Thursday, April 30, 2015

A feminist* reading of Kate Rusby's "The Game of All Fours"

Kate Rusby is a folk singer whose music I enjoy. 

She bases many of her songs on medieval legend, romantic poetry, or minstrel-type ballads. "The Game of All Fours" is a sweet-sounding, lighthearted little tune with kind of a funny ending, where a guy goes walking with a whimsical girl, she beats him at cards, and so he decides to leave. His leaving so abruptly kind of throws the rest of the song into question, like maybe the guy was a bit of a jerk all along. 

Recently, there's been a renewed focus on relations between the sexes, and the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl seemed to fit the young woman pretty well, so the last time I heard the song I started to think about how a feminist* might have regarded the story. Give it a listen as you read along, but be warned: Kate's voice is haunting and you'll probably want to listen over and over and over and over and over and over again. 

As I was walking one midsummer's morning,

To hear the birds whistle and the nightingale play,
Was there that I met a beautiful maiden,
As I was a walking along the highway.

So this man was wandering around one day, enjoying all his privilege and dominance over lesser creatures, he saw a Womyn and thought "wow that is one hot chick lemme txt my bro how how this chick is durrr"....

Oh where are you going my fair pretty lady,

Where are you going so early this morn,
She answered, kind sir to visit my neighbours,
I'm going down to Lincoln the place I was born.

She wasn't with a man, so he figured She was obviously single, and fair game for some casual street harassment, so her accosted Her. As demurely as possible, out of fear of what he might do if She made him angry, the Womyn politely explained that She was just trying to go visit some friends in Her hometown...

Oh may I go with you my fair pretty lady,

May I go along in your sweet company,
She turned her head round and smiling all at me,
Said you may come with me kind sir if you please.

He began to follow Her down the street while attempting to be charming. He mistook Her simple politeness for an invitation, and kept following after Her.

We hadn't been walking a few miles together,

Before this young damsel began to show free,
She sat herself down saying sit down beside me,
The game we shall play will be one, two and three.

After he had followed Her for what seemed like forever, She began acting strangely to try and make him leave Her alone. Instead, he thought "wow, this is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl I've been searching for!", and asked demanded "you don't mind if I sit with you, right," to which She responded "it's a free country." To his privileged mind, that was the same as "yes, please!" She attempted to distract him from staring at Her chest by challenging him to a card game.

I said my dear lady if you're fond of the gaming,

There's one game I know I would like you to learn,
The game it is called The Game Of All Fours,
So I took out my pack and began the first turn.

A typical man, he only knew how to do things one way: his. So he decided to run some Game on Her. To throw Her off Her guard and make Her feel vulnerable, he started dealing out cards for some game She had never heard of or played. He figured this would make Her unable to resist his advances.

She cut the cards and I fell a dealing,

I dealt her a trump and myself the poor Jack,
She led off her ace and stole the Jack from me,
Saying Jack is the card I like best in your pack.

Despite never having played the game, She beat him using Her superior Womynly intelligence. She knew he'd be offended and maybe even angry, so She made a throwaway remark suggesting She had gotten lucky and didn't truly understand how the game was played. 

I dealt the last time, its your turn to shuffle,

My turn to show the best card in the pack,
Once more she'd the ace and stole the Jack from me,
Once more I lost when I laid down poor Jack.

"If you're so good, you go ahead and deal this time," he sulked. So She did, and beat him a second time in only a few moves.

So I took up my hat and I bid her good morning,

I said you're the best that I know at this game,
She answered, young man, come back tomorrow,
We'll play the game over and over and over and over and over again

He finally admitted to himself that this Womyn had actual skills and intelligence. Who knows, maybe She even had desires and dreams apart from being an object for the fulfillment of his pleasure! His warped notion of masculinity and gender roles couldn't handle the realization that She was not, in fact, his Manic Pixie Dream Girl. 

With a renewed confidence, the Womyn called "come on back when you learn how to play!" She then continued to Her friend's house so they could make a post about the incident on UpWorthy while the defeated man slunk off to an internet forum where so-called "Nice Guys" complain about Womyn who won't have sex with them. 

Hahahaha! Feminists, amirite?


*Obviously, this is not what I think feminists actually believe. This is satire you guys.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Some thoughts on yesterday's riot-protests in Baltimore, which jumped off in the wake of Freddie Gray's "mysterious" and entirely unnecessary death in police custody:

It's heartbreaking to hear Gray's family pleading with protesters to remain peaceful. Naturally, they're mourning a loved one and don't want his memory tarnished by destruction and violence.

But, unfortunately, it's not up to them.

The protests are truly about Freddie Gray only to the extent that his death is yet another symbol of the ongoing repression of minority communities, black people in particular, by the police officers charged with protecting them. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Michael Brown.

As our country racks up more and more of these incidents, it becomes increasingly difficult to directly ascribe protests, violent or nonviolent, to any one incident of brutal police treatment of black American men for minor crimes or no crime at all.    

The family has called for protests to remain peaceful. Obviously, those calls were not heeded. Now, as one-time student of peacebuilding, I struggle with the idea of nonviolence. It's an attractive term, and history is full of examples of successful nonviolent movements that brought about real change. India. Serbia. The American Civil Rights Movement of the 60s*.

But it's also an ideal that makes it too easy for observers to tune protesters out as soon as they turn violent. Police respond with force. Veteran civil rights leaders appear on the news and shake their heads sadly while pundits tut-tut. Twitter erupts with white people armchair-quarterbacking the whole thing, comparing the protesters unfavorably to Martin Luther King, Jr. and making thinly veiled suggestions that if you loot, it just proves that you're a criminal and don't deserve to be treated with dignity.

I don't support violence as a tool for change, but I'm forced to ask: how reasonable is it to expect a population that is repeatedly subjected to violence, both direct and structural, to remain peaceful, docile, and entirely nonviolent when another father, brother, or son has been violently taken from them? I think the answer is "not very reasonable." We should not be surprised when pockets of violence erupt, and we cannot use it as an excuse to ignore the anger, frustration, sadness, despair, and yes, rage, that the protesters are expressing. Structural violence and racism do not get a pass just because the victims react violently.

Ta-Nehisi Coates put it succinctly: "When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence, it reveals itself to be a con."

I don't believe that to be true in all cases, but it certainly seems to be the reality in Baltimore and the many similar cases we've seen over the past months and years.

Has anyone been able to confirm whether the "credible threat[s]" police received ahead of the protest regarding planned violence were indeed authentic? So far I've read that:

  • there was a flyer posted to "social media" and circulated at high schools advertising a period of widespread lawlessness in the style of The Purge, and,

Frankly, both of those things seem just a little too convenient for the Baltimore PD's narrative: brave officers defending the community against aggressive, violent pseudo-citizens**, and too well-tailored to hijack middle-class, suburban anxiety about urban crime.

The gangs, for their part, have denied having such a nefarious objective and cast themselves as the true protectors of the communities that law enforcement has repeatedly failed.

Three or four years ago I probably would have taken the police at their word, but not now. Call it naivete, call it white/male/cis/hetero/any other kind of privilege, call it whatever you like, I tended to trust the police because I never had a reason not to. But no American can truly ignore what's happening any longer. Too many lies have been told, and too many lives have been destroyed, seemingly for no reason.

Even if we discount the immense human cost of police violence (which I do not), we should all be concerned by how these events make policing on the whole less effective. If communities distrust and fear law enforcement, law enforcement cannot function effectively.

And that affects all of us, regardless of where we live.

Lastly, I'd be interested in hearing suggestions for a few reputable alternative news outlets that cover events like those in Baltimore. Too often, the police/official narrative dominates the airwaves, at least while the conflict is unfolding, and the other side of the story only appears much later, if at all. We're treated to running commentary of how many police officers have been inured, and how badly. Not how many citizens. How many storefronts have been looted, or cars torched. Not how many protesters DID stay peaceful and implored others to do the same. Those facts may come out later, but by then, far fewer people are listening.

And that's precisely what more of us need to be doing: listening.


*The ultimate success of the American Civil Rights Movement, it seems, we must increasingly question. It surely made strides, but there's still a long way to go.

** I say pseudo-citizens because these narratives always involve making an "other" out of suspects: a violent, unpredictable, virtually sub-human being who poses a grave threat to polite society and so must be dealt with swiftly and decisively.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Listen, street corner shoe-shine guy, it's not that I don't appreciate the offer. It's just that these boots are supposed to look a little beat up, that's kind of the point.

I'm sure you've got skillz, and I know you work hard, and $3 is really pretty good. Those tweens back in Plaza Grande charged like...twice that.

But the last time I let someone who wasn't me shine my shoes, they ended up an entirely different color. I mean sure, I should have seen it coming. Street children in a plaza in Quito probably can't tell the difference between brown and cordovan. I imagine you can, in fact I think I saw distinct stains of each on your apron. But since that fateful Ecuadoran afternoon, no one puts polish on my shoes but me.

Also, and I hate to be pedantic, but once someone turns down your (admittedly cheap) services, you're probably not going to have any better results with "Well lemme get you to buy me a hot dog for $3, then," that's not an effective use of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon. And I know, for a fact, that that hot dog would become a dog/chips/drink meal the second we got to the cart. You're not gonna grift me like that. Never again.

But I wish you the best, hopefully someone less finicky than me will hire you for a quick shine-up.

Also, good luck with the imminent turf war between you and that well-dressed young blood with the sound system halfway up the block. Sure, he's more technological, and he drapes a towel over his bent forearm like a waiter at a fancy restaurant, but you've had that spot WAY longer. Frankly, I prefer your old-school barking to his DJ-style pronouncements that he recorded himself and repeats aloud while it plays.

And he's going to learn pretty quick how hard it is to get cordovan stains out of a suit jacket.


...on a crooked corner of a dirty street.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hillary(?) for President!(?)

It's become increasingly clear that Hillary Clinton is going to be THE Democratic candidate for 2016, and increasingly clear how much she wasn't the first choice for a lot of people.

I can't decide how I should feel. I mean, sure, she's uniquely qualified for the job. Former first lady, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, it's almost as though the White House is the only logical next step for her.

But somehow... I can't get but so excited about her candidacy, which was officially announced on Sunday. And I suspect I'm not alone there. Maybe she's just, I don't know, old news?

A lot of people wanted Elizabeth Warren to run, and are still deluding themselves that she will. She won't. Honestly, I'm okay with this. We need more Elizabeth Warrens in the Senate, not less. She can do much more good as a progressive warrior in the legislative branch. Warren's voice provides an inspiring counter-narrative in the Senate where, quite frankly, progressive leaders can almost never match the soaring, firebrand rhetoric of Tea Party Republicans. To win a presidential bid, Warren would have to move much further to the center, and that would be dangerous in a country where conservatives are being pushed further and further to the right.

In fact, I imagine if you took an Elizabeth Warren, ran her through the machinery of a presidential campaign and years of Washington executive-branch insider politics, she'd come out looking and sounding a lot like...well...Hillary Clinton. We've already got one of her.

Incidentally, that's probably going to be Hillary's biggest weakness in 2016- the perception that she's just another Washington insider out of touch with everyday America. Clearly, she's already got a strategy in place to blunt this edge, I mean just take a look at her campaign video:

She's going heavy on that personal touch, and plans to emphasize that the Hillary you think you know, the political juggernaut, household name, and all-around HBIC is only one side of her- the other is a lifelong, compassionate advocate for regular ol' folks trying to make a better life for themselves and the people who depend on them.

Maybe that will help, maybe it won't.

But what's almost certain to make skeptical progressives line up behind Hillary* is stuff like this article casting Marco Rubio as the Republican Barack Obama, young, "diverse," so to speak, savvy, an inspiring speaker, not a complete wingnut, similar to Hillary in that he's the "next best thing" for Tea Party hardliners.

And as much as I'd like to say that Rubio's sawdust-mouth moment will probably tank his campaign before it ever truly starts, the reality is that continuing to refer to that little gaffe will just make his opponents look mean-spirited and shallow.

Whatever the state of his TV skills, Rubio's stance on most issues: nix the ACA, keep our heads in the sand on climate change, give corporations free reign over...everything, etc. should, at least, be enough to frighten otherwise unenthusiastic progressives into turning out for Hillary come next Fall.

Say it with me now: Hillary... for President...!


*Other than thinking it would be kind of cool to elect our first woman president right after our first black president. Cause you know, there's that.

...or maybe you were the ocean...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

There Ought to Be A Law

I woke up to more rain.

Normally I wouldn't care, but I'm on dog-watch this week so we had to go out to pee. Fortunately, Zeus is almost as terrified of water falling from the sky as water sitting on the ground. He did his business like, real quick, and then we went back inside to start the day.

It was one of those mornings where the air seems strangely warm and close despite (or because of?) the rain. Amanda, having lived in Southeast Asia, loves a warm rain. Me? I feel like I'm suffocating. Maybe I should make her walk the dog.

I've gotten so bad at dealing with temperatures and humidity levels that fall outside a really narrow range.* As a kid, none of it mattered. I was going to go out and run around anyway. But now that I'm a "grown-up," no matter how uncomfortable it is out, I still gotta put on a tie and climb the hill to the train station.

On the bright side, the shortened dog-walk meant I had time to eat breakfast at home for a change. Toasted everything bagel with avocado and tomato, what could be better? And I still managed to catch the bus to the Metro, minimizing my time getting rained on. (Seriously, what the hell has happened to me?)

There ought to be a law giving us all the day off from work when it's like this outside. Think about it. Foul weather puts people in a foul mood, I mean it can't be all delicious bagel breakfasts for everyone all the time, and that's gotta have some negative impact on, like, productivity or something. And that's without taking into account the worse traffic, crashes and stuff.

How about it, presidential candidates? Administrative rain closures for federal/quasi-federal employees? I'd be willing to take that over our next cost-of-living raise.


*Of warmth, that is. It can get as cold as you please, and I'm fine with it.

...her picture was on the back of a pack of cigarettes...

Friday, April 3, 2015

Ted Cruz, Back on the Cross

You've really got to hand it to Ted Cruz. He can feign victimhood with the best of them.

CNN today reported Cruz's laments over the backlash over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA is a piece of legislation so ridiculous and embarrassing that the same man who signed it into law last week, Governor Mike Pence, is already calling for amendments that clarify that the bill is not meant to permit discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers. Pence's repentance likely has a lot to do with the backlash Indiana has faced over the law, not only from citizens, but businesses from Apple and Angie's List to Walmart and the NCAA.

Far be it from Ted Cruz to undercut a fellow republican, but the senator expressed his sorrow over big business' refusal to stand up for traditional exclusionary values, and that they bowed instead to the "extreme left wing agenda that is driven by an aggressive gay marriage agenda."

How come it's only called an agenda when it's what your opponents want?

Surely, as a Republican and thus a staunch ally of corporate America by his very nature, Ted Cruz must have heard sometime, from someone, that exclusionary politics are bad for business. Though the law's defenders will tell you it's not intended to be discriminatory at all, it's certainly being perceived that way, and a person's perception is their reality. If you want your business to be competitive, especially at the national level, you have to be seen as appealing and welcoming to the broadest possible cross-section of people. So you want to stay far, far away from supporting laws that even look discriminatory (with a few notable exceptions.) In this context, the business reaction to RFRA is 100% rational and makes perfect sense.

But not to Ted Cruz.

Because in his world, if someone points out the wrongheadedness of something you did, you don't change course or even engage them in discussion. Instead, you double down on your rhetoric. You cast yourself and people who agree with you (hetero, conservative Christians) as the true victims. Those nasty progressives are the intolerant ones, you insist. In so doing, you hope to provoke your supporters into reacting and giving you a few points' boost in the polls.

It's telling that the only businesses defending Indiana's RFRA are certain small outfits run by religious families such as Memories Pizza , whose owner Crystal O'Connor states that the law is not discriminatory, and then in the next breath argues that religious business owners should be allowed to discriminate "stay true to their religion while running their business."


Leaving aside the obvious question of what couple, gay or straight, would ever ask a rural pizza joint to cater their wedding (rehearsal dinner, maybe?), how is a law allowing you to refuse to provide services to a gay couple because they are doing a gay thing --getting married to one another-- NOT discriminatory? The fact that O'Connor can persist in that strong a contradiction shows a certain... small-mindedness on the part of RFRA's defenders (read: certain conservative Christians) that I think we can extrapolate straight up to the national level.

The states, at least, can be reasoned with. Governor Pence says he's floored by the backlash against the law, as if he had no idea that it was going to cause trouble. And Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, another Republican, will probably decline to sign the bill until it's changed to be less of an invitation to further marginalize the LGBT community and alienate businesses. A Republican governor of a Southern state could hardly be called the vanguard of the progressive "aggressive" gay agenda, but he can tell which way the wind is blowing.

But where Pence and Hutchinson at least appear to want to make changes to their states' RFRAs to bring them in line with the much looser federal standard, Ted Cruz is having none of it. To hear Cruz (or O'Connor) tell it, it is not discrimination to turn away a gay customer if being gay is against your religion. Real discrimination is requiring that when religious people conservative Christians start a commercial enterprise, they treat their customers equally regardless of their identity. Christians, who have enjoyed religious, political, and cultural hegemony in the U.S. since the dawn of our nation, are the true victims here for having their dominance challenged:*

Cross-posted from Doug Muder at the The Weekly Sift,
because he's better at this than I am.

Quick digression: I'm not criticizing Christians as a group, or the faithful in general. To paraphrase Nick Offerman, I have nothing negative to say about faith or prayer- they're both wonderful things, though they happen to not be a big part of my life. My point is that when certain members of privileged groups find their (our, I'm very privileged too) dominance threatened, they (we) sometimes react in a visceral way that they may not intend to be discriminatory. It's simply meant to, you know, reinforce their dominance over other groups.

Increasingly often, those efforts are couched in the language of tolerance or protection from an out-of-control federal government, "activist" judges, or some other nefarious system. The Men's Rights Movement  is another example- they believe, among other things, that courts, the military, and other institutions are stacked against men and any attempt to strengthen women's role in society is a direct assault on men, who have been the true victims of inequity all long. A similar thing is happening here, with a small but vocal segment of believers: the relative prevalence of Christianity in America is decreasing, meaning Christianity is threatened. Christian social mores are declining in importance, so America is hostile to Christian values. Institutions are becoming more cognizant of the full range of identity concerns in a pluralistic, multicultural society like the U.S., and by responding accordingly, those institutions are persecuting Christians. We, the faithful, must fight this injustice on every conceivable front.

And Ted Cruz is just the politican/demagogue to lead that fight. Whether Cruz truly believes in the Christian anxiety he gives voice to, or if he's simply playing a character he believes will be attractive to theocrats in the 2016 race, only he could say. Either way, his support for the politics of exclusion and division is likely to cost him dearly down the road. Eventually (and we've all been talking about this for years, so who knows when), Republicans will have to choose between attracting the younger, more left-centrist, less white part of America that represents an increasing share of the electorate, or clinging to a smaller and smaller constituency whose views become more dated with every passing year.

In the meantime, I'll stick with the extreme left-wing agenda that believes "religious freedom" doesn't mean "your (Christian) beliefs trump everyone else's rights to be treated as equals in society."

*Ironically, Crystal O'Connor might be one of the only white, Christian conservatives who can claim victimization at liberal hands. I just read on The Daily Caller that the owners of Memories have been targeted by threats and online harassment by liberals angered by their stance on gay marriage, and have closed down for the time being. No link, because I can't stand that site's firebrand proclamations about socialist-fascists etc., and I don't want all three of you who read this blog adding to their page views. But that sort of behavior is unacceptable. We don't need progressive allies who act without thinking, preach violence, and work to silence opponents instead of convincing them. It's wrong, and it only strengthens the other side's arguments that progressives are the true oppressors.*


We'll fumble with the planet, dry the river and then dam it, just persuade me that everything's all right.