Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Femonomics at the Movies: The Next Three Days

 The Next Three Days is an action-suspense movie that follows John Brennan (Russell Crowe) as he plans his wrongfully convicted wife Lara's (Elizabeth Banks) escape from prison. The film takes place in Pittsburgh, and has a long windup as we watch John plot the breakout while simultaneously raising a young son and teaching at a community college.

The Viewer's Angle
The film is very well written and tightly paced, competently following the heist / escape plotline that we've heard before. John's tricks and turns are clever, and it is fun to watch him execute his plan. However, the performances fall rather flat, and a cameo by Liam Neeson only served to remind me how much more engaging similar material is in his hands. A lack of convincing chemistry between the leads, along with limited backstory on their characters, made it difficult to care if they succeeded. If anything, having to wait through the buildup, the main reason I wanted the escape to work was so I could see the payoff of all the planning. Extraneous characters to the story, a brother and sister-in-law, way more detectives than called for, and the most beautiful playground mom ever seen, end up prematurely diffusing some of the tension, which I find critical in a low-explosion film. Overall, a bit of a disappointment, and I'm probably going to check out Unstoppable this weekend to get my action itch scratched.

Monday, November 29, 2010

An American doctor in Paris (or why I want an apology from Jezebel)

I will not be visiting Jezebel until they apologize for publishing "Edward Pasteck's" ridiculous, rape-apologizing, harassment-defending garbage.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this steaming pile of rapey mansplaining dung masquerading as interesting content on a feminist website, it went a little something like this [TRIGGER WARNING--scroll to "end trigger"]:
Having just returned from living in Paris, I feel more convinced than ever that America gets many things wrong about sex. Right there near the top of the list is our attachment to the idea of consent.

In Paris, it seems as if the straight male attitude toward consent is that it doesn't exist. At clubs, bars, bistros, in the street or on the Metro, Parisian men lobby very aggressively for sex. At the clubs in the 8ème, off the Champs-Élysées, and all along Rue de Rivoli, it is fairly common to watch men literally grab and touch the girls who weave through the crowd. Men often draw a finger down an unknown girl's cheek or under her chin like a doting Uncle; they can be seen pinching girls' noses, throwing arms around shoulders and even stealing kisses. It's not for nothing that the French slang word for "kiss" or "make out" is choper, which literally means "to catch."

...One lesson from Paris is that sex shouldn't be an activity to which we need to consent if a decision will suffice.

A specific example from my time in France helps illustrate my point. I once fell madly in love with a woman named Madeleine. I thought she liked me too because she kept agreeing to see me and she once elegantly blew me a kiss as she descended into a Metro station. We were never intimate because the moment never seemed right to try to kiss her. Lovesick and unsure of what to do, I complained about Madeleine to a female French friend who said to me, "Have you tried getting her drunk?" Obviously my friend's recommendation was based on the assumption that after getting drunk Madeleine would be easier to seduce. This idea of plying a woman with alcohol (something that is applauded by American men in private) often enrages American women because they view it as an assault on their right to consent. Is this really a good thing?
That's right, Jezebel, you and I are over.  I will get my celebrity gossip from People, and my feminism from sites that have never defended sexual violence.  I originally wanted to use this space to talk about how I had personally been affected by the fragility of consent in American society.  To talk about walking the gauntlet in NYC bars with bile in the back of my throat as men exercised their assumed right to touch me however they pleased.  To talk about how, as a survivor of sexual abuse, I am terrified that society thinks "Well, it's not like she fought him off" is an admission of agreement.  I wanted to tear his ridiculous argument to shreds.  Then I had a different idea. [END TRIGGER]

Why not try to apply Pasteck's logic to another situation in which consent is required to avoid legal action?  Medicine.  The below follows the exact same structure and argumentation of Pastek's piece, with almost all taken verbatim (including the parts that make no sense and say nothing), although edited for length.  With apologies to the French, who did nothing to deserve this, here goes:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Get Informed November 26: 10 news stories you might have missed

If you get your news from Fox commentary, NYTimes opinion pages, satirical news comedy, or anywhere on cnn.com, then you might be missing a lot of big important stories! Here's a few I've culled from the back pages of leading news organizations. An informed citizenry may be important for democracy, after all ;-)

  1. US sets aside 'critical habitat' for polar bear in Alaska: 187,000 square miles of good news!
  2. Obama outlines plan to defeat LRA in Uganda. No boots on the ground, but the US will partner to put these scumbags who use child soldiers out of business.
  3. Despite China's open trade with Africa, tensions with African immigrants remain
  4. BP's oil spill bill could be much less than expected, as many of the fisherman's claims were submitted with insufficient documentation and will be rejected.
  5. Study finds no progress in safety in hospitals, with patient deaths from complications or infections steady between 2002 and 2007. The study was limited to 10 North Carolina hospitals.
  6. Russia's proposal to unite missile defense systems rebuffed by NATO
  7. Use of contractors added to Iraq War's chaos. Though they are much less effective than actual troops, look for the use of contractors to increase as US pulls out of Afghanistan. Wikileaks' documents detail a plethora of problems.
  8. DHS panel on at-risk chemical plants is stacked with industry lobbyists who push for weaker standards and more lax security requirements! But you will have to get naked or get groped to get on a plane, because that makes us safer...
  9. China is financing a $6 billion expansion of oil refinery in Cuba, expanding the country's influence in Latin America and increasing energy security.
  10. Food insecurity continues to plague North Korea.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jezebel publishes piece advocating rape (Or, OMFG Jezebel WTF)

For anyone who has read this article (Huge, massive, billboard-sized trigger warning), let me just say that I am so very sorry.  I am sorry that you, who may or may not be a victim of sexual assault, but if you're not has probably been on the other end of sexual violence or attempted sexual violence at some point in your life, had to read some scumbag's self-justifying rape apologism, all the time wondering whether this made YOU less safe in a world with these men, and those who publish them; whether this meant YOU should feel empowered by your sexual assault, even though you feel like ice inside instead; whether this meant that the world is really as hostile as this website where you used to feel at home.

What really got me was how very much like an assault it felt to read THAT piece on THAT blog.  To look at the headline "American guy in Paris freed from idea of consent" and think that Jezebel was going to tear him apart.  Then to click the link, and start reading a first person narrative of someone advocating unwanted touching and kissing of women in bars as "liberating" (for the m-fing women!) and getting a girl drunk as embracing life, and wondering when this clever satire was going to turn and reveal how wrong-headed this sleazeball logic was.  And then to get to the bottom and realize that none of it was a joke?  That one of my favorite websites had just actually given a platform to a rape apologist, without unpacking his argument, offering a counterpoint or at least warning its readership that the website had done a complete 180 on what kind of content to publish, and they should probably take their morning coffee and bagel elsewhere?

Read this comment thread for an incredibly sorry explanation for said behavior, and some very articulate explanations as to why said sorry explanation is complete and total b***sh**.  Read Sady's historical take on said b***sh** here.

Then please go check out one of the other excellent feminist websites that are out there.  Fighting the a**holes.  Instead of publishing them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Very Best Podcasts on iTunes

This post seems to have gotten a lot of traffic from Google, so I'm going to keep updating it as I find more excellent podcasts. Leave your finds in the comments!

I am not the biggest fan of exercise, primarily because I find it boring (I climb stairs, go for walks, or use the elliptical or erg machines), and my boredom draws attention to the fact that exercise is less comfortable than sitting on the couch drinking wine and watching The Dog Whisperer. But I believe exercise is important, so I combat the boredom with podcasts. The following podcasts are so good, I go to the gym just to be able to completely focus on them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Get Informed November 20: 10 news stories you might have missed

If you get your news from Fox commentary, NYTimes opinion pages, satirical news comedy, or anywhere on cnn.com, then you might be missing a lot of big important stories! Here's a few I've culled from the back pages of leading news organizations. An informed citizenry may be important for democracy, after all ;-)

  1. Dialysis treatment centers mismanaged by giant corporations: ProPublica investigates a publicly-financed system that is extremely profitable for the providers, but which costs more per patient with shamefully bad health outcomes when compared to other developed countries.
  2. Vatican to issue guidelines on sex abuse, victims groups are unimpressed and some church leaders are still discounting the severity of the situation.
  3. Senate approves settlement for underpaid aid to black farmers and mismanaged Native American trusts. Unanimously!
  4. Ireland is said to discuss bailout of nearly $70 billion, in order to counteract dual problems of a crippled banking sector and the nation's tremendous government debt.
  5. A GAO report to Congress explains that raising the minimum retirement age would disproportionately impact the poor and minorities, who often cite health problems as the primary reason for leaving the workforce.
  6. BP may face new penalties over an Alaskan oil spill in 2006.
  7. Private-army phenomenon exacerbates African conflicts, UN says. Mercenaries, not a great thing? Who knew!
  8. Senate moves ahead on food safety bill that would give FDA new powers, shifting more liability to producers and giving the FDA recall power.
  9. Der Spiegel profiles Turkmenistan, and details superpowers efforts to court central Asian nations for access to energy resources and military base real estate.
  10. APEC countries agree to launch massive new free trade zone, linking the region more closely with the US, China, and Japan.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Recipe Fridays: Shepard's Pie three ways

I know it sounds a little dated, but I've just realized Shepard's Pie is an incredibly easy, filling, and impressive-looking main course that can be made vegetarian--the perfect winter meal in my house.

Shepard's pie (serves 4)
6 potatoes
2 cups either cooked lentils, ground beef, or ground beef-style soy
1 large carrot
1 large green pepper
1 onion
2 tomatoes
spices: salt, pepper, thyme, paprika, cinnamon, and nutmeg are good (as in all of them, or a meat seasoning mix)
Garlic, butter, and cheese (if desired) for mashed potatoes

Peel the potatoes and cut into pieces.  Boil until tender.  Meanwhile, chop all vegetables.  Saute onion in large skillet with olive oil until translucent.   If using ground beef, add at this point, and cook for 5 minutes, then add carrot and tomatoes.  If using soy or lentils, first add carrots and tomatoes.  Saute until carrots begin to tenderize.  Then add soy or lentils, and cook until heated through and carrots are tender.  Last, stir in spices and green peppers and remove from heat.

Mash potatoes with garlic, butter, and cheese to taste (also salt, of course).  Scrape meat/soy/lentil mixture into round casserole dish.  Spoon potatoes on top in pretty pattern, and then "rough up" top with a fork to encourage crisping.  Place in either a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, or, if you're hungry, under the broiler for 10 (monitoring and turning as needed).  Remove when potatoes are browned in places.

Serve with a green salad with quick pickled onions: Heat 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 tsp salt, and 1 Tb sugar until boiling.  Add thinly sliced red onion (rounds) and return to boil.  Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes, until onions are soft and bright pink.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Google launches seriously cool boutiques.com

 Google has launched a new fashion website, that allows you to shop in dozens of celebrity, designer, blogger, and (soon) user-generated e-boutiques.  As the NYTimes says in a piece that sounds like an ad for the site:
Boutiques.com has so many capabilities and components that even Google engineers have a hard time qualifying it. It is a collection of hundreds of virtual boutiques merchandised — or, in the new parlance, “curated” — by designers, retailers, bloggers, celebrities and regular folks. You can shop in the style of, say, the actress Carey Mulligan or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen — among the celebrities who signed up for the launch — or you can build your own boutique and amass followers who can comment on your taste.
...In every boutique on the site, there are dozens of additional choices inspired by a designer’s or celebrity’s style — generated by algorithms — with product photos that are much larger and sharper than on other shopping sites.
Yes, it's part of the unrealistic fashion industry that wants us to spend $495 on "investment" jeans.  Ultimately, it's a way to change the model for how people shop for fashion, in a time when high-end designers are finally feeling the pinch of recession (luxury goods held strong for a while in the real-estate bust).  But what I like about it is the potential for it to become a sort of fashion twitter.  Each boutique creator has followers and can follow other boutiques.  That means that if you have impeccable taste and have always wanted to open a store, now you can with zero start-up cost.  I can imagine users who scour the internet for beautiful, unique items at great prices amassing thousands of followers, a la twitter.  Moreover, that means if I find a few boutique proprietors who I like, someone else can do my online shopping for me!  [Note, I tried out the feature, and it seems that google might limit the items you can put in your boutique to what it has in its "catalogue." If this remains the case, the potential for bargain-scouring might not be as great as I hoped.]

Special google magic also means that fashion searches that usually yield frustrating results are now going to work well, at least according to the Times:
And that may be Boutiques.com’s ultimate game-changer — how precisely it analyzes your preferences to give you what you requested. As many online shoppers know, search engines tend to give you stuff you don’t really want. A request for fern-colored shoes might yield fern shoes, plus fern-print blouses. But, as two experienced online shoppers found when they tested the site earlier this week at Google’s New York office, if you ask for cobalt blue shoes, you get them. And if you refine your preferences with a click or two, you get even more specific styles.
Time will tell whether the site lives up to its potential for fashion democracy.  In the meantime, I'll be doing some shopping in Carey Mulligan's boutique.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Law & Order & Prison Rape

For reasons that defy explanation, I have spent a significant amount of time in the past couple of weeks watching episode of Law & Order: SVU. For those of you who have not watched television in the past decade, the show follows a fictional team of detectives, medical, and legal staff responsible for investigating sexual crimes in New York City. It is highly formulaic but well acted, with a strong sense of morality coursing through each episode. Because this show is so sensitive to issues surrounding sexual assault and victims' rights, I was very surprised that in many of the episodes the detectives crack rape jokes!

No way! Not possible! You'd think this would be egregious behavior for officers (even fictional) that are charged with investigating sexual crimes. But apparently it's acceptable (on TV) because the potential victims are the criminals that have been charged with the episode's crime and are entering prison.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Get Informed November 10: 10 news stories you might have missed

I'm thinking of making this into a regular feature. Let me know what you think; at least it keeps me reading the news! -Mongoose

If you get your news from Fox commentary, NYTimes opinion pages, satirical news comedy, or anywhere on cnn.com, then you might be missing a lot of big important stories! Here's a few I've culled from the back pages of leading news organizations. An informed citizenry may be important for democracy, after all ;-)

  1. Obama backs India's quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The president acknowledge that India was already a major global power, and criticized the country's relatively isolationist stance thus far.
  2. Oil and food industry groups are challenging the EPA on ethanol in gasoline. Raising the allowable amount from 10% to 15% may drive up food prices and cause damage to engines.
  3. New report claims 100 tigers are being poached annually, a significant loss in a global population of around 3,500. :-(
  4. Polio outbreak in the Congo Republic, the government plans on vaccinating the entire population orally.
  5. Secretary Clinton announces US-Australia talks on rare earth metals supply. China currently has a near monopoly on the market for these critical components to electronics and military systems.
  6. Executives of for-profit colleges are receiving huge bonuses. Compensation for the C-suite at these schools is in some cases more than 20 times what the highest paid traditional university president gets!
  7. Hardly any white Southern Democrats remain in office following last week's midterm elections. Only one white Democrat congressperson remains in deep South states of LA, MS, GA, AL, and SC.
  8. School nutrition bill could be revived in Congress. The bill passed the Senate earlier this year and may now pass Congress after two representatives have dropped opposition to using food stamp funding.
  9. The White House altered drilling ban report, overstating scientific and expert support.
  10. Sarkozy accused of using French intelligence to spy on journalists; the opposition party is demanding an investigation.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Male privilege alert: Men's inviolable right to violate women's bodies

Today Gawker has a post about the alleged sexual assault of a Google employee at a tech conference by a Twitter engineer.  Gawker's headline reads "Googler accuses Twitter engineer of sexual assault on her blog."  Right there, we're off to a bad start.  Because her blog post is not, really, at all about "accusing" someone of sexual assault, but rather stating the simple fact that she was assaulted (he put his hand down her pants after she turned down his advances), naming the person who did it, and saying rather eloquently that it's part of a broader problem of guys excusing their bad behavior based on the setting:
It’s not the first time something like this has happened to me, at all. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me at a tech conference. But it is the first time I’ve spoken out about it in this way, because I’m tired of the sense that some idiot can ruin my day and never have to answer for it. I’m tired of the fear. I’m tired of people who think I should wear something different. I’m tired of people who think I should avoid having a beer in case my vigilance lapses for a moment. I’m tired of people who say that guys can’t read me right and I have to read them, and avoid giving the wrong impression.
...It is not my job to avoid getting assaulted. It is everyone else’s job to avoid assaulting me. Dozens of guys succeeded at that job, across the week. In the pub, in the stairwell, on the MARTA, in my bedroom.
One guy failed, and it’s his fault.
The commenters make the bad start even worse, by (typically) questioning her behavior (which, in a move that makes me want to give her a medal, she bravely documented), attire, and decision to name her assaulter.  The author of the Gawker article feels compelled to pull out the "Innocent until proven guilty" refrain, and laments that the victim in the case couldn't vent her trauma without naming the perp.  But why should she?  "Innocent until proven guilty" doesn't really apply to the victim in the case since, to her, there's already pretty clear-cut evidence that the person at hand is guilty.  Remember, this happened to her.  It's the legal system that's meant to reserve judgment.  Moreover, if you think it was "tasteless" of her to name the guy, or some other BS the commenters are spewing, ask yourself whether you would not do the very same thing if a crime were committed against you: If your house was broken into by a neighbor, and you wanted to blog about it, wouldn't one of your purposes surely be to warn others that this neighbor isn't to be trusted?  This is not a case of kiss and tell--it's a case of a victim, simply and without malice, documenting her assault.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Get Informed November 7: 10 news stories you might have missed

If you get your news from Fox commentary, NYTimes opinion pages, satirical news comedy, or anywhere on cnn.com, then you might be missing a lot of big important stories! Here's a few I've culled from the back pages of leading news organizations. An informed citizenry may be important for democracy, after all ;-)
  1. Mexico drugs cartel suspects arrested in Atlanta area: Agents arrest 45 members of La Familia Michoacana and seize $10 million worth of meth, cocaine, and pot.
  2. Hurricane Tomas sweeps through Haiti, with severe wind and rain battering earthquake refugees still living in insubstantial tents.
  3. Dead coral found near site of BP oil spill: Scientists begin to find more acute and long-term ecosystem effects from this summer's disaster.
  4. Wal-Mart hopes to move into Africa with takeover bid: The retailer is acquiring South African chain Massmart.
  5. The Supreme Court hears a case on the constitutionality of tax credits for private religious schools: Interestingly, the matter seems to turn on whether a tax credit is money that "belongs" to the government or not. Also, Elena Kagan weighs in!
  6. 600+ Women were raped along the Congo-Angola border: The UN is asking the two countries to investigate.
  7. Russia upholds freedom of assembly; Journalist brutally beaten in connection with his work: One step forward and two steps back?
  8. GOP seeks to cut pay for renewed jobless benefits: Republicans may refuse to pass extension of unemployment benefits unless the impact on the federal deficit can be lessened. Merry Christmas guys!
  9. Mood is grim as Myanmar heads to elections: Both choices are pro-military, pro-democracy party refuses to participate, outside media and observers are being barred, results are unlikely to be legitimate.
  10. US involvement in Yemen edging toward "clandestine war": President Obama is said to be considering CIA covert operations in the country supplemented by unmanned drone strikes.