leniently when they agree with the professor's viewpoint on matters of opinion)

I can't deny that this is a real problem. I have experienced this, I assure you. Try writing a feminist criticism of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit at Boston College with a misogynist professor. I also though wonder what evidence would be sufficient to show that the teacher graded a student down because he/she disagrees with many positions the professor introduces in class. What happens if a student is just a poor writer or does badly on a test and nonetheless claims it was payback for being conservative. How would we verify that this sort of malice was at work? I think there are ways to do so, but I would like to hear what they are.

Well folks, these are my latest thoughts on the vacuousness of SAF's language. I will regale you tomorrow with my own experience of being singled out for being an evil liberal indoctrinator. Should be good stuff . . .stay tuned.

Monday, March 20, 2006

MMF is a Koufax Award Finalist!

Good news my dear readers. I have discovered that MMF is a finalist for Best New Blog over at Wampum. Thank you for this honor. We are in fantastic company. Round Two of voting is now open, so please go show your support again here. As before, you can register your vote in the comments section.

Don't Confuse Me With the Facts

I am supposed to be writing a paper to deliver this friday. The subject is "teaching in today's politically charged atmosphere." In preparation for writing up my remarks, I read the entire manual that Students for Academic Freedom(SAF) put out to help start SAF cells on campuses. What struck me most about this document is how non-sensical the use of language is. There is a lot of sleight-o'-hand going on in this document, which gives the appearance of non-partisan and noble aims, but close examination reveals that, indeed, the emperor has no clothes.

I thought I would think out loud for here with my readers. I am particularly interested in two SAF moves that makes a case for "Abuses of Academic Freedom." First of all, SAF use two phrases to describe, what I can only surmise is the same thing (a scholarly viewpoint), but use different descriptions based on how well it jibes with their own unstated pro-conservative politics. Either SAF describes a scholarly viewpoint in terms such as "the spectrum of scholarly viewpoints" or "intellectually significant dissenting views" when they are making a case for including "conservative" views, or they refer to "narrow perspective" or "political and ideological persuasion" to refer to faculty positions that criticize some of the tenets of mainstream conservative thought (which, in my view is already a mess: you have pro-market, values voters). Now, one could justify using these different phrases if one had a standard by which to evaluate what "scholarly significant viewpoints" means, which brings me to my second point. What SAF states is the following (which they take from the 1915 AAUP guidelines):

" . . .human knowledge is a never-ending pursuit of truth; that no party or intellectual faction can be assumed to have a monopoly on wisdom. Therefore, learning is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech."

On first blush, this seems like a reasonable statement of purpose. Sure, we are finite beings, limited in our skills to unlock all the mysteries of the universe, and so unfettered, critical inquiry is the best way to get closer to understand the way the world works. But, SAF tends to emphasize a particular relativist reading of this statement. They focus on the "never-ending pursuit" and "no party or intellectual faction can be assumed to have a monopoly on wisdom" and interpret this to mean that no position is bettter than another, and that every position put forward in the classroom should be considered in relation to the contrary position. If you make a case for "affirmative action," then you should immediately make a case against affirmative action. Now, in the arena of ethical issues, I do think its important to consider a variety of arguments, and evaluate how well each is argued and reasoned. But, do we also need to necessarily teach creationism next to evolutionary biology? Should every Micro and Macro Economics course include equal time on Marx's Das Kapital?

SAF doesn't give its recruits any reliable standard by which to ferret out a good scholary viewpoint from a bad scholarly viewpoint. They assume the worst kind of relativism--that all knowledge is inherently politics--and the views of those in power necessarily prevail over those who are not in power. Given this postmodern relativism, SAF has to then establish (which they do from bogus studies) that college campuses are dominated by one political party who has a monopoly on wisdom. Once you convince people that liberals are in power on college campuses and "indoctrinating" students to their ideology, then you can make a case for bringing in government to stop this abuse of free speech. (I should add that the whole concept of "free speech seems problematic when ideas are the products of groups in power). SAF ultimately wants to get State legislatures to adopt its Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) that would give state governments the right to regulate what gets taught in your classroom. The arbiters of what counts as a "scholarly significant viewpoint" would then be whomever was elected, regardless of whether or not they know anything about molecular biology or Chinese. The standards get hashed out in legislatures, and, in my nasty imagination, I forsee special interests all over this debate: trying to get a certain textbook adopted, or particular lab equipment, etc. What SAF would ultimately achieve if its movement is successful is a thorough politicization of knowledge. What you learn is a product of whomever is in power or capable of manipulating state governments. This, of course, is the opposite of what the AAUP statement means.

The reason you want free speech, and to protect the rights of faculty in the university, is precisely so politics cannot corrupt how we seek answers to questions. The "never-ending pursuit of truth" phrase does not imply that we cannot know when we have better or worse explanations, but rather that only in an environment where people regularly and freely criticize your work, can we test out which ideas have better explanatory power than others. Relativism has no method for deciding which ideas are better than others. All ideas become equally valid. And, if that is your view of the world, well, then you might as well adopt the position that my dear friend Uncle Ben has on all matters of importance "Don't Confuse Me With the Facts. My Mind is Made Up."

Tomorrow I will share with you the criteria that SAF use for determining if a particular professor is abusive of free speech or not. I have noticed, by the way, that I am guilty of doing several of the things on this list. Should be an interesting read.

UPDATE: The Chronicle of Higher Education has a report on a study done by two political scientists who found that students' political bias lead them to devalue their professors' expertise. Hat Tip: Bitch Ph.D.

UPDATE #2: Ok, something is in the air. I just discovered this study at Majikthise that argues that whiny, insecure kids grow up to be conservative.

Friday, March 17, 2006

On Marriage, Surnames, and the Politics of Titles

One of the listserv's that I belong to has had a week long discussion on the politics of titles. Should we correct our colleagues if they refer to us as "Miss" rather than Dr. or Ms.? I have been intrigued by this discussion, because what has surfaced in it is that most students these days have no clue about why someone like me rejects being called "Mrs." or "Miss." Students also don't seem to understand, on the whole, why someone like me would not take the name of a future husband, nor necessarily give our children his name. I would opt for either a hyphenated last name, or perhaps it would be cool to invent a new last name? (why not?)

This is such a non-issue to me that I have forgotten that, probably, most other people find this irritating, trivial, unecessarily shrill, or punitive to future children. Nonetheless, I always correct students if they refer to me as either "Miss" or "Mrs." Even if I was married, I would absolutely reject their deeply engrained habit to call a female teacher "Mrs." The way that I usually short-cut any sort of pouty response to my corrections is by insisting they call me by my first name. If they insist on formality, then I tell them to call me either professor or doctor. I rarely introduce myself as Dr. Aspazia. I am certainly proud of my Ph.D., but I don't feel a pressing urge to point this out to everyone that I meet. A lot of feminists do not feel comfortable letting students call them by their first name, since it might play into a dynamic often present wherein students see female professors as less authoritative. Whatever. I admit this is a problem, but I just don't give a shit if a student thinks I don't know what I am talking about. I have other problems to worry about.

I also really hate it when people call me "Miss." There is simply no point in maintaning a system of titles that identifies one's marital status and genitals. Why on earth do we preserve this totally arcane and meaningless ritual? What's up with invoking my sexual availability in professional introductions or polite requests?

Now the issue of surnames is more complicated. I will always keep my own surname because I see no point in taking the name of your husband. I like my last name. But, you see, my last name is my father's name, because of this pesky patronymic tradition. Look, patriarchy is so over. Property, including women and children, are no longer passed down the father's line (well, at least not in this country). So, what is the point of keeping this silly ritual of taking our husband's names--if we even choose to get married--and insisting that our children take his name.

The more I meditate on the neanderthal nature of these traditions, I can't help but wonder why on earth we should even preserve the ritual of marriage at all. While my state is trying to pass a bigoted amendment banning gay marriage, I wonder why we even maintain as a legally recognized union. The feminist philosopher Claudia Card, in "Against Marriage and Motherhood," has pointed out that the movement to make marriage more inclusive is like making slave ownership more inclusive:

It is one thing to argue that others are wrong to deny us something and another to argue that what they would deny us is something we should fight for the right to have. I do not deny that others are wrong to exclude same-sex lovers . . . from the rights of marriage. I question only whether we should fight for those rights, even if we do not intend to exercise them. Suppose that slave-owning in some mythical society were denied to otherwise free women, on the ground that such women as slave-owners would pervert the institution of slavery. Women (both free and unfree) could (unfortunately) document emprically the falsity of beliefs underlying such grounds. It would not follow that women should fight for the right to own slaves, or even for the rights of other women to own slaves. Likewise, if marriage is a deeply flawed institution, even though it is a special injustice to exclude lesbians and gay men arbitrarily from participating in it, it would not necessarily advance the cause of justice on the whole to remove the special injustice of discrimination.

Look, I am not sure that I agree with this analogy. I do think it is possible to redefine marriage into something unrecognizable from its patriarchal past. But, I am curious what sort of redefining rituals others have done in order to embrace marriage. I think choosing to form an intimate and commited bond with another is a profoundly important thing to do (if that is what you want to do). But, is Card onto something here by suggesting that making marriage more inclusive--something that gets the wingnuts really exercised--perhaps works against making progress to dismantle the relics of sexism?

I'm all ears . . .

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sleep-Related Eating Disorder: Wouldn't You Know

If you're an insomniac, who requires Ambien to get yourself to sleep at night, be sure to padlock your fridge and pantry before popping the pill. The NYT reports:

The sleeping pill Ambien seems to unlock a primitive desire to eat in some patients, according to emerging medical case studies that describe how the drug's users sometimes sleepwalk into their kitchens, claw through their refrigerators like animals and consume calories ranging into the thousands.

The next morning, the night eaters remember nothing about their foraging. But they wake up to find telltale clues: mouthfuls of peanut butter, Tostitos in their beds, kitchen counters overflowing with flour, missing food, and even lighted ovens and stoves. Some are so embarrassed, they delay telling anyone, even as they gain weight.

You know, this response reminds me an awful lot of another rather soporific drug. Well, let's hear it for fat, happy, and well-rested. Of all the mental illnesses I could fall victim to, a sleep-related eating disorder sounds, by far, the coolest.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Student Loan Debt Woes: Need Advice

Today's post is a solicitation of any advice that my readers might be able to give concerning student loan debt. Both Za and I have significant student loan debts. His is far worse than mine, since he got saddled with all of the student loan debt (both his and hers) in the divorce. Za's loans were also consolidated at a floating interest rate (ugh!), and his minimum payment is more than he can afford with child care payments. My loans are a bit more manageable, but I am mostly paying interest. The fact is, we both need to seriously deal with this debt. I started looking around for good books on how to deal with this, but they all seem full of advice that I already know. Does anyone out there have any good experience with "how to" manuals to pay of student loans so as to be able to actually have some savings for old age?

I own a house, and someone suggested I buy out my loans with a credit line. Za, however, owns nothing. How does one actually get this under control. Or, where does one go to get CHEAP professional help?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What is the Line Between Caring and Coddling?

Depression is a frightening thing to watch ravage someone else. It is even worse when the person is incredibly bright. I stayed an extra day in South Hadley because I am too terrified to leave my friend all alone tonight. She is in the jaws of the black dog and totally isolated from any support network. I sent Za home on the train and changed my ticket to stay with Aliyyah. She is suffering from a broken heart. She has lost 30 pounds, has no interest in eating, sleeps all the time, thinks life is pointless, and oscillates between stability and sobbing on the floor.

I am now waiting for her to return from her office hours so that I can baby-sit her while she writes up a midterm for her students. Her isolation from a support network is incredibly frightening to me. There is nothing worse that slipping further into depression when there is no one around to pull you out. When I leave I will feel incredibly anxious about her.

I spent most of the ride back from the train station trying to convince her to take medication. Her stance against depression is baffling. She either tells me that she finds her weepy, girly, broken heart thing to be just pathetic, and hence beats herself up for grieving, or, she expresses repugnance for the idea of taking medication to stop the pain. This response from depressed friends always terrifies me. Their psychopharmacological Calvinism is just plain dangerous. I tried to explain to her that the new drugs are so much better than what she would’ve been subjected to 20 years ago. I think I am starting to make some progress, but still it is slow going.

I think it is my calling to soothe and nurture those who fall into depressions. I have enormous patience for depressed people and I have spent most of my adulthood thinking about what depression is and how it destroys lives. When I was in college one of my best friends tried to commit suicide. She had called me right before she did it. I was drunk, tired, and frankly sick of her calling me up crying over this or that. She told me that she was sick of living and I just blew it off, telling her to just crash and we would get breakfast in the morning.

She swallowed three bottles of different pills. My roommate found her, rushed her to the hospital. She tried to get me to come with her, but I froze. I just couldn’t move from my bed, and hid under the covers. I was overcome with guilt. She had called me for help, and I did nothing. Now she was in the ICU.

She lived. She has even thrived. She is married with kids and happy, last time I checked. However, I have never quite recovered from this experience. I am not sure that I can handle making another mistake and failing to see suicidal signs. I take any suicidal comments very seriously and have taken two of my former students to the hospital when they confessed they were weary of living.

As I sit her now in Aliyyah’s house, I can’t help but reflect on whether or not my urgent need to help depressed people is somewhat pathological. I cannot stand to see people suffering in this way, and I find myself utterly devoted to taking care of them. The downside is that some people have taken advantage of this trait. And, of course, I am pretty good at neglecting my own needs to tend to others. I get a great deal of satisfaction in caring for others and helping them feel better about life, themselves, and the future. I tend to extend this kind of concern to my students as much as my friends. And, it can be quite draining.

The other day, a woman suggested to me that I might need to reflect a bit on why I need to help others. I was rather stunned by this comment. I haven’t been able to vanish this comment from my thoughts since she uttered it. Is it pathological to want to help those who are suffering? Is this pathological femininity? Maybe.

But, on the other hand, I wish I saw this sort of trait more often in others than not. I think it is a trait that should be gender neutral. It is a virtue, if you will. Caring for others, especially in times of need, is part of being a good human being. Granted, if you neglect your own wellbeing to only care for others, then perhaps you are bordering on a kind of pathology. But, it seems utterly ethical to respond to crisis. What is the line between caring and coddling?

Moreover, is it really wrong to derive a sense of accomplishment from caring for others, from helping others? How has this become a sign of pathology? I wonder if the fact that we direct people to consider their need to help as a bit unhealthy the real pathology. We are a sick culture if self-realization means associating only with other self-sufficient, fellow self-realized folks, isn't it?

Monday, March 13, 2006

What's Happiness Got to Do With It?

Last week I caught an episode of the Diane Rehm show where she was interviewing Leslie Morgan Steiner, who just put out an anthology entitled Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families. The more I listened to the interview, the angrier I got. I wasn't angry at Steiner, who quickly became a hero for me. Instead, I was angry with the other guest, Catherine Clifford, who was defending her choice to stay-at-home. I wasn't angry with her because she made the choice to stay-at-home. I wasn't angry at her because she was happier staying at home. I was angry because that is exactly what these debates seem to inevitably make me these days; in fact, isn't that what they are designed to do? Pit me against other women? I didn't write about it immediately because I couldn't articulate what was so maddening about the interview, nor was I sure that it was a political objection. I thought it was a wholly personal problem I am having with the proliferation of stories and interviews with happy, ex-career women stay-at-home moms.

Today, a former student of mine, sent me a distressed email with a link to this article, "Desperate Feminist Wives," in Slate. Meghan O'Rourke discusses the findings of a study done by two UVA sociologists who find that women who stay-at-home, even if they have progressive politics, are happier than women who work. Echidne of the Snakes already wrote a post exposing the bias of the two researchers: W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock.

I appears that I cannot help but vent about this issue, even though the last time I wrote about this stuff I had a slew of incensed comments from readers. Look, I will say once again that I have nothing against women who choose to stay home and raise their children. If you are going to have children, then what point is there in not spending any time with them, right? I get that. This is one of the most significant reasons why I don't have children. I don't know how to balance child-rearing with my career. Perhaps what is more important than my lack of creativity on the question of how to balance is that I simply don't have this burning desire to have children. I am not saying that I absolutely don't want them; I am just ambivalent.

But now, everywhere I turn, there are articles and interviews in my face telling me that I would be much happier quitting the rat race, having children, and staying home to raise them. I am not a libertarian, so I don't think that such information has no impact on me (you know the way that libertarians argue that advertising doesn't make a consumer buy something, it just gives them useful information to make an informed decisions--pahleeze). So, yes, I find this deluge of mommy war stuff to be draining and I am a full time feminist. I am not ambivalent about the importance of treating women as human beings who are as valuable to the world as men are. But, if I am getting angry about these articles, what is the impact they are having on my students?

It is a scare tactic. These articles are designed to scare women into giving up their quest to demand they be treated as human beings. The idea here is that if they continue on their silly feminist paths, they will wind up stressed out, pooped out, Prozaced up, and unhappy. So, give it up ladies. Just admit that its easier to stay-at-home and find a male provider.

Maybe the real problem here is the assumption that life is about achieving happiness. I am not sure what exactly Wilcox and Nock's definition of happiness is (I am too lazy to look up their study). But, I can't think of a concept as unclear happiness. Is it the absence of pain? Is it consistent joy? Is happiness an emotion? Is it a goal-oriented behavior? What on earth is happiness?

Am I happy? Shit, it depends on the day. Isn't that true for most people? Sometimes I have long stretches of inner calm and subsequent productivity. Then, I get sick or maybe I have a restless night and I find myself stressed out. If I don't have a lot of time to decompress, that state of stress might last for a long time. I just don't buy that we are on a life journey where if we make the right choice then we achieve happiness. I would imagine that stay-at-home mothers are as likely to worry profoundly about the well-being of their children, as much as working mothers. Perhaps even fathers actually worry about their children?

We are such a happiness obsessed culture. We find all sorts of ways to avoid the fact that life is not always sunshine and giggles. We are going to die. We might fall victim to horrifically painful illnesses, we might have our children be murdered (something that happened in the most violent fashion to one of my students three years ago). A lot of bad things happen to good people.

I now think the reason that mommy wars stories are so upsetting to me (and my student, for example) is that they play into this deep fear that we might live a life of suffering or regret. We idealize a sort of stress-free, sanguine existence over the far-more-common stress-laden life journey that most of us live. I can't help but think of the question that J.S. Mill asked himself before falling profoundly into a depression:

"Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?" And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, "No!" At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.

Mill then credits his melancholy with giving him the insight to wholly revise Jeremy Bentham's notion of happiness. Bentham believed happiness to be pleasure, regardless of the source, combined with the absence of pain, regardless of the source. All institutions should maximize this pleasure for the greatest number of people ("the principle of utility"), since happiness is the only worthwhile and measurable end of human life (this is the only moral "principle" worth pursuing). And, yet, this sort of pursuit of happiness turned out to be precisely what brought about Mill's mental collapse. What rescued Mill at first was art. He started to take delight in nature, music, poetry. He focused his attention on what was external to him. He then reconsidered whether happiness was, in fact, the most important goal of human life. He reaches the following conclusion:

Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way. The enjoyments of life (such was now my theory) are sufficient to make it a pleasant thing, when they are taken en passant, without being made a principal object. Once make them so, and they are immediately felt to be insufficient. They will not bear a scrutinizing examination. Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life. Let your self-consciousness, your scrutiny, your self-interrogation, exhaust themselves on that; and if otherwise fortunately circumstanced you will inhale happiness with the air you breathe, without dwelling on it or thinking about it, without either forestalling it in imagination, ot putting it to flight by fatal questioning. This theory now became the basis of my philosophy of life. And I still hold to it as the best theory for all those who have but a moderate degree of sensibility and of capacity for enjoyment, that is, for the great majority of mankind.

I already feel much better after rereading that paragraph a few times. I don't care about pursuing my own damn happiness--if that means seeking to be as much as possible without pain, stress, grief, and melancholy. I care about fighting for what is just, what is fair, what is noble and what brings about a better world. I think these are goals that both stay-at-home and career mothers share. Why on earth are we pitting mothers against each other, or women against each other for that matter? What do we have in common? I don't just mean what do stay-at-home mothers and career mothers have in common, but what do feminist and non-feminist women have in common, if anything? Maybe at the most what we have in common is that we all believe in something and want to bring it into existence because it will benefit all humankind.

Isn't the fact that we believe in something bigger than our own damn happiness more important than our actual happiness? When I die, I want people to remember me as someone who passionately devoted herself to what she believed mattered, not that I was happy.

UPDATE: Rude Barbie and the Happy Feminist both have smart things to say about this issue. Go read!

Need a Prom Dress?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mini-Vacation Report

Well, my loyal readers, I have found only a few minutes to put up a quick post today. I should have more later this evening to work out some thoughts swilling around in my always, overactive brain. But, at the moment, I am content to sit in this quaint cafe in South Hadley, catch up on emails, and glance at my friend's copy of the Sunday Times.

The train ride was quite nice; I can't understand why on earth I ever fly when you get so much more room to walk around on a train and plugs for your computer. Za was less happy about the train, but he is generally unhappy whenever we travel anywhere; other people simply drive him into a frenzy and he gets stuck in a mood until it is all over.

Upon arriving last night, we headed into Northhampton, which is a "cute" little town with many exotic and yummy restaurants. We stuffed ourselves to the gills with Lebanese food and then went to a tequila bar (how cool is that?).

I like this little vacation. I think its been good for clearing my brain a little bit and giving me some quality happy time before I start writing non-stop again. And, for any of you who might wonder how my book is going, I am proud to say that I have completed two chapters and my colleague considers them very good. The day he delivered this grand news I was giddy with pride, felt invincible, and hence rattled off two brand new course proposals to the registrar. When I had handed them in, it occurred to me that I had just created a great deal of more work for myself next year. Why does intellectual confidence get me into this trouble?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Intermittent Blogging--Apologies

Sorry I have been absent here on the blog. I got slammed with a great deal of work all of a sudden and tomorrow I am hopping on a train to visit a friend in MA. I hope to get a post up late tomorrow afternoon.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Tenth Carnival of Feminists Awaits You

Indianwriting has hosted the latest Carnival of Feminists. Go give yourself a gift on this, the International Woman's Day, read the latest collection of insightful feminist blogging. Antheia's haunting piece on anorexia is included in this collection.


I love it when the Onion pokes fun of Big Pharma. Here is story about PharmAmorin, a drug designed to help alleviate any anxiety, deep distrust or concern over pharmaceutical companies.

"Many individuals today lack the deep, abiding affection for drug makers that is found in healthy people, such as myself," Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell said. "These tragic disorders are reaching epidemic levels, and as a company dedicated to promoting the health, well-being, and long life of our company's public image, it was imperative that we did something to combat them."

Now, if the neanderthal neo-cons would put aside their pious distrust of drug use, they could manufacture themselves a new compound designed to make women love subservience. How about ProMisogyn or GynFree or PhalloZac?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Kate Michelman Might Run: Oh Please, Oh Please

From the Philly Inquirer:

Kate Michelman, a prominent abortion-rights advocate, said yesterday that she was giving "some thought" to running as an independent in the race for a Pennsylvania seat in the U.S. Senate.

This Pennsylvanian will happily pitch in for Michelman's campaign should she choose to challenge Santatorium as an Independent. Please don't make me vote for Casey. I can't do it.

Love For Us Mere Mortals

I had such plans to for writing today. Yeah, yeah, I know, the day isn't over. But, it does seem gone to me. I have been finding a variety of ways to procrastinate today and so I changed the light bulbs in my home office. While I was doing that, one of Lucinda William's songs, "Right in Time," queued up on iTunes and started playing. It is a haunting piece of music and reminds you of the rush of passion and intensity you feel at the beginning of a relationship or throughout one of those stormy, passion-filled fucked up relationships that seem to dominate our twenties. I was far more attached to these type of songs when I was younger and still longing for earth-shattering love; that was when I still believed you would find someone who fills you with that intense longing forever.

When I was early in my graduate career, I was dating a troubled, dark and very handsome man named Jimmy. He was as complicated as they get. Needless to say the sex was fantastic. On the other hand, we fought all of the time and about anything and everything. I wasn't above demanding he stop the car so I could get out, and slam the door, shake my mane, and strut up up the block to sit, forlorn, with my journal and Heidegger's Being in Time in some cafe (we were living in Oakland for the summer taking German together at Berkeley). I was an emotional wreck that summer. Everything felt so intense and urgent.

Then, one night, I walked into the living room of the house Jimmy and I were renting a room from. My landlady was stoned, listening to Billie Holiday, and started asking me why I was so high strung. I started telling her about all of my problems with Jimmy. She listened patiently and smiled sweetly (I know, she was stoned). Anyway, she finally turned toward me to tell me a story about this artist she was dating way back in the 60's (I told you we were in Oakland, right?) She sort of drifted off into her thoughts for a moment, and then said: "Arists . . .God, it's always the best sex, but zero potential for a real relationship."

I didn't want to hear that. I had to believe that whatever was wrong between Jimmy and me, we could fix it. Our intense passion for each other had to be enough. But, I knew she was right. I knew it right then. But, I didn't leave Jimmy for another 6 months. I finally did because I broke my arm sliding across our floor to catch the phone. The floor was still wet from his incessant mopping. I was in a great deal of physcial pain and he just yelled at me that he had to get to work and he was taking the car, so I better stop crying. It was time to go.

So, I hear this Lucinda Williams song and I am only slightly moved by her passion and longing. The song is incredibly beautiful. And, I think everyone has felt this kind of delicious rawness. But, then we move on and start to build a real relationship with someone. And, the soundtrack for that is something much more like the charming piano man playing in Nordstrom's Lobby. Bright, balanced, a little glitz now and again, but nothing too dark.

I started thinking about what it takes to continually write the songs that Lucinda Williams writes. It takes a willingness to stay longer or return to those painful and intense romances that end with emotional, if not physical, bruises. I am not an artist. I am just unwilling to take myself there emotionally again and again. I would rather remember those feelings nostalgically and then go back to crawling up next to Za, giggling under the sheets as we start talking in our ridiculous made-up language, and arguing over whether or not we'll watch the Prisoner or The L word.

That is love for us mere mortals.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Mike Rounds is on My Shit List

That's right, the Governor of South Dakota had the gall to actually sign the misogynist piece of crap parading as a bill today.

The first campaign of the War on Women has been successfully mounted.

Go over to the Bioethics Forum to read Hilde Lindemann's important commentary on this event, "To Be A Mother," wherein she reminds us that one is not a mother the minute she conceives, but must become a mother through a set of biological and psychological trials.

"Crash" Wins!

I was so delighted to find out that Crash (you can watch the trailer here) won best picture last night, even though I lost the Oscar pool. I didn't think it had a chance in hell to win, because it was such a brutal film about race relations in the United States. If you haven't seen this movie, you must rent it via Netflix ASAP. What I love best about this film is it totally jettisons the identity politics language of the 80s and 90s and instead deals straight up with the good, bad, and ugly of all of us, whether we are thuggish, young Black men or do-good White politicians exploiting the racial vote. No one gets off easy in this picture and you end up forgiving the most despicable characters and loathing those who seemed most honorable. All of your impressions of what race means will be thrown into question and if you can honestly confront this film, you will be changed by it.

I am also tickled that Philip Seymour Hoffman won best actor. Again, I lost the Oscar pool on this, thinking Heath Ledger would get it. I thought Ledger was fantastic in Brokeback Mountain, but Hoffman is one of the best actors alive today. I cannot think of a single role he has done where I was disappointed with him.

Well, congratulations Paul Haggis. May this Oscar portend even greater work from you in the future.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Voting Open for Koufax Awards: Go Vote for MMF

The voting for the various categories for Koufax awards is now open. This blog has been nominated for Best New Blog. Antheia has also been nominated for Best Post. So, if you are a fan of this blog or Antheia, head on over to Wampum and put in a vote for us!

UPDATE: I wasn't very clear about how to vote. If you click on the link to "Best New Blog" it will take you to Wampum's blog where you will see a list of entries. Scroll all the way down to the end of the blog entry to the comments section. You can vote for me by typing in the name of my blog in the comments. Let me know if this fails.


I picked myself off the couch this morning to go to my UU service. I wasn't that thrilled to go since the last few services have focused on fundraising and institutional issues, but still I am member and it is a community that has a great deal of value for me. It turned out to be a surprising service, dedicated to the theme of odysessys. Select members of the community were asked to share their spiritual journey with the others and through this act of storytelling help us gain a greater understanding of who we are. I loved it. I could sit and listen to peoples' stories for hours. Storytelling to me is the basic form of building community. When you tell someone your story, you are deciding to trust them, to make yourself vulnerable, and thereby inviting her to understand what it's like to look at the world from where you sit.

While listening to three of my fellow UUs' spiritual odyssey, I couldn't help but wonder what I would say if asked to share. My first impulse is to say that I am simply not a very spiritual person. There are some people in my life who seem consumed with understanding a larger purpose to our existence, or finding value in a transcendent being. Many of my students, I have noticed, are deeply preoccupied with the idea that a loving God gives us meaning, value and a moral structure. None of that resonates with me.

I grew up very active in the Lutheran church. I still have the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer and many other facets of the liturgy memorized. I remember the tenets of our church and I liked the communing with other families that took place after the service. We used to go, almost without fail, to Marie Callendar's after the service, where I was allowed to get a piece of chocolate cream pie for lunch! I also loved the camping trips, bike trips, and family dinners we shared with our fellow congregation. But, I never found myself overwhelmed or swept up by basic religious questions. The entire concept of a God didn't strike me as important or necessary for my sense of self or purpose.

Then I chose to go to a Catholic college. I remember the first time I went to Mass. I thought it the most bizarre ritual on earth. I panicked when the priest gave me communion (which I wasn't supposed to take), because I might reply wrongly. I couldn't figure out when to kneel, when to stand, what responses to say, and what on earth all the incense was about. Worst of all, the homily's were terribly unsatisfying. They seemed driven by guilt. I remember distinctly after we bombed Baghdad in during the first Gulf War, I went to mass in Rome. I was studying in Rome through another Catholic school. The entire homily focused on how important it was for young men to join the priesthood. I was repulsed. I was seeking some comfort and instead got a scolding for not taking my part to preserve the Catholic church, and, I wasn't even allowed to participate as a priest anyway since I was female.

Slowly after that experience in Rome, my interest in belonging to a Church completely waned. It wasn't a conscious break, it was a slow shifting of interests and priorities. I didn't feel incomplete without Church and I was becoming intellectually preoccupied with other questions. Only in the last few years did it occur to me to reconsider the question of joining a Church. As I debated this question, I realized that what I believed was wholly unclear. I still couldn't tell you whether I am an atheist or agnostic. And, you know what, I don't really care. Beliefs about an extra-worldly being are totally irrelevant to my day-to-day existence. My moral convictions do not come from a higher code, but rather are forged through experience, storytelling, and a deep felt sense of what is just.

That last admission--that I have a deep sense of what is just--is the closest I come to being religious or spiritual. I usually never confess to others that I operate with this internal compass because some wise ass will inevitably ask me how I know that my intuitions about justice are right or wrong. This debate will go nowhere since neither one of us could tell you, in accordance with any standards of truth, what the "right" thing to do is. But, I guess my sense of purpose and my dedication to doing what is right, here and now, in this world, comes from listening really carefully to the stories of suffering and joy that others share with me.

I also believe that we have a deep impulse to make sense of our lives and search for clues that we are on the right path. I am not sure that the clues are really there. Maybe we invent them or see what we want to see in order to tell ourselves a story that helps us understand who we are. But the goal doesn't seem to get the story accurate, but to keep telling it, revising it, and fitting it to what we deeply wish for. Without stories we seem rutterless, lost to a endless meaningless and chaotic events.

So, my spiritual journey, if I have one, seems bound up with finding myself in a community with people secure and safe enough to share their stories. If there is anything like grace in this world, it seems to be the magical healing that comes from another person telling you in one of your most desperate moments that she has been here too and survived. While some believe grace to be a gift from a transcendent being, I see it as the gift that we, as fragile, frightened and finite beings, give to each other. We have the capacity to rescue others in their moments of disconnection; we can help them regain their dignity because we remind them that failing or suffering is part of being alive.

Friday, March 03, 2006

South Dakota Smack Down

My colleague Ralph forwarded me this refreshing rant on the South Dakota's abortion ban by Mark Morford, who writes for the SF Chron. I have to say that receiving this link in my email from Ralph, and subsequently reading the editorial, really brightened my friday. So, for all of you out there disgusted with the War on Women and the misogynist neo-cons, here is a little bit of sunshine:

Attention all funky sexy single intelligent women of South Dakota (assuming there are any left): It is time. Pack it up. Strip the bed, box up the cat, load the U-Haul, call your hip friends over in Minneapolis, move out West, or East, or anywhere with a mind-set not stuck like a bloody nail in the moral coffin of 1845. Let this be your clarion call. Get the hell out, right now.

Here is why: You state hates you. Your state, apparently run be pallid sexless demagogic men who think they know something of God and morality but know only ignominy and the smell of sulfur and death in their nightmares, thinks you are irresponsible dumb-ass meat, unable to handle your own decisions, your own body, your sex. Your state's leaders and your Republican governor, Mike Rounds, wish to treat you like meaningless, voiceless chattel. Get out now. You already know why.

For everyone else reading this, here is the nauseating news: South Dakota, in case you missed it amid the reports of increasingly violent civil war in Iraq, the Dubai ports fiasco and Bush's record-low approval ratings across the board, has just passed a sweeping anti-abortion measure that completely bans the procedure in almost all cases -- including rape, including incest, including if you were, for some ungodly reason, accidentally knocked up by South Dakota neocon anti-choicers like Republican and bill sponsor Rep. Roger W. Hunt, these baggy slabs of pallid manhood who wouldn't know true female sexual pleasure from a hole in a mattress. Or is that being too kind?

And why? Why have these lawmakers rammed this law down South Dakota women's throats and why is it so likely that Gov. Rounds will sign it into law, when the state is already one of the most bitterly restrictive, the most difficult in the nation in which to get an abortion?

Why, for the sole purpose of having the invidious law challenged all the way to the newly realigned, neocon-approved, anti-woman Supreme Court, where the backers of the hateful law hope to finally claim the Big Prize, the great gold ring of self-righteous sex-hating fundie Christians everywhere: challenging Roe v. Wade, maybe even (gasp) overturning the single most female-empowering law in the last 50 years. Wouldn't that be swell?

Here's a fascinating aspect: Most women are stunned by this news. Most women not living in one of the few remaining prehistoric red states cannot believe their ears, eyes, souls. I've told a number of my youngish female friends of this hideous development and they all respond the same way: stunned silence, then "You can't be serious," then this ashen "Oh my God" feeling of utter horror, followed by, "Does anyone else know this? Why isn't this making bigger headlines? Where the hell is Oprah?" Etc.

See, modern women under 40, they simply don't accept it. They have no conception of a world in which they don't have complete control over their flesh, their reproductive rights, their sexuality. For most women of this generation, reproductive choice is simply a fundamental, incontrovertible human right, obvious and ironclad and indisputable, and so to hear that it's being deeply threatened in this back-ass BushCo world is so foreign, so surreal, it induces an immediate cringing recoil, like watching Tom Cruise stick his tongue in Katie Holmes' face, like watching flies feed, like seeing Dick Cheney naked. It simply does not compute.

No matter. South Dakota's leaders, much like those in Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi -- who've all introduced similar hateful, anti-choice measures -- don't care about women. They don't care about rights. But they care a great deal about power, about self-righteous ideology, about the ever-present egomaniacal male need to control, dominate, imprison that which it cannot understand. They care about suppression.

Here's another sordid detail: South Dakota passed its new ban without a referendum. Translation: The frigid neocons who wrote the law didn't actually have the nerve to allow South Dakota's own citizens to vote on it, because they knew the odds were too great that a majority of the state wouldn't accept it. See, even in a conservative red state the people know when a law has gone too far.

And then, the kicker: The stage is now set for a major legal battle over the new draconian law, a battle which will cost millions. The neocons say they've already received a bizarre pledge of a million bucks from some anonymous woman-hating Christian rightist to help defray the legal costs. But it won't be nearly enough. Who gets to pay for the rest? South Dakota taxpayers, most of whom probably didn't want the damnable law in the first place. Ah, neocon politics. You're soaking in it.

Now, the good news. Most legal experts, even those from Christian "pro-family" anti-choice groups, are already saying the law has little chance of posing a serious challenge to Roe v. Wade. It's simply too draconian, too vile, too flagrantly unconstitutional. But then again, with Alito and Roberts on the bench, you just never know. Nastier things have happened. Just check the wiretap on your e-mail.

These are the things you need to know. We are at that point. We are right now at the apex of some great and dirty battle, some ugly siege, the nation so overrun by the Christian right that they finally get to make some sort of grand and desperate statement, a vicious volley of stabs to the heart of progress and sexual rights, before being run out of Congress this fall and Bush becomes a lame duck and the nation slowly wakes up from this catatonic Republican-bled haze.

The South Dakota lawmakers know. They've said as much, that this is the right time to attack, the opportunity possibly fleeting, the national gag reflex induced by these neocons not yet at full force. "I think the stars are aligned," said Matthew Michels, South Dakota House Speaker and Republican, referring to the appointments of Alito and Roberts to the Supreme Court. "Simply put, now is the time."

Sure their odds may be long, but their hearts are black with passionate intensity.

Of course, with any luck, with any sort of divine feminine intervention, with any sort of national common sense, this sickening attack on female choice will quickly go the way of "intelligent design," of the Terry Schiavo zombies, of the WMD zealots. It will dissolve and implode like the nasty moral insult it so very is. We can only hope. And of course, vote, in November.

Until then, it would behoove the final dozen or so sexually attuned, lusciously feminine women in South Dakota -- not to mention every teenage girl within a 1,000-mile radius -- to pack their bags and book their tickets outta town before they lock the gates and start the fires. I hear Canada is lovely this time of year. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

WOW: War on Women

I am digging these dames over at Tennessee Guerilla Women. They are calling for a "sex strike" Lysistrata style.

Hat Tip: SteveG

Bush is a LIAR, LIAR, Pants on FIRE


March 1, 2006

Video Shows Bush Was Warned Before Katrina

WASHINGTON (AP)--In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

The footage--along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press--show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Linked by secure video, Bush's confidence on Aug. 28 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

Some of the footage and transcripts from briefings Aug. 25-31 conflicts with the defenses that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response:

--Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. "I'm sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done," National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield warned the day Katrina
lashed the Gulf Coast.

"I don't buy the `fog of war' defense," Brown told the AP in an interview Wednesday. "It was a fog of bureaucracy."

--Bush declared four days after the storm, "I don't think anybody
anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility--and Bush was worried too.

White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Brown discussed fears of a levee breach the day the storm hit.

"I talked to the president twice today, once in Crawford and then again on Air Force One," Brown said. "He's obviously watching the television a lot, and he had some questions about the Dome, he's asking questions about reports of breaches."

--Louisiana officials angrily blamed the federal government for not being prepared but the transcripts shows they were still praising FEMA as the storm roared toward the Gulf Coast and even two days afterward. "I think a lot of the planning FEMA has done with us the past year has really paid off," Col. Jeff Smith, Louisiana's emergency preparedness deputy director, said during the Aug. 28 briefing.

It wasn't long before Smith and other state officials sounded overwhelmed.

"We appreciate everything that you all are doing for us, and all I would ask is that you realize that what's going on and the sense of urgency needs to be ratcheted up," Smith said Aug. 30.

Mississippi begged for more attention in that same briefing.

"We know that there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana that need to be rescued, but we would just ask you, we desperately need to get our share of assets because we'll have people dying--not because of water coming up, but because we can't get them medical treatment in our affected counties," said a Mississippi state official whose name was not mentioned on the tape.

Video footage of the Aug. 28 briefing, the final one before Katrina
struck, showed an intense Brown voicing concerns from the government's disaster operation center and imploring colleagues to do whatever was necessary to help victims.

"We're going to need everything that we can possibly muster, not only in this state and in the region, but the nation, to respond to this event," Brown warned. He called the storm "a bad one, a big one" and implored federal agencies to cut through red tape to help people, bending rules if necessary.

"Go ahead and do it," Brown said. "I'll figure out some way to justify it.... Just let them yell at me."

Bush appeared from a narrow, windowless room at his vacation ranch in Texas, with his elbows on a table. Hagin was sitting alongside him. Neither asked questions in the Aug. 28 briefing.

"I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm," the president said.

A relaxed Chertoff, sporting a polo shirt, weighed in from Washington at Homeland Security's operations center. He would later fly to Atlanta, outside of Katrina's reach, for a bird flu event.

One snippet captures a missed opportunity on Aug. 28 for the government to have dispatched active-duty military troops to the region to augment the National Guard.

Chertoff: "Are there any DOD assets that might be available? Have we reached out to them?"

Brown: "We have DOD assets over here at EOC (emergency operations center). They are fully engaged. And we are having those discussions with them now."

Chertoff: "Good job."

In fact, active duty troops weren't dispatched until days after the storm. And many states' National Guards had yet to be deployed to the region despite offers of assistance, and it took days before the Pentagon deployed active-duty personnel to help overwhelmed Guardsmen.

The National Hurricane Center's Mayfield told the final briefing before Katrina struck that storm models predicted minimal flooding inside New Orleans during the hurricane but he expressed concerns that counterclockwise winds and storm surges afterward could cause the levees at Lake Pontchartrain to be overrun.

"I don't think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not but that is obviously a very, very grave concern," Mayfield told the briefing.

Other officials expressed concerns about the large number of New Orleans residents who had not evacuated.

"They're not taking patients out of hospitals, taking prisoners out of prisons and they're leaving hotels open in downtown New Orleans. So I'm very concerned about that," Brown said.

Despite the concerns, it ultimately took days for search and rescue teams to reach some hospitals and nursing homes.

Brown also told colleagues one of his top concerns was whether evacuees who went to the New Orleans Superdome--which became a symbol of the failed Katrina response--would be safe and have adequate medical care.

"The Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level.... I don't know whether the roof is designed to stand, withstand a Category Five hurricane," he said.

Brown also wanted to know whether there were enough federal medical teams in place to treat evacuees and the dead in the Superdome.

"Not to be (missing) kind of gross here," Brown interjected, "but I'm concerned" about the medical and mortuary resources "and their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe.

UPDATE: See Crooks and Liars for more discussion and links exposing Bush's lies.