The Rainbow vs 50 Shades of Grey

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I’m bracing myself for the grey wave due to soak us all this Valentine’s Day when the movie opens. A couple of years ago the book was all the talk around my office. Why, I wonder, do smart, competent women go for this type of junk?

But then, my grandmother, who worked as a secretary from youth to old age, a cop’s widow and mother of four, consumed romance novels like she smoked her cigarettes- one after the other. She was nothing like the swooning and weeping women on the covers, even the plucky heroines were wimps compared to her. She faced enough adversity for 3 lifetimes with Irish-American toughness. So why did she love these stories where the right combination of submissiveness and trembling self-assertion won the heart of some arrogant inbred British lord? Like there was no cute stable boys around? Like our relatives back in the old country didn’t have issues with the British?

Good thing Christian Grey doesn’t look like Donald Trump. Even so, this oligarch worship is creepy. Bad enough we have to listen to politicians drivel on about ‘job creators’ as if any mortal ever created anything. As if we need to flatter and appease our betters so maybe they’ll create us some jobs.

And the Fifty Shades plot that a young woman out of college has no better prospects than to sell sex to some rich guy? This is not romance- it’s outrageous. And untenable. Simple math says that the 99% can’t all count on making a living as a sex toy to the 1%.

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I miss the old days. Back then when we said ‘eat the rich’ we didn’t mean it that way. We wanted to stick it to the man, not kneel down for him. Where did the anger go?

Like everything else in American culture it was co-opted, commodified and neutralized. The draft ended, campuses settled down. The women’s movement made substantial legal gains and discrimination became a dirty word. Plenty of it, but you don’t see ‘whites only’ or ‘ladies entrance’ any more. Social progress left much of America behind and gave cover to the dismantling of the working middle class.

From ‘Dallas’ to ‘Pretty Woman’ to ‘Maid in Manhattan’ and now ’50 Shades of Grey’ it’s the same wealth worship. It doesn’t work for me. I thought Scarlett O’Hara was a slave owning parasite who should get a job. I thought Princess Diana could have done better. I think rich guys are more likely to look like Rupert Murdoch than Richard Gere.

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I know that escapist fantasies are just that- escape from our real lives. Agency brings responsibility, and that’s a burden sometimes. Everyone on some level would like to be rescued. It’s just that this junk culture, like junk food, will make you fat and hungry at the same time. Believing in fairy tales can mess up your life- think of poor Diana, she dreamed of Prince Charming and got Prince Charles instead.

Who am I to judge? It’s not like I never read The Enquirer in the grocery line. I own the complete set of Firefly. I call M&M’s and potato chips a balanced meal. I think the hottest screen couple ever was the snails in Microcosmos. But there’s something not right in making gods of the rich, even if they are a Christian.

If The Baffler ‘Fifty Shades of Late Capitalism’ is correct, this film may be an orgy of product placement. Tell me if I got that right, I’ll be doing other stuff with my time off.

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Tarot Daily Dot Decoder, January 24, 2015

7 of swords

Today’s Tarot is the VII of Swords, taking power by unconventional means. Science Times reports that the government of India made an end run around American pharmaceutical company, Gilead, for their new drug, Solvaldi.

Gilead can and should make a profit on this radical cure for Hepatitis C, but they priced the drug so high that even the US will struggle to afford a treatment that runs almost $100,000 per person. No one wants to discourage research and investment, but much of that research is done with government money, and there has to be limits on public investment for private gain.

Meanwhile, in parts of the world where Hep C is epidemic and the cost is out of sight, patent law must not stand in the way of saving lives-

“Getting sofosbuvir out of the stronghold of Gilead’s monopoly will be crucial to expanding treatment for people with hepatitis C globally,” says executive director of the Action Campaign of Doctors Without Borders, Dr. Manica Balasegaram.

And with the notion that over three-fourths of the world’s hepatitis c patients would have access to the once off-limit drug only supports India’s decision to cut-off Gilead Science’s tyranny over the Solvadi’s active ingredient, sofosbuvir.

“Gilead’s licensing deal is what we call managed competition,” MSF law partner, Tahir Amin says. “What this case can achieve is open competition, a real free market.”

Like the Dalai Lama said, “understand the rules so you know when to break them.”

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Tarot Daily Dot Decoder, January 22, 2015

claudette Colvin

Try this thought exercise. How many TV shows about doctors can you recall? I can remember all the way back to Dr.Kildare. How many shows about nurses aides- without whose labor the US health care system would collapse? Unsung for sure.

Before Rosa Parks took her direct action against segregation on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the Black community organized, planned and considered how and when to make their case.

Claudette Colvin, an A-student in her high school, was engaged in the civil rights debate. When she refused to go to the back of the bus she was arrested. She might have become the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but she was young and vulnerable. Now, a pregnant 15-year-old would be considered to have been sinned against, but then she was considered too much a bad girl to represent the cause.

Claudette Colvin had to leave the South, and her life’s work was the valuable and under-recognized direct care of the sick and elderly. She retired in 2004 and is still with us, her story is now beginning to be told.

Claudette Colvin Goes To Work

–By Rita Dove

Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown into jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus and give it to a white person. This is the second time since the Claudette Colbert [sic] case… This must be stopped. — Boycott Flier, December 5, 1955

Menial twilight sweeps the storefronts along Lexington
as the shadows arrive to take their places
among the scourge of the earth. Here and there
a fickle brilliance — lightbulbs coming on
in each narrow residence, the golden wattage
of bleak interiors announcing Anyone home?
or I’m beat, bring me a beer.

Mostly I say to myself Still here. Lay
my keys on the table, pack the perishables away
before flipping the switch. I like the sugary
look of things in bad light — one drop of sweat
is all it would take to dissolve an armchair pillow
into brocade residue. Sometimes I wait until
it’s dark enough for my body to disappear;

then I know it’s time to start out for work.
Along the Avenue, the cabs start up, heading
toward midtown; neon stutters into ecstasy
as male integers light up their smokes and let loose
a stream of brave talk: “Hey Mama” souring quickly to
“Your Mama” when there’s no answer — as if
the most injury they can do is insult the reason

you’re here at all, walking your whites
down to the stop so you can make a living.
So ugly, so fat, so dumb, so greasy —
What do we have to do to make God love us?
Mama was a maid; my daddy mowed lawns like a boy,
and I’m the crazy girl off the bus, the one
who wrote in class she was going to be President.

I take the Number 6 bus to the Lex Ave train
and then I’m there all night, adjusting the sheets,
emptying the pans. And I don’t care or spit
or kick and scratch like they say I did then.
I help those who can’t help themselves,
I do what needs to be done. . . and I sleep
whenever sleep comes down on me.

Thank you 9PoeticFingers for posting this and other fine and rare poems.
Thank you ClaudiaFeitosasantana for the image of Claudette Colvin, of which there are few and rare.

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Tarot Daily Dot Decoder, January 20, 2015


Today’s Tarot is from the Major Arcana, VIII Strength. Dedicated to all the forms of strength that hold the world together while violence and selfishness pull us apart. Martin Luther King day gave us a chance to recognize the courage and strength of love in action. Here is a poem praising women’s strength,

Belly Good

A heap of wheat, says the Song of Songs
but I’ve never seen wheat in a pile.
Apples, potatoes, cabbages, carrots
make lumpy stacks, but you are sleek
as a seal hauled out in the winter sun.
I can see you as a great goose egg
or a single juicy and fully ripe peach.
You swell like a natural grassy hill.
You are symmetrical as a Hopewell mound,
with the eye of the navel wide open,
the eye of my apple, the pear’s port
window. You’re not supposed to exist
at all this decade. You’re to be flat
as a kitchen table, so children with
roller skates can speed over you
like those sidewalks of my childhood
that each gave a different roar under
my wheels. You’re required to show
muscle striations like the ocean
sand at ebb tide, but brick hard.
Clothing is not designed for women
of whose warm and flagrant bodies
you are a swelling part. Yet I confess
I meditate with my hands folded on you,
a maternal cushion radiating comfort.
Even when I have been at my thinnest,
you have never abandoned me but curled
round as a sleeping cat under my skirt.
When I spread out, so do you. You like
to eat, drink and bang on another belly.
In anxiety I clutch you with nervous fingers
as if you were a purse full of calm.
In my grandmother standing in the fierce sun
I see your cauldron that held eleven children
shaped under the tent of her summer dress.
I see you in my mother at thirty
in her flapper gear, skinny legs
and then you knocking on the tight dress.
We hand you down like a prize feather quilt.
You are our female shame and sunburst strength.
Marge Piercy

Thank you,

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Problems in Morality- A Novel Solution to The Heinz Dilemma and Other Stuff

act upNurses are required to get continuing education. This month’s class was Ethics. I sat around a table with co-workers debating moral challenges – little white lies, getting extra change at the supermarket, etc. I kept my head down, suppressing an urge to giggle nervously, like the mortal and venial sins blotting my soul might show through my blouse- but then it got interesting.

The group leader passed around a morality problem called The Heinz Dilemma. This is a famous ethical problem posed by psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg in the 1950’s. It goes like this–

A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?

My first impulse was that I’d stand lookout while Heinz grabbed the goods. But on second thought- is Heinz supposed to stuff a hunk of Radium in a CVS bag? He’ll be glowing in the dark before he gets home.

Anyway, this is all hopelessly 20th Century. As dilemmas are said to have 2 horns, a 21st Century 2-pronged approach is needed– power politics and social disgrace.

Step 1. Crowdsourcing. Mrs. Heinz posts a picture of her languishing self on social media with a plea for donations. This has the dual benefit of helping her with her medical expenses while outing the profiteering druggist. If they succeed in raising the cash quick they can buy the medicine, and buy time while they go on to…

Step 2. Social Disgrace. Start with the doctors who thought Radium might save Mrs. Heinz. They may be customers of the druggist. The druggist doesn’t care about a nobody like Heinz, but ticking off the doctors is bad for business. Time is short, so direct action is needed. Heinz should get a few friends to stand out on the sidewalk with him as he begs for help. If Mrs. Heinz can’t make it they can wear t-shirts with her picture. Invite Channel 10. Clergy in garb and professionals in attire make good visuals. Heinz should have a statement prepared for when the press shows up.

Step 3. Lobbying Politicians. This is another form of crowdsourcing- taxes fund social welfare, laws protect the vulnerable. While Heinz takes it to the streets he also needs to take it to the marble halls where decisions get made. The greedy druggist is a political opportunity to crack down on profiteers. In fact, when he feels the heat he might decide that it is better to give Heinz a break. And there may be competitors ready to make a cheaper generic version of Radium if protecting the druggist’s patent becomes a political liability.

Step 4. Opposition Research. There’s got to be some dirt on this druggist. It’s a sure thing he’s made enemies with his cruel, mercenary ways. Go for the throat.

Poor Heinz, I picture him forever languishing in post-war Germany, with ex-Nazis for neighbors. I hope his wife got better. I see them like an old movie, perhaps because so much of the dilemma is black and white- the authoritarian stance of the druggist who puts profit before people, the helplessness of the individual, the voiceless wife…did I mention that the whole setup is hierarchical and masculinist? Carol Gilligan did.

In the bigger picture, we have to deal with ‘Heinz’ situations all the time. A part of my generation is missing, lost to AIDS. It was not so long ago that people had to break rules and make new rules as the epidemic raged. (see Dallas Buyer’s Club) Each new drug that made its way through the approval pipeline was expensive, and states were slow to pay. Internationally, pharmaceutical companies played the role of the heartless druggist, protecting their patents at the cost of lives in poor nations. (see here how the West blocked generic AIDS medication in South Africa.)

Right now we have a cure for Hepatitis C, but the cost is about $1,000 a pill. It’s a strain on the system, and how to manage it is not clear. Recent history of activism and political pressure driving down the cost of some drugs gives encouragement. It’s cheaper in the long run to treat illness, and people will not quietly go away when a cure exists just out of reach. Even poor Heinz stopped being a good German when he was pushed too far.

What if there was a wealthy nation that let millions of its citizens die over the years because they could not afford medical care? What if potential remedies were rejected in favor of protecting profits? Where is the morality in a system that values national defense, but not defense against preventable illness? What ethical standard withholds care until a citizen is disabled- then puts them on disability?

Like a wise man once said, “it’s a complex world.” The Affordable Care Act is partial and imperfect, but it has made health care accessible to millions of Americans who were previously uninsured and is something to build on. No dilemma here- the US needs to join all the other developed nations and move forward to universal health care.

ACT UP poster from

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Tarot Daily Dot Decoder, January 15, 2015


Starlings in Winter by Mary Oliver
Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Thanks to Famous Poets and Poems for putting good words online.

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Selma Comes to Providence

vote childrenIt’s fifty years since two game-changing acts of Congress, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Fifty years is not so long ago, especially when it’s still necessary to march in the streets to say that Black Lives Matter.

The movie, Selma, was years in the making and no one involved in this labor of love could anticipate its release in the wake of a series of shootings of Black men and women that expose a broken justice system and persistence of racism.

It was not easy to watch a recreation of what was a far from simpler time. The screening and discussion organized by The NAACP Providence Branch & the National Coalition of 100 Black Women was a welcome opportunity to watch it in good company.

First impression was that about 250 Rhode Islanders were up for coming to the Mall to watch a difficult film on a cold Saturday morning, including about 100 high school students. I worried we wouldn’t get a seat, but everyone did. It seems so wrong that when you buy a movie ticket now they show commercials on the big screen. We endured commercials and a preview of some comedy adventure full of explosions and shooting.

Selma has enough of that. After a quiet moment with Martin and Coretta King preparing for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church is mercilessly recreated. Denise McNair,Carole Robertson,Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley killed and many others injured and bereaved.

This is a kind of film violence that goes deeply against the grain of American culture. Unlike the guns and bombs in the previews and posters in the lobby, the guns in Selma shoot actors who play ordinary people, and the mourning of families, like the mother and grandfather of Jimmie Lee Jackson, is given full respect. When the actor playing James Reeb came on screen I felt pride and dread. Pride that a Unitarian minister was there on the front lines, and dread because I knew Rev. Reeb died in a vicious racist beating.

What was it all for? From the opening scene where Annie Lee Cooper is cheated and humiliated when she tries to register at the courthouse, to Martin Luther King and Lyndon Baines Johnson facing off in the Oval Office about whether Black America can wait any longer the right to vote is central. This is why the Civil Rights workers put their lives on the line on the Edmund Pettis Bridge.

After the film ended the audience sat through the credits and almost all stayed for the discussion. Some who spoke were veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. Amanda Milkovits covered it well in The Providence Journal. Like Rose Weaver said, “voting is everything.”

Selma shows just some of what it took to claim that right, and has a message when that right is again challenged.

Photo from ByTheirStrangeFruit via Google Images.

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This is My Body, This is My Blood

One thing about eight years of Catholic school in the 60’s- it was religion in interesting times.

Women may remember a scramble to hide our uncovered heads from God, who did not want to look down from Heaven and see that a seven-year-old had forgotten her beret. The nuns, who wore medieval veils that would win approval from all but the most fundamentalist Ayatollahs, would chew us out before grabbing a Kleenex and a bobby pin. Heads decently covered we could proceed into the holy place. Meanwhile, our moms were testing the limits by trading their decent Sunday hats for a mantilla- a lace scarf, or even a daring lace doily that hid nothing of their offending feminine hair.

Although Warwick, RI was probably not swarming with heretics we were not to relax our vigilance. The nuns drilled us with the lives of the saints, most of whom did not die easy. We could never measure up to their martyrdom or even comprehend why both oppressors and oppressed hung life and death on an affirmation of faith.

In the center of worship was the consecrated host. The host was a thin wafer of wheat flour, similar to a candy we bought at the penny store called ‘Flying Saucers’, but minus the food coloring and little balls of sugar inside, though it would melt in your mouth the same way. Once the priest said the words it became the physical Body of Christ. The nuns told us of a martyr priest who ran into a burning church to save the Body of Christ at the cost of his own poor body. This was how we were to set priorities.

While the older nuns had to make their life choices in the Great Depression, the younger nuns were now faced with calls for liberation from the Pope to the streets. If you craved law and order you might find yourself marching with segregationists and warmongers. It was not only a war of words, it was a time when our President was shot and murdered in broad daylight at a civic event.

Other terrible assassinations preceded this crime and would follow. Willing or not, people suffered martyrdom for speaking their truth.

How do you balance the Word and the Flesh?

No social freedom exists outside society, and no virtue is absolute. The quaint fears of the nuns were not completely unfounded. There was a time when Catholics were a persecuted minority in the US, and even in the 60’s the Klan included Catholics on their enemies list. This may have been the New Frontier, but many citizens in the great Melting Pot bore the scars of history.

How do we reconcile our great principle of freedom of expression with the reality that words can affront and even harm? That one person’s joke is another’s violation? That there’s such a thing as ‘fighting words’?

Although I am long ‘ex’ Catholic I find an answer in the metaphor of the body and blood. The body and blood of another human being is holy and not to be violated for imagined or real offense. The sacred heart beats in all of us and is not to be stopped in defense of some god or principle. In fact, as the nuns taught us, suffering only gives validation to those who sacrificed. Thousands who never heard of Charlie Hebdo now march in the streets, because some men and women who went to work earned a martyr’s crown. Now the daily courage they showed in keeping on in the face of threats is known to the world. Their loss is not only felt by their friends and families, but by all who live by words and art, or simply hope to speak without fear.

charlie hebdo

Go to for the names and lives of the writers of Charlie Hebdo.

Posted in Art, Church and State, Comics, Engaged Paganism, Feminism, Gun Control, Religion, World | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tarot Daily Dot Decoder, January 9, 2015

voting rights act

Going to the showing of Selma at the Providence Place Mall, 9am tomorrow, in good company.

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Tarot Daily Dot Decoder, January 2, 2015

rocky point

Walked there for New Years. The water of the bay was clear as crystal, my friend pointed out shellfish coming back though the pollution is still there in the sediment. It’s so good to see this land remain a public place.

Image from GoLocalProv.

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