About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Internet Boundaries, or the Lack Thereof...

Boundaries. We all need them. Life would be horribly chaotic (and dangerous) if we didn't heed them. We have stoplights and speed limits to prevent ourselves from killing each other (more often) with our cars. We don't walk in on people when they're in the bathroom or their bedrooms because we generally agree some actions are private. We don't read each other's mail. We generally don't ask each other how much we make or how much our houses cost. Our laws stipulate how old you have to be to go to school, vote, drink, drive, smoke, or have sex with somebody older than you. Most of us agree that the laws are intended to protect youth, as well as to acknowledge that some activities belong in an adult realm, not a child's. Some privileges must be earned -- either by simple maturity, or by tests. While we recognize that cultures define what is private and what is public -- and that these definitions often have flaws -- all cultures have this distinction. Boundaries keep us civilized.

Most of us know that boundaries are challenged constantly by cultural change. Most people my age, for instance, grew up calling all adults "Mr." and "Mrs." Yet most people my age do a double-take if a child addresses us that way now. NONE of my children's friends use a title in addressing me. Yet, even though I always ask adults how they prefer my children to address them, I know only one my age who requests children call her "Mrs. (last name)". Predictably, my kids think that's weird. In contemporary culture, it is no longer normative for children to address adults with a title. I'm not sure that's good for kids, but it's true.

However, I think the internet poses a much more alarming assault on boundaries. While a friend of mine complemented me last week by claiming that I am "farther along than her" in knowing the new etiquette of interaction, I think that's probably not true, or at the very least, I do not consistently honor boundaries that I should.

I have written before that the internet tempts me to the "dark side," meaning that I have searched for information on the internet that was none of my business, and have "lurked" in chat rooms, reading other people's discussions on crap that interests me. Before the dawn of the internet, I would have had to hire a private investigator (which I never could have afforded and never would have thought to do). Now, it is WAY too easy to know stuff that is, honestly, none of your (my) business.

Think about that: the internet has busted boundaries between private and public unlike anything else. And it takes a person with ENORMOUS self-control to avoid using the internet in inappropriate ways. (And I'm not talking looking up porn -- that's a whole other discussion -- I'm just discussing looking up facts about people that perhaps you shouldn't ask.)

I do not, for a second, think that my internet behavior makes me unusual, or dangerous. However, people who ARE dangerous use it the same way, and it is alarming how much you can learn about people (even non-famous people) by googling them.

A couple of (slightly funny) examples from the past week further illustrate the problem with internet boundaries.

Somebody I kinda know runs a fansite for somebody I kinda admire. She tweeted (I follow her on twitter) that fans should ask her questions and she'd answer them. Rather than sending her a tweet, I sent her a private email asking her something that, honestly, I know is not my business. (I said so in the email.) I admitted in the email that I occasionally google this question, but with no found answers. So, did she know? She answered me that she never googles such info because that's just not her business. I deservedly felt a little low...and I haven't googled that particular person or question since.

Why the hell was I behaving that way? I can make up all sorts of excuses ("I am such a baby nut, I just want to know if she had the baby"), but the bottom line is: the internet tempts people to look for answers to questions they shouldn't even ask, because *sometimes* the answers are there.

Another example: I noticed, on Twitter, that suddenly a certain TV star had an account. I looked briefly at his postings and figured that maybe it wasn't really him. (There are plenty of imposters out there.) So, I didn't follow him, even though a few days ago the account was public. (To those of you not on Twitter -- when an account is public, you can follow that person simply by clicking on the follow button, though, of course, people you attempt to follow can respond by blocking you.) Today, however, I noticed that his account is suddenly private. Turns out -- there's a good chance it IS him and now, if I want to follow him, I have to send a private request.

But should I? I don't know him! But in the new world of ever-changing boundaries, many people will send him follow requests, and he'll have to decide who to allow and who to block. Where is the boundary here between public and private? Is it simply personal choice? In Twitter, at least, that seems to be the answer.

An example from Facebook: somebody that I follow (one of the "semi-famous" I've referred to before) always posts very thought-provoking updates. This week, one of her updates sparked a particularly lively discussion, during which some rude things were said back and forth about meat-eaters and fur-wearers and the importance of consistency. To make a LONG story short, she responded to her (admittedly rude) responses in a way that made me question whether she was behaving appropriately for somebody who is a public figure. I sent her a private message, suggesting that perhaps another approach is in order, given her status. She responded SUPER-kindly back to me, actually thanking me for "lovingly putting her in her place."

Oh my God! Why did I think I had the right to do that? True, I did it privately, but still! I'm glad to say that it seems to have turned out alright, and I assured her she has every right to put me in MY place, should she see the need.

The point here is the lack of boundaries, and where they lie in public forums. What is permissible to say?

Another example: in a certain TV chatroom, there has been a LONG discussion about a certain star's anatomy, as well as admission from somebody who met this person that she groped his rear while having her picture taken with him. If this isn't a good example of busted boundaries, I don't know what is. It's wrong on many levels -- to grope somebody's ass you don't know, for starters. And then to post about it in a public forum!

I should have stayed away from the discussion, I know. But, the dark side tempted me again, this time to say, "Don't you guys worry about how you're perceived? Do you want the rest of us who read these posts to think you have no boundaries and no respect for the guy?" Predictably, I got both a personal message back from one of them (apologizing), and a public scolding from the other, claiming that it was all in fun and that OF COURSE they respect him.

Hmm...so respect in contemporary culture can include groping somebody and then blogging about it?

I have so much to learn.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beauty or Health?

I read, on a Twitter post, that every morning, the average woman uses 12 different products, containing 126 different chemicals or substances, before she has her first cup of coffee.

Being the skeptic/curious mind that I am, I went over to the blog where this tweet originated ("feelgoodguru.com") to check out the source of this info (a book called, Slow Death by Rubber Duck). Since I haven't read the book, I cannot comment as to its content or accuracy, but feelgoodguru's tweet about the book got me thinking about my own beauty routine (or lack thereof).

Could it be possible, I wondered, that somebody as low-maintenance as me could use that many different products before having a cup of morning coffee (which, by the way, I never skip)? Just how many different ingredients are in the products I *do* use?

First, to define "low-maintenance." Providing that no child interrupts me, I can be ready to leave the house in under 30 minutes. I rarely wear makeup. I don't bother with hairdryers unless it's *really* cold outside, or I'm having a picture taken (like that happens so often...), or I'm due for a job interview. I do not own a curling or straight iron. I rarely wear fingernail polish, though I do polish the toes during sandal season. I generally don't use hair care products beyond shampoo and conditioner. I do color my hair a few times a year and I regularly have my eyebrows and lip waxed. (If you're a brunette woman over 30 who doesn't need to do this, I'm insanely jealous of you.) All in all, it seems to me that by modern beauty standards, I'm pretty much a low-maintenance woman. So, how many products could I possibly use?

Well, I surprised myself. On a daily basis, I use the following six products (number of ingredients in each follows): Trader Joe's non-aluminum deodorant (19), hotel soap (estimated 13), Market of Choise bulk shampoo (estimated 18), Market of Choice bulk conditioner (estimated 17), Tom's of Maine Fennel toothpaste (11), and Eucerin facial moisturizer with sunscreen (25). Some days I also use generic contact solution (7), generic flouride rinse (18), Suave body lotion (28), Crest whitening strips (8), Aveeno regular sunscreen (5), Off! bug spray (4), Opi nail polish (estimated 13), generic nail polish remover (9), Clinique mascara (5), Clinique eye liner (13), and L'Oreal lipstick (27). On REALLY RARE occasions, I might use Tea Tree hair gel (17) or Unite's straightening product (23). On the most DESPERATE of days, I might also wear L'Oreal True Match foundation (25). Occasionally, I'll spray on a little perfume, however, since Chanel #5 is such a closely guarded secret, I have NO idea what it contains or how many ingredients it has. Perhaps fortunately, wearing perfume is a rare event for me.

So...on a typical day, I use six products containing a total of 103 ingredients. On my most high-maintenance day (a true rarity), I might use as many as 20 products containing a total of 307 ingredients.

Full disclosure: since this is a thought piece, and not meant as a source of scientific information, I cheated a little in my calculations. For instance, some of these products have similar ingredients, so to be *completely* accurate I should have made sure I didn't double- (or triple- or quadruple-) count any one ingredient. I wasn't that careful, so these estimates might be a little high. Also, I had to look up ingredients for some things on the internet, since I no longer have the original packaging for my makeup or my shampoo and conditioner (I buy them in reusable containers). I'm relying sources of info that sometimes aren't so trustworthy.

I'm pretty sure I don't need to worry about "purified water" as a lead ingredient; in fact, I am qutie sure there are many ingredients that are relatively harmless. But the point here is (hopefully) obvious: whether the number is 80, or 103, or 126 or 307 -- that is a HELL of a lot of ingredients to be putting on or in one's body.

If I remember middle school biology correctly, skin is the body's largest organ. So applying all these ingredients to that organ allows the body to absorb a whole lot of things that may not be good for it. (Indeed, one of the main points of the Slow Death by Rubber Duck is that we need to detox ourselves. According to what I've read about the book, the authors sequestered themselves in a room, subjected themselves to all sorts of common household products -- not just beauty products -- and then had their blood and urine drawn, with some alarming findings. That's as much as I know about the book.)

Armed with only this minimal information, I have to ask myself: What part of my "beauty" routine am I willing to give up (in the name of health, of course)?

Toothpaste might be the first to go. As I recall, you can brush your teeth with baking soda. It's cheap, "natural," and (I believe) fairly effective. That would shave 10 ingredients from my beauty routine, though I have to say I don't actually suspect my Tom's of Maine toothpaste to be a prime suspect in the crime of poisoning bodies.

Next to go might be deodorant. I mean -- really -- if you shower every day (and particularly following exercise), do you NEED deodorant? I'm thinking probably not. That would delete an additional 19 ingredients. However, as with the toothpaste, I don't actually suspect my Trader Joe's deodorant to be one of the leading offenders of toxicity.

Obviously, since I don't generally wear make-up, most days I've already deleted 70 ingredients.

I can also toss the hair gel/mousse and the straightening product. They only minimally improve the 'do. So that deletes another 40 ingredients.

I'm NOT willing to give up sunscreen, for reasons that I hope are obvious to anybody who has read the health news in the past twenty years. And for the half-dozen times I hike during a year, I think I can still use the bug spray. Last year, I witnessed my sister's summer of migraines following a mosquito bite; West Nile virus is worthy of avoidance, believe me.

I'm also not willing to forgo soap, shampoo, or conditioner. Civilization does, in my opinion, start with a basic level of cleanliness. I am, however, on the lookout for products that aren't tested on animals, work well, are healthy for you, and are environmentally safe. I found a cosmetic safety database called "Skindeep;" I'm going to start looking up my beauty/hygiene products on it and choosing the ones deemed "safer."

But I'm not giving up toenail polish because, well, I'm shallow and I have ugly feet. Polish marginally improves their appearance. And if I'm going to allow myself to color the hair and wax the lip, I might as well allow the polish.

Low-maintenance might be overrated, anyway. But health is not.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I have expanded my vocabulary. No, not with the words that I usually miss in a game of WordTwist (I *NEVER* remember the word "gnu". In fact, I still don't know what the word means.) Instead, my vocabulary expanded thanks to a Facebook discussion of "barbie mothers" and a Huffington Post article on "boob tape".

First, the "barbie mothers". My sister -- a perfectly nice-looking, professional, well-groomed woman -- lives in a part of Portland frequented by the high-heeled, spa-going, Prada-bag-carrying types. Not that there is anything wrong with those qualities, mind you, just that being in a room full of size 2, highlighted, lowlighted, pedicured, manicured, full-blow-out, full make-up, perfectly-dressed women can make the mom who shows up with the $9 Target purse, jeans, outgrown highlights and old Nikes feel a bit insecure. My sister was at a birthday party for a five-year-old (complete with pedis and manis for the children), stuck in a room full of these women, all of whom skipped the birthday cake in order to be "good." (My sister happily partook.)

Sis shared the experience on a Facebook post, complete with the story of one mother who, after learning my sister is a doctor, asked her for the name of a good "dermo" (dermatologist). My sister asked her what was wrong, thinking maybe she was worried about an odd mole. But, no, she just wanted something to lighten her freckles. Yes, we can't let somebody have freckles, now can we?

This story prompted a flurry of responses from my sister's friends, who (presumably) are sympathetic with my sister finding herself surrounded by those who think dressing for a kid's birthday party entails clothing worthy of a fancy outdoor wedding, complete with the Gucci purse and matching toenails and fingernails. My favorite comment was the following, "Did they all have the coveted lollipop look (big head, no body)?"

"Lollipop look" -- what a GREAT description of the barbie mothers!! Although, as I found out later in the thread, it *appears* that a few of them may have augmented a part of their anatomy in such a way as to only make them look more like a barbie doll. (To those feeling slow today: BOOBS.)

This prompted another great quote in the discussion, this time from my cousin: "I still have my original boobs." "My original boobs" -- what a great term! She went on to say that were she to find a lump, she'd get new ones. I'm with ya, sister! Too much breast cancer in our family for me to think otherwise. In fact, I know one retired plastic surgeon who spent the last decade of his career removing non-diseased breasts and replacing them with fake ones for women who were worried about their chances of getting breast cancer, based on family history. That, of course, is worthy of another blog. But I get *that* reason for getting new boobs. (If I'm honest with myself, I also have some sympathy for those who just want to look a little better; but still, wouldn't it be great if women just loved the bodies they had, rather than feeling they had to "fix" them in every way imaginable?)

This discussion of boobs brings me to the Huffington Post article on "boob tape," and thus to the other extension of my vocabulary. I've never used it myself, but the pictures of pretty starlets whose boob tape "slipped" got me thinking about the lengths women go to to look good. It's not enough to have the great boobs -- you gotta tape the clothing to them so that they look "right." And pity the poor soul whose clothing has the audacity to un-stick, leaving the unsightly double-sided tape showing in the picture.

I think I'll stick to my old jeans, nikes and t-shirts. No boob tape needed. No need to worry about the lollipop look. And (I am thankful to be able to say), I still have my original boobs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Obsessions, Take Two

This one is NOT about veganism or the environment. (Do I hear a collective sigh of relief?) It's also not about PETA, the Sea Shepherd, or questionable tactics. It IS about what counts as a "valid" obsession, and about the tension I live with in terms of being an academic with "trendy" or "common" interests, or at least, interests not generally shared with other academics.

My husband (an academic) has a bit of a thing for the New York Yankees. To be an academic and sports fan is not *that* unusual; he has several colleagues who are also similarly-obsessed (though not necessarily with the same team). He's a major fan. How major a fan, you might ask? Well, once when he was in Geneva, Switzerland, he somehow ended up jogging onto some embassy grounds (without ID on him, of course), and the guards didn't believe he was American until he named the entire lineup of the New York Yankees. Then they believed him. (To explain briefly, they didn't think he "looked" American. He has very dark eyes and back then, very dark thick hair -- in this mideast-suspicious climate we lived in then and now, they thought he might be middle eastern. Oh, scary!)

My husband thinks that my interest in CSI and CSI stars/writers is weird. He actually called me a "stalker" -- a term that deeply offends me -- simply because I keep track of what CSI people are doing. I countered that knowing all the stats of baseball players and being able to ENDLESSLY discuss various games and having to watch the game, the analysis, and then the reanalysis in the same day might just count as being equally obsessive. He didn't buy it. He thinks such behavior is "normal," whereas checking out reviews of plays that William Petersen is currently starring in is not.

(The husband also went into a bit of a fit about my "choosing" people to admire who aren't super-big, only semi-super-big -- would it be more acceptable, for instance, if I were a Brad Pitt fan? I didn't really get his point, and since I don't want to make him look too bad, I'm leaving that part of this experience out of this blog.)

This causes my muse to go into overdrive. It also recalls a conversation held in my kitchen earlier this year with some academic friends. They were discussing their favorite "low-brow" activities and started making fun of (non-academic) people they know that read fan fiction. Well, I do that. Then they started making fun of people who blog. Hmmm...I do that too. They they wondered out loud who in their right mind would bother Twittering. Three for three. Then they wondered who spent time on Facebook or MySpace. Well, I don't have a MySpace account, but I do love Facebook. Finally, I blurted out, "Well, I have a professional email, a personal email, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a blog and I read fanfiction." Dead silence. Finally, one of them said, "Wow, you are very competitive in low-brow activities." Laughter followed, but I didn't join in.

I find myself stuck between two very different worlds: the academic one and, for lack of a more descriptive term, the rest of the world. *Most* academics claim to both revile and distrust the blogging/twittering/facebooking/fan fiction-reading world. They have some pretty solid reasons: there are, indeed, a lot of people writing CRAP out there, as well as those spreading rumors and lies. You would, indeed, be a fool to believe a lot of it. And I'm the first to admit it takes some time to filter out who is worthy of following and who is not. I do understand the claim that some people just don't have the time for all this. Since I'm only working part-time, I do. Though, predictably, my academic friends and husband not-so-kindly remind me that I might get more "real work done" if I didn't do this.

I suspect the fact that blogging and tweeting makes writing less elitist might just make some of my academic friends a little uncomfortable. There are two ways to think about blogging and tweeting: it cheapens writing, or it democratizes it. Maybe they're both true, but either way, it's threatening to academics, who have been raised to believe that with their credentials, people should be reading THEM, not some blogger without a Ph.D. (For the record, I highly doubt that my possession of a Ph.D. makes people more likely to read me. If only that were so....)

Academics, traditionally, choose interests that go against the grain, or that somehow raise them up above the (uneducated) masses. Some academics undoubtedly will chafe at that description, but it seems honest to me. Their interests in politics, for instance, tend to be limited to liberal politics, conspiracy theories, and whatever the NYT has written.

In case you don't know, most academics consider the NYT the BIBLE. If you haven't read it, you're hopelessly backward and uninformed. If you read something else and thought it was legitimate, well you are sadly misled. (There may be a small window of acceptability for the LA or Chicago papers, and for the WSJ.) For the record, I like the NYT a lot, but I don't read it every day, nor do I think that's really a problem.

Academics also like music and literature; in general, the rarer, the more obtuse, the least trendy, the more classical. And maybe a little Madonna, because that's a "guilty pleasure." (Notice the word "guilty;" why should anyone feel guilty for liking what they like?) Oh, they also like whatever was reviewed positively by the NYT. You won't be surprised to know that I don't like feeling as if I need to refer to my American Idol interest as a "guilty pleasure."

They also like food. (Who doesn't?) Academics I know are particularly passionate about organic, locally grown, and unusual. On this score, I'm generally with them. Though I think I stand out among them for occasionally darkening the door of a McDonalds or a Taco Bell. I'm the devil in disguise, or not sufficiently socialized as an academic. I don't know which is more true. Perhaps both.

Academics also love to talk about their own fields (which often have limited audiences). I have sat through more dinners than I care to remember, listening to discussions of political interest groups, turn-of-the century immigrant laws, conspiracy theories of ALL kinds, election analyses, the eternal middle eastern mess, department pathologies, noisome students, and plagiarism cases. I grant you, it is all interesting. But sometimes I'd rather discuss a movie or last night's episode of Weeds, or hell, a funny blog I just wrote or read. I've learned that if you're with a group of academics, don't expect that. Instead expect to be put on the spot with one of the following: "Did you read the NYT article on....today?" or "What project are you currently working on?" (It's not acceptable to answer, "my blog.")

I love academics. They're generally interesting people, thought-provoking and knowledgeable. Most of the time, I'm glad to count myself among them. However, I *hate* feeling as though I have to apologize for what interests me, and I *hate* that some interests/obsessions are counted as legitimate in this crowd while others are labeled "low-brow." Honestly, what is the substantive difference between following a tv show or following a sports team? Chew on that, my friends!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Advising Babies

I spent two days this past week advising new students. In case I didn't already know, they are only 18 years old. Babies. Not that they'd want to know I perceive them that way, but the conversations I had with them about their course load and class choices told me so.

My job was to help them pick a first-term schedule -- make sure they picked courses that fulfilled some general or major requirements, and that were appropriate for their skills, given their SAT or ACT scores, or AP exam results. I was also supposed to help them choose some courses that excited them; we all know that what excites a student and what a student is required to take is often not the same thing. Particularly for first-term, first-year students at a big university, stuck with picking courses from those that are not already full.

Many of them wanted to take a course called "History of Film." Not surprisingly, that one was closed out long before they set foot on campus. For all I know, it was closed out before they got their acceptance letters. Another course that peaked interest but had no space available was a philosophy course called "Love and Sex." Lest anyone not know that kids like to watch films and think about sex, these course choices show it. It was a little hard not to laugh. I had to reassure them that these courses are so popular that they are offered every year, and that they will probably get another chance to take them sometime during their four (or five or six) years at the University.

Most students were concerned that they not be too challenged. I heard, from every one, "Is that going to be too hard?" They don't want to fail. Who can blame them? Nobody does, and everybody has heard that college is hard. And most of them know that their high school grades don't really reflect their ability; I saw way more "A's" than I should have been seeing, given the (more often than not) average test scores that accompanied those transcripts.

I found it disheartening to see so many students unsure of what they were capable of -- most said they wanted to avoid math, foreign language AND science, and if they could get away with courses that didn't require much writing, well, that would be good too, "because I'm not so good at writing." Hmmm...that's quite a lot to avoid in college.

Of course, I held their hands (almost literally) and assured them that people like them -- like me -- could get through college and live through the occasional wretched math or science requirement. And that -- gasp! -- they might find that a well-taught course in a subject they previously had no interest or ability in might peak their interest (and therefore their ability as well). And that there was nothing like focus and determination to get one through and that they could DO IT. Did I say I was a cheerleader? It goes with advising, I've come to find out.

Most of them left my table with a pretty typical first-term freshman schedule: philosophy of the social sciences, intro to sociology, writing 121, Math 111 and something like "disc golf" or "Hatha yoga."

Maybe they'll get the love and sex class next term. :)

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I'm stuck. I can't stop obsessing about veganism, vegetarianism, environmental issues, food issues, health. I guess, as far as obsessions go, I could do worse. But I do worry I'm boring my "readers" (all, oh I don't know -- five of you?). Those of you who have known me for awhile know I tend to do this -- get stuck on an issue, work it out to death, and then go on. I also do this with celebs and TV shows -- get stuck on one or read everything ever written about somebody, watch every show or movie that person ever did, and then move on. That parallel kind of disturbs me, but it's true.
If I'm honest with myself, it's how I arrived at my dissertation topic. Several years ago, for pleasure, I was reading Indian novels -- LOTS of Indian, Pakistani, Bangledeshi novels -- and then I moved on to articles and books written on South Asian immigrants. As I came up on the time when I had to start thinking of a dissertation topic, I knew I just HAD to find a way to do my dissertation on something South Asia-related. Only problem? I had just spent years prepping to be a medical sociologist, with a specialty in mental health, and with a young family and a husband with a very good job, it was unlikely I was going to India for field work. (I would have LOVED to have been able to do that.) I solved that dilemma by using second generation South Asians in a study of intergenerational conflict and mental health. After finishing the dissertation, my obsession was(almost)gone.

I suspect other people who have written dissertations have also experienced the near-total cessation of interest in their topic. After all, writing and defending a dissertation proposal, writing and defending an IRB proposal, designing a questionnaire, advertising a study, doing background readings, interviewing 33 people and transcribing two-hour long interviews for each, surveying over 100 people anonymously, coding data, and THEN writing a 300+ page document does induce weariness of whatever topic one chooses. And I didn't mention editing or total overhaul of chapters.

But I am nowhere near reaching that saturation point with my current obsession. Yesterday, I posted a question on Facebook about whether or not my friends agreed with me that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) occasionally crosses the line with their tactics. The answers I got back can basically be summarized as "I am leery of any organization that seems to believe that any means justifies the ends." That's my point of view.

For instance, I thought PETA was very rude to refer, in a Twitter feed, to the recently deceased Oscar Mayer as a "rotting corpse." No matter how much I may agree with them that, in hindsight, Oscar Mayer contributed to the proliferation of really awful-for-you foods, he has a family who is(I assume)grieving his loss. To speak of him that way (and to send a letter to Kraft foods suggesting that the Wienermobile be buried with him -- that I found in a PETA blog and in a Tweet) is just really low. Really immature. If I use a word common to PETA-supporters' generally immature vernacular, it was LAME.

In fact, I think the Weinermobile should be in a museum. Perhaps PETA could start one. The museum could document how foods have been chemically altered over time, often filled with things that are known carcinogens. The museum could use the Weinermobile to show how advertising often hoodwinks us into thinking things are OK that are absolutely NOT.

But Oscar Mayer need not be demonized; he was a product of his time -- nothing more, nothing less. The only thing really remarkable about him (compared to all other 95-year-olds who also died last week) is that he capitalized on the time much better than his peers. In this capitalistic society, we need to stop and remember that -- and remember that our society ENCOURAGES this. I doubt he was a horrible person, filled with the intention of poisoning kids. I doubt that very much.

I can't help but compare Mayer's capitalization via processed meats and simplified food preparation with what I see as the capitalization of MANY people on the general idea of "live your dream life now." I find this theme EVERYWHERE -- in my friends' businesses, in blogs, in bestselling books, on TV shows (most notably, Oprah), and in tweets. While this is a nice thought -- I don't disagree with it -- it's also something people are making money on. Some people are making LOTS of money on this general idea. Do you see the parallel to Oscar Mayer? I do. Different outcome, sure. But similar social pattern. It's a sign of the time, just as surely as packaging foods and creating machines to do all our work were the sign of the times 90 years ago.

Last night, I did a little research into two organizations commonly held up as iconic by vegan, vegetarian, environmentalist types. I read PETA's webpage (there are lots of subsections; I concentrated on what they say about themselves) and I did the same for the Sea Shepherd (of "Whale Wars" fame). My conclusion: the Sea Shepherd does a better job of explaining itself and of being less rhetorical, less inflammatory, less immature. Yet the Sea Shepherd' cause -- protecting wildlife, particularly ocean wildlife, enforcing whaling laws, conserving the oceans -- is prone to the libel "ecoterrorism," due to the fact that the crew actively attempts to intervene with whaling (and other) activities. PETA, too, is often criticized for its tactics. I happen to think, however, that PETA deserves more of the criticism it gets than does the Sea Shepherd. PETA could improve, IMHO, by being more polite.

Yesterday, I found a poem, written by the Captain of the Sea Shepherd and posted on his MySpace page. I reposted it to Facebook. While kinda funny, it was not a great response to his critics. (My friend called it "lame.") Yeah, it was. That's why I went over to the webpage itself; what is there is NOT lame. I suspect a lot of people who call the Sea Shepherd names have not taken the time to check them out in detail. Do it.

I remember, several years ago now, finding a little interview with Jorja Fox (of CSI fame -- my current TV show obsession) regarding PETA. In the interview, she describes PETA's "rock and roll" personality. In describing them that way, she seemed to suggest that their tactics are "cool," defensible, and I am VERY sure that a lot of people follow PETA (and the Humane Society and the Sea Shepherd) because Jorja is an advocate of those organizations. I'm not dissing the organizations or the celebs; I don't begrudge Jorja her opinion. But I do think all people -- moi included -- need to take a step back and REALLY look into organizations that are promoted by the people we currently admire. It's not enough to learn about their causes; after all, it's hard not to support the ideas of protecting animals and oceans. But tactics matter too. It's a good break on an obsession.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Facebook Weirdness

Since I'm not getting ANYTHING done yet today, I might as well blog...

That's a terrible way to begin an essay, I know.

Let's try this: in the past 10 months since I've been on Facebook, I've reconnected with many people whom I should have never lost contact with in the first place. I've also, very recently, added a couple "friends" who are semi-famous. Yeah, that's weird. I don't need to be told that. This internet stuff tempts people to the dark side, I swear.

So, here's the story. God's honest truth. I read the book Skinny Bitch (as you know if you've been reading my blogs). I also, roughly at the same time, was convinced by a friend to try Twitter, which I don't particularly like (which you also know, if you read my blogs). Somehow (and I truly do not remember the details here), I stumbled upon the author's Twitter feed. I decided to follow her. So far, so good. In the Twitter world, such activity is "normal." Boundaries, or the lack thereof, take on a whole new meaning in Twitterland.

About a week into my Twittering (or is it "Tweeting"?), the author mentioned on Twitter that she'd just updated her Facebook page and everybody should go see it. So, off I went, to my Facebook page, to look at her Facebook page, which of course I couldn't see because she's not my friend. So, I cautiously sent her a message, asking if she used Facebook for her fans or just for her personal friends, and adding that I would of course understand if it were just for the latter. She added me as a friend (she has, oh, 4000 or so) and so now she's in my feed and I'm in hers.

Copy and paste that story for two other semi-famous people, and you know the story of three of my Facebook "friends." We've never seen each other in real life and I doubt like hell they pay attention to my Facebook (or Twitter) updates. After all, they have, potentially, thousands to follow. But, it turns out, in real life, they actually know each other (as judged by their photos, where two of them in particular are often seen hanging out together at posh NYC and LA parties). I also doubt they look at my photos, but if they do: nobody famous appears in any of them.

Two of these people leave many posts (often per day) having to do with animal rescues, vegan recipes, animal rights, human rights rallies, gay rights, etc. I admire their work (otherwise I wouldn't bother to follow them or friend them). They are very strong animal-rights activists, human-rights activists, hyper-environmentally aware, and vegan. Add to that list attractive, glamorous, well-connected and evangelical.

If the last word catches you off guard, I intended it to. In most circles, *I* come across as quite liberal, very open-minded, relatively smart, well-educated and (as you know, if you've read my blogs), a food experimenter, most recently of almost-veganism. However, I've learned (unhappily) through commenting on some posts by aforementioned "friends" that I'm seen by their friends (and perhaps by them, too, though I'm not sure, since they generally don't comment on their own posts) as hopelessly backward, uninformed, "speciesist," and cruel.

One part of me (the more sensible part?) knows I don't need to take these comments to heart. After all, they don't know me, and I don't know them, and it's OK to disagree and such. But another part of me (the part that wants everybody to like me?) feels terribly misunderstood and defensive. If I take a centrist position on a topic (as in, "some meat and dairy consumption is OK," or "some animal research, carefully conducted with well-screened protocols for animal safety, is justifiable"), I inevitably get chewed out by people who take the stand that the ONLY way to peace (HEAVEN / SALVATION) is through veganism (JESUS)and that animals have EXACTLY the same rights as people, and if you think that perhaps that's an overstatement, you're part of the (WORLDWIDE) problem, and that only they (the VEGANS / ANIMAL-RIGHTS ACTIVISTS) are going to take you there (Peace, or is it salvation?).

I can't help but think of the parallels with religion: if I were Jewish (or Hindu or Muslim, or Jain or...) and an evangelical Christian came up to me, lecturing about the ONLY way to get to heaven, most sensible people would tell that (albeit well-meaning) Christian to bug the hell off. Even as a Christian myself, I'd be at the front of the line, telling the evangelical to take her views elsewhere. Similarly, if a white person uttered some sort of racist remark to a non-white, there would (hopefully) be a throng of people telling that person exactly where to go. But there have been no such defenders of my (in my opinion) centrist-to-left positions on these threads. I'm left feeling beat up and tempted to call the evangelicals crazy, though in my leaning toward tolerance, I have refrained from such behavior.

I've decided to back away from commenting on these threads. I had hoped that a good conversation would actually start with one of my comments -- one that involves sensitivity to other points of view, or recognition that people start out at different places and take different journeys (which do not all end at the same locale). Alas, evangelicals are not long on seeing other points of view.

But do I regret these virtual friends? Not at all. I'm learning a whole lot (not the least of which is internet etiquette, which still throws me off now and then). But I am super-happy that the majority of my FB friends are people who really know ME. Love you guys!