Monday, July 31, 2006

Let's Hear it for the Aesthete's Life

Well, it's almost bedtime for this feminista on a Monday night. But, I wanted to write a quick post to brag about the wonderful dinner that my mom just treated me to. We went to eat at an AMAZING restaurant called the Inn at Little Washington. This was one of the most memorable gastronomic experiences of my life. And, I am eternally grateful to my mother for making it possible. If you feel like blowing half of your paycheck, you must try this exquisite restaurant in a tiny town in Virginia.

Before I made my way here, I had spent several days eating quite well. I had a several different friends invite me over for wonderful meals, Jamie treated Za and me to a fabulous dinner in Cleveland Park, and my mom and I ate at a sumptuous French restaurant in Charlottesville. I have been thinking a lot about the amount of money, time and energy I am willing to spend on fine food and drink. After making a fabulous meal the other night with Jamie, I remarked how interesting it is to me that most of my friends share my passion for amazing food and wine. We spend far more money than we should--money that others would most likely invest in their retirement. I started thinking about what more folks who are more frugal or sane with money might say about these priorities.

But, then someone reminded me--I can no longer remember who--that spending your time and money on these types of endeavors is about saying "yes" to life. You can't take wealth with you. But, you will continually be rewarded for fine meals, conversations and time with friends you love.

So, let's hear it for the aesthete's life. If I were to die tomorrow, I would die with joy.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Evangelical Churchers go Berserk

Rev. Gregory A. Boyd found out just how costly it is to remind his evangelical congregants that their church needs to stay clear of politics. After giving several sermons called "The Cross and the Sword," in which he made clear that no political party or Nation, for that matter, speaks solely for evangelicals, he lost 1,000 of his 5,000 mega-church members. Read the article here.

SteveG has been explaining to me, for years, the integral role that both evangelical and fundamentalist churches have played. I always nodded my head in disbelief--not because I don't believe it--but it is just so foreign to my experience of being a church goer.

My family brought me up in the Lutheran church. I was active in this church until I was 18 and left for college. After that, I entered into a religious odyssey that I will leave for another blog post. Thinking back to my Lutheran beginnings, I do not remember any political conversations, any encouragment from my Pastors to engage in activism over political issues, or even knowing what political party most of the congregation belonged to. Church was, in my memory, a political-free zone.

I didn't leave the Lutheran church or Christianity because of their alignment with the right-wing (I don't think, for the record, that all Christian denominations or non-denominational churches are inextricably intertwined with right-wing politics). I find myself grateful that this isn't what drove me away; I got to actually wrestle with Christian theology rather than worry over my tithing going toward political causes that make me ill.

I can't imagine what it must be like to grow up in such politicized churches. What would potlucks or coffee after church be like if you found yourself in screaming, political matches. Church would cease to be a place of peaceful renewal and spiritual edification. Instead it strikes me that these mega-churches and other less wieldy congregations--that announce anti-gay marriage rallies or drape the American flag while showing romantic images of bomber pilots--just create berserkers.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

How to Think Like a Disaffected Republican

Last night, after the feast we prepared was devoured, after the second bottle of fabulous Sancerre was corked, my little dinner party started to talk politics.

We turned to the subject of the upcoming midterm elections. If we are lucky the Dems will take the House. If we are really lucky the Dems will take the Senate. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that we might take neither because of gerrymandering. In any case, my friend, Ricardo of Creative Destruction (though he rarely posts anymore) made the following analogy to help the rest of us understand why Republicans just might vote for Democrats.

Ricardo was pointing out how disaffected and darn right annoyed that many Republicans are getting with George Bush. I could buy that this was the case, but I, like so many others, never understood why Republicans with any brains voted for him the first place. Anyway, Ricardo was trying to explain this to us. First he clarified why many Republicans, even those far and away more intelligent that W voted for him: they were voting for the Party. Ok, fine. I get that, but still, I am hard pressed to imagine voting for a democratic candidate as awful as W.

Anyway, Ricardo said: "Look, imagine that we got the Democrats in power and the new President started demanding that the rest of us wear only Hemp clothing, drive alternative energy cars or use our bicycles, eat only an organic and vegetarian diet, shop only at co-ops, etc. . . This is how many, many Republicans feel about Bush."

Friday, July 28, 2006

"making a child your career is a dangerous move"

If there were a poster girl for "ambivalence about becoming a mother" it would be me. I have gone back and forth on this issue so many times that Za simply hangs back and waits for me to land somewhere. What fuels my ambivalence is the comments I so often here from other mothers who are my age and hold down academic jobs as well. I ask mothers regularly what made them choose to have children or what their lives are a like now, hoping to get some clarity on my own ambivalence about motherhood. Almost anyone who senses my ambivalence, and is a mother of young children, interprets it as leaning more toward the "no," and so emphasize that I should really want to do this.

Last weekend I asked my friend Emma's colleague what swayed her to have her daughter, the impact on her life, you know, the usual questions. She paused for a moment and then said she has an analogy that she trots out whenever people ask her about whether or not having children is an amazing experience: "I tell people that they should want to have children the way that artists feel an imperative to create. If you don't have this profound imperative to have children, then you shouldn't do it since the time and energy it demands of you is almost insane and only an insane passion can keep you going." Needless to say, her advice was frightening.

Last night Za and I were walking around Mt. Pleasant (D.C.) and ran into this woman and her little daughter on the street. She asked us where we were headed, and we told her about this fantastic restaurant we wanted to try out. She had a sort of weepy look and said "well, we don't get a chance to eat out much," and nodded toward her daughter. Again, I found myself crestfallen by this exchange. One of our party, however, has a 5 year-old, and he quickly responded that he takes his daughter out to eat all the time. Hmmm! That classic clash of parenting styles that only further confuses me. Most of my colleagues with children remind me, when I gush about a new film, that they won't be getting to the theater any time soon. These sorts of comments rarely sell me on the joys of parenting. In fact, I have rarely had someone tell me how profoundly it would shape my life.

And, yet, we live in a culture that portrays parenting, especially motherhood, as the absolute fulfillment of one's life, one's being. I haven't met many mothers of young children who don't look at me longingly, envying my childfree life. Today, I read the Happy Feminist's post on the potential tedium of mothering. She links her readers to this essay by a journalist on how her children bore her. Boy, if you ever wanted to be more ambivalent, read lines like these:

All those glossy magazine spreads showing celebrity mothers looking serene at home with their children serve only to make women feel inadequate. What the pictures don't show is the monotony, loneliness and relentless domesticity that goes with child-rearing.

They don't show the tantrums, the food spills and the ten aborted attempts at putting on shoes. They don't show the husband legging it to the pub so he doesn't have to change a nappy, either.

Research tells us that mothers drink the most when they have young children. Is that because talking to anyone under the age of ten requires some sort of lobotomy?

Arabella Cant, an art director with two young children, admits that she considered jumping off a bridge in the early stages of her career in motherhood. 'Bringing up children is among the most boring and exhausting things you can do,' she says.

Her solution was to avoid subjugating her own life to that of her chil-dren's. 'I'm certainly not traipsing around museums or sitting on the floor doing Lego if that's what you mean by being at home,' she explains. 'I'm loving it, but my children fit into my life and not the other way around.

This last paragraph reminds me of the sentiments of one my closest friends, and I might add, one of the healthiest people I know. I spent a week with her and her young children and it was clear that she operated by this principle. She absolutely refuses to be guilted into activities or any silly idea that the child is the center of her world. Seeing her mothering, and the total partnership she has with her husband in that endeavor (they have both taken full semester leaves to trade off being the stay-at-home parent), gave me hope.

But, alas, I read commentaries like the one above--and don't get me wrong, I applaud the honesty with which she has written this--and all of my years of reading Simone de Beauvoir flood back. de Beauvoir has written one of the most devastating accounts of motherhood in the Second Sex. She stresses the monotony, repetitiveness, and tedium of raising children and tending to the home (tasks that were inseparable in her bourgeois world of turn-of-the century Paris).

I remember distinctly fearing that these activities would crush my spirit; I feared that I would lose my identity, my passion, and my drive. Those are thoughts, however, from a twenty-something-year-old. Now I am about to turn 36, and I think my ideas about being a mother are more nuanced, mature, and realistic. We don't live in a world where are choices are as confined as de Beauvoir's mother's were. Women can be mothers, have careers, and find amazing partners to share the labor with them. Women can also plan their pregnancies for when they have the resources to get help in the role of parenting. I don't think it has to crush you, and I have seen first-hand evidence of this.

But, I cannot deny that the longing looks I get from colleagues, when they see me head out for a weekend on the town, continue to haunt me.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Talk Amongst Yerselves

I am writing for the next few hours this morning. So, I deem this post another open thread. Tell me what's going on? What should I be reading? Feel free to some blogwhoring.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Guess What?: The Bush Administration Flouts the Constitution, Again

I got to catch Tom Ashbrook's On Point today, while traveling with Za to Baltimore. His guest was Michael Greco, the President of the American Bar Association (ABA), who just issued the following report that details President Bush's abuse of signing statements. Lots of other folks have already alerted us to this issue in the blogosphere, but I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about this today because I am convinced that the public needs to get educated on this issue.

We have lots of reasons to mistrust this adminstration. They have taken advantage of our fear and panic after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 to give a blank check of power to the executive branch of government: Patriot Act, Guantanamo, Illegal Wiretapping, and now, this latest revelation that Bush has used signing statements over 800 times during his tenure to ignore parts of bills that Congress had passed. Let me give you some background on what signing statements are and how they differ from Vetoes (as I understand it, please anyone more knowledgeable write in). The executive branch can use signing statements (this is not the only purpose, but the one at issue here) to say something like: "I will sign this bill into law, but I won't enforce this or that provision." A President can issue a signing statement if he or she believes that certain provisions of statutes are unconstitutional and thereby explain that the office won't enforce these provisions.

Ordinarily Presidents have used the veto to argue that a bill, which Congress has passed, is unconstitutional. Bush, however, has only issued one veto (over Stem Cell Research). One theory at work is that Bush prefers the signing statements over the veto because he can look like he is cooperating with Congress (by not using the veto), and yet use the signing statement to selectively enforce the law or interpret the law to his liking. This action, if indeed it is what Bush is engaged in, effectively makes his office above the law.

The ABA is calling upon the executive branch (which is different than attacking President Bush directly) to "confine any signing statements to his views regarding the meaning, purpose, and significance of bills, and to use his veto power if he believes that all or part of a bill is unconstitutional." That is, signing statements are appropriate in cases of ambigious language or ambigious meaning of the statute, or for rhetorical purposes, i.e., " this is a historic bill," but not to selectively enforce the law.

The reason the ABA is calling upon the executive branch to curtail this irresponsible use of signing statements is because it (a) sets up precedents to allow future presidents to encroach on the separation of powers and selectively enforce parts of bills, hence (b) it gives the executive branch too much power.

The American public needs to start waking up and take notice of what this administration has done to transform the executive branch far more into a monarchy and thereby ignore the distinctive importance of the Constitution. Perhaps some of you still believe this Commander-in-Chief is doing a good job (How, I don't know). But, even so, are you willing to trust any President? At what point is liberty more important than security?

Two 'Spaz Updates

(1) My dog, Marty, has been on a regimen of medication to treat his mystery ailments. The vet gave him dewormer (which he hates and spits up all over me) and antibiotics, in case of some irritation in his colon. He took blood from Marty and then found that his thyroid scores were low. So, now, in addition to antiobiotics and dewormer, he is on thyroid medication. The new food that I have been feeding Marty seems to be easier on his digestive tract (thank goodness)! Some lingering concerns: (a) the blood test showed some problems with Marty's liver function and (b) we cannot put him on Phenolbarbitol for his seizures, given the concerns over his liver. But, the thyroid issue might be related to the seizures . . .

(2) Almost all of the wonderful suggestions I got on writing have worked this past week. Here is what particularly worked: (a) typing out all the relevant quotations for my argument, so I don't have to keep flipping back and forth between research and writing, (b) old-school writing with pen and paper (though my handwriting is atrocious), and (c) putting "place-markers" for references when I have time to return and properly cite. Thanks MMF readers for you help!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"That Oughta Be Illegal"

These were the words uttered by a man standing next to me this morning, at the cafe, when this article got me darn pissed off.

LEBANON - A Good Samaritan Hospital emergency room doctor refused to give a rape victim a morning-after pill because he said it was against his Mennonite religion.

Rebuffed by the doctor, the woman called her gynecologist, who wrote the prescription. Her local pharmacy told her it was out of the drug and referred her to a sister store in Reading.

The former medical director of the hospital said he sees nothing strange about asking a woman from eastern Lebanon County to drive to Reading for a drug.

"People drive to Reading to buy jeans. Even if that were the case, that you had to drive to Reading to get this [prescription], to me that does not rise to a compulsion that you have to pass laws that [doctors] have to do something," Dr. Joe Kearns said.

You know, driving to the next town to get Plan B after a rape is sure like buying jeans--just a small commute but a big pay off.

"The question is, if you are a physician, do you have to provide services to patients that you think are heinous? And the answer is in this country [is] no, you don't," Kearns [former medical director of the hospital] said.

You see, it's exactly comments like this that really clarify for me why I must stay committed to fighting pro-lifers. You think it's heinous to give a high dose of birth control pills to a woman who has just been raped? What about the rape? What about this woman's life?

Pennsylvania, among other states, does not require hospitals to adminster medication or treatment to patients, that violates their own religious principles. Look, all I can say, is that if you are dying from a gun shot wound, best be more hospitals in town than a Christian Science one. Who has time to figure out which hospital to go to after a rape?

UPDATE: Here is information on the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies (CARE) Act

Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies (CARE) Act

Please contact your State Representative and Senator today and urge them to co-sponsor the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies (CARE) Act, HB2159 in the House, and SB990 in the Senate. Find my legislators.

See Sample Letter to Legislators.

The CARE Act would require hospitals and healthcare facilities to:

  • Inform victims of sexual assault about emergency contraception
  • Provide emergency contraception to victims upon request, and
  • Inform victims about local rape crisis center services and hospital accompaniment.

Emergency Contraception (EC) is a safe, effective way for women to prevent these pregnancies from occurring and avoid the additional trauma of an unwanted pregnancy. EC is not the abortion pill known as RU486.

  • More than 50% of Pennsylvania hospitals do not provide EC to victims
  • An estimated 25,000 sexual assault victims become pregnant each year as a result of their attack
  • 84% of Pennsylvanians support rape victims having access to Emergency Contraception.

Because most women in Pennsylvania have not heard about Emergency Contraception (75% according to a recent study), most victims rely on emergency health care providers, who are truly the first point of medical contact for sexual assault victims, for this vital information.

The Women's Law Project urges you to take action by contacting your Pennsylvania State Representative and Pennsylvania Senator to support the CARE Act. Please let us know if your legislators agree to co-sponsor and/or support this legislation by sending an email to:

The Wisconsin Lawmakers need a Critical Thinking Course

Thomas Nadelhoffer has an update on the Barrett case over at Leiter Reports. The LA Times just reported that 61 of the 133 Wisconsin lawmakers demanded that Barrett be fired. What continues to bedevil me about this issue is precisely what Nadelhoffer points out: namely, that the grounds upon which the lawmakers decided to fire Barrett were comments he made to a call-in right wing news program. We have no evidence, yet, that Barrett is "teaching" his hypothesis that the U.S. is responsible for the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11. What I imagine is objectionable to these lawmakers about Barrett's comments is the prospect that he might teach this hypothesis as "fact," and then test students on this in his upcoming course on "Islam: Religion and Culture." Fine. But, he hasn't taught the course and so we don't know if he were to engage in such questionable teaching practices. What he is more likely to do is tell his students what his views are. Is the latter behavior such that the lawmakers should defund the University of Wisconsin? I am not yet convinced, btw, that if he were to share his hypothesis about the twin towers to his class, that he has somehow violated his role as professor.

Let me share a real live example to illustrate my point. Two years ago I invited a Computer Science professor to lecture my class on Artificial Intelligence. This was his area of research and I thought he could really get students excited about the various philosophical and moral questions raised by his work. I photocopied several pages from the textbook I was using and sent them to his office. He read the text and immediately was offended by the anti-religious tone of the author. Unbeknownst to me, my colleague is a committed Christian--of the fundamentalist and evangelical persuasion. And, his lecture transformed into a refutation of the textbook's assertion that "souls" are difficult things to investigate, study, or make hypotheses about since they are not empirical. He continued with a personal tale of what faith in God has meant for his life and why it lead him to make certain decisions etc. He spent his entire lecture time proselytizing. Should the college have put him on notice? Did he brainwash my students? No and No.

Nadelhoffer summarizes the flawed reasoning of the Wisconsin lawmakers as follows:

"It appears the good lawmakers of Wisconsin are operating under the following assumptions: (1) If P says x in public, then clearly P will teach x to her students. (2) If most people believe x is false and P is going to be teaching x to her students, P ought to be fired. The unfolding debate seems to focus on the merits of (2)--which is pretty bad as far as it goes--but we need to be focusing on (1) instead. After all, absent evidence that Barrett will be teaching his students his views concerning 9/11--we have no way of evaluating the merits of the argument the legislators have put forward. "

If the lawmakers use such specious reasoning to defund the University of Wisconsin, then they are setting themselves up for a great deal of scrutiny and criticism if they don't take action against colleagues like mine from Computer Sci.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Stanley Fish is Just Plain Wrong about Academic Freedom

Another "Academic Freedom" case has made the headlines this summer, reminding me that I am soon about to return to the classroom, after my sabbatical, and face off again with students who feel entitled to accuse us of "liberal indoctrination." Thomas Nadelhoffer has already covered this story over at the Leiter Reports. The good news is that the Provost, Patrick Farrell, has stepped in and refused to fire Kevin Barrett. Barrett said that 9/11 was an "inside job" on a right wing news program. These comments, said out of the classroom, were the grounds upon which a Republican state legislator said he should be fired.

Hence, what we are dealing with here is the question of whether or not a college professor can be fired for comments he makes in the public square. Do we have to keep our "professorial" hats on when we enter into public discourse? And, if so, what exactly does it mean to keep our professorial hats on? One can peruse the existing case law on faculty and institutional academic freedom, or turn to Stanley Fish, who has what he thinks is a simple formula for determining the proper limits of faculty free speech are, articulated in his NYT op-ed. Fish's view came as no surprise to me, since he made a similar argument at our own free speech conference. I didn't agree with him then, and surely not now. Let me summarize.

First, what is Fish's argument?:

"In short, whether something is an appropriate object of academic study is a matter not of its content (. . .)

But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply.

It is perfectly possible to teach a viewpoint without embracing it and urging it. But the moment a professor does embrace and urge it, academic study has ceased and been replaced by partisan advocacy. And that is a moment no college administration should allow to occur. (. . .)

There is, in fact, no academic requirement to include more than one view of an academic issue, although it is usually pedagogically useful to do so. The true requirement is that no matter how many (or few) views are presented to the students, they should be offered as objects of analysis rather than as candidates for allegiance.

There is a world of difference, for example, between surveying the pro and con arguments about the Iraq war, a perfectly appropriate academic assignment, and pressing students to come down on your side. ( . . .)

All you have to do is remember that academic freedom is just that: the freedom to do an academic job without external interference. It is not the freedom to do other jobs, jobs you are neither trained for nor paid to perform. While there should be no restrictions on what can be taught — no list of interdicted ideas or topics — there should be an absolute restriction on appropriating the scene of teaching for partisan political ideals. Teachers who use the classroom to indoctrinate make the enterprise of higher education vulnerable to its critics and shortchange students in the guise of showing them the true way."

Shorter Fish: When you are in the classroom, you have no opinions; you cannot advocate for a particular view, rather, you must be neutral.

This is nonsense. However, I will focus on two specific criticisms of Fish's argument: (1) the untenability of the analysis vs. advocate position and (b) the false analogy to judges (to be explained below).

Fish argues that no faculty member should ever let it be known that he or she advocates a particular position in the classroom, because to do so is to indoctrinate. However, Fish's argument assumes that advocating an idea is fundamentally wrongheaded. Somehow, faculty members are suppose to offer up information and let the students figure out what they should believe. If this is our job, then why does anyone pay us to do it? Wouldn't it be more fitting to give all young people a library card and computer connection and let them ferret out what is good, useful knowledge from what is garbage. Since Fish's argument appeals to the ultimate autonomy of the student, it seems rather foolish to have schools anyway. But, as much as Kant's argument in "What is Enlightenment?", inspires me, it simply isn't practicable.

One of the jobs of faculty is to sift through the wealth of information out there and choose what is worth teaching to students. That very first decision--what should I teach?--already has buried within it a kind of advocacy for what ideas count. If faculty teach a variety of viewpoints on a particular issue, it may be to help bolster the better arguments or because on that issue, it is far from clear what the right answer is. In any case, it would be foolish to think that faculty could design courses in which the information offered up was merely for the student to make sense of, and make decisions about, independently from what the faculty thinks is the correct or most likely answer. I would say that the minute a faculty member proposes a course to teach, his or her allegiances to certain ideas are already made manifest. This stance of neutrality towards ideas is silly. How silly this is becomes clearer when we think of what a developmental biologist (like Za) does. How can one expect such an academic to remain neutral on whether or not evolution is the best theory we have for understanding species or speciation? Should Za refrain from defending evolution in the public square? If he were to call into a right wing news station and point out how bad for science funding the Bush administration has been, should he be fired for being a partisan for certain ideas? If he defends global warming is he being irresponsible?

The fact is that being an advocate for certain views is only problematic when either the state finds such views controversial or problematic or other political entities, such as the looney right wing groups that want to censor faculty speech in or outside the classroom. Would Fish have written this same Op-ed piece if the case consisted of a faculty member calling into a news program decrying Dover's decision to teach Creationism?

Now, to my second point: Fish makes an analogy to what judges do:

This restraint should not be too difficult to exercise. After all, we require and expect it of judges, referees and reporters. And while its exercise may not always be total, it is both important and possible to make the effort.

I think the better analogy would be trial attorneys. In the courtroom, you have two passionate legal teams advocating a particular position, and the jury and judge get to make decisions about who made the better argument. Why does Fish think that the role of faculty member is equivalent to the role of judge? Doesn't it make more sense to see faculty as passionate advocates of certain views? And, isn't the entire college experience one in which students confront radically different viewpoints and then sort all of this out for him or herself? Does advocating a position really lead to indoctrination? It seems that Fish believes in the absolute autonomy of students, but then fears that this autonomy is so fragile that we have to restrain faculty members from offering up their own position on matters because it will lead to brainwashing. How can that be when students encounter such a variety of positions and viewpoints during their college experience. SteveG and I don't really agree on a single thing when it comes to Philosophy. We teach totally different traditions, and traditions that are hostile toward each other. Are you going to tell me that if SteveG advocates Analytic Philosophy as the best way to do philosophy, then all students who take his courses will be totally immune to what I have to say?

Look, I just don't get this artificial and untenable distinction that Fish makes. And what I think I dislike the most about it is the power it gives to administrators (a power which Patrick Farrell used wisely) to muzzle faculty if it means that the college will get some negative attention. When I asked Greg Lukianoff, the President of FIRE, what he thought of Fish's comments, he was surprised that Fish would curtail the free speech rights of faculty. And, FIRE is no friend of liberal faculty. So when I would rather have FIRE defend me than Stanley Fish, you know something is messed up!

UPDATE: See Ann Althouse's post on Fish. While she spends more time than I care to on why Barrett is a looney, she has some interesting points about the "process" vs. "substance" distinction that Fish and others make in relation to Academic Freedom.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Before the Love Sickness Fever Breaks

I just finished a murder mystery novel this morning, and it got me thinking about the times in my life I was dumped by someone who I still loved. I might have known that continuing with the relationship was not good for my well-being, particularly if I knew there was no mutuality of feelings. But, alas, the worst breaks ups, even if you are the one that does the breaking up, are those in which you still love the person you are ending things with.

The worst break up I experienced was after I ended a very short lived engagement with someone who was really not good for me, but whom I desperately loved. It took me 2 years--that's right 2 years--to get to a point of normalcy. Before that, every day was measured by how many minutes I could simply forget about the pain. I loved that period in the morning when I first woke up and didn't quite remember that I was still longing for a someone who was gone, and should be gone. If I could experience long periods of time where I was utterly engrossed in my work, or a conversation with a friend, or a movie, I would become even more morose when that spell was broken and the crushing reality of abandonment rushed in.

Unrequited love is truly maddening state of existence. I am not sure that many of our thoughts and actions make any sense to others when we are working through those periods in our life. Our friends grow tired of listening to our woe, to the insane replaying of what went wrong over and over again. We know we've strained them, and yet, against all decorum we beg them to indulge us more.

I also remember, distinctly, when my love fever finally broke. I woke up one morning, drenched in sweat, and heard a bird chirping outside my window. I didn't feel that familiar ache in my gut anymore. It was now a dull memory. It was something that I can still access if I drink too much wine or read some really depressing poetry. But, it's not acute.

What are some of your stories of love sickness, unrequited love madness, and the things you did during those states of existence that you regret? We all have such stories, don't we?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Funny

What wit!

Disconnected and Displaced

[Watch out folks, here comes another pensive post.]

Last night, while I was driving back from dinner, with my friend Emma, I started thinking about how displaced I am in this rural part of Pennsylvania. I am not sure that it is altogether a bad thing, but it does hit me now and again that I live here. This isn't a way station, like the many places I lived in during my education. I own a house, I have laid down some roots, I like my friends here. And yet, as I drove along route 30, from one small town to the next, I couldn't help but feel like an alien to this place.

I have found little oases in these towns, place that remind me of where I come from. I am an urban creature, who longs for vibrant, diverse communities. But, I live in an area where the families go back before the Civil war. People live in their houses, and rarely do you see them pour out into the public square, milling about, enjoying their neighbors. It is hard to meet people in such a place. You feel like you are always on the outside. And, when you dare to cross that threshold, someone immediately reminds you of your outsider status. It is not impossible to live under these conditions. I have adapted by finding my oases. I hang out largely with other faculty. I have recreated the my urban life.

Still, I feel disconnected. I can't shake the feeling that I am passing through.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Let's Hope

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on forgiveness, which solicited some very interesting and insightful comments. I took those comments to heart and started rethinking what it is one is doing when he or she forgives another. One way that my thinking has shifted on this issue is to think of forgiveness less as an act in which we are somehow educating the one who has harmed us. This is where I was hung up. My greatest fear was that by forgiving one who has harmed me, I am somehow sanctioning his or her actions. But to forgive is something wholly separate from moral condemnation or even moral education. To forgive is, I now believe, about healing yourself.

The energy we expend in fueling our moral condemnation and approbation of others could be redirected in more productive, fruitful and nurturing ways. Staying angry, trying to control the behavior of Others with that anger, and assure ourselves that we have a right to our righteous indignation because, after all, "look what he/she did to us" is self-destructive. When have any major conflicts been solved by the injured party festering a grudge and rehearsing the list of atrocities? We only continue to give power to the one who harmed us.

To forgive is to move away from the identity of victim. Sure, being a victim has its perks now and again. As victims, we get sympathy from others and our rage is excused as a justified response to sins committed against us. But, victimhood gets old, quick. It hardens us; freezes us in a moment of time. The future is cut off, which means possibilities that are yet unimagined never get imagined. We are prisoners to the past if we choose to maintain our identity as victims.

And yet, we desperately need something to lift us out of our misery, our hurt, our prison. I think what that something is, is grace. I am too agnostic to say anything meaningful about where grace comes from--is it a gift of God, as Christians say? I dunno. I choose not to resolve that particular metaphysical question. What I understand grace to be is an invitation; it's a open door, beckoning us to walk through and into an open future. Grace is hope. Hope is the antidote to anger.

To remain a victim is to abandon all hope. And to forgive is to regain hope. But, we need more than our own resolve to forgive, we need grace.

Let's hope.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

No National Holiday Celebrating a Woman in This Country

Jessica, at feministing, linked to this article in the Christian Science Monitor, on the upcoming 4oth anniversary of NOW. (I am unable to attend this great gala, but would love to hear about how it goes from anyone who does attend.)

What really hit me when I read the article was the following:

"We don't have any national holiday for a woman in this country yet," he says.

The "he" in the quotation is Dr. Seidenberg, a psychiatrist from Fayatteville, N.Y. and one of the first male members of NOW.

I was also pleased with Jessica's comments:

"I do think NOW still serves a purpose in Washington-based organizing and lobbying," says Jessica Valenti, editor of the website "But younger feminists are exploring new ways of organizing and doing their activism. Hopefully NOW will come along with us."

I have to say, however, that I don't think NOW has been very successful, as of late, with Washington lobbying. It is simply impossible to get into Senators offices. And, if you do, you won't see the Senator. I am hopeful that the younger feminists will bring a new energy and intensity to feminist activism. I haven't seen a whole lot of younger women at NOW board meetings or rallies. But, I hold out hope that something will congeal, and soon!

P.S. Which woman do you propose to which we should dedicate a National holiday? Dr. Seidenberg proposes Betty Friedan.

Talk Amongst Yerselves

I am writing people. That is right. I am writing. So, I put the onus on you today to fill my blog with interesting talk, ideas, and discussion. I bequeath this here post: OPEN THREAD. So, get to the comments folks and tell me what's on your mind today.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Patronizing Fondler

Even if you are the German Chancellor, you still are, after all, a woman. And, as such, you are prone to this kind of patronizing fondling. Lindsay is dead right that "Every woman will recognize the guy who sidles up and starts "casually" giving you a backrub without even looking at you, because he wants to preserve deniability in case you freak out." While not exactly the same move, it reminds me of a scene from the old Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn film, Adam's Rib, wherein Tracy gives Hepburn a backrub, which quickly turns aggressive.

Adam: What are ya? Sore about a little slap?
Amanda: No.
Adam: Well, what then?
Amanda: (outraged at him) You meant that, didn't you? You really meant that.
Adam: Why, no, I...
Amanda: Yes, you did. I can tell. I know your type. I know a slap from a slug.
Adam: Well, OK, OK.
Amanda: I'm not so sure it is. I'm not so sure I care to expose myself to typical instinctive masculine brutality.
Adam: Oh come now.
Amanda: And it felt not only as though you meant it, but as though you felt you had a right to. I can tell.
Adam: What've you got back there? Radar equipment?
Amanda: You're really sore at me, aren't you?
Adam: Oh, don't be 'diriculous.' Ridiculous.
Amanda: There! Proves it!

She can recognize the "tone" of the touch immediately. I think a lot of women are attuned to the "tone" of touches. You can tell, for example, that when a man places his hand on the small of your back as you enter a room, it is often to guide you in the direction he wants, regardless of your own desire. I am sure others can think of some more fitting examples . . .

The Neocon Fantasy is Dead

Two motifs--inextricably intertwined--run through much of the blogging about Israel and Hezbollah:

(1) The Neocons are using this 'war' as an opportunity to fight a proxy war against Iran and Syria.

(2) If we get involved in this conflict, we better have real, responsible, open debate, where the press does it's job and gives the American people the information it needs to make the best decision.

The resounding concern is that (2) will not happen (assuming we do get dragged into this) because of (1). The idea is that the Neocons finally have the power to enact their fantasies of an all out war in the Middle East. While most expert bloggers in this area are pretty confident that we are likely to get involved in Israel's war, I, perhaps foolishy, beg to differ. The (liberal) Girl Next Door (LGND) argues, for example, that our involvement would spell a victory for Republicans in the mid-term elections. I don't see it. I am willing to bet that I am still pollyannish about this. But, except for the true believers in Neocon foreign policy--a class of individuals that I imagine is dwindling--most Americans, including Republicans, seem to be increasingly distrustful of this administration. I do think that if Shrub tries to rally Americans behind another military offensive, most Americans will reject it. Perhaps Senators won't at first, probably fearing their electability if they were to dissent from Shrub's foolish foreign policy, but I have some faith that the American people will push back this time. I also think the press will do it's job this time as well. The crushing reality of the disaster that is Iraq seems emblazoned in most peoples' minds. Look, I am not talking about the dedicated Bush lovers. But, I think it's fair to say that most Americans are concerned about us dedicating any more troops or military resources towards an unwinnable war in the Middle East.

In fact, I imagine that if Bush presses forward with this it will hurt the GOP in mid-term elections. Do Americans really want to send more of their sons and daughters to the desert to fight Israel's war--a war likely to have 3 or more fronts? I think Michael Lerner is absolutely right when he says:

While partisans on all sides of this struggle must abandon their fantasy of ultimate justification of their claims, a clear first step is to dismiss the neo-con fantasy of a global war of civilizations, with its accompanying notion that this is the best way to reframe the globalization of capital and American corporate domination of the world as a path to expand democracy and human rights. That fantasy is dead -- the Iraq invasion and subsequent tragedy has removed it from any level of plausibility. Let's not let the neo-cons use the violence between Israel, Palestine and Lebanon as an excuse to try to revive that which ought to be put to eternal rest.

I too think the Neocon fantasy is dead. I know we are far from returning to sanity on issues like Stem Cell Research, Executive Power, Reproductive Freedom, Fiscal Responsibility ad nauseum, but it does seem clear that Shrub's foreign policy (rather lack thereof) has failed to inspire confidence in the American people.

World War III?: Link Roundup

It's irresponsible to be a liberal blogger, like myself, and not pause to reflect on Israel's War, which is hopefully not our war. Before I do, let me give you some links to my "go to" blogs on the Middle East with some sample excerpts to whet your appetite:

(1) Unclaimed Territory(Glenn Greenwald): Openly Debating U.S. Involvement in Israel's War and Is Israel's War Also "Our War"?

We have 140,000 soldiers sitting in the center of the Middle East, and we have had multiple skirmishes in the past with both the Syrians and Iranians as a result of our activities in Iraq. In a climate where the administration's most prominent and loyal followers are urging that we wage war on those two countries, and with the administration itself at least sounding as though they are tempted by the idea, the likelihood of unintentional escalation, or reckless expansion of our war, is extremely high. If that is really a risk which our country wants to take after a full and open debate on the topic, so be it.

But the last thing that ought to happen is a repeat of our invasion of Iraq, where we began an extremely risky and misguided war against a country that wasn't threatening us without meaningful media scrutiny and therefore without a meaningful debate. The debate was not meaningful because objections to the war were stigmatized as seditious or even anti-semitic. That is a mistake that the U.S. cannot afford to make again.

The fact that the administration does not intend to wage war on Iran and/or Syria doesn't mean that such a war won't occur. And if the administration has not committed itself yet to causing such a war, they sure don't appear to be shying away from it either. They surely know full well that they are playing with gasoline near a raging fire, and they appear to be indifferent to the risks, if not actively seeking them. Why that is the case, and whether it is wise, must be topics that are fully open to examination.

(2) Once Upon a Time (Arthur Silber): The Impossibility of Discussing Anything At All and The Danger Spreads and It's Much Later Than We Think: Why It Is Not Our War

JUST TO ADD: I didn't state this earlier, primarily because I consider it so painfully obvious. There is an alternative to this increasingly out of control spiral of events. If the Bush administration wanted to, they could bring all the pressure at their disposal to bear on the various parties involved -- which pressure is fairly monumental, it should be noted -- and arrange for an immediate cease fire, to be quickly followed by intensive negotiations. The negotiations might not work in the end, but at least a period of reprieve would give everyone a chance to catch their breaths, and reconsider where this path is leading.

Of course, that assumes that peace, and not war, is the administration's objective. Since we invade and occupy countries that never threatened us, and because this administration has all but interred diplomacy for good, the evidence is now close to absolutely conclusive that this is not, in fact, the administration's aim.

(3) Hullabaloo(Digby): In Plain Sight

I think we all know his name is Dick Cheney, original signatory of the PNAC and the man who stated baldly that he came into office with ideas about executive power and America's place as a sole superpower that he's been percolating since the late 70's. Cheney has been playing a long game, much longer than anyone else in the administration. Like a shark, he is single minded, focused and relentless. By his standards, and the standards of his multi-national corporate and neocon theorist patrons, he has been tremendously successful so far. They do not see the dangers staring them in the face, or if they do they truly believe the risk (and the blood and money) are worth it. They have no doubts.

It's tempting to write them off as a bunch of kooks, but it is their kooky vision that is right now playing out in the mid-east. It's not that they are necessarily directing it, to be sure. But they are always prepared to take advantage of circumstances that advance it. And like all historical leaders of aMarch of Folly they believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that everything will turn out ok in the end.

(4) The (liberal) Girl Next Door: World War III: Good for the GOP, Bad For Everyone Else

I have little doubt that this situation will escalate further and will eventually draw in Iran and Syria. Perhaps the Bush administration is hoping that Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it might also be the perfect opportunity for the Bush administration to do it themselves. They’ve wanted to cripple Iran for a long time, why would they pass up the chance to do it now? Of course it would be a stupid move and disastrous for America if we did allow the violence to escalate into World War III, but as Newt Gingrich pointed out this weekend, it would be great for the Republicans in the mid-term elections. Gotta love those Republicans, always looking on the bright side, or rather looking out for the bright spot for themselves.

And just imagine all the new war money that will pour into the bank accounts of the contractors that have probably stolen as much as they can while using Iraq as a shield, time for a new war. World War III will give them new cover, new no-bid contracts for new munitions, new fighter jets and maybe even some new nuclear warheads. But the cherry on top will be a new lease on life for the Republicans who will be able to use fear once again to keep their hold on power. Never mind that it was their ridiculous neo-con fantasies that brought us to this point, they will still be able to sell their “tough on terrorism” crap to the American public if they convince us that this is the big one. All they have to say is, “Do you really want wimpy liberals who aid and abet the enemy in charge during a war that could likely threaten the homeland?” Hey, it worked like a charm when we were only talking about rogue terrorists, it will work even better if we’re talking about a World War and nuclear warheads pointed at our cities.

(5) firedoglake: Every Bomb Makes Hezbollah Stronger(Steve Gillard)

The problem is that war cannot solve the problem Israel has with Hezbollah. They cannot fight a two or three front war. They need a buffer zone and no more attacks and that will only come from negotiations.

I think that’s dawning on the IDF commanders, that their force has limits, they’ve made their points, and every dead child seen on TV enhances their enemies. It may not be reflected in New York, but the EU looks aghast at this, and it doesn’t help Israel’s long term security

In fact, one might think Hezbollah wanted this attack, knowing the Israelis would react in such a disproportionate manner. One trick in warfare is to get your enemy to act in a predictable way, They knew an ambush and kidnapping would work to do just that.

While a lot of people are reflexively pro-Israel, they don’t get that Israel is being demographically engulfed by Arabs. If they want Israel to last, there has to be peace, meaningful, real peace. There will come a day when the Arabs can resist the IDF and after that, Israel will have no leverage.

(6) Michael Lerner (at Alternet): Middle East Violence: NeoCon's Fantasy

In my books Healing Israel/Palestine (North Atlantic Books, 2003) and The Geneva Accord and Other Strategies for Middle East Peace (North Atlantic Books, 2004) I show that both sides have a legitimate narrative that needs to be heard and recognized by the other side; that neither side will ever prevail through violence, and that each side needs to acknowledge that it has been unreasonably cruel and insensitive to the needs of the other.

Yes, of course it's clear that in the last forty years Israel's had the upper hand and has used its power in an immoral way. But these are peoples with long historical memories, and Israeli partisans are as unlikely to convince Israelis whose families escaped oppression in Arab lands that there was no Arab oppression of Jews as Palestinian partisans are to convince the Palestinians that they never really lived in the homes in Palestine from which they were expelled by the wars from 1947-1967.

Nor are we likely to get to peace by trying to discount the fears of Israelis and Jews who face a stream of violence -- from terrorist attacks to Hamas-launched Qassam rockets to physical assaults on random Jewish people from Paris to Moscow -- than we are to convince Palestinians that Israel is merely being sensibly defensive and exercising its right to protect itself. These kinds of triumphalist narratives must be abandoned.

But they won't be as long as Bush and his advisors in the neo-con camp see in the current violence yet another opportunity to reframe the Middle East struggle as one that will provide ex post facto justification for the war in Iraq and enticement for new militarist adventures to destabilize or overthrow oppressive regimes in Iran and Syria.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Women Cry More Easily, Really?

Lindsay got me thinking about this question today, via her post on Ben Barres (the transgendered Neurobiologist who recently wrote an article on gender discrimination in Nature.) Barres described himself as crying less easily since the operation. The implication is that women (or folks with less testosterone) cry more easily. Lindsay noted that she saw many of her male friends weep after the World Cup. Shit, I was sort of moved by the players' tears after both the Germany-Italy game and the France-Italy one.

I started thinking about whether or not I cry easily. And, well, the answer is yes and no. I find crying nearly impossible to do in my actual life. I have often tried to manufacture tears because I was so embarrassed by what I took to be an apathy or numbness at horrific situations. I attended the funeral of a student of mine, who was brutally murdered, and I couldn't cry. I wanted to; I wanted to after the fact and couldn't. I remember telling a colleague about her murder, and my colleague teared up immediately, which left me in awe . . . I also remember asking a male colleague of mine to read a letter I wrote to an ex after he broke up with me. My male colleague teared up when he read it, and yet, alas I sat their tearless. Now, don't get me wrong. I have cried, particularly when I feel really frustrated or if I feel like someone is abandoning me. But, even in those situations, I rarely cry. I have to be very frustrated and worn down. Just today I had to face the real possibility that my doggie has some kind of serious problem, such as colon cancer, and I couldn't cry. I started wondering if I would cry were the Vet to tell me that my dog was dying.

On the other hand, I cry at almost any sappy (stupid even) melodrama TV show, movie or commerical. Whoever did the research on what music to play or what camera lens and angle to use (or whatever) to make the spectator cry, well, he/she got my number. I am sort of embarrased by how easily I cry in these venues. The only other person I know like this is my mother. Her theory is that this is safe outlet for tears. Perhaps?

But enough about me . . .what are your impressions about gender and tears?

Sick Pooch

Posting has been rather sparse and brief the last few days. My dog is quite ill and I have to take him to the Vet today. I am not sure how bad it is, but he is 7 and has had seizures his whole life. The whole thing is getting me down. So, all of you who are kind enough to read this blog, please keep good thoughts of Marty today as I take him to the Vet. I am hoping he just ate something awful . . .

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Simone De Beauvoir Bridge

How cool is that?

Unfortunately, this bit of reporting undercuts the greatness of this event:

De Beauvoir - the lifelong companion of existentialist philosopher Jean Paul-Sartre - made a name for herself with the 1949 book The Second Sex.

So Sartre was the philosopher and she was the companion? Lame! Btw, the book that brought her acclaim was The Mandarins (she got the Prix Goncourt). She still has not been admitted into the L'Academie Francaise!

Hat Tip: Becky.

A "Fresh" Approach to an Old Problem

Via Pandagon and Majikthise, I discovered this newstory about Ben Barres, a Neurobiologist who had a sex change (from Barbara to Ben) nine years ago. I haven't a subscription to Nature, hence I cannot get my hands on the original piece. However, the WaPo has a write up of Barres' Nature piece here.

A "fresh" (can you hear the sarcasm) perspective on the question, why aren't there as many women in top research positions in science. Here are some choice quotations from the WaPo piece:

"By far," Barres wrote, "the main difference I have noticed is that people who don't know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect" than when he was a woman. "I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."

Barres said the switch had given him access to conversations that would have excluded him previously: "I had a conversation with a male surgeon and he told me he had never met a woman surgeon who was as good as a man."

What a shock? There is actually bias against women in the workplace? You jest? But, why listen to me, afterall, I am a woman. So, if you don't believe what a chick says, check out Ben Barres on the matter.

And, read what Amanda has to say on the matter.

Friday Funny

Via Bitch Ph.D., I bring you this lovely video clip of Jesus Christ, The Musical.

I Need Your Help, Dear Readers . . . .

This feminista is feeling a bit downtrodden today because she can't seem to get into any rhythm with her writing. I have been stuck on my third chapter of the manuscript for quite awhile. I know what I want to say--that's not the problem. I just find the writing extremely slow going and I get distracted in the details (hunting down a citation, rereading a passage from secondary literature, or rereading what I have written thus far to edit). I give up!

What advice do y'all have to help me get over my slow writing phase? I can whip these blog posts out lickety split. But, the manuscript is proceeding at a glacial pace (and not the sort of glacial pace the Al Gore is freakin' us out with in An Inconvenient Truth).

So, if you please, share with this feminista (and all her readers) your tricks for getting more effective writing done at a faster clip.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What Up Slut?

A few days ago a post--wherein I referred to another blog--turned into a discussion of whether or not it is anti-feminist to use the phrase "bitch-slap." Now, I am not sure we settled this discussion, although Hanno made some compelling points about its origins and then asked why using "bitch slap" is any less horrific than using the word "rape," albeit metaphorically. For my part, political correctness always seems rather stifling. Now, I best back up and explain what I mean by that. I don't think we should feel free to use hurtful phrases willy nilly to stereotype and malign groups of people or individuals. I do refrain, perhaps due to my good liberal credentials, from using phrases or descriptors that people will find offensive. It's just plain good manners. If calling someone "black" for example, offends them, then why do it? I have noticed, however, that I refrain from using certain phrases only when I know, explicitly, that they are hurtful to another. Otherwise, I am pretty loose with the kind of slang I am willing to use, even if the words have a really horrible connotation or historical past.

Hanno asks:

"Isnt this a reference to spousal abuse in the first instance, and jail house rape in the second instance? Isn't the 'bitch', as used in this case, a woman more or less owned by someone, or a man who is forced to act like such a woman? Am I wrong, or isnt this prison slang?"

I honestly don't know what the origins are of this phrase, but I am certain that Hanno's account is correct. For me, the question is: does anyone who utters this phrase--"bitch slap,"--particularly if it is feminista like me, using it to characterize a philosophical argument against a wingnut--automatically invoke the past meanings? When I use this phrase, am I necessarily contributing toward a culture of violence against women (and men)? If that is true, wouldn't it equally apply to phrases like "mother fucker," "bitch," "bastard," etc. It's hard to find slang phrases that don't have some violent/sexual connotation. One could choose to refrain from using slurs and slang altogether, and I think that is a legitimate choice. Many of my closest friends never swear or utter such urban slang, precisely because the images that these phrases conjure up for them are horrific. I am, however, clearly unfazed by these same images. Why? In part because I simply don't think of these exact images when I use the words--the usage has changed, the connotation has changed and therefore, I utter them--unfortunately--as easily as any other slang.

This brings me to my point: words/phrases seem to carry different connotations given which linguistic community you are in. If I use the phrase "bitch slap," as a way of describing what I think my brother should do to his fiance when she gets out of line [I WOULD NEVER DO THAT PAM!], then Hanno's point is right on. But, if I use the phrase to describe what Jon Stewart did to Tucker Carlson, does it really put in mind brutal violence against women? It might, however, if I say that X blogger "bitch slapped" Ann Coulter. In this instance, I am sort of reveling in the violence against women connotation, aren't I? Now consider what happens if a misogynist uses the phrase to describe how he handled a female co-worker or girlfriend? Or, what if a gay male fashion designer used it to describe how a model treated him? The fact is that the context of usage and the linguistic community you are in changes, dramatically, what the phrase means and how it comes across.

This leads me to my last observation: how young girls use the phrase "slut." The NYT published a piece--in the Style section--dedicated to decoding what is going on with young girls calling each other 'slut.' The idea here is that older women can use this word--ironically even--and take it in stride. If a self-possessed femininsta, like myself, calls my best friend 'I' a slut--it generally is a term of endearment. We are saying much more with the word than: "you loose, sexually depraved woman." We both know the horrible ways in which this word is used to control female sexuality, and we both reject that move. So, we use it ironically--that is, we obviously don't think that the other is a 'slut,' and use it to deflate the sting it's suppose to give when uttered by some misogynist fuckwad. This sort of irony doesn't always seem to be at play among teenagers, however:

Still, “slut’’ stings much more for girls than for women. Teenage girls get the cultural message that they should look provocative. Their social circles are small, so everyone knows who is doing what with whom. And those who do acquire the slut label have to face up to it daily in school and endure snickers about the very thing girls at that age are most embarrassed about — their sexuality.

“All of our pop icons look like porn stars,” Ms. Rubenstein said. “However they’re all virgins, quote unquote,” she said, referring to Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears. “That’s a very complex message to send to girls.”

For junior high and high school girls, said Leora Tanenbaum, the author of “Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation,” being labeled a slut is still painful and humiliating, despite pop culture’s semi-embrace of the term. Ms. Roxas of said teenagers often inquire about it.

Tanenbaum goes on to emphasize that the double standard--young girls are suppose to tart it up like Britney, but stay chaste--complicates how teenage girls handle the slur. Sure, the social context has a huge part to play in how people experience slurs. But what is equally important is the intention of the one hurling the slur (nice phrase!). If Sandy Dee calls Britney a slut, largely because Britney is more popular and thereby gets more male attention, then most likely her motivation is to sting/humiliate Britney. But, if Sandy Dee and Britney are good friends--partners in crime--then calling each other 'slut,' might be a term of endearment. I doubt, however, that it is said ironically. It's slang among young girls, and slang emanating from the Devil-Wears-Prada fashionista world. So, the origins is this case is most likely sassy gay men.

Alas, it seems to me that phrases take on all sorts of connotations depending on the context of its use and so it seems perfectly kosher to use phrases like "slut" and "bitch slap" without sullying your feminsta credentials. I guess, I just don't like the idea of political correctness, at least in the sense of shaking our fingers at other fellow liberals for using "bad words." The words are only bad if the person intends for them to sting. If a young man says something stupid like--"man, I wish I could get raped," he is not an ass for having used the word rape wrongly. He is an ass for being too stupid to understand that no one would want to be raped and that rape is not equivalent to sex initiated by a woman. So, I think that we need to be on guard for the kind of moralism that often creeps in when evaluating the writings of feministas and such.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

When Are White Lies Ethical?

A former student emailed me today to run an idea by me that she is considering writing her Master's Thesis on. In a nutshell, she wants to refute Kant's argument that any lie is a violation of the Categorical Imperative. Now, Kant makes this argument for epistemological reasons. A lie, for Kant, is an affront to the law of non-contradiction and if we willed any maxim that said "white lies are good in cases where we want to protect the feelings of our loved ones" to be a universal law, then, Kant argues, we would unravel the very conditions of intelligibilty that we rely upon to make any sense.

To challenge Kant's argument against laws, however, need not involve an epistemological argument, does it? Is it really the case that a little fib here and there corrupts all possibility of intelligibility? Certainly not. When I visit my great aunt, and she serves a freezer burned pie and a slightly charred roast, am I threatening the ground of sense-making if I say: "Yes, Auntie, I absolutely loved the roast and pumpkin pie."

These are the sort of white lies that appear to be quite ethical acts. However, one cannot rely upon Kantian ethics to justify why these are ethical lies. (I like that--"ethical lies"--would be a good title). Anyway, one is far more likely to find justification for white lies in the body of work now called Care Ethics. Nel Noddings refuted Kant's duty based approach to ethics, not by claiming that we should do things out of love rather than duty--this would be just a mindless critique. Rather, she argued for "ethical caring." Some of the caring we do for others is "natural," in that it is instinctual or unconscious; we do it perhaps because we are biological beings who instinctually care for our offspring. One cannot use such acts as the model of ethical (virtuous behavior), argues Noddings, for much the same reasons that Kant argues we cannot consider acts done out of inclination to be dutiful. An act is ethical if and only if we do it because it is right, not because we want to or it is easy to do. Kant famously uses the example of the suicidal, miserable young man who, despite his deep inclination to off himself, chooses to live. This is duty. (Oy Vey--if only they had Prozac in the 18th Century!)

Ethical Caring--Noddings rethinking of duty--involves responding to concrete situations, wherein another needs our care, even when we do not feel disposed to care for the other. Why should we care for others?, asks Noddings. Because we value as a people the relatedness of care. If we do not habituate a caring character--that is, we must continually engage in actions that concretely express care for others, particularly when they are vulnerable. By repeatedly doing caring things, we become a caring person, and we demonstrate to others that caring is a valuable and necessary act.

Of course, one must still work out all the details about what is means to care for someone. For example, my graduate professor loved the example from Fried Green Tomatoes wherein Idgie gives the drunk, Smokey Lonesome, a stiff drink to stave off the D.T.s What is it to care for Smokey in that moment? Should she withhold alcohol such that he continues to suffer from withdrawals, perhaps even dies, or should she give him a drink? Now, before answering this question, let me clarify, that you have to tell me what you would do right there in the moment. This is not an abstract question. And, you cannot tell me what should happen ideally. Tell me what you would actually do.

Noddings emphasizes concrete situations precisely to demonstrate what she thinks is problematic with Kantian ethics--it is far too abstract and thereby meaningless. She calls Kantian ethics "masculine ethics," and not in an admiring sense. She writes:

"If I am obligated to do X under certain conditions, then under sufficiently similar conditions you are also obligated to do X. But the principle of universifiability seems to depend, as Nietzsche pointed out, on a concept of 'sameness.' In order to accept the principle, we should have to establish that human predicaments exhibit sufficient sameness, and this we cannot do without abstracting away from concrete situations those qualities that seem to reveal the sameness. In doing this, we often lose the very qualities or factors that gave rise to the moral question in the situation. That condition which makes the situation different and thereby induces genuine moral puzzlement cannot be satifisfied by the application of principles developed in situations of sameness."

Noddings also writes:

"Our ethic of caring--which we might have called a 'feminine ethic'--begins to look a bit mean in contrast to the masculine ethics of universal love or universal justice. But universal love is illusion. Under the illusion, some young people retreat to the church to worship what they cannot actualize; some write lovely poetry extolling universal love; and some, in terrible disillusion, kill to establish the very principles which should have entreated them not to kill. Thus are lost both people and principles."

Hence, Nodding's critique of the abstract, rule-bound Kantian approach to ethics essentially argues that duty is meaningless if can be stretched to encompass such acts as pre-emptive strikes or torture. When we strip away all the important details, urgencies, and relationships between 'the one who cares' and 'the one who needs care,' you end up with a rather vapid moral theory that gives you very little real guidance about what I am supposed to do here and now.

Returning to the original question, can one tell ethical lies? Isn't it right to tell my dear Aunt, whose eyesight and tastebuds are failing, that I enjoyed her meal?

Btw, I would be grateful if some of you who read this and know something about the literature in this area would leave some recommendations of good articles/books on the issues of white lies for my student.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Many Senses of Continental

Against all better judgement, I am going to write a rant against today's post in the Leiter report. I have come to value much of what appears on Brian Leiter's blog, and so it is disappointing to me that he published this ridiculous screed, in which he takes to task a 20 year old for not being a subtle enough reader of philosophy, and, in particular, his works. I would've let it go, if I didn't know what his Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) did to my own sense that I had any business being in philosophy or any hope of future employment. But, when I first read a copy of the PGR, I felt ready to slit my wrists. I had been far too naive at the time to realize that the only hope I had for making it in the world of philosophy, at least according to his standards, was to study with the right sort of folks, all of which resided at Analytic programs. I cannot remember the exact text anymore, but he had written something about feminist philosophy, and in particular, Continental feminist philosophy (my specialty), and begrudgingly approved only of Linda Alcoff, who, afterall had attended Brown (the right kind of school).

I was reading this just as I prepared to go on the job market, already with a few interviews in hand, scheduled at the Eastern APA. When I read the PGR I panicked. I had no idea who had put this together, what the methodology was, but what did come across was that whoever had put this report together, he was the authority on what programs mattered and what programs were a waste of time and money. I had already attended Boston College and was finishing my Ph.D. at Stony Brook in order to work in a department with more women (I could tell you stories about BC when I was there!). I had excellent teachers, classmates, and was given a great deal of freedom at Stony Brook to pursue my interests. I thought I had made a good choice of graduate programs given my interests and Stony Brook's offerings. But, no, the minute I perused (and, yes I mean that literally) the PGR, I was informed that I had very little chance of finding future employment thanks to the low quality of my graduate education. How arrogant! This was all happening at the same time that Alan Sokal had published his spoof of cultural theory in Social Texts. The writing was on the wall: Continental philosophy, or at least the kind of Continental Philosophy taught at programs like Vanderbilt, Stony Brook, Penn State or De Paul, was simply "fashionable nonsense." Alas, towards the end his post, he writes:

"Continental" for these folks does not mean "Continental philosophy," as Ms. Heifetz's spectacularly ignorant remarks well illustrate: she obviously hasn't a clue about the thinkers, ideas, and arguments that constitute the glorious traditions of post-Kantian philosophy in Germany and France over the last two hundred years. "Continental," rather, is more of a non-cognitive term, expressing something like the following: "yeah for left-wing opining about culture and politics, that's philosophy." As readers know, I'm a big fan of left-wing opining, but it ain't philosophy, Continental or otherwise. This juvenile usage of "Continental" is widespread, I fear, among those who are philosophically illiterate but fashion themselves culturally sophisticated.

I quote this text because here Leiter is playing unfair. In most of his post he takes pains to demonstrate why he is a Continental philosopher, why he values it, and who the other Continental philosophers are who sit on his advisory board for the PGR. And yet, here, at the end of the piece, he makes plain where the real source of Ms. Heifetz's muddled thinking comes from, namely, she has invoked 'Continental' in a sort of "fashionable nonsense" way, which is, dear readers, different from what true Continental philosophy is. And true Continental philosophy, according to Leiter, is the stuff that he and his friends do, all of which are people trained at Analytic programs.

I have a hard time believing that Leiter really thinks that he has always been fair-minded when it comes to evaluating Continental programs. Sure, he has been far more inclusive lately, but that was not always the case. I don't think it is unexpected or even unreasonable for a young person to get the impression that he values Analytic programs over Continental programs. I also find it frustrating that he defines what Continental Philosophy is. When you say, for example, that Continental Philosophy is "the thinkers, ideas, and arguments that constitute the glorious traditions of post-Kantian philosophy in Germany and France over the last two hundred years, " how exactly are you clarifying matters? After all, the understanding of the word 'Continental' that he attributes to Ms. Heifetz is surely included in this definition, even if it is "juvenile." Cultural studies falls out of post-modern thinkers like Derrida and Foucault, and both of these French thinkers are post-Kantian. Why does he suggest that some cultural studies work is juvenile, while what he does is the real deal? It seems like a lot of work to not fess up to the fact that he doesn't have a lot of respect for what many Continentally trained philosophers do (assuming that I can fairly call folks who were not trained at largely Analytic programs by the folks he mentions Continental philosophers).

I think I would've respected his post more if he just said, yep, Ms. Heifetz, I think that a lot of what you are doing under the name "Continental" is crap and here's why . . . Because he doesn't, he just comes off as defensive and haughty.

18th Carnival of Feminists at Ink and Incapability

I am quite tardy in linking to this recent Carnival of feminist writing in the femosphere. Enjoy!

Let's Do it For Our Country

I can't believe that SteveG's post today put these lyrics from Grease 2 in my mind, but they did. Go check out Steve's proposal for supply-side feminomics. An intriguing idea, and one that I am sure Steve did not expect to see related to a cheesy Grease 2 song.

Monday, July 10, 2006

For the Record . . .

I love these sort of "bitch slap" posts. Check out Sufficient Scruples schooling wingnut Sharon Hughes on Margaret Sanger.

I'm a Footnote in Wikipedia

Check out this entry on the suffix -inista . Yes, I am footnote #2. I love that Colbert was invoked in this definition as well. Very cool.

Italia Wins the World Cup: What the Hell Happened to Zizou?

Seriously, does anyone know what pissed Zidane off so thoroughly that the did this? Did Materazzi say something heinous? What? It's hard to make sense of this action given how seasoned of a player Zidane is. One of my friends actually switched alliances to Italy after seeing that unprofessional behavior. Still, I have to wonder why when the game was still 1-1 that Zidane would do this, get red carded and then walk off the field. A sad way to end his career indeed.

As for Cannavaro taking his World Cup to bed, boy what I would've given to be that trophy for one night!

UPDATE: Guardian speculates that it was a racist slur. If so, what do you think?
UPDATE #2: Lindsay switched alliances too after Zidane's headbutt.
UPDATE #3: Le Monde considers different rumors about what Materazzi said, e.g. that he called Zidane a terrorist (this article is in French).

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Gender Stereotypes=Good Marketing at Colleges

The NYTimes today has a front page story, which is the first of a series on The New Gender Divide, analyzing why women are outperforming men in college and what colleges are doing or not doing to maintain gender parity. Interestingly, American University has done nothing, and therefore has tilted to a majority of female students. On the other hand, Dickinson College--one that I know well--has put a great deal of effort into recruiting more men and admitting more men (who may not be as qualified as the women) in the name of "diversity."

I have written before about the issue of admitting more unqualified men to college in the name of gender parity. I am not sure I have anything fresh to say about this piece, other than to reflect a bit on the strategy of Robert Massa, Vice President for Enrollment at Dickinson College.

Robert Massa, vice president for enrollment, began campaigning for more male students shortly after he arrived at Dickinson in 1999 and discovered that only 36 percent of the incoming freshmen were male and that the college had accepted 73 percent of the women who applied, but only 53 percent of the men.

Dickinson adapted to the growing female majority by starting a women's center, adding a women's studies major and offering courses on Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf.

In his effort to attract men, Mr. Massa made sure that the admissions materials included plenty of pictures of young men and athletics. Dickinson began highlighting its new physics, computer science and math building, and started a program in international business. Most fundamental, Dickinson began accepting a larger proportion of its male applicants.

"The secret of getting some gender balance is that once men apply, you've got to admit them," Mr. Massa said. "So did we bend a little bit? Yeah, at the margin, we did, but not to the point that we would admit guys who couldn't do the work."

Longtime Dickinson administrators say that at isolated campuses with their own social worlds, gender balance is especially important.

"When there were fewer men, the environment was not as safe for women," said Joyce Bylander, associate provost. "When men were so highly prized that they could get away with things, some of them become sexual predators. It was an unhealthy atmosphere for women."

In education circles, Mr. Massa is sometimes accused of practicing unfair affirmative action for boys. He has a presentation called "What's Wrong With You Guys?" in which he says that Dickinson does not accept a greater proportion of male than female applicants, and that women still get more financial aid.

Where to start? First of all, I hope that the Times sort of screwed up the reporting here. I want to believe that what fuels Mr. Massa is not the fear that fewer men means more danger for women (as Bylander suggests), but rather a need to keep attracting those talented women, who want to come to a college with men they can date. If it is the former, then it is part and parcel of a persistent paternalism among college administrators that I cannot abide (in loco Patriarch!). I can just imagine the pitch to parents:

"Well, as you know, women are outperforming men in high school and therefore are admitted at higher rates to colleges and universities nationally. However, we find that when there is no gender parity, the men who are accepted behave badly to the female students, because, well they can. So, to fix this problem, we are launching a huge campaign to attract more male athletes to campus, with an eye to nurturing better relations between the sexes!"


While I don't doubt that fewer men means that those men can become bigger assholes because they are more prized, it seems like shoddy logic to admit more men to protect the fragile-hot-house-flower women. Are these women more vulnerable in Central Pennsylvania than they are at American University, which maintains gender-blind admissions?

I also find it depressing, which is different than being outraged, that Dickinson consciously features their Physics, Math and Computer Science Programs to attract more men. While it is surely the case that men are still more likely to major in these subjects than women are, it seems depressing to me that they are playing to that strength to get more men on campus, and thereby reinforcing unfortunate stereotypes that these subjects are better suited for men rather than women. I am equally depressed, btw, that Dickinson's response to a higher number of women was to start a Women's Studies minor, Women's Center and teach courses with Woolf or Jane Austen. Is it really true that faculty used the fact of higher female enrollment to justify these programs? No faculty were teaching courses on women's writers before the female enrollment boom? And, if that is true, does that mean the converse is true: namely, that all courses and programs one would find in colleges before women started outpacing men were designed to keep men's interest and attract men to the colleges? So anything pre-women's movement is a relic of a time when colleges competed solely for men's interest?

Finally, if Dickinson is truly concerned about the danger their young women face on campuses with fewer, and thereby highly prized men, then why does reinforcing gender stereotypes actually fix the problem? Do you really want to get more male athletes to improve gender relations on campus? I don't follow the thinking here at all.

What do the rest of you, my male and female readers, make of this new trend story, wherein men are suffering in schools, women are excelling and we think this is a bit of crisis? What is the best approach to better engaging male students?

Above all, is gender parity a "good" in itself?