Monthly Archives: June 2012

I Want to Eat One Million Oreos

Early this year the anti-gay group One Million Moms, a branch of the American Family Association, condemned JC Penney for partnering with Ellen DeGeneres. The group targets television shows or companies that violate “traditional values,” from Macy’s (for selling a gay wedding cake topper) to TV shows like The Playboy Club and Glee. They even targeted Wrigley’s for putting the hilarious phrase, “Hey you, we see you unwrapping us with your eyes” inside packages of gum. In February, One Million Moms called on a boycott of JCP for abandoning its customer base of “traditional families” by hiring DeGeneres as their new spokeswoman.

In response, not only did JCP stand by their new spokeswoman, but they came out with an adorable pro-gay advertisement for Father’s Day, featuring a real-life family. The ad features two children playing with their two dads, with the words “First Pals: What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver — all rolled into one. Or two.”

Last week, Oreo posted a picture on Facebook supporting Pride Week, featuring a rainbow Oreo. They were quick to say that it wasn’t an actual product, but were firm in their support for gender equality, captioning the photo “Proudly support love!” The photo has been up for 5 days and already has 284,621 likes. Of course, not everybody liked it, and it didn’t take very long before One Million Moms announced a full boycott of all Kraft products, who apparently think that being neutral means aligning with their views, by saying:

Supporting the homosexual agenda verses remaining neutral in the cultural war is just bad business. If Christians cannot find corporate neutrality with Kraft then they will vote with their pocketbook and support companies that are neutral.

It’s nice to see more companies expand their advertising to be more inclusive and supportive of diverse lifestyles. Here’s hoping Kraft doesn’t budge, and it’d be even more wonderful if they step up and sell some rainbow Oreos – I’d eat a million of those.

Whose Victory? SB 1070 and Arizona’s GOP

On Monday, the Supreme Court threw down a ruling on SB 1070. The decision was split, with 3 parts of the law declared unlawful and the controversial let-me-see-your-papers provision was left standing (although a bit toothless). In the aftermath of the ruling, both opponents and supporters of the law claimed a victory. Arizona conservatives in particular were eager to herald a victory for the state’s immigration hardliners. Russell Pearce, the author of the bill and victim to the subsequent recall campaign, tweeted that it was “a huge win… for Arizona and the nation.” My own Congressman, Rep. David Schweikert, said that the ruling was “a victory for Arizona and our state’s right to defend our citizens.” Governor Jan Brewer [pdf] said it was “a victory for the rule of law. It is also a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.”

How much did Arizona Republicans win? The Court struck down state penalties for undocumented immigration, including penalties for not having immigration identification or for applying for work without the proper documents. The Court also invalidated the provision that allowed officers to arrest anyone believed to be undocumented. The only thing left of the provisions is the check-your-papers bit, but as Laurie Roberts says, “SB 1070 allows Arizona police to ask about immigration status. They just can’t do anything about it once they get an answer.”

Justice Kennedy’s opinion makes it clear that what remains of the check-your-papers provision is not to be abused, specifying that those under suspicion should not be held any longer for an immigration status check than they would be for the offense for which they were originally detained. Indeed, the decision leaves the door open for the inevitable challenge – and there are still a couple of challenges winding their way through the court system. The decision also acknowledged the executive branch’s discretion when it comes to how to enforce national immigration law, which makes SB 1070 largely useless. As Judd Legum notes, the decision largely supports President Obama’s recent directive to restrict deportations for many young immigrants.

Almost immediately after the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was scaling back program 287(g), which deputized local law enforcement with immigration duties. This means that even if local police do suspect someone to be undocumented, they have to defer to federal officials to act. Along with the Obama administration’s new directive on abandoning low-priority deportations and the Supreme Court decision, the suspension of this program sends a clear message that states can’t create their own immigration policies.

As much as the conservatives in Arizona want to claim victory, all signs point to a refutation of everything SB 1070 stands for. The United States is supposed to have a national immigration policy, not state-wide laws. As Arizona moves forwards with a toothless SB 1070, we’ll see what happens on the national stage.

Weekend Reading

Readers! After this reading list, I’ll be taking a brief break while I sort out non-internet tasks in life. I hope to resume the Weekend Reading ritual in a couple of weeks when things die down a bit, but in the meantime the aggregation will be sporadic. That isn’t to say I won’t be recommending readings – I’ll probably continue a toned down suggested reading over on Twitter – so watch that for ways to spend your free time. Without further ado, read these:

Michael Santos says, “The type of clemency for which I am applying is called a commutation of sentence. The commutation petition differs from a pardon in that I am asking President Obama to forgive the remainder of my sentence. I am not asking him to forgive the crime for which I am convicted.” And that would mean a lot for those of us who have been in for multiple decades as a result of the “War on Drugs.” Don’t forgive the crime we committed, but let us come home to our families and let us resume our lives. While campaigning for office, President Obama was critical of the mandatory minimum drug penalties, and talked about second chances. Yet he is on track to be the least forgiving President in US history. He has pardoned just 23 people, including one commuted sentence. His current pace puts him firmly among the most conservative American Presidents to use these powers. So much for second chances.

Both the cosmetic surgery and the cosmeceutical industries (anti-ageing products) are growing, fast. It’s these industries, “along with the fashion houses, the diet companies, the food conglomerates [which own the diet companies], the exercise and fitness industry, and the pharmaceutical and cosmetic surgery industries”, that Orbach is now combating, because, she says, “they combine, perhaps inadvertently, to create a climate in which girls and women come to feel that their bodies are not OK”.

Orbach debated with representatives from the diet industry in parliament to applause from the public gallery – outside women protested with placards saying: “Riot, don’t diet.” Discussing Weight Watchers’ recent £15m TV ad, she suggested it was affordable to them only because their members are locked into lifelong “straitjackets” of unrealistic weight-loss expectations. When I speak to her later, she goes further. “I do think we should be prosecuting the diet industry for false advertising,” she says firmly. If dieting worked, she argues, you’d only have to do it once. There is evidence that diets may in fact contribute to fat storage and that, in giving a sense that food is “dangerous”, create conditions for rebellion, which eventually makes people fatter than they were to start with.

One key reason why Quebec students are having relative success in sustaining this movement despite police aggression is the unique way the strike is organized. When students at Concordia, McGill, and other universities quit their classrooms, the state begins to lose money right away in teacher fees and other institutional costs. Student unions estimate that the total cost of the strike to the provincial government, including policing, has already exceeded the money it hoped to make from tuition hikes. Students, meanwhile, with few disciplinary sanctions for collective action, have almost nothing to lose except their time – the one thing that young people growing up into a world of austerity and unemployment have in abundance.

The combination of political leverage and minimal repercussions means that student strikes in Quebec are far more directly effective than they have been, for example, in Britain, where students at University College London were threatened with tens of thousands of pounds in damage claims merely for occupying a small set of rooms on campus. The University of California system has used the same tactic of punitive fines against anti-hike activists. In previous years, students in Montreal and around the province have won fee freezes and reversals to planned cuts in bursary schemes. Not earth-shattering social revolutions, perhaps, but enough to demonstrate to the state that the supposed future middle-class workforce is still a constituency to be reckoned with. “To understand the strikes in 2012, you have to understand the strike in 2005,” says Mehdi, who has been active in Quebec student politics for almost a decade. Nothing could have prepared her, however, for the scale and duration of this strike, or for the ferocity of the police response.

Next Time, I’m Bringing an Air Horn.

I love graduation ceremonies. Most people think they’re totally boring, and they do drag on, but I love them. Something about a community all celebrating a sort of mutual achievement makes me happy. My family all lives pretty close, so I’ve been to cousins’ high school and college graduations, along with friends’ and in-laws’. Plus, I spent two spring semesters working at a high school – once as a student teacher and once as a long-term substitute, so I elected to go to those ones as well. I’m not a very vocal person, but I also clap and give a small “whoo” to the family/friend/student who is moving on.

Last month, while I clapped for my students, one student got probably the best, proudest cheer from the crowd. One of my students from when I student taught U.S. History was a refugee who had spent years in transit before resettling in Arizona. His family gave their first American high school graduate a solid minute of screaming and instrument-banging that rang out across the field. It was freaking awesome. The teachers reading names paused and let the family cheer before moving on, and there were plenty of other loud and lengthy celebrations as students walked across the stage. This was just one of the moments that made me smile.

Which makes things like this all the more infuriatingly messed up:

A South Carolina mom was arrested on Saturday for cheering at her daughter’s high school graduation.

Shannon Cooper got up and yelled “yay, my baby made it” when she saw her daughter walk across the stage Saturday night, but just moments later, she was handcuffed, escorted out through the auditorium in front of her daughter and jailed for several hours.

“Are ya’ll serious? Are ya’ll for real? I mean, that’s what I’m thinking in my mind. I didn’t say anything. I was just like OK, I can’t fight the law,” Cooper told WPDE. “I can’t argue with the police, but I’m like are you serious? I didn’t do any more than the others did. Which I feel like no one should have went to jail.”

Caine Blog: “Hunter Emmanuel” by Constance Myburgh

This is the fifth and final review of stories for the Caine Prize blogging endeavor. We are wrapping up with “Hunter Emmanuel” by Constance Myburgh of South Africa. You can read the story for yourself here and find other reviews at the bottom of this post. The winner of the Caine Prize will be announced next month.

This post is a bit late, as I didn’t know how to write about this last story. I’ve had a lot of trouble figuring out how to write this post, as I came away from the story with no idea what to think of it. Part of me wonders if that’s also why my blogging colleagues have also been late to review Constance Myburgh’s story. When reading, one often looks at the author’s purpose, but in giving “Hunter Emmanuel” two readings, I couldn’t find a purpose. The story just sort of occurred.

Myburgh’s short story comes out of the pulp fiction genre, or something like it, which is something I really didn’t expect in this year’s shortlist. I think all five stories this year have demonstrated the judges’ commitment to showcasing a new taste of African literature rather than the stereotypical war and poverty, which is a welcome sight. The story follows the title character, Hunter Emmanuel, as he investigates a crime after finding a human leg in the woods.

The problem is, that’s all it does. It follows him. The prose is well-done and includes some interesting imagery and dialogue, but the actual plot is weak. Hunter finds the leg, then has some short conversations with the police before going on his independent investigation. He talks to the woman whose leg was found, but doesn’t talk so much as accosts her because he “must” investigate because he is a man. It all comes across as not really making sense, and continues to get stranger as he intimidates a young troublemaker to find out where the leg came from. Finally, he ends up “solving” the mystery, if you want to call it solved, and the story abruptly ends without really explaining what’s going on. All that you really know is that South Africa has some weird shit going on.

As I wrap up this year’s Caine Prize blogathon, I think others will join me in saying that Melissa Tandiwe Myambo’s story, “La Salle de Departe,” is my clear pick for the Prize. The story is a wonderful look at how migration affects Africans, it avoids the pitfalls of writing for Western stereotypes of Africa, and above all else it is well-written and interesting. In a distant second, I think I like Rotimi Babatunde’ss “Bombay’s Republic.” In hindsight, Stanley Kenani’s “Love on Trial” was too preachy and expected and it clearly played towards Western readers. Meanwhile, I didn’t really get “Urban Zoning” by Billy Kahora, and I don’t think there’s much to get from “Hunter Emmanuel” by Constance Myburgh. I don’t really know what order to put those in, but they fell short compared to the other two.

All in all, it’s been a really interesting experience and I enjoyed doing it again. I look forward to the announcement and in the meantime I’ll be hoping for Myambo’s win. All of the stories avoided the poverty-porn issue that many were unhappy with last year, and there was a diverse range of topics and style this year. Plus, it’s been great reading what so many ot.  great bloggers have to say about these stories.

For the final co-blogging experience:

Weekend Reading

Here’s another edition of weekend reading for you:

What’s nice about hypocrisy is that it at least maintains some point of connection with morality. It keeps moral principles — like “you don’t torture people” or “you don’t send killer robots to murder people on your sole say-so” — enshrined as norms, meaning that there’s some kind of leverage for change. Actually committing the crimes is bad enough, but publicly proclaiming them to be the right thing to do is an even more horrific crime, because it closes down the possibility that the crimes may end in the future.

Producing identification with the bosses; smashing labor; and making solidarity difficult through contract labor, precarity, and remote working are key features of neoliberal workplace organization. But central to this vision, too, is workplace surveillance. Jay Gould, ninth richest man in American history, railroad speculator, and widely despised robber baron, famously remarked upon the hiring of strikebreakers, “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.” Neoliberalism allows for the return of the robber barons by producing the technologies and techniques to replace Gould’s “kill” with “watch.” Heightened workplace surveillance helps build a workplace where no time is wasted, where all effort is put directly into the production of the bosses’ product. But it transforms more than just the bottom line.

The threat of the ever-present spy, the fear that the woman who forgot her ID in the car but swears she’s 18 is actually a scab employed by your boss, means you trust no one, expecting them all to be against you, out to catch you breaking management’s rules, which you now enforce with paranoiac efficiency. Surveillance, ultimately, isn’t about stopping crime. It’s about making police.

So my feeling, as a lady-writer, is LET THE LADIES HAVE OUR FUCKING PRIZE. Women can be successful novelists, but we don’t win shit. And until we fix that, cultural institutions like the Orange Prize aren’t “ghettoizing” women, they’re bringing women INTO the fold of award-winning novelists. It’s inclusive, not exclusive. The alternative is…what? Sitting and waiting for systemic inequalities to magically evaporate? As long as the prize is judged in a serious, non-gendered way—as long as it’s not like, “This book wins because it has the most shopping in it! Weeeeeee!”—it’s merely drawing attention to the underappreciated. Pushing back against inequality does not create inequality, and to say so is to ignore that there’s a problem. Suggesting that a prize for female novelists creates a barrier between the sexes overlooks the fact thatwomen are already segregated.

Bombing Funerals is Reprehensible

Afghanistan, six months ago:

A suicide bomber attacked a funeral in northern Afghanistan on Sunday, killing at least 20 people, officials said, in what appeared to be the Taliban’s latest strike against Afghans who have ties to the national government.

The American Embassy called the bombing “reprehensible,” and said it “further illustrates that the Taliban and other insurgents are waging a murderous campaign against innocent Afghan civilians.”

Pakistan, this week:

Ten more people have been killed by a US drone strike against suspected militants in Pakistan, with the aircraft firing its missiles into a gathering mourning one of two fighters killed in a similar atttack the previous day.

At the time of the attack, suspected militants had gathered to offer condolences to the brother of a militant commander killed during another US unmanned drone attack on Saturday. The brother was one of those who died in the Sunday morning attack.

Voting Rights for Everyone!

This afternoon I, presumably like a lot of people, raised an eyebrow when I read that officials were estimating a 119% voter turnout in today’s Wisconsin recall election. My mind first jumped to Tammany Hall and ballot stuffing, and I remembered a clip in Gangs of New York in which the Irish were getting haircuts by Mad-Eye Moody between votes. It turns out that such a high turnout number is actually possible in Wisconsin because the state allows same-day voter registration, something I didn’t even know existed. Election Day Registration, it turns out, is an option (in some form or another) in eight states and Washington, DC. This is hugely awesome, and I wish more states did this.

Arizona, like a lot of states, has some restrictions on voter registration. In the Copper State, on top of registering 30 days before elections, on election day you will also need one ID with your name, address, and photo or two forms of ID with your name and address. And a hope that you don’t accidentally go to the wrong polling station or you don’t have an early ballot sitting at home somewhere. Add on the misinformation floating around out there, and even registered voters can face obstacles to voting. Allowing same-day registration helps make it easier for people moving to still vote in their new districts, especially since students often move right around primary season in many states. I think the more people that can vote, regardless of who they’re voting for, the better.

That’s why I’m a huge supporter of #16toVote, or really any age to vote. I figure we’re all affected by government, we should have the ability to choose them. Lowering the age to 16 gives voting rights to people who often work, go to school, drive, and do a number of other things that are directly affected by the government. Plus, voting’s awesome. If you want to vote, you should be able to, regardless of your age. Or your citizenship.

In the United Kingdom, you don’t have to be a citizen to vote. Citizens of Commonwealth countries and Ireland can vote in all elections, and citizens of European Union countries can vote in local and regional elections. Immigrants live under the same laws as all of us – even undocumented immigrants drive on our roads and pay the same sales tax. Shouldn’t they have the right to vote? After all, taxation without representation is what our democracy was founded on. Plus, some states used to allow alien suffrage less than a century ago.

I guess the best decision would be to abolish voter registrations. North Dakota hasn’t had voter registration since 1951. That’s better than denying residents the vote because of some technicality involving school or poll stations or identification. I don’t know what methods they have of restricting by age or citizenship, but I’m sure they exist. If suffrage has spread from white, male, landowners over 20 to include women, people of color, and 18-year-olds, I figure it’s not outlandish to ask for a youth vote or for immigrant rights. Even if it might take a while.

Weekend Reading

All performed femininity — like all performed masculinity — is a drag race. Cinderella was a drag queen. Margaret Thatcher was a drag queen. Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj and most especially Lady Gaga are drag queens, and doing drag well and self-­consciously is always an exercise in queering, no matter what you’ve got between your legs. That kind of drag is what the beauty-industrial complex of advertising, magazines, makeover shows, and music videos are terrified by, and yes, it is queer, and yes, it is feminist.

Drag queens of all genders know that performing femininity is always contingent, always within the context of a world where beauty means disguise, means conformity and misogyny and racism and self-erasure — but that one can always take those tropes and remake them joyfully, with choreography and courage and a handful of glitter. The woman game doesn’t have to be played by the rules. It doesn’t have to be played to win or to please your partner or to keep your job. It doesn’t have to be played at all, but if you play with a wink in your eye and some sequins up your sleeve, you can still spoil the game a little for the bigots.

In the USA, it may very well be safe to wear a red square for a while – it doesn’t mean much here yet – but it has a potential for resonance that could shift the symbolic terrain. And we don’t know how many chances like this we’ll get. “Occupy” was one and it has done important work, both intended and unintended by its early advocates. But the State’s move to isolate The Black Bloc ups the urgency of a conceptual and stylistic jostling of the terms in play. Tiqqun was right in their call to reappropriate in advance the terms that will necessarily be applied to us, but they should know better than most that we won’t get “civil war,” at least not soon. We will be a movement or we will be terrorists. If only for each other’s near-term safety, let us choose the former.

The Quebecois drew the shape from a pun which, happily, works the same in English. The carré rougesignified that they were carrément dans le rouge – squarely in the red of debt. Students are fighting against the imposition of a costly regime of debt through tuition, which has also been the single largest issue-cause of the occupations in the US and UK.

Adopting it as a badge of identity here would distill another potent slogan from the Occupy sequence: “We Are the Crisis” – we are multitudes of unemployable debtors, threatening to capsize the system by our presence alone. It also points to clear affinities with the “Movement of the Squares” whose appearance last summer directly inspired the organizers who led the first General Assemblies to plan Occupy Wall Street. Hell, let it stand for the red cube looming over Zuccotti Park, as good as a symbol as any for that strange dear place where many people saw their lives change. And as always, the red stands for blood, and should remind us that the heaviest payments are extracted first and foremost from the already vulnerable.

Because this is part of a larger paradigm, the one that people gathered in Montreal, Chicago and Frankfurt are protesting. It reflects a political consensus in which there is an unlimited budget for the police, and the real purveyors of violence in this society, unlimited tax cuts for the rich and corporate citizens, while universities, schools, libraries, sanitation systems, roadways, public transit, welfare and food stamps, counseling and free clinics all must close to meet budget targets.