Monday, October 12, 2009

The Job of Purpose

I was explaining to someone today about how I want my work to be meaningful. I don't mean writing this blog or taking a photograph, but my work, work... the stuff I do to keep the rain off my head and roast chicken in my mouth. If I'm going to spend 40 hours a week doing something, I want it to be meaningful. Otherwise, I feel like I'm wasting my life.

Imagine, if everyone on the planet had a job. And they they knew that job had a positive impact on the world. That even if they're doing some job from the bottom of the pool, they would know that how they do their job affects more than their paycheck, but their part of the greater good. The pride. The assuredness. The peace we would all feel. People would respect each other because they would recognize that they are everyone else's keepers. When you are given a responsibility of care, you cannot help but love your burden. Even when you hate the details. The overall picture of us would be one of extreme satisfaction. The kind of satisfaction that makes world leaders uncomprehending of how they could possibly launch a fire bomb or nuclear warhead. The kind of satisfaction that leads to creative thinking in science labs, a complete drop in crime, education that inspires interrogative learning. Everything would shift. The kind of shift that makes one sigh one long, deep exhalation.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Season of Pink is a Deadly One

So I'm cruising the grocery store flier and I see a picture of what I think is a girl playing with chalk on the sidewalk. Then I realized that I was seeing was an ad for Breast Cancer Awareness month (Proctor & Gamble was advertising their donations to the National Breast Cancer Foundation). The picture is of a woman sitting on the sidewalk (dressed like an 8 year old) and smiling as she colors in a chalk outline of a big pink ribbon. So apparently breast cancer is FUN!! Makes you feel like a kid again! (Or maybe it's just the usual infantilizing of women in need as children.) And the chalk outline... could there be anything more apropos?

Many people don't know this, but the whole National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) is fully funded by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in a multi-million dollar deal made with National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) and Estee Lauder (who originally used the ribbon as their company symbol). Why does this matter? Well, ICI happens to be the maker of not only Tamoxifen (the leading drug treatment for breast cancer) but of plastics and insecticides that cause cancer. Since most breast cancers are estrogen based, Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen receptors (this was discovered through pesticide development and refined into the compound comprising today's Tamoxifen). Unfortunately, it also leaves the woman getting treated more open to getting other types of cancers and increases menopausal symptoms, but hey, most drugs have some sort of unpleasant side effects right?

What is even more amazing is that with their political pull (much money is spent on lobbying), ICI has somehow gotten the FDA to approve Tamoxifen drug trials on healthy women as a cancer prophylactic! They're also encouraging pre-menopausal mammograms, which has previously been established as unnecessary unless you have genetic predisposition. Hello, it's radiation folks. Radiation causes cancer. Isn't that what we're all trying to avoid here? Why would you introduce it to women who are unlikely to need exposure as a preventative measure?

So basically, all those pink spatulas, key chains, and cruise ships are making a profit off of people's fear. Yes, a very small percentage does go towards research, but if you look at the politics behind it and the little amount of actual money that's benefiting women, there must be other ways to deal with this disease. Not to mention that the carcinogens produced to make these anti-cancer awareness products cause cancer. It should also be noted that, as per usual, the way to get women's attention is via the marketplace. Because all women like to shop, right? I don't see men being encouraged to buy wallets or blenders with a blue ribbon logo for prostate cancer awareness.

When I was working as a Program Director for Women's Health Network (a breast and cervical cancer detection program for low-income women), I really struggled with the promotion I was expected to do during October. Of course, I wanted women to be aware of their health needs and provide accessibility to cancer detection services and care, but the more I learned about how the whole awareness operation worked, the less I wanted to contribute to it. Even the water bottles that were provided by the state for promotion were plastic bottles that had vinyl chloride (which causes pseudo estrogens which cause estrogen based cancers). By ignoring the environmental factors and pushing women to get yearly mammograms to "prevent cancer" (they detect it, not prevent it - and for most post-menopausal women, once every other year is sufficient) I felt like the message to women was always that they were somehow responsible for their disease ("if you don't get a mammogram, you'll get cancer") and that carcinogens were a moot issue. Anyone who reads the Silent Springs study (study of breast cancer being 20% higher in Cape Cod than in the rest of the country) would beg to differ. In fact, the leading cause of breast cancer is environment... not genetics. And drug, chemical, and biotechnology companies have a vested interest in treating the disease rather than finding ways to minimize its rate of incidence.

Most people also seem unaware that breast cancer is NOT the number one killer of women in the US. The winner in this category is Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). Though genetics play some part, CVD can be prevented for most people through lifestyle changes. But most of the money, lobbying (millions in lobbying dollars), and awareness goes to breast cancer, so cancer gets all the attention while most women are dying quick, silent deaths partially because they don't even know the symptoms of a WOMAN's heart attack. Because the symptoms are different than men's symptoms (though, not surprisingly, only men's symptoms are common knowledge), they are often fatal because they are unrecognized and thus untreated.

So though breast cancer is an awful disease (and preventable for some, if policies would address environmental issues), buying something pink doesn't mean you're doing diddley to prevent women from dying. The wash of pink is essentially like SOMA in A Brave New World, it makes you feel better, like you're helping the cure, but really you're just being placated. Awareness and women supporting each other in what was once a hush-hush disease because it affects a part of the body that's normally most noted for its sexuality (forgetting that it also provides nourishment for the next generation of babies) is wonderful. But if more energy were put into demands for tighter restrictions on toxin releases into the environment and less on what style pink teddy bear to buy, we'd have a lot less deaths to go on Avon sponsored walks for.

If this is new information for you, please pass this on to everyone you know. Every October, I get my panties in a wad over this. It's time this was common information.

This is a very(!) brief overview of the travesty that is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, you can find more detailed information at:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Obama is Bart in Blazing Saddles

So according to AP, Obama is losing ground on the health care debate. Maybe he should pull a stunt from Bush's playbook and start a war... I mean, with another country. Can you believe that Bush is going to pull a presidential salary until he dies? It seems like your exit polls should determine your retirement pay. In a truly capitalist society, that's how it'd work. Then again, if we were in a true laissez-faire capitalist government, we would let the auto makers go where their business practices led them. Imagine if we spent $50 billion on training auto plant workers to make wind turbines instead of bailing out CFO's.

Though Bush left a legacy that isn't unrivaled, it's damned impressive in its ineptitude. He reminds me of Hedley Lamarre in Blazing Saddles, conniving the people for his personal gain. Like the townspeople in the film, the U.S. voters had to get desperate before they'd listen to a black leader, only to find he's the only one who can save their cumulative ass. Like the town folk, the majority of Americans are easily duped and intellectually short-sighted, who trust the good ol' boy more for his familiarity than his intelligence. Just like the movie, Obama had to outwit the people to make them realize he was the best man for the job. Guess that makes Joe Biden the drunken gunslinger who comes through in the end, as well. Hmm, would that make the newly recruited thugs, the extreme right of skin heads and "methodists"? There were clan members in Lamarre's line-up, after-all. Though Mongo really serves as the best example of the current republican party... bashing their way into political discourse with accusations of moral degeneration (or was that socialism?) by the democratic party, only to be proven how stupid their tactics are when they get caught with mistresses in hotel rooms, personal state offices, and Argentina. Guess Mel Brooks was even more prescient than we ever gave him credit for.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Did they just need tutors?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964) was put in place to prevent workplace discrimination due to race, religion, or sex (but not sexual orientation... yet).  In addition to the obvious discriminatory actions, it also challenges testing if it appears to have a disparate impact on a single group.  Sotomayor (and her supporters) say that her original ruling on the case of the CT firefighters was in support of this Act since all but one of the racial minorities who took the test, failed.  The mostly conservative firefighters who managed to get her decision overturned feel vindicated that the test was fair and they are simply superior firefighters.  So who was right?

Temporarily ignoring the fact that racism in the CT firefighters history of promotions is well known, it seems the main problem in this scenario is that rightness isn't the question.  The question should be, how did we arrive at this juncture?  Both sides were looking for quick victory rather than examine why the disparity occurred in the first place.   The problem isn't the test.  It's the educational system that supposedly provides an equal education for all, but consistently comes up short in poor areas.  Poor areas tend to have a high percentage of racial minorities.  It is not because poor people are stupid, but because they do not have money in their schools because though the nation distributes money equally to all schools, the communities fill in the blanks with taxes and propositions that grant line items to the educational budget.  Thus, the racial minorities tend to have a lower quality education because they can't foot the bill (and thus are too poor to leave the community and the cycle continues). Most people from poor areas (no matter the skin tone) tend to score poorly on standardized tests.  Throw in social pressure from inside the racial group to not become part of the dominant social  group for fear of losing racial identity and a general culture of white privilege, and we have ourselves a perfect case for affirmative action, right?  

But affirmative action in the form of hiring people who might not be as skilled or educated is a band-aid.  There's no question that individuals of equal intelligence with equal social support and education will score equally well on the same test.  Rather than throwing out the test, why not see which of the fire fighters came from an educationally compromised background?  Those individuals could then be given some tutoring, provided by the state, to bring them up to speed and then retested.  If they don't do as well, no one can claim race is a factor.   Enough of the finger pointing.  Just acknowledge that the system is flawed and take responsibility for creating an equal playing field for all.  Sadly, our capitalist culture uses social Darwinism (something Darwin never thought or approved of) to determine that poor people are that way due to their own faults and weaknesses. 


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Was Vesuvius female?

Every year in Komaki, Japan, the Hounensai festival is celebrated for fertility and renewal by parading with a large wooden phallus while onlookers eat penis shaped sausages and girls such on penile fruit pops.  My friend sent me this information and I told her it reminded me of Pompeii.  I went there a couple of years ago and I was astounded at all the phallic, well... everything.  Of course, there were brothel indicators and the diagram of sexual positions for the randy illiterate.  And homes had mosaics with naked bodies in the scenes.  But penis shapes were used for everything from pillar capitals to directional markers carved at crosswalks . (Granted, they were for the local whore house, but I digress.)  I was blown away by how phallic that society was and couldn't imagine how women could feel their mental worth around so much emphasis on male girth.  When I got home, I watched our media sources a bit more critically and realized that though frontal nudity for men is tightly kept under wraps (because it's so sacred?) the idea of the penis as being ridiculously important was present everywhere.  Keep an eye out for it and suddenly you'll wonder how you didn't see it before.  I'm thinking Vesuvius was female.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Makes a Good Woman... er, Judge

As Sonia Sotomayor has been making the rounds to sell herself to the Senate Judiciary Committee, there has been a lot of talk in the news of folks getting nervous that she'll have bias in her judgements because she's a woman and a minority (because white men in power are never biased in their decisions and always have full understanding of the needs of the women and minorities they represent).  I have not read all of her cases and cannot, ahem, judge whether of not she'd make a quality addition to the Supreme Court, but I have found it fascinating that as her work history is increasingly found devoid of issue, her attitude in court has come under scrutiny.  She has been accused of being "a terror on the bench," "nasty," "overly aggressive," and "a bit of a bully."  But when transcripts of high level court cases came out, she was actually much less aggressive than her male counterparts. 

So here we go again... even in an age when there are female executives and a woman can be considered qualified to compete for a presidential nomination, we're still wrestling with the expectations of a woman's behavior to have a certain level of submissiveness.  NPR did a fabulous report on this and it's certainly not one you'll hear on MSNBC (busy focusing on her legally required monetary disclosures, i.e. yep, the chick has cash).  The sum is this, why are women still expected to have a different code of behavior than men?  

My ex had a wonderful habit of turning normal daily interactions into an analysis of male/female behavior which involved continually asking,
"How would this situation have changed if the woman in the story were a man?"  
At the end of your day, you'll generally find that there are a myriad of moments where gender played a role in how an interaction played out.  This is a great exercise for both men and women to have a higher awareness of how their own behavior intersects with gender expectation.   Think about it... would that guy have really said that to you if you had been a man?  Would you have talked to a man they way you talked to that woman?   After all, an unexamined life is not worth living (Ok, so a man, Socrates, said it, but it still holds true for all).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

En Medias Coitus

After two years of miraculously not seeing each other despite this size of the small town we socialize in, I ran into the man from the last blog entry again in a bar.  His girlfriend is what drew my attention as she flirted with me in a delicious way (damn, that girl can dance), but I didn't recognize him... vaguely familiar, but certainly not in a sexual context.  But by the time he spoke to me, saying, "I think you and have the same taste in women," my immediate response was, "No, I think she and I have the same taste in men."  When I reminded him of our atypical parting, he had no recollection (what a shock) and thought I was remembering someone else.  So I described his home, from the Navy buddies to the triple-mattress bed, at which point he interjected with, "Not anymore" with a thumb jerk to his girlfriend behind him, and claimed he must have been "drunk or something." Ahh, the levels men will stoop to deny what I now understand to be a mortifying experience.  
Which is the cusp of this entry... the distinctly diametrically opposed reactions between men and women at hearing the original little story.  
Women are amazed (amazed? really? why??) that I would do something so "ballsey. " Men are utterly incensed and practically horrified (no this is not hyperbole) that I'd leave in medias coitus.
When I explain my reasoning, they still think I'm heinous for leaving a guy hanging...  "but we're talking about physical pain here" and "That's just low."  Hmmm, I don't know if I've ever heard a woman describe a man leaving her sexually unsatisfied as a "low" activity.  It's the norm.  It's expected.  It's sad that in 2009, a woman's sexual pleasure is still secondary to a man's.   I mean, studies were done on this in the 1960's for Chrissake! 

You'd think these indignant men would be ashamed.  For a true Cassanova would rather die than leave a woman wishing for more.  To use every means at his disposal (yes, hands and mouths are amazing sexual instruments... just ask your favorite lesbian) actually makes him more of a man.  When was the last time you heard men regaling their friends with sexual tales describing what finger moves they used to "finish her off" after they came too early for her.  But every straight/bi woman I know can tell you at least one trick (yes, that's how it's described) that will make sure the man is satisfied (even they're no longer interested in penetrative sex) and how often they've used it. And trust me... it's often.  Rarely does one hear a man say he 'faked it', but I can guarantee that the majority of women you know have.  Do a poll.  Ask around.  How much extra attention are men getting at the, excuse the pun, hands of women when reciprocation is a rarity?

Yes, yes, there are some lovely men whose sexual virtues regarding women cannot be extolled enough (my boyfriend, for example).  However, their virtue isn't any more splendid than a woman who puts in the same effort. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Walking Out on Sex

So there's this guy that I kept running into at a local live band bar.  We danced... we chatted... we parted ways. Well, at least that happened a couple of times before I drove us to his house.  I didn't actually know much about him other than that he was undisputedly handsome and chiseled everywhere but in his mirthful eyes.  He was polite as I eased into his space and observed photos of his Navy buddies.  But it didn't take long for him to hustle me upstairs where his room of spare furnishings consisted of a desk, a fish tank, and a bed comprised of enough mattresses to make the top edge level with his groin.  

So clearly this was someone used to getting laid.  Excellent.  

I had been in a bad relationship, so mostly just wanted the guy to have some talent in the sack.  He was, in fact, technically sound.  But as I (eventually) lay on my back and he huffed above me, I realized I didn't want to do it anymore.  He had all the right elements:  intelligence, looks, kindness, good sense of humor... but he just wasn't for me.  So like most women in my position, I figured that I'd let him finish and start fresh the next day.

But then I had an epiphany...  Why let him finish?  Not once has a man ever made sure that I've come before we stopped having sex.  And if I'm letting him have sex with my body when I genuinely don't want to anymore, couldn't that be tantamount to willing rape?  Why would I do that to myself so that this guy, meaningless in my life, can be sexually satisfied?  So I stopped him, hopped the extra two feet to the ground, and said, "Thanks, but I'm done."  I assured him that his technique was fine and gave him apologies (that admittedly were more courteous than caring).  

Not surprisingly, he was incredulous as I dressed, looking for explanations.  What did surprise me was his dropping to his knees, grabbing my waist, and begging me to let him finish.  I suppressed a giggle at both the comedy of the scene and the giddiness of this power.  I left that house feeling almost as good as if I'd had a two-minute orgasm (I'll guarantee my gait was the sexy one in the Belgian study).  I now think every woman who sleeps with men should do this (preferably with a man that is inconsequential in their life); they should walk out in the middle of it and recognize how wrong it is that the sex act is always considered done only when the man has finished.  It will change her attitude about sex forever.