The Fault in Our Stars and American death.

PLEASE NOTE THAT HEREUNDER BE (mild) SPOILERS.

I think I’ve been pretty open in my admiration for author/internet person John Green. I love his videos, I love his engagement with community, I love his sense of humor, and I love his writing — which is to say: As a reader, I love his stories, and as a writer, I love how he uses language. I claim with pride the mantle of nerdfighter (if you don’t know what that is, go here and/or here) and do my best everyday not to forget to be awesome (here). (I’m also a huge, huge fan of John’s brother Hank, but I digress).

The work for which the elder Green is best known — far and away — is his 2012 book The Fault in Our Stars, recently made into a movie (June 6 release). TFIOS (as the title gets shortened) is a small masterpiece, managing to be neither maudlin, nor treacley, nor false in telling the story of the romance between two teenagers with cancer. It’s an affirmation of the ways in which all lives matter, no matter how few the years or how small the stage, and a reminder of the power of love and joy to create infinity, even when the end of days is all too evident. It’s a thing of beauty, a wonder-ful piece of art that is deeply, deeply human. It’s also been translated into a gajillion languages — I read some of the Hebrew translation in Israel last year and burst into tears as if I’d never read it before — and has inspired an avalanche of TFIOS-inspired fan art, much of it created by the teenaged, YA audience for whom Green originally intended the book.

As you might imagine, the anticipation for the movie is at something of a fever pitch, and when the first trailer was released this week, whole sections of the Internet collectively lost their shit (in a good way). Green (who has been closely involved with the film project from the beginning) asked fans to record their reactions to the trailer, and so many did. One young girl, 13 year old  Naomi Horn, talked about losing her uncle to pancreatic cancer when she was seven, and then just two years later, having to watch her mother face down breast cancer; both the trailer and Naomi’s video are embedded below.

But now, 400 words later, I come to my point.

Watching Naomi’s video last night, it struck me that I’d never really made a mental connection between The Fault in Our Stars and my own father’s death to cancer, when he was only 35 and I was just a baby. Those facts were, I think, too far in the past — and anyway, back when my dad was dying, people didn’t talk about the fact that they were dying. There was no pre-gaming the event, no preparing the family, no writing journals for the children who would come of age without him — just denial. It was the mid-60s, and (my mother tells me) you just didn’t talk about it.

And so it came to me to wonder what kind of difference it might have made in my life if a book like TFIOS had been around when I was Naomi’s age and still very much struggling to accept that I would never know my father — that I could (as I later put it) cry a river, and it would never bring me to him.

But then, an hour or so later, it came to me to wonder what a difference it might have made for my father if he had had a book like TFIOS when he was young — when the idea that he might die at 35 would no doubt have seemed impossible.

We can only live in the slice of history into which we are born. There was no TFIOS in the 1940s when my dad was a teenager (or in the 70s/80s, when I was one) because American culture had to reach a point where we could allow a TFIOS.

But in the moments in which these thoughts came tumbling into my forebrain, I thought of another thing: The Fault in Our Stars is not just a phenomenal book — it is also a turning point in the way that American culture deals with death. It is the turning point — John Green has created a turning point for us, a turning point full of kindness and gentleness and honesty and humanity and deep, deep mattering.

That turning will only be magnified by the movie, which will in turn be magnified by the many, many ways in which the TFIOS community responds and America responds and the people who have read and watched all across the globe respond — but it all started with John Green. With one book that will matter in ways that people reading it today will not know until they are forced to call upon its lessons in the future.

I’m sorry my father couldn’t have had those lessons as he approached his own too-young death, and that I didn’t either, as I tried to grow up without him. But I’m grateful, and a little overawed, as I think about the mighty gift that John Green has given the world in the form of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters. What a gift. Thank you.

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Dear Mike Huckabee: You do know how reproduction works, right?

The original title of this post was Dear GOP: You do know how pregnancy works, right?, and it was my single most viewed post, ever, getting more than 100,000 hits in March, 2012. Apparently, though, Mike Huckabee didn’t get the memo. So I’m re-upping it.

I have been pregnant four times.

These pregnancies led to the following four results, in this order: abortion, baby, miscarriage, baby.

These pregnancies occurred over a span of many years, across two continents, and in three different homes. There were at least seven different health care professionals involved, my hair styles varied widely, as did my levels of nausea. The only constant, in all four cases, other than me, was the presence of a penis.

It happened to be the penis I eventually married, but regardless, that is how reproduction works. No matter who you are, no matter your sexuality, ability to reproduce, or family make-up, if there are children in your life, at some point along the way, there was a penis involved.

I mention this only because it seems the GOP, and star player Mike Huckabee, may have forgotten.

Because as we trundle along, shaming women for having any kind of sex, ever, that is not entirely focused on producing babies — even if we are married, even if it wasn’t so much “sex” as “rape,” even if having a baby would threaten our health and thus the well-being of the children we already have — we are completely and utterly ignoring the fact that the single, solitary way for humans to reproduce is for sperm to meet egg. And sperm, you may recall, come from penises.

Which are attached to men.

If women are having too much sex, so are men. If women are producing babies, so are men. If women are making irresponsible reproductive choices with which they want to burden “the American people” — so.are.men.

Birth control, abortions, prenatal care, postpartum care, child care — whatever we may think, whatever we may have been told — are not women’s issues. They are human issues.

There is a purely incandescent rage that comes over me now on a nearly daily basis over the blatant dehumanization of women that is currently sweeping the nation. It is exhausting. It is heart breaking. It is spirit crushing. And there’s nothing to be done but to continue to feel it, because I refuse to stop fighting for my right, my daughter’s right, my mother’s right, my sister’s right — the inalienable right of all women everywhere — to human dignity.

But every once and a while, a particularly galling aspect of the GOP’s War on Women floats to the top of the filth, and I am gobsmacked anew. And today it is as simple as this: Women do not reproduce on their own. If the libidos of heterosexual women who use birth control are out of control, Mr. Huckabee, you might want to consider the libidos of the men with whom they’re consorting.

If leading members of the Republican Party are so anxious to control women’s sexuality (and they clearly are), they’d better start shaming men, too.

That is, unless its representatives are willing to argue that men are constitutionally incapable of not sticking their junk into the nearest available lady bits, and we gals have all the power.

I, for one, have too much respect for men to buy that.

PS “Uncle Sugar,” Mike Huckabee? Really?

What is normal? On the changing of American social discourse.

I was reminded of this post today and decided to re-up it. Because why not?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the broad American social struggle of the past 60-odd years, about what ties the whole messy package together. I’ve been thinking about how for the vast majority of human history, men have ruled the roost, but only men of a certain socio-economic standing — something that has varied from culture to culture (much as the ethnicity, religion, and geographical seat of these men has varied), but has always translated to “power.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in this country, in this time, when white, Christian men of a certain socio-economic standing (and heteronormative identity) complain that something is being ripped from their hands, that order hangs in the balance, they’re right.

They’re right, because ever since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement (or, in fact, ever since abolition and universal suffrage, but more comprehensively since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement), more and more people have been chipping away – tchink, tchink, tchink – at that order, and the central American discourse has become about who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior.

Like everything else in human history, there’s no straight trajectory, if only because the Human Venn Diagram is too messy. Black men are men; white women are white; rich Asian Americans are rich; Christians with handicaps are Christians; and every one of them is something else besides.

But if we look at the arc of American social and political upheaval since about 1955, that’s what it comes down to: Who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior?

Within those questions are, of course, many other questions (not least, of course: Where does your right to help shape our discourse impinge on mine? And: What are the words with which we may reasonably hold that discourse?), and every individual and community struggle is unique. I’m not trying to draw unwarranted parallels, or erase diversity of experience — it just strikes me that when history looks back in 100, 200 years, that’s what people will see: A massive upheaval of norms and mores, from all corners and all comers, a mighty tussle, often with individuals and communities tumbling over and on top of each other and each other’s needs and rights as we all continue to chip away  – tchink, tchink, tchink – at what was once Normal.

Seeing this arc, seeing a unifying question that goes beyond the rather imprecise metrics of “equality” and “perfecting our union,” helps me also to grasp what we in social justice circles so clumsily call “intersectionality” — because really, if in my struggle to achieve the space to contribute to the social compact and determine its parameters, I leave others behind, what have I accomplished? My struggle to achieve, say, the right to decide my own body’s future is entirely of a piece — is wrapped in the same garment of destiny — as that of a black man to wear a hoodie without suspicion, and a trans* woman to live as her most authentic self, and a Muslim in a wheelchair to both wear her hijab and have access to her classes.

What we’ve been saying for the last six decades, with more and more people listening as the years fly and crawl by, is that all of this belongs to all of us. We all get to say what society is and does. We all get to set and then move the boundaries of what’s ok. We are — all of us, even (often) the straight, white dudes — rethinking and reshaping the social compact itself.

This strikes me as a fundamentally American thing to do — wasn’t Independence the breaking of one compact to build something new? Isn’t our very Idea rooted in an ever-expanding circle of rights and interconnected responsibilities? Our system is flawed, positively riddled with imperfections, but it’s structured to allow us to continuously fix those flaws. It’s fundamentally American to do so.

Maybe this isn’t a particularly new idea. Many people have probably said and written similar things, and I’m late to the understanding. But this has been a fascinating notion for me to consider, and, ultimately, a tremendously hopeful one. This is our conversation, and we’re changing the rules — right now. Together. All of us.

My first piece at Haaretz: Ariel Sharon, the recalcitrant and brutal.

I’ve decided (h/t Jen Marlowe!) to post the top of all of my Haaretz posts here, just so folks know they’re out there. This is hugely exciting for me, as Haaretz is really Israel’s paper of record, and I have long, long admired it. My work will be appearing online and occasionally in the English-language print edition (for instance, the editors liked this first piece enough to be running it in print tomorrow) and I imagine that if I do something really extraordinary (we can hope!), they may translate it for what I think of as “Real Haaretz,” aka: the Hebrew-language print edition.

The website is a subscription site but I think you only have to register (that is: not pay) to see opinion pieces. Click here for their subscription information. If you can subscribe, please do. They do terrific work, and terrific journalism requires funds and support. And they pay me! : )

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Arik the recalcitrant and brutal

Jewish America’s institutional leaders have been responding to the news of Ariel Sharon’s death with sorrow, admiration, and the occasional “We didn’t always agree, but…” This was to be expected, and in a way, is as things should be. The immediate aftermath of a person’s death is ordinarily a time to either praise, or be silent.

But as those leaders have all attested, Arik was no ordinary person. He was larger than life, his military actions and political decisions among the most determinative of Israel’s character today. Sharon’s shadow will long fall on any Jew, anywhere, who loves the Jewish State. Some people do not return to mere dust when they die.

The eulogies are full of references to the love many Israelis felt for Sharon, but little is said about the rage he induced among others. I live in Chicago now, but for a long time I lived in Tel Aviv; I can be numbered in that latter group….

To read the rest, please click here. Thank you!

 

 

On Ariel Sharon and Gaza.

The Gaza Strip.

The Gaza Strip.

News came out of Israel last week that the health of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (who has been in a coma since January 2006) had begun to deteriorate; it’s been reported in the past few hours that he’s now in critical condition. It really is just a matter of time before the media will have to start publishing obituaries — and if they’re anything like last week’s proto-obituaries, it’s a good bet most will get the story of Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza wrong.

So before that happens, a few quick notes.

The way this story is generally told is some version of the following: “Ariel Sharon, a hawkish former general known throughout Israel as ‘the father of the settlements,’ surprised the world when he left the rightwing Likud to form a centrist party, Kadima, and took the difficult if pragmatic decision to withdraw Israel’s military from the Gaza Strip in 2005, despite fierce backlash among his once fervent supporters.”

The reason this version of the story is inaccurate is because it is incomplete.

The decision to withdraw from Gaza was fiercely contested, it did come as a surprise, and it was pragmatic — but not because Sharon had become somehow less hawkish. It was pragmatic precisely because Sharon was still a hawk, and he had understood that he had to lose Gaza in order to save the West Bank.

As former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies Yossi Alpher pointed out soon after Sharon announced his plan to pull out of Gaza, “the advent of the Geneva Initiative and the frenzied response of the Israeli right – with every senior political figure espousing his or her new plan, and most advocating disengagement – precipitated this development.”

One characteristic of Sharon’s approach has not changed at all: He did not present a realistic strategy for peace. First he “hijacked” the [security] barrier and distorted it by transforming it from a legitimate means of self-defense into a political tactic for creating a Palestinian bantustan. Now he has hijacked the idea of disengagement and the dismantling of settlements – which was originally intended by the left to rescue Israel demographically… and seeks to reconstitute it as a rationale for fencing in the Palestinians and grabbing the rest of the West Bank.

Alpher’s reference to the Geneva Initiative is the key element here. The Initiative (also frequently called “the Geneva Accord”) is a draft plan for a two-state peace along the 1967 borders with a shared Jerusalem. Launched by a group of Israeli and Palestinian thought leaders in October 2003, the ideas represented by the Initiative quickly gained significant support among the Israeli public — by the summer of 2004, that support had reached as high as 76%.

Sharon had seen the writing on the wall, and knew full well that a two-state peace meant the loss of the West Bank and an end to any notion of Greater Israel. Always a very savvy politician, he grabbed some of the Intiative’s ideas and vocabulary in order to stem the tide.

Or, in the words of his close adviser, Dov Weissglas, in October 2004:

The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political [diplomatic] process with the Palestinians.

…The American term is to park conveniently. The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians. There is a decision here to do the minimum possible in order to maintain our political situation. The decision is proving itself…. It compels the world to deal with our idea, with the scenario we wrote. It places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. 

The “disengagement” also included a withdrawal from four small Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank, which Weissglas described thus:

The withdrawal in [the West Bank] is a token one. We agreed to only so it wouldn’t be said that we concluded our obligation in Gaza.

…Arik [Sharon] doesn’t see Gaza today as an area of national interest. He does see Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] as an area of national interest. He thinks rightly that we are still very very far from the time when we will be able to reach final-status settlements in Judea and Samaria.

And finally, it’s very important to remember that Sharon refused to actually negotiate the pull-back with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, insisting instead that the withdrawal be unilateral — which in turn meant that two-state minded Palestinians had nothing to show for a decade of negotiations, and Hamas, which during the same decade had waged a brutal terrorist campaign, was able to claim victory.

The withdrawal from Gaza was a unilateral act intended to freeze out the Palestinian leadership and put the peace process itself on ice, so that Israel could deepen its hold on the West Bank.

And guess what? It worked.

UPDATE 1/12/14: Haaretz ran a report today suggesting that newly revealed documents show that Sharon was already thinking about further territorial concessions in the West Bank at the time of his death. I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions the writer draws, and will blog about it sometime this week, but I thought I should link to the report in the meantime — to read it, click here. [h/t and thanks to Brent Sasely].

Israel’s Defense Minister calls settler attacks on Palestinians “terrorism” – some context.

On Wednesday Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon, termed attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians “terrorism.”

The unacceptable trend known as ‘price tag’ is in my opinion terror in every sense of the word, and we are acting and will act against the perpetrators, firmly and with zero tolerance, in order to eradicate it.

price tagThis is a perfectly accurate description (acts of terrorism being violent acts intended to achieve political ends), and it is particularly interesting given that in the summer, the cabinet in which Yaalon serves took a vote and decided that price tag attacks are not terrorism. The fact that Yaalon is a staunch member of the Likud’s right flank (bearing in mind that the Likud is the core of Israel’s right to begin with) makes his comment more interesting still.

It’s important to remember a few pieces of context, however, starting with the rift within Israel’s far right, which runs largely along generational lines.

The settler movement’s failed efforts to halt Israel’s  2005 withdrawal from Gaza led to marked upheaval in the ranks, with many in the younger generation feeling they had been failed by leaders who’d tried to woo the rest of Israel to their cause, rather than go head-to-head with the government. While Jewish terrorism is not new, the “price tag” phenomenon was a direct response to the failure in Gaza — it’s meant to extract a “price” for government actions with which especially extremist settlers disagree (to learn more about that, click here).

I don’t know this for a fact but I suspect there’s an element of this internal, generational tension at play when Yaalon scolds his movement’s young hotheads. Note also that all of this comes in response to a group of settler vigilantes being caught, detained and beaten on Tuesday by the Palestinians in whose village they were trespassing — and a member of Yaalon’s own party, the even-farther-right Moshe Feiglin, is blaming Yaalon for the treatment afforded the vigilantes.

Furthermore, it’s very important to note Yaalon’s next sentence: “[Price tag terrorism] is a stain on Israel and it undermines the settlement enterprise.” [emphasis mine] Yaalon’s primary concern is and remains the settlement enterprise.

(I’ll digress for a moment to say that while I understand the Palestinians’ actions on Tuesday, that’s still no excuse for the violence. They might have reasonably restrained the settlers, given that heretofore the Israeli military has never taken real action against the price tag phenomenon [never], but the vigilantes should not have been beaten. I will also note that if Israel starts to actually treat settler violence as terrorism because the Defense Minister himself is mad, I’ll be only too happy. But I’ll also be surprised).

And finally: It’s also important to remember that, like many on Israel’s right, Yaalon is, himself, an inciter to hatred and violence. I’m sure he would disagree with that assessment, but bear in mind that he once called Israel’s left “a virus” (a comment that he tried to walk back with a classic non-apology apology) and while still serving in the military he was given to saying that “the politicians brought the dove of peace and the army had to clean up after it.” He once said that Israel should cut off Gaza’s “electricity, water… fruit, vegetables, [and] cash,” adding “we’ve become accustomed to Arabs being allowed to live everywhere… [but] there are areas forbidden to Jews. We’ve ended that.” He maintains that there’s no difference between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (a man who has publicly supported a two-state solution since 1977, well before Israel did) and Hamas, and just last month told a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders working together to promote a two-state peace: “Don’t delude yourselves. We don’t have a partner on the Palestinian side for a two-state solution,” adding that John Kerry’s current proposal

is bad and will destroy the economy, apropos talk of boycotts. If we lose freedom of military action, the West Bank will turn into Hamastan, missiles will be fired at Tel Aviv and the economy will be destroyed.

So what I’m hearing is not “My God, I never noticed before, but this is terrorism!” but rather: “Violence is and will always remain necessary, but only the people in power should decide how and where it’s used.” This is not entirely unlike members of the GOP’s right wing being shocked — shocked — to discover that anyone in the Tea Party would take their words as an encouragement to violence.

And so: Yes. It is good that one of the highest ranking members of Israel’s government has used the T word to describe the violence of Jewish settlers. It’s important that linguistic taboos be broken, and this may yet prove an important moment in Israeli political culture.

But remember the source, and don’t misunderstand or overstate his aims.

 

 

Kid President sez: We should say these 20 things more often.

Full disclosure: I laughed out loud at #5.

Happy New Year, y’all!

h/t Samhita Mukhopadhyay