21 December 2007

Words of wisdom: Oscar Wilde

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
— Oscar Wilde from Lady Windermere's Fan

17 October 2007

Here's something from Salon .com that we all ought to be aware of:

Selling (out) girls' self-esteem by Tracy Clark-Flory

Just a couple of weeks ago, we wrote about Dove's latest attempt at selling self-esteem. In the TV spot, an impressionable young girl is bombarded with images of half-naked models, a girl bingeing and purging and women being nipped and tucked. The spot concludes with this warning: "Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does."

It's a powerful plea to parents and important enough that it's possible to overlook the fact that Dove is, of course, part of the beauty industry. But here comes a pesky little detail that is not so easily reconciled: Unilever, the multinational corporation in charge of the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, is also responsible for Axe and its line of "turns nice girls naughty" body sprays and deodorants. Holy hypocrisy!

In other words, the same company publicly decrying the way advertisers corrupt and degrade girls' self-esteem is trumpeting the ability to turn girls into sluts with a spray of Axe. The same company that offers girls lessons on the Dove Web site about how to be media savvy and reject harmful advertising is also in charge of a Web site for Axe's fictional girl band, the "Bom Chicka Wah Wahs" -- which quotes one band member as saying, "I'm a classically trained ballerina but I've discovered that tutus and pirouettes are no match for lingerie and pole dancing."

Unilever's all about boosting young girls' self-esteem, but only until they reach ripe readiness for showering with strangers, pole dancing and jumping men in supermarkets! The good news is that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has started a letter-writing campaign asking that Unilever "ax the Axe campaign," reports the New York Times. The campaign has resulted in more than 1,800 complaints sent to Unilever's chief executive, Patrick Cescau.

The lesson here: Parents, take serious note of the latest Dove TV spot and tell your daughters (and, good God, your sons) that, as with taking candy from strangers, when it comes to trusting advertisers, just don't do it! As for the surely sleepless and mirrorless people at Unilever: How did y'all score on the Campaign for Real Beauty's quiz revealing one's impact on others' self-esteem?

For myself, I'd boycott Unilever, but I don't use their products anyway. For those of you who do want to boycott companies like this I recommend Tom's of Maine and Seventh Generation products instead!

04 October 2007

The Ghosts of Familial Past

A dear friend is heading to his hometown this weekend to face his relatives at a funeral. Knowing what he will be facing in the jungle of his birth family, has made me think about my own birth family today. It's funny how family can have so much power over us, even once we are grown and need them so little. How the ties that bind us are forged in sorrow and guilt more often than in love or joy.

I don't know all the particulars of your birth family or its attendant crazies, but I know how bizarre mine is. I have one randomly employed redneck brother and his twin sister, a multiple times divorcee who lives to shop at Saks; one libertarian entrepreneur brother and his twin sister, a graphic artist with a conservative corporate-type husband; then there's my father who is a bigoted homophobic hard-line Republican, but who now incapacitated and fairly senile; and let's not forget my manically depressed drama-queen mother who thinks she is Peter Pan and doesn't want to grow up. Anyone who met all of us separately would conclude that we could not possibly be related. In fact, I'm still wondering how I got here. How did this family spawn me: a "rabid feminist liberal hippie bitch"? (That is just one of my dad's nicer descriptions for me . . . no kidding.)

When I was growing up my mother kept telling me how lucky we were, what a great family this was, and how happy we were. I think she was really doing all she could to convince herself. The wierd thing is I believed it as a kid. But then as kids we live in fantasy land, we make our own realities. And since most my childhood was spent with my nose in a book (any book, all the books I could find) I was happy. Fairytales were my favorites. You know those stories where the royal coach shows up to take the cinderella-child away, because she's really the princess? I was certain through most of my childhood that any day now the royal messenger would knock on the front door and take me home to the castle where I really belonged. I was sure these weren't my real parents, I was taken away from some castle in rural Ruritania and abandoned by the evil vizier or abducted and carried off by gypsies. My real family would find me, I was sure of it.

Funny thing is I don't think my parents were particularly abusive or anything to us kids. Oh, my dad had a belt we all feared and my mom wielded a mean hairbrush, so discipline in my family was corporal. But on the other hand I don't remember bruises, and to be honest most kids in my generation expected to be "spanked"--it was the traditional child-rearing tool. What I did hate was the fighting between my mom and dad. We kids were pretty certain that sooner or later one of them would do major damage to the other. Though that never happened, my parents, now well into their eighties still regularly threaten to kill each other. It may be only some warped kind of dramatic affection, but it scared the hell out of us kids.

Dad was an amorphous figure who was most always "on the road." When he was home, he was generally asleep in an easy chair front of some ball game on the TV, usually with beer in hand, and god forbid anyone changed the channel. The man could be snoring like a buzz saw, but would wake at any sound of channel clicking to smack the one responsible and insist he had been watching that show (even with his eyes closed). Mom, a medical secretary, worked very full days, leaving before we went to school and, though she returned home before us, was generally asleep on the couch when we came in and would stay there drifting in and out of sleep until we woke her for dinner. Odd, but most of my memories of my childhood involve one or both of my parents being asleep a lot. Granted they worked hard, or at least they regularly told me that they did. In fact a good chunk of my childhood was spent feeling guilty (having been told repeatedly) about how hard my parents had to work to feed and clothe the five of us and that no amount of chore doing could ever make up for what they had to spend on me.

Bedtime for us kids was always 8 pm, even in the summer, even when the sun was still out. For me that was no hardship, I read books. My youngest siblings would come crawl in bed with me and I'd read to them, or if the parents insisted on lights out I'd make up stories for them--usually with them in the starring roles. We spent a lot of time in make-believe as kids. Sometimes though, the noises from downstairs woke us all out of both sleep and our make-believe worlds.

Sometimes I still have nightmares about all the knock-down, drag-out, plate-throwing, screaming matches my parents had whenever my dad was actually home. When the noise started, we kids would creep down to sit on the stair landing just out of sight and listen to the fight and the name calling. As if by being there, witnesses, we could mitigate the violence. I learned to cuss early on from the things my parents said to each other. For me it was like watching a train wreck--you couldn't stand to look and you couldn't stand to look away. For each of my siblings it was different, I think. I clearly remember holding my youngest sister, on my lap while she cried--always softly so they wouldn't hear us--and telling her that it would be okay, that mom and dad were just playing. As the baby she was the sensitive one, and I always thought of her as mine to protect. She took it hardest when they fought. She always felt every pain anyone else felt. She was only 3 or 4 (that would make me 8 or 9) when we moved to the south side of town, where I remember the fighting really beginning. Or maybe I was just old enough notice by then. Dad was home more in those years, traveling a more local route rather than being out of town so much. The others had their own ways of dealing. One brother was the family clown, always redirecting anger with slapstick humor. My middle brother retreated and denied, middle sister pouted and demanded attention. I just lived in a fog built of books and stories.

As families go mine is by no means the worst. Emotional chaos yes, but there are lots of kids who are physically and sexually abused by their families. Yesterday in the news there was a story about a local woman who, having been abused by the father of her children, drowned her 2 daughters and sent a letter to their father that said the girls were at peace and couldn't be hurt anymore. By a standard like that my childhood was a walk in a park.

The funny thing about families is that no matter how wierd, no matter how dysfunctional, no matter what emotional or physical pain we endure--most of us survive. Sometimes we survive to become the people we are, even the decent parents that we are, despite our childhoods. Every parent sets an example for their child, even if it is a negative one. So now, as I think about the grandchild I have and the one soon to be born, I can't help but think that the really neat people my grown children have become and the really cool parents they are and will be, is in part due to me, and in part due to my dad. A dad with whom I have a strange love/hate relationship, but from whom I think I learned some valuable lessons. . . primarily on how not to treat your kids. In the fire the steel is tempered.

24 September 2007

Cleaning up China

An editorial in this morning's NTY argues that the exponential development in China over the last 20 years has created a crisis in "devastating environmental impact" that that can't be over come by the slipshod pollutions controls China is now setting. (Read the full opinion piece here: Cleaning Up China: China’s government bears primary responsibility for failing to address the devastating environmental consequences of its breakneck growth.)

I have to say this is true, China does have an epic pollution problem. But guess who encouraged them? Hello! World Bank! US Policy!

In 1991, Lawrence Summers — then the World Bank’s chief economist and later Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary — wrote a memo suggesting that the bank should encourage the world’s dirty industries to move to developing countries. The forgone earnings of workers sickened or killed by pollution would be lower in low-wage countries, he noted, while people in poor countries also cared less about a clean environment. “The economic logic of dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable,” he wrote.

Mr. Summers later apologized, saying his words were “sardonic counterpoint,” meant to spur new thinking about the environment and development. In any case, the World Bank’s encouragement wasn’t needed. In the 16 years since, a large share of the world’s polluting industries have migrated to the largest low-wage country of all, China, helping to turn big swaths of its landscape into an environmental disaster zone.

And in the intervening years while American industries have dumped toxic waste in Chinese rivers have we cleaned up our own and set the good example? Not! “Endangered rivers this year face a dizzying array of threats from sewage pollution, proposals for unnecessary dams, power lines to highways but all have one thing in common. These are rivers at a crossroads,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “This is a make or break year for all ten rivers on the list.”

So, we encourage China to take all our ugly industry so American manufacturers can pay less for cheap goods they export to American consumers while paying crap wages to Chinese workers in jobs with no benefit and even less safety regulation. And, oh yeah BTW, now American workers are out of jobs. And now, even while America is the largest producer of greenhouse gasses, we can stand back and say: "Hey China get your act together" and suggest that "Beijing could start investing some of the hundreds of billions of dollars China earns on exports in social and environmental programs at home." Damn, we do hypocrisy well!

As someone who has traveled to China off and on over the last 10 years I have to say I see immense changes to the air quality and the levels of general pollution. Recycling has become a huge and profitable industry in China. And "Startup companies are being launched every day to develop pollution-control technologies, improve energy efficiency, and create alternate sources of power. The $220 million in clean-tech venture capital China received last year puts it ahead of Europe as a venue for new environmental companies." (From CNN Money Is China turning green?)

Maybe it is time for America to stop trying to distract the world from a close look at America's bad habits by pointing the finger elsewhere. Maybe we ought to look for the log in our own eye before complaining about the splinter in someone else's.

Recycling Bin in Loyang

05 September 2007

And they're off!

So the semester has begun. I have three classes to teach: 2 Chinese history and culture, and 1 non-western literature. I am also taking a doctoral level class in post-colonial literature at another university. Shoot me now. The good news is I should get in better shape this semester--I have to walk across campus for my classes! And, oh yes, I am still putting in 20 hours a week in administrative work for the MFA program. And trying to finish a thesis, a manuscripts of poems. And, silly me, I'd like a life outside of work, too!

29 August 2007

As the rabid-feminist-liberal-bitch and black sheep of my hard-line-conservative-homophobic-racist family, I strongly identified with this post on Salon.com from a few days ago. Tomorrow my Republican dad will be 85. And I dread even the requisite "happy birthday" phone call where he always asks if I am still a "dirty democrat." Sigh . . .

How can I love my Republican parents?
The people who gave birth to me support George Bush. How can that be?

By Cary Tennis

Aug. 24, 2007 Dear Cary,
How can I love my
parents when they are supporters of the most corrupt, willfully ignorant, deceitful, lying administration in our nation's history?

If we were not related by blood, I would have nothing to do with these people. The
Bush presidency has ruined our reputation in the world, destroyed many of our civil liberties and increased the divide between the rich and the poor. Plus they think torture is just dandy!
I don't have any
Republican friends. I don't like to talk to Republicans mostly. I find them ignorant of other cultures, and smug--feeling that our country is the best in the world--period.

I lived in a foreign country for several years and have traveled to several others. I find many things good about America but I think there are many things to be improved. When I visit my parents, politics is generally off the table for discussion. Occasionally it will come up with tense, sometimes angry results. They have no idea of my political thoughts and don't want to hear them. On the whole my
relationship with them is better than many I've seen. We're not estranged, they didn't abuse me, but I don't really like them. I simply shut up and endure the visit.

I live on the East Coast, they live in the Southwest. I know I should love them. They supported me, helped me through college and such. But we have nothing in common and I dread seeing them. They embarrass me sometimes. Why should I spend time with people I don't like and resent for helping to lead my country in the wrong direction? Will I ever enjoy spending time with them again? It doesn't feel like it's possible. They say that you miss your parents when they're gone, no matter what your relationship was like. That might be true but I don't miss them now when they live 2,500 miles away. Can I change my attitude? I doubt it. Maybe you can shed some light.

A Bad Son

Dear Bad Son,
So you have nothing in common with your parents, you dread seeing them, you are embarrassed by them, don't see why you should spend time with them and doubt that you ever will enjoy spending time with them.


You ask if you can change your attitude. I think you probably can.

Here is an idea for an exercise, or thought experiment, that you might try. I thought this all up on my own. It's premised on the assumption that even though you have had very different experiences, you have the same brand of processor. So though your experiences have been very different, you process experience and arrive at conclusions in similar ways. Knowing this, it should be possible for you to imagine the experiences that have made your father who he is. So ask yourself, what would it take to make my dad into a Republican?

Pretend you are your father. Explain how you got to be the way you are. Not why you think George Bush is a good man, but why you are who you are, why you identify with George Bush and the Republican Party, what it feels like to you, what you get out of it. What experiences did you have that led you to this point in life? Now, your dad has probably told you stories about his early life and struggles. You grew up with him. You know where he worked and what his attitudes toward life were. So talk for him, in his voice. Tell the story. Try to get his voice, his facial expressions. That's right, mimic your father. Try to get his posture, the way he walks, the way he stands.

Then ask yourself, what does it feel like to your dad? In particular, what does it feel like to him to be a Republican? Like, what is his face doing when he says he is a Republican? How is he standing? Is he apologetic? Is he proud? Is he grandstanding?

If it was an emotion, or a gesture, what would his Republicanism be? Would it be a sad, mournful tune? Would it be a rebel yell?

What needs does his Republicanism meet in his own life? Does it meet his need for affiliation? (That is, are his friends also Republican? Does he get together with Republicans and have a good time? Does he identify with and emulate prominent Republicans?) Is it functional? (That is, if he is a corporate man, it may be that Republicans treat his business better than Democrats do, giving his business a better regulatory environment and better taxes, and it may be that his personal financial situation does better in a Republican environment.) Are there historical reasons for his Republicanism? (Were his parents Republicans? Has he been a Republican for a long time?)

So get a feeling for what this is all about with your dad. Do the same thing with your mom. Think about her story. Get inside her head. What has her life been like that she would find comfort and meaning in the Republican Party? Mimic her face, her gestures. Try to feel what she feels.

As you do this, consider your own political beliefs, and what they feel like, and how they fit into your social world. You say you have no Republican friends. So does that mean that you feel particularly strongly about agreement as a component of friendship? Do you have any friends you like just because they are funny, or because you have been through things together and you admire how they handled certain tough situations? If not, I might suggest that you and your father are alike in this way: That you are both a little narrow in your choice of friends. If he is narrow and you are narrow, then it is not likely for there to be much common ground. But you would have common ground in the style and manner in which you have processed your experiences: Your experiences have led you to affiliate almost exclusively with non-Republicans; his experience has been different, and yet he has processed it in the same way, and reached the same conclusion: stay away from anybody who does not agree with him.

Now, your attitude about all this will not change overnight. You are in a state of anger toward your parents. There may be reasons for that aside from their political affiliations. That is OK. It is possible to love people and also be angry at them. It is possible to love people and disapprove of the way they run their lives. We are talking about filial love here.
You know, this just occurred to me: the connection between "affiliation" and "filial." Sure enough, when I look it up in the
Online Etymological Dictionary, I see that the two words have a common Latin root. "Filius," as I recall from high school Latin, means "son." And, as the dictionary points out, "affiliation" comes from the Latin "affiliare" -- to adopt a son. So this need for affiliation has some kind of familial echo: We seek affiliation as we seek family. So, not to psychoanalyze you, but the way you and your father seek different political affiliations may have some deep resonance with other family conflicts or differences. You have "adopted" different beliefs. You may even feel some kind or primal dissatisfaction with the fact that your father has "adopted" beliefs inimical to your own, as if he had, by doing so, given you an obnoxious, competing sibling. I know that's stretching it, but then, it only gets really interesting when we stretch it a little!

So how can you love a Republican? You can love a Republican because family love is an unbreakable connection. It isn't an idea. Love is not approval or agreement. It's a bond. So when you ask why you should spend time with them, remember this: There is such a thing as enduring bonds of blood. These people gave you life. Your mom gave birth to you. We humans feel deeply connected with those who bore us.

(Oh, that's a good pun, isn't it?)

28 July 2007

Chai Crème Brulee

So on Friday I took a friend who was having a Birthday out to Crave, a local gourmet restaurant in Akron. He had the "Grilled Black Angus Cheeseburger with Thick Cut Onion Rings, Roasted Garlic & Parsley Aioli on a Knotted Sesame Bun," I had the "Espresso Braised BBQ Pulled Pork, with Port Salut, Creamy Caramelized Red Onion & Pineapple Slaw on a Pretzel Bun." We shared an order of "Thick Cut Rosemary and Garlic Sea Salt Fries."

But best of all was the dessert, a Chai Crème Brulee smothered in blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries and given a splash of Chai liqueur. I found, for those of you who might want to try this at home, a recipe (below) for this dish. Enjoy!

Chai Crème Brulee, Recipe courtesy Raji Jallepalli, Food Network
Cooking Live
Episode: Best of the British Isles: Indian Cuisine

1 cup Darjeeling tea leaves
12 extra large egg yolks, beaten 1 cup brown sugar 4 cups heavy cream 1 tablespoon chai spice powder 1 cup light brown sugar
Chai Spice Powder: 1 teaspoon Cardamom 1 stick Cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon black pepper corns 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves

Steep 1 cup Darjeeling tea leaves in 4 cups boiling water for 7 minutes. Strain tea leaves and reduce to 3/4 cup. Grind spice to powder. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large heat-proof mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Place the cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Warm just until bubbles form around the edge. Remove from heat and, whisking constantly, pour into the egg and sugar mixture. Add the spice powder and the reduced tea liquid. Continue whisking until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is well combined. Pour the mixture through a very fine sieve into 6 creme brulee dishes, filling them only half full. Place the dishes into a shallow baking dish large to hold them without crowding. Place the dish on the middle rack oven. Working quickly to preserve the heat, finish filling the dishes with the custard mixture, making sure that it comes right to the top of each dish. Then carefully fill the baking dish with very hot tap water so it comes halfway up the sides of the filled dishes. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the custard is set in the center. Remove the custards to a wire rack to cool. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or until ready to use. When ready to serve, preheat the broiler. Pass the brown sugar through a fine sieve to eliminate all lumps. Generously sprinkle the top of each chilled custard with an equal portion of the brown sugar, taking care to cover all of the custard, so that it gives an even finish. Place the chilled creme brulee dishes under the preheated broiler and broil for about 2 minutes, or until the tops are crackling brown. Remove from the broiler and serve immediately.

11 July 2007

The IT Department for Scribes

This is just too adorable. For all you Luddites who've struggled with technology, think about the shift from scroll to codex!

10 February 2007

why I haven't blogged in ages . . .

So life is crazy. I'm teaching 10 load hours per week at one University, working as an administrative assistant 20 hours per week at a 2nd , taking 2 grad classes toward an MFA (do I really need a fourth degree?), maintaining webpages for 2 departments, for the NEOMFA, as well as trying to keep up with my own personal and class pages (Liam, honey, I'm so sory I haven't updated your pages!), and through all that I'm trying to stay on top of my own poetry and writing. Got papers to grade and papers to write, and all I want to do is curl up with a good Terry Pratchett disc world novel.

Sigh. Time to go find something useful to do.

BTW: see my recent poem in Poetry Midwest online. Also got an article on Beomeosa coming out in the Vindicator next week.