About to pop

This morning i read in the paper about how a retired Air Force guy gave a talk to some other retired folks down near that consumptive shithole of a town name Kiawah. He evidently told them how we need to steady ourselves for the "long war," both protecting ourselves from terrorist acts and winning the hearts and minds of Iraqi citizens. His suggestion for a terrorist act was to shoot the side of a chlorine-filled train car. He then suggested, even though he didn't know why anyone hadn't done it yet, that it was just a matter of time 'til some terrorist did that very thing and, by gum, we've just got to do something about revamping our entire nation's train fleet to make it terrorist safe.

I also read this morning how our crooked-ass government has spent, for 2007, almost 50 billion dollars on intelligence. You know: spy stuff. Like Jason Borne.

50 billion dollars.

in one year.

Alright, i know the following is a juvenile tactic, but i'm doing it anyway.

If we really wanna win some hearts and minds, i could have suggested--rather than rebuilding our entire nation's rail-based transportation system-- we give that money to Iraqi citizens.

50,000,000,000 (spy budget) / 30,000,000 (entire Iraqi population) = $16,000 per person.

Since the average income of an Iraqi citizen is apparently around $1,000 per year, i imagine 16k would go a long way in the battle for hearts and minds.


if you just happen to be one of them train-fixin', jingoistic, rabidly upwiththatroops Amuricans down on Kiawah....well, i can hear what you're thinking already. You're probably thinking about telling me that them pesky Iraqis wouldn't take that money. They just hate america that much. Well, if that is indeed the case, that means Iraqi citizens can't be bought off like most of our country's population. If they wouldn't take the money then maybe this is a group we should consider emulating rather than immolating, you know?

Man, i can't abide this crap. We really need a revolution.

Wait! i have another stupid suggestion as to what to do with that money:

1) fly every American to Iraq
2) Have each of us pick out an Iraqi citizen (that would be a 10:1 ratio, by the way)
3) All of us would ask exactly what it is we've done that has pissed them off so badly, and then promise--if they respond reasonably--to do whatever we can to make things right. And then we hand them 16,000 dollars.

It's bound to work.


Going to the fair again

Claire and I went to the fair last year with her kids--an event that was memorialized here--and now we've done it again. So it's officially a tradition. The things eaten by our group over the course of our five hours at the fair were: a deep-fried Snickers, deep-fried Oreos, sweet potato fries, a corn dog, an Italian sausage sandwich, caramel apples, popcorn, an elephant ear, a funnel cake, pizza, a Philly cheese steak, and a turkey leg. Very nutritious. Claire adored the deep-fried Oreos, although all the day's deep-fried samplings confirmed for me the excellence of the funnel cake. I think it may be the epitome of fried food. Funnel cake, food of the gods.

You may remember that last year I rode the skyride with five-year-old Adam and was struck with terror that his tiny body might slip off the seat and plummet to the grease-stained pavement below. This year I was a bit calmer, although I still put my arm around him when we rode. He seemed unconcerned.

Biffle came along this year, and he apparently had no fears of Frances falling out of the skyride.

The kids were older this year, which meant faster rides and longer waits in line. Biffle and I were honored to take Frances on her first roller coaster ride ever. In this picture I think I may be elbowing Frances in the eyeball, an event about which she was quite gracious.

Near the end of the day, we made it to a second roller coaster, which I don't even remember seeing last year. Everybody but Claire rode this one--the kids were all so brave! We never did find out the name of it, but Nina, Adam, and Frances all said that "roller coaster number two" was their favorite ride of the day.


Colbert in Charleston

Stephen Colbert is coming to Charleston this weekend for a Rock the Vote party, so Skirt magazine is starting a campaign:

Pictures from DC

And while we're on the subject of pictures, here are some from the DC trip.
Here's a picture of me with my aunt Kathy, who looks weirdly like my grandmother, to whom she is not related.

Students on the Metro.

Some of the students and the other faculty member, Marguerite Archie-Hudson, with John Lewis.

All of us on the steps of the Capitol. Here we're with Congressman Joe Wilson, the guy who had all those pictures on his walls and was a bit freaked out at having an office full of feminists. He was nice enough to take us outside and get this great picture with us, though, and shortly after this photo was taken, one of the WGS students convinced Wilson's interns and assistants to wear stickers that said (inaccurately, but still) "This is what a feminist looks like."


Day 3 in DC

Today was amazing. We met with another of my former students, Anna Cielinski from Vanderbilt, this morning. Anna is now Carolyn Maloney's Legislative Assistant, and she was great at getting all the students to talk and offering practical advice and honest answers. It was so good to see her.

We met with a series of elected officials, from David Price to Lindsay Graham, and although we had some angst (some students were appalled at Lindsay Graham's answers to their questions, while others were appalled at the first set being appalled) and some blistered feet (Biffle and my dad are right when they complain about women's shoes--I was one of the few women whose feet weren't covered in blisters after two days of walking, and that's because I was wearing flat, square-toed Sensible Shoes), it was very educational.

And then it came time for us to meet with Hilda Solis, from California. A vote was coming up in the House just as we were scheduled to meet with her, so her aides shuttled us quickly over to the Capitol and up to the gallery to watch. I have no idea how any voting happened, because all I saw were people walking around, cocktail-party style, talking to each other, but apparently that's how it works, and we were all thrilled to be there. Congresswoman Solis kept bringing people over to the floor under where we were sitting to wave at us, which was fun.

After a very short amount of time, the aides whisked us all outside to take a picture on the steps of the Capitol, with the dome gleaming behind us. And this is when we were at the right place at the right time. The vote had happened, so Congresspeople were filtering out of the building, and because it was the end of their workday, they had time to stop and talk.

"Look, it's Dennis Kucinich!" Leigh cried out at one point, and because we were probably among the few people who ever recognize him, he came over and shook our hands.

And then I looked up the steps and saw--"Omigod, it's John Lewis! It's John Lewis!"

John Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders. He grew up a very poor and very shy in segregated Georgia. He went on the Freedom Rides when he was just a kid, the age my students are now. They knew how dangerous it was: he and the other Riders wrote letters to their families, letters that Diane Nash kept back in Nashville to give to the families if the Rider got killed. And in fact, early in the rides, in Rock Hill, SC, John Lewis and a white Rider were brutally beaten when they tried to enter a white bus stop waiting area. And now he's a Congressman.

I got to shake his hand. He talked to the students, told them about the Civil Rights movement and his participation. I rummaged around frantically in the students' bags until I found some cameras, and I took picture after picture. He talked about how, when he was a kid, he'd tried to enter the library in his town and was thrown out because he was black. He didn't go back again until recently, when he was there to sign copies of his book. I cried, and then some of the students started crying--it was really amazing to meet such a hero. A few years ago I also got to meet Diane Nash, and I just feel so humbled by what they did.

While we were there, other members of Congress joined us--Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, who took his oath of office on the Koran; Michael Honda, from California; Gwen Moore, a former welfare recipient who got pissed off and decided to run for office and won; and others whose names I can't remember. We got pictures with all of them, and they all urged the students--as has everyone we've met--to consider running for office. "This is your government, and you need to be at the table."

I don't know if I'm going to run for office, but I really did feel like it's my government.


Day 2 in DC

I am sooooo exhausted, so just the high points of today:

  • Seeing Slittle, who now works at EMILY's List and is officially a Role Model for the current WGS students.
  • Meeting with my aunt Kathy--my late uncle Jim's ex-wife--who is now in charge of the Women in Development branch of USAID. From her colleague, Mary: "Eternal vigilance is necessary to keep gender in focus."
  • Ellie Smeal came to talk with us when we visited the Feminist Majority Foundation. Unfortunately, because it hadn't even occurred to me that we'd get to meet with her, I didn't warn the students at all or give them any info on who she was. So for that reason, and because we all had dangerously low blood sugar by that point, they weren't as impressed as they probably should have been.
  • Visited with Congressperson Jim Wilson, Republican from SC. His office was floor to ceiling pictures and certificates. Literally floor to ceiling--and the ceilings were probably 15' high. Slittle said it sounded like the psychiatrist's office in Garden State, and that's true, but times 10. He seemed a bit nervous, perhaps because he wasn't expecting 25 women (one one man) with Feminist Majority Foundation tote bags to come marching into his staunchly Republican office. Jenna Lyles won the award for asking him the best questions. In short:
    • Jenna: "Do you support the ERA?"
    • Jim: "No, because we don't need more laws. We need to enforce the ones we have."
    • Jenna: "So, did you vote for Amendment 1 in South Carolina, that made gay marriage illegal?"
    • Jim: "Yes."
    • Jenna: "But, gay marriage was already illegal in SC. So why did you think we needed another law in that case?"
    • Jim: "Ummm...."


Blogging on location in Washington, DC

Another professor and I have brought 24 students to Washington, DC, for three days of meeting with feminist organizations and government agencies and various elected officials. We chartered a bus--I only thought I was going to throw up three times in the nine-hour trip, so that was pretty good--and arrived tonight at our youth hostel. Although I had warned the other professor twice before we left that we'd be staying in a hostel, and that the accommodations would be dorm-style, she still seemed a bit shocked when we got here. But she quickly rallied, and as of a few minutes ago, seemed cheerful about the adventurousness of it all. She's staying in a room that's filled with our students. I lucked into a room that has a bunch of old people in it--a doctor from the Netherlands, an activist from Seattle, and another woman who looks like she might be German, although I didn't talk with her. It's very quiet. I'm actually in the lobby right now because the lights are out in my room, and the other old folks have already gone to sleep.

The sad news is, I left my camera--Biffle's camera, really--on the bus. This was after Biffle carefully instructed me in some of the finer points of the camera: "If you need to take a picture really quickly and don't want the flash to go off, use this setting." The bus is now parked at a Ramada in Maryland, where it will stay until Wednesday evening when the driver comes to pick us up again. The camera is safe, but I probably won't be able to post any pictures of our time in DC. Several students have volunteered to let me use their cameras, but we don't have any hardware to get the pictures onto my computer. I'll try to offer richly descriptive prose...as I sit here, computer nestled in the salmon-colored window box, listening to my students excitedly discuss the gay club they're off to visit. As is often the case at this point in my life, I'm relieved to be an old person. They invited me to come with them, but I feel no shame at all about preferring to play on the computer and read at 10:30 at night rather than going off into the streets of Washington, DC.


Reproductive rights rhetoric

This week a friend and I went to a talk in which representatives from the Reproductive Health Technologies Project discussed an extensive survey they've done about attitudes toward abortion. They've used this research to develop more effective strategies for talking about abortion--I've long pointed out that the rhetoric of "choice" is a poor response to the rhetoric of "baby killer" that the folks who are opposed to women's reproductive rights use.

Their survey found that the country is fairly evenly divided between those who are supportive of a woman's right to have an abortion in many cases, and those who believe abortion should be mostly or entirely illegal. But they also found that folks who are mostly opposed to abortion will often reconsider when we talk about a woman, not women--when we talk about "women," people's stereotypes get invoked, but people are less likely to stereotype an individual woman. And rather than choice, it's better to talk about a decision-making process. I know that these are small semantic changes, but they've found that "choice" suggests, "Which potato chip will I buy?", while "decision-making process" more accurately represents what it means to decide to terminate a pregnancy. The idea is to make the woman herself visible, and make the seriousness and complexity of her decision visible, too. And while lots of people are firmly opposed to having an abortion*, they are sometimes willing to concede that they are not the ones best qualified to make a complex decision like that for someone else.

Also on the issue of abortion, a study by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization has found that rates of abortion are similar in countries where abortion is legal and where it's illegal--meaning that making abortion illegal doesn't actually stop women from having abortions, it just makes them much less safe. They also found that in countries where abortion is legal and where contraceptives and widely available and widely promoted, abortion rates have declined significantly. So the idea is, if you want to reduce the number of abortions, making abortion illegal is not the way to go. Making contraception available and making it possible for women to make actual choices about their sexuality and their reproduction works much better.

*I should note that RHTP studies have also found that many people who are ideologically opposed to abortion will have an abortion--but they believe that their reasons are valid, and that they are the exception.


The Homecoming Donut Toss

Today was the TTU Homecoming Parade, which means it was time for the annual Piepmeier tradition: The Homecoming Donut Toss. I can't remember how this tradition started, but it's an excellent mixture of bizarre performance art and very good family entertainment. The Homecoming Parade passes right in front of my parents' house, so we invite over everybody we know, we all eat pounds and pounds of delicious brunch food, and then when the parade starts, we lob hundreds of donuts at the floats and the Homecoming Court. This year my dad got 10 dozen donuts, and some of the guests brought more.

Dad has developed a series of rules that go along with the donut toss. The first rule is, No throwing donuts at people. Only underhand tossing is allowed. Here is my dad demonstrating the proper toss, with Mike O'Mara catching.

Here are some photos that will give you a sense of what it feels like to be in the midst of the donut toss.

For this one, Kevin ran across the street, so you're looking at my parents' house here.

Rule #5 of the Donut Toss is, hide the donuts from the roving bands of fraternity brothers. This is what it looks like when the fraternity boys run up to the donut toss.

Benya had a very good time at the parade. We all got excited about tossing the donuts and didn't always pay attention to what was happening at waist level, which means that several times Benya was able to snag donuts from people's hands.

Kevin O'Mara was the official documentarian of this year's Homecoming Donut Toss. He is a kick-ass photographer. To see the rest of of the pictures from today (and many more), visit his Flickr page. There, you can also see a picture of me in our childhood climbing tree.


The Snake*

I'm in Cookeville this weekend for the Tennessee Tech Homecoming Parade (more on this tomorrow), so tonight mom took me, Gridge, and Mary to the Shaken Snake for 24 ounces of chocolate malty goodness. They were as delicious as I remembered.

I think the Snake makes their malts with a malt syrup instead of malt powder, because mine tonight had a creamy malty layer at the bottom of the glass--it tasted sort of like molasses. It was good. Gridgey actually considered getting his malt with extra malt, but he thought it might be too much.

The malts at Kaminsky's are a bit chocolatey-er than the Snake's, maybe because they drizzle chocolate syrup all over the inside of the glass. I think it may be a draw between Kaminsky's and the Snake as to who has the better chocolate malt. I still haven't tried Bruster's, though.

*I would like to note that, although my dad didn't come to the Snake with us, he has been helping with this blog post. Most of his comments--which involved things like, "After I drank my third malt and stood up to walk out the door, I burped so loud I stopped cars on I-40"--haven't made it into the post. He gently suggested that this might be one of my more boring posts, but I'm not sure that I have much more to say.


The sadness of white people

In today's Intro to Women's and Gender Studies class I was reminded once again that white people sure do hate it when you say that white people are racist.

We've talked about this here before, at length, so I won't make all the same old points again. The shorthand, for those of you who don't want to reread old posts, is that I claim that--to greater or lesser extents--all white people in this country benefit from their whiteness, and if they benefit from white privilege and don't start taking steps to change it, they're perpetuating a racist system. Even if they personally hold no feelings of anger in their hearts.

But, boy oh boy, do white people hate it when you make this point. They want to wriggle away from it any way they can. They bring up their friend who didn't get into Notre Dame because she was white, while a Less Qualified Person of Color (tm) did get in. They complain that they didn't ask to be white, it's not their fault that they're white, so why are they responsible for anything? They tell you about every incident in their life when they were slighted, offended, or hurt by a person of color.

And while all of this irritates the crap out of me, I have to say that what struck me today, once I got over the irritation, was the fact that many of them seemed legitimately pained. Hurt. Almost tearful in some cases.

I guess it's been so long since I had this insight that I can't really remember all the feelings that went along with it for me. What I remember mostly was clarity, and outrage. A realization that I was part of the problem fueled my desire to be part of the solution. I can't remember if I was sad.

Their sadness doesn't seem to be remorse--a feeling I would understand--and it seems to underlie the defensive anecdotes they surround themselves with. If I knew where the sadness was coming from, maybe I could talk with them more effectively. Clearly a lot is at stake for them. And yet I feel conflicted--although I recognize the importance of going to my students where they are, I'm also reluctant to cater to their sadness, to comfort them, when perhaps this is a pain they need to feel.