Recently I picked up the latest Jodi Picoult novel, The Storyteller. I actually am not much of a Picoult fan, but I find her books reasonably compelling–something decent to whip through in a day. the real problem i have is that Picoult always saves One Big Twist, and once you’ve read a couple of her books you can guess the twist.
But anyway, I liked this new book much more than I’ve liked any of her more recent books. (SPOILERS)
i’m going to ignore the parts that felt much more typical–girl meets boy etc, quarterlife crisis, blah blah blah). the part that i felt was an interesting choice on Picoult’s part was to use some of the chapters in a first-world account of being a Nazi. I found this part incredibly compelling. Gut wrenching and rage making and also compelling. There’s also a narrative of a camp survivor, which was exactly as horrifying and depressing and soul-crushing as you expect. Picoult clearly did her research, and there were details in both of these narratives that I certainly was unaware of. So it was certainly not the sort of light reading I associate with Picoult. It was, instead, well….draining. But I want to say that I really respect Picoult for writing such a book. It’s true taht WWII has been written about a lot, but equally true that there are still Holocaust deniers out there, and quite honestly I think it’s a good idea for popular fiction to include descriptions of this atrocity.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is a much different book, told entirely through letters–a concept I often dislike–and it is much lighter. Quite honestly it was a relief. Ever since I read the two books I have been super into WWII, and I listened to some podcasts and a book on tape and now I am watching a documentary, and after this this is going to have be it for me for awhile.
I remain fascinated by the complicity of everyday Germans–SS soldiers and citizens–in the wholesale massacre of other human beings. I think this is the part of the Holocaust that we all find fascinating and terrifying, because it gets to the very fundamental question of humanity. As I was reading especially the narrative “by a Nazi” in Picoult’s book I kept thinking that the asshole should just say NO for gods sake, stop being such a horrible person, etc etc. I wish that I could say that I know for sure that I would not have participated. But I can’t know that. I don’t think anyone can. I suppose I am as sure as I could be that I wouldn’t have participated–but I also know that it is impossible to say that completely. You never know, outside of context, what anyone will do. You cannot. I think that is part of what leaves the Holocaust so full of ongoing mystery. It is so frustrating to listen to the news on any given day and here about the other mass murders still happening; and yet, sometimes it seems as though isolationism vs interventionism will never be resolved. There is a huge part of me that believes firmly that it is totally unethical to just stand by, and for that reason alone Roosevelt will never be a good President to me. And yet we have seen evidence that outside intervention sometimes makes things worse.
Well. I think what we are learning is that I clearly do not have any good, clear answers. Basically, sometimes people are evil, and sometimes people are complicit in atrocities, and sometimes the rest of us have no good options.
(xposted Books Are Pretty)
You know what bugs the ever living hell out of me?
Pseudoscience. Pseudoscience bugs the ever living hell out of me. The fact that every single day my facebook feed is filled with stuff and nonsense for which no empirical evidence exists–vaccines cause autism! not eating gluten will cure depression! antioxidants will fix your cancer!–bugs the ever living hell out of me.
Barbara Enrenreich’s Bright-Sided, which I cannot believe it has taken me this long to read, is essentially a giant debunking of another kind of pseudoscience: the power of positive thinking.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, well, positive thinking HELPS US! It helps us to be healthier and strengthens our immune systems and that which does not kill us makes us stronger so slap a colored ribbon on your car and lets run a 5K!
God that bugs me.
Ehrenreich’s book, which I tore through in an afternoon, includes a fantastic exploration of the history of positive thinking, which rose, essentially, in objection to Calvinism–I agree constantly monitoring yourself for sin to see whether you are predestined to burn in hell seems a perfectly dreadful way to live. I am just not sure that replacing with the constant self-monitoring for negative thoughts is a whole lot better. A little better, but not a whole lot. And as Ehrenreich shows, there are a lot of parallels between Calvinist thinking that you ought to cast out the sinners from your life and the exertions of positive thinking gurus to stop associating with negative people–even if they happen to be, say, your spouse. There’s a lot of what she calls (heehee) “inescapable pseudoscientific flapadoodle” inherent in much of the guru-led nonsense, like The Secret and its ilk. Tell me “inescapable pseudoscientific flapadoodle” is not the exact phrase you have been searching for to explain your facebook feed!
I’m not even going to try to explain all of the ways in which Enrenreich disproves the various IPFs, but I will say that she provides some damn compelling evidence that America’s over-reliance on positive thinking–with its genuinely fascinating historical and religious roots–contributed significantly to the economic collapse. This is one of the more interesting chapters in a text where no chapter disappoints. For me, though, the highlight was the chapter on cancer. Enrenreich, who had breast cancer, talks about the pervasive belief that getting cancer was somehow a Good Thing: it was meant to happen! It would lead her to better things! She could get a pretty wig and a free makeover! She should look at cancer as an oppurtinity to find her true self!
Well, if you will pardon my French, bullfuckingshit. As Enrenreich discovered, this relentless focus on positivity actually meant that she, and other patients, didn’t have a chance to think critically about treatment options–which in the world of cancer, where chemo can hurt as much as heal, is pretty damn critical. It made it hard to pull out important information from malarky.
America has some weird strains running through it. One of these is our idea that if we just work hard enough we can all become President, or at least a ballerina. This is garbage and we should really stop saying it. Yes, you can achieve a lot of wonderful and amazing things with the right amount of determination–if a lot of other factors are also present. I can dream lots and lots of things. I can do very few of them. This is not a defeatist attitude. This is an attitude that reflects reality. This is part of why I think social programs can be so hard to get through politically–a strain of America believes that people don’t need the government to help them, because if they just worked hard enough, they wouldn’t need health care because they wouldn’t get sick, and they wouldn’t need federally funded early childhood education because they’d make enough money to send their kids to the 30K a year preschool down the road. Again, this entire notion is garbage. That’s not to say that having goals and sticking to them and working incredibly hard and paying your dues are not all important. They are tremendously important. It’s just that in addition we have this thing called reality, and the fact is that there are people for whom the deck is stacked right from the beginning, and for those people the traditional American dream requires more than hard work. It requires luck and help. This is true for everyone, actually, its just that its infinitely truer for some than for others.
So there’s that, and related to that I think is our idea that wishing can make it so. That if we just will ourselves to get better, or assume that we got sick or hurt or poor for a reason, we can Make Something Of It and Come Out Stronger and whatever other cliches you want to throw out there. This is nonsense. I can tell you right now that struggling with chronic depression does not make me a stronger or better person, or more in touch with reality. It makes it harder for me to do the things I want to do. That’s it. Having cancer did not make my father stronger or better or wiser. It meant that he had to go through a lot of pain. That’s it. Sometimes there is no deeper meaning. It is tantalizing to believe that there is. I get that. I wish that having had depression brought me some sort of special powers of empathy or clarity or artistic talent. But sometimes shit just happens. Oftentimes that shit does not make us stronger or better or wiser. Suffering is part of the human condition, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to be angry about that suffering. If you have cancer, if you are dirt poor, if your parents beat you, it is okay to wake up in the morning and curse the universe. The universe can take it. The universe is not going to turn into a spiteful third-grader and smite you for cursing it. Some things are not fair and some things never will be. Sometimes there is nothing the fuck up with that.
This isn’t to say that science knows everything. It doesn’t (scientists would be the first to admit that). There are not explanations for everything. There are lots and lots of things about the universe that we don’t know and probably never will. But science is and remains the best way we have to measure actual truth. Actual truth, in the way I am thinking of it, is different from your own truth; actual truth is, say, evolution, or gravity, or the way that the earth is round. You can have all sorts of truths of your own, things that you believe way into the fabric of your gut. You should have those things. It’s just that those things are beliefs. They are not fact. And there are all sorts of things we will discover that may well change the way we currently conceive of the world; chemicals that we think are safe now may prove not to be, for example. Actually I think we can all agree that’s going to happen. But we have to do the best that we can with the science and the facts and the medicine that we have now. I am not going to try to repeat the ways in which the book refutes various studies on happiness but if you are into science I suggest it.
Ehrenreich is not suggesting that we suddenly start looking at the world with mud-colored glasses–in fact, as she points out, depressed folks tend to do just that and it is certainly no healthier than unrealistic optimism. Rather, she is suggesting that perhaps we look at the world as it really is. That we use critical thinking skills–those of us that were lucky enough to learn them in school, and I am not being remotely snarky here–and reality testing and evidence based claims to decipher our world. As she says, “the alternative to both [overly pessimistic or optimistic thinking] is to try to get outside of ourselves and see things ‘as they are’ or as uncolored as possible by our own feelings and fantasies, to understand that the world is full of both danger and opportunity–the chance of great happiness as well as the certainty of death” (Ehrenreich p.196).
So if you are diagnosed with breast cancer and it makes you feel better and more able to face the day and make informed decisions about your own health care to fill your room with pink ribbons, go for it. Just don’t expect it to cure you. It will not.
When the shootings in Newtown first hit the news, I felt all the things I usually feel at a mass murder: a pang of sadness, a jolt of fear. I didn’t realize at first that it was a school, and I didn’t realize at first that it was young kids, and I didn’t realize that it was twenty.
All day Friday, I curled up in bed—I had the day off—and watched twitter and facebook and eventually the New Yorker, NYT etc, watching as details trickled out. My horror mounted. Twenty children. Twenty first graders.
In the days since I find that I cannot get it out my head. I’ve always been a sensitive sort, and when I was a kid I vaccilated between reading very sad books and not being able to read books that contained words such as cancer, because they reminded me that those things were out there, that our lives are so very fragile.
I cuddled my dog. The Onion nailed it.
I went to a party for a little boy turning seven on Saturday. I watched the children run around in a church basement, learning to dance, coloring. One girl cried quietly, missing her dad, and I sat with her, trying to cheer her up. I hugged the children I know close to me, squeezed them as hard as I could.
On Sunday I went to church. I talked to my youth about it. I told them that I knew that it was scary, and overwhelming, and sad. They were mostly angry. I told them that I was angry too.
On Monday, I held a newborn for four hours as she slept on me. I kissed the soft down of her head, her starfish hands and her seashell ears, and I said a silent prayer.
On Tuesday I played with a young toddler. She shrieked with delight when we did TIMBER and peek-a-boo, found my eyes for me, sang songs and ate lunch, and I held out my arms for a hug, capturing that moment when she crashed into me and snuggled up, patting my back, and I hoped like hell.
And here we are.
It’s been a few days. This afternoon I was flipping through the Post and I came to an article about the children, with their pictures, their stories, the one who loved superheroes, the one who carried markers with her. There is no bad picture of a child that young. They are all so full of promise. So full of life.
I can’t say anything about twenty children being slaughtered that hasn’t already been said. And oh, I know, I know it happens all over the world. I know that children die all the time, of all sorts of things, many—even most—of which are entirely preventable, if only humanity didn’t suck quite so much. And I know that part of the reason Newtown is getting so much attention is that the children were white (although I refuse to believe that if the kids were black we would not mourn so fully. I’m halfway convinced that the only reason Anne Frank said people were mostly good is that she hadn’t yet spent a lot of time with the Nazis, but I still have a tiny bit of hope). And I know that kids are killed with guns all the time. I know.
And yet. There is something about an entire classroom of first graders being hunted down, in school, that just guts me.
So I’m sad. I cannot imagine what their parents and siblings are going through. It is unspeakable, to lose a child. It is my greatest fear, I think. I don’t know how anyone goes on living after that.
But mostly, now, I am angry. I am so, so angry.
I have always been pretty anti-gun, but I’ve been willing to tolerate those who are not, or those who feel that we don’t need gun control. No more. Oh, I’m not going to automatically hate anyone who owns a gun—although I don’t like it—but if you think for a second that your right to own a semi automatic or assault rifle, to use high volume magazines, is greater then the right of children not to be massacred in school—then you are scum. I am not kidding. I don’t want to hear any of this bullshit about how more guns would make us safer and if only teachers were armed (this is simply not true anyway. If you are part of the gun lobby, if you are part of the people who have actively fought against commonsense gun laws, then you are complicit in the murder of children.
How does that feel? How do you live with yourselves?
I know, I know. This is not how we make progress. We make progress by understanding, by building bridges. But I am too angry to care. There is no excuse.
And the mental gymnastics these people go through is just astounding. One person I know posted the following on facebook: “would you rather have all your fingers chopped off by a madman or be shot to death? If those were your options for your child, would you prefer they be killed or live a life unable to do even the most basic things independently, and be forced to live with that trauma?”
But since you asked: I would rather my child be attacked by a knife then a gun, yes. You are damn right, I would. Do you know why? Because knives are a hell of a lot less lethal, you fuckwit.
Someone else, on the comments of a thread somewhere—never read the comments, and now I don’t even remember where I read it—that he always uses a semi-automatic when he hunts, because what if you miss the bear (WEEDS CLIP).
THEN DON’T HUNT BEARS.
And of course, Mike Huckabee (R-prehensible) as well as one former fb friend, suggested that we just need god back in our schools.
Then there’s the mental health stuff.
Now look. Mentally ill folks are far more likely to be victims . They are usually not dangerous. Psychopaths more often are dangerous, but not always, and we have NO IDEA what was up with Adam Lanza (and btw, you are not Adam Lanza’s mother).
Do we need mental health reform in this country? Duh. Do we need to deal with the fact that there may well be some kids who have very, very serious issues and that are a danger to their families and that we offer almost no support for those families? Obviously.
And I’m sure that our absurd culture of toxic masculinity doesn’t help, and yeah, obviously, obviously, we should look at that.
As Dave Cullen points out, there are basically three types of mass murderers: the truly insane, who are utterly out of touch with reality (the Tucson and Virginia Tech shooters) the sadistic psychopath (Eric Harris, Columbine’s mastermind) and most commonly the suicidally depressed. So yes, we should be screening all adolescents for depression, duh.
But you know what? In every culture, there’s always going to be a segment of the populace that is mentally ill. Probably there will be a segment that’s psychopathic. Every culture will have its dangers.
You know what really, really helps negate that danger?
NOT GIVING EVERYONE ACCESS TO GUNS.
Can we just do that, first? Because if the folks working for change get distracted by the very valid roads of mental health reform, we will lose track of gun control. And the very first thing that we can do, the thing that we can do most immediately, is to push like hell for that.
Look, I’m not happy with ANYONE having guns, but I really do understand that some people are responsible gun owners, and that there is some Constitutional basis for this (although I think you could very easily argue that the Founders meant something very, very different, and none of us should have guns. Since that fight is not going to be won anytime soon, though…)
But there is NO reason not to immediately ban assault and semi automatic weapons and high capacity magazines. Start with that.
I am glad to see that Obama has been angry. He should be. We should all be angry. And angry Obama is the one that gets shit done. But he is going to have to step up, as our all of our political leaders, and make change. To do otherwise is simply unconscionable.
There is no excuse for not acting. Have you no shame?
If you need a reminder, well, you can remember these names:
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, , 6
Josephine Gay, , 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6
the dangers of hotel housekeeping (in which the NYT op-ed page is actually halfway decent about sex crimes!)
let’s play Spot the Institutional Racism! (the comments on this post are mostly good…until you get to “Ashley” and “Katie” who are all, well we are colorblind and you all suck since you SEE RACISM OMG. ::headdesk::
Apparently there’s gonna be a Sarah Palin movie, and not the Tina Fey kind, either. Too bad, because the Tina Fey kind is the only kind worth watching.
This may be the worst thing I’ve read about the prez candidate, and in a world that includes Palin, that’s saying something.
OH AND LOOK A PSA I ACTUALLY LIKE and it aired during Glee which means people actually saw it, hooray!
Reading Rebecca Traister’s fantastic book, Big Girls Don’t Cry, was…hard. In the three years since the 2008 elections, in the drama of Obamacare and insane birthers and Gitmo and in Hillary Clinton’s rise to one of the most beloved women in America and perhaps our best Secretary of State, I’d more or less forgotten about the need for Shakesville‘s Hillary Clinton Sexism Watch. I’d forgotten about those on the left, the purported liberals, who let loose with such stunning misogyny that I was left speechless and raging, both at the time and in reading BGDC. (REALLY, Chris Matthews? REALLY, Keith Olbermann? Why are you still around? REALLY, tons of other people?)
Traister is very honest about her own shifting feelings throughout the contest, and the book is peppered with anecdotes about her experience covering the campaign, hearing Bill Clinton talk, sobbing at Hillary’s concession speech…she is a really gifted writer and a really gifted observer, and she was watching very closely. The book’s story about gender and class in the election is really important reading.
I remember meeting Gloria Stienem. I was sixteen and writing for Young D.C. and covering some sort of pro choice concert with Ani Difranco. Wish I could remember the exact event. At any rate, they sent me to interview Stienam. It was, obviously, a huge thrill. One of my favorite parts of reading Traister’s book were the Gloria Stienem Stories, especially her conversations with Shelby Knox, who was living with Steinem at the time. Knox reported telling Stienem that not only did she (Knox) want to see a woman president but she wanted GLORIA to get to see it.
So there were lots of gutting moments in this book, and there were lots of goosebumpy moments, lots of enraging moments and of course lots of joyful moments. But none–none–left me as gutted as this exchange:
“It was in this same interview that Stienem first told me that she voted for Clinton because she did not believe she could win her party’s nomination. Believing Stienem to have misspoken, I interrupted her. ‘Because you knew she couldn’t win?’ I prompted, waiting for the correction. ‘Right,’ she said gently. ‘I’ve always known she couldn’t win.'”
It’s not that I wish Clinton had won. I’m glad of the way things turned out, very glad. It’s just that I wish so much that she could have won.
Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, I went to Toys R Us with my sisters–one of them wanted to find things to put in a snow globe she’s making.
It was really quite disturbing.
Obviously, there’s the really dreadful consumer aspect of Toys R Us (I never go there because there’s a great indie toy store-Child’s Play-very close to me and if I need to get kid gifts that’s where I go). Every conceivable thing has been licensed/tied in/etc. Note the toy food is McDonalds, there are Twilight lunch boxes, WWF action figures, Barbie and Disney Princess everything–shopping carts, play cars, vanity tables, etc.
The gendered aspect is, if anything, worse. Toys R Us is the most gendered store I’ve ever seen. It’s even worse than Target. You will see in the pics that there are often girl and boy versions of the same toy right next to each other, often featuring characters–for example, there’s a Disney Princess television next to a Cars television (who buys their child a television featuring characters?) There is a pink Cadillac and a black Cadillac, pink Rollerblade and black Rollerblade, pink bank and blue bank, pink Duplos and primary color Duplos.
But worst of all is the message these toys send. Virtually all of the boys toys involve competence, courage, strength and bravery–action figures of military, “everyday heroes,” wrestlers, superheroes. Not surprisingly, vehicles play a large role in boys toys, with tons of trucks and cars with names such as Mutator and WildFire. The names are interesting here–“Hero Factory,” “Khung Zoo Ninja Warriors,” “Rough Riders,” “Crime 8,” and “Battle 5 Force.” The only cuddly toy, aside from some blue dogs, that I saw for boys was a soft hamster–called a Battle Hamster. The only female action figure I saw had both arms cut off. Meanwhile, girls toys focus on caregiving, submission and responsibility: lots and lots of dolls, often with names or themes such as “Little Mommy,” “Baby Alive,” “Snuggle Kins,” “Caring Corner,” and “The Princess and Me.” There’s a lot of messaging about how worth is valued by service to others and acceptance of stereotypical feminine traits: an apron reads “express your talent” and features Disney Princesses, and there are multiple pink baking sets. Rather than action figures, girls have disturbingly wide-eyed Little Pet Shop or Polly Pocket or Barbie girls, all of whom are shockingly sexualized. The focus is largely on caregiving and often on taking care of babies, specifically: there are dolls that wet, dolls that cry, dolls with their own cribs. There are also housekeeping supplies, such as a pink Princess vacuum, and there is a pink vanity table. Virtually all playsets include a component of caregiving, from My Little Pony to the Littlest Pet Shop to the Happy Family Doll House to Loving Family. Those latter 2 point to a disturbing “everyone must be happy” trend which is augmented by a baby supply company called Summer: The Best Time of Your Life. Mothers who find infants exhausting and prefer their kids older? You’re wrong.
Even babies don’t escape. Onesies for girls say “pretty” and are pink. Onesies for boys have cars, say “beep” and are blue. There are gendered baby bathtubs and gendered (and character laden) toddler potty seats. There’s Elmo, Disney Princess, and Toy Story shampoo. There are toddler beds covered in Princess and Cars spreads. There are Thomas the Tank Engine toy chests. There are pink bead mazes.
The store was packed–not surprising–and kids were melting down and overwhelmed: entirely too much stimuli. We do children a great disservice by exposing them to this sort of consumerist gendered crap. Since we know that children learn through play, it seems evident that limiting their play by telling boys and girls what is and is not okay to play with can only have negative consequences. I heard one set of parents teasing their young son, telling him they’d buy him “girl toys” while he protested–laughing and cringing at the same time. Heartbreaking.
So check out these photographs, and see what we’ve done to our children whenever we take them into a toy store.
I’ve been meaning to blog for days about the Twitter movement #mooreandme. But instead, I’ve been monitoring it from my computer. Suffice to say that this is one incredible story about how a bunch of feminists used Twitter to change–at least a little bit–the victim blaming, rape culture narrative around the accusations of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for rape.
So here is your roundup. These are all well, well, WELL worth a read.
Sady Doyle, #mooreandme founder (read the whole blog, this is just the end).
and of course, the Twitter feed itself. Warning: there are some really awful trolls over there.
this has been a fascinating discussion. I am appalled at Keith Olbermann, who really fucked up and failed to uphold basic journalistic standards. I am a little less appalled at Michael Moore, who at least bothered to apologize. But mostly I am appalled at a society that still allows rape to be taken so lightly–a society that still refuses to take all victims as credible victims, a society that refuses to believe that any woman can be raped. And a society that seems to find it impossible to hold 2 things at the same time: yes, we can support WikiLeaks AND RAPE VICTIMS. We can even be highly suspicious of the timing of the charges–virtually no one disagrees that they are suspicious–and we can even (gasp!) assume that Assange, as is theoretically true of everyone under American law, is innocent until proven guilty. We can do that and we can also honor rape victims and take rape seriously. Yes, we can.
My sincerest thanks to Sady Doyle, Jaclyn Friedman, Kate Harding and every other feminist who has worked tirelessly on this all week. It’s a small victory, true: but it is a victory, and there will be more to come.