[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="203" caption="Cover of Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3)"][/caption]
I am having one of those mornings. Sleep-deprived, headache, huge and important work deadlines hanging over me, but all I can think about is vampires and werewolves. In other words, I too went to see the midnight showing of "Eclipse" last night with my daughter and a few friends.
This third in the series of films about Stephenie Meyer's runaway best seller Twilight series is sure to be a box office success, especially with women (of various ages) and the primary draw continues to be the rather formulaic romance of the books coupled with some serious objectification of young male bodies- especially Taylor Lautner's.
Eclipse is a complicated book and the movie doesn't shy away from much that is complicated about it. In this iteration of the epic romance that is Edward (Robert Pattison)and Bella (Kristen Stewart), the romance is triangulated and tested by Bella's real feelings for werewolf Jacob (Lautner). In the book and in the movie it is clear that Bella loves both men/monsters. That is a complicated message in the romance genre. The heroine should be like Bella- plain, ordinary, kinda boring- and then lifted out of her world into a more extraordinary experience by the love of her man. But in Eclipse our heroine has a vampire and a werewolf, both of them so extraordinary looking as to continue to bring sighs and screams from the audience and both so completely and totally devoted to her that they never ever notice other women. Ah, the power of fantasy. No wonder romance is the best selling genre of literature.
And yet, there are undertones of male sexual violence throughout the movie and the book that young girls who read them are struck by. This is the book where Jacob forces a kiss on Bella, a scene inspiring tee shirts that say "I want to La Push Jacob off a Cliff." It is this book that divides young girls into Team Edward and Team Jacob. Edward is the opposite of Jacob. Edward would never force a kiss onto Bella. In fact, the upstanding young vampire refuses to have sex with Bella until they are married. In a scene that elicited laughter from one of my friends but no one else in the audience, Edward tells Bella that they cannot have sex until they're married because he is worried about her soul! Say what? Eternal damnation for premarital sex? Is that in the Bible? Perhaps it's part of Meyer's Mormon beliefs? Who knows, but it is yet another sort of sexual danger lurking in the books and the movies. Have sex and your lover may rip you apart because he is so strong. Have sex and you may be damned eternally.
To add to the sexual danger that young girls read about in the books and see in the movie is the rape scene that begins Rosalie's (Nikki Reed) life as a vampire. The young and naive and fully human Rosalie falls for a man who organizes a gang rape of her. Rosalie is left for dead on the street. It is then and only then that her vampire father, Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli) saves her and yet, in her mind, damns her to an eternity as a monster.
With all these messages about sex as dangerous and men as violent beasts, you would think that Eclipse could not possibly be a sexy movie. But it is. The bodies of the werewolf pack are lovingly filmed, their bare, brown, and hairless chests often glistening with sweat. Bella and Edward kiss slowly and often seem to be on the verge of shoving their hands down each other's pants. And yet, the movie remains as virginal as Bella. It is through violence that the climax happens, a series of scenes of vampires fighting with an occasional werewolf thrown in. In the denouement- where the vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) comes after Bella after years of hunting her down- you can hear the audience sigh in relief. As Victoria and Edward battle to the death, there is a release of the movie's sexual tension into blood and gore.
And what could be more romantic and more American than a movie that combines bloodlust with a ridiculously uptight message about sexual lust? Violence is unavoidable. It happens. Men are violent beasts. Vampires and werewolves are violent beasts. But sex and passion can be avoided, at least until marriage. And by the way, if you do have sex, it just might kill you and damn you for eternity.
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I can't help but believe there is a message in the following news stories: Larry King is getting his 8th divorce, wealthy Americans are hiring the wombs of poor women to carry their children, and President Obama announced that same-sex partners have the right to hospital visitation.
I am not sure what the message is, but let's consider the possible implications of what counts as "important" and what counts as "not important" in modern love. I often think the best way to figure out what's going on is to reverse the situation- make male female, black white, rich poor and straight gay. In other words, to figure out Modern Love we should know what it means to Love Modern.
Let's start with Larry King. 8 marriages, all of them "real" and about "love." All of them with the full civil rights and responsibilities thereof. All of them involving divorce lawyers. When I look at the images of Mr. King and his soon-to-be-former wife, Shawn Southwick King, and their two children, I cannot help but ask the following question: What if Joan Rivers married someone nearly three decades her junior and then had children with him? It's certainly possible for Rivers to have children still through the marriage of modern love and modern technology.
Given that Shawn was 50 when they married in 1997 and King was 76, they too could have rented a poor woman's womb in order to have children. According to a recent article in Mother Jones,
INDIA LEGALIZED surrogacy in 2002 as part of a long-term push to promote medical tourism. Since 1991, when the country's new free-market policies took effect, private money has flowed in, fueling construction of world-class hospitals that cater to foreigners. Surrogacy tourism has grown steadily here as word gets around that babies can be incubated at a low price and without government red tape. Patel's clinic charges about $15,000 to $20,000 for the entire process, from in vitro fertilization to delivery, whereas in the handful of American states that allow paid surrogacy, bringing a child to term costs between $50,000 and $100,000. "One of the nicest things about [India] is that the women don't drink or smoke," adds Jordan, the Delhi surrogacy customer...
Dependable numbers are hard to come by, but at minimum Indian surrogacy services now attract hundreds of Western clients each year... There are at least 350 other fertility clinics around India, although it's difficult to say how many offer surrogacy services since the government doesn't track the industry. Mumbai's Hiranandani Hospital, which boasts a sizable surrogacy program, trains outside fertility doctors to identify and recruit promising candidates. The Confederation of Indian Industry predicts that medical tourism, including surrogacy, could generate $2.3 billion in annual revenue by 2012. "Surrogacy is the new adoption," says Delhi fertility doctor Anoop Gupta.
Similar surrogacy tourism is happening around the world, in the Czech republic and even in rural, white areas in the US like the one where I work, poor women carry the children of the urban upper classes in exchange for $8-10,000.
Again, what if the situation were reversed? What if science showed what many of us suspect to be true: the upper classes, like purebred dogs, are more prone to neuroses and even, perhaps, psychoses as well as a host of rich peoples' diseases like gluten intolerance? What if rich women were forced to be the surrogates for poor women so the poor women could continue to work and then the poor women would raise the child in the seemingly healthier environment of knowing that life is not about "happiness" and the project of eternal youth?
So now we have heterosexual couples with money renting the wombs of poor women so they can have the full rights and benefits of being married and, perhaps more importantly, reproductive.
But if modern love says reproductive and married is good, it does not think that reproductive and married is good if it's same sex. That's why, up until now, same sex couples- even when reproductive and married- have often been denied the right to be with their partners in the hospital.
Listing the usual litany of heart-breaking stories of partners denied access as their loved ones die, the Obama administration is now demanding that any hospital receiving Medicaid/Medicare funding MUST not discriminate against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Again, if the situation were reversed and straight couples were denied visitation rights, most people would see that things need to change. But there is something else to this story too: what about people who aren't in couples but have intimate and even sexual relationships with people who are not their spouses? They too will be allowed to choose who visits them in the hospital by choosing a "circle of intimates." And that's a good thing. Couples who are same-sex have been discriminated against, but they don't deserve the right to be near sick loved ones by virtue of their coupling anymore than the Kings deserve their rights and privileges by virtue of being wealthy, white and straight. Humans ought to be allowed to decide who they want in the room when they die- regardless of marital status, reproductive practices, or any other measure of prestige. It is a human right.
And ultimately, modern love has lost sight of that which is human in all of us. So caught up in fitting the state-enforced requirement of "reproductive long term couple," we have lost our ability to ask whether it's okay to rent someone else's womb or even reproduce in our last decades of life or how to treat a dying person in a hospital.
That's because modern love is not so much about love as about being "good citizens." And it's time that we modern citizens demand an end to state and economic interference in our love lives- whether in the form of privileges like the Kings, businesses like surrogacy, or punishments like hospitals denying non-coupled and non-heterosexuals their rights.
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Ah, the celebrity fetish. Clearly on display last night as millions and millions of people across the globe tuned in to watch what can only be described as one of the most boring television events of the year: the Oscars. We sit in front of our temples (TVs) to see our gods and goddesses on display in ritualistic costumes invoking the sacred prayers of "Thank you to all of you. I love you. Each and every one of you" and, of course, see the divine costumes that elevate them to Divine status or send them crashing into the bowels of fashion hell.
Of course, we study our celebrities not just online, but in the celebrity magazines as well. These weekly catechisms of who wore what and who is with whom and who is not instruct us in all we need to know about our gods and goddesses in Hollywood. But celebrity rags offer other lessons as well. This week we learned about a the pervasiveness of a disease that I will call Gender Anxiety Disorder. GAD is not yet an official psychiatric disorder, but it should be. Gender Anxiety Disorder is the obsessive concern with policing the boundary between "male" and "female" even in young children.
This week a forceful display of Gender Anxiety Disorder appeared in Life and Style magazine. The cover features two images of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's daughter, Shiloh. On the left, an image of her with shoulder length hair, on the right one with much shorter hair. The title, in screaming yellow letters, asks
Why is Angelina turning Shiloh into a boy?"
The celeb rag goes on to say that:
Shiloh, sporting boys' clothes and a new haircut so shockingly short it immediately ignited a firestorm of controversy. "Shiloh is pushing the boundaries of a tomboy look and crossing over to cross-dresser territory," Alana Kelen, senior fashion stylist at VH1, tells Life & Style. Celebrity stylist Gili Rashal-Niv agrees. "I get that times are tough but does Angie really need to have Shiloh sharing clothes with her brothers? Hopefully we won't be seeing Maddox in one of Shiloh's dresses any time soon."
Not wanting to rely on stylists alone to diagnose young Shiloh as having a "problem" with gender, the magazine turned to "parenting experts."
Some parenting experts think that indulging Shiloh's masculine behavior is a mistake. "Little girls have never been women before," Glenn Stanton, director of Family Formation Studies at the conservative organization Focus on the Family, tells Life & Style. "They need help, they need guidance of what that looks like. It's important to teach our children that gender distinction is very healthy."
To be human is to be gendered — male or female. And one of the most important jobs of a parent is to help their children develop as healthy boys or girls and into strong, confident men and women.
We also learn that "tomboys" are not nearly as scary as "sissy boys" since masculinity requires a lot more work to establish.
There are important differences here. Tomboy behavior in girls is more prevalent and often more short-lived than distinct feminine behavior in boys. It is more important for parents to lovingly, calmly but confidently steer fem-boys into more masculine directions... All boys need to beintentionally welcomed into the world of men, and both mother and father play a key role here.
As much as I'd like such Gender Anxiety Disorder to be limited to celebrity rags and right-wing, Christian organizations, the truth is it is deeply rooted in the far more pervasive cultural paradigm of psychology. According to the current DSM IV (the "bible" of all psychiatric diagnoses), children suffering from "gender identity disorder" show a persistent desire to engage in the "opposite" gender's activities. Boys like to cook or play dress up; girls prefer contact sports. Although the diagnosis is considered outdated by many in the psychiatric professions, with many accepting gender diversity as the best path to good mental health, being a tomboy (or a sissy boy) is still evidence of a psychiatric disorder. Worse, it is not at all clear that "Gender Identity Disorder" will be removed from the next DSM, due in 2012.
It does seem rather perverse that we do not have a psychiatric diagnosis for the people at Focus on the Family or Life and Style magazine as mentally unstable for their Gender Anxiety Disorder. Instead, grading Shiloh's gender performance as 'failing to be feminine" is considered "healthy" and even "Christian" while short hair and a collared shirt on a body born female are considered a "crisis." That's sick.
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I read the news today. And oh boy was it gay. Too gay, not gay enough, dangerously gay.
What is going on with the cultural consciousness of America that it is so obsessed with all things gay?
It started out with Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir. Apparently two Canadian journalists called him "too gay for figure skating." Hello? Figure skating? Gay? Going on the Joy Behar show, Weir said that he supported "free speech" but asked why commentators never talked about anyone being "too butch" for a sport. He also pointed out that there are a lot of kids like him and he worried about the effect such comments would have on them.
Over at Fox News, there's a nice little controversy over whether reality TV starlet Kim Zolciak is "really" a lesbian or whether her relationship with another woman is a "publicity stunt."
She may be known for her scandalous relationship with a married man, but word has emerged that "Real Housewives of Atlanta" star Kim Zolciak is now batting for the same team.Over the weekend, the 31-year-old divorced mother of two stepped out with DJ Tracy Young, her apparent lesbian lover of three months and the lady behind the remix of her dance single “Tardy for the Party” at “The Blacks’ Annual Gala” in Miami.
Then of course there's the ongoing gays in the military controversy. According to an AP story from earlier today, some Republicans have already dismissed the military's planned 9-month study of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as "biased" in favor of repealing the policy.
'Many of us on this committee have serious concerns with putting our men and women in uniform through such a divisive debate while they are fighting two wars,' said Rep. Buck McKeon of California, the full committee's top Republican.
McKeon is also unhappy with the selection of the RAND Corp. think tank to do much of the legwork for the study... McKeon told Pentagon officials working on the review that the company had "significant shortcomings" in past work analyzing the issue and partnered with a group advocating repeal last year.
Although all of these stories are fascinating in their own right-- especially the one involving reality TV starlets-- I think the more interesting trend is the need to mark off spaces and bodies and even sports and soldiers as either "gay" or "straight."
This need is the result of 150 years of the history of sexuality, but because part of the history of sexuality is to insist that sex is "natural" and does not have a history, we don't usually think too much about it.
Our current beliefs that there are gay people and there are straight people and that therefore spaces and bodies are easily separated into one or the other began with the Victorians (as most of our culture did). Victorian sexologists invented the homosexual (and the heterosexual) as stable entities, persons rather than practices, nouns instead of verbs.
As a society, America has been policing the "sexuality line" as carefully as it polices the "color line" ever since. Indeed, the color line and the sexuality line have always been related projects with the protection of straight white women and men from Black men but also homosexual contagion at the center of much legal and medical intervention. And, like the color line, the sexuality line is equally unclear, with people passing back and forth and making the inhabitants of either side anxious about identity confusion and monstrous mixtures.
But this has been going on for 150 years. Why is today's news so anxious about policing the sexuality line? What exactly is going on in our culture that the news is so gay?
Perhaps it is the result of economic collapse and military quagmires? Perhaps the same forces that push Tea Party members to rage against big government push journalists to express anxiety about collapsing sexual borders? If Olympic athletes can be both amazingly strong and disciplined and gay men, then how do we mark gay men as "weak" and straight men as "strong"? If soldiers are allowed to have desires for humans rather than for the "opposite" sex, then how can masculinity and femininity be upheld? After all, when the homosexual was invented, s/he was invented as a gender invert- a feminine man or masculine woman. What if a soldier can be a masculine man in love with another masculine man? The entire sex/gender system, what queer theorist Judith Butler calls "the heterosexual matrix," collapses. And what if hot starlets have hot female lovers? How can they be "sexy" and "feminine" and also lesbian if lesbians are imagined as masculine to keep straight women girlie?
Suddenly all the privileges of being straight and white and properly gendered are up for grabs. White, middle class status is no longer a guarantee of a good future in bed or in business. What can we do? Go join a white racist movement like the Tea Party and rage against Obama and social security. Or write and read stories that reaffirm our sexual status as stable and unassailable.
We tell ourselves that we are either straight or gay, male or female, masculine or feminine. The lives of ice skaters, starlets and soldiers reassure us that heterosexuality, the last "truth" of modernity and barely contested site of social privilege, will be left standing.
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Okay, not to make all you Twilight fans insanely jealous, but I spent my Valentine's Day in Volterra, Italy, the home of the Volturi vampire nobility in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga. Go ahead- envy me and my Valentine's Day. How can you help yourselves?
After all, it was here in this ancient town, where Etruscans lived 2500 years ago, where the Romans came, and the Black Death raged, that something really important happened: Bella saved Edward from suicide. Edward was going to expose himself as a vampire and thereby force the Volteri to kill him because he thought Bella was dead. This may sound familiar since Meyer structured the New Moon book around the archetype of teen romance: Romeo and Juliet.
According to the tourism office here in Volterra, my family and I are hardly the only Twilight tourists. In fact, they attribute one out of four visitors to this city as Twilighters. The Twilighters come from all over the world: the US, Canada, the UK, France, Italy, Japan, China, Jamaica, Venezuela, Brazil, and, of course, Italy itself. Although they come to see the place where Edward and Bella will always live, the tourism office hopes that the Twilighters will also appreciate this ancient city on a hill, filled with a beautiful mix of Etruscan, Roman and Medieval architecture.
Yet even if the Twilighters bother to stop by the Roman baths or the Etruscan gate, the story of Edward and Bella is so compelling, so completely thrilling and emotionally satisfying, that it is what draws "everyone" to this place. Actually, when pushed a bit further on this, the tourism office told me that Twilight speaks primarily to couples and families and they are always heterosexual (although some gay men might visit occasionally to see the city, they do not show up for the special Twilight-themed tours).
That was certainly true tonight as an extremely lively guide took us through the streets of Volterra at sunset. We were a shy crowd, she said, difficult to warm up. There was myself, my 11-year-old daughter, and four Italian couples from other towns. The couples themselves looked similar: they were appropriately gendered, the women had long hair, the men short. They enacted appropriate gendered performances: the men took the photos or videos and insisted they had not read the books while at least a few of the women admitted they had read all the books and been very moved by them. One woman said she had cried like a fountain while reading them. One man said he was there because he loved his wife and she loved Twilight. Ah, that's amore.
There was nothing extraordinary about these couples- looking for some romance on St. Valentine's Day. They worked as mechanics and in the computer software industry. One owned a wine store. Another was studying economics.
And yet, they clearly enjoyed standing on the place where Alice's car, a stolen yellow porsche, was stopped because it was the (fictional) festival of St. Marco, when the vampires were thrown out of the city. The couples joked and pushed at each other as we were led underground to the ancient Roman catacombs to be "fed" to the Volteri. One man took photos of his wife as she was led away by the vampires. She shouted to him to stop taking photos and save her. The man continued his photographing.
It's difficult to know what exactly is going on here in Volterra- or across the world in Forks, WA. I think, watching the couples tonight and speaking to them a bit afterwards, it is that romance as a genre does some pretty important ideological work for couples.
The ordinary heroine, Bella, is made extraordinary by the all-consuming love of an extraordinary vampire. As some of the Twilight graffiti said,
Forget Prince Charming. Edward, come and rescue me!"
It is also, as one young man on the tour said, the
sort of love that we all want"
Maybe many of us do long for the sort of passion Edward and Bella have, but such an all-consuming love, the sort that makes you leave your family and friends behind, to drop all interest in the world outside the couple, would be considered psychotic and even dangerous by most of us. Still, an all-consuming passion is an ideal, something like Heaven, to be held out to us ordinary lovers as something to imagine and desire.
Finally, there are themes of "immortality" that play into an increasingly powerful fear of aging. The same cultures that tell us to Botox at twenty so we never develop a wrinkle are, not surprisingly, the same cultures most likely to be moved by Twilight where Bella stresses about her 19th birthday marking her as "too old."
But I think what is really going on in Volterra is the strange marriage of capitalism and romance. Romance as an ideal type always leaves us longing for something more or something different than what we have. And capitalism is there to offer us a path of consumption to fill that aching, empty place of need and desire that are left when everyday experience cannot match the beauty and passion that is Edward and Bella. Romance tourism, alabaster apples, Edward and Bella tee shirts.
The marriage of capitalism and romance is why love bites in Volterra, Italy and Forks, WA and around the world, especially today.
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Today I am going to an 11-year old's birthday party. His friend told him he couldn't come because he couldn't "afford a present." Another friend, a high school teacher in a pretty posh district, told me that some of her students are skipping Christmas gifts in their families because they can't afford it. As average Americans tighten their belts and start to really think about what they can and canNOT afford, our leaders seem to be on a debt-induced spending spree the likes of which we have never seen. And like Imelda Marcos and her shoe-buying, American leaders seem to be buying Blahnik heels while most people are running around barefoot. Somehow "we can't afford health care" even as "we can afford the wars."
Congress is considering increasing the deficit by $2 TRILLION to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the AP report:
Democrats plan to allow the government's debt to swell by nearly $2 trillion as part of a bill next week to pay for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq... The government's total debt has nearly doubled in the past seven years and is expected to exceed the current ceiling of $12.1 trillion before Jan. 1...
Democratic leaders say they will try to raise the ceiling to nearly $14 trillion as part of a $626 billion bill next week to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other military programs in 2010. The bill doesn't include the additional $30 billion President Obama is expected to seek early next year to pay for his 30,000-troop buildup in Afghanistan.
I can't help wondering whether anyone in the US government is thinking about dollars and cents with these wars? Is there a point at which "we can't afford the wars" becomes as obvious to our leaders as "we can't afford health care for all Americans"?
I hate arguing the merits of the US wars on the basis of dollars and cents. After all, there is nothing moral about these wars. It's mostly civilians who are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. The use of depleted uranium (DU) means that generations of children will be born with life-threatening birth defects. And the effect on the psychological and environmental states of both countries is not something that can easily be put into a spread sheet to determine whether destroying all these lives and future lives is "worth it."
But sometimes it is difficult to believe that even the most cold and heartless among us would not see the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as something that must end immediately because they are such a huge waste of money. Case in point: Camp Bucca. Our tax dollars are being spent to train extremists.
More and more former inmates of Camp Bucca are coming forward to say that Al Qaeda operatives in the prison were allowed to recruit detainees and even use classroom facilities to explain how to make explosives. Although Camp Bucca is being shut down, it's difficult to believe this couldn't happen throughout the US prison system. Why? Because the US soldiers don't speak Arabic, let alone Neo-Aramaic or Kurdish.
Anyone who has ever been somewhere without speaking the language knows it's really difficult to follow the conversation (but you'd think they would have noticed when prisoners are drawing Molotov cocktails on the blackboard?)
US prison in Iraq a training ground for extremists: report | Raw Story.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not just immoral for the lives they are destroying there, but also for the lives they are destroying here in the US. As average Americans are forced to choose between having health insurance and having food, as something like 3 MILLION Americans are now homeless, as things like birthday and Christmas presents become luxuries many Americans cannot afford, the US government is throwing our tax dollars after a war that is not just immoral, but inefficient.
If Al Qaeda is a threat to the US, training more operatives with our tax dollars is NOT a good use of our money. If Al Qaeda is really a threat to the US, then wouldn't it be better to spend all that money and all those troops on securing our borders and public spaces at home? If Al Qaeda is really a threat to the US, then what about the increasing impoverishment of ordinary Americans while military contractors get rich and Congress takes their contributions and then represents their interests.
Ultimately these wars should be ended for all sorts of reasons: they are immoral as well as inefficient uses of our resources. But until we get rid of the Marcos- type leadership, where spending money on endless war makes more sense than spending money on health care, there will be no Christmas for many of us, but trillions of dollars of more debt for the wars.
Sorry honey, no presents this year. No health care. For more and more of us, not even a home. Our leaders just spent all our money on these fabulous shoes to add to their collection of fabulous shoes, on credit, that your children's children's children will have to pay off.
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I'm not really sure what to think of the New York Times anymore. During the early years of the Bush madness the Times decided to give up on its role as a free press and publish any bullshit the Bushies sent out. Weapons of mass destruction are in Iraq. There are connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
I stopped reading the Times at that point. As did many people with a shred of critical thinking left in their brains. But after a while, the Times apologized for publishing the lies of the Bushies and started to get pretty damn critical of them. Possibly even fulfilling their role as journalists.
Now the Times is showing the same sychophantic devotion to President Obama that they previously showed to George W. Bush. The President as hero, infallible, no need to ask any tough questions about him or his policies because he is large and in charge.
In today's paper, there is an article about Obama's decision to waste $100 BILLION and risk a 100,000 American lives and many more Afghan lives to continue waging a war that cannot be won at a time when the costs include what cannot be done at home, where the economy continues to collapse.
The Times portrays the ten month build-up to Obama's Afghan war as an incredibly well thought out process with lots of facts- thousands of pages of briefing memos and maps. Gee, if they had maps they must have made a good decision, right? Plus hours and hours of discussion between important members of Obama's team and the Pentagon. Gee, discussion between people who represent all points of view, right?
But even within this Soviet-style "Our Great Leader" type drivel are some interesting facts. Like
Mr. Biden asked tough questions about whether there was any intelligence showing that the Taliban posed a threat to American territory.
The report doesn't reveal an answer to Mr. Biden's question, but it does mention that
But Mr. Obama also firmly closed the door on any withdrawal. “I just want to say right now, I want to take off the table that we’re leaving Afghanistan,” he told his advisers.
So in October Obama knew he would escalate the war in Afghanistan. October! From there it was just bean counting- 10,000 or 40,000 or 100,000 troops?
Despite the Times' slavish devotion to creating a cult of the current president (and the last one for many years), deciding between 10,000 and 40,000 is not great leadership. Deciding between total withdrawal or total withdrawal of all military personnel to be replaced by Peace Corps volunteers to build schools and wells or creating more war would be leadership. Not considering all the options left Obama with no choice but to continue Bush's war.
How Obama Came to Plan for ‘Surge’ in Afghanistan - NYTimes.com.
Now the GOP is saying that Obama's Afghanistan strategy is “a reassertion of the Bush doctrine.”
“The [Bush] doctrine is no safe havens [for terrorists intent on harming the United States] and we go after those that provide a harbor [for such terrorists]. That’s the doctrine,” Republican strategist Mary Matalin explained Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
Actually, what the Bush Doctrine is is the idea that the US has the right to go in and bomb the shit out of anyone who we consider a possible threat, even without any direct threat to us. The Bush/Obama Doctrine directly violates the Geneva Convention, decided on after Hitler Germany exerted the same right to preemptive invasion.
Or as an Afghan woman recently told a Code Pink leader:
You want me to believe that the most powerful nation in the world is being held hostage by those skinny, lice covered, illiterate, dirty men in those craggy hills of this broken country?"
No one believes that. Not the Times. Not Obama. But somehow we are subjected to a lengthy story about Obama the Great Leader that reveals Obama the Great Bean Counter who is also Obama the Bushie. If only the Times would change its name to Pravda, we could pretend it is the time of Brezhnev and Khrushchev- where you could vote for the Communist Party or the Communist Party. GOP or Dems. Pravda or the NY Times. Coke or Pepsi. Take your "choice."
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Yes, I took my daughters to the midnight showing of "New Moon" yesterday. Yes we didn't get home till 3. Yes, they're still in bed. And yes, I'm a bad mother. Not because I let them stay out till 3am on a school night, but because I took them to what can only be called "porn for tweens."
Oh, I know it's supposed to be a romance. Stephanie Myers, in her usual way, uses a piece of classical literature to structure her book. In this case, New Moon the book is the tale of Romeo and Juliet (see, the Twilight series is much deeper than you thought- get it, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, real literature?). In case you haven't read the novels, New Moon has absolutely NO action as a book, just two, dopey, star-crossed lovers, near suicides on both sides, oh, and a bunch of vampires and werewolves thrown in to make it interesting. At least to tween and teen girls.
But the movie, thank god, is not as action-less as the book. There are vampire-werewolf battle scenes, fast cars, and pretty damn nice clothes and haircuts. But the real action, of course, is Jacob- the wolfboy's- body- especially his chest and his "eight pack." Taylor Lautner's body has been the subject of discussion among middle-school girls (and I assume high school ones as well) for months. Videos of him and his abs have circulated on Youtube and been the subject of much discussion and ooohhhhing and awwwwing. The real screams in the theater came last night not because of anything spooky, but because Jacob rips his shirt off. Shouts of "OH MY GOD!" "LOOK AT HIM!" "I'M GOING TO FAINT" rang out (and that was just among the middle-aged moms I was sitting with).
In the typical trope of the romance novel, the book New Moon portrays just an ordinary gal, Bella Swan- Kristen Stewart- who is not particularly beautiful (well, she is, but she's not supposed to be), not particularly smart, and ALWAYS in need of protection from her preternaturally strong men- the vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob with his abs.
As per the rules of the Romance Writers of America (yes, there are rules), the heroine never strays from her true love and is always faithful, but something keeps them apart and then, at the end, they come back together forever and ever and ever and ever. The lead romantic male must be strong, but emotionally distant (Edward is so emotionless he always looks slightly constipated in these movies). But his love for the heroine cracks his emotional distance and brings him to her (and only her).
But the trope of the movie is not just romance, but porn. Actually, to be fair, it's not mainstream, hardcore porn, but the newer genre known as "porn for women." Everyone is madly in love (Jacob with Bella, Edward with Bella, Bella with Edward). And the attention is on the male body. Just as in "porn for women" (and gay male porn) there are loving shots of abs and lats and even a few moments of buttock gazing. It is significant that only Edward and Jacob take their shirts off (OH MY GOD! THEY'RE SO HOT!) whereas Bella tends to wear jeans and flannel shirts. It is significant that the sexual tension that exists is because everyone wants the woman (including some human boys, but what chance do they have among such monstrous beauties?).
In the end, middle-school girls are learning to feast on the bodies of men. I actually think this is a more powerful lesson for them than the sappy and ridiculous romance where two teenagers almost kill themselves over their love. Good gods. What kind of lesson is that for them? If your boyfriend moves (to a vampire-infested town in Italy for instance), you should go into what can only be described as clinical depression, lose touch with your friends, your family, and start to hallucinate his presence whenever you do something stupid like jump off a cliff. This is NOT a lesson I want my girls to learn.
But the movie is about the female gaze and the pleasures of the male flesh. Hell, the movie is porn for women and girls and gay boys. A visual feast of hot young men for screaming girls and women. And even if I have my doubts that porn is more liberating than romance, at least it doesn't make me want to scream "NO! DO NOT GIVE UP YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY AND SCHOOL FOR A BOY!" the way the Twilight series does. Instead, along with my girls, I can scream "OH MY GOD. LOOK AT HIS ABS!"
Critic Review for The Twilight Saga: New Moon on washingtonpost.com.
"The legislative battle over health care reform is not over," Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, wrote in a letter to members ahead of the Veterans Day break. Pence urged them to keep reaching out to constituents and host town hall meetings to highlight ways Republicans say the bill will hurt seniors, women and small businesses.
"We must continue to oppose the Pelosi health care bill and stand by the American people in support of Republican-offered solutions that meet the needs of families by lowering health care costs," he said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who shepherded the bill to passage.
Because the extreme right is thinking of it as the Pelosi health care bill and because they honestly believe the Health Care Bill will somehow hurt Medicaid (huh?) and make their medical care more expensive and worse (huh?), their response is understandable.
The sort of people who go to TEA Parties are misinformed by extreme right websites and Fox "News." Recent scientific research shows that even when presented with compelling evidence to the contrary, most people will continue to cling to their world view. Their response, therefore, is understandable if extreme and violent.
What is most certainly not understandable is the willingness of GOP leaders, including John McCain, to exploit this sort of white fury for their own political ends. McCain should be engaged in Congressional debate, not fanning the flames of misinformed fanatics with his own health care town hall where he is encouraging "protest."
The fact that the GOP continuously misuses its base of misinformed, rural white folks is not surprising. They have been doing this since at least Ronald Reagan, but especially since the mis-election of Dubbya in 2000. Perhaps the only way to get them to stop is to burn them in effigy? Of course, GOP leaders like populist manipulator McCain would find being burned in effigy at a town meeting "offensive" and "unAmerican."
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"][/caption]
Okay, I admit it, I have seen an episode or two of "Gossip Girl." Not only was the story line absurd and yet also uninteresting, but I found the excessive display of wealth among a fictional group of Upper East Side characters shockingly immoral. As if such wealth need not be accounted for and is in anyway "normal."
Fortunately for all of us, but especially for the fans of "Gossip Girl," I don't really care about imposing my ethics on other peoples' viewing.
But the Parents Television Council Campaign does. The high-school soap opera is making the folks at PTC angry because there are scenes of a threesome (no word on which characters will be menaging a trois) in advertising for the upcoming season.
Parents Television Council is asking that the episode not be aired since it considers a depiction of a threesome "reckless and irresponsible."
"Will you now be complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films?"
"Gossip Girl" Threesome Prompts Parents Television Council Campaign Against Show.
What exactly makes a threesome more morally suspect than teenagers who drive cars that cost more than my annual salary? What exactly makes a threesome more morally suspect than depicting the lives of people who seemingly have more money than God, but never even seem to feel the slightest need to GIVE IT TO THE POOR?
A threesome is suspect because of the hierarchy of sex that exists in our culture. At the tippy top is what can only be called "sacred sex"- married, private, between one man and one woman of the same age, race, and income level (preferably not too old or young, white, and upper-middle class). This sort of sex, let's say the sort of sex George and Laura Bush might have, is never for money, does NOT involve the exchange of pain or use of toys, and is always out of our sight.
Since everyone wants to get inside the sacred circle of sex, to have "good sex," we fight over it.
Can two Black (but same age, same income, etc.) have sacred sex too? Like Obama and Michelle? And what about two people of the same sex, if they're married, white, upper-middle class, and confine it to the bedroom?
Then there are the rest of us, the people who use sex toys, take or give money and/or pain, wear costumes, do it in public, have it with people who are much older or younger, or GASP! have it with more than one person at a time. We can fight at the borders- my bad behavior is better than your bad behavior- kink is better than commercial, for example- but the truth is our sex is doomed to being reprehensible.
And of course the biggest danger is that the "youth" of America, who are apparently the audience for "Gossip Girl," might get the idea that our bad, bad sex is actually okay. And how the heck are you going to keep the youth of America confined to sacred sex, to only having sex in marriage, in the bedroom, with no kink, once they start to believe that other forms of sex are okay too? You won't. Then the whole hierarchy collapses, sexual anarchy reigns, and the only way to judge sex acts is by the amount of pleasure taken by all the participants.