Good – nay – AWESOME Stuff: “Good evening, my… FELLOW… Americans.”

I love our President. That is all.

No, wait — I’m sorry. That is not all.

Addendum: THIS is how you deal with an asswipe like Donald fucking Trump.

Books! I got your books!

Image may or may not represent author's idea of heaven.

I’ve finally realized that I really should be crossposting the weekly book column I’m writing for Americans for Peace Now! (Me and synergy — we’re not all that well acquainted).

ANYhoo: I post there every Friday, essentially creating a rolling reading list for people who might want to delve a little more deeply into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the lives lived in its shadow. Today I’ll start with this week’s post, and then catch you up on the previous five weeks. From here on out, I’ll do a weekly crosspost.

Read on!

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The Palestinian People: A History

It’s an unfortunate truth that when people who have long been at each other’s throats begin to try to find peace, they often know very little about each other.
This week’s announcement of a unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah revealed just how true this is for Western, Jewish and/or Israeli observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We deal in headlines and sound-bites, with very little information that goes back more than five years – unless it goes to 1948. The vast expanse of years before Israel’s founding, and between that war and the most recent, often get very short shrift.

Thus, today I’m recommending The Palestinian People: A History, an absolutely remarkable history of the Palestinians stretching from the mid-19th century through the post-Oslo era, by Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal.

A people is always more than its most recent headline, and here, Kimmerling and Migdal delve deeply and compellingly into all that has brought the Palestinian people to 21st century, from a little-known proto-nationalist revolt against Egypt in 1834, through the 1936-1939 general strike against the British (which ultimately weakened the Palestinians far more than anyone else), to 1948 and what the authors call “the shattering of the Palestinian people,” through the new reality of Palestinians living in Israel, and in those lands occupied by Israel in 1967.

The occupation quickly became the defining characteristic of Palestinian life, and Migdal and Kimmerling parse what this meant socially, economically, and politically for millions of people attempting to move ahead with their lives in circumstances almost entirely beyond their control. The first intifada erupted in response to these pressures, powered by a never-defeated sense of peoplehood, growing since the 1834 revolt. (to read the rest of this recommendation, please click through to Americans for Peace Now)

And now, please join me in the way-back machine for…. (more…)

White Americans really need to shut up and listen.

Yesterday, the President of the United States did an unprecedented thing: He broke into broadcast schedules and in an unscheduled press conference, showed the world the piece of paper that proves what the world already knew to be true:

He was born in America.

I was in the car, in the midst of  a million and one things, when the news came to me via NPR. I heard the term “long-form” and genuinely cracked up. “Long-form” has long been an inside joke of sorts between Angry Black Lady and her blogging minions — someone acts sketchy? We demand to see their long form. Someone refuses to be reasonable? Long-form!

I listened to what the President had to say, entirely approved of his use of the phrase “side-shows and carnival barkers,” and was incensed, if unsurprised, when I heard Donald Trump later crowing about his role in the whole sordid affair (not to mention his outrageous suggestion that he would have to set his eyes on the birth certificate personally before he would be convinced).This was a typical Obama move, frankly — POTUS is very good at separating his ego from the stupid and the trivial, tossing out bones that don’t matter, in order to protect that which does.

And I knew, just like all of us knew, that none of it would change a thing for most birthers — after all, when reason closes a door, crazy opens a window. I harbored some slim hope that Obama’s reveal might make Donald Trump go away, but didn’t really believe that slim hope to be a reasonable one. And lo – I was right.

What I did not anticipate, on any level, was how the whole sad story was playing among black Americans (update: By which I mean: I didn’t anticipate that watching the most powerful black man in history being forced to show his papers would resonate on such a deeply personal, grief-inducing level for an entire community of American citizens).

There are times in the life of a white liberal when she is smacked on the side of the head with the limitations of her understanding. There are times when a life spent trying to listen and comprehend proves not to have been enough, and new information, breathtaking information, is conveyed, and one’s breath is taken and held, as one stands before a chasmal gap, and listens to the voices on the other side.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes at The Atlantic:

This is a racism of the bone.

My ire is not so much for those who see their interests in that frame, but for the Very Serious People, who see nothing in the fact that those who are sorry that this country wasn’t cleaved in half by Genosha, and those who believe the first black president is a Muslim sleeper agent, are all at the same party. Who with a straight face chalk it up to the inexplicable vagaries of the human mind, or mere chance.

My ire is for those who claim to know better, but do not.

I am really pissed off and quite frankly hurting. Today President Obama released his long form birth certificate to answer questions about where he was born. I can’t remember this being an issue for any other American president or presidential candidate in recent history…. While Obama’s opponent in 2008, Senator John McCain, was in fact born in Panama, it is President Obama who was forced to prove he was born here.The message to all people of color, especially African American men is: “You are not good enough.”
One last point: It’s really amazing that we’re even talking about this. In a sane world, the President of the United States wouldn’t have to release personal information to quell conspiracies about his citizenship…. To a depressingly large number of Americans, “blackness” runs counter to this country’s identity, and an African American president is, by definition, illegitimate.

The Negro was made an American through the sin of slavery but kept this identity through the sacrifices of citizenship: taxes, military duty, labor, effort, patriotism and struggle. Few acts of racism elicit more disgust among black folks descended from eighteenth-century slaves than being told to “go back to Africa” by a white person whose American heritage goes back only to the twentieth century.When birthers accuse President Obama of not having a “real” birth certificate, they’re telling him to “go back to Africa.” It’s a taunt he’s able to dismiss because he knows exactly where and when he’s from. But for black Americans descended from slaves, to question one’s birth raises perhaps a more troublesome enigma: to be born in servitude to someone, but from nowhere.

Historian Blair LM Kelley writes:

The hardened historian in me wasn’t surprised, but I was struck by the sick theatre of a sitting president making special appeal to the state of Hawaii in the effort to prove not only that his election was legitimate, but that his citizenship is valid…. I was struck by the profound disappointment of the Obama generation at the state of black citizenship. I was thinking about horror of the president having to show his papers, echoing with the millions of migrant workers, documented and undocumented who have to show papers everyday and are never pre-supposed citizens.
It hurts more than I thought it would. I’m taking it more personally than perhaps seems rational, but I feel sucker-punched.
And Baratunde Thurston (Jack, of Jack and Jill Politics), with tears welling up more than once, said this (he said it in a video, which can be seen here, but the words are so powerful, I want to pin them down. All emphasis is Thurston’s):

This has been a very difficult morning for me. I got the news that President Obama released his long-form birth certificate due to the increasing media circus surrounding claims that he is not one of us, that he is not American….

[Looking back at the history of the civil rights era], you’re reminded of the extraordinary sacrifice that has been involved in allowing all of Americans to exist as, be treated as, participate as, Americans — to be that which they are.

…[Civil rights activists] got on buses and freedom rides, they sat in, they died, in waves and waves of domestic terrorism, so that someone like me could go into a voting booth and not be asked, by some racist poll worker, to pay a tax… or pass a literacy test.

…And today, the President of the United States had to prove that he was an American to the satisfaction of the 75% of Iowa Republicans who doubt that, or the 43% of national Republicans who doubt that, or the one heinous, low-class individual who took credit for it after, Donald Trump.

…I find it hard to summarize in mere words the amount of pain and rage this incident has caused. It’s humiliating — not just to Barack Obama, not just to the office of the President, not just to black Americans and those who supported our quest for freedom. It’s embarrassing to the entire nation, that we would sit and let this happen. We have all been debased by this incident.

…My name is Baratunde Thurston. I’m heart-broken over this.

While I worry, deeply and daily, about what all this means for the President’s own safety, it’s clear that that’s far from the only worry. It’s clear that a great many of my fellow Americans still — even after members of their community have sat on the Supreme Court and made our laws and shaped our media discourse and been elected to the highest office in the land — do not feel fully free to “participate as Americans — to be that which they are.”

And that does, indeed, debase us all.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Palestinian unity government – the I-don’t-have-any-time edition

Updated, below.

In a particularly inconvenient turn of events, the Palestinian people decided to make big news today, when I have been far too busy to even really follow the news, much less react to it.

So for now, here’s a quick n’ dirty post, with the assumption that I’ll be writing more as the days go by.

Here’s the gist of what happened (from the NY Times):

The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, announced Wednesday that they were putting aside years of bitter rivalry to create an interim unity government and hold elections within a year, a surprise move that promised to reshape the diplomatic landscape of the Middle East.

… While the deal, reached after secret Egyptian-brokered talks, promised a potentially historic reconciliation for the Palestinians, Israel warned that a formal agreement would spell the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Now, the truth of the matter is that Fatah and Hamas have done this in the past — in 2007, in a deal brokered by who I think are pretty much the same players on both sides of the Palestinian divide — and the result was not so much unity as a civil war which led to Fatah’s leaders fleeing for their lives from Gaza to the West Bank. So, caution is in order.

On the other hand, the US and Israel not only rejected the 2007 government out of hand, but the Bush Administration was actively pushing Fatah toward that civil war, even going the extra mile of arming them for the fight. While it’s clear that today’s Israel has no more interest in working with a Fatah-Hamas government than it did four years ago, and will do all it can to delegitimize it in the eyes of the international community (and, I suspect, will likely attempt to launch a renewed round of hostilities), I somehow can’t see the Obama Administration going the Bush rejectionist route. Nor can I see Obama quietly acquiescing Israel’s rejectionism — not least in light of the Arab Spring/ongoing wave of unrest across the region, in the course of which this Administration has been at pains to place itself on the side of democratic reforms.

Of course, Obama has disappointed me time and again on Israel/Palestine, falling into the decades-old trap of letting Israel lead the US government by its nose, but I think it’s more than just dogged hope that makes me think that this turn of events will be greeted differently. For the first time in decades, there are some genuinely new dynamics playing out both in the Middle East, and in Washington.

So: Keep the history in mind — but don’t assume that history will be destiny this time around.

As to my personal response, in brief, I think Palestinian unity could ultimately be excellent for Israel — if Israel uses the opportunity to genuinely seek a lasting peace. It’s worth remembering that any peace Israel might have achieved with the Fatah-led government in the West Bank (to the extent that we’re willing to accept the conceit that the Netanyahu government was actually looking to achieve peace) would have been doomed to failure, by virtue of the fact that the Fatah-led government is a) unelected and b) represents at best half the people.

Ok, now, for some of the reactions to the announcement:

So far, of course, Israel’s reaction has been entirely predictable:

“The Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both. Hamas aspires to destroy Israel and fires rockets at our cities … at our children,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“The idea of reconciliation with Hamas demonstrates the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and makes one wonder whether Hamas will seize control of Judea and Samaria the way it seized control of the Gaza Strip,” added the premier, referring to the West Bank.

America’s has been somewhat nuanced:

“We have seen the press reports and are seeking more information. As we have said before, the United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace,” the State Department said.

“To play a constructive role, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles by renouncing violence, accepting past agreements, and recognizing Israel’s right to exist…. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.

(The nuance, in case you missed it [!], is that the US didn’t lead with rejection, but rather with “we are seeking more information” and “supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace.”)

Writing in Israel’s paper of record, HaAretz, Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel provide some useful analysis, including laying out the ways the Israeli government might be served by the announcement (though not necessarily in a fashion that promotes a peace agreement), as well as how it could all still go wrong:

Despite [Israel's] harsh response, the reconciliation may well work to Israel’s advantage. Israel has been struggling internationally, as more than 100 nations prepare to recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in the UN in September. Renewed relations between Hamas and Fatah, however limited, could shed a different light on Abbas’ intentions, and Netanyahu, who is due to speak before both houses of Congress next month, will be able to present the agreement as proof that Abbas doesn’t really want peace.

…However, if Hamas is participating in a unity government, even if through technocrats, this would minimize the group’s desire to renew the conflict on the Gaza front, which could help maintain calm there.

In the most optimistic scenario, the reconciliation may even improve the chances of a deal to return captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

…Both parties appear increasingly interested in implementing a deal, but many of the details remain unclear. One key detail is who the ministers will be, and more important still, who will lead it and what will happen to the incumbent prime ministers – Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and Salam Fayyad of the PA.

As the full details of the reconciliation agreement are not yet known, it’s too early to judge its practical implications. In any case, it does not bode well for Israel, because it enables Hamas to utilize more powerful levers in order to thwart a long-term political agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Here I’d just like to note that it’s striking that in both of these cases, it’s assumed that what’s best for Israel is what’s best for the current Israeli government.

And Americans for Peace Now says the Palestinian announcement could be an opportunity for the Administration:

For years the U.S. has made the mistake of opposing Palestinian reconciliation rather than encouraging it; it should not compound this mistake by wasting this opportunity to engage a new Palestinian government. It should do so making clear that U.S. relations with this government… will be based solely on the positions and actions of the government.  Unfortunately, there are many in Israel and the US… who will try to spin today’s announcement as evidence that the Palestinian Authority is not a partner in peace.  Such a reaction is at best mistaken; at worst it is a cynical pretext for not negotiating peace.This reconciliation announcement bolsters the conclusion that now is the time for President Obama to redouble his own commitment to peace.  By laying out his own plan for peace — including presenting substantive peace parameters and his plan of action for moving forward — Obama has the opportunity to re-assert credible US leadership, to forestall action at the UN in September, and to take the true measure of both the Israeli and the Palestinian governments’ commitments to peace.

That’s it for now! Watch this space for more….
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Update: Make sure you also read Mitchell Plitnick’s just-posted excellent analysis on the unity announcement. He breaks his analysis down to four crucial questions: Is this for real? What will this mean for the Palestinians? What will this mean for Israel? What will this mean for the USA? Among his conclusions: “This agreement is a very clear statement that [Palestinian President] Abbas considers the peace process as we’ve known it since 1991 to be dead and buried,” and “despite the hysterics from the Israeli right and their friends and supporters, there can never be peace with part of the Palestinian body politic, any more than there could be with only part of Israel.”

Dammit, who opened the floodgates of knowledge?

Once upon a time, I didn’t know very much, and that seemed fine.

No, wait. Let me re-phrase.

Once upon a time, I knew a fair amount, more than most people knew, and it was, in fact, fine.

I have long called myself the worst-read well-read person you might ever hope to meet, and there is certainly something to that (Moby Dick? Nope. Sense and Sensibility? Nope. Any number of classics in the field of Middle East Studies that people are certain I must know by heart? Nope.), but there is also something not to that — by which I mean: I actually am very well-read, very well-educated, and probably more to the point, know how to find the information I need at the drop of an Easter bonnet.

I had this skill when all the information was in libraries and one had to get up and go to the library, and I retain the skill, in its Brave New World form, in the age of the internet. I have always followed the news, I have always paid attention to the smaller stories as well as the larger ones, I have always been able to sniff out the lacunae in news reports that often matter more than the actual information on offer.

Well. In my middle years, I have come to learn an Important Truth:

The Information Super Highway is really more of an Information Firehose.

And I confess, dear reader — much as I love my blogs and my fellow commenters and my Twitter — I confess that, oh my good nightshirt, there is just too much to know, now!

Always, always, bloody always I am behind. On something. Something really, really important. Always.

Of course I have felt versions of this overwhelment pretty much since I started reading blogs about three years ago (having felt snooty about the practice beforehand — having forgotten, apparently, that like any tool or medium, a blog is as good as its handler, and if its handler is deft, then the blog is a thing of beauty), with a noticeable bump in said feeling once I got on the Twitter — but none of it compares with how I’ve felt since the revolution in Egypt.

Of course, it should be noted that a lot of the flood of information currently coming at me via Twitter falls, in a rather ahistorical and spectacular fashion, square in my area of professional, academic and personal interest. I actually — honestly, genuinely, and occasionally desperately — want to know every little thing about the rolling revolution under way in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

When it was all going down in Egypt, I was as a woman possessed. I read, watched, tweeted, blogged, commented, stayed up far too late and got up far too early and generally acted like it was my job. At one point, I had two computers on my desk, so that I could have Al Jazeera English on at all times, without having to toggle over from whatever other Egypt-centric internet source I was engaged in at the moment.

But it wasn’t my job (oh lord, how I wish it had been my job!), any more than it’s my job to be up on Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and/or Tunisia now (oh lord, how I wish that were my job!), and when Hosni Mubarak stepped down, I forced myself back to earth — to the actual, paying work, the human beings with whom I live, and the rest-of-my-tangible-world stuff which is forever taking me away from the flood of information.

And so now what Twitter and the handful of blogs I read mostly make me feel is inadequate. And guilty.

There are a lot of people (well – a handful, at any rate) who follow this blog or follow me on Twitter because I was as a woman possessed during the Egypt upheaval. What are they to make of me now? I’m not up on Libya as I should be, nor on Syria or Bahrain or Saudi or — good Lord, I even feel like I’m behind on Israel/Palestine all the time now! –  and I’m writing about female body image, cleaning my house, and gay rights! All of which are things about which, it turns out, I should also know more.

Oy and sigh. I suspect I’m going through what will someday be identified as an Information Influx Cycle or something. I recently upped my content-received, so now I’m going through the “too-much-too-much-TOO-MUCH” stage, which is likely to be followed by the “well, I can’t know everything and so I will let it go like the pretty butterfly it is” stage. Or sommat.

But right now, all I know for sure is that there is a Peter Jackson video blog, his first since he started filming The Hobbit (!!) that I’ve been waiting to see all day, and I keep putting it off for more important things.

For which, come to think of it, I have a blog to thank (thank you, Bob Cesca’s Awesome Blog! Go! [that's the blog's real name. Really. You should read it! It's awesome!]). OHMYGOD so overwhelming, this internet is, but also dead useful.

Passover 2011, pt II: On the whole Passover dealio, let’s be honest.

It really does seem that every year, Passover goes by faster. One minute I’m hyperventilating over the inhuman amount of cleaning, the next minute I’m all “what, it’s over?” But here we are. Tonight is the start of the second holiday, the one that closes the week, and then boom – it’s back to bread*. What this means for you, dear reader, is that I won’t be posting on Monday (it being a holiday and all) – so instead, here I am on Easter Sunday, writing one more time about Passover.

Moses appears to be a bit doubtful that this is going to end well.

On the whole Passover dealio, let’s be honest.

Anyone who knows anything about Passover (and is over the age of 10) already knows the main message: Let my people go, freedom from slavery, big-ass crackers instead of fluffy bread for a week, etc and so on. (And by the way, if you’re under the age of 10, you really shouldn’t be reading this blog).

However! There are other messages that emerge from the story, if you poke around and look a little, messages that are also powerful and necessary.

Like the fact that people can change. That even the worst dregs of humanity can turn their lives around — can, perhaps, become heroes.

Like Moses.

Do you know who Moses was before he became the dude who stared Pharaoh down, the great prophet, the redeemer of the Israelites, the fella who got to go up to the mountain and chat with The Holy One Blessed Be He?

He was a confused princeling with anger issues — and a murderer, to boot!

Moses was ultimately raised in Pharaoh’s family, but he was cared for early in life by his biological mother, and he knew he wasn’t really Egyptian. One fine day, he “went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors” — which is to say, there he was, all dressed up in his royal finery, watching the slaves go about their business (survivor’s guilt, anyone?). Seeing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses did what any of us would do: He turned to his adoptive father and asked that reforms be instituted.

No, no! I kid!

He killed the dude. And hid the body. (Exodus, chapter 2, if you’re wondering).

Discovering the next day that there were witnesses (and I have to ask: How was this a surprise, exactly? Dude was a prince. How exactly did he think he would not be noticed in the act of killing someone?), he runs away to the land of Midian, where he becomes a shepherd, a husband, a father, and a prophet (in that order).

So, to recap: Moses is a murderer. And then he becomes the savior of his people.

We don’t really know what happened to Moses in the intervening years, up until the point where “a long time after that, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God” — but I’m guessing quite a lot. One doesn’t move from life as a prince to life as a shepherd, or abandon murderous anger for hesitant, self-effacing leadership, without undergoing an internal change or two.

But no matter who you are, or who your enemy is, or what that annoying asshole at work or in elective office did or said — there is always room for change. As long as there is life, there remains the possibility for genuine, even earth-shattering redemption.

And I’ll go one further: Sometimes our heroes are the people we most despise.

Sure, Moses is the prophet. Sure, he was the one who turned his life around and saved his people.

But he would never have gotten the chance if it weren’t for Pharaoh’s daughter — the actual child of the evil emperor.

When you read the story of Moses-in-the-bullrushes (Exodus 1), it emerges that five women (I’ll just repeat that: FIVE WOMEN) are the real heroes here:

  1. The two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who refused to kill the baby boys despite Pharaoh’s decree
  2. Moses’s biological mother, who hides him at home and then hides him where he might be found and kept alive
  3. Moses’s sister Miriam, who stands watch over him and has the courage to offer her help to Pharaoh’s daughter
  4. Pharaoh’s daughter, who plucks Moses out of his basket, agrees that Miriam should find him a wet-nurse, and then pays Moses’s mother to care for him.

Reading the story, it becomes blindingly obvious that the daughter of Pharaoh — who, let’s just recall, was heinous enough to order the mass murder of infants — knew exactly what she was doing. And that without her, the efforts of the other four women would have been for naught.

She says, straight up: “This must be a Hebrew child.” Then another child, who could only have been equally recognizably Hebrew, pops up out of the bullrushes and offers to find a wet-nurse — and then a wet-nurse is instantly found.

Pharaoh’s daughter had to know — and she went with it. She saved the baby, gave him back to his mother for as long as she could get away with it, and then raised the child as her own.

So on top of the freedom-from-slavery thing (which is, don’t get me wrong, a very, very good message), here’s another message that I get out of Passover:

No one’s life is predetermined. We cannot know what people are capable of, we cannot know who will save us. We cannot even know about ourselves.

We can only open the basket in the reeds. We can only listen to whatever voice of goodness and grace we hear, whether by water’s edge, or while moving sheep from point A to point B. We can only make ourselves available.

And believe that redemption is real.

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* Though we live in America, we’re Israelis-in-exile, so we observe the holidays in keeping with the customs of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), which means a seven-day Passover. Most observant Diaspora Jews keep eight days — that is, through Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky.

A quick antidote to yesterday’s dose of awful:

Apparently some church folk in Kentucky have decided that they will not be signing state marriage licenses unless and until Kentucky recognizes same-sex marriage, a decision that’s particularly significant (and, frankly, touching) as Kentucky is one of eleven states that voted to actually change their constitution in order to avoid giving civil rights to teh geyz.

More than 60 members at the Douglass Boulevard Christian Church voted unanimously in favor of the gesture on Sunday. Church leaders said they wouldn’t sign licenses until gay couples are able to enjoy the financial and other advantages of a legal marriage in Kentucky.

Pastors who sign the licenses bestow “a number of gifts and benefits” to married couples, said the Rev. Derek Penwell, the church’s senior pastor.

“It seems the system itself is unjust, and our position at this point is, we love people across the board here and we don’t want to be in a position that underwrites a system that discriminates against people we care about,” Penwell said.

Penwell said the church’s move is in line with “the teachings of Jesus that focus on the necessity of embracing the powerless, giving voice to the voiceless.”

Some other congregations in Ohio, New York, Virginia and Oregon have made similar stands in support of gay marriage, many in response to their state’s bans on gay marriage.

So I remain flummoxed as to what in hell the Tennessee state Senate might think they’re going to accomplish with their attempt to legislate homophobia in the Tennessee school system (by which I mean: to legislate it more than it already is legislated), BUT — the good people of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church of Louisville, Kentucky prove to me that what I said yesterday is true: Ultimately, the morally vacuous foolishness displayed in the halls of Tennessee’s legislative body is doomed to failure.

Thank you, Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. Very nice indeed to know that you’re out there.

(And when Shabbat is over, I’m going to actually thank the church, via email or letter, as I can only guess they’re getting some nasty blow-back on this decision. I encourage you to express your thanks, as well – click here for the contact page).

The “Don’t say gay” bill. No. Really.

Yes. There really is a Gay Street in Knoxville, Tennessee. Will no one think of the geography students?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a child in possession of a word must be in want of a lifestyle.

Or something.

What I’m trying to say here is: Members of Tennessee’s state Senate appear to believe that if they can prevent educators from “discussing homosexuality” in schools prior to 9th grade, they will be able to prevent… what? People being gay? Children knowing that homosexuality exists? Gay people knowing that children exist? I’m not clear on what they think they’re actually going to accomplish, because it’s so fucking stupid that my brain has broken.

In fact, it’s even stupider than that, because homophobic, teacher-muzzling laws already exist in Tennessee. Behold:

A Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that will prohibit teachers from discussing homosexuality in kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms.

The measure (SB49) is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who unsuccessfully pushed the same idea – nicknamed the “don’t say gay” bill – for six years as a member of the state House before he was elected to the Senate.

As introduced, the bill would have put into law a declaration that it is illegal to discuss any sexual behavior other than heterosexuality prior to the ninth grade.

But when it came before the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, contended current law already prohibits such instruction by deeming it a misdemeanor to teach any sex education that is not part of the “family life curriculum” adopted by the state Board of Education.

Tracy proposed an amendment to rewrite Campfield’s bill to require the Board of Education to study the issue and determine whether any teaching about homosexuality is occurring and, if so, recommend what should be done about it.

Campfield contends homosexuality is being discussed in classrooms. Spokesmen for the Board of Education and the state Department of Education told the committee they are unaware of any such activity.

The Tracy amendment passed over Campfield’s objections.

But then Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, proposed to change the Tracy amendment. The revision declares that, after its study to be completed by Feb. 1 of next year, the Board of Education “shall adopt” – as part of the family life curriculum – a ban on discussion of homosexuality in the same language used in Campfield’s bill.

That amendment was adopted, too, and the revised bill was then approved 6-3 and sent to the Senate floor. All no votes came from Democrats.

(emphasis mine, and if you live in Tennessee, please write to those Democrats to say thank you). (And by the way, I have to wonder if the Tennessee state Senate is also planning on tackling the actual-factual problem of kids yelling “gay” and “faggot” and “queer” at each other in hallways and locker rooms. Just, you know, curious).

Meanwhile up here in Illinois, just last week, my 6th grade son took part in this year’s National Day of Silence, in which middle- and high school students take a vow of silence for a day, “to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools.”

Which is to say: My 11 year old boy is smarter — and a frankly better human being — than the Tennessee state Senate.

Because in refusing to allow teachers to discuss the lived reality of millions of Americans (not to mention the lived reality of many other critters in the animal kingdom), these elected officials are not only denying reality on the scale of “the earth is flat, I say!” — they are being unutterably cruel. They are being bullies.

If you’re not LGBTQ yourself, close your eyes for a moment and imagine some central characteristic about yourself, something that you have known to be true your whole life — or think, perhaps, of the person you most love or admire, the person who allows you to be safe, or who inspires you to be your best self.

Now imagine a law passed for the express purpose of telling the world that that very part of you, or your love for that person, is so essentially wrong, so inherently immoral, that merely discussing it with children would damage them. Children must be protected from who you are.

Half of the folks with whom I blog at Angry Black Lady Chronicles are in the LGBTQ community, but I’m not among them. I’m just a straight person who thinks that treating people like dirt — that telling human beings that the mere knowledge of their existence is a threat to children — is stupid, is blind, is sadistic, is an affront to common sense and American values, and is, finally and frankly, ungodly.

The good news is that it’s also doomed to failure — Americans all around us are getting over their homophobia, shedding it as the old, ill-fitting skin it has become. Just yesterday, in fact, we learned that a majority of the American public now believes that gay marriage “should be recognized by the law as valid.”

But there are people for whom that change will not come quickly enough. Adults who grew up surrounded by hate, teenagers who are battling brutality every day, 3rd graders who are learning that they, their very selves, are despicable, unsupportable, insufferable, a threat to the common good. So awful, they cannot be given a public name until their fellow students are old enough to get into a PG-13 movie on their own.

As I’ve written in this space before, one excellent way to improve our society would be to see to it that fewer kids grow up scared and ashamed — and one excellent way to achieve that would be to stop behaving as if LGBTQ people should live their lives wrapped in self-loathing. Just as, you know, a start.

There is, however, some genuine shame that should be felt here, deep and in the bones — by every single hateful fool who voted in support of this bill.

These immoral buffoons should be well and truly ashamed of themselves.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Revisiting Demi Lovato, misogyny, and my daughter’s stomach bug.

Update: This post is one of my most consistently visited.

If you’re here because you’re dealing with cutting, an eating disorder, or bi-polar (any/all) click here for a list of phone numbers and Web resources, and click here to read Ms. Lovato’s comments on her post-rehab experiences and the documentary she’s made.

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In November 2010, singer/actor Demi Lovato began a three-month stint in rehab for what was termed “emotional and physical issues” — it was widely speculated that these issues included an eating disorder and self-injury (cutting). In the meantime, Lovato has completed rehab, and is going public this week with her story. The cutting has been confirmed, as has the eating disorder, as well as depression and bi-polar disorder — in short, this very, very young person has been struggling for years with some truly horrifying demons.

Sometimes a complete stranger’s tale resonates particularly powerfully for me, and Lovato’s was one of those tales. I wrote about it when the story first broke, and have decided to re-up the post, because it touches on some issues that I feel to be far more important than we like to admit — in no small part because these issues are associated with women, and we still don’t value women very much.

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The girl — my sweet, funny, round-cheeked and whip-smart little girl — is home sick today, the poor mite, throwing up and congested at the same time. A horrible thing, if you ask me!

It might not be every worried mom whose daughter’s illness makes her think of our shared social ills, but God help the girl, I’m the mom she got. So, given where my thoughts have been lately, in cleaning up after one particularly unpleasant bout of whatever-the-hell she has, I flashed pretty easily on how often women (myself included) respond to bad digestive troubles with: “Maybe I’ll lose weight!”. (It’s almost a reflex at this point. I push against the self-hatred I see preached all around me, and yet when the food comes back up, it’s very hard not to think: “Score!”).

These thoughts then led easily to thoughts of the increasingly rail-thin girls who appear on my little girl’s TV screen, which led in turn to one who has lately been on my mind more than might seem to make sense: Demi Lovato.

Demi Lovato, 18 year old star of Camp Rock, Camp Rock 2, and Sonny with a Chance (all Disney productions), recently entered treatment for what are said to be “emotional and physical issues” (is there really any other kind of “treatment”…?). She’s rumored to have an eating disorder, and she’s rumored to cut. I’ve read both rumors in a few places, and I’ve seen pictures of scars on the inside of her arm, and People quotes “a source close to Lovato’s family” who says the same thing — and when it’s People doing the quoting, it may well be something that’s none of our business, but it’s likely a reliable source.

But of course, rumors, pictures, and “sources” all add up to me knowing exactly nothing, other than that this apparently picture-perfect young lady has had to seek help. Indeed: That a young lady whose entire future rests on the image she presents to the world has reached the point wherein her image is less important than that she get help — a fact which suggests to me that however her pain has chosen to express itself, she’s been struggling with it for some time. One thing I do know about people who go into any kind of rehab: They generally get there after protean efforts to to hide their struggles have dramatically failed.

And truth be told, this is as true for Charlie Sheen as it is for Demi Lovato (anyone who thinks that Charlie Sheen is enjoying his crazy-times life has never spent any time with an addict) — but there is something particularly heartbreaking to me about the Demi Lovato case.

Maybe because I have a little girl, and she will be Ms. Lovato’s age before I can blink. Maybe because I believe that our society, and our continuing failure to grapple honestly with our disregard for women and girls, as well our relentless drive to convince them/us to adapt to an ever-shrinking ideal of female beauty, makes us complicit every time a woman or girl hurts her body in response to psychic pain. Maybe because I remember being 18.

I hope that Demi Lovato is getting the kind of care she needs right now, the kind that will allow her to find a way to health and joy. I can’t help but think of the fact that she, too, was once a round-cheeked little girl, and I find I want to tuck her into the couch with my own girl, and feed them both soup.

But I suspect that giving soup to one suffering young lady will solve neither her problem, nor the larger, shared problems that society is still not willing to admit to. When we treat all women as less-than, when we tell women and girls that they are only valuable when they are beautiful, and that they are only beautiful when they have the build and physical fortitude of a match-stick (with breasts) — women and girls are hurt.

Does misogyny explain or define eating disorders and self-injury? No (not least because men and boys suffer from these issues, too). But does misogyny play a part? Certainly. And while I can’t do anything about the brain chemistry of anyone else, I can surely play a role in trying to inch my society closer, closer, closer, to the day when beautiful, talented young women — and their Plain Jane Doe sisters — do not feel a need to punish themselves for failing to meet a set of goals that are as ill-defined as they are impossible to achieve.

The day when women, of any stripe, description, or age, will never think “maybe I’ll lose weight!” when they catch a stomach bug.

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I’ve almost never talked/written about the phenomenon of cutting, because I’ve never had any personal exposure to it and feel I’m out of my depth.

Having said that, some lovely people on the internet have helped me to understand a bit better (such as the crucial fact that whatever we may feel about emo culture, the “emo kids cut!” meme is not true, and never funny), and I recently picked up a excellent book called Cut, because I saw my 11 year old boy reading it.

Intended for a young adult audience, I found Cut gripping, touching, and (I think) very honest (with the understanding that one novel cannot possibly tell the whole story). I’m glad my son read it, and I would recommend it to anyone who feels they would be served by learning more about self-injury (of course, if you’re in SI recovery, bear in mind that it may be triggering).

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Passover 2011

Trying to post something, anything, meaningful when under the looming deadline not just of sunset (and the arrival of the holiday) but the need to get children and one’s self dressed in holiday best, not to mention hair brushed and faces washed, etc — well, this is not a recipe for a good post!

But I love Passover so much, I don’t want to leave it unremarked.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how all of these mitzvot, these commandments, serve to tell us to pay attention. The cleaning, the arranging of my kitchen with my one-week-a-year plates, pots, and flatware, the rush to complete tasks by certain hours of the day — these force me to pay attention, to notice what I’m doing, how I’m living. Who I am.

Of course, the mitzvot exist for their own sake. I don’t think for a minute that when the rule came down to rid our houses of hametz, leavening, the rabbis meant “you know, for the symbolism of it! Think about what it means!” No, I think they meant I had to get rid of the hametz. Like, for real. No matter what I might feel about it.

But this is one of the things I have always liked best about Judaism: No matter where one’s head or spirit might be at any particular moment, the mitzvot are always there. For some, the sheer physicality of the mitzvot — the doing of them, what we call the pshat, the unadorned version of things — is enough, or, some years, is all one can muster. For others, the spirit, the symbolism, the deeper meaning, is what really matters, or what resonates anew one year over others. We find our own way into the meanings, we bring ourselves, and our selves change every day, but the mitzvot are always there, solid and physical, as signposts: Pay attention. There’s something happening. This — this morsel of food, this way of counting hours, this way of looking at the new and the marvelous — means something.

And so, in spite of my pre-holiday exhaustion — the result of lots and lots of physical mitzvah-keeping for its own sake, for the sake of getting all the physical hametz out of my physical home — I’m trying to also be aware. To notice. To think about the hametz in my heart, the crumbs I would sweep from its corners, to remember the imperative to fight for the freedom of all people, because my people’s freedom from slavery means little unless and until all of God’s children are free — truly free, from want, from despair, from hunger, from the remaining horror of actual, 21st century slavery.

As always, I think of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, their freedom of movement even more curtailed than usual today, as Israel celebrates the Jewish holiday of freedom, because we Israelis and Palestinians are still slaves to our fears and our hatred and our blood, and for Israel, the mitzvah to remember that we were once strangers in a strange land — and to thus remember the dignity and humanity of all humans — does not yet apply to the Palestinians with whom Israel actually lives.

And all this as I break away to get those clothes on and wash those faces, and join old friends around a table marked by joy and love. Joy means something, too, and so does love.

Whoever you are, whatever you celebrate, and whenever you do it, I wish you a Happy Passover, a hag sameah, and all best wishes for moments of joy and love, today, tomorrow and always. May we achieve freedom from that which enslaves us, and perhaps more importantly, may we choose to actively seek that freedom, always.

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