June 2009

Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India and More

More coverage of Dr. Vandana Shiva by Democracy Now! Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India and More Shared via AddThis

An Hour With Vandana Shiva, Indian Scientist and Leading Critic of Corporate Globalization

More coverage of Dr. Vandana Shiva by Democracy Now! An Hour With Vandana Shiva, Indian Scientist and Leading Critic of Corporate Globalization Shared via AddThis
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A note about the upcoming week

So this is the part of the summer where I take the vacation I can't afford. Hooray! I'm off to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (which incidentally is a MAGNET for gay men and lesbians) for the next week to lay on the beach, drink margaritas, and celebrate my birthday on the 6th. The cabin we're staying in has WiFi, but I might not have a whole lot of time to post. Sorry friends :( I'll do the best I can.

funny pictures

A comment on humor

Tonight I saw someone that I was good friends with several years ago. Our friendship ended mainly because I went to college and he didn't and because when I saw him he would make offensive comments.

Example: Last fourth of July my friend who's from Sri Lanka unknowingly sat down in a chair where someone else had been planning to sit. He said, "Oh, you just got brown skinned." We said, "Brown skinned?" and he said, "Yeah, it's like being jewed." We told him those comments made us uncomfortable and he continued to say similar things, later attacking one of my friends by saying she hated men.

Tonight I saw this friend again and he was with another friend that likes to make offensive comments. They started saying offensive things and told me they were going to hit me with a car because I am a Marxist. I told them I was uncomfortable with what they were saying. They would stop and then start again on a new train of offensive things. I didn't want to leave because I knew as soon as I did they would talk about me and how I have no sense of humor, but I wanted to leave because I was uncomfortable. Eventually I just left.

This left the question: why do they feel it necessary to make these comments? I feel like I have a very humor-filled life without making jokes that bring groups of people down. Do they enjoy making other people uncomfortable? And if so, why do they enjoy it?

Finding My Sense of Personal Democracy

For the past two days, I was lucky enough to attend the Personal Democracy Forum - a conference in New York City focused on the intersection of technology, politics and transparency.

There were two presentations that really provoked me. The first was by danah boyd (purposefully lower case), titled "The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online." The  presentation is based on a controversial essay she wrote two years ago that attempted to locate divisions between MySpace and Facebook. Here is a particularly telling passage from danah's speech:

MySpace was first; arguably, some people got sick of it and, when Facebook came along, voila! This is certainly true for many teens (and adults), but this explanation would only work if MySpace was dead or if users of MySpace thought of it as uncool. The fact that MySpace is still quite popular among a certain segment of the population...

Herein lies the reality that makes all of this quite messy to deal with. It wasn't just anyone who left MySpace to go to Facebook. In fact, if we want to get to the crux of what unfolded, we might as well face an uncomfortable reality... What happened was modern day "white flight." Whites were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. The educated were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those from wealthier backgrounds were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those from the suburbs were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those who deserted MySpace did so by "choice" but their decision to do so was wrapped up in their connections to others, in their belief that a more peaceful, quiet, less-public space would be more idyllic.

This dynamic was furthered by the press, an institution that stems from privilege and tends to reflect the lives of a more privileged class of people. They narrated MySpace as the dangerous underbelly of the Internet while Facebook was the utopian savior. And here we get back to Kat's point: MySpace has become the "ghetto" of the digital landscape. The people there are more likely to be brown or black and to have a set of values that terrifies white society. And many of us have habitually crossed the street to avoid what is seen as the riff-raff.

The fact that digital migration is revealing the same social patterns as urban white flight should send warning signals to everyone out there.

It's a lot to digest, but I really enjoyed how danah used her time on stage for consciousness raising about how social networks can essentially amplify existing racial and class divisions - we are not networking in a social way, but joining these sites to serve as a visible manifestation of our pre-existing social networks and personal biases. However, in amplifying the divisions, we also have a rare opportunity to review them. This struck a chord with the work I've done in terms of studying the gender attitudes of sites such as Digg and Wikipedia. Finally, I really enjoyed the fact that danah spoke to over 1000 people about the importance of looking at the online space with a critical eye toward diversity. This is important work. Thank you, danah.

Additionally, another presentation I greatly enjoyed was by Dr. Michael Wesch, from Kansas State University, who is dedicated to exploring and extending the possibilities of digital ethnography. Dr. Wesch presented a shorter version of what can be viewed in the following YouTube video and received a standing ovation from the crowd after he spoke:

What was most inspiring about Wesch's presentation can be found in the final 12 minutes of the video. So skip ahead if you really want to get jazzed about the new language of video and how YouTube, with more than 20 hours of video uploaded everyone minute, is changing the way the world communicates to each other. Additionally, I really enjoyed the part of his presentation about the evolution of "whatever" and I do believe in his final message:

The word "whatever" has morphed over the years.

Pre 1960s: Whatever meant: Whatever, that's what I said.
In the 1960's: Whatever was a call of rejection: "Whatever man."

In the early 1990's: Whatever was a term of indifference. "Meh, whatever." Also captured in Nirvana's "Whatever, nevermind."

In the late 1990 to now: Whatever has become a term of self indulgence "Whatever" from Clueless

The question is if the internet can create a sense of "whatever" that implies: “I care, let’s do whatever it takes by whatever means necessary.”

Over all the conference was a really great experience. I thought that conference organizers, Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej, worked hard to balance the panels in terms of gender, but it would be nice to see more people of color at next year's gathering.

arrogant and horrible teenage boys

I tutor high school students at a little tutoring-school near my home and yesterday I got an insight into some disturbing realities of teenage boys. I was waiting to go into my classroom to teach my individual grade 11 student (who is actually a lovely teenage boy) and was sitting outside another classroom in which 2 or 3 boys and one girl were seated, supposedly studying but mostly talking. I couldn’t see them but I could hear them. The boys were talking about pornography and how one of them could access it on his phone (I didn’t know you could do that - scary stuff). The girl was silent but I knew she was there because I had heard her talking about something else previously. She was trying to tell a story about how she saw some boys lift a really small car up onto an elevated garden. I could tell she was attempting to join in the boisterous conversation but the boys were trying to knock her down: ‘How could they lift a car? That’s impossible’ Girl says: ‘It was a small car. Anyway yeah..so they would lift…’. Boy interrupts in a ‘I know about cars – I’m male’ authoritative voice: ‘cars weigh 400kgs. That’s impossible’. Girl hesitates: ‘it was one of those really small cars. A group of big guys can lift a car’. She finishes her story and then asks, ‘have you guys seen Transformers 2?’ One of the boy responds, ‘aw, Megan Gale, she’s hot! aw….’ Girl says impatiently, ‘have you seen it?’ Anyway, somehow the discussion reverts to pornography and I didn’t catch most of it. I did hear, however, the girl pipe up in a revolted voice, with, ‘why do you watch porn?’ One of the boy responds, ‘because he’s a 14yr old male. I’m 15 so I’m wiser now’. (I think this implied he doesn’t watch it anymore?? One can hope). Anyway, I thought, ‘fucking hell, is this what girls have to deal with at school??’ How depressing. THEN, at 5pm they all stood up and the boys wandered out of the room, books in hand and the girl stood up and went to the front of the classroom as a new student, a little boy, entered. The ‘girl’ was the teacher. I was absolutely dumbstruck. I had pictured a 14 yr old girl, but here was a young woman in her early 20s.  This young woman had been trying to engage in ‘cool’ conversation with 14 yr old boys?! And the teenage boys showed absolutely no respect for their teacher – in contrast they talked about pornography in front of her which, hey, when you’re an adult is sexual harrassment but when you’re 14 it’s ok? I felt pretty bad for the teacher because I thought, what would I have done if I had been in the same situation when I was her age? If young boys talked about porn in front of me back then I wouldn’t have known what to do. I would have thought ‘ew, gross’ but that’s probably about it. I tried to think about what I would do if any of my students did that now. I think I would have told them to shut up and then I would have talked to their parents (and probably get told to ‘chill out’).

Apart from the total lack of respect the boys showed their teacher, what struck me was the teacher’s attempt to engage with them by being cool and telling them stories and talking about movies. Would she have done this with girl students? How would 14 yr old girl students the same age have treated her? The boys were hostile and did not let her enter their territory – they made her try really hard, and this kind of made her sound desperate – as thought she wanted recognition in their eyes. I seriously thought she was a young teenage girl from their school trying to be ‘one of the boys’.

Where are the Women? Northwestern Law Review Edition

Current Issue: Special Issue 2009: Vol. 103, Issue 2


Foreword: Original Ideas on Originalism Brian A. Lichter & David P. Baltmanis
Constitutional Ambiguities and Originalism: Lessons from the Spending Power Lynn A. Baker
Framework Originalism and the Living Constitution Jack M. Balkin
The Misconceived Assumption About Constitutional Assumptions Randy E. Barnett
Two Cheers for Professor Balkin’s Originalism Steven G. Calabresi & Livia Fine
Original Intention and Public Meaning in Constitutional Interpretation Richard S. Kay
Phony Originalism and the Establishment Clause Andrew Koppelman
Original Methods Originalism: A New Theory of Interpretation and the Case Against Construction John O. McGinnis & Michael B. Rappaport
Reconciling Originalism and Precedent John O. McGinnis & Michael B. Rappaport
Does the Constitution Prescribe Rules for Its Own Interpretation? Michael Stokes Paulsen
District of Columbia v. Heller and Originalism Lawrence B. Solum
Against Textualism William MichaelTreanor

Two out of fourteen is pathetic (two out of sixteen if you count the “double-dip” of Professors McGinniss and Rappaport).  But kudos to Steven Calabresi for co-authoring with a student.

Were the students at Northwestern really so unresourceful that they could only drum up one female Con Law scholar in the entire United States?  Or did they not care?  Are the law reviews’ faculty advisors totally uninterested and uninvolved?

If you shout out for “all the ladies in the house” and hear the echo of your own voice, that’s not a good sign for gender equality.

-Bridget Crawford


Take A Deep Breath, Echidne

The occupational hazard of writing a blog of this type is not paper cuts but undigested anger not only at the material I read but also at the generally phlegmatic mainstream responses. Women's shit? Duh. Whatevah.

I should follow Sammi's example in the above picture (by FeraLiberal) and just relax. Never mind that the ground is full of puddles and sharp rocks, there must be one soft and comfy spot big enough for me, too. It might be on another planet, though.

I need a vacation (but I'm not having one until August).

Leaving Us Behind

What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay
(Seven Stories Press)

Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis by Vandana Shiva
(South End Press)

Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay’s What We Leave Behind begins with a story about shit. It sounds snarky and unfair when I describe it that way, but that’s because shit occupies a rather maligned place in Western culture; the story itself is quite lovely. One of the authors (they intentionally avoid saying who writes which chapter, and although it’s often easy to tell, I’ll refrain from naming them individually), reluctant to “flush all those nutrients down the toilet,” goes outside of his house in the woods to contribute to the food chain by depositing his shit on the soil. If waste is something that’s no longer usable by anyone or anything, he explains, then the concept of “waste” doesn’t exist in nature, and sure enough, he soon sees slugs and bacteria breaking the piles down and plants growing in their places. However, he notices that when he’s prescribed antibiotics – which pass through a human’s system more or less intact – his poop starts to kill plants and soil life. “The soil in the two main spots where I relieved myself became bare,” he says. “[They] remained bare for the next two years.”

That casually terrifying observation sets the tone for the rest of the book. True to the title, What We Leave Behind is an exploration of what industrial civilization’s various endeavors – disposable products, plastics, mining, medicine, embalming and burial practices – leave behind, and the effects of capitalist priorities, “green” or otherwise, on the environment. Part I outlines each major form of pollution, from solid waste products to toxic gases, and for the most part, it’s as engrossing as it is important. The facts Jensen and McBay present should horrify you. The “Eastern Garbage Patch,” a floating island of garbage nearly the size of Africa, is only one of six six patches that cover 40% of the world’s oceans. The breast milk of women living across the Arctic, about as far from industrial civilization as one can get, contains levels of toxic chemicals that are “literally off the charts” because of wind and ocean currents. If facts like these don’t spur readers into action, then nothing will.


Despite its many merits, this book is riddled with sexism and racism, empty and often bizarre rhetoric, and sheer White American Dude ego. The hijinks begin in “Garbage,” when one of the authors starts talking about what he gives his friends for Christmas. “A pasta factory bagged the noodles that fell on the floor and sold them for ten cents a pound,” he writes. “I bought them by the hundred-pound bag. Not only did this provide chicken food, but it allowed me to gorge on pasta, and one trip to the factory completed all my Christmas shopping.” I don’t know about you, but if someone gave me an unliftable bag of processed food that was collected off a factory floor, I would consider ending my relationship with that person. The author also mentions dumpster diving for ice cream and feeding it to his dogs, cats, and chickens, seemingly oblivious to the fact that most dogs and cats (and I’m assuming birds) are lactose intolerant.

The book kind of goes off the deep end, though, in Part II, which discusses metaphysical concerns like morality and magical thinking. Most of this section veers sharply away from capitalism’s tangible effects on the environment and deals almost exclusively with what the authors believe are the problems with the Western way of thinking. To be sure, there are lots of problems with the Western way of thinking, but the thrust of the authors’ discussion feels lazy at best. Some of the philosophy is fine, but obvious – in “Morality Revisited,” they explain the difference between internal and external morality – but at other times they enter the realm of stoner logic. In “The Real World,” for example, they assert that the reason we watch TV or have MySpace accounts is because we can’t admit that we should never have been born, and “cannot face the possibility of actually living.” Like many of the doped conversations about, like, God and stuff that some of us stagger through as college freshmen, “The Real World” gives you the sense that Jensen and McBay could have produced something noteworthy if they’d only turned a critical eye to their own ideas. What ice cream and external morality and MySpace are even doing in a book about environmental justice, aside from rehashing the already well-documented need to change the way we think and live, is beyond me.

Except, wait, looks like they’ve got my concerns covered. In “Compartmentalization and its Opposite,” one of the authors brushes off criticism of his writing style by claiming that “my writing is organized along different principles than those that normally guide discourse and thought in this culture. I write this way to undercut or even destroy the monopoly, the stranglehold, that linear thinking has over our discourse, our thinking, our lives.” All right… except the very fact that his writing is comprehensible means that he’s working well within the boundaries of Western discourse. His claim seems to function more as a way to stave off uncomfortable questions than as a genuine exploration of thought. Criticizing consumer culture could have really worked in this book, especially for readers unfamiliar with radicalism or environmental justice movements, but only with a drop or two of humility.

The authors also have a habit of tossing out the phrase “This culture is killing the planet,” often several times in one chapter. By the time I reached Part II it had really started to bug me, and at first, I thought my problem was just my own geekery. See, when I hear “killing the planet,” I think Death Star versus Alderaan. But the more times I read it – I, an activist committed to environmental justice – the more irritated I got. I finally realized that it takes a remarkable amount of sloppiness to claim that human beings will destroy every last bit of life on Earth, right down to the tiniest microbe, before we kill ourselves. Again, though, the authors have heard this before. They respond:

Just two days ago I was talking to a group of students, and at one point I said that this culture is killing the planet (Oh, okay, you got me: I said it at many points). An activist about my age said, “But this culture can’t kill the planet. Algae or something will be left, and then in millions of years evolution will move in another direction. The Earth won’t die. It will just change.”

I asked if any of the students there happened to have a knife, and if so, could I borrow it… I stood, opened it, walked to the activist, and asked, “Could I have your hand?”

He said no.

I said, “I’m not going to kill you. I’m just going to cut off your little finger…. Then I’ll cut off another. And another. I’ll move up your arms, and then I’ll start on your feet, and move up your legs. You’re not going to die. At least not for awhile. You’re just going to change.”

Note that his analogy isn’t actually parallel to the situation. Because resources are dwindling and environmental destruction is just as toxic to us as it is to animal, plant, and microbial life, a better analogy would have him chopping off his own limbs simultaneously, with a blunter and blunter blade. But by that point, the question of who will die first doesn’t even matter anymore, and the whole exercise becomes embarrassing. Indeed, that doesn’t even seem to be his point. Don’t listen to what I’m actually saying, he seems to cry throughout the rest of the passage. Listen to the sentiment behind it! I was reminded of Nadia Abou-Karr’s response, on SPEAK!, to the common claim that Israelis are just like Nazis: “I explained [to someone who made the comparison] that this is too important, and the Israelis have committed their own atrocities. What they have done is big enough to stand on its own without the Nazi comparison.”

Exactly. What capitalism and industry are doing to human cultures and the global ecosystem is big enough to stand on its own. With 40% of the world’s oceans covered in garbage and women secreting poison from our breasts, why do the authors feel the need to hyperbolize? It’s precisely this type of frothing that loses audiences. Just as people roll their eyes when someone calls Israelis Nazis and then feigns surprise when the Oppression Olympics begin (well but Israelis don’t have death camps and but well see pogroms etc.), people who aren’t already steeped in environmental justice issues will lose interest when someone makes arguable claims and then threatens to sever the limbs of those who argue with him.

Where the book really gets infuriating, though, is when the authors turn their attention to women and people of color. In “Compartmentalization and its Opposite,” one of the authors waxes eloquent about his desire to understand and communicate with forests, streams… and the ladies. “I want to be able to begin to recognize the organization of a forest, the organization of a stream, the organization of a woman,” he says. “No, I want to be able to understand what a forest, a stream, a woman may wish to communicate to me.”

Oh no you didn’t. You know, fellas, we women actually have quite a long history of being classified alongside nonverbal entities that don’t have brains. If you don’t get why a statement like that is offensive, then take a male privilege 101 class and shut up until you learn. And if you want to understand what I may wish to communicate to you, then ask me.

As if that weren’t enough, the authors go on to criticize the use of birth control, stating that “More than 100 million women around the world use some form of pharmaceutical contraception…. But as liberating and empowering as it may be, when the drugs in contraceptive pills find their way into water they can be very damaging to aquatic communities.” (Emphasis mine.)

This sentence could only be written by a person who has never experienced a pregnancy scare.

Aside from the fact that scapegoating oppressed groups for environmental damage is a pretty old tactic – notice how he pits women against fish? – by framing the use of birth control in the most frivolous and bourgeois terms possible, he manages to erase the most important, and common, reasons why women use birth control. Gone are the women who literally cannot afford children, or more children. Gone are the women who are raped within or outside of relationships; gone are the men who don’t like condoms but would never dream of supporting a child. Gone are the women who just want to have the type of sex life that Jensen and McBay probably enjoy. I doubt the authors bothered to educate themselves on any of these issues before pooh-poohing women’s frivolous coveting of second-wave buzzwords.

Finally, the entire book exoticizes and idealizes indigenous peoples. In “Technotopia: Industry,” the authors claim that

Some clever and persistent people have already developed a way (many ways, actually, literally thousands of ways) to replace big, industrial infrastructure with knowledge. They’re called indigenous people. Ultimately, hunter-gatherers, with their portable lifestyle, lack of industrial infrastructure, minimal physical goods, and extensive knowledge of the land and its nonhuman inhabitants, have been far more successful at [low-impact lifestyles] than industrial society will ever be. (Emphasis mine.)

If you’re equating “indigenous person” with “nomadic hunter-gatherer” – that is, if you honestly don’t know that indigenous peoples have developed agriculture and permanent settlements right alongside colonizers – then you don’t know much about indigenous peoples. But why should you? You’re probably still working to understand what indigenous people, with their mysterious ways, may wish to communicate to you. Hey, keep fighting the good fight.

All these problems demonstrate why it’s so crucial to integrate feminist and anti-racist work into environmentalism. This is exactly what Vandana Shiva does in Soil Not Oil, a book that, like What We Leave Behind, explores globalization’s disastrous effects on the environment. Shiva doesn’t feel the need to fill her argument with embellishments and defensive posturing, though; she lets the facts speak for themselves. Exploring the root causes of food insecurity, climate change, and peak oil, she explains in meticulous detail what exactly capitalism is doing to Global South peoples and the natural world, covering the bogus system of carbon credit trading, the banning of rickshaws (a healthy and sustainable form of transportation) in Indian cities to make room for cars, violent land-grabs that allow transnational corporations to produce nonrenewable biofuels, privatization of commons like the atmosphere, and the destructive effects of monocultures, among other issues. She explains why each solution to environmental destruction offered by capitalists is doomed to failure (biofuels, for example, require more energy to make than they themselves produce, but are pretty great for short-term profit), and argues that the only way to reverse these destructive trends is for wealthy nations to drastically reduce our consumption of energy. Not the wrong kinds of energy – all energy. Like Jensen and McBay, she even explores some philosophical concepts, but the difference is that when she discusses satvik, rajsik, and taamsik and their relationship to Shakti, she explicitly ties them into hands-on environmental justice work.

In short, activists like Jensen and McBay could learn a lot from activists like Vandana Shiva. When the privileged refuse to loosen their grip on the environmental movement, you get dippy passages about mystical women and wise brown people. When those living on the front lines speak, you get insightful analysis and firsthand knowledge of real movement-making.

Like I said, though, What We Leave Behind still has plenty of merits. One particularly arresting passage is the story of a developer who, after an author’s neighbors pave a road, demands access to the forest behind their homes. What follows is a heartbreaking series of legal battles between the people who live on the land and the people who want to make money off the land. The developers coerce the county into giving them an permit. A biologist is hired to deny that protected species are living there. The developers lie, trespass, threaten, twist words, find loopholes, and generally do all manner of illegal activities to gain access to the forest. The most telling moment in the story is when the judge turns to the residents and assures them that “You have an interest in what happens on this land,” and then turns to the developers and says, “And we can all see that you certainly have an interest in what happens on this land.” For those of you who identify as pro-capitalist feminists – this is an example of what happens when people without much capital do everything right. They worked within the system. They took it to court. They remained steadfastly nonviolent. But when profits are valued over people, people lose.

The penultimate chapter, “Fighting Back,” is also strong, although it’s too vague to be of much immediate practical use. Some examples of successful contemporary movements, or a list of organizations and resources, would have been helpful. Still, like many parts of the book, it does a great job of explaining the problems with industrial civilization and then presenting alternative relationships with nature.

So if you’re interested, by all means, give it a shot. You’ll have to wade through all the pomposity, but it’s comprehensive, and you’ll learn something. When you’re ready to take action, though, you’ll find books like Soil Not Oil to be much more useful.

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Pentagon discusses easing “don’t ask, don’t tell”

Discussions are taking place in the Pentagon over how to "loosen" the restrictions imposed by the disastrous "don't ask, don't tell" policy, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates added: "What I discovered when I got into it was it's a very restrictive law. It doesn't leave much to the imagination, or a lot of flexibility."

The defense secretary said one possible modification might be consider the circumstances under which a service member is "outed" in determining whether or not he or she must leave the military.

Wow. Can a person really get kicked out of the military if another person outs them? Goodness. Well, here's my suggestion: how about we just get rid of this outdated and discriminatory policy?

Seriously. It's high time we get on our representatives' assess about repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Contact your reps and the White House. It seems foolish and futile to contact the president, but enough demand to repeal this policy might just be the push he needs to do something about it.