Friday, May 30, 2008

Iraq Rejects Christianity

Think Progress reports that a Marine got suspended for distributing Christianity materials to Sunni Muslims in Fallujah.
The incident has “enraged Iraqis who view it as the latest example of American disrespect for Islam.”
Apparently Bible-thumpers are even more annoying in Iraq than they are here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

More Webb Bashing (well, not really)

Webb has been tossed around as a possible VP to Obama for a while now, but the disagreement over Webb's potential candidacy is finally starting to come to a head. Kathy G. outlined a very articulate case against Webb as a VP candidate, so you should just go and read the whole thing. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville uses some pretty strong language to protest the idea of a Webb VP candidacy:
I cannot begin to express what a terrible, terrible, terrible idea it would be for the Democratic Party to allow Jim Webb onto the national ticket after this primary season, for reasons I'm guessing I don't need to explain. I resent the idea that sticking any old pair of boobs in the veep slot is going to mollify the women who are rightfully angry with the way Clinton has been treated by her own party during this primary (yeah, I'm looking at you, Leahy, just for a start), but I resent even more the notion that it doesn't matter at all. Handing the veep slot to Webb on an Obama ticket would be a huge slap in the face to feminists.
But I have to say that I think Ezra's case against Webb on the national ticket is better:
Happily, there's another institution where individuals of strong conviction and substantial political talent can shape national policy: the United States Senate, where Webb currently serves.
Removing Webb from the Senate, where he's already shown really great leadership on a number of issues that really need to be addressed. Besides, another hard-fought battle in Virginia for a Senate seat is hardly something the party needs amid an intensive election year.

She Writes Tell-Alls, Right?

Rebecca Traister has a great essay up at Salon today about how women who write personal tell-alls are often viewed as media darlings. She notes that this phenomenon isn't uncommon among men, but it's important to remember that women writers are a little more versatile than the trope of sex-driven memoirist leads us to believe.

We have to remember: There is nothing wrong with women writing about themselves, their youth, their indiscretions, their habits and values and personal development. Men have been writing about this stuff for thousands of years; they call it the canon.

And like their male contemporaries, a lot of this writing disappoints. When it does, there is nothing wrong with criticizing it. The thing that is wrong -- really wrong -- is when we forget that these kinds of stories are not the only ones that women have to tell.

I couldn't agree more. As a young women, I was often lead to believe that it was acceptable for me to write "human interest" stories or "service journalism" listings, but I often questioned whether I was good enough or serious enough to write about more male-dominated topics. As long as such kinds of writing by women are the only kind glorified, we'll continue to see a slew of Candace Bushnells and Emily Goulds but an absence among many other kinds of writing.

Sexism in Trade Professions

Kate Harding over at Broadsheet asks why more women don't take up trade professions, presumably work like an electrician or plummer. These professions don't require a lot of costly education, she reasons, and the earning power is often on par or higher than other white-collar work. Some women already in the professions are trying to encourage younger women to take up the toolbox.

But I think that Harding forgets that there are plenty of women that already work in trades -- it's just that those trades are very gendered. The standard non-college career for a number of young women I went to high school, for instance, was hair dresser and not auto mechanic. Furthermore, the amount of sexual harassment that most women experience in blue-collar male-dominated professions serves as severe discouragement. For those who saw North Country, I don't think I have to remind you how terrible it was for women driving trucks in the iron ore mines of Minnesota. (Although the movie was set in the 1980s, such harassment still exists.) The problems with women entering high-end blue collar technical trade professions is more about systemic cultural sexism and gendered roles than it is about women just not realizing how lucrative trade work can be.

I don't disagree with Harding that women entering trade professions would be a great step toward gender equality generally, and probably earn those women a lot more than white-collar jobs as an assistant (or even a manager). What would help is first what these truck mechanics Harding points to are already doing, mentoring young women in non-traditional fields. Secondly, unions that represent those industries need to not only be free of sexism themselves, but aggressively pursue lawsuits that would discourage sexual harassment. This is happening with some larger trade unions already, but it's not as wide as it should be. Maybe then Harding's instructions to take up the toolbox rather than the curling iron will be a reality.

Cross posted at Matt's.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

McCain's Denver Speech

Matt says he thinks that McCain's non-proliferation speech was reasonable, and says it sounds like McCain may have changed his mind about the whole League of Democracies thing. But, as Joe Cirincione (via KVH) points out, "He still defines the problem, however, through the Bush Doctrine prism. He leads with the threat from so-called rogue states. In this summer of sequels, McCain gives us "Axis of Evil II," with Syria filling the role formerly played by Iraq." We don't want to be continuing to view our foreign policy through the Bush administration's lens, and that's definitely one sequel I hope never gets made.

A Complaint

Samara has this really funny post over at F-Word about women and eating. Normally I find this kind of gender-stereotyping humor annoying, but I can identify with her in this case:

I was at a press conference the other day, at which the organisers had kindly provided us with a big tray of yummy pastries. As is generally my way when there is free food around, I had pretty much parked myself next to it, but I decided to use my vantage point to conduct some observations. I listened to the comments of every single person who approached that tray of yummy pastries, and boy was it depressing. Not a single woman took one without commenting on how she really shouldn’t be eating it.

“I’m being really naughty”
“Oooh I really shouldn’t”
“Oooh I’m so fat”
“This is going to go straight to my hips”

Weight-related comments while I'm eating are enough to make me lose my appetite. Perhaps I'm just being a snob about this, since I've never struggled with weight loss or gain, but quite frankly the last thing I want to hear about while I'm putting something tasty in my mouth is how many calories I'm consuming.* (Mostly because I tend to think that calorie counting is a pointless exercise in any case. It's just a lot of wasted math.) If you have issues with weight, please, keep them to yourself. I'm perfectly happy to go through my day without thinking of calories. And I don't need a reminder from a woman who wants to loudly announce that she feels bad about eating what she's eating. Perhaps the most hilarious comment from Samara was this:
There’s an unwritten rule that we must constantly be seen to be making an effort to keep our weight down. We can eat cake, as long as we suffer terrible guilt as a result.
I for one, am ready to continue living my life, guilt-free.

*Full disclosure: I'm almost certain I have uttered similar words at one point just because the culture of food shaming is so pervasive.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Accounting For Race

There is a WaPo article today about a study released on a 1994 adoption law that was designed to increase adoption of black children. The problem is that the law didn't really work; adoption of black children increased, but only marginally. The law forbids discussing race during the adoption process, and social parents can't specifically address the issues of white parents raising a black child.

The law had not significantly changed the situation, the new report found. In 2006, black children represented 15 percent of the nation's children yet made up 32 percent of the half a million in foster care. Black children still waited longer for adoption than white children, and the adoption rate for black children barely rose from 17 percent of those awaiting adoption in 1996 to 20 percent in 2003.
It seems to me that the main problem with the law is that it's the same kind of erroneous thinking that's been applied to affirmative action for years. The thinking seems to be that people don't want to take race into account so in the end it is non-white people that end up losing out.

Cross posted at Matt's

Woo! John Edwards

I'm going to take aside a minute for some shameless employer promotion. The 2008 Campus Progress National Conference will feature John Edwards (as well as Ryan Gossling, for all you Notebook lovers out there). Woo!

Postville, IA

Dana has a quick hit on the NYTimes piece from this weekend on the immigration raid in northeastern Iowa earlier this month. I won't delve into all of it, since I have a forthcoming piece on exactly this in In These Times, but the stepped up immigration raids are an issue that's starting to get a lot of attention. Since 2001, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been massively stepping up what is widely referred to as an "enforcement-only" approach. Unfortunately, I think we'll be seeing more raids like the one on Agriprocessors Inc. that could fracture families and homes until we see some kind of changes to U.S. immigration policy.

Summer Has Arrived

Finally that long, hot, humid, disgusting, constant-threat-of-rain era of summer in DC has arrived.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rove Secretly Works for McCain

Amanda Terkel and Matt Corley have the goods on Salon.

Riding Bike

good bike
Originally uploaded by faster panda kill kill
Everyone I know seems really into bike riding these days. This is probably in part because the weather is nice, but also because everyone's into buying hybrids and Specialized Globes and whatever other stuff bike stores want to sell to you. My roommate was telling me about how she felt happy and like a little kid on her bike.

I don't really have the same connotation for biking. When I was a little kid I rode my bike a lot, but it wasn't because it was a fun activity. I was the daughter of a single mother who couldn't take off work drive me to tennis practice or other summer activities. I rode my bike around in the summer because I had to. Riding my bike is fine, but for me it's much more of a utilitarian feeling than one of a joyous childhood fulfillment.

Race Has Never Been a Problem ... For a White Person

Latoya's post over at Racialicous makes a point that's been made many times before, but is made in a sort of funny way. An old article a reader sent in makes the claim:
Despite Obama’s hybrid racial pedigree, he is “black” by the one-drop tradition. Unlike most black Americans, however, his history is not framed by generations of racial subordination. This distinction is significant. Because Obama’s ancestral narrative lacks slavery, his self-image likely lacks the wounds from that history.
A commentor responds to the article:
I am young (29) and white. Like many others in those categories, I am voting for Obama. Like anyone my age, I have never seen a race-based drinking fountain or a segregated bus. Race is not an issue for me and I think that is true for most people of my generation.
Of course this male commentor has never experienced problems with race. By the very benefit of his skin color he is largely blind to some of the really awful shit that happens in America. It's easy when you never experience racism, firsthand or otherwise, to pretend that we live in a world that is "beyond race."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blind need better (dollar) bills

A federal appeals court ruled today that the bills the United States uses for currency are indistinguishable from one another and therefore discriminate against the blind. It seems like an absurdly simple thing, but as I learned from an assistant pastor at my childhood church, blind people are forced to simply trust cashiers and bank tellers to hand them the correct change then fold the different kinds of bills in different ways to differentiate them. Furthermore, I wonder in today's heavy emphasis on the use of credit and debit cards, how does a blind person know they're being charged the correct amount if they can't see the slip of paper they are signing. It seems like a small thing to the visually enabled, but those that cannot see the numbers on bills or credit card slips lack a huge amount of independence.

Cross posted.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Nonviolence ... Except in Bed?

I normally find xkcd hilarious, but this comic seemed weird. Does this mean the creator of xkcd is okay with rape?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Veterans Bill Passed In House

Yesterday, amid talk of McCain pulling troops out in 2013 and the war funding bill, the House also passed their version of Jim Webb's Montgomery GI Bill changes, which would greatly expand education benefits to veterans who have served since 9/11. The bill has pretty wide support in the Senate, but Bush has asked for more modest reforms, and the majority that passed the bill yesterday wasn't veto-proof.

The Marketplace of Degrees

Scott Jaschik has a long and thoughtful piece over at Inside Higher Ed in light of St. Louis' Washington University decision to award anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly with an honorary doctorate. What, Jaschik wonders, is the point of honorary degrees? In the case of Schlafly, the university is endorsing a free exchange of ideas, officials claimed. But, as Jaschik pointed out,
Most of those protesting the Schlafly degree say that they would not object to her giving a lecture on the campus. Some might picket outside, but they would never challenge the right of a controversial figure to express her ideas, they say. An honorary doctorate is different from a lecture, they argue, because it is an honor, because it takes place at graduation, and because a doctorate — as the highest degree a university can award — conveys a sense of institutional endorsement.
If WU is merely endorsing the Schlafly's right to express ideas rather than the ideas themselves then what's the point of the award. Universities already endorse the free exchange of ideas in the very tenants of the institution of education. By citing this as a reason, university officials are implying Schlafly is doing something brave and new by putting forth unpopular ideas -- but the ideas she purports are merely reinforcement of old stereotypes and a resistance to real science and education.

Furthermore, Jaschik notes that other universities have dealt better with this idea of doling out honorary degrees. The University of Chicago, for instance, only awards honorary degrees to scholars that are nominated by the school's professors. Cornell University avoids the subject altogether and just doesn't award honorary degrees. The question that Jaschik poses is a good one. With so many universities giving out honorary degrees, they can't all be to thoughtful scholars or those that make significant social change. In many cases, it seems that honorary degrees are nothing more than a publicity stunt or means of getting a famous person at a graduation ceremony. When so many people labor long and hard for years to earn real doctorates, the practice of awarding honorary ones seems silly and unfair. I'd be happy to see this convention junked altogether.

Cross posted.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Liking Harassment?

Via Broadsheet, CNN reports that some women like street harassment. Or rather one "researcher used an anonymous email survey of 225 women to draw conclusions. One woman said, "Yeah, it's objectifying and all, but you know, if I walked down the street and didn't have men looking me up and down and catcalling, I'd think, 'Boy, I must really be getting old and dumpy.' " The point this woman missed, though, is that street harassment has nothing to do with how attractive you are. It's objectification, pure and simple and has little bearing on looks.

About 30 percent of the respondents reported getting harassed on a regular basis. Maybe some people like it, but I'd like to see the responses of men who aren't just catcalled but harassed on a daily basis. It's not flattering when the "compliments" on hair, lips, breasts, ass, or eyes come at a high volume on a daily basis. I've received, heard about, and witnessed some pretty disgusting levels of street harassment. There are a couple of ways to deal with it, but there's no solution. One is that you can, as I do, plug your earbuds in and ignore them, the other part is that you can try to receive it well. Most women fear responding in a negative way to antagonize the harasser. Furthermore, telling a street harasser to stop it doesn't really help with a solution. That person still feels entitled to comment publicly on the way any woman he encounters on the street.

I'd really like to see a study where men are repeatedly subjected to street harassment and see how that changes their behavior or perspective.

Resisting "Slutbucks"

Apparently a fringy conservative Christian group dubbing themselves Le Resistance (that's right, they named themselves after the anti-Nazi French resistance group from WWII -- what is it with the Christian right making every "evil" akin to Nazis?) based in San Diego is boycotting Starbuck's new logo that features a bare-breasted two-tailed siren spreading her, um, fins. Interestingly enough, they're also trying to peg themselves as an anti-corporate and anti-consumerist group, even using a parody logo with the words "Consumer Whore." The press release quoted Mark Dice, founder of the group saying the new image "has a naked woman on it with her legs spread like a prostitute." Dice, a rather shadowy figure who also goes by the name John Conner, has worked with the group on other issues like boycotting a Jessica Simpson video.

I think the main problem is not that Starbucks' new logo features breasts and a rather spread-eagled bare-breasted mermaid, but rather that the new logo is far less iconic than the old one and they'll lose their brand identity -- something that has been happening for a long time anyway thanks to their declining quality and rising prices. Furthermore, Starbucks coffee just isn't that good and only a fraction of their coffee is fair trade.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike Starbucks, but the fact of the matter is that this logo war is more about the fact that the group is uncomfortable with women's breasts than it is about consumerism. It's a convenient cover, but I'd venture to guess that the group's anti-consumerism doesn't extend much beyond coffee. And if they're really advocating modesty and decency, then surely they'd be opposed to slinging around words like "slut" and "whore." Unfortunately, that's the exact language they use.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Trapped in Credit Card Debt

New America's Higher Ed Watch blog has a great post by Ben Miller on how colleges and credit cards are teaming up to ensnare students into loads of credit card debt. (The post also includes an interesting fact I didn't know, which is that over 70 percent of students keep their first credit card for years -- now that's brand loyalty that companies would kill for -- and student credit cards often include much higher interest rates and more penalties).

Bob Reich also has a great post from yesterday on how credit card companies are similar to the mortgage industry in that they're dangerously underregulated -- they can raise interest rates at will and hide important information like how they calculate an outstanding balance. It also seems that the lobby in favor of keeping credit card companies that way is way more powerful than any force to enact legislation, and it's not just Republicans that are in the pockets of credit card companies. As Reich says "only 11 of 36 Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee have backed" legislation that would impose tougher regulations on credit card companies.

Cross posted

Graph of the Day

Well, this is depressing. Via the Economic Policy Institute, women start out of college with a nearly $3.00 an hour wage difference. That amounts to roughly $6,000 a year, and we all know your starting base wage has a long-term impact on raises (which are usually figured on a percentage basis) over a lifetime. Furthermore, women's hourly wages in the few years after graduating college seem to have stayed roughly stagnant since 2003, while men's wages have averaged an increase during that time.

Furthermore, a second graph indicates that a college degree is becoming less and less of a guarantee for pension coverage and health insurance for both men and women.

Cross posted.

Athena in Science

Sylvia Ann Hewlett had a piece in the Financial Times this weekend highlighting a study she co-authored (called "The Athena Factor" published in the Harvard Business Review) about how women tend to drop out of the science industry, especially in a corporate setting. Many cite factors such as isolation, like being the only woman on a project, and what Hewlett calls "male behaviour" since "63 per cent of women in science, engineering and technology have experienced sexual harassment." The fact that women aren't as prevalent in science as they could be isn't a new idea. I reported a story about female academics in hard sciences last year for Campus Progress.

One of the greatest factors really can be a lack of mentorship. When a woman feels isolated by being the only woman on the team, and there aren't any strong mentors in the company that they can turn to because other women have "dropped out" the job itself becomes very demoralizing, even if it's in a field that these women have chosen to dedicate their lives to. One thing I discovered while reporting the story was a book written by Ellen Daniell called Every Other Thursday, in which women in the hard sciences found each other and formed a group to help each other stay focused, vent about sexist shit that happened in their department, or just encourage each other in their personal lives. The women in the book really found their own kind of mentorship that they just weren't getting from other people in their departments. Those kind of relationships shouldn't be taken for granted.
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