Saturday, August 11, 2007


The great essays and deep conversation about the psychology of the Christian Right just keep on rolling out over at Orcinus . Today Sara Robinson follows up on a report by Dave Neiwert, and I want to quote the entire damned thing, but will settle for just a couple of excerpts:

"The fundamentalists among us have, simply, jumped the track -- and are now heading off in a radically new direction that is, very pointedly, re-defining our historic understanding of the First Amendment. Suddenly, in their minds, 'justice' is no longer defined as merely having exactly the same rights everybody else does. They are claiming that their religious doctrines absolutely require them to harass other people about their beliefs, take over the government, co-opt the military for religious ends, bomb clinics and kill doctors, demonize gays, oppress women, and dismantle the Constitution. It's not hard for the more paranoid among us to imagine a day when they will assert a 'religious freedom' right to commit genocide for God as well. That is, after all, where the heinous logic of all this leads."

"We are now sharing this country with a substantial class of people who not only harbor the fierce belief that they are superior to the rest of us -- yes, a master race, and their rhetoric is starting to work that meme as well -- they also believe that the future of the country is at immediate risk unless the non-believers are restrained and subdued, placed under total control of their betters. Further: they believe that they are justified by God to do this by any means necessary -- within or without the Constitution."

Go read 'em, folks. They're doing really important work for us.

Two points I'd like to follow up on. One is that the Christian Right's war on gays is no longer the sure-fire winner it once was. The majority of Lesbians and gays have refused to go into hiding or buy the crap which conflates same-sex attraction with gender "dysphoria". As recent scandals have shown, the Republican Party is larded with closeted gay white men, and more to the point, the insistence that gays must be hated has torn too many families apart. The fanatics will need a new demon to organize around, and I agree with a lot of observers that it will center on race -- because race hatred is their not-so-secret underbelly, the number one defining characteristic of the Right Wing. Anti-Muslim screeds are really about race, don't be fooled, and their big ticket item right now is anti-Mexican rhetoric. So, I call on everyone I know who is queer or queer-sympathic to be willing to switch your efforts, ALL of it, over to fighting the good fight for our sisters and brothers who will be next in their gunsights. Their methods will become increasingly illegal over the next ten to twenty years. Lives will be on the line. Get ready to speak up No Matter What.

Secondly, educate yourself about what is effective and accurate about progressive ideology. In particular, learn to immediately notice the power flow and name it. Oppression is not necessarily about larger groups excluding smaller ones, for instance. I'd recommend studying the brilliant thinking of Ricky Sherover-Marcuse, especially her Liberation Theory: A Working Framework . Here's a few of her basic definitions:

On Unlearning Racism, Sexism or Classism: "...'to unlearn' is not the opposite of 'to learn.' Thus, for example, the necessity of 'unlearning racism' does not imply that racism is 'learned,' or that racist attitudes are acquired through a 'learning' process. On the contrary, racist 'thinking,' like other forms of mystified consciousness, represents a disturbance of the learning process, a disturbance which itself is the consequence of social oppression and which in turn serves to perpetuate it."

Definition of Oppression: "Oppression is the systematic and pervasive mistreatment of individuals on the basis of their membership in various groups, which are disadvantaged by the institutionalized imbalances in social power in a particular society. Oppression includes both institutionalized or 'normalized' mistreatment as well as instances of violence. It includes the invalidation, denial, or the non-recognition of the complete humanness (the goodness, uniqueness, smartness, powerfulness, etc.) of those who are members of the mistreated group." [Emphasis mine: Oppression must be systematic and pervasive to qualify, and it must be reflected by institutionalized imbalance in social power. We must stop letting them pit those of us in target groups against one another. If your primary grievance and argument is with the members of another target group, I believe it's time for you to rethink your strategy.


On another note, I very much enjoyed watching last week's Celebrity Jeopardy shows because of how much it revealed who is smart and who is NOT. The questions were extremely dumbed down, and aside from the rampant distractability of actors (Alex Trebek simply gave up with folks like Martin Short, who were having too much fun being silly to remember even the basic rules of the game), what emerged was a steady stream of flamers running intellectual circles around their straight celebrity competitors. They were flamboyant AND brilliant. I hooted as Carson Kressley (from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) simply fucking CREAMED the hate-monger Nancy Grace. Mario Cantone also won his episode. Isaac Mizrahi and Neil Patrick Harris were not the big winners on their respective days, but they held their own.

Still, the best occurred on the last day, when NON-queen Michael McKean (Lenny from Laverne and Shirley, award-winning ensemble player from A Mighty Wind and This is Spinal Tap, and memorable Morris Fletcher who swapped bodies with Fox Mulder on The X-Files) racked up 30,000 points over Margaret Spelling, the Bush asslicker and so-called Secretary of Education who brought us such travesties as the "No Child Left Behind" program. I laughed and laughed. He didn't even glance her way as he ran entire categories with ease. Now, that's educational television.


Broad Cast for 11 August 2007

Passport photo, 1956, for Mary Jo Atkins Barnett and little Maggie. I was running a fever from my travel vaccinations and not a completely happy baby. Mama was told not to smile. Our dresses matched (something she continued to do until I got old enough to rebel). Check out her deep red lipstick.

This feature, Broad Cast, will consist of links to various online articles and features I've run across and want to recommend. I'll be doing this regularly. One thing I find completely obnoxious about such "round-ups" on most blogs is their proclivity for just using cutesy, incomplete phrases to indicate links, instead of telling you what the link is about -- as if you have unlimited time and energy to click your way through a list of items you may or may not want to read about. I promise not to do that here. You'll be well-informed before you leap to anything I hypermark.

In America, the top one-tenth of one percent of earners makes about the same money per year collectively as the millions of Americans in the bottom fifty percent combined. At PBS NOW "David Brancaccio talks with Pulitzer prize-winning financial reporter David Cay Johnston, as well as author and advocate Beth Shulman about the state of our country's vast income divide and how it's hurting those just trying to make ends meet." At the website link above, you can read excerpts from these two authors' books, a P.O.V. interview with Barbara Ehrenreich, and check out other pertinent links.

"Parents hoping to raise baby Einsteins by using infant educational videos are actually creating baby Homer Simpsons, scientists said today. For every hour a day that babies 8 to 16 months old watched such popular video series as Brainy Baby or Baby Einstein, they knew six to eight fewer words than other children."
Huh -- once again, there's no substitute for human interaction or reading a BOOK. "The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children younger than 24 months." That's NO television. It's a developmental thang.

I've gained a lot of useful self-insight by taking Implicit Association Tests at this well-respected site. Their intro states: "It is well known that people don't always 'speak their minds', and it is suspected that people don't always 'know their minds'. Understanding such divergences is important to scientific psychology. This web site presents a method that demonstrates the conscious-unconscious divergences much more convincingly than has been possible with previous methods. This new method is called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT for short." I can't recommend it enough.

A recent post by Terrance DC (Terrance Heath) speaks to the irony of lesbian and gay adoptions under attack in Oklahoma when the poisonous example of so many heterosexual parents leaves us breathless. The post has some chilling stories that you might have a hard time reading, but I wanted the chance to plug this man's blog, The Republic of T., who describes himself as "Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal."

This article by Jane Mayer at The New Yorker has been referred to repeatedly in the blogosphere since it was published this week. Entitled "The Black Sites", it offers "A rare look inside the C.I.A.'s secret interrogation program." The details are here, folks. But it's a devastating read -- the real deal.

The very first thing I thought of when I heard about the Minneapolis bridge collapse was the prospect of being a parent with small children or babies strapped into car seats as I drove across that bridge. The possibility of having to make unthinkable choices if we hit the water alive. I actually had a nightmare about it. The linked article from a Minneapolis news source verified my nightmare, so don't go here if you don't want to know. Thx to BitchPh.D. for the tip.

Lastly, a new website called Flight Memory
"enables you to easily keep track of where you have flown and then easily produce maps showing your flight routes. We'll also tell you your total time in the air, distance flown and even keep track of aircraft types and airlines!" It's free and it's already been illuminating for me. I have vivid impressions from my family's flight to Brazil in December of 1967: The precipitous descent into the airport at Caracas, Venezuela; my little brother Bill scampering away at Lima, Peru toward two soldiers with machine guns, asking them brightly if he could "touch the guns", and the extreme tension in that terminal until my mother caught up with him (the soldiers were not amused); crossing the Andes for several hours from Lima to Rio de Janeiro, at one point flying directly over an active volano where I was able to look down into the caldera and see a lake of lava; the chaos of Rio, and the increasing subsequent chaos of the Salvador and Aracaju airports, which had no electronic or even written flight information posted, only staticky announcements in a language none of us spoke. I, at age 12, was hyper-aware of my mother's feverish worry and my father's incompetence. But learning the actual distances and times of these flights has helped me construct a more coherent narrative. It's easy to sign up and use the tables, even if your memory is incomplete or sketchy.

Here's a poem I wrote about that flight, putting myself inside my mother's head:

BAHIA 1969

The airport in Bahia had open windows
Beyond the tarmac were unfamiliar trees
The children kept asking if we might
see monkeys, kept asking for something else
to drink, why can't we eat the ice

The plane was there, we could see it
but men had pulled apart one engine
Pieces of metal flashed in the sun

I spoke not a single word of Portugese
I kept opening my phrasebook, trying
to memorize anything useful but if I
did not keep my eyes on the children
every second one of them walked away
into the crowd that contained crates of chickens
and dogs on ropes, were they really going to
let those dogs on the plane?

The loudspeaker had a short
but I couldn't have made out
a word in any case

Ourr boarding passes were
kelly green plastic squares, I kept track of
the people nearby who had the same color passes
If they got up to talk to an agent, or stand at
the window, I did too, hissing at the children
to grab their bags, come on, this might be it

What kind of mother would drag her children
onto a plane that obviously needed major repairs
At least if it went down, we would all be
together. I had no idea if the jungle here
had monkeys, or snakes, or giant black scorpions

The phrasebook said Thank you was Obrigada
which seemed to mean I'm much obliged

When my son tried to wander off one more time
I was going to declare out loud if he got lost
I planned to just leave him behind. His pale
face would go bloodless but nobody here would
understand what I had said

written by Maggie Jochild on 27 April 2006, 5:41 a.m.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Who Feasts and Who Famishes

During the middle years of my childhood, there was not enough food in my family to last the month. Not enough to go around. My father was seldom home, and when he was, suddenly the meals were generous. I have never figured out if this was because he brought money with him or my mother held back money to make sure he was well-fed while he was there. I don't want it to be the latter. I don't have anyone I can ask about it now.

The way my mother managed it, she put together whatever dinner she could and if there was not enough for her to have a share, she stood by the stove, scraping what she could from the sides of the pot after having put down our three plates for us. She stayed in the room so she could talk with us, so it was a family meal. (Yes, I've written a poem about this.) I was the skinny, skinny one whom she was desperately worried about, so I had to sit where she could keep an eye on me, urge me to take another bite, honey. In the middle was my little brother Bill (3.5 years younger than me), and on the other side, not quite in her view, was our older brother Craig. The ravenous teenager.

When Mom stopped to light a cigarette or take a sip of coffee, Craig would steal Bill's food. Grab a piece of meat or a roll or whatever he could gulp down. Since he was always chewing nonstop, it wasn't noticeable once it went into his mouth. Bill knew better than to complain; he shared a bedroom with Craig, and punishment would be, well, unspeakable.

I had to time my moves very carefully, so that neither Craig nor my mother saw them. But I was ever so good at sneak. I'd hide food from my plate, whatever was portable, in my napkin. Whoosh, there's another bit gone. After dinner, my mother would examine my leaving critically -- there were always leavings, I didn't want to eat, not the least of which was that whatever I left on my plate, I knew she would eat. She'd sigh and tell me okay. As I left the kitchen, I'd hear the clank of a fork on my plate. Bill and I would wander off casually to an unobserved part of the house, and I would give him the contents of my napkin, keeping guard while he gratefully ate.

There are many layers to this memory. I've worked on most of them. But here's the question I'm posing today: What was it in the conditioning that Craig and I received, both older siblings to Bill, that caused Craig to steal Bill's food and me to go hungry in order that Bill eat?

Craig was a sick fuck, but it really isn't just him. I have talked with countless women over the decades, and the reality of brothers stealing food from their siblings is rampant. Often, in farm and poor families, it is overt and/or institutionalized by the mothers or fathers. I think it's linked to male and female conditioning. Males are supposed to satisfy their hunger, at the expense of those less powerful than themselves if necessary, and females are supposed to do the feeding.

This observation is not original. During the 1970s, we parsed it out and felt a generation's rage that it was so. We spent a lot of time trying to understand what was being said and done, in the raising of little boys, to give them the message that their needs came first. We were determined to stop this pathology in its tracks. But every time we suggested a change, men screamed that they were being misunderstood, misused, discriminated against, not included enough....the list is endless. And our training to make sure they felt satisfied sooner or later would kick in.

I have read, in the last few years, that double blind studies of infants interacting with their mothers reveal male infants are markedly less able to be self-sufficient or comfort themselves -- at any age, in any race or class group. Perhaps there is a biological difference. But, given the messages we have about gender, perhaps they've already learned their mothers see them as needier and more helpless.

When someone whose job it is to care for you and teach you about the world treats you as if you cannot care for yourself, you will come to believe this is true. When the expectations you are told you will encounter as an adult do not include cooking your own meals, cleaning your own house, raising your own offspring, or finding solace for your feelings on your own, you will feel a profound disconnect from reality because for small children, the only reality is what happens at home. The rest of the world is foggily understood.

So, when in your beloved universe, you are told "Oh, you'll never have to do any of these things", you will wonder what, then, is your connection to the real world and what is your value in it. That would certainly make me ragingly insecure, trying to keep the attention on me, trying to make sure I was loved and coddled even though I wasn't sure what I was bringing to the relationship, and, especially, trying to make sure my lack of skills remained hidden. In much the way white collar managers fill their days with pointless meetings and reports, because deep down, they know they aren't doing the work of the company and they certainly don't deserve the inflated salaries they receive.

It's a shell game. And the backlash against feminism for revealing the ugly truth has been to turn out new generations where not only boys, but now a certain number of girls, are kept isolated from the work that makes a home and family. We tell children their job is to be smart, look good, stay on top of pop culture, and someday somehow find a job that makes them feel valuable. While mom has a job and still does most of the housework, and dad gets praised for doing the laundry on nights when there's no game on TV.

And if a male shows up needy, hurt, not feeling seen for who he is, not being completely included no matter what? Well, then, it's the fault of females. We all agree on that. Except for a few old dykes who clearly cannot keep up with the new order. Hell, let's blame them, no one will stick up for them.

The only ending I can think of for this story at the moment is that Craig choked on his own vomit, alone on the floor, and I'm still alive. Telling the tale.