Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dipping News

We're sorry to bump the heart-warming Sad Boy with Dog photo from the top of the blog. Scroll down to the previous post if you haven't seen it yet. Download it to your desktop. Click on it once a day to remind yourself that life is worth living as long as you've got something to snuggle. Dogs are pack animals. We have a powerful bias in favor of snuggling, but so, apparently, do a lot of people. No less an authority than the poet Adrienne Rich has waxed eloquently on the subject of snuggling:
a touch is enough to let us know
we're not alone in the universe, even in sleep
--"Twenty-One Love Poems" (XII)
But we're not sleeping on the job here in Roxie's World, kids. I feel your restless fingers out there, clicking around in search of fresh content, so I've had my nose to the ground looking for a story that would make my legions of loyal fans sit up a little straighter in their desk chairs. (You shouldn't be slouching anyway, you know. It's not good for your back.) Our crack team of newspaper readers and internet crawlers went all the way to the breakfast nook this week to catch the Washington Post in a major factual error, and we decided to break the news right here in Roxie's World. Yes, it's true. Today you get not just snarky or sentimental commentary on news, events, or basketball. You get the truth -- and it's a truth that involves cucumbers and green food coloring. How many dog blogs offer you that?

(Photo Credit: Doug Kapustin, Baltimore Sun; 2006 Derby winner, Barbaro, deceased)

Permit me to explain. This coming Saturday (May 5) is Derby Day -- the day on which the 133rd Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Moose, as the loyalest of my loyal fans know, was born in Louisville and grew up just across the Ohio River in New Albany, Indiana, which is not nearly as glamorous as it may sound. Nonetheless, Derby Day was a very big deal in the social life of the town. Moose's family never went to the race, not being of the horsey set, but there was always a party, and the party always involved excellent snacks, copious drinks, and hours of collective effort trying to spot Cora Jacobs, a prominent local realtor, in the crowd at Churchill Downs in a large hat. Moose's family left New Albany in 1970, but they took the tradition of the Derby Party with them as they moved ever further northward in Indiana. So devoted were they to the cause of the Derby celebration that when word came one Derby morning that Moose's great-grandmother Mimi had died down in New Albany, the party went on. Mimi, everyone agreed, would have wanted it that way.

I digress. Every year around this time, newspapers and magazines not located in Louisville run stories on how to host a Derby party of one's own. The stories, which usually rely on the advice of a transplanted Louisvillian, always offer tips on what to serve (mint juleps), what to wear (the aforementioned hats), and how to set up a betting operation. For the record, Moose has never had a mint julep, but that may be because her grandmother was a teetotaler and her father was a beer drinker. The Post ran its story in the Food section this past Wednesday. (Here it is.) At first, Moose just rolled her eyes at the small bits of misinformation (the claim that local schools close for Derby Day -- when the Derby is and always has been run on Saturday) and the strange menu suggestions (Hot Browns are delicious, but they are more suited to a winter buffet than a celebration of spring). However, when her eye fell upon the recipe for Benedictine, a glorious green dip that has been served in her family for five generations, she choked on her coffee. You would have thought she'd just read that Bush's plan to get out of Iraq was to send more troops to Iraq.

Here's the thing. The Benedictine Moose slathered on the Ritz crackers of childhood and the Wheat Thins of adolescence was one of the simplest things in the world. It consisted solely of:
  • one cucumber, peeled, seeded, coarsely grated (and water drained off);
  • 8 oz. cream cheese (low-fat is fine, but no-fat sucks);
  • 1-2 tablespoons finely grated onion;
  • dash of green food coloring
Mix all ingredients together. Chill and serve with crackers or chips. Moose recommends Wheat Thins for excellence in dipping and that hint of salt, but some branches of her family prefer Pringle's potato chips. You know who you are, and you've been leaving broken bits of potato chips in the Benedictine for decades. Benedictine is also an excellent sandwich spread, by the way. Moose used to have it on white bread in her school lunches. One of the nice things about going to school in New Albany, Indiana is that the other kids didn't think she was weird for eating sandwiches made with green cream-cheese spread. You could buy Benedictine in the grocery stores in the Louisville area back then.

The recipe printed in the Post is an abomination of this elegant ideal. The local informant featured in the story adds mayonnaise, sour cream, and dill to the recipe, and, most shockingly, she omits the green food coloring! Moose wishes to make one thing perfectly clear (as she did in the indignant letter she wrote to the Food section on Friday): If it ain't green, it ain't Benedictine. That little dash of green is essential to this simple, delicious dip. The visual cue supplied by the color helps to bring out the flavor of the cucumber (even better than the salt added to the Post's version of the recipe), and on Derby Day it reminds party guests of the lush green grass of the infield at Churchill Downs. Leave out the food coloring, and all you've got is a boring party dip. Put it in and you've got a poem to spring.

Mind you, though, kids, you just want the tiniest drop of green in your Benedictine. If you overdo, it becomes a day-glo green that most folks are scared to eat. Except for Moose, of course.

To calm Moose's nerves from the shock of seeing a childhood ideal publicly perverted, Goose reminded her of the many horrors of the Guacamole Wars (with or without tomatoes, with or without sour cream, etc.). For the record, we are also purists on the subject of guacamole, though Moose will sneak in the tiniest pinch of salt if the avocados aren't at the peak of flavor. She says the secret to perfect guacamole is to make love to the avocado -- by which she means to touch it lightly and not glop it up with a bunch of other ingredients that get in the way of the wonderful flavor of the avocado. Moose, as I have said many times, is weird, with or without green cream-cheese spread on her sandwiches, but even the native Texan in our household lets her make the guacamole. She makes the finest guacamole in all the world.

Here are some other things you should be dipping into in the lovely days of late spring, as the Bush administration slowly crashes to the ground:

  • Bill Moyers' interview with Jon Stewart on his new PBS show, Bill Moyers Journal. Listen as Jon explains to Bill that his process is very similar to the creative genius of Roxie's World. "The important thing is," Stewart says, "that I guess I don't spend any time thinking about what I am or what we do means. I spend my time doing it. And, I think that's I -- I'm not trying to be modest or self-deprecating or in any way trying to do that." Moyers intervenes, "Maybe you don't know why..." Stewart jumps back in, "I'm just trying to tell you -- I focus on the task and try and do it as best we can. And we're constantly evolving it, because it's my way of trying to make sense of all these ambivalent feelings I have."
  • The truly terrifying video of Bush (and Laura) dancing at an event marking Malaria Awareness Day. We would embed the video, but we have standards here in Roxie's World.
  • Odd piece from the Post's "Outlook" section on a "holy-roller Democrat" who is running against Haley Barbour for governor in Mississippi. We want you to read it, because we want you to start thinking about how much you'd be willing to compromise for Democrats to start winning again in the South.
  • Good piece by law prof Cass Sunstein that offers an encouraging reading of the Supreme Court's recent abortion decision. He argues that Justice Ginsburg's dissent in the case, which argues in favor of a woman's right to reproductive freedom on the basis of equality rather than privacy, holds out hope for eventually gaining a more solid legal basis for the right to sexual autonomy.
Go take a walk, boys and girls. With or without a dog, it's a beautiful time for strolling and dreaming and dipping your toes into cool deep streams of thought.

Update: Take a listen to this NPR piece on the Derby by transplanted Louisvillian Laura Lorson, who mentions Benedictine but does not divulge her recipe for it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Creatures Comfort

(Photo Credit: Linda Davidson, Washington Post)

Here's the caption that ran on this photo in the Post: "Virginia Tech student Cody Diggs, pictured here with his Weimaraner Willie, said that after he heard about the shootings, he came home and just hugged his dogs."

Proving once again what we are so fond of saying here in Roxie's World: DOG IS LOVE.

Here is the story about how Cody and a couple of his buddies, who didn't know any of the victims in the Virginia Tech massacre or witness it, are trying to figure out how to feel and what to do in its aftermath. Paws up to the Post for its sensitive coverage of the shootings and the early stages of mourning and recovery. The stories have been moving but not cheaply sentimental, though I'm sure some cynics would say sad-boy-with-dog photos are about as sentimental as it gets. Fortunately, there are no such cynics in Roxie's World.

Peace out, kids. Moose can't type anymore tonight. She's thinking it's time to sit down and read the book she's teaching tomorrow.

P.S. The moms actually did go to Petsmart and get two new fish for us on Sunday, so we're back to the full Fab Four, though Moose and I can't tell Paul from George yet. We also put a net over the pond to protect the fish from marauding heron, at least until our plants leaf out.

P.P.S. Special thanks to Damion for tech assistance on this post. We bow before your skill at Image Appropriation -- and so much more.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Grief Work

(In which are strangely mingled some thoughts on the massacre at Virginia Tech and Mike White’s new film, Year of the Dog.)

(Photo Credit: New York Times, Candlelight Vigil, Virgina Tech, 4/17/07)
There is a pain -- so utter –
It swallows substance up –
Then covers the Abyss with Trance –
--Emily Dickinson
From the Department of Inter-Species Communication:

Roxie: Gosh, you humans have had a rough week.

Moose: Tell me about it, Rox.

Roxie: Turns out you can do something a whole lot worse than calling someone a “nappy-headed ho.”

Moose: Yep, you sure can. It’s apparently just a matter of finding a vest with enough storage space for your ammo.

Roxie: Can you explain to me why dogs, who rarely if ever kill people, are kept on leashes, while people with guns, who easily and regularly kill people, are allowed to roam free?

Moose: Nope. That’s one of the quirks of my species, particularly in its American incarnation, that defies explanation.

Roxie: Okay, well, look, I want you to go to the movies.

Moose: Movies?

Roxie: Yes, Goose is out of town, down there in Durham, without even a “Duck Fuke” tee-shirt to protect her, and if you don’t get out of the house you and I will start brooding on the subject of mass murder. Next thing you know we’ll be trolling the internets for images and commentary, greedily taking in every word of David Maraniss' achingly detailed account of the tragedy, and you’ll find yourself staring at that photo of a young killer with his arms outstretched and his two guns poised for action. You’ll start thinking about the psychology of response to such shocking violence, patterns of identification and disidentification. Identification: All young men, and perhaps all people, harbor violent thoughts, fantasies, dreams. It’s in the genes, the hormones, the dark, chaotic depths of the unconscious. What is the difference between the guy who goes off on a murderous rampage and that angry boy in the lecture class who asks the off-kilter questions and sends the vaguely creepy e-mails to the TA? It’s really just a matter of impulse control. Disidentification: “Thirty-two people and the gunman died,” says the newscaster, because it is reassuring to imagine that the killer is not even human, not like us at all. He is a monster – not a Diva Citizen but a Devil Citizen, who startles the public with demonic multimedia testimony of his imperiled citizenship. We watch but in this case refuse to identify with the tale of his suffering. He says we have his blood on our hands. No, no, no, we insist. His guns, his hands, not ours. Not us.

And while you are doing that, I will lie on the couch feeling that my leaky old heart might just break for love of you sweet, sad humans and all your stunning contradictions. I will close my eyes and imagine you and Goose and all the English profs I know and love standing at the front of your unlocked classrooms talking about Virginia Woolf or Tennyson or queer theory or Toni Morrison, and I will try not to imagine a gunman entering into that space on an ordinary morning. Five teachers died on Monday, and so now I must hope and pray that you are never called upon to take a bullet for your students. I implore the universe to send you plagiarists and stupid questions, anything but guns and blood and bodies in a heap on the classroom floor.

Moose: Stop it, Rox. You’re scaring me.

Roxie: I know. That’s why I want you to go to the movies. My legions of loyal fans are hurting enough. I don’t want to subject them to any more impossible questions and nightmares made real. Roxie’s World is a dog blog, dammit. I want to get back to dog stuff. I want to lick my readers’ stricken faces and remind them that Dog is Love. Get dressed and go see that new dog movie with Molly Shannon, and we can tell my readers all about it. Have some popcorn, with extra butter. You know that always makes you feel better.

Moose: Well. . . .

Roxie: Go on, get out of here! It's time for my nap.

[Several hours later.]

(Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner, Paramount Vantage)

Roxie: So, how was the popcorn?

Moose: Very buttery, and it was nice not to have to share it, though by the end of the movie I worried that my popcorn-hogging might be a sign of a deep flaw in my character.

Roxie: Huh? Does this anxiety have anything to do with Year of the Dog?

Moose: Yeah. Molly Shannon plays a character named Peggy Spade who is, shall we say, relationally impaired. She lives in a small, carefully arranged world, and she gets by in a pinched, on-the-edge kind of way, until something happens that disrupts her fragile peace. At which point she falls apart and becomes an animal rights activist.

Roxie: But what about the dog? Doesn’t the dog help her cope?

Moose: That’s the problem. The dog dies ten minutes into the film. That’s the event that completely disorders Peggy’s universe.

Roxie: I thought this was a comedy! With a beagle!

Moose: It is, though the humor is kind of dark, and the beagle, as I said, dies ten minutes into the film. This is not a movie I would recommend for our good friend Dudley the Beagle, by the way, or his human. I think they would find it upsetting.

Roxie: What about you? Did you like it?

Moose: “Like” is a funny word. Molly Shannon is great. She plays a quirky character who is in many ways difficult to understand or like, and she plays her with a lot of subtlety and nuance. You see the pain of every disappointment in the sharp lines of Peggy’s face and watch helplessly as the façade she has built up to keep hysteria and loneliness at bay slowly crumbles. It’s a powerful performance, but there’s also something hollow about it and the film as far as I’m concerned. The reviewer for the New York Times saw Year of the Dog as offering “an inquiry into empathy as a state of grace,” but it seemed sadder than that to me. In the end, Peggy walks away from the remains of her diminished world, apparently to devote herself solely to the cause of animal rights. We last see her on a bus headed to a protest in Dallas. In a voiceover that runs over the ending, Peggy explains her choice by saying it is motivated by a love for animals that for her is equivalent to the love others might have for spouses, partners, or children. There may be grace in that kind of selfless devotion to a cause, but what’s sad to me is that in the end Peggy has given up on relationality even with animals, not just with people. She is alone on the bus, though a woman across the aisle from her has a cute little tea-cup dog in a bag on the seat beside her. By contrast, Peggy’s relationship to animals at this point is wholly abstract. In withdrawing from any living connection with the companion species, Peggy sacrifices something of her own humanity. Her cause may be just, but you get the sense her devotion to it is fueled in large part by her determination to protect herself from the unbearable risks of love, whether human or animal. Threatened by the personal, Peggy takes refuge in the political. That seems a pretty narrow, pathetic view of activists and activism.

Roxie: Oh, dear. I don’t think Year of the Dog did much to cheer you up.

Moose: It’s not a bad film, and certainly it’s better to channel one’s anomie into activism than mass murder. Still, I wish she’d left room in her life and her heart for a dog.

Roxie: Come here, you sentimental human. Let me lick your face.

Moose: Aw, Rox, you know I don’t go in for face licks. That’s your other mother.

Roxie: Well, she’s not here and you need a kiss, so give me a cheek, or I’ll tell Goose you ate a whole bag of popcorn.

Update: Another apparent casualty to add to the week's grim toll: Sunday-morning pond inspection indicates that our plump orange koi, Paul, has gone missing. Moose and I don't see any animal tracks around the area, so we suspect one of the herons who hang out down by the creek might have swung by last night for an evening snack. Perhaps we project, but John and George-Ringo seem a little down today. They're sticking close together and keep circling the pond, as if searching for their lost comrade. Moose and I are bereft. We'd probably have a breakdown and become fish-rights activists if Goose weren't on her way home. As it is, perhaps we'll plan a candlelight vigil out by the pond for tonight. Or maybe we'll race out to Petsmart and get a couple of replacement fish. Rest in peace, Paul. We're sorry you didn't make it to sixty-four, but we sure liked having you in our pack, er, school.

Oh, and here's another review of Year of the Dog that expresses some of the same reservations about the film that Moose did, only at greater length and with a deeper understanding of film than Moose has. It's from Nick's Flick Picks, a blog belonging to Nick Davis, an Assistant Professor of English and Gender Studies at Northwestern University.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

After Imus

Ding dong the witch is dead, at least until he is resurrected on satellite radio. Now what do we do?

Moose stares at the photo of the Rutgers women's team I put up on my previous post. Again and again, her eye is drawn in by the five pairs of eyes that gaze into the camera. Dressed in their scarlet uniforms, they all turn their heads to the right to meet the lens, and somehow those sideways glances reveal their vulnerability as well as their determination. (Perhaps because the viewer realizes that the movement captured by the camera was probably elicited by one or several photographers shouting, "Over here, ladies. Could you look here, please?" They are no more free in this moment than Princess Diana ever was before the camera.) Their looks are proud, quizzical, unwavering, but young. It's a tight, well-composed shot. The uniforms and the similar positioning of their bodies imbue it with certain elements of symmetry, but the players' heads are all at slightly different heights and angles. This adds a pleasing asymmetry to the composition and reminds us that the players are individuals as well as teammates. Each has her own look, her own way of negotiating this moment of exposure, her own story.

Did Don Imus lose his job because of a photograph? Because of a press conference in which a group of poised young women took the microphones in their hands to speak of their wounded dignity and to call the grown-ups in their world to task for turning a blind eye (and a deaf ear) to the poisonous stew of casual hatreds our popular culture has become? Gorged as we are on our 24/7 buffet of images, how does one photograph break through the clutter and hold our attention, much less make a difference in the world? In the incessant yakking and yammering of the 21st century, how do a handful of athletes who clearly haven't gone to broadcasting school get us to stop dead in our tracks to listen? At the same time, before we get too caught up in congratulating ourselves for getting rid of Imus, shouldn't we pause to consider how much difference one man's early retirement will make if the market for the garbage he was selling remains and a million other tox jocks (a term made up right here in Roxie's World) are still on the air? Getting rid of Imus has little or nothing to do with getting rid of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and colorism. All of the social and economic structures supporting those hatreds are still securely in place.

Moose doesn't usually sound like the Tipper Gore of the early 80s wagging her finger and railing against the filth of popular culture. She's also not usually one to rain on the parade of even a modest victory in the battle against meanness. Perhaps the awful weather of Washington's reluctant spring has got her down. It's pouring down rain here and has been since late yesterday. The moms have had a quiet weekend, which has given Moose time to sit in the basement and think about photographs, press conferences, and events that get taken up in the complex machineries of public life and become occasions either for collective reflection and social change or an opportunity merely to pick at the scabs of the nation's oldest, deepest wounds. It's too soon to say which the Imus ordeal will turn out to be, but Moose has found herself returning to the work of another English prof, Lauren Berlant, who published a brilliant book in 1997 called The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship. Moose is particularly fond of the chapter devoted to what Berlant calls Diva Citizenship, a concept that helps to explain why the Rutgers press conference was so riveting yet also suggests that the moment's long-term political consequences may be limited. Much of Berlant's analysis focuses on an equally riveting spectacle, Anita Hill's 1991 testimony before the Senate judiciary committee's hearings on the confirmation of Clarence Thomas. In setting up her analysis, Berlant writes:

The spectacle of Anita Hill testifying before the Senate and the American people manifested to me the importance of grasping the unlikely rhetoric of these moments. A member of a stigmatized population testifies reluctantly to a hostile public the muted and anxious history of her imperiled citizenship. Her witnessing turns into a scene of teaching and heroic pedagogy, in which the subordinated person feels compelled to recognize the privileged ones, to believe in their capacity to learn and to change; to trust their desire to not be inhuman; and trust their innocence of the degree to which their obliviousness has supported a system of political subjugation. These moments are acts of strange intimacy between subaltern peoples and those who have benefited by their subordination. These acts of risky dramatic persuasion are based on a belief that the privileged persons of national culture will respond to the sublimity of reason.

I call these moments acts of Diva Citizenship. Diva Citizenship does not change the world. It is a moment of emergence that marks unrealized potentials for subaltern political activity. Diva Citizenship occurs where a person stages a dramatic coup in a public sphere in which she does not have privilege. Flashing up and startling the public, she puts the dominant story into suspended animation; as though recording an estranging voice-over to a film we have all already seen, she renarrates the dominant history as one that the abjected people have once lived sotto voce, but no more; and she challenges her audience to identify with the enormity of the suffering she has narrated and the courage she has had to produce, calling on people to change the social and institutional practices of citizenship to which they currently consent (222-3).

The structural echoes between the two events -- Hill's testimony and the Rutgers press conference -- are as striking as the visual resemblances between these two photographs of Hill on the Hill and Essence Carson at the podium this past Tuesday. Such compelling resemblances justify the application of Berlant's model to the current situation. Like Hill before her, Carson presents herself as a reluctant entrant into the public sphere, speaking on behalf of teammates "driven to a point of mental and physical exhaustion" by the media's invasion of their privacy and to express the "great hurt, anger, and disgust" they experienced as a result of Imus's comments. Her and her teammates' suffering has put them on the national stage, and so she tells the tale of their suffering, their imperiled citizenship -- at the same time pointing out that the spotlight's glare was much less bright when they were playing for a national championship: "Where were these major networks when the youth were making history for a prestigious university?" she asks. More than the measured Hill, however, Carson sees herself as part of a larger team fighting for a cause beyond her own dignity. "We realize that it's about women across the world, across this nation," she notes, and declares that she and her teammates are determined to take a stand. "We're attacking something -- an issue we know isn't right." (For a transcript of Carson's statement at the press conference, click here.)

Time will tell whether the latest episode of Diva Citizenship will lead to deep or lasting political change. Nonetheless, we give the mighty women of Rutgers Five Paws Up and a tail-wagging Roxie's World Seal of Approval for making a lot of people stop, look, listen, and think about words, meanings, intentions, and consequences. We'll put our paws in the air for free speech, too, but remember, kids: Just because you can say it doesn't mean you should say it.

And now, class, Roxie's World offers you a not quite random list of links on Ho-gate:

  • The Daily Show: You knew they'd do it, and we love them for it. We got this off Crooks and Liars.
  • Wa Po: Several pieces in the "Outlook" section today, including one by Jonetta Rose Barras that takes the African-American community to task for allowing the disrespect toward black women promoted by hip-hop and rap cultures. Less compelling is a piece by Joe Hicks that links the Imus episode and the Duke rape case as examples of "racial opportunism" that show how far the civil rights movement has fallen from the glory days of Dr. King.
  • New York Times: Also several pieces, including one by Frank Rich that muses on whether the country is really prepared for the kind of conversation about race and culture that might lead to something more meaningful than moral grandstanding. Randy Kennedy tries to figure out why Imus' joke didn't work by looking at the context of humor that uses racial and sexual stereotypes. Sam Tanenhaus writes about "playing along with Imus," as so many writers and politicians have done, in an effort to sell books or candidacies. (Tanenhaus wrote a biography of Whittaker Chambers that Imus regularly mentioned on his show.) Harvey Fierstein weighs in to point out that hate speech directed against gays and lesbians is never condemned with the same moral dudgeon that greeted Imus' remarks.
  • Meet the Press: Watch host Tim Russert squirm during a roundtable on the Imus controversy with David Brooks, Gwen Ifill, John Harwood, and Eugene Robinson. Ifill is terrific. We particularly like the fact that she speaks up for the Rutgers women without lapsing into the moral purity rhetoric of the 19th century's "cult of true womanhood." (We totally heart Coach Stringer, but she did go a little overboard in describing her team so insistently as "young ladies," "even Girl Scouts," and, of course, "God's representatives" in her remarks at the press conference.) Anyway, you can watch the show or read a transcript of Meet the Press here.
Peace out, loyal fans! This may be our longest post yet. Time for this old dog to hit the couch.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"A Moment of Pure Grace"

A special mid-week post from Roxie's World because the fallout from the Imus imbroglio continues--and the lessons of this "teachable moment" become clearer. Today, the glorious women of Rutgers talked back to their tormentor and publicly addressed the tumult that has taken over their post-season. They held a press conference to announce that they plan to meet privately with Mr. Imus to hear his explanation for his reprehensible conduct. Essence Carson was chief spokesperson for the team, and she spoke movingly of the incident and the media firestorm it has generated. She noted that Imus's assault had "stolen a moment of pure grace" from the team, which didn't get nearly as much attention for its prodigious accomplishments on the court this season as it has gotten for being the object of a vicious verbal assault. Her remarks demonstrated a shrewd understanding of the role of money in American culture and of the lingering effects of racism and sexism. Asked to say whether she felt more injured by the racism or the sexism of Imus's remarks, Carson refused to fall into the trap of pitting one against the other. "Both," she said simply, offering a small but astute example of what feminists describe as intersectional analysis--i.e., an analysis of oppression that attends to the multiple, interlocking social forces that contribute to the marginalization of individuals and groups. (Moose had to explain that part to me. See previous post for reference to bell hooks and my point about Roxie's World not being an academic blog.)

Here are a few links to new stuff on the Imus mess:

  • For highlights of the press conference, go to MSNBC.
  • For video of the full press conference, go here.
  • For reaction from Rutgers University, which has lovingly embraced its coach and team and righteously condemned the odious Imus, go here.
  • For a thoughtful piece by Post columnist Eugene Robinson, go here. The Post also ran an editorial on Imus this morning called "Shocked Jock." It's here.
  • Gwen Ifill, who was herself the object of Imus's ridicule when she was White House correspondent for the Times during the Clinton administration, has a short op-ed that appropriately shifts attention back to the women of Rutgers. It's here.
Moose is struck by the fact that the homophobia of Imus's remarks--which is so evident in the contrast he sets up between the "rough girls" of Rutgers with their tattoos and the "cute" girls of Tennessee--is getting little to no attention in the flood of commentary that has been unleashed in the past week. She thinks this underscores a broader problem of homophobia in the perception and reception of women's sports. She's even thinking of writing up a little something about it if she gets a break from typing for me or--oh, yeah--doing her day job.

While Moose ponders that weighty subject, I have one thing to say to the extraordinary women of Rutgers:

No one can take that moment of pure grace away from you. It is yours forever. You purchased it with your fierce dedication, your unyielding faith in yourselves and your team, and in the sheer beauty of your athleticism. No washed-up celebrity jerk can steal it or tarnish it or even touch it, for it lives in your souls and in the hearts of all of us who thrilled in your accomplishments throughout the season and in the tournament. You are pure grace--in word and deed. Whatever the score of any game, you are winners--plain and simple.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Teachable Moments

I'm sorry to expose my highly sensitive fans to Don Imus's disgusting comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, but the video provides us with what my moms like to call a "teachable moment." (Remember how in school your teachers always said, "There are no stupid questions?" Well, look, technically that is not true. Between them, my moms have been teaching for about a hundred years, and they have confided to me that they have heard literally thousands of stupid questions. Some of them, Moose claims, can only be described as spectacularly stupid. And yet, they patiently embrace and address all questions in the fervent hope that a light bulb or two might turn on and learning might happen. Their faith in this possibility after so many years of disappointment and plagiarism is touching in the extreme, but that, gentle readers, is why every stupid question and every rude racist, sexist, homophobic remark is euphemistically referred to as a "teachable moment.")

Readers of Roxie's World know well that the moms and I had been pulling for C. Vivian Stringer and her feisty young team in the NCAA women's basketball tournament following the tragic upset of our beloved Lady Terps in the second round. You might also recall that we had taken to referring to Rutgers as the "Scarlet Women," which we intended as a clever homage to the team's actual name, the Scarlet Knights. Imus, as you know unless you've been vacationing on another planet this week, mentioned on Wednesday morning's show that he had watched the final game between Rutgers and Tennessee (which Rutgers lost by a score of 59-46). He referred to the Rutgers women as "rough girls," noting that they had tattoos. When his executive producer Bernard McGuirk chimed in to describe them as "some hard-core hos," Imus one-upped him by chortling, "That's some nappy-headed hos there."

For a better quality video of the exchange and a transcript of the remarks, go to the Media Matters for America web site.

To get a sense of the dignity and class of the women Imus was assaulting in his remarks, check out the post-game interview with Coach Stringer and the Rutgers team here.

Now, class, let's try to figure out what's wrong with three middle-aged white men (former Imus sports announcer Sid Rosenberg was also involved in the exchange) talking (into open mics) about a group of talented young and mostly African-American women (coached by an African-American woman) whose only crime was daring to contend for a national championship. To start with, of course, there is the cringe-inducing issue of rich white guys who think listening to hip-hop gives them the right to engage in their cheesy imitations of street talk. Imus has a home in Westport, CT. Reckon the fellows there at the country club refer to the women in their lives and social circles as "hos"? Nah. Me neither.

It's hard to imagine a more toxic combination of insults than Imus and his sidekicks managed to toss out in a few mercifully brief moments. The toxicity arises in part out of the differentials of social power between those who were hurling the insults and those who were the objects of them. Such behavior violates a basic sense of fairness, particularly when it seems motivated by a desire to intimidate the less powerful in an effort to keep them in their place. People--and male people in particular, I am sorry to say--love to try to bully women by insinuating that strong women are lesbians, which is what Imus's ridiculous comments about "rough girls" with tattoos aim to do. Just to make sure the point was clear, Imus noted that "the girls from Tennessee. . .all look cute." "Rough girls" also has nasty race and class connotations, as it implies that Stringer's team is a gang of violent thugs--when in fact the Rutgers women simply played the smartest and most devastatingly effective defense in the tournament this year, at least until the final game. The phrase "nappy-headed hos" is in a league of its own. If Roxie's World were an academic blog, I'd give you a long list of books analyzing the sordid history of racist insults aimed at black women's bodies, appearance, and sexuality. Since this isn't, happily, an academic blog, I'll just point you in the direction of the work of bell hooks.

In some ways, what's most troubling to me in the case of Imus v. Rutgers is the casualness with which he and his pals engage in their assault. They are not screaming into their microphones, off on some howling rant that just slipped out of control. They sound like three guys shooting the breeze over morning coffee. Insulting women, tossing out racial epithets, trying to turn a basketball game into a semi-pornographic fantasy of "rough girls" defeated by "cute" girls--For these guys it's all strictly routine. Just another day at the office.

Philadelphia Inquirer sport columnist Stephen A. Smith has a piece on the Imus insults in Sunday's paper. He has reactions from Coach Stringer and Spike Lee, who objected to terms he used in his film School Daze being taken out of context and appropriated by Imus. Smith also astutely notes the damaging subliminal impact Imus's insults might have on Stringer's recruiting efforts, since some parents might be made nervous about letting their daughters play for a program that has been spoken of in such terms. Read the column here. And don't think that's paranoia. There is also a long, sordid history of coaches in women's basketball using homophobic tactics of negative recruiting to scare players away from competitors' teams. Read about that here.

It's enough to make this old girl wonder: What do you think Imus and his buddies would have said if the wonderful women of Rutgers had managed to win the game?

Update: Make sure Imus learns the lesson of this teachable moment. Join in NOW's campaign to DUMP DON. (With thanks to Goose, fabulous teacher and proud Rutgers alum, for putting this link in comments.) To all the rough girls and guys out there, let's do a little pointing and clicking for justice this morning. Get Imus off our airwaves!

The Latest: CBS Radio and MSNBC both announced late Monday that they are suspending Imus's show for two weeks starting April 16. The News Hour on PBS aired a discussion with Tom Oliphant and Clarence Page on whether Imus should be fired on tonight's broadcast. Oliphant argued against firing and for using this moment to educate Imus and the public (hey, Tom, you stole half your argument from Roxie's World!), while Page argued for firing him on the grounds that his history suggests he is not educable (hey, Clarence, you stole all of your argument from Roxie's World!). You can hear the conversation here.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Birthday Interview

(Photo Credit: Probably Moose, but we're not sure. That's definitely me, though, proudly sporting my Terps collar.)

Today is my thirteenth birthday. I know my legions of loyal fans are well aware of that fact and have probably been celebrating the occasion for hours. (Please do so responsibly. You know how I worry about you.) I mention it for the benefit of newer denizens of Roxie's World, who may not as yet have absorbed all the details of my biography. Since today caps off the series of early spring birthdays and anniversaries we celebrate around here (Moose & Goose's 23rd anniversary on March 8, the first anniversary of Roxie's World on March 12, Moose's birthday on March 27, and my birthday), Moose and I have decided to sit down for one of those taking-stock type of interviews. You know, the kind of thing you see when world leaders are commemorating some milestone or celebrities have just gotten out of rehab. This will give Moose the opportunity to play the role of Girl Reporter that she played for many years of her misspent Midwestern youth. And it will give me the opportunity to pop off about the subjects nearest and dearest to my leaky heart: mortality, politics, pop culture, and basketball. Enjoy!

Moose: So, Rox, you've had quite a year--a couple of significant health challenges (an episode of congestive heart failure, a nearly fatal bout of pancreatitis), a whole new career as a blogger, all that concern about your fish when the pond was frozen over. What would you say the highlight of the past year has been?

Roxie: Our new couch. It's amazingly comfortable. Plus, I love the fact that there are pillows in the corners. Those greatly enhance my snuggling options. As you know, the couch is where I do most of my work, since it's the ideal spot for watching our big plasma TV or for listening to you and Goose spout off about whatever you're reading in the Times or the Post. It's my observation post, if you will. I curl up there and even with my eyes closed I can closely monitor the delightful antics of Homo sapiens. I'm also close enough to the back yard to be able to keep an eye on the squirrels and my fish, which is another important part of my job. I am, after all, a dog.

Moose: I'm sure your fans are curious to know something about your creative process. How do you decide what to blog about? What makes a story right for Roxie's World?

Roxie: That's a hard question. Unlike humans, I don't tend to think much about what I do. I just do it. Dogs are the only true existentialists, you know. We are also curious creatures and terriers are bred to hunt, and I think those qualities find their way into Roxie's World. I write about whatever captures my attention--whether because it amuses me or infuriates me or makes me want to get up off the couch and do something. I respond to the things that move me, whether it's events in our household or events in the world. One of my favorite posts is the one called "Stink Bombs," which combined my outrage over the hypocrisy of Mary Cheney (a lesbian who campaigned for the homophobic administration of which her father is a part) with the story of an airplane brought down by a fart (because a woman passenger had lit matches to conceal the embarrassing odor). It takes the sensitive nose of a dog to pick up on the connection between these two stories. That's what Roxie's World is here for.

Moose: I'm wondering if you'd care to comment on this cartoon, which was sent to us awhile ago by our good friend Matt Kirschenbaum (who blogs here):

Roxie: Well, it's amusing, of course, and I'm always pleased to see images that connect dogs to the technologies of mass communication, but I reject altogether the false choice the cartoon sets up between blogging and pointless, incessant barking. I do both and find that each is essential to the full, rich life of a dog. You humans are such black-and-white thinkers, so prone to framing things in such stark, dichotomous terms. Frankly, I think you'd be much better off if you'd loosen up some, try seeing things in "both/and" terms rather than "either/or."

Moose: Tell us what's on your mind right now. What would you be blogging about if you could get me to quit my day job to type for you 24/7?

Roxie: So many subjects, so little computer time. Well, it amazes me that I haven't weighed in yet on the broohaha over the firing of the U. S. attorneys. If my tech assistant were more savvy, I would have installed a "Countdown to the Resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales" on Roxie's World by now. Or maybe we should figure out a way to keep track of all the rats deserting the sinking ship of the Bush administration. The New York Times had a wonderful story this week on Matthew Dowd's loss of faith in the president he served as a chief campaign strategist. On the other hand, I would also like to spend some time celebrating the good things that have already resulted from the Democratic takeover of Congress: greater transparency and accountability in government, new attention to the crisis of global climate change, a vote by both houses to set a deadline for starting to bring troops home from Iraq. It really is astonishing. I hope we'll never again hear people try to claim that elections don't matter or that there's no difference between the two major political parties.

I've also been very moved by the courage of Elizabeth and John Edwards in announcing that her cancer has returned but that they plan to continue his campaign for the presidency. (Frank Rich has a terrific piece on Mrs. Edwards and the role her unflinching honesty about life and death may play in the campaign.) Mrs. Edwards isn't just a role model for people coping with incurable diseases. She reminds us that mortal creatures never know how much sand is left in the hour glass. We should all embrace each moment as fiercely and tenderly as if it were our last--because it might be.

Moose: And from pop culture? What's got your attention there?

Roxie: I was pleased to see that we could watch The L Word without cringing this season. When we laughed, it was usually because the writers wanted us to and not because what was happening on screen was just flat-out ludicrous, though you and Goose insist the show features a lot more work-place sex than occurs in the life of a typical lesbian. Still, I enjoy watching the show with you guys, probably for the same reason you like watching dog shows with me. We all agree that lesbians and dogs are enormously entertaining, and we don't see nearly enough of them on TV. Also, I loved the characters played by Cybill Shepherd and Marlee Matlin and hope they both come back next season.

Moose: And basketball? March Madness isn't over yet.

Roxie: We're still rooting for Rutgers in the women's tournament, though we're sorry they're up against LSU in tonight's semifinal. We've been pulling for LSU, too, because we're not convinced that Coach Pokey Chatman was treated fairly when she was run out of Baton Rouge over vague allegations of a relationship with a former player. (Elizabeth Merrill has a good piece on all we don't know on the Chatman story on Now that Georgetown is out of the non-women's tournament, we don't really have a dog left in that hunt, as it were. My Auntie Faye in Tulsa is pulling for Ohio State, so perhaps we'll tilt a bit in their direction. We want the Official Radical Militant Librarian of Roxie's World and The Stephanie Miller Show to be happy, after all. (Auntie Faye blogs here.)

As for our beloved Terps, well, we're just waiting for next year. Coach B was featured in an offbeat little human interest piece in The Baltimore Sun the other day in which we learned that she likes Starbucks, Swedish massage, and Spider Man movies. No word on where she's planning to go to pick up a defensive strategy for next season, but, hey, she's got plenty of time to think about that.

Moose: Final thoughts?

Roxie: Thanks, as always, to my legions of loyal fans for being there. Remember the motto of Roxie's World: What Would Molly Say? That's our tribute to the late, great Molly Ivins, whose rapier wit and indomitable spirit never deserted her. Don't let the big dogs scare you or silence you or make you think you don't have power. When they bark, bark back. When they bite, bark louder. Run with a pack, and no one can beat you.

Peace out, friends.