Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Own Thoughts Regarding Arizona's Racist Immigration Policy.

Immigration, legal or not, is a complex issue. I don't know, nor care whether my very recent immigrant ancestors came here legally, probably not.

My father came to the states from England in 1928 or 9. My mother's father got here from France in 1905 or so. My mother's mother's parents fled the pograms of Germany and Russia, respectively, in the 19th Century.

I'm a Nuevo America but my daughter is Daughter of the American Revolution eligible.

Honestly, the whole 'Manifest Destiny' bullshit was just a cover for genocide. There were no empty places in America, ever. Even the so-called Native Peoples (Indians) killed or fucked the folks they found here until everyone looked the same.

The issue for me is one of boundaries. What are the boundaries of civilization?

Do we have the right to restrict immigration on any level or should all borders be open.

How about criminals? How about terrorists? How about folks who openly say they hate America?

Gays? I could care less about but I know two people murdered by drunken illegal Mexican immigrants.

Are all illegal Mexican immigrants drunks and murders? No. But the question remains.

Do we have the right to say no? Does anyone ever, anywhere, have the right to say no?

I 'own' property in Mexico. That's a lie. As an American I can't own the property I 'own' in Mexico so a Mexican bank 'owns' it for me. Last time I crossed (in February) I got shaken down for $75 by a Mexican cop. I could have resisted. I paid him the $75 and got to leave without a trip in handcuffs to the jail. I also got stopped by machine gun toting Mexican soldiers in the middle of nowhere. They 'fucked' with me until they got bored.

Should the Mexican American border be open?
Should the Mexican-Guatemala border be open?
It's not. They shoot people dead for crossing illegally there.

Complex questions.

I know there's not enough water in California for the 37 million people who live here now.

I know that the jobs I held (with other high-school drop-outs, 'Negros' , Indians and Mexican-Americans are now all held by illegal immigrants, predominantly brown-skinned.

I hire them, work with illegal immigrants, eat with them, go to school with them, get served by them and like them, but when does a country say 'too much'?

Complex questions.

I have no answers but I know what Arizona is doing is wrong.

That's a start.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

William R. Hearst III on News & the Future of News

William R. Hearst III is a partner at the powerful venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He serves on many boards of directors, perhaps most importantly The Hearst Corporation. According to its Web site, "The Hearst Corporation is one of the nation's largest diversified communications companies. Its major interests include magazine, newspaper and business publishing, cable networks, television and radio broadcasting, internet businesses, television production and distribution, newspaper feature distribution, and real estate."

Fred Dodsworth: Your family has been involved in the media business for?
Will Hearst: For over a 125 years.

Dodsworth: Where do you see the media business going?
Will Hearst: As long as people gather someplace and exchange information there are going to be institutions that gather information and package it, and to some degree, put their credibility next to it. When you say the media business you're of course including broadcasting and print and Internet and all kinds of different platforms on which people both gather and exchange and consume information ... and entertainment as well.

Dodsworth: What is the goal of that dissemination of information?
Will Hearst: It's the campfire. It's the place where people gather and compare notes. The ultimate question people are asking themselves is "How does my life compare to that life?" "How's it going to affect my life? " "Is there an opportunity here for me?"

We also read — and I mean read in the sense of view and consume and browse and search for information — for a kind of human dimension. When I read about Katharine Graham dying I thought, "Oh. My dad died a few years ago. And I know Don Graham." You tend to sort of take the dramatic events and the human events and personalize them. And that's just never going to stop. From the earliest imaginable human society people gathered around and compared notes, and that's what we're doing.

Dodsworth: You kind of started your career at Rolling Stone, an alternative publication.
Will Hearst: I like alternative newspapers a lot.

Dodsworth: The S.F. market has a great number of alternative papers. When one looks at the total readership of all the alternatives, it surpasses the readership of the major dailies.
Will Hearst: The other thing you're getting is you're getting a publication count that looks like the daily newspaper world of the mid-1950s when San Francisco had seven newspapers. We don't have seven newspapers today (chuckling) but we do have (at least) seven alternative newspapers. And that's not even counting the ethnic press.

Dodsworth: So what is the 21st century definition of an alternative newspaper?
Will Hearst: (Laughing loudly.) That's almost impossible to answer. I don't think you could make a definition. There are certain characteristics of alternative newspapers that seem to trend. Alternative newspapers tend more often to be weekly, rather than daily. They often tend to be smaller format rather than broadsheet. They often tend to excel in cultural coverage relative to the metro dailies. They often tend to underachieve in business coverage and sports coverage. And they tend to cover national politics, and to a large degree, local politics in what I would call an ideological coverage approach as opposed to a "paper of record" approach.
So if you (read) an alternative paper, you'll get better arts coverage, you won't find out what's going on in the business community, you'll get token sports coverage and you'll get coverage of city hall that's VERY opinionated.

I give a speech that usually irritates an audience of traditional newspaper people: "You want young readers? Double your arts coverage. Easiest thing in the world to do. It doesn't cost you that much and yet it absolutely is what the alternative presses are doing to kill you."

Dodsworth: Ideological coverage used to be synonymous with alternative press.
Will Hearst: Yes, and I don't mean to use that in a pejorative sense. I read, and I'm sure you do, LOTS of things from different points of view. I read lots of things from points of view that I don't always share. I think anybody that cares deeply about an issue, really, sincerely, should spend a lot of time reading the opposition press on that issue.

Dodsworth: I once heard attorney Laurence Tribe recommend The Wall Street Journal to a group of movement organizers.
Will Hearst: (Laughing.) The thing I like about The Wall Street Journal the best is its editorial pages. Not because I agree with them but because I think an editorial page is a contract to commit ideological journalism , and they're the only newspaper that really lives up to the contract in the sense that they write great poison-pen, withering-scorn editorials. If you could get the New York Times to write with an equally florid pen, from their point of view, you'd have a good day's worth of reading between the two of them.

Dodsworth: Is bias in the press an important issue?
Will Hearst: I think it's an important issue at every level of the business. In the same way that companies have cultures, newsrooms have cultures. I wouldn't make the case that there's only one way to do it and objectivity is always better than subjectivity, or visa versa. But I would make the case that you pick up a product of a culture and you read it for a while, you get a feeling. You either say, "This thinks the way I do." "This thinks the opposite of the way I do and challenges me." Or "These guys are trying to not take an ideological point of view," then the question becomes, "Do I trust them as newsgathers?"

A newspaper like the New York Times tries to take the paper of record strategy and the Bay Guardian takes a different approach and the American Spectator takes a different approach from them.

Dodsworth: Sorting all that out asks a lot of the reader.
Will Hearst: I think readers do this all the time. The one theory I violently oppose is the "Foie Gras Theory" — that you're sort of force feeding people information and there's nothing they can do about it. I don't watch or read anything that way and I don't listen or participate in conversation that way. What I'm doing, what you're doing, what your readers are doing, is every time they're reading something they're saying, " That sounds like B.S." Or " That resonates with my experience." Or " That's a strange point of view."

There's an active intelligence — I'm not saying critical, I'm not saying educated, I'm not saying analytical — I'm just saying there's a dialogue going on inside the brain of the reader that is looking at everything they're hearing. People are having internal thumbs up/thumbs down every second they're consuming information.

Dodsworth: In the beginning you said, "comparing themselves"
Will Hearst: They're comparing their picture of reality and they're comparing their picture of emotional life.

One of the things I think many people would agree to today is when you had a very white, very male media picture, one of the things that was wrong was a lot of people weren't seeing themselves. They were out of the dialogue. I think the whole media got stronger by making those changes — not in terms of "growing the audience," but in terms of more different places to feel agreement or disagreement.

Dodsworth: Race and racism are not popular front page stories.
Will Hearst: There are a lot of people who experience life in America through the prism of race. It affects their life. It's a major issue. To talk about race is no different than talking about baseball or talking about any other thing that touches a lot of people's lives. If you DIDN'T talk about race, you would be excluding something that a lot of people are experiencing everyday.

Now I don't experience it everyday. But I've listened long enough, and been told often enough to understand that for a lot of people it is a daily experience. It is a seven-day-a-week experience. It is the pre-eminent, running tape of their experience. If you don't introduce that topic, you're not letting those people find anything that feels like life feels to them.

If you define your newspaper as "I'm going to talk about the people in power and people who are about to be in power and that's the only dialogue I'm interested in covering," then you're going to be talking to a very small number of people, for whom that's their experience.

If instead you say, "I have a picture of a community — to go back to that word — that is my home-base coverage," than I think you have to turn the problem on its head and say, "Who are we? Who is the universe of people I'd like to be able to talk to in a relevant way so they find some experiences familiar and some experiences unfamiliar." Then you've got to talk about those issues. Then you've almost got to talk about the disparity between the community and the power structure, because for a lot of people, that's their experience of the power structure.

©April 25, 2010 Fred Dodsworth (originally written July 23, 2001)
This interview cost me my job at the SF Examiner. David C. Burgin, Executive Editor of the paper had been fired by Mr. Hearst, and Burgin knew I would have asked Hearst why. Of course Hearst told me. I didn't publish his answer but I probably should have. No one who knows Burgin would have been surprised by Hearst's answer.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lit Crit: Nickel & Dimed by B. Ehrenreich

The burden of personal history.
It is impossible for any of us to entirely escape the burden of personal history that colors our view of the world. Nonetheless, it is imperative for a reporter to be as objective and unbiased as possible. For Barbara Ehrenreich this was not possible in Nickel and Dimed. Her autobiographical book explores low-paid, ‘unskilled’ work in America after the Republican Party seized control of Congress in 1994 and passed (as part of their ‘Contract With America') the racially motivated and nativist* 1996 welfare reform bill known as “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act,” or Welfare to Work. While Ms. Ehrenreich’s book deliberately and successfully confronts the “too lazy to work” mythology that drives the modern Republican Party version of capitalistic theory, the burden of her own personal history resulted in a book that was painfully and obviously discolored by her predominantly classist perspective on the problem of living with low wages.

Near the beginning of Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich boldly states the implicit thesis that mars her work: “I am, of course, very different from the people who normally fill America’s least attractive jobs… (Ehrenreich. 6). In fact she’s too similar to the people who fill ‘America’s least attractive jobs’ for her to see them clearly, honestly and with self-recognized empathy. The world Ms Ehrenreich attempted to infiltrate and report from, from a class-perspective, is too close to the low status she and her family recently escaped for her to view their condition without this implicit and pervasive negative bias. We know this as readers because despite her claim to be ‘different,’ she immediate tells us the opposite. In ‘Getting Ready’ the introduction to Nickel and Dimed Ehrenreich plainly states: “In my own family, the low-wage way of life had never been many degrees of separation away.” (2) Speaking of her natal family she acknowledges that not all of her siblings have faired as well as she has: “My sister had been through one low-paid job after another… constantly struggling against what she calls ‘the hopelessness of being a wage slave.’” (2) Even the man she loves knows wage-based poverty too well: “My husband and companion of seventeen years was a $4.50-an-hour warehouse worker …” (2). Each of these examples clearly identifies her immediate and personal experience of poverty and its debilitating impact of her own life and the lives of her closest relations, and calls into question her ability to be objective.

Reflecting her concerns about her own status, throughout the entire book Ehrenreich touts her laudable educational accomplishments, frequently for no relevant reason. Several pages into the first section of Nickel and Dimed her self-esteem is placed into crisis when she questions how she should answer a simple job query about her educational achievement s. Rather than tell the truth to her would-be employers, she creates a fabrication that conceals her success. She rationalizes this deceit by blaming the potential employer: “…I figured the Ph.D. would be no help at all, might even lead employers to suspect that I was an alcoholic washout or worse.” (5). Thus in Ehrenreich’s world no one can be both educated and poor. If an educated person is poor there has to be some other overriding personal failure such as addiction ‘or worse’ that strips the job applicant of the accolades and remuneration that should be theirs by right.

Ehrenreich’s classist perspective is almost ironic in that her chosen profession, writing, experiences poverty as the typical result. Ehrenreich is an exception in the profession. In example let me quote from ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by another author, Sara Faye Leiber, published in the on-line arts magazine Guernica in which Leiber describes a typical interaction between a writer (herself) and a pest-control expert in New York City:
“…he asked me if I worked in the publishing industry, because apparently a lot of people in publishing get bedbugs, partly … because they make less money than people in other professions that they consider to be of their same status…”

Ehrenreich knows this is typical of the writer’s life, yet she fails to acknowledge the contradictory evidence even when she offers examples in her own narrative. At one point she despairs because mentioning her chosen profession failed to elicit excitement or acknowledgement of her elevated status: When filling out a job application: “… asked about hobbies, I said ‘writing’ and she seemed to find nothing strange about this…” (Ehrenrich. 5). Four pages later she notes in the voice of her husband’s uncle that writers are too well represented in the world of impoverished, low-wage earners, without a hint of apology for her previously elucidated classist perspective: “…my second husband … proudly told his uncle, who was a valet parker at that time that I was a writer. The uncle’s response: ‘Who isn’t’?” (9).

Displaying her classist perspective nakedly Ehrenreich descends into unnecessary class-based mockery:’ “he tells me about his glory days as a young man at ‘coronary school’ in Brooklyn… or do you say ‘culinary’?” (21). Combining this elitist perspective with a blatant play for the reader’s pity, the author describes Gail’s horrific, deteriorating, living circumstances which result in the low-paid worker electing to live inside her pickup truck parked behind work. In response Ehrenreich snarks: “With the Hearthside offering benefits like that, how could anyone think of leaving?” (32). These asides of authorial pettiness aren’t necessary for the story she’s telling, but they are telling about her values.

The author’s self-image is most at risk where she’s most likely to be witnessed as a ‘low-wage-earner’ by someone she knows. In the chapter titled ‘Serving in Florida,’ Ehrenreich seeks low-paid work close to her home in Key West, but is mortified at the prospect of being seen and judged by her peers and neighbors: “I am terrorized, especially at the beginning, of being recognized…” she tells us (11). Her fear is not of being confused with but as being identified as an actual ‘low-paid earner,’ so she carefully qualifies her diminished status as only a charade: “…but this is just an experiment, you know, not my real life,” (16). To compensate she indulges in play-acting: “Sometimes I play with the fantasy that I am a princess,” (19). Fifteen pages later, Ehrenreich uses half of a page to remind us in great detail she’s not actually a ‘low-wage earner,’ she’s a bona fide member in good-standing of the striving middle-class, complete with a house payments, fitness club membership dues and credit card bills.(34)

Another issue of class deliberately manifest in Nickel and Dimed is Ehrenreich’s word choices. Throughout the book she carefully chooses words that are far ‘above her pay scale,’ words that even the well-read reader would need to look up. I believe this is the result of a mostly unconscious, manipulative decision the author made to reinforce her sense of status while covering material that left her feeling vulnerable. In the chapter ‘Serving in Florida’ she describes the wait-staff as ‘agape’ (20). On first examination the reader would discover the word means ‘open-mouthed’. A closer look at that word leads the reader to the Christian Eucharist, and agape’s use as a reference to the awe-full, holy and consecrated love feast celebrating The Christ’s body as experienced at the Last Supper — this is hardly the sort of imagery one normally associates with serving as a low-wage waitress in an inexpensive corporate chain diner. In ‘Scrubbing in Maine’ Ehrenreich uses the word ‘soteriological’ while referring to her vacant Alzheimer’s patients. That word references the theological doctrine of salvation as effected by Jesus. In ‘Selling in Minnesota’ the author describes a Wal-Mart manager as the “apotheosis of servant leadership.” “Apotheosis,” a theological term, describes the elevation of a person to the rank of a god, the act of deification.

I believe Ehrenreich uses such words deliberately and both slyly and contemptuously. She doesn’t expect the reader to look to her word choices as a second text to the book. The author has constructed a thicket of esoteric and obscure words she’s slipped into the text to show the sophisticated reader that she is no hack writer, no low-paid toiler in ink’s wretchedness, that she is not like the people she’s working beside.

Condescension and judgment aren’t enough, time and time again throughout the book Ehrenreich focuses on her subject’s trials and tribulations, the horrific circumstances of their condition. She does not allow them to shine with pride at any of the real accomplishments that every human being achieves each and everyday, despite their struggles. In doing so, Ehrenreich strips them of their dignity and individuality. As she tells their stories the reader is left with feelings of pity and dehumanizing distance rather than affection and familiarity. Instead of recognizing their similarities and empathizing with the working poor, Ehrenreich portrays the working poor as a ‘different’ people, not unlike the way people of newly elevated stature view people of different faiths, places of origin, or skin color.

The working poor are different, Ehrenreich tells us and then she shows us. After only working just a few weeks in a low-paying job she finds herself becoming a ‘different’ person. “Something loathsome and servile,” she describes her newfound self. “…in a month or two I might have turned into a different person altogether—say, the kind of person who would have turned George in.”(41). While Ehrenreich blames the work, and suggests she might rise to the occasion (as her father and her husband did), she still leaves the reader with the impression that the average ‘low-wage earner’ wouldn’t have the inner strength to do so. Towards the end of Nickel and Dimed, in the chapter ‘Selling in Minnesota’ ‘Barb’ acknowledges that she has become that lesser person: “…I sense at some level I’m regressing. … So it’s interesting to see how Barb turned out—that she’s meaner and slyer than I am, more cherishing of grudges, and not quite as smart as I hoped.” (169). Recall that at the beginning of the book Ehrenreich insisted: “I made no effort to play a role or fit into some imaginative stereotype…” (7)

The problem isn’t that she’s different from any other working-poor person. The problem is that she fails to understand poverty as an artificial social-construct. Living in a state of relentless, desperate poverty strips most human beings of their self-respect, their empathy, their noble ideals and concern for the welfare of others. Perhaps poverty is carefully designed to this. Whether or not by design, poverty is the ideal condition an aristocratic, class-structured society would use to create a class of the serfs willing to live to serve the regal nobility of the rich.

There is no reason for poverty in this the richest country in the world, especially for people willing to work and work hard. Any of us, all of us, could and are likely to easily slip through the cracks and end up in America’s No Exit of relentless penury and powerlessness. This is the real lesson of Nickel and Dimed, although I’m not sure the author knows it.

This lack of objectivity undermines Ehrenreich’s real, relevant and actionable issues of inadequate wage compensation for a rapidly growing number of Americans. I am currently living next door to a man in his 60s who received his masters in Architecture from Harvard University. He has been out of work for two years now and has gone through all his savings. Recently he took a minimum wage job driving automobiles from one car dealership to the next. He is about to lose his house and frankly, if he doesn’t find work suitable to his abilities and financial needs, he could easily end up with an alcohol problem that wasn’t in evidence for the more than 30 years he had a job that reasonably covered the cost of living here in the Bay Area.

Ms. Ehrenreich’s vanity concerns about the social perception of her current status in this world, and her fears of slipping permanently back into that lower status negate her ability to give her readers a chance to empathize with the everyday humanity of her subjects. She owes it to her subjects and her readers to represent the working poor with the same sort of interest and affection Louis ‘Studs’ Terkel was able to effortlessly express in this masterpiece, Working; People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. Ehrenreich did not craft a dry economic analysis of wages vs. living expenses in the United States during the late 20th Century. She told a personal story where she used real people’s voices, manners and circumstances to fill the voids in her narrative and to invest the reader in the outcome of those people’s struggles. ‘Barb’ might succumb to the nasty, judgmental tone that fills this tome; Barbara Ehrenreich should not.

The issues of Nickel and Dimed are no longer the issues of just the lower classes. Wage stagnation and job losses are now severely impacting the middle and upper middle classes. Class warfare between the bottom and the middle classes only serves to further diminish the power of all but the most elite in our formerly equal and democratic country. Unfortunately Ehrenreich’s inability to surmount her biases interfered with the reader’s opportunity to see her subjects in their best, rather than their worst light. She has prevented her subjects from getting a chance to celebrate their own successes and for us to build on them. There has never been a more relevant time for Ehrenreich’s observations and analysis, minus the pejorative class discolorations.

*Lacayo, Richard, et al. “Down on the Downtrodden.” Time Magazine December 19, 1994. April 19, 2010 . Web.

Works Cited
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001. Print.

Lieber, Sara Faye. “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Guernica/A Magazine of Art & Politics March 2010. April 19, 2010. . Web.

©April 19, 2010 Fred Dodsworth

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On their backs and against the wall.

Before founding SAGE in 1993, Norma Hotaling was a homeless, heroin-addicted prostitute for eight years. She is determined to help other women and men leave prostitution and addiction behind, and find their lives off the streets. SAGE also offers classes and counseling for first time offenders who are cited for solicitation.

Fred Dodsworth: Should prostitution be legalized?
Norma Hotaling: Research shows that when you have an adult sex industry, you have a natural progression to child prostitution. It's very crucial we talk about that.
Another thing is the domestic violence movement has analyzed itself after twenty years and found that women were still being killed at the same rate as when they started it. They had this whole building of infrastructure -- safe houses, hot lines, better response by police, etc. and women were still being killed at the same rate.

Dodsworth: Why?
Hotaling: We haven't been working with men. Big duh. We've been doing everything to protect the women, but we haven't looked at men -- the socialization of men.
There were many factors that led towards violence towards women. One of those things is a man's expectation of service… Anything. Be on time. Be here. Be isolated. Give up your mother.
So the conflict is, on one hand, we have domestic violence where we really need to know how men are socialized and how we teach them to expect service. On the other hand, we have the discussion on the legalization of prostitution, where it's okay to expect service. What ever you want. If you're a little horny, OK expect service. You're a little angry, expect service. You're getting older, expect service. You don't like the way your wife treats you, you can expect service.

Dodsworth: If they can afford it.
Hotaling: All you need is $5. It's not just men who have a lot of money — it's women being economically deprived and men figuring out how little they can offer. In Amsterdam, the women in the windows are not making a lot of money. I've been there. They're not making any more money than the women on Capp St.

Dodsworth: Does a woman ever consciously chose to be a prostitute?
Hotaling: Some women say that they do but I think the number of women who have such limited options, that number is much greater, because of the economic and political structure that women have to operate under.

Dodsworth: Do you think sexism is institutionalized?
Hotaling: Absolutely. I work with customers of prostitutes a lot. It's a problem when men that are governing the political and economic structure that women have to operate in are customers of prostitutes, are tricks.
Dick Morris and his involvement in the Clinton administration is a perfect example. Remember the Welfare to Work Act? It was right before the Democratic convention and Dick Morris was saying to the president, "Pass this bill. It'll get you elected." The rest of his staff split with him over this issue. They said don't do this, it will hurt women and girls. So here you have a trick, a john, a customer of prostitutes saying it doesn't matter if it's going to hurt women and girls. They're only there to help you get elected and so use them for that.

Dodsworth: Are you saying Welfare to Work drives women into prostitution?
Hotaling: Welfare to Work drives women into prostitution. Work. It's just work. It's just a job. Nobody has come up and said, "Wait a minute. How does that affect our communities of color?" Prostitution thrives, thrives on poor, vulnerable women and girls, communities of color that have been isolated from the mainstream society -- bad education, racism. Prostitution, it's just work.

Dodsworth: Is this only an issue in communities of color?
Hotaling: The men in my program, when I ask them to describe their perfect prostitute, tell me bond, blue-eyed, white and young.

Dodsworth: How young?
Hotaling: Well, they're not going to tell me in the class that it's 15 and 16. But what they do tell me is they know if they continue in prostitution that they are prone to go with children.
I've had over 5,000 men in my classes that I've had a chance to sit and talk to for eight hours at a time. We talk about what kind of issues you bring to prostitution. We did an interview project with 260 customers. What's the best part about sex with a prostitute? ONE MAN said sex, said a blowjob.
The rest of them? The hunt. Nobody to nag me. It fits in with my job schedule. All these things about disconnection and hunting human beings.
So when I ask them, what do you bring to the table? "I'm lonely." OK, do youyou're your loneliness met in prostitution? "No." Why? "Because she doesn't really like me." No, she doesn't. "She doesn't know me." No, she doesn't. "She's lying to me." Yes, it's a hustle.

Dodsworth: They don't know this going in?
Hotaling: I think they really do know it. I would hope they know it. My God. What would that say for the men of the world?

Dodsworth: That would say that men see all women as exactly the same.
Hotaling: Or it's, "Oh I'll pay her and pretend she's 18 even though she looks like she's 15." "She's blonde." Bleached. "I want her to say she likes me." Ok, she says she likes you. "I want her to smile." Ok, she smiles. "I want her to call me Daddy." OK, that happens.

Dodsworth: Are you saying we're all tricks?
Hotaling: I am saying that we collude with the whole structure that moves women into prostitution and exploitation. We collude with women not really having equal access. We collude with society that says women have to be nice, have to be sweet, have to say that they like men, have to serve men whenever men want them too. And that men deserve all of that and more. We all collude with that.

Dodsworth: What do women deserve?
Hotaling: Women deserve to be equals. Women deserve to have their human rights. Women deserve not to be hurt and exploited and not have violence. Women deserve to have equal access to education and vocational training and economic security, as men do. Women deserve to be mothers. Women deserve to have families.
The women and girls that SAGE works with have had their human rights raped and beaten away from them, starting in early childhood.
And then on top of it, we have the discussion of legalization and decriminalization. It gets condensed into that. That makes me furious. It doesn't get condensed into, "How can we help women and girls be whole again?" Not whole, but whole again. Or for the first time. Because the women and girls I work with never had a chance.
This is not rehabilitation. This is habilitation. When they get raped as children, they don't study the same way as other girls. And when they can't sit in their chair in the first grade or the second grade or the third grade, people that should know better start telling them that they're the problem. And that just creates a whole movement right into being vulnerable to prostitution. Men in our society are not caretakers anymore. They are exploiters.

Dodsworth: What does that say about all women?
Hotaling: That's our background to follow our husbands. Be nice to men. To support them.

Dodsworth: Is the world big enough for men and women to be equal?
Hotaling: I think it's absolutely big enough but people need to be uncompromising in their belief about women.
Society has said there are people that we can just throw away. I was almost there. I was created to be a prostitute. I was created to be a drug addict. Human hands molded me, day by day in my life, and moved me right down that path. And society moved in, and stood by those people and said, "Yes, she is a bad person. She deserves it."
What is it about the human condition that makes it ok to judge and treat human beings the way that we do? Who's saying, "Whoa!"?

On the web: http://www.sageinc.org/

©April 12, 2010 Fred Dodsworth (originally written June 16, 2001)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thanks for the memories -- Anon and the Dead Cat

I don't actually remember your name. Perhaps it's because you didn't live in my neighborhood for very long. Perhaps it's because your familial name became substantially tarnished after you left unexpectedly, in the middle of the night. Later I overheard my father telling someone your father had paid for the new family home with a "bum" check. I can imagine buying groceries or clothes with funny money but buying a house with a bunko check takes a lot chutzpah. I guess it sort of goes along with helping your dad steal "swamp coolers" off people's roofs to resell. You told me about that. Frankly, there just can't be too much money in that business.

The day I most clearly recall you, we were exploring an "abandoned" house in our mutual neighborhood, our kiddy kingdom. I don't think we'd managed to break in to the locked-up building yet, we were still in the backyard where the lawn had grown deep and dark and thick. I remember it was a late afternoon with long shadows and no one had traipsed into that yard before us to knock down a path through the green grass. We were adventurers charting our own course in a spooky urban "forest" when we saw an odd furry lump nearly buried in the weeds. I can't say which of us decided the furry lump needed to be poked but I do recall finding a long stick — one certainly didn't want to get too close to whatever it was — and poking the clump of fur.

The hair covered skin slid off like an old lady in a fur coat slipping on an icy path. Neither one of us expected the cat's skin to slide away so easily. Nor did either of us expect to see such an incredibly lively mass of movement as the thousands of maggots that were feasting on the cat's corpse desperately recoiled from the air and the sunlight. Frightening as it was, that wasn't actually the worst part of our adventure — not even close. The worst part was the incredible, eye-burning, gut wrenching stench that immediately overpowered us both and left us gasping, violently retching and running desperately away from the horror and disgust of such corruption. We went separate ways. There's only so much space in a day for that much decay.

©April 4, 2010 Fred Dodsworth (originally written Feb 7, 2003)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Plush Love

When Cary’s marriage fell apart, so did he. The idea of dating another woman was more than he was able to hold in his heart. Just before his wife left she told him she’d faked every orgasm, every act of intimate affection, and that he was a terrible lover who always left her dissatisfied. This was said to him in cold fury after he discovered she’d betrayed him with a mutual friend; they were moving in together. Obsessively he pictured them naked, tangled in the throes of their passion. The smell of her slightly sweet-sour sweat mixed with the musk of sex and sperm haunted him. Even more than her, he hated all women.

After she moved out, he found a teddy bear he’d given her early in their courtship. Like him, she’d left it behind. At first he took the bear to bed because her scent lingered on the plush toy. When his sexual hunger returned, he masturbated with the small stuffed bear pressed into his face, inhaling the residual fragrance of his lost love, meager substitute for his missing partner. The man and the bear began a comfortable nightly routine. When he felt the pain too deeply, when he missed her more than he could bear, he would talk through his feelings with the little creature. Often these conversations ended in tears.

Together they worked through the hard times and Cary’s broken heart began to mend. In place of longing, his anger and passion grew larger than the hurt. Over time sex with the little doll got rougher and rougher as he came to understand the bear could never return the love Cary felt and lost.

One night in a fit of resentment he ripped the crotch out of the creature and shoved his penis between the torn fabric, deep into cotton inside. Rocking back and forth over the little mound of fake fur he brought himself to orgasm with a loud moan, spurting his seed all over the soft white stuffing inside. There was something profoundly satisfying about defiling this token of his love. The bear didn’t complain.

Night after night for weeks Cary abused the plush toy in the same fashion until the stench of his own rotten semen was more repulsive than the carnal and emotional satisfaction he received from ravaging the small doll. For a moment he considered tossing it into the washing machine but then he realized he was done with the past. It was time to move on.

©April 4, 2010 Fred Dodsworth