I was going to write a joint book review this weekend of The American Way of Poverty and The New Deal: A Modern History, both of which I’ve read in the past month. But then I got socked with a two-day migraine, the kind that comes around about once a season and has me making friends with the toilet bowl, the ice pack, dark, dark rooms, and narcotics.
So writing didn’t happen. But to distract myself from the pain, listening did.
I started with this most enjoyable hour of On Point discussing the romance novel industry. It had surprisingly little condescension, and although I would have liked some acknowledgement of non-hetero markets and amateur writers (*kof*kof*fanfiction*kof*kof*), overall it was a thoughtful reflection on the enduring popularity of narratives that center around relationship formation.
Then I moved on to Boston and socioeconomic inequality, which has been in the news a lot recently due to the nationwide media attention and due to the fact we have a new mayor (Marty Walsh) assuming office who was elected in part because of his working-class background and pledge to make Boston more affordable for those of us not in the 1%.
And finally, an hour of the Diane Rehm show devoted to gay rights in “law and sports” (an opportunistic conglomeration if I ever saw one!). I can’t say I learned anything new during this hour, but did appreciate the articulate presence of the Department of Justice’s Stephen Delery (emphasis mine):
And you have the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, the group’s president, saying, “The changes being proposed here to a process as universally relevant as the criminal justice system serve as a potent reminder of why it’s simply a lie to say that redefining marriage does not affect everyone in society.”
Well, I do think, Diane, that, as the Supreme Court recognized in Windsor, the Defense of Marriage Act had real consequences for real people by denying a whole range of benefits to people in the course of many federal programs. Some of these programs are critical to people who need them for health insurance, for example.
And so, if you look at what the agencies have done over the last few months, the same-sex marriages are now recognized for all federal tax purposes, including filing joint returns. Spousal benefits are now available to military service members who are serving overseas. Health insurance is available for same-sex spouses of federal employees.
And citizens who are in same-sex marriages can now sponsor their spouses for immigration benefits. And the list goes on. All of these things are federal benefits, provided under federal law, and the agencies, like the Department of Justice, have concluded, following the Supreme Court, that the marriages that are lawful where they’re performed should be recognized for these purposes.
I hope y’all have a good week ahead, and — health willing! — I’ll be back next Monday with the promised book reviews.
This past week I received and read an advance review copy of Changing How We Die: Compassionate End of Life Care and the Hospice Movementby Fran Smith and Sheila Himmel (Viva Editions, 2013). The reading involved a lot of spontaneous weeping on public transit, which I tried not to feel ashamed about: Big emotions are pretty appropriate where end-of-life narratives and choices are concerned. I couldn’t even tell you what emotion I was feeling that prompted tears other than BIG — it was joy, grief, surprise, longing, anger, fear, gratitude, all wrapped up in the moment at hand.
My paternal grandfather died at home in hospice care, and the whole family was grateful that they made it possible for him to die well in many respects.
I hadn’t thought about it before reading Changing How We Die, but the modern hospice care movement– having grown out of the countercultural moment of the 1970s in many ways — shares a lot with the homebirth/midwifery/doula and homeschooling/unschooling movements. No wonder it feels like “of course” to me in many ways: an impulse toward low-intervention, person-centered care; placing the individual (laboring mother, learner, dying person) in the decision-making role; providing mindful, non judgmental support; holistic attention to all aspects of being; a preference for home-based rather than institutional care. I’m curious whether anyone has thought to look at the homebirth/homeschool/hospice movements as a continuum of care across the lifecycle, and what placing these movements side-by-side might teach us about lessons learned and possible future directions.
Food for thought.
Then, the radio came on this morning in time for “On Being” with Krista Tippett and it was an interview with Dr. Ira Byock who works in palliative medicine and hospice care. If you’re interested in the question of how we die — and what it might look like to die well — I highly recommend listening to the podcast or reading the transcript.
This summer has brought back a lot of memories from the summer before my little sister was born (1987). The summer I learned to swim because we spent — at least in my child’s memory — virtually every day at the “big lake” (Lake Michigan) trying to stay cool by staying wet. The summer we had bonfires and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows on what seemed like a weekly basis, carrying coolers and beach towels up over the dunes in tatty tennis shoes to avoid burning the soles of our feet in the scorching hot sand.
My dad — who in another life must have been a DJ — was the one who provided the boom box and mix tapes (yes: tapes) for these long afternoons at the water’s edge, and this album is one that I will always associate with summertime, heat, sand, and the smell of food cooking on the grill.
Here’s one of my favorite songs from said album.
The latest heat wave broke last night and we’re supposed to have a more manageable weekend ahead of us — hopefully I’ll have enough brain cells left to complete all the half-finished book reviews I’ve got in my queue. Stay tuned!
As I put this post together, we’re in what I hope is the tail-end of a three-day-long heat wave that saw temperatures in the high 90s, lows in the 70s, and high humidity here in Boston. Hanna and the cats are crashed on the living room floor in the air circulating thanks to our four household fans.
Our “isolation room” strategy only lasted about 36 hours, given the size of our apartment and the evidence that Gerry was mostly just pouty rather than openly hostile.
This was what their coexistence looked like as of twenty-four hours ago. They’ve been dancing in closer and closer circles ever since. When we got home from lunch with a friend this afternoon, they were actually nose-to-nose for a brief moment, before Teazle decided Gerry’s tail was the ultimate toy and Gerry gave her a swat upside the head.
So we went back to sleeping at respectful distance — at least from each other; as you can see Teazle likes being right near the humans. (Last night, this was me and the kitten. Although I was on my back and the kitten was draped very warm-and-fuzzily across my collarbone.)
And for those who haven’t seen them, Teazle vs. Bottlecap:
And Teazle vs. Bookshelf:
Happy Friday everyone, and more videos to come next week!
Last week on my tumblr feed, I shared a web video from the awesome Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrineon the political use of the word “sensitivity” in recent weeks. The next day, while I was doing metadata entry at work, I heard this commentary on Fresh Air by linguist Geoff Nunberg about the modern evolution of the work in our political vocabulary.
At the outset, the approach seemed to have a lot to recommend it. For one thing, it was easier to persuade people to modify their language than to get them to root out their deep-seated attitudes about race, gender and the rest. And the hope was that if you changed behavior, attitudes would eventually follow. It’s cognitively more efficient to believe the words you’re obliged to say rather than always surrounding them with mental air quotes.
But over the long run, the stress on sensitivities probably set back cultural understanding as much as it advanced it. For one thing, it permits people to blur the distinctions between mere thoughtlessness and antipathies that run deeper in the heart. It’s only insensitive when Michael Steele uses the phrase “honest injun” he probably never gave the expression any thought before. But there’s a moral obtuseness in talking about the insensitivity of carrying a sign that depicts Barack Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose. A lack of sensitivity is the least of that person’s problems.
And while most people are raised to be polite, it turned out not to be such a good idea for institutions to try to impose deference to the sensitivities of certain groups. In response, a lot of people took to pronouncing sensitivity with that mocking tone and derided it under the heading of political correctness.
Points for the turn-of-phrase “moral obtuseness,” which I’m now going to have to find opportunities to use! Meanwhile, I don’t think I have anything super intelligent to say as a response, beyond the fact that it sure as hell is complicated to foster empathy and understanding between people who are divided by fear. I’m always grateful to have NPR out there sharing this sort of long-range perspective, even if they can’t offer any solutions.
To give you a taste, here’s Linda Greenhouse on the development of the rhetoric “the right to choose” and “pro-choice” for the advocates of abortion access:
Jimmye Kimmey was a young woman who was executive director of an organization called the Association for the Study of Abortion (ASA), which was one of the early reform groups and was migrating in the early 1970s from a position of reforming the existing abortion laws to the outright repeal of existing abortion laws, and she wrote a memorandum framing the issue of how the pro-repeal position should be described: ‘Right to life is short, catchy, composed of monosyllabic words — an important consideration in English. We need something comparable. Right to choose would seem to do the job. And … choice has to do with action, and it’s action that we’re concerned with.’
We’re set for another weekend of soccer football at my house this weekend, particularly the Germany vs. UK game, about which I’ve heard via Hanna via StephenFry via CarlTidy on Twitter: “This world cup is like WWII: The French surrendered early the Americans turned up late leaving England to fight the Germans.”
So in honor of this international sporting event, to which I am neophyte follower (having been put through my paces by Hanna), I share this story from last weekend’s On the Media about the World Cup and that internet phenomenon known as Twitter, which is used by human beings worldwide communicating in a polyglot of languages — often (as this story shows) to unintended and, shall we say, très amusant results.
BOB GARFIELD: Carlos Eduardo dos Santos Galvao Bueno is a play-by-play announcer who calls the World Cup matches on Brazil’s largest TV network, Rede Globo. Last weekend, someone in Brazil offered a blunt critique of Galvao’s broadcasting style with a three-word Tweet in Portuguese: “Cala Boca Galvao,” or, in English, “Shut up, Galvao.”
The phrase quickly became one of the top worldwide trending topics in the Twittersphere, and what happened next, says Ethan Zuckerman of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, was the result of a wired world eavesdropping uncomprehendingly on one another’s conversations.
ETHAN ZUCKERMAN: For the last three or four days, “Cala Boca Galvao” has been absolutely at the top of the topic list. And so, what happened was a lot of non-Portuguese speakers saw this phrase, didn’t know what it meant and started Tweeting, what does Cala Boca Galvao mean?
If there’s a new topic trending on Twitter, there’s probably a significant chance that it has something to do with Lady Gaga. So some of the Brazilians grabbed that idea and started telling the non-Portuguese speakers that Cala Boca Galvao is the new Lady Gaga single.
My audio for the week is an interview by Terry Gross of journalist Gary Rivlin, whose new book Broke USA explores the world of marginal finance.
Full transcript available at NPR.
I particularly like the way Rivlin discusses exploitation without flatting out the narrative into one of class warfare. He talks about the ways in which institutions like payday lenders and rent-to-own businesses provide services to poor neighborhoods and rural areas that are often vital and welcomed by their clientele. He doesn’t come across as shaming poor people for being dupes of predatory loan companies or (for that matter) universally condemning financial institutions for providing services that are in high demand.
While I mostly use facebook to occasionally look up contact information rather than do the sort of social networking it was designed for (that’s what email, blogger, and twitter are for in my humble opinion), I liked this recent interview with Ryan Singel on NPR’s On The Media about the dynamics of Facebook’s campaign for personal non-privacy on the internet.
What I particularly noticed is the point Singel makes about our society’s supposed desire for less and less privacy. There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the media about young people (“digital natives”) being less and less concerned about personal privacy. But what if it’s less a personal inclination and more that they (we) feel that loss of privacy is the price we pay for using the medium of the internet, which is inceasingly indespensible for moving through the world socially, politically, economically.
MARK ZUCKERBERG (audio clip): The Web is at a really important turning point right now. Up until recently, the default on the Web has been that most things aren’t social and most things don’t use your real identity. We’re building towards a Web where the default is social. Every application and product will be designed from the ground up to use real identity and friends.
RYAN SINGEL: Mark Zuckerberg likes to say that Facebook is just reflecting the changing privacy norms of the public, but Facebook is, I believe, forging that change, not so much reflecting it.
I think it’s a little self-serving of him to say that, you know, we’ve all become more public people. A large part of that has to do with default settings that Facebook gives us. We’re sort of being pushed into revealing more information. And now that Facebook is the place that these conversations happen, we kind of have to buy into that bargain just to be part of the conversation.
By and large I don’t move around the web anonymously: I blog under my own identity and comment on others’ blogs using my “annajcook” screen name which is just a mushed-together version of my real name. I use photos of my actual self in profile images.
However, I’m a big fan of this being my choice, and of knowing — when I sign up for a service — that I am able to understand the level of privacy or not-privacy that service is offering. And that I have a choice to opt in rather than opt out when those privacy settings change (which, let’s face it, on the web is pretty much inevitable).
I find it a real accessibility issue that we’re moving toward a web where “the default is social,” where the default is using one’s real identity, when more and more vital information is accessed through the internet — including information that people may not wish to seek out while embedded in real-life social networks. Information about getting out of an abusive relationship, for example, or answers to a question related to sexual activity or identity.
This is definitely a conversation taking place in the library community — how to help patrons navigate the new world of internet privacy concerns. I see it as a feminist issue as well, given the intersection of feminist politics with politics of vulnerable groups whose ability to maintain their privacy when desired is a legitimate safety concern in the real world (see the response to Gmail’s launch of Buzz earlier this year). Social networking on the web is an awesome tool, but it’s important that we enable folks to choose not to participate — without making them opt out of using the internet entirely.
Update: The week following the story shared above, On The Media again visited the issue of facebook and internet privacy, asking what the price of expecting anonymity of data might be.
The Cost of Privacy May 28, 2010 Facebook changed their privacy settings this week after much vocal criticism. The settings are easier to control and more people will presumably change their settings to private. The media unanimously decided that this was a good thing, but Bob asks whether it’s that simple.
The two stories make an interesting comparison study, and once again I think OTM proves that it doesn’t settle for the media meme.
While the case before the court involves an anti-gay petition to repeal a same-sex “everything-but-marriage” law in the state of Washington, the issue before the court is not so much about homophobia, per se as it is about the right to anonymity in political speech: does someone who signs a petition for issue X have the right to keep that act private? In the Washington case, when advocates of the everything-but-marriage law requested to review the petitions in order to check for fraud, the petitioners claimed that the right to privacy protected them from having to make the lists public. They argue that privacy is necessary in order to protect petition signers from harassment by their opponents.
So here’s the thing. I realize that, in this country, we have a right to privacy when it comes to actual votes: I often talk openly about whom I am going to or did vote for, or where I stand on certain issues. But it is my right as a citizen not to be forced to show my hand if I choose not to. However, a petition is something different. I’ve signed a few petitions in my life: usually I’ve done so outside my hometown library, or via websites, or at the grocery store. I’m asked to include my name and address on the understanding that those who tally signatures have to determine — at least in the case of alleged fraud — that I am who I say I am. There’s no implied or expected right to privacy here. I’m putting my name on a form in broad daylight, right below the last person who signed the damn paper and right above the line where the next person will sign theirs. It seems really disingenuous to come up post facto with the argument that signers have a right to anonymity which they were never promised in the first place. You can’t sign a petition “X”.
Unless, of course, that’s your legal name.
What truly bothered me about the pro-privacy advocates in this story is their argument that acts of political speech need to be protected by anonymity so that people who speak up for a certain position can be shielded from having “uncomfortable conversations” with those who disagree with them.
We’re at a point where people who are against same-sex marriage want the right to defend their (in my opinion bigoted) point of view by protesting via a petition drive, but also want the right to remain anonymous so that they don’t have to have “uncomfortable conversations”?
Grow the fuck up already. Part of being a human being in this chaotic, messy, every-changing world of ours is, you know, sometimes interacting with people who hold different opinions from you. And possibly having conversation in which those different opinions come to light. Conversations that turn out to be awkward, stressful, painful, sometimes alienating.
Welcome to the world.
There’s tons of ways to deal with this diversity of opinion. Learn to be confident in your own opinion. Learn to be comfortable speaking up for yourself while also being a good listener. Find like-minded supporters. Possibly (god forbid!) re-evaluate your position in light of new interactions and learn something.
But if you’re going to sign a fucking petition asking voters to revoke the human rights of a certain proportion of the population, then I say you’d fucking well better be able to articulate your reasons. And be willing to do so in public. In the NPR piece, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna defends disclosure laws on these grounds (though with less swearing).
McKenna replies that only one blogger said he wanted to encourage uncomfortable conversations. And he adds, “I don’t think that encouraging uncomfortable conversations amounts to the kind of harassment or potential intimidation that would warrant keeping these petitions out of public view,” he says.
“In fact, in a democracy, there are supposed to be conversations which are occurring about difficult or contentious political issues,” McKenna says — even if those conversations are uncomfortable.
Yes, it’s important that you be protected from stalking behavior, from verbal abuse over the telephone or from (I’m speculating scenarios here) people who come to your place of business and interrupt your work to abuse you verbally or threaten physical violence. But this sort of behavior is already illegal. What’s not illegal (thankfully!) is the right of person X to criticize (privately or publicly) person Z for an action or opinion of Z’s that X finds misguided, hateful, or otherwise wrongheaded.
There are obviously more or less effective ways of having that conversation. I’m personally a fan of ill doctrine’s approach.
What I am not a fan of is people who try to reinforce systems of oppression and exclusion through law and then argue they have a right to do so without taking flack for it, and without being held accountable. Once you start trying to force everyone around you to accept your version of morality, you lose your right to privacy on that particular issue. If you wanted to keep that opinion private, you should have kept it to yourself.