Essays

Newsweek, October 2016:

Sadly, in 2016, it's still easy to understand why Trump--impresario and entertainer, master of reality TV, creature of the most sexist swamps of America's cultural landscape--might feel women are on Earth just to be grabbed and groped. No doubt he's heard all those rappers celebrating the fuckability of jet-loads of bitches and hoes, and he must be at least dimly aware that women produce only the most minuscule percentage of movies and television shows, and that laughably few female characters even speak in most movies. He knows women don't really have a voice. And those who are pretty are just "magnets" to his mouth.

Every woman in America who has ever stepped foot outside her house has been, at one time or another and against her will, grabbed, poked, rubbed against, kissed, sexually harassed or, in some cases, much, much worse. These experiences start young.

Like "the talk" that fathers must give their black sons, mothers give their girls dire warnings from the day they can understand speech.

Read the rest here.

Hillary Clinton

Misogyny is the last acceptable taboo, and Republicans--and even some Bernie backers--have illustrated it on numerous occasions, including Thursday, when they booed Clinton as she spoke of equal pay for women. It is almost impossible to imagine, for instance, how progressives and black Americans would have responded if the crowd in Cleveland had chanted "Lock him up" in reference to Obama, America's first black presidential candidate.

To ponder that is also to ponder the ugly direction this campaign will take over the next three months, regardless of how many soccer moms Hillary may have won over tonight with her touching personal story about her mother's hard childhood and her father's work ethic--or her deft dings about Trump tweeting his way through a nuclear crisis. "I physically cringe when I think of the battles ahead for her," said New York delegate Judith Hope, a longtime Hillary supporter.

read the rest here.

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As world leaders started heading to Paris to discuss climate change, I boarded a plane last night going in another direction: south to Antarctica. From 30,000 feet, on a clear, moonlit November night flying south from New York City, the density of the lights along the eastern seaboard form a stunning lace trim along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Each of the twinkly whorls and grids represents millions of Americans living along the sea, populating a megalopolis stretching from Boston down to Richmond, and points even further south.

The heartbreaking beauty of our great eastern cities from the sky at night sometimes brings tears to my eyes. It's moving to behold what we, the thinking animals, have built and placed against that great black void of cold water.

All that, and even the jet from which to view it, we have accomplished in little more than a century. But the pace of human progress brought its own fragility, in the form of climate change.

Gazing down on those lights from the porthole of a jet brings home just what catastrophic sea level rise means.

Scientists believe that as the frozen Poles melt, which they are doing at a phenomenal rate, the sea will, like a glass of water into which ice cubes are dropped, surge upward and overflow its edges, extinguishing the lights and the great cities.

Read the rest here.

I wrote this two summers ago. They vanished but their handlers are still around.

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A screenshot from the Women Against Feminism website. (Photo via Creative Commons)

Besides the warm, pumpkin-candle scented aisles of the Hobby Lobby, there's another new club for self-effacing female enablers of angry white men. Women Against Feminism had, last time I checked, 16,013 followers on Facebook. Its tumblris constructed of selfies of young women, dressed and posed like ads for DIY escort services, holding up bits of notebook paper on which they've scrawled screeds against feminism.

Here are just a few quotes from a compendium of such blinding idiocy and prejudice that it defies description.

Black nail-polished hands hold a notebook over a half-shirt exposing a bellybutton: "I don't need feminism because I don't think it's necessary to belittle and dispose of an entire gender in the name of equality."

A note is propped against the protuberant cleavage enhanced by a pushup bra under a tank top. "If I'm wearing a top like this I want you to look."

A woman with two or three lip piercings: "I don't need feminism because blaming men for your OWN insecurities and mistakes is WRONG & ABSURD."

These women are slandering the movement that enabled their freedom. They live in a world in which they and their mothers can vote, decide whether or not to work, who and when to marry, and whether and when to have children. That was not the case for women within living memory. They have feminists to thank for that, not Rush Limbaugh's ideological forebears.

But they do have Mr. Limbaugh and his ilk to thank for the cockamamie ideas they've scrawled on notebook paper, to wit:

"I need feminism because if they called it man-hate men wouldn't help us."

"I'm tired to be [sic] represented by some hysterical hipster whore."

"My problem with feminism, is that it's not just about 'building women up', but also 'cutting men down'."

"I don't need feminism because only the weak-minded buy into cults."

Man-hate. Feminist cult. Hysterical hipster whore. All catchy right-wing radio memes, presented here in pretty cursive, with hearts dotting the I's.

When I first went online looking for Women Against Feminism, I mistakenly Googled "anti-feminist site" and stumbled across a men's rights site with the same theme, and eerily, some of the identical claims. The anti-feminist men's site actually links to the Women Against Feminism site, while also including articles on how sex-hating feminists raised the age of consent for girls to 16 in the Victorian era, thereby limiting male sexual options to this day. The site includes a petition to stop the U.K.'s porn filter and a helpful YouTube class on "How to Date Russian Girls."

Everything about Women Against Feminism suggests it's a sock puppet for the aggrieved misogynists and pedophiles of the anti-feminist men's rights crowd. The main clue is that almost all the women on the site are nubile and posed in ways that fulfill dirty old men's wildest dreams about pliant young things.

Plenty of older women are against feminism, too, but these particular Women Against Feminism are barely of legal voting age. Someone, somewhere has told these young women that feminists are against sex, against men, and stand for limiting people's options. And I think we know who.

One of the longest recent comments on the Women Against Feminism Facebook site argues that feminists shouldn't "tell us" what feminism means.

"None of you can claim to own the true definition of feminism," the poster, Christian Cueva, wrote to imaginary feminist adversaries. "Everyone here has had negative experiences with feminists and decided to join this page to speak out against it. No one here became anti-feminist without a reason. I'm not interested in what you think feminism really is. Until you actually come to a consensus on the meaning of the word feminism, you don't own it."

Turns out Women Against Feminism welcomes feminist-hating men. Mr. Cueva is a man.

If we take Women Against Feminism at their word, that they really are a genuine grassroots groundswell of female opposition to the fight for women's equality, and not just pretty proxies for pervy right wing radio-addicted men blustering about women who don't shave their legs and "that whore" Sandra Fluke, then we must give intellectual legitimacy to some of their claims.

It's not easy, but that's exactly what self-titled "equality feminist" Cathy Young did inTime last week. Acknowledging that the "anti-feminist rebellion" has its "eye-rolling moments," she writes: "They make a strong argument that a 'patriarchy' that lets women vote, work, attend college, get divorced, run for political office, and own businesses on the same terms as men isn't quite living up to its label. They also raise valid questions about politicizing personal violence along gender lines; research shows that surprisingly high numbers of men may have been raped, sometimes by women." Really, Cathy?

The notion that feminism invented the patriarchy is risible on its face, in a country where less than 20 percent of Congress is female, where less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, where women make 75 cents on the dollar.

If Women Against Feminism is not actually a men's rights sock puppet, then it's a vessel for male anger, channeled through young women. Young white men (and the women on Women Against Feminism are, as far as I could tell, 100 percent blanco) are paying a huge price for the collapsing economy, and as women graduate from college in greater numbers, and jobs for men with only high school degrees diminish, the "feminists" get the blame.

For most young women, feminism is less of a bete noir than an "ehh, anyway." As Lana Del Rey said to Fader recently, "Whenever people bring up feminism, I'm like, God, I'm just not really that interested."

But it remains low-hanging fruit for right-wingers.

Sociologist Stephanie Coontz wrote in The New York Times this weekend that while the sexes have become more equal, American "society as a whole has become far less, producing especially deep losses for young men." In 1969, she wrote, three-quarters of 25-year-old men were earning wages that could support a family of four. Ten years ago, it took until age 30 for the same percentage of men to reach that income level. In 1969, only 10 percent of men ages 30 to 35 were still low earners. By 2004, almost a quarter of men in that age range remained low earners.

I'd lay odds that the young Women Against Feminism anti-feminists are the girlfriends and wives of these frustrated young men. Seeking an easy "liberal" target, they pin blame for a gigantic, systemic problem on the women who support and fight for growing gender equality. They fail to understand or choose to ignore the stinking fact that it's rich powerful greedy white guys in an era of wealth inequality who've gamed out the dysfunctional economy for their own benefit and rendered their men under-employed, bitter, and yes, bitching husbands and boyfriends.

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Inside the cavernous concrete film studio where a Spider-Man movie was filmed, the hometown hero got a superhero's welcome from what he said were 15,000 people inside and another 5,000 outside. The press vultures would later estimate the crowd at 8,000 to 10,000, but he had already warned the assembled to watch out for that trick. "I love you, I love you," the crowd shouted at him. The favorite son crooned back, sounding ever so slightly Sinatra: "I love you too. I looove these people."

Donald J. Trump and his entourage had rolled into Long Island and right up to the venue. The other 10,000 people at the event were herded on an extended and inexplicable perambulation around the entire structure--a length of football field on each side--after leaving their cars. They had walked in a biting wind to the venue, a former aerospace factory building and hangar turned movie studio on the edge of Bethpage, New York.

Read the rest here.

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Conservatives, jihadis and atheist Islamophobes often preach that we are engaged in a war of civilizations between the post-Enlightenment West and Islamic religious extremists. Such apocalyptic talk only feeds the Islamic State (ISIS) death-cult's recruitment. A meme with the national security punditocracy on jihadis is that they hate our freedom. Of course, the vast majority of Muslims on the planet are not at war with the West. On the contrary, tens of millions are voting with their feet right now, for the West.

But there is one of our freedoms that some of the jihadis do want to crush. How many Colognes and Tahrir Squares, how many ISIS sex slave fatwas, how many Afghan and Pakistani schoolgirls shot or threatened, and how many Saudi prison sentences for gang-rape survivors will it take before people start to understand that hatred of feminism is the first pillar of modern jihadism?

The events in Cologne, Germany, on New Year's Eve dragged the issue into the open. Up to a thousand men attacked women and girls--single, in groups, with men: it didn't matter--tearing at their clothes, groping, robbing purses and cellphones, and in some cases raping them. The mass assault was reminiscent of attacks on women in Tahrir Square. They reminded the world yet again that violence against women is the sine qua non of a certain corner of cultural Islam.

Read the rest of this.

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It is still Earth, but Antarctica is an alien land. In his book Future of Life, Nobel-winning American biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote of Antarctica, "On all of the Earth, the McMurdo Dry Valleys most resemble the rubbled plains of Mars."

Antarctica is not as uninhabitable as Mars, but almost. It's also a place that tricks the eye, it's a trompe l'oeil of nature. On land, the whites stretch on forever, and snow, peak and cloud mingle so voyagers lose track of the difference. At sea, icebergs loom out of the fog like Gothic castles or the Sphinx, or simply abstract art, open to interpretation. But if the icebergs are Picassos, their positioning with backdrops of Alpine peaks and melted marshmallow, meringue and dollops of cream are pure Dali.

Here while the mind and eye are tricked, the body suffers extreme discomfort, from seasickness to frozen hands to frostbite and death, which might explain -- logically -- why Antarctic exploration always includes some element of the uncanny.

Ernest Shackleton and his two partners managed a death-defying sail across 800 miles of rough sea in an ice-crusted lifeboat then trekked across an island mountain range for several days to finally reach help at a whaling station. After that insane feat, the men admitted to one another that they had all sensed the presence of a "fourth man" -- an unseen someone walking beside them the whole time.

T.S. Eliot was moved to mention the mystery man in his modernist classic, The Wasteland.

Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you

Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

I do not know whether a man or a woman

-- But who is that on the other side of you?

More recently, in 2012, polar explorer Felicity Aston became the first woman to ski solo across the Antarctic Continent. In 63 days alone, she started talking to the sun -- and it talked back. Eventually, she had entire conversations with it.

While voyaging around the Antarctic Peninsula, I posted the above, and some other journal entries on the website Medium. Read them all here.

03/18/15

HRC at the UN

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HRC gave a keynote speech on how much has not changed for women and girls since the 1995 Beijing conference and Plan for Action. Her talk though, was not covered, as 200 journalists scurried to another room to wait to question her about her email storage habits while at State. I thought she did a good job not losing her cool. Here's my take in Newsweek on how she's a hero abroad, punching bag at home.

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I lose my jewelry all the time. I don't now have and never had a lot of bling, but the more expensive it was the more likely it was to go down the drain, or away with the wind. I was thinking about this one day and realized that losing valuables connects me at some level with my refugee grandmother and the 51 million people rousted from their homes and wandering the planet now, and I wrote about it for the New York Times, here.

magicn.jpegIt's becoming increasingly apparent some new Koch Brothers are on the loose in Washington, lavishing money on liberals and conservatives alike. Like the Brothers K, they got rich on filthy fossil fuel revenues, and are using their booty to buy up think tanks, lobbyists and the best law firms. For good measure, they're tossing some of the nation's top liberal institutions into their shopping carts, too.

I refer here to our nominal allies, the medieval, superrich Gulf States. Thanks to investigative journalists at The New York Times and the Nation, who recently combed through reams of public disclosure documents, we now know that the Saudis, UAE and Qatar have been flooding the nation's capital with greenbacks.

Read the rest here

07/17/14

On the Media

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A weekly critique of media hits and misses at Alternet. Exposing and laughing at Rush Limbaugh, FoxNews and blowhard entitled Viagran oafs everywhere in print or broadcast in the previous seven days.

bombshell.jpegBoko Haram is only one manifestation of an extreme backlash to global feminism. Educated women pose a grave threat to marginalized men in impoverished countries like Nigeria, but also Aghanistan, Pakistan, India, and elsewhere whose sole source of personal worth depends on their birthright to treat women and girls worse than farm animals. Read the latest Bombshell in the New York Observer here.

Nina Burleigh reviews Errol Morris's "The Unknown Known," about Donald Rumsfeld and the Iraq War.

In the opening shot of Errol Morris's The Unknown Known, Donald Rumsfeld doesn't look well. His face has the clammy plastic sheen that morticians are paid to produce. We soon come to understand that the former Secretary of Defense is alive and well, but this gray mausoleum of a movie is about death anyway.

rumsfeld.jpgRead the rest here.

Nina Burleigh on Woody AllenRead my thoughts on this in the New York Observer, right here.

Malala and Nina BurleighI met Malala in New York the night before the Nobel Committee decided to give the 2013 Peace Prize to the chemical weapons inspectors. She's young, and no one who hears her speak can doubt that she will make a difference in the world whether she gets a prize or not. But it's hard not to imagine those men sipping Aquavit in Oslo maybe missing the point that that young woman represents countless millions of abused, hopeless girls.

EVEN WITH THE Americans still in Afghanistan, the things happening every day to girls and young women under the Taliban defy belief. I met a an Afghani teacher, Razia Jan, in the audience at the event with Malala. A few weeks ago, Ms. Jan narrowly missed a bomb detonated at a major shopping center in Kabul. She said she never watches television to avoid bad news, but, when she got home, she turned it on to confirm that a friend and her children had died in the blast. Immediately after that report, the broadcast turned to a stoning in a town under Taliban control.

A girl, of age, had refused to marry an older man and married her younger lover instead. As Ms. Jan and the rest of Afghanistan watched, men in white robes stood outside a mosque, a figure draped in white was dragged to the middle of the square, and the men threw stones.

"These were not pebbles," Ms. Jan said, wiping tears. "They were bricks. And the men were laughing."

Here, in The New York Observer, you can read the rest of my thoughts on the future of teen girls under resurgent Taliban.

spy.jpegAfter the government dragnetted the AP phone records, I started to pay attention to data collection, the state and the press. And, from Barrett Brown in a Texas jail to NYT's James Risen having to lawyer up, things are not looking good. Surveillance of journalists and the breakdown of the shield laws, in the Bombshell.

cnn.jpeg(CNN) -- Last week, a 22-year-old Dutch journalist was gang-raped in Tahrir Square and had to undergo surgery for severe injuries. The assault reminds us yet again of an often overlooked aspect of the Egyptian revolution.
When Egyptians overthrew their dictator in 2011, one of the first celebratory acts in Tahrir Square included the gang beating and sexual assault of American journalist Lara Logan, who, like the Dutch journalist, landed in the hospital.
The Logan rape has always been portrayed as another unfortunate byproduct of mob violence. In fact, it was much more than that. It was a warning shot fired by men whose political beliefs are founded on a common pillar: Women must stay out of the public square.

Read the rest here.

English: Gordon Ramsay's Sesame Crusted Tuna

English: Gordon Ramsay's Sesame Crusted Tuna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It's summer and my kid is sitting in front of my desk, with the t.v. tuned to a cooking show. That reminded me of this little rant I published in the LATimes not long ago, asking what it says about America that half of us slobber over food shows like Gordon Ramsay's, while a quarter of us, including lots of children, are hungry. From the story:

The rise of our cultural obsession with the behind-the-scenes intricacies of glamorized food preparation, and the ubiquity of perfectly plated dishes on television, seems to have coincided rather neatly with the national dive into economic disaster and mass hunger. Food pantries can barely keep up with demand, and hungry, down-on-their-luck families wait in dingy public service agency offices across America, filling out forms for unemployment, WIC and welfare, while the screen on the wall is more likely than not instructing them about "drizzling virgin olive oil" on "julienned" peppers.


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marylin.jpegFrom the crazy mixed-up files, here's an essay I wrote a while back about the stuff that makes me laugh, including a true story involving Donald Trump, Janet Reno, and some spitting frogs at the WHCD.
cnn.jpegMy thoughts on Amanda Knox breaking her silence, at CNN here.
bombshell.jpegHell hath no fury like a woman scorned" - William Congreve.
Not!
Musing on men, scorn and fury here.

04/03/13

The Knox-Haters

timelogo.gifI wrote this piece for Time about the Amanda Knox's guilter blogs. The editors shortened it, leaving in my stalking experience, cutting out examples of egregious behavior directed at others, like Candace Dempsey and Mark Waterbury, whose Facebook and wikipedia pages have been attacked and erased, among other nasty things. Proving my point, the story got 2500 comments in a few days. Some people collect garden gnomes, some do this.
Here's the full article
11/16/12

The Bombshell

bombshell.jpegI write a weekly column for the New York Observer, and when I'm on my game, it makes strong men weep. Read it here
bombshell.jpegWelcome to The Bombshell, a regular column about the peculiarities of the fairer sex.

Ever since the Swedes gave Obama the Nobel Prize before he'd actually done anything, I've wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of the secret chambers where they bestow such honors.

And never more than now, with the MacArthur Foundation's baffling decision to deem 43-year-old fiction writer Junot Díaz a "Genius" worthy of the legendary award's half-million-dollar paycheck.

It's not that Mr. Díaz hasn't written a great novel. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao didn't captivate me, but that's because I'm not inclined to care that much about tubby science fiction geeks with girl issues, even when limned in the admirably deft and much-praised brushstrokes of Mr. Díaz's affecting, hip Spanglish prose. In the five years since then, Mr. Díaz has written just one other book, a short story collection called This Is How You Lose Her.

But, in his brief wondrous literary career so far, Mr. Díaz--now a tenured professor at MIT--has collected more medals than Michael Phelps. Starting with his Pulitzer for fiction in 2007, awards have stuck to him like burrs. He's bagged a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim, the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, a PEN/Malamud Award, a US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize and a raft of lesser-known (to me anyway) awards including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the 2008 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction, the 2008 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the Massachusetts Book Awards Fiction Award in 2007.

Oh, and he now sits on the 20-member Pulitzer Committee himself, perhaps in a newly created job counseling young writers about how to cope when the psychic and emotional weight of all their awards gets too heavy and they find that all their friends hate their guts.

There's something about giant literary awards that attracts other awards, like protons and electrons. But is it possible that one young writer could be deserving of all these prizes? Was there truly not another worthy writer during the last five years to whom the judges at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, say, could have granted a prize, given that their chosen boy had already had bagged a Pulitzer and a Goog?

These are subjective calls, and I reveal my own biases when I admit I would have awarded the Genius grant to Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl and her weird, sickly meditation on mother-daughter resentment, Sharp Objects; or to Lauren Groff for Arcadia, her heartbreakingly beautiful end-of-an-era novel about the generation born of hippie parents. And I'm not being sexist. There are even men who deserve it: Jess Walter, for Beautiful Ruins, and Jonathan Dee, for The Privileges--two writers whose work is brilliant, engrossing and revealing about our times.

This brings to mind a perhaps apocryphal quote I've heard attributed to Hemingway (but cannot find in any Google search this morning): "Literary prizes are like life jackets tossed to men who know how to swim and have already reached the shore."

So far in his brief wondrous life, Mr. Díaz has reached the shore with books exactly three times. He published a well-received collection of short stories first, called Drown, followed by galloping blockbuster Oscar Wao, and then, five years later, his new collection of short stories about love from the point of view of a helplessly philandering male narrator whose wayward urges prevent him from finding lasting love.

The colorful and insular world Mr. Díaz reveals in his writing is particular, but the universal theme is male concupiscence. Oscar Wao's titular antihero moves to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic and comes of age in America. But the book's chief narrator is Oscar's roommate Yunior, a self-described "player" who can't stay true to his girlfriends and is compelled to mess around with all their sisters too.

At one point Yunior shows a touch of self-awareness: "What I should have done was check myself into Bootie-rehab," he writes. "But if you thought I was going to do that, then you don't know Dominican men."

Yunior reappears in This Is How You Lose Her as a professor and writer who cheats on his girlfriends. The key plot point is curiously the same in many of the tales: the girlfriend discovers his infidelities because she cracks open his notebook and reads his diary notes about the encounters. Or, she reads his emails.

Don't you hate when that happens? The reviewers adore it. Calling Yunior "a Latino love rat in New Jersey," The Guardian writes that "the chief pleasure of these stories is the unflinching honesty Díaz brings to the subject of betrayal." Noting that Díaz "writes best about players," The L.A. Times says "it's the voice of male-driven sex and love obsessions that makes Díaz's stories most memorable."

Reading the short stories in the collection, I had a nagging sense of familiarity. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, then I realized who Yunior reminded me of: Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom.

Yes, the booty-chasing white suburban alter ego of John Updike, one of the great phallocrats of 20th century American letters, a man also constitutionally unable to cross the street with getting a literary award stuck on his shoe. And not just Updike, but Philip Roth and Norman Mailer too.

The demise of such fiction was predicted not so long ago in the pages of this very publication. Sven Birkerts, writing 15 years ago, noted that the postwar male ego in fiction was going the way of the Marlboro Man.

And no less a literary light than the sainted David Foster Wallace, also writing in these pages a decade and a half ago, called Updike "just a penis with a thesaurus" and predicted the end of the primacy of "Great Male Narcissists in American fiction. "Most of the literary readers I know personally are under 40," Wallace wrote, "and a fair number are female, and none of them are big admirers of the postwar G.M.N.'s."

Fifteen years after those declarations, literary awards jurors are irresistibly drawn to this Latino Updike, if you will, younger, hipper, bilingual, less prolific certainly, but still plowing the same field as his predecessors, along with the same sorts of all-too-accommodating women. The heart wants what it wants, right? Like the GMNs of yore, Díaz's alter ego is utterly beholden to his wandering penis, yet never examines his compulsion to bone everyone in sight.

In showering Mr Díaz with prize after prize, literary jurors seem to be saying the post-war GMN isn't dead yet. Is it the wars, the terrorism, the recession, driving the longing for a regenerated machismo that Mr. Díaz's multi-culti cred makes acceptable again? Is it a feminist backlash?

Mr. Díaz's wondrous bewitching of prize committees comes at a time when women writers remain wildly underrepresented in publishing, on both the reviewing and the reviewed side. According to VIDA, which tracks women in the arts, the count in 2011 was dismal as ever. The London Review published work by 117 women and 504 men, The Paris Review published work by 20 women and 46 men, The New York Review published work by 163 women and 627 men. It goes on and on. Interestingly, there is more parity over at Pulitzer, where, since 1982, 18 men and 12 women have won for fiction.

I suspect that there's more to Mr. Díaz's multiple awards than either sheer talent (which he does possess), latent machismo among male awards-granters or even wish fulfillment for a bunch of pointy-headed dweebs. Mr. Díaz has acknowledged being guided in his writing career at Rutgers by two female titans of the post-male, multicultural literary establishment: Sandra Cisneros and Toni Morrison. In the end, Mr. Díaz's crowded awards shelf might have as much to do with wise investments of "Who You Know" currency as anything else.

Last week, Mr. Díaz was on CBS This Morning talking to Charlie Rose about how the windfall will change his life. "It gives you an enormous amount of time and room," he reflected. "I told a friend of mine, it's like finding an extra bedroom to your apartment." Yunior would certainly put that chamber to good use.

Nina Burleigh is the author of The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox among other books. Follow her at @ninaburleigh.

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Nina Burleigh
Welcome to The Bombshell, a regular column about the peculiarities of the fairer sex.

It can't be easy to be a man these days, what with the gender's looming end, but thinking about Naomi Wolf's new and much-ridiculed biography of the vagina has reminded me once again of the main reason why I would not want to be a man, or, make that a heterosexual man. Having sex with a woman is a complicated challenge. It exhausts me to think of it.

I feel sorry for the mystified males who have to have sex with us. One friend recently left by his wife wants to write a book for men called Stop, It Tickles. Here is how he explains his title: You meet a woman, she likes you a lot, you get together and maybe get married. But there always comes that night when you are doing the thing you always did, the thing she always liked, and suddenly she says: "Stop, it tickles." And that's the beginning of the end of all of it.

Read the rest at The Observer.

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hpost logo.jpegIn the news, two apparently unrelated stories:

The first is that Baywatch "babe" Donna D'Errico got badly bruised climbing Mount Ararat looking for Noah's Ark. The second is a leaked document of Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's first-strike plan for Iran.

Many people have a hard time seeing the connection between a Hollywood TV bunny looking for proof of God on a hilltop in Turkey and Israeli national security state calmly planning to trigger World War 3.

Look again.

After a month visiting Biblical sites in the Middle East, the connection between God and conflict in the Middle East becomes inescapable. Israel is filled with sites holy to all three major religions, and religious Jews regard the entire nation as a sacred site. It's not just a country with a flag, and a bureaucracy, and a budget, it's actually God's country. It's the spiritual made real.

This belief illuminates and inspires all manner of odd behavior, from settlers periodically trying to take back the Dome of the Rock from the Muslims in Old Jerusalem, to thousands of amateur archaeologists sifting through rubble cast off from the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa mosque plaza, hoping to find some bits of proof that Solomon's Temple lies beneath that, bits that could be used to take it and all of Jerusalem back for modern-day Israel -- as the Bible commands.

Israel religious-nationalist politicians' sense of entitlement, inherent in plans for unilateral pre-emptive bombing, always provokes an "end of days" resignation among Americans. That passivity is just one end of a spectrum related to belief in the "history" contained in the Bible.

On the other end of the spectrum, one finds people like World of Bible Ministries "archaeologist" Randall Price taking money from donors to search for Noah's Ark, and it's not cheap. One also finds documentary filmmakers and writers cashing in handsomely. One of them was backed by no less a Hollywood patriarch than James Cameron. The producers have claimed to find things like Christ's DNA in a Jerusalem cave, or the actual nails that nailed the Messiah top the cross, or John the Baptist's Cave. They "find" them and then as reliably as the Little Drummer Boy tooting through every Rite Aid on the day after Thanksgiving, they get their "new evidence" in front of millions of Americans around Easter-time on Discovery Channel or National Geographic TV.

For the same reason that James Cameron would back such a documentary -- gulled and moneyed blind American faith in Biblical truth -- our government will tacitly go along with many of Israel's craziest, maddest schemes.

Many of the Bible stories and characters in them -- Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Solomon -- have no historical basis. The more archaeologists dig and the more historians search, the less certain they are of almost every aspect of the Bible, from Exodus to the conquest of the Promised Land to the existence of a grand ancient Israeli empire.

Certainly the real reasons behind Israel's preemptive strike plans have more to do with modern geopolitics than with the Bible. And the production of pseudo-science to sell believers on the historicity of the Bible, what one archaeologist had called "archaeo-porn" -- has more to do with money than faith.

But many among us -- from Christians in America to religious nationalists in Israel -- persist in reading the Bible, a document written in the 7th century BCE by a small group of priests in the desert, as a blueprint for God's plan for the Middle East, giving politicians like Netanyahu cover, and enriching charlatans who hawk proof of the Bible on TV and in print.

On many trips to Israel over the years, I have visited Megiddo, the site of the Biblical Armageddon -- the war to end all wars that will usher in the return of the Messiah. Busloads of Holy Land tourists -- many of them American Christians -- are driven onto this site every day, led by preachers waving the Bible, some pointing in the direction of Iran and quoting scripture about the forces of darkness and the end times, some even calculating the billions of cubic feet in the Biblical reference to rivers of blood filling the plains below at the end of days.

The site is actually one of the most fruitful and important archaeological excavations in the region, with 30 cities dating millennia on top of each other, yielding a wealth of actual information to modernity about the waves of poly-ethnic settlement in the area before and during the Biblical years, as well as the battles between the global powers of antiquity -- Egypt, Babylon, Assyria -- waged on this strategic spot.

The archaeologists who dig at the site every summer sometimes overhear the Holy Land guides spinning their Bible yarns, and they laugh at them, but no one bothers to correct them. Archaeologists and historians unfortunately don't engage much with misguided popular notions. Those who have challenged the very commercially lucrative Biblical versions of history are promptly sued or otherwise cowed into silence.

So a Baywatch beauty climbs the big hill looking for Noah's Ark and falls flat on her pretty face. And Bibi plans a Biblical-style wreaking of vengeance on the ancient force of darkness over God's mountains to the east.

I haven't been to Iran, but we already know the mullahs there are finding their own prophet-stamped encouragement for bellicosity.

Meanwhile, the godless rest of us can only stand and wait.

Or maybe we are supposed to ask God to help us.


Read the comments at Huffingtonpost.
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timelogo.gifNew information in the Shaima Alawadi murder case in El Cajon, Calif., suggests that the family was cracking over a forced marriage for daughter Fatima, 17, and that Alawadi herself was preparing to divorce her husband. If female freedom turns out to be at the heart of the murder, it will highlight not so much the intolerance of Muslim immigrants by Americans, but the cultural restrictions on women in those communities and what happens when those restrictions clash with the relatively permissive rules of Western society.
Alawadi was beaten to death with a tire iron inside her home in El Cajon (home to 40,000 Iraqis) last month. For weeks the case has been regarded as a possible hate crime because someone left a note beside her unconscious body that read, "Go back to your own country. You're a terrorist." But Alawadi, 32, belonged to a culture in which families choose husbands for their daughters at a young age, and the daughters have no say in it. She was married by the age of 15. She had produced five children with her husband Kassim Alhimidi, who moved his family to the U.S. 17 years ago. Police executing search warrants on the family's house, cars and phones found documents in Alawadi's car indicating she was planning to get divorced. According to the New York Times, a family friend told police that Alawadi wanted to leave her husband and move to Texas. Her sister, however, denied that.

Read the whole essay at Time.com
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salonlogo.gifAs progressives total up the ways Obama dashed their hopes for the elusive change we can believe in, there is one big, broken change-promise that no one mentions these days.

Three years ago this month, Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and told him that the West Bank settlements had to cease. "The settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward," said Barack Obama, at his first presidential meeting with the Israeli leader. A month later, the new president reiterated the criticism, in a Cairo speech that was supposed to herald a re-boot of U.S.-Muslim relations. "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," Obama said from a podium at Al Azhar. "This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

But the settlements have not stopped and, rather than rebuking Israel, the U.S. government is preparing to reward it more than ever before. This week, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Appropriations passed a bill handing over the most money ever in one year to Israeli defense: just shy of a billion dollars toward three Israeli missile defense projects, called Iron Dome, David's Shield and Arrow. Last year's appropriation for the same projects was $235 million. "I don't know of any joint defense programs in the last 10 years -- probably no program with any other country - that has approached a billion," said a staffer who works with the subcommittee.
Read the whole story at Salon

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images.jpegThere's a new book out further elaborating on the conspiracy theory that Mary Meyer, the original "dangerous blonde" of the Cold War and subject of my first book, was murdered over war, peace and JFK's assassination. Peter Janney (who optioned my book for years before writing his) proposes that she had to die because she knew too much. It's a good read, although I disagree with some of Peter's conclusions. The truth is that the Mad Men of the A-Bomb, entitled arrogant alcoholics, were capable of more than we probably know. My Daily Beast story here.


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timelogo.gifFans of the Olympics have seen unusual athletes engaging in some odd sports over the years. In 1912, there was the Glima competition -- a form of Icelandic wrestling in which competitors wore leather straps around their waists and thighs which opponents grabbed to score takedowns. Other Olympians have engaged in fishing, ballooning, "skijoring" (races with animals pulling humans on skis) and bandy -- a hybrid of ice hockey and soccer.

But spectators watching London's 2012 Olympics this summer will not see that extremely rare creature: the Saudi woman athlete. In fact, they are more likely to see camels racing in Piccadilly Circus than a single Saudi women kicking a ball around a London soccer field.
Full article here.
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Out on the Corniche, beyond the ruined art deco beachfront high-rises -- lodging rats now, not VIPs -- you can rent a bike. No one seemed to have a map, but the mid-December sun was warm and it seemed a shame not to pedal along the seashore on my free afternoon.

A Christmas story for the LATimes, here it is.



The systematic aborting of female fetuses in India leaves entire towns male-only.
ABC's 20/20 and Elizabeth Vargas have done an amazing piece on this utterly revolting spectacle.

10/06/11

The Lessons


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Some of the lessons we can take away from the Amanda Knox story, in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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This past week might have been one of the most serendipitous in the history of global reality television programming. MTV announced that Snooki and the rest of the very racy "Jersey Shore" gang are headed to Italy to film their fourth season, just as Italy has been gripped by a torrent of wiretaps and court documents alleging a very racy sex scandal involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Continue reading at the Washington Post.
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Genius and the lure of young flesh.

Until recently, in the western world, the right of a Great Man to man-handle a reluctant, pliant young woman was simply not questioned. With the advent of sexual harassment laws, the old order is under attack. It won't go down easily. Novels by and about angry and accused men have been written about unfortunate incidents, movies made. J.M Coetzee's Disgrace, Philip Roth's The Human Stain, even Zadie Smith's On Beauty, tend to greater or lesser degree to sympathize with the accused. These Great Men, it seems, are helpless against their urges. In fact, their genius may well depend upon their consummated desires, and young women are fuel for the fires of their brilliance. And in the end, they are really willing minxes, whether they know it yet or not. Continue reading at The Huffington Post

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Israeli authorities called it "the fraud of the century": fakes passed off as archaeological finds with biblical ties. The most notorious object was the James ossuary, a limestone box inscribed in Aramaic with the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Five men were charged, and the trial has been dragging on for three years. Continue reading at the Los Angeles Times
Recently, word of a 2000-plus year-old stone, with ancient Hebrew writing in ink, splashed across the world's newspapers, beginning with the New York Times itself. The story is vaguely familiar -- in recent years we have been bombarded with similar new-old discoveries from the Holy Land -- yet also shockingly relevant to millions of faithful today. Writing on the mysterious tablet supposedly reveals a new facet of religious history, one that roots Christianity even more firmly and deeply into Judaism, the religion from whence it sprung. Continue reading at Powell's Books
Last year in Israel, poking around in the dust near the Dead Sea, I kicked over a curiously inscribed stone, carved with words in a language I could not read. Realizing that I might have stumbled upon an important piece of Holy Land archaeology, I took the object to a well-known epigrapher in Jerusalem, who, after examining the piece for some hours, concluded that it said, in ancient Hebrew: "And lo, in the year 2008, Y____h will inflict upon you a Madoff, and your prosperity will dry up like the earth after a hundred-year drought; all your goats and all your wives and all your dwellings will evaporate like water in the sun." Continue reading at The Bible and Interpretation
An atheist descends into the underworld of the Israeli antiquities trade.

I didn't go to Jerusalem to see the Holy Land. As an atheist and a journalist, I went to explore a curious case of forged biblical artifacts the Israeli authorities were calling "the fraud of the century." My earthly reward was to encounter a set of unusual characters operating in a strange world where money, faith, science and politics are intertwined like nesting snakes. Continue reading at Killing the Buddha

Excerpted from Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land.
As I write these words in an office above midtown Manhattan, armed men are disembarking from black SUVs on the street down below. A helicopter beats overhead. It's just a Homeland Security exercise, another nail in the coffin of my long-dead sense of security. Farther downtown, there's a hole where 3,000 people died, murdered by fanatical practitioners of one of the world's three great religions. Continue Reading at Powell's Books
A few weeks ago, President George W. Bush went before the UN, asking for money for the United States from the global community. It remains to be seen whether anyone will come to our aid, but it's easy to imagine the eye-rolling in Europe and especially in third world countries, at the sight of the swaggering superpower asking alms. Continue reading at History News Network
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After a long winter with a new baby, my husband Erik and I needed to get away, preferably to another dimension. So we were relieved and grateful to get The Call. On ADVENTURE's $1,500 we could go someplace warm and do something athletic - preferably mountain biking, an activity that had been curtailed by the arrival of baby Felix. And nine months of being chained to feedings and changings made us eager to travel with the barest outline of a plan. We opened the atlas and zeroed in on Turkey.
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In a city used to protests, Chanel blends with Che T-shirts as more than a million turn out for the mother of all May Day rallies.

The French do love an excuse to march dans les rues. About every few days, wending our way around Paris, we find inexplicable traffic blockages, heralded by truckloads of idling police buses. The cops in riot gear occasionally get out and smoke on the sidewalk, but otherwise they do nothing to either harass or encourage the protesters. Continue reading at Salon
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Le Pen's victory goes a long way toward wiping the smirk of moral superiority off the faces of Parisians who love to bash America

I'm sorry I was in bed when the tear-gassing of the anti-fascist protesters was underway Sunday at the Bastille a few blocks away. I'd like to have been there, if only to witness Parisians' impassive hauteur disintegrate into something approaching embarrassment.

For Ugly Americans living in Paris, the Le Pen upset is cause for celebration. Continue reading at Salon
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Being a Midwesterner transplanted to Washington's Shaw neighborhood, I was interested to hear Mayor Marion Barry's recent pronouncement that D.C. is safer than Topeka. While I love my house and my neighbors, and I have felt personally safe most of the time, I have also been closer to more shootings here than I ever was as a journalist in Baghdad or Haiti.

Soon after I moved in two-and-a-half years ago, the yellow crime-scene tape fluttered in the hot breeze on my street. Strung from the street signs to the door of an abandoned Victorian town house and blocking traffic, it gave the street an unintentionally festive air. The square it defined might have contained a used-car lot or a street fair or an ice cream social. A crowd gathered, adding to the carnival atmosphere. A sense of community descended briefly.
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In recent months, the Clinton administration has launched an all-out effort to bring women voters back into the fold. The White House has recently instructed agency heads to offer up one women's event a month where the president might appear; soon it will create a new political outreach office whose sole aim will be to capture the female vote. At a cozy "roundtable" in the Old Executive Office Building earlier this spring, White House liaison Alexis Herman addressed a group of female reporters on what Bill Clinton has done for women. And Hillary Rodham Clinton has emerged from her post-health 
reform funk as a born-again feminist, expressing support for women at venues from Lahore to Copenhagen to New York.

Read all Nina's huffposts here.