Saturday, May 16, 2009

One Awesome Filly

Even though I love horses and ride as often as possible, I don't really follow horse-racing. Still, I couldn't help but feel elated when I heard today that Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness Stakes; she was the first filly to race the Preakness since 1999 and the first filly to win since 1924!

You go girl!

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Friday, May 15, 2009

It's time for Obama to step up to the plate

I'm absolutely disgusted to hear about the firing of Lt. Dan Choi. In March, the West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show and openly admitted that he's gay. As a result, on April 23rd he received a letter from the Army discharging him from service due to a violation of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Thus far, Obama has refused requests to intervene on Choi's behalf. This clip from Jon Stewart's Daily Show shows the ridiculous nature of this policy.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Dan Choi Is Gay
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The U.S. government is willing to make all kinds of compromises in the interest of national security: torture, warrantless wire tapping, the surveillance of individuals' use of public libraries, etc. All of these other things are permissible because they, supposedly, stand to help improve national security. However, the government is not willing to "compromise" the nation by allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the military. What makes this decision even more egregious is the fact that Choi is a much-sought-after Arabic translator. Choi's is only the latest in a lone line of such firings. Let's hope he will be the last member of the military to receive such a letter under the Obama administration.

The Courage Campaign has started a petition asking President Obama to stand behind the promise he made while on the campaign trail: to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Please sign the petition urging the President to follow through on that promise. This policy of federally endorsed homophobia must end both for the sake of equality AND national security.

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Torture: Just for the Fun of it

Part of me is unclear on what we're actually talking about in the "torture debate." But I'm becoming convinced that we actually DO know—and the position taken by many Americans is chilling.

As if we didn't know this, the latest declassified information reveals that torture orders came directly from the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney. These orders came despite the fact that Cheney and the rest of the sadistic Bush administration had been warned such tactics were ineffective. These orders came despite the fact that not one Neocon believed there was truly a link between Sadaam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. (Well, maybe W. thought so, bless his heart.) These orders came precisely because Cheney knew that he needed an excuse for an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation. So that waterboarding thing, eh? That's known for getting people to say anything. Let's try that, say, 183 times this month and see what happens.

But nothing happened—no information that was helpful came out of those simulated drownings. Not one shred of useable intelligence was produced after six of these sessions a day for what must have been a very long month—in United States custody. We knew this would happen. We knew this because Cheney's torture script was based on the military training program Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which was designed to help downed American pilots resist torture. SERE came out interrogation methods used by the Chinese during the Korean War to elicit false confessions from American prisoners for propaganda purposes. For essentially the same sinister purposes, the Bush administration ordered the SERE program reverse-engineered by psychologists working within a joint Army and CIA command and renamed "enhanced interrogation methods."

Military and law enforcement professionals repeatedly warned against the application of SERE tactics, but Senate reports confirm that their use was urged by top Bush administration figures desperate to link Al Qaeda and Iraq. The Senate report notes that SERE-based interrogation techniques were presented to Guantanamo personnel in September of 2002, despite the objections of instructors from Fort Bragg. In an interview with the Army’s Inspector General, Army psychiatrist Major Charles Burney said "interrogation tactics that rely on physical pressures or torture…do not tend to get you accurate information or reliable information." According to Burney, instructors repeatedly stressed that harsh interrogations don’t work and that the information gleaned "is strongly likely to be false."

So what in the hell could have led Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, to praise the henchmen who used these techniques? Manically relieved that Democrat Nancy Pelosi has been charged with knowing that torture was being used on detainees as early as 2003, Bond nearly tripped over a flag in his rush to condemn the Hose Speaker. In response to Pelosi's bold-faced claim that the CIA lied to Congress, Bond said: "It’s outrageous that a member of Congress would call our terror-fighters liars. Instead of prosecuting or persecuting, our country should be supporting our intelligence professionals who work to keep us safe.”

I don't doubt that Pelosi is lying. I don't doubt that important documents remain classified today because they reveal the extent of many Democrats' knowledge and endorsement of torture. This is the sort of deplorable response that a child would know better than to try and pull. You don't cover up injustice. And when the rest of the world is watching, you really can't.

Just what is at stake here? Well, not valuable intelligence that will keep Americans safe. We know that sort of thing isn't a byproduct of torture. What we are seeing is a segment of the US population articulate a preference for violence and state-sponsored persecution. Forty two percent of Americans think that there are cases in which the U.S. should consider using torture against terrorism suspects. Almost half of my neighbors have the will to use pain, fear, and overpowering brutality to get what they want. Oh, wait—given what we know about the SERE program's ineffectiveness, those who still support decisions to use torture prefer to inflict pain and suffering EVEN IF it fails to get them a damned thing. They'd do it just for fun.

We will regret it if we don't deal with the perpetrators of US-backed torture techniques. No domestic issue is worth turning our backs on gross injustices committed by Americans. Hoarding "political capital" cannot dissuade the Obama administration from seeking the swiftest, harshest punishment for those who want to bully the rest of the world. If we don't police our own, it will be done in ways even less to our liking.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Women's Lib Fun

Two fun little women's lib-y things for you today.

First, on this past weekend's Mother's Day performance of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor sang a cute little song about motherhood and equal pay for equal work. I've embedded audio for the whole first segment of the show below, but the song starts around 6:20.

Secondly, this past Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, "Four Great Women and a Manicure," is totally worth a watch (and features Jodie Foster providing Maggie's voice during her Fountainhead pastiche). The best line? Lisa: "So Snow White slept and waited for her prince to come, but he never did...because a woman shouldn't have to depend on a man. Snow White was brought back to a lady doctor" Cracks me up!

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Lady Gaga and the Pop Industry

I don't like pop music. Or pop stars. Or pop rhythms. Or pop fans. Or pop the drink, for that matter.

Pop music is over-produced. The melodies are cheesy, written solely to be catchy. The lyrics are shallow. The singing sounds completely impersonal; the sheer amount of processing applied to the sound guarantees it. And don't even get me started on the presentation of women in pop music. The majority of pop stars are women, to be sure, but like the rest of the music, they are merely a product, something to be listened to, looked at, and thrown away in the next craze. If you will, the voice in the song doesn't sound like the woman in the video. She's a sex object, and the voice is the sound engineer's voice. And the sugary sweetness of it only makes it more horribly ironic.

And yet I often find myself listening to, and enjoying - well, let's just say (for the sake of my ego) individual pop singers. Madonna, Cher, P!nk, and others. I guess I'm just a big faker!

Really, though, there is a distinction to be made. Which brings me to Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga is the latest, and potentially weirdest, in the grand tradition of what I'm going to call 'crazy pop stars'. It started (I think) with Madonna, and includes P!nk and some others I can't think of at the moment.

Yes, they're highly produced. Yes, they're highly sexual. Yes, their songs are silly and simplistic (Just Dance? That's a great idea!). It's still music for mass consumption.

But they're, well, strange. Madonna might be sexual, but she's so in-your-face it actually makes you think critically about it, hence the Sex book. P!nk's a baby butch who isn't one, and occasionally lapses into amazing cleverness (in the case of So What) And strange means different, means you pay attention, means they aren't just sex objects anymore. It means they're in control.


Or rather, vs. their producers...
But can you tell from the pictures?

Gaga might just be the weirdest of the bunch to date. Hypnotic robotic dancing, infinite costume changes (up to and including plastic bubbles), incredibly jerky camera movements in her videos, endless songs about being rich and famous (entire first album), and the occasional obscene lyric (usually, one should note, about her doing something to someone else).

It also doesn't hurt that she's her own songwriter. But judge for yourself:

Aguilera - Genie In A Bottle

Gaga - Poker Face

(Embedding was disabled, sorry! Also, I'm not trying to single out Aguilera - she's just a typical example)

So what's the difference? Is there a difference? I think it's this: With Lady Gaga and other 'crazy pop stars', there's less focus on the woman herself, and more a focus on what she's doing. And that makes all the difference.

But perhaps I'm just being arbitrary: what do you think?

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Feminist Flashback #36

In honor of Mother's Day (Happy Mother's Day to you all!), for this week's feminist flashback I'm showcasing my own mother, Rita Dove, former Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner. To say I'm proud of her and awed by her would be an understatement, and I couldn't wish for more phenomenal parents than Rita and my father. That said, with her permission, I'm posting one of her poems from her 1995 book Mother Love, which loosely revolves around the Persephone and Demeter story from Greek mythology. This is not, by any means, her most recent book of poetry, but considering it's Mother's Day, it seemed vastly appropriate (her newest book, Sonata Mulattica came out last month--more on that in a later post).

In any case, to my beautiful, kind, brilliant mother on Mother's Day, I love you.

To all the other mothers in the world, Happy Mother's Day!

by Rita Dove

Just when hope withers, a reprieve is granted.
The door opens onto a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. Reprieve has been granted,
"provisionally"--a fretful word.

The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it's gray; the door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.

Well, the world's open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush,
as you did when you mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life.

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