Resolutions 2011

Haven’t made them yet. If I get really behind there’s always Chinese New Year in a couple of months.

I did find a good starter list at the ‘Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India’ where they not only have their resolutions up, but will help you start the New Year laughing.

* Just for today, I will not sit in my living room all day in my nightdress. Instead, I will move my computer into the bedroom.

* I will no longer waste my time reliving the past, instead I will spend it worrying about the future.

* I will not bore my boss by with the same excuse for taking leaves. I will think of some more excuses.

* I will do less laundry and use more deodorant.

Read the rest here.

And send us your resolutions for 2011. If you made some particularly successful ones in 2010 or before, send us that too. We want to know how you did it.

Happy 2011

A New Year's Miracle

Best wishes in the New Year for all, especially our readers and a special thanks to all who comment on our site and keep it lively.

My neighbor called me up to tell me that there is an apparition in my back yard.

This smiley face just appeared in the snow, no footprints, no sign of human agency.

Was this made by the same mysterious forces that create crop circles? Is it a message– an omen for the coming year?

Is it a couple of rocks and the edge of an overturned kiddy pool, exposed by the melting snow on an unseasonably warm New Years Eve?

Readers, you decide. I favor the extraterrestrial theory, ’cause it’s more fun.

That’s Un-American!

Via Democratic Underground, news that the City of Paris might ban SUV’s.

Denis Baupin, a Parisian environmental official, told RTL radio anyone who had an SUV should “sell it and buy a vehicle that’s compatible with city life. I’m sorry, but having a sport utility vehicle in a city makes no sense.”

Next they’ll be banning Hummers from Tokyo. Follow the link here for a story about a Japanese guy named Dick. At least he’s been called that…

TOKYO — When Sadayoshi Ishi drives his Hummer, he takes precautions. He has installed a navigation system that shows wide-open streets in green and more dangerous narrow streets in pink on a computerized map inside the truck. Periscopelike monitors on each side-view mirror alert him to obstacles.

Mr. Ishi isn’t dodging land mines in a desert war zone. The 48-year-old Japanese cartoonist is trying to navigate Tokyo’s urban jungle of streets too narrow for his 7-foot-wide vehicle. “I broke out in a sweat every time I drove it,” says Mr. Ishi. He now drives his Hummer just once a week — to golf games — on a predetermined route.

He should drive the Hummer on the course, that would really impress people. Mr. Ishi is hoping for a disaster so he can use all the features to rescue people. If Godzilla strikes, he’s ready.

IN RELATED NEWS: Gridlock in the Providence Place Mall parking garage.

An Open Letter to Mac McClelland

[Since I posted this, Mac McClelland has written about the great risks, physical and emotional, that she braved in order to report from the crisis zone of Haiti. I thank her for her courage and wish her success in her life’s work and a peaceful heart.]

It’s the dark of the year, and time for some dark thoughts. Two years ago I read journalist Mac McClelland’s article ‘ Old Dogs, New Tricks’. It hurt my feminist feelings quite severely, and I always wanted to respond, but couldn’t find the words.

Last month I read a post on a site called Junkland that articulated my thoughts so well, expressing ideas that I had been churning around but never quite put together. I linked to the author, Penny Sociologist, in a post here called ‘Power and Choices’. This was read by a sex worker advocate called sixtoedkitties at SWOP Colorado Blog, who found my post offensive and hurtful. I wrote to her and we discussed issues of law, respect and choice. We may not agree on everything, but I’m glad we corresponded. I gave extra thought and care, and reigned in some of my own hurt feelings as a result. She reminded me that I am responsible for not using well-worn slurs against people who are stigmatized enough, and responsible for not making assumptions about how people feel about choices they’ve made.

Perhaps it was fated. This week I got an email from Mac McClelland herself. She wants money. For Mother Jones magazine. I’d love to talk to her about all of this, and would have answered right away, but it’s one of those noreply emails. And she didn’t give me her phone number. So I’ll just have to write this and get it off my chest.

Dear Mac,
Can I call you Mac? I got your email asking for money, so I guess we’re on a first-name basis. I used to subscribe to Mother Jones. They do fine reporting. You’ve done some very good work for them as a journalist, including going into disaster zones. I’m proud for you and all the women in journalism who face the hazards of reporting as well as the invisible traps of gender bias.

Have you encountered those traps? The boss who orders you to ‘smile’ because girls should look pleasant, the male co-worker who tells you as an article of faith that most young women are willing to sell it– that’s how the world works, and only ‘strident feminists’ think otherwise. The guy in the diner sorting out the ‘ugly’ women? You think you’ll ever be a ‘perfect ten’?

I’m dating myself, that movie was before your time. I hope you never have and never will experience a world where you are a second-class person. A person who’s ‘for’ someone more important. A spunky lady reporter, smart and cute, too, by golly.

I’m glad that a bright and hardworking young woman has been able to contribute so much and to be respected for it. I’m glad that your good looks are not the key to your success or a hindrance to it. That’s how it should be.

Maybe it’s from a place of physical and emotional safety that you wrote an article two years ago that hit me like a punch in the stomach. It pains me to re-read it. Maybe there’s a dry irony there that I’m missing, but you were not Gloria Steinem going incognito as a Playboy bunny when you wrote ‘ Old Dogs, New Tricks’.

You write about men who offer money for sex and the temptation to college graduates in a time of high unemployment and insane cost of living. You leave unchallenged the disparity that leads ‘Jill’ to turn herself into a commodity, and you leave unquestioned the culture that tries to buy our best selves and sell us back what’s left. Jill, you say, ‘has blonde hair, amazing lips and is 19.’

Using the logic of the market, Jill can get top dollar. I wonder if Jill totaled up the value of the care, the orthodontia, the good middle-class education, the right accent and manners when setting her price. Parental love translated into a product good enough for Sugar Daddy.

I’m re-reading you and thinking that your stomach was sending you a wiser message than your brain. “Few things are less appetizing than a man four years my father’s junior, a dumpy, pasty, greedy-eyed man in a grey suit…” you write of your interview for a job selling sex to this guy. “I keep my tight young a-s in its place, laugh politely, and pick up my fork.” Like a good reporter, you were there to get the story. Like a good girl, you smiled and played up to him so he could go home to his wife more arrogant than ever.

“When I arrive home to a houseful of twentysomethings, we rail against the lowball. The lone male in the group asks, “Would it have made a difference if he’d been attractive?” Nobody answers for a second. “Probably,” I concede, and everyone reluctantly agrees; we are all sex-positive feminists here, offended not that he offered me money for sex, but that he offered so little and was so gross, and if the idea of doing him were palatable, and I were single, it’s possible he’d be doing double duty as my boyfriend and payroll officer.”

I hate the be the horrible old woman ragging on youth. I guess ‘sex-positive’ is supposed to assure men that you are not like those aging women who fought institutionalized inequality and were not always polite about it. But your take on ‘sex-positive’ reminds me of a racist joke– I’ll paraphrase it here–

‘The women are free!’
‘You mean we don’t have to pay for them?’

Again, I think you and your housemate’s ‘ick factor’ is a deep wisdom speaking to you from a history you seem not to be aware of. In your fantasy you can create an attractive man who will make love to you and give you money. In reality, prostitutes work for their money. In reality, someone you’ve allowed access to your body can hurt you in ways that a lousy boss can’t.

We all have to play the hand we’re dealt, and we’re lucky if we even get to establish boundaries. We all have to decide what compromises we’ll make.

A sex worker who has chosen that life would probably tell you it’s not easy money. The power disparity and the lack of protection from abuse make it a dangerous occupation. I support human rights and equal protection under the law for all people, regardless of what they do for a living. But in our very unequal society, the ‘choices’ we make are always influenced by what we believe is possible, even by what we believe we deserve. We can create real sexual freedom in relationships we choose, but it is not the mainstream of our culture. We have a heritage of deep inequality and a deep fear of sexuality that can’t be labeled or bought.

Imagine that you graduate from college, and are told that you’ll make a fine secretary till you catch a husband. Imagine that your interview with Sugar Daddy was not investigative reporting, but your last chance. Imagine that you need to please him, and any others you can play up to, because this is the only way you have to earn money and youth is fleeting.

This is history. The privilege of higher education, a professional career, an independent life– these gains are recent and hard-won.

And yes, it’s a disgrace that we let so many kids graduate from college with a burden of debt. It’s a shame the economy is so bad. This generation has been shortchanged and robbed by speculators. And the jobs out there pay so little it’s a struggle to get by.

You mention that you have a job at Mother Jones, low paying no doubt, but on a career track. You play with the idea of trading sex for money. Maybe any good-looking woman would be a fool not to, a ‘sex-negative’ prude.

Next time you go for a cup of coffee, next time you are in a public space that is cleaned every night, next time you stay in a motel and the bed is made for you, next time someone you love is washed and dressed and cared for by a nurses aid– think of the women who do those jobs. They hold up half the sky.

I’ve done all those jobs. I’ve lived on minimum wage. I’ve listened to men who were no better off than me congratulate themselves that women can be bought– in their minds, all women if only they were rich enough. Gloria Steinem is still writing and Hugh Hefner is acquiring another wife– very young and blonde. It’s not such a brave new world.

I kind of wish you had thrown a dart at Sugar Daddy on your way out. You left him feeling pretty good about himself, and you did it for free.

I should read through all your Mother Jones writing. I know it’s not fair to judge you by one article, and that you’ve reported from New Orleans and Haiti. I know you’ve interviewed rape victims whose humanity is not respected and whose choices are nonexistent.

Just consider that abuse of power is universal, and patriarchy is one of its aspects. If the objectification of women is carried out by more subtle and indirect means, it does not mean there is not an iron fist behind it.

I hope you’ll take a look at the women who work for you, who make your daily life possible, who don’t expect to get rich, or to get a Sugar Daddy. I hope you’ll write about them. Then I’ll subscribe to Mother Jones again.

Child Protection

Rev. Anne Grant has an alarming op-ed about the failure of the child protection system to fulfill its mandate to put the welfare of the child first. From…

We have a new chief judge of the Rhode Island Family Court, Haiganush R. Bedrosian, so it is time we banished the ghost of Dr. Richard Gardner, whose coercive tactics in Rhode Island courtrooms have been haunting families traumatized by domestic abuse.
Victims of terror do not present well in court. They are tense, emotional and understandably outraged. On the opposing side, tyrannical controllers can be calm and charming litigants, confident in the damage they have inflicted. Their lawyers, who are often accomplished bullies in their own right, tell astounding lies calculated to trigger a full display of symptoms in the victims.

Even recognizing that there are contentious divorces and false accusations, the picture Rev.Grant paints of Family Court is a comfortable place for lawyers and judges, but a deadly one for victims of crime.

Would Raymond A. Grundy have been walking free if those responsible for justice made him accountable? Would Staria Silva be alive today if Grundy had been prosecuted for every offense he committed against women and children?

Grundy has been in and out of the Adult Correctional Institutions for a variety of offenses. The last time was in early November, when he spent a night at the ACI before making bail on the charge of assaulting Silva.

Although Grundy has the names of his two older daughters tattooed on his body, he also has a record of assaulting their mother, Gail M. Arnold.

Arnold applied for several restraining orders against Grundy in the mid-1990s, writing about his “uncontrollable” temper and her fears for herself and their daughters. But Arnold failed to appear at hearings and the orders were dismissed.

Reading Anne Grant’s account of what she witnessed in court, it’s understandable that victims lose hope of finding justice or protection.

If you, or someone you know, is a victim of crime and needs advice and support, call
Victims of Crime Helpline
There is help.

Scientific Advance Brings New Hope

Angela Christiano is a researcher on the front lines of hair promotion and preservation.

My mom and her mother had hair loss from a young age. I have a cousin also who lost all of her hair. Ironically, hair is a big part of my family’s life. My grandfather was a barber in Italy and then later in New Jersey. And my mother was a hairdresser before retiring. I’m the first person in my family to go to college and graduate school: Rutgers. My mother now says, “You’re just another hair person — you just do it differently.”

Dr. Christiano was facing divorce and a career crossroads. A personal crisis revealed the direction her experiments would take…

In 1995, a time of big transitions in my life. After doing highly successful postdoctoral research on genetic blistering skin diseases at Jefferson Medical College, I’d arrived here at Columbia to start my own laboratory. I had just turned 30. I was getting a divorce. When you start your first lab, a researcher is expected to find something different from their postdoc work. For my first six months here, I sat thinking, “What am I going to do when I grow up?”

In the midst of all this, I went to a beauty parlor and the stylist said: “What’s happened here? You have a big patch of hair missing from the back of your head.” I ignored that. But the next day at the lab, I asked a colleague to take a look. She let out a bloodcurdling scream: “You have a huge bald spot!”

Dr. Christiano was well qualified to tackle the affliction of hair loss. Hair and skin are part of the integumentary system, and skin disease was the focus of her previous research…

None of this history, however, led Christiano to her studies. That happened with remarkable serendipity. After she earned her Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1991, she began an emotionally wrenching postdoctoral fellowship: hunting down the genetic basis of epidermolysis bullosa, a childhood disease that causes disfiguring and even fatal blisters. Every few months, Christiano collected blood samples from children at Rockefeller University Hospital in New York City to analyze their DNA. “These kids are covered from head to foot with blisters that are like third-degree burns. They have to be bandaged constantly. And to take those bandages off, you have to soak the children in warm water because if you just took the gauze off, you would take their skin off.”

Christiano felt powerless because scientists knew so little about the disease. But over the next five years she isolated one gene, then another, and another, until more than 50 mutations on several genes associated with epidermolysis bullosa had been nailed. Not only did her research lay the groundwork for effective genetic counseling, but she also developed the first prenatal test for the disease. She was 30.

Read the rest here at Discover Magazine. Dr. Christiano sounds like a really nice person. And I have to like a woman who knows her way around a hair salon and directs her own research lab.

Her discoveries will do more than treat hair loss, but if she gets rich doing that it will be well-deserved.

GETTING SERIOUS: Mary Beth Williams at Salon writes about surviving cancer and how the hair loss really is a big deal. Best wishes, Mary Beth, may you live to be 100 and have good hair to the end.

More and Better Predictions

Still searching for some credible psychic forecasts, but the field is pretty thin. Someone named Nikki from the Toronto Sun says that the year will be ‘up and down’, there might be earthquakes and celebrities will get married. And Michelle Obama will have twins. Maybe.

I give Nikki credit for being specific, but Michelle Obama is 46 years old. Hypothetically any famous woman that age might have twins, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And if I were Michelle Obama, I wouldn’t try. I’d let well enough alone.

Why psychics use their extraordinary gifts to tell us things like ‘Warren Beatty and Annette Benning will break up’ is beyond me. It seems like such a waste.

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence has a fifty-year prediction that is way more fun than vague guesses that there ‘could’ be a political sex scandal. I’m going to take a leap and say there will. And dogs will continue to bark.

Ray Villard speculates on possible findings from SETI by the year 2060. Here’s a scenario after we find out that we are not alone…

Finding and processing SETI transmissions becomes a bona fide science data collection program rather than exercise in hypothesis. Astronomers scramble to apply for research grants, and dream about receiving the Noble Prize.

Some signals are dug out of radio archival data. This kind of “hello we are here” message turn out to be surprisingly common along the galactic plane. Technological civilizations at a particular state of evolution apparently converge on similar beacon strategies that are energy-frugal and efficient.

In the absence of an exclusively directed transmission toward Earth, SETI astronomers diminish expectations of finding altruistic aliens wanting to share their advanced knowledge. Maybe the extraterrestrials are satisfied with simply broadcasting interstellar “tweets.”

The whole article reads like one of the smart sci-fi paperbacks.

Astronomers (not to be confused with astrologers) predict that the sun, after a longer than average quiet period, will begin to surge with energy flares, reaching solar max in 2013. This might effect satellites and other electronics, if 2012 hasn’t sent us back to the stone age.

I predict that by 2060 there will be a revival of the Luddites. Adherants will reject all electronic toys in favor of books and pencils. They will walk everywhere, which will make them generally fit and attractive. This will give them great appeal to youth, who will not tune in, but will drop out– causing much social disruption. You heard it here first.