Captain America. The quintessential all-American hero. Nice Brooklyn boy willing to subject his body to medical experimentation to win the opportunity to fight for the little guy, freedom, and your grandma. Always has been. Still is even though someone else has taken up the title, the mantle, and the shield.
Steve’s thoughts on his chosen successor? “When I handed that shield over to Sam, it didn’t come with a rule book. I trust him to do what he thinks is best for our country.”
A large sector of the population, however, isn’t willing to accept the new Cap as “their” Cap despite Steve’s endorsement. Why? A questionable past? Does he booze it up with Stark? Go on shooting rampages? Run people down with his car on the sidewalk in Vegas? Sell drugs? Do drugs? Embezzle SHIELD funds? Play his music too loud? Kick puppies?
Sam Wilson is daring, daring, to Cap while African American.
My favorite line in the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy comes from Padmé toward the end of Revenge of The Sith. She stands in the Galactic Senate and watches Supreme Chancellor Palpatine proclaim himself Emperor of a newly founded Empire.
“This is how liberty dies,” she comments to her companions, “with thunderous applause.”
It’s a chilling line simply because we know from our own history how true it can be. Even the briefest look at the story of Hitler’s rise to power mirrors Palpatine’s own journey in many ways. Rising to power on a tidal wave of support, first elected as Chancellor before using fear to manipulate other politicians and transform the country/Republic into a dictatorship under his control alone.
The Star Wars prequels reflect our own history back at us through the lens of a galaxy far, far away and remind us of things we ought not to forget. In our post 9/11 era where we as “good citizens” are expected to throw away more and more of our personal liberties in the never-ending pursuit of the spectre of terrorism, and where increasingly oppressive politicians are growing in popularity with an increasingly scared population – perhaps the story we see across the three prequels has never been more important.
This is what I love about the Star Wars prequel trilogy. While the Original Trilogy throws us straight into the heart of an ongoing war where heroes and villains are already established, the prequels show us both how those things came to be, and how easily the road to war can be walked. In fact, if we take a look at recent news, it’s a path we can see being trodden once again – only this time it’s happening in the United States with the rise of Donald Trump. Continue reading Is Donald Trump Leading the U.S. Down the Path to the Dark Side?
We raise our children to be the bosses of their own bodies. We teach them to dress and wash and feed themselves, and to keep their private parts private. But if our children happen to be daughters, there’s an oft-neglected aspect of self-care that we must impart: Voting. It may seem strange to count civic participation among the apparatus required for the care and protection of women’s bodies, but it may be the most important tool in our kit.
For those who’ve forgotten the suffragettes: The only reason women have the right to vote in this country — or in any country — is because women insisted and carried on insisting in creative, energetic, and above all incorrigible ways until they moved the law of the land. Which is why voting is “for the girls.”
Left to their own devices, powerful men will relieve us of the right — but not the responsibility — of minding our own business. National and state legislatures have declared women’s health issues their top priority since 2010, making what happens between our legs more important than the economy, more important than war, and more important than climate change.
Maybe that’s as it should be; lady parts are pretty amazing, after all.
The trouble is that lawmakers are doing it all wrong. Instead of proposing record numbers of laws to protect and improve women’s access to effective and affordable healthcare, the legislatures are doing everything they can to disenfranchise women short of repealing the 19th amendment.
“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me, but they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.” —Hillary Clinton
In spite of the progress our country made in recent generations, some people still believe that family planning and our sexual healthcare should NOT be left up to women; that they should be controlled by men. Unfortunately, many men elected to office are either ill-informed about how reproduction and contraception work, or are committed to social agendas which are at odds with the welfare of women. Because ignorance and prejudice in politics are vulnerable against informed and active voters, lawmakers with these conflicts of interest are bound do everything in their power to ensure that more of their like-minded citizens are able to vote than those of us likely to oppose regressive legislation.
“The dumbest thing I ever did was let you learn to read.” –My conservative father to me
Abortion and other women’s rights are under heavy fire right now because it’s an election year and dividing the voting populace has always been an effective strategy for garnering more votes along one side or another of an issue. Voter suppression, in its various forms, is another effective and equally ugly strategy to manipulate electoral outcomes. Under the guise of preventing election theft (an offense more often linked to bumbling election officials and glitchy vote-counting machines than with individual voters), lawmakers in many states are advancing bills designed to reduce the number of eligible citizens who are able to register and vote.
“Seventy percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win in 2012 will now come from states with new restrictive voting laws.” —Brennan Center For Justice
In other words: Regardless of our individual opinions around abortion, other forms of birth control, and healthcare reform at large, women must vote. If we don’t exercise that right, it could very well be taken from us.
“I have a right to nothing which another has a right to take away…” —Thomas Jefferson
Citizens United helps corporate puppets and other power-hungry zealots get elected in the first place, but they can only stay in office by our leave. And the regressive laws they pass will stand only if we stop resisting them. Fortunately, recent events remind us that public pressure scares the pants off politicians:
“Female authority is still associated with childhood. The last time a lot of powerful guys saw a powerful woman, they were 8, and they feel regressed to childhood by a powerful woman in a way that they don’t feel with a man.” —Gloria Steinem
We simply cannot afford to be passive. Fortunately, the internet also makes it easier to form new partnerships, locate existing groups, and join each other offline for some good old-fashioned peaceful protest.
The most recent copy of New Scientist just made it to our house. I rarely get my hands on this weekly until my offspring have read it (which may be why dinner table discussions around here are too scientifically advanced for me). But I managed to sit down with the magazine over coffee this morning. I now know more about the first explorers to the South Pole, connections between climate change and geological disasters, and quorum sensing used by bacteria. I also enjoyed an interview with Ben de Biel, spokesperson for the Pirate Party in Germany.
When the Pirate Party won seats in Germany’s state parliament last month there was merriment in our house. What’s not to like about a movement seeking greater Internet freedom and government transparency? Plus the vote came the day before International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Geek Heaven.
But, at least where we live, people assume any party having to do with pirates is a reference to dressing up and growling “arr Matey.” That impression isn’t limited to our rural township. A Google search turns up more results for kids’ pirate birthday parties than political references.
The Pirate Party was first formed as Sweden’s Piratpartiet (yay for my ancestral homeland) and in 2009 won an EU Parliament seat. Internationally, such political parties have been formed in 40 countries.
The growing influence of the Pirate Party is exciting news even if you don’t share their goals. Here are a few highlights from the interview with spokesperson Ben de Biel.
How do you explain your success in Germany?
Berlin is the biggest city in Germany and a very young city. Most of our votes came from 18 to 35-year-olds. The established parties browse the internet but we work with it. The internet is not an end in itself, but a tool. Established parties haven’t realised this but younger people who started life with the internet do. They want politics to change – to Politics 3.0 if you like – so politicians talk with them, not about them.
What changes does your party want to see?
Long term, we want to run Berlin on an open-government model. We want all bureaucratic paperwork, publicly financed creative works and the products of publicly funded research not hidden away but freely accessible online. And we want a free wireless network infrastructure.
What about the short term?
We are trying new ways of opposition. We’ll put out to the people every enquiry and proposition we have for the coalition, as well as the replies they give us. With tools like Twitter we’ll tap into and involve thousands of people.
Do the elected Pirates have an IT background – and if so, does it affect their politics?
About half do. The rest know how to use net technologies. Many have a science background. They can do the mathematics and work out that there is a discrepancy between our finite resources and what is said and promised by the establishment. I’d say the Pirates’ unifying feature is the desire for a more transparent and honest model of politics and to make a new deal within society.
One of the most fun books to talk about during Banned Books Week is the lovable, adorable And Tango Makes Three. Even extreme penguin cuteness cannot warm the frozen shell around a book banner’s heart. Why? Because the penguins are (gasp!) gay.
If you don’t know And Tango Makes Three, it’s the true story of Silo and Roy, two male chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo. A zookeeper noticed that these two penguins were exhibiting couple-like behavior, down to building a nest like the other penguin couples. When an extra egg needed to be cared for, the zookeeper gave it to Silo and Roy to hatch. And along came Tango.
Now it sits, since it’s debut in 2005, on countless banned book lists. In our day and age a book that promotes tolerance is equivalent to pushing a radical left-wing homosexual agenda. Funny how people have even come to debate the gayness of the penguins, right down to the fact that Silo seems to be bisexual, not gay.
We may be a one mommy, one daddy, two kid family, but we live in New York City and we know all kinds of families: two daddies, two mommies, interracial couples, couples with a big age difference between them, divorced parents, single parents… you name it. I love having books like And Tango Makes Three to drive home the point that other families may be different than ours, but it’s no big whoop. With all the notoreity, why aren’t there more books like Tango? I want as many books as I can get my hands on that are inclusive of the diverse ways in which loving people form families.
If you have books to recommend that feature different kinds of families, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Filled from cover to cover with graphics covering topics such as the economy, immigration, education, and religion, the book is one that’s easy to pick up and peruse in small increments of time. Each double page spread includes a brief overview of the topic covered. Near the beginning of the book, the Who We Are section tells us that
“…the “typical American” is a White woman born in the United States of German ancestry. She is in her late thirties, living in a household with one or more family members (most likely she’s married).”
Maps of the USA break down statistics state by state in many cases and various sections compare the United States to the rest of the world. As a resident of oft-ignored Hawaii, I was happy that the authors include both Hawaii and Alaska in most of their maps of the nation. Pet peeve averted!
“Check this out,” Brad says, poring over the pages. “In 1992 42% of America knew someone who was gay or lesbian. In 2010, 70% did.”
We discussed the fact that this is probably not because there are more gay and lesbian people in the world, but rather as attitudes (slowly) change, gay and lesbian people are being more openly themselves.
When my sixteen-year-old had a chance to read through the book, he too found it fascinating and read tidbits out loud to me. This is one of those books that sits on the kitchen table ready for the next person to sit down for a snack or lunch to thumb through it. It is really very fascinating and because of the graphic format, even elementary aged kids would be able to pull out interesting tidbits. For instance:
64% of US newspapers shrank the space they devoted to international news, 2007-2009.
From 1960-2010, Americans with no religious identity rose from 3% to 16%.
11% of students in kindergarten through grade 12 are in private schools.
A book that intrigues both of my kids (not to mention my husband and me) and starts interesting discussions? That gets high marks around here.
Earlier this month, GeekMom Kris Bordessa wrote about the story of a Michigan woman, Julie Bass, who was being prosecuted for having a front yard garden. The Bass family put in the garden after their lawn had to be torn up due to a sewer line that needed to be repaired.
I’ve been following Julie Bass’ blog ever since because the story interested me, along with being in my home state of Michigan. The original charges were dropped, but then the city was going after the Bass family due to having dogs that weren’t licensed.
The dogs did get licensed, but Julie Bass was still due to appear in court on July 26th on the charges against her. Julie blogged after her court date that all the charges were dropped. They are allowed to keep their front yard garden and their dogs are safe from further legal action.
You can read the whole story of the court date at Julie’s blog.
Michelle Obama lives in arguably the most prestigious home in America. In 2009, she dug up a portion of the South Lawn and installed an organic vegetable garden to provide fresh produce for the White House kitchen. Short of the chemical companies who produce pesticides – definitely not allowed in an organic garden – who could complain about such a plan? It’s a great example of sourcing foods locally and Washington DC school children have had the chance to dig in the dirt, learning just where their food comes from.
It’s a good thing the White House isn’t located in Oak Park, Michigan.
When the Bass family had to tear into their lawn to repair a sewer line, instead of replacing the grass they decided to plant a vegetable garden. Oak Park city officials were not impressed with the family’s idea and asked them to move the garden to the backyard.
“Five beds, six yards of compost, about 90 plants – but most important of all, on principle — no!!!!” says Julie Bass.
Short of a little container gardening, this is the first time the Bass family has grown a garden. But instead of focusing their efforts on developing new gardening skills and harvesting the fruits of their labor, Julie Bass, a mother of six, finds herself facing a court battle and possibly jail time.
Over a vegetable garden.
The family would love to raise chickens for fresh eggs, have a goat for milking, and generate electricity with a windmill. They haven’t done so because those activities are not allowed in Oak Park. Vegetable gardening, however, is not explicitly against city codes. So what’s the problem? City code requires that front yard landscapes have “suitable, live plant material.” Well, since the plants in the Bass front yard are not made of silk or plastic, it appears that the battle is over what’s “suitable.”
Is a green lawn maintained with chemical pesticides and fertilizers and trimmed with a gasoline-powered mower suitable? Not in my book. I think it’s entirely UNsuitable to expose our communities to the dangers of poisons on a daily basis just to maintain conformity.
“If you look at the definition of what suitable is in Webster’s dictionary, it will say common*. So, if you look around and you look in any other community, what’s common to a front yard is a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers,” says Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski in an interview on WJBK Fox News in Detroit.
Following that line of thought, would the front yard vegetable garden become suitable if the majority of households in the Bass’ Oak Park neighborhood tore out their lawns and planted vegetable gardens of their own? Vegetable gardens would then be common, and by your reasoning, thus, “suitable.”
“That’s not what we want to see in a front yard,” says Rulkowski about the Bass’ veggies.
Beg pardon, Mr. Rulkowski, but who are you to say what is and isn’t desirable – or suitable – in a front yard? Determining what passes for “suitable” landscape is purely subjective. Your opinion surely differs from that of the Bass family and many of their neighbors.
Is a statue of St. Anthony suitable? Or what about topiary? Where exactly is the line – and who draws it?
You know what I think is suitable and desirable? This:
Isn’t it gorgeous? These photos are from Rosalind Creasy, author of Edible Landscaping. Ms. Creasy has done an amazing job of combining vegetables and flowers for an aesthetically pleasing landscape. In other words, it’s a very suitable landscape – that happens to produce vegetables. I can’t imagine that Mr. Rulkowski would have any quibbles with a lush front yard like this, vegetables or no. Certainly the Bass’ immature garden isn’t quite as lush as Ms. Creasy’s mature landscape, but with a little TLC (and a lot less BS, if you don’t mind my saying) the potential for a gorgeous, produce-bearing garden is great.
The Bass family is doing something different, certainly, than most folks in their neighborhood – but why in the world would the City of Oak Park spend any of its budget fighting a battle against people who have simply opted for a different type of landscape? One that provides sustenance for household members, in the form of food and companionship from the neighbors who stop by to visit the garden? Does Oak Park not have any actual criminals?
Instead of condemning this family, Oak Park would do well to use them as an example of how residents can build a sense of community through growing food.
“I think this has been a great experience for the neighborhood kids- lots of them come over any time we do anything outside,” says Julie. “They were here to help shovel the dirt, and dig the holes for the seeds, and water the new plants. They love to come over and sit and hang out on the swing, and [a] neighbors’ son actually gives garden tours to people who want to know what specific plants are- it’s too cute!”
The City of Oak Park is charging Julie Bass with a misdemeanor that could carry a 93 day jail sentence. Julie is blogging about the experience of being on the wrong end of the city planner’s office and the right side of common sense, here.
*The definition of “suitable” in Merriam-Webster (both online and in my old tattered print copy) does not include the word “common.”
GeekMoms, what do you think? Is the City of Oak Park out of line? Or should the Bass family move the garden to the backyard?
When my older son was little, he would come home from school and make a beeline straight through the house to the backyard swing set. We called it swing therapy: after a day of staying on task and holding in fidgets, he would desperately need to decompress. Rain, snow, sleet or hail, he’d be out there, parka hood up, face invisible, pumping out the day’s frustrations while he sang “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” at the top of his lungs.
He’s in high school now, so these days, instead of swing therapy, he plunks down on the couch and turns on recordings of the previous night’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report episodes in order to unwind…which is precisely how we all wound up making the trek from New York to Washington, D.C. last weekend to attend The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. We are not an athletic family, so bonding over a football rink or a baseball gridiron just isn’t in the cards for us. But an afternoon of music and media criticism? With the added promise of pithy placards and politically-themed cosplay?
I believe I told my son “Yes!” before the words “hey, uhhhh, I was THINKING…” were even out of his mouth.
And while it was a great, heady, unforgettable time, I cannot lie: there were also moments of frustration embedded in our trip. After an autumn that has included Maker Faire NY, Comic Con NY and now this Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, if I can share one piece of advice with future rally-goers and CON-ventioneers, it is this:
SURRENDER TO THE EXPERIENCE.
Do not assume that ATMs will have cash or that trains will have room, that you’ll be able to call or live-tweet from your cell phone, or that your little claustrophobia issue from five years ago has actually been forever resolved. Prepare yourself mentally for the unexpected and inconvenient, Padawan. It is part of the gig. And if you think of it, accessorize with good walking shoes.
I’m not kidding about that claustrophobia. While Steven Colbert’s “approximately 6 billion” headcount was likely off…it sure didn’t feel that way at the time. Current estimates of the rally hover in the 200,000 to 215,000 range…and THAT is a lot of meat (20 million pounds according to our friends at Mythbusters), even for the National Mall.
Our first rally redoubt was so crowded that my 11 year old could see nothing and momentarily considered napping until the rally was done. After I’d finished shouting, “Did they nap at Woodstock?” I realized that he wasn’t able to participate in even the simple “wave” and sound experiments organized by our Mythbuster heroes Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, due to his line-of-sight limitations, so we decided to move on.
Our second site had space and some height (with the added advantage of readily-accessible, fresh-grilled sausage), so the 11 year old could finally see the goings-on via distant JumboTron. We were able to clearly hear his favorite segment of the day–a Jusuf Islam/Ozzie Osbourne/O’ Jays Peace Train/Crazy Train/Love Train montage. However, after watching my most-favorite-singer-ever Jeff Tweedy duet inaudibly with Mavis Staples, we opted to move on through the throng a second time.
And that was when we hit sweet “in-a-stampede-you-will-be-impaled-against-this-fence-and-then trampled-to-death, shade-of-the-JumboTron” pay dirt. What we lacked in personal space or torso-mobility, we made up for with complete audio-visual accessibility and crowd-mates who smelled subtly of Old Spice. It was great to see my eleven year old laughing open-mouthed at R2-D2’s surprise appearance and to hear both boys whooping enthusiastically at Jon Stewart’s closing call for moderation, humility and mutual respect.
My one criticism of the event is that its creators didn’t think bigger. The rally was entertaining, engaging, civil and sweet; the underlying message of inclusion and acceptance stayed with us for the rest of our trip. Over dinner later, my older son summed up our mood:
I liked it. I thought the rally was brilliant and funny. And what made me feel really good…was the idea that Democrats and Republicans and people of all different religions were invited to join the same event. Like maybe we are all going to start working together to solve these problems we’re dealing with.
Mr. Stewart? Mr. Colbert? My one criticism of your rally: I would have loved to have left it with a viable game plan for keeping that feeling of open-hearted camaraderie alive.
All it takes to nurture budding civics geeks is to frame political events in a context familiar to kids. Take the divide between campaign strategy and governing strategy, for example. We address this with our kids all the time, we just may not be aware of it. In practical terms, it’s the choice between the shiniest toy advertised everywhere on TV and the old favorites that survived our toyboxes long enough to handed down to our kids. It’s figurines versus Legos. Kids are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves whether they want a delicate treasure on their shelf or a reusable component in their adventure kit. In the long run, people don’t always want just one kind or the other, and with toys as in politics, we get some of both in the long run.
After the campaign, there’re winners and losers. A sports analogy would work right now, but comparing politics with sports is overdone. Cooperative board games and roleplaying games work better, anyway. In co-op games and RPGs as in politics, it’s possible for individuals to lose a contest even if their team is victorious overall, and vice versa. Whatever analogy you use, there are two important further lessons here: First, everyone loses sometimes. Second, nobody likes a sore loser. Kids catch on pretty quickly (faster than most politicians, it seems) that they need to accept their losses with at least a modicum of grace if they want to play again later. The same rules apply to winners, actually.
In politics as at home, when the game night victory laps and concession speeches are over, it’s time to do the chores. It’s important work, but there are some in every group who try to put it off until later or shirk it altogether. Parents and voters reserve the right to withhold privileges from those lazybones, and let that be a lesson to the rest. And just like people in families, politicians in DC usually don’t have the option of doing only the easy stuff or the jobs they like best. All the work has to get done – the trash has to go somewhere, debts must be paid, and arguing about it doesn’t help much – but when we work together, everything gets done faster and better.
I’m not sure about politicians, but schoolchildren will probably find this lesson remedial.
Representation is another necessary civics lesson that may be easier for kids to grasp than it is for some politicians. Put simply, “It’s only fair if everyone gets to play”. Even the teams are unimportant if most of the players are locked in a penalty box before the game begins. And if you think kids can’t wrap their heads around what it means when people are sidelined and stereotyped for their gender, race, and sexuality, think again. Kids hate feeling left out, so this is an easy lesson on principle, but teaching it could be complicated by the fact that there are no African-Americans in the next US Senate.
True, a lot about politics is mystifying, even to the adults whose job it is to analyze policy, vote on it, and govern. But the basics are certainly accessible to kids if we’re willing to parse them into contexts children can relate to. Don’t underestimate what they’re able to puzzle-out on their own, either. Even little kids possess a formidable arsenal of analytical capacities, and they automatically look to the experts (that’s us, grown-ups) when they want to understand the rules at play.