politics, pop culture, social justice

Save the Net! Hug a Laptop!

So the thing about Net Neutrality is, it’s the kind of phrase that’s really easy to ignore when you’re scrolling through Twitter at 2AM trying to convince yourself to put the phone down.

Which, it turns out, is a bit of a problem, because Net Neutrality is what’s going to allow you to keep accessing random pictures of puppies hosted on the blog of that girl you used to go to high school with who was always kind of weird, but now she has this really frickin’ cute puppy… Net Neutrality is also what makes it possible for all seven of you to notice that my little blog exists when there are other blogs out there that seventy thousand people are reading. Blogs that people get paid to write. Blogs that are actually websites, and websites that (if Net Neutrality is murdered) could afford to “fast track” their exposure online in a way that I personally would probably never be able to do.

Lucky for you, I’ve been in Texas for two days and I’m already bored of job hunting! So I’m taking a little time away from Witches of East End to explain in simple terms what Net Neutrality is, why we need to keep it, and what you can do about it.

Also lucky for you, I learned almost everything I know about this from John Oliver on “Tonight with John Oliver” so here’s him, being funnier and smarter than me:

I sincerely recommend you watch that video, but if you didn’t, here’s a very simple recap:

1) There are only a few companies that provide internet, and they are evil

2) The guy now in charge of the FCC (aka Federal government Craps on online Communication) is the guy who used to be one of the top lobbyists for cable companies

3) Right now on the internet, all data is equal

4) The FCC wants to introduce a class system into the internet that will require companies to pay extra for faster speeds, better service, etc. Meaning, some data will be privileged over other data

5) There is very little we can do about this, because they are regulating themselves

6) What we can do is go online to fcc.gov/comments and tell the FCC how we feel about this potential change

Now here’s where it gets (more) irritating, because if you go to that website, you’ll notice that it looks like this:

FCC comment page 1And if you click on the numbers to the right of one of the many titles (title for what, the website does not make abundantly clear) you are directed to a list of comments that looks like this:

FCC comment page 2


Not exactly inviting or easy to navigate. Lucky for you, I have lots of time on my hands. And I used that time to create step-by-step instructions for where to go and what to say to make it clear that you want the internet to remain an equal opportunity circlejerk. So if you do nothing else today, do this:

1) Go to fcc.gov/comments and select one (or all) of the many numbers to the left of the titles on the screen.

2) If you select the first one (“proceeding 14-57”) you can file a comment on the pending merger of Time Warner and Comcast–which will create an even larger and more harmful cable company monopoly, so I highly recommend you do! Here are a few links to some excellent examples of individual criticisms of the merger!

3) If you select the third one, (“proceeding 14-28”) or the twelfth one (“proceeding 9-191”) or both, you can file a comment specifically on the issue of net neutrality. Here are myriad links to excellent examples of individual pleas for the legal preservation of net neutrality.

3b) A lot of people are also demanding that internet providers be classified as “common carriers” which would solve a whole bunch of our problems, too!

4) No matter which proceeding you want to comment on, you will be directed to a page that looks like this:

FCC comment page 3

4b) Fill in your personal information at the top, then add your comments! If, after the million examples I linked, you still don’t know what to write,  you all have my permission to copy this:

I urge the FCC to implement strong and unambiguous legal protections of Net Neutrality. A “tiered” system will only lead to discrimination online, and can do nothing to support the innovation and growth for which the free and neutral internet has been, thus far, a fertile breeding ground.

The greatest power of the internet has always been its role as a level field for communication and commerce. Allowing cable companies to take monetary incentives to privilege one user over another goes against the nature of the internet as it has come to be used. Companies like Time Warner and Comcast, which possess near-monopolies on the market as it stands, do not prioritize the interests of the consumer, and cannot be trusted with free rein to control the internet.

It is the responsibility of the FCC to protect the consumer, and ensure equal access to online resources for all Americans. Therefore, I strongly support the legal re-classification of the internet as a “telecommunication service,” to be regulated under a title II “common carrier” framework.

5) Once you have entered this basic information, you will be redirected to another page, where you will be asked to confirm what you have just written. Click “confirm!” Then you’re done.

There you go, internet weirdos! copy and paste my words. It will take you three minutes. Just go! Do it! Help prevent cable company fuckery!

This puppy believes in you.



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art, media, pop culture, social justice

A Letter to the Strasburg School Board

Hey team. It’s been a while. I know, I’ve missed you, too!

So in the time that I’ve been away, I got a twitter! And I started following John Green, whom some of you may know as one half of the Vlog Brothers, and others of you may know as the talented YA author of books like An Abundance of Katherines, The Fault in Our Stars, and Looking for Alaska.

Well, through the magical twitter machine, it has come to my attention that some of Mr. Green’s books, along with several other fantastic YA books by authors like Scott Westerfeld, C.S. Lewis (seriously), Mark Haddon, and M. T. Anderson, are being offered in an elective YA literature course being taught in Strasburg, Colorado. And these books are also being challenged by some parents for poisoning their kids’ impressionable little horny minds with “excessive profanity, explicit sexual scenes, and illegal acts,” which the parents believe will, “degrade their minds–and in some cases may lead them to committing such acts themselves.”

First off, I want to say that, if reading Uglies causes some kid to hop on a hoverboard and overthrow a totalitarian society, I am very, very down with that. Secondly, I want to say that the books on that list are the kinds of books that can be a bright spot in the dark and confusing world of being a teenager. The people who need them most are the children of the parents trying to get them banned.

So Mr. Green tweeted, and I got angry, because if there is one thing I hate more than censorship, it’s people who don’t read well, and this issue seems to combine both of those things. In his tumblr, Mr. Green gave out the necessary information for how to contact the school board and voice your support. I decided to. And since I know that writing letters like that is annoying and time-consuming, I decided to also post the full letter here for you to re-use if you want, like me, to email the school board and voice your support. Just send your letter to StrasburgYALiteratureCourse@gmail.com. Tell them how great those books are. Write your own letter, or you can use my words (and John Green’s. I borrowed a line from him. Thanks, John!). Change them however you want. Here. You have my permission:

To The School Board:

It has come to my attention recently that a group of Strasburg parents have challenged the curriculum of a planned elective YA literature course. Although I am not a resident of the Strasburg, CO area, I wished to voice my support of the curriculum proposed by the course’s teacher. I believe that it is imperative that modern teens have access to literature that is both of high quality and pertinent to their own experiences, and the books planned for the course fit perfectly with this model of what a YA literature course ought ideally to embody.

During my teenage years I personally read more than half of the curriculum proposed by the teacher of the course, and I found these books engrossing and edifying. I wish to offer the course instructor my complete support in her choice to teach these books, and my approbation for her decision to stand by her selections in front of the school board. I wish also to urge the school board to remember the importance of reading books critically and thoughtfully as a whole, rather than focusing on individual scenes ripped from their context.

I do not believe that these books could in any way be damaging to a High School-aged reader, however I understand that the course is an elective. Therefore, for parents who believe that their children may not be mature enough to handle the books’ content, it is fortunate that their children can easily be spared from having to try. I hope that this factor alone will be enough to sway the school board’s decision in favor of maintaining the already-approved curriculum.



art, media, social justice

Miley Cyrus, Feminism, Sexuality, and Appropriation

All right, so I’m jumping on a bandwagon here. Although you can hardly call it jumping when every embarrassing click you’ve made in the last month has had the words Miley and twerking in the title. You don’t have to admit it, I know it’s true.

The scandal that is Miss Achey Breakey, Jr. has been all over the news: everyone wants to talk about her risque ensembles, her ‘risque’ dance moves, and her seemingly constantly-visible tongue.  Even some more respectable news sources have gotten in on the action, discussing her “appropriation of black culture” and everyone wants to talk about whether it’s racist. Or not. Or Racist. Or Feminist. Or Not.

In the widely touted open letter from Sinead O’Connor, the musical legend warns Cyrus against allowing herself to be “prostituted” by the men in the industry. Despite being fairly patronizing in tone, O’Connor seemed to have Cyrus’s best interest at heart at first, though this quickly devolved into petty rudeness on both sides with tweets from Miley and in three  subsequent letters penned by O’Connor. Plus Amanda Palmer wrote an open letter response to O’Connor, arguing that Miley is in charge of her own show, and has a right to be doing what she’s doing as her own brand of feminism.  (Suffice to say, the whole open letter thing is getting to be a bit much.)

What these two very famous women musicians address is primarily the sexuality of the female music artist, and how that sexuality relates to feminism. Now I’m all about subverting the male gaze and making sure that men and women understand that women have more going on than just being nice bodies. But I also believe that feminism in the modern day does, as Palmer suggests, allow for women, and men, to create and own their own relationships to their bodies and their sexuality. So, while I very much admire Sinead O’Connor’s choice to shave her head early in her career so that people would have to deal with her as a person, rather than a sexy singer-object, I also admire Amanda Palmer’s choice to drop her record label when they told her she was too fat to wear just a bra in a music video, and to get naked whenever she feels like it. Go Amanda, I love you.

But we’re talking about Miley. Particularly, how people are choosing to talk about Miley in the media. And it is notable to me that neither of these edgy, female, white, musicians is talking about the racial implications of Miley Cyrus’s recent performances. Writer Renee Martin noted that the scandal of Miley’s sexually charged performances only seems to be a scandal because it threatens the idea of what an “appropriate performance of white womanhood consists of” by incorporating “the dangerous sexualities of cultures of color.” With a good deal of scorn, she notes, “filth, ratchet, ghetto and animalistic sexuality is something which apparently should be left for black women.” In other words, if Miley Cyrus were being all sexified and nude in a more conventionally white way, it wouldn’t be a problem. Which to me is a huge problem.

As far as racial critiques go, Cyrus’s performance at the VMA’s and her music videos are frequently being compared to Madonna’s Vogue video and Gwen Stefani’s use of “Harajuku girls”; essentially, that these white performers are using an “other” race as a background on which to frame their own, white, stories. At least one article claims that the appropriation of another culture is just a step many white performers take to a financial end. Several have used the word “slumming” to describe Cyrus’s relationship with ratchet culture, and at least one writer is bemoaning the idea that white performers are now outselling black performers in hip hop.

One thing I find both intriguing and off-putting about a lot of the critiques of Cyrus is that the term “appropriation” is being used as though it is automatically bad. I have a hard time with the idea that because Cyrus is white, she shouldn’t be allowed to participate in a culture that she finds appealing. Cyrus claims that she feels a personal affinity to the culture she is appropriating. She says that the people who appear onstage with her and in her videos are “her homies,” not her accessories.  Does it even matter if I believe her? If she wanted to populate her videos with only white women twerking, she would still be accused of cultural appropriation, and people would still say she was racist for not including any black people in her video.

This fantastic article by aforementioned Renee Martin suggests that, culturally, we believe in “good” and “bad” forms of appropriation–taking as her example Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, she says, “Only when whiteness can claim a “positive agenda” are such acts of blatant appropriation presented as good.” Martin suggests that Gilbert, no better than Cyrus, is using cultures of color to “get attention” and “lend legitimacy” to her art. This is really problematic to me, because Martin seems to suggest that there is no acceptable way to participate in cultures of color if you are white. But what does that actually entail? Should white performers simply avoid all things associated with non-white cultures in an attempt not to be offensive to anyone? Maybe they should make a point to stick to only “conventionally white” things (what does that even mean?), thereby perpetuating the racial problems in today’s society: a society so culturally segregated that every time someone does something that is traditionally done by people who don’t look like them, people on both sides of the divide accuse them of racism.

(Added to this whole thing is the fact that it’s not actually accurate to say Cyrus is appropriating “black” culture, when not all black people consider themselves part of the culture Cyrus is appropriating. For example, several of these black feminists didn’t even know what twerking was until everyone freaked out over Miley’s performance at the VMAs.)

If you click any of the hyperlinks, you’ll notice I’m using a ton of articles by people who don’t agree with me to write this post. That’s because I think that what’s most important and wonderful about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs is that it sparked a ton of conversation about feminism and race. A lot of people who were already Miley fans were probably not having those conversations before googling her name brought up articles about whether or not the performance was a minstrel show.

So, ultimately, I appreciate Miley Cirus’s performance at the VMAs for two reasons: 1) it was sexual but not sexy, and I think she’s aware of that, and I want her and all women to have a right to perform their sexual identity however they choose. 2) It sparked a lot of very important and intelligent conversations about race, culture, and appropriation (like this one, and this one) that revolved around a figure in the media with such a wide following of young white people–a lot of whom are probably being exposed to  those conversations for the first time.

Don’t worry, I’m not deceiving myself into believing that Cyrus is so self-aware that she’s trying to shock people with her non-sexy sexuality and cultural appropriation in order to make them have really smart conversations about ideology. I would not be all that surprised if she hasn’t read a single one of the articles discussing the complexity of the choices she’s making as far as gender and race are concerned. And I do think that she would be a better and more interesting performer if she were more informed about those things. But, I am still defending her right to create the kinds of performances she is making, and yes, even saying that I think they’re kind of good for everyone. Like bad-tasting medicine.

Miley Cyrus: a spoonful of bear-flavored fish oil.

Plus she’s actually a pretty good singer.

politics, social justice

OH MY GOD BABIES: the Semantics of Abortion

There are few things that make me more uncomfortable about the state of modern America than the current debate about abortion. Specifically, I have an issue with die-hard “pro-lifers” who have a tendency to confuse their religion or their googly feelings about babies with ethics, and have a habit of throwing around exaggerated accounts of how they are right, and everyone who disagrees with them is a soulless baby killer.

Now, what I’m not saying is that abortion is always good. Nor am I saying that pro-lifers are always wrong. For the record, I have googly feelings about babies, too. What bothers me most about the debate surrounding abortion is that, ostensibly, we’re all fighting for the same things here: education and proper care for women dealing with pregnancy, and appropriate actions regarding their unborn offspring. Obviously, the two sides of the debate do not agree with each other about what “proper care” and “appropriate actions” actually means. In my opinion that’s ok. Or would be if I believed that a real conversation could take place between the two factions regarding the issues at stake.

Unfortunately,what seems to be happening with people on different sides of this issue is that they have laid down their boundaries along semantic lines. The differences between how each group chooses to understand the vocabulary of abortion politics leads to a lot of misunderstanding–some of which, I firmly believe, is willful. The more pro-life news I read, the more it seems that “die-hard pro-lifers”  prefer arguments about semantics over practical discussions about what policies are the best for the greatest number of people. And this leads to the expressions of viewpoints that are mired in bad science and stories about adorable babies and religious terminology, and never seem to get around to addressing the actual effects that abortion-related policies have on real-life women across the country.

The most abundantly problematic semantic issue I find in the abortion debate is that of the titles the two major factions have chosen for themselves. “Pro-Choice” and “Pro-Life” are not opposites. The term “pro-choice” (and I will admit to a bias, though I maintain that it’s a bias in favor of accuracy and sensibility) is fairly accurate: the average self-identifying “pro-choice” individual supports policies that give women a choice about what will happen to their bodies when they become pregnant, including but not limited to, having the option of abortion. What they don’t do is tell women they should have an abortion or that they shouldn’t choose to keep their child. That’s why the term “choice” is used. It’s not an ideology that’s pro-abortion, it’s an ideology that’s pro-options.

The term “pro-life,” on the other hand, sets up a number of serious semantic issues. First of all, it creates a false dichotomy between “pro-lifers” and “the other guys,” who, if they are not “pro-life,” must logically be “anti-life” if they are to continue to be understood as an opposing faction. This creates an immediate gap between people who want to identify as “pro-life” and everyone who doesn’t agree with them. It’s pretty understandable: I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with someone who is “anti-life” either. After all, what would it accomplish? A true enough response, if the dichotomy were accurate, but it’s not. The second problem with the term “pro-life” is that it doesn’t address the concept of “choice” at all. “pro-life” groups are all about “saving lives,” which is hypothetically noble, but the concept loses a lot of it’s credibility when these groups insist on explicitly valuing the lives of unborn children over people in Syria. In addition, I don’t find the term very accurate if “pro-life” groups are willing to shut down valuable women’s health resources (some of which provide the majority of sexual health resources to women who otherwise couldn’t afford them) in order to achieve the singular goal of saving the lives of unborn babies. Despite numerous claims to the contrary by pro-lifers who claim a holistic approach to supporting all life, being “pro-life” is politically akin to being “anti-choice.” And that’s the title I choose to use.

The biggest problem with being “anti-choice” as a political ideology is that it supports policies that take away women’s options about their pregnancy, seemingly without regard to what else is being taken away. Her sexual freedom. Her agency. Her equal opportunity, with men, to say, “no, I don’t want to deal with this.” Sometimes, her own life. I’m not saying abortion is always the best option for a woman who doesn’t want to keep her child. Adoption and prevention are wonderful options. But that should not be the decision of the courts or the church. It should be the decision of the woman. What “anti-choice” activists seem to ignore, or simply not to care about, is that whether or not abortion is legal, it’s still going to happen. It statistically still does. The difference between a legal abortion and an illegal abortion is primarily in the mortality rates of the desperate women who seek them.  In practical terms, seeking to restrict the options of women is to say that the lives of the unborn children are more important than the lives of the unprepared mothers, and that will never be an ideology I can support.

Meanwhile, I am outraged by articles like this one by Kelly Clinger, who explicitly endorses the viewpoint I ascribe to “anti-choice” activists when she draws parallels between modern-day abortion and the holocaust of WWII. She criticizes “the hard-heartedness” of the women who seek late-term abortions and makes references to “piles of hair shaved off of Jews in the concentration camps,” posing hypothetical questions about the effect “if we had the bodies of 50,000,000 babies piled on top of each other in a museum somewhere.” This woman has basically accused women seeking abortions of behaving like Nazis, and what gets me is, she thinks it’s ok. She’s so entrenched in the “pro-life” rhetoric surrounding abortion that she has stopped seeing pregnant women as women with complex and unique and personal needs, and has started seeing them as a factory for a cause that she can self-righteously champion.

politics, social justice

The Difference between “Activist” and “Almost Activist”

I’m sure it’s fairly clear from the nature of my blog, but I’m the kind of person who takes note of social and political injustice, thinks about it, talks about it, maybe blogs about it, but rarely does anything concrete in the name of fixing the problem. Every now and then I write an email to a state representative explaining to them that I would really appreciate it if they would veto legislation that restricts my and other women’s right to make health decisions about our bodies (and you can, too!). And sometimes I sign online petitions to the white house in regards to issues I care about, like for instance the fact that there has been no response to the recent petition to pardon Edward Snowden (and here’s where you sign that!). One time I protested a thing. Which was pretty fun, because gay people with signs tend to have a high denominator of fun even while addressing serious, civil-liberty-related issues.

But there is a difference between being a person with opinions about how the world should be, and being a person who is willing to devote his or her life to making the world the way it should be. I’m a writer, so you could say I’m an expert (or, let’s be real here, I’m working toward the goal of someday being an expert) on expressing my opinions. I certainly hope that over time, with my work, or my blog, or my emails, or my voice I can help change peoples’ minds about how this world should work, but I don’t harbor any illusions about the real-time effects of what I say and do. I have opinions, but so does everyone else, and opinions are very, very hard to change. I believe that the dissemination of information towards better informed discussion has power.  But I also believe that, in many ways, this power is nothing compared to the power of individual people like Narayanan Krishnan.

Mr. Krishnan amazes me, because he gave up a career in a 5-star hotel restaurant in order to feed 400 hungry people three meals a day, every day, without holidays, for the last ten years. Every day, Mr. Krishnan feeds hundreds of people who are totally forgotten by their communities, often mentally ill, without resources. He sometimes feeds them by hand, and also gives them haircuts. His charity doesn’t make enough donations to cover every meal, so he subsidizes it with money from a house he owns, makes no salary, and lives in the building where he and his team work. It blows my mind. (Check out their website if you want to donate.)

The dictionary defines “activist” as “an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, especially a political cause.”  Mr. Krishnan’s cause is not an explicitly political one, but if anyone is an “especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause,” he is. To be any more active, he’d have to learn how to never sleep. But he’s not the only person out there whose activism amazes me.

When Edward Snowden decided to give up life as he knew it to make the American people aware of the government’s overwhelming information monopoly, he became an activist, whether he ever wanted to be one before. Likewise Julian Assange has risked political backlash from numerous countries to keep the public informed of classified government actions in and attempt “to radically shift regime behavior.”

I know not all of you are going to agree with what these men are doing (although I can’t imagine anyone denigrating Mr. Krishnan’s actions), but I can not help but admire the dedication it requires to give up so much personal happiness in the name of an ideal. And there is the real kicker, to me. Because I have a lot of difficulty imagining doing such a thing myself, and in some ways this makes me ashamed. I find myself hesitant to act when it seems possible that my actions could meet with familial disapproval–I haven’t even considered doing anything that might get me into actual trouble. Do I really stand for anything if I’m not willing to take risks in order to keep standing?

politics, social justice

Hold Your Breath, Illinois

So I’m just going to come out and say that I’m really hoping Illinois legalizes gay marriage today.

I originally hail from Minnesota (Long, long ago, in a winter far away) and I was very proud when they came in number 12 for marriage equality not too long ago. I’m ready for all the states that I personally identify with to be as cool as I imagine them to be. Any time now. Just as soon as this happens, and then Chicago stops being kind of segregated in a racist kind of way. And then maybe if we could stop closing schools and subsidizing trashy umbrellas designed to represent historic icons. Then everything would surely be perfect here in the Windy City.

But anyway, this would be a really good first step.

The thing with marriage equality is, I kind of feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I say that, hey, this is an important civil rights issue, and needs to be addressed. Here in Illinois we’re waiting for the Illinois Legislature to decide to vote on it, today, before they adjourn, and that’s a big deal. But I can’t help but feel that if we don’t pass it today, we’re going to pass it eventually. Chicago is a very Democratic place, and Democrats tend to be pretty pro-gay marriage at the moment. So that’s great, and I’m really happy about it. Yay to gay couples who fit snugly into hetero-normative social roles!

But the other thing is this: I am totally, one hundred percent behind a policy of marriage equality, because that sort of seems to be the best we can do in the world we live in right now. But I also think it’s important to question whether this whole marriage thing really ought to be such a huge legal advantage. Stay with me.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (a somewhat shady for-profit enterprise that is very invested in legalizing gay marriage at the moment) there are 1,138 distinct benefits, rights, and protections provided by law on the basis of marital status. This includes social security benefits, crazy tax benefits, family and medical leave laws, immigration privileges, and healthcare privileges (including the often-used example of hospital visitation rights and decision-making rights.) And I agree that if straight married couples have these rights, then so should gay married couples. Without question. But my question is, why do these benefits hinge on marriage at all?

According to this article, an unmarried woman can end up paying a million dollars more in her lifetime for health insurance, taxes, etc, than her married counterparts. This article found that single people often feel discriminated against in the workplace, where they are more frequently asked to work evenings and weekends than their married counterparts. A lot of the benefits conferred on married people (especially the financial benefits) are considered to be a sort of encouragement by the government to get married, because many people see being married as automatically better than being single. Some of the social security benefits of marriage were put into place under the assumption that single people paying into the fund would get married eventually, and they would be recouped their losses then.

In reality this just isn’t the case. Almost half of all Americans are single (at least legally speaking), and there is a growing trend of people who choose not to get married. Like, on purpose. And these people are actually pretty happy, whether you believe it or not. What’s interesting is that, according to this article by Maura Kelly, single people are actually more likely to contribute to society, even though they get less compensation for it. They are more likely to volunteer, to spend time with neighbors, participate in public events, and even frequently work the same jobs as married people while getting paid less. Not to mention they don’t get the same kinds of benefits–for instance, a single person cannot put someone who is important to them on their health insurance, while a married person can include their children and spouse in the package. Nor can they necessarily designate beneficiaries for things like Social Security and 401(k) plans.

To me, this seems pretty unfair, and really unnecessary. Why the tax breaks? Why aren’t the important people in an unmarried person’s life just as important legally and financially as the important people in a married person’s life? I haven’t heard a good explanation yet.

I’m waiting.


Banksy says we own ads. I can get behind that.

This piece of artwork delights me. Graffiti artist (and I mean ARTIST) Banksy likes to make big statements, and this is a great one. The ad is a powerful indictment of the one-sided role that advertising and the media play in our lives.
Take a read. It’s a beautiful thing.

art, politics, social justice

Banksy says we own ads. I can get behind that.