Monday, June 29, 2009

On headache and heartache - spoileriffic

Okay, so "heartache" might be a bit dramatic. But disappointment is definitely there. I saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Thursday at the McWane Center in staggering IMAX. And I suppose I should see it again in standard theatreview before I make a judgment, since I only really caught the center third of the movie and had to crane my neck to see any action to the sides. But a few things, a few chunks of plot - or lack thereof - still came through, and... ugh.

Ten reasons the best part of "Beer, Barbecue, and Autobots" was the beer and barbecue:


1. The lurrrv. Did anyone particularly care about the romantic subplot? I sure didn't. It seemed kind of shoehorned in there, almost as a salute to the first movie but without any purpose of its own in the sequel. The relationship itself was one of those that seemed to be based on shared dramatic circumstances with no other real foundation than a mutual love of cars. So when they're worrying about maintaining a cross-continent relationship in the beginning, I didn't particularly care if it was going to work out; I was more affected by Sam's tender breakup scene with Bumblebee. And then he's getting the eye from the blonde chick at the party, which didn't, to me, represent any kind of legitimate threat to his existing relationship because obviously a chick like that would have no interest in a guy like him without some kind of ulterior motive. And then Mikaela flies over - announced - and wigs out when she finds him getting sexually assaulted by an alien robot in his dorm room, completely ignoring the glaring facts that a) knowing that his girlfriend is going to show up any second, he's probably not going to choose that moment to initiate a makeout session with some other girl, and b) as mentioned above, a chick like that is almost certainly not into him for the smoothness with which he dramatically flipped out in astronomy class. And then, even after the true circumstances behind the assault are made strikingly clear, she continues to bitch at him about it.

And then, of course, we come to the scene where as he lies at or near death in the sands of Egypt, she finally realizes what she's lost and utters those three words she's been holding back for so long. Because without him, something would be missing from her life, and that something is... something. It's left to our imagination. Twoo wuv. Four years of Web chats. Long-distance jealousy and mistrust. I commended the first film for its avoidance of the hackneyed pause-to-kiss-in-the-midst-of-battle, but Michael Bay made up for it in this one with the hackneyed dead-guy-revived-by-the-power-of-love (and, to some extent, the power of ancient alien robots).

Verdict? An aside stapled into the movie to entertain the girlfriends while their guys ooh over the explosions and oogle a sweaty and dirty Mikaela. Thanks, Michael Bay.

2. The family subplot. Again, it felt like something shoehorned in to add depth to the movie but ultimately just added... stuff. Sam's mom spends the first half-hour of the movie hysterically weepy (when she isn't stoned) about him leaving, while his dad has a single not-quite teary quasi-moving moment in the front yard of their house. We don't see them again until they're kidnapped halfway through the movie, and then Bumblebee rescues them, and then Sam is comforting his dad and telling him he has to let go, and his mom is the voice of reason, like Pop is the one who's been clinging and peeing himself over Sam's departure all this time. Plot continuity, thy name is someone else.

3. The characters. Was anyone able to find any? You'd think that, having had to lay down a lot of groundwork in the first movie, the filmmakers would have capitalized on that, made the most of familiar characters, and explored a little bit of backstory and motivation. Yeah, I know, I'm an idealist. Instead, we get the standard introduction of tons of new characters in the interest of tons of new merchandise. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee had to return, of course, but O.P. gets whacked early on and Bumblebee hardly makes an appearance - especially in robot mode - after getting dumped at the beginning. Jazz was, of course, whacked in the first movie, so he wasn't coming back, but Ratchet returns to deliver, what, all of one line? And apparently, Ironhide is in it, but I had no idea. I don't remember seeing him at all.

Instead, we get a cast of underdeveloped, unknown Autobots who apparently only show up for battle scenes and dramatic establishing group shots. We get Sideswipe, who rollerblades, and Jolt, who does something with whips. We also get Jetfire, a geriatric, crotchety, British-accented SR-71 Blackbird who grew on me and actually brings a lot of the funny before it becomes apparent that he was brought in purely to die and provide spare parts for Optimus Prime's dramatic resurrection.

Who do we get a lot of? Mudflap and Skids, two characters that start out as a single pink and white multiple-personality ice cream truck and turn into two cars to deliver a dose of the funny as the Black Gay Stereotype Comic Duo. For all values of "funny" equal to "Jar-Jar Binks." These two bumbling boobs are, inexplicably, given the responsibility of protecting Sam and his horndog college roommate, for lots of excruciating screen time. Lots. A lot.

4. The shard. Why does Sam get whammied by the shard of the Allspark? He carried the entire mysteriously lightweight cube through the second half of the first movie and bodily shoved it into Megatron's chest without going nuts, but suddenly a little-ittle sliver of it is enough to stuff him with alien brilliance and send him into Einsteinian micro-machine mode in the middle of class.

5. The chick robot. Pardon me for my obligatory feminist rant, but the character of Arcee confuses me. When I was little, of course, an awesome (albeit pink) sports car-spaceship thing that transformed into a chick robot with mad skillz was the coolest thing. But as I got older, I started to wonder - if we can assume that robots don't reproduce sexually, why would they have different genders? And why pink? And, for that matter, why was Hot Rod the only robot who got a girlfriend? That's why I was kind of impressed that the first movie (2007, not 1986) didn't include her as an attempted bone tossed to the feminists. But they dragged her out for the sequel, giving her about seven seconds of screen time and one line, which I don't remember, before she goes the way of that silver car and that other one.

And not that the audience has time to notice, but now Arcee conveniently transforms into three motorcycles, for three times the shelf space at Toys R Us.

6. Devastator's nuts. I know, I know, it was the funny, and it got a chuckle, but the single reason for their inclusion was for John Turturro to look up and comment on them. Cheap.

7. Magic. I know it sounds silly to start talking about realism in a movie about invading alien robots, but the cool thing about the first movie is that it managed to justify just about every sci-fi move made, to the point where suspending disbelief wasn't really a challenge. The sequel brought that, and then it brought in visions of ancient robots that bring Sam back from the dead and a mystical "Matrix of Leadership" (gag) that, through the magic of Sam's theretofore undisplayed greatness, reforms from charcoal dust to form a Klingon K-bar capable of bringing Optimus Prime back from the scrap heap. Come on. Y'all took the time to design robots that, when transforming, managed to account for every single panel and gear of the original form, but when it came to reviving Prime, you resorted to robot pixie dust? Give me a Peterbilt-sized break.

8. The headache. This is one gripe that may be mitigated by a viewing in a standard movie theatre, but by the end of the IMAX version, girlfriend needed a Motrin and a liedown. There was the constant on-screen chaos - "Michael Bay has never met an explosion he didn't like," Doug said - and the robot carnage and the noise-noise-noise-noise. It became so tedious and uninterrupted - not to mention lengthy - that I actually started drifting off during some of the action scenes.

9. The length. They could have cut it by 45 minutes and I still would have been... pretty bored.

10. The beefcake. Couldn't we have stood a little more contribution from Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson? Preferably sweaty and dirty. Okay, so yeah, I'd appreciate a little something for the ladies. Hey, I have a heart. And loins.

So dinner was great. And hanging out at the McWane Center is always really cool, because there are all these exhibits that you can play with, like physics stuff and one of those frozen-image walls and this cool video game that's the size of a dance floor and you play it with your feet. And when Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen comes to your local second-run dollar theatre, I fully recommend that you see it and get a big bag of popcorn. And if you decide to shell out ten bucks and two and a half hours to see it right now... well, that's your call.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On restaurant music


Okay, so when I start my band, I'm going to call it I Hate Restaurant Music. And we're going to play at bars and clubs and music venues, and it'll be cool. And we'll never play in restaurants, not at any time of day, and that'll limit our exposure somewhat, and our rise to rock n' roll greatness will be somewhat less meteoric than we'd prefer, but that's the price we'll have to pay for not annoying the everliving shit out of people.

I'm sorry, restaurant bands, but it's time to knock it the hell off. I know it's hard to get exposure in an industry saturated with indie acts all searching for a record deal. I know that there are only so many slots at open mic night, and I know that many cities limit or outright ban busking. Getting your name out is both essential and challenging. But trying to get your name out whilst I'm trying to enjoy my southwest quesadilla and conversation with the people immediately to the front and sides of me is a one-way ticket to the border of Putting My Foot Through Your Guitarsville, and I can't guarantee I won't be tempted to go exploring.

Almost exclusively, I go to restaurants with friends - if I'm alone, I'm probably just going to pick something up and take it back to my apartment/office - and it's to enjoy not only tasty sustenance but also engaging conversation. Maybe it's lunch with coworkers, and we're talking about funny things that happened at work. Maybe it's brunch with family, and we're talking about family stuff. Maybe it's coffee with girlfriends, and we're talking about how great/awful guys can be. Or maybe it's dinner at Rojo with the kickball league, and we're not talking about a damn thing, because the Indigo Girls Plus Deodorant are up there singing their pretty hearts out to the exclusion of all other sounds.

I'm not even asking that you not play. Many restaurants are playing canned music anyway; there's no reason that they shouldn't have a live performer with a new sound instead of the old stuff they get on CD from corporate once a month. But that amp you have there has a knob that goes all the way from 10 (or 11, as applicable) down to 0, and all but the deafest of old people will be able to hear you even on the lower end of that scale. When you've got your sound guy wandering around the back of the room giving you unnecessarily earnest thumbs up and down as he listens to your levels, there's no reason he can't try to exchange pleasantries with the patrons around him. If he can still hear himself think, you're good to go.

And for the love of Jeff, don't glare at me if I'm still trying to carry on a conversation during your set. It's not a pointed insult at you; it's a pointed attempt to do what I was already doing when you pulled out your guitar and started wailing away. I am at a place where eating and talking are the norm. If you want people to not eat and talk while you're playing, try performing at a place where listening to music is the norm and eating and talking are aberrant behaviors. Like, for instance, clubs. And designated music venues.

Restaurant musicians, do your thing - quietly, please. Restauranteurs, go ahead and book those musicians, but keep them to a reasonable level. And if you're out there, label reps, come to restaurants when bands are playing, sit close enough to the stage that you can hear the band without being distracted by nearby conversation, and sign that band just as quick as you can so they can play at big venues where I am not trying to talk to a person. Because this quesadilla looks too big for me to finish, and I'd hate to see that last triangle end up somewhere we'd all regret.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On letting Neda be Neda

Okay, so on Saturday, Neda Agha-Soltan was shot by a sniper on the edge of a demonstration in Tehran. Almost immediately, camera-phone footage of her death was on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook in an impressive display of citizen journalism in the face of the Iranian government's media restrictions. And almost immediately, a cry went up - "We're Neda! I'm Neda! We're all Neda!"

I'm not.

Doug identified the beginning of the "We Are All..." meme as the aftermath to the September 11 attacks. "We are all Americans," Europe said - because in a way, they were. They had experienced terrorism, they understood the culture in which it was happening, and it was something that could easily have happened to them. Their solidarity and understanding made our tragedy easier to face.

Since then, "We Are All..." has gone from an expression of empathy and support to an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. We show solidarity in meaningless ways with causes we can't possibly identify with. We paint our thumbs purple in support of people who dodge bullets and stand in line for hours for the privilege of voting, trying to borrow their courage and make their moment our moment. We color our Facebook profiles green in support of men and women who are risking their lives to stand against their government, just to touch their moment in history; we equate their blogs and tweets to those of "oppressed" House Republicans who had to tweet with the lights off. We live, collectively, a privileged life in relative comfort and safety, and so if we want struggle and heroism, we have to borrow theirs. And it's easy. So this time, We Are All Neda, because it's easy to be Neda when you don't have to be the one bleeding in the street.

No one even really knows why she was there. One account says she was there with a few friends to add her voice to demands for a recount. Another account says she had gone with her father just to watch the protests. Yet another says she had been on her way back from a voice lesson with her music teacher, who was with her as she died. But does it matter, in the end, whether she was a freedom fighter, willing to take a bullet for the cause of fairness and democracy, or a young woman on the way back from a voice lesson? Would that make her parents mourn her loss any less? Would the man who was with her in the end - her father? Her music teacher? - remember any less vividly holding her as she died?

It matters to us, though. We need her to be a hero. We need a face to attach to the cause - an innocent, young, Western-pretty face to give us a reason to care. Most importantly, we need a face without a history, an easily blankened slate onto which we can project our own ideals, our own reasons, our own hero fantasies. We need someone we can de-person and make her us.

That's not the same as us being her.

Posters and banners and avatars have been made of her bloody face, her face at the moment of her death with one eye glazed and staring and the other covered in her blood. The very moment of her death has been turned into political iconography, a crucifix for us to gaze on and pretend that she died for us all.

"We are indeed all Neda," one commenter writes at "What they have done to Neda, they have done to us all." Except they haven't. What they did to Neda was hide on a rooftop and put a bullet through her heart. What they've done to us is give us a perfect, pure cipher for our own purposes.

And with those purposes, a sad story becomes steeped in irony when we look back on past years and months, McCain singing cheerily, "Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran," suggestions that we bomb them back into the stone age or turn them into a parking lot and to hell with the thousands of Nedas who would die in the process. She's always kind of been nothing, a non-person, in that respect; that makes it much easier to put her on when it's expedient.

Maybe she was the hero who said, so presciently, "Don't worry. It's just one bullet and it's over." Maybe she's the woman described by her fiance as a student of philosophy, music, and tourism - "not political" - the woman who was just hot and thirsty and got out of her car. Maybe - probably - everyone who promises to keep her voice alive has no idea of what she'd actually want to say. We know for sure only what she said in the video - "I'm burning, I'm burning." Anything else is our words, not hers.

One commenter did seem to have some perspective on it: "We don’t know if this is what you wanted your death to mean," she says, "and we hope you don’t mind."

On hiding and being hidden

Okay, so right now, the French legislature is discussing a law that would ban burqas outright in France. Their opinion is that the burqa is degrading and a "prison" for women. And since the burqa is, within Islamic cultures, a way for men to oppress the women under their authority, they're right. Right? As a feminist, I completely support the law, right?

Not so much, in fact.

A comment on costuming and choice: I have several times remarked on the traditional intra-feminism debate about makeup, high heels, and other "costumes of the patriarchy." My feeling is that if I allow someone else to influence my choices, I’m doin it rong. If I wear makeup purely because patriarchal beauty standards demand it, I’m giving up my choice. If I go without makeup purely as a middle finger to the patriarchy and their oppressive beauty standards, I’m still letting them dictate the way I dress. The only way to really embrace choice is to just wear what makes me comfortable.

Now, burqas are obviously oppressive as hell. They're based in several fairly reprehensible concepts, one being that a woman's body is inherently sexualized and tempting and thus must be covered head to toe in yards and yards of fabric (the legislature refers to the burqa, but comments from French president Nicholas Sarkozy indicate that he has in mind the chadri, which has netting over the eyes) to spare men from the temptation of looking at them. The oppression is both societal and physical, because damn, that's a lot of fabric.

But strange as it sounds, none of that means that wearing the burqa can't be a choice. There are women - and I don't know the percentage relative to the entire burqa-wearing population - who wear it voluntarily. Some wear it as a way to avoid the male gaze; some of them wear it as a voluntary expression of or devotion to their faith. My feeling is that a faith that requires a woman to completely hide her entire body is oppressive in and of itself, at least in that respect, but the problem there is with the religion and not with the women who choose to follow it.

The reasoning - the purported reasoning - behind the ban is that if women aren't allowed to go outside in the burqa, they'll just go outside without the burqa instead. But I'm trying to figure out how many times that will happen. If the U.S. were to ban shirts on women, would the streets immediately be filled with newly liberated tatas? Sure, some. I myself might be tempted to go out once or twice just for the novelty factor. But I know a lot of people of varying levels of religious or cultural modesty or just poor body image who would rather stay home than expose their bodies publicly. Now imagine that my husband or father wouldn't allow me to leave the house without a shirt, law or no law. That would leave me trapped in the house, unable to leave without choosing between an oppressive culture and an oppressive law - a law that would take away my freedom and my choice.

There seems to be this assumption that a husband is going to read about the new law in the paper and say, “Huh. Burqas are out. Hey, honey! Go put on your PJs; we’re going to the mall and getting you a minidress.” Or, for that matter, that a woman is going to read the paper and say, “Hey! Burqas are out! I suddenly feel empowered to go buy hotpants. There certainly won’t be any consequences to that from my father.”

The burqa isn't the problem - the burqa is a symptom of the problem, which is a culture in which a woman's body is considered shameful and a man has the power to dictate what she wears and does. The burqa actually enables her to make the choice between staying behind doors or obeying her husband/brother/father and going out with a burqa on. It's a choice between two really crappy options, but it's a choice.

The way to address the problem of oppressive religions and cultures isn’t to ban the things that can, in some cases, give some women some semblance of freedom. It’s to influence the culture itself - educate the oppressors and offer support and help to the oppressed. Punishing the oppressed by replacing their oppressors’ demands with our own isn’t going to make anything better. This law imposes a penalty on a woman for wearing a burqa; it doesn’t relieve the penalty she may suffer within her household for not wearing one. Don’t pretend to solve the problem by keeping women from wearing burqas if they want to. Solve the problem by protecting women from a culture that makes them wear burqas when they don’t want to.

And if, as some insist, no woman would ever voluntarily wear a burqa, then there won’t be women in burqas anymore.

(h/t Feministe)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On true Scotsmen

Or, Won't Someone Rid Me of This Meddlesome President?

Okay, so I realize that we're riding on a truly rough economy and that the elections and subsequent reactions in Iran have given the media a lot of other things to focus on right now. But I do find it curious that so little attention has been paid to the fact that former Southern Baptist Convention officer Wiley Drake told Alan Colmes - on video - that he prays for President Obama to die.
"Imprecatory prayer is agreeing with God, and if people don’t like that, they need to talk to God," Drake told syndicated talk-show host Alan Colmes. "God said it, I didn’t. I was just agreeing with God."

Asked if there are others for whom Drake is praying "imprecatory prayer," Drake hesitated before answering that there are several.

"The usurper that is in the White House is one, B. Hussein Obama," he said.

Later in the interview, Colmes returned to Drake’s answer to make sure he heard him right.

"Are you praying for his death?" Colmes asked.

"Yes," Drake replied.

"So you’re praying for the death of the president of the United States?"


..."You would like for the president of the United States to die?" Colmes asked once more.

"If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death, that’s correct."
(emphasis mine)

As Pam points out, if it had been a Muslim cleric saying it, the entire country would be outraged and right-wing bloggers would be lighting up the Internet - and that's a best-case scenario, where a worst-case scenario would involve waterboarding and a handcuffed, blindfolded trip overseas.

And now I want you to look me in the eye and tell me sincerely that the Department of Homeland Security was entirely off base in warning of a rise in "rightwing extremist activity."

All 'wingers? Not at all. There are plenty of conservatives who are very passionate about their causes and yet remain unthreatening to the security of those around them. The word extremist in the report indicates that these are people with extreme views on the extreme edge of the spectrum, for whom the "current economic and political climate" might fuel a "resurgence in radicalization and recruitment."

Well, yeah.

I asserted a few weeks ago that the radical anti-choice movement had a lot to answer for in the murder of Dr. George Tiller. While the blame lies purely on and on no one but Scott Roeder for pulling the trigger, he did so as part of a culture that whips followers into a fervor beyond reason, unwittingly - or even fully wittingly - creating a zealous environment where even the most reprehensible of actions begin to look reasonable. As people are starting to realize, that environment is the same that, when it's overseas and the faithful are a little more tan, we call fundamentalist terrorism.

And now, in the wake of Dr. Tiller's murder - which, the alleged murderer says, is just a portent of more such violence to come - and the murder of a security guard at the Holocaust Museum by white supremacist James von Brunn (not to mention last year's shooting up of a Unitarian church because of the "liberals in general as well as gays"), we have a minister with strong ties to the Southern Baptist Convention praying for the death of the president. And that's okay. For some reason.

It's okay, of course, because none of those acts are connected. None of them are true Christians/anti-choicers/conservatives/what-have-you, and we know they aren't, because a true Christian/anti/conservative/whatever wouldn't act that way.

Drake himself said, in the aforementioned interview, that he didn't think Roeder's killer was really an anti-choice Christian.
Drake said he did not believe Tiller's accused killer is a pro-life Christian.

"I'm of the opinion -- and now everybody's going to say 'There goes Wiley down the conspiracy-theory road,' I'm of the opinion that somebody in the Obama camp had this guy killed."

I mean, no real anti would do something like that, right? (For a laugh, read down that article until you find the commenters claiming that Drake isn't a real Christian. It just keeps going.) And James von Brunn wasn't really a 'winger nutball, but wouldn't the liberals love it if that were the case.

I'll bring it back: If the U.S. experienced a similar string of violence from fundamentalist Muslims, the right would be the first people to raise a cry to deport Muslims and wiretap mosques and pull women in hijabs off the street for waterboarding. And Muslim communities would say no, no, we're not all like that, those are extremists, fundamentalists, and we condemn their horrendous actions. And the righties would say well, if you're not a terrorist, you probably shouldn't keep hanging around with all those Muslims.

Know what?

All Muslims aren't terrorists. Islam is not the religion of terror.

Know what else?

All conservatives aren't terrorists. Conservatism is not the political affiliation of terror.

But sweet Jesus in a speedboat, there is a growing trend toward extremism in the right wing, and it has resulted in what can only be described as domestic terrorism. Gawker reminds us that we've got a new president - a liberal president - a black president - a secretly Muslim president, and that not only the right-wing media but quasi-respected personalities like Dick Cheney are saying that a terrorist has stolen the White House. If you are predisposed to violent extremism already, as most of these terrorists are, that constant drumming of danger danger danger is enough to turn anyone into a hero, saving unborn babies and following the will of Jesus.

So I'm sorry, 'wingers, but they're yours. As much as any terrorist organization belongs to the group on which they fringe, they're yours. That doesn't mean that you as individuals or even a movement are responsible for their actions, but it does mean that when you're throwing around words like "murderer" and "baby-killer" and "usurper" and "terrorist," you may want to give a thought to who might be listening. There are ways to make your point and support your movement without the kind of inflammatory language that can whip people into a frenzy, because whether you want it or not, whether it's fair or not, there are terrorists among you, and they are doing it in your name.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On new technology and old jokes

Okay, so this is just flabbergasting on a number of levels. The fact that he said it. The fact that he said it on the Internet. The fact that he thought it was okay to say it on the Internet. The fact that he thought it in the first place (although that's not quite as flabbergasting as I wish it were). But some people will always, always be cruel enough and dumb enough to out themselves as cruel and dumb:
SC: Republican activist calls escaped gorilla an “ancestor” to Michelle Obama on Facebook

A prominent S.C. Republican Party activist is in hot water after describing an escaped gorilla at a South Carolina zoo as an “ancestor” of First Lady Michelle Obama.

The exchange occurred after Trey Walker, an advisor to S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, posted an innocuous Facebook update about this morning’s escape of a Western Lowlands Gorilla from Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo.

Walker’s harmless update, however was followed by a highly-questionable comment from longtime SCGOP activist and former State Senate candidate, Rusty DePass.

“I’m sure it’s just one of Michelle’s ancestors — probably harmless,” DePass wrote.

Now, everyone who thinks this is okay on any level, I want you to find a course on remedial U.S. history at your local community college, audit it, and close this window, because what follows will make no sense to you. To the rest of you: What. The. Fuck?! This is a man old enough to have seen the civil-rights movement firsthand, and he's (ostensibly) worldly enough to know why it's completely inappropriate and wholly racist. And everyone who disagrees with that can also close this window, because no amount of conversation in comments will ever turn me to your side of the argument.

And of course, DePass followed up his initial inexcusable comment with a half-assed apology:
Busted by South Carolina political blogger Will Folks on his FITNEWS blog, DePass told WIS-TV in Columbia, “I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest.”

"I'm sorry if I offended offended" is, of course, a perfectly distinction to make in a world where many people would love to be compared to an ape, black people in particular. And the fact that it was "clearly in jest," meaning that Michelle Obama isn't actually part gorilla, excuses him saying that she's part gorilla.

His "apology" was, of course, then followed by an attempt at justifying his actions:
Then he added, “The comment was hers, not mine,” claiming Michelle Obama made a recent remark about humans descending from apes. The Daily News could find no such comment.

Ohhh, right. It was totally a Darwin thing, and we just weren't bright enough to pick up on it. Silly us.

This is just another knot in a growing string of racist slurs against the Obamas. We've seen, of course, the famous Obama food stamps ("[The ribs, watermelon, and fried chicken were] just food to me. It didn't mean anything else," she says), the Obama sock monkey (created with the intent of “transcend[ing] still existing racial biases,” and the "White House" buttons at the Texas national convention. But we're talking about people with some influence in the GOP sphere here. We're talking about the GOP operative who wrote an oh-so-clever tweet about Aspirin and the GOP staffer who deeply regretted sending her funny-funny racist e-mail to the wrong list. And now it's this asshole.

But maybe we're making too much of this.
Eric Davis, the current chairman of the Richland County Republicans, said his predecessor should get a pass. "Everyone says stupid things they regret later. I think the world should move on," he said.

You know what? No. Why should we move on? What about this makes it a "move on" kind of offense? Whoops-I-tapped-your-bumper-get-it-fixed-on-my-insurance is a "move on" offense. I-completely-forgot-we-were-supposed-to-get-together-this-weekend-I-owe-you-a-drink is a "move on" offense. Implying that the first lady is a gorilla, on Facebook, thinking it's okay to say that kind of thing publicly, is not a "move on" offense.

As a matter of fact, I think that, particularly in light of the aforementioned displays of racism that preceded this event, it's the diametrical opposite of a "move on" offense. It's the kind of offense that we need to pick over and dissect and look at the history and figure out why people don't realize how wrong this is (if they don't know) and why people say it anyway (if they do).

And not that it's the greatest thing to have such things in your head in the first place, at least have the sense to recognize how horrible they are and not say them out loud. I wrote sometime back - here, I think - about a time in my life when people would have the sense not to say such things out loud. They still thought them, which is bad, but they at least had the sense to know that they shouldn't be thinking them and thus kept them to themselves. Apparently, that time is over, because people like Rudy DePass are not only saying them but saying them on Facebook for the world to see.

And a note to GOPpers of an older generation who are fairly new to digital technology and social media - what you say on the Internet lives there forever. E-mails get forwarded, blog posts end up in the wayback machine, and Facebook posts and tweets are going to get screen-capped and sent to everyone at the speed of light. Enable your privacy settings, avoid the "reply all" button, wait ten minutes before hitting "send," but most importantly, have some shame. Pay attention to the world around you and figure out what's not okay to say. Maybe eventually, you'll learn not to think it either.

On a lighter note

Okay, so this is the best wedding invitation evar. But then, they've had plenty of time to work on it.

(h/t @WadeOnTweets)

On power to the people and power to the state

Okay, so read this. All of it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On putting on your big-girl panties and taking the hit

Okay, so it kind of rocks one's world to find out that one has actually had one's political affiliations all wrong for all of one's life. I myself have been lucky enough to be enlightened by Don Surber, who informs me that the party of patriarchy and misogyny is not, in fact, the one that's trying to control my uterus and keep me in the kitchen where I belong. I had no idea that the left is the side that hates women; it's a wonder they've been letting me hang around with them for so long.
Too many American liberals cannot handle a strong, good-looking, intelligent, independent woman who disagrees with them — and so they make the crude, cruel and sexist remarks — including those about raping them or their 14-year-old daughters.

These five women [Katharine Harris, Carrie Prejean, Sarah Palin, Michelle Malkin, and Michele Bachmann] are are not the only ones that American liberals ridicule without fear. They are like little boys who cannot handle a strong woman. These women dare challenge them intellectually, and so we get crude counterattacks.

Thaaat's right. The men on the left can't handle the sauciness of Michelle Malkin or the intellectual stimulation of Carrie Prejean, and so they're reduced to insults or mocking for lack of any thoughtful response. And as a feminist on the left, I'm merely going along to get along, "standing by [my] menfolk" for some reason, which he doesn't really explain, because to stay with a guy who's so horrible to women indicates that there's some other benefit in it for me, but really the only benefit I could get from these guys would be something that would benefit women, but they're mean to women, so... Ugh. The cognitive dissonance, it burns.

(And a note: Letterman's remarks were crass, inappropriate, and just plain unfunny. He claims that he thought Bristol, not Willow, Palin was at the game with Sarah, but even if it had been the of-age, already-knocked-up daughter, it wouldn't have made the joke any more appropriate. Or any funnier, for that matter.)

It's easy to look at Surber's list of women and the left's response to them and say, "Wow, the left really does hate women!" It's also easy to yank on the beard of a Hell's Angel, get the shit stomped out of you, and then say, "He hates me because I'm left-handed!" You can line up the ten shortest guys at your local federal penitentiary and claim they were all incarcerated because they're under 5'5", or you can look at their criminal records and see that it's because they all committed felonies.

Call me a Kool-Aid-drinking, sister-f***ing, brainwashed liberal, but when I looked at that lineup, gender wasn't the first thing that jumped out at me. Crass did, in a lot of cases, and crazy, and sometimes ignorant. But as someone who has looked at these women with a critical eye for some years now, I know exactly why they're oft excoriated by the left, and it ain't because of their sass and intellect.

Don't hate Katherine Harris because she's a woman; hate her because she's an aggressive, unscrupulous power-grabber. Harris gained notoriety during the 2000 presidential elections when, as the Florida secretary of state (and former co-chair of Bush's Florida election campaign), she purged nearly 58,000 (largely black and Hispanic) voters from the roll for being ex-cons (90 percent weren't) and halted recounts of electoral votes, with Florida (and the presidency) ultimately going to Bush. In 2002, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 2004, she took campaign money from Duke Cunningham's defense-contractor buddies. It's no surprise that Republicans promptly started avoiding her like the dentist's house on Halloween, and I'm kind of confused as to why Surber included her in this list, because I can't remember anyone actually mentioning her name in years. I guess he just needed to round out the five. I probably would have gone with Ann Coulter.

Don't hate Carrie Prejean because she's a woman; hate her because she, well, she said that. I mean, there it is. She was on TV when she said it. Much of the response to her answer was over the top (I know you felt passionately about it, Perez, but "dumb bitch" doesn't help anyone), and it's all been much for expressing what was, in the end, an opinion. But she went on TV and made the choice to say that, in that way, and alienate a lot of people during a really sensitive time. The blacklash that resulted had nothing to do with the fact that she's a woman and everything to do with the thing that she said. (Incidentally, if you're reading this, Car-Bear, we don't live in "a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage." Only people in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa do.) Okay, we're done now; let's leave Carrie alone. There really wasn't any reason to hate her anyway.

Don't hate Sarah Palin because she's a woman; hate her because of her political career. That's about it. Bridges to nowhere, shooting wolves from helicopters, the imminent Russian threat, paying for clothes with campaign funds, flying your kids everywhere at the expense of the state, opposing women's right to bodily autonomy, but mostly for just not being a good enough candidate to be a candidate. I'm sorry, but at no point during the campaign did she prove herself astute, aware, informed, or motivated enough to be the runner-up to the presidency. There's a reason SNL was able to parody her using an exact transcript of her Katie Couric interview. The only intellectual challenge there was to decode her linguistically garbled speeches. She seems nice enough as a person, but a candidate - male or female - needs a lot more than that to be a good vice president. Maverick.

Don't hate Michelle Malkin because she's a woman; hate her because of everything she is and everything she does and everything she believes in and everything she stands for. Hate her for stalking a seven-year-old for speaking about children's health insurance. Hate her for speaking out in favor of racial profiling (not to mention Japanese internment in World War II). Hate her for whatever that dumb thing was that she did in a cheerleader outfit and pigtails. Hate her for shitting herself over what Rachel Ray wore in a Dunkin Donuts commercial. Hate her for her Junior-Spies-in-1984 Brown Neighbor Surveillance Club. Hate her for questioning donations to Bill Clinton's campaign fund from donors in Brooklyn, Chinatown, and elsewhere who were "limited income, limited English-proficient, and smellier than stinky tofu." Hate her for defending torture. Just about everything she does gives you a chance to hate her. Even if her woman-ness had a place on the list of reasons to hate her, it would be so far down said list that we'd still be working on it when Sasha Obama announced her presidential bid.

Don't hate Michele Bachmann because she's a woman. Hate her because she is full-on, raving, tinfoil-hat-wearing, foaming-at-the-mouth, crackhouse-rats-cross-the-street-when-they-see-her crazazy. As a member of Congress, has she opposed everything from increased Pell Grants to fluorescent lightbulbs. She ranted about Obama creating "politically correct re-education camps for young people" and wanted to launch a McCarthy-esque investigation to find out if members of Congress are "pro-America or anti-America." She made the treasury secretary promise that we're not going to abandon the dollar in favor of a global currency (and while you're over there, behold her staggering ignorance of Schoolhouse Rock-level civics). Actually, I'm going to take it back - Michele Bachmann has been a fantastic addition to the House of Representatives, if only for the entertainment value.

These are the outspoken conservative women who intellectually challenge us, to whom we have no response.They are the ones we hate for their boldness and ballsiness, the ones we wish would get back in the kitchen where they belong. Because we hate outspoken women; Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Madeleine Albright, Nancy Keenan, Ellen Malcom, Arianna Huffington, Ann Richards (God rest her) are all reticent little flowers afraid to say anything to disturb the menfolk hard at work. (Or maybe the problem is that our women just aren't hot enough to be of note to the right.) It has nothing to do with corruption, greed, bigotry, ignorance - it's an F on a birth certificate and a pretty face.

No, Don Surber, criticizing a political figure, even if she's a woman, when she's doing something worthy of criticism isn't unsulting. Treating a woman in the public sphere just as you'd treat a man, looking at her statements and actions with a critical eye, isn't insulting. You want insulting? Here's what's insulting: dragging an underqualified candidate into the ring and expecting women to be so overwhelmed with her female-ness that we won't notice her incompetence. Trying to screw women over and expecting us to support you because of your X chromosomes. Dressing up hateful rhetoric in a cute smile and a miniskirt and expecting it all just to breeze on by.

Yes, there have been horribly sexist - and racist, and all kinds of other -ist - things said about women on both sides of the aisle (Palin and Malkin have gotten it more than just about anyone I can think of). And ideally, attention would be focused entirely on the quality of a political figure's ideas and not on the amount of pancake she trowelled onto her face when she got up in the morning. But if you're going to say that, if you're going to ask people to really examine the content of your argument, you have to be able to produce quality content. It's not enough to pile on the same old dreck, the same old talking points, the same old racist drivel (ahremMichelleMalkinahrem) and expect no one to notice that it's hollow because you're just so darn cute. And when people do, inevitably, notice, don't go crying "They hate me because I'm a woman!" We hate you because you're a dumbass.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On the overratedness of sunscreen

(Not that sunscreen is really all that overrated; try to get one at least SPF 30 and waterproof if you're going to spend a lot of time outside. Moisturizer with sunscreen in it is a great way to avoid skin cancer and avoid wrinkles.)

Okay, so a recent conversation with Practically regular (sounds funny, but it stays) Zen Bubba lapsed, inexplicably, into a list of advice for living. And with June seeing the graduation of thousands of high school students, I thought it might be time to take a swing at some Baz Luhrmannism.


No one should be alone, but it's better to be alone than to be not-alone with the wrong person.
Don't talk to strangers. (ZB)
Beware of free stuff.
Floss daily. (ZB)
Don't eat anything bigger than your head. (ZB)
Things that scare you are often actually good for you.
Great minds think alike, but so do delusional maniacs. (ZB)
If everything seems to be going your way, make sure you aren't in the wrong lane.
Be sure and tip your waitress. (ZB)
Never pet a burning dog. (ZB)
Ninjas can't touch you if you're on fire. (ZB)
Let the ugly girl sing.
Never hang a hoe in a tree or let a lizard count your teeth. (ZB)
If you're only going to accomplish one thing in life, make sure it's breathing. (ZB)
Someday, a middle-school band director is going to tell you he needs you to either play tuba or drums. Remember that pretty girls don't date tuba players. (ZB)
Everyone is weird in high school. The lucky ones are the ones who realize this and work to capitalize on it in the future.
There is no normal. (ZB)
Deal with it. (ZB)
Love God and have faith, but don't trust churches. (ZB)
Put a password on your wireless network.
Name that wireless network "I can hear you masturbating." (That one's all ZB.)

And this last one comes from a nun I once spoke to at length. Wonderful woman, that one. I highly recommend nuns:

"I don't know what to tell you. I'm right there with you."

Not terribly helpful, but comforting.

So how about you? What wisdom do you have to share with this future generation of unemployees?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

On all your uterus (still belong to us)

Okay, so not that I've ever been there (thank God), but I'd imagine that being obliged to push a small watermelon out of your girlyparts is a very personal experience such that addressing your personal comfort as your prefer should be a priority. And as fruity as things like water birth and standing birth and, I don't know, kickboxing birth may sound, they're generally time-honored approaches that date back to before medical intervention was the norm for childbirth, and in many cases they add a sense of control over the experience and bonding with the baby that a hospital birth doesn't necessarily provide. That's why the popularity of midwives has been growing in recent years.

But oh, wait.

Forget I said all that, Alabama. You're going to be having your baby in a hospital where you bloody well belong. If you choose to sprog at home, having your friendly neighborhood certified professional midwife by your side will be enough to charge her with a misdemeanor. But I've been working with her throughout my pregnancy! you say. She knows everything about me! I was counting on her assistance! And you're welcome to it - as a certified nurse midwife, assisted by an obstetrician, in the intimate comfort of a hospital delivery room.

Again, I know nothing from personal experience on the subject of giving birth, but having worked extensively with various women's services here - and having known plenty of people who've been, y'know, pregnant - I gather that a quieter, less clinical environment for childbirth is ideal. As I pimp our new women and infants center, the selling point that keeps popping up is that the birthing rooms are comfortable and quiet and dimly lit and blah-blah-blah to make it a more homelike atmosphere. If most medical professionals recognize that that is the ideal, why not work to make it easier for women to give birth in an atmosphere that is homelike by virtue of being an actual home?

I recognize that there are a lot of complications that a woman can encounter throughout her pregnancy and especially during delivery itself. And of course women are encouraged to seek regular medical care throughout their pregnancy, and if things start looking complicated, they may have to compromise their home-birth fantasy in favor of one that has a few more crucial medical resources lying around. But the majority of pregnancies aren't that way. For millennia, women have been squatting in the corners of caves and teepees and thatched huts to give birth, and certainly enough mothers and babies have survived the experience to tell the tale and propogate the species.

It seems that when a woman is pregnant, she's the only person who doesn't know what's best for her. Everyone wants to protect her unborn child, and she is suddenly reduced to an inanimate object, a two-legged incubator incapable of making her own decisions about her own body.

A woman from Cameroon is landing in a federal prison after a judge in the U.S. sentenced her to 238 days for having fake documents - because she's pregnant and she has HIV, and apparently giving birth with the stellar health care of a prison infirmary is the best way to keep her baby from contracting the virus. A woman who can't kick her drug habit (which is, admittedly, a really bad thing) before she gets pregnant could be charged with child endangerment or even murder. The number of C-sections is on the rise, whether the woman wants (or sometimes even needs) one or not. Caffeine is bad, sushi is bad, some other stuff is bad (lunch meat? Peanut butter, or something?), and a woman is as likely as not to get chewed out by random strangers for introducing such poisons into her bloodstream. Hell, unpreggos like myself are already being told to treat ourselves as "pre-pregnant" on the off chance that a birth-control slip will get us knocked up without our uteri being appropriately prepared.

As always, there are limits. There are things that you should do. Get plenty of sleep, get plenty of prenatal care (heck, get health care throughout your life; it's just a good idea). Don't put stuff in your body that you don't intend to go into the baby's body. Wear your seatbelt. But there are plenty of things that we should do in life that they don't put us in jail for not doing. The fact that our uterus is now flashing a "no vacancy" sign doesn't mean that everyone is suddenly the boss of us. Hell, we have enough impositions on our bodily autonomy as it is. At least let us push out a baby in our fucking living room.

It's increasingly becoming a rallying cry. Stay. Out. Of my. Uterus. It's mine. If it's empty, I don't want you poking around, and if it's full, there's no room for you.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

On putting the "life" in "pro-life"

Okay, so everyone who doesn't live under a bridge, even those who don't particularly care, knows that Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller was gunned down Sunday in the foyer of his church. A controversial figure in the debate on reproductive health, Dr. Tiller was one of two providers in the entire country to perform abortions in the third trimester for women carrying fetuses with severe abnormalities, women whose lives were endangered by their pregnancy, and victims of child rape. He was shot and wounded at his clinic in 1993; on Sunday, Scott Roedert came back to finish the job.

Several issues arise from his murder, among them: Is it moral to murder a man you consider to be committing murder? What will be the impact of this crime on the anti-choice community? Is this the act of one man or the result of an entire culture? What happened to "life"?

One at a time:

Is it moral to murder a man you consider to be committing murder? The big argument from the anti-choice crowd is that fetuses in the third trimester are about as close to babies as you can get, and they're not entirely wrong. But in their claims that women get late-term abortions for frivolous reasons (the infamous "prom-dress abortion" comes to mind), they are unequivocally wrong. Current legislation limits third-trimester abortions to the aforementioned women who are carrying fetuses with severe abnormalities, women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy, and victims of child rape, and doctors performing said abortions are required to document the medical necessity of the procedure. In that respect, it can be argued (if you believe that a fetus is equivalent to a born baby) that Dr. Tiller was not committing murder but defending the lives of his patients, which is defensible in court. That is one reason that despite numerous lawsuits by opponents, Dr. Tiller was never convicted of any crime: He wasn't committing one.

What will be the impact of this crime on the anti-choice community? Like I care. No, seriously, I do care, although not as much as I care about the impact on the pro-choice community. Dr. Tiller's murder deprived the country of one of the few providers willing and able to perform late-term abortions; this raises the question of whether the procedure will disappear entirely as providers fear for their lives or if providers will defiantly take up the mantle of performing this lifesaving service, as did Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who will be taking care of Dr. Tiller's patients at the clinic. So, yeah, my main concern is for the women whose lives have been saved by doctors like Dr. Tiller and whether those services will be available to women in desperate situations in the future.

That having been said, I do have some interest in the impact on the anti-choice community, in that their success would obviously be detrimental to pro-choice efforts. As reported by Jacqueline Salmon in the Washington Post's "God in Government" column, anti-choice groups have been coming out in droves to condemn the actions of Dr. Tiller's murderer, trying to distance themselves from an act that is deplorable to all but the most extreme anti-choicers, regardless of politics. Roedert's connection to groups like Operation Rescue obviously does significant damage to their purported defense of life and shifts them toward the "crazy fundamentalist" view of the reproductive-health spectrum in the eyes of many Americans. And while the fair part of me rallies against the unfairness of that generalization, the pragmatic part of me realizes how well that works for the rest of us.

(I can't miss the irony of Michelle Malkin's fear that lefties are going to try to score political points on the back of this tragedy and her concern for Dr. Tiller's grieving family. Because golly, she has been one of his only real advocates from the beginning, hasn't she. Besides, she would never try to score points on a tragedy like, for instance, Terry Schiavo, or school shootings. Some things are just beyond politicization.)

Is this the act of one man or the result of an entire culture? There's the big question. Obviously, the vast weight of responsibility falls directly on the shoulders of Scott Roedert, the man who fired the gun. But it's arguable that he wouldn't have gotten to that point were it not for an anti-choice culture that whips up such an extreme fervor in its supporters that taking a human life would be considered an inevitable step. Which is not to say that all, or even most, anti-choice groups support such actions; groups like the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee pursue goals that are abhorrent to me, but for the most part they do encourage only legal actions from their supporters.

But there are vocal and powerful groups on that side that come as close to encouraging violence as is possible without coming out and saying it. Groups like the Army of God and Roedert's favorite Operation Rescue, who will get links from me over my dead body, the sons of bitches, regularly post the names and addresses of abortion providers and their families as well as businesses they frequent along with wanted posters and vague comments about the lengths one might go to to protect innocent lives and how something must be done. Randall Terry insists that pro-life leaders and the pro-life movement are not responsible for George Tiller’s death" (Dr. Tiller merely "reaped what he sowed") but his own program has facilitated violence against abortion providers right up to the line where they could be held responsible for it.

And that's what happens when, in your fervor, you begin to lose sight of your real goal and start to worship the movement itself. The anti-choice movement has become more about making a point than actually saving lives and making life easier for women with difficult pregnancies. It's about lining up and shouting at pregnant women going into abortion clinics, intimidating abortion providers, and characterizing those providers as "murderers" - in our legal system, people deserving of imprisonment and execution. When you embrace inflammatory language, characterize your mission as a crusade, demonize your opponents, and encourage actual physical intimidation tactics, your movement moves closer and closer to the consuming flames of extremism. When you encourage vandalism and even firebombing of clinics, you're right in the middle of them. By definition, the use of violence to intimidate and cause terror is terrorism, which is a favorite tactic of other extremist fundamentalist groups that we tend to villify.

And a note to the more legitimate (such as it is) arm of the anti-choice movement: If you find that you have to put out a press release to assure the public that you don't condone cold-blooded murder, you might be backing the wrong horse.

What happened to "life"? It's still sacred, right up to the point where you stick your head out of your mother's vagina. If you're a woman carrying a fetus with severe abnormalities, you're expected to subject it to a short life of unspeakable misery. If you're a woman whose very life is threatened by her pregnancy, you're expected to take one for the team, giving up your life for your baby's and possible leaving behind childen and a widower now responsible for caring for a newborn infant. If you're a victim of child rape, you're expected to carry your rapist's baby to term, leaving indelible scars on your body and your emotional health. And if you're a physician charged with the unenviable task of making those people's lives better through an unfortunate and difficult procedure, you're expected to take one in the chest from a religious extremist - a domestic terrorist - who values the life of a fetus over that of you or the families you care for.

Here's a person who valued life: Dr. George Tiller, who risked his life to save lives. He waded through mobs of clinic protesters, he braved bomb threats at his clinic and threats to his own life and the lives of his family, he even took bullets and went right back to work, because he knew the importance of what he was doing. He worked to support women and their families in some of the most difficult times of their lives, helping them not only medically but emotionally and spiritually with counseling, support groups, and even religious services for the child they lost. That is truly pro-life, and the world is worse for losing him. My condolences to his family, who saw him not as a political figure but as a husband and father and are now suffering the consequences of this terrorist act.