Sunday, August 31, 2008

hurricane gustav. not katrina part 2...right?

oh, look. the poorest of the poor, the ones without a real, safe opportunity for evacuation, are being conveniently "forgotten" yet again. color me surprised.

CNN has a story on some of the people who can't leave New Orleans to evacuate for Hurricane Gustav, which is headed straight for the gulf and expected to be even more devastating than Katrina.

and this AP article kind of makes me a little nauseous. at least, this paragraph does:
"This is the real deal, not a test," Nagin said as he issued the order, warning residents that staying would be "one of the biggest mistakes of your life." He emphasized that the city will not offer emergency services to anyone who chooses to stay behind.
Advocates criticized the decision not to establish a shelter, warning that day laborers and the poorest residents would fall through the cracks.

About two dozen Hispanic men gathered under oak trees near Claiborne Avenue. They were wary of boarding any bus, even though a city spokesman said no identity papers would be required.

"The problem is," said Pictor Soto, 44, of Peru, "there will be immigration people there and we're all undocumented."

bfp has a post with links for how you can help.
i've already sent some money to INCITE!, whose members are working on getting help to low-income women of colour, and i suggest you do the same, if you can. and/or donate to the red cross. and check out BFP's post on how to help prisoners in New Orleans.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


(full disclosure for this post: i have a personal investment in the subject of spelling. here's why: i was thisclose to making it to the national spelling bee when i was in 8th grade. at regionals, i missed the word that is the title of this post - peerless - because the word-giver [is there an actual job title for this?], who i have yet to forgive, pronounced it "perilous." the sentence she gave could've gone either way. had i asked for a definition, i would've easily gotten it -- and every other word that would've fallen on my turn -- and, most likely, gone to nationals. but instead, i spelled "perilous," and was eliminated. and no, i'm not still bitter about a contest that happened over ten years ago. why do you ask?)

according to this article on spiked (via), some "progressive" educators are arguing in favour of de-emphasizing correct spelling and, instead of engaging in the tedious task of correcting students' spelling, accept the most commonly misspelled words ("truely" in place of "truly," for example) as "variant spellings." they claim that an adherence to correct spelling is elitist, discriminating against people from "disadvantaged backgrounds."

my first thought: have these people not seen Akeelah and the Bee? a young girl, quite disadvantaged, from south LA, wins the National spelling bee on her first trip there. a talent for spelling did not elude her, so why should it elude other similarly disadvantaged students?

thought number 1.5: what kind of generalization is that? assuming that "disadvantaged" (read: low-income, people of color, inner city, Other) kids can't spell? talk about elitist assumptions.

my second thought: ok, there's a good possibility that kids who've grown up and have been placed at some kind of educational disadvantage perform less well in spelling than their more advantaged counterparts. it's not as if educationally disadvantaged students are the only ones consistently employing these "variant spellings." really. this fact comes from a girl who was educated in a very good public school and attended a top tier college. even if it were confined to those "disadvantaged" students, the answer is not to meet them at their misspellings. maybe a step would be to, i don't know, stop de-funding education, put a little effort into these neglected schools, actually make the educational changes we've needed to make for years.

maybe i'm a spelling purist. if it's "progressive" educators that are lobbying for the acceptance of "variant spellings," maybe that makes me "conservative." for once, for the only time in my life, i'm ok with that label. literacy is not a luxury of the elite, and correct spelling is an indispensable facet of literacy. illiteracy is not a badge of honour, or, like the article rightly bemoans, a "virtue." spelling is not arbitrary. spelling things incorrectly does not show your self-expression or creativity.

there is a place for self-expression and creativity in literature, of course. literature would not continue evolving if that weren't the case. it's ok to sometimes cast off some of the restrictive grammatical rules in order to expand literary creativity. you'll notice that i rarely construct sentences that include capitalization, and that often, i include sentences with one or two words - not a complete sentence, by definition. this is not, however, because i don't understand correct grammar or sentence construction or literary rules. i generally do not capitalize the first word of sentences for aesthetic purposes. i like the way paragraphs look without the interruption of capital letters. (i could probably make an argument challenging the hierarchical nature of capitalization, but that's really not my motivation.) my incomplete sentences exist for the sake of the literary voice that i've chosen. the voice i write with reflects the voice i speak with. i think that's an important similarity for a writer.
the difference here is that i know what the literary rules are. i'm consciously choosing to break them, for reasons that are defensible in the literary world. misspelling words due to ignorance of their correct spelling, though? that's not "variant" or "self-expression." that's just an aspect of illiteracy.

lastly, a note on the argument Frank makes near the end of the article:
In essence, variant spelling is a true companion to the idea of variant truths. Contemporary cultural life has become estranged from the idea of Truth with a capital T. In academia, social scientists never tire of informing students that there are no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. Instead of the truth, people are exhorted to accept different perspectives as representing many truths.

The demotion of the status of truth calls into question the purpose of gaining knowledge. Celebrating variant truths, like variant spellings, is presented as a pluralistic gesture of tolerance. In fact it represents a reluctance to take education and its ideas seriously. And not surprisingly, those who do not take ideas seriously are also not very worried about how they are spelled.

as an avid challenger of accepted capital-T Truths, i disagree with this. the calling into question of the status quo, of long-accepted social Truths (i.e. normativity and homogeneity) does not call into question the value of gaining knowledge. on the contrary; gaining knowledge is one of the things that allows the status quo to be challenged. the academy is certainly not the only place that Truths can be challenged, but it's been an important front in that for a while now. for example, i (and many feminist scholars) absolutely disagree with the long-accepted "Truth" that small children have inherent differences based on their genitalia. little boys can be just as sensitive and pink-loving as little girls, and little girls can love to play with trucks and do science experiments just as much as little boys. challenging that Truth had absolutely nothing to do with employing "variant spellings." there is absolutely no connection.
seeking and accepting a pluralistic version of truth(s) doesn't mean taking ideas less seriously. making the connection between progressive scholars advocating for the acceptance of a variety of truth and "scholars" advocating for the acceptance of "variant spellings" is a red herring, and an ineffective one at that.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

leslee unruh: traces of humanity?

normally, just hearing the name "Leslee Unruh" or seeing a picture of her face gets a whole lot of angry blood pumping through my system. it's not often that one person can incite that much negative energy in me. Leslee, though, is a sure bet. she infuriates me...and, as much as i hate to admit it, she scares me. not because i think she can win this fight she's working so hard at, but because she can come close. because, unfortunately, she's a good strategist. and because there's just something about her that instills fear. when i worked on the campaign against South Dakota's abortion ban a couple years ago, my friend Christine told me that some of the CHF staffers had dressed up as Leslee for Halloween. it would be a totally appropriate, totally horrifying costume.

so normally, my reactions to Leslee range from terrified to horrified to hate-filled to infuriated.
which is why this article, published in the most recent issue of More magazine threw me off. i expected to be angry. i expected a description of the work she puts in to limit women's lives and choices, and i expected to be appalled that this woman could exist. that a human being could exist like her.
my reaction followed the same lines as Cara's: she called it "creepy and compelling." on some level that shakes me up a little, it also intrigues me. she intrigues me. and i'm a little more convinced that maybe there's a little bit of human being in her still.
and my grand Theory of Leslee has changed: maybe instead of being just pure evil incarnate, maybe she's just possessed. because little bits of humanity peek out in this article.

it was written by Amanda Robb, whose uncle, Barnett (Bart) Slepian, was an ob/gyn and abortion doctor back on my home turf in Western New York. He was murdered in 1998 by an anti-abortion activist. it's an incredibly well-written article - for journalistic value only, it's worth the read. Robb was somehow able to get close enough to Leslee to make her seem human. real. it showed her for how crazy she can get, but it also showed her as a real person, with what appears to be a trying past.

i could look at the article, at the discrepancies between Leslee's story of her life and the lie that Robb catches her in and call her a dirty liar. i could look at the legal/safe (though not incredibly well-executed, patient-advocacy wise) abortion she got a while back and call her a hypocrite. i could look at the manipulations that Unruh describes, the manipulations that make up almost all of Unruh's campaign work, and say that she's utterly deplorable. but i'm not going to. because even though it was a very long article on one of the people i most deplore, i wasn't left with a nasty taste in my mouth. i was left wanting to know more.
i was left feeling....well, i feel kinda bad for Leslee.

what else has she gone through to make her feel this need to construct her life around controlling everyone else's sexuality and sexual choices? what does she gain from this? does it really give her the satisfaction and fulfillment that (i'm guessing) she's pursuing? and if so, why does the control of other people fulfill her? what void is she trying to fill here?