Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Archive for February, 2011

On Catholicism and Reform

February 24, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics, Religion

I’ve been thinking a lot about how you determine whether or not something is worth saving/fixing/reforming – whatever.

What got me thinking about this was a book I read called A World Without Women. David Noble, the guy who wrote the book, wanted to examine why science was so inhospitable to women. What he found was that, contrary to our ideas about science and religion being in direct opposition to each other, science grew up within the Catholic Church. And science inherited the Church’s misogyny.

There is this idea that old institutions are simply a reflexion of old-fashioned values or of the culture of their time. Some institutions are just lagging behind a bit. But that idea is often false. Plenty of institutions get more unjust over time. More importantly, as in the case of the Catholic Church, some institutions created themselves in explicit opposition to more egalitarian organizations of their time.

Women were not barred from early Christianity. In fact, they had prominent roles in many of the early Christian sects. Early Christian services were frequently held in homes, where women had considerable influence. Clergy were typically married, their wives involved in the church. Wealthy women were church benefactors. And many early cloisters were double monasteries where men and women, sharing a belief that the soul has no gender, took vows of celibacy and studied together. These double monasteries were often led by an abbess.

The Catholic Church changed all of that. No longer were services held in homes, but the church became the house of god where elaborate, secretive, and exclusive displays of ceremony took place. The Church forbade clergy to marry in order to protect its property and to further distance the clergy from the lay people. Double monasteries were destroyed or emptied of women by Abbots, like Conrad of Marchtal, who made no secret of their contempt:

Recognizing that the wickedness of women is greater than all the other wickedness of the world, and that their is no anger like that of women, and that the poison of asps and dragons is more curable and less dangerous to men than the familiarity of women, [we] have unanimously decreed for the safety of our souls, no less than for that of our bodies and goods, that we will on no account receive any more sisters to the increase of our perdition, but will avoid them like poisonous animals.

Women were piece by piece removed from the life of the church until it became a completely male institution, modeled in large part on the Roman army. Church leaders began to impose hierarchies and rules. They invented and defined heresy.  And they defined heresy as woman.  Women, they claimed, were responsible for original sin.  Women were a corrupting influence.  Women were witches.  Religious men weren’t just ordered not to marry women.  They were ordered not to have any contact with them at all.

In his Institutes Cassian himself warned future monks that ‘where the Devil, with subtle cunning, has insinuated into our hearts the memory of a woman, beginning with our mother, our sisters, or certain pious women, we should as quickly as possible expel these memories for fear that, if we linger on them too long, the tempter may seize the opportunity to lead us unwittingly to think about other women.

So given all of that, given how the Catholic Church was born in hatred of women, how could any woman actually be a part of it? And how could women actually think that there is any possibility of reforming an institution where more than a quarter of the canons are expressly directed against women? It boggles my mind.

That is really the fundamental conservative vs. radical tension, is it not? Even “progressive” conservatives want to save the institution. They think reform can work, no matter how evil the institution, no matter what bloodbath it might have been formed in. But radicals are willing to dying to smash those institutions and start over.

Are all institutions worth saving? If not, how do we decide which ones are? Aren’t we kidding ourselves to think that an institution born to oppress a group of people can be saved? Wouldn’t that apply to genocidal countries as much as misogynist religious institutions?

Things You Might Have Missed

February 22, 2011 By: Mel Category: Misc

How much do I love the goth who foreclosed on Wells Fargo? (HT @womanistmusings).

Did you know that there is a mountain vault full of potatoes?

In Israel news – The U.S. has once again vetoed a UN resolution against Israel.  (And can I just add that I really want to smack Susan Rice in this video.)  Chinese laborers in Israel are barred from having sex.  And British author Ian McEwan slammed Israeli government policies in front of Shimon Peres and a bunch of other Israeli elites and government officials.

I’m sure you are all keeping up with the protests in Wisconsin and all over the Middle East, but did you know that a teacher protest in Honduras was violently repressed? Things are getting worse down there.

The Corrections Corporation of America spent $4.4 million lobbying our government for tougher immigration policies so that they could fill up their private prisons with immigrants.  In related news, the Obama administration continues its record number of detentions and deportations.

This is one of those battles that I have a really hard time with. I know how desperately these people need assistance in order to take care of their grandkids. There are some neighborhoods that are decimated by the prison industrial complex (and violence and poverty). But how many liberals will support a little band-aid like this and then ignore the fundamental criminal justice system issues that caused the problem to begin with? You get to feel good for helping grandma, but don’t take responsibility for putting her kid in prison for nothing?

In happier news, another business was taken over by the workers.

I really loved some of the people in this video.  Random Arizonans confronted a (faux) racist douchebag, even offering to help Latinos avoid la migra.  It’s a bit contrived and yet kinda awesome.

Holy Crap.  Can you believe this guy is facing twenty years in jail for a prank YouTube video.  Oh, but the poor children…

And in other news of our puritanical society, look at how many black women are being forced to register as sex offenders.

Finally, happy Lady Porn Day!!  I would have put this post up several hours ago were it not for the fact that all the female pervs on the blogosphere are telling porn stories and posting links to their favorite porn sites. Rabbit Write is curating and explains the purpose here. Despite my agreement with Maymay that the “sex positive” community is offensively fixated on skinny white girls, some of the #LadyPornDay posts are great. I have been having a bit of a mid-life crisis and am inspired to know that there are women masturbating three times a day at almost 80 years old.  (Not to worry.  She is just talking about it.  Visually safe for work.)

The first porn that I can remember watching was with my best friend.  I think we were like 13.  Her dad kept his collection poorly hidden in a bookcase.  The movie was a nasty version of Alice on Wonderland (clearly kid friendly).  We found it all quite amusing. I don’t actually have any favorite porn to share.  I’m mostly too lazy to weed through the 99.9% crap in order to get to the good stuff.  However, since I try to be educational here, I will link to this very informative tutorial on how to perform Cunnilingus.  Not only is the instructor wise, she is friggin adorable.  (Sooooooooo not safe for work, unless you work for a porn company, then go to town.)   Please share widely.  This is information that a lot of people really need to have.

On Jewish “Success”

February 18, 2011 By: Mel Category: Religion, Stratification

It’s hard to have a reasonable conversation about the apparent “success” of the Jewish community. For one thing, we Jews have an understandably defensive gut reaction to accusations of success.  And they are often accusations.  To quote the Illinois Holocaust Museum,

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis augmented this (Middle Ages idea of Jews as Jesus killers and userers) with a 19th century myth that emerged as a backlash to European Jewry’s emancipation and consequent involvement in and numerous contributions to European cultural, social, economic and political life in numbers disproportionate to its numeric presence in the general population. This myth stressed the existence of a “secret” Jewish plot to dominate the world through economic and political control.

So when people start saying that Jews have a lot of money or control the media, the hairs start raising on the backs of our necks.

But that doesn’t mean we can deny the statistics.  Jews in America are better off than other groups.  Only Hindus come close to having as many people making over $100,000 a year.  Forbes 100 richest people included 30 Jews.  That’s a third of the top 100 for a group that makes up less than 2% of the population.  And while FAIR has thoroughly debunked the whole Jews own the media bullshit, there are a lot of Jews who work in media.  In 2009, the Atlantic came out with a list of the top 50 bloggers.  By my count, 27 of the 50 bloggers are Jewish.  That’s more than half.  That’s a hell of a lot.*

When confronted with Jewish “success” (and I put that in quotes because I don’t believe getting on the Forbes list is something to be proud of), many people will tell you that it is because our culture values education or because Jewish people take care of each other.  The implication being, of course, that less “successful” minorities don’t look out for one another or value education.

It is complete bullshit, of course.

How do you measure how much a culture values education?  How do you measure whether it is that they value education or simply don’t question the socialization?  How do you know it is not that another culture faces more obstacles to obtaining an eduction?  Besides, are only those people who have alphabet soup at the end of their name deserving of a living wage?

And isn’t it convenient how the education narrative conveniently ignores all the radical Jews who protested, picketed, boycotted, and otherwise scrapped in the streets?  Isn’t it convenient how that narrative ignores that Jews in America aren’t a target of the authorities like other minorities are, or like they themselves were in other places and other times.  It’s a lot easier to “take care of your own” when the prison industrial complex isn’t breathing down your neck.  How many Jewish women do you know who had to take in their incarcerated relatives kids?

Nobody knows I am Jewish unless I tell them.  People might not like Jews, but I’m a lot more likely to get past a prejudice.  More importantly, while Jews weren’t always considered white, most of us are white now – at least, white enough.  And if you don’t believe that privilege has anything to do with who gets to be a “success,” if you think that it is all hard work and commitment to education, let me ask you something.  Why is that entire list of Jewish gazillionares on Forbes all white men?  Maybe you can brush off the white part. There aren’t that many Black, Latino, Arab, or Asian Jews in the U.S.  But last I checked, about half of us are women.  Are women somehow immune to these supposed cultural proclivities that make Jews so “successful?”

So why am I writing this?

One of the bloggers I follow has now twice been accused of antisemitism.  Once, she was accused for daring to include a Jewish category in a post where she breaks down minority representation in the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.  And now recently she was accused of antisemitism for calling out the hypocrisy of Dan Snyder suing City Paper for a picture that supposedly depicts a prejudiced stereotype – when he owns the fucking REDSKINS!

And that really pisses me off.

It isn’t just that the accusers are wrong, or that people shouldn’t spew knee jerk accusations.  It isn’t even about how those accusations can shut off conversations.  Ultimately this is not really about Jewishness.  It is about privilege, white supremacy, male supremacy, the illusion of equal opportunity, and the American mythology that weaves it all together.

Jewish success fits in nicely with America’s ideas about itself.  Here you have an immigrant group who came here fleeing persecution.  And while they faced prejudice, they were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

What’s more, America’s embracing of Jews is in direct opposition to the Nazis – the enemy of all enemies. World War II was the good war, the war used to justify all other wars.  And despite the fact that many Americans supported the Nazis, despite the fact that the U.S. didn’t even max out its immigration quotas in the war years, we like to think of ourselves as the anti-Nazi.  We are the saviors of the Jews and of the world.

So this Jewish success narrative buttresses all our myths about heroic Americans, good wars, equal opportunity and all that crap.  It is a minority mythology that does not challenge white supremacy or male supremacy.  In fact, it actually provides cover for it. We Jews are used as a silent indictment of other groups, as cover for people who don’t want to change the power structures and hierarchies that privilege them.

Our inability to discuss Jewish “success” is an inability to challenge the hierarchies, prejudices, and myths that need to be challenged.  I don’t want to provide cover for white supremacists.  I don’t want to provide cover for greedy bastards who use accusations of antisemitism to deflect from their douchebaggery.

That doesn’t mean that antisemitism isn’t alive and well.  (I’ve seen Glenn Beck’s list of Jews who have ruined the world.)  It means that we have to be honest about the fact that this supposed “success” is really just a measure of how thoroughly a person has bought into and benefited from the American lies.


*Even more common than a Jewish background was attendance at Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, or University of Chicago.  At least 30 of the 50 attended one or more of those schools.

Things You Might Have Missed

February 15, 2011 By: Mel Category: Misc

So these people don’t have a chance in hell of pulling off a free school at Guy Ritchie’s house, but I do love them for trying.

Apparently, it is attack women’s shelters week.  In Afghanistan, the state is trying to take them over. And in Canada, the border services/gestapo are now entering shelters and checking women’s papers.

Some poor kid in Syria just got sentenced to five years for blogging.

Despite the fact that smoking pot is so ubiquitous that it is showing up in the top answers on Family Feud, marijuana arrests are through the roof.  That is especially true in New York where Bloomberg has been on a tear picking up mostly Blacks and Latinos.  But hey, at least we don’t give people the death penalty for hemp oil.

Guatemala is not an easy place for activism.  I’m glad to see signs of life.

I am against banning, generally, but I would get a certain satisfaction if Mexico banned Mormon missionaries.

I thought this piece by Darian Warden was interesting.  The idea of a power vacuum underlies a lot of reformism.  I don’t often see a lot of thinking about how to address that.

Prostitutes are being targeted in Spain and in Sweden.  The links are the other point of view.

Interesting piece on secessionist movements around the world.  It’s trendy.

Good article on Alternet about how small towns are standing up.  The money quote:

Here are rural conservatives passing things saying we won’t let our rights be taken away and are using a local law as a municipal, collective civil disobedience tool to actually push up against the state to say ‘fuck you.’ Whereas in Berkeley people get in a huff and do some hand-wringing and pass a resolution which begs and pleads Congress to do something about corporate rights, which is never going to happen, at least in the next 20-30 years.

And finally, my friend has a newly revamped site and is looking for writers, poets, spoken word artists, etc.  Check it out.

On Facts and Truth

February 10, 2011 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Seeking

Our book group just finished reading The Whites of Their Eyes by Jill Lepore. Lepore is a historian and spends a lot of time focusing on historical facts that contradict the tea party narrative. So the group spent some time discussing whether or not there is such a thing as verifiable fact, whether the truth is really knowable.

It is common in U.S. politics for the left to assert that they deal in fact, while the right deals in mythology. You can certainly make a case for that when it comes to, for example, sex education or evolution.  But when I got home from the book club, I started thinking about another, similar discussion I had about facts and truth.

Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia is the testimonio of an indigenous Guatemalan woman.  Menchú lived through Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, a war that resulted in an estimated 200,000 killed or disappeared and more than one million displaced. The book recounts the torture and murders of her family members and her journey from unknown indigenous woman to Nobel prize winner.

But the book caused controversy when anthropologist David Stoll started investigating some of the details.  He found, for example, that witnesses claimed Rigoberta’s brother was shot rather than burned to death.  He discovered that she had more education than claimed in the book.  And he brought out information about an intra-indigenous land dispute that was not mentioned in the story and which he thought pertinent.

People on the left rushed to Menchú’s defense.  They claimed that indigenous people had different senses of history and fact.  They said it was common in testimonio to mix together stories of what happened to you and what happened to others, that there was not the same sense of individuation that we have.  They claimed that whatever facts might be off, the overall story that she told is accurate.  Her book conveys how the war effected indigenous communities.

Although I was one of the few people in class who actually sympathized with some of Stoll’s arguments, I also had to admit that the facts in question didn’t really matter much to the overall truth of what she said.  As a writer, I know that there are some truths that I could probably only face in fiction.  And I suspect that Arundhati Roy, in the introduction to Field Notes on Democracy, is onto something when she says,

As a writer, a fiction writer, I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on.  Does it eventually mask a larger truth?  I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we really need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.

I believe that.  I believe sometimes you can get mired in the details and lose site of what is important. And I believe that your belief system, your narrative, your ideology – they determine which facts you pursue.  So the motivation behind the pursuit is often more important than the facts themselves.

The reason that the left reacted so violently to Stoll is that they wondered what his motivation was in going after Rigoberta Menchú in the first place.  As I thought about that, I realized that one of the reasons I really disliked Lepore’s book was that I was suspicious about her motivations for writing it. And my suspicions were very soon confirmed by how she approached the issue.

She mocks the Tea Party.  It isn’t the kind of obvious mocking that you would get on The Daily Show. In fact, she makes herself seem like a very reasonable person who sat down and talked to them.  It is a subtle, intellectualized mocking where she points out all the facts they get wrong and glosses over or trivializes the things they get right.  Right at the beginning of the book she says,

But the Tea Party’s Revolution wasn’t just another generation’s story – it was more like a reenactment – and its complaint about taxation without representation followed the inauguration of a president who won the electoral vote 365 to 173 and earned 53 percent of the popular vote.  In an age of universal suffrage, the citizenry could hardly be said to lack representation. (emphasis mine)

Really?  I think there are about 5 million people in prison or felon disenfranchised who might disagree.  There are millions of undocumented immigrants who might disagree.  There are lots of young adults under 18 who might disagree.  And most of us eligible voters don’t feel represented by the customary choices of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.  That’s why we don’t usually bother to vote.  But thanks for dismissing us with one fell swoop of “facts.”

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know I have a somewhat different take on the Tea Party crowd.  I think the Tea party is right that they are not represented.  I think they have been hella slow figuring it out.  I don’t know how to reach some of those people, but I am certain that combing through their words to find every fact they have wrong is not the way to do it. Inconvenient facts are great for winning a debate, but not necessarily helpful for reaching an understanding.

I am not claiming that facts do not matter at all.  I won’t go so far as to say nothing is knowable.  But I do think that we select what facts to go after and what facts to use.  We can as easily use facts to obscure the truth as to uncover it.  Facts and truth have a more complicated relationship than might seem to be the case and sometimes you have to go beyond facts to get at truth.

Things You Might Have Missed

February 08, 2011 By: Mel Category: Misc

Guess what guys?  If some prison guard fucks you up the ass, the FBI says it ain’t rape.

DC as a tax free zone?

These Russian artists are ballsalicious and I am seriously afraid for them.

These pics of makeshift helmets in Egypt are pure awesome.  This letter is pretty funny too.  And as long as we are talking about Egypt, here are some tips about how not to say stupid shit about it.

Some woman in Mt. Pleasant is actually going to jail for her kid’s school absences.  When I had 43 absences in a 45 day high school quarter my mom said, “They are going to come take me to jail.” I just rolled my eyes.  Guess mom is slightly less crazy than I thought.

O.k. radical, abolitionist vegans.  Let me ask you this.  You think that eating animals is speciesism. In this future world where no person eats animals, will other animals also not eat animals?  Do you think lions are no longer going to hunt?  If not, then aren’t you claiming that people are morally superior to lions?  Isn’t that a form of speciesism?

What do you think of when you see a confederate flag?  I see pretty much what this artist sees.  Ren sees things a bit differently.  And this anarchist has an essay about it that is worth reading.

Just in case you thought your congressperson wasn’t doing important stuff for you here in DC, you can feel relieved that both dems and repubs are making sure sports teams are properly and formally congratulated.

Read why there will be no Black history month posts at Womanist Musings.

I have been posting links to all the murders that get ignored (and often remain unsolved) in DC. Meanwhile, do you know what the cops here are doing?  They are busy busting women who work in massage parlors.  Are you fucking kidding me?  Does anyone really give a shit if people are getting happy endings?

And then, of course, there are the 11 murdered women found in New Mexico.  Police have no clue. Probably too busy trying to bust women for prostitution.

You may have caught that article about how men have shitty sex lives because of too much porn. Violet Blue has the response to that.  (NSFW)

So DC is busting women for massages.  New New Mexico has a serial killer on the loose that nobody gives a crap about because they are killing prostitutes.  New York magazine is claiming porn is ruining men’s sex lives.  Meanwhile Germany’s brothels are offering services specially geared toward senior citizens.  Damn puritans ruined this country.

I was actually going to write a post very similar to this – on the difference between debate and dialogue.

And finally, Malawi wants to make it a crime to fart.  Not kidding.

On Snow and Relationships

February 03, 2011 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Politics

We have had a couple good snows this winter.  That means that I’ve had to navigate snow and ice covered sidewalks without breaking my neck.  Bad enough for me, who is generally steady on her feet when sober, but others really just have to forget about going anywhere until the snow melts.

It is a contentious issue around here.  Shoveling the sidewalk is supposed to be the responsibility of the people in front of whose building the sidewalk is, or at least so says the city.  There are lots of people who just never do it.  I know exactly which buildings in my neighborhood will be impassable year after year.  Now a DC council member has introduced a bill to impose penalties on those people who don’t get their sidewalks cleared within eight hours.

The proposed bill kicked off a fierce debate.  Why should residents have to clear the sidewalks when they belong to the city?  What if someone is out of town? What about the elderly and disabled? Will fines be imposed on them?  If not, who decides who is disabled and so exempt? Do those sidewalks just go unshoveled?  Can we trust the enforcers to implement the law fairly?  They don’t have a very good track record.

Do you know how we could know who is out of town or elderly or disabled and needs a bit of help? We could know that if we actually talked to our neighbors.  Do you how we could ensure that the sidewalks are clear so that those elderly and disabled could get through? We could coordinate with our neighbors.  Do you know how we make sure some city bureaucracy doesn’t bury us in tickets and fines? We could dispense with the bureaucracy altogether.

Charles Eisenstein did a talk recently on the gift economy.  He explained how gift economies create ties and obligations between people.  Gift economies are about strengthening community.  Cash economies, in contrast, separate people.  You give me a service.  I pay you for it.  Now I owe you nothing.  I have no obligation to you.  Isn’t this really the same dynamic?  I paid my taxes and now have no obligation to know or help my neighbors.  The city will do it. If my neighbor acts like a douche, I can hide in my apartment and have somebody else confront them.  All of it is to avoid the human relationships and obligations that any just society would have to be based upon.

A few months ago, I attended the Renewing the Anarchist Tradition (RAT) conference in Baltimore. One of the sessions was called Beyond Street Protests.  We talked about different projects that people were working on or thinking about.  One of the people there was from Pittsburgh and talked about anarchists trying to build community by helping out their neighbors.  The subject of shoveling sidewalks came up.   There was a bit of joking around about brigades of anarchist sidewalk shovelers.  I mean it isn’t like you can change the world by shoveling your neighbor’s sidewalk.

Or is it?

Things You Might Have Missed

February 01, 2011 By: Mel Category: Misc

According to the Bureau of Justice, 7,225,800 people were under some sort of “correctional supervision” at the end of 2009.  That means they were either incarcerated or on parole.  How depressing is that?

The beginning of these videos on anarchist economics was interesting.  I’ll be looking forward to that book.

I really liked this post about how phony we all have to be to be “successful” in our society.  It is especially salient for me today, since I had to go through a two hour training on performance evaluations at work.  I basically spent the whole time with the videocon on mute so we could make snarky comments.  We never really leave high school do we?

Nice post against reformism on Free Dissent.

The Merch Girl brings up a very good point about language policing.  It takes a really high degree of language proficiency to navigate those waters.  It is hard enough for people who understand the language well, but if it isn’t your native language it is so much harder.

This story made me so angry.  The idea that adoptive parents are always heroes or victims is very prevalent and very problematic.  I am really tired of hearing about people who basically lose their kids because they aren’t rich.

Isn’t it amazing how republicans are all about local rule, except when it comes to DC?

Can someone please explain to me why it is even an issue that this donor owns strip clubs?  I mean it is Florida for Christ’s sake.  Wanda Sykes once said that Florida is filled with so many strip clubs they should change our flag to just the pole.

It looks like Aristide may be going back to Haiti.  Granted, I don’t actually think that will do much.  But it has to be better than what our congress thinks is taking action (eye roll).  More promising are actions by the Haitian people, like the farmers that burned a shit ton of Monsanto seeds.

These posters about the history of birth control are fascinating – at least to a history nerd they are.

Interesting video about a democratically run school in Denmark.  (HT Ted)

I don’t normally post links to Heritage Foundation articles, except maybe to rag on them.  Feel free not to click. But they had one of the more comprehensive pieces about the woman that was just sent to jail for lying about where her kids lived in order to send them to a better school.  The reason the Heritage article hit me so much harder (if you can ignore their slant) is that most of the things I read did not explain that she listed her kids as living at their father’s address.  And most of them didn’t explain that the school actually hired a private investigator to catch her.  Is that really how we are spending our tax dollars and time?   People want more money for schools and we are wasting our resources on that shit.  And we took away that woman’s freedom for that?  I’m fucking speechless.