Pass the lipstick, please!

I know that women marrying wealth and power is probably as old as the first herd of sheep (or was it goats?) But lately it galls me that there is such an endless supply of women who are well-groomed and have no self-respect. I’m not going to name a single one of the political wives whose husbands lately have been shown to be serial sexual abusers. You all know who they are. Most importantly, they know who they are. No matter how deep the denial, some part of them had to know this could not turn out well. But they bought into the facade long enough, almost to a woman, to get a cozy life, raise their children, and earn a nice “pension” in the form of alimony. Yes, I know they are victims, too, of the same social stratification that makes it hard for anyone with a vagina to become wealthy on her own. But, please, let’s take Oprah Winfrey as our example. Not exactly to the manor born. But here she is, in this same year of Arnold and Claus (I didn’t say I wouldn’t name the perpetrators), “retiring” her show after earning many millions. Yet not all of us have Oprah’s talent, or her chutzpah, for that matter. So maybe the problem is that women who perceive themselves as having no talent have few routes to fame and fortune? Oh, please. A certain wife of a certain philandering governor was a news anchor before she married him. Maybe she got there partly on her family name, but she had to have some talent to last for a while. So maybe it’s not about money, but about power? News anchors are famous, but not necessarily powerful––at least not until you reach “Uncle Walter” status. Maybe these women would do better to put their shoulders to the wheel with the rest of us, and try to move that boulder of sexual equality just one more notch up the hill. Or at the very least, they could do penance by spending their next twenty years––or however long they spent defending their husband from those “questionable” allegations––volunteering in a sexual assault crisis center. I am working very hard on finding some compassion for the wives. So far, it’s not happening for me.

Provenance: A Novel

I’m embarking on a new novel even as I seek an agent for the first one. Am I crazy? Sure, in the most enjoyable way. What’s more fun than creating? I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) with my Jane’s Stories buddies in a bid to force myself in to productivity and out of my winter blues. Join me!

Welcome! Bienvenue! Te aven baxtale!

As a child, I was a bit confused by all the cultural blending going on about me (for example, how my father went to church in the woods and my mother loved to observe a stricter service inside) and so I earned a degree in anthropology, my attempt to find the patterns. I used to think there was a right pattern for my life; now I know it’s about appreciating the variations and the imperfections in the weave, especially those that sent me off in a new direction.

Link to an article on Sarkozy’s persecution of Roma

Anti-roma Actions in France: A Reply from a U.S. Congressional Representative

Co-Chairman Hastings:  Anti-Roma Actions Erupt in France, Europe

Posted by: "ERIO News"

Fri Aug 13, 2010 2:08 pm (PDT)

Dear Colleague,

I thought you might be interested in the statement (below) issued this week by Congressman Alcee Hastings, Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

Erika B. Schlager

Counsel for International Law

U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe 

(the Helsinki Commission) 

234 Ford House Office Building

3rd & D Streets, SW

Washington, DC 20515-6460 

( ( 202) 225-1901

United States
of America

Vol. 155
Washington, Tuesday, August 10, 2010
No. 17

House of Representatives




Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Madam Speaker, I rise today to address the comments made by French President Nikolas Sarkozy that have caused quite the media flurry in the past few weeks. 

On July 16, French police shot and killed a Romani man when he apparently tried to run a roadblock. This shooting sparked two days of rioting by some 50 members of his community damaging the local police station and private property. 

In a story that has now been covered by the media from Vancouver to Moscow, French President Sarkozy subsequently announced that he would look into “the problems created by the behavior of certain travelers and Roma ,'' with a view toward the closing down Romani camps and driving out Roma . Government statements have indicated these measures would focus on finding and expelling Romani citizens from Bulgaria and Romania–two European Union countries. Despite the fact that the Romani man in the July 16 incident was actually a French citizen–Mr. Sarkozy later spoke of stripping citizenship from nationalized French citizens convicted of serious offenses. 

Not surprisingly, human rights groups have condemned the President's remarks with one voice. Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg rejected the notion of holding Romani people collectively responsible if one among them commits a crime. Good for you, Mr. Hammarberg. (It is a shame that the European Union has been so utterly silent and paralyzed in the face of this downward spiral.) 

Many of the reports and analyses of these events, such as last Friday's editorial in the New York Times, rightly placed these developments in the context of French politics and President Sarkozy's political imperatives. Understanding the current political dynamic in France, particularly the ongoing debate over “national identity'' and the situation of Muslim and African-origin minorities in France, is extremely helpful in understanding the President's expansion into anti -Roma mudslinging. But there is a wider, broader European context for his remarks that I think must be addressed. 

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has stated that the new measures targeting Romani camps are not aimed at “stigmatizing a community'' but rather at stopping illegal activity. This sounds remarkably like the rhetoric of Hungary's far right wing party, Jobbik, which claims it is not against “Gypsies,'' just “Gypsy crimes.'' 

In fact, rhetoric linking Roma to criminal activity or broadly portraying Roma as criminals–traffickers, prostitutes, thieves, and so forth–is pervasive throughout Europe. In early July, in the wake of a mass expulsion of Roma from Copenhagen, Danish Minister of Justice reportedly made remarks tying Romani culture to criminal behavior. Romania's foreign minister remarked in February about “the natural physiology of Roma criminality.'' For two years now, Italy has been gripped by anti -Roma policies, included targeting Roma for fingerprinting, that are built on a perception of the Roma as criminals. 

The idea of Romani people as inherently criminal is not new. In fact, it was at the very center of Nazi racial theories regarding Roma . According to these theories, Roma –as descendents of an Aryan people–we're just fine on their own. But Nazi racial hygienists concluded that, as a result of intermarriage between Roma and non-Roma , Roma had been left with mixed, “degenerate'' blood and were genetically predisposed to criminality. Moreover, Roma were “unadaptable''–that is, this condition could never be changed. These Nazi racial theories provided the rationale for the sterilization, persecution, and eventual extermination of Roma . 

Unfortunately, as Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has observed, “Even after the ….. Nazi killing of at least half a million Roma , probably 700,000 or more, there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma .'' In other words, Nazi racial theories regarding Roma remain remarkably entrenched and are regularly given voice in the rhetoric about “Romani crime.'' 

Madam Speaker, last year Senator Cardin and I, as Chairman and Cochairman of the Helsinki Commission, wrote to Secretary Clinton regarding the situation of Roma in Europe. In particular, we noted that “racist rhetoric directed against Roma today often uses terminology or images that have been in continuous use since the Nazi era,'' and we argued that teaching about Romani experiences during the Holocaust is essential to successfully combat prejudice against Roma today. Perhaps this could start in France.

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This Is Our Moment

Go there!

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Furor over Women and Literary Awards

Linda Lowen on says it about as well as it can be said. Of course there’s a bias against women writers in virtually every part of the publishing industry and in the organizations that sponsor major awards. And, maybe, among us, the readers. Otherwise, how do you account for the fact that most readers are women but the publishing industry and the judges have not fallen to our anger like a picnic to ants? (Read Lowen here:

And we applaud Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu and WILLA for stepping up, tackling the issues, and organizing for a women’s writing conference that might address these concerns and more. We will all attend and support them, right? Impossible not to respond to a call to action that begins, as Cate’s did, with these lines:

[Dear Friend,

I just experienced a moment of vicious self-mockery, in which I imagined myself in the same pose of concentration over the laundry I had spread over my bed as the narrator of Tillie Olsen’s legendary piece in which a mother considers the circumstances of her gender as manifested in her daughter’s (lack of) self-confidence . . . ]

Jane’s Stories Press Foundation has been championing the cause of women’s writing for almost ten years now, and we shouldn’t have to proclaim that we are down with the cause. But I would like to sound one note of caution as we address the immediate issues of why no women made it into Publishing Weekly’s Top Ten Books of 2009, and why the National Book Awards just this past month also eschewed all books published by all women for the past year, except in –guess what? Children’s literature, because women know about kids, don’t you know? (Not that writing for children isn’t worthy work! I’m just pointing out a pattern here.)

My note of caution is this: Feminism is not about why you and your friends can’t get ahead. Feminism is about why one gender is excluded from power structures and how that skews life for both genders, as a result. In other words, it’s about the stories of women’s lives in all their diversity and scope, and why those stories are bent, pushed, and otherwise twisted to make a pedestal for the powers-that-be to stand on.

It’s not enough for more women to win awards, any more than it’s enough for a woman to be president–although both would be advances all women and men should support. We will have won when a male prize judge reads a book with a central character who is female and doesn’t compare her to a male, but sees himself in her, and vice versa.

It’s fine, as Linda Lowen points out, for men to be lauded for writing about domestic matters, but so should women be praised for the same subject matter, and also for writing kick-ass military satire or anything else they want.

In other words, we have to expand the territory for all women, sisters, not just celebrate a few of us being allowed on the battlefield.

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My Adventure in Scotland, Part one

The Scots are amazingly civil. The best example of this is their behavior on the street and on public transportation.

My son arriving in Edinburgh, in front of the Robbie Burns quote printed across the luggage carousel.

I walk with a cane. A common problem is passersby kicking my cane out from under me because they aren’t aware there is something jutting out below their eye level. Also, not even in the so-called land of Southern hospitality can I depend on finding a seat on a crowded bus (except in Washington, D.C., the city I’ve found to have the most courteous commuters). Jostling for advantage at crosswalks, shoulder-butting, nudging the line forward with an “accidental” poke in the back, these are common incidents on American urban streets, right? I fear I’ve been guilty myself.

Not once in Scotland was I jostled or butted. No one so much as touched my sleeve, even on Prince Street on the last night of the festival. The Scots watch out for each other and give each other plenty of room on narrow streets, at crosswalks, getting on and off busses, in lines—or “queues.” No surly teenagers or truculent commuters in the “priority seating for disabled” seats at the front of the bus, as I’ve sometimes found to be the case even in D.C. People deferred to me and to others even when I wasn’t properly queued, as in a last-minute arrival at the bus stop.

But the most admirable custom I saw was this: In six days of hopping on and off their prompt and clean buses, all over town, almost every person who disembarked turned, smiled and thanked the bus driver. And what did the busy drivers do? They smiled or waved or nodded or said, “’S alright, Mate.” Two drivers who knew we were tourists even took the time to announce our stops for us. (And, perhaps because they waste no time pulling away as soon as the last queuer has stepped on, no bus was more than two minutes late.)

Twice when we were stumped for directions, bystanders stepped up with a jaunty, “May I be of service?” And, once, a nattily dressed elderly gentleman, seeing our clutched maps, stopped to inquire, “And how are you enjoying your wee adventure in our City? I hope you’ve found us hospitable?” Several people apologized for the construction barriers dominating several major streets as they install a new tram service, and proclaimed they hoped we’d visit “when we’re beautiful again.”

Our landlady took us on a tour of the entire building when we rented her flat and also left us a binder of tourist information. When we passed her on the street on our way to breakfast late in our stay, she re-crossed the street to inquire if we’d encountered any problems or needed any more assistance.

“Dour” Scots? Not in my experience. True, they were not, in my experience, effusive or particularly chatty. From their public transportation to their service in restaurants to their museum guides, they are efficient, busy, industrious, and cheerful.

Besides, they have the best slang. “Separates the true fans from the numpties,” proclaimed an ad for a talk radio sports show. (Numpty = one who has no clue.) And “shrapnel” has become our family word for loose change, after the bus driver who was nonplussed by our digging through pence to find the fare. “Ah, just throw in all your shrapnel, Mate. It’ll be fine.”

Reading about Joe Wilson’s outrageous challenge to the President’s speech, and Kanye West’s upstaging of Taylor Swift, and the heated health care debate, not to mention reading the Tea Party signs in The Scotsman, had a different slant from abroad.

As one taxi cab driver said to us after a night of pub adventures, “What’s wrong with you people, anyway? Don’t you know everyone needs caring for?”

Indeed. Lovely city, Edinburgh.

Photos, above: L) My son, Ansel, standing in front of the luggage carousel at Edinburgh Airport with a quote from Rabbie Burns (“We hae meet and we can eat, and sae the Lord be thankit.”) Below: My favorite bartender in my favorite pub, The Kenilworth on Rose Street.

Pubs are a great contribution to the world.

NEXT UP: Why I went, and what I learned, or, What’s a good Romani/Indian Girl doing in Scotland?

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The World TWIRLS along–or not!

It amazes me that we can feel so abandoned by a game that generates random letters. That a logarithm rolling along produces near-depression when it is no longer available. The game TWIRL is no longer functioning on Facebook, and many users, including myself, have pleaded with the "admins" to fix it. They are not listening, apparently. Meantime, how did we get so hooked?

My, how I have been conditioned by Social Media. Truthfully, I have a hard time imagining my life without checking it at least twice a day. What do I most love? Here's my list:

1. I love that my nieces and nephews will actually drop me a line or even a few photos now and then, when they'd never think of writing me a letter or calling me, because, well, they're young, and busy inventing their lives.

2. I love that my friends and I can so easily post photos, stories, other items that we can share at large, thus spurring a potential sunami effect. I didn't know that Joanne was an art lover until I posted a "What's your favorite masterpiece" to someone else, and she responded to me with a Kandinsky–one of my "favs!" And now another friend, who has never invited me to a museum, undoubtedly because she thought we shared only a love of literature, has responded in kind. The serendipitous wonder of eavesdropping is reinforced.

3. The opportunity to get to know, at least a little, writers whose work I admire, is not to be missed. When we trade garden plants or book lists, or fill in rote formulas like "The ABCS of ME" with personal details, I learn a little about what is behind their words.  It makes me think that random and trivial, isn't.

4. Knowing the latest of what is affecting my writer world. Readings, events, upcoming publications, conference workshops, show up here first, if in a somewhat spotty fashion. Anyway to put your ear to the ground is a plus, right?

5. Okay, I love my farm in Farm Town. I created it from scratch. It has a large farmhouse surrounded by lemon trees, a small artists' cottage in a meadow of flowers, a market stand for produce sales, and all the cherry trees a girl could want. It's my world, and I spend about twenty minutes a day in it and feel refreshed. Who cares if it's a fantasy?

6.I love not knowing what will show up in my feed today, but trusting the people whom I have "friended" to steer me straight to the heart of their day.

7. I love all the new language this communication revolution fosters, words like "admins" and "favs" and "friended." Words that don't make sense elsewhere except in the loopy, bopping world of the latest fads.

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Humility of Purpose

All the coverage of the fortieth anniversary of the the moon landing renewed debates about the efficacy of the space program and our budget priorities. Implicit in that discussion are the short term vs. long range goals (i.e., feed people now or fund space exploration) and strategic interests (Do we go to exploit or conquer, or to explore and assimilate?)

We can feed and house people and go to Mars very soon if we change our ways of thinking, and I would argue all are equally important. Our future is in space, not on this fragile plant, but we won't be successful there with a conqueror's mentality. "We want adventurers not conquerors" should read the recruiting poster.

I liked what Buzz Aldrin said at the White House yesterday: (I'm paraphasing) "If there's no life on Mars before we get there, there damn sure will be when we're there, what with the urine bags." Knowing what's inevitable in our effect on others, and what is not, is half the battle. (And don't you love his plainspokenness?)

And count on it, there's some life form or principle bigger and badder than us out there. Whether it is extraterrestrial physics or life that will kick our butt, is immaterial. We should go with humility of purpose and boldness of vision, an unbeatable combination.

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