Michelle Gillett, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle
"Arts matter in hard times"
By Michelle Gillett, Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I wish I had a better grasp of where and how the economic stimulus money is being spent but once the numbers go beyond several hundred billion and car manufacturers request more and more of it, my grip begins to loosen. But I can comprehend that $50 million of the final version of the economic stimulus bill President Obama signed last week will be going to the arts, and that some of that money will be allotted to museums, arts centers, and theaters despite the insistence of some conservative Senators that the arts are luxuries only enjoyed by lefty high-brows. The money will be disbursed by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Forty percent of the money will go to state arts agencies. Sixty percent will be set aside for individual arts projects competing for endowment grants. Knowing the legislature voted for support for the arts is helping me sleep a little better at night. We may be living through an economic nightmare but without art, what's the point in even waking up?
"Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one," Stella Adler said. And life does seem to be beating down more and more people each day — unemployment is up to 8 percent. In Massachusetts, foreclosures were up 22 percent last month.
As someone who works in and with the arts, I have been witnessing the impact of the downturn. Small publishers are receiving less of the grant money that keeps them in business; large publishers are laying people off and cutting back on publications; museums are cutting staff and hours, freezing salaries and hires. Benefactors have less to give or are holding onto what they have.
Financial advisers are telling clients to give less away which also hurts the arts. I would hate to choose between the social service and the cultural organizations I make donations to — but many people are making that choice, and the arts usually lose the draw. The stimulus in no way means we should think that cultural organizations don't need our ongoing support or can manage for long on less. Fifty million dollars is a drop in the bucket from the $787 billion stimulus package, and certainly doesn't amount to much when you consider 40 percent of it is being shared by 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations.
I liked reading Andrew Leonard's insights on the economy and how to get it going in his column on Salon.com.
"At least in part, a successfully growing economy is an illusion predicated on a shared hallucination," he writes. "If we all believe the economy is healthy, we feel confident enough to take risks and spend and invest and create. But if we believe the economy is unhealthy, we pull back, we avoid risk, we save our pennies. The great paradox is that when we, as individuals, prudently pull back, we can end up making things much worse for all of us collectively."
When we pull back, there are fewer cultural opportunities for families, for students and educators. It is far more prudent for us to spend and invest and create in the arts right now than to suffer irretrievable losses.
Americans for the Arts has some viable proposals for ways to create and invest beyond the stimulus money. Among them are creating an Artist Corps, a national training initiative that would train young artists to work in low income schools and their communities and provide "jobs to artists seeking to share their skills, provide mentoring, and professional development to students and individuals seeking work in the creative economy," and making Human Capital Investments in Arts Job Training. The National Governor's Association (NGA) has proposed a $1.5 billion increase to the U.S. Department of Labor's Adult, Dislocated Worker and Youth Programs and Wagner-Peyser Act administered by the states to "help up-skill workers and provide employment services and supports that will increase worker employability and earning power." Americans for the Arts recommends expanding these services available to workers in the creative sector and through arts.
There are those who still think that the arts do not represent real jobs. But as the parent of two daughters who studied art and now support themselves as artists, I know first-hand that they make an essential contribution. They are among the nearly 6 million Americans who have arts-related jobs and contribute to the $166 billion impact the arts have on the economy. Leaders in Washington — Democrats and Republicans — need to continue to recognize that money for the arts feeds more than our souls.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.
"Unseen horrors of war"
By Michelle Gillett, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I never thought I would experience relief over seeing caskets containing dead bodies. But now that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has lifted the ban on media coverage of returning casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I feel like I am in touch with an important reality. Because of the ban, first imposed in January 1991 during the Gulf War and continued by President Bush with the start of the Afghanistan war in October 2001, we have witnessed little of the suffering our service people have been enduring in the last eight years.
The ban was intended to "ensure privacy and respect is given to the families who have lost their loved ones," but I am cynical enough to think it was also intended to withhold images that might stir us to anger and anti-war feelings. Barring a few exceptions to the ban, we have had no chance to see the hundreds of coffins returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in Air Force C-17 jets or to witness honor guard ceremonies for fallen troops at military facilities.
In reaching his decision, Gates said he sought out the views of each service's senior leadership and had aides in his personnel and readiness division canvass family groups outside the Pentagon. Gates stated in a news conference, "I have decided that the decision regarding media coverage of the dignified transfer process at Dover (Air Force Base) should be made by those most directly affected: on an individual basis by the families of the fallen . . . We ought not presume to make that decision in their place."
The families of the service members will be making the call on whether the return of their loved ones can be reported upon or filmed. He was also heavily influenced by the Army's stance.
"I got a very compelling memorandum from the Army in favor of this change of policy," Gates said. "And since that involves the largest number of our fallen, that, obviously, had an impact on me." It is thanks to President Obama's pledge to have an unprecedented level of transparency and openness in government that we are finally allowed to see the casualties of these wars.
But no matter how much transparency we are given, there are other war casualties that still remain invisible. The psychological damage wrecked on so many service people in the past eight years continues to increase.
As Bob Herbert noted in his New York Times op-ed column a week ago, 300, 000 service members are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome or depression, 320,000 have probably suffered a traumatic brain injury. The number of suicides among active-duty soldiers and Guard and Reserve troops called to active duty is over 100, the highest it has been in all the years of fighting in the Middle East. The rate of soldier suicides surpasses that of the civilian population. The Pentagon said suicides by U.S. soldiers rose sharply in January 2009. Before the Iraq war began, less than one U.S. soldier tried to kill himself each day.
Now there are six suicide attempts every day, adding up to over 2,100 suicide attempts a year. The causes are numerous: repeated deployments without adequate rest, lack of treatment and recovery time, problems with intimate relationships, with work, with finances, with the law, the lack of access to psychiatrists and psychologists, I.S Army Chaplain,, Lt. Col. Ran Dolinger observed, "The real central issue is relationships. Relationships, relationships, relationships. People look at PTSD, they look at length of deployments . . . but it's that broken relationship that really makes a difference."
Since repeated deployments often cause the broken relationships, part of the solution to suicide prevention seems obvious.
There are other ways of reducing suicides — teaching soldiers to notice warning signs that can lead to suicide, giving the Veterans Affairs mental health system more money and staff, putting a system in place where soldiers can request a second opinion from a nonpartisan civilian psychologist. Often a soldier who sees a military psychologist is sent back to the front.
Soldiers need better advocacy at home as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration is working on policies that will expand and strengthen Veterans Centers, fully fund veteran health care, create a Military Families Advisory Board, and ease deployment uncertainty, But until the wars in the Middle East end — which doesn't seem likely any time soon — much of the suffering of soldiers will continue.
While images of flag-draped caskets bring the horror of the war home to us, we need to keep sight of unseen horrors — those soldiers so traumatized and stressed, they are taking antidepressants or contemplating killing themselves.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.
"Our ailing ally"
By Michelle Gillett, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, Tuesday, April 21, 2009
One afternoon last week, I was raking the layer of needles under the white pine and looked up at the two bat boxes positioned high above me on the trunk. After I hung them four years ago, I would sit on the back step at dusk and watch the bats fly out — one after the other, dark signal flags marking the coming of night. I considered them my environmentally correct approach to mosquito control and felt a certain pride of ownership when they emerged, weaving through and under the trees.
But there have been no bats riding the evening air over my garden for the past couple of years. At first, I thought the bat houses were too high on the tree; then I worried they were not getting enough warmth. I decided to move them to a more hospitable location, but then, I decided I there is no point in moving them because my bats are probably never coming back.
A massive die-off of bats is occurring in the Northeast and, because bats are migratory, the die-off will likely start happening in the South soon. In the Northeast, 90 percent of cave-dwelling bats have died. Some caves in New York have death rates of 100 percent. This rapid decimation of the bat population could lead to their extinction. There is no historic precedent or prior evidence of a die-off like this, and scientists are uncertain of the cause.
Most of the research so far points to a fungus called "white nose syndrome." White nose syndrome is a winter syndrome where a white powder appears on the bats' noses and wings; it is a symptom of something else, and that something else is still a mystery to scientists. The illness has caused bats to burn up their fat stores early in their hibernation and as a result, they leave their caves too early and freeze to death.
Pesticides which kill off bats' food source have been considered a possible cause or at least a contributing factor in the bats' deaths as well. A study of the fungus is being conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and another study, led by Indiana State University's Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation, is looking at the bats' diets and how they metabolize food during hibernation.
One bat eats as many as 3,000 mosquitoes and moths every night. Without them, we will be vulnerable to insect-borne diseases, and our crops will be endangered. According to a recent article in The Hartford Courant, "Every June, over the vast corn and cotton fields of Texas, for example, millions of corn earworm moths migrate north from Mexico, descending at dusk to lay their eggs on crop fields. If left unchecked, these eggs would hatch within a few weeks, and then new moths would lay additional eggs, multiplying their scourge and smothering the crops."
We have the same corn here in New England, and the same earworm moths. Until recently, millions of pounds of those moths have been consumed by bats. Undoubtedly, without hungry bats to rid their fields of equally hungry insects, farmers will rely on pesticides to protect their crops, and will people like me who like to be outside when the weather is nice — without being attacked by mosquitoes.
Bats have been around for millions of years. While my deepest concerns are for the upset in the balance of nature their extinction will cause, I can't help wondering what will happen to Dracula without vampire bats to accompany him on his nocturnal forays for victims with blood to suck. And what about Harry Potter? Will the boy wizard's saga make sense without the Bat-Bogey hex? With no frame of reference, will comic book readers care if Batman protects Gotham City? And what will we have in our belfries when over-use of pesticides to kill those rapidly multiplying insects drive us mad and perhaps to extinction ourselves?
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.
"A good if pricey, bond"
By Michelle Gillett, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, Tuesday, June 2, 2009
I got inspired to write about American Girl dolls when "Kit Kittredge," the first feature film about an American Girl Doll character, was released a year ago just when the stock market began to plunge — an ironic coincidence since Kit lives in Cincinnati during the Great Depression. Her father loses his car dealership and must leave town to look for work. To help make ends meet, Mrs. Kittredge raises chickens, grows vegetables and takes in boarders, while 10-year-old Kit, who has pluck and determination, decides to become a journalist and succeeds in solving a crime through her investigative research. I also found it ironic that a girl like Kit in today's economy would not be able to afford an American Girl Doll with its price tag of $100.
The reason for the film's success had little to do with its relevance to present-day social and economic concerns. Known as the "anti-Barbie," Kit, and her sister doll-characters, are among a very few positive role models in toyland for girls, and despite their price tag, they enjoy an almost cult-like following, Pleasant T. Rowland started marketing the dolls through a mail-order company in 1986 as an alternative to dolls that sell sexiness and precocity. Since then, over 14 million dolls have been sold, as have more than 125 million copies of the books that tell each girl-doll's story.
The characters are the 21st century equivalent of Nancy Drew — girls who are clever and resourceful and brave and determined. President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotamayor, devoured Nancy Drew books when she was growing up and says the girl detective influenced her choice of a law career.
Some day, there might be a woman nominee for the Supreme Court who will acknowledge the influence of Kit Kittredge on her career choice — that is, if she can afford the doll. An American Girl Doll and her accessories can only be purchased through the company's catalogue or in one of its flagship American Girl doll stores. Kit and her caboodle, which includes her tree house, her reporter dress and accessories, holiday dress, holiday baking set and dog Gracie, cost close to $400. You can buy Malibu Barbie at Target for $39.99. You can buy a copy of The Nancy Drew Sleuth Book in a bookstore for $6.94.
American Girl dolls have been lauded for their history lessons, their real girl bodies, their commitment to social change — qualities you can't attribute to Bratz dolls with their thongs and diamonds. There is Addy, an African-American who grows up during the Civil War; Josephina, who lives in New Mexico in the 1820s; Kaya, a Nez Perce girl growing up in 1764. Then there is Julia, who lives in San Francisco in the 1970s and her best friend Ivy, who is Asian-American. The latest in the historical/diversity line-up is a Jewish-American girl, nine-year-old Rebecca Rubin, who lives on the Lower East Side in 1914 with her Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, siblings and "Bubbie," her grandmother.
According to the Mattell-owned American Girl Doll Company, its mission is to "create girls of strong character." For the last seven years, it has offered a Girl of the Year contemporary character. Chrissa, the doll of 2009, has had to move with her family to live with her grandmother. When Chrissa starts her new school, she is given the cold shoulder by the "Mean Bees," and in response becomes the school's anti-bullying spokesperson. Chrissa has her own feature film, "An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong," and the company supports the Stop the Bullying campaign.
I applaud Chrissa's work to stamp out bullying but I will have to spend $178 to buy her "Starter Collection." I am hoping my granddaughter will be satisfied with the two American Girl dolls she already owns. I have watched her circle items in the catalogue the way I dog-ear pages in the Neiman Marcus catalogue. In a New York Times article last year, A.O. Scott wondered, "Is the brand reflecting tastes or enforcing norms of behavior? Is it teaching girls to be independent spirits or devoted shoppers?" He guesses, "Probably all those things and more."
There are those who condemn American Girl dolls for being elitist and expensive. No one would deny we live in an age where marketing and materialism make us consumers early in life. But some realities hold true throughout the ages — girls and dolls have a special bond. If I were a little girl today, I would certainly identify with and want to own Kit, who hoped to be a writer and make a difference in the world.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.
"Michelle Gillett to teach two writing workshops"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, September 6, 2009
Author Michelle Gillett will be teaching a 10-week writing workshop beginning on Tuesday from 9 a.m. noon at her home in Stockbridge.
The workshop includes discussion of craft, writing time and time to share work and receive feedback.
She will be also be teaching an eight-week poetry workshop on Wednesday mornings beginning Sept 16 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. This workshop focuses on reading, writing and discussing poetry and giving and getting feedback.
For more information, all (413) 298-4814 or e-mail email@example.com
"Pull curtain away from ‘new chosen'"
By Michelle Gillett, The Berkshire Eagle (Online), Op-Ed, Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I cautioned myself not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the news that along with the passage of the health care reform bill by Congress two weeks ago, came an amendment to restrict coverage of abortion. I decided, this time, I would find out all I could about it and then respond.
The Stupak-Pitts amendment was created by Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan, and Joseph Pitts, a Republican representative from Pennsylvania. The amendment offers restrictions that would prevent women from buying insurance that covers abortions -- even if they pay for it with their own money. Under present law, the Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal dollars to pay for almost all abortions in a number of government programs.
The Stupak amendment broadens those restrictions and states that no funds appropriated in the bill could be used "to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion." Those two words -- "any part" -- will separate those who can afford to buy their own insurance without government help and those who need to use government subsidized plans.
President Obama has already said that he thinks the language of the amendment needs to be changed. Forty-one Democratic representatives have signed a letter telling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that they will not vote for the final bill if "contains language that restricts women's right to choose any further than the current law." The bill will be debated in the Senate after Thanksgiving.
As I worked at learning all I could, I discovered that Stupak and Pitts are both are members of an organization called "The Family," a fellowship of sex-segregated prayer cells or "invisible believing groups" of business, political and military leaders dedicated to fighting a "spiritual war on behalf of Christ." Doug Coe, the leader of The Family, told evangelical leaders at a breakfast not long ago, that "the more invisible you make your organization, the more influence it will have." Even though I felt a twitching, I again decided to learn more before I had my usual knee-jerk reaction.
No one really knows the scope of The Family's activities or the extent of their under-the-radar power, but the fact that the abortion amendment was passed makes me think it is vast. Jeff Sharlet is a writer who spent time as a "junior" member of The Family and wrote a story that appeared in Harper's Magazine six years ago about his experience.
Sharlet lived in one of the group's houses in Washington D.C. called "Ivanwald." The group's senior members live in an estate over-looking the Potomac called, "The Cedars." There was an "Ivanwald for girls" across the road from The Cedars, and the women who live there help serve at the weekly leaders' breakfast. "They wore red lipstick and long skirts (makeup and "feminine" attire were required)," Sharlet recalled. "After several months of cleaning and serving in The Cedars (they) become quite unimpressed by the high-powered clientele. "Girls don't sit in on the breakfasts," one of them told me, though she said that none of them minded because it was "just politics." Sharlet also wrote that The Family members consider themselves, "the new chosen."
I decided that I had reached the pinnacle of my learning curve. No "new chosen" is going to make my medical choices for me. But it seems that Coe is right, the more invisible you are, the more influence you wield.
In response to the Stupnak-Pitts amendment, President Obama said, "I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill," "And we're not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions." He pointed out that because of "the strong feelings on both sides. . . there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."
The Senate Finance Committee has a approved a bill that incorporates the compromise the House rejected in favor of the Stupak Amendment. The compromise "would have prohibited the use of tax subsidies to pay for almost all abortions, but would have allowed the segregation and use of premium contributions and co-payment to pay for such coverage," according to a New York Times editorial last week.
I am sure the "new chosen" are busy at their secret work pressuring senators not to approve the compromise where insurers would not give up all coverage for abortions. Politicians who believe that women should wear make-up and feminine attire obviously do not care that the procedure is most often used for medical reasons and to save the life or the health of the mother. They are shifty enough to shift the focus of health care reform to abortion.
There is a chance that the Stupak-Pitts amendment will be removed from the final bill, but we need to keep trying to remove the cloak that allows conservative religious groups like The Family to be invisible. Remember when Toto pulled away the curtain that concealed the Wizard of Oz? What was revealed was an ordinary little man running people's lives by playing with power.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.
"Change we seek and change we don't"
By Michelle Gillett, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, December 29, 2009
It is hard to believe that it has already been ten years since Y2K infecting our computers was our biggest worry, since Charles Schultz created his last Peanuts cartoon, the NASDAQ index peaked at 5048.62, and pregnant chads and the Supreme Court decided that George W. Bush would be our next president.
Now we are about to celebrate the end of the first decade of this no-longer new century and I have a feeling that for most of us, the celebration to welcome the new year will be a little more somber than it was 10 years ago. Instead of Y2K, we have swine flu to worry about. Standard & Poor closed at 1118.02 last week. The "Charlie Brown Christmas Special" I just watched is now up there with "It's a Wonderful Life" and "White Christmas" as a holiday classic. We inaugurated our first black president whose campaign slogan, "Change We Need" stands for something far more complicated than we first realized as we try to recover from the Bush administration's changes we didn't need.
I think more has happened in my own life in this past decade than in any other. A friend asked me if there were a game where you choose the big events that would change your life in the next 10 years, what would they be? I couldn't come up with an answer.
Over the last 10 years, both my parents and in-laws died, we lost a sister and a close friend, we had two children marry and three grandchildren born, we began to think about our lives differently. It is not just that we are older and hopefully wiser, the world isn't all about us and our future, it is about our children and grandchildren and what we can do for their future. We're a little like those millennial snow globe souvenirs -- we have been shaken up and set down again.
I don't feel nostalgic about the last 10 years as much as I feel a sense of history. The past is the stories I tell my grandchildren. When they visit, we drive past the places their parents got married, we tell them funny stories about what they did as babies, we talk about what was happening in the world when they were born. I do have a little nostalgia left in me.
I still get teary when I drive past my parents' old house. I expect the door to open and I will see my father sorting through the Christmas cards, my mother making a cup of tea. But there are new residents inside. The next decade is like that, we have new residents leading us through the changes the country must make, and have no idea whether or not the furnishings will bear any resemblance to the former ones.
In 2000, Vermont's civil unions law went into effect. This year, Vermont's equality law went into effect, discontinuing the need for the separate status of civil unions in the state.
In 2000, Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate, the first first lady to achieve that position. This year, she became the U.S. secretary of state. In 2000, the U.S. Cole was damaged by suicide bombers beginning our familiarity with a brand of terrorism that continues to escalate. Ten years ago, we did not have Homeland Security or color-coded risks of terrorist attacks.
Ten years ago, most of us had never heard of Barack Obama. We were listening to our newly elected President George W. Bush reassure us, "They have miscalculated me as a leader." We are entering the next decade with a president who reminds us: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
Michelle Gillett writes for The New York Times.
"Fearless advocate of women's rights"
By Michelle Gillett, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 1/12/2010
When I read that Mary Daly died last week, I said a little prayer of thanks for her life and work. I hadn't thought about Mary Daly for quite a while.
If someone stopped me on the street a month ago and said, "Who is Mary Daly?", I would have struggled to remember. If I asked my daughters, "Who is Mary Daly?", they would be clueless. But Mary Daly changed our lives for the better.
Mary Daly was among the first American women to train as a Roman Catholic theologian and early in her career she began to challenge the orthodoxies, writing books that defended her argument that the Catholic Church had been oppressing women for years. "The Church and the Second Sex" was published in 1968, and in 1973, "Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation" urging the church to end discrimination against women in the ministry was published. Daly also wrote "Gyn/Ecology" (1978), "Pure Lust" (1984), "Outercourse" (1992), "Quintessence" (1998) and "Amazon Grace" (2006).
She was as playful as she was radical. Bryan Marquand, who wrote Daly's obituary in the Boston Globe, quoted feminist author Sister Joan Chittster: "Mary played with language in such a way you had to stop and think -- you couldn't use words in the old ways."
Daly wrote "Webster's First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language," which she called "a dictionary for Wicked women" with Jane Caputi in 1987, as a female counterpart of the 15th-century handbook for witch-hunters, the "Malleus Maleficarum." Daly knew that language is power, just as priests and politicians who constantly coin new phrases and distort words for their causes know it.
Daly called college officials "bore-ocrats" who suffered from "academentia." The word "prude" typically indicates one who is excessively concerned with being or appearing to be proper, modest or righteous. But, "When freed from the patriarchal word-prisons, prude reclaims its archaic ancestry and spells female pride. This word, in fact, has the same origins as its sister-word proud and is directly derived from the French prudefemme, meaning ‘a wise or good woman.'"
Daly graduated from the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., received a master's in English from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and a doctorate from St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Ind., and because American colleges were not very receptive to women studying theology in the ‘50s, continued her studies in philosophy and theology at the University of Friborg in Switzerland where she earned two doctorates. She began teaching at Boston College in the mid-'60s and only allowed women to take her classes after it went coed in the 1970s. She taught men privately but argued that men clouded the learning environment and women learned better in a women-only classroom.
Daly was sued by a male student, and she counter-sued, claiming teaching women-only classes was within the bounds of academic freedom. The college refused to give her tenure in 1969, possibly in response to the publication of "The Church and the Second Sex." But when the all-male student body signed a petition supporting her, she was rehired. The college tried to force her to retire and she sued the school for breach of contract, settling with them in 2001. She retired in 1999 at the age of 72.
The lessons Mary Daly left us with are that it is important to act on our convictions. She began the discussion on gender and learning by acting. She changed patriarchal systems by acting. These days, it seem like we talk a good game but avoid action. We tend to be rude in our arguments rather than radical.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Daly continued to write and lecture to audiences around the world -- and she continued in her outspoken criticisms of patriarchal religion, in particular organizations of the Christian right like the Promise Keepers. When a reporter asked, "Who has hurt women?", Daly responded, "These creeps, the Promise Keepers, right-wing Christians. It's not just the ancient fathers of the church and it's not just the church. It's all the major religions."
Mary Daly's life and work are a reminder that so many women in the world suffer horribly from oppression and religious tyranny. The subtext of almost every story reported about the wars in the Middle East is that women are being systematically oppressed. Daly saw the women's movement as "as an authentic challenge to patriarchal religion," and we need to continue her legacy. If we ignore that legacy, we will be in danger of abandoning women less fortunate as well as abandoning an essential part of ourselves.
In an autobiographical essay, "Sin Big," written for The New Yorker in 1996, Daly said: "Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a radical feminist pirate and cultivating the courage to sin. The word ‘sin' is derived from the Indo-European root ‘es-,' meaning ‘to be.' When I discovered this etymology, I intuitively understood that for a woman trapped in patriarchy, which is the religion of the entire planet, ‘to be' in the fullest sense is ‘to sin.'
"Women who are Pirates in a phallocratic society are involved in a complex operation. First, it is necessary to plunder -- that is, righteously rip off -- gems of knowledge that the patriarchs have stolen from us. Second, we must smuggle back to other women our plundered treasures. In order to invent strategies that will be big and bold enough for the next millennium, it is crucial that women share our experiences: the chances we have taken and the choices that have kept us alive. They are my pirate's battle cry and wake-up call for women who l want to hear."
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.
"Troubled veterans must be a priority"
By Michelle Gillett, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, January 26, 2010
I clip articles from newspapers and magazines that capture my imagination and get me thinking. I keep them in a folder marked, "Ideas for Columns." Last week, I cut out a piece about Miep Gies, who died two weeks ago at the age of 100. She had been Otto Frank's secretary, and when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam, she helped the Frank family hide in a secret annex next to the business. The article said, "Mrs. Gies was the last surviving member of Anne Frank's protectors. Their collective story is an enduring reminder that human beings always have a choice, even when millions were acceding to unspeakable evil."
I also clipped a story about a suburban Dallas school district that suspended a four-year-old boy from pre-kindergarten for having long hair. Until his parents agree to force him to cut his locks or agree to the school board's compromise to pin up his hair, he must study in the library alone with a teacher's aide. I was struck by one board member's comment: "Do the parents value his education more than they value a 4-year-old's decision to make his own grooming choices?" And the parents' response: "It's not hurting him or his education."
An editorial about an increase in sales of assault weapons now that the ban has expired sent me for the scissors; so did Nicholas D. Kristof's op-ed column, "Religion and women." He quoted Jimmy Carter who belongs to The Elders, "a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela who focus on the role of religion in oppressing women" and think religious groups "should stand up for a simple ethical principle: Any person's human rights should be sacred, and not depend on something as earthly as their genitals."
In the middle of the folder of clippings, is one I keep taking out and reading and putting back to write about some other day, because other, more timely and pressing subjects take priority. Right now, I want to write about the Tea Party, about Scott's Brown's lack of manners and graciousness in his acceptance speech, and his appalling comment that both his daughters "are available."
I want to express my opinion that the Democratic Party better start refreshing its energy and become more creative and active it its campaigning efforts. I want to write about how the citizens of Haiti have turned to rather than away from God and prayer, and about the generosity and care of Americans in response to the tragedy in that country. But I decided that I couldn't put the article away again despite all the other topics I want to write about.
The article I saved describes the psychological damage members of the military are suffering -- more than 53,000 troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and military suicide rates are rising faster than combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The article, by John Donnelly, notes that "Lawmakers in recent years have been increasingly concerned about the growing problem of military suicides, especially in the Army. They have been holding hearings, passing bills and approving billions of dollars more than requested to improve mental health care for military personnel and veterans."
Bob Filner, a Democrat from California and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, says, "These numbers are just staggering and, tragically, are an indication that we are simply not doing the job of providing adequate mental health care for both our active-duty service people and our veterans." The increase in the number of suicides has coincided with U.S. military forces redeploying frequently to Iraq and Afghanistan; a number of senior members of Congress like Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, believes there is a connection.
"I was shocked to hear there's more suicides than people lost in Afghanistan" he said. He attributes the upward trend to the "stress of a long war where people just don't have the opportunity to come home to get healed."
The army says that its suicide rates are now higher than that of the general population at large for the first time. This trend has not been reversed even though the military is being aggressive in recognizing symptoms and treating them. A new program is in place that mandates psychological evaluations and screenings for brain trauma and provides for follow-up care. But hundreds more mental health workers and substance abuse counselors need to be employed to implement this and other programs.
It is easy to keep putting aside issues like military suicide and give priority to other pressing issues the country is facing. But as I watched American troops pulling children out of the rubble in Haiti, I was reminded of who they are and what they are doing, of the long war they are fighting, and why they deserve to be on the top of the pile.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.
"Corporate greed can literally make you sick"
By Michelle Gillett, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, March 9, 2010
Who doesn't feel like throwing rotten tomatoes at someone these days? Commercial banks and Wall Street have been giving us poor performances; the health care reform debate has taken up center stage for too long; a number of government officials are behaving so badly they should have been booed out of office long ago. Corruption and scandal are a constant theme in the drama of our uncertain present and future. As Bill Moyers said in his talk at the Dowmel Lecture series last week, "Greed is self-governing." There is a lot of corporate greed going around these days and average American citizens are its captive audience. We certainly do not deserve to have rotten tomatoes thrown at us.
But we have had rotten tomatoes thrown at us or at least served to us -- literally. Kraft Foods has been selling moldy tomato products for some time it turns out. According to a New York Times story two weeks ago, the owner of SK Foods, the supplier to Kraft, "greased the palms of a handful of corporate buyers in exchange for lucrative contracts and confidential information on bids submitted by competitors." It also shipped millions of pounds of substandard tomato paste and puree to customers "with falsified documentation to mask the problems."
I don't know about you, but tomato paste is a staple in my kitchen cupboard. I use it in soups and sauces, meat and vegetable dishes. Now I am feeling a little queasy about the meat loaf and pasta I have served to family and guests over the past few years. The mold count has been so high in these products that the sale "should have been prohibited under federal law."
The prosecutors said that no one was at a health risk or made sick but the moldy products. Physically sick that is. Maybe bad tomatoes can't harm us but I feel sickened by the idea that I have been duped again, been made a victim by the greediness of people who seem to lack ethical values.
I guess it's true that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," but does it have to corrupt the catsup? More than 55 companies were sold the tainted shipments, and while some detected the problem and sent them back, most did not and the products were sold to you and me. It's bad enough that I have to worry about where the melamine in my dog's food went and what product it is being used to flavor now. I was even more worried that the beef I was buying to make the above-mentioned meat loaf might be harboring e. coli bacteria, but it never occurred to me that the salsa might be a source of concern.
The plot for this scandal is thicker than a good marinara sauce. Some of the players are brokers and buyers for companies like Kraft and Nabisco. My favorite is Robert C Turner Jr., "who began taking bribes while working as a purchasing manager for Nabisco." In 2004, he went to work for B&G Foods, the maker of Ortega Mexican foods and other products and continued to take bribes as he "rose to become their director of purchasing." The article continues: "Mr., Turner, an Eagle Scout, confessed to taking more than $65,000 in bribes in all."
An Eagle Scout? Did he earn "The Rotten Tomato" badge for his recent activities? The top buyer for Kraft Foods, (not an Eagle Scout), took $158,000 in bribes" and bought 230 million pounds of processed tomatoes from SK Foods from 2004-2008.
SK Food filed for bankruptcy in May, and its CEO, Frederick Scott Salyer was arrested last month and will face charges of mail and wire fraud.
There is no question we need stronger food safety legislation. A new report from the Make Our Food Safe coalition and published by Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University, found that the costs of foodborne illness is $152 billion annually.
But it seems we also need some top executive safety legislation as well. Moyers addressed the kinds of inequality threatening our society, not least among them, economic inequality caused by the corporate greed that has been given even more leeway by the recent Supreme Court campaign finance ruling.
"Society can be undone by deceit and denial," Moyers said. He mentioned a book he had read, "The Spirit Level" by Richard Wilkenson and Kate Pickett, that addresses what happens to countries where the rich have all the power.
"By every measure that matters, relatively equal nations far outperform nations where income and wealth concentrate at the top. Not wealth; not resources; not culture, climate, diet, or system of government. Furthermore, more-unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them -- the well-off as well as the poor. . . .Almost every modern social problem -- ill-health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, mental illness -- is more likely to occur in a less- equal society. This is why America, by most measures the richest country on earth, has per capita shorter average life span, more cases of mental illness, more obesity, and more of its citizens in prison than any other developed nation."
While we are deciding whether or not we want ketchup with our fries, we had better start deciding we want a more equal society.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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