Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saturday Caturday

The Surrealism of American Politics

I love this surrealist work of art by Méret Oppenheim:

I don't love the way it reminds me of American politics. It's as if we are expected to view a fur-covered coffee cup and saucer as the way coffee cups and saucers are supposed to be. We are expected to write about the usefulness of getting animal hairs in your mouth when you sip your coffee, about the fascination of trying to clean the cup after use and about the obvious need for all coffee cups to be covered in Chinese gazelle fur.

Put another way, the coffee cup and saucer IS already covered with that fur, whatever I write, however much I rant. And I'm not surrealist enough to simply accept it.

I can't agree with the idea that channeling more and more money to firms will somehow miraculously make them invest in jobs when there is little demand for their products, I can't agree with the view that anyone wealthy is somehow a potential job-creator rather than just wealthy, I can't ignore the unemployment rate and worry only about the deficit and hypothetical future people's happiness. And I can't accept the fact that the financial markets will not be regulated, however obvious the need for such regulation is.

The most surreal aspect of American politics is not any of that. It's not even the Tea Party demanding the end of a civilized society if it also means zero taxes. It's the way too many in the media cover politics as if it were a work of surreal art with no deeper importance.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Friday flower blogging (by Suzie)

Tulips in New York City.

Sexism is so '90s (by Suzie)

It's hard to imagine that a female TV detective in 2011 would face sexism ...
So begins Natalie Abrams' article in TV Guide about the American version of "Prime Suspect," premiering at 10 p.m. EDT Sept. 22. The BBC series started in 1991, and 20 years later, Abrams finds it surprising that NBC would show any sexism in the NYPD. also found readers who couldn't believe that any policeman might discriminate against a woman. (But they will return to the apartment of an intoxicated woman multiple times.)

The NYT describes the original series, with Helen Mirren:
The series ... painted a cruel and cautionary portrait of the seven ages of a career woman. Jane began as a smart, abrasive junior detective so determined to prove herself that she lost the man in her life. She went through a lonely but gratifying reign as the boss, mottled by unsatisfactory love affairs and an abortion. There was no last-minute redemption or happily ever after. In the final act Jane was forced into retirement while struggling with alcoholism and decline.

Maria Bello, who stars in the new show, says she will not be punished for being a "career woman," and I'm relieved. Alexandra Cunningham is the showrunner.

TV writers are talking about the year of strong women on TV, just like last year. Melissa Silverstein injects some reality. She analyzes statistics from the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film and finds that only 25 percent of the creative people behind the scenes of network TV were women last season, and only 15 percent of the writers were. Both numbers are down from the previous season.

In addition to "Prime Suspect," I'm going to check out these new shows:
  • "Pan Am," debuting at 10 p.m. EDT Sept. 25 on ABC. Despite my doubts, I love to fly, and I like Christina Ricci.
  • "Ringer," 9 p.m. Sept. 13 CW. I adore "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and feel compelled to watch alumna Sarah Michelle Gellar, who also is one of several female executive producers.
  • "Up All Night," 10 p.m. Sept. 14 NBC. It has a female showrunner, and two actors I find hilarious.
  • "New Girl," 9 p.m. Sept. 20 Fox. It stars Zooey Deschanel, with a female writer and showrunner. Plus, I moved in with three guys when I was a senior in college.
  • "2 Broke Girls," 9:30 p.m. Sept. 19 CBS, with a female producer.
Among the returning shows that I watch, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (10 p.m. Sept. 21 NBC) is going through major changes: Chris Meloni, who played the detective always on the verge of brutality, has quit. Mariska Hargitay will remain, but two new detectives will be added. The new woman will be played by Kelli Giddish, whom I enjoyed in "Chase."

For those of you who watch TV, what new shows will you try?
ETA: I forgot to mention that the first new SVU episode is "inspired" by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case. You may remember the news stories that kept repeating the claim that the maid had told some lies in her life, but didn't repeat the reports that DSK had been accused of assault before, that an employee accused him of coercion in their brief "affair," and that people thought he couldn't be trusted alone with a woman.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Maggie Goes on Diet. Sigh.

I was a very thin kid. So thin, that every year I was sent by the school doctor for further medical tests on anemia and such (together with the other skinny kid in the class). There was nothing wrong with me. I just found eating a real chore and avoided it whenever possible.

Then around the age of thirteen or fourteen all this changed. I didn't get fat. I started turning into a woman. But the change was frightening, and had I had the means to halt that change I would have done it. My brain was also only thirteen or fourteen, and I was used to my old body.

That is my personal background (pointing out that I belonged to one of the vulnerable groups for bad diet books) for reacting to that new self-published book, titled Maggie Goes on Diet by Paul M. Kramer:

A book intended to help children that’s due to be published this fall has already sparked a controversy in parenting and health circles. “Maggie Goes on a Diet,” (Aloha Publishers, October 2011) tells the story of a 14-year-old girl who is overweight and unhappy. The girl diets, loses weight and finds success and popularity in school.
(Courtesy of Aloha Publishers)

The intended readership consists of children between the ages six and twelve!

All this has created a furor. The book has been written up in all sorts of high places, despite not being published yet, and the author has appeared on television. Health experts condemn the book, for obvious reasons, and several have pointed out the deleterious effects of telling young girls that if only their weight was different their lives would be ideal:
Author Paul Kramer has said his intent was to write a story with an important message to children about eating properly and maintaining a healthy physique, especially given the obesity epidemic. But his little book has landed with a loud thud. Experts have almost universally condemned it as sending the wrong message.
One of those critics is Karen Schachter, a Washington expert in the psychology of eating who runs Dishing With Your Daughter, a program of coaching, classes and workshops for mothers and daughters on healthy eating and body image.
I asked her why she thinks “Maggie Goes on a Diet,” and its encouragement of dieting, is misguided.
“I would not recommend a diet book for any young girl, especially one that promotes a message of thin equals popular; overweight equal lonely and unpopular. This is not how to teach girls (or anyone ) about taking care of their bodies, eating for health, or feeling good about themselves,” Schachter wrote me.


“First, at its most benign level, diets simply don’t work. Research suggests that something like 95 percent of people who actually lose weight on a diet, end up gaining it back within a couple of years or sooner. When the “diet cycle”(which is marked by feeling deprived, developing cravings, feeling guilty and ashamed, overeating, and then starting again with a new diet) begins in childhood, it can set the stage for a lifelong struggle with weight, chronic dieting, overeating, low self-esteem, and weight and food obsession. Many of the women I’ve worked with point to their first diet as the beginning of their chronic struggles with weight and eating.
Secondly, most girls already know how to diet. They are already well-versed in the “culture of skinny” and body hatred. According to The Council on Size & Weight Discrimination, 50 percent of 9-year-old girls and 80 percent of 10-year-old girls have already dieted, while 90 percent of junior and senior high school girls diet regularly. Another diet book is the last thing our girls need.
On a more concerning level, a diet in a vulnerable girl can trigger a dangerous eating disorder. Although we’ve seen a rise in rates of childhood obesity, the rates of eating disorders have also skyrocketed and are affecting younger and younger girls.”
Mmm. That everything would be perfect if only one reached perfect skinniness/bought-the-one-car-which-really-goes/got-the-ideal-job-or-partner is so seductive even for us adults! Imagine how wonderful it sounds for children.

I always remember a friend watching a television ad about a skin lotion and telling me that all those good-looking boys in the ad would ACTUALLY wait under her window if she used whatever the cream was! She was already a teenager then. Younger children are even more easy to fool.

That's part of the problem I see with all this. Another part has to do with the fact that young children are not in control over the foods they are served. The most they can do is to try to refuse some of them, and for them to do that in a nutritionally sound way (assuming they had the knowledge) can be almost impossible, depending on what their parents and schools offer them.

The obvious feminist problem with the book is the fairy-tale approach, the idea that IFONLY one were thin, then the prince would arrive and the kiss would happen and one would live happily ever after. Or, rather, that being thin is all that is required for a girl to be popular and successful. And that having a life-long battle with one's weight is a good use of all that energy which it will take.

This links to the wider cultural messages women still receive (including from each other) about the need for breast enhancement or other body work, about the need to be beautiful, about the need to be sexy. And let us not forget that these needs, or the need to diet, are not something women and girls just made up one night while bored.

There are real pressures towards treating the female body as something to be tamed, as something to be altered and as something to be displayed, because one does get rewarded for all that. Or perhaps it is that those women who refuse to tame their bodies get punished?

That Americans are getting more obese (in the medical sense) is the framework which makes books like these more likely to sell. The more I see of the obesity problem, the more I think of it as structural, having to do with wider changes than those created by individuals themselves, such as the unavailability of cheap-and-healthy fast food and the hurdles based on utility exercise.

Yet the solutions we are offered in diet books are purely individual ones. Even carefully written diet books for adults take those environmental and food-industry changes as given and place the whole onus on the dieter.

Back to this particular diet book: This snarky statement should make us pause a bit, because Mr. Kramer himself appears to have found the kiss from the publicity prince without dieting:
Many online critics have also pointed out that the author and self-publisher, Paul M. Kramer, has no expertise in child health (and isn’t exactly slim himself).
I also agree with this blogger:
I don't want you to buy Maggie Goes On A Diet. I shouldn't even be telling you about the book, because it appalls me to think of it getting in the hands of a parent or -- sigh -- a child. This as-yet unpublished, self-published book would go unnoticed except that people like me are frothing at the mouth and (the modern equivalent) blogging like mad about it.
But, it's out there. The media is delighted about the backlash, and I'm sure the author is delighted at the attention. So, let's talk about it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

On The Reagan Debate

I couldn't watch it without getting a bit nauseous, sorry. All I could think about is that here is a panel of the best-the-Republican-party-can-offer, debating in a race to ultimately govern perhaps still the most powerful country on earth, and what comes out of their mouths?

They would have been laughed out of a medieval village hall.

Pink Is For Girls!

We all know that. In one school this year the new first graders are shown the hangers for their coats, and, yes, the hangers for girls are pink and the hangers for boys are blue.

That the association of these colors to gender is fairly recent did not stop evolutionary-psychologists from arguing that women innately prefer pink, what with the need to find ripe fruit in those long-gone gathering days when the menz went a-hunting and the wimminz a-gathering.

Of course the color pink means that fruit is not ripe yet, in almost all the cases I can think of. But facts never ruin a good story!

Some facts:
In Western culture, the practice of assigning pink to an individual gender began in the 1920s[12] or earlier.[13] An article in the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department in June 1918 said: "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."[14] From then until the 1940s, pink was considered appropriate for boys because being related to red it was the more masculine and decided color, while blue was considered appropriate for girls because it was the more delicate and dainty color, or related to the Virgin Mary.[15][16][17] Since the 1940s, the societal norm was inverted; pink became considered appropriate for girls and blue appropriate for boys, a practice that has continued into the 21st century.[18]

Now new research reinforces the view that gender-linked color preferences are based on learning what is appropriate to one's gender:
In Western cultures, girls consistently prefer pink, boys prefer blue. Which academic camp lays claim to this difference? Past research has made a case, in terms of the evolutionary advantage of finding fruit, for why females might be biologically predisposed to prefer pink and other bright colours. But a new study purports to show that girls only acquire their preference for pink, and boys their aversion to it, at around the age of two to three, just as they’re beginning to talk about and become aware of gender. Vannessa LoBue and Judy DeLoache say their finding undermines the notion of innate sex differences in colour preference. “If females have a biological predisposition to favour colours such as pink, this preference should be evident regardless of experience of the acquisition of gender concepts,” they said.

LoBue and DeLoache presented 192 boys and girls aged between seven months and five years with pairs of small objects (e.g. coasters and plastic clips) and invited them to reach for one. Each item in a pair was identical to the other except for its colour: one was always pink, the other either green, blue, yellow or orange. The key test was whether boys and girls would show a preference for choosing pink objects and at what age such a bias might arise.

At the age of two, but not before, girls chose pink objects more often than boys did, and by age two and a half they demonstrated a clear preference for pink, picking the pink-coloured object more often than you’d expect based on random choice. By the age of four, this was just under 80 per cent of the time – however there was evidence of this bias falling away at age five.

Boys showed the opposite pattern to girls. At the ages of two, four and five, they chose pink less often than you’d expect based on random choices. In fact, their selection of the pink object became progressively more rare, reaching about 20 per cent at age five.

Does any of this ultimately matter? Perhaps not the color preferences themselves (though I do get tired of seeing little girls in not much else than wishy-washy pink and purple and I also wonder what the rigid color rules do to boys and later men). But other lessons often packed with these kinds of messages do matter. As I have written before, if toys "suitable for boys" now include building blocks and other toys which train three-dimensional object manipulation, girls will fall behind in those manipulation skills.

Perhaps they can have pink blocks with glitter.
Thanks to DS for the link.

Mademoiselles Who Dabble With Paints: Helene Schjerfbeck

(This is the last post in the series of nineteenth century Finnish women painters. The first three can be found here, here and here.)

"The life we live inside ourselves is always stormy."
Helene Schjerfbeck, 1928

Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is my own favorite among the "mamselles" who dabble with paints. As all the others in this series, she hailed from the Swedish-speaking upper classes, but her family was quite poor:
Born Helena Sofia in Helsinki, Finland to Svante Schjerfbeck and Olga Johanna (née Printz), Schjerfbeck showed talent at an early age. By the time Schjerfbeck was eleven, she was enrolled at the Finnish Art Society drawing school. Since the Schjerfbeck family was not very wealthy, Adolf von Becker, a man who saw promise in Schjerfbeck, got her into the school tuition free (Ahtola-Moorhouse). It was at the Finnish Art Society drawing school that Schjerfbeck met Helena Westermarck.
Schjerfbeck’s father died of tuberculosis on February 2, 1876. This brought even more financial problems to the Schjerfbeck house, leading Schjerfbeck’s mother to take in boarders so that they could get by. A little over a year after her father’s death, Schjerfbeck graduated from the Finnish Art Society drawing school. She continued her education, with Westermarck, at a private academy run by Adolf von Becker, which utilised the University of Helsinki drawing studio. Professor G. Asp paid for her tuition to Becker’s private academy. There, Becker himself taught her French oil painting techniques.
In 1879, at the age of 17, Schjerfbeck began to be recognized for her art. She won third prize in a competition organised by the Finnish Art Society. Her art career started to blossom when some of her work was displayed in an annual Finnish Art Society exhibition in 1880.


She set off to Paris later that year after receiving a travel grant from the Imperial Russian Senate.
In Paris, Schjerfbeck painted with Helena Westermarck, then left to study with Léon Bonnat at Mme Trélat de Vigny’s studio. Schjerfbeck then moved in 1881 to the Académie Colarossi, where she studied once again with Westermarck. The Imperial Senate gave her another scholarship, which she used to spend a couple of months in Meudon, and then a few more months in Concarneau, Brittany.


In 1884 she was back at the Académie Colarossi with Westermarck, but this time they were working there. She was given more money to travel by a man from the Finnish Art Society and in 1887 she traveled to St Ives, England. There she painted The Convalescent, which won the bronze medal at the 1889 Paris World Fair. The painting was later bought by the Finnish Art Society.

Here is the example many have in mind when they argue that genius WILL out! No matter how poor one is, someone will recognize those great talents and lend a helping hand.

And, indeed, Schjerfbeck did get financial assistance because of her obvious talents. But that those talents were spotted in the first place required her to be in the right place at the right time, and there her upper class origins, however impoverished, helped her.

None of this is aimed at denying her remarkable genius. She had a long career (though a poorly paid one) during which she moved from style to style with breath-taking skill and ease. She is recognized as both a realist and an expressionist but I find it hard to pigeon-hole her, and so do others:
She was supposedly a Realist, a Romanticist, an Impressionist, a Naturalist, a Symbolist, an Expressionist and a wildly ahead-of-her-time Abstractist. Truthfully, there were elements of all of these in her work as the decades progressed and one would not be incorrect using any of these terms. But in the end she stripped herself of all save that which symbolized 83-years' worth of learning to see.

Schjerfbeck's health was always poor and she walked with a limp. From 1901 onwards she mostly lived in the country, isolating herself and learning new fashions in arts from books. That isolation may explain why Schjerfbeck employed the self-portrait to an astonishing degree.

Her best-known realistic painting is "The Convalescent", painted in 1888:

"Maria" was painted in 1906:

And the "Circus Girl" in 1916

"Lilies of the Valley in a Blue Vase II" came in 1929:

And "Still Life in Green" in 1930:

The year before her death she painted "Three Pears in a Vase":

I have not included the many pictures which use other approaches*, because I want to get to her self-portraits in this post. Here are some** of them in chronological order:






Self-Portrait With Black Mouth, 1939



Schjerfbeck was a seeker in arts. The power in her work is in the dialogue they seem to want to have with the viewer. What strikes me most about her work is its absolute honesty, on some deep, deep level.

In the last self-portraits she paints the death emerging from her face for us to see. Yet I don't see those paintings as depicting fear or sadness. They are almost clinical in that odd honesty, and yet "clinical" is not at all the correct term. She is painting what is, failing health, sadness and all, with great clarity.

From a feminist angle*** the story of Schjerfbeck reminds us of the intersection gender with other forces in a person's life. She had great talent but suffered from poverty and ill health, and being a woman didn't help her in earning a living from her art. According to some sources she could hardly give her paintings away in mid-life, until two "white knights" came to her help and promoted her art.

She shared the same isolation as most of the other women painters I have covered in this series. To what extent it was based on exclusion by others and to what extent it was an earnest desire is hard to tell, because the latter may have been influenced by the former. It may also be that a relative isolation from the wider society was necessary for women painters of that era, to avoid those coded messages about how women should live, paint or not to paint.

*Some places for more pictures: Here, here and here.
**According to this source, she is thought to have painted around forty self-portraits, half of them in the last three years of her life. The self-portraits were not initially intended for public consumption.
***Then there are the more art-centered feminist thoughts on her work, such as these concerning one exhibition of her work:
Under the influence of Art Nouveau, and possibly also Japanese art (she called her first design Japon), Schjerfbeck also designed stylized patterns for tapestries and cushions, but those are not represented in the exhibition.

Even though the design of needlework patterns was probably a contributing factor in Schjerfbeck's simplification and stylization of forms, the absence of such designs and artefacts, which are often associated with conservative and inferior – women's – handicrafts, may be linked with the aspiration of the exhibition designers, be it consciously or unconsciously, to show the innovation, originality and modernism of the artist's painting, and as such its relevance in the art historical canon. Annabelle Görgen's article "Helene Schjerfbeck – a telling silence" seems to point in this direction. Exactly because female artists are more often seen as followers than as innovators, such an interpretation offers a surprising and refreshing view, which is hardly an inappropriate exaggeration, but is convincingly substantiated by in-depth analyses. Such a view, or rather such an aspiration, does not question the truism that innovative art is superior, though, which has had detrimental consequences for the assessment and reception of many a female artist (who were innovative by their choice for an artistic career in the first place).

Bye, Bye, Republicans

Pretty sure that you have already read this story from a Republican Congressional staffer who retired after 28 years and now tells his all about what is wrong with his party. If not, it's fun reading.

Well, it would be fun if what he wrote about was just a story, not reality.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

I Won't Be Seeing this Remake (by res ipsa)

Come to think of it, I won't be seeing the original, either.

Trigger warning: rape, violence, assholish attitudes re both

I just read this NYT article about a remake of Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" and my jaw dropped when I came to this bit:

There are few more unnerving scenes in movies than the rape of Amy by her ex-boyfriend, Charlie (Del Henney), and what makes it so memorably terrifying is the awful ambivalence it engenders in both the victim and the viewer — of either sex. Appallingly, Amy, who resists strongly at first, begins to feel some stirrings of pleasure as her old lover does his worst.

What’s maybe more unsettling, though, for any viewer who considers himself or herself reasonably civilized, is that you sort of understand why: her husband’s wishy-washiness (and persistent passive-aggression) has primed her for Charlie’s brutal decisiveness. (Emphasis mine)

(Stipulating that I'm writing about a review of a movie I've never seen.)

First of all, who is "you"? Second, that "of either sex" line aggravates me in the same way that pundit laziness with respect to the relative responsibility of our two dominant political parties for the shit-show situation in which we find ourselves aggravates me (i.e., the "Both sides do it!" crap that is slung in our media day in and day out, but I digress...). Is there any data on Rafferty's assertion? I wasn't old enough to get near the original "Straw Dogs" when it played in theaters, but I have a hard time believing that both sexes were ambivalent about watching Amy's "old lover [do] his worst". After all, Rafferty spends the first part of the article telling you just how many people walked out of the movie when it was screened. I wonder how many of those were women and how many were men?

Then I'm told that because the husband is simultaneously physically unaggressive and emotionally passive aggressive, that well, it's kinda sorta really quite understandable that his wife enjoys being raped. Because it demonstrates some much-needed "decisiveness", or something. And Rafferty's use of the word "appalling" with regard to Amy's enjoyment of her rape? Well, I think it tells you more about how Peckinpah (and Rafferty) feel about Amy, than it does about how Amy feels about being sexually assaulted. After all, according to Rafferty one of the reasons that the original "Straw Dogs" got everyone so bent out of shape was the "gathering militancy of feminism".

Anyway, I've never seen a Peckinpah movie and had always wondered why he was so "controversial". Now I know. He was a sexist asshole. Terrence Rafferty sounds like one, too.

The Politics of Bicycles

I was going to write about bicycles and Finland, because after the differences in weather, plants, the quality of light and the space the one thing that I really noticed when I arrived there were bicycles.

Everyone seems to bike, from toddlers to the frail elderly, and the biking is utility biking. People bike to go to school, to work or to run their errands. There are special bicycles for those who have trouble with the basic one. Children ride bikes, the smallest ones with adults, the older ones in groups or in twos or alone. Bike lanes make bicycling safer, though it really feels odd to come across a traffic jam consisting of mostly bikes!

Cars exist, of course, and they are quite plentiful. What differs is the number of bicycles and people riding them.

I said "I was going to write" about all this, but a story Atrios posted made me widen the focus of this post. Specifically, he discussed this piece of news:
And now, we have the case of Teresa Tryon of Tennessee, threatened with criminal charges for letting her child ride a bike to school.
Bike Walk Tennessee highlighted the case on its blog, saying it was “crazy” to threaten a mother with arrest for doing more or less what all parents should be doing: encouraging active lifestyles for our kids.
“On August 25th, my 10-year[-old] daughter arrived home via police officer,” Tryon said. “The officer informed me that in his ‘judgment’ it was unsafe for my daughter to ride her bike to school.”
Bike Walk Tennessee says Tryon’s daughter’s route to school was reasonably safe, and Tryon herself said Monday that she “passed a total of eight cars in the four times” she was on that road that day. Observers say it is an un-striped, residential street. Police say it’s one of the busiest streets in town, connecting public housing units and subdivisions to the downtown area.
Nonetheless, when Tryon complained to the police, she was reportedly told that until the officer can speak with Child Protective Services, “if I allow my daughter to ride/walk to school I will be breaking the law and treated accordingly.” She asked what law she would be breaking, and was told the answer was “child neglect.” The officer acknowledged Tryon’s daughter wasn’t breaking any laws.
The story I link to doesn't tell us if Tryon is a single parent or whether it's her being the mother that makes her responsible here. Neither do we learn much anything else about her situation. For instance, she may not have a car or she may have a job which makes it impossible for her to walk her daughter to school, assuming that alternative was accepted by the police.

I can't quite figure out from the story I link to how safe the route is, but it's pretty shocking that parts of it don't have sidewalks. The conclusions of the article are, however, a no-brainer:
Clarke makes the case that the situation points to the need for greater investment in safe routes to school for kids

Of course. The politics of bicycles are more complicated than that. There's the environmental aspect and the health aspect, both supporting greater use of bicycles. Then there's the drown-the-government-in-a-bathtub aspect of people not willing to pay for the required infrastructure changes and the cultural value put on cars as a sign of freedom, convenience and driving really hard and perhaps untrained.

The latter often join with the thinking that it's the parents (read: mothers) who are responsible for getting the children safely to school, nobody else. So if the streets are dangerous, it's not the streets that must be changed, nope. It's the parents (read: mothers) who must change.

And there are bad parents, naturally, just as there are bad people of all stripes. Still, we could make the job of parenting (which includes slowly letting your child learn more and more independence) much easier if we did not insist that the world out there is a jungle and that nothing can be done about that aspect of the problem.

It's not my intention to paint some sort of an unflattering contrast between Finland and the US. Anecdotes should not be taken as that sort data, in any case, and the two anecdotes I picked are probably not comparable in other relevant characteristics.

Still, I hope to point out that the societal arrangements do matter. If biking is made safe and easy, then many more people will ride bikes. That, in turn, makes the streets safer for children, too. They can ride their bikes on a special bike lane to school, and while they do that they are in the middle of many other bikers doing the exact same thing.

Mademoiselles Who Dabble With Paints: Maria Wiik

(This is the third post in my series about Finnish female painters of the late nineteenth century. I use it to look at how women enter a new area of endeavor and how the "First Women" fare. Although I'm looking at only a few painters in one Nordic country, I hope that what comes out of this series will be something less dependent on time, place, language and social class. The first post, on Fanny Churberg is here and the second post, on Ellen Thesleff, is here.)

Maria Wiik (1853-1928) was another Swedish-speaking upper-class Finnish painter of the nineteenth century. She got her early art education in Finland but mostly studied in Paris, initially at the Académie Julian, a private academy which accepted women as students. (Marie Bashkirtseff studied at the same academy, and painted a well-known picture of the students there.)

Wiik was mainly a portraitist. Her portrait of her sister, Hilda Wiik (a textile artist herself), was accepted into the Paris Salon:

Hilda Wiik, 1881

This was an important formal acknowledgement for women painters of that era. It meant that One Had Arrived.

But the work that truly fascinates me is not one of Wiik's portraits but this painting, showing a young woman leaving home, perhaps to become a maid or a shop assistant:

Out Into The World, 1889.

The topic of this painting seems to me to be linked to the painter being a woman, and a woman who had left home herself. The pain of the parting between the two women is clearly depicted, as is the younger woman's determination to leave anyway. I believe that this painting gives a concrete example of the much-discussed idea that diversity introduces different points of view, in this case to arts.

The major point of this post can be found in both how one becomes accepted as a member of a profession and what someone different might bring into that profession.

Many common points apply to all the painters discussed in this series. Maria Wiik never married, either, because marriage was not regarded as compatible with a serious career of any type for upper-class women of that place and time. And Wiik came from the upper classes. Poor women could not open the initial doors into an art education.

Neither could men from lower social classes at the time I'm writing about, though this changed radically in the next few years. Painters such as Juho Rissanen, Jalmari Ruokokoski and Tyko Sallinen all from very poor backgrounds, gained fame soon after the time of the "dabbling mamselles." Women from poor beginnings had to wait longer for their chances.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Labor Day

For those living in countries not celebrating Labor Day today, the roots of the day and its initial meaning are these:
Labor Day: How it Came About; What it Means

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Founder of Labor Day

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

But Peter McGuire's place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.


In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
Yeah, I did notice the "workingmen's holiday" but that was over a hundred years ago and we have changed since then.

Not all those changes have been so positive. For instance, note that the Labor Day was initially created by trade unionists! And it was supposed to honor the laboring classes!

How different all that looks in 2011. Labor unions are slightly worse than the devil (and certainly couldn't get a new federal holiday adopted), many blue-collar and pink-collar jobs have packed their bags and moved abroad, the unemployment rate refuses to come down and far too many politicians see their jobs as making sure that the laboring classes don't have any!

Or at least that they have no job security, no retirement benefits, no health care, no minimum wages, no federally guaranteed proper annual vacations, no right to safe working conditions and so on and so on.

And what IS the Labor Day in 2011? It's a last hurrah for the summer, one of the few annual holidays Americans can claim, a time for a big barbeque. It's not about honoring labor.

Which is almost as sad as the fact that the working class in the United States is almost powerless, unaware and mostly ignored in public policies.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Living without hope (by Suzie)

"Without hope, we live on, in desire." -- Souls in Limbo, from Dante's "Inferno."
After the British riots last month, some progressives said: This is what happens when people feel like they have no future.

What about those of us whose lives will be shortened by disease or disability? Some of us look for ways to enjoy what future we have. Our hopes have changed from “I hope I get a promotion,” for example, to “I hope I don’t die in pain.”

Last weekend at an event in Manhattan Beach, Calif., I talked to two people who were facing surgery because their leiomyosarcoma had returned. They accepted the facts, and were enjoying the beach and the weather. Although I know better, I approached them as if they had to be upset. Of course, some people with life-threatening conditions are upset, depressed, angry, etc. They’re just less likely to loot than poor, able-bodied young men.

Some middle-class people assume that poor people must be miserable. As a formerly poor person now on a fixed income, I can attest that poor people often find ways to enjoy life. Believe it or not, a person can live her whole life in poverty and still be happy.

When people with money imagine poor people as miserable, when able-bodied people imagine everyone with a life-threatening illness as miserable, they reinforce the importance our society places on stuff and its denial of illness and death.

One reason assisted suicide is controversial is that the person who wants to die might change her mind if her quality of life improved. In June, when my diagnosis was “intractable nausea and vomiting,” I snapped at my doctors that I wanted to go into hospice. Of course, what I really wanted was relief, which I eventually got.

When a young man throws a brick through a store window, he may think he won’t get caught. After all, the 10 commandments in the Urban Dictionary include: “It's Not A Crime If You Don't Get Caught.” Although the context is rape, it works for other crimes because rape culture is intertwined with a consumerism that values getting what you want at the expense of others.

Maybe the looter doesn’t care if he gets caught because jail time is proof of toughness, a component of masculinity. Maybe it solidifies his position in a gang. Maybe he thinks a conviction doesn’t matter because he has no chance of getting a decent job anyway. The latter isn’t true, by the way. One of my nephews did a year in jail for a joy ride on a Jetski when he was a teenager, and the conviction for felony theft has hurt his ability to get housing and work.

This post continues a discussion I started Aug. 19 about who expresses their anger and frustration through violence and who doesn’t. When violence makes the front page, politicians and the media discuss race, ethnicity, class and age, but rarely gender. Many people accept that men are more violent by nature, without questioning how attitudes about masculinity encourage violence. In a sense, this gives men more permission to be violent than women.

In the British riots, the Telegraph found only 8.4 percent of those arrested were women. In 2001, the Guardian paraphrased Heidi Safira Mirza, professor of racial equality studies at Middlesex University:
She argues that it is always assumed that it is a man's world and the male youth make changes by getting heard in the public arena of the streets. But this is the masculine model of change.
The Guardian has downplayed race and ethnicity in the recent riots, in part, because some white conservatives have blamed people of African descent. The Associated Press also reported that men of different ethnicities participated in the riots, unlike recent mob violence in U.S. cities in which blacks attacked whites.

Some progressives think that people of color have more right to strike violently because they have been the most oppressed, but that discounts other experiences people may have, and elevates one form of suffering over another.

We also need to pay attention to clashes among different cultures. The following comes from a review I did of the excellent "Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People," by feminist Helen Zia. She examined the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, and her conclusion might surprise some people.
The predominantly white media focused on the conflict between blacks and whites, ignoring the anger that African Americans felt toward Korean Americans. “Korean Americans overwhelmingly bore the brunt,” Zia writes, “with nearly 2,500 Korean-owned stores destroyed and more than $500 million in damages to the Korean community alone.”

Few in the mainstream media interviewed Asian Americans, however. The Los Angeles Times interviewed more than a thousand people about the riots, with the headline “Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Others.” The editor explained later that Asian Americans were not statistically significant, even though Zia points out that they composed about the same percentage of the population as blacks: 11 percent.
The mob violence of young men does not have to be our model for improving the quality of life.