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05 June 2014 @ 09:57 pm
There’s no more surefire way to get me to (a) stop taking you seriously and (b) get annoyed with you than by bringing up Benghazi (BENGHAZI!!!!11!11!) Seriously, it makes me think you’re hyperpartisan and, if I am brutally honest, fairly deranged, actually. There is not a scandal there, there will not be a scandal there, stop trying.

And then you have the unfolding Bowe Bergdahl release controversy. Berghadl-zi!!! NO. If you do that, get out. Leave the Internet. Bengazi and the Bergdahl saga are not equivalent in any way. And so it really annoys me that people are equating the two. Usually it is Republicans- Tea Party types, let’s be honest- linking them, with Syria, Ukraine, Fast and Furious (another non-starter BTW) in an attempt to show how awful Obama is and how he needs to be impeached. This is frustrating for many reasons, but importantly, because it serves to diminish the seriousness of the Bergdahl incident. Bengazi was a failure of intelligence and a tragedy that killed American citizens. The Bergdahl exchange was a good-faith effort to free a captured American soldier and return him home, and also get prisoners out of Gitmo (which has been a goal for years). Only one of these is a potentially impeachable offense, and you will never guess which one I mean.

But let's back up a minute here.Collapse )
I'm feeling: energeticenergetic
Listening to: Big Bang Theory
26 May 2014 @ 04:00 pm
So I am returning after months of not posting to wade right into the maelstrom that is Topics You Aren’t Allowed to Discuss. Today, sexism (and racism, as another example of the same phenomenon).

I’m gonna assume that everybody’s heard about the Isla Vista massacre, where a young man, so enraged that women collectively denied him sex in spite of him being a Nice Guy, went on a rampage and shot seven people before taking his own life. This after he posted a long rant on YouTube about how women are all horrible and evil and deserve to die for not giving him the sex he deserves (as a nice guy, obviously). This kind of thinking is par for the course in the so-called “Men’s Rights Movement,” where men’s rights activists complain about how women are the true oppressors in society. It’s kind of hard to comprehend this mentality, but I actually learned a lot from a Cracked article from a few years ago. It concludes,
So where you see a world in which males dominate the boards of the Fortune 500, and own Congress, and sit at the head of all but a handful of the world’s nations, men see themselves as utterly helpless. Because all of those powerful people only became powerful because they heard that women like power. This is really the heart of it, right here... You’re still all we think about, and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.

Now, this seems unfair to men (surely at some point they must gain the ability to reign themselves in?). But the article as a whole, and even this quote to an extent, illustrate that the issue of misogyny is a society-wide one. Society teaches men to hate women, Wong argues. And importantly, no one is sitting down and telling their sons, “Johnny, women are scum and here’s why.” It’s about the way pop culture, entertainment, even tradition to some extent shape everyone’s beliefs. So, practically every movie ever made has the hero end up with a beautiful princess after completing his quest- his reward for the hard work of saving her/the world or, in films set in high school, being her best friend, the guy who’s always there for her. Now, of course people are rational and can tell reality from a movie, but if all the stuff you see, if every classic childhood film frames things thusly, it becomes hard to see that that’s not how things really are. And I think that subconsciously, everyone has internalized elements of or yearnings for this sort of story, or knows someone whose real life did follow that pattern.

There’s a concept in social science called structural racism, defined as the ways in which society works day-in and day-out contributing to the disadvantaging of minorities (notably blacks and Hispanics in the US). This is because our institutions were created in a time where overt racism was very much the norm; it was assumed by everyone that of course blacks were inferior to whites. Compare this to the everyday, run-of-the-mill racism, where an individual still believes that. Or that blacks are more likely to be criminals than whites or that Asians are better at math and science than whites.

Ta-Nahisi Coates at The Atlantic (whom everyone should be reading, especially this piece) talks of “elegant racism” and “oafish racism,” and I love this framing even more- it’s more real, less abstract than “structural.” Because there’s a tendency to view society as the collective views of the members of that society, when in reality it is also a heavy conflagration of past views, present mores and future aspirations. (In other words, just because the majority of people in society today are not racist or sexist doesn’t mean that society as a whole are also free of the vice.)

Coates writes,
Far better to implicate Donald Sterling and be done with the whole business. Far better to banish Cliven Bundy and table the uncomfortable reality of our political system. A racism that invites the bipartisan condemnation of Barack Obama and Mitch McConnell must necessarily be minor. A racism that invites the condemnation of Sean Hannity can't be much of a threat. But a racism, condemnable by all civilized people, must make itself manifest now and again so that we may celebrate how far we have come. Meanwhile racism, elegant, lovely, monstrous, carries on.

Oafish racism serves a distraction, then. We all recognize it, swiftly condemn it, and pat ourselves on the back for being a progressive, color-blind society. But this allows us to ignore the elegant racism, the subtle ways in which race does influence our courts, our hiring, our housing, our dating, how we carry ourselves in certain neighborhoods, where we sit on the bus, who to give charity to, and the list goes on. This is the reason for the disconnect between the prevailing view of living in a “post-racial society” and the fact that blacks are still under-represented in media, business, academia, and over-represented in jails and ghettos.
This affects even Supreme Court Justices, as the squabble over the recent affirmative action ruling illustrates.Collapse )
13 March 2014 @ 07:34 pm
I first came across this article, "Love in the Time of Chronic Illness," in The Atlantic way back last year, Tweeted it as a bookmark to myself, and vowed to come back and comment on it. Obviously, it's taken a while, and I don't know if I would have done so were it not for the fact that I am finding myself in just such a situation. I haven't had luck with guys in the past, and I was tired of feeling lonely, so I joined an online dating site. I have connected with a very nice young man, D, and we are about to go on our third date, and I've decided to disclose to him about my CF  at this time. And it is freaking me right the hell out.

I've long known I tend to overthink everything and make big deals out of things that aren't really issues, but this article and just common sense tells me that CF is A Big Deal. It is an important factor to consider when choosing to date me, and so I want him to know. Third date seems pretty arbitrary, and I guess it is. But I am trying to find that balance that the article mentions, between "Sharing too soon [which] may scare the person off and sharing too late [which] may lead to a lack of trust."  The subhead of the piece is, "When should you disclose medical conditions to a date?" but it never answers that question. I guess it has no answers, because everyone experiences their disease differently and you just have to go with what feels right. But I am a creature of habit, and one who relies on past experience to guide me. And I have no experience to draw from.

Ok, that's not completely true.Collapse )
Tags: , , ,
I'm feeling: hopefulhopeful
Listening to: The Cranberries - Linger (and whatever else the radio station plays)
It's kind of amazing to me that people are going on about a government shutdown to the extent they are. Literally this same thing happened last time the budget came around, and then the debt ceiling. It's hardly even news anymore, kind of business as usual with all the disfunction.

The new element to this year's "showdown" is Obamacare - ACA. House Republicans have passed a continuing resolution funding the government past the Oct. 1 date currently set for shutdown that includes an item defunding ACA. I don't say "in exchange for" defunding like most outlets do because, newsflash, it won't ever actually pass. It never had any chance of passing, regardless of what Sen. Ted Cruz would have us believe. The Senate will promptly strip the CR of that provision and send it back to the House. It could, theoretically, vote against the measure containing funding, but even if it does the Senate would do the same thing, or Obama would veto.

The plan now seems to be to let the government avoid a shutdown and shift the ACA funding battle to the debt ceiling vote. Obama's White House would veto this as well, so it's a bit beside the point. But, since defunding ACA continues to be seen and treated as a legitimate option, I wanted to address what that would actually mean.

The Hill blog invited a professor of law with expertise in health policy to write about what would happen in ACA was, in fact, defunded. Jost points out that because ACA changed the way not only insurance (in terms of exchanges), but also Medicare and Medicaid, fraud, generic drugs, and much more. So, since the House resolution reads, "no Federal funds shall be made available to carry out any provisions of" ACA, all of those programs would be adversely affected as well. Indeed, if “'No entitlement to benefits under any provision of' those laws 'shall remain in effect on and after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, nor shall any payment be awarded, owed, or made to any State, District, or territory under any such provision,'" allfunding for Medicare, Medicaid, and the myriad other programs, such as the Children's Health Insurance Program, would be cut off entirely. Yeah. No Medicare at all is really gonna go over well. The bill also deals with a bunch of other health care functions such as student loans to medical and nursing students, community health centers, mental health services, etc etc etc. Defunding it would therefore throw off all of these other, very desirable services.

There's also the fact that much of ACA includes what businesses and the states are directed to do. It directs businesses to offer insurance to employees and states to expand Medicaid and set up health insurance exchanges. These directives are not tied to federal funding. As written, ACA provides federal funds to help with that, but it's not stated anywhere that states or businesses would suddenly be exempt from those requirements if federal funds dried up. So, states and businesses would be left trying to get these programs set up as required by the law that is still on the books without any financial assistance. There's a long history of federal directives to states coming without implementation money, and that doesn't change the expectation that the states do it. And even if they did, some states WANT the exchanges and have planned for them, budgeting with the expectation of federal funds. So are they supposed to be S.O.L.? Where's the state's rights in that?

Given that defunding is a horrible idea and had no shot anyway, I've been hearing arguments like, OK, but if the government shuts down, then ACA would effectively die anyway, and Republicans still achieve their goal of destroying the law. The Washington Post points out that this is not the case. The way I am understanding it, there are a few different "budgets" or funding sources for federal government programs, the discrectionary spending, which is what Congress is voting on, and mandatory spending which, as the name implies, occurs automatically.

This excellent briefing to Sen. Tom Coburn's office from the shows that, based on precedent, a shutdown wouldn't do anything to ACA funding. A summary: "It would appear possible under the Constitution for the government to make contracts or other obligations if it lacked funds to pay for these commitments. The so-called Antideficiency Act general prevents this, however…" Exceptions are those "'authorized by law,'" which are broken into 4 categories, one of which is "activities funded with appropriation of budget authority that do not expire at the end of one fiscal year, such as mulitple-year and no-year appropriations…" ACA is, by definition, a multiple-year activity. The report also notes that "HHS reportedly is using funds from the following sources... unobligated HIRIF funds carried over from FY2012; … mandatory funds from the Prevention and Public Health fund… no-year funds from the nonrecurring expenses fund… the Secretary's authority to transfer funds from the HHS accounts" in its plan for dealing with a shutdown. Oh, and the triple whammy, "like many other tax credits, the monies used to fund such provisions [to subsidize the health insurance premiums for certain low-income taxpayers] are permanently appropriated outside of the annual appropriations process."

So, even a shutdown wouldn't do anything to ACA funding, and defunding is impractical and could be catastrophic. What is there to do, then, for people who dislike parts of the bill? Pass amendments to fix it! The solution to a flawed law isn't to just stop paying for it, it is to change the legal code to solve those problems. That's what we actually elect Congress to do, fix problems in the country. So, the family glitch and the medical device tax can be repeal by new legislation, which will probably have bipartisan support, as no one believes ACA is perfect.

Even from the strictly political/calculating perspective, the Republican's crusade is misguided. If this fails- and it will - and people start to see the benefits of ACA, Republican opposition will become a liability. Then, Democrats can use their majorities - and some moderate Republican votes - to amend the law and fix the things that are broken (and possibly some that are merely unpopular). In that way, the Republicans' plan could backfire on them in a big way.

So, in conclusion, from all angles- practical, legal, political, and my own personal favorite, common decency and empathy and a desire to actually help people and "protect them from Obamacare"- this defunding bluff is a horrible idea that distracts everyone from opportunities to actually improve their law and let both sides get some of what they want.
Writing from: Baltimore
I'm feeling: unimpressed
So, I've just gotten done watching the season 2 premiere of NBC's Chicago Fire. It's a really good show, very high-stakes drama in terms of the people they are rescuing (even more so than House [in which Jesse Spencer also starred as Chase] since there are usually multiple people in trouble). The show also seems to me to be doing a good job with representation: one of the EMTs is a lesbian, and the fact isn't made into any type of joke or anything, and she deals with the very real issue of motherhood as an LGBT parent. There are also several actors of color in main or recurring roles in the show (Chief, Dawson and her brother, Peter Mills [bonus for mixed race I think]). And this season looks very promising with some character development for Mouch.

But maybe the best thing about the show is just one character, Christopher Herrmann. He is one of the Truck crew (the less prestigious of the two crews) and of middling rank. And yet, for me he is the heart and soul of Fire House 51, the one without whom it would all fall apart.

Several of the firefighters are concerned - perhaps overly so - with rank and moving up in the organization: from candidate to firefighter, from truck to squad. But not Herrmann. He never complains when younger people are promoted ahead of him, never seems dissatisfied to be "merely" truck. He just does what he's supposed to do, and does it well. Everyone can count on Herrmann.

And if you think about it, of all the characters he has the most reason to complain and become resentful for not rising in rank and, presumably, pay. He has several kids (I think 5 or 6, including the new baby his wife just had at the end of last season) to support, and moved in with his parents-in-law after his house was foreclosed. Extra cash would be welcome, to say the least. Yet he doesn't grumble about it; he just goes on about his duties.

The big family is because his wife (and I guess him to an extent) is a devout Catholic who doesn't believe in contraception. Even though it probably bothers him a bit, he never, EVER pressures her to compromise her beliefs. And the unplanned baby boy that adds strain to an already tight budget is welcomed whole-heartedly, immediately. Never once does Herrmann articulate any of the myriad problems or resentments many people would have in such a situation.

He really cares about his job and his firehouse family as well. He is the one who most frequently expresses frustration over bureaucratic crap messing with their operations, notably so in this premiere. He is outraged that a fellow firefighter doesn't get a respectful funeral, and then - in the most touching scene I have seen in any television show ever - orchestrates one for a young neighborhood boy with aspirations of being a firefighter who died in an accident. I can't even tell you how hard I cried at that part.

Herrmann just brings the house together. He's the main force driving their acquisition of the bar, Molly's, which, in addition to providing an income boost for his co-investors, creates a safe haven for the crew to relax after work hours. He recognizes the Chief's sadness and difficulty coping when no one else does, and invites him home for dinner with his family to cheer him up (adding yet another mouth to feed that day). In tonight's episode, when Mouch announces he's running for union president, Herrmann gives him a wide smile and says, "That's the best news I've heard all day!" boosting Mouch's confidence and drawing the house back together from literally the middle of an argument in support of one of their own. And last season, he honored Shae and Severide by naming them the godparents of his newest son, in appreciation for their role in saving the lives of both child and mother.

Some of you might be saying, This is what any good guy would do: help his friends, support his family cheerfully, express gratitude. And yeah, Herrmann is just an unabashedly good guy, like you hope to find down the street, in your own community (preferably in positions of leadership). But how often do you see that in television nowadays? The heroes are all flawed in some major way or possess some ridiculous talent/skill/quirk (super intelligence, deductive reasoning, eidetic memories, horrendous social skills) or else caught up in these unrealistic and even supernatural situations- heck, most of them on the shows that have been popular lately cause those situations and border on anti-hero status. But Herrmann is just your average Joe, a plain, decent hardworking guy. Part of why I love him so much is how rare that type of character is on TV, especially in a leading or lead supporting role.

He is genuinely happy for others and genuinely grateful for what he does have, which gives him a resilience and optimism I'd like a bit more of in my life. It is a major credit to actor David Eigenberg that I just smile the moment he appears on camera, and my chest gets all full of joy pretty much every time he speaks. He's my favorite character on television right now, bar none. So I certainly plan to continue watching Chicago Fire, and I hope many of you do as well, because we all need some Christopher Herrmann in our lives.
Writing from: Baltimore
I'm feeling: hopefulhopeful
So, quite a lot has happened on the Syria front since last I talked about it. In a nutshell, Obama had asked Congress to approve any military action against Syria, and debates/explanations/lobbying was underway to try to convince a skeptical lawmaking body - and public- and some suspected Obama actually hoped to lose this vote. Yet Secretary of State John Kerry did his part, going around to our allies to secure support internationally. Yesterday, a journalist asked him what Assad could do to avoid an attack, and he said (off the cuff, and possibly sarcastically) that he could hand over all of his chemical weapons to international control and destruction, but he won't. At which Russia was like, hmmm, that sounds like a plan. And then Syria said that sounds good, and China approved. The UN began drawing up plans for how this transfer might work.

Today, things really accelerated. France drafted a resolution saying that Assad would admit he used chemical weapons and turn over his stock or France and the US would attack. Russia said it won't support that, since it denies Assad used the weapons. Its proposal has Assad reveal where his weapons stores and facilities are to the UN and select international actors, sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and turn it all over to be destroyed by international community. With no threat of violence.

So, the differences between the proposals are triflingly small on the international scale, and I am really hopeful that a proposal/resolution will be made soon. This would be a fantastic win for the UN, showing that it can work the way it's supposed to to resolve international disputes. It actually is a peaceful body primarily, where countries join together and agree on certain things because it is in their collective best interests and not because some nation is threatening them. Idealistic, and utopian, true, but if it works now that would go a huge way toward increasing its standing and credibility.

Not the least because here Russia and France are taking the lead, two countries that have been kind of out of the international arena for a while. France so much so that people wonder if it still deserves its permanent Security Council spot. I personally welcome this, both from an international perspective and a US one. This situation perfectly illustrates a dilemma we as the sole superpower face: we are the only country capable of using military might to defend others and stand up for our morals, and yet we are weary of foreign quagmires after being burned a lot recently. Here, then, we see other nations stepping up to the plate, providing other ways for our principles and the world's norms to be upheld without the US being the police force. The rest of the world is fed up with us taking that role.

And people are worrying that without the resolution being binding, Assad will just do nothing after all. And that is a valid concern. If you look at his background, though, he seems pretty worldly and shrewd, and I don't think he'd provoke things again. And even if he did, Syria would have signed the Chemical Weapons ban. And that, dear readers, is binding as far as the international community is concerned. Article XII, paragraphs 3 and 4 state,
the Conference may recommend collective measures to States Parties in conformity with international law.

4. The Conference shall, in cases of particular gravity, bring the issue, including relevant information and conclusions, to the attention of the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council.

So, if the convention is violated, "collective measures" i.e. sanctions or even a strike, which the US and France would for sure be behind. Once it signs, Syria has every reason to uphold it. It knows that if it actively flouts the US enough, eventually Congress will vote to act. And, if it goes back on its word, it will make its ally Russia look bad on the international stage, like it backs double-timing countries or can't "control" its own supposed friends. Russia then has motivation to see the ban carried out which it is lacking now.

There's also the International Criminal Court as a possibilty, albeit an exceptionally longshot one. First the US, then Syria would have to recognize its jurisdiction for any sort of trial to take place. Since the former won't happen, we can forget the latter. If the US wants to lead the world, lead it in supporting the ICC. (/soapbox)

None of this touches on Russia's own spotty record with human rights norms... and both it and the US have chemical weapons stockpiles in violation of the convention. So it's not entirely cut and dry, of course, but I still think that this proposal has every possibility of success.

And Obama should embrace it too. His goal is to protect the Syrian citizens from chemical attacks; if the weapons are under UN control, or the control of another country (can you imagine the outrage if Russia gassed Syrians??), they aren't going to be harming anyone. Win-win.

The fact remains that the Syrian civil war is still raging, and Syrians are still killing each other in huge numbers with conventional weapons, some of which are being supplied by the major players discussed here. It's not the international community's place to intervene in civil wars. So don't intervene. Don't supply either side with weapons (anathema, I know, since arms are a big export commodity for many nations). That is intervening, because that is influencing the outcome in big ways. Maybe use that money to help refugees instead. They should be the real focus here, not power plays between Obama and Putin and Hollande.
06 September 2013 @ 11:12 pm
I decided to do one of those "Why I Need Feminism" stories, since the phenomena is still going strong in spite of administrators' efforts to dampen it.

I need feminism because…

...as a young, single woman whose friends are busy tonight, I had to stay in of be called a bitch. Because a woman going out to a bar or party or club alone is obviously looking for a man, and if I deny one who asks me, or propositions me, I am being a stuck-up c***. And, because if I did go out, and something happened, it would be my fault. Don't believe me?

...defense lawyers in major criminal cases are allowed to make a humiliating, very public spectacle of a rape victim's personal wardrobe choices and this is considered a valid line of questioning. Her personal choices and past actions make it okay for her to violated.

...judges are so threatened by female sexuality that they feel a 14 year old was equally culpable and responsible in her relationship with her 49-year old rapist teacher. She killed herself because of the shame of what she went through, but she was "in control" of the relationship and "older than her chronological age." Because, again, what happened to her was her fault for being too alluring. At age 14.

...a wife will be eviscerated in the public sphere for standing by her deeply flawed, sinning husband like Huma Abedin and for calling him on his horrible actions and trying to leave, like Skyler White. Nothing we do is right, apparently.

…of stories like this one I heard at work: A coworker's daughter was getting picked on, and physically struck and kicked, by a male classmates. Neither the aide, nor the teacher, nor the guidance counselor, nor the bus driver thought this warranted intervention, but when she gave the same physical violence back to him all the above called her mother in for a serious talk about the importance of using her words. Because a boy hurting a girl is just natural behavior; it means he likes her, but she is crossing some sacred line and emasculating him as well as not acting "feminine."

…people like my mom's boyfriend exist, and are in long-term relationships with women. He complains about having to go to a sexual harassment class because they all know how to treat women, then goes on a rant for fifteen minutes about how women shouldn't be in his field at all because they can't do it and get hurt, or else fake an injury to go and be "lazy whores" on workman's comp money.

…my brother can express great surprise and shock that a female columnist is able to display "logic and rationality," and his mother doesn't bother to correct him.

…people deliberately misunderstand, or just don't care enough to actually research, what feminism actually is and does.

Because I am not allowed to say any of this out loud, because I will get too angry and cry and therefore anything I am saying will be invalidating, and because of the date on the calendar means no one will take me seriously.

Because we need a "Why I Need Feminism" campaign in the first place.
Writing from: Baltimore
I'm feeling: irritatedirritated
This is why I love politics! Every so often, someone will do something you don't expect and leave everyone scrambling. In this case, it is Obama, and he has decided to call on Congress to debate and vote on military intervention in Syria. Apparently he has the authority (I guess as Commander-In-Chief??) to pursue action without Congressional approval but he feels that "the country will be stronger if we take this course, and [that] our actions will be even more effective."

I agree with him on principle, but I wonder what sense of "stronger" he's using here. It seems, in context, as if he is talking about a more unified one, all standing behind that action. The country is too polarized right now to ever unanimously stand behind anything unless we were directly attacked. The Tea Party faction will oppose it simply because it Obama who is proposing the action, and libertarians will as well because they are isolationists in general. And some liberals in Obama's own party are against intervention unilaterally as a violation of international law a la Bush's Iraq invasion.

That's one of the things I find so interesting about the Syria case, from a US politics perspective. This is one of the few issues we've seen of late where support - or opposition- crosses party lines. Too often we've seen Republicans and Democrats voting as a party, in a bloc, without acknowledging that the other party maybe has some good proposals too. But here, you have John McCain and John Kerry agreeing. You have Rep. King agreeing with Obama about needing to intervene (but then lambasting him for bringing the issue to Congress, so I guess it only goes so far). It's curious, to me, that this foreign policy issue unites lawmakers across the aisle in a way no domestic issue has (including immigration, the coalition for which didn't hold).

I am also really fascinated by Obama's reasoning in deferring to Congress. Foreign policy has always been his strong suit, so it seems curious he'd hold off on his FP decisions. Congress has pretty much struck down everything he's tried to get through the entire term, for two terms now actually (since 2010). It seems unlikely that they would agree to this proposal, then, since Obama proposes it and the people seem to be opposed.
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Writing from: Baltimore
I'm feeling: uneasy
Things over there in Syria are getting really intense really quickly. It's really alarming on all accounts- the fact of chemical weapons use, and the sheer scale of death and refugee creation in general, Iran and Israel's posturing (most people seem to ignore the roll Israel and its rhetoric plays in the constant brinksmanship over there), Russia's military movements… It's a sticky situation, and I doubt even the most informed layperson has nearly enough information to make any sort of decision. I just hope that those in power do.

Even with information, though, it's not easy. Obama is in quite a pickle; he talked himself into a corner with the "red line" comment. He is faced with a dilemma that's fundamental to most world leaders, actually: principles or immediate security concerns. In this case, standing up for our principles would jeopardize our national security, at least in some way: attacks could lead Syria to respond against Israel, and then the other countries would join in on various sides and things can get messy. National security generally trumps all other concerns by miles, so I tend to believe Obama when he says we aren't looking at full-scale war with boots on the ground. Especially with Congress urging caution and ready to deny authority.

Human life should be the primary concern, first and foremost, in any situation, period. So from that standpoint alone every effort should be made to avoid unneeded wars or acts of war. But something interesting I'm noticing about the Syria discussions is the money angle. I'm generally not a fan of nickel-and-diming things, especially human suffering/prospects/lives, but in this case I find it really a cause for hope in some important ways. We are still bleeding money from the Iraq war (started, ostensibly, to stop the use of WMDs that never existed. Which is a reason I think it's imperative that Obama releases the intelligence that proves they exist in Syria, so we don't have a repeat of that.) and I think people are finally realizing that there are better ways to spend our money than the war machine. Our deficit is high enough as it is.

So you get pieces like this one from The Atlantic, which makes the argument that there are much better uses of our money than a war. Slate goes even further, arguing that even a brief military strike would be horribly cost ineffective measure. I guess the arguments mostly depend on what the goal in Syria would be: consensus right now is that any action would be to enforce the international norm against chemical weapons use (the Washington Post explains this beautifully for anyone who isn't familiar). But, if the norm is international, it has to be enforced internationally. The US can't be its sole champion. I know that other nations agree with the ban (ostensibly, anyway; most still have stockpiles- even America), but they don't seem to be acting on those principles. The UN, as much as I wish it weren't so, has a horrible track record in terms of defending its own rules and principles.

What it is good at, though, is humanitarian work (for the most part. Ok, maybe I should say it's had the most success with humanitarian efforts versus anything else). The kind of on the ground, day to day work that doesn't lend itself to photo-ops or sound bites but that actually makes a difference in people's lives. It takes a while, true, but it does have an effect. Consensus is that the Syrian civil war will take a long time to resolve, too. And the fact is that we can't go back in time and un-make Assad use chemical weapons. And there's no guarantee that any strike we conducted would actually work as a deterrent to future instances of chemical warfare, particularly if we do it unilaterally. So preserving the norm as a rationale only makes sense in a narrow range of circumstances which may not materialize.

But I also understand Obama's impulse to do something, to stand up for the US's principles. I feel it too, the kind of moral idealism those like Woodrow Wilson had, and the sense of global citizenship and the desire for the US to use its position for good in the world. But given that military action may do more harm than good, may kill civilians, break the very international body of law we are trying to uphold, I don't think that is the way to stand by our principles. We want a peaceful world, so we shouldn't create more conflict. We want peace- but we also want the citizens of Syria, and elsewhere, to be safe and stable (I hope, anyway). We want them to be treated with dignity at minimum. Military action can't accomplish that, but humanitarian can.

Outlets like the Christian Science Monitor advocate for using aid to encourage Egypt to behave as we'd like it to. It talks of a new paradigm of aid being needed. Sure- what if that aid goes to the UN? Or more of it, anyway? The UN has programs in many of the countries the US already gives aid to, already has connections at the grassroots level where the help is really needed but seldom received; aid to governments rarely trickles down to actual citizens, merely bolsters the military or the economy and helps the upper classes. It has proven able to do good in people's lives. Like all those Syrian refugees, those 2 million children and counting: the UN would be poised to help them. Plus, giving to the UN has the added benefit of making Assad and other feel more secure in that the US isn't seen as bullying its way through sovereignty, which is why things are testy. If we are respectful of other nations, they may be more forgiving of us.

If we are going to be spending money in Syria, why not spend it in a positive way? (Because ay action requires the cost of labor, equipment, artillery etc etc) To quote Slate, "it's worth interrogating the larger political and ideological construct that says that spending a few billion dollars to help foreigners is a thinkable undertaking if and only if the means of providing assistance is to kill some people and blow some stuff up." Why is blowing stuff up our only appreciable solution to most world problems? That or providing materials for others to blow each other up. That kind of arms race led to the development of chemical weapons in the first place. So, maybe creating an environment where nations help each other instead of attack and undermine and spy on allies would decrease the appeal of them. At the very least, it would make the UN more grateful (or, cynically, a bit indebted) to us, and we could then have international support to enforce international norms.
Writing from: Baltimore
I'm feeling: stressedstressed
29 August 2013 @ 12:19 pm
You've no doubt seen Miley Cyrus's performance at the VMAs, or at least heard about it to the point of nausea. She's been called "sick," "disturbed," and diseased. Diseased really gets me- she must have some sort of STI if she's acting like this. Because of course her actions on stage, at an event long known- and even anticipated- for its outlandish performances, are perfectly in line with how she behaves privately. She's a celebrity, after all, so her public persona is exactly the same as her private one. Just like everyone else is exactly the same person in public and private.

I'm here to defend Miley. It isn't the easiest thing for me to do, necessarily, since my faith plays a major role in how I conduct myself, and I wouldn't have danced the way that Miley did. But I wonder if part of that feeling, for me, is lack of self-esteem. I don't feel confident enough in myself and certainly my body to display it like that. So in some ways, it is a credit to Miley that she is confident enough and secure in her own person to do as she feels.

I remember the controversy that arose when she cut her hair incredibly short, with much of the same content: what is wrong with her? How could she do that? She must be unhinged. The reason for that boils down to what The Guardian picture caption says, "The internet seemed to be unanimous about Miley Cyrus's haircut: you can’t be a woman and have short hair at the same time." She MUST be mentally unstable, because why would a woman cut off the long hair that marks her as such? But Miley loved the haircut, said that she felt like her authentic self. And good for her! She is taking charge of her own body and doing what feels right for her. The same dynamic applies to the VMA performance. She was having fun, creating buzz, and dancing to her own song the way she wanted to dance.

Our culture has always had a problem with women taking charge of their own bodies. We're ostensibly cool with their choices as long as they conform to the views of what women should be and do: demure, polite, chaste. Anything outside of that is gross and indicative of a moral failure on the woman's part. (Some people have even said it's a moral failure of society as a whole. Apparently the police state leads to sexual promiscuity, because that's the only aspect of people's lives a police state won't regulate. It's not like America has any laws against sodomy or pedophilia or bestiality or anything. But that's a digression.) What Miley did at the VMAs was once again assert her own control over her sexuality. Ironically enough during a song in which Robin Thicke reasserts the status quo: girls have to hide when they want sex, so men need to show them that they want it. Look up the lyrics and tell me that's not the message of the song.

Male artists like Thicke have been exploiting female sexuality for their benefit for ever. Miley is only doing what the males in her industry were doing. And no one questions the scantily clad backup dancers in other performances and videos. Sexually appealing women are okay and even desirable in the background, as props to men, but not in their own agency. And what about Lady Gaga in the bikini? She showed more skin than Miley.

The response will probably be, "But she wasn't dancing as suggestively" or "She's not a former child star." For the first point, I give you that. Two of Miley's dance moves (maybe 30 seconds total of a 6 minute performance) were a bit explicit, but that's nothing new to the music industry. It's not too different from what people at dances do. Your little girl can't stay sheltered forever. And as for the role model thing, you can't expect Miley to stay in the same character forever. She wanted something else for her life. Just like you'd want your daughters to have different interests and aspirations as they get older. And parents have some responsibility, too. Find real-life women for your daughters to emulate instead of relying solely on our broken culture to do that.

Time for a caveat: There are definitely reasons to be concerned about Miley's performance. The Washington Post points some of them out here. At some level, it's not appropriate for anyone to behave that way. I wish people wouldn't. But in a culture such as ours, with its sexualization of everything, it is ubiquitous. Miley isn't the problem here; the culture that tells women that the way to get attention, or a job, or respect as a person, is to conform to male standards. The entertainment networks were going from the angle of, "Showbusiness is all about creating buzz. Miley did that, so she's succeeded." She was controversial, because a woman owning her own body and using it for her benefit and not a man's (granted, in an admittedly flawed industry almost designed to exploit women) is controversial. A woman having her own sexual agency (it strikes me that the infamous giant hand had bright red fingernails and thus was clearly a woman's) is controversial. And that is sad.
Writing from: home
I'm feeling: crankycranky