Monday, November 30

NaNoWrimo: National Novel Writing Month

I realized that my blog looks a little sad this month, but I have an excuse!
Although I was kind of hoping to wait until I finished the entire month, it got out this past week during Thanksgiving that I've been participating in NaNoWrimo.

NaNoWrimo, or the National Novel Writing Month is a yearly program sponsored by a literacy group. The idea is to foster creativity @ a breakneck pace! Basically, lots of people say they are going to write a book..but most never finish. So NaNoWrimo sets the goal of 50,000 words in 1 month. If you write 50,000 words and get verified by the system, you "win."

To meet the goal you have to write about 1500 words a day, which doesn't leave a lot of time for editing.

I wasn't sure if I was going to make it, but when I saw that I had almost a week left and only 4,000 words to write..I got really excited and finished the whole thing off in an afternoon.

I haven't gone back and read my entire book yet, so I have no idea if it's scary/pathetic/bad..but I don't really care!
I finished the whole darn thing!
And I'm going to participate next year.

My proof:

50,379 words so far Winner!

Thanksgiving: Menu Highlights to Come!

Wow, what an action packed few days!
After several weeks of planning and a marathon of cooking, B and I successfully hosted our first Thanksgiving for both of our families in our NYC apartment.

Despite the sweltering temperature (oven+no heat control+ 9 people in an apartment=hot), I think it went really well!

Thanks Mom and Dad for coming in a day early to help! And thanks to B's parents for the lovely gift baskets!! Since someone (ahem, B) ate all of the cookies, crackers and cheese bites out of the first one I'm considering a plan to hide the items from the second one so that I can try something.

Since I'm pretty excited that everyone survived the evening and seemed to enjoy the food, I'm going to post some pictures and recipes from the meal (in the days to come).

This was one of the first times I did not go home to Harrisburg for Thankgiving, and although I missed seeing a few old friends and family members, it was really exciting starting a new tradition. Although I'm still in recovery mode (so tired!), I think that I'll be excited to this again next year.

Sunday, November 29

Learning about consent? But what are we teaching?

(cross-posted @ the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault blog)

Although I have already attended one high school reunion (guess I'm getting old!), I still have very clear memories of football games, standardized test prep, and the ubiquitous all-school assembly. There was always something festive about being called in to sit in the auditorium, and even though the presentations were usually awful, it was fun to escape the daily grind. Thanks to the conservative leanings of most central PA citizens, I had to sit through my fair share of anti drug/anti drinking/anti sex lectures, and I definitely remember at least one program that involved puppets and a scary "don't have sex or you'll get STDs message."

Why the walk down memory lane?

Well, a co-worker recently sent me a link to an organization that specializes in risk management courses for students.

I found one of their offerings particularly interesting.

The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management offers a 'consent program' for high school students, with a focus on understanding and then obtaining consent in sexual situations.

When I read the overview, I couldn't help imagining what this program might look like in a high school auditorium; a room full of students equally excited by the thought of discussing sex at school and irritated that they have to listen to some awkward guy the entire time.

According to the program, "Conversations about Consent" there are ten things you will learn:

  1. Can men be raped? How?
  2. Does consent have an expiration date?
  3. Can consent be withdrawn? How?
  4. When must consent be given—before, during or after sexual contact?
  5. Are there different levels of sexual interaction to which consent must be specifically given?
  6. What are some comfortable strategies for finding out if someone is interested in sex?
  7. What are some indicators of a lack of clarity in a sexual situation?
  8. What are common assumptions men and women make about sex.
  9. How consent is like—and unlike—baseball.
  10. What is the difference between seduction and coercion?

In theory, I like the idea of a consent program.

I'm rather concerned, however, with the focus of this particular program.

Talking about consent from a risk management perspective means focusing on the rules--ie how to get consent so that you do not get accused of rape.

Is this really the right tactic?

Do we want to be teaching about sexuality and relationships from a risk management perspective?

Wouldn't it be healthier and more socially responsible to teach young adults that consent is an intrinsic part of a healthy relationship? That consent is necessary because your partner's desires and wishes are as important as your own?

I don't think that parents would be thrilled if someone came in and taught a risk management seminar on drunk driving to teens. The tag-line might be "Conversations about Drinking," but the message would be: how not to get caught if you do something wrong.

Sexual violence and sexual assault is wrong.

I'm not sure that engaging in a 'discussion' about how to avoid being caught is something I would want to promote.Yet I'm sure the National Center is doing a booming business--there's nothing adults like more than to preach about healthy relationships without having to engage in the truly difficult discussions about our cultural norms and sex.

Side note: Someone PLEASE tell me how consent is both like and unlike baseball. I refuse to take #9 on the list above seriously.

Thursday, November 19

Vets and guns: dv implications?

I recently saw an article on Mother Jones and felt the need to comment.

Apparently Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) think that gun laws in this country are too restrictive. He thinks that certain veterans in particular are unfairly denied access to guns, and his "Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act" is necessary to protect their rights.

I wouldn't usually comment on a gun rights issue, but this one is really troubling. There's a pretty good reason that some veterans cannot purchase guns: they have been found to be 'adjudicated as a mental defective.' This means that they have severe enough psychiatric problems that the army believes it necessary to put them on what amounts to a special list.

I really don't understand why Senator Burr thinks that providing these veterans with guns is a good idea. Especially since we already know some terribly disturbing things about military personnel and violence.

For one thing, domestic violence in the military is on the rise. Recent estimates suggest that domestic violence in the military rose from 18.6 per 1000 in 1990 to 25.6 per 1000 in recent years. With the rising number of soldiers serving multiple tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and other combat zones it's likely that this number will continue to rise.

The has also been serious concern about the rising rates of PTSD and other mental health disorders in returning soldiers. Modern warfare practices have also led to an increase in the number of soldier suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

Do we really think it is a good idea to put more weapons into the hands of veterans who are already more likely than the average person to engage in spousal abuse? If the army finds it necessary to provide a special label indicating a certain level of emotional distress, I think it's pretty fair to withhold the right to own a gun. Not only would relaxing this rule put domestic partners and family members in danger, it could also impact suicide rates. We know that veterans are already far more likely to die of suicide than non-veterans in the general population, with firearms the most common method being used.

I think Senator Burr should be spending his time writing bills that would provide better mental health services to our veterans.

Instead of providing them with easier access to guns, he should be focusing on how to protect families from domestic violence and veterans from committing suicide.

Wednesday, November 18

Sarah Haskins on "Rape Fables"


Sarah Haskins is pretty well known within feminist circles for producing some great social critique/ comedy pieces.

I just saw her most recent video on Salon, and thought it was worth re-posting below.

While it’s always fun to mock bad commercials, I think Haskins’ video is not only humorous but also pretty informative. Usually you don’t see multiple Broadview security commercials (or any commercials) back to back, so it can be hard to notice potentially disturbing patterns. When Haskins strings several of these home security 7ads together in one montage, it suddenly becomes clear: Broadview relies upon stranger rape as a scare tactic/selling point!

It’s actually pretty disgusting way to market a product. The safety of women and children is not funny, and having an alarm system monitored by Broadview is not actually going to prevent the majority (or perhaps any) sexual assaults. Not only that, but home alarm systems cost money. Are we going to start blaming those women who didn’t spend money to protect themselves in their own homes?

Terrible commercials and a terrible message.

Watch the video below:

Saturday, November 14

Disaster movie shorthand: Tornado with (!)= B movie fun. Tornado without (!)= bad

Turns out I learned something today.
The movie Tornado! from 1996 is a campy yet fun disaster movie.
The 1994 movie Tornado ( no exclamation piont), is a super strange gypsy curse/devil worship movie that involves what appears to be a vengeful tornado god.

At first, I thought it was going to be a nice straightforward weather menace movie.
The opening scene involves a small boy watching his father get blown away by a tornado.
Seemed like a good start. A little derivative perhaps (a la Twister), but very acceptable.

Then the movie cuts away. The little boy is suddenly all grown up..and talking to his amulet!

I have no idea how/why the amulet is connected to the weather.
I also have no idea why the father had some type of special amulet.

I'm now an hour and a half into this movie, and I still have NO idea why this guy has a special gypsy amulet, or how his family is at all connected to the tornado god.
I also have no idea what the tornado god is doing in a movie at all.
Or why the tornado god is involved with devil worshipers.
Or why there are gypsies in the story.

Really, not a clue.
The only reason I keep watching is to see if they have someone explain the whole darn plot at the end.

So far I've seen 3 tornadoes, and 1 of them occurred in some sort of nightmare sequence.
Some sort of scary face just appeared in the most recent tornado.
I'm assuming that it's the tornado god?

Apparently the tornado god likes eating helicopters, and shooting lightening at the ground.
Normally I'd be opposed to tornadoes having faces, but since the sequence just increased the death count by 5 or 6, I'm feeling forgiving.

Basically, this version of Tornado gets an "F."
No slumming A-list or B-list actors, terrible special effects, nonsensical plot, and NO MASS CARNAGE.

End of movie. No explanation. The "F" stands.

Monday, November 9

Victim blaming & blog trolls


Just a few weeks ago, a 15 year old was brutally attacked and gang-raped in front of a group (of spectators) after she left a homecoming dance. According to various news reports, the young girl was found shirtless and unconscious under a cement picnic table, and was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition. Various witnesses now say the assault went on for as long as two hours, with a crowd of up to 15 people watching. Not a single person called the police, went for help, or attempted to help the victim.

You would think that people would read this story and feel nothing but horror. Because there's really some rather horrific aspects: gang rape, 'spectators,' and a brutal assault. You might even think that this particular girl would escape the victim blaming so often seen after less physically brutal or more "ambiguous" rape cases.

Apparently a large segment of the online community (where I read the comment sections after these stories) seems to think that the 15 year old victim is to blame for her assault.

Because she might have known her assailants from school.
Because she was careless enough to wait for her father to pick her up on the street.
Because she might have been drinking.

Salon highlights a particularly troubling reaction from one blog commenter, who writes:

wait wait wait…..she was drinking prior to this? hmmm. im not sayin its her fault or she deserved this or anything but shes 15 and drinking outside on a bench by herself in a dress….as much as people want this to be a perfect world, its not. what she wasdoin in the first place was asking for trouble. if your not gunna be smart about the choices you make, im not gunna feel bad for what happen

Despite the caveat that he/she isn't blaming the victim for what happened, this person clearly believes that women deserve to be sexually assaulted and brutalized if they make a decision that someone else might characterize as bad. And apparently, a bad decision might include:

1. Being outside

2. Wearing a dress

3. Underage drinking

It is these type of comments that make me so angry.

Why are people taking time out of their busy lives to chastise a brutalized 15 year old?

Why are these people not using the same time and energy to discuss the fact that a crowd of people spent 2 hours watching multiple men rape a young girl?

Why do people think that it's OK to "not feel bad" for a victim of sexual assault, even if they've done something you consider risky?

Friday, November 6

Cooking Club Month 2: Pasta

Last month we made mozzarella cheese..and this month it was pasta!

Since I had made mozzarella a few times before, I hosted/taught last month.
This month Jacob took over and hosted everyone at his apt.
We made pasta with two kinds of wheat flour (semolina and durum).

It was actually pretty easy, although I'm going to need more practice at the rolling part!

We used a ratio of 1 c. flour to 1 egg.
You crack the egg right into the center of a little flour mountain, and mix with a fork in the center.

I was really bad at keeping the egg from running out of the middle area, but it seemed to work out anyway.

Then you keep incorporating the flour from your now rather flattened mountain, and start kneading.

Then you roll it out really thin..and voila! Pasta!

Rolling out until it was nearly transparent was probably the most difficult part.

I guess that's why they have nice little pasta machines. You put the dough through and it presses it thin and flat for you.

Although mine wasn't as thin as it could have been, it was kind of fun getting to roll the pasta out by hand. Really rather satisfying.

We made pumpkin ravioli out of the durum, and fettuccine out of the semolina.

I forgot to take pictures of the ravioli, but it was very tasty.

To make the fettuccine, you roll up the entire piece of rolled out dough kind of an a diagonal.

Imagine making a napkin roll.

Then you slice the now-rolled dough and unwrap the pieces.

You end up with lovely strands of pasta. And fresh pasta cooks so quickly!
<--We went from this

<--to this in just a few minutes.

Throw on some homemade white wine cream sauce, and you have pasta perfection on a plate!

So excited to do this again now that I know how!!

Wednesday, November 4

Found the little bit of good. Only 24 hours later!

As you can tell from yesterday's post, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by my daily dose of sexual violence news.

And yet, just 24 hours later I find something to feel hopeful about.
In response to the gang-rape in Richmond,2 men wrote to the national PTA association to share their thoughts about rape culture and the way forward.

I thought they wrote a thoughtful letter that addresses the larger societal issues as well as ability to impact change on an individual level. I'm re-posting the entire letter (despite its length):

We Can Change the Culture of Rape

By Patrick McGann and Neil Irvin

Everyone would agree that the gang rape outside Richmond High School was horrific. While this criminal act is particularly troubling because of the large number of perpetrators and witnesses, the incident should not be viewed in isolation. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), a sexual assault occurs every two minutes in the United States. In Men Can Stop Rape’s (MCSR) view, rape happens because we as a country have not committed to creating cultures of prevention focused on sexual and dating violence in our schools and communities.

If we pay attention to who commits rape, we see that the majority of assaults are perpetrated by men attacking women and other men. But the majority of men do not commit sexual violence and therefore are potential allies with women. By providing a blueprint for transforming bystanders into active agents of social change, MCSR mobilizes young men across the country to create cultures of rape prevention in their schools and communities.

What gets in the way of prioritizing the creation of these cultures nationwide? Victim-blaming, for one. We worry that people will hold the the young woman in Richmond accountable for her assault, especially since there were reports in the media that she had been drinking alcohol. No rape survivors are ever at fault for their assault, whatever the circumstances. To place responsibility on her is a way of diverting responsibility from the young men who committed the rape.

Outsiders typecasting sexual assault as occurring in communities with troubled youth serves as another way of not addressing rape as a social issue. In an October 28 Contra Costa Times article, one student is deeply disturbed that all the Richmond High students were described as animals in response to the assault. There were 400 students at the prom who did not commit rape. And there were female and male students who took steps to call the police. What enabled them to act in a humane manner? These students should be part of the story.

So, what can we do? First, we need an understanding of rape prevention that is broader in scope, that involves females and males, and that is based on respecting our cultures and ourselves. Historically, preventing sexual assault has been thought of in terms of females engaging in risk reduction, such as walking in pairs or dressing conservatively. For lasting change to occur, however, men and women can prevent sexual violence by challenging the attitudes and assumptions that dehumanize women. Atianna Gibbs, a recent Richmond High graduate, says in the October 28 Contra Costa Times article, “That could easily have been their sister, their mom. ...Nobody deserves that.” Her comment suggests that it is easier to hurt someone who is of no importance to us than someone who is. This act of dehumanization is an attitude connected to rape and other forms of violence. Racist violence, gay bashing, and rape clearly all share this dynamic.

Fathers can serve as role models of healthy masculinity for their sons and daughters by treating everyone with respect and empathy. Mothers and fathers can discuss with their children what consent and healthy relationships look like. They can become involved with groups like PTA to work to ensure that there are multiple ways schools engage in creating a culture of rape prevention, such as classroom curricula, after-school groups, teacher trainings, and public education campaigns. Parents should support their sons’ involvement with youth programs that encourage healthy masculinity and relationships, like Men Can Stop Rape’s middle school and high school Men of Strength Clubs.

Through our clubs, young men choose to define their own masculinity by evaluating whether messages about manhood, like “don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” play a role in creating unhealthy and unsafe relationships. They learn skills to speak out effectively when they see attitudes and behaviors that degrade women and girls. Club members translate their curriculum lessons into public education and peer education, uniting a wide cross-section of the community consisting of students, parents, educators, administrators, and business leaders. The young men in the club pledge to be men whose strength is used for respect, not for hurting.

If we want healthy cultures, empathy must occupy the center of a culture’s core, nonviolence must be a shared value, and everyone must matter. Men and women can prevent rape by sharing responsibility and by recognizing that if our cultures are going to be healthy, everyone must play a part in caring to make them so.

Men Can Stop Rape
PO Box 57144
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 265-6530

Tuesday, November 3

Looking for a little good..


As most of you know, I'm currently finishing my graduate degree in public health and working part-time at 2 organizations in New York.

One of the organizations, is an anti-sexual violence advocacy organization (the Alliance). One of my responsibilities @ the Alliance is updating the blog. In order to come up with new posts, I spend a lot of time reading news articles and other blogs. Alliance staff members also send me links, and I usually end up with 2-3 posts a week.

Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming spending so much time reading about sexual assault, sexual violence, domestic violence and harassment.

Today I'm trying to decide if I should blog about:

1. The gang-rape of a 15 year old girl at a high school dance, and the (rather disgusting) online reaction to the crime.

2. The glamour magazine article where Rihanna 'breaks her silence,' following the attack by her former boyfriend Chris Brown.

3. The Catholic Bishop in NY who has been making phone calls on behalf of a political candidate, because he wants to block the city and state from passing laws that would increase the rights of child sexual assault victims.

It's actually rather frightening that I have so many topics to choose from on a random Tuesday morning.

I would be out of an internship, but I really wish that this organization wasn't necessary.

Monday, November 2

Thanksgiving..and the menu planning has begun!

This past weekend I tried to make a savory apple pie.
I have no idea why (savory vs. sweet). I just thought it sounded like a neat idea.
The fact that I only had whole wheat flower in the house may have had something to do with this decision..
Anyway, it was a disaster!
The crust is too..well, whole wheat tasting.
I'm sure there is a way to make a whole wheat pie crust that tastes good, but this just wasn't quite right.
Luckily, I have plenty of time to make a few more pies (to freeze) before T-day.
B and I are hosting both families at our apartment, so I'm going to be making a good bit of the food ahead of time and hoping it keeps well.
So far the menu looks something like:

Coleslaw (B's request)
Cranberry sauce (anyone have any unusual ideas? types?)
Free Form Sweet Potato Tart
Green Beans
Teriyaki Salmon

Should be a neat mix!