#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen

You spend time on Twitter? I confess that I’ve had an account for years but only started using it heavily in the past few months (@el_donaldo if you like). Didn’t really get it at first. Now I’m fascinated.

This blew up as a trend yesterday: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. I’m not entirely clear what started it – apparently something to do with Hugo Schwyzer, a porn and gender studies professor who has written for Jezebel and other popular outfits that I’ve never heard of. (And I read Jezebel.) Some sort of public confession and meltdown, a history of dismissal of feminists from non-European backgrounds, and maybe some more stuff I’m missing, but whatever sent the tag out there tapped into something pretty massive. There is apparently a great deal of resentment among many people working on women’s issues about a bias within feminist discourse to see white, Eurocentric, bourgeois women’s issues as definitive for the movement, and furthermore a bias toward working with those issues as if they were exclusively gender issues divorced from any context of race, class, history, and geopolitics. Watching the hashtag grow was very exciting and illuminating.

This article from Al Jazeera English describes the groundswell of protest and some of its content pretty well. What I was struck with, and this ties into a lot of my previous posts about Islam and the West, was that a critique of a feminism that imagines itself to be above or beyond issues of race and ethnicity is also a critique of a specifically Western secularism. I don’t think that the hashtag covers feminist voices that are explicitly anti-secular, though it is entirely possible that those voices are out there; I do think that the blowback against an ideologically deracinated feminism is also a critique against a secularism that does not recognize its own religious stakes.

solidarityisforwhitewomenOne of the repeated objections revealed by the hashtag is anger generated by the opposition of Western feminists to the headscarf. That headscarf, or hijab, or whichever manifestation we’re discussing, is seen by many in the West as oppressive, and many women in countries where female modesty is strictly enforced also agree, and yet many feminists from Islamic cultures view these obligations much more complexly. I don’t think the objection from Muslim feminists to be anti-secular, though, whatever it may be, as the headscarf also has its secular competent as I discussed in the last post: modesty may obscure, but it also permits. The problem I believe is that a Euro-centric feminism looks at the headscarf and sees misplaced and oppressive religiosity where religion and secularity are actually both present and deeply entwined. And that perspective also views itself as fully appropriately secular, not recognizing that it is as well deeply entwined with assumptions about the appropriateness of religious practice and the public sphere.

Anyway, last post on secularism for a while, as I’m back to writing about nature and writing about writing about nature.

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Burka avenger

Another example of the complex agency of female modesty in traditionally Islamic cultures: A Pakistani children’s show about a female teacher that adopts the burka as a superhero disguise to fight for the right of girls to receive an education. I don’t have the background to discuss the narrative and aesthetic ramifications here, but I think it should remind us of women in Islamic cultures adopting the hijab or equivalent as a way into the public sphere. So, like I said, complex.

Via Andy Carvin on Twitter.

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Summer notes

I picked up a yellow flesh watermelon from the farm as part of our share yesterday. I’m the only one here who eats melon (is there a genetic mutation that makes melons unpalatable? – otherwise I can’t explain it). So I had myself a snack.

yellow watermelonIn the midst of basil season, I’m not making pesto this summer. Pine nuts are just too expensive, for one. Are there any substitutions for them? I seem to remember coming across a recipe for a pistachio-arugula pesto that I filed away in my mental to-try folder, but that’s not answering the need. Walnuts won’t do for the other reason I’m not making pesto: the wife isn’t majorly into nuts to begin with.

So I’m making pistou instead. Which is to say, I making pesto without pine nuts. Pistou is apparently a Provencal basil sauce of garlic, cheese, and olive oil, so pesto without the pine nuts, but it seems a bit extravagant to invoke a whole alternate heritage for what amounts to eliminating the pine nuts and amping up the garlic. Here‘s the recipe that I started with, but it’s no rocket science. And when I say amping up the garlic, I mean I’m using a hell of a lot more garlic than this recipe called for. It’s like a garlic bomb it’s so awesome when you do it like that – just give it a little while for the sharpness to mellow. And, you know, put it in soups and on roasted new potatoes. And of course toss it into pasta. Salad dressings, too.

That, and I’m looking forward to my first basil gimlet of the season.

And, finally, another butterfly, a Gray Hairstreak. This one is small and easy to miss. Think of that and their considerable and broad distribution from Colombia to Canada. A massive invisible nation dwarfing all others, hovering only eighteen inches above the ground of the contiguous land masses of North and Central America.

In the last post I compared my new interest in identifying butterflies with love, and in a few upcoming posts, I’d like to explore a broader, and a bit more technical, philosophical and naturalist background to the comparison. But for the moment, I’ll just say that what turns my head to pursue a flash of color fluttering above the grass is very much like the experience of love. And then to patiently pursue the butterfly until it comes to a rest – which can be at times fifty to a hundred yards, man; to peer intently at it to identify as many characteristics as my inexperienced eye can before it flies away; and then patiently to differentiate and situate it amongst a variety of potential beloved. This one was a tiny pale flake, and without the desire to know butterflies a bit more intimately, I would have simply pegged it the ubiquitous Cabbage White and moved on. Now not only do I know the Hairstreak, I’m also aware of its similarity to the Eastern Tailed Blue, and the Summer and Spring Azures. A world in which to place it, and in which to attempt to place myself. And my eyes thereby acquire experience.

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Hey there, wild strawberry.

When I say that all we could see were catbirds, butterflies, and a warbler, how many robins, cardinals, finches, and sparrows am I leaving out? How many of the fattest fat, reckless bumblebees? There were two today that buzzed across my path inches from my chest, but they’re not usually remarkable in both senses of that term. Certainly if we’re going on evidence that is not simply sight, this time of year any walk must take into account the overwhelming presence of cicadas. The ebb and flow of their chatter is a constant drone, coming from all places all at once, almost too loud to ever quite fade into the background of our attention. I saw a dying cicada today – the first I’ve actually laid eyes on one this summer. It buzzed and lay still; buzzed and lay still. I wanted to grab it and look more closely at it, but it was well lodged in some brambles and poison ivy. I shook the branches some trying to get at it, and it buzzed in alarm, fell a bit into the bramble, and was silent.

But it seems to be butterflies that I’m in love with this summer; that’s what I look for and what I notice. So like any lover, I’m trying to get a name. Today I saw a Delaware Skipper, so orange in that setting that it seemed that there was an orange world more real than our own pressing up against the green one. Incidentally, this is a great page for New Jersey butterflies – a field guide that is developed on an experiential rather than a taxonomic basis, and so very interesting at a number of levels.

This guy has also been catching my eye nearly every day as I walk along the stream back toward my street: an ebony jewelwing. But what I really wanted to put up here today were some thoughts about berries from an earlier point this summer:

Hey there, red sunburst of seed. You’re a wild strawberry.
I could eat you, but to say that you have almost no flavor
Would be generous. You have that to give, that there are other things
I might pick up from the ground, bush, or elsewhere that would be
Too bitter to eat – fit only for some other metabolism or constitution.
There is some value in that, in having some small benefit
To offer while giving no harm or no offense. Well, there are some
That are allergic and shouldn’t eat you at all. But they’re not missing much.

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Field report

The boy and I took the dogs into the town park late in the morning. Today is supposed to be the last day of a rather brutal heat wave, so none of us has been getting much exercise.

Other than the catbirds rustling in the bush, the only visible fauna out on the paths in the sun were tiger swallowtail and red-spotted purple butterflies. I did see a male black swallowtail and another that I was never able to get a look at because it never came to a rest. It had an unusual flying technique that seemed more concentrated and deliberate than the random, jerky, open-air glides of the other butterflies, always remaining only inches above the leaves and branches it was flying over, but too fast and chaotic to let the eye fix on it.

Passing by some likely high, dense bushes, I told the boy that I’d see if anyone would come out to visit, and I played a yellow warbler song. A common yellowthroat hopped out on a limb a few feet above and six or so feet down the path and sang to us for a while. It was about then that we realized that we had not seen the dogs for a while. I called for them, and the puppy came. I followed her back to the older dog, which was nosing around the carcass of a yearling deer folded up a few feet into the bushes at the edge of the path.

We were at that time coming out of the back trails in the fields that are cut through the brush and mowed despite being rarely used. This was clearly to our advantage, as the blackberries are just coming into season. Only a few at each branch were ripe, but the bushes were untouched. The berries we picked were still a little tart, but already soft, sweet, and flavorful. At least they were to me. The boy found them still too tart to be fully enjoyed.

Myself, I’d been experiencing some diverticulitis lately which I had suspected was from getting blueberry seeds lodged in my colon – I’ve been eating blueberries by the handful the last few weeks, and who wouldn’t. So I was a little apprehensive about the seeds from the blackberries, which are larger and harder. I tried to chew them down as much as possible, or even spit them out when I could. Growing old is not going to be a picnic.

I reflected that my age metaphorically is not that unlike the current point of the season with some good bit of heat remaining before the fall. Past the peak and full force youth. I am feeling a little bit dried-out and bug-eaten like the leaves are now, and slowed down a a little too as I might be from the heat and humidity. But that is about as far as I’m going to carry it.

We can expect only one point of comparison from our analogies, the one that allows us to make them. If we gain a second by the act of making it, that might be considered unexpected wisdom and we should be grateful for it. But we never learn anything by actively seeking additional points of comparison.

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Accursed land

This is a new one. Former GOP presidential nomination frontrunner Rick Perry has come under some heat for his unconventional and frankly disturbing religious associations. These go beyond the typical guilt by association that plagues politicians who may have encountered some fringe figures in their spiritual pursuits, like Obama’s close association with the controversial and outspoken (and aptly named) Jeremiah Wright or Michele Bachmann’s with the extremely odious Bradlee Dean. I certainly believe these relationships bear scrutiny, but generally not the clutching-the-chest panic they tend to evoke from partisans. Perry, on the other hand, moved into territory that quite frankly can be described as un-American – and by such I’d mean contrary to broad agreements about American political heritage as represented in discussions and interpretations of the Constitution, and nothing more – with the massive prayer rally called “The Response” held in Texas back in August. I don’t need to belabor the obvious here about an elected representative of the people – a governor, no less – endorsing, planning, and leading an exclusive religious festival not as a private citizen but in his capacity as a public servant.

But this is interesting. Evangelist, and from what I can tell, professional crazy person Cindy Jacobs has claimed that “The Response” has lifted a curse from American soil. Part of the purpose of the “The Response” was to pray away the problems that bedevil the country, and no one could be blamed for thinking back to Perry’s earlier state proclamation to pray away the droughts and wildfires that have made Texas, as least as viewed from afar, seem as if it were a land subject to the wrath of some divine power or another. But Jacobs’s claim is new to me: she claims that the sins of the Native Americans – chiefly their cannibalism – cursed the land and that curse, until recently, was affecting the legacy of the European settlers that displaced the native population. This recalls Pat Robertson’s rather confused and contemptible assertion that it was the Haitian Revolution’s pact with the Devil to overturn the French colonial government there that had cursed the land and resulted in Haiti’s horrific earthquake. Now it’s easy to dismiss Jacobs – she’s the fringe of a rather fringe group, and her major claim to notoriety is that she’s prone to make these crazy claims, like her claim that a massive die-off of birds in Arkansas and Louisiana was due to the end of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, the military’s former policy of the forced exclusion of gays and lesbians from service. But the claim itself, and that it would find itself articulated within a specifically evangelical environment, that fascinates me.

Some ritual cannibalism was indeed practiced by Native American peoples prior to European settlements. And not long ago the anthropology community was embroiled in a rather sensational debate about the extent of the cannibalism practiced by a vanished tribe that preceded the Pueblo in the Southwest. But the weirdness here isn’t the lurid fixation with cannibalism itself, but that the sin or crime tainted not the people that practiced it so much as the land they lived on. And not the land so much as the geopolitical entity that inherits that continent.

Our culture is rife with heavily symbolic accounts of the transfer of authority over the land from Natives to Europeans, beginning with the fiction and poetry of the nineteenth century – especially Cooper’s novels and the narrative poems of Longfellow – and the trope of the Vanishing Indian, the peculiar insistence of nineteenth century Americans, including even otherwise astute and sympathetic observers like Thoreau, to insist that the Indians were already prior to the encounter with the West a dying and vanishing race, whose convenient inability to thrive and prosper allowed for European occupation of otherwise soon-to-be-vacated lands. Stories of the transfer of the land from Natives to Europeans continue through our contemporary popular culture, as in the infamous “crying Indian” ad from the 1970’s Keep America Beautiful campaign. And yet in all of those accounts, the Indian vanishes physically but retains some spiritual claim over the landscape, and either approves and guarantees the moral and inevitable nature of European settlement (as we find in Longfellow), or in the case of the TV ad, admonishes its improper stewardship of the transferred lands. Never does the transfer involve our assumption of a primal crime.

If it weren’t for Jacobs’s ties to Perry’s prayer festival and to a prophetic movement that’s become associated with his candidacy, it would be the odd notion of a negligible lunatic, and maybe it is that. But evangelical Christianity has a long history of obsession with geography and spirituality, primarily with that of the Holy Land, so I can’t discount it entirely. Neither do I know what to make of it. Part of it does seem to be a rebuke against secularism, though. If we’re going to be cursed on account of primitive (meaning first, not crude) practices on this continent, the others must be under similar burdens, unless also relieved of that curse by a specifically Christian ceremony – one that deliberate transgresses the original founding compact of the affected nation-state that distinguishes public duties from private obligations of conscience. I think it’s fairly clear here that the sin that far more concerns Jacobs than cannibalism would be the Jeffersonian separation of church and state. Secularism did not permit a sacralization of the American landscape, except in the revisionist histories that see the Constitution in some sort of pre-Bill of Rights dispensation sanctifying a Christian America before the 20th century judicial pronouncements began to pry religion and governance apart. Without that sacralization, the pagan earth that sustained the primitive inhabitants would be the same that sustains our rather shaky secular government, according to this view.

I wonder, then, if we could tie Jacobs’s claim here to the motivation behind Glenn Beck’s rather odd and uncomfortable rally in Jerusalem. The Holy Land has long functioned for evangelical Christians as an historical anchor for what they view as the inevitable and necessary transformation of the created world. It was where Jews were historically supplanted in ecclesiastical importance with Christ himself, and while it is necessary for many Christians that Jerusalem remain Jewish so that historical continuity from Jew to Christian remain forever imminent. But they’re still Jews, and the primal crimes of the land must remain still remain, in this view.

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There’s only one space after a period.

I think Farhad Manjoo is right about a number of things in this essay, one of them being how strongly and perversely people who insist on placing two spaces after a period before beginning the next sentence continue to cling to this misconception. The need to do so is a rule from the age of typewriters – a rule from the old age of typewriters, as Manjoo points out: typewriters have been working with proportional type from the 70s on, and it is, of course, the existence of proportional type that not only obviates the necessity to use additional white space to indicate the division between sentences, but also means that the old typewriter rule is now plainly wrong. Your wordprocessing client, whichever one you use, and your fonts – except possibly Courier, but why would you be using Courier – are all designed to produce text that is most legible and most pleasing to the eye when there is only one space between a period and the sentence that follows. That is, the rule is only one space after a period.

Am I back? God, I hope so.

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