Tina K. Russell

November 29, 2009

Our presumed obsessions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:49 pm

To the Editor:

The discovery of water on the Moon is indeed one of the greatest discoveries in human history. The possibilities for expansion of our heretofore single home base have just multiplied to a greater extent than when early hominids first jumped down from their tree perches and began a terrestrial expansion.

It is indeed shocking, but not at all surprising, that outside the scientific community this discovery has next to no interest to most people. The average American is apparently more interested in what foolish thing Sarah Palin will say or do next.

Americans no longer want to be informed; they just want to be entertained. The promise of the 1950s and early ’60s has now ended in the reality that most Americans are not “smarter than a fifth grader” and don’t really know, or care, about things of cosmic importance. I fear for our future.

Michael Davis

Madison, Wis., Nov. 20, 2009

via Letters – Water on the Moon, Reality on Earth – NYTimes.com.

While I have a lot of sympathy for this person’s argument, I think there’s a bit of a straw man—or a straw population—in it. It’s annoying that TV shows focused more on Sarah Palin than on a discovery that changes our perception of the universe forever, but I also know that TV shows often rush to judgment on what Americans care about and then attempt to dictate their assumptions to us. So, I wouldn’t assume right away that TV shows focusing on Palin means we “don’t care” about spaceflight; maybe we’d watch more science news if networks were willing to take the risk of treating their audiences like adults.

I spent eight months wondering who the hell Jon and Kate were and why I should give a damn. I suspect I’m not alone.

See also: Majority Of Americans Out Of Touch With Mainstream

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August 31, 2009

American nihilism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:44 pm

David Brooks:

We in this country have a distinct sort of society. We Americans work longer hours than any other people on earth. We switch jobs much more frequently than Western Europeans or the Japanese. We have high marriage rates and high divorce rates. We move more, volunteer more and murder each other more.

Out of this dynamic but sometimes merciless culture, a distinct style of American capitalism has emerged. The American economy is flexible and productive. America’s G.D.P. per capita is nearly 50 percent higher than France’s. But the American system is also unforgiving. It produces its share of insecurity and misery.

This culture, this spirit, this system is not perfect, but it is our own. American voters welcome politicians who propose reforms that smooth the rough edges of the system. They do not welcome politicians and proposals that seek to contradict it. They do not welcome proposals that centralize power and substantially reduce individual choice. They resist proposals that put security above mobility and individual responsibility.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The Great Gradualist – NYTimes.com.

Unfortunately, this is the essence of America, and what I want people to know when they stereotype us. We’re not lazy; we work too hard. We put too much stock in numbers, be they GDP, net worth, or our personal account balances as measures of our self-worth. We’re a nation hopped up on epinephrine, jumping from place to place, never enough time for our friends and our families. In fact, we idealize the person who never has enough time to relax, the jet-setter, the fast-track executive, the determined career woman. We never stop to think about what would actually make us happy; by that time, we’re retired, and firmly in the grip of old age. (We’re also in nursing homes by then, because we don’t have a concept of extended families.)

I find Brooks right and wrong in a lot of ways. He’s right in that he’s nailed down our problems, but he seems to idealize them. He speaks of our GDP per capita being higher than France as though GDP was ever meant to be a measure of well-being, or that GDP per capita, as an average measure, can ever be used to make generalizations about individuals (it can’t). We’re obsessed with these lifetime numbers, these scores, believing them to assess, somehow, how well we’ve done in life. It’s not only untrue, it’s dangerous.

Where Brooks is wrong is in assuming that Americans, by and large, are happy with this. I think most of us would be willing to let the government share some of our many burdens, so as long as they don’t start telling us what to do. I think the growth of the New Age movement, disgusting as I find it, shows a willingness to find meaning and wholeness beyond our boardrooms and bank accounts (though I don’t think squeezing an hour of yoga into all our other commitments really counts as enlightenment). I really do love America’s rambunctious, somewhat obnoxious culture; otherwise, I might not still be here. We just never seem to reflect on what we do well, our brilliant engineers and high-yield cultural exports, what we do poorly, such as our crumbling infrastructure or the miserable public educations we give our children, or what we need most, such as a sense of meaning independent of GDP or performance bonuses.

I love America, but we’re fundamentally broken, and instead of celebrating it we ought to get around to fixing it.

July 31, 2009

Beck-ing the question

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:47 am

The White House doesn’t want to give Glenn Beck a bigger platform or extra oxygen — especially regarding his remark yesterday that the president has “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” — so they won’t comment, even off record. Beck, after all, is a radio DJ who somehow ended up getting a national platform to give his opinion on politics. What’s most amazing about this episode is that what Beck said isn’t a fireable or even a SUSPENDABLE offense by his bosses. There was a time when outrageous rants like this would actually cost the ranters their jobs. But not anymore; if anything, it’s now encouraged. And all of this could turn ACTUAL journalists into the next Howard Beales.

via First thoughts: Losing the message war? – First Read – msnbc.com.

I know that Glenn Beck is an idiot, but what he said really bothers me because I’ve seen it before. Barack Obama is someone who grew up in Hawaii, was raised by a while family, and read Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics as a kid. Yet, somehow he gets pigeonholed as hating whitey. It just doesn’t make sense.

I remember reading something a long time ago where a black woman who was a science-fiction fan called for more people of color in science fiction and fantasy works, and commenters screeched “Why can’t you identify with white people?” The truth is that she wouldn’t ever be a science-fiction fan if she couldn’t identify with white people, because she’d completely out of luck given the dearth of black protagonists in the genre. In fact, as should be obvious, she loved the strong characters and stories that made her a fan in the first place; all she wanted was to see her people represented there, too.

Too often, though, that nuance gets lost whenever race comes into the discussion, making it difficult simply to be proud of who you are. Someday, we’ll take it for granted that a proud black man isn’t automatically out to “get” whites or somesuch, and I wish it were today.

July 12, 2009

Dignity, honor, and pride

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:57 pm

To the Editor:

David Brooks’s search for dignity is misplaced. Dignity, as a social device, didn’t survive World War II.

Yet, while the criteria may be different, there are people who possess that hard-to-define quality called “class,” which is a practical manifestation of kindness, respect for others, proper upbringing and the everyday application of the Golden Rule.

In his day, some derided the joke-telling Lincoln as undignified, yet no president had more class.

What should concern Mr. Brooks is the vanishing of personal honor, in government, business and family, which frees powerful men to cheat on their wives and their taxes, exploit workers, lie to voters and cheat stockholders and consumers with impunity.

Sheldon Bunin

Jackson Heights, Queens, July 7, 2009

via Letters – The Demise of Dignity in America – NYTimes.com.

Pride is your best friend and your worst enemy. At its best, pride forces you to have standards for yourself, to maintain what you’ve invested in so much. At its worst, pride is a sense of entitlement, a shamelessness that you justify with delusions of superiority.

There’s a Yu-Gi-Oh! manga story where Yugi faces the arrogant, cheating Bandit Keith (he of “In America!”), who refuses to play by the rules of the “Duelist Kingdom” island tournament because he’s not an official contestant. However, Keith plans to use his cheating ways to defeat enough players to force the judges to recognize him. In Keith’s mind, the island is a no-man’s-land where the rules don’t apply to him.

When Yugi defeats Keith fair and squire, Keith is dumbfounded. He thought his cheating strategies were perfect. Keith was too pig-headed to examine his own weaknesses before presuming victory.

So, Yugi gives him some advice. “Do you know what the rule of this island is?” he asks.

Keith huffs.

“A duelist’s pride,” Yugi says.

You wouldn’t think Keith’s worst vice was not having enough pride, and in a way, it was not. Keith had pride, but not the right kind.

June 22, 2009

Teens just can’t win

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:46 pm

Editorial – Teenagers and Pregnancy – NYTimes.com
Between 1991 and 2003, increased contraceptive use among sexually active teenagers played an important role in driving down teenage pregnancy rates. Since then, according to a new report from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, contraceptive use by teens has declined while their sexual activity has remained unchanged. This is a worrisome shift — and it has bearing on the coming budget battle in Congress.

The report’s authors, Dr. John Santelli, Mark Orr, Laura Lindberg and Daniela Diaz, said they found a decrease of about 10 percent in contraception use that is consistent with recent gains in the teenage birth rate.

They suggest, not unreasonably, a link between the shift in use of contraception and one of former President George W. Bush’s great social-policy follies: highly restrictive abstinence-only sex education programs that deny young people information about sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptives and pregnancy. To the extent these programs even mention condoms, typically it is to disparage their effectiveness.

As a kid, I was always frustrated by how we never seemed to get credit for anything. You never heard it on TV, but teen pregnancy, crime, drug use, etc. had all been going down for decades. That didn’t stop overcaffeinated talking heads from shouting about the explosion of teenage sex and violence spreading across the United States (and possibly to YOUR CHILDREN OMG).

Of course, these prophecies have a way of fulfilling themselves. In response to the made-up explosion in teen misbehavior, we instituted the misguided policy of abstinence-only education, which has led to this prophecy made manifest. Now that teen pregnancy rates are actually rising—like, in the real world, where you and I live—we can expect to hear abstinence-only advocates convinced that this vindicates their policy, because these statistics must mean abstinence-only education is more important than ever. Meanwhile, whatever our nation’s teenagers are doing, they can never catch a break.

Remember! Nothing holds back the onset of puberty like arrogant, senseless, and hypocritical moralizing.

February 27, 2009

Awesome Transsexuals: Audrey Mbugua

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:02 am

In a small world, some things are true no matter where you are. Kenyan human rights activist Audrey Mbugua demonstrates.

allAfrica.com: Kenya: Social Injustice And Transsexual People (Page 1 of 1)
Another minefield in transsexual people’s lives is the issue of discrimination in Kenya’s labour market. Though I have personally been denied job opportunities just because I am a transsexual, I still don’t understand the logic. I hope I am just too daft to get the argument. Here is the argument, and maybe you could help me understand the quantum electrodynamics behind it: ‘You were born a boy and you are now a woman. How could you do that to yourself? Do you actually think God made a mistake in creating you the way he did? In the first place, who do you sleep with? …blah…blah…blah…lots of crap’.

Will somebody please help me understand, because I thought the employee-employer relationship was that of ‘Give me your most productive 40 hours in the week and at the end of the month, I will deposit KSh blahblahblah in your account. Satisfied?’ That’s how I see things and furthermore if you are clean and tidy, does it matter that I look like a woman but I have a penis between my legs?

And she keeps going!

How is my penis supposed to make organisations lose profits? In fact, I am wondering why these morons are not blaming transsexuals with penises for the global financial crisis. A penis on a transsexual people is not a substitute for her brain. Look at the skills he or she possesses, not penises and vaginas. Why don’t you go around the streets of Nairobi, stopping and squatting under women in skirts to see whether there is a shwing shwong up there? Go ahead and feel the crotch of every person you meet to determine whether their genitals and physical presentation are incongruent or not. You could go further and smell the genitals. Your god will add more days to your lives and you will live to blow 1,001 candles.

Don’t annoy transsexual people further by asking them who they have sex with. That is none of your bee’s wax. How would you feel if you accompanied your dad to a bank and the cashier asked him whether he enjoys taking it up his ass or whether he suffers from impotence? Would you nominate the cashier for an Oscar or a Jerk-of-the-year award? Another thing my dearest friends, I have the right to change my sex if am not comfortable with my sex or even for whatever reasons I have. It’s my body and I don’t see how it interferes with your lives. Or, had you expected me to first consult with your church elders before I had a scalpel plunged inside my scrotum? No, maybe you wanted me to accept myself as a man that god created me to be? Why don’t you also tell diabetic people to stop taking insulin shots and accept themselves the way God created them, as diabetics? We hate such stupid and disrespectful questions and you hateful, ignorant and annoying religious nutcases need to reform.

I can’t tell you how vindicated I feel. As a Quaker, I have an innate fondness for Kenya, home to one of the world’s biggest Quaker communities. (Actually, it might be the biggest.) And, as an American, I’m grateful they had the wherewithal to fight for independence, earning it and prompting John F. Kennedy to start a scholarship program to train future Kenyan civil servants, bringing one enterprising Kenyan to a school in Hawaii where he met a kind free spirit from Kansas, a union which produced our current head of state. So, it does make me sad, of course, that such anti-trans prejudice persists in Kenya.

But holy mackarel! This woman can rant! This is exactly how I’ve been feeling all my life. I probably would have put it more politely (and I think she gets overly harsh toward the end of the linked piece), but sometimes you need to be blunt. It’s oddly comforting to know that the same things frustrate transsexual people the world over. And, I have always wondered why people always seem to think my genitals and sex life are critical public information which they have a right to know about. Gaahhh!

February 5, 2009

Perspective on Michael Phelps

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:55 pm

Steve Duin on the Michael Phelps “oh my God inspirational sports heroes occasionally do stupid things like smoke marijuana” scandal:

Michael Phelps and illusions of perfection – OregonLive.com
I always thought the crime of “betraying” America was reserved for spies, war profiteers and Ponzi schemers, rather than world-class swimmers who might have a buzz on. (Phelps has apologized that he “engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,” but he has yet to admit that he was one toke over the line.)

To get myself up to speed on this savage betrayal of all we hold dear, I decided to check out the fine print on Phelps’ gold medals. You know, the stern warnings that victory in the Olympic pool requires that he immediately forfeit his youth, his privacy and his margin of error.

The formal announcement that, as a celebrity icon, Phelps must now live in accordance with the (generally) hypocritical standards and expectations of people he’s never met.

I have yet to find those cautionary notes, but they must be around somewhere. They explain the hysterical criticism of a 23-year-old kid who worked like a backstroking dog for four years to make much lazier Americans feel good about themselves and who was enjoying a few weeks off before he dove back into the deep end of Olympic training and Olympian ideals.

He was hugging a bong, sports fans. Not an Uzi, not a pit bull, not a tobacco lobbyist. He’s Seth Rogen, not Michael Vick.

See also Study: 100 Percent of Americans Lead Secret Lives. See also Jesus.

Family, responsibility, identity, transsexuality

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:55 pm

Transsexual Identity Case May Set Back Gay Marriage | News | YLE Uutiset | yle.fi
Wife Refused Consent to Save Family

The case in question was brought to the Court by a married man and father, who became a transsexual. The couple want to retain their married status, so the wife refused to give her official consent.

(Please note: you don’t “become” transsexual, like, ever. It’s something you’re born with. If it were a choice, nobody would want it, ever.)

(Also, note to copyeditors: the adjective is almost always more respectful than the noun. Someone is Jewish, not “a Jew.” Someone is black, not “a black.” I guess this works better in plural (“Jews,” “blacks”), but when talking about an individual, use the adjective whenever possible.)

(Firefox is telling me that “copyeditors” is a typo. I thought that was the right way… hmmm…)

A lower Administrative Court rejected their case, ruling that “in the realm of family law, a marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.” And so, from the court’s perspective, the local registry office did not violate the constitutional guarantee of equality of the sexes by refusing to change the woman’s gender without her wife’s consent.

The lower court’s ruling, which defined marriage as exclusively a heterosexual right, has put one more legal obstacle in front of activists calling for gender-neutral marriage laws.

The plaintiff argued that the current laws are essentially forcing her to choose between her sexual identity and keeping her family intact.

In addition, she says that her identification papers have caused real problems in security checks, for example, because they no longer reflect her new self.

There are no legal objections to a man undergoing sexual reassignment to become a woman and then marrying a man, for example.

This is a pretty insane ruling. For the record, here in the States, the law in regard to marriage and transsexuality is a surreal patchwork, and if you’re transsexual yourself, whom you can and can’t marry depends on the state you’re in. But I don’t think we have anything like this ruling in Finland, saying that changing your sex requires your spouse’s consent. (?!)

An important thing, I think, to bear in mind is that transgender people do not abandon their family responsibility when they transition. This is a matter of semantics, but it’s typical, in my experience, for trans people with families to retain the family title they had before transitioning, especially fathers who have transitioned to female after having children. This leads to interesting constructions like “she’s my dad” that may confound the unfamiliar, but it’s always said with the greatest respect. I knew a woman who told her adult children, when she transitioned, “I will always be your father, and nothing can change that.” She said it with pride and conviction, and her concept of herself as a father stood hand-in-hand with her concept of herself as a woman.

That said, it’s perfectly legitimate to want people to call you a different family title (“father” to “mother,” “son” to “daughter,” etc., or the other way around) when you transition; it’s a matter of what you’re comfortable with. However, the idea of transsexuality as a threat to the family is utterly at odds with everything I know. You don’t abandon who you are, or your responsibility to those you love; on the contrary, you drop a charade you’ve been performing all your life, and confirm your love of them through honesty and compassion.

January 28, 2009

Who are you?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:55 pm

David Brooks:

What Life Asks of Us – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
In 2005, Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. [Political scientist Hugh] Heclo cites his speech as an example of how people talk when they are defined by their devotion to an institution:

“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. You make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases.”

Sandberg motioned to those inducted before him, “These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up.

“Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect … . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game … did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

That is really wonderful. It reminds me of the philosophy of ubuntu, that “I am what I am because of what we all are.” If you live only for yourself, you’re just a sack of meat sliding towards death. If you learn to live for yourself and those around you, you can be part of something much more amazing and gratifying.

I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

January 16, 2009

Oppression: Gotta catch ’em all!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:23 pm

The Way We Live Now – The Edge of the Mystery – Will Barack Obama’s Aura Fade? – NYTimes.com
Already, in the weeks since the election, Obama has endured the moans of disgruntled constituencies in his own party whose ideal of the outsider is difficult for any breathing politician to fulfill. Progressive activists online and inside the party have complained bitterly about Obama’s turning to so many pragmatic insiders — that is, public servants who ran Washington in the Clinton years — to populate his cabinet, rather than reaching out to more academics or state-level politicians whose political instincts have not yet been corroded by Washington’s penchant for incrementalism. Then, too, have come the inevitable protests from identity-based interest groups: Latinos and African-Americans in Congress who weren’t satisfied with the number of senior appointments, as well as gay activists lamenting the omission of a gay cabinet nominee. That sound you hear is the last wheezing gasp of boomer-age politics, the cataloging of individuals according to their areas of oppression, the endless process of tallying cultural differences rather than aggregating common objectives. It is a political philosophy that probably made sense 30 years ago but that seems sort of baffling at the dawn of the Obama era, when such interest groups are among the most powerful in the Washington establishment — and when the Man himself is black.

At the risk of alienating every single one of my friends, where the hell have you been?! Have you been to a college lately? Sometimes I feel like all I ever hear about are intersecting identities and oppressions and blah, blah, blah. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really a person, or if I’m just a cascade of labels.

I’m a little afraid to talk about this, because I do know oppression exists (I’m not naïve), and I do strongly support affirmative action (as large groups of similar people tend to make bad decisions). Plus, after all, I possess an alienating medical condition (transsexuality) and a learning disability (ADD), and when these are taken into account by those above me I feel marvelous. I’m just a little sick of the culture around me of amassing identity tags like trading cards.

Once, an event at my school was promoted by a Facebook page waxing poetic about the speaker’s “intersecting identities,” and not a word was given to what she actually does (and for all I know, she does it very well). I’ve had dear friends publish articles ending with self-summaries that begin with a list of countercultural credentials (“Jane is a radical, kinky, queerspawn,” etc.) that reduce us to shipping labels. I’ve heard spoken-word performances consisting entirely of espousing irritation at white people for our stupid white mistakes, recorded solely for the benefit of white people to listen to not as entertainment (I do love a good bit of light-hearted debasement), but as an act of righteous self-flagellation.

And, I’m afraid of this because now I’ve just bestowed myself with yet another label that I can use to cry oppression: tokenization, the process of making someone into a novelty barganing chip, or a trophy of liberal achievement. I’m essentially decrying an act of self-obsession, and obsessing over that sounds even worse; it sounds like an easy way to restart the cycle of self-imposed, righteous, perpetual victimhood. We whine and moan about how oppressed we are, or we boast about how radical and different we are, and none of it gets us any closer to what we want. It’s vain, it’s annoying, it’s shallow, and it’s disgusting. I’m proud of being transsexual; I’m proud of being intelligent; I’m proud of being part Norwegian. I can wrap more into myself, though, than any pompous list by using just one label: Tina.

Perhaps I’m grousing because I feel I don’t fit in; I’ve never found a single community that I feel I adhere most closely to, and so to the time of this writing my blog’s header still simply says “Tina K. Russell, writer and artist.” (Edit: whoops, I forgot that my blog’s current theme doesn’t use a subtitle. Never mind…)  There’s a lot more to me than that, but… I don’t believe that because I hang in young liberal circles that I’m somehow “more unique” (not a valid phrase!) than others. We all have our inner beauty and splendor, and more than I want someone I’ve just met to be impressed by a boastful list of Oppression Achievements, I want them to trust me due to my warmth and candor. I don’t want to limit myself to communities where it’s cool to be a victim. I just want to be… me, and I want other people to see me for me.

I once went to a queer-themed summer camp, as a teenager, hoping that this would be my “back to Africa” moment, where maybe I’d feel normal for being surrounded for people like me. Instead, I was the transsexual on display. I even had a camp counselor tell me “I think it’s great what you’re doing!”, referring to my transsexuality and not to any personal achievement. That is the sort of person, the token, that everybody wants to be seen next to but no one wants to get close to. To be a label is to be an unperson, and if my fellow college liberals (I’m one, I should say) think that amassing labels will bring them closer to happiness, they’re in for brutal, crushing disappointment.

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