Monday, January 31, 2011

Research Explorer

I don't usually post much about environmentalism, but I recently found this interesting informative site put out by the National Science Foundation. I'm hoping to get a chance to check out the section on the cryosphere, which is definetely the area I know the least about.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sexuality in Comics

Gail Simone, a comic book goddess, recently posted on her tumblr on homosexuality and their depiction in comics. The day before, I had read the post she references, and, like her, it made me angry.
I had agreed with Simone that comic books have had few LBGT characters. I frankly, can think of none off the top of my head. She makes a lot of other good points. I like the Simone makes the point of saying this is not about the author of the original post, which is totally true.
One of the other things the original author said was that a specific lesbian character was a lesbian in revenge of her father's strict discipline of her as a child. This is basically the "it's a choice" argument against homosexuality dressed up in a disguise. It is a disgusting, bad attitude to take towards a lesbian and lesbianism in general. It makes her sexuality not about her or her desire but about her father issues, which is really to say, makes it about men. It is both a ridiculous interpretation of the character and politically awful.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ask Mormon Girl

Last week, Ask Mormon Girl made the announcement that she's been invited over to Mormon Feminist Housewives. Ask Mormon Girl is an interesting column talking about an often-misunderstood religious group, the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Joanna Brooks, the author, is a perfect fit for her new home. Congrats to Ms. Brooks!

Friday, January 28, 2011


I love art, and that includes normal, household items well-made. American Duchess generally has antique bits and bobs up on her blog, and recently she posted these great saltshakers. There's something very charming about them.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Feminism on TV

Sarah Michelle Gellar, the once Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is coming back to tv show with Ringers, about twins on the run from the mob.  Gellar can totally handle a thriller as much as she can do horror, so I'm excited for this.  Then someone published a list of reasons why they would watch her new show.  They make some great points, reflecting back on what made Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a great show.
Here's the however: there was no mention of feminism.  What made Buffy the Vampire Slayer unique and interesting and better than most shows was its feminism.  It was imperfect and sometimes problematic feminism, but the show's dedication to a feminist allegory made it one of the best shows ever.  It was first great because finally, a show that had a strong female lead who was both normal and extraordinary.  The show might have had vampires and demons, but it was a more real depiction of high school (and later college and young adult life) than "realist" high school shows.  (You know I'm looking at you, Degrassi.)  There are few shows out there that are made for women, but enjoyable if you are a man.  And no show has ever wanted to be a feminist vision for young women.   
Mostly, though, was that its feminist allegory gave the show grounding and meaning in ways other shows have not had.  Unfortunately, tv shows do not generally have overarching visions, and if they go through several different producers or networks, the tenor of a great show can change.  This is why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is Whedon's best work to date: for as long as it lasted, the show managed to stay true to itself and always had the strong footing of a storyline worth telling.  Whedon's Dollhouse, while fascinating in some ways, never really took off because it spent so much of its time trying to find itself, and when it did, it was not with a feminist lens.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lady Gaga's "Anatomy of Change"

Although I don't agree with all of Lady Gaga's politics, I find her fascinating.  In this video she recently posted on her Twitter, she has this European-techno song.
The video is engrossing, as so much of Lady Gaga's work is.  I love the man with the art or tattoos covering his body.  There's something both scary and striking about him.  I wish we would spend more time watching him removing what looks like latex from his entire body.  As shocking as the image of him in a black room is, seeing him out, wearing normal clothes, in industry settings, as parts of the video shows, is also a fascinating juxtaposition.  I'm wondering if this is meant to be some cyberpunk-like, post-industrial apocalypse commentary. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cherrie Moraga, Race and Sexuality

I've been reading Cherrie Moraga lately. She's a wonderful writer. I came across the following quote:
"People can't read your mind, they read your color, they read your womanhood, they read the woman you're with...I think that is why I have always hated the terms "biracial" and "bisexual." They are passive terms, without political bite...They are a declaration not of identity but of biology, of sexual practice."
Is it possible that those terms can be declarations of identity, especially now? (The book I read this in was published in the early nineties, which makes me wonder, in the fifteen years since that statement, are these claimable, political identities?)
I ask mostly because it seems like there has been a lot of activity happening in those two worlds. With the election of Obama to the presidency, there's been a lot of discussion of racial identity. Obama's mother was white and his father was African, but Obama claims to be African American and not biracial. There's been a lot of debate as to if he has the right to claim being African American or if he is being politically irresponsible in not choosing biracial.
And then there's the issue of bisexuality. I hear complaints all the time, from various people, about how bisexuals should just "choose," and then, if this wasn't problematic enough, that they are dangerous because they don't.
In both cases, I keep coming back to the idea of self-determination to define themselves however they want. No one chooses to be gay, but what if someone decided to define themselves as a bunny, as one of my friends did at around eighteen? It was a little unexpected, and some people struggled to wrap their heads around it, but it wasn't really a big deal. He just enthusiastically ate carrots and I occasionally petted him on the head. I realize there are bigger things at stake when discussing race and sexuality, but if identity is self-defined, it challenges the notion that society can define race and sexuality, which is, of course, what it has always been doing all along. Despite the evidence that there is no biological basis in race, people have been grouped that way. If someone decides they simply aren't anymore, maybe society at large will look at them the same way, but maybe they won't. And when lots of people begin defining themselves in unexpected ways, maybe more people will be forced to examine the idea that they have the right to impose identity on someone else in the first place.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Divorce in Iran

This is an interesting video clip about divorce and women in Iran.  According to this video, the courts assume that women want to stay with their husbands.  Among other things, I wonder, what if a woman does want to get a divorce?  Does she have the same legal rights as a man or is it simply harder? 
The part where she is told to make herself "attractive" made me particularly sad.  I hate the way society enforces such a narrow view of physical appearance for women, and I would really hate being told to make myself attractive to get back my ex-husband.  And then later on in the video they make a woman remove her makeup before going in.  So, they want women to be "attractive" but then they do not want them to express themselves however they want? 
Actually, this scene, where women check other women and enforce a dress code, reminds me very much of a section of The Handmaid's Tale, where women are the enforcers of oppression for women.  Atwood's commentary there was that some women have to be taken in by the forces of oppression to make that oppression legitimate, and this strikes me as the same thing.  "See?" Someone could say.  "Other women don't have a problem with it." 
Despite being a religious person, I love that there is separation of church and state in the U.S., exactly because of this kind of enforcing religious behavior on people. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Angels and Airwaves

This is a really fascinating trailer for a new science fiction movie called Angels and Airwaves. At first, it is just some astronauts in space. Okay. Then the power appears to go out on Earth. Oh. That could be really ugly. And terrifying, not just on Earth, but for those in the spaceship. This is going to be a thriller right? The kind where people sit around and get all jittery because their space station is probably the last refuge where people have some power?
And then the Civil War shows up. (Don't you wish you said that everyday? And then the Civil War shows up...) Let me tell you, as someone who spent a lot of childhood time around space-nuts: they are also almost always love the Civil War (also NASCAR, but that's another story altogether). At this point, this looks like the fantasy of certain male schoolmates of mine.
The last line "Does it bother you that we're not real?" is sort of great, and hopefully, an acknowledgement that this movie is taking place in character's minds.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Smiling Victorians

Usually when I think of old-time photography, I imagine stiff, emotionless faces. Sometimes even angry looking ones. But The Smiling Victorian is apparently determined to change all of that by their collection of happy dispositions. Some of these people featured are downright cute.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Winter Coats

I struggle with the fashion industry because I hate how they promote a narrow view of women's bodies. But I love the artistic and craftsmanship of the industry, and I do find myself admiring clothes as works of art.
I came across this great winter coat called October Foxhunt. It looks amazing. Not only is it cute, but it is flattering to a non-"perfect" body type. I have more than enough coats, but I would wear this too.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Artist Talk

For all of you in D.C. tonight, looking for something to do, check out Favianna's artist talk at Magic of the Melting Pot.  Favianna is an amazing artist and activist.  She is going to be focusing on immigration and food reform tonight. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Women in the Big Bang Theory

It is good sometimes to read opinions in which you don't agree with, though today when I stumbled upon this piece about how someone is tired of Penny on the Big Bang Theory, I found myself not disagreeing in the least.  Basically, they argue that she is boring because she is static and dumb in a misogynistic way, which is so true. 
I would forgive the whole "she's the dumb" one premise if it had only been part of the premise.  If she had learned a little from being around the boys, and didn't always say such stupid things, that would be okay.  If she was shown to have hidden "smarts," like, say, a great understanding of Shakespeare, Ibsen or Oscar Wilde (she is an actress anyway, and this could easily tie into why she chose to become an actress.)  Or have her "smarts" be artistic ones, which again could be tied to her decision to be an actress.  The sad thing is that they haven't even allowed her to be a good actress on the show; she can't even seem to catch a break or at least perform a scene that proves to the audience that she too is worthy of our admiration. 
The other thing I'd like to see is her romantic life take a more sympathetic approach.  She is always dating jerks (Leonard included), but we know immediately as audience members they are jerks.  In real life, when guys turn out to be jerks, it usually starts out in a small way, sometimes in ways that friends do not even notice, and then near the end of the relationship (or when the relationship should end) it explodes into something big and awful.  I want the writers to seduce the audience with what looks like a great guy and fails to be, fails in a monumental, terrible, heart-breaking way.  That way, we understand that Penny doesn't just date awful guys because she's too stupid to know better, but because these guys are liars, and good ones.  Watching this show, I imagine the writer's room filled with guys angry at that one pretty girl who would not go out with them, and here they are, getting revenge on her fictional counterpart, dismissing her as stupid, making fun of her womanliness, and then forcing her into bad relationships with guys who do not love her and just want to sleep with her (again, Leonard included, who could not be bothered with her beyond her physical appearance.)  In some ways, that is far too much like straight women's experiences with men, and why so many men do not deserve the women they turn on after they have been rejected.  If a man gets rejected gently by a woman and then turns into that kind of monster, then that that monster is who is always was.  He would have just behaved that badly in some other way to her later on. 
More than anything, I honestly do not watch the show much because of the flaws around Penny (and the continued trashing of Sheldon, who is far more interesting that Leonard, Raj and Howard combined.)  But do you know what's surprisingly good?  The Big Bang Theory fanfiction.  The fanfiction, written mostly by women, I've noticed, allows Penny to have a certain amount of depth and generally doesn't sink into the dumb stereotypes the show has such a habit of doing.  My favorite group is Paradox.  I am frequently impressed with the writing that goes on over there.  I honestly wish these ladies were the ones writing the show. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Power Reading

Bibliotonic posted this great book shelf where the books actually come imbedded in the shelf. All of the books in this collection are political books on power. As both a book nerd and political junkie, I would love one of these in my home, though I suspect I would inevitably decorate the shelf with more books (in keeping with the theme, probably political books too.) I hate to admit that I haven't read all of these books, but I have read both The Republic and The Communist Manifesto. I'm a fan of the latter (obviously), but I have more complicated feelings about the former. On one hand, Plato makes some fascinating observations, but he also proscribes some terrible things. (Among other things, he basically calls for genocide based on what is at the very least an abiliest point of view. It would be easy to read these comments as a defense of things like the Holocaust.) Usually I read The Republic similar to how I read the works of Freud: truths used to make lies. Some of the things are true, but lot of the idealization is not.
Who says home decor can't make you think?

Monday, January 17, 2011

National Museum of the American Indian

Most people use Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday as a free day off. And maybe I'm just in the wrong circles, but I never hear of a rally or other events/ideas to celebrate King's legacy and life. This year I wanted to do something specifically to celebrate him, to educate myself and to think about the future of people of color.
What I ended up doing is going to the National Museum of the American Indian. I realize, of course, that King was African American, but King was not fighting for just civil rights for African Americans, and his cause inspired other people of color to demand justice and equality. If King had survived his shooting, he would probably be proud to see his words inspire other activists fighting for other minorities.
Moreover, I feel like I have a personal blind spot when it comes to Native American culture. Not on purpose, of course, but I do not know much about the differences between nations. So going to this museum was an attempt to spend some time, in honor of King's work, educating myself. I wanted to post some pictures I took and share some of the assorted thoughts I had.

The first floor of the museum had this wonderful collection of everyday items Native Americans made. Obviously, this is a bowl. (I am having trouble discerning my notes, but I believe this is from either the Lakota or Dakota. At the very least, it's Sioux.) The artist who created this did a great job capturing the animal's likeness.

This is a set of playing cards. After having contact with Westerns, Native Americans adopted some of their games and changed them. Games were also played by Native Americans to settle clan disputes, which made me think about how some Southern African people would use poetry as a way to battle one another without actually shedding blood.

I believe this is a cribbage game.

The dramatic lighting in the museum. The museum is located in a historical, Beaux-Arts building.

A more modern piece of art the greets you when you first walk in the museum.
There were a lot of omissions at this museum. I realize most people do not want to talk about the issues affecting living Native Americans, like all the problems that plague reservations, but there was not even a discussion of the horrible things that happened to Native Americans as part of the U.S. attempts to "civilize" them, just brief mentions here and there of them being moved against their will to places like Oklahoma. This is a huge gap in history to ignore, and important one.
I also wish there was some discussion of what modern life for Native Americans is like. There was art from contemporary Native Americans (which was very cool), but it had muted political quality, and a fair amount of it, displayed in another context and without information, could have been seen as non-political art.
I have more pictures on Flikr and I wrote a longer review of the museum on my review blog.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Watson the Robot

This is a test video for Jeopardy, one of those shows I love to watch when I get a chance. (I love trivia.) In February, they're planning on having two of the top contestants go up against a robot, shown in the video.
I find this really fascinating. I want to know what the green spinning image on Watson the Robot's screen is all about.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Women and Beauty

OkCupid, the dating site, has an interesting recent article on the mathematics of women's beauty.  Really, this is more about statistics and there's no Golden Ratio mentioned.
There are some good things about this article.  The conclusion at the end, encouraging women to play up their flaws, is nice because usually when you read a woman's magazine, the first thing they will tell you is basically make yourself perfect.  Be perfect all the time.  Are you perfect yet?  No?  Then you are going to spend the rest of your life alooooooneForeeeeevvver.
(And while we're at it, an aside: telling women to never show a negative emotion is possibly the oldest dating advice of all time.  I'm personally really sick of it.  If a guy can't deal with me now, he's not going to be able to handle later.)     
There are a lot of problems with this post.  For one thing, it is based solely on heterosexual ideas of love.  (Men are apparently only interested in women and vice versa in the universe this article plays into.)  I am unfamiliar with OkCupid, so it is possible this is one of those dating sites that only allows for heterosexual pairings, or at least only encourages them, but I found this assumption really sad and dated.  Maybe they are planning on eventually analyzing women interested in women and men interested in men, but if they are, they give no mention of it.   
I would also like to know how they rated attractiveness.  Was it just based on the authors opinions?  Did they actually poll people?  (It looks like they might of, but it's a little unclear.  Again, because I'm not familiar with OkCupid, I don't know.) 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Elle's White Christmas

There's a great petition going around asking the magazine Elle to apologize for clearly making actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan look whiter than she is.  Seeing the cover, I was shocked just how white she looked.  If I wasn't familiar with her work (I saw her in Bride and Prejudice), I might have mistakenly assumed she was white.
This is not to say that Ms. Rai Bachchan is the only one this has happened to.  I notice that Beyonce always looks almost white, and while riding the subway yesterday evening I noted that the promo poster for the U.S. version of Skins has the actors and actresses, who come from a surprisingly large racial mix, look almost all white or at least light.
The other sad thing to consider is that the actors and actresses of color who do tend to "make it" are lighter.  I so rarely see someone darker on tv or in the movies.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Living Justice Press

As I've reported before, book nerds love imprints and small presses.  That's how we roll.  So let me point out another great small press: Living Justice.  This great organization, located in Minnesota, focuses on publishing books on social justice, particularly as for Native Americans. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Political Rhetoric and Violence

There has been a lot of discussion over the recent attempted assassination committed by Jared Loughner. Although some of the debate, as always, contains finger pointing, it has been nice to see a discussion over free speech and when it goes too far.
Even though it is early and the evidence as to what really happened is sketchy, there have been plenty of discussion as to what role politics or mental illness have played a part in Loughner's motivation. Pundits of all kinds have offered explanations. The most sensible one is by Parke Burgess, who argues that violence within rhetoric is a problem no matter what the outcome.  Brugess is right to remind us that a world where political debate is increasingly sidelined for rage performances is dangerous and sad.  Discussions, positive and constructive ones, never happen, and we make no lasting changes to our world.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Don't Upset the Rhythm"

Besides this fun melody, I really love the lightning in this video.  It reminds me vaguely of the lasers at the very end of The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Monday, January 10, 2011

Location, Location, Location

French protesters have moved into an abandoned building with a view of the current French President's residence.  This is an ingenious move from these protesters, who want to make better housing available to the young and homeless.  Usually, when people talk about the importance of location, they are talking about it for real estate, but here, it is just as valuable.    

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Linh Dinh Photography

Linh Dinh is going to be showing off his photography at the University of Pennsylvania starting next weekDinh is a great poet, and I am curious as to what his photography is like.  (And also wondering if it is similar to his poetry, which is to ask if it is avant garde, political, and taking minority voices into consideration.  I suspect, given the name of the exhibit, it is at least political.)  If you're in Philadelphia, check it out. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Little Black Sambo Books

The University of Chicago has just received a donation of Little Black Sambo books. For those of you lucky enough not to have seen these stories, they revolved aroung a stereotypical-looking little black boy, written by a British woman and set in India.
Sambo still lives on. I have British friends, one only a few years older than myself, who remembers her Grandma sewing Sambo/golliwog dolls for both herself and her younger brother when they were children. When she told me that, I was mortified on her behalf that this would be acceptable. These images promote ideas about those of African descent having comical features and being toys to laugh at.
The problem with Sambo is obvious, and I'm thankful that this was one racially-charged image I was able to avoid as a child. But I'm glad this collection will be at a university, where researchers can study it and say "Yes, this is another example of how terribly racist society was, and how they were teaching it to children."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Gay Panic, Even in Ice Skating

Johnny Weir has a memoir coming out.  He is proudly gay, and he will be apparently talking about his identity.  Good for him.
What makes me sad about this story is how Weir has been demonized by his own field: ice skating.  His own colleagues don't want him to be out because that means that people will see the sport as "gay."  This is a great example of how inherently limiting gay panic is.  People are so afriad of homosexuality that even if they are not gay, they feel the need to force their assoicates into silence about their sexuality. 
So go Johnny Weir for being brave enough to love who he is, even if it parts of it conforms to stereotypes.  The more people openly out the less people will be afraid to join them.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tolstoy's Answer

I don't usually think of Tolstoy writing parables, and yet there's one here, featuring an emperor who wants answers to the three most important questions in life.  (No, unfortunately, not the answer to "life, the universe and everything.")
When I read this story, I imagine Jesus telling it. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Another comfort woman has passed away. This is particularly sad, as it means another woman who was forced into sexual relations with men has now gone without an apology and reparations.
It is hardly as if this is the only example of women's bodies being used in war. South End Press has a forthcoming book on how the Indian government uses Kashmiri women's bodies as a way to promote terror and shame communities. Rape is a weapon of war, and it's disgusting.
It's more comfortable for a government to ignore marginalized citizens, it is so much easier for them to pretend that the past is simply in the past. But these women, some of whom are still alive, still have to live with that past, and the least they deserve is someone to listen to them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Amazing Chocolate Pie

To quote the Monty Python Boys: Now for something completely different.
Today I’m posting a link to Greta Christina’s Amazing Chocolate Pie recipe. I am actually a big failure at cooking, though I’d like to try. Mostly, I just read this and realized how mouth-watering it sounded, so I decided to let you readers take a look at it yourselves.

Monday, January 3, 2011

St. Vincent's "Actor Out of Work"

St. Vincent's "Actor Out of Work" has a simple music video. Mostly, I find myself thinking about how stupid people look when they cry. David Duchovny, for being wonderfully minimalist on The X-Files, looked really stupid when he cried. Almost unintentionally comically so.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bend it Like Beckham

According to EW, North Korea recently broadcast an edited version of Bend It Like Beckham on the state-controlled tv channel. It's apparently the first time North Koreans have seen a Western film.
As a feminist, I really like this movie because it's about women pursuing their dreams in a male-dominated field. I'm hoping this part of the movie got through the censors and that young women saw this part, because I know when I saw this movie came out, it made a big impression on me.
That said, I'm really curious to hear what did get censored out, because it's hard to imagine what North Korea would have found objectionable with this particular film. The only thing I can think is that they dislike the conversation the main character has about how she is limited in who she can date based on race and religion.
This news story also puts a lot into perspective. North Koreans have so little contact with the outside world that this is the first time they've seen Western films and it becomes a news story. North Korea is famously called the Hermit Kingdom, and if you read more about the country, you'll be horrified by the level of control and despair there.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Spray Painting

Since I've been blogging mostly seriously political issues as of late, I thought I'd share some amazing artwork.
I don't really know a thing about spray painting, but the results are impressive. When he first started, I didn't know what he was doing, but after the planet was formed, I realized where this was going.