Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How'd I get here?

No posts in two days. I should write about something...But what. Things are kinda dull at the moment.

I'll tell y'all about my first semester of grad school, which actually took place in the Spring. After a painful, but brief stint as a public high school school English teacher--only one semester--I decided to quit. After I broke down crying in front of my department chair and after waking up every morning dreading going to work, I realized that the job was not sustainable for me. I just simply could not be what the students needed.

Incidentally, neither could two other teachers. I stayed the full fall term. The lady who replaced me was a displaced university professor from New Orleans. She stayed about two months. The woman who replaced her resigned in May.

So anyway, on November 1, 2005, I sent an email to Chair of the English Department at the state university I to as an undergrad. I asked if there was a possibility I could get an assistantship for the Spring if applied for graduate study there. Her reaction was something along the lines of, "Sure!" I was up front with her that I intended only to be there one semester while I finished applications for other grad programs. She probably didn't really care at that point because she had just dealt with the semester from hell--a hurricane shut the city and the university down for about a month and ravaged the building housing the English Dept.--and she was retiring as Chair in December. (She ended up writing letters of rec for me and TWU, the school I'm going to in the Fall, is her alma mater.)

That's enough for one post.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Scary

On Thursday evening my father began puking blood. Now, the last time this happened, he had torn his esophagus, started bleeding internally and nearly died.

Needless to say we were a little scared.

I drove him to the local hospital where my mother works as a laboratory technologist. Turns out that he has a relatively minor bleeding ulcer. They have started him on a round of medications and will keep him in the hospital for a few days.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Projects

Projects I'm currently working on and and will write more about when I have to quit procrastinating and finish them:

1. Revising a paper written for a class to better suit the panel I'm presenting it at. The paper is titled "'With the water of my tears': How Parents and Children Respond to War and Torture in Persepolis." Persepolis is the comic book-style autobiography of Marjane Satrapi who grew up the duaghter of secular progressive parents in Islamic Revolution Iran. The book rocks. My title is a quote from the domestic worker in Satrapi's home when she learns that the government is trying to get her elementary school-age child excited about going off to war with the promise great sex in the afterlife. Mrs. Nasarine says something like, "I raised him with the water of my tears and now they want to kill him." My paper will be presented in the "Literature, Torture and Human Rights" panel at the M/MLA Convention in Chicago this November.

2. Writing an essay for, hopefully, inclusion in a collection called "Men Speak Out: ProFeminist Views on Gender, Sex and Power." I'm still trying to decide exactly what approach to take with the piece. I'll probably work through some ideas on here.
Respect for the women of Law & Order: SVU.

I know these shows so often perpetuate narratives of law enforcement as heroes/heroines who are almost always justified in anything they do. However, SVU does try to put front and center the damage of sexual violence...and I love Pink!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Death Penalty for Minor Abortion Providers

Wow! I'm beginning to hear the Gestapo footsteps in the distance.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the Texas District and County Attorneys Association claims Texas law is written such that doctors could face the death penalty for performing certain abortions. These would include those abortions performed for a minor without parental consent.

By defining a fetus as "an individual" in 2003, and then making it a criminal act in 2005 to perform certain abortions, legislators might have unintentionally created a scenario in which physicians could be charged with the death of a child younger than 6 a crime subject to capital punishment, according to the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

The group has traveled throughout the state to educate prosecutors about changes made in criminal laws in the last regular legislative session and has discussed the abortion situation in its materials as an "expansion of capital murder" and a new way "of committing capital murder."


The Chair of the State Affairs Committee apparently does not agree with this interpretation. Instead, they think these law-breaking doctors (if there have been any cases so far, I'm unaware) "should be punished under the medical Occupations Code. That provides for no greater than a third-degree felony charge." Great! It's only a felony to help a desperate, scared girl.

"We're not advocating one way or another," said Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. "But we're going to talk about it because it's part of the law and people need to know about it."

The presentation on new laws was put together by Shannon Edmonds, a former prosecutor and former assistant general counsel to Gov. George W. Bush, and is based on a solid interpretation of the statutes, Mr. Kepple said. "From what everyone's said, no one had the intention that the law read like this. But it's a pretty clear interpretation," he said.

I see this as indicative of the profound anti-choice bias in Texas legal culture (remember, this is the state Roe v. Wade and Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued it, came out of). It's highly unlikely a prosecution under this interpretation will occur.

Now the Legislature is waiting for the State Attorney General to render an opinion on how prosecutors should read the law.

Rape of Abir Hamzah

Women's Space/The Margins is asking an important question to pro-feminist men: "Where the hell are you?"

She's referring to who is blogging (and not blogging about) about of the rape/murder of 14 (not 15 as frequently reported)-year old Abir Hamzah and her family by US soldiers. There seems to be a silence from male bloggers on these horrific events that are probably more representative of the nature of occupation than Americans would like to believe.

Women's Space has been following Abir Hamzah's story from the beginning and has discussed it (see parts 1, 2, 3, 4) in a way highly sensitive to the hyper-masculinity present in militarized contexts which is likely to simultaneously breed abuses of persons indigenous to an occupied territory and official disregard for (or active cover up of) reports of abuse (particularly female abuse).

These revelations remind me of the history of which they are a part. They remind me of the opening remarks of a 27-year-old John Kerry testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the "Winter Soldier Investigation" in which veterans of Vietnam "told stories that, at times, they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan."

We feminist men, we're out here. We need to stand with those doing their best to document and bring critical attention to bear on these events emblematic of patriarchy and war.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Nancy Drew and Girl Sleuths: Conference

I loved reading Nancy Drew as a little boy (the Hardy boys were OK). Maybe it was a sign of my early feminist leanings or simply wanting to share something with my mother (who turned me on to the series).

I'm glad it looks like Nancy and other "girl sleuths" are getting their critical due.

Nancy Drew and Girl Sleuths: Past, Present, and Future Conference
February Friday 16 – Saturday 17, 2007
Wilson College, Chambersburg, PA

Resolute, fiercely independent, and always expertly coiffed, the Girl Sleuth was one of the most enduring literary creations of the twentieth century. Numerous examples of plucky heroines abounded in children’s and young adult literature, fronted by the cultural revolution that remains Nancy Drew, one of the most popular characters of all time. From their origins in the early part of the century, to their heyday in the 1950’s, to their Renaissance in the 1980’s, Girl Sleuths both reflected the social mores and constrictions of their times while simultaneously flaunting the roles society often ascribed to them—pioneers in pumps, they blazed trails, righted wrongs, and left a cultural and critical impact that is still being explored.

Yet, as we enter a new century, one fronted by technology and the ever-changing role of women, the figure of the Girl Sleuth, though not as prevalent or popular as before, still remains a cultural zeitgeist, though one defined by rapidly changing attitudes and climes. This conference looks to explore the Girl Sleuth, and especially Nancy Drew, in these changing roles, examining her significance and impact in the past, her critical present, and the shape she may take in the future.

Send abstracts of 250-500 words by SEPTEMBER 1, 2006 to Dr. Michael G. Cornelius at mcornelius@wilson.edu or to the address below:
Dr. Michael G. Cornelius
Chair, Department of English and Mass Communications
Wilson College
1015 Philadelphia Avenue
Chambersburg, PA 17201

The organizers of this conference hope to compile an anthology of the papers delivered at the conference for publication. A significant press has expressed an interest in the text.

Snitching and a Feminist Curiosity

One of my favorite blogs and my favorite dealing with Texas issues has posted about the growing dependence of law enforcement on confidential (often paid--either in cash or in reduced punishment) informants: snitches.

Grits for Breakfast discusses a Dec 2005 Slate feature by Prof. Alexandra "Sasha" Natapoff of Loyola Law School in the neighboring state of LA. She's made some to do about snitching and the over reliance of law enforcement on this "extreme form of plea bargain."

As a death penalty abolitionist, this bit from the Slate feature really piqued my interest:
Snitches are famously unreliable: A 2004 study by the Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions reveals that 46 percent of wrongful death penalty convictions are due to snitch misinformation making snitches the leading cause of wrongful conviction in capital cases. Jailhouse snitches routinely concoct information; the system gives them every incentive to do so.

Los Angeles snitch Leslie White infamously avoided punishment for his crimes for years by fabricating confessions and attributing them to his cellmates.

The leading cause for wrongful death penalty convictions. Those are pretty bad odds when the stakes (life or death) are so high.

Prof. Natapoff's Slate piece concludes:
While snitching will never be abolished, the practice could be substantially improved, mostly by lifting the veil of secrecy that shields law-enforcement practices from public scrutiny.

Trying to turn that reasonable assertion into a reality, Prof. Natapoff has posted an 11-page example of a Motion Requesting a Snitch Reliability Hearing (Word doc) in federal court on her faculty webpage.

One of the questions this rasies for me is: What can a feminist curiosity bring to this information? Well, who comprises the fastest growing segment of the prison population? It's women. As of June 2005, women in prison numbered 106,174 (this is after the November 2004 DOJ information that women in prison topped 100,000 for the first time in US history). According to the Drug Policy Alliance, "Since 1986 the number of women in prison has increased 400%. For women of color, the rise is 800%." The bulk of this increase comes from drug-related arrests.

How does this relate to Prof. Natapoff's discussion of snithces? The "war on drugs" is the law enforcement quagmire that has given rise to the over-reliance on confidential informants. Women involved with (or coerced into--see "Drug Couriers and Mandatory Minimum Sentences") drug running or use become perfect fall gals. DPA goes on to say:
The same sentencing policies that are used to punish high-level traffickers-those policies that carry extremely harsh mandatory minimum sentences-are used disproportionately against these women. Since women, as drug couriers, are often the 'mules' of a highly elaborate and hierarchical drug trade, they rarely possess information useful to prosecutors. This precludes them from benefiting from mandatory minimum law provisions which allow for dramatic decreases in sentences in exchange for "snitching" - i.e. assisting in the prosecution of others.

So increasing numbers of women get punished in a dispropotionate manner because they will readily be turned over by their "co-conspiritors" and they lack access to information concerning drug "king-pins." On a related note, Elaine Bartlett, who was sentenced under the extrodinarily harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York, said this in a 2004 interview:
I did 16 years in Bethel Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum facility for women. I have yet to meet one kingpin. That's not who is being affected by the laws.

Ending Violence Against Women

Last month, Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! spent an hour with two remarkable women: Eve Ensler and Kimberle Crenshaw. Ensler is the author of The Vagina Monologues and Necessary Targets, as well as the founder of V-Day--an important compent in the growing global movement to end violence against women. Crenshaw is a trail-blazer in the area of black feminist legal theory and Critical Race Theory.

Ensler tells us:

V-Day began essentially almost nine years ago. When I started doing The Vagina Monologues, at the beginning, I kind of was brought to very arbitrary places; just brave people would bring me to their communities. I performed in these kind of warehouses with light bulbs over my head. And what would happen, invariably, after those performances is, women would line up to talk to me.

And at the beginning, I thought, “Oh, great, they'll be telling me about their wonderful sex lives.” And, in fact, what 95% of the women were lining up to tell me was some story of how they had suffered abuse, whether they'd been raped or gang-raped or incested or beaten, and they had never told anyone before. The play had kind of opened that up and just kind of released memories and thoughts.

And after about five cities, I started to think, “I can't do this. I
can't --” I felt the way a war photographer feels when you're witnessing something terrible and doesn't intervene on a person's behalf.


Ensler demonstrates that the women of America ache for opportunities and spaces to break the silence surrounding their abuse. I think her analogy is right on--she is a observing a war on women.

Crenshaw adds:
Eve is bringing to our attention is the relationship between violence and incarceration. I like to call this a tale of two movements, because, frankly, there's been an anti-violence movement that really hasn't dealt with the consequences of violence for women who are incarcerated or how incarceration is often a precursor to violence, so that whole relationship hasn't been explored. There's also an anti-incarceration movement that more or less just focuses pretty much on men, how men wind up being incarcerated, some of the consequences.

So this is an opportunity to actually look at women who fall between the cracks of both movements, who are the women who are both victims of violence, but also are victims of state violence, namely, because they have been subject to rape, battery, incest, a whole range of other things that happen to
women in society, are more likely to be incarcerated, right? And once they are incarcerated, they're subject to a whole range of consequences that are sometimes particular to women, so this is bringing attention to women, to issues that really haven't come up on the agenda of either the anti-violence movement or the anti-incarceration movement, so it's a dramatic radicalization of both of these movements.

It's a fascinating conversation with incredible music during the breaks (at one point they have Sweet Honey in the Rock singing "The Women Gather").

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Howdy

Howdy y'all!

I've recently discovered the remarkable world of academics' blogs. The first I stumbled across was the delightful Bitch, Ph.D. Then I found Feminist Law Professors (I'm not a law professor, but am definitely a feminist). It wasn't long before I realized there is a thriving community of folks at various levels in the academy blogging their hearts out.

I've been blogging for a while, but in an activist context. I run Texas Abolition Blog, which discusses (surprise!) work to abolish the death penalty in Texas.

Posts here will include the personal, the academic, the political, and the rambling (as only a Texan can do).