Friday, October 26, 2012

An open letter to Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and any other whacko who insists on blaming the women or involving God in rape


I address this letter to Reps. Akin and Mourdock specifically, but more generally to the bat-shit-crazy male religious wingnuts who insist on attributing rapes, the results of rapes, and violent crime to God.   I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you tend to be men.

Rep. Akin, you have stated that women legitimately raped cannot get pregnant.  Extrapolating from your statement, every pregnant “victim” of rape is a liar by virtue of the fact she is pregnant. 

First, you are an idiot.  But more importantly, I don’t believe for a minute that you believe that.  Why would you say such a thing that you can’t possibly believe?  It seems far more plausible that your idiocy is predicated on fear.    

Let me lead you on a journey.  A woman becomes pregnant by a man not her husband.  Perhaps he is a philanderer.  Perhaps he is a boyfriend who doesn’t want to marry her.  In a world of DNA testing, science has him backed in a corner; the father cannot deny paternity.  If the man and woman are friendly, it is up to them to negotiate the terms of this stroke of bad luck.  If the man negotiates in bad faith, attempting to escape his responsibility for example, he risks angering the woman.  An angry woman’s ultimate weapon is to accuse her partner of rape.  This appears to be Rep. Akin real fear.  In Akin world, women accuse men of rape as just another weapon in the gender wars.

This is not a terribly common fear among men, but heightening the fear is the near impossibility of defending against it.  Paternity is established.  The man clearly had sex with the woman.  But was it rape?  In cases of “He said, She said” where paternity is fact, the only defense is to undermine the character of the accuser.  If the sex was consensual, there was no rape.  An unmarried woman having sex or a woman having sex with a married man is a woman of low morals.  She's not a good girl.  And we all know that bad girls are asking for it.  They lure good men to do bad deeds.  And girls who have forbidden sex are equally as capable of lying about it.  In fact, they are more likely to lie to cover up their bad behavior.  They might even lie because they didn’t get their way. 

Where is the man in this scenario?  He is a assumed to be a victim.  He engaged in consensual sex with a bad girl who then lied about the nature of the dalliance.  Despite his best efforts to do right by the child, the woman became angry and unjustly accused him of rape.  Our man is a victim.  That is what Rep. Akins’ statement is all about.  He would rather disparage the character of all women than to ask men to “man up”.  In Akin world, no man rapes, and all women are liars.  He attempted to inject bad science into the argument as proof. 

But let’s be clear.  Belief that a woman scorned would falsely accuse a man of rape is an extreme fear.  It is not something that happens with such regularity that a generalized fear of women is warranted.  This fear attributes to all women a willingness to engage in the most extreme behavior imaginable:  a willingness to falsely accuse someone of a violent crime and to send them to jail for a long time out of spite.

Wow.  Really?  Rep. Akin, do you have any idea how difficult it is to get a rape conviction?  Do you know the social isolation that comes with accusing someone of rape?  Women know that without physical proof or an eyewitness, they are unlikely to get justice.  They also know that their past behavior, sexual history and general  character will presented for public consumption in court, that the accused will attempt to undermine their character, and that they will be assumed to be lying simply because they have reported a crime.  Reporting and pursuing legal recourse for rape is not something that any woman takes lightly.  Statistics indicate that only a tiny fraction of rapes are ever reported.  As a general rule, the law has failed to protect women against rape.  The law fails women victims of violent crime.  That this statistic is admitted by police departments across this land should cause greater concern than the highly unlikely event that a woman would falsely accuse a man of rape.  Rep. Akin, if you were a man of character and one worthy of your office, you would be addressing this problem instead of contributing to it. 

Rep. Akin, in your single idiotic statement, you paint women, as a class, as untrustworthy, manipulative liars and you do so to allow men to cover up their misdeeds.   Trust me.  These men don’t need any more help than the law already provides.  Your statement is insulting to women, nearly as great in its magnitude as the assaults they condone and legitimize.  You are unfit for public office.  Go back to your district and find another job. 

Rep. Mourdock, you have said that a woman victim of rape becomes pregnant because God intended it.  When asked whether you intended to imply that God preordains rape, you said that was “sick and twisted”.  You also are an idiot and a really, really misguided Christian. 

Let me break this down for you, Rep. Mourdock.  One quarter of all women will be victims of rape at some point in her life.  25%.  That means me.  That means women you know.  One in four.  Any God that intends a woman to get pregnant as a result of rape MUST intend that woman to be raped.  Do you honestly believe that a benevolent God would not intervene as a woman is brutally attacked and then say, “I intend as a product of this violence that a child should be given to this woman as my gift”?  You are the sick and twisted one.   If the act of rape is not “of God”, how can the results of rape be “of God”?

Further, you must remember that men and women can be victims of rape.  Both adults and children can be victims of rape.  But only adult female victims of rape possess the second terror of this horrific crime: the possibility of pregnancy.  If God intends one biological result of rape, the pregnancy, then God must also intend the other inevitable biological results of rape.  So long-term psychological damage to the victim, damage to the reproductive organs of children, torn rectums, humiliation, pain, and so on are the express intent of God.  No, you say?  Really?  Why is one inevitable biological result the intent of God, but not another?  Why is God so inconsistent?   Did he tell you which things he intended and which he did not?  How do you know? 

Rep. Mourdock, your statement clearly illustrates why we separate our religious beliefs from our public policy.  I do not believe in your inconsistent, punitive, misogynistic God.  I would never believe in a God that singled out women victims of violence for extra punishment.  I would never believe in a God that *could* protect women, men and children from violence but chooses not to.   Either your God is involved in our everyday lives or he is not.  Rep. Mourdock, you do not get to pick-and-choose for the lot of us when and under what circumstances your imaginary daddy in the sky gets to intervene in our lives.
Either you keep your idiotic religious beliefs out of your professional life or stay home and preach your doctrine to your children.  You have no business bringing that kind of bat-shit crazy thinking to the public square.  If I was a believer, I’d pray your constituency rejects you.



Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hitting the Nail on the Head

Sometimes you read something and it resonates so true with you that you have to stop for a minute and revel in the simplicity of someone who just gets it right.

Today, I found just such an example over on Huff Post.

The Tea Party mantra of "Take back our country!" is racism cloaked in patriotism by people who can't compete, can't adapt, and no longer have the protection and security of simply being white. This is even more prevalent in the South. Their fear the world is leaving without them, their fear the federal government won't favor them and the state government doesn't have the authority, their fear the ones they have for so long been able to oppress and keep in their place are no longer willing to stay there and are therefore gaining more power, and their lack of control over these changes around them is what is driving this movement. They can call it whatever they want, justify it in whatever way helps them sleep at night, but I see the truth and it disgusts me.
Good job and good writing, Melissa.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I just don't get these kids today

Ok, so D-fav J is on a rant and decided to pull me into it. I thought I'd take just a moment to defend myself and my original argument.

A. The original intent of my post (as opposed to the letter I actually wrote to the company), was a sort of tongue-in-cheek poke at myself. It's the inevitable dismay at having turned into my mother.

B. I think you have misunderstood the nature of my complaint. In that original letter I wrote to Steep and Cheap, I was pointing out that I don't wish to encounter the word "shit" when I'm trying to shop. The "there are kids reading this" comment was secondary to MY preferences and I felt you sort of focused on that part of my comment when that was just a lazy phrase I threw in. I felt (and still do) that I have every right to express my opinion to companies whose services or products I purchase...whether it be for the manner of their advertising (take Nikon's Negro in the jungle ads, or Steep and Cheap's bomber jacket's da shit ad copy), or the taste of Campbell's soup (too damn salty! already). I feel no differently about this interaction with a corporate entity than I do when I ask Kroger to add a few more organic and green product choices, please. And really, if you had read that particular Daily Dose where he talked about going into a bar and calling some Irish guy a drunk Mic or something, you'd know where I'm coming from.

The "you kids get off my lawn" title was intended as a poke at my advancing age and the stereotype of grumpy ol' Mr. Wilson trying to rid himself of Dennis the Menace (I know, probably an obscure reference for you). But with respect to young people, yeah, I do care when teenagers sling around the f-bombs when families with small children are trying to eat. I do care when some drunk concert-goer screams like a little girl through every fucking song when I paid $60 for a ticket to listen to the performer actually sing it in person. I do care when lifeguards text message on their cell phone when they are supposed to be in charge of saving lives. However, I don't really give a flying rat's ass what the young kids do amongst themselves. They want to call each other "nigga" and I'm supposed to believe it's not racial, so be it. When my nephew posts pictures of himself and his friends on Facebook playing with balloons in the shape of a penis and testicles and act as though they are giving each other blow jobs, I'm not saying a word. Let him realize how embarrassing that's gonna be when he tries to get a real job post-college.

But let's get real here for a minute. You have rigorously defended the younger generation as though they are a generation of polite, smart, civic-minded Kevin Arnolds, and I think you are living in a dream world there. Sure, the younger generation is not racist. I think the younger generation is not racist NOT because they are some greater level of benevolent than previous generations but because their parent's generation purposely raised them not to be racist, in defiance of their (parent's) own upbringing. But overly civic minded? Horse shit! I believe this generation is as apathetic as most other previous generations. I believe your sense of your generation being so proactive is a product of your personal experience (and you hang with a pretty damn upscale crowd), and not indicative of the larger community of young people. Go to a soup kitchen. Or a hospital. Or a reading program. Who do you see volunteering? Who is walking around your neighborhood trying to solicit donations for charity? When I was 37 years old, I began volunteering at the zoo. I was the youngest volunteer in my area by about 25 years. No one is going to come close to approaching the elderly in terms of giving of their time and energy. It takes time to gain the perspective and see the value in "giving back". Young people (as a group) just aren't there yet.

So, while it may not be okay to be openly racist these days, there are plenty of other things that these "kids today" have no problem being pretty darn insensitive about. (Although, I will admit that it is not significantly different that the lack of civility and sensibility that one finds in the public at large---this really doesn't seem to be a product of age.) However, it was YOUR argument that the young people today are so much better than the young people of previous generations.

Case in point. Let's go back to the Steep and Cheap advert about the hat with a zippered pocket for the ski-lift doobage. I heard back from Fred after that post. Here's what he had to say about the rules he had to implement regarding ad copy. And keep in mind, that this is just the bare minimum.
I have made progress on the editorial front by implementing at least the following guidelines and limitations:
  • Absolutely no use of the “f” word in backcountry copy
  • Avoid sensitive issues related to politics and religion
  • Never make fun of a human disease or disability (this was out of control before)
  • Absolutely no hate speech or anything that can be perceived as bigotry
  • Be sensitive to the values of parents
Your concern about the “stoner culture,” as you call it, is also a concern to me. I mean that sincerely.

He actually had to distribute rules that said they would not drop f-bombs or make fun of human disability. Now there's some upscale thinking for ya.

I am not blind, deaf, or an idiot. My nephew uses the term "gay" as a put down. I find it appalling. I have heard him talk to his friends when he thinks he is out of earshot and he calls women "bitches" and "ho's". Cringe City. He takes pictures of he and his friends flipping the photographer the bird. So 1977. And apparently, there is some quality of mouth wide open, tongue hanging out that he finds to be a heart-warming Kodak moment. I take a "I won't ask, please don't tell me" approach.

Do I think that kids enjoy pushing the envelope? Of course. Do I tire of having it thrust upon ME where I find it difficult to avoid? You bet. I find it irritating the same way I find it irritating that blue jeans come in two varieties--elastic waist just beneath my cleavage or producing a muffin top/threatening to show my butt crack every time I bend over. I am 47 years old and I'd like MY preferences to be considered along with those of 12-24 year olds. I'd like Campbell's soup to make a low, LOW sodium soup that I could choke down. I'd like my concerts without the vomit, pot-haze, or screaming ninjas, my swimming pool with an attentive life guard, my shopping experience without the shit-fucking-stoner copy, and I'd like to eat in peace. I realize the value in NOT selling alcohol at venues that attract a lot of people. I don't consider it an inconvenience anymore--I consider it a public service.

As for the young people of this generation, I think they have great potential. I think they have great challenges. I don't think they are substantially different than my generation, my parent's generation, or your generation. They have their own culture and they are welcome to it. But they do have to interact with people of all ages, and that includes customers of their businesses. And if they want to sell to people outside of their generation, they are going to have to consider the sensibilities of people outside their generation. I don't think you call your colleagues "homies". I don't think you call your boss "nigga". I don't think you use the word "shit" in ad copy and I do think it's irresponsible to encourage drug use. Steep and Cheap doesn't want to sell to me. That's their choice. I have every right to open a dialogue about it, to encourage them to see me as more than a cranky old person. Maybe one day, probably when they are 47, they will begin to think of me as a valuable customer. But by then it will be too late. No one will be listening to them either.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

You Can Never Go Home Again

I realized today, in glaring terms, how little I have left in common with the friends of my youth.

Today, I received an invitation to my 30th High School Reunion. Here is the announcement in its entirety.

Dear Classmates:

It is hard to believe that we are approaching our 30 year class reunion! We hope you are gearing up to participate in our celebration that is currently being planned. Our goal is to reunite friends and have a wonderful weekend. Please set aside July 30-31st, 2010 on your calendars. Below is a tentative outline of our plans.

Friday, July 30 -

“Cornhole At the Club”

Site: Bellefonte Country Club (Poolside)

Time: TBA

Dress: Informal

Features: Grilled hamburgers, hotdogs, games and swimming.

Saturday, July 31-

Golf Outing for the guys. Check the website for further details which are pending.

EVENING: Semi-formal Dinner/Dance

Time: 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Social Hour/Appetizers

7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Dinner/Awards

9:00 p.m. to 12 midnight Dance (D.J. will be spinning tunes from 1975 - 1980)

When I saw that the Friday evening event was "Cornhole at the Club", I wondered just exactly what sort of reunion they were planning. Apparently, I'm a real asshole (no pun intended) for pointing out their unfortunate choice of words.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Race in America: D responding to J responding to D

Wherein D owns what she says, smooths D-Fave J's ruffled feathers, and elaborates, possibly inciting deeper discussion or perhaps further division.
Wow. I'm kind of surprised to read this from you at this point, D.
Ok, I'm just gonna say this. This sort sounds like I'm your pet project and I backslid or something. Am I supposed to be sorry for my comments? You should know by now that there is almost always deeper thinking behind my ideas. Rather than shame or disappoint one another, let's get right to them.

There are a lot of issues at play here and perhaps the best way to tackle this is to deconstruct them.

Tiger Woods. All the hullabaloo surrounding Tiger Woods seems to be an issue of racial politics. Who owns celebrities? Can we share ownership of mixed race people? Am I allowed to claim Obama as one of my own? I am not ignorant of the "one drop" rule, nor do I have any problem with the black community using it as their own barometer of those they wish to claim. However, high achieving people are claimed by virtually everyone. Case in point: Michael Jordan. He is claimed by his family, his hometown, his high school, his college, his teammates, fans of his sports team, North Carolina, Illinois, Chicago, his racial community, his nation, just about every fucking person everywhere. Why? Because we ALL want to align ourselves with uber talented, insanely spectacular people. Who owns Michael Jordan? No one. Son of a bitch has more money than Oprah. Well, he did until he got divorced.

I will concede that a lot of what the field negro says, he says to be provocative and to initiate discussion. So when he says that Tiger Woods is just getting his come-uppance for rubbing elbows with the massah and forgetting about his blackness, I take it as tongue in cheek. But the field spends an extraordinary amount of blogspace advancing the idea that high-achieving black professionals fool themselves into thinking they are powerful. That the black power elite are neither powerful nor elite because the real white power elite can jack-slap them back out to the fields the first time they forget their place. He usually suggests this idea after a powerful black person has fucked up royally. Although I have learned a great deal from the field and respect him immensely, I think this idea (if indeed he actually believes it) is preposterously naive. He violates common rules of logic when he applies his pet theory not to the broader community of high-achieving black professionals, but only to those who have fallen from grace. It is easy to say Tiger's fall is the result of the white man's displeasure with the n****r after the black man has fucked half a dozen women outside of his dream marriage, lost a variety of contracts with morals clauses, and embarrassed himself in public.

But can we please concede that Tiger Woods is NOT subject to the same prejudices, indignities and pressures as the rest of the community of color? He's fucking fantastically rich! We're not talking Bernie Mac rich or Eddie Murphy rich. We're talking audience with the President rich. We're talking Michael Jordan rich.

I would remind the field of Obama's comment on David Letterman regarding racial backlash. Do you think for one minute that TIGER WOODS the GOLFER forgot that he wasn't white? Do you think for one minute that anyone in his professional life has ever let him forget that he is the great black golfer? That he is the barrier breaker? That he is a role model for a new generation of black youth? Speaking for myself, I celebrate the Tiger Woodses and the Michael Jordans of the world for their incredible talent and not for their color. Maybe I have the luxury to ignore their race, but I have no less right to them than you do.

African American as a race. I will absolutely allow that the shifting vernacular is not a plot to piss me off. I believe, as you do, that changing terminology is a result of an evolving sense of community. I also would like to point out that I was never irritated by this, simply pointing out that it had changed and that the term isn't reflective of racial composition. I know a number of Caucasian people from Mexico who receive whatever special considerations are given to those who are considered Hispanic by virtue of ambiguous racial definitions. Further, I was pointing out the general wackiness of a blogger's self-identified nitpicking about race when she didn't actually identify by race. Capishe?

And now, for something completely different.
Race, and culture, are impossible to precisely define, but I would definitely say there is a "pole" around which the African-American/black culture centers, and a "pole" for majoritarian culture, primarily the culture of those who don't necessarily have to give explicit thought to race.
I would suggest that white people are forbidden from giving explicit thought to race--at least since the 1960s. Sure, as a group, white America has a lot to make up for after 150 years of cross-burnings, lynchings, fire bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, water hosing of freedom marchers, George Wallace attempting to prevent the integration of the U of Alabama, and promotion testing that favors white applicants. I am the first to admit that white America showed its ass. But that doesn't mean we should have to give up our voice entirely. If anyone, anywhere tries to stand up and say something about the white race these days, they are labeled a Nazi sympathizer and white supremacist as a matter of course. Now..I'm not one for patting white American on the back for merely easing up on the pressure it places on the back of the neck of most minority communities. However, I do think that the "struggle for racial equality" doesn't have to always be a "struggle". I think that there are plenty of white Americans willing to talk to other white Americans about race....about the impact and legacy of our (the collective "we" here--referring to majority culture) culture on others. About our blindness to the lingering vestiges of racism. About our improbably but widespread acceptance that the playing field is level, and can be leveled without making anything harder or more competitive for white Americans. I can't tell you the number of young men I know who, upon entering the workforce and understanding that really would have to compete with everyone made some wistful comment about how much easier things were for their fathers. And those comments were full of a scarcely hidden anger. White America hasn't thought these things through--nor had I until we started having or substantive discussions on race here, J. I am willing to act as ambassador for racial equality, but to be perfectly honest, I could use a hand up here and not a slap on the wrist.

I don't know everything. I don't know what to say sometimes. I don't have the depth of understanding and sometimes lack the vernacular to put it in the words that will sink and stick with white folks. But I am trying.

My culture is not the caricature that Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock present to great comedic effect. White America is not Buffy and Chip upset because their tee-time was pushed back half an hour because Obama's motorcade was going through town. Sure, the comedy is in the way white people are ignorant to their incredible privilege and have wackaloon ideas about what it means to be put out, but when this is the pole that I have to swing from, how can I be allowed to have a real voice in the race discussion? It has been my experience (and here I mean ME as an individual) that I am not allowed, outside of our conversations, to be taken seriously in any meaningful public discussion about race. Unless, of course, I concede to the default POC position. And in some ways, J, isn't that what your response to me tried to get me to do?
That is to say, and I'm trying not to be shrill here, but honey, the terms black, Negro, Colored, African American, Afro-American, Black-American and others are not about you. We're not shifting around to annoy you (the bulk you--majoritarian culture), we're shifting around because we want a term that will do the impossible.
Did you just call me "honey"? :p

So it wasn't about whether the shifting vernacular chosen by this community or that irritates me. In fact it doesn't. Race is a shifting construct and I don't give a rat's ass what anyone calls themselves. I'm actually not all that fond of the term "white". I think it is becoming an epithet in itself. Neither do I have any sense of community coming out of the term European American. It just seems alien to me. And not to go all Obama on your ass, but isn't there an American culture? We are not as divided as our skin color would suggest. I don't think by leaving my voice and those of the majority culture (and I'm not talking about Rush Limbaugh's voice here either--I'm talking about enlightened white Americans) can we ever hope to truly carve a post-racial America.

Do I compare the hostility of the minority culture over real and ongoing racism with my "ideological hostility of the oppressors"? No. But when someone suggests that rude behavior becomes a crime when I do it, but doesn't when you do it, I have to wonder whether the community of color wants to have a meaningful discussion about race or wants revenge. Just as there is a die-hard white racist faction out there (*cough* Rush Limbaugh *cough*), there is also the "make whitey pay" faction out there, too. To deny it is to be naive.

By way of segue, there is a crazy professor in our department that regularly terrorizes graduate students by ambushing them regarding language. I heard her verbally berate a colleague's husband for calling a group of us sitting at a table "ladies". Forget that he was offering to "get us ladies something" all she heard was "ladies" and she went OFF on a tirade about how she wasn't a lady, she was a WO-MAN. Same wackjob went off on me because I called her by her first name when we were having a beer. After ripping me a new asshole for 10 minutes, she finally said that it was ok to call her by her first name if we were, you know, having a beer or something, but I shouldn't do that in professional environment. The irony of the fact that we were having a beer when she did this was completely lost on her. I am saying that most white Americans don't want to offend. We want to call people what they wish to be called. No one asks me what I wish to be called. Or my group. We're white. We're supposed to love it. We're white, after all, and every advantage is afforded us automatically.

Here is what I'm saying, J. I am ready to work to level the playing field in every way. I think there are hundreds of thousands of white Americans who feel the same. If they are like me, they don't understand why we're not being allowed to join the fight for racial equality. We are frustrated and tired. My suggestion to everyone is that you don't allow our frustration to allow us to give up on the cause. That would be a mistake.

Oh, and one more thing. I simply do not agree with this statement.

"Let us say, at best, I think you over-estimate the extent to which "People of Color" think/care about what the majority does."

I think "people of color" care a great deal what white America does.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Since when is African-American a race and other thoughts on racial politics

This is perhaps a roundabout away of getting to my point, but I was reading an article by field negro on Tiger Woods today, which led me to a variety of other articles on race. One in particular by Carmen Van Kerckhove, I found particularly perplexing.

Van Kerckhove self-identifies as Chinese and Dutch. Umm. Carmen, dear. Neither of those are races, but nationalities. That Van Kerchkhove would "nitpick" about race when she self-identifies by her ancestors' national origin is just plain wacky. Which brings me to my next odd example of race in America.

I recently was asked to sign a contract which asked for my racial identity. I was perplexed by the selection. The options were:

African American
Native American
Mixed race

Since when did African American get to be a race? That term has only been around for about 20 years! I am 46 years old and I can remember when black people, regardless of nationality, were referred to as Negroes. At some point in the 60s, Negro was thought of as condescending. So then it was Black. Then it became Black American. Now, it's African American. As if all black Americans are of African origin. I'll be honest. There have been times when I have thought that these shifting ideas about what to call POC was merely a way to prevent white Americans from having any sort of voice in the race discussion. As long as you can shout down the majority group by making them feel prejudiced for daring to open their mouths, you own the direction and tenor of the discussion. Bad form, I say.

The black community seems to think that Tiger isn't black enough. At least, that's my take on it. He doesn't date black women. He doesn't seem to want to be "one of them". I don't have any problem with Tiger's behavior. Tiger self-identifies as Cablinasian (Caucasian, Black, American Indian, and Asian). I sort of like it that he hasn't allowed anyone to own him, racially speaking. I think we should let people be what they want to be. If they don't agree with our ideas of race, so be it.

If we are to split hairs, and since this is my blog I will, shouldn't the options more appropriately be:

Mixed-race with primarily Caucasoid features
Mixed-race with primarily Negroid features
Mixed-race with primarily Mongoloid features
Mixed-race with primarily Australoid features
Mixed race without categorical dominance

I'm just saying. I don't know that I have the answer about how best to identify race in the first place. Aren't we all "Out of Africa"? There is no scientifically meaningful way to describe race. Race is, whatever we want it to be. I think I'm going to start self-identifying as mixed race. After all, my ancestors include some colorful people.

Of course, my comments are not meant to belittle the experiences of persons of color who have been actively discriminated against based on racial prejudices. But when I read a recent blog post on Feministing wherein people say that if a minority calls me an epithet, it's just being rude, but if I call a minority an epithet, it's a hate crime, I wonder how f*#@'d up our ideas about race have really become.

It would seem that Tiger Woods, a mixed-race individual, has had several affairs, all with white women. field negro appears to think that white America has given Tiger a wake-up call to the effect that his ass is actually black. I never actually thought of Tiger as black. I thought of him as Asian. I guess this is my prejudice. He looks more Asian than black to me. But it is almost as if we demand that some racial group own him lock, stock, and barrel.

Like Tiger, we are not all black or all white. We are not all white culture or all black culture. I think that the "black experience" in America has been well enough known to me that it has influenced who I am and how I look at myself. Yes, I have had black Americans treat me as though I had a sheet hanging in my closet because I am from Appalachia. Weren't they surprised to learn how far that was from the truth.

We are a human race. Our blood flows into and between us all. I'm not prepared to throw Tiger Woods or anyone else under the bus based on their skin color, racial identity, or sexual proclivities. Tiger is a man. He has to deal with his stupid shit, same as you and I do. I would suggest that race has very little to do with his current issues. Money and fame make everyone colorblind.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Journalists who don't understand their profession

Three points in response to this unbelievable news out of St. Louis, MO. An anonymous poster to a blog linked to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted a one word comment in response to the question of the day: What is the strangest thing you've ever eaten?

His response: pussy.

The moderator of the blog deleted his post. The anonymous commenter re-posted his comment. (Probably thinking it hadn't gone through.) By mechanisms still not well understood by me, something called WordPress, sent Kurt Greenbaum, the author of the blog post and the STL Post-Dispatch's "Director of Social Media", an email, and.....well, why don' we let Kurt describe what happened next."
I deleted it [the second comment], but noticed in the WordPress e-mail alert that his comment had come from an IP address at a local school. So I called the school. They were happy to have me forward the e-mail, though I wasn’t sure what they’d be able to do with the meager information it included.
Well, I'll tell ya what they did with it. The IT department at the school were able to pinpoint the computer and the time and apparently, identify the poster because only one person had access to that computer at that time. So despite the fact that the STL P-D's privacy policy specifically states that they will not share information on posters with third parties without the poster's consent, Greenbaum did exactly that.

When confronted with the news that the anonymous comment had garnered a tattle-tale phone call from the blog owner, the school employee resigned on the spot.

Kurt Greenbaum then posted an account of the situation on the STL P-D website, whereupon he was summarily torn to shreds by every poster (save a handful) to the page.

I have three things to say about this.

1. The glee with which Kurt Greenbaum reports of a person losing their job for posting a mildly vulgar word qualifies him for mayor of Douchebaggerdale.

2. The fact that he vehemently defended his actions when everyone told him what a douchebag he was and the fact he felt blameless for forcing someone out of a job for something that was neither illegal nor immoral is further proof of his douchebaggery. What? You don't believe me? Look at this:

@Ghetto: Yeah, you caught me! I made him log on to his computer at work, visit’s Talk of the Day, read the item, type a vulgarity and hit the “submit” key.

Interesting perspective. Thanks for your contribution.

Oh, I didn’t say he was fired. I said he resigned.

— Kurt Greenbaum 3:31 pm November 16th, 2009
or this:

Blocking IP addresses is a bad idea. You can accidentally block everyone from a particular place of business. I didn’t track down the guy. His place of work just showed up in the email alert because their servers were correctly configured.

Defend the guy who posted the vulgarity all you want. I’m not regulating someone’s thought. He can think whatever he wants. I’m moderating our boards. Follow our guidelines and this won’t be a problem for any of you.

Remember, I said it was a school, right? It could have been a student. I didn’t know who it was. I just thought the school might like to know about it. I sleep fine at night.

— Kurt Greenbaum 4:26 pm November 16th, 2009
Oh, the douchbaggery. It burns.

3. I wouldn't buy a STL Post-Dispatch if my life depended on it. If their Director of Social Media doesn't understand the nature of social media, he deserves to be fired for that alone.

I don't think I have ever heard of a bigger douche than this guy. But by god, don't call him a facist. At the St Louis Post-Dispatch, they'll call out your business for your personal thoughts.

Oh, and what warning do posters get to watch their language by the P-D? If you attempt to post, this is what appears in the comment box.
I guess these guys have never met my mother.

Massive fail, dudes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Sustainable Future? A Response to J

Please see J's prescient post on our potential for a sustainable future. Because this response is too long, it won't fit on his comment section.

Ahh, the big question. Can humans live sustainably? My answer is simple: the environment carries a big stick and isn't afraid to use it to beat the crap out of us.

A plethora of B-movie scenarios are proposed for the time of scarce resources. The formula goes like this...resource inequities turn the world into a dyad of "haves" and "have nots". Governments of wealthy nations allow their populace to live beyond their means and the rest of the world be damned. When other nations come with their hands out, wealthy nations undergo a rapid culture shift, moving toward overt nationalism, intense isolationism, and a return to conservative values. This is a not so subtle way of saying, "If those people had worked harder and saved for a rainy day, they might have what we still have. Aren't we great?", and is one of the most ugly and obvious examples of First World privilege imaginable. (But I digress.) Ultimately, resources become so scarce that the government can no longer contain the situation and falls. Then it's every man for himself. Individuals and families hoard the remaining resources, hole up in our houses, and shoot all who attempt to enter. This also fails. (Think every zombie movie ever made.) After the family unit fails, the survivors (almost always very young people with one or two progressive old folks who can pass on accumulated knowledge) congregate in happy communes and human culture is reset to a more sustainable level. Lather. Rinse. Repeat every ten millennia or so.

Our alternative scenario is that we skip all the government control of the situation and go straight to the hippy-dippy commune approach. Not. Gunna. Happen.

There is a third option, and that is the one I think you are proposing. Technology and self awareness can give people the tools they need to maintain a first world standard of living, curb population growth, and feed every mouth in need. All we need is a paradigm shift in culture to get it there.

I maintain it won't work. Oh, I think it is physically possible (people CAN be taught to live within hard limits and exhibit self-restraint) but the cultural jumping off point precludes it. Somehow, American culture has embraced the idea that we get to decide our own reality. And as goes American culture so goes the world. Let me give you an example. I spent this morning reading an internet board that I can only describe as the "To vaccinate or not to vaccinate: that is the question facing the inept" fiasco. There are people who are convinced that there is a conspiracy between the government and Big Pharma to kill them, that scientists are doctoring clinical trials purposely to bring bad product to market, and that any money made off of of meds renders the entire profession corrupt. Remarkably, these same people who think capitalism in the medical profession is bad also think that government programs that make medical services available to the masses are also bad. So capitalism AND socialism be damned. For fuck's sake, J, nothing can save these morons. In the absence of a real disease outbreak here in the United States (I don't think Americans believe it can happen here even if it happens in Europe) that wipes out a significant portion of the population, nothing will convince these idiots of the error of their thinking. I say, let them skip the vaccinations. Just kick their children out of public school, let them contract small pox, and corral their idiot behinds in quarantine camps.

But the point here is, when did it become okay for people to decide whether to accept facts, whether or not to "believe" scientific findings, and whether or not to act in a way that places not only themselves, but others in grave danger?

Humans have all the intelligence, knowledge and physical power necessary to actually bring ourselves back from the edge. But we won't. It is one reason that I think Obama might actually fail. The birthers, the anti-vaccination crowd, the climate-change deniers all seem to be living in an alternate universe that the educated, thinking man can't penetrate. They are so gripped in their own ignornace and conspiracy theories that they can't see what idiots they really are. While they may not be the majority, they are the lowest common denominator. And we "leave no idiot behind". The vast majority of people would rather wallow in ignorance right up to the moment that they trip into their mass grave. Humans are smart, but we aren't rational. We clasp to prior knowledge even when doing so harms us. If we were rational, religion would have disappeared generations ago. We can justify the most outrageous behavior.

Furthermore, a culture shift demands that the majority follow the rules. What biological population is able to control all its members?

I taught an entire course on environmental issues in which we discussed the problems of oil extraction and refining, the probem of carbon release and climate change, the problems of grwing population size and world hunger. I STILL had a kid tell me toward the end of the semester he wasn't going to give up his gas-guzzling car because "chicks dig it".

Humans are animals and please, tell me one biological population that is not (ultimately) controlled top-down (by predation, parasitism, viral attack, etc.), laterally (by competition), or bottom-up (by environmental controls). Tell me one.

Consider for example, our cultural expectation of monogamy. There are always extra-couple copulations. Why? Because even when there is the expectation of monogamy, individuals maximize their offspring's survival chances by investing in a variable set of genes. Sure, one of those offspring may be the most fit today, but what about when conditions change rapidly? Variation is good. Variation is the stuff of evolution. We will lie when culture works against our best interests. Sometimes we don't know why we act like we do, even when we act in defiance of cultural norms. I maintain there is always an element of biological determinism at work.

And unlike those in the "can humans exhibit enough self-restraint to prevent disaster", I propose that humans are controlled hardest by the limits set by the environment. If we improve technology we will merely increase the carrying capacity of the Earth. We will continue to fill all available space until the environment pushes back. We will bicker and fight and joust among one another like chickens in coop.

I think there are an enlightened few capable of sacrificing their own self-interests for the greater good. Perhaps they can change the mass culture, but I doubt it. Maybe these few are the founders of the hippy-dippy communes, but the masses are far too distrusting and stupid to make it work. I think martial law is just about the only way to achieve peaceful (?!!) sustainability. The other alterantive is to let the Earth take care of itself.

I realize I have rambled here and not stuck to the true intent of your original post, but I think maybe I was working through this as I wrote my response. It would be great if we somehow could educate our way into this sustainable future. I don't think I'm likely to see it in my lifetime, but I could be wrong.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Am I fearless?

I was reading through a series of blog posts by The U, and dude got me to thinking. He posed a simple question. If you were to make this statement:

What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.1

What would you be talking about?

That got me thinking. This isn't about fear of dying. Death removes all fear or dread. Job intended to convey a fear he had to live with. What befell Job was, to him, a fate much worse than death. A fate from which there was no relief. If Job's fate befell me, what would that circumstance be? What is it I fear most?

I have accepted that those close to me will die one day, as will I. Death is a part of life. I don't fear it or dread it. Illness leading to death, no matter how painful, slow, or debilitating is also a part of life. I don't welcome it, but neither do I dread it. Dying as a result of some awful accident? Really, does it matter the form in which death comes? It is coming and it is relentless.

Loss of my senses. Sight. Hearing. Troublesome, yes. But I would adapt and lead a full life, I think. Loss of limb. A mere inconvenience. Paralysis. I'd learn to do wheelies in my chair. Can't communicate? I have a full life going on inside my head most of the time anyway. My thoughts would just be my little secret.

So what am I afraid of? Loss of freedom? Having to be or forced to be dependent on someone? I have a brother in prison. While I agree that prison is not an enviable lifestyle, I think I would survive it.

Rape? As someone who has dealt with sexual assault, I can say with confidence that it can be overcome.

Being alone? I'm not one to get lonely. Fear of dying alone? We all die alone.

Fear of failure? Fear that I have wasted my life? Fear of being forgotten? Fear that I will disappoint my loved ones? Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. I will fail. I have wasted a grand portion of my life. I will be forgotten. I have disappointed my loved ones.

I think people who have children have fears I will never know. Fear for a child's health and safety. Fear for their future. Those are not my fears.

I was beginning to wonder if I was fearless. But then something began to nag at me. Something small. And the more I thought about it, the more the lack of it seemed to fill me with an emptiness that I didn't want to consider. Because I am living with that thing I dread everyday.

My fear is that I will die before I know love. I'm 46. I'm past the halfway mark here. I haven't found a loving relationship in my adult life. I don't know what it is like to love and be loved in return. I have looked, not looked, waited, pursued, turned over rocks, kissed frogs, given up, taken up the search again. Zilch. Nothing. Nada. I'd love to say I loved my husband, but it's a lie. I don't know what a loving relationship feels like. I don't know what an honest love between a man and a woman feels like.

Funny thing. Unlike Job, for whom the thing he dreaded most arrived on his doorstep and settled in for the long haul, I live every day with that thing I dread most, and the only thing that keeps me going is the hope that one day it will move along and leave me to my happiness.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

So you think you want to go to graduate school

Lots of people toy with the idea of going to graduate school, but as we know, only a self-selected few actually do. And those who do wonder constantly if it is the right thing to do. I'm no exception. I think about whether I've done the right thing with my life a lot. I've been chasing this Ph.D. for 8 years now. In January 2001, I began to make up the deficiencies I had in my undergraduate record. I thought I'd get my masters. If all went well, I'd get my doctorate.

I wondered if I was smart enough. (I am.) I wondered if I had what it takes to stick with it. (I do.) I wondered if I would enjoy the job I got when I got out. (I believe I will.) I wondered if it was as bad as some people made it out to be. (It is.)

About a year ago, when I was in the middle of one of my blue funks, I conducted a survey of graduate students (which I still haven't properly analyzed), and got input from the people who've been here about whether they would do it all over again. Most would, but most were unhappy about some facet of the way their graduate experience had gone. More than a few were disillusioned with academia. If I can be given a little room to extrapolate here, I'd say that most clearly loved with the work, and clearly were not in love with what it takes to do that work. And that made me realize something about the people who do succeed in graduate school. We don't give up when the going gets tough, or when the going gets really tough, or when the going get ridiculously, unbelievably, inconceivably tough, or even when you-really-should-have-brought-a-lawsuit-over-this-shit-already tough.

Graduate school reminds me of marriage that way. The relationship starts off in this idealized, I'm-just-crazy-about-you way and over time it becomes more and more strained until one day you come to your senses and realize that the way you're being treated isn't ok. Not in your book. Not in anyone's book. So yeah. An ability to tolerate the intolerable because there is no other path leading toward your goals--that's what it takes to be a successful grad student.

I understand now what J meant when he said he would tell people to do something else if you could, but if you can't do something else, then, dig in and get comfortable.

So, yes, people in grad school are smart. Being smart is the least of your worries. Do you have the other traits necessary to succeed in grad school?

Are you tenacious? Can you stick with it when you hate your advisor, when nothing is going right with your work, when your committee is convinced you are a moron, and when nightmares of having to pay back those student loans wake you up in the night? If not, stay away.

Are you self-motivated. No one is going to hold your hand in graduate school. No one is going to make sure you are working. If you need a coach just to get out of bed in the morning, join the gym. No one is going to cheer from the sidelines to spur you on. Maybe your mama, but certainly no one you work with.

Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are? Self-awareness is extremely helpful. If you don't know already, graduate school will gladly point your weaknesses out to you.

Are you thick-skinned? Can you stand people yelling at you? Because professors will. They will say things to you that cut to the bone. You will be amazed that these people can say these things and live with themselves. Trust me, their comments may hurt but they are doing you a favor by saying them.

Can you work alone? Graduate education is, by its very nature, singular work. No one is going to be there when you are in the lab night after night after night. This is your path. Remember?

Confidence. In fact, I would say that most graduate students border on narcissistic personalities. We believe in our abilities. Usually, we have the stuff to back up that faith.

Are you ready for the hard realities of life? Because I'm going to tell you, you aren't nearly da shiznit as you think you are. Most smart people are used to being the smartest person in the room. In graduate school, everyone is smart. Most of them are smarter than you. You will feel stupid around these people...for a very long time.

I have heard many people say that a graduate degree is "just a piece of paper" and "it really doesn't mean anything". I can't even address how wrong these people are. Graduate school is a gauntlet and you really can't begin to understand how much that paper represents until you have done it yourself.

I'm still wondering 8 years later whether I did the right thing.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Failure 2.0

I just returned from a three-week field research excursion with my nephew. I really didn't know him when we got in the car. My objective on this journey was to get an idea of the man this kid had turned out to be. We had a lot of conversations, he and I on our 7000+ mi journey. At one point, he and I got into a discussion about something...I can hardly remember what at the moment....and my nephew made a sweeping, unflattering characterization about black people. Something along the lines of "all black people are lazy."

I told him in no uncertain terms that all black people are NOT lazy, that the same could be said of white people in general terms, and of him in particular, and, you know, that he sounded incredibly, undeniably, idiotic.

In his most incredulous voice, he said to me, "You act like I'm racist." He explained that in the neighborhood he had lived in in Louisville while he went to school--a neighborhood that was probably 50:50 black:white and probably a heavy on the poverty (it is a college area, after all)--that THOSE blacks were lazy and not trying to improve themselves. Clearly, this was meant to portray that he wasn't racist about ALL black people. In his mind, somehow, it was acceptable to be racist about those poor lazy black people in his neighborhood in Louisville.

I didn't point out (although I should have) that he was, in fact, a college dropout...that his life lacked any direction whatsoever...that despite being given an opportunity that most of the world would kill for...HE was the one who wasn't capitalizing on this incredible opportunity that his parents had made available to him. I didn't say that. But it was dancing on the end of my tongue.

I did explain to him that not everyone was able to attend college nor had the aptitude for it and some of THOSE people had to live in his neighborhood because their economic reality, so while he had to slum it for a bit to sacrifice for a college education (in an apartment that his mother was paying for and tuition that his father was paying for), there were others that had risen as far as they were likely to go and for them--this was a decent life. They were not lazy. They were not trying "not to improve themselves". They were living out an alternative life path that--even if it didn't live up to his standards--didn't mean they weren't trying. To call those people stupid and lazy was petty and irresponsible.

Now I am the first to admit that my nephew has some serious misconceptions about the world and is in rather deep denial about himself. When I informed him that the apartment he complained about (and that his mother bought for him) cost 3X the cost of my mortgage, he acted like I must be some sort of supreme failure. He has a fairly well developed sense of entitlement all right. More than I am used to seeing in any of my college students I complain so bitterly about.

But looking at the larger issues here, I can't understand what it is that makes us look white and black people in exactly the same circumstances and only see the negative in the black people? What is it that makes us blame black people for their plight? What is it that makes us look down on black people at the same time as we co-opt their language and sense of style? What is it that makes us look at poor black people and forget that their poverty might have more to do with keeping them down than a lack of ambition? What is it that makes us not see an angry Harvard professor, but a black man out of control in a high-class neighborhood?

When it comes to this, it isn't just my nephew. I think it is a white cultural thing. White people are conned into thinking (by everyone from television news to hip hop artists) the black community glorifies the gangster-slum culture.
If his status ain't hood, I ain't checkin' for him
Better be street if ya lookin' at me
I need a soldier
That ain't scared to stand up for me
Known to carry big things, if you know what I mean

Destiny Child, 'Soldier'
Even in the younger generation where friendships are much more colorblind, they still see the general population "out there" as fitting those old stereotypes. And I just don't know how chipping away at one false premise at a time one person at a time is going to make any difference at all. It is important to me that my family do what it can to stop the perpetuation of white supremacy in this country. And I thought that in that one little bit of real estate that I might actually be able to effect change.

And that's what I was trying to do. Only I was trying to do so without tearing the kid to shreds. My nephew is trying. He just extraordinarily protected. And I'm not sure my message came across as well as I'd hoped. But while my nephew sat there, incredulous that I was calling his racism racism, I sat there wondering why the hell I didn't have a better grasp on how to tell a white person that their privilege was showing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On why this is my favorite travel pic

and this is not.

The difference in these two pics is the presence of my breasts. I think I look like a normal, healthy person in the first pic, but a grotesque caricature in the latter. Bug loving mama, a very dear female scientist who happens to be pregnant as I write this, wrote an insightful post on what it means to be a woman and a professional in this day and age. Her post has caused me to reflect on my own ideas about being a professional woman. I decided to post my response to her post. Yes, it can be read alone, but is better read in the context of the original post.

Daktari said...

I find this post very interesting. First, I tend to agree with you (i.e., professional equal masculine [attire]). And when I begin to examine why I agree with that, like you, what I find is very telling and more than a bit disturbing about ME.

We are quite the same, pregnant you and non-pregnant I. Where you have a pregnant belly, I have extraordinarily large breasts. And where you want to be taken seriously as a scientist who happens to be pregnant, I wish to be taken seriously as a scientist who happens to have large breasts. Unfortunately, we both know that a pregnant belly and big boobs trigger negative biases and stereotypes in both men and women on both a professional and a personal level. You are pregnant, therefore you aren't serious about your work. I have big boobs. Obviously, I've gotten where I am by capitalizing on my tits. Or worse, I must be a bubble-headed bimbo. Like you, my physical condition announces itself before I have an opportunity to demonstrate my competence, my seriousness, or my professionalism. So in virtually any interaction with a new acquaintance, I believe myself to be operating from a position of weakness (having to identify and diffuse each new person's biases and stereotypes). I do so predominantly by downplaying (to the best of my ability) my physical attributes (hiding them, if you will), seldom dressing in feminine attire, and by ignoring any reference to them (and trust me, you'd be surprised how many people are willing to say "Wow, those are some tits!"), and finally, by overwhelming people from the get-go with my intelligence, competence, and professionalism.

It's a lot to ask of every single interaction I have with every single person I meet. And it is one reason that people who only know me via the internet think that I am something of an intellectual snob. Because they haven't met me, they don't understand my need to diffuse a potentially embarrassing situation before it happens by overwhelming them with my competence.

It is sad but it is my life. Be thankful that pregnancy is only temporary. Unless and until I have money for a breast reduction, this is my life permanently.
Perhaps what is most sad is that I don't feel like a normal person. I haven't felt like a normal person since puberty. I wish more than anything that I could change that. Because that women in that top photo looks pretty and fun and interesting to me. And that woman in the second photo looks like boobs with legs.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One for the "Yeah, Right" category

Seems like all we've done is stand by water. Here's a few of the god-forsaken places we've had to stand and sometimes catch moths.

Life is hard on the road and research is a bitch.

(Mono Lake)

(Jenny Lake)

(Grand Prismatic Spring)

(San Francisco Bay)

(Alpine lake on Tioga Pass)

(Lake Mary)

(One of the Mammoth Lakes -- name now forgotten until looked up)as Josh has now informed me is Horseshoe Lake.

Feeling sorry for me yet?

Friday, July 17, 2009

A taste of today

Today we went from June Lake, to Mono Lake (pronounced Moan-o, not like the teenage malady), to Tioga Pass to Yosemite to San Francisco. It was quite a day and exceedingly hard to capture in a concise blog post.

So thoroughly would I fail to do so, I will leave you with this little taste of our day.

Bridalveil Falls.

Simply spectacular.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Camping hazards

Here's a little tip from your friend D. Leave the damn marmots alone.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A fond farewell to a trustworthy friend

Hikers understand the value of great boots. They are the most important piece of equipment you have. My fondness for my hiking boots is well documented. I love my boots so much that I went out and bought a spare pair for when the first one's wore out.

I bought those first ones in 2003 before my first trip to Yellowstone. They will have to be retired after this trip. This is why.

And that little bobble cost me this.

My own fault for not thoroughly checking over my equipment before beginning such a hike.

It's not as bad as it looks.

A challenge to remember

Today, my nephew and I hiked 10 miles. Might not sound like much but it was no ordinary ten miles. It was ten miles out of the Golden Trout Wilderness. From the Ramshaw Meadow to the Trail Pass Hiker Trailhead. It was a reversal of our trip in a mere four days earlier.

Pfffft, I hear you say. 10 miles doesn't sound like much.

What I did today was the single most challenging hike of my life. It was an accomplishment of which I am very proud. We did it. We crossed Bitch Pass and Mulkey Meadow and Trail Pass and Horseshoe Meadow, and we did it all by ourselves.

For those who don't know the saga, we met the packers on Thursday morning and dropped off tent, sleeping bags and pads, and our food and relaxed for a day in Lone Pine, California. Early Friday morning, we arrived at the trailhead. Elevation 10,000 feet. That's about 9,342 feet higher than where I spend most of my time. It took nearly an hour to drive up the 6,000 feet from Lone Pine to the trailhead. Yes, an hour. Yes, we were in the shadow of Mt. Whitney. I should have suspected something was up. Anything that near to the highest peak in the lower forty-eight has to be challenging. Somewhere on the way up, my lungs shrunk. My stamina must have gotten left in the hotel room with most of the food we had to abandon (bear country, you know). Walking across the parking lot felt like an aerobic workout. Air that thin makes the muscles burn and ache a lot faster. We were not acclimated.

And yet, off we set. My two new companions quickly became one when I was informed that my primary contact, a graduate student from Northern Arizona University intended to run in. Yes, you heard that right. She intended to run into Ramshaw Meadow. She is in training for the New York Marathon. She is insane. She is also so skinny that it defies description. And this is how we came to set off with Sue, the assistant botanist for the Golden Trout Wilderness. Fantastic hiking companion. She never failed to be supportive when I thought my lungs would burst. More on her later. Our first ascent was 1000 feet over 1.5 miles. About half way up, I said the words I always dread.

I may be in over my head here, folks.

Sue wouldn't hear of it. She led us over boulder scrambles, switchbacks, sagebrush-thick meadow margins, sedge-and-wildflower meadows, creeks, sinks, rivers, and passes. Five and a half hours after we started, we entered camp. I have never been so happy to see my things waiting on me out there. I knew the minute we sat down that I was NOT going to be able to make my return trip on Sunday. We had pushed too hard. We had pushed well past my limits. Five and a half hours was too fast for an out-of-shape flatlander like me. No way my legs would be ready by Sunday. So before the evening was out, I was doing the math in my head on how long our food would hold out. We had enough.

I spent four glorious days in the backcountry, exploring meadows, bouldering, watching a black bear graze in our meadow, sighting mountain bluebirds, trying to take pictures of golden trout, chasing lizards, exploring old movie sets, studying one of the most wonderful Abronia I have ever seen, and enjoying the company of three of the most interesting people imaginable and a very playful yellow lab. Most of all, I let my legs heal. This morning, it was time to leave.

Sue and Calder and Remy saw us off. Meredith, unfortunately, had left earlier to do work much further up the meadow.

The south fork of the Kern River. Our campsite.

A self-portrait after summiting Bitch Pass. Calder named it Bitch Pass. I think it is technically called Mulkey Pass, but I am inclined to let Calder have her way.

After summiting Trail Pass. This after meeting a trail packer packing heat with her daughter on the trail and who described what lie ahead as "Oh God, you've got a slow-burn incline and a bunch of gnarly switchbacks up there". I was not detered. We made it. Without vomiting or having a heart attack--both conditions had crossed my mind as possibities at various points along the path, I might add.

On our way down from the summit. The way up took 1 hour and 25 minutes. The way down took about 20.

This is the mountain through which Trail Pass passes. We did that and another just like it. We found our way out of the wilderness. Armed with nothing more than a map. We did it with 30 pounds of water and supplies strapped to our backs. We did it in one day, by ourselves, and no one can ever take that away from us.

We treated ourselves to steak dinners tonight. I think we earned it. Oh, and as you might have guessed, I sprang for a new cord for the computer to download pics.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

1136 miles and counting

So we were a little late leaving town. Like nearly a full day late. Ok, I chalk this up to having to put my car in the shop after having gotten rear-ended over the weekend, and the fact that the ONLY thing I asked anyone at school to do to help me prepare for this trip did not get done and I had to spend 2 hours when I was ready to leave town to do it. And I just have to mention that this anyone who said they would take care of that project was badgering me with phone calls and requests for help with her issues while I was trying to get out the door. So instead of leaving at 3 pm (my original worst-case scenario), we left home at 7 pm. We pulled out of St. Louis at 9:50 pm. That was AFTER convincing the people at REI to actually fit Lee for hiking boots when we arrived at the store only 10 minutes before they closed. While he tried shoes, I picked up hiking socks, stuff sacks, aluminum cookware, and waterproof matches. I'm kicking myself for having forgotten the water purifying pills (a worst-case backup for the filter), and long underwear. And that was also AFTER eating at St. Louis Bread Company, which we also convinced to feed us after we arrived 10 minutes before their closing. All I can say is REI is probably the best place I have ever shopped when it comes to quality service.

We only made it as far as Springfield, MO the first night. (A mere 313 miles from home.) Really disappointing. But I had been up since 5:30 am that morning. It was all I could do. In any event, we made up some time today. I drove from 9:50 am. until 1 am. We only stopped for gas, an oil change (1 hr) and dinner (1 hour). Which is how I came to be in Albuquerque tonight. I had hoped to be in Flagstaff, AZ, but that's how it goes.

Lesson #1 from the road. Never count on someone else to do what they say they will do, especially when that someone has a history of dropping the ball.

Lesson #2 from the road. Never listen when someone at the rental car agency tells you to "not worry about oil changes".

Lesson #3. Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.

Lesson #4. When you are running late, in a hurry, and virtually panicked about the time you have to drive to California, THAT's when you'll forget the cord to download pictures from your camera.

So sorry folks, there will be no pictures from the road. You will all have to wait.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How the Supreme Court got it right at the same time they got it wrong

The Supreme Court upheld the main tenants but narrowed the scope of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a vote of 8 to 1. The lone dissent came from the Supreme's only African American member, Justice Clarence Thomas. Oh, the irony.

While sidestepping the constitutional issue of the meat of the Act, in the majority opinion, the Court hinted that the Act may soon find itself on the chopping block (and you can count on the Republican party to spearhead efforts to chip away at the Act for years to come). But the Act is still needed. Racial inequality is an American reality. A President Obama has not heralded the emergence of post-racial America, yet the Court in all its insulated, isolated wisdom exhibited a collective queasiness about continuing to support what they seem to see as race-based politics.

Are they right? Are we past the point where the majority group attempts to disenfranchise the minority?

Hardly. Consider this. And this. This. Or perhaps even this. Can't forget this. But perhaps most disturbing of all is this:

The Pew Center on the States' Make Voting Work project estimates that while 39.8 percent of the general U.S. population of voting age cast ballots in 2006 elections, only 20.4 percent of the military population of voting age did so. That disparity exists despite surveys that show a very high interest in elections and voting among members of the military.

"Interestingly, of those military personnel that said they did not vote in 2004, 30 percent did not because their ballots never arrived or arrived too late to their duty stations and 28 percent did not know how to get an absentee ballot, found the process too complicated, or were unable to register," according to a Pew report.
From the Pew Center on the States and

Voter disenfranchisement is rampant in America. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was intended to prevent the disenfranchisement of black Southern voters. And yes, it has changed the landscape of this country, both from a racial and a cultural standpoint. But it is not only still needed to protect voters from a return to the abuses of the past, but it is equally important that Congress broaded its scope to include other forms of legal, but morally questionable, partisan disenfranchisement.

Homeless veterans, overseas active military, the elderly, homeowners in foreclosure, newly registered voters, voters who have moved, voters who had their Social Security Number or Driver's License number entered incorrectly into state databases...all of us deserve to have our votes counted. We deserve better than to have partisan Secretaries of State purge us from the rolls of registered voters, from having partisan poll watchers challenge our votes, from having to submit provisional ballots, which may or may not be counted.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is not only still needed, it needs to cover more citizens at risk.

IMO, the primary voter fraud of the election of 2008 was the systematic disenfranchisement of legally registered and eligible voters--an act perpetrated by local and state government employees against their constituents.

Really really really bad legal advice

Found this browsing over on the DOJ website. A jury today found former Memphis police officer Arthur Sease IV guilty of civil rights, robbery, narcotics and firearms violations. Apparently, Mr. Sease and his co-conspirators used their position as police officers to rob drug dealers in Memphis and then to re-sell the drugs for their own profit.

Mr. Sease's five co-conspirators all decided to plead guilty. Their sentences are as follows:
"Andrew Hunt was sentenced in February 2009 to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty in September 2006 to a federal civil rights conspiracy, robbery affecting interstate commerce and drug distribution.

Former Memphis police officer Antoine Owens pleaded guilty in August 2007 and received a sentence of 63 months incarceration and three years of supervised release in March 2009.

Alexander Johnson, another former Memphis police officer, pleaded guilty in April 2007 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison and two years of supervised release in March 2009.

Laterrica Woods, a civilian who helped Sease and Hunt with one of their robberies, also pleaded guilty to a civil rights conspiracy in September 2007 and was sentenced to 36 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release in April 2009.

Harold McCall, also a former Memphis police officer, pleaded guilty to a civil rights conspiracy in a related case in May 2007 and received a sentence of three years probation including one year of home confinement in June 2009."

Mr. Sease decided to place his fate in the hands of a jury. Today, he received his sentence: life + 255 years.
"The sentence is extraordinary in that it is one of the longest ever imposed for civil rights violations which did not involve a victim’s death," said My Harrison, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Memphis Field Office. "We will vigorously investigate abuses of authority to defend the fundamental right to ethical behavior by government employees."
I'd fire the lawyer.