Saturday, October 2, 2010


I've realized that I miss using avatars. I have hundreds of them saved on my computer over the span of about seven years in blogging world. Some of them are nothing special, but some are pure gems. I wonder if I could combine blogger's form with the one I am used to from LJ. I guess it might not fit the decor... but I like these small pieces of art. And sometimes they are just the perfect commentary on whatever you are writing. Sometimes tell the world what movie you are obsessing with, without having to tell a word. I like the silly ones and the artsy ones. Sometimes I tend to use just a few over and over again, sometimes I want to have new or get back to old, forgotten. I once tried my skills at them... but I just didn't feel it. I am good at capturing what I see with my camera, not manipulating the image.

Friday, October 1, 2010

braiding the nooses

[image from: QZAP]
I might not agree 100% with each statement (or not fully), but something needs to be done. We can't keep on losing children that way! No one should go through such hell because of gender expression, sexual orientation, gender identification, personality traits or any other thing that makes us individual humans.

I just watched Ellen's message about the suicides. Well said, strong message. I hope more messages like that will reach main stream media.

Halloween is coming

And with it flood of tasteless, over sexualized and simply ugly costumes.
Halloween is not my tradition, so I am not excited about it and don't have any fond childhood memories. In Poland this day is celebrated by visiting family graves, contemplation, prayer and generally filled with very "memento mori" atmosphere.

I have noticed a few entries over various blogs bringing examples of costumes advertised for this season. All of the ones I've seen are offensive for one or another reason. I find them extremely sexist, reducing women to sex objects, often culturally insensitive.

I have decided to look by myself if the bloggers were cherry picking and exaggerating or if indeed it's that bad.
Well, it is bad.
First, the costumes for adult women as compared to adult men:

I found one or two examples were men were portrayed somewhat "sexy", mirroring their female counterparts:

The only images where women were not made up to look like Playboy fantasies occupants, was in a "hoop clown" costume.

Now to the culturally offensive... Looks like the "Indian Princess" and "Gypsy lady" win the competition. I was wondering what a male version would look like, thinking of some bare chest "warrior" disaster. I found even better: woman is the "Indian princess", man is a cowboy. I don't even have words...

What is also interesting, their "teen" section seem to differ only is slightly better breast coverage.

Now to the children costumes. The toddlers are still more or less sweet and cute, gender neutral. But when we enter the section for pre-teen and teens, the division is very clear. Boys' costumes are warriors, robots, fighters, action figures, super heroes/villains and generally strong characters with pants, often bulky clothing disguising the body's shape. Not so with girls' costumes. As far as I've seen all of them have skirts, mostly mini-skirts. The difference to adult costumes is, that the skirts are often fluffy and bulky instead of tightly skin-like. The characters are all over the place... witches, bees, butterflies, skeletons, ballerinas, dancers... I am guessing the girls could use the boys' costumes if they wanted, but it is pretty clear that most of them are made with gender in mind. Let's see some examples:

Differences between boys' and girls' costumes of the same theme:

I think I am glad I am not part of that all. It's a pity how early on the sexualization of little girls begin.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

some links

Mostly for my own benefit, so I won't lose'em.

A primer on privilege: What it is and what it isn't.

A chart showing the benefits of upholding the present tax cuts. Let's see who really benefits from them and how much exactly.

small talk

I went to the ob/gyn today. I haven't been in a really long time (more than eight years I think) so I was nervous and anxious. The character of the visit added to the feeling of discomfort.
I guess I can understand that the nurse wanted to make a small talk, maybe to relax me? But somehow I think she had no idea I was anxious and she was just nosy. I can understand some basic questions... But why when people hear that I am from Poland they feel free to dig for details about my private life? Do they really think it's their business to know where I was educated? And do they have to ask about my spiritual road to Judaism just like that, in the third minute of our acquaintance? And then often comes the sharing. About grandparents from Ukraine (close enough), visiting death camps or asking about Anti-Antisemitism in Poland.
I think the fact that I am not an American gives a permission in people's mind to ask, as if checking if I really have the right to be in their presence. They ask about my legal status (on what kind of visa I am here), about the family (if they are still living in Poland and if they are living in Jewish tradition), about my education (again to check if I am really telling the truth of being a teacher in America), and sometimes about seriously private stuff (if I have a boyfriend, how old am I and so on).

Am I oversensitive? Is it that I am much more of an introvert than the majority of the people? But somehow I feel that the fact of me being from another country works as a catalyst in this case. It might be they simply want to connect with another person, but very soon it changes into interrogation with over sharing about dead family members.

I found it interesting as well that the doctor lated commented on me knowing English in a mock guilty way about Americans not knowing any foreign languages. Really? There is quite a strong minority that's bilingual. There will be more and more of children speaking perfect English and Spanish. There are others coming from all over the world speaking their native languages in addition to adopted English. Aren't they counted as "American"?


I love "before and after"s. Whatever their subject - revamped side table, magazine's style remake or comparison between celebrities' recent and childhood photos. There is something fascinating about them. Change happens all the time around us, but very rarely we are able to notice it clearly. We are part of it, and seeing it's second-by-second progress we can hardly even realize something is going on. It is only when we put together the "before and after" that we can see more clearly. Change in itself is an interesting idea, just the fact that it can, and constantly does, happen. I don't like big changes personally. I know they are necessary and sometimes surprise... but I do enjoy the comfort of routine and the known. If I have to choose between unknown new and known old, I often take the latter. Change is risky. Everyone has different levels of comfort in relation to changes. Each of us has a line, on which the natural vibrant unknown dances between excitement and anxiety.
It might be that because my work (teaching) brings constant surprise,  and my plans often need rearranging  and I am often forced to respond on the spot to unknown challenges, that I need a strong, calm and predictable private life. My home is my haven, my relaxing zone. Here I can hide and reload before I have to meet the world outside. I am so happy I didn't have to move this summer (for the first time in a number of years).

But I realize how much I change. With each therapy session, each article and book read, each good discussion with a student or a friend. I love seeing photos of my decorating process and how my boring, squarish rental became vibrant, colorful and "mine".
oh, I wish I could easier open to the changes and challenges that I face around me.

Someone put it in words so much better.

Not so long ago I've had a discussion over FB on Tea Party and their lack of racism (according to the official statement from the White House). I expressed my annoyance with the administration for being afraid to state the obvious. Tea Partiers are racist, and most of the right establishment and many of the left are racist. But especially the conservative whites who simply can't stand to have an African-American as their president. Obama's election cut open an abscess of decades of quiet racism, political correctness, covering up problems and pretending as if everything was ok and the society was generally "colorblind". The batshit crazy "stars" of Fox News and Tea Party are so obviously the result of deep running racist prejudices and total fear of loosing the white privilege.
Some people who voted for Obama think it makes them holy and omg so progressive, while others try to dehumanize Obama (the birther movement, as American=human in their minds, no other person worth can match their superior American soul) and pretend their attacks got to do with taxes or supposed attack on their rights. I guess the "rights" they are talking about have among them the right to be a privileged asshole unable to see the reality as it is. Instead of focusing on what this country needs at the moment, they simply can't accept that Obama could succeed, even if that success was necessary for the country's recovery. So they will do everything to make Obama's life miserable, and his efforts to get out from the crises blocked.

All these thoughts are result of reading a great article from The Village. Really good read.

Brutal awakening

Just got up and started reading news while drinking my morning coffee. Just on there are three different stories about kids or young adults victimized for being gay. There is no progress, nothing is finished and well till we reach the time when no one is bullied for being gay, lesbian, bi or trans. When no kid is forced to censor himself or herself in their gender expression, their choices of clothing, haircuts or music.
I hope the parents of the bullies feel guilty and ashamed instead of denying their children doing anything wrong.
I am glad that in the case of the college student (the one who killed himself after his roommate secretly recorded his intimate time with another man) are charged and face up to 5 years in jail. If people can't figure out that this kind of behavior is morally wrong, maybe at least the risk of serious penalty will keep them from hurting the other.

Here's Anderson's interview with parents of Asher, a boy who shot himself after almost two years of being bullied. According to the parents, the boy was made fun of for being smaller, not wearing fashionable clothes or not owning expensive gadgets, and also for being gay. The boy came out to his parents in the morning of the day he killed himself. The school denied knowing anything, even though there are other parents who also were alarmed by their children being bullied and informed the school about problems.

Material about the death of Rutgers student, who committed a suicide after his roommate recorded and posted on  the internet his sexual encounter with a man. These were adults. What level of moral lobotomy needs to be achieved in order to do such thing? How anyone could thing it was ever ok? How could anyone find it entertaining? It's beyond my ability to understand. And I think I am glad it is.

In this story thanks gods there is no death. But the fact that constant gay bashing and verbal attacks on someone's sexual orientation are called "freedom of speech" are as wrong. I am glad that the victim of this vicious attacks is a stronger and older individual, who was able to stand up to these attacks. But no-one's strength, skin thickness or sensitivity should be ever tried in such a way.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Another day in The Rich Paradise

It never ceases to amaze me how egocentric and short-sighted many of the rich are. How one arrives at that point? Is it years of uprooting own guilt or working on creating a perfect image of oneself in which one finally believes? Why is it never enough? Why is it so hard to see that the majority of people struggle every day to just get by? Do they really believe that these masses deserve it? That somehow they got what they were asking for? That they are lazy and/or stupid? Is it really so difficult to take some responsibility for the well being of a fellow human? Is it really such an offense to ensure everyone has an access to health care? That workers are paid respectable wages which let them support themselves and their families? While the salaries and general wealth of the top few percents of the society in the past two decades grew between 87% - 256%, it rose only around 10% - 20% for the 3/5 of the society. At the same time the costs of colleges rose over 100%. Inflation-adjusted minimum wage dropped 25%. In 1980 CEOs in big corporations were getting on average about 100 times that of minimum wage worker. Today? It's 1,100 times as much as minimum wage workers. 
To me that is obscene. And they still obstruct any changes to minimum wages, lobby against tax cut expiration, and fight with teeth and nails against any tax changes for them. 

An article in The Washington Post on the drastic and scary raise in poverty among African American and other minority children in DC and surroundings. 

Confuse and destroy! Laws proposed in Georgia, with extremely biased and suggestive language, which would give extreme control over a worker's choice of workplace. 
For example, a hardware store could use a non-compete agreement to ensure that any employee that leaves does not work for any of its competitors or even within the same industry for a number of years of its choosing. The hardware store would use the threat of lawsuits to enforce the contract.

The richest Congress member fights against the expiration of tax cuts for the richest. Of course he has only the best of the country in mind, not his own or his golf club pals. 

Who cares that there are still millions of Haitians waiting for help? The promise and good words should be enough, right? As long as I have full plate, a nice wheels in my garage and a house I can get lost in, I don't care there are poor, hungry and homeless tragedy victims waiting for the relief money. Let's just wait with deciding these stupid details... anyway, the Haitians don't vote for us, so why care?

what's in a name?

I've read Freakonomics a while ago, and similarly to many people, really liked it. Today I spotted on the an interview with the maker of Supersize Me, who is also making a movie based on Freakonomics. The subject of the interview was the fascinating chapter about the impact of names on one's success. I thought it was really great, and gave a lot to think about and offered more than one ways of interpreting the facts and study results.
What put me off on CNN though, was that the title for a link to this interview was "Is your name holding you back?" I know that not all of the names discussed in the book are based on racial or ethnic divisions, but it was the focus of the main study (Sending identical CVs, one with obviously African-American name, the other with Anglo-Saxon sounding name. The latter ones got 35% more responses.).
I find that the title suggests that it's the person's (or his/her parents') fault that others are bigots. Instead of calling it what it might be (racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and various other -isms) the responsibility and blame is thrown on the victim. The speaker suggested that the parent should think twice before giving a kid ethnic name. I am glad that the guy pointed out that the problem is across the board, and calling a child "Hillbilly" name might be risky in a way as well (associating stereotypes about people from rural areas etc.). But again, the problem is not the name, the problem is the prejudice and racism.

At the same time I do think that there should be a minimum of control over the names given to children. In Poland there is too much control (as in many other European countries) - your choice of name needs to be approved. If it's a foreign form of existing Polish name or if the name is offensive, the office may refuse. If the name is foreign, but you have a valid reason (minority, ethnicity etc.) then it is accepted.

I don't care for the "foreign" idea. Yes, it sound silly and weird in Polish if you came with English-sounding names, but I guess after a while people would get used to it.

But I do think that the control over possibly offensive names is a good idea. It is against the freedom of parents, that's true - but then, we limit the freedom of parents when we see they abuse their children. Giving a child an offensive name is a form of child abuse in my book. A child who is named "bitch" or similar, is set from the start for an emotional hardship and abuse. There should be at least an advice issued to reconsider the idea.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Between freedom of speech and respecting the other

Over at Racialicius is a great essay discussing the issue of "Draw Muhammad Day" and surrounding drama.
There is indeed a difficulty to spot where my freedom of speech ends and someone's beliefs begin. It's one thing to be able to say what one beliefs in, it's another to intentionally belittle and ridicule the other's religion or culture. The author, Thea Lim, writes (emphasis mine):

 I emphatically support Molly Norris’ right to safety. I think it is terrible that she has to go into hiding, and I can only imagine the fear and distress that she is feeling right now.
But. I 100% do not support Norris’ right to mean-spirited mockery. I do not support anyone’s right to belittle, poke fun at, show insensitivity or thoughtlessness towards anyone else’s system of belief – but especially at Islam, seeing how it seems to have become some sort of Liberal American pastime to see who can make the most Islamophobic joke.  And this is while the rights of Muslims to pursue their system of beliefis under attack, all across the Western world.
And of course I support free speech. I support informed dissent. But what Norris did – and South Park, and Jyllends Posten and any other fool who carries on creating images of Muhammad as if to do so is some act of inspired and noble rebellion – was not informed dissent.  It was a nasty and childish response to being told, for once, that there was something we are not allowed to do, or cannot have.

Just today during my Holocaust class I have discussed the stages of Hate. From prejudiced attitudes, through prejudices speech, including ridicule or racist jokes, to discrimination and violence against humans and property.

It often begins with lack of respect for others' culture and tradition, jokes or holy anger about the other's "wrong" beliefs and rituals. It doesn't notice the "funny" rituals in own religion, only in the other. There is nothing weird of strange about the dress of a Catholic nun, but somehow the hadjib or burka are sources of constant racist and/or sexist attacks. People got used to the idea of wearing the image of a person hanging on a cross, but somehow turban or sari are justified sources of amusement.

I guess as long as something is common to the Western, Christian world, it's ok. Even if weird, strange, violent, racist, homophobic, sexist or against logic and rational thinking. Here Thea Lim again:
Sometimes it appears as if  any benign request made by another power to the Western, white, (culturally) Christian world (WWCCW), is received as an affront. As in, how dare anyone else tell us what to do? WE RUN THIS PLACE! As in, this refusal is an extreme manifestation of the way that certain Western, white, cultural Christians think they are entitled to do anything and consume anything, because they are the West, the boss of this town, and ain’t no one ever going to tell them what to do.

I do not like when a religion tries to impose its beliefs on others who do not share the same set of dogmas. But it is one thing if the imposition impacts directly my life (e.g. legislating the ban on same-sex marriage) and when there is very little relation between my life and a particular ban (why would I need to draw a picture of prophet Muhammad?). I don't see it as attack on my freedom of speech, it's a call for respect.
Of course I am absolutely against punishing the "offender" in anyway other than social critique. Violence is not the way to react.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

the daily dose of privilege, racism and homophobia.

Oh, the putrid smell of white, rich privilege...
I got late to catch it in other places, but Resist Racism talks about a blog entry of a law professor who is "just getting by" on his and his wife's $250k combined salary. Resist has both link to google cache and copy of it on his blog. 

This just shows what levels of insensitivity, lack of understanding and absence self-criticism the rich have. They see having big expensive house, two cars, cable, private schools and art classes as basic life necessities. Well, it's not exactly "basic" nor "necessity". What's wrong with living in rented apartment? What's wrong with a public school? What about cutting down on cable? Mowing your own lawn? He even adds their transfers to retirement funds as "expenses". Well, unfortunately in this country that still counts as luxury. Many people know how important that is but can do nothing. They don't even imagine having retirement savings and assume they will work till they die. 

But it gets even better. It looks like many people didn't like this professor's entry... he got all hurt and offended with all these bullies. But that's not the worse... Again thanks to Resist Racism I read his response to "attacks":
The electronic lynch mob that has attacked and harassed me — you should see the emails sent to me personally! — has made my family feel threatened and insecure  …  To those with pitchforks trying to attack me instead of my message, I feel sorry for you. You have caused untold damage to me personally. I may be wrong, even stupid, but I don’t think I deserved that.

I am joining author of the blog in his anger about this professor using such words. He has no right to compare people disagreeing with his snobbish, privileged opinions to lynching. And I have the same thoughts on people using words like "rape", "holocaust", "genocide" or 'discrimination" lightly in a very inappropriate situations. This trivializes their true meaning and cheapens the experiences of people for whom these are not just words but deepest wounds.

Go and read Resistance's commentary, it's really good. 

And because we shouldn't end on such optimistic note, new pearls of wisdom from Ann Coulter:

Marriage “is not a civil right – you’re not black,” Coulter said to nervous laughter. She went on to note that gays are among the wealthiest demographic groups in the country. 

“Blacks must be looking at the gays saying, ‘Why can’t we be oppressed like that?’”

...the gays "ought to start being antiabortion because "once they find the gay gene, guess who's getting aborted" 

[from: GoodAsYou]

Wait a sec... does it mean she believes being gay is genetic? So it's not because the schools talk about condoms, girls wear pants and boys are molested by evil priests homos?
Oh, and there are gay African-American, by the way.
I seriously don't know what's wrong with this woman. There is hardly a word that could be used to call her, everything seems not strong enough. 
I've had enough, time to go sleep. 

donor conception

For a while now I have been researching variety of reproductive options. In the case of lesbians pregnancies it can't just "happen". In the case of a single, economically disadvantaged lesbian with unclear immigration status the possibility is even less realistic.

I have been always a very strong supporter of free choice for women. A woman should be able to decide whether to have children or not. I support both women who decide to never have children or perform an abortion as much as these who find fulfillment in bringing a number of children to this world. It should be the woman's (together with her partner if she has one) decision, based on various factors important to her and those around her.

It is maddening when people call single by choice mothers that they are selfish or that they harm their children. That a woman must have a man to even think about having a baby. I hate that it's often assumed the only reason why they want a baby is because they want someone who would love them unconditionally, like a pet.

For centuries women were left to take care of their babies. No matter who was the father or how the baby was conceived, if it was planned or not, whether the mother wanted it or not, it was assumed she had to take care of it. No obligations of that kind have been expected from fathers. A father who abandons his children still has friends, is respected and doesn't face any social stigma. And if he pays alimony all is good and done. Now let's look how the society treats a woman who resigns from motherhood. She is ostracized, her femininity is questioned, she is belittled and disrespected. Her moral standing is criticized and her mental health under suspicion.

I have always felt that if a woman wants to have a child, no one has a say, unless there is a serious risk involved - then an advice could be offered. It seemed to me that the only reason why single by choice mothers are criticized was because they made the choice, they showed autonomy and stood for their reproductive rights.

With all of it I thought the option of lesbian pregnancy using donor sperm is a good option. Maybe not perfect, and it would be great to find a donor who would like to participate in some way in the child's life, but still pretty good. But recently I stumbled upon opinions that creating life that way is evil and morally wrong. And it was expressed by children conceived that way... That conscious decision of bringing a child with no known father is hurtful and traumatizing.
I've never thought about it that way. My mother doesn't know her father, and knows only the name of her biological mother. But of course it wasn't a conscious decision, that was war and its consequences.
I do know my father, but hardly know where my family came from, who were my ancestors. And yes, I would like to know- but I don't find the lack of knowledge hurtful or traumatizing. My mother also seems pretty ok even after years in awful communist, post-war orphanages before being finally adopted by a single woman.

Is it really so bad? Is it selfish? Is it traumatizing? Is it worst than a child who is born from a one night stand? From bad relationship that ended soon after?
Personally I would prefer to know that my mother wanted me so much she chose to use donor sperm, than to know it was a random guy or some jerk who abused my mom and didn't want to know about me. But of course it's all speculation, I do know my father, who was in long relationship with my mother.
And what about couples who use donor sperm? When a child has two parents, but one might not be the biological one. Are genes really that important?

this kid is on a roll!

I wish more kids were thinking the way he does. Heck, I wish more adults were thinking that way!