Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A Response to Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank has a piece in this week's NYRB that will serve as an addendum to the paperback edition of What's the Matter with Kansas?. The article is more than worth reading (that goes without saying) but I would like to offer some additional historical and other perspective. It goes without saying that I think he missed something: the crisis of masculinity that I think permeates American politics.

Frank offers his brilliant analysis of the populist politics of the past thirty-five years: the Republicans' mastery of convincing working class people to vote against their economic interests in order to stick it to elitist liberals who seek to destroy the working class's values. By manipulating religion, the right--the party of elitist business concerns--makes an unholy alliance with fundamentalist Christianity.

an aside(For those seeking further historical parallels, study the history of the English Civil War. The Roundheads, Cromwell's armies, were the product of years of propaganda campaigns in the countryside that sought to equate the peasants/small tradesmen/budding bourgeoisie with their Calvinist embrace of severity and simplicity against a Court/City culture of extravagance, sexual corruption, and secret Catholicism. But this analysis is for another diary.)

Conservatives generally regard class as an unacceptable topic when the subject is economics—trade, deregulation, shifting the tax burden, expressing worshipful awe for the microchip, etc. But define politics as culture, and class instantly becomes for them the very blood and bone of public discourse. Indeed, from George Wallace to George W. Bush, a class-based backlash against the perceived arrogance of liberalism has been one of their most powerful weapons. Workerist in its rhetoric but royalist in its economic effects, this backlash is in no way embarrassed by its contradictions. It understands itself as an uprising of the little people even when its leaders, in control of all three branches of government, cut taxes on stock dividends and turn the screws on the bankrupt. It mobilizes angry voters by the millions, despite the patent unwinnability of many of its crusades. And from the busing riots of the Seventies to the culture wars of our own time, the backlash has been ignored, downplayed, or misunderstood by liberals.

I don't disagree with Frank. I think he's right. But where he sees "class," in his analysis, I see "gender."

A newcomer to American politics, after observing this strategy in action in 2004, would have been justified in believing that the Democrats were the party in power, so complacent did they seem and so unwilling were they to criticize the actual occupant of the White House. Republicans, meanwhile, were playing another game entirely. The hallmark of a "backlash conservative" is that he or she approaches politics not as a defender of the existing order or as a genteel aristocrat but as an average working person offended by the arrogance of the (liberal) upper class. The sensibility was perfectly caught during the campaign by onetime Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who explained it to The New York Times like this: "Joe Six-Pack doesn't understand why the world and his culture are changing and why he doesn't have a say in it."[3] These are powerful words, the sort of phrase that could once have been a slogan of the fighting, egalitarian left. Today, though, it was conservatives who claimed to be fighting for the little guy, assailing the powerful, and shrieking in outrage at the direction in which the world is irresistibly sliding.

I have commented on this before. Part of the chaos that is being reacted to is the shifting world of gender politics. No longer confined to home and babies, no longer economically dependent on men, women occupy a nebulous, borderless, threatening position in our culture right now. I used to reject notions of patriarchy and archetypes: now, as I have postulated before, the past forty years have brought with it
I find myself wondering if America doesn't long for Daddy's spank. So many people bemoan the loss of order in this culture: the hard, unyielding discipline meted out by daddy, the kind that scared us, the kind that made us behave ourselves for fear of getting into trouble. In the last forty years, things have been more fluid, more yielding, more liquid, and increasingly, covered by the mucus of borderlessness, some in our culture seem genuinely grossed out. Female bodies are icky for some, and perhaps they feel as if they've been living inside a cunt. The shapeless feminine.

Class gives boundaries, markers, borders within which individuals feel safety. It is possible to leave your class in an upward bound trajectory, but for many of us who grew up in working-class families, there is a certain stigma that comes with such a move. A sense of class betrayal. Of going to the other side. As class has broken down: the destruction of the working class, the destruction of the middle class, the triumph of a two-class system: rich and poor, class no longer serves as identifying marker. What's left? Gender and Religion. And gender isn't in great shape right now.

To quote Frank again:
James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time ever and, proclaiming that "everything we hold dear is on the line" because of the threat of gay marriage, addressed gargantuan political rallies of evangelical Christians around the country.

"Everything we hold dear." Gay marriage threatening everything we hold dear. The penetration of the family, of gender roles, of men acting like (heterosexual) men--and the equation of John Kerry, the war hero, with a "girlie-man."

More Frank:

The backlash narrative is more powerful than mere facts, and according to this central mythology conservatives are always hardworking patriots who love their country and are persecuted for it, while liberals, who are either high-born weaklings or eggheads hypnotized by some fancy idea, are always ready to sell their nation out at a moment's notice.

Weaklings. Eggheads. Traitors. The treacherous feminine. The archetype of feminine danger, of Eve, conspiring with the serpent to bring Adam down.

War casts in sharp relief the inauthenticity of the liberals, the insincerity of their patriotism, and their intellectual distance (always trying to "understand" the terrorists' motives) from the raw emotions felt by ordinary Americans—each quality an expression of the deracinated upper-classness that is thought to be the defining characteristic of liberalism.

The reason conservatives are always thought to be tough and liberals to be effete milquetoasts (two favorite epithets from the early days of the backlash) even when they aren't is the same reason Americans believe the French to be a nation of sissies and the same reason the Dead End Kids found it both easy and satisfying to beat up the posh boy from the luxury apartment building: the cultural symbolism of class. If you relish chardonnay/lattes/ snowboarding, you will not fight. If you talk like a Texan, you are a two-fisted he-man who knows life's hardships and are ready to scrap at a moment's notice.

Before 2006, before 2008, progressives have got to figure out how to appeal to the wounded masculine in this country. It is not to be accomplished by destroying Roe v. Wade, denigrating women, repealing the small steps that gays have made toward full citizenship. We cannot go backwards on that. But we can realize that there are a lot of alienated males in our culture right now. Without their jobs, their traditional jobs that gave them identity, they need a new way of understanding their manhood.

George Bush has stirred up patriotic fervour in this country. (Patriotic: from patria or father). He has tapped into and his advisors have manipulated a warrior ethos in which it is unpatriotic to not support the troops and the war, where to oppose the war is to be sissified. The right has stirred up resentment against elitism as the provence of effeminancy, borderlessness, the world of sexual depravity. The Christianity that has emerged to combat these evils is not the gentle Christ; it is the manly, take-no-prisoners, I'll-kick-your-ass Christ.

The culture war we are engaged in is one of class, yes. But it is framed in notions of wounded masculinity that seeks to destroy the feminine in oh so many ways. As a woman, I'm terrified. But it's not about males versus females. Gender here is about more than that here. It's about rigidity versus fluidity, it's about authoritarianism versus freedom.

We must find a way to address these issues.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

More Dead Women courtesy of USA

The Guardian is reporting that despite approval by a panel of medical experts, the World Health Organization has not, as yet, moved two medications onto an "essential medicines" list. Guess what those two medications do? Replace surgical abortion.

The Guardian understands that the US department of health and human services has been lobbying the director general's office at the WHO to block approval of the pills, in line with President George Bush's neoconservative stance on abortion.

While the availability of pills might make abortion easier and could increase the number choosing it, the experts want them listed to reduce the deaths and damage caused by surgery. Every year, 19 million women have unsafe abortions - 18.5 million of those take place in developing countries. An estimated 68,000 women die as a result of botched or unhygienic surgery, while many others suffer long-term damage, including sterility.

The WHO's own department of reproductive health proposed the addition of the abortion pills to the list.

As I stated in an earlier diary, "the World Health Organization reports that 500,000 women still die in childbirth every year, and 10.6 MILLION children die before age five."

Maternal health is supposed to be a priority. WHO has proclaimed this year as "make every woman and child count." But for those who will die in childbirth because they could not safely have an abortion, those women don't count. For those women who will die having a surgery in unhygienic conditions, when they could have safely taken medication, they don't count either. For those who are pregnant as the result of campaigns of rape--and such campaigns are being carried on now, as I type, they don't count either. For some of those babies, brought into the world against their mothers' wills, who will die of starvation, malaria, AIDS, diarrhea, they don't count either.

Our government would rather watch women DIE than admit that maybe, just maybe, abortion is the right option for some women.

Liza shines some light

Yesterday was a black day. But CultureKitchen has a great piece on yesterday's papal election and Mario Cuomo. Go read it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I am in mourning

The cardinals could not have chosen a worse person to elevate to Pope. Hatred is now the Catholic church's official doctrine when it comes to gays and women. Paint it black.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Joy of Teaching

Okay. I just got caught "googling" myself, and one of my old, shitty short stories popped up. I swear I'm a much better writer now, but if you want to see what I wrote when I was really pissed about something, check this out.
Giggle. And there was even a review.

Scalia didn't deserve privacy

As many of you know, Justice Scalia was asked if he sodomized his wife. The student who asked the question defended himself beautifully in this letter. And it goes without saying, his question if fully in line with my insistence that we have to ask embarrassing questions of those who seek to destroy our right to privacy.

Sex Positive Shout-Out

Looking for a perfect gift? How about a handcrafted piece of erotica written specifically for your loved one? It's spring; everything is thrusting itself forward, upward, outward. The world is fecund and receiving. Time to shake off the winter doldrums and fuck like bunnies. If you're looking for that perfect gift for that certain someone, check out The Literary Courtesan. She has many happy clients who can attest to her abilities--I'm one of them.

What the Theocrats Want


The Seductiveness of Death

This is what the theocrats in this country want. To lead the female body back to the darkness, to shut us up in the tomb, to deny us our humanity.
I'm haunted by this image.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

My Privacy Manifesto

Cross-posted at CultureKitchen

I, Lorraine Berry, assert my right to privacy as a basic human right that I will not allow to be compromised by my political party, which has allowed notions of privacy to be hijacked by those who call them “moral” values.

We are allowing ourselves to be dominated by a Republican ruling party of scolds, prudes, and control freaks, who believe, somehow, that their claim to eternal life is tied to their control of all the chaotic elements that make us human. They want to regulate in others what they consider to be sin: sin, for them, separates them from God, it is the source of suffering, it is our very humanity they seek to tame and take away. Why? Well, because I am prone to meta-explanations, I would argue that they’re seriously afraid of death, and think, somehow, if they control other people’s behaviours, they won’t have to die. I know that sounds horrendously illogical. But I’d like you to think about it.

Bernardino da Siena, the Franciscan Observant preacher, went from town to town in the 1420’s, warning inhabitants of each of the towns he visited that those who tolerated sin within their city walls would be punished by God for allowing that sin to exist. “So will I destroy the cities” is foretold in the Book of Malachi, and so it would be for Christians, thundered Bernardino to his flocks. Who did he urge them to root out? Sodomites. Usurers. Witches. Later in the century, fellow Franciscan Observants such as Bernardino da Feltre would add Jews to this list.

The fifteenth century bears strange similarities to our own century. The greatest threat to Christian Europe was the Turk, Muslims, who, it was thought, would overrun Christian Europe, slaughtering the men, making women their concubines. In absolute terror that the advancing Turks were the scourge inflicted on Christians by an angry God, communities looked inward for their enemies, and started offering up their friends and neighbors for private acts that were seen as publicly dangerous. Sometimes, I don’t think that rhetoric sounds any different than what we hear coming from right-wing pundits and preachers. We’re marching lock-step back into the Dark Ages.

So, here’s how I intend to counteract the attacks on privacy. Perhaps if enough of us were to do it, we can change the nature of the debate. This is not about moral values. This is about insecure people hoping to somehow gain eternal life by destroying the lives of others.

So, the next time someone calls abortion a moral choice, I will ask him the results of his last prostate exam, or her the results of her pelvic exam. I expect they’ll tell me it’s none of my business. To which I’ll reply, “exactly.”

The next time someone argues against gay marriage, I’ll ask him or her when the last time he or she made love with their spouse. I expect they’ll tell me it’s none of my business. To which I’ll reply, “exactly.”

The next time somebody defends pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control pills, I’ll ask them what prescription medicines they are currently taking. I expect they’ll tell me it’s none of my business. To which I’ll reply, “exactly.”

The next time someone says that Terri Schiavo was murdered, I’ll ask them if they’ve made arrangements for a local government official to be in their loved one’s hospital room making final decisions. I expect they’ll tell me it’s none of my business. To which I’ll reply, “exactly.”

The next time some legislator proposes banning sex toys, I’ll ask them what method of masturbation they prefer. I expect they’ll tell me it’s none of my business. To which I’ll reply, “exactly.”

The next time someone talks about family values, I’ll ask them to tell me what the last thing they disciplined their child over. I expect they’ll tell me it’s none of my business. To which I’ll reply, “exactly.”

We cannot allow our panic at being out of power to lead us to separate abortion rights, gay rights, end-of-life-decision rights, parenting rights, medical rights from the basic human right to live free of someone else butting their nose into our personal lives.

We need to explain that even if they could live in their perfect world where human beings lived the types of lives that the moral scolds imagine, the moral scolds are still going to die. If they control everything, they’re still going to die. It is the ultimate form of addiction to think that if you control-freak yourself all over other people, you can be happy. But it doesn’t work for addicts, it won’t work for them, and it makes the rest us pretty fucking miserable. Can we please stop enabling the control freaks? Please?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Snark Attack

Proof that Homo Erectus was a Progressive:

According to the New York Times, scientists have gone public with their findings regarding fossil evidence that compassion is an evolutionary trait.

The toothless skull of an early human ancestor, discovered in the Republic of Georgia, may attest to evolution's oldest known example of some kind of compassion for the elderly and handicapped in society, scientists are reporting today.

In interviews and the current issue of National Geographic, the paleoanthropologists said caring companions might have helped the toothless man in finding soft plant food and hammering raw meat with stone tools so he could "gum" his dinner. If so, they said, this was evidence of a kind of compassion that had been absent in the ancestral fossil record before the Neanderthals 60,000 years ago.

In the survival of the old man, Dr. David Lordkinidze said in National Geographic, "We're looking at perhaps the first sign of truly human behavior in one of our ancestors."

Having just argued that compassionate politics do not have to be reliant on notions of God, that we do not have to cede ground to the Right on this, reading this article presents proof that caring for other human beings is a human impulse, a late impulse that contributed to our evolution, the thing that, gasp! makes us human.

So, long, long ago, our ancestors kept a toothless old man alive. For what reasons and at what cost to themselves? At some point, humans developed the notion of a common bond, of an empathy for their fellow travelers.

Do we have any doubt which party can claim that as our lineage?

Contemplating the Rock


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Going to Jail for Indecency

Christ. We've got Texas senators threatening judges, and now we've got Representative Sensenbrenner (R-Wi) saying that indecency standards on television should be enforced with criminal prosecutions.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Violators of federal broadcast decency standards should face criminal prosecution, U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner said on Monday.

``People who are in flagrant disregard should face a criminal process rather than a regulatory process,'' the Wisconsin Republican said at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association annual convention.

The problem I'm having is I can't quite figure out what the fuck he's talking about.

From another report:

"I'd prefer using the criminal process rather than the regulatory process," Sensenbrenner told the executives.

The current process -- in which the FCC fines a licensee for violating the regulations -- casts too wide a net, he said, trapping those who are attempting to reign in smut on TV and those who aren't.
note: 'reign in' is sic. and journalists wonder why we think they're idiots.

"People who are in flagrant disregard should face a criminal process rather than a regulator process," Sensenbrenner said. "That is the way to go. Aim the cannon specifically at the people committing the offenses, rather than the blunderbuss approach that gets the good actors.

"The people who are trying to do the right thing end up being penalized the same way as the people who are doing the wrong thing."

It's the last paragraph that's got me totally confused and for which I'm seeking help from those more familiar with Sensenbrenner's idiolect.

There's good swearing and bad swearing? There's good violence and bad violence? There's good nudity and bad nudity? Who gets to decide the rules? And why, when there is a shitload of really important things going on in the world, is Sensenbrenner deciding to criminalize the censorship process? Isn't that a hair scary to anyone?

Of course, I have my theory of what he's talking about in terms of the "right" people and the "wrong" people. See, when they show Mel Gibson's The Passion, which is absolutely full of indecent violence, on tv next Easter, that will be okay to show on t.v. because those will be the people doing the right thing. Those people trying to show Saving Private Ryan, which is also full of indecent violence but which suspiciously  looks like a criticism of the Iraq war, will be doing it for the wrong reason and should go to jail.

In the words of Humpty Dumpty, Chapter 6, Through the Looking Glass
`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

Monday, April 04, 2005

Does the Bible Make Me Look Fat in this Dress?

My latest post at CultureKitchen.
In case you were wondering what I'd been doing recently.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A big fat advertisement for myself

Someone suggested I post my resume if I want potential employers to see me. So here it is:

Lorraine Berry


EDUCATION Cornell University
Master of Arts in History (ABD); January 1997

University of Washington
Master of Arts in History; June 1993
Bachelor of Arts, with honors, in Comparative History of
Ideas (CHID); 1987.

HONORS Mellon Fellowship
Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship
Beatrice Brown Award
Arthur Denny Memorial Fellowship

EXPERIENCE Project Director 2003-present
NeoVox http://neovox.cortland.edu
Established Web magazine that publishes articles from students
at SUNY Cortland, the University of the Sunshine Coast
(Australia), and universities in Costa Rica, Peru, Slovakia and
Teach “global journalism” and supervise a staff of 25 writers and
designers each semester.
Edit article content and supervise art director.
Establish monthly themes for commentary.
Work closely with SUNY and international faculty to integrate
magazine into curriculum.
Research political, cultural, and intellectual issues in order to keep
content current and cutting edge.
Supervise interns.
Manage budget.
Supervise “Indie Media Club” on campus.

Assistant Editor 1998-2001
Momentum Media Sports Publishing; Ithaca, New York
Athletic Management, Training & Conditioning, Coaching
Management, and Gball magazines.
Conducted interviews and research in the preparation and writing
of articles that covered the NCAA and its policies, college sports
administration, social issues that affected athletics, high school sports administration, sports medicine, athletic training.
Became expert on legal issues in sports administration, especially Title IX, women’s sports, and the First Amendment . Wrote a number of articles in which I explained Supreme Court and other judicial rulings to a lay audience. Developed network of legal-network contacts as regular commentators on such decisions.
Managed the production of various editions of Coaching
Management, including developing article ideas, assigning articles,
supervising editing process, working with art director and production staff.
Produced one young adult-book review per week for
Edited a variety of articles written both in-house and by freelancers.

Freelance Editor and Writer 1998-present
Wrote "God and Football," an 8,000 word
exploration of the repercussions of Doe v. Santa Fe Independent
School District, a Supreme Court decision handed down in June, 2000, which ordered that Texas high schools desist from opening
football games with a prayer. Article was cited by the Guardian, in
its Web log, as one of the best articles published on that date.
Edited book-length manuscript for Pat Toomay, author of Any
Given Sunday.
Frequent contributor to Ithaca College Quarterly.

Book Tour Coordinator 2000
Organized a series of promotional events for Karen Novak, author of Five Mile House.
Contacted book stores to set up readings.
Served as liaison between Ms. Novak and the local press.

Instructor 1997
Cornell University
Taught a Freshman Writing Seminar on the History of the
European Witch Panics. Determined the content of the
course, facilitated discussions, taught analytical skills, and
evaluated student performances.

PUBLICATIONS Published clips available upon request.
Published academic articles also available.

LANGUAGES French, Italian, Latin

REFERENCES available on request

Knock That Shit Off

Finally. Someone stands up to the Fundies and tells them to knock that shit off. The Governor of Illinois has issued an executive order telling pharmacists that they don't get to make moral decisions about whether they're going to fill birth control prescriptions.


Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is my new hero. If you want to send him a thank you card--here's the information.

Send correspondence for Governor Blagojevich, to Governor or to the Office of the Governor, 207 State House, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0244 or (312) 814-2121 [TTY (888) 261-3336].  (NOTE: Should a response be required it will be mailed to you via the United States Postal Service, so it is important that you include your name and complete mailing address.)