He’s a funny little thing from Amanda Palmer. Be sure to play the video; it’s quite cute. Amusingly, I tried to find it on YouTube and it wouldn’t let me access it without an account because it had been flagged as “mature” by users. Really, what is so mature about this. It’s just a naked women. I really wish people would just get over it. Some neurotic person somewhere has a problem with the human body that affects the rest of us. I want to start flagging as offensive all those beer ads, car ads, makeup ads, and a million and one things that give a far more damaging message to children than this cute, funny video.

A second link on a totally different subject: Last night I went to go see the movie Hanna Arendt with my mother. As it happens, I cam across this article from the New York Review of Books about a month ago, “On Violence.”

A ground squirrel in California was found infected with plaque, but it’s neither as rare or as serious as that sounds. Every year, about seven cases are found in the western United States, mostly in rodents.

Here’s an interview from last March with Susan Jacoby. She discusses her book about Robert Ingersoll with Bill Moyers.

This series of photos of the Jersey Shore circa 1980 brought on a heavy dose of nostalgia for me. They look like all the people in the memories I’ve been recounting.

If you’ve come across anything interesting during the course of the week, please feel free to share it in the comments.

I found this odd plant growing beneath a beech tree in the backyard. I didn't know what it was, so I left it. A week or so ago, it bloomed. I have tentatively identified it as Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine).

I found this odd plant growing beneath a beech tree in the backyard. I didn’t know what it was, so I left it. A week or so ago, it bloomed. I have tentatively identified it as Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine).

From the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (Why, yes, I do have funny reading habits.): Some artwork by an Israeli comic artist, Rutu Modan, was defaced in an exhibition at a German university. Students also objected to some sexual scenes from Craig Thompson’s comic Habibi. Disappointingly, the university decided to respond by closing the exhibit.

Good Reads has an article on why people stop reading a book and a fun graphic on which books are most frequently abandoned. The fact that Fifty Shades of Gray and Eat, PrayLove are on the list has restored my faith in women.

Over at the Daily Banter, I found an article on the relationship between Libertarianism and racism. It’s interesting. It is, I should add, very much about the history of the United States. I’d have to do more reading to know whether or not I agree with it, but it’s definitely filed in the back of my mind as “something to think about.” Like a lot of people, I’ve struggled with exactly how to regard Thomas Jefferson. Anyone else who has pondered that might want to take a look at that article.

Here’s a nice little article on orchids in New Jersey.

When I was in elementary school, we used to have the little box of cards that would have prompts for creative writing assignments. Somehow, I feel like if I had picked a card saying, “Write something with the title, ‘Comics, Porn, Libertarianism and Orchids,’ ” I should have come up with something more interesting than this.

Most Saturdays, I post links to things I’ve found that, for whatever reason, I find interesting. I do this in large part because much of what I find on the internet I find through following links on other people’s blogs, not least of all in the comments. I encourage anyone who has links to share to add them below.

I’d already read a review of the book What Do Women Want in the New York Times Book Review. However I found Toni Bentley’s review interesting because the things she brings to it makes it read like an essay.

I also came across the work of this photographer, Jade Beall who has been photographing women either shortly after giving birth or while they are pregnant. The photos of pregnant women didn’t surprise me at all because I’ve seen many of them, but the photos of women after giving birth were new to me.

Regarding the awkward title to this post: I first typed it without the part in parenthesis. When I looked at it a second time, I realized if someone had written “It’s your penis,” I would have turned into a fire-breathing feminist and starting complaining, at least to myself, about how the person was clearly excluding women. So, I felt a bit like a jerk and changed the title.

At The New York Review of Books, they highlighted earlier this week an old essay by one of my favorites, Gore Vidal. In it, he discusses all the books that were on the best seller list at the time. I considered trying a similar exercise, but a look at the current best sellers convinced me that it would be too painful – three shades of Fifty Shades of Gray and The Alchemist. What the hell is The Alchemist doing on the list? Was it made into a movie or something?

I came across an interesting video on The New York Times website about the life of people who have to register as sex offenders who have no place to live other than a small, isolated community. Most people who know me well, know that I do not take the matter of sexual assault lightly. However, I have not liked many of the laws requiring people to register as sex offenders. They seem to me to not have been well thought out as to the consequences. The video itself is a little troubling because it appears to want to make the men seem too harmless. For instance, one man refers to sex with an underage girl as “consensual”, indicating that he still doesn’t understand that the law regards minors as being unable to give consent. Would he, continue to prey on juveniles if he had access to them? It’s hard to say. Furthermore, the end of the video makes the statement that no sexual crimes have occurred in “Miracle Village.” Since most of the residents appear to be men who were found guilty of statutory rape and there are no underage people in the village, this outcome is unsurprising. However, it’s hard to see laws that do not allow for rehabilitation, and eventual reintegration into society, as being just.

A story in The New Republic, tells about how, when some Islamists took over Timbuktu and burned shrines and the library, a group of librarians saved the books from the Ahmed Baba Institute, a bright moment in an otherwise depressing incident.


When I last wrote about Amina Tyler, there was not much information to be had. For those who have not been following this story, the nineteen year old Tunisian woman first came to the attention of the world when she put up a photograph of herself on her Facebook page declaring herself to be a supporter of the feminist group FEMEN, a group I only became aware of when I attended a marriage equality demonstration in Paris last December. In the photograph, she was topless with the words “My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honor” written across her torso. Adel Almi, a Salafist preacher and president of Al-Jamia Al-Li-Wassatia Tawia Wal-Islah, The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, in Tunisia, called for her execution by means of stoning. On March 16th, she appeared on the Tunisian television talk show, Labes, to explain why she joined Femen. Shortly afterward, she disappeared from view for a time. Her family had kept her locked up and given her psychiatric medications and forced her to read the Koran. On April 4th, there were world-wide protests in support of Amina. In mid-April she escaped from her family and contacted the Femen website. She began to make plans to move to France where she would continue her education.

Since that time, she has continued speaking out and protesting. Acting against the advice of friends and political supporters, she wanted to continue to engage in political protests while waiting to move to France. On May 21 she appeared in court as a result of writing “FEMEN” on the wall of a mosque for which she was charged with “desecrating a grave” and “attacking modesty.” Nadia El Fani, the Franco-Tunisian film director, and Caroline Fourest, the French journalist, called the charges, which could result in six months to two years in prison, “ubuesque” in an article written in support of Amina which appeared in the French news magazine Marianne. A photograph of the graffiti in question can be found on Caroline Fourest’s blog.

Three other members of Femen, two from France and one from Germany, staged a topless protest in front of the courthouse when Amina Tyler went on trial on May 30th. According to Maryam Namazie:

the three FEMEN activists – Marguerite, Josephine and Pauline – who staged a topless protest at the court in Tunisia at Amina’s first hearing and who are now in jail and face prison terms must be freed immediately. In the courtroom, the activists bags had been put over their heads and they were covered in blankets; the judge banned photos and videos. According to human rights activist Patrick Klugman, who came from Paris to represent the interests of the FEMEN said: “I am horrified. Without giving FEMEN activists permission to speak, the court listened only to Salafi organizations which are not even the defendants in this case! Fair trial did not take place because the accused have not been released from custody, and they were not even heard.” Pre-trial is set for June 12.

I had to search multiple sources to write this up and I hope I got all the facts right. Most of the information came via Mayam Namazie and Caroline Fourest.

Frank Lautenberg

On Monday, the United States senator from the state of New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, passed away. He was a consistent advocate for the separation of church and state. There is a very interesting article about his opposition to the conservative activist and writer of false American history books, David Barton, on Chris Rodda’s blog. It’s probably a little too steeped in the American Constitution for anyone who’s not highly familiar with our laws regarding the separation of church and state. Still, it makes for interesting reading.

They say, supposedly, that one sign of white privilege is not thinking about being white. However, I think about being white sometimes, and I have two questions in my mind related to being white, which are otherwise unrelated.

A few weeks ago, I read something about the town where I went to high school. For those of you who have been following my memories, my family moved and the town that I’ve mentioned in the past, the all white, lower-middle class town, is not where we lived when I was in high school. We moved to a town that was about twice the size, mainly upper-middle class and “diverse.” I put “diverse” in quotes because, really, it just means that there were black people. It felt, to me, far less diverse. Where the previous town had been a white ethnic melting pot, the new town had just black people and white people, mostly professionals. The town had a reputation of having a “large upper-middle class black” community. The quotes are there because people used to use that exact phrase while talking about the town. I almost feel like I want to put on my best high-school girl face, roll my eyes and say, “Whatever.”

I liked the new town much better than the previous town in which we had lived. I don’t know if it was because of the college in the town and the large number of professors who lived there, but the atmosphere was overall much more intellectual. Suddenly, I had friends who read philosophy and serious literature.

It’s funny, I must have been shielded from people’s attitudes, but when the internet became commonplace I have been struck by the large number of times that people associate photographs of black teenagers, or a racially mixed group of teenagers, with “bad public schools.” It actively makes me mad. My interracial school was ten times better than my all white school. I genuinely liked the town and I thought it was a great place. If I had continued in the other school, I probably would have wound up being a geek or a nerd. Instead, I aspired to be an intellectual. Of course there were conflicts and problems. It was high school after all. Also, the town had an unfortunately deserved reputation in the area as snobbish. We were, I’m sorry to say, more than a bit stuck-up.

Recently, however, the town has been turning white. The black population, which used to be close to half, has slipped below thirty percent. Human communities are subject to alteration and I’d hardly be the first person to bemoan the passing of a particular time and place. Still, it makes me feel a little bit sad. Am I being ridiculously pc? I think the character of the place will change. I’m speculating, but I believe the changing demographics are being driven by changes in the economy and society, and those changing demographics along with the economic and societal changes in the country as a whole will cause changes in the character of the town. It will cease to be a haven of intellectualism in a consumerist suburban landscape and just be yet another upper-middle class enclave for the winners in our meritocracy. So my sadness at the news goes a little bit beyond pure nostalgia.

Second question, also related to race:

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m working on a comic book. I also have some ideas for an animated film, which no one should expect to be complete anytime in the near future. Now, had I written a play or was directing a live action film, I would probably have open casting for all characters whose race was not essential to the plot. If there was a need to make minor change to the script to accommodate this, then this could easily be done after casting. With the feedback and contribution of the actors, it would be very possible to do this. However, in a comic book or animation, I’m drawing the characters and have full control over this. So, where with actors I can essentially allow factors outside my control to dictate some elements of the character, now if a character is white, black, tall, short, etc., it’s all my decision. For characters inspired by people I’ve met, it’s not so hard. For instance, I know one character is going to be a very young, tall, skinny androgynous looking Asian woman. However, most of the characters can be anything and I don’t have a mental image of all of them. Does anyone have an opinion on how a person goes about making that decision? I suddenly find myself being very self-conscious about that. After The Hunger Games was made into a movie I read a forum where people were discussing the characters and someone was critical of the character of Rue, saying that of course the black character is nice and sacrifices herself for the white hero. I realize that these things tend to get picked apart.

Link: Here’s a link to a post that Northier than Thou wrote prompted by an interview given by the director of Django.

A flat rock in a river speeding rough river with water flowing over it.

This week, rather than posting several links I’m just going to post one. Recently, I’ve started reading Ally Fogg’s Heteronormative Patriarchy for Men blog. Apparently, he’s had a WordPress blog for a while but he recently joined Freethought Blogs. His claim to fame is being a white male heterosexual. In other words, he writes critically about gender roles from the point of view of a straight white man. I think he’s British, although most of what he writes could apply to the rest of the English-speaking world, and probably much of the allophone world as well.

Recently, I’ve read quite a few times on blogs known to be feminist the acronym MRA. I written elsewhere about the pitfalls of activist bloggers using terms that will only be understood by a small number of like-minded activist bloggers from your own age cohort, your own social class, your own region and, probably, only your own narrow sub-culture. Finally, I figured out what MRA means. It means “men’s rights activists.” Actually, I’m not even certain of that because I’ve never seen the acronym defined, but those are the words that best fit the usage. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I don’t assume that men who are interested in men’s rights are inevitably anti-feminist because I was first introduced to men’s rights in a women’s studies class by a male professor who was very obviously and actively supportive of feminism. That he realized that there were issues facing men that feminism didn’t address didn’t turn him into an anti-feminist.

Ally Fogg does not call himself a men’s rights activist, but he does write about gender issues from a man’s perspective and that does occasionally include issues that wouldn’t normally be taken up by feminists, like a recent blog post about the shadow health minister’s comments about masculinity being in crisis. At least most feminists would be unlikely to write about it in a way that would put men’s interests first. Fogg makes some excellent points about the shadow health minister’s speech. I don’t know how things are in Britain, but from the point of view of an American woman going on fifty, the “hyper-masculinity” that Abbot, the shadow health minister, discusses has gotten better than it was when I was younger. The rise of social media and the accessibility of porn has definitely changed some dynamics, but I’m not sure that pornography presents men and women with any greater distortion of gender roles than the average beer ad. Focusing in porn while not worrying about the myriad of other representations of women and sexuality is really not seeing the forest for the trees.

Fogg’s world view is summed up in a post entitled Welcome to Global, Inc. (The actual title is longer, but contains a period which presents me with a punctuation problem.) In it, he creates an elaborate metaphor of the world as a large company. That company has a binder full of its stated rules, but it also has unstated rules and each department has its own internal culture. “But so long as the department is doing well enough, meeting its targets and making profits, the hierarchy at Global Inc doesn’t really mind too much, and doesn’t interfere.”

I have concocted this grand and rather clumsy analogy to illustrate a key point of my political views, which underpins everything I write on this blog and elsewhere. Socialised gender roles are not there by accident. They are functional. Oppressive acts of sexism, misogyny, misandry, racism, homophobia, transphobia, class prejudice and the rest do not arise from individual weakness or venality but because we have all been induced to retain and reinforce them as essential components of our role within the company. Necessary social progress in emancipation, liberation and human rights will be indulged by Global Inc when it can be turned to the company’s advantage – the welcoming of women into the professions, for example – and fiercely resisted when it challenges the bottom line, such as union rights or decent parental leave entitlements.

It is simplistic nonsense to think of patriarchy, in particular, as a system in which men oppress women by choice and for our own interests. Patriarchy often requires men to do horrible things to ourselves, to each other and to women. Patriarchy imposes dominant roles on men whether we want them or not, and punishes us when we fail to fulfil them adequately.  It’s all there in the job description. It is equally simplistic nonsense to imagine that male suffering (on the battlefield and in homelessness, suicide rates, alienation and loneliness) is a consequence of women’s behaviour, choices or social liberation.

Anyway, I’ve been finding his blog fairly interesting, so I thought I’d put a link up to it.

A stone staircase rising alongside a hill in a park in Philadelphia.

Fun stuff from around the internet:

As we know, man domesticated dog, but cat civilized man. The history of civilization is nothing more than man’s search to serve his (and her, let’s not be sexist) feline masters (and mistresses). When we read articles about how the tablet will replace the desktop, this is clearly what they have in mind. So, here are some tips on how to improve programs for cats. (Of course it’s cute! It’s about cats!)

Hummingbirds snore.

If you’ve ever worn a bra, you will probably laugh at this: Bras We Have Known.

Neither cute, nor funny, just stupid trivia: Famous People Who Were Adopted.

As usual, if you’ve found something interesting on the internet, please share it below.

A dogwood blossom

We walked up a slope that ran parallel to the river towards the town of Lévis on the southern bank of the St. Lawrence. Passing by a large house, B. wispered in my ear that that building was the convent where his Tante Jacqueline lived. He was whispering on the off-chance that his aunt might overhear him. The last time he had seen her she yelled at him because he hadn’t yet brought me to visit. I could have yelled at him, too, because I had felt very lonely living in Quebec and a visit to his aunt might have been good for me. She was not the only family member of his to extend a welcome to me, offers he usually pushed away. However, I didn’t say anything at the time because it was a lovely late spring or early summer evening and we were actually heading to a social gathering. I was so happy to be out of the house, doing something normal, I didn’t want to ruin it by complaining. So I kept my complaints to myself and made a mental note that Tante Jacqueline had specifically requested to meet me, so perhaps that was something we could do in the future.

When we arrived at a the modest apartment, everyone else was already there. Most of the people I had met only once or twice before, but everyone seemed to remember me and was friendly. One of B.’s friends, whose name I can’t remember, had returned from the Northwest Territories where he had been working with the Qwich’in. All the people at the gathering were linguists, or their significant others. One woman said that she would love to go to the wilderness for a time. Me, being from New York, thought, “What do you mean ‘would like to go?’ Isn’t this the wilderness?” Of course, I didn’t say that. She said that she imagined that the air would be so free of pollution, so clear. “I would just like to smell that.” The traveller from the Northwest Territories laughed. “Well, you haven’t smelled anything until you’ve smelled forty caribou carcasses drying in the sun. So much for the fresh air.” The last time he had been out to the Northwest Territories the Qwich’in, among who he had been living, had had a big hunt. They butchered and dried the meat. He took out a plastic bag full of what looked like beef jerky. “They made me take this home with me.” He passed the bag around and we all tried some. He warned us to try only a small bite first because it was strong tasting. Most everyone made bad faces except for two of us. Someone declared that it tasted like blood. Perhaps. It was strong, and gamey, but not too bad.

The Gwich’in, I learned that night, were a small tribe living in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. The linguist had gone there as part of a project to revive the language that had, perhaps, a thousand speakers left. The last several decades have been, quite literally, murder on many smaller languages. Human languages have been dying out at an unprecedented rate. I first read about endangered languages in Scientific American about a year or two before I met B. The future of smaller languages was something that concerned the French Canadian linguists.

He told us that during the winter his work was easy because all anyone wanted to do was sit around and talk, which is a good situation for a linguist. In the summertime, however, it was useless because everyone wanted to take advantage of the good weather and the long days. “For three months you can’t get anyone to sit still.”

Eventually, one of the women brought out a guitar. They began to sing French Canadian folk songs. After a few songs, she said to me, “Oh, I feel bad. You’re being left out. You don’t know the words, do you. Hey! Let’s all sing some American songs.” The then proceeded to launch into a series of American songs by singer/songwriters who had been popular in the seventies, like John Denver. I didn’t know the words to those songs either.

Wikipedia Article on the Gwich’in.

UNESCO Atlas of World Languages in Danger. According to this atlas, the last speaker of Unami died in 2002.