Show blog for Too Fat for Our Pants on Radio One, 91 FM, Dunedin, New Zealand. Airs Mondays 10 am - 12 pm.

If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.
~ George Bernard Shaw

Monday, 5 December 2011

Reclaiming Domesticity

 Jamie Stiehm posted this blog on the US News in response to Emily Matchar’s Washington Post article about the “new domesticity zeitgeist” which she sees sweeping up her female friends: women learning to knit, sew, bake bread, grow vegetables, keep bees.  While Emily Matchar sees this as a “continuation of feminism”, Jamie Stiehm’s article begins “Reader: beware”.   Stiehm’s concern is that the revival of traditional skills and an appreciation of homesteading is rooted in nostalgia and a fetishization of do-it-yourself-ness, and that the renewed valuing of those skills also necessitates a return to the slightly-more-extreme gender imbalances that accompanied them.  I could not disagree more strongly.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Big Porn, Incorporated

DJ bios, playlists, podcasted interview with Dr. Abigail Bray, editor of and contributor to Big Porn, Inc, and links to stream the full show here.
So today I'm wading into the seething morass that is the debate around pornography, both as an industry and as an increasing presence in our day to day lives (hint: they're related! Gasp!).  Just to clear a few things up first:  Pornography is prostitution.  It’s the sale of sex in which the customer purchases a video of the sale of the body, instead of the body itself, which some have argued makes it infinite prostitution, prostitution that lives on after the performer is no longer a performer, or even no longer alive.  Secondly, while heterosexual porn for male consumption is certainly not the only form of porn, it is the overwhelming majority of what is consumed, and so much of my language, though I try to be inclusive, will reflect that.  Many of the studies in the book Big Porn, Inc, which was the impetus for this show, deliberately access the most mainstream selections as chosen by the Adult Video News’ bestselling and most-rented lists (So I can't access or link to AVN from my computer because I'm writing from work, and it won't let me at porn sites. Obv. But I could access CNBC, which has a slideshow of the top selling adult videos of all time. CNBC! If that's not an example of pornification, damned if I know what is). So no complaining that sometimes the woman is the dom and the man’s the sub; that’s true, but it’s not what most people are watching.   

Also, this is not a discussion about sexual morality, it is about human rights.   And for that reason, this isn’t about being sex-positive or sex-negative, those are nonsense terms that are used to often to silence or undermine arguments against prostitution.  No one is suggesting that sex is bad, or that women shouldn’t be sexually liberated; this isn’t about sex, it’s about power and violence and poverty, and the conception of women’s sexuality as a commodity.  The third largest illegal trade in the world after arms and drugs is the sale of women (if you include all human trafficking, it becomes the second largest), and the legal trade in women, the global porn industry, was worth $96 billion in 2006 (1). Apparently that legal trade is seen as being valuable enough to the global economy - which it is, at 96 billion - that the US government gave its domestic porn industry a 5 billion dollar bailout in 2008-9. For real.  That’s the argument against prostitution and pornography, that the sale of women’s bodies is something we should be talking about ending, which involves having some uncomfortable conversations about the socio-economic circumstances that encourage women into prostitution, which includes pornography.

Also, Occupy Vancouver just released a list of demands which included, at #39, the legalization and regulation of prostitution, like in New Zealand, which is specifically mentioned.  And though it’s too big a topic to cover in one show, I will at some point talk about exactly why the legalization model we have here doesn’t meet the needs of the women in the industry, and in fact can do much more harm than good - in the meantime, read everything by Meghan Murphy at the F Word.  But I can see why demanding the legalization of prostitution, as an unexamined presence, would have made it onto a socially progressive wish list.  Porn and prostitution seem like the kinds of thing that should be legalized, you know, like drugs – like it’s the kind of thing you can’t prevent people from doing and any attempts to regulate it seem like religious moralizing at worst, and at best, an infringement on the rights of free speech.  I have two things to say about that: the first is that when we talk about decriminalizing drugs, our concern is with the health of the users of the drugs, not the drugs themselves.  With porn and prostitution, what’s being sold isn’t a substance, they are human bodies, usually female human bodies, and that makes it qualitatively different than talking about the needless regulation of substances.  And accordingly, much of the legislation to date is, primarily, concerned with the patrons of sex workers, not the workers themselves.  

And secondly, let’s just talk about free speech for a second. I’ve for sure fallen for this argument before, that it’s the rights of free speech to make porn, but maybe free speech doesn’t mean the right to say whatever you want whenever with no consequences, just like freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever you want with no consequences.  And I think – or rather, I agree with Betty McLellan, who also thinks – that it would be more useful to think of free speech in the same way we talk about free trade, and that fair speech, like fair trade, is a more worthwhile goal.  Because free speech, like free trade, favours the powerful, entrenches inequality, focuses on the individual, and ignores quality of life.  Conversely, fair speech, like fair trade, means not oppressing anyone, it decentralizes power, focuses on the common good, and fosters justice and respect (2).   Applying the laws of free speech to the creation of porn ignores the fact that “those with more power in society have much greater access to speech than those with less power, and that the powerful can subordinate and exploit the powerless with impunity in the name of free speech” (3).  Basically, the right to film, distribute, and watch the exploitation of actual women trumps their right to not be exploited.

Because I'm pretty sure it's impossible to disagree with anything Noam Chomsky says: 

Defending pornography as a choice made by consenting adults simply expressing their sexuality is a justification which ignores the fact that for many women, the poverty they face is so great, and their options are so limited, that the sale of their bodies becomes their only recourse for survival.  Also, let’s pretend for a minute that getting into prostitution is a genuine choice, even within the context of a culture which presents sexual exploitation as power and liberation.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t be raped, that you can’t be abused, within the industry itself.  You sign up have sex for money, to take naked photographs, whatever; this does not automatically mean you sign up for being abused, humiliated, degraded, beaten, choked, slapped, raped – it’s a contiguous industry, you don’t step right into hardcore or gonzo porn.  You start out stripping, you’re recruited into porn, which starts out pretty vanilla, but the money’s not as good as you thought, and it’s presented like a promotion, and so you lower your boundaries more and more.  Various studies have put the number of porn stars and sex workers with post-traumatic stress between 75 and 90%.  Ever seen Deep Throat? I have, a lot of people have.  But the actress, Linda Lovelace, has been quoted as saying that she was forced, often at gunpoint, to perform in porn, and that anytime someone watched Deep Throat they are very literally watching her being raped.  She’s not an isolated case, either; a huge number of sex workers were sexually abused as children, they are horribly physically abused; they suffer from dissociative disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and a higher than average suicide and murder rate (see this chart again).  But it is commonly expressed in studies of mostly men’s response to prostitution and pornography that once you have purchased the body, you have free reign to perform on it whatever acts you like, as though a woman is a couch or a table.  That once money has been exchanged there cease to be any boundaries that would make an action abusive or violent.  They just dissolve. We don’t treat animals that way, and yet here we are.

In addition to the economic pressures that might make prostitution of some kind seem like an attractive option for some women, we face social pressures which insist that we are in a post-feminist world in which women are now completely enfranchised, and in fact, have significant power over men, who are completely at the mercy of their sexual desires.  Obviously no genders are fairly represented in this paradigm, but it is there, and it is loud.  In the same way that women bought into the idea that their sexiness was empowering as long as it looked like pornography, so society bought the idea that pornographic sexiness is sexual liberation, when really it’s just another form of sexual oppression. And sexual liberation does not only mean that you love sex and think it’s great and want to have it all the time; it’s about the freedom to figure out your own sexuality without constraints from social scripts which validate one form of sexuality at the expense of others.  In our case, porn sexuality is validated and sold as empowerment, but in order to access that power you must be sexy in this one particular way which often includes breast implants, bleached hair, and high heels. 
This is what is meant by the pornification of society: shirts with porn star on them in sparkly letters, padded bras and thongs in children’s sizes, playboy bunny logos on everything from jewelry to car seat covers, that ten-year-old French model.   The undertone of pornsex is very strong, and it is telling girls and women that empowerment is looking like a porn star, that being a porn star is glamourous.  Later in the interview Abigail will refer to it as the “gentrification of sex work”, which I think is a marvelous turn of phrase, but whatever you want to call it, more and more women are drawn or coerced or enticed or convinced into the porn industry. It often starts through ‘glamour modeling’ or stripping, and those women are often completely shocked by how degrading the work turns out to be.  It’s not fun and glamourous; for most, it’s humiliating.   

And because our regular, not-porn lives are becoming more and more porny, porn itself has to become more and more extreme to offer the same experience. The whole genre of Gonzo porn, which is a type of porn which is exclusively violent and degrading acts committed by men against women, things like choking and triple penetration.  There’s a whole series of violent throat-fucking called “gag factor”, which has won porn awards for best oral series and has spawned a whole genre of copycats (4).  Almost all the porn directors interviewed for these essays agreed with this guy, Joe Gallant, who said “the future of american porn is violence. I see signs of it already … the culture is becoming much more accepting of gang rape and abuse movies” (5).  Compared to equivalent studies conducted in the 80s and 90s, the study conducted for this article “revealed that pornography has become uch more aggressive in both frequency and type of act” (6).  She cites all kinds of stats like the percentage of scenes which feature verbal aggression like name-calling (almost half), the percentage of scenes which feature physical aggression (almost 90%, with only 3% directed against the men involved), the violent gagging which is so hot right now had not been recorded in previous studies but now comprises 28% of the scenes. 

 We talk a little bit, Abigail and I, about the involvement of children in pornography, as viewers and targets.  She makes a valid point about the cultural narrative being very significant; just the fact of kids seeing two people having sex, live or filmed, is going to make them hate women or view themselves as sexual objects. I have a great deal of faith in children’s capacity for critical thought, certainly much greater capacity than they are given credit for.  But the narratives presented in the pornography that kids have access to are enforced and echoed by hypersexuality in the world around them, and us.  It’s impossible not to internalize some of those ideas, which can “lower their inhibitions, discourages empathy towards other, and reshapes their sexual aspirations and expression often in risky, violent, or unhelpful ways” (7).  If porn becomes the place you learn about sex, of course you’re not going to learn anything about intimacy, about complexity, about safety or respect.  What you’ll learn is that it’s awesome to come on a woman’s face, and that she loves it too.  This lack of awareness of boundaries is evident in things like the fact that children are now sexually assaulting other children.  One of the contributors to the book, Maggie Hamilton, interviews counselling professionals who say that the number of primary-school children who experience sexual assault  has shot up, and that many of those assaults are being perpetuated not by older boys or men, as is usually the case, but by their classmates (8).  So children are learning how sex works by watching porn, which explicitly positions women and girls as sexual objects who enjoy being degraded, and they believe what they’re told and act on it.  That’s what kids do; that’s why grownups are supposed to teach them stuff.
This social phenomenon is paralleled by an aspect of porn called pseudo-child pornography.  For me the biggest, problem, as I said to Dr. Bray, is not that we can’t trust the pornographers to tell the truth about the age of their performers, or that 18-year-old women aren't still vulnerable, though that’s certainly true.  It’s that it encourages us to look at children as sexy. It breaks down the cultural taboos which instruct us that children are not for having sex with.  It sort of shifts our ideas of when it’s appropriate for children to start being sexy..  There’s a huge amount of porn that does this, too, it’s extremely mainstream to see young-looking teenagers made to look younger with like knee socks, pigtails and, most importantly, no pubic hair.  That’s a convention that started in the subgenre of ‘teen porn’  and has since spread completely, it’s totally normal not to have pubic hair.  It’s more normal than having pubic hair.  So subtly, little by little, each website that emphasizes the performer’s innocence, her cuteness, her slightness, her youth, the more time spent in a place where the “norms and values that circulate in society and define adult-child sex as deviant and abusive are wholly absent” (9), the more we are told that kids are totally sexy. And the more we believe it.

I ask her about her navigation of the pornography debate: she’s of course right that the debate has not always been between radical feminists and neoliberal sex workers, there are whole political and religious aspects that I’ve not dealt with at all, because I absolutely do not want to equate this discussion in any way with religious or moralistic viewpoints.  I'm not against porn because I think it’s dirty or that sex is shameful, it’s because the industry is abusive.  So I just want to clarify the contemporary debate as best as I can to sort of provide some context here – I try to be very careful with my language, but these are tricky subjects, so just know that I’m trying to be inclusive and respectful: it’s not necessarily that some sex workers hold neoliberal beliefs about the value of their own empowerment and that feminists deny this is relevant.  It’s more about the feeling on the part of some sex workers that the tendency of radical feminists to speak about prostitution in a way that depicts the women involved as being brainwashed by the patriarchy and unable to make informed decisions.  Some sex workers feel that the denial of their ability to make a choice is itself degrading and offensive, and that using the term “prostituted women”, instead of “sex worker”, itself makes women sexual objects by undermining their personhood.  The position taken by some radical feminists is that we cannot deny the influence of our cultural narrative, we are all socialized, it’s how we exist as social beings, and that to account for the pervasiveness and the extraordinary influence of our society is not the same as denying personhood, intelligence, or agency.  For this reason even if a woman feels genuinely empowered in her sex work – which again, some do but they are very few, and are by no means representative – the cost of that individual empowerment is the reinforcement of a continuing cultural narrative that sees women as salable goods, as sexual objects that can be purchased. 
But of course the debate is not nearly so binary or distinct, because feminism and sex have a complex history.  Initially, as I pointed out in the interview, female sexual liberation was a highly inflammatory political idea; political enfranchisement and sexual enfranchisement were mutually reinforcing.  If the personal is political, which I think it is, then you can see how taking control and ownership of your own sexuality can feel like an embodiment of political resistance against a culture which represses your sexuality.  Like the young Egyptian blogger who posted a  naked photo of herself as a protest –  sexuality is a very powerful thing. But, as Dr. Bray points out, we are now inundated with female sexuality, we are saturated with it, you can’t look around without seeing some reference to it.  Because porn is everywhere, now we don’t need porn.  And anyway, just like with children, porn is not a good place to learn about sex. 

I agree that sexual liberation is a red herring for feminist issues, but I don’t like the way she frames it, that this issue is more important, so what are you bothering to talk about this thing for ("how can a woman be sexually liberated when she doesn't have a job?").  That argument is used a lot to silence feminists (for example: because some women have to wear a burqa, no woman who doesn’t is allowed to talk about sexism).  We can only ever be talking about the absolute worst thing, as though all those big things aren’t made up of a thousand little things.  But I don’t think that’s what she’s trying to do, and she’s right to bring poverty into the conversation, as very few sex workers are wealthy heiresses amusing themselves by allowing powerful men to spend scandalous amounts of money for the pleasure of pleasuring her (we should entertain the idea that these women are, entirely, a myth).  Most sex workers get into it because they are in bad economic circumstances, and they saw it as the surest way of supporting themselves.  Talking about sex work in the context of liberation overlooks the poverty that almost always accompanies prostitution and erases the struggle of the women engaged in it.

I don't know what I would advocate here: I don't think criminalizing pornography is necessarily an option, because, of course, of the internet.  It's a tricky subject because the real answer is to address ten thousand years of gender inequality and women-as-sex-object, and at the same time (again: they're related!) undo three hundred years of capitalist philosophy which contributes to women having considerably less economic power and forces some into occupations which are deeply harmful and degrading.  In the meantime, I guess we just keep talking.

(1) Hawthorne, Susan. "Capital and the Crimes of Pornographers: Free to Lynch, Exploit, Rape and Torture." 107 - 117 in Abigail Bray and Melinda Tankard Reist, Eds. Big Porn, Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry. Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2011.
(2) McLellan, Betty.  "Pornography as Free Speech: But is it Fair?" Summary by Susan Hawthorne in Bray, Big Porn Inc, 113.

(2) McLellan, Betty, in Bray Big Porn Inc, 250.

(4) Sun, Chyng. "Investigating Pornography: The Journey of a Filmmaker and Researcher". In Bray, Big Porn Inc, 171 - 181.

(5) Sun in Bray, 174.

(6) Sun in Bray, 173.

(7) Hamilton, Maggie. "Groomed to Consume Porn: How Sexualised Marketing Targets Children". In Bray, 16 - 24.  Ref. page 17.

(8) Hamilton in Bray, 21.

(9) Dines, Gail. "The New Lolita: Pornography and the Sexualization of Childhood". In Bray, 3 - 8. Ref. page 7. 


Sunday, 20 November 2011

Manliness: The Hegemony

Stream the full show on my DJ page on Radio One, including music playlists and the interview with Dr. Sally Shaw about gender inequality in sports management organizations.

So I’ve been thinking about doing a show about sports for a while now, and in that while a bunch more stuff has happened that should be discussed in sort of the same context.  Of course the Rugby World Cup had a lot to do with my thinking about a sports show, mostly because I found myself trying to figure out who I would cheer for in any given game based on what outcome would see the least amount of domestic violence taking place. Obviously I’m giving my cheering for a team greater impact on the outcome of the game than it really has, which I think all fans do to some degree, but it does seem like a conversation worth having to talk about why domestic abuse rates and rugby outcomes might be related to one another.  So there’s that.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Occupy Patriarchy

Today I'd like to talk about something that’s been concerning me more and more lately, and that is the perception that the involvement of feminism and women’s rights groups in the occupation movement is divisive, that by bringing issues of female subjugation into the conversations taking place in the various global occupations we are somehow turning on our comrades, that we are trying to hijack the movement or steal the spotlight, that we’re being opportunistic and jumping on the bandwagon of the occupations in order to advance our feminist agenda.  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants (if you can find them in your neighbourhood, afford to buy them, and have the time to cook them)

Listen to the interview with Dr. Marion Nestle of New York University on Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.

The narrative that drives the food industry philosophy, like pretty much every other philosophy of contemporary capitalism, is one of personal choice and responsibility. It should be - but isn't - unnecessary to point out that the insistence on personal choice intentionally ignores the fact that there are such things as systems of law, distribution, education, economics, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and that those systems are constructed in ways which discriminate against certain groups of people.  More than that, the dismissal of the influence of factors external to one's individual choice is a particularly subtle and insidious form of victim-blaming.  To emphasize personal responsibility assumes that all possible choices are equally available to everyone, and all one has to do is decide which one to pursue. Implicit in that is the assertion that if you are in a difficult situation, whatever it may be - overweight, un- or under-employed, homeless - you are there specifically because of choices you have made autonomously, and therefore have no one to blame but yourself.  This is the set-up required to talk about welfare and health care as "handouts", and it is how the food industry - again, like so many others - shifts the focus from their activities to their consumers'.   From this springs the notion that, say, people on the dependents' benefit are "breeding for a business" (or, for that matter, the idea of the "frivolous lawsuit" or the "honeytrap" - both false ideas spread about who files lawsuits or rape allegations and why, both designed to undermine and silence the people casting the allegations, often already-marginalized groups like the elderly and women).  Or, to bring it back to food, the demographics of people who are overweight.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Talk About Technology

 Too Fat For Our Pants airs on Radio One, 91FM Dunedin, on Mondays from 10 - 12.
Listen to the full show, including music and interviews, here.

I had a bit of a time writing this show, partly because the sun was shining and I was stuck inside writing with a post-Onefest hangover, and I live downtown so I could hear all the Rugby World Cup to-do, bands playing and people cheering, but also because discussions about significant new pieces of technology are always, have always been, very fraught. Writing this felt like a minefield more than any other topic I’ve covered yet – mostly because I tend to deal in grievous examples, so I’m always reasonably certain of which side of the fence I’m on and why. But technology in the broadest sense of the word has been such a mixed blessing that you have to be sort of circumspect and broad of vision in order to honestly examine the utility and social impact of whatever new tool is under discussion. A lot of the tension around the acceptance of new inventions and new technologies has to do with the interrelatedness of the history of technology and the history of work; the function of technology being the efficient performance of tasks formerly done less efficiently by humans, mistrust of technology was based on a fear of usurpation. Labourers having only their physical labour to sell, the invention of a machine that does their job faster and cheaper in most cases costs them their livelihood. And work – who does what for whom, for how much and how often – has a great deal to do with power and money. So you can’t talk about the history or philosophy of technology without at least implicitly pointing to the history or philosophy of both power and economics.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Enlightened Sexism and Erotic Capital

Too Fat for Our Pants airs on Radio One, 91FM, Dunedin, on Mondays from 10 - 12.
Listen to the whole show, including interviews and music, here.

Today I talked about and interviewed Dr. Susan J. Douglas about her latest book, Enlightened Sexism: the Seductive Message that Feminism's Work is Done.
By way of introduction to Dr. Douglas’s work and why work like it is relevant, I want to talk about another book that has recently been released by another female academic, this one at the London School of Economics, Dr. Catherine Hakim.  Maybe you’ve come across this one already, as it’s raising some hackles among feminist writers and critics: it’s called Honey Money: the Power of Erotic Capital. The crux of Dr. Hakim’s argument is that having erotic capital is at least equal in importance to having other, established forms of individual capital: monetary capital, obviously, but also social capital like networks and friends in high places, and human capital, which is intelligence potentiated by education.  Erotic capital, to Hakim, is comprised of a number of amorphous attributes, things like “liveliness”, which I reckon in the 60s would have been called “spunk” or “vivacity” and is meant to imply a certain lightheartedness, an unconcernedness of humour, and is certainly not meant to include, say, impassioned political involvement.  Indeed the phrasing rules out any kind of activism, particularly of the feminist variety, as that implies, for Hakim, a lack of humour, a stodginess, a decided lack of vivacity.  She did not coin the term, but claims that she has broadened its meaning from simple sex appeal to include other traits like charm, the aforementioned liveliness, and actual sexual expertise.  Though she insists that her definition is not reliant on sexuality, despite the actual terms of the definition being decidedly sexual, to my mind and the minds of most other critics who’ve read this book, “erotic capital” is basically “things about you that make men want to fuck you”. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Mighty Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (and how it's going to screw us)

Too Fat For Our Pants airs on Radio One, 91FM Dunedin.  Listen to the whole show, including music and interviews, here.
Listen to the interview with Jane Kelsey here.

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is an extension of an agreement signed initially between New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Chile and has now grown to include eight countries, the most significant addition being, of course, the United States.  The other countries are  Australia, Brunei, Chile, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, with Malaysia and Canada hanging around looking eager.  Between these 8 countries there are 12 separate Free Trade Agreements already in existence, and this agreement deepens those commitments.  If you are over 40 and this sounds familiar to you, it is – this is basically a a stronger, scarier, secreter version of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which was already defeated in NZ in the 1990s.

Being a free trade deal, it is primarily about deregulation, the belief in which is predicated on a number of beliefs that have been disproven over and over again. The first, of course, is a belief in the rationality of the unhindered market, which itself rests on the article of faith that prices are inherently meaningful and accurate.  They are not, obviously, they are skewed by innumerable factors, including the kinds of economic activity that are recognized by the market in the first place, the cultural narrative which informs people’s conception of what is necessary, which then impacts demand for a given commodity, and that narrative is further skewed by advertising.  Further to that, we price commodities by their ‘value in trade’, as opposed to their ‘value in use’, (I don't get all my information from Wikipedia, it's just the easiest place to get that kind of specific, concise explanation.) which is inherently subject to the influence of advertising and politics, and is how we’ve arrived at a pricing model that has diamonds costing a fortune and, I don’t know, batteries costing pocket change. Of course all this is true without even talking about government subsidies, business lobbies, and trade agreements which impact market price.
      Hillary Clinton openly calling the goal of this agreement “regulatory coherence” - this is a euphemism for deregulation, which is the kind of regulation with which all signatories would need to cohere.   I can’t believe we don’t have enough evidence that all deregulation does is concentrate capital in a few huge multinational hands, and that those hands do not then redistribute it. There’s a great analogy in Inside Job, a documentary about the lead up and causes of the US financial crash in 2008, which describes the economy like an oil tanker: regulation are the compartment walls that keep the oil relatively evenly distributed in the holding container; when you start to remove them the oil all sloshes to one end and the tanker sinks.  There’s some growing support for the notion that economic inequality is at least one significant cause of financial crises and recessions, and it makes some intuitive sense to me: The economy grows through transaction, right; economics is activity.  Money you are saving does not contribute to the growth of the economy because it isn’t moving.  And this is actual movement I mean, not the movement of special financial tools and mortgage packages and credit default swaps, because that kind of movement, as we should all know by now, leads to bubbles of fake money, a falsely growing economy, that will crash eventually.  When so much is concentrated in the hands of so few, the kind of numbers those few are holding onto are so astronomically large that you couldn’t possibly spend it all if you dedicated your life to it.  Political economist Robert Reich makes this example in his book Aftershock: Kenneth Lewis, the CEO of Bank of America, earned $100 million in one year, 2007.  “To spend it all, Lewis would have had to buy $273 972.60 worth of goods and services every day that year, including weekends.  If he had devoted twelve waking hours a day to the tast, he’d have had to spend $22 832 every hour, $380.52 every minute.”  Of course he did not spend all that money, and that was just one year.  After the first big rush of excitement and novelty, you just don’t spend all that much, as a percentage of your wealth – having a lot less money in the hands of a lot more people, people who will spend all that money regularly, would do much more to grow the economy than making sure we still have rich people.  The economy is movement, and the rich compile. The poor spend.
This principle also debunks the notion that what’s good for business is good for the country, which is, from what I can tell, at the heart of New Zealand’s interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement – they want Fonterra to have access to US dairy markets.  Besides the widespread consensus that there’s no way the states is going to open up their already flooded dairy market to foreign companies - even if they wanted to, the US dairy lobby is massively powerful - business and the country have pretty opposing interest.  What’s good for business is a healthy bottom line and a lot of money tied up in those financial services that look like economic fuel, but we know unequivocally now are not.  What’s good for the country is heavy economic regulation and aggressive redistribution of wealth to ensure lots of concrete transactions, which are actually what fuel the economy.

 But, none of this, to me, is the most sinister part.  What bothers me the most about all of this is not the continued emphasis on neoliberalism, though I do find that just baffling, it’s the fact that all these talks have taken place under such heavy guard, with such towering degrees of secrecy.  I won’t be the first person to suggest that this is being done on purpose because if the people who live in New Zealand knew the details of the arrangement and what they meant, we wouldn’t stand for it.  And THAT’S what we should be worried about.  This is a fundamentally, inherently undemocratic situation, from the clauses in the agreements that could disallow future governments to rescind unpopular or even harmful sections to the supreme secrecy of the talks themselves.  And while this shouldn’t, if you’ve been paying attention, surprise you, it should enrage you.  You should be furious at the governments’ willingness to disregard democratic process and frightened of the ease with which democracy was outmaneuvered.  
Given the methods with which these talks are being conducted, I’m skeptical of the kinds of democratic action I would usually advocate: there are petitions – there’s one up here right now –  and there have been letters sent to the PM by dozens of high profile signatories, but as the government won’t even tell us what the talks involve it seems unlikely that our unsolicited input will be given due consideration.  But the practice of democracy is as important to us as citizens as it is to the health of the democratic process – you kind of have to teach yourself how to get involved.  You could get the word around all your networks, facebook pages, websites and media; ssk your MPs, local government and iwi leaders if they know what’s going on; demand the government holds an inquiry to bring the negotiations into the daylight.  Make sure YOU know what’s going on – there are lots of places to go for this information, and I highly recommend reading Jane Kelsey’s book No Ordinary Deal. 
However, I also agree with a number of pundits who see this whole agreement as being too ambitious and too fraught to be enacted any time in the near future.  That does not mean that we’re out of the woods, here; it means that we must learn from this how fragile any democracy is, and how much citizen involvement it requires to work properly.  We’ve been convinced for years that the extent of our involvement in democracy is to show up at the polls every few years and we can then be satisfied that we are participating.  Of course the only entity that benefits from that narrative is a corrupt government; it certainly isn’t us, the people who live here.  We have to wake up, we have to start paying better attention; I know it can be difficult and we have so many more pressing concerns, so many of us are out of work, and we think that politics is something we can’t afford to spare time or thought to.  But this isn’t about politics, necessarily; politics are about ideology.  This is about fairness, and justice, and taking care of one another, and a genuine desire to make sure everyone is fed, and clothed, and safe, and can make a productive living; these are issues of human rights which have been dragged into the political realm in order to make them distasteful and divisive.  Don’t fall for it. We are smarter than they give us credit for; let’s make them remember that.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Urban Highways, Biodiversity, and the Velvet Worm

Today's show is about the widening of the Caversham Valley Highway and what affect it will have on the velvet worm, the peripatus, in whose habitat the road will now extend.  The peripatus is a very important scientific discovery: there is a great deal of international interest in the entomological community over the possibility that this creature represents a whole new phylum, and it has been suggested to be the missing link between worms and arthropods.  It looks like it may have been the first creature to walk, though on the whole very little is known about these very rare and secretive little things. Whatever those debates, though, it is certain that the peripatus represents a genetic structure that has remained virtually unchanged for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 500 million years.  To put that in some perspective, the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, and the Tuatara, the ‘living fossil’, has been around for 225 million years. 

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Agrarian Urbanism and Food Sovereignty

 How Food Bill 160-2 threatens New Zealand food sovereignty and Andres Duany on Agrarian Urbanism, a development model which is likewise threatened under 160-2.  Click here for the petition to oppose the bill.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Farewell, Jack Layton.

Jack Layton, the leader of Canada's Opposition New Democratic Party, one of the few politicians who I believe genuinely tried to speak truth, and our best chance of getting out from under the thumb of Stephen Harper's Conservatives, died from a long battle with cancer early this morning.  This is an excerpt from his farewell letter to Canadians and the world; may his commitment, hope, and moustache be remembered.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.
And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
All my very best,
Jack Layton

Sunday, 21 August 2011

J.H. Kunstler and the Long Emergency

Today: a read-along! Listen to the podcast of the interview with James Howard Kunstler here, and read my commentary below. 

Today on the show I aired an interview I recorded two weeks ago with James Howard Kunstler, author,  social commentator, and general snark-about-town. He has quite a cult following among certain sects of society, but he is most well known for two works of non-fiction, The Geography of Nowhere, which is about the inherent problems of suburban sprawl and was, in 1993, one of the first non-geological texts talking about an impending energy crisis.  The second is The Long Emergency, about the now-imminent energy crisis and what will come after it.  Lately he has released two works of fiction about the immediate post-carbon future, World Made By Hand and The Witch of HebronHe is often accused of being a bit doomy, as he tends to deal in worst-case scenarios, but the longer we wait to address the effects of energy depletion on modern civilization the more likely his scenario becomes.
It’s quite long, this interview, so rather than play the whole thing I ran it in bits, and played some songs and gave some commentary along the way.  He is very well-respected in a lot of areas, but he also tends to stray outside those issues pretty regularly, and so a lot of what he has to say is not without its problems.  I don’t address them all, but I do my best to offer an alternate perspective where I think one is required. Press play now!

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Woes of a Persecuted Guy

This is an email I received from a man yesterday, in response to my show about rape culture and the politics of consent.  It is not intentionally hateful or vitriolic, but it does display a fairly pervasive mode of thought that concerns me.  He gave his name, but out of a decency he certainly did not display to me, I'm going to leave him anonymous - in any case, his name is unimportant as I'm fairly certain he is just one of many, many people who felt this way, listening to my show and any other one that deals with feminist subject matter.  Let's call him Persecuted Guy.  His email and my response after the jump.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Rape Culture and the Politics of Consent

In the last couple weeks, I’ve encountered a bunch of statements or situations that revealed a sort of frightening social truth to me: a lot of men, and a lot of women too, believe that feminism is no longer necessary because society is equal.  As you’ll hear next week when I air the interview I just recorded with Jim Kunstler, he mentions that women were angered by his portrayal of women in the post-carbon future as being secondary and subjugated.  And his defense was to point to women’s “failure of imagination to conceive of a society that was different from the one they had today”, implying of course that the society we have today is completely equal.  He then proceeded to make some pretty condescending and dismissive remarks about how our little fights in such areas like pay equity and suffrage will not matter in a world where we have no fossil fuels.  That the struggle for equality has been a luxury of this industrialized heyday, and that it will go the way of ipads and interstates in our post-carbon future.

He is not the only place I’ve encountered this attitude – the Women’s Week issue of Critic, for example, is completely riddled with assumptions like this.  Like we’re all completely equal now because Pepsi has a female CEO – we’re post-gender in the same way America having a black president makes us post-racial.  Patently ridiculous, obviously. If anything, having minorities in positions of power can actually increase, or at least normalize, bigotry – political dissent being culturally acceptable and even encouraged, racism and sexism simply become part of the criticism of power when that power is black or female.  People can get away with speaking in those terms because the racism or sexism or classism is couched in the rhetoric of political opposition, and attempts to highlight the discriminatory basis for that opposition is attacked as censorship.  For that reason racist statements about the american president or sexist ones against Helen Clark or Hillary Clinton are becoming more and more overt and acceptable – it normalizes extremism.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Women and the Economy

Read the playlist for this show at the Radio One website. 
Listen to the interview with Dr. Prue Hyman of the IAFFE here!

In case you've never entertained the idea that there is such a thing as feminist economics, or the implication that mainstream economics is by definition sexist, this post is for you. To start, here's the working definition used in a collection of essays called Women and the Economy: “feminist economics is reopening questions … about value wall-being, and power. In the process of asking these larger questions, feminist economics challenges several basic disciplinary assumptions: the value of efficiency, the existence of scarcity, the omnipresence of selfishness, the independence of utility functions, and the impossibility of interpersonal utility comparisons. Indeed, feminism’s basic assumption, that the oppression of women exists and ought to be eliminated, is a fundamental challenge to the supposed impossibility of interpersonal utility comparisons.”
Of course each branch of feminist economics will answer these questions differently; there are lots of ways to re-examine economics through a feminist lens: Marxist, mainstream, separatist, and lots of others I haven’t heard of.  Because of the inherent bias towards privilege in participation in the first and second waves of the feminist movement, a lot of feminist economists are as concerned with race and class imbalances as they are with gender.  Much of that privilege bias is wrapped up in the rhetoric of personal empowerment and individualism, which implies a degree of freedom, particularly financial freedom, to choose to work or not work, and what kind of work is done.  That insistence on personal choice ignores the socio-economic context that narrows or widens the proliferation of options available to a particular woman.  A wealthy woman has the option to stay home with her children or go to work; a poor woman does not.  Dita von Teese might say she feels empowered by stripping, and i’m glad of that, but many women strip because their body is the only commodity they have to trade, and one woman’s empowerment does not address the larger context of the sexual commodification of women.  Feminism is not, then, simply about the ability of women to choose, but about addressing the systemic causes and supports of gender discrimination, and feminist economics is about addressing the theoretical roots of economic gender inequality at a structural level.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Hunger and Industrial Agriculture

Listen to my interview with Dr. Hugh Campbell of the University of Otago's Centre for the Study of Agriculture, Food, and the Environment (CSAFE) about his role in the ARGOS project here.

Check out the sweet jams I played during this show here.

First and foremost, one thing must be understood: all farming happens on the earth.  I would have thought this to be obvious, but the rhetoric surrounding the issue indicates otherwise.  As is so often the case with popular discourse these days, the conversation about industrial farming has been presented as a dichotomy – the cost-benefit analysis of biological farming versus industrial farming, which is better and why, which will be able to feed the growing population. This distinction is illusion.  it’s ALL biological.  The industrial farming system exists on this planet, not in a vacuum in which the laws of nature are suspended, and this planet is governed by some fairly concrete biological and physical laws. Either we work within those same principles, as with biodynamic and organic practices, or we do not, as with factory farming.  Only one way will be viable for very long.  Guess which one.
This doesn’t have to be a moral issue – we don’t have to talk about the happiness of the animals in a concentrated feeding operation or the human cost of attaining the fossil fuels to run the system, or whether it is right or wrong.  While I think that ethics are a completely valid and important aspect of decision making, a lot have been convinced by the narrative of rationality that how we feel about something is imaginary; at the very least not to be taken into consideration.  So, morality being entirely a human construct, it is  therefore mutable and subjective; the intricacies of biological systems which have evolved together for millennia are not. As Michael Pollan says, “farming is not adapted to large-scale operations because of the following reason: farming is concerned with plants and animals which live, grow, and die” (Carnivore, 213-4).

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The End of Growth

Listen to the interview with Richard Heinberg here
Check out the playlist for this show here 
Sign the petition to keep Radio One alive here

The thesis of this blog is that perpetual growth is impossible in a finite world.  I believe this to be the fundamental problem facing humanity at this point in time: it underlies the current ongoing global financial crisis, climate change, and peak oil – indeed, peak just about everything.  At heart, the drive for perpetual growth is an economic issue, and so this episode of Too Fat For Our Pants is about economics.  I am not an economist, I have never formally studied economics – my knowledge of the discipline comes from having read books about it.  Gasp! That means that there is a very real possibility that I have a better understanding of economic principles than many economists, not because economists are dumb and I'm smart, but because formal economic training is deeply flawed and incomplete.  The good news is that if I can learn and grasp basic economic principles, then so can you: this is just another one of those things that we are encouraged not to understand, in fact we are told that it is too complicated for people to understand over and over and over again. I might go so far as to suggest that the obfuscation of economics has been deliberate: a lot of money is made on the back of people’s ignorance.  Knowledge is power, as they say, so hopefully today’s show helps you to arm yourself a little better.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Local is Lovely!

Listen to the podcast of my interview with Jinty MacTavish here.
Sign the petition to keep Radio One alive here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, as we at Radio One struggle to obviate the benefits of our existence, about how much of our relevance rests on our size.  We are small.  By definition that also makes us local, and being small and local is very quickly becoming a necessity. Not just for radio stations, but for pretty much everything – federal politics are lost to corporate interest and increasingly hamstrung by partisan ideologies, none of which seek to overthrow the corporate hijacking of government anyway.  Energy depletion means that our ability to think and operate globally will inevitably be severely curtailed; we will no longer be able to ship bananas from the Philippines or everything from China because we simply will not be able to afford the fuel.  Likewise we will find avenues of travel closing to us as fuel becomes scarcer and international travel becomes a luxury of the very rich before fading out completely.  Climate change means, and has already meant, increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, the survival of which will require renewed relationships with our neighbours and a tighter community structure.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Economics and the Fate of Free Media - Save Radio One!

Sign the Petition to Save Radio One!
In case you have been away, which many of you have, here’s a little rundown of what’s been going on.  Based on the imminence of Voluntary Student Membership, which is in fact getting less and less likely by the day, OUSA underwent a fiscal examination by an independent, private contract firm called Deloitte, to determine where expenses could be cut.  Facing the potential loss of thousands and thousands of dollars should Voluntary Student Membership be implemented, this is perhaps not the most unexpected move on the part of OUSA, though I would argue that they could have done a lot more to educate students about the negatives of VSM in the first place. Anyway, Deloitte looked at all of Planet Media, which includes Radio One, Critic, and Planet Media as an advertising sales organization.  Astonishingly, and without much in the way of explanation, Critic and Planet Media escaped unscathed, while Radio One landed on the chopping block.  Deloitte has recommended that Radio One be sold, because there is no potential profit to be made here.  The fact that our broadcast license is contingent upon our status as a charitable trust, meaning that we can legally generate no profit beyond that needed to sustain ourselves, has so far escaped everyone’s notice. 

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Slutwalk, Porn, and the Future of Feminism

 Listen to the interview with the F Word Media Collective's Meghan Murphy here.

 Slutwalk started in Toronto in response to a cop saying that women should avoid dressing like sluts to not get raped.  Of course this sparked outrage among the entire female community in the city, and slutwalk was the formalized reaction to the statement.  The original point was to challenge the culture of victim-blaming which is still incredibly, shockingly prevalent, and I guess the idea was to highlight the fact that no matter how a woman dresses, she never deserves to be raped or assaulted.  The call was for women to come out dressed however they like and show the Toronto police and the rapists of the world that any woman, dressed in any manner, could be called a slut, in an attempt to remove the power of the word.  So very quickly, right from the beginning, this was as much about the reclamation of the word itself as it was about addressing the notion that a woman could be asking for it.  As the founders have said “we called it something controversial.  Did it get attention? Damn right it did!” And maybe that’s a valid point, as there have been more conversations about this than any other motion the women’s movement has ever made.  But I’m not sure that any publicity is good publicity, particularly in this case.