Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On feeling pretty

Okay, so I'm a tool of the patriarchy.

It's time for me to come out and admit it. I'm a pro-choice, feminist, seventy-percent-of-a-man-doing-the-same-job-earning tool of the patriarchy. I support easily accessible birth control and sex education, I have no problem with gay marriage, I live on my own, I handle my own finances, and I am a tool of the patriarchy. Because I like looking cute, and that is just plain unacceptable.

Being a feminist is a tricky thing, because there's not a lot of wiggle room. In theory, feminism is all about allowing - nay, encouraging - women to make informed choices. We try to provide the information and the freedom to act, we try to counter any negative stereotypes or myths that might keep them from acting the way they feel they should, and then we sit back and let them make the ultimate decision for themselves. It sounds like a nice idea, but there's a catch, and that catch probably falls under the category of "choosing slavery."

I like looking cute. I like it, I do. I like it when my skin is clear and even-toned and glowing and looking healthy. I like it when my hair is shiny. I like it when my boobs stay where they need to and my waist-to-hip ratio hovers somewhere around 0.7. I like putting on those full-ish skirts that are so popular right now, the ones that emphasize the aforementioned ratio and kind of swish when you walk. I love high heels; I love being tall, and I love the way they make my calves and butt look. I like it when my stomach is flat. I weigh myself, and I like it when that number is lower than it was before. Am I a supermodel? Hell, no; this is far from a paean to my own gorgeousness, JackieMackiePaisleyPassey, and it's not a testament to the success of my efforts, because God knows I have body image issues going back donkey's ears. It's just a statement of fact, and that fact is that I'd rather look cute (within my ability to do so) than not look cute, if I can possibly avoid it.

And I do things to make myself look cute. I wear makeup. I use moisturizers and scrubs to make my skin nice, and then I put makeup on top of it. I buy undergarments that put my boobs where I want them to be, and then I buy cute clothes to put on top of them. And high heels. I run in the morning, and I lift weights, and I do situps, and I do yoga and it's not just to look cute - it feels good (once it stops feeling bad), and that whole endorphin thing isn't nearly the crock I once thought it was - but looking cute is definitely one of the reasons I do it.

When I asked, I would tell you that I do these things because I like looking at me when I'm cute. I like looking at me when I look healthy and rested, and when my body looks like I can run long distances and/or fight off an attacker and not like that bag of Soft Batch cookies disappeared in two days (two days). Anthropologists would probably tell me that humans are predisposed to like people who look this way, who look like they have a long life ahead of them and would be able to fight off a sabre-tooth tiger, because these people are less likely to die. Even babies show an innate attraction to healthy, youthful-looking people.

Feminists, however, would tell me that I'm a tool of the patriarchy. Yes, we like youthful, healthy-looking people because we're genetically programmed to do so, but it's the patriarchy that demands that women make efforts to look healthy and youthful. Women who make those efforts are doing so to please men, or to please the women who are their competition for the men. It's all about the menfolks, and I'm kidding myself if I tell myself otherwise.

I only bring this up because I've been reading about it at some of my favorite feminist blogs, blogs that I otherwise love, and it kind of pisses me off. Kyso Kisaen at Punkass Blog does a much-deserved takedown on a woman who openly admits that she wouldn't work out if it wasn't to impress men and that her sense of self-worth is based on looking sexy for the sexy menz. That, however, was brought on by Twisty's post at I Blame the Patriarchy about Nike's new "sports corset" and the fact that the Oprah "empowered woman" doesn't actually exist.

First, the sports corset: I think it's kind of cute. I think the look of corsetry can be a cute one, and a corsetry-inspired workout top could be a cute idea - if it's comfortable. This doesn't appear to be one of those. It looks like it bypasses the appearance of boning and lacing in favor of actual boning and lacing, and I just don't see myself twisting up into Reverse Right Angle with my workout top poking me in the ribs (or, for that matter, running - doesn't one generally try to breathe while engaging in aerobic exercise?). It's a nice idea, but I kind of wish Nike had spent its time designing a no-bounce sports bra that doesn't pinch and flatten instead.

Twisty, however, sees the sports corset as another sign that "empowerful" women (and I'm assuming someone is actually using that word in a non-ironic sense, which is pathetic) are fooling themselves. She asserts, in her post, that women claiming to be empowered and independent who also want to be feminine are just selling out to the patriarchy, seemingly implying that feminity has no part in feminism. She points to the newest Nike ad campaign as an example; it shows Maria Sharapova, looking entirely fierce and take-no-prisoners, on her way to a match, as the music plays (and the people around her sing) "I Feel Pretty." "We women are empowerful enough to be pretty and pretty good at tennis!" Twisty mocks.

First of all, Twisty, Maria Sharapova isn't pretty good - she's seeded third at the U.S. Open and has a 100-decible grunt on the court, so she's rather awesome and hardly some little girly-girl worried about breaking a nail. But you know what? She is pretty. She's gorgeous, in fact, and the one detracts not one tiny bit from the other. No one is trying to imply that she's less of a tennis player because she's pretty, or that she's less pretty because she's a great player. Sure, when you're out on the court, being pretty or not-pretty isn't going to have much of an effect on your game, but if you're interested in being pretty and being pretty doesn't take anything away from your performance, what's the big deal? If your goal in life is to be a top-notch attorney, or journalist, or waitress, or housewife, and you're working toward that goal and you happen to not look like you just climbed out of a dumpster while you're doing it, what's the problem?

I don't entirely disagree with Twisty. The idea, first of all, that today's woman doesn't need feminism is a crock. The gender wage gap still exists. The government is still trying to take control of women's bodies. In business, the Good Ol' Boys club is still firmly in place. This is no time for women to sit back, gaze upon all that has been accomplished by those who came before us, and say, "Woohoo! Work done! Someone get me my crippling stilettos, 'cause mama's hittin' the town tonight!" And yes, I think that shows like Sex and the City that pretty much center around women's hunt for a fantastic guy and a great outfit at the expense of all else, and then frame that as feminism because we finally have the freedom to be shallow, really do throw the feminist cause into a screeching reverse.

But there's a middle ground, somewhere between Gloria Steinem and Sarah Jessica Parker. I walk to work in comfortable, entirely unattractive shoes, because them hills'll kill you and them heels'll tear you up. When I get to work, I walk around the office in heels because they're cute, and I like looking cute. When I pick out my workout clothes in the morning, my first priority is support, comfort, and shock absorption, and my second priority is not putting the black tank with the navy blue shorts. I can churn out a marketing and fundraising campaign that will actually pull the money directly from your wallet, and I'll do it with mascara on, because nothing keeps me from doing both.

Amanda at Pandagon has an ongoing series wherein she debunks the Myths of the Strawfeminist. The Strawfeminist is the man-hating, sex-hating, over-sexed (contradictorily), baby-killing, hairy-legged hippie-woman construct that anti-feminists love to attack when they have no way to respond to the real thing. She's an easy target, but she's a fake. But posts like Twisty's only feed into the image of the Strawfeminist by attacking the significant percentage of women who firmly support feminist values but see no conflict between those values and basic aesthetic preferences.

Torturing ourselves to please men is wrong, flat-out. It's antifeminist, and women have been fighting for centuries to get away from it. Basing our entire sense of self-worth on the opinion of men (or of anyone else, for that matter) is harmful and stunts our growth as human beings. But feminism is about choice, and if a woman is informed about the issues, knows the history behind the advances made for the feminist cause, is secure in her sense of self and of self-worth, and still wants to look cute while she Sweats to the Oldies? That's her choice. It's the choice I made, and I feel pretty happy with it.

On awesome, slow-motion-and-backlit-by-the-sunset victories

Okay, so I realize that in every Little League game, one team of twelve-year-olds wins, which is quite exciting. I also realize that in every Little League game, one team of twelve-year-olds loses, which is kind of sad. I also realize that Columbus, Georgia is far from my favorite city in the world, and that I've made some fairly vehement posts to that effect, none of which I retract now.

All of that having been said, this stuff's fairly awesome.

You go, twelve-year-olds.

Monday, August 28, 2006

On generational irony

Okay, so Amanda over at Pandagon heads a lengthy and really (to me) interesting discussion about irony. I, for the record, love irony (in case you couldn't tell). It's the easiest thing in the world to say what you mean; what a challenge it is to say what you don't mean and still have people understand what you do mean. Of course, the challenge comes when irony is so all-pervasive that when, for once, you actually say what you do mean, people interpret it as something you don't mean because they assume you're being ironic. I had a problem like that with a guy I dated briefly; he said that he hated games, so I didn't play any, and he had absolutely no idea what to do with a woman who didn't play games. It almost became, well, like a game. And that's why I love irony.

Of course, the other challenge with irony comes when people don't really understand it but try to embrace it anyway. Take, for instance, the recent Hummer commercials (please). In one of them, a man with a cartful of organic tofu and vegetables gets in line at the grocery store in front of a man with a cartful of manly, manly meat. Feeling insufficient in his manliness, Tofu Guy runs out and buys a Hummer H3 as the tagline reads, "Restore the balance."

Now here's the thing: It's generally recognized that Hummers are purchased, for the most part, by guys who feel that their penises aren't big enough to confirm their manliness. The Hummer is, in a way, it's a prosthetic penis, replacing something that is otherwise lacking. Society recognizes this, and people recently cut off in traffic frequently shout it out of their windows, but no one who has a Hummer is actually willing to admit that he's driving $30,000 worth of compensation. For an ad agency to make an ad that comes out and says, "Men drive Hummers because they have tiny pee-pees" is for them to poke fun at their target market in the ad itself, and for men to respond to this type of advertising anyway represents such a pathetic and pitiful lack of self-awareness that irony implodes, folds in on itself, curls into a ball and rocks itself, sobbing, to sleep in the middle of the kitchen floor.

Irony is not safe for use by children or pregnant women.

But none of that is the real reason that I linked to that post. The real reason is this: I'm kind of stuck between capital-G Generations. With my birthday in the last month of 1980, I am at the far, far, far end of what many consider "Generation X," and some would even move me up a bit and drop me into "Generation Y," a.k.a. "Millennial." The problem? I'm still pretty much stuck in the middle. I remember the Challenger shuttle disaster, the first Gulf War, and a time when the Soviet Union still competed in the Olympics as such (back before a "CCCP" jersey became the ultimate hipster accessory), which are given as factors that separate Gen X from Gen Y and shuffle me into the former. However, I also never got into Nirvana (although I did enjoy flannel) or heavy metal, I've never been tempted to try Ecstasy, and I don't feel I've been so much dwarfed by the Boomer generation before me as stifled and underestimated by just about every person who is more than twenty percent older than me and utterly derisive and dismissive of many people twenty percent younger than me.

It's not fair! I grew up on 80s music and late-70s British techno, I never got into New Kids on the Block, I had two Barbie dolls and the only one I played with was actually named Whitney (she was the brunette, remember, because I thought the blonde looked trashy, and she didn't have a Dream House because she had the home office, and Whitney didn't have a Ken doll - she had a career). I got into MTV early enough to remember when it actually played videos, but late enough to lose interst once it stopped playing videos. I was old enough to want to dress like Madonna but too young to actually do it. And I know that there are many others like me in my generation, or quasi-generation, that lived the way I lived and feel the way I feel. We're lost, a people without a name, not quite X, not quite Y, sure as hell not "Millennial."

No longer.

I will gladly, proudly stand up and declare myself part of the "Snakes on a Plane" generation. This is the very definition of my generation, it's post-post-modernism at its finest, and none of you older hipsters or younger popsters can take that away from me. For serious, AngryKevin.

Friday, August 25, 2006

On asking the right questions

Okay, so over at Sadly, No! we have an article by one Judie Brown, who blames all of society's ills on... something that I haven't really been able to determine from the text of the article, but who goes on to posit that contraception is not the answer.

It really depends, though, on what the question is. If your question is "How is it that I've been trying for months and I just can't get pregnant," it's entirely possible that contraception is the answer. Or, alternately, if the question is "How can I still be intimate with my husband without conceiving a rugrat that we can't afford right now," contraception is a pretty good answer.

But I will concede that there are questions to which contraception is not, in fact, the answer. For instance, Sadly, No! commenter ortho_bob offers the following:

How do you spell phlegm?
What is the capital of Borneo?

I offer, in addition:

What is the fastest land mammal?
When was the original Italian Job released on DVD?
Where is that thing I was holding, you know, the one with the - oh, never mind, found it.
Do you think Idlewild is going to be any good?

What about you? What questions do you have to which contraception is not the answer? What questions do you have that contraception answers quite nicely? I'm thinking that if we can assemble a comprehensive list, we can send it on to Judie Brown and be spared future "kids these days and their rock-and-roll music" screeds.

On the Friday grab bag

Okay, so there's an awful lot of quality out there for a Friday. You'd think bloggers would be slacking off in preparation for the weekend (or in recovery from a Thirsty Thursday, in those towns what have 'em), but no, folks are being just as insightful/cute/clever/insert-adjective-here as they are on any, say, Wednesday. Or Tuesday. But probably not a Monday, because those tend to be a bit more bitter and cynical.


- Doug at Hey Jenny Slater shows us how mean it is to pick on Pluto. And on that note: please take a moment to update your mnemonic devices.

- Bill in Portland Maine over at Daily Kos brings us Bruce Schneier's insight on what the terrorists really want, and how we're giving it to them wrapped up with a bow.

- Also courtesy of Bill in Portland Maine, one Lamontian in Connecticut teaches Joe Lieberman the importance of a Web team that's really on the ball. Better luck next time, Joe.

- It's old, but it's still news: Nicole Richie eats something. And the peasants rejoice.

- Courtesy of zuzu at Feministe, the winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced. Take a moment to wander through this plenteous pool of poorly penned primary paragraphs.

There you go. Amuse yourselves. Go on! Go! What, am I expected to entertain you? Am I a clown? Am I your mother? Go!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

On skills you thought you had

Okay, so holy crap. I've always been fairly decent at parallel parking, but put me in a computer-animated Peugeot and watch me turn into Paris Hilton.

Except not, you know, diseased.

On why you shouldn't marry me

Okay, so despite the fact that I am obviously a high-quality woman, I'm (apparently) unmarriageable to a high-quality man. At least the quality of man who reads Forbes, anyway. 'Cause here's what editor Michael Noer has to say about marrying career women:
1. You are less likely to get married to her.
2. If you do marry, you are more likely to get divorced.
3. She is more likely to cheat on you.
4. You are much less likely to have kids.
5. If you do have kids, your wife is more likely to be unhappy.
6. Your house will be dirtier.
7. You'll be unhappy if she makes more money than you.
8. She will be unhappy if she makes more money than you.
9. You are more likely to fall ill.

And all of these assertions are "backed up" (and yeah, those are finger-quotes) with "evidence" (there they are again) cherry-picked from no fewer than thirteen different articles, papers, and books with no reference given to correlation or methodology. Basically, the Noer found whatever statistics he could pull from whatever source would support his contention that all of these "careerist" women should be home popping out babies and making him his damn supper.

"Just, whatever you do," he says, "don't marry a woman with a career."

"Mikey," I says, "no freaking problem."

For the purposes of his article, Noer defines a "woman with a career," otherwise known as an "spinster hellbeast," as a woman with a college education, a full-time job, and $30,000 or more a year. I'm sure a lot of you guys out there will be interested to know that your current girlfriend, whom you thought was the girl of your dreams, will actually cheat on you, resent you for your salary, not give you babies, somehow cause you to become ill, and not marry you anyway (not necessarily in that order).

Jill at Feministe does a pretty good job of pulling apart Slate's defense of the article, which claims that Noer wasn't being sexist - the headline "Don't marry a career woman" could have meant a lot of things! Note to Jack Shafer: any explanation that starts with "Before my female readers break their nails pounding out angry e-mails to me" is going to end in heartache. Or testicle-ache.

But kindly allow me to explain, on behalf of my fellow unmarriageable careerist eternaspinsters, to Michael Noer and to everyone who might be inclined to agree with him, why he's full of shit:

1. You are less likely to get married to her. Because she can do better.

2. If you do marry, you are more likely to get divorced. Because when she realizes what a schmuck you are, she can afford to get out.

3. She is more likely to cheat on you. Because you're a schmuck, and she can do better. But she'll probably divorce you first.

4. You are much less likely to have kids. Because who'd want to subject poor, innocent children to the parenting styles of Michael Noer? As a woman who wants to have kids someday, I fully understand why a guy might want to have kids someday, but if that's a deal-breaker for you, the trick isn't to not marry career women. The trick is to not marry women who don't want kids.

5. If you do have kids, your wife is more likely to be unhappy. Check the statistics that he gives: it doesn't compare couples with kids to couples without kids, it compares wealthy couples with kids to less-wealthy couples with kids. The difference there isn't the kids, Mikey, it's the money. One of the authors speculated that wealthier women are used to "a professional life, a fun, active, entertaining life." And instead, they marry an editor for Forbes, who's boring as hell and can't even be bothered to change a diaper or...

6. Your house will be dirtier. ... pick up a freaking broom every once in a while. A woman with a full-time job does 1.9 hours less of housework a week? Alas and alack! Maybe it's because she's got a full-time job, dumbass, to subsidize your golf habit. Ever consider maybe grabbing a Swiffer and taking care of those dust kittens yourself? Of course you didn't.

7. You'll be unhappy if she makes more money than you. Sounds like a YP.

8. She will be unhappy if she makes more money than you. Maybe if you weren't such a baby about it (see above re: #7), it wouldn't be so much of an issue for her.

9. You are more likely to fall ill. If you want someone to remind you to wash your behind and take your vitamins, you don't need a wife. You need to stay with your mother so she can "monitor [your] health and healthy behavior." Because most of us eternaspinsters are looking to marry a man, not a toddler.

Now, I realize that there are a lot of you guys out there who are looking for a partner in life, not a mommy-slash-maid-slash-Living-Doll. And to you men, I apologize. Not for this post, but for Michael Noer, and for Jack Shafer, and for the pall they cast on every man who's never said, "You know what? Damn those successful women. They've got too much intelligence, too much self-confidence, and too damn much money. Somebody find me a stupid chick who's completely dependent on me and has some serious self-esteem issues."

Note: In their defense, Forbes did pull down the original shithead article and re-post it shortly thereafter as a point-counterpoint. Whether this was out of the goodness of their hearts or because the entire female population of the editorial board threatened to walk out, we'll likely never know. But we will know that every last one of them will be divorced by year's end, if Michael Noer has anything to say about it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On piling creepy upon creepy

Okay, so re: the John Mark Karr case, is there any way that news outlets can stop showing video of JonBenet Ramsey in her little toddler-burlesque pageant outfits? That stuff was creepy enough the first time around.

Monday, August 21, 2006

On high-quality women

Okay, so this is just... shyeesh. I mean, seriously, yikes. Maybe it's because I've always had body-image issues. Maybe it's because my self-esteem hasn't always been where it could be. Maybe it's because of the good ol' Catholic guilt that's been simmering in me for a quarter of a century (a little more salt, sprinkle it with Parmesan, and it'll be done soon). But seriously... yikes.

Now, I'm not going to say anything about her looks. Fivehead notwithstanding, she's not completely unfortunate looking, and although some blogs have dug up some none-too-flattering pictures of her, hey - I've got some unattractive ones out there, and no one's pretty when they travel.

What I am going to say won't actually be my own words, but the words of a friend. A group of us were out one evening, and Billy (not a pseudonym; some guys in the south actually go by Billy) decided to try his hand with the slim, attractive, well-dressed blonde chick at the bar. But he'd only gotten halfway there before he observed her reaction to the last guy who'd tried to buy her a drink, turned on his heel, and returned to the table, shaking his head.

"Damn," he said. "Ain't nobody that hot."

What he meant, Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey, was that no matter how thin you are, no matter how much money you have, no matter how educated you are, no matter how smart you are, there is a level of bitchiness that cannot be overcome by any level of physical or personal attractiveness. And by Billy's standards (which are also mine), JackieMackiePackiePackie, you are a skank.

Besides, JMPP, you may be surprised to learn that you're far from the only "high-quality woman" out there. Take, for instance, Your Humble Blogger:

- I've got a decent body. My brand-new sofa, purchased and delivered a full ten days ago, has yet to sag or show any sign of IAD (Indelible Ass Denting). And the drunk, psychotic homeless guys who hang around the fountain at Five Points tell me all the time how impressive it is that I have tits and ass, sometimes yelling it at the top of their lungs over and over and over just to make sure I'm aware of their admiration.
- I'm attractive. When I put an ad up on Match.com for three months, I was constantly complimented on my smile by guys who couldn't find a date the traditional way and wanted to have sex with any willing woman they could meet online.
- I'm young - younger than you, even, which means I've got more useful years left in me before my body goes to seed - and what's more, I'm immature enough that any guy who dates me will feel like he's out with a teenager long after I've hit 30.
- I'm intelligent. I managed to neglect two full semesters of high school Calculus due to having Tetris on my graphing calculator, and I still passed with a C. And I've managed to make it 25 years without leaving the house with my shoes on the wrong feet, except for that one time, which totally wasn't my fault.
- I'm educated. I graduated from college with an advertising degree that I am finally, after three years, actually using, which sets me apart from all of the other women my age who have degrees in things like microbiology and particle physics and other things that aren't advertising.
- I'm not independently wealthy, and, oaky, I have a metric assload of credit card debt, but I'm bomb-ass at budgeting and I have a steady income and an enviable shoe-and-handbag collection that, in case of emergency, could easily be liquidated or, alternately, boiled and eaten.
- I'm single and I live alone, so my distinct lack of lover has never had any complaints about my sex drive.
- My interests are widely varied and include automobiles, Days of Our Lives, drunken karaoke, giving my opinions on things I know nothing about, horseback riding, Hugh Jackman with his shirt off, ice skating, knitting, live music, playing the piano, traveling to exotic corners of Alabama, and watching football on TV with one hand in a bowl of popcorn, all of which can be done naked to increase male interest levels and none of which I'm very good at so I won't be intimidating any guys like some people who shall remain nameless, Jackie Mackie Po-Packie.

I myself have no concrete plans for self-improvement because, as you can see, there's nothing left to improve.

And unlike JackaMackaDingDong, I'm not a complete biznitch. I'm not going to go around telling the entire Internets that I'm too good for them and that they don't even need to waste my time. I wait for someone to actually approach me before I brutally shoot them down, explain in detail why they're an insufficient match for my innate awesomeness, and give them an itemized list in letters, numbers, and Roman numerals telling them how they might begin to be worthy of someone almost half as cool as I am.

Because in the end, it's all about humility and being nice to people.

Friday, August 18, 2006

On Michael Chertoff: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so if you don't spend weeks at a time in a plexiglas box suspended over London, you've probably heard once or twice about the sincerely scary terror plot thwarted in the UK on Thursday. You probably heard that the US Department of Homeland Security raised the terror alert level to red for the first time ever. You may or may not have heard that said level was raised only for flights from the UK to the US, you might have heard that the level was lowered a few days later, and you've probably heard that, per the government, the bad guys could still be out there, so don't start feeling safe in your own home or anything.


Michael Chertoff, this Friday Not-Even-Random Ten goes out to you, just for your unwavering devotion to making your administration look good. The sudden discovery of a terror plot that y'all have been onto for months? Genius. A warning that, even though said administration supposedly has five on national security, we still aren't safe and should still be scared that terrorists are going to jump out from behind the bushes and behead us? Genius. Soaking the American people in their own cold sweat until they're appropriately squishy and malleable? Supergenius.

The Ten:

1. Guster, "Airport Song"
2. Basement Jaxx, "Red Alert"
3. Psychadelic Furs, "I'll Stop the World"
4. Ella Fitzgerald, "They Can't Take That Away From Me"
5. Kaiser Chiefs, "I Predict a Riot"
6. Benny Cassette, "Watch Your Back"
7. Garbage, "I Think I'm Paranoid"
8. Elvis, "All Shook Up"
9. Lenny Kravitz, "God Save Us All"
10. Remy Zero, "I'm Not Afraid"

Your Ten, or whatever, go below.

On red alert (it's a catastrophe)

Ain't nothing going on but history.

Okay, so the DHS's terror alert system hit red for the first time ever in the past couple of weeks in the wake of thwarted plans for a terror attack in the UK. Police in England have arrested somewhere around 24 people under suspicion of plotting to blow up as many as ten planes en route to the US. And people who'd been planning on flying to the US on said plans and resented that they weren't consulted before being blown up rejoiced.

In the US, police leapt to similar security measures with a quickness, moving in less than four hours, according to DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, to make security changes that would normally take a couple of week, namely increasing security personnel, banning carry-on luggage, and confiscating all liquids. And while some people did gripe about the precautions (and did you really need to fly with a $72 bottle of perfume, anyway? How long were you gone? You couldn't have packed it in your suitcase?), none of it was anything so terribly inconvenient that it was worth dying over.

Here's the thing about the quickness of the US response:
"It's not like three weeks ago all of a sudden MI5 knew about this plot and went to work," added a U.S. law enforcement official, speaking of the British security service. "They'd had a concern about these guys for some time -- for months. Details started to emerge, and it became clear over the last couple weeks the nature of the threat and the individuals," said the official, who like others interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity.

Now, I'm not saying that the US response was either a) excessive or b) insufficient. As I said, I think they did only what can be expected under the circumstances. And, sure, while it would have been nice if security had been upgraded to detect bombs and bomb-making materials as was suggested four years ago by the 9/11 commission, if you know that people want to blow up planes with stuff in a water bottle, checking water bottles is not an unwise approach.


US and British authorities had been following the plot for months, if not years, before the Brits closed the trap last week. They specifically (and wisely, I'd say) avoided putting out a red alert until after the plot had been foiled, so as to avoid alerting any of the suspects that they were about to get caught.

And the purpose of the red alert after the threat had passed was...?


Yeah, Bush's approval rating before the red alert? 33 percent (AP/Ipsos). And after? CBS, Pew, and Newsweek put him between 36 and 38. Not a huge bounce, sure, kind of margin-of-error-ish, but it gets him away from the "hey, two-thirds of the country think I'm doing a crappy job" line.

I'm sorry, but I'm just so sick of people telling me I need to walk around scared all the time. And in this case, it's ridamndiculous, because the alert level was only raised on flights from the UK to the US. That didn't affect other flights in and around the US, and it didn't affect people who weren't flying. I repeat: People who were walking around on the ground were at no risk of being blown up over the Atlantic. So why is Michael Chertoff telling us to "remain vigilant" and talk about changing US laws?

Because we're easier to handle when we're scared.

And I'm just not going to do it anymore.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On toddlers at nasty movies

Okay, so on Saturday, Doug and I went to see Clerks II. It was a blast, and our mother will be disgusted to know that we had a great time (which is as good a time as any to throw in a disclaimer - this post is not for the faint of heart and may contain material inappropriate for readers under the age of 17 or over the age of 40). As a matter of fact, one of the funniest moments of the evening was when the movie started and we discovered that the theatres had switched movies. We were watching You, Me & Dupree. Which meant that somewhere, in some other theatre, some young teen dragged her boyfriend to see Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon, and instead got a discussion of the hygiene involved in going ass-to-mouth.

Once the theatre got the films sorted out, our movie included:

- Jay in full-frontal Silence of the Lambs Buffalo Bill nudity
- a discussion about the size of a character's clitoris
- plenty of masturbation
- "Eat Pussy," spray-painted in eight-foot letters
- born-again drug dealers
- man-on-donkey sex
- sixteen uses of the aforementioned phrase "ass to mouth," particularly pertaining to that activity with seventeen-year-old girls
- the consumption of a soda with ice from a urinal
- a good five or six minutes exploring the broad available range of racial slurs for those of the black and Jewish persuasion.
- lots, and I mean lots, of f-bombs, including multiple repetitions of "pickle fucker" and extensive exposition on exactly how the nickname came to be
- other naughty, naughty language
- a toddler and a six-year-old

And yeah, those last two weren't in the movie. The toddler, at least, after pitching a screaming fit during the previews in the row right behind ours, fell asleep peacefully in her mama's lap. The six-year-old (or so; I'm assuming) boy, however, stayed wide awake throughout the entire R-rated movie, laughing loudly at parts I hoped to God he didn't understand and feared he did.

The question can be raised: How young does a child need to be before he learns about ass-to-mouth? At what age should come a child's first exposure to "interspecies erotica"? Is age six old enough to learn about eating pussy and the wide variety of clitoral sizes? Does a child of that age have the common sense not to go to school, drop the f-bomb, and then call his teacher a "porch monkey"?

Now, as an avowed liberal, I'm all for the existence of movies like Clerks, Clerks II, Dogma, and every other movie of slightly-off-color humor in the View Askiew pantheon. I think that, just like with violent video games and porn, there are people who are able to watch horrific violence, unconscionable objectification of women, and things done with the human body that human bodies were never intended to do, and come out of it recognizing that some things are done for shock/entertainment value and that such behaviors are not to be admired or emulated.

Six-year-olds generally lack that kind of self-awareness.

Get a babysitter, Mom.

On why Israel doesn't want Pam either

Okay, so read this gently, when there aren't small children around, and preferably not after a large meal or any amount of alcohol. Wait, no, on second thought, starting with alcohol might be a good idea. Atlas Pam certainly did. And does. And continues to.

I'm not Jewish, and I can't speak for people who are Jewish, but I can say this: If Pam were Catholic, and she was defending some kind of Catholic homeland with the gin-soaked, terrieresque ferocity that she devotes to her defense of Israel, I would be so deeply ashamed. I'm fairly sure I'm not capable of having someone knocked off, but I might consider having her chloroformed and tucked away in a nice closet until the conclusion of the conflict.

Pam, buttercup, baby, what have we learned?

Do better next time.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

On victim-blaming: a reexamination

Okay, so I know I've kind of beaten this subject to death, and I also know that the vast majority of my readers (if such a population could be described, even in part, as "vast") already understand the dangers of victim-blaming. But I had an experience last night that I thought might be illustrative, and I wanted to share.

In preparation to move into my stunning new apartment (an event which will happen today, of all days, and not in a week as the movers had suggested was possible), I hit up Target for a few necessities like toilet paper, milk, and, among many other things, this great (and great big) five-shelf bookcase. This mama was heavy as sin. And while Big Bro was kind enough to help me wrestle it into the building, I was still on my own to get it to my apartment while he found a parking place.

A nice-enough looking man was in the lobby with me at the time, and pointing out that I'm comparatively small and that he could just throw it over one of his shoulders, he offered to carry the bookcase to my place if I'd carry his CD cases for him. My thought process went something like this:

1. Damn, this is a heavy bookcase, and I know it'd be a struggle to drag it to my apartment.
2. I don't know this guy from Adam, and I don't know if I want him knowing where I live.
3. Right, sure, like I'm this hottie who's on every man's "Top Ten Women I Want to Rape" list.
4. Rape is a crime of violence, not of sexual desire, and I don't know this guy well enough to know that he's not a rapist.
5. Only about five percent of guys actually admit to having raped someone, and I don't know that this guy isn't a rapist.
6. And if he's part of that five percent, I could well be the next victim.
7. Damn, this is a heavy bookcase.

Figuring that he'd at least be at a physical disadvantage with a ten-ton bookcase on his shoulder, I decided to take my chances and got into the elevator with him, warning him that I'm a very suspicious person by nature and that I fight like a tiger when I feel threatened. When we got to my floor, I had him deposit the bookcase in the hallway right outside of the elevator, thanked him graciously, and waited for the doors to close before I dragged that behemoth down the hall to my apartment, feeling like a bitch the entire time for being suspicious of a guy who was just trying to do something nice for me.

But, see, that's what women have to deal with. We're socialized and conditioned to always be sweet and polite and smile really big and say please and thank you. Being nice is still a societal requirement for femininity. But that niceness tends to be at odds with any real sense of self-preservation, and I recognize now, as I did last night, as I did in the lobby of my building, that I was taking a chance by being nice and polite to that guy who, in the end, turned out to be nice and polite himself.

Here's an alternate storyline for that night: Same situation. Same bookcase, same thought process when he offered to help. But instead of having him drop the bookcase off in the hallway, I had him bring it into my apartment for me, at which point I learned that he was part of that five percent, and he brutally raped me. Or maybe he even dropped the bookcase off and was perfectly polite about it, then came back up around midnight, broke into my apartment, and did it then.

And here's what people would have said afterward: "What was she doing, letting a guy like that see where she lived? My six-year-old knows not to talk to strangers. This isn't a safe world we live in. Men can't be trusted. They can't be counted on to have self-control. Women need to be looking out for themselves all the time, because one stupid mistake like that is all it takes to get you in trouble."

And that is why telling women how not to get raped, and ignoring the entire rapist's side of the equation, will, in the end, do nothing but teach women to stay home every night, scared, with a locked door and a baseball bat close at hand. It's not even a matter of freedom to go out and get drunk on a Saturday, or wear a miniskirt in public; it's a matter of being able to be polite to my neighbors without wondering if I'm doing something stupid. We need more men like the nice guy my neighbor really is, and not like the violent rapist he could have, for all I knew, been. And that, rather than trying to make women appropriately afraid, is how we can prevent rape.

Friday, August 04, 2006

On Bleu Copas: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so I hate to laugh at this, because this is a real person who was outed and lost his job (not to mention the fact that the Army doesn't exactly have Arab linguists to spare). But the whole "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is such a joke anyway. And in the story of Bleu Copas's dismissal from the Army under said policy, two things caught my eye:

1. The dateline is Johnson City, Tennessee (Doug, Bill from JC, w00t!).

2. Their paragraph, my emphasis:
On Dec. 2, investigators formally interviewed Copas and asked if he understood the military's policy on homosexuals, if he had any close acquaintances who were gay, and if he was involved in community theater. He answered affirmatively.

Not even kidding.

They could tell he was a thesbo a mile away.

And that's why this Friday Not-Even-Random Ten goes out to Bleu Copas. In all seriousness, man, I hate it for you. That stuff's just unfair. It's not right, and it's not okay, either.

Of course, now it makes me question that whole thing with the guy who played opposite me in No Sex Please, We're British in 1999...

The Ten:

1. Tom Jones, "Sexbomb (Peppermint Disco Mix)"
2. Joss Stone, "Fell In Love With A Boy"
3. Maroon 5, "Secret"
4. Billie Holiday, "Ain't Misbehavin'"
5. Mono, "If You Only Knew"
6. Original Broadway Cast of Avenue Q, "If You Were Gay"
7. Elvis, "Suspicious Minds"
8. Jump, Little Children, "Hold Your Tongue"
9. The Killers, "Somebody Told Me"
10. Dixie Chicks, "Everybody Knows"

Your Ten go below.

On the apocalypse, nowish: Redux

Okay, so with all of the apocalyptic talk surrounding the conflict in Israel and Lebanon right now, I was reminded that I've been negligent in my duties as Official Apocalypse Watcher. As of March 25, 2005, the Apocalyptic Index sat at 50, with ten of the twenty signs (as revealed in the book of Revelation) readily apparent.

But what new developments have occurred in the past year? In the past months? Are we really that much closer to our final reward? Let's look, shall we?

Signs from the seven seals of the apocalypse
5. Persecution of God's chosen people

See, that's a tricky one, because it's never been established with any sort of finality exactly which people God has chosen. Plenty of groups claim to have been chosen, but which one actually has the big, holy seal of approval? God wouldn't choose several peoples, would he? That's just silly.

Regardless: The Jews were referred to as "God's chosen people" pretty much throughout the entire Old Testament, and it's pretty obvious that they've 'ad an 'ell of a time. Even outside of the Holocaust, they're forced to devote a good deal of their time to not getting blown off the map entirely. Hezbollah. Hamas. Egypt. Syria. Mel Gibson. This People can't buy a break.

But the Jewish people don't have a monopoly on persecution. The people of Lebanon, for instance, are taking quite the beating for the actions of Hezbollah right now. For that matter, the people of Iraq are taking a beating for the actions of Sunni and Shiite militants. The people of Afghanistan are persecuting each other. Every Muslim in existence is getting persecuted by Ann Coulter. Whether or not Muslims are really God's people, they've definitely got an argument for persecution.

Christians! Man, Christians'll tell you that everything is persecution. The existence of gays. The Spring Bunny. The Vagina Monologues. The IRS. Brokeback Mountain. Jesus said, "You will be persecuted because of My name," and by gum, they're going to find that persecution if they have to make it up themselves.

Women. Gays. Buddhists. Wiccans. People who do yoga. Whether or not you even claim to be Chosen By God, chances are you've been persecuted, and that makes it easy to declare this apocalyptic portent officially fulfilled.

Celestial signs
8. Moon turning red

It's called a Harvest Moon. This one was taken in Albany, Missouri, but we had ours in Birmingham about two weeks ago. Big, fat, red, right next to the horizon, totally portentious.

Destruction of the earth
14. One-third of the sun, moon, and stars will go dark.

This one is hard to call. This year, we've got one full solar and several partial solar or lunar eclipses planned this year, as well as the Transit of Mercury, which may well blot out some of the stars (although whether it blots out a full third of them, we don't know). I'm calling this one too close to call, but it's definitely something we'll want to keep an eye on.

16. One-third of mankind will be killed.
We're working on it.

18. The Beast will emerge from the Abyss.

Heh heh heh.

So, all told, it looks like we've moved up two steps from 10 apocalyptic omens to 12 out of 20. That brings us up to an Apocalyptic Index of 60, putting us ten points closer to the Rapture, when all of the Talibangelicals will get pulled up to heaven and the rest of us will have our pick of their cars.

Today's Apocalyptic Index: 60

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On blaming the blameworthy

Okay, so there's an interesting discussion over at Pandagon and Feministe inspired by the horrible murder of Jennifer Moore, an 18-year-old New Jersey girl who was out partying with a friend in Manhattan and was abducted, raped, beated, choken to death, and left in a trash can.

The murderer, Draymond Coleman, had more than 16 prior arrests, some of them for violent offenses, and was described by one source as a "small-time pimp." He was 6'1" and 240 pounds to Moore's 5'2" and 105. And yet what we hear about - and not just from people like Michelle Malkin, but from supposedly-feminist commenters at blogs like Feministe - is how irresponsible it was for Jennifer Moore to be out drinking, and how if she'd just done X, she might still be alive today.


Maybe she was out drinking under age. Maybe her friend parked illegally and got her car towed. Maybe she was wearing a short skirt and a halter top. Maybe she was wandering around alone after her friend passed out and was taken away in an ambulance. Maybe she called her boyfriend, instead of calling the police, when she found herself being stalked by a drugged-out psycho. Maybe she would have been safer on the street (with the psycho) than in a cab (with her eventual murderer). Maybe she wouldn't have been.

Draymond Coleman abducted her, raped her, sodomized her, beat her, choked her, and put her in a laundry bag, and when it turned out she wasn't dead, he opened the bag and finished her off.

How is there a thing a girl could do to negate even a tiny bit of his responsibility? What can a person possibly do that would make Coleman's actions even the slightest bit understandable?

And if they are completely, utterly, and entirely inexcusable, if there's nothing that she could have done to have deserved such a fate, if Draymond Coleman is, in fact, an evil, wicked, inhuman animal not worthy of breathing free air, why are we talking about "what she could have done to avoid it"?

Here's a tidbit that might be news to some of you guys: Most women know the rules. Now, there are a lot of young women, teens, tweens, some college girls, who might not have gotten the lecture, and they certainly need to hear it, because it's all good advice. But pretty much every woman over the age of 18 has heard it at least twice: How to Be a Good, Modest Young Woman and Never, Ever, Ever Get Raped. Don't show skin. Don't go out alone. Watch the bartender like a hawk when he's making your drink, and keep your drink covered thereafter. Don't walk at night; call a cab (like the one that Draymond Coleman was in, perhaps). Take self-defense classes. Carry Mace. Don't talk on your cell phone. Talk on your cell phone, so that potential attackers know they'd have a witness. Act confident. Act crazy. Take the fastest route home. Don't take shortcuts.

We don't need to hear the list. We've heard the list. We've heard it, and we know that while it's good advice, it's stupid to think that following the list is a surefire guarantee of our safety. Jennifer Moore got into a cab to escape her stalker; her murderer was in the cab. Any precaution that a woman takes becomes meaningless if she gets raped anyway; all people do is list the stuff she still got wrong. The only absolute surefire way to avoid rape is to stay in your steel-walled panic room, wearing a chastity belt and footie pajamas, surrounded by a team of eunuch bodyguards, and honestly, it sometimes seems like that's what society expects of women. It seems like any deviation from those circumstances is "just asking to be raped."

Let's work on a brand-new assumption: the assumption that, just like men, women sometimes make poor decisions, but that we're not complete and utter idiots. And from that assumption, let's move on to another assumption: that in a world where rape doesn't happen, chastity belts and eunuch bodyguards aren't necessary.

I've seen the same comment posted by several different people on this subject, and I kind of liked it:
I went to a bar looking for anonymous sex, got drunk, met a man, agreed to have sex with him, went back to his house, went into his bedroom, took off my clothes, proceeded to become intimate with him, changed my mind, and the only reason I didn't get raped... was that he wasn't a rapist.

Most of the guys I know are guys like that. Most of the guys I know would never have the slightest inclination toward violent rape and have been raised well enough to avoid even the risk of date rape. But then, I only hang around decent guys, and I know that all guys aren't decent. Some guys, some Draymond Colemans, some Orange County rapists, are far from decent. And whether or not it's society's fault that guys like that exist, it's society's responsiblity to keep them from terrorizing innocent people.

Now run with it. I particularly want to hear from guys, because no one knows a guy like another guy, but women are absolutely encouraged to chime in as well. What can we, as a community, do to create a society where men don't rape? Is anti-rape education necessary? Do we need to objectify women less, in terms of advertising and adult entertainment, or is women's equality a more effective goal, in terms of reproductive rights and gender bias? How can we encourage the court system to take rape accusations more seriously? How do we make a world where Jennifer Moore can walk down the street in whatever she wants to wear, get into a cab, and not be a headline the next day?

Note: I am, as a rule, completely against censorship. I don't censor, delete, edit, or otherwise alter comments from my threads, because I like the idea of having a forum where anyone can express an opinion, even an unpopular one, freely. But on this comments thread, and only this one, victim-blaming comments are getting deleted. I'll even go so far as to start an open thread just for victim-blaming, if that's what you really want to do. But I'd like this one to turn into a thoughtful and reasonable discussion of how we can put down the rape culture in our society, and if all you want to do is talk about how Jennifer Moore shouldn't have been wandering around drunk, we've heard it, thanks, you're out.

For the rest of you: What can we do to cut down on the rape culture in our society? Your answers, and I really do want to hear them, go below.

On world leaders and movie lovers

Okay, so it looks like I'm not the only person who sees "Middle Eastern struggle for democratic self-determination (and for life itself)" and thinks "sci-fi." Israel's own Benjamin Netanyahu references the 1979 movie Alien for the purposes of the following analogy:
The 1979 science-fiction thriller starring Sigourney Weaver depicted "alien ferocious bodies that plant themselves in a host and lurch out, burst through the chest, and attack the person next to the host and in doing so, kills the host", Mr Netanyahu told Canadian broadcaster CTV from Tel Aviv.
"Hezbollah is the alien body and Lebanon is the host," he said.

"And the mother alien, if you will, producing these poisoned eggs, is Iran, with its way station to Syria."

Israel would be the bystander struck by the alien monster, he implied.

"If we're going to have a future of peace and good neighbours, a future of tranquility, then this alien ... it's got to go," he said.

I think it's a pretty good one, as sci-fi analogies go. I particularly liked the implication (unintended as it might have been) that, like Sigourney Weaver in the movie, Lebanon is an unwilling host that wants that creepy alien spawn out of its abdomen as much as anyone else would.

This introduces a couple of challenges. The most obvious one, the one that Israel and its allies are struggling with quite publicly, is the challenge of eliminating the alien spawn without injury to the host. And while, in the movie, only Ripley's life would be lost when the little bastard came busting through her chest wall, there are thousands of innocent people in Lebanon who are getting it both from Israel and from Lebanon.

The other challenge, a bit trickier, involves maternal instinct. Not from the mother alien (Iran), of course; I think it's safe to say that, while Iran has harbored, trained, and supplied Hezbollah, it also has no desire to fight Hezbollah's battles. I don't see Iran shedding blood for Hezbollah, and should (God willing) they be routed, I think that Iran will likely just say "Meh" (or the Farsi equivalent of "Meh") and go off to deposit a few more creepy alien pods. But Hezbollah has offered protection to some villages that have been or are at risk of being ravaged by the conflict, and there are Lebanese (though they are in the minority) who would rather have the support of Hezbollah than have no support at all.

What's comforting is that, just over a year ago, the people of Lebanon were able to work together to drive out the Syrian occupation. Right now, their situation is a bit more delicate; the people of Lebanon are scattered, injured, separated and really pissed off about what's going on, and they're literally getting it from both sides as Hezbollah uses them as human shield and Israel, having every right to defend themselves against Hezbollah's ongoing aggression, shoot right through them.

As in so many fragile situations in the region, the Lebanese will only be safe when they are able to regain self-rule, drive out the militant wing of Hezbollah (if not Hezbollah in its entirety) through force of will, and try to regrow the post-Cedar-Revolution society they were working on back before any of this happened. But that can only happen if they're not getting shelled to hell and back by everyone within missile range.

Call me a wide-eyed optimist, but I think the best thing that could happen, in terms of diplomacy and minimal collateral damage, would be for the Israeli government to become an advocate not just for themselves, but for the innocent people in Lebanon. It might take some gritting of teeth and wide, unconvincing smiles, but there's an opportunity to regain "good guy" status here. Make a concerted and public effort to avoid civilian targets during bombing runs. Use recent ground incursions as an opportunity to provide aid and even, if it can be managed, an escape route for those still trapped in Lebanon. Israel has to put itself out to actually help the people of Lebanon if it wants to make clear that Hezbollah, and not innocent Lebanese villagers, are their real targets.

And if that's not something they want to make clear, if that's not an actual priority for them, then their allies need to rethink their support. Because the concept of self-defense includes the concept of reasonable force, and that's a concept that doesn't involve dozens of women and children buried under the rubble of their homes. And when the dust clears and Hezbollah is gone, Israel will still have to deal with whatever bits of Lebanon are left behind. Both Israel and Lebanon can survive this conflict, but it requires the use of both reasonable force and discretion.