What is Feminism? Is it Dead?

I’m not sure if you’ve had the unfortunate experience of reading about the ugly display that took place on Thinking and Drinking with Lizz Winstead last week. I’m guessing that if I heard about it, everyone has.

To put it bluntly: It was a train wreck.

Nutshell: Lizz Winstead (host of “Thinking and Drinking”, previous writer for “The Daily Show”) asked Tracie Egan and Moe Tkacik to be guests on the show because “Their work on Jezebel has made them role models for young women everywhere.” (One 20-year-old blogger who was in the studio audience stated that Moe is her “Feminist Superhero.”)

Moe and Tracie are said to have arrived drunk and they proceeded to get drunker. The conversation started off with jokes about abortion and how many they’ve had. They talked about how the pull out method is the most fun way not to get pregnant. The conversation then moved on to rape. Some of the things these women said about rape had me opened-mouthed and speechless. I was in bewildered awe over the seemingly blatant ignorance.

I am not a reader of Jezebel. I am by no means someone who can speak about their writing history or their background. I do not know their audience. After having watched the video, however, I am happy I never got to know these two women—as writers, role models, bloggers, whatever. They came off as arrogant, childish, and worst of all, irresponsible. As someone unfamiliar with Jezebel, I have been turned away entirely.

But! The whole situation has left a horrible taste in my mouth. And I am not sure why. Perhaps it’s because these two are seen as role models.

I am left asking one giant question:

When did feminism become about sexually explicit vulgarity, sleeping with a different guy every night, or boasting about the number of abortions you’ve had?

(I bet Lydia Lunch and Lung Leg are pissed off—two generations too late. Sorry, ladies! Who knew fisting might one day become a symbol of feminism?)

I fail to see how getting blasted drunk and having a lot of sex is feministic. The way they acted bugged me, sure. But I think what bugs me the most is that they are looked up to and respected. Plus, they’re probably making close to a hundred grand a year doing this, acting this way.

But my husband said, “You CAN’T change the world. There are going to be idiots. I don’t know why this bothers you so much. Let them go. But if you really want to make a difference, contact the editors and producers. If they think advertisers are going to back out, they will reprimand the writers.”

OK, so I’m not going to try and change the world or contact anyone involved because it won’t do any good. He’s right about that. That’s why I chose to avoid linking to either of the women’s sites because I’d rather not add fuel the fire. (If you want to find all the “good” stuff, they can do so by clicking the above link to Lizz Winstead’s article.) My words will mean nothing—just take up some more virtual space. I can’t ask these women how they’re feminists. I’m a teeny tiny voice in a sea of millions. (Plus, I am sort of a pussy when it comes to online fighting.) But I do want to ask one parting question:

What is Feminism? Is it Dead?

Because I think it’s dead. And I think a hideous intruder has risen in its place.

Dog Park Politics

It’s probably pretty obvious by now that I’m what some may call a “cat person”. I love cats. I love all animals. But I love cats. They hold a special place in my heart, even the troubled ones. And so I am biased. I’ll admit that straight up.

Every day (weather permitting) Emory and I take a walk through Mcgolrick Park. There’s a dog park right by the Driggs street entrance. We usually enter there, loop around, hit the playground for a bit and then loop back around and exit through the Driggs street entrance. We always walk by the dog park and I’ll stop for a couple of minutes to show Em the dogs. He’s so used to being around cats, I figured it’s best to introduce him to a couple of the other 5,000 plus species of mammals. I’ve introduced him to Penn State bunnies, Mcgolrick Park squirrels, and several Brooklyn dogs. He’s also met a few birds, which he speaks to by grunting.

Yesterday was not unlike every other day except that the sky threatened us with dark clouds. The ground was wet as were the swings so we were unable to hang out in the playground. I spent a few extra minutes watching the dogs instead.

I don’t know a lot about dogs or dog parks because I haven’t ever owned a dog. I do spectate, however. When I worked in the city and Tobyjoe and I rode our bikes to work, we’d meet every single day at the Union Square dog park where I’d watch the dogs interact with one another. I can’t tell you what breed of dog believes in which law of butt-sniffing, or whom agrees with whom, but I get the feeling that a dog park holds more political heat than all the goings on on Capitol Hill.

There are the big dogs, the little dogs, the older dogs, the dogs that hump, the dogs that run from humping dogs. There are the dogs that avoid all other dogs. There are the dogs that want to hang out with all other dogs. There are friendly dogs, mean-looking dogs, dumb looking dogs and there are smelly dogs. There are dogs that cower, dogs that bark a lot, dogs that do nothing but run. There are dogs that want to just go home already! And there always seems to be one or two dogs that make all other dogs (and me) nervous, like, you just never know what they’ll do if you look at them the wrong way.

And so yesterday whenever the medium-sized white dog attacked the brown dog by going right for its throat, I very nearly threw up from the stomach acid that bubbled up from my belly. And Emory had no idea what was going on. Suddenly, angry barks filled the playground and all hell broke lose. Little dogs ran in the opposite direction from the fight. The owners (two hipster couples) tried desperately to pry their dogs apart with very little luck. It took an uncomfortably long time for the man from one couple to pull his white dog from the brown dog. And all the while the male owner of the brown dog screamed, “NO!!! NOO!!!! NOOO!!!!” at the top of his lungs. And they weren’t commands, he was pleading with whomever would listen. He was begging into thin air, trying to reason with angry dogs.

With humans, unless there’s a weapon involved, a fight doesn’t usually end in death. The way these dogs instantly went for the jugular, meant business and their business was with death.

I was stuck there, in space, watching. I couldn’t close my mouth, look away; I couldn’t move. It was terrifying, a truly horrific experience, one that brought tears to my eyes, one that will continue to haunt me for days.

Does this happen often at dog parks? Do owners constantly have to look out for the potentially troubled animal? Does the owner of the potentially troubled dog know that they’re dog could very well freak out at any given moment? Do owners of small dogs worry whenever a larger dog comes around? Are there people who avoid the dog park altogether because they worry about fighting? Are these things dog owners know instinctively or do they learn over time?

Yesterday’s incident was the second dog park dogfight I have seen in two weeks. The first one was less horrific because the owner of the dog being attacked was able to scoop his pup up before the other dog got a firm hold. That owner then promptly turned to the other couple and said, “Get your dog out of this park right now!”

Three weeks ago, I was out for a jog and I saw a dog suddenly stand up from a blanket and tackle a toddler who was running around with his mother in the park. The toddler was knocked down hard enough to warrant one of those silent screams. And the couple just yelled for the dog to return to their blanket. I would never hurt any animal, but if that had been my son, I am not sure what I would have done to that couple.

Either way, Em and I are going to have to find some other way to learn about dogs. Their unpredictable nature scares me too much.

And I’m reminded of why I don’t think I want one right now.

Edited to add: I am not anti-dog. I don’t have a huge amount of time to reread and edit my thoughts today sadly. I realize that’s irresponsible of me. Sorry, folks! I have tried to clear up any possible miscommunication in the comments section.

Clearing the Air.

Someone left a comment (anonymously, of course) on the last post I wrote calling me a racist. It bummed me out enough that I haven’t wanted to approach this Web site all weekend. At first I thought, who cares what this coward anonymously wrote on my Web site, but then I realized that others may feel the same way.

If my last post came off as racist, it wasn’t intentional. Of course it wasn’t intentional. There were several races and nationalities present on the playground that day. There were several different classes present as well. At no point did I suggest that the fight was between a certain race, at least I don’t think so.

I live in between Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This area is made up of every single race, religion, and nationality you can think of. It’s also home to several different classes, there are a lot of lower income people and then there are a lot of people who have moved in over the last couple of years that are (for lack of a better term) filthy stinking rich. Even more recently, there have been a lot more Western Europeans moving into the neighborhood. (Eastern Europeans make up a large group and have since long before I arrived back in 2000.) I liken the influx of Western Europeans to the solid Euro. But this is admittedly not my ground of familiarity.

Because of the huge and constant influx of people heading to Greenpoint and Williamsburg, the high schools become more and more diverse. At least that’s the way it appears from an outsider’s point of view. (And by outsider, I mean one without kids of high school going age.)

When I compared us moms to guppies, I meant we’re breeders. (Aren’t guppies breeders? Don’t they tend to take over fish tanks whether you like it or not?) When I compared the high school kids to attack fish, I meant that sometimes (especially when they’re in large groups, which is usually the case whenever school lets out around here) then can become really nasty and sometimes violent. There was one occasion where another driver and I had our cars surrounded by kids who had just gotten out of the Automative high school (the group was made up of several different races, mind you).

It was really scary, to be honest. And if Emory had been the car, I probably would have called 911. Instead, I looked straight ahead, as did the driver in front of me, and waited for them to get bored. (Thankfully, there are usually cops around that area because of the amount of fights and problems that break out whenever school lets out.)

The whole experience, the way they surrounded our cars, reminded me of piranha. Perhaps I irresponsibly failed to bring that up. Perhaps it came off as racist. If it did, it was unconscious to me.

So, I’m sorry if any of you thought my last post was racist. Perhaps it was a little classist. The groups represented on the playground last week may hold animosity toward one another because of classism, but I don’t think anyone could stay in this neighborhood for too long if they were in fact racists. They would go completely insane with hate. There are just too many different walks of life. Maybe my naivety is showing. But I have seen more acts of hatred due to class differences while living here than I have acts of racism. (Not that racism doesn’t exist.)

We live in a culture that promises its people that the harder you work the richer and more prosperous you’ll be, which is a load of crap. We’re not all given equal opportunities. Life is highly unfair for a lot of people living in the U.S. I see it here each and every day. Sometimes the folks who work the absolute hardest make the smallest fortune. I fall into the bitterness from time to time—hating on the really rich people buying up the waterfront real estate without a care in the world, without a care about the history of this place. Yet, I am that person to people who have lived here for decades. I took over at one point as well. Perhaps we need to redefine fortune to mean more than just money. Maybe then people will be less resentful toward others.

I’m not sure why I’m writing about this today. Perhaps the comment bugged me more than it should have. And perhaps that is exactly what the person was going for. (You win, anonymous coward.) But it always does. Every time I get a hateful email or comment it bugs me more than you can possibly know.

I’m also not really 100% today. I seem to have come down with one killer of a sickness. I woke up covered in hives this morning, big white welts. I feel worse than I have in a long, long time.

So, if you want to discuss race and class and how insensitive my previous post was to you, I invite you to do so. I would have left the anonymous comment had it held any redeeming points. Instead, the person insulted me and then walked away. I really do learn from the people who visit and post on here. I cherish each and every voice I have read. Feel free to say whatever you want, just be kind in making your points, and make valid ones.

And maybe today you could put one kid glove on, I really feel very ill.

Race Appeal Vs. Sex Appeal

My heart goes out to the people living in Tennessee and Arkansas. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror some have had to endure over the last 24 hours. What was supposed to be a great day where politics was concerned ended up being a worse nightmare for many living down south.

TobyJoe and I have been watching the results come in since last night. We’ve been glued to a muted CNN. (Modest Mouse plays in the background. I have this idea that TV-watching only “counts” if it’s audible. Dumb? Entirely.) Of course, watching the numbers come in has me ignorantly hypothesizing.

Here are some of my fleeting, (stream of conscious) thoughts:

I can’t believe only about 500 registered Democrats voted in Alaska. Wait, how many people actually live in Alaska? The nation is split on who they want as their Democratic frontrunner. Wow, wouldn’t it be awesome if Clinton and Obama ran together? I know that won’t ever happen. Hillary can’t use “Clinton” on her signage. Is it that there are more people living in the Northeast and therefore there are more people voting? Or do the folks in the middle just not care to get out and vote? If Obama gets the nomination, I think many Hillary supporters will happily change their votes. If Hillary does, however, I am not sure Obama supporters will change theirs. Perhaps Obama is more electable. I prefer Hillary’s healthcare plan to Obama’s. Obama’s speeches are something to be savored. I wonder why Edwards hasn’t come out in support of anyone yet. I wonder who’s more likely to ask Edwards to be VP? I like Edwards. Why do the Latinos like Hillary so much? Which Dem can deal with all the swiftboating better? What is that smell? Oh, baby vomit!

(Edited to add: A LOT more than 500 people voted in Alaska. The stats on CNN that day were incorrect or the percentage of votes counted wasn’t actually at 98%. Sorry!)

Here is a more refined thought:

I want to mention a few things about the whole race/female thing as it’s impossible to ignore, especially when our newscasters and talking heads seem to want to differentiate between the two every chance they get. I was visiting another Web site yesterday and witnessed several people attack a woman who voted for Hillary Clinton. She had several reasons for backing Hillary Clinton and mentioned those reasons. At the very end, however, she mentioned something about her being female. That set several people off. “I think it’s SO wrong to vote for someone just because she’s female!” The comments kept coming, verbal attacks against the voter’s character just because she mentioned liking the fact that a female was contending for president of the United States.

I watched a lot of news yesterday. I think it was CNN (there’s a small chance it could have been MSNBC or CBS) who stood outside and interviewed people as they exited their polling stations. There was one black gentleman who, when asked, said that he voted for Obama. He was then asked why he supports Obama and his reasoning was (and I’m paraphrasing), “He represents hope. He stands for change. And, yes, his being a black man had something to do with it.” The guy didn’t seem to know anything about Obama’s stance, beliefs, etc.

I’m not sure what question I want to ask here and I’m admittedly wading into very unfamiliar and dangerous waters. But here goes nothing. Why has there been such a backlash for women voters mentioning voting for another woman? What’s the difference between the two decisions? Is it only racist if a person were to vote for the white guy solely to vote against a black guy? Is it not racist to vote for the black guy just because he is indeed black?

Here’s how Webster defines the word Racist:

1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2 : racial prejudice or discrimination

We all know that racism is more complex and varied than the cartoon version people always reference. The type of racism evident in this gentleman’s vote is interesting, to say the least. Thus far, the pundits and mainstream media have limited the discussion of racism in this election cycle to the act of avoiding particular candidates. There’s another site to racism in the discussion of electability, and it equally trivializes the important aspects of a potential President: voting record, views on the Constitution, respect for our FOUR-branch system of government, and general trajectory on issues major and minor.

I am happy with both of the Democrats running. I would cast my vote for either one of them in a heartbeat. But, I don’t know everything they stand for. So, my goal over the next several months is to learn as much as humanly possible about both Democratic contenders. I hope to move beyond getting information from bulleted lists, or deciding to vote for him because Oprah told me to or her because I liked Bill so much. (Not that either one of those are reasons I voted for whom I voted.) I want to feel like I made a very solid, informed decision and not just a good one.

Now all I have to do is find the time.

Waging War Against Bisphenol A

A couple of months ago we declared war against bisphenol A, an organic compound that mimics estrogen and can mess with a person’s hormones and development. This is especially alarming for babies who rely so much on what they ingest in order to develop.

My understanding is this: bisphenol A was created as a estrogen replacement and/or supplement. At some point, diethylstilbestrol turned out to be more powerful. Bisphenol A was shelved. Later, chemists discovered that it could be polymerized to form polycarbonate plastic. But the bond is not stable so BPA leaches into whatever it’s protecting. The government has tested many of these plastics individually and the amount that leaches out is very little. But as far as I know there haven’t been tests run on the overall usage of BPA leaching components. Basically, the sum is much greater than its parts.

As with anything, the more you know the better off (or worse depending on who you ask) you are. But with bisphenol A the more I find the worse I feel. I started this post a dozen times before now and each time I get so overwhelmed, I give up. There is just too much to find and discover!

Truth be told, bisphenol A has become a bit of a monster here at our house. It lurks everywhere and in an industrialized country like the United States, it’s downright impossible to avoid. It’s something we’re trying very hard to rid our lives of. And believe me, that’s a lot harder than one may think.

I’m not going to mention all the side-effects associated with bisphenol A. And instead of trying to work them into a perfectly packaged paragraph (I am not nearly that good of a writer), I’m going to list a few of them below.

  • Low sperm count and infertile sperm
  • bisphenol A during development has carcinogenic effects and produce precursors to breast cancer
  • neurotoxicity
  • linked to obesity. (triggering fat-cell activity)
  • developmental toxicity
  • damage to eggs and chromosomes
  • hyperactivity
  • early puberty

As with many scientific studies conducted today, these are concluded after large amounts are injected into our fuzzy friends. (Thanks for taking a million and one for the team, Mickey and Minnie.) Many supporters of bisphenol A think the results are skewed. Opponents feel the findings are alarming and that the compound should be scrutinized by the FDA to find out if it’s safe for our children.

In a perfect world, a baby would drink only breastmilk straight from the breast for (at the very least) the first year of his or her life. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible for many women. In the states, women are granted 3 months maternity leave, forcing them to hit the pump. Some woman have trouble breastfeeding and turn to the pump and/or formula. Either way, the majority of women in the U.S. are going to give their baby a bottle during the first year of his or her life. Unfortunately, most of the plastic bottles on the market today are lined with bisphenol A.

Before Emory was born I had determined very early on that we would use (glass) bottles. A friend from San Francisco purchased some EvenFlo bottles from our registry. I was so out of it, exhausted and depressed for the first two months postpartum, I used Dr. Brown’s bottles instead, which worked really well with easing gas pains. Unfortunately, they are made with BPA. So, for the first two months of Emory’s life, he was being served pumped breastmilk from a bisphenol A-lined plastic bottle. What’s more, the more you heat them up, the more the chemical leaches from the plastic and into the milk. (I use our electric kettle to heat water. I then dip the bottle into a mug for a few minutes.) Eventually, we remembered all the plans we had and ditched the plastic bottles for the glass ones.

Along with retiring the Dr. Brown’s bottles, we’ve gotten rid of our Brita filter, our plastic french press (replacing it with a glass one). We’ve stopped drinking anything out of plastic that includes all store bought bottled water. I figured the tap water here in Brooklyn will do us just fine. (We do drink it every time we go out to eat and I haven’t ever once used the Brita to filter our ice.) We’ve been drinking tap water for 2 months now and neither one of us has had any unwanted leakage or strange bellyaches.

We now avoid all cans lined with the BPA. (Canned tomatoes are a big culprit.) Thankfully, we never purchased baby formula lined with it, but it is out there. I have read conflicting reports as to whether Medela’s bottles are BPA-free. (I do not think they are entirely BPA-free but I’m hoping someone reading this might be privy to that information.) Medela bottles are entirely BPA-free. Thanks to a commenter for clearing that up.

When you start looking for it, you’ll find that BPA is everywhere. It’s in everything with a recycle number 7 on it. It’s in cellophane, tupperware; It’s even found in pacifiers.

The good news is, many people seem to be catching on. It seems more and more organizations are coming out with alternatives. Born Free makes plastic bottles that are bisphenol A free. (We purchased a few of these bottles just last month.) Natursutten, came out with a BPA-free pacifier. Brita hasn’t caught on yet, which is frustrating. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how America got off on such a filtered-water tangent to begin with. I remember when it happened but I’m not sure how or why. It seemed that all of a sudden, people decided the tap water was no longer safe to drink. Perhaps the bottled water corporations such as Pepsi and Coke had a lot to do with it? Either way, drinking bottled water and water pushed through a filter first seems silly and excessive to me, unnecessary even. And wouldn’t it be ironic if we finally discover that the plastic we’re using is more detrimental to one’s health than the water being pumped through our pipes?

By now, I’m certain that many of you have rolled your eyes at least once during this post. And I’m OK with that. I know I annoyed the crap out of some folks after we ordered an organic mattress. But I invite you to take a minute and answer one question:

If we are able to cut down on the amount of chemicals we unnecessarily pump into our children, don’t you think that we should?

It took months worth of research for me to get behind vaccinations. The more research I did, the better I felt about immunizing my little guy. The opposite can be said for BPA. The more I read, the more wary I become of its role in our everyday lives.

I don’t expect everyone to get on the anti-plastic bandwagon. But I might suggest doing the research on your own and then deciding for yourself. After all, the government doesn’t always have the best interest of the individual in mind.

If there is one thing I have learned in the past year that I can state with absolution, it’s that this parenting thing takes constant research.

Help Us All

Huckabee won in Iowa last night. Obama won as well.

Huckabee? Are you kidding me? Come on, America!

Huckabee’s win is more than surprising to me, shocking even. If he does become the Republican candidate in the general election, we’re going to see more and more of his past come to light. Of course, it may be too late by then (for Republican voters).

Here is how Huckabee feels about a woman’s role in marriage.

“I affirm the statement on the family issued by the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention.” The family statement from the SBC was: “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”

Huckabee carried Republican women voters last night, picking up about 40 percent of women Caucus goers. Romney got 24 percent.

Huckabee doesn’t believe in evolution and instead believes God set things in motion, that there was a “creative process”.

“If you want to believe that you and your family came from apes, I’ll accept that… I believe there was a creative process.”

When asked about the evolution question he said, “I’m not sure what in the world that has to do with being president of the United States.”

I’d say a clear misunderstanding about science has much to do with being president. Considering he has very little grasp on what evolution even is, and he and his administration would become responsible for the education of our children, I shudder to think what he’ll do to and in our public schools.

Evolution is not about developing from apes, Huck! That simplified, stupid cartoon is nothing more than a lazy rhetorical device.

I’m flabbergasted that such a man made it this far. And the fact that he did so on the female vote, scares me even more.

Fellow Democrats (and Dem-leaning indys): we need Edwards to be our Democratic candidate.

Kerry wasn’t electable. A lot of Democrats felt someone let the air out of their tires 4 years ago after Bush won for a second term. It wasn’t that everyone loved Bush, it was that nobody liked Kerry.

I really believe that if it comes down to a white guy like Huckabee and a white woman or a black man, the knee jerk reaction, Democrat, Independent or Republican, will be to vote for the white guy. I agree with many that Obama is great, I may even vote for him. But is he electable? Put your personal feelings aside and really ask yourself that.

Sure, he won the Democratic majority in Iowa but will he win a general election? I say the same thing about Hillary. As much as I like her (I read her book many years ago and from that point on I have a soft spot in my heart for Hillary, in spite of her many flaws) I fear her electability.

While I’d probably enjoy seeing Hillary or Obama go head-to-head with the Republican I really think Edwards is our most electable candidate. No matter what happens, please, please, please don’t tell me that Huckabee is going to be the next President of the United States.

I just had a son. This idea makes me very uneasy.

Edited to add: My thoughts have changed over the course of the day. Perhaps Obama is electable. I hope that he is. I look forward to what he has to say and am excited to see where his campaign goes. Also, if he does get it, I suggested getting Kucinich for VP. heh

Browsers Anonymous

Recently, TobyJoe and I were discussing the role of the Internet in our lives. It seems that every holiday or vacation or similar break from our daily patterns leads to an awareness of how much time we spend online and how little it really does to better lives.

My use of the Internet borders on an addiction. I can’t help but wonder what purpose, if any, it serves. I can’t help but wonder about the potentially negative side-effects.

I hate the phone. I have a cell because we have no landline. I have lived without my cell phone for periods in the past and didn’t miss it one bit. I washed one and tried to dry it out using silicone and the freezer. It worked, but only halfway: I could hear callers, but couldn’t speak. Eventually, after 4 long weeks, I gave up and purchased a replacement. I lost that one within a week to the back seat of a cab. Never saw that again. The cabby probably gave it to his niece or girlfriend since it was hot pink. Living without my phone was kind of awesome, to be honest. I made plans the old fashion way. No one called during inopportune times. I received phone calls at work. My nights were free from ringing. I enjoyed it. I barely answer the phone to begin with. I am not sure why we pay for it. It’s actually a huge waste of money.

But the Internet – ahhhh, the Internet. I noticed today that it’s slammed. Sites are slow as molasses if they are running at all. It took me 2 hours to post to MamaPop today. (TypePad was down.) Flickr’s been iffy at best and Twitter is stumbling like it normally does. Even my site was down for most of the morning. After nearly 2 weeks away, it seems the entire world is catching up on their long lost lover: the Internet. I am guessing by the slowness of things, there aren’t many people out there whose New Year’s resolutions included giving up the Internet. God forbid anyone live without the Internet. And that got me thinking: could I quit the Internet?

I gave up smoking. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever given up. Ever. I hate it now. I hate that people do it. I hate the smell. I actually think it’s one of the dumbest things anyone could ever do to themselves. I kicked it good and hard. That habit is gone forever. I realize that smoking would have killed me had I not quit, which is why it became urgent that I do so. But how about incessant surfing? How about refreshing the same old Web sites over and over again? What does that do to a person? What does all this refreshing, button mashing, blog posting, comment leaving, site reading do to us? Does it fuel anxiety? Does it make us lazy, less likely to get out of the house? Go to Yoga, the gym? Does it keep us from taking our kids for a walk?

Does the Internet attract people who already have anxiety or does it create it for people who may feel perfectly OK otherwise? Does the Internet attract the depressed or create the depression? When will there be psychiatrists who suggest people spend less time on the Internet; groups for people who need support; doctors who ask how much time one sends on line? When will this catch up to us?

Naked Rape Beef

On Friday afternoon TobyJoe got a phone call from our ISP (internet service provider). The caller works in the “sensitive material” department and called to inform TobyJoe that they had received a phone call from an international crime agency stating that one of the photos on mihow.com was being used on a Web site for pedophiles operating out of the Netherlands. In typical Michele fashion, I completely freaked out. I told Toby to take the site down immediately. And in typical TobyJoe fashion he calmed me down telling me not to do anything too irrational and let him take care of it. I then suggested he remove every single photograph from mihow.com, even the ones of trees, empty bar stools, scones and cats. But he reminded me that if we were to do that, my Web site would look like crap. I’ve been taking pictures for 6 years. Letting it be overrun by a bunch of red Xes is not the most appealing option.

Late Friday I put up a graphic on Flickr letting people know that something was wrong. I didn’t really give any details and I’m regretting that now. Because the email I received in response have been filled with some pretty creative assumptions. No, we are not being stalked by an actual person. No, I am not in any physical danger. It’s creepy stuff, but we’re not in any harm. It’s just very disturbing, receiving a phone call like that. I’m sorry I wasn’t more specific. I didn’t want to cook up any Internet drama so I tried to keep it simple. In doing so, I think I created more. And I am sorry about that.

TobyJoe and I have discussed this. For now, we’ve turned off hotlinking, which means people can no longer link directly to my images making it harder for people to feature them on messageboards (which happens all the time but never for something this disturbing) and on personal Web sites. That fix works for now. It doesn’t stop people from taking screen caps of each image and hosting it themselves, but it works for the time being.

We also discussed password protecting this Web site. I’m not sure I want to do that. I have my reasons for keeping it public but I won’t go into it here. (Perhaps I will in the comments section.)

TobyJoe spent Friday night digging through our logs to find out when the picture had been linked. The photo went up on that board on September 20th, 2007. (As an aside, the crime agency really is doing its job. It didn’t take them long to let our ISP know about it. One must wonder what they’re cooking up. Either way, I feel a little better knowing they’re out there.) It took us a while because the image was a bit older but we found it and promptly removed it. It has been replaced with a great big “F*CK YOU, PERVERTS. YOU’RE SO PATHETIC.” (Not that the messageboard will see it since hotlinking is disabled, but if they visit google again and search for a specific string that’s what they’ll see now. And let me tell you, that image turned up for all sorts of sick search variations. I am disgusted with Google. For example, say you have a picture of your dinner with the caption “Nice Roast Beef”. A person may find your image by searching “Naked Rape Beef” not that I know what that means. Basically, you don’t even have to have the word “rape” on that page and Google will find it because, hell, it’s close enough!)

So we ordered a pizza pie and ran a couple of Ruby scripts and we extracted every single IP address (all 585 of them) that hit that particular messageboard thread. And for about 30 seconds today, I posted each and every one of them here. And then we realized that in doing so we were potentially putting ourselves at an even greater risk especially since said pedo board is important enough to be watched by an international crime organization. And the last thing I want to do is piss off a bunch of pedophiles. So, I took all the IPs down. (I have half a mind to send the unedited version of this post to NBC. They seem to enjoy outing pedophiles. We have no idea what to do with all these IPs if anything at all. And some of them are from the U.S. Remember, this is a private messageboard run by pedophiles for pedophiles. If someone’s a member, that someone is the real deal. They’re not just there for the “articles”.)

From now on many of my Flickr pictures are going to be marked as “For Friends and Family.” If you want to see the photos, please let me know. If I know you personally or trust you because I’ve seen you around these parts enough, then I’d be happy to add you to my contact list. It sucks that it has to be this way but I’m not willing to take the risk especially since I/we can’t control hotlinking over there.

And in regard to mihow.com? I’m still not sure about its future. I feel a little less insane about the whole thing today but I’m still not sure the blog is worth it and posting pictures of anyone scares me. I’m responsible for another life, a life I would give my own for. Do I kill the blog? Do I only write? Do I turn it into something else entirely? Do I sell the domain to the highest bidder? (heh) Do I take a break and figure it out? Or do I just realize that this is the way the world works and hope the US government (and NBC) is taking care of us at least with regard to online predators.

I guess this is an explanation as to why I acted the way I did on Friday. It’s also an obvious reminder to those who post photographs of children and believe they are being viewed innocently online. In the wrong hands, the pictures of your children may be used as fodder for something dark and disgusting. And at the rate things are going, the only people who’re going to feel safe online in a few years are going to be the pedophiles, a couple of MySpace users, and the Kool-Aid drinking, tinfoil hat wearing religious zealots.

Update: Tuesdays with Murray will be back next week!

The Hobo Nest

About a week ago I noticed what appeared to be a perfect nest in the empty lot behind our house. The only difference between this nest and a bird’s nest was its size. It’s bigger than an aboveground pool. It was constructed by a human being.

Of course I found the nest really amusing. I made mental notes how it changed from one day to the next. One day it’d be empty, the next it’d have a red blanket and the next day a bunch of empty vodka bottles and big black trash bag. I even wrote a song about the hobo nest and sang it to Emory. I showed Emory the nest and told him that as long as his father or I was alive he’d never find himself in that position.

The nest by itself was really quite funny. Even when the owner of the nest showed up late one night and began yelling, it was funny. At that point he was nothing more and an irate, drunken voice. We pictured one of Greenpoint’s many, many drunks. There are just so many of them living here. (Seriously, if you were to walk down Manhattan Avenue or through Mcgolrick Park on any given day, at any given hour, you’d see at least a dozen of these men and women. There are more of them living here than anywhere else I have ever been. And for the life of me I cannot figure out why. Greenpoint even puts Washington, DC to shame.)

Last Friday night he passed out and was rudely awoken by the jubilant sounds of the bachelorette party next door. He began screaming obscenities at the girls. They were skinny dipping in the aboveground pool out back. His ranting completely cancelled out the squeals coming from the women. Toby watched from our window and when he told me about it the following morning the both of us cracked up laughing. He said, “You have to be really down and out to tell a bunch of naked polish girls to keep it down so you can sleep in a nest of sticks.” And I found that statement brutally funny.

But then Monday morning came and I was finally able to put a face to the nest and all the drunken belligerence.

I watched him clean up the trash that lay around his nest. He deliberately picked up each and every piece of garbage and put every last morsel into a black trash bag.

I called Toby.

“The hobo is here.”

“Yeah. Have you checked your camera? I took some shots this morning while he was sleeping. I thought you might be interested to see who’s been living there.”

“Yeah, I am looking at him right now. He’s cleaning up. And it’s not all that funny anymore.”



We sat there in silence and I watched him pick up more trash from the parameter of his nest. He had done more for the environment in those five minutes than most New Yorkers do in an entire year.

“Is there someone I can call?”

“Not the cops. They won’t do anything. Even if they do show up, they’ll just throw him out.”

“How about 311?”

“You could try that.”

I hung up the phone and watched him finish cleaning. He put the trash in the bag and the cans and bottles in a small shopping bag. And then he walked toward the street and stopped a couple passing by. They were collectors – the folks who wheel carts around brooklyn and collect (steal?) recycling from our trash cans to make a couple of bucks. He handed the couple the recycling he had collected. And under different circumstances I would have found the exchange heartwarming.

Yesterday the guy had a friend over. And then proceeded to drink until the point of absolute oblivion. I have no idea where the alcohol came from or how they managed to buy it, but they had at least two bottles of booze. They were visibly drunk and screaming at one another. (The sound of stray, feral cats and drunk hobos has become my daily soundtrack.) When I told Tobyjoe about the friend and all the yelling he said, “Maybe someone got too close to his hobo eggs.” And I laughed.

But it wasn’t really funny.

Like the time we watched an alcoholic collapse in the street during a seizure, face down into a gutter at 9 AM on Bedford Avenue and a couple of people watching nervously chuckled.

That wasn’t particularly funny either.

And the time another local drunk decided that if his mother wouldn’t turn on the AC he’d cool off another way. He stole the keys to her minivan, got into the parked car, and passed out beneath the cool air. And when the van finally ran out of gas and the AC inevitably died, the drunk cooked himself to death. It was the hottest week of 2006. His mother thought he was on another drinking binge. But by the time she realized he was missing, the smell had already permeated the street. And as the story excitedly spread throughout the neighborhood and people covered their truly horrified smiles with their hands re-realizing that their very worst days were far better than his very best, well, that wasn’t really all that funny either.

I’m not going to get all PC and write about all the things I’d like to do in order to help this man and the countless others just like him. I’m not going to write about how much I care or how this sort of thing keeps me up at night. Because it really doesn’t anymore. I’m not going to write about how every day that I continue to live here my threshold for tolerating human suffering changes. I’m not going to talk about how numb I’ve become or how tired I am. And if there are any other New Yorkers reading this, perhaps you can relate. There’s not much that can be done for this man. Like myself, you’ve probably had delusions of grandeur before, maybe even made a call or two. It doesn’t take long to realize that our local law enforcement – even those whose job it is to help people like him – feel as hopeless as we do. Sure, you can give these people some cash for food and they’ll spend it on a bottle of vodka or a bag of crack. You can give them your leftovers from dinner and sometimes they throw it back at you because that’s not what they wanted. You can make a phone call and deal with a bunch of bureaucratic red tape and then no one comes out anyway.
Eventually those bubbles of grandeur get popped. It may take months. It may take years, but eventually you stop making the call.

And for those of you reading this who live somewhere less urban, I probably seem pretty callous right about now, cruel even, heartless. I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise, even if I had the energy you probably wouldn’t believe me. It all sounds so damn trite when I hear it written in my head. I have read it on blogs a thousand times before – ways we’re going to change the world, point fingers at where everything went wrong and whodunit – and nothing changes. (Armchair politics? Isn’t that what it’s called? Guilty as charged.) It reads like pure regurgitated bullshit and I’m sick of regurgitating bullshit.

So, you won’t find any of that here. Not today. I’m not going to pretend. Instead, I’ll just tell it like it is, like it has been since the day I moved to Greenpoint.

We have a man living in our backyard. He’s built a nest out of sticks and bushes. He’s sick with alcohol (or lack thereof) and will most likely die sometime in the next couple of years. And if he’s lucky someone will notice he’s gone before he starts to smell. But if it’s the smell that leads someone to him, I do hope that they care more about the fact that a man is dead and less about how they’re going to deal with getting rid of the smell.

Nope. None of this particularly funny at all.