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SOTU Antidote: Actual News (UPDATE)

5:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Yes, our fearless leader spoke yesterday. Wasn’t that exciting?

Bottle-feeding a kitten from a syringe.

A necessary inoculation against political pablum.

But here’s some news you might have missed.

Protesters Arrested Outside Monsanto Shareholders’ Meeting

The video above, via St. Louis’ KSDK, claims 10 arrests. But both Democracy Now! and RT put the total number of Occupy Monsanto arrests at 11:

At least 11 protesters were arrested outside of Monsanto’s headquarters on Tuesday as they rallied in favor of shareholder resolutions that would require the company to alter its approach to genetically-modified organisms.

More than two-dozen protesters, one of which was a Monsanto shareholder himself, endured cold temperatures in Creve Coeur, Missouri as they pushed the biotech company to work with the federal government towards efforts to label food featuring genetically-modified organisms (GMO). Another resolution, meanwhile, would have required Monsanto to provide a contamination report on non-GMO crops.

Both measures failed with less than 10 percent support after Monsanto’s board recommended shooting down the proposals. When the results came in, the atmosphere surrounding the rally became much more aggressive, with protesters using five cars to block the entrance to Monsanto’s building. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, some locked and chained themselves to cars, while police spent about an hour clearing the area and making arrests.

UPDATE: KSDK reporter Farrah Fazal tweeted me to clarify the number of arrests:

War On Women Everywhere

As the House demonstrated to their constituents how much they hate women by passing an anti-abortion bill with no hope of becoming law, the war on women’s rights continued to spread to other states. Andrea Grimes at RH Reality Check was one of just a few media sources sounding the alarm on secretive new regulations restricting abortion in Louisiana. A sudden burst of social media sunshine forced officials to back down:

Monday night, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals told RH Reality Check that it will ‘be rescinding the language regarding the 30-day period for blood tests,’ and that it intends to ‘clarify’ the building requirements for abortion facilities, saying that ‘the intent of the language on square footage in the rule is to cover prospective facilities or facilities undergoing renovations.’ Despite the department’s passage of the rules without input from providers and without a previous public hearing, DHH says it ‘has already received several public comments regarding the rule.’ A public hearing on the new rules has been moved to February 4 at DHH in Baton Rouge at 1 p.m.

But the attempt proves how determined the conservative right has become to roll-back abortion rights nationwide, and how unscientific and ill-intentioned these policies have become in the name of “protecting” women and children:

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Adios, Douchebag!

2:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Sheila Parks, author of While We Still Have Time and an ardent feminist friend of mine, called me on my use of the word douchebag today.

I’m not always a polite guy. I cuss. In my online and meatspace communication, I express myself bluntly when passionate. This word is popular among both men and women I know.

Wheatpasted art with George W. Bush waving: Adios, Douchebag!

Goodbye to an insult.

At the same time, I want to get my point across clearly, i.e. insulting only the people I intend. I try to avoid language which comes from kyriarchy — power over others — and have done my best to expunge my language of words which are racist, sexist, homphobic, ableist, classist etc. while still maintaining my ability to rant or cuss a blue streak when the need arises. On Facebook, I called out ‘racist douchebags’ who put me in the uncomfortable position of defending the winner of an already sexist institution — that is, the new Indian-American Miss America.

Which is when I heard from Sheila: douchebag, she told me, represents what the douche goes into not what it comes out of and therefore is always representative of women’s bodies. My use of this word was “misogynist to the max” she said. I edited my Facebook comment to remove the word, but continued thinking about how this language is used. I raised the issue on Twitter, sparking a lively discussion.

Some people agreed with my friend:

While others defended a usage of the word closer to what I’d intended:

My friend Kate Sheehan, the Loose Cannon Librarian, expressed her discomfort with the word then found this great article about the evolving meaning of “douchebag” from Dialect Blog. According to Ben Trawick-Smith, the use of the word as an insult goes back to WWII, but only rarely, and its use has increased dramatically in recent decades:

So douchebag seems to have been used in a vulgar context as far back as World War II or thereabouts. It’s worth noting, however, that this is the ONLY usage of the type found in 1950′s literature: all other examples of douchebag/douche bag refer to medicine or hygiene. I doubt the term was in popular currency at the time.

But it’s really the 2000s where we see ‘douchebag’ take off. Google books records the word being used 868 times, the overwhelming majority of which appear to be non-medical. This was truly the decade of the ‘douchebag.’ … So let’s put the pieces together. In 1960, when douching was a much more common practice and perhaps more prominent in the public imagination, douchebag would have had a much more disgusting connotation, and likely would have been avoided for this reason. But in the 21st-Century, at a time when many people barely remember what douching was to begin with, it might be taken as a less offensive insult.

Both Trawick-Smith and a Twitter comment agreed that part of douchebag’s appeal is how it sounds:

 ’[D]ouche’ follows the pattern of many other English profanities by being a monosyllable containing a plosive and a fricative or affricate.

The comments on the post provide an illuminating portrait of the word’s evolution in action. Susan commented,

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Austin’s Feminist Vigilante Gang vs. Texas Rally for Life

5:50 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Anonymous Medic and Feminist Vigilante Gang member

An Anonymous Medic and a Feminist Vigilante Gang member stand with the patriarchy piñata at the Texas State Capitol during Saturday's Rally for Life.

Thousands For Hate, A Handful For Peace

Saturday at the Texas Capitol, thousands (by mainstream media estimates) gathered to celebrate the war on women’s rights. Many had been bused in from around the state to reinforce the numbers in the notoriously liberal capitol city. Standing against them were a tiny group, Austin’s newly formed “Feminist Vigilante Gang.”

Knights of Columbus at the Rally for Life

The Knights of Columbus gather at the head of the parade at the Rally for Life.

From the Houston Chronicle coverage of the rally:

Gov. Rick Perry, finding biblical significance in the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, assured thousands of activists at Saturday’s Rally for Life at the Texas Capitol that this legislative session will build on past efforts to restrict abortion.

‘The ideal world is one without abortion. Until then, we will continue to pass laws to ensure abortions are as rare as possible,’ Perry told a crowd.

Joined by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott and anti-abortion groups, Perry said he was with ‘men and women who understand those Biblical stories.’

What no mainstream media outlet mentions is the open hatred of the group. Led by the Attorney General, thousands cheered as Greg Abbott laid out their accomplishments: the crowd responded raucously over not just the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the growing restriction on women’s reproductive freedoms, but the state’s ban on gay marriage as well. All this was touted as making Texas the most “pro-family state in the Union.”

Make no mistake, this was a family affair — parents and children stood alongside entire Boy Scout troops, priests and nuns gathered in groups. This was a family affair like a Ku Klux Klan picnic at the beginning of the 20th century: huge, upbeat, and guaranteed to generate shame when the grandkids bring it up decades from now.

How do you protest a group of thousands when you only have a handful? One answer is to be as aggressively eye-catching as possible. Enter Austin’s new Feminist Vigilante Gang. The Feminist Vigilante Gangs are a decentralized movement which believes in responding aggressively to rape, violence, harassment and attacks on women’s rights. One female participant who asked to remain anonymous took to Facebook to explain:

There is also one major issue I notice people are vocalizing and that is the assertive nature of the counter-protest. This was more than anger-based. This tactic is particularly important in feminist actions, where in the past I, for example, have been called ‘rude’ for stating an opposing view, as if I need to have people over for tea, don my white gloves, and explain the day-to-day emotions that come with battling oppression.

I believe in nonviolent direct action, and I believe that people who are from traditionally oppressed groups are free as birds to express their righteous anger. Since we all know power is rarely given up by choice, it seems appropriate for marginalized groups to aggressively oppose their oppression.

Was it effective?

Counterprotesters with a Banner "Smash Patriarchy"

Austin's Feminist Vigilante Gang confronts an anti-abortion activist at the Texas Rally for Life.

Taking On the Persecuted Majority

The religious right-wing of America, urged on by the likes of Fox News, is in love with feeling persecuted. Even at a rally of thousands, attended by the governor of one of the largest and most powerful states in the United States, there were speeches about the brave ongoing Christian struggle against oppression. Since they believe they are at war, the Feminist Vigilante Gang responded in kind with aggressive dress and banners. An Anonymous Medic was present in full riot armor, carrying all his gear. Of course, there was the patriarchy pig piñata too, hanging from a wire coat hanger. Though it was full of candy, activists chose not to smash it because of the extreme reaction its mere presence drew from pro-lifers and police.

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Pussy Riots Everywhere (#PussyRiot Update)

10:20 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Putin with a gun juxtaposed in front of activists in colorful balaclavas.

Image: Putin Meets Pussy Riot by Punk Toad / Flickr

The love affair with Pussy Riot shows no sign of slowing down since the trio of punk women were sentenced to 2 years in prison. Neither has the legal system’s attack on their actions, with Russia Today reporting two more members of the group now under fire:

A new criminal case was launched into two Pussy Riot members who escaped police after participating in an infamous ‘punk prayer’ in Moscow’s main cathedral. The announcement comes days after their co-participants were sentenced to two years in jail. “We have launched a separate criminal case against the unknown members of the ‘Pussy Riot’ band, and are seeking to establish their identities,” a police spokesperson told the Interfax news agency.

As an aside, what does it say about the American mainstream media that a Russian news agency sometimes accused of pro-Putin bias has become a major source of news for myself and many others I know?

Getting back to the Pussy Riot, the sentence was met with worldwide protests that featured rallies in many countries and several United States cities. Six were arrested in NYC for obstructing a sidewalk during a Pussy Riot solidarity march. Four Germans protested inside Cologne Cathedral in support of the group and may themselves face up to 3 years in prison. Most flamboyantly, a member of Ukrainian women’s movement Femen protested Pussy Riot’s sentences by taking a chainsaw to a cross while topless.

The fate of these women has struck a chord, but why? Writing in The Atlantic, Joshua Foust compares the outcry to Kony 2012 while a fellow Atlantic scribe, anthropologist Sarah Kendzior, questions how gender affects the media presentation and popular response to Pussy Riot:

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