E.J. Graff

So Much For The End of Men

Do you know what I dislike about presidential election campaigns? Okay, a lot of things. But among my gripes is the way presidential campaigns overshadow all other news, at least in the U.S. media. For months, the candidates’ every cough shoves everything else off the front pages and top-of-the-hour news summaries. Major news gets downgraded to fewer inches and minutes; other news simply disappears. Remember Syria , where there’s a civil war going on that in which people are battling a dictator? Did anyone notice that a new study links BPA – a chemical used in plastic food packaging –to childhood obesity? Oh, never mind, Paul Ryan got an intelligence briefing. And his eyes are blue. Yes, I get grumpy about it. I’m just not enough of a junkie to want to parse polls all day; it’s too much like debating sports scores, which are boring. I care about the election, but only because I care about the underlying issues— which are what I want to hear about, please. What kind of underlying...

Going to the Courthouse, and We’re Gonna Get Married

This morning, the Supreme Court did not decide to take Perry v. Hollingsworth, the California Prop. 8 case. According to the conference schedule, the Justices were supposed to discuss it yesterday. They didn’t actively decline to take it; they could still make a decision to hear it in the months to come. But at least for today, no news is good news. Let me explain. This year, almost every expert I’ve spoken to or seen believes that the Supreme Court will hear argument on some aspect of the marriage-equality question. What many LGBT advocates most profoundly hope is that SCOTUS will take up one of five current challenges to DOMA, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act—and will decline to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Perry. Although both the DOMA cases and the Prop 8 case touch on marriage for same-sex couples, the issues are quite different. In the DOMA cases, couples who are lawfully married in their home states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, and California (for a...

Free at Last?

(U.S. Archives)
150 years ago yesterday, President Abraham Lincoln released his draft Emancipation Proclamation , declaring that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." NPR has a brief exploration of some little-known history here , including this: … Lincoln didn't create this moment all by himself. Throughout the war, he was hearing from generals in the field about slaves who ran away by the thousands, hoping to join the Union army. They were telling the generals, "We are here to demand our freedom. And we know you are here for other reasons, but you can't ignore us. We won't be ignored." Lincoln's handwritten manuscript didn't stay in his possession for long. It was auctioned off in 1864, before the Civil War was even over, to raise money for relief efforts. The first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was sold? Who...

What Makes An Activist?

F aced with being despised and threatened, the normal human instinct is to hide. You keep your head down. You pass, if you can. If you can’t, you try not to draw attention to whatever it is about you that your government and your neighbors believe is evil. Throughout history, those who’ve tried to pass have had mixed success. Think about the maranos and conversos, the Portuguese and Spanish Jews who, facing the Inquisition, publicly converted to Christianity but privately still observed Jewish law. Or the light-skinned African-Americans who, during the long horror that was Jim Crow, left behind their darker relatives and became white . Or those East Germans or Czechs or Russians who hated the Soviet system but kept their heads down and their mouths shut, and tried to get by. But there’s always a troublemaker who can’t keep her mouth shut. Faced with hatred, she defies the government by agitating on behalf of the despised identity, working to change not herself but society. That’s the...

Is That a Boy or a Girl?

Photo courtesy of Andy Kopsa
Is that a boy or a girl? I’ve never felt comfortable with laws against hate crimes or with designations of particular groups as “hate groups,” which seem to me to come way too close to banning thoughts. After all, any assault is a hate crime. If a man beats someone nearly to death, what does it matter if he did it because she’s his girlfriend and he’s enraged that she spoke to another man, or because he spotted some stranger on the street kissing another girl? Whether he yells, “you cheating bitch” or “you fucking dyke,” aren’t his rage and his fists equally dangerous? And I believe so profoundly in individual liberty to believe and say anything, no matter how disgusting or repulsive someone else might believe it to be, that designating a group a “hate group” has troubled me profoundly. Call those groups liars, sure. Educate with the facts. But I’ve been queasy about the harsh categorization. But as I’ve learned about Mich’s beating in Kampala, which I wrote about here yesterday, I’ve...

One Day in Uganda

(Photo Courtesy of Andy Kopsa)
Two weeks ago, I heard from Andy Kopsa, an American reporter in Uganda whom I know glancingly as a colleague. While in Kampala reporting for The Washington Monthly on U.S. funding for faith-based organizations there, Kopsa found herself helping “a trans woman [who] was beaten to a pulp”—and who, Kopsa told me, had difficulty getting appropriate medical or police attention, again because she was trans. The beating was brutal, as you’ll read below. One man started it, and bystanders joined in. The police wouldn’t help. Doctors wouldn’t help. All these things are shocking to Americans. But as you will read later in this series, the only thing that stands out about this incident is that the transwoman, Mich, was willing to seek help. Uganda may not have passed a death penalty for homosexuality , but if LGBT people can be beaten ferociously and refused medical care, a kind of death sentence is in place nevertheless. Information for this week's three-part series comes from on-the-ground...

Way Down in the Hole

Every era has its great narrative art form, stories delivered via the au courant medium that simultaneously show us the small characters of individuals and the vast social panoramas that limn their decisions and lives. The Anglo-Saxons and ancient Greeks had epic poetry, its tropes, rhythms, and assonances perfect for delivery via roving troubador or bard. Urban Greeks and Elizabethans saw the peaks of their cultures’ theatrical drama, where everyone from the aristocracy to the masses gathered for social and moral insight peppered with bawdy jokes. Nineteenth-century England had its sweeping novels, ranging from Austen to ; the 1970s gave us Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Nashville, and their kin . We are living in the age of the great television series. From Hill Street Blues to The Sopranos , from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Rome , I know I’m not the only one who’s more eager to find out what’s happening with “my” characters and plotlines than to go see some cinematic blockbuster. (I might...

What's Up With Naomi Wolf's Vagina?

Relax, folks. I don’t have any firsthand experience with Naomi Wolf's Vagina , carnal or otherwise. Everything I know about it comes from what other people have told me. And let me tell you, am I ever grateful for those reviews, which tell me I never want to put my hands on it. In fact, as far as I can tell, the entire public purpose of Naomi Wolf, at this point in her brilliant career, is to be the target of other folks’ smart sentences. Let’s start by assuming that you’ve already got the basic outline and flaws of the book from Jaclyn Friedman’s review here . Every review I’ve seen has essentially the same gripes with the book. And can we take for granted that Naomi Wolf’s “feminism,” while it once may have had some political content, has now morphed entirely into narcissism, in which she mistakes her own emotions for meaningful thought? The Beauty Myth, the book that’s the foundation of her outsize reputation, rehashed things that had been written and said before by second-wave...

Ladies to Watch

I've mentioned here before that I'm an enormous fan of rising young editor Ann Friedman, whom I met when she was both an editor here at the Prospect and was involved in WAM! (Women, Action, and Media). Several people told me she was going to change the world, and I have come to believe it. She left the Prospect to become the editor of GOOD magazine, and made making it a must-read location on the interwebs until the owners of that online community changed its direction and fired most of the editorial staff. Since running a magazine wasn't enough to keep her occupied, she also created many smaller online projects that instantly went viral. If you like knowing about folks on the rise, Sam Meier has an excellent in-depth interview with Friedman over at PolicyMic. An excerpt: SM: I found something you wrote recently about work/life stories which target women. ... AF: It’s a self-perpetuating problem. If you say, OK, let’s talk about work/life balance only in terms that are gendered towards...

The 11th Anniversary of 9/11

I've been looking at the crisp blue sky and remembering when the world went silent. The unspeakable images—which we have not yet shown to our son—are seared into all of us who were adults, then. How strange is it that a generation of young people has come of age who were sitting on school buses or in schoolrooms that day, who didn't watch as hundreds of people burned cruelly to death, as New York City was coated with human ash? I don't know which is more horrible to me: the memory of that day as we sat in our living rooms or offices or kitchens watching the towers (and the people in them, and in the planes) burn and fall, the memory of the awful silence of the skies and the roads, filling up with the sickening knowledge that the United States would soon bankrupt itself going to war—or the next eleven years of war, torture, and the abrogation of our civil liberties. Eleven years of Guantanamo, and Bagram, and Abu Ghraib, and a Democratic president with an unauthorized "kill list," and...

How Does the President Justify Having a Kill List?

Have you ever heard of Ben Swann, a Toledo reporter/analyst on local Fox news? I hadn't. But someone pointed me to one of Swann's recent four-minute segments , "Reality Check," in which he asks Obama how he justified having a kill list that includes American citizens who've never been charged with a crime—and then concisely analyzes both the constitutional issues and the reasons the national news media are giving Obama a pass. It is well worth your four minutes of watching time. It left me wondering: Why doesn't every reporter demand answers in this way? Why isn't local TV news always like this? My lord, this is far more worth discussing than most of what we saw from Charlotte last week.

Third Night of the DNC: TV & Twitter Review

So the DNC gave us a week that got more and more sober as it went on. By last night, we were down and dirty with tough choices and grim policies. Foreign policy dominated the early part of the evening, with a salute to military veterans that had many in my Twitter feed commenting on how strange it was that the parties have switched places. The Republicans hadn’t even mentioned the wars or the veterans; as conservative Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted , “Really was malpractice, and wrong, for Romney not to mention troops in Iraq, Afghanistan in convention speech.” And so for a night the Democrats became the party of LBJ again, the party of a strong military and uncompromising attack. By the time Joe Biden trotted out his bumper sticker line, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!” the crowd chanted it with him. How strange was that: a crowd of Democrats cheering for someone’s head on a plate, and for a business bailout? Don’t get me wrong; I understand that both absolutely had to...

Second Night of the DNC: TV and Twitter Review

The early part of last night’s DNC TV show couldn’t match Tuesday night. As I wrote yesterday, that first night rocked out over the body issues: health care for all, equal pay for women, open LGBT military service, repro rights, equal marriage laws—the human values of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. The speakers preached, and the crowd roared. The night was, as Robert Kuttner writes, a full-on embrace of the social issues that the Republicans have been attacking for decades. You hate homos? We love them! You think women are lying sluts? We believe in women’s integrity! It was awe-inspiring and energizing. Last night’s implicit theme was It’s The Economy, Stupid. Union dudes and CEOs stood up and explained—well, I couldn’t tell you what they explained, exactly, because one after another, they were so boring that my eyes rolled to the back of my head and my wife insisted that we turn it down the volume to “inaudible hum.” As Molly Ball (@mollyesque) tweeted, “The...

First Night of the DNC: A TV & Twitter Review

Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology. (CNN political commentator Erick Erickson got roundly swatted for tweeting, "First night of the Vagina Monologues in Charlotte going as expected.") Whoa. Way to respect your lady viewers! But he was right about this: The Dems were indeed standing up for the ladies’ power over their own bodies and paychecks. Up on stage, the speeches were just on fire...

Gay Rights Are Women's Rights

As predicted, when the Democratic National Convention rolled out its platform today, we learned that one of the planks calls for marriage equality , along with a call for federal protection from being fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The marriage-equality plank signals a significant shift in the Democratic Party, a decision to work on behalf of me and my gal, for which I am deeply grateful. (Cue a gleeful Tigger, remembering how this would have sounded like science fiction to the Ohio 15-year-old with my name who was terrified when she realized that she was falling in love with another girl—terrified that she might be, you know, like the gym teacher .) Marriage equality won't exactly solve the problems of Darnell “ Dynasty ” Young, the Indianapolis teen who was kicked out of high school for carrying a stun gun after he discovered, painfully, that t he masculinity patrol is still alive and well. Dynasty’s mother bought him the stun gun when his high school did...

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