Category Archives: Rants

What Was Your Job Description Again, Senator?

“I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate—not prepared to have that record decided by that jury.”

–Arlen Specter, US Senator from Pennsylvania

“Mr. Specter said he would not be an automatic Democratic vote, though he will be pulled in that direction since he now faces the prospect of running in a Democratic primary.”

New York Times, “Specter Switches Parties,” 4/28/09

Uh, senator? Your job is to represent Pennsylvania, not to preserve your career at any cost.

Changing party affiliation is perfectly reasonable, if one no longer agrees with the tenets of one’s current party and sees a viable alternative in another. Changing party affiliation just to preserve one’s job smacks of crass self-preservation. It makes you sound like you care more for your title than for the people you represent.

Call me naive, but I like to think that politicians at least consider voting their consciences over political concerns. Senator Specter seems to be baldly admitting that his affiliation and indeed his voting record will depend more on pandering to future election wins.

Now, I understand that there is a relation between representing the majority opinions of the local electorate and winning their votes. But to put it so bluntly, instead of expressing one’s hopes that one’s legislative decisions will represent one’s constituency, is unseemly in my opinion.

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Darwin, Gradually

Having finally finished the unpleasant book about psychopathic killers, I have gone back to finish editing a series of essays about Charles Darwin. 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, so he’s being feted and written about left and right.

This evening Anthropapa came across this bit of artwork, which is very funny and fits so nicely with my current project:

By Mike Rosulek, buy it at http://www.zazzle.com/darwin2009

By Mike Rosulek, buy it at http://www.zazzle.com/darwin2009

Evolution is in the air right now. There’s my editing project, of course.

And then there’s the state of Texas. The public school science curriculum standards have been amended by the state board of education to require that students consider “all sides of scientific evidence.” Hey, that’s what the scientific method is all about, right?

I’d be a wee bit more supportive of Texas’s standards on critical thinking if it weren’t for the fact that it seems clear that what the NY Times so delicately calls “social conservatives” on the board are trying to push their avowedly creationist agenda into the curriculum, by systematically deleting references to such things as the specific age of the Earth from the science standards.

It is also certainly troubling that potentially, “publishers will have to include criticism of evolution if they want to sell science textbooks to Texas schools,” when essentially the only criticism of evolution is intelligent design (which as a religious belief, is lacking in the scientific evidence the board wants students to consider!) Texas is such a huge market for textbooks that their decisions affect textbook publishing as a whole in the US.

On the other hand, I wish scientists criticizing the board’s decision would be at least acknowledge that analysis, questioning, and not accepting estimates as fact are all part of critical thinking. Sure, Southern states (and, oddly, Pennsylvania) have a history of creationists trying very hard to use the idea of “balance” or “equal consideration” to get their beliefs taught in schools. But in the end, embracing the scientific method does not mean checking criticism at the door and accepting anything dogmatically.

(And if you’re wondering, I don’t believe in a “young Earth” but I do believe in a creator. I also believe that creator may very well have also set the processes of evolution in motion for his or her own purposes. However, I won’t support teaching any of that in public schools.)

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Filed under Books, editing, Rants, Religion, School, Science

Mixed Bag

Manual breast pump
Image via Wikipedia

Today’s New York Times Opinion section included the article “Ban the Breast Pump” by Judith Warner in her weekly column “Domestic Disturbances.”

Inflammatory title, no?

Even more inflammatory to me are some of her basic assumptions. Warner begins by describing her feelings, and those of other mothers, that using a breast pump is “miserable,” “a grotesque ritual” that made her “feel like a cow,” and that it “brings together all the awfulness of being a modern mother.”

I’m fine with those feelings. They’re perfectly valid, as feelings always are. And having spent many hours with a breast pump myself, I can agree that it can be quite odd, sometimes painful, and almost factory-farm-cow-like. In my case, I was pumping because my newborn son was in the hospital for a month and had to be fed (when he wasn’t sedated and unconscious) via a nasal tube. For others, it’s part of the harsh reality of going back to work before their child has transitioned fully into eating solids.

But.

Warner then goes on to contrast using a breast pump with a “semblance of [the mother’s] physical dignity” and says that we’ve “made such a fetish of breast milk.”

I think she’s taking her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety a bit too far. Her perceptive observations —

Maybe we’re even at a point where it’s permissible to insist that the needs of a mother and the needs of her baby, rather than being opposed are, in fact, linked, and that the best way to meet both is to scale down the demands now put on mothers and beef up support for them.

Why, as a society, have we privileged the magic elixir of maternal milk over actual maternal contact, denying the vast, vast majority of mothers the kind of extended maternity leave that would make them physically present for their babies?

— are detracted from by her word choices throughout the article. I understand the desire to write a strong piece and to provoke the reader. But it’s an overly large leap from “I didn’t like it” to “It’s yet another device of patriarchal oppression.” And I don’t like the underlying assumption that my “dignity” was compromised by a free choice I made. Warner seems to assume that all women use breast pumps because they are forced to by society at large, either through financial considerations like not receiving sufficient maternity leave, or peer (and medical) pressure to breast feed at all costs. She wags her finger at second-wave feminism (something I might do as well in some cases), forgetting that feminism has brought us the ability to choose these things. And to choose whether or not to accept societal pressures in the first place — something people tend to forget while they cast themselves as bound slaves instead of free human beings.

I chose to breastfeed, and use a pump when necessary, for my two children because I thought it was best for all of us. Both Warner and journalist Hanna Rosin, who Warner quotes in her article, seem to think there is no scientific data to support the nutritional and child-development superiority of breast milk over formula. Whether or not that is true (and I doubt that it is), there are plenty of other reasons to choose breastfeeding and pumping. For other mothers, formula is a good decision — mothers unable to breastfeed, mothers whose workplaces or type of work cannot accommodate pumping, or mothers who simply choose not to for emotional or other reasons. (I once knew a wonderful mother who was literally disgusted by the idea of breastfeeding. She had a real psychological block against it, and if she had nevertheless chosen to breastfeed, I’m sure the situation would not have been beneficial for her or her children.)

I agree with Warner that we have not quite fulfilled feminism’s promise of equality as long as we assume women must conform to already-existing social structures like short, unpaid maternity leaves. But to cast using a breast pump in such a derogatory light does no woman any favors.

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Things That Make You Go…What?

So I’m reading “The World in 2009” special annual edition published by The Economist. Lots of thought-provoking stuff about what might come in the wake of the various issues and conflicts in the world today.

But the really fun stuff is the ads. Where else could you learn about the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority or the web site investinmacedonia.com?

OK, I can hear you thinking, “Anthromama, you think that stuff is fun?”

Well, maybe not so much fun as where the heck else are you going to see ads for Cargill, Airbus, Hermès, Credit Suisse, and Qatar Airways all in one place?

Anyhoo, the reason I am bring all this up is because of one particular ad.

First Republic Bank’s ad on page 38 depicts a married couple and includes their testimonial about the bank’s service. Below this are their names and occupations. The man is a “telecom executive” while the woman is an “attorney at law, wife and mother”.

Hmmmm. How come he’s not a “telecom executive, husband and father”? I wonder if she chose that description of herself?

So I checked out the bank’s web site, and sure enough, there is a frame showing a slideshow of testimonials including this one. Lots of single men and women, as well as couples and families. Lots and lots of CEOs, CFOs, doctors, and entrepreneurs. Only one other person that I saw was identified as “wife, grandmother, and community volunteer” and not one man identified himself as anything but his job title.

I’m really curious about this — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi consistently framed herself as a mother and grandmother during the 2006 elections and was criticized for it. Is it a yoke of patriarchy to identify women based on their reproductive histories, or is it a sign of true freedom that women can embrace and promote all of their capacities?

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Who Does She Think She Is?

Heidi over at there is grace recently posted about this wonderful documentary about the struggles women have in modern society in balancing their need for artistic creativity and the demands of motherhood.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but something in the trailer caught my attention: people on the street were asked if they could name five female artists. They couldn’t even name one!

At first I was self-righteously disgusted. These were people on the steps of the Met Museum in New York, for heaven’s sake, and they couldn’t even name ONE woman artist? I could name a dozen right off the top of my head, right?

Hmmm. . . .

Writers

This one is easy for me:

Ursula K. LeGuin
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Edith Wharton
Christine de Pisan
Jane Austen

Susanna Clarke
Judy Grahn
Mary Balogh
Christina Rossetti

Margaret Atwood
Mary Stewart
A.S. Byatt

J.K. Rowling
Zadie Smith
Jane Yolen
(and I could go on.)

Visual artists

Hmm . . . getting a little harder:

Frida Kahlo
Liane Collot d’Herbois
Tove Jansson

Mary Cassatt
Diane Arbus
Annie Leibovitz

Georgia O’Keefe
Elsa Beskow
(I had to reach into anthroposophy land to find two of them!)

Now, I’m not going to do actresses, as that’s too easy, as is musicians/singers. And of course there are quite a few writers and artists in my own blogroll! But it was interesting to realize that while I can name many female writers, it wasn’t that easy to name more than five visual artists.

As I mentioned to Heidi, I don’t know if that’s a reflection of poor arts education or the patriarchy of the art world. Even if artistic work is easier for women without children (if only because they have more time!), why aren’t more women prominent in the visual arts? Why can I think of fifteen male visual artists in a few seconds and struggle to think of that many women?

Patriarchy certainly plays in there — notice all of the female artists I thought of date from the late nineteenth century at the earliest, but I can think of male artists dating back to the early middle ages. On the other hand, apparently writing has been an “acceptable” female activity for much longer. I wonder why that is?

Try it — how many can you name?

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Worthy Role Models?

In elevating to a level of demiworship people with big bucks, we have been destroying the values of our future generation. We need a total rethinking of who the heroes are, who the role models are, who we should be honoring.

–Rabbi Benjamin Blech, professor of philosophy of law at Yeshiva University, on the downfall of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff (quoted in the New York Times).

What role models does Western culture give us, especially to our children?

Sports stars.
TV and film celebrities.
Rich people.
Skinny, pretty people.

What values do these role models typically display?

The importance of making money.
Obsessive focus on physical beauty.
Fame at any cost.
Physical prowess not necessarily accompanied by good sportsmanship.
Manipulative public relations.

Now, of course there are rich and famous people who do good works and display honorable morals and ethics. Some celebrities stay in committed, healthy marriages for many years (Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, married for twenty years, come to mind) and others, like Bill and Melinda Gates, give massive amounts of their personal wealth away to charitable works or live in such a way that they embody more noble ideals (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for example, is an environmental activist and built an eco-friendly, energy-efficient home).

In Waldorf education the children are given examples from history and legend of those who are worthy of imitation. In second grade, they learn of the saints and hear fables and animal stories that speak to their growing sense of morality. In third grade, Old Testament stories further their internal explorations into right and wrong. In fourth grade, the Norse myths speak in yet a different way of the fables of the mighty and the low. Throughout all the grades, a progression of study of ancient and modern cultures and “heroes” such as Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi deepens the understanding of both the human condition, and what is noble and what is not.

I would hazard the comment that there are two roots to the problem of poor role models in Western culture: materialism and the cult of individual personality. We have lost sight of the importance of the soul/spiritual world in favor of acquisition of material goods, and we have forsaken the higher social purpose of our labors for the fool’s gold of propping up our astrality and lower ego forces. And so what do we hold up as precious? The glitter of fame and wealth and the passing fancy of surface beauty.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, Rants, waldorf education

He Must Pay!

Why would an wealthy scholar vandalize valuable books dating from the Renaissance, carefully cutting out maps and illustrations and then simply stashing them in his home, interleaved into his own books? The horrible thing is, this man knew the value of the works he was damaging. And the damage is irreversible. Some of the images may never be recovered.

He might go to prison. I hope he loses all future library privileges as well.

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