What do Jews, Quakers and biotech have in common? Jersey, of course, the setting for Michael Sheldon’s debut novel The Violet Crow. Private Detective Bruno X, a rough around the edges Yiddish trash talker with a sixth sense for murder, is called in to consult on an unsolved mystery at a small Quaker school in southern New Jersey. Peppered with its fair share of intrigue and romance, Crow plays in your head like a beautiful parody of a film noir, richly detailed in its hard boiled madness.
The refreshing aspect of Sheldon’s work is his ability to explore the nefarious results of politically correct thinking without ever getting political. Everything from GMO’s, to college philosophy, to the mainstream distrust of big business surfaces in Crow, weaving together an intriguing tale that never once reads as dry or preachy. Don’t be wary of Bruno’s telepathic powers, either. Far from the stuff of Mystic Meg, his Kabbalistic context adds a rich cultural flair that develops, not distracts, from Bruno’s distinctive character.
To be sure, Sheldon went out on a limb putting a psychic Jewish detective with a Borscht Belt sense of humor in the middle of a Quaker mystery in the Jersey pines. But the leap is refreshing and still quite believable. (Contrary to popular opinion, not all of us live in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.) The culture clash gives Sheldon’s characters the ability to play off of one another and develop naturally in the mind of the reader. Like walking into a bar, nothing is forced. This is Bruno’s party and you’re simply invited to play along.
A South Jersey native, Michael Sheldon has previously written the business memoir of investment pioneer George Russell, Success by Ten (Wiley, 2009), along with several articles on his other passion, photography, for PDN. Several of his short fiction pieces have been published at Liberty Island, including “Better Than Fresh Apricots,” “Dark and Stormy,” and “T.B.O.P. (The Beast of Philadelphia)”.
Released this week by Liberty Island, the folks who encourage you to “let your right brain run free,” The Violet Crow is the first in a promising detective series that hearkens back to the stylings of Edgar Award Winning mystery writers like William DeAndrea (Killed in the Ratings) and imaginative linguists like Rupert Holmes (Swing). If you like your mysteries populated with unique characters and thoughtful dialogue on contemporary issues, don’t miss out on the first in what is sure to be a landmark mystery series for the armchair detective crowd.
Writing on the recent Catholic Church reaction to the gay marriage referendum in Ireland, Matthew Parris parodies Exodus 32, the chapter in which Moses descends from Sinai with the original tablets only to find the Hebrews worshiping a golden calf:
‘And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the Irish referendum’s huge majority for gay marriage, and the dancing: and Moses’ alarm was palpable…
‘And he took a copy of the Pink Paper and, flourishing it, said, “We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities.
‘”I appreciate how these naked revellers feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.
‘”We need to find a new language to connect with a whole generation of young people,” the prophet concluded; then, casting off his garments, Moses said, “Hey, lead me to the coolest gay bar in the camp.”’
Don’t laugh. With a couple of adjustments for updated circumstances, I am quoting the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, almost verbatim. The archbishop was responding last Sunday to Irish people’s endorsement of gay marriage by a margin of almost two to one.
This self-proclaimed gay atheist expresses an opinion not that far off from Camille Paglia’s own reflections on the church and religious life. Where are the morals? The standards? Why are religious institutions constantly bending to the whim of public opinion? His most insightful remark:
Can’t these Christians see that the moral basis of their faith cannot be sought in the pollsters’ arithmetic? … can a preponderance of public opinion reverse the polarity between virtue and vice? Would it have occurred for a moment to Moses (let alone God) that he’d better defer to Moloch-worship because that’s what most of the Israelites wanted to do?
In the end Parris winds up questioning the current batch of Church fathers. The same questions could be asked of many a rabbi who has busied themselves rewriting, reconstructing and reforming their faith to one extreme or the other, let alone abusing it for their own perverted whims. Are they truly arbiters of God, or are they merely an oligarchy of their own making who realize they’d better go with the flow lest they lose their earthly power?
Perhaps that is the gift of these atheists who are unintimidated by the glare of organized religion. Contrary to the faithful, they have not been blinded by the light. They do, in fact, recognize a dichotomy where there is one, because they fully acknowledge that they are one. If only the self-proclaimed righteous among us could be so brutally honest.
A Gallup poll released this week indicates that Americans are making the great exodus towards secularism on a number of key social issues including gay “relations,” sex and children outside of marriage, and divorce. Shortly after the stats were released, Megan Garber proffered insightful commentary at The Atlantic as to why comedians are the reigning arbiters of American cultural values. Combine the data with the theory and the conclusion is rather straightforward: Contemporary American morals are a complete joke.
Garber’s argument paints contemporary comedy (think: Schumer, Stewart, Colbert, Oliver, et. al.) as a humorous version of a religious community replete with ideological boundaries (“who’s in and who’s out”), a definitive lingo (“cultural criticism” as “productive subversion”) and temples to call their own (“largely of, by and for the Internet”). She doesn’t go so far as to dub these comedians religious leaders. That wouldn’t be on trend. Instead, they are “public intellectuals” who gear the values of an increasingly secularized society.
Constituting their own branch of pop culture polytheism, they are the brainier versions of the “spirit junkies” pervading millennial religious consciousness. “Comedians are fashioning themselves not just as joke-tellers, but as truth-tellers—as intellectual and moral guides through the cultural debates of the moment.” In other words, they are sycophants playing the role of gurus to an audience hungry for spiritual direction. The only difference between comedians and spiritual guides, besides the lack of incense on set? As Jon Stewart once said to me, “I tell the jokes.” This from the guy who holds the seat of “moral influence over the national soul.”
“I don’t know how your father and I managed to raise perfectly healthy children without all this stuff.”
That was my mother’s reaction to Buy Buy Baby, the suburban megastore modeled after its sister location, Bed Bath & Beyond. We got a kick out of the baby monitors that allow you to speak to your child when you aren’t even in the room. But by the time we got to the food processors I could see signs of overload furrowing my mother’s brow. “Don’t you already have at least three gadgets that can do that for you?” Then came the Big Brother of all baby tech items: the sleeper that monitors your baby’s biometrics 24/7 and reports them via app to your smartphone.
The goal of all of these gadgets and their corresponding apps, books and blogs is simple: Make life easier for mom and dad. The question is, when does all this tech add more stress, not less, to a parent’s already overwhelmed psyche? The same goes for technology geared towards babies and toddlers. Science says kids shouldn’t be exposed to screen media before the age of 2. Yet, thanks to the prevalence of parent tech, babies are grabbing for mommy’s smartphone as soon as they are mobile. Children are acculturated to technology before they are biologically equipped to handle the consequences. As a parent, where do you draw the line?
In the weeks leading up to my own delivery, I began to seriously de-tech. I closed out my Facebook account for starters. (Elbow-deep in poo is not the way I want to catch up with friends.) I also turned off all noise-related notifications on my phone. (The last thing I want is all my hard work soothing my baby to be thrown out the window by one untimely chirp.) My husband and I have already laid down one ground rule: No touching mommy and daddy’s phones. Ever. Sure, parents of angsty toddlers riding in shopping carts might roll their eyes at us now, but the reality is that even we’d much prefer playing with Ellie the Elephant than checking our work email on the weekend anyway.
Bottom line: the whole point of parent tech is to give you more time with your child. If the app or item winds up taking more time to research and use than it actually saves, you’re better off doing it the old fashioned way. After all, sometimes it really is easier to avoid Google and just give mom a quick call.
Yahoo Parenting and Care.com partnered on a survey of couples with and without children to determine who was happier. The non-kid couples proved happier by a 10% margin. That margin shifted drastically, however, when the couples were asked what they thought would make them even happier: 54% of those supposedly already happier couples agreed that having children would make them even happier.
In other words, “Yes, we’re happy now,” ticked one box while the following “..but…” ticked another.
When asked about their own pursuit of happiness, couples with children agreed by a solid majority that their life is better now that they have children.
“Kids are parents’ No.1 source of happiness,” Katie Bugbee, senior managing editor at Care.com, tells Yahoo Parenting about the research. However, once a person becomes a mother or a father, what constitutes happiness changes, 81 percent of survey takers admit. “They’re looking at happiness in a different way,” explains Bugbee,
Parents experience work in a different way, too, post-kids. Working parents, for example, are less likely to say they’re “very” motivated in their career compared to employees without children — 36 percent vs. 50 percent respectively.
The stay-at-home crowd (female and male) are overwhelmingly happy with their decision. Mothers who stay at home, but work part time, survey as the happiest in the bunch, leading Bugbee to advise, ”Talk with your employer about going part-time, perhaps, or work with your partner to lighten your load if you’re stressed.”
Stress plays a key factor in contemporary parenting, often due to economic pressures. The rise in ADHD and autism among children has been directly linked to both stressful experiences and the child’s inability to form relationships with parents beginning at an early age. The survey says spending more time with your kids makes you happier. The science agrees it is good for your kids, too. So, what’s the solution? How can we, as a culture, generate more time with our kids?
Whether this is your first time out or you’ve already been around the bend, take a moment to congratulate yourself, Ms. Mom. You are a miracle maker. You, hovering over the toilet in the midst of all-day sickness, are in the midst of accomplishing what no one else on this earth but you can do. What pregnancy has taught me thus far is that motherhood, whether it is via pregnancy, foster care, or adoption, is a spiritual calling. Keep these five key lessons in your back pocket when you’re worn out and need a reminder of how divine you truly are.
5. Parenting is a calling, not a career, a chore, or the result of a shopping trip.
“I want a child” is an all-too common phrase in today’s world. If you’ve ever said it, listen very carefully to discern if the emphasis is on “a child” or simply “I want.” Having a child is not the answer to a mid-life crisis or a vision board checklist. Nor should motherhood ever be defined as a chore. If I hear one more person tell me how tired I’m going to be once my child is born I’m going to start wearing a spit up-covered t-shirt that says, “Duh! Who cares?” My child is already my life, not a task on my to-do list that takes away from “me-time,” nor a person who exists to make me feel special. Child rearing is a devout work. Unless you are accepting of the idea that you will, in some way, be on the same level as Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and an ascetic from time to time, just buy a dog and be done with it.
4. Childbirth is a spiritual experience.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth should be required reading for every expecting mother. Regardless of how you choose to give birth, you should be aware of the fact that we have been acculturated to treat birth as an illness worthy of hospitalization. A baby is not a tumor in need of removal for the mother’s survival. Giving birth is not only a life-affirming experience, it is the primary connection we have with God and the source of our continued existence. By ignoring this fact and forcing patients to focus on pain, the medical community has done a huge disservice to women. Instead of believing that our bodies are doing exactly what they are meant to do, women focus on the struggles of pregnancy and the pain of labor, psyching themselves up for an experience worthy of a horror film. As a result their fear diminishes their faith in themselves and the very natural spiritual process of bringing new life into this world.
3. As with any spiritual experience, there are great moments of hope and of doubt.
Episode after episode of Call the Midwife has been running on my DVD player for months. Each baby that is born brings a tear to my eye. Finally, the other day I heard myself saying, “I get to do this. Me. This is for me.” Then it hit me that a part of me had doubted all along that I could have this incredible joy for myself. Sometimes we put up walls of doubt to protect our most fragile emotions. The hope that engulfs you every time you have a good ultrasound, a good doctor’s visit, can easily be consumed the following day when you’re sure you haven’t felt your baby move enough. For me, one nosebleed sent me flying into a state of panic. Doubt creates a tough barrier for faith to crack through. But it must, not only for the sake of our relationship with our child, but so that we may fully partake in this incredible blessing.
— ABC News (@ABC) May 22, 2015
Just when you think reality television has reached peak absurdity levels, the trashy TV gods deliver something like this. Presenting “Holiday in the Protectorate,” a Czech show that requires a family to live for two-months under World War II-like conditions, Gestapo included.
According to the Telegraph , the lucky three-generations will have to contend with actors playing Nazi informants and soldiers, food shortages on a farm decked out with 76-year-old furniture. The whole thing will play out in period-appropriate clothing and with rare original currency, to add to the sense of terror and uncertainty.
Czech critics are up in arms, threatening to file complaints and questioning what kind of Pandora’s box will be opened thanks to this show. The program’s director responded with the following creepy statement:
“We are aware that it is controversial to return to so turbulent a period,” she continued. “However, we believe that it is correct to attempt to do this, providing that certain ethical rules and historical reality are observed.”
And the Czech Emmy for Most Creative Use of the Term “Ethical” Goes To….
Before, organized, uniformed and relatively disciplined and conventional Arab armies fought under their national flag. Today the armies have been replaced by terrorist gangsters and black-cloaked jihadists. Conventional war has been replaced by terrorist attacks. Battles fought between tanks and infantry in remote deserts have been replaced by battles fought in densely populated civilian areas and behind the protection of human shields.
In my view if such events as the Gaza conflict last summer were played out in the 1960s and 70s, the support for Israel in the West would have been greater than it was even then. The savage and murderous actions of the Palestinians are far more shocking today.
So I again ask the question, what has changed? And the answer is: The morality and values of the West. They have been transformed almost beyond recognition.
The statement was made by Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan, in an address to the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, an Israeli think-tank housed at Bar-Ilan University. The direct nature of his dialogue suits his history as a military leader. It is also a far cry from today’s “polite” approach to anything relating to Biblical values in a mainstream media discussion. “Thanks but no thanks,” is what you’ll usually get, followed by some snide accusation of hypocrisy or inferiority. But has this anti-values attitude truly impacted our culture for the better?
Kemp argues, “The destruction of defining values mean that people will now accept physical acts that would before have been utterly abhorrent to them.” As Richard Dreyfuss recently argued in a PJMedia/Diary of a Mad Voter guest post:
Western kids are reportedly trying to join ISIS; why? Perhaps because the only spiritual movement being discussed in public, however ugly its ideology, is extremist Islam. Judeo-Christian spirituality seems pallid and disconnected; certainly Americans are no longer learning the secular faith of the Constitution, the musculature of republican democracy, its values of individual worth, its religious tolerance, its embrace of opportunity and merit.
Kids who grow up in a spiritual void may drift to ideological thuggery because we let go of its most powerful enemy, the mobility of mind that comes from Enlightenment values.
Perhaps one of the greatest questions we can ask ourselves as we head into 2016 isn’t who, but why. If the 20th century was defined by the separation of Church and State, the 21st will need to be defined by the reuniting of God and politics across the moral divide.
— Ben King (@Ben_ArmorDown) May 21, 2015
Veteran Ben King is taking his role as a psychological operations sergeant in the U.S. Army into new territory. Now returned home to civilian life, Ben has created Armor Down. The organization re-contextualizes yoga and mindfulness meditation into a basic training-esque physical fitness routine with one simple goal: To aid in restoring physical and psychological wellness to returning soldiers afflicted with PTSD.
King’s journey into mindfulness was inspired by his own struggle with post-traumatic stress. Defined as, “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditation practices,” mindfulness is western psychology’s adaptation of an ancient Buddhist practice into non-religious terms. King chronicles in his blog:
Early in my PTS experience rage would erupt and I would lash out violently or with shame filled crying. …
In my present experience, I experience rage as signal of tension in parts of my body. The rage expresses itself sensationally and I use that expression to guide my awareness to those ares of sensation and do what I can to settle them. If they don’t settle I never mind, and go through my many tools to mitigate the consequences. Sometimes I even have to sit and just wait for the rage to pass.
The difference now is that not only do I not feel shame for feeling rage, I feel appreciative. I recognize it as an expression of intelligence, one that is affording me an opportunity to evolve.
This was an exciting revelation because it meant that I didn’t have to live in a sanitized environment scared that something would set me off, on the contrary there was no environment that I couldn’t enter because it didn’t netter [sic.] whether I was feeling good or bad because I know how to work with either.
A certified personal trainer with a master’s degree in public anthropology, King created Armor Down as a way to reach out to veterans in need:
Armor Down pursues its mission by linking content describing or demonstrating these techniques to Quick Response (QR) codes, which can be reproduced on printed materials and scanned by smartphones. It is a key feature of Armor Down that providing content in this manner eliminates the stigma of having to request it and encourages anonymous feedback.
One of Armor Down’s biggest projects is Mindful Memorial Day, a Washington D.C.-based volunteer event that honors fallen soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through ceremonies of gratitude. It is a reminder that while we honor the fallen, we must also honor the living by meeting their need to Armor Down into civilian life.
In Lifestyles of the Rich and Non-Famous news, Manhattan bankers’ wives have negotiated bonuses for good “work” performance at home:
A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance — how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a “good” school — the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks. In turn these bonuses were a ticket to a modicum of financial independence and participation in a social sphere where you don’t just go to lunch, you buy a $10,000 table at the benefit luncheon a friend is hosting.
These real housewives aren’t the only ones measuring their net worth as moms in terms of career metrics, including potential financial gain. There are a slew of professional development experiences out there for women who have turned mothering into a career:
MamaCon, a mothers’ convention, proffers “…top-notch parenting development and education, self-care tips that really work, relationship support, amazing vendors, wine tasting, great food and outstanding entertainment.”
For Mom Bloggers (yes, it’s a title) there’s the Mom 2.0 Summit, “…the premier professional conference for influential mom bloggers and female entrepreneurs who create online content. Every year, women leaders in media and business converge at the Summit to compare notes, discuss ideas, and forecast what’s next for women online and in the marketplace.”
Minority and alternative parents who identify as “blogger or on-line influencers interested in connecting with brands and monetizing your blog” can attend the Niche Parent Network and Conference, a “diverse and multicultural network connecting digital parents with brands that want to reach them.”
There’s also a slew of BabyCons out there, including the New York Baby Show, “the largest show for new and expectant parents in the country.” Self-described as the “loving lollapalooza of Baby Shows,” it’s a 2-day product and information convention. Combine Buy Buy Baby with your local hospital’s first-time parenting class, load it with steroids, and you have the mother of all information-laden “how to be the perfect parent” events.
Has American culture crafted motherhood into a career choice? Is that necessarily a good thing? Or are we seeking to redefine motherhood in contemporary feminist terms, as a choice that doesn’t threaten or conflict with cultural expectations that a woman seek professional fulfillment beyond raising the next generation? Whether it is clever marketing or cultural conformity, does this put more pressure, not less, on today’s mothers?
IT’S A TRAP pic.twitter.com/kDC6bT1Oh3
— The Happy Feminist (@HappyFeminist) May 20, 2015
This is what happens when you lump in pregnancy with chlamydia and refuse to include any real discussions on family planning and career in sex education classes. Is it any wonder women believe the best way to self-advocate is to demand free access to drugs and surgical procedures so they can contain, control and abort?
The Old Gray Lady has decided there is “mounting evidence of advantages for children of working mothers.” It’s a politically correct headline that follows the newspaper’s classically liberal slant. But, like one of those extensive designer-drug warning labels, to find out what constitutes “advantages” you have to read the small print.
The “silver bullet” factoids boil down to daughters of working mothers who are 3% more likely to work than the daughters of stay-at-home mothers. The daughters of working moms are earning an average of 23% more and are 4% more likely to hold supervisory positions. And if those whopping statistics aren’t silvery enough, “sons of working mothers in those countries spent an additional hour a week caring for family members and 17 minutes more per week on housework.”
That’s it, myths about working mothers be damned. We’ve got a 4% increase in supervisory positions among their daughters and their sons are spending an extra 17 minutes a week cleaning house. Talk about numbers that change the culture. At this rate, if “working moms” were a TV show they’d be cancelled before their pilot even aired.
The Times brushes by a 2010 meta-analysis of 5 decades’ worth of data on the impact of working mothers on children, mumbling something about how working moms were defended by those statistics as well. However, the numbers beg to differ. According to that meta-analysis:
The positive effects were particularly strong for children from low-income or single-parent families; some studies showed negative effects in middle-class or two-income families.
Bottom line: If you’re a single parent, it’s better to work independently than to rely on or continuously demand more government subsidies. But if you’re part of a two-parent household, one of you should plan to be at home for the sake of your child’s long term well being, especially during those baby and toddler years.
In other words, the data still defends the limited government, pro-family position the Times is unwilling to take.
Nice try, New York Times. But once again you’ve only managed to prove that the hot air you blow is all “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Sonia Saraiya, writing for Salon, observes the frustration of many fans in the wake of Mad Men‘s rather un-poignant series finale:
I left this finale believing myself to be disappointed in Don Draper, but I’m really disappointed with myself. Disappointed for this narrative of settling for the modern world—which, along with its many perks, like lower infant mortality and longer life expectancy, comes with a horrifying feeling of emptiness from time to time, as we all seem to strive to live an existence that is not great or searing but just okay, just fine, just good enough to get by. Most of us in the first world don’t go bed hungry anymore—but as Peggy observed to the Burger Chef executives, “you’re starving, and not just for dinner.” Don and Peggy and Joan and Sally can’t really flame out beautifully in “Mad Men” because they are modeled to be people just like we are people, and yes, it is disappointing. Some kind of conflagration, of either the body or the soul, would have been so much more cathartic, so much more satisfying. It would have given voice to the roiling emptiness within. But instead we just get scenes from one more day in the lives of these people. One more day is all any of us ever get, until the day we don’t.
It’s a powerful statement coming from a mainstream media source. Not too many are willing to confront the rampant nihilism in today’s media landscape, let alone admit how personally depressed they are by it. Further case in point: Fox’s Backstrom ends with the lead going into rehab because he knows there’s more to life than misery: the show gets cancelled. CBS’s Elementary, facing a similar ratings struggle, has the lead succumb to his heroin addiction: the show is renewed. “Some kind of conflagration” seems to be the ethos of the day, the way to save a dying show. Give the viewers one more train wreck and they’ll keep staring. Depressing doesn’t begin to describe it.
The root of Saraiya’s complaint is that paradise, perfection, nirvana — whatever you want to call it — has been crafted into a commodity that we buy, sell and trade based on personal need. It’s a lame complaint at best, one that accepts the Marxist demand that world perfection is a human struggle instead of a Divine gift. In pursuing the Divine at a hippie retreat, Don retreats into his advertising ethos. Saraiya turns this into an argument against capitalism and, in doing so, caves to the inevitable reality that fed hippie-turned-yuppie disillusionment: You can’t force everyone to drink the Kool Aid (or, in this case, Coke).
Capitalists didn’t turn perfection into a commodity. Marxists simply took it upon themselves to manifest perfection on earth. Like every other revolution before them, the hippies got stuck in the “struggle” bit and have been caught in the muck ever since. Taking a cue from Burning Man, Saraiya’s wish for conflagration echoes the belief that complete destruction is the only way to start over. Think wacko environmentalists who believe humans are a disease on earth and you get the picture. The Kardashians may not be as extreme, but they’re just as pointless.
The sick truth is, no Mad Men fan was hoping for Don to enter some kind of therapy and exit a repaired human being. That was never the way the show was going to go. Right now they’re standing around their office water coolers relishing in their post-series misery the way one would reminisce about a good one-night stand. It was naughty, and now it’s all over, oh woe is me …I can’t wait to do it all again.
Christians decided going to church was enough, rather than advocating Christian morals and values. Jews decided even God wasn’t necessary.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) May 12, 2015
If Ben Shapiro’s simply stated point isn’t enough to drive home the idea that the latest Pew survey on religious life in America reported absolutely nothing new, just check out one of the latest episodes of the Kardashians in which Kim Kardashian has to Google who baptized Jesus before concluding that she wanted to “find a guy named John” to baptize her daughter, North West. What’s worse, the “guy named John” concept, the fact that she had to Google it, or the reality that my Jewish friends took more offense to this absurdity than did a supposed Christian?
Jewish Americans had their panic attack over Pew two years ago when it was revealed that a full 66% of Jews agree you don’t need to believe in God in order to be Jewish. Sure, we’re the people who exist because God called us out and made a covenant with us, but really, we’re in it for the 6-figure salary potential. Now the Christians, genetically always two steps behind, have finally gotten their own slap in the face and panic over the moral integrity of America sets in, as if we’ve always believed our presidents and political leaders are really good Christians on the inside. You know, in that Sally Langston sort of way.
Here’s the positive side: There is something to be learned from the Jewish world when it comes to faith. It just means looking towards Israel, a nation that is statistically happier than we are, statistically less religious than we are, and statistically holds a higher rate of faith in God than we do. This past week, Israeli professors became overnight media sensations simply by supporting family values in their classrooms in the most practical way possible: By literally becoming the caretakers of their students’ babies while continuing to teach. When one American professor proceeded to breastfeed her sick baby while teaching in 2012, a national controversy ensued. Because you know how it goes with boobs and the Internet on this side of the ocean. So much for the efficacy of state-mandated sex ed.
Forget panicking over the fact that fewer Americans attend church. Churches (and synagogues, for that matter) have rendered themselves relatively meaningless in this day and age. If you wanted to panic over church attendance you should have done it 40 years ago when the pews began emptying out in favor of drug-laden music festivals and yuppie pursuits of McMansions and “having it all.” My colleague Michael van der Galien is right, we need to counter the secularization of America with biblical values. The answer, however, first requires countering secularization in our religious institutions instead of using them as a mere litmus test for the value and power of our belief.
At best, CBS’s new take on Supergirl is a cross between pop feminist trends and complaints. Pretty blonde girl (guaranteed to be noted as such by intersectional feminists covering the race beat) who spends her time being told by her bosses to get coffee (didn’t Marvel’s Peggy Carter already cover this one to death this year?) learns to embrace her true identity (yes, it’s a gay metaphor – literally) only to have the science of her outfit explained to her by a male colleague (cue the whining about the lack of girls in STEM professions).
You know you’ve read too much contemporary feminist criticism when you can pick apart a TV series preview in 30 seconds or less.
Kara, aka Supergirl, comes off about as bland as a Barbie doll in this preview. Worse yet, she’s constantly seeking approval from those around her for the choice she made to “out” her identity. Forget Superman’s quiet stoicism and rejection of fame in the name of the greater good (and retaining some semblance of a private life). Supergirl is louder and prouder and more demanding of acceptance than a gay pride parade. Except about her name, of course.
“We can’t call her that. She has to be Super Woman.” Snore. Didn’t the Spice Girls cover that one over a decade ago? They did, which is why Calista Flockhart (90′s feminist du jour Ally McBeal) was recruited to play the angry boss who reminds Kara how great it is to be a grrrl …in that b*tch sort of way. (Cue feminist whining about female corporate stereotypes …now!)
The bottom line that will make or break the show will be the writing. If they can make 3-D characters out of 2-D comics, they’ll have television gold, as Arrow, Gotham, and The Flash have proven (along with their Marvel competitors). Let’s hope this Supergirl doesn’t fall into the Venus Flytrap of contemporary feminist tropes. Up, up, and as far away as possible from that train wreck, indeed.
— Karen Melchior (@karmel80) May 14, 2015
This week contemporary feminists chose to go ga-ga over All Male Panels, a Tumblr site dedicated to screen-grabs of all-male panels in a variety of disciplines:
This brilliant Tumblr page points out the lack of women in visible spaces (such as panels) in a way that’s funny, but also quite poignant. The Tumblr page doesn’t just call out panels—it points to books, boards of directors, and academic committees. Overwhelmingly male spaces are obviously prevalent in the world. This Tumblr just makes it even clearer for those who aren’t forced to recognize it every day.
What the Tumblr page fails to do is point out if any of those men happen to be gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, or questioning; if they’ve ever promoted the use of a non-gendered bathroom; if they’ve ever attended or supported a performance of The Vagina Monologues; if they identify as “feminists” because, thanks to Joseph Gordon Levitt, we know guys do; yada, yada yada. Could it be that feminists are just as biased as the guys who they claim run “The Patriarchy”?
The funniest thing about All Male Panels is their use of David Hasselhoff. But, given that Hasselhoff is well known to be the Anti-Christ of the Internet, aren’t they about one step away from employing Godwin’s Law when it comes to their oh-so-sophisticated form of visual argumentation?
The only thing contemporary feminists prove by praising such a simplistic site is that they are just as prone to stereotyping as they are to arguing against it. Shame on you, ladies. That’s no way to act like a grrrrl.
Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz play Shugs & Fats, short for Shugufta and Fatima, two Muslim women attempting to negotiate their way into Western culture by encountering every feminist trend in the pop culture playbook. Their YouTube series reminds you of what Saturday Night Live could be, if it were still funny. An irreverent examination of culture clash, Manzoor’s experience as a world traveler pairs nicely with Vaz’s impressive improv resume to generate a fearless take on being Muslim and female in New York today.
Although the pair don hijabs, one of their goals is to throw off the culture of shame associated with Muslim women within Islamic culture. Needless to say, they haven’t always gotten a positive response from fellow Muslims. Using comedy as a shield, Manzoor and Vaz explore how Western culture can liberate even the most traditional of Islamic women. So, why the lack of attention from feminist media? Are they afraid that if they support the benign YouTube series they’ll be considered Islamophobes? If so, who exactly are they seeking to empower?
There will forever be one timeless classic following Gen-X and their Millennial crossover counterparts to the grave: The Muppets.
The new ABC prime time series promises to be a satirical take on reality television. It didn’t take long for ABC to green light the show revived by Big Bang Theory co-creator Bill Prady. Granted, the original Muppet Show played off the era’s popular vaudeville variety format, so the reality TV style is a plus when it comes to packaging. And we’re still guaranteed all those awesome guest star moments. What will be new? Getting into the backstories of our favorite Muppet characters. Apparently this audience is finally old enough to get the juicy details behind all those Kermit/Miss Piggy double-entendres.
Still, the show appears to target former kid fans, not current ones. So, are ABC and The Muppets cashing in on the rejuvenile trend? Will the show, like most children’s entertainment, be geared towards young and old alike? Or is it a smart way to attract a prime time audience that already houses their core fan base?
John Oliver, HBO’s version of Jon Stewart, decided to celebrate Mother’s Day by using his late night platform to argue for federal paid family leave in America. It was a compelling, heavy-handed report loaded with half-truths meant to support an ideologically beautiful, yet economically unfeasible concept. Based on my years administering FMLA in New Jersey, here is the list of Oliver’s myths that need to be debunked if we’re going to take the argument for paid family leave seriously.
1. Selena Allen, whose baby was born 6 weeks premature. Oliver presents her as only being able to take a total of 4 weeks off of work, which indicates that Oliver is oblivious to the disability period associated with giving birth. According to the Department of Labor, pregnancy is viewed as a temporary disability the 30 days prior and 30 days after birth. That post-birth time frame automatically increases for women who deliver via C-section. The disability period can always be extended in either direction with a doctor’s note. While this may be considered an unpaid leave by your employer, you are entitled to run your sick time concurrent to the leave, and you may also pursue temporary disability payments from your state or private disability insurer. Allen should never have returned to work the week following giving birth. Whether or not she was correctly informed of the law is not included in Oliver’s story.
2. Oliver argues for paternity leave by pointing out that Major League Baseball fans didn’t appreciate one player taking off 3 games to attend the birth of his child. What Oliver doesn’t mention is that fathers are just as eligible to take advantage of FMLA to bond with their newly born, foster or adoptive children. You do not need to physically give birth to be entitled to FMLA.
As if Joss Whedon weren’t in enough hot water along with the rest of the Marvel folks for not producing a Black Widow movie series, Disney adds the icing onto the sexist cake by rewriting Avengers: Age of Ultron to promote a new Captain America toy. That heroic motorcycle ride Black Widow took to save the day in the film? Captain America is the spokesman of choice to sell the Cycle Blast Quinjet. So much for the Widow’s most heroic on-screen moment yet.
At least I’m not the only one wondering where the Black Widow action figure is amidst all the Ultron marketing. Thanks to Disney/Marvel’s woeful lack of attention to a major on-screen character, entire websites have been created to “follow the symbolic annihilation of women through merchandise.” The main assertion is that Disney has “never” been good at marketing “non-Princess” or warrior-Princess (think: Leia) female characters through the toy market.
Which begs the question, why doesn’t Disney think female action figures will sell? Let’s not fool ourselves (like the ideologues do) into thinking this is about being anti-feminist. This is about money. If a toy company thinks a product will earn money, they’ll sell it. According to a 2005 MIT study on toys and gender, children prefer stereotyped masculine or feminine toys, a trait that extends to “young nonhuman primates.” An examination of the packaging and marketing of these toys determined that boys preferred aggressive, competitive toys like action figures, while girls aimed towards attractive, nurturing toys like Barbie or baby dolls. In other words, the historical biological roles of hunter/gatherer and birthing/nesting, by and large, still manifest as the preferred respective fantasies of children of both genders.
If contemporary feminists want to market a Black Widow action figure to girls, they’d better quit grumbling and follow Marvel’s suit in characterizing her as the nurturer and “mother” of the Avengers. They’d also be wise to take a cue from Time Warner’s DC Entertainment and Warner Brother’s Studio, who have paired up with toy makers Mattel and Lego to create a colorful line of attractive teen female superheroes to market to today’s young female toy buyers. Let’s face it: Black Widow’s black jumpsuit is sexy, but hardly appealing to a five year-old girl.
Forget about textbook ideologies. When it comes to sales, the customer is the only one who is always right.
Women have innate superpowers. Thanks to a century-old patriarchal system of doctors, politicians and insurance companies, women have been fooled into believing they have no power. What’s worse, thanks to a cadre of covert female agents, women today willingly hand over their unique powers to the hands of government agents who control the “threat,” either through a strict drug regimen, surgical procedure or both.
Women who refuse to relinquish their power face fear and intimidation tactics: You will be in pain; you will lose your figure; your partners will leave you; no one will employ you; you will be alone. Who ever thought the power to bring forth new life would be so damned scary?
Despite our overwhelming biological urge to reproduce, young women today are told to push off pregnancy or avoid it entirely. The women who don’t fall for this charade, the ones who take the leap into pregnancy and motherhood, are punished with promises of horrific labor pain and traumatic birthing experiences. Think about it: When is the last time you saw a peaceful birth recounted on television? Walk into a new-parents-to-be class at your local hospital and you’ll find out the number one reason young women are attending: “I want to know how not to be afraid of the pain.”
Mother of modern American midwifery Ina May Gaskin has made natural birth a feminist crusade, and rightly so. The myth that women need to be strapped to a table and drugged in order to give birth (a common practice from the 1920s through the 1960s) has led to generations of women entering birthing classes out of sheer fear that their bodies will fail at exactly what they are designed to do best. Pregnancy fear is the culmination of a cultural obsession with obtaining the perfect female body. Gaskin explains:
Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.
And yet, we live in a culture that correlates birth to illness, babies to growths that must be removed, and childbearing to disease. When is the last time a sex-ed curriculum didn’t lump in pregnancy with chlamydia as an unwanted, avoidable side effect? Is it any wonder, then, that the reproductive power of women is treated as a threat to the State to be feared and controlled?
This Mother’s Day it’s time to rethink the way we view mothers and motherhood in America. Fostering healthy pregnancies should be one of the top priorities of the feminist movement, as should supporting all mothers, whether they have given birth or given their hearts to an adoptive or foster child. Mothers are the providers and caretakers of life, the sustainers of a great nation. As Gaskin observes, “When we as a society begin to value mothers as the givers and supporters of life, then we will see social change in ways that matter.”
Hahaha, Black Widow picks up after the Avengers! Just like she’s their mother/wife, hahahaha *gag*
— C.Y. Falvey (@cyfalvey) March 4, 2015
Don’t let the contemporary feminists fool you with their whining about Black Widow’s lack of star power. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow had the most powerful dialogue in the new release, Avengers: Age of Ultron. For the first time, movie audiences learn of her past as a Soviet agent trained from childhood. They also learn the most devastating aspect of being raised to kill: forced sterilization framed as a graduation rite of passage.
“It’s supposed to make it easier for you to kill,” she explains wistfully. The psychology behind training a school full of girls to become Soviet agents? Their biological mothering instincts must be destroyed if they are to be efficient and effective servants of the State. Now, Natasha the Black Widow can only celebrate vicariously as friends give birth to children and name them in her honor. The State may have marred her biology, but the permanent scars are in her mind and her heart.
Contemporary feminists complain that Black Widow is the mother of the group, but never bother asking why, because their politics force them to be completely out of touch with statistical reality. Despite the vociferous demands for increased access to birth control methods ranging from condoms to abortions, 96% of women ages 18-40 still express a desire to have a child. Why, then, do they demand the State have greater control over their reproductive rights? As the case of the Black Widow illustrates, a demand for control is a contradiction in terms with potentially deadly results.
In the wake of the right-wing victory in Israel’s most recent elections, a number of famous Israeli artists made news in the Jewish blogosphere for their anti-Netanyahu tirades. Apparently the Hollywood Reporter caught on to the trend and attempted to manifest it on this side of the ocean with Israeli-American star Natalie Portman.
One huge problem surfaces at the beginning of the interview. She’s not as bold as her Israeli counterparts. Despite her Harvard education and worldly upbringing, she manages to sound equal parts informed and ignorant on a variety of topics ranging from Israeli politics to French socialism. The confusion is intentional. This is how Hollywood actors get away with “being political” without saying anything politically relevant that could later come back to bite them. Appearing informed while remaining vulnerable is how best to win your audience, as Portman illustrates throughout:
She sits, ramrod straight, plunking her iPhone in the middle of the table and hitting “record” before she has said a word, as if challenging me to quote her with razor-sharp accuracy — which, I must admit, casts a pall over our conversation.
…On life with her husband, French ballet dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, 37, whom she met on the set of Black Swan in 2010 and married in 2012: “The disappointments are always in myself…”
…she’s been fearless in proclaiming her Jewishness, even though she now lives in a country where anti-Semitism is terrifyingly on the rise. I ask if Portman feels nervous about being Jewish in Paris. “Yes,” she says, “but I’d feel nervous being a black man in this country. I’d feel nervous being a Muslim in many places.”
[On Paris:] “I feel like this country has a lot of religion and a lot of freedom around that; and there, the religion is almost like love. Love and intellectualism is their sort of way.”
And the grand poobah of her collection of double-edged lingo: While she made it clear that she is “very much against Netanyahu,” she quickly clarified that she didn’t want her opinions to be used to “sh*t on Israel.” That was the beginning and the end of it. So much for “sounding off.”
I once celebrated a hardcore Israeli Leftist’s (pardon, the term is “Labor Zionist” which translates best into American English as “Socialist”) 60th birthday party by being growled at repeatedly by the party boy himself that, in no uncertain terms, I needed to “change my politics” as guests looked on in awkward confusion. The guy literally ruined his surprise party for me in the name of Labor Zionism. Portman’s problem? She lost her teeth when she left her homeland. J Street has no problem “sh*tting” on Israel at this point and they’re a bunch of American Jews in suits. The most controversial thing about this interview? A pot-stirring headline employed the same anti-Semitic ethos for which Hollywood has become all too well known.
So, Portman, so much for not being used to “sh*t on Israel.” Did you really think the folks in Tinseltown would give a crap about your little Israeli movie?
Anti-feminist Suzanne Venker went on a tirade about millennials who don’t marry. The problem, of course, are those women who give the milk away for free or let the man pick up the check at dinner. Seriously. If her rage isn’t stereotypical enough, check out the rom-com reasoning she quotes from Dr. Helen:
Men know there’s a good chance they’ll lose their friends, their respect, their space, their sex life, their money and — if it all goes wrong — their family…They don’t want to enter into a legal contract with someone who could effectively take half their savings, pension and property when the honeymoon period is over.Men aren’t wimping out by staying unmarried or being commitment phobes. They’re being smart.
Smart? Smart is noting that 70% of men ages 18-24 visit porn sites in a typical month. (Thirty percent of those monthly viewers are women.) Men don’t need to pay for dinner when they can pay for the milk (or get it for free!) with no consequences, STDs, pregnancy, or relationships.
The stat that sparked Venker’s rant is the one showing the number of never-married adults age 25 has doubled since 1960. What else has doubled since then? The percentage of college graduates. Whine all you want about women in the workforce, the economic reality (thanks to those obnoxious hippie Boomers) is that women today have to work, married or not. The fact that the unemployment rate nearly doubled from 1960 – 2010 didn’t seem to cross Venker’s mind, either. Unless you can swing a reality TV show in your youth, get “loaned” a house from mom and dad upon marriage, and cash in on those photo shoots and residuals when you start popping out babies, you’re at a loss for a serious, reliable income without some kind of post-high school education.
Severnty-five percent of millennials still want to get married and the majority still want to have children, statistics that effectively blow Venker’s claim out of the water. Want to beat the ethos of contemporary feminism? Your chief complaint needs to be a lot better than “Waaa, it’s not the 1950s any more!”