Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Which Women Could Possibly Save The World?

I was called out, and rightly so, on my use of a quote at the end of my blog post of yesterday. The Dalai Lama's purported claim that Western women will save the world has been made into numerous memes that get shared around the interwebs. 

I've always understood the quote to indicate that the economic privilege and social freedom of women in the Americas and Europe might be used for leverage to effect positive change. I certainly didn't think it meant that Western women were more powerful or more committed  than women elsewhere.

Since I was blogging about the hyper-masculinized woman of the military culture of the U.S. in the 21st century, the quote sprang to mind. I had just mentioned Hillary Clinton who is, in my opinion, the quintessential militarized woman. And I don't mean that in a good way.

My kind critic pointed out that she thought non-western women would find the quote "horribly offensive."

She is right, of course.

For the record, here are the kind of women who I think are most likely to save the world.

Siabatou Sanneh of Gambia (see photo above)

Dr. Vandana Shiva of India

Dalia Ziada of Egypt

Dr. Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala (seen here with the Dalai Lama -- maybe this is the kind of Western hemisphere women he had in mind?).

Sikwani Dana a Penobscot of Maine, USA

橋本あき Aki Hashimoto黒田節子 Setsuko Kuroda大河原多津子 Tatsuko Okawara, 高橋幸子 Yukiko Takahashi木田節子 Setsuko Kida and 森園和重  Kazue Morizono

of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan
“The government is 80-90% men and they are making all the decisions. It’s time for them to become enlightened to the fact that they are wrong. I want them to listen to us women; the women need to speak up, I feel that very strongly.“                                  --Kazue Morizono

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Militarized Woman: 'Grounded' with Anne Hathaway @PublicTheaterNY

Photo source: Broadway.com
It's an old story: a naïve young soldier runs with open arms toward his generations's war shouting "America, fuck yeah!" There, he encounters the death and destruction of innocents. His own role in inflicting suffering becomes too heavy a burden to bear. He begins to question his former patriotic fervor. He breaks down, and a traumatized veteran struggling to survive replaces the fresh-faced boy.

After her son returned from Vietnam a farm woman in my neck of the woods told a neighbor, "I sent the Army a good boy, and they sent me a home a killer."

But what if instead she had sent the Army a good girl?

In 'Grounded' by George Brant, currently in previews at the New York Public Theater, Anne Hathaway plays an Air Force fighter pilot with all the macho posturing, beer drinking and swearing of a stereotypical warrior. She's the 21st century militarized woman, cannon fodder who no longer needs superior physical force to kill with the best of them. In the mechanized wars, a pretty face will do to push the buttons that rain down Hellfire missiles on "the guilty," over there.

Hathaway's unnamed character rejects traditional feminine wisdom as she makes it in a man's world. Men she meets on leave don't know what to do with her alpha maleness; since she's in the guy role, they don't know where that leaves them. Until Eric, who's turned on by her prowess in the sky and wants to rip her flight suit off to have robust sex with her. By this means the pilot is grounded by a fundamental truth about females: we get pregnant. In the militarized world, the power to create a receptacle for new life is a weakness, not a strength.

Ultimately the pilot's "punishment" for becoming someone's mother is consignment to the contemptible ranks of "the chair force." Now she will operate a drone, a flying killer robot called Reaper, over the sands of an unspecified foreign land. With a team of surveillance operators and interpreters she will locate and destroy military-age males, sending their body parts flying on the grey screen she stares at for 12 hours at a stretch. Driving through her own desert each day from Creech Air Base outside Las Vegas, she will return to a home life that is more alienating than grounding. Eric, in a neat role reversal, couldn't be more nurturing, supportive or understanding -- at least for a while, until his wife begins terrorizing their toddler, Samantha. Mom doesn't want Sam to become "a hair tosser, a cheerleader" but the little girl just wants mommy to play with her.

What's new about warriors unable to reintegrate into the home space? As Hathaway's character observes, she used to transition home once a year. Now she has to attempt it once a day. Once she could let off steam by drinking with the boys. Now she has to pretend she wants to play with pink toy ponies.

What's also new is the role of surveillance, the so-called Gorgon Stare, a high resolution camera mounted on drones that can almost but not quite see its victims' faces. As the drone pilot comes unraveled her perception of being constantly watched by invisible forces becomes unbearable. And when she is the watcher she begins to imagine that it's her car she's following on a road through the desert. That it's her child who runs from the house toward her father, "the Prophet," captive in his own car, peeing into a bottle so that he never has to emerge into the drone pilot's gaze.

Eric, who cries easily, makes his wife go to counseling with him. She's jealous, imagining he's attracted to the  blonde therapist. She's angry at being pressured to talk about her feelings. She can't take off her flight suit anymore, even in bed. It's her armor, and the soft person she is inside it doesn't emerge until her mental deterioration is complete. Then she wanders out into the desert and buries her flight suit in the sand. She's last seen creating crazy memorials to the legions of the dead, clad only in her underwear.

It's the perfect play for a month when the so-called feminist Hillary Clinton, an accomplished warmonger during her time as Senator and Secretary of State, announced her candidacy for president. Expert direction by Julie Taymor can't overcome the fact that Anne Hathaway doesn't quite have the inner cauldron of seething rage that this tragedy needs. Hillary would have been a better casting choice, the poster girl for selling off your feminine soul for a mess of pottage. The Dalai Lama has been widely quoted as saying that it will be Western women who will save the world. Maybe so, but only if they don't forget how to be women.

Photos source: The Children Killed by America's Drones. "Crimes Against Humanity" committed by Barack H. Obama by Prof. Michel Chossudovsky in GlobalResearch, Jan. 26, 2013.

Addendum: A young woman I respect questioned my use of the Dalai Lama's questionable quote. Here is the blog post I wrote about that:  Which Women Could Possibly Save The World?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

1,300 Mainers Tell @SenAngusKing Don't Bomb Iran, Let Diplomacy Work!

photo credit: Martha Spiess
Mainers concerned about Sen. Angus King's belligerent stance toward Iran visited his Augusta office yesterday to deliver a petition with 1,300 signatures of constituents calling for diplomacy, not war. In this photo Doug Rawlings, co-founder of Veterans for Peace, hands the petition to King's staff while Codepink associates Ridgley Fuller and Mark Roman join others in holding DON'T BOMB IRAN signs produced by social action organization CREDO, the petition's sponsor.

This is one of many actions concerned citizens are taking to let King know that we expect him to represent the people of Maine, not the campaign donors of AIPAC. Israel does not and should not dictate U.S. foreign policy, but King has been eager to jump on their bandwagon.

A call to action circulated by Just Foreign Policy has also been making the rounds in our state. It draws attention to the fact that King, an independent, has co-sponsored legislation designed to sink any negotiated agreement with Iran to monitor nuclear production.
Dear Bruce,
Exciting news from Switzerland: the US, our international partners, and Iran have agreed on a framework for the Iran nuclear deal! [1]  
This latest development proves that diplomacy is working. But even with this landmark success, Republicans in Congress will continue to try to derail a final deal.  
Sen. Angus King is currently helping Republicans kill an Iran deal. Sen. Angus King is currently a co-sponsor of a piece of legislation Republicans are trying to push through the Senate: the Corker-Menendez bill (S. 615) that would impose procedural hurdles in the way of a deal. This bill will likely be considered shortly after Congress returns to DC on April 14. [2] [3] [4] 
Call Sen. Angus King NOW at (202) 224-5344 and say
The US, our international partners, and Iran have reached an agreement on a framework for an Iran nuclear deal. Diplomacy is working. I urge Sen. Angus King to STOP SUPPORTING the Corker-Menendez bill (S. 615), to OPPOSE the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill (S. 269), and to OPPOSE consideration of any other legislation that would compromise the talks until after the June 30 deadline. 
When you're done, report your call here:

Thanks for all you do to promote diplomacy,
Megan Iorio and Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy 
1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/negotiators-hold-marathon-all-night-session-in-last-ditch-effort-for-agreement/2015/04/02/68334c88-d8b2-11e4-bf0b-f648b95a6488_story.html
2. http://www.politico.com/story/2015/03/senate-grants-obama-weeks-long-reprieve-on-iran-bill-116250.html
3. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/269
4. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/615

Those in Maine who prefer to make a local call can contact the Augusta office at 207-622-8292. Or use this link to send King an email. Let's work together to remind Congress that we want them to support the Iran deal, and that we don't support the war that hawks are promoting.

Use these CODEPINK links to send a letter to your reps and senators saying Congress: Let diplomacy work! or to sign an open letter to Sen. Tom Cotton. Here Medea Benjamin and other patriots visit Cotton's DC office last week calling for peace with Iran and reminding Cotton of the role of the Senate under the U.S. Constitution.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Hate Speech On The Rise And What To Do About It

Bowdoin students stage sit-in outside president's office by Beth Brogan, Bangor Daily News 4/1/15

It's a bit sad that I'm blogging about hate speech rising at dawn on Easter morning. It's the spring holiday when every faith celebrates the return of light and life, and the re-greening of the planet.  So happy Passover, happy Nowruz and happy Ostara everyone. I fear that what's rising in my neighborhood is not the eternal spirit of love and forgiveness, though, at least not for many.

My first discouraging discovery this week came right on the heels of a happy one: students at my alma mater had staged a sit-in at the college administration offices to call attention to their demand that Bowdoin divest from fossil fuel investments. After being stonewalled by the trustees of the college for 150 days, and in response to the non-responsiveness of the college's lame duck president, twenty young adults occupied the halls outside Barry Mills' office. 

Why this was encouraging: Bowdoin students generally go along with the status quo and are too polite to make waves. Many an activist student who finds him or herself at Bowdin expresses frustration about this; many transfer. Though the college states its mission to educate youth to serve the common good, there's a general perception that what they mostly serve is their own agenda to enjoy life and make a lot of good connections while getting a degree that will get them into a good grad school. Many of the people I went to Bowdoin with a long time ago went on to become Wall St. types who helped crash the economy in '08 and accelerate the crushing poverty of the masses. Bowdoin's endowment, by the way, is epic; it passed the $1 billion mark in 2013.

Why this was discouraging: check out the pages and pages of hate filled comments on the Bangor Daily News article about the sit-in. (The thread is now closed for comments. Maybe because I tried to get some friends to send the students some love? We'll never know.)

Here's a mild example for starters:

This sets a theme that others developed with sneering contempt. There were recurring insults that made me feel many of the commenters were paid climate change deniers who were operating from a common playbook. Free wifi, for example. Other criticisms that willfully ignored the issue the students were concerned about ridiculed them for their creature comforts including being warm (it's been a long and very cold winter in Maine this year due to changes in the ocean currents due, ironically, to climate-change induced melting of the polar ice cap). 

Access to electronics and free wifi, and politically correct food choices were also recurring themes.

Free wifi came up so often it was kind of amazing. Doesn't McDonald's and your local library offer free wifi for the masses? Don't Bowdoin students either pay or borrow thousands of dollars a year for their "free" wifi? Of course I should stop trying to find any logic in the hate speech spewed by talk radio and Fox news which the commenters are parroting.

And about those cars. Apparently students at expensive private colleges are all driving fancy SUVs that get poor gas mileage, the hypocrites.

This recurring accusation seemed a little behind the curve, actually. Because wouldn't a lot of these particular students drive (expensive) hybrids? Plus, isn't the Mainer most likely to leave comments like this driving around in a full size (like 6 or even 8 cylinder) pickup truck that gets lousy gas mileage, too?

But it was the underlying current of threat that I found so discouraging.

Do people who don't know how to use the apostrophe correctly naturally hate people who do, or is this something that must be learned?

Next on my discouraging news of the week came from blogger Shay Stewart-Bouley who heads, as she puts it, "one of the few organizations in the United States dedicated to anti-racism work," Community Change, Inc. in Boston. 

While walking down the street in Portland's Old Port fancy pants shopping and dining district, her mixed race family encountered a car full of cowardly youths who yelled the N-word at them and drove off.  She wrote about in her blog,  BlackGirlinMaine: When gelato gets racial or a little girl hears the N-word for the first time. 

I recognize how sad it is that being targeted by hateful, threatening speech is a constant for people of color in Maine. As Stewart-Bouley put it:
as a mixed-raced family in a white space, the reality is that anytime we leave our house as a family, we risk incurring the wrath of the ignorant and hateful
I don't want this to be, but so it is. Reading the facebook discussion about how a white news anchor in Maine witnessed the event and wrote about it made me think about what I would have done if I'd been there. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have chased after the car, though I understand why Shay's 23 year old son did. I like to think I would have yelled something at the car, but what?  SHUT UP! maybe. I refuse to shout IDIOTS, because name calling is part of the problem, not the solution. I also like to wish I would have the courage to go over to the family as Shay reported one man did to say, Are you ok?

Well that's really the question, isn't it -- is a family or a 9 year old girl or any of us ok in a place where hate speech is the norm?

Personal racism results in hate speech, and all within earshot are aware of it. Many argue that institutional racism -- the kind built into the structures of society -- is more apparently polite, often invisible, and probably much more harmful. Some would argue that getting the ugliness up into the light of day where we can all hear it and acknowledge it is a good thing. 

Sure, like it was better when the Nazis shouted ugly slogans at Jewish people on the street than when they turned them out of their jobs as college professors.

Stewart-Bouley observed:
In my professional work, I work with white people on race and the white American culture is an all-too-polite space where too many times white people don’t speak up and unfortunately silence can be harmful. Racism is a system, and that silence upholds that system even when we don’t believe we are actively creating harm.
That's their white privilege in operation. And if you really want to see people get angry, call them out on their white privilege.

The third discouraging thing this week was the glee with which liberals greeted the news that a former mayor of Biddeford and former state legislator, Joanne Twomey, had thrown a jar of Vaseline at Maine's governor during a public appearance. Her missile was apparently a response to a crude remark of a sexual nature that the governor had made. 

Having cartoonish villains is part of the personalization of politics that normalizes hate speech and hostile gestures, making them seem desirable as long as they are directed at the proper targets. Maine's governor is the buffoon liberals love to hate and they are fond of calling him various forms of stupid when he is, in fact, a creature of ALEC and an extremely astute politician. His criticism of a different Democratic state legislator as "a bad person" with "no brains" and a "black heart" is reportedly what spurred Twomey to action. 

The rise of accepting hateful speech and gestures aimed against anyone is not and cannot be a good sign. I don't like the governor's proposed budget either; it's designed to make the un- and under employed working poor of Maine even poorer and angrier than they are now. And the media is sure to tell them who to blame: affluent college kids, and families that vaguely resemble (in the sense of lazy thinking to the effect that "they all look alike") that much reviled, well-educated African American family in the White House.

All who care must teach and practice tolerance -- or we will repent at leisure. Get busy.