not cool, alma mater: a bit of a rant

My alma mater, Hope College, has been making minor waves in the news recently due to the administration's unwillingness to approve an invitation by students to screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (who won an Oscar last year for Milk) to join in a roundtable discussion on human sexuality. Since Hope is a college with strong ties to the Reformed Church in America (RCA), and the denomination -- like most Christian denominations -- is currently split over the issue of homosexuality, this not really a surprise to anyone who knows the campus: the invitation was bound to be controversial.

Since the late 1990s (as I was starting to take classes on campus as a teenager), sexuality and gender in the context of Christianity have been a flash point at Hope, much like they are in the wider culture. During the 1998-1999 academic year, when I was taking first-year courses in English and Religion, the campus was rocked by explosive debates over feminism, sexuality, and the place of Christianity in higher education. My own adult political awareness -- the decision to identify myself politically as a feminist, and my engagement with the politics of human sexuality -- has its roots in that formative adolescent experience. Thankfully, as a seventeen-year-old, I saw faculty, staff (including my own father) and students speak out forcefully against bigotry at the same time that I was witnessing the intolerance that characterizes certain conservative Christian worldviews.

The exhilaration and pain I experienced that school year of 1998-99 profoundly shaped my relationship with Hope: from that point forward, I knew that however supportive and intellectually challenging my professors were (you were awesome, folks!), Hope College as an institution was not interested in championing an open and affirming vision of Christianity or of a broader human community. Because of that, the school has never truly earned my trust or my allegiance. In conversations I've had this week with my sister (a current student) and some of her friends, I can see a similar trajectory in the growth of a whole new generation of students.

I know first-hand how painful and personal the politics of these denominational and institutional conflicts can be, and I recognize the powerful sway of conservative donors and the strength of religious convictions -- even when I believe those convictions to be theologically misguided and inhumane. It's complicated, and I'm usually the first to admit that. But damn, Hope. You guys gotta learn. And you really need to quit hiding behind the waffling of the church and the fear of losing donors. 'Cause you're sure as hell losing future donors now. Not to mention doing a patently crap job of modeling civil discourse and educated, educative discussion.

How old are we -- two? Is it impossible to imagine students having thoughtful conversations about issues they have deep personal convictions or questions about? If they can't have those conversations on a fucking college campus where can they have them, exactly? Can we please exhibit some mature behavior here and demonstrate that thoughtful people can disagree without chewing each others' arms off? And can we please, please pause for a moment to consider what sort of message non-conversation is sending? Possibly (shock! horror!) recognize that certain members of the Hope College community, past and present, have felt "hurt and marginalized" by the institutional reluctance to have open conversation? Not talking does not make the scary bad feelings go away. It just puts them (all too often) on the shoulders of people with less political and financial clout. Which is not an unexpected tactic, but still deserves to be called out and identified as the sort of immature abuse of institutional power it is.

I've been thinking a lot this week about the folks I know who continue to work and learn in that sort of environment, and I'm sending good vibes their way. I learned ten years ago that I, personally, have limited energy for front-line action in these sorts of political and educational battles. But I deeply respect the people -- including many friends and family -- who have the guts to keep on speaking up day after day after day in less-than-perfect situations, doing their best to make the next day a little bit better. So thank you all for being there for me, when I was a student, and to all of you -- faculty, staff, and students alike -- who are continuing to make Hope a place where marginalized folks who are there can, despite the odds, find emotional and intellectual support, and forge a worthwhile learning experience for themselves.

To the folks who didn't, and aren't, I realize this probably means little to you, but you are on my shit list and I will see to it in my own behind-the-scenes way that you have as little power to fuck with peoples' well-being as possible. End of story.

from the neighborhood: hogwarts hallway

My friend and colleague Jeremy refers to this portrait hallway on the third floor of the Massachusetts Historical Society as the "Hogwarts Hallway." It definitely feels like the portraits are watching you as you make your way through it. I get the feeling that at night, after the building is shut down, the probably take a wander around the other floors to socialize.


from the neighborhood: mhs spiral stair

This is the first in a series of snapshots I took at the MHS recently, when I happened to have my camera in my bag when I went in to work. (Some of them are a bit blurry or dim, due to not using a flash). This is a shot from the third floor looking down the spiral stair to the reception desk in our first floor lobby.


in which i am amused by the skymall catalog

. . . and choose to share that amusement with all of you.

This morning, I spent several hours on Midwest Airlines aircraft on my journey from Boston to Michigan, during which time I flipped through the complimentary SkyMall catalog provided in my seat pocket -- it's like Sears Roebuck for the 12st century! The sheer randomness and bizarreness of the SkyMall catalog never fails to delight. Here are a few of my favorite from this particular edition.

This young man clearly paused halfway through the conversion to cyberman for a senior-year style photoshoot.

While this item is being sold as a back massager, it is clearly a highly complex sex toy designed for a wild night of orgiastic delight.

This isn't exactly hilarious, but since I'm taking a class right now on collective memory, and we've talked some about how both Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy have figured in national collective memory over time, I found it interesting that these four images have been selected and placed side by side.

For all of you (I know you are out there!) who worry about unslightly white feet during the summer -- worry no more! Thanks to SkyMall, you can order your very own foot-sized tanning bed to make sure your feet are sandle-ready all summer long. (Doesn't it look like the person's feet are being melted off in the bottom picture? or is it just me?)

And finally, the creme-de-la-creme . . .

There's really so much wrong with this particular product that I can't even begin to do it justice here . . . but let me just point out that I love how the perceived options here are a) a fake, removable ass or b) a fake, surgically-created ass. Not just, you know, your bum au naturale.

Cheerio kiddos; I'll be checkin' in as time permits! Now it's off to cuddle on my parents' couch with cocoa, cat, and my weekly reading for Collective Memory before the early morning catches up with me.

links list: off to michigan edition

As this posts, I'll be in the air somewhere between Boston and Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I'm going for an all-too-brief rendezvous with my parents, youngest sib, a few close friends . . . and of course Toby the cat (see above). Meanwhile, here are a few of the week's internet finds to keep your brains active!

On a personal note, I've been cajoled into participating in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo; please repeat seven times fast) in which writers around the globe feverishly churn out prose and log words written with the organization, which tracks the mountain of creative effort expended (no actual skills needed, thankfully, other than the ability to produce a great volume of words -- something I have always been fairly adept at). Writing starts November 1st with a goal of 50,000 words (1,666 per day) by the 30th.

Coolest news item of the week: San Francisco now requires composting as well as recycling. While I'm not holding my breath, I'd love to see Boston follow suit!

Least-cool news of the week award is split between the judge in Louisiana who denied a mixed-race couple a marriage license ("I'm not a racist, I just play one on the bench"??) and Jan Moir, the UK columnist, who wrote a truly nasty, homophobic column for the Daily Telegraph and (cool news again) was called out by Stephen Fry, and a record 22,000 others.

Also worth reading was Charlie Brooker's op-ed in response:

It has been 20 minutes since I've read her now-notorious column, and I'm still struggling to absorb the sheer scope of its hateful idiocy. It's like gazing through a horrid little window into an awesome universe of pure blockheaded spite. Spiralling galaxies of ignorance roll majestically against a backdrop of what looks like dark prejudice, dotted hither and thither with winking stars of snide innuendo.

While we're on the subject of right-wing wackaloonery, commentator Debbie Schlussel recently got all bent out of shape about (of all things) Disney's re-design of Tinker Bell's costume, which she claims "masculinizes" the otherwise appropriately-feminine "nymph." This gave Jeff over at Alas, a blog, a wonderful opportunity to snark.

Maybe Ms. Schlussel would be happier if everyone lived according to the rules of this 1962 marriage manual, helpfully scanned and annotated by Gwen of Sociological Images.

I am probably not a nice person for finding fundamentalist Christians funny as well as scary -- chalk it up to necessary self-protection growing up in a conservative area where my childhood friends were convinced I'd end up in hell because I wasn't baptized. So on that note -- and in celebration of Halloween -- a church-sponsored book burning (story via Hanna) that will include translations of the bible (wrong translations obviously) and the face of Jesus which has been spotted on a toilet-stall door at an IKEA in Glasgow (via Melissa at Shakesville).

Hanna's new group blog, paper not included, is still in the planning stages, but until the official launch of the project, let me share a review she wrote recently of David Wellington's vampire thriller 99 Coffins, the sequel to 13 Bullets (I guess we're going for a number theme). I can't comment yet as I'm not finished with 99, but I thought the first one was great and am still rooting for the protagonist halfway through the second.

And before I sign off, two great library- and archives-themed jokes: the definition of "oldgasm" and a great shelf tag from Hanover, New Hampshire (if you don't get it right away, read the text out loud).


from the neighborhood: yellow pot

Hanna and I admire this pot every time we walk passed it on our way to the Clear Flour bakery.


from the neighborhood: graffiti wall

After this, I promise pictures of things other than graffiti for a while. But I just had to share this awesome wall of graffiti art outside the auto garage down the street from our apartment. It's an ever-changing work of art, but the colors of this incarnation make me especially happy.


Quick Hit: "Sexual Warfare: Rape and the American Civil War"

Research fellow Crystal Feimster gave a brown bag lunch talk at the Massachusetts Historical Society on October 9 about sexual violence in the American Civil War; I did a write-up of the conversation at The Beehive so if you're interested, hop on over to check it out.


from the neighborhood: holy shit!

The thing I like best about the graffiti on this fire hydrant is the little circle above "holy" that looks like a halo. It makes the overall effect one of a person trying to swear and be cute at the same time.


saturday links list: off to vermont edition

Hanna and I are off to Burlington, Vermont this weekend to attend the fall meeting of the New England Historical Association (as well as wander around Hanna's former home turf and make the rounds to an ever-icreasing list of lovely-sounding shops). Here are a few links from this week to keep y'all busy while I'm gone.

Historian and author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was the first woman to be awarded the Massachusetts Historical Society's highest honor this week at our annual dinner. Sadly, I wasn't able to attend the reception because the topic of her talk, "A Mormon Apostle in Boston: Sightseeing, Riot, and Martyrdom," sounds promising!

On 23 October, the Library of Congress is opening a Young Readers Center. The Library of Congress doesn't appear to have any web pages related to the Center up yet (I really want to see what the space looks like!) but I'll keep you posted after the opening.

Recently, author Bethany Moreton spoke with Amanda Marcotte on the RHReality Check podcast about the rise of "Christian free enterprise"; Moreton's book To Serve God and Wal-Mart has been on my "to read" list for a while, and she had some really insightful things to say about how service workers -- from tenured professors to hourly workers at Wal-Mart -- understand the value of their labor. Even if you don't want to read the book, her interview is really worth a listen. (It's about halfway through the twenty-minute podcast).

I was kind of overwhelmed by the avalanche of blog posts surrounding the arrest of Roman Polanski, but this Salon piece by Kate Harding of Shapely Prose titled Polanski, "Hounddog" and 13-year-old voices was my runaway favorite because of the way it foregrounded the voices of girls and young women who experience sexual violence every day -- and our collective failure to recognize and deal with girlhood sexuality is.

The University of Florida has a disaster prepardness plan that covers a zombie outbreak. The blog post links to a PDF that I swear is worth clicking into. It includes an "Infected Co-worker Dispatch Form" to fill out when you are forced to kill a fellow employee in order to survive. Because of course there would be forms to fill out. And then I'm sure the records manager would file them appropriately to cover the University's ass!

You may have heard that a group of folks at Conservapedia (the right-wing answer to Wikipedia) have taken it upon themselves to re-translate the Bible and expunge all the insidious liberal, socialist passages, such as "let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Read the slightly bemused commentary here, here and here.

While we're on the subject of conservative whackaloon Christianity, Antonin Scalia tried -- in recent Supreme Court oral arguments -- to claim that the cross was not a Christian-specific religious symbol, but rather a universal way of mourning the dead. Neither I nor the lawyer he was debating know what planet he spends his time on.

BHAstronomer over at Shakesville provides a laugh-out-loud, line-by-line smackdown of a movie review of Whip It in which the reviewer argued that the movie was a "lesbian fantasy disguised."

In the "random awesome idea" category, a photographer in San Francisco is offering to pay people $2 in exchange for letting him take their photograph.

And finally, my brother captures this awesome video of swifts out in Portland, Oregon circling an abandoned chimney before settling in for the night.


On the Syllabus: 'Birth of a Nation'

Last weekend, while I was in bed with a bad cold, I spent three and a half hours watching the 1915 silent film Birth of a Nation for my seminar on collective memory. So rather than something related to my thesis, this installment of "on the syllabus" brings you some thoughts on this landmark feature film and its infamous interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.

First up, here's the original 1915 trailer.

The fabulous Internet Archive has the entire feature available for streaming and download as part of its Feature Films collection (free of charge since the film is now in the public domain). For a short biography of D.W. Griffith, the director, see PBS's American Masters profile.

There is a LOT going on in this movie, and I don't have time to muse about all of it here in this one post. At the same time, it's the amount of stuff going on in the film that I was most struck by on my first viewing, so I'm going to try and talk a little bit about that without talking a LOT about that fact (if that makes any sense outside of my own head).

The story follows two families, one Northern and one Southern, both white. The first act begins just prior to the outbreak of the war and ends with the assassination of Linooln, which is depicted as a great tragedy for Southern postwar recovery. The second act tells a story of postwar "degredation and ruin" of a people (white Southerners) at the hands of black and mixed-race activists who bring black voters to the polls and disenfranchise white voters. In response to this "anarchy of black rule," a group of white men form the Ku Klux Klan in order to "save the south" and protect their "Aryan birthright."

What was interesting to me, considering the film as a whole, was how tightly the depictions of race, gender, economic status, and regional identity were woven together in order to tell a story of Southern loss and redemption. While to our twenty-first century eyes the depictions of African-Americans are appalling, I think it's important not to let the obvious wrongness of the Nation version of history preclude a more nuanced understanding of how race interacts with the other groups Griffith's characters belong to. For example, slaves are clearly depicted as black, and freed slaves as by and large dangerous and disorderly -- yet Southern blacks chastise Northern blacks and 'mulattos' for putting on "northern airs." The regional differences in some cases trumping (or complicating) racial identities.

The sexual pairings of the story are similarly complicated by race and regional difference. White (obviously hetero) marriage is used throughout the story to symbolize white solidarity across regional lines, juxtaposed with the horror of miscegenation (strictly black men threatening white women with marriage proposals). In both cases, heterosexual marriage is seen as the bulwark of nationhood: the villain of the piece, a 'mulatto' named Silas Lynch, "drunk with wine and power" attempts to set up a black kingdom with himself as queen and a young white woman as his queen; the Ku Klux Klansmen eventually marry eachothers' sisters and (literally) head off into the sunset for a seaside honeymoon in a united (white) American nation.

(On a somewhat related note: The two youngest sons of the families (north and south) die in each others' arms on the battlefield, in a pose reminescent of two post-coital lovers sleeping. And thus the 1910s version of a thousand slash fic stories were born!)

We're discussing the film in class this afternoon, and I'm definitely interested to see what others got out of it.


blogging climate change

Hanna and Diana alerted me yesterday that today is Blog Action Day 2009, and this year's theme is climate change. So I've had about twenty-four hours to think about what I wanted to say in my contribution (oh help!).

Riding to work on the T (Boston subway) this morning, I decided the theme of this post would be transportation, specifically the need for transportation infrastructure that supports access for all of us to forms of transporation that are efficient, environmentally-friendly, and affordable.

Since I was old enough to understand about global warming and other environental issues, they have always been something I have felt largely terrified and helpless about. I feel helpless because ecological disasters seem so huge, so, well, global and beyond the capacity of individual actions to effect necessary change. In the American economy, at least, it seems like environmentally friendly, "green," options have increasingly moved away from city-wide recycling programs or buying recycled paper products to activities that require a substantial discretionary budget: top-of-the-line hybrid cars (my family has never been able to afford a new vehicle), locally-grown fruits and vegetables (eating a balanced diet on our budget means buying cheap), alternative-energy electricity and heat (we take what our apartment building provides) and carbon offset credits (I'm just grateful I can afford to visit my parents once a year). We desperately need large-scale structural changes at the national and international level that provide all of us -- urban or rural, poor or middle-class -- with green transportation options that support our working and family lives. "Local" is wonderful, unless the folks you care about are spread across the country or across the globe. Walking to work is great if you can afford to live in the neighborhood where your job is located; public mass transit is also a great alternative to driving if you live in an area where the mass transit is reliable, frequent, and fast. Combatting global warming will only be effective if every single human being on the planet is able to live their lives in an environmentally sustainable way, and convincing individual people that environmentally sustainable lives are possible means making sure that "green" options are accessible to all.

I never could bring myself to watch Al Gore's now-iconic An Inconvenient Truth, but a couple of years ago I watched a close cousin, the 2006 documentary Who Killed The Electric Car?. I'm going to close this post with a trailer from the film, which I thought provided a brilliant analysis of the tangled interests and complicated social factors that so often frustrate our attempts at environmentally-friendly innovation. The movie points fingers but stops short of demonizing one single interest group (eg. oil companies, car companies, politicians, the American public). It also manages to tell a story of failure (the electric cars in the film were, indeed, "killed") while still offering the possibility of hope for future change.

Let us all, collectively, live up to our best possible selves as we move forward into an uncertain future.

from the neighborhood: alien graffiti

I noticed this little guy painted on one of the walls near our apartment recently. He/she/it looks adorable which probably means he/she/it is about to rip out my throat.

from the neighborhood: buddy the christmas lobster

Hanna was at lush earlier this week restocking on a few of our regular shampoo and soap products and she brought me home one of the new Christmas season "bath bomb" bubble bath bars, gnome name, which she informs me at the local store they are referring to as "buddy the christmas lobster" which suggests that they are all well-versed in the nativity play performed in love actually.


Quick Hit: UK reports home educated kids "disadvantaged"

I wish I had more time at the moment to look into this report out of the UK that describes home educated children as generally more vulnerable than their schooled counterparts.

Children educated at home are twice as likely to be known by social services and four times more likely as young adults to be out of work, education or training than those who go to school, MPs have been told.

MPs on the cross-party select committee for children, schools and families asked the head of a government inquiry into home education and the schools minister to defend calls for tougher rules on parents who teach their children at home.

In his review published in June, Kent's former education director Graham Badman recommended that all home educators register with their local authority. Councils should be given powers to refuse registration if a child is believed to be at risk, he said.

The article in The Guardian leaves me wondering what sort of measure of well-being were used to determine how home-educated kids were thriving, other than their being "known" by social services -- something that, at least in the history of the United States home education movement can be caused simply by children not being in traditional schools. The idea of young adults being disproportionately out of "work, education, or training" also assumes mainstream markers of adulthood rather than asking deeper questions about how young people are or are not thriving in the world. After all, being "out of . . . education" is one description of unschooled young adults; it does not necessarily mean they are not learning.

If, indeed, children and young adults who are not in mainstream schools are struggling in British society, then it seems like something ought to be done to remedy the situation! However, I am skeptical that government oversight -- especially oversight which sounds like an attempt to bring home educating parents in-line with traditional curriculum and teaching objectives -- is the most productive solution. Maybe the problem is not with the home-educating families and children, but rather with a society at large that views home education suspiciously and fails to provide its young people with non-school environments in which to learn and grow into adult persons who feel capable of contributing to society in ways they feel suited to and derive pleasure from.


weekend miscellany: honk! festival

Hanna's parents were in town Sunday (bringing Lionel to stay) and we T-ed out to Porter Square to check out a yarn shop that Hanna's mom wanted to visit. When we stepped off the T in Porter Square, we walked right into the midst of the Honk! Festival parade. Bostonist has a gallery of photos if you're interested in seeing some of the great costumes. It was a beautiful day and all the participants looked like they were having lots of fun.

Hanna and I are both recovering from very bad colds (maybe the dreaded H1N1?!) that had us at half-mast -- and sometimes much less -- for the better part of two weeks . . . so no more substantial posts for the minute. Watch for a report at the Beehive blog over the next couple of days from a brown-bag talk I attended last week, and next week I should have pictures and notes from our weekend in Burlington, attending the New England Historical Association's fall conference at the University of Vermont. Until then, it's back to the catch-up "to do" list . . .


from the neighborhood: green pots

This is a photograph I took last week of the front stoop of a house that has just been renovated in the neighborhood behind our apartment building.


friday fun: 'simon's cat' video

Hanna via Diana tuned me in to this series of animated videos on YouTube. All of you who have cared for a cat will appreciate them! (Click through the embedded video to the YouTube site for more shorts).


from the neighborhood: end the fed?

This appeared on one of the walls passed which Hanna and I often walk home from work. We've had a lot of conversations about what sort of political statement the artist thought they were making -- and whether they understood the ramifications of either, a) abolishing the federal reserve or b) the federal government.


from the neighborhood: demonic scooter

There's a playground around the corner from our apartment that Hanna and I walk through quite frequently on our daily commute. Therein resides a child's plastic scooter. We never see any of the numerous children who play in the park actually on the scooter, but whenever we pass by it is in a slightly different location, always looking slightly forelorn. Hanna thinks it's mostly likely possessed.


Quick Hit: Shameless Sibling Promotion Sunday

My awesome brother Brian, free-lance artist and middle school art teacher, just had another t-shirt printed by the online company Threadless. It was a collaborative design with a young artist, Piper Kirkby, and has so far been a big hit with folks of all ages.

Check out Brian's blog post for further pictures and information on how to order.


links: i'm 100% of the problem edition

My blog feeder has been overwhelming of late (I walk away for three hours of class and return to find it brimming with 100s of stories!) so this doesn't pretend to be anything other than a highly subjective collection of stuff I've read, remembered to flag for later, and feel moved to pass on.

Hanna's started blogging again at ...fly over me, evil angel... and may soon be blogging for a UK-based project on eBooks (stay tuned for more).

Phyllis Schlafly recently claimed that gay people are responsible for 5% of what's wrong with America, and feminists responsible for 95%. I asked Hanna if this makes means I can claim to be 100% evil? She says yes.

In the UK, a university administrator has (justifiably!) caused a kerfluffle by suggesting that male university lecturers should enjoy lusting after female students (yes, just the women) as one of the 'perks' of their job.

It might just be because I'm in the middle of a project on collective memory and the 19th Amendment, but I find the recurring theme of far right pundits suggesting women shouldn't have the right to vote bizarre and slightly alarming.

Conservative Christians in America apparently think Jesus wouldn't want socialized medicine. Except when it's socialized medicine for them. As my friend Rachel commented, "Nothing makes me more crazy than Christians against HEALTH CARE FOR THE POOR. OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH EVERYONE DID THEY EVER READ THE BIBLE."

And in other disheartening religious news: the Vatican thinks "but other people do it too" is an excuse for sexual abuse (and once again equates abusive sexual behavior with sexual orientation). Way to be totally immature, guys.

While we're on the subject of immaturity, reading Playboy will make boys gay (bad? good?). Or, the threat of becoming gay will make boys stop reading Playboy (good? bad?). Or something. Greta Christina explains.

After all of that, please enjoy . . .

Cute kittens: nolan, raven, and minerva.

Cute Boston: here, here, and here.

One of the best anti-censorship letters from a librarian I've ever read (via Hanna via Stephen Fry on twitter)

Oh, and the Scotsman definitely has this month's great headline: Ben Nevis marred by blight of bananas.

Enjoy your weekend, folks! . . . I tried to take a picture of the possessed scooter that lives in the playground near my apartment this morning, but my camera was out of batteries. I promise to be better-prepared next time. More soon!


Quick Hit: MHS in the Boston Magazine

Boston Magazine has published a short article on some of the bizarre items held at archives around Boston, including several from the Massachusetts Historical Society (such as the ring containing strands of John Quincy Adams' hair, pictured on the right). You can check out all the images and descriptions on their website.