Sunday, November 29, 2015

Women Warriors

Thirty percent of the Peshmurga (Kurdish Army) are women. They often announce their presence to the Islamic State enemy by shrilly ululating, the traditional middle-eastern cry of female exultation. The jihadist fears them, not only for their prowess as snipers, but because he believes that if he is killed by a woman, he will not be awarded the promised houri of paradise. "So when you shoot ISIS," an interviewer observed, "you're really sending them to hell?" The female peshmurga laughed merrily: "I'm giving them one-way tickets."

These women are hard-core. Although they train separately from men, they go out on missions together. It is not unusual for a woman to be in charge of a group of men. The Kurds are proud of their women and of their fierce reputations.

Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities are pouring into Kurdish-occupied Iraq, where a pluralistic state of tolerance is being established.

Turkey, long the oppressor of the Kurds, is not pleased. Because of course the Kurds see this war as not only a crisis, but an opportunity, to realize their dreams of independence. And if any people deserve their own nation, it is the Kurds.

Friday, April 3, 2015

God Bless Jonas Salk

Died of polio six months later.
When I recently moved, I uncovered a sealed cardboard box filled with one hundred year old infant clothes: rompers, smocks, robes. Each piece had been hand sewn by my paternal grandmother in the early twenties, and they were exquisitely fashioned from white linen or muslin, festooned with crocheted lace, tiny perfect pin tucks, embroidered bibs. They had not been worn by my father, but rather by the child my father had been conceived to replace: Melvin. Melvin had died of polio at the age of two, a tragedy that was said to precipitate my grandmother's descent into psychosis. 

My grandmother spent most of my father's childhood institutionalized in the state mental asylum in Steilacoom. The diagnosis was "manic depression with psychotic features." After years of undergoing electroshock therapy, she was deemed fit (or at least sufficiently subdued) to rejoin society and was released. For the rest of her life, her illness continued to manifest itself in the form of religious mania. I dreaded visiting her sweltering house in Wenatchee every summer; it was like sitting in an overheated mausoleum: the walls plastered with mirrors, plastic flowers, crosses, and pictures of Melvin, "the dead baby." I even came to resent Melvin (or at the least the memory of him), that chubby, jolly blonde cherub who had drained my grandmother of all the maternal attention that my father was denied, thereby rendering him incapable of loving his own children.

Now I wondered what to do with these relics. Neither my sister nor I have children to pass them on to, and even if we had, chances are they would not want the clothing of a distant relative who died in infancy. Yet the items were in remarkably good condition except for some yellowing, and still seemed infused with emotion, so I couldn't bring myself to consign them to Goodwill. Instead, I carefully washed and pressed each piece, and repacked it in tissue paper. I thought perhaps I would someday find a museum or historical house that could display them.

The polio vaccine was introduced the year I was born and I grew up hearing my mother speak reverently of Jonas Salk, and of how fortunate we were to have been born into an era of vaccinations and antibiotics. The evidence was clear: I knew several adults my parents' age who were confined to wheelchairs, or had withered arms.

Born of the first generation to escape the scourge of polio, I nevertheless
RIP, little Melvin
suffered from the various childhood diseases for which vaccinations would only later be developed: measles, chickenpox, mumps, rubella. They were not as feared as polio, of course, although the sudden and unexpected death of Roald Dahl's daughter reminded us that measles was nothing to trifle with. They were just mundane miseries to be expected and endured.

The older I get, the shorter everyone else's memories seem to get. How else to explain the resistance to childhood vaccinations?

I never met my Uncle Melvin, who died thirty years before I was born, and yet I am the last person alive who remembers who he was, or any of the particulars of his very, very short life.

Friday, March 20, 2015

I've just watched Monica Lewinsky's TED talk, "The Price of Shame," and she knocks it out of the park.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Is Kody Brown a Feminist?

One of my readers once commented that she follows the manosphere because she doesn't have cable. I laughed with self-recognition at that remark.

Two months ago I finally broke down and got Direct TV, and as you can see, I've practically given up on following the Angry White Guys as a result. I've spent the past couple of months binging on television. My partner and I are currently addicted to Black Sails, Better Call Saul, and Vikings, and on my own, I have become a promiscuous consumer of true crime and obscure documentaries.

We're not into reality series much, with one notable exception: Sister Wives

As I've shared in the past, I have a great deal of interest in LDS Church history, being on my mother's side the descendent of Mormon pioneers. I was raised with a particularly dim view of plural marriage. The only twig in my family tree who actually had more than one wife was Uncle Charlie. According to my mother, poor Uncle Charlie and his wife Susan were perfectly content until he was "bullied" by the Church into taking a second wife, after which they hardly had a moment's peace. Now I am not at all convinced this is true. (My mother, like the rest of her family, was never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story.)

Like the Brown wives, they lived in separate houses fifty yards apart.
Subsequent reading -- and living in cultures where polygamy was commonly practiced -- only reinforced my perception that plural marriage was generally a bad thing for the women and children (and, often, for the men) involved in it. At the very least, it was ill adapted to life in post-industrial economies.

The Kody Brown family has indicated that they agreed to participate in the reality series Sister Wives because they had a spiritual mission to share their story, and to convince mainstream America that they were a "normal" family.  In my opinion, they've been very successful. In fact, they seem more "functional" than most monogamous couples I've observed: more respectful, more communicative, more committed.

If an emotionally intimate, committed relationship between two individuals is a crucible, the crucible of marriage amongst five strikes me as exponentially more intense, and greater both in terms of potential rewards and strains. It's clearly not for everyone, as the Browns themselves admit (and they cheerfully accept that some of their own children reject plural marriage for themselves).

It was easy from the start for me to like the wives (Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn), all highly intelligent, thoughtful, and attractive women. It was easy for me to be enthralled with the ideal of "sister wives." And spending time with a spouse once every four days strikes me as just about right since I happen to cherish my personal time and space. But I am surprised to find how much I have come to like and respect Kody Brown, a man who expects his daughters to pursue higher education and professional careers, encourages both his sons and daughters to have long (and chaste) courtships before marriage (because a solid marriage is based on friendship), and who reminds one of his college bound daughters that her body is her own ("and even after you marry, your body belongs to you").  

I don't know if Uncle Charlie and his wives were proto-feminists, BTW, although it's worth noting that during his lifetime Wyoming was the first state to grant women suffrage. I do know that he was very fondly remembered by the folks of my grandparents' generation and was most decidedly not a patriarchal a-hole.
Kody Brown
Is this what a feminist looks like?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day

Trite, perhaps, but tried'n'true.
It's been recently, and rather forcefully, brought to my attention that I really need to step up my game in the romance department, so tomorrow I will be giving my sweetie a big ($25!) assortment of chocolates in a red satin heart shaped box and an under-cabinet paper towel dispenser. (One of my girlfriends is treating her spouse to a toilet seat that automatically lights up when the user lifts the lid -- presumably to help him navigate the bowl in the wee hours.) But that's not all. I've also promised to take her to an early showing of "Fifty Shades of Grey", then treat her to a candlelit lobster dinner, because that is just how far I will go to demonstrate my everlasting affection.