Book Review: Yesternight, Cat Winters (2016)

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Supernatural horror + timeless misogyny = a compelling creepshow.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Dreamt I to-day the dream of yesternight,
Sleep ever feigning one evolving theme,
— Of my two lives which should I call the dream?

—George Santayana, “Sonnet V,” 1896

Alice Lind,
Alice Lind,
Took a stick and beat her friend.
Should she die?
Should she live?
How many beatings did she give?

If I hadn’t been a psychologist—if I didn’t find the idea of reincarnation so absurd—I would have wanted Violet Sunday to exist.

A female mathematical genius.

A Victorian female mathematical genius.

What an absolutely delicious idea.

A school psychologist, Alice Lind spends her days traversing the western United States, administering psychological and intelligence tests to children and advising the Department of Education how it can better help students who are being under-served in their communities. While the work certainly goes to Alice’s desire to help kids – especially troubled ones like her younger self – too often she feels trapped, suffocated, and bored.

After obtaining her Master’s degree, Alice applied to multiple doctoral programs, with the hope of one day studying human memory – and its malleability and resilience, particularly where repressed memories are concerned. Despite her obvious skill and passion, Alice was rebuffed at every turn, only to watch her less qualified peers move on to bigger and better things. The year is 1925, you see, a time when higher education for women was considered a quirky anomaly at best – and a sinful rejection of one’s “God given” role as a woman at worst.

Our first glimpse of Miss Lind comes as she steps off the train and into her latest two-week placement at Gordon Bay, Oregon – by the special request of the schoolteacher, Miss Simpkin. Among her pupils is a precocious seven-year-old named Janie O’Daire (to whom Miss Simpkin is also known as “Aunt Tillie”), an exceptionally bright student and apparent math prodigy, who seems to experience memories of another life. A past life.

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Book Review: All Is Not Forgotten, Wendy Walker (2016)

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Mesmerizing — and also a little maddening!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC though NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including rape.)

I was a child with a box of matches.

It seems so easy, doesn’t it? To just erase the past. But now you know better.

Jilted by some jerk named Doug, fifteen-year-old Jenny Kramer flees from the party he’d invited her to – only to cross paths with a predator. Jenny is assaulted and raped in the woods surrounding her classmate’s house. A few of her fellow party-goers hear Jenny’s cries and rush to her aid, but not until the hour-long attack has ended, and the perpetrator escaped.

Upon her arrival at the hospital, the doctors immediately administer a sedative so that they can perform an exam and then surgery. With her parents’ consent, they also subject Jenny to a controversial treatment to erase her memories of the trauma. A combination of morphine and Benzatral, the treatment is meant to induce limited anterograde amnesia in patients: preventing short-term memories from being filed away in long-term storage. (While this does feel a little science fiction-y, according to the author’s note, the premise is based on emerging research, most notably on veterans suffering from PTSD.)

While the treatment initially appears successful – inasmuch as Jenny has no memories of the rape – Jenny’s mental state slowly begins to unravel. She suffers from anxiety and insomnia; she begins to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs; and, eight months later, she attempts suicide.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Half Life of Molly Pierce, Katrina Leno (2014)

Monday, October 6th, 2014

An Unexpectedly Heartfelt Look at Mental Illness

five out of five stars

(Trigger warning for depression and suicide. Also, this review is of an ARC. Any mistakes are mine and not the author’s or publisher’s.)

Seventeen-year-old Molly Pierce is blacking out. Losing time. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes; other times, hours or even most of a day passes before she comes to. One afternoon, the Massachusetts native was halfway to New York before she woke up behind the wheel of her car.

Though this has been going on for a year, Molly can’t tell anyone: Not her parents, who already walk on eggshells around her as it is; not her sister Hazel or brother Clancy; not her best friends Erie and Luka; not even her psychiatrist Alex. She’s too afraid of what might happen. She’ll be labeled “crazy,” shipped off to a “loony bin,” perhaps. Plus, talking about it? Giving voice to her problems? Makes them real. If she can just pretend to be normal, maybe she will be. Eventually.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Chance You Won’t Return, Annie Cardi (2014)

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

Interesting Concept, Unlikable Narrator

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: This review is of an ARC. Any mistakes are my own.)

It must have been like this for Mom – the longer you go without talking about something, the harder it is to start, until eventually you don’t know how to.

A junior at Oak Ridge High, Alex Winchester has tried to stay under the radar; until this year, it’s mostly worked. She’s failing driver’s ed., which is understandable given her phobia of driving – but since she’s too embarrassed to explain her fears to the adults in her life, they keep pushing her to get behind the wheel of a car. That is, until she drives the school’s Volvo right through the end zone, incurring the wrath of the football team and its newly rabid fans. As if this humiliation isn’t bad enough, her mom suffers a nervous breakdown during the meeting with her driving instructor Mr. Kane. The weird idiosyncrasies Alex has observed in her mother during the past few weeks fall into place: Janet Winchester is convinced that she’s Amelia Earhart.

A battery of tests and a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital are of little help; whatever Janet’s problem, it has no physical cause. And with insurance refusing to cover extended care, Alex and her family – father David, sister Katy, and brother Teddy – must care for Janet at home. Each member of the family deals with Janet’s illness in her own way: David is patient to a fault; Katy loses herself in her schoolwork; Teddy takes advantage of Mom/Earhart whenever possible; and Alex alternates between hostility, despair, and camaraderie. Before the illness, her relationship with her mom was rocky at best; now, she often stays up late at night, confiding in this new, not-quite-Mom. (Though the relationship isn’t as idyllic as the book’s synopsis would have you believe.)

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Book Review: Picture Me Gone, Meg Rosoff (2013)

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Not all that’s lost is meant to be found…

four out of five stars

Just days before Mila and her father are to travel from London to visit him, Gil’s childhood friend Matthew goes missing from his home in upstate New York. He leaves behind a wife, Suzanne; a new baby, Gabriel; a faithful old dog, Honey – and countless secrets, just waiting to be uncovered.

Named after her grandfather’s terrier, Mila is a bit of a hound herself. Whereas Gil’s talents lie in translating words from one language to another – and her mother Marieka’s, translating feelings into music – Mila is able to read the subtleties of a person, room, or situation and assemble these puzzle pieces into a coherent picture. She’s a sort of mentalist, or a tween Sherlock, if you will; the antithesis to her father’s bumbling academic. Mila peers into souls.

When Matthew disappears, she and Gil set off to New York as planned, with the goal of reuniting Matthew with his family – or at least finding out what became of him. Mila discovers more than she bargained for, including one of her own father’s lies, as well as a sudden and unexpected desire to be treated like the child that she is for a change.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Love + Sex with Robots, David Levy (2007)

Friday, May 4th, 2012

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Welcome to New Earth

three out of five stars

I have a confession to make: my BSG OTP isn’t Starbuck and Apollo. Or Starbuck and Anders. It isn’t Lee and Doulla, Saul and Ellen Tigh, or even Captain Adama and President Roslin (as lovely as their relationship was). My favorite coupling in the entire series is Helo and Athena – Karl Agathon and his Cylon wife. She defected to the human side of the war to be with him; he saved the Cylons from certain genocide. Their love survived and flourished in spite of overwhelming odds. The product of this love, daughter Hera – the very first human/Cylon hybrid – joined the first settlers of New Earth, eventually becoming Mother Eve to us all.

Perhaps, then, I’m not the best judge of David Levy’s Love + Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, seeing as I’m already sold on the idea. (Assuming, of course, that we one day develop sentient, self-aware robots. Otherwise it’s all just physical and mental masturbation, don’t you think?) Drawing upon decades of psychosocial research, Levy – an expert on artificial intelligence and author of Robots Unlimited (2005) – explores two (really three) separate but related topics: 1) Will robot evolution result in androids that are physically and behaviorally indistinguishable from humans and, if so, will humans prove willing to enter into 2) emotional and 3) sexual relationships with them?

Levy answers these questions with a resounding – if sometimes overenthusiastic – “YES!” Tracing the history of sex toys, Levy demonstrates that humans are already “having sex” (read: masturbating) with technology, and have been for some time: consider, if you will, sex dolls, vibrators, virtual reality, teledildonics, and the like. Whereas sexual aids were a source of shame (and even criminal prosecution) in days past, they’re now sold openly in Western societies. Likewise, many people retain the services of sex workers at one time or another; taking into account their reasons for doing so, robotic sex workers seem inevitable. On the “love” side of the equation, Levy delves into psychological research which parses out the hows and whys of human relationships – and adeptly explains how most (though not all) of these factors would play out in human-android couplings. He points to peoples’ attachment to their robotic and virtual “pets” – such as the Tamagotchi and Digimon – as an example of how we extend attachments from sentient, organic beings (dogs, cats, gerbils) to their artificial (albeit not quite intelligent – not yet!) counterparts.

While Levy presents a compelling argument, there are also a few missed opportunities. Given that popular culture – movies, television shows, literature, music, etc. – both reflects and influences social mores, I would’ve liked to have seen a discussion of human-robot relationships in pop culture. Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien, Star Trek, Wall-e, Futurama, A.I. – there are so many from which to choose! An examination of the audience’s reaction to human-Cylon couplings in BSG, for example, might evince how viewers feel about “love + sex with robots” – in theory at least. Further, a generation of kids weaned on shows that positively portray such relationships is bound to be more receptive to the idea in practice.

More problematic is Levy’s near-total failure to examine the ethical implications of such relationships. As objects – pieces of property belonging to their human owners – can robots even be said to have sex or fall in love “with” humans? “With” implies some degree of reciprocity, which requires not just intelligence but also free will. If robots are made to order and can be reprogrammed at the owner’s whim, can their “choice” to enter into an emotional or sexual relationship with a human (particularly their owner/programmer) ever be truly consensual? And how can a mere piece of property, with the same legal status and moral standing of a tv or computer, enter into a legal contract such as a marriage?

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Sweet Spot: A Taste of Things to Come, a catalogue from Hong Kong, lists nearly 70 different models of blow-up doll, including saucy Sondrine, whose hair, nipple, and genitalia glow in the dark; Betty Fat Girl Bouncer, to satisfy the chubby chaser; Brandi Sommer, with ‘super vibrating LoveClone lips’; and The Perfect Date, which is just 36 inches tall and is equipped with a mouth and a cup holder built into her head. There’s even a dairy maid doll who lactates and has short blonde braids reminscent of Swiss Miss. Some of the blow-ups vibrate and, oddly enough, scream.”

Meghan Laslocky, quoted in Love + Sex with Robots, David Levy (2007)
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Some will argue that a robot can be re/programmed to enjoy whatever fate her owner has chosen for her. If the robot is “happy” with her treatment, then, what’s the harm? Consider the following scenario, if you will. John Smith is a misogynist. He gets off on humiliating, hurting, and dominating women. Rather than rape human women and risk jail time (a slim risk, but that’s another matter), he decides to buy a robot and program her to “enjoy” physical and sexual abused. Is this acceptable? Why or why not?

But let’s say that John doesn’t want “his” robot to enjoy being treated so poorly; after all, causing a woman to suffer is the best part! Suppose the robot is programmed to merely tolerate his sadism, or perhaps to be traumatized by it. What then? Or maybe John Smith is a pedophile or zoophile. Is “sex with” a child or nonhuman animal somehow more ethical if these children and animals are artificially created? Where’s the line? Is there a line?

At times Levy describes these future robots as “conscious” and “sentient” without going into further detail. If androids do evolve to the point that they are sentient – capable of feeling pain and suffering – are they not deserving of the same rights that humans enjoy, regardless of how they came into being? (As a vegan, my answer is obvious: I believe that ALL sentient beings have the right to live free of human oppression. Or perhaps “human/oid oppression” is a more accurate phrase, at least in the context of this discussion!) Chief among these is these is autonomy – the right not to be treated as an object, bought, sold, and owned by others. For robots and humans alike, the right to control one’s own body – mind/programming included – is also a basic “human” right. If it’s acceptable to reprogram a sentient android to do your bidding, then what about naturally created humans (a la Dollhouse)?

These moral quandaries are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg – and, while I realize that a satisfactory discussion of these could easily take up an entire book or even series of books, Levy would have been well served not to relegate them to a passing mention in the conclusion. Doubly so since some of these issues go to the very core of his argument: namely, that humans will one day fall in love and have sex with robots. This is only possible if robots are equal partners, capable of falling in love and having sex of their own accord. Otherwise it’s not love and sex – but rather rape, masturbation, and one-way object attachment.

Given how we treat our fellow earthlings, I think it’ll take the equivalent of a Cylon rebellion to realize Levy’s vision.

A promotional image from the Battlestar Galactica sequel, Caprica, shows a young white woman holding a rosy red apple, from which she has taken a large bite. the copy reads, “The future of humanity begins with a choice.” The woman? Zoey Graystone, the very first Cylon in the BSG ‘verse.
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On that note, I seriously need to rewatch Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse, stat!

As always, this review is crossposted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please vote me helpful if you’re so inclined!

Book Review: The Believing Brain, Michael Shermer (2011)

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

We Want to Believe!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free advanced review copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

I requested a copy of Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain through Library Thing’s Earlier Reviewer program on behalf of my husband, who – as a fellow libertarian skeptic – is a huge fan of Shermer’s work. (I’m also a skeptic and an atheist, but economically liberal – so still a fan, but not nearly as much as he!) In addition to owning most of Shermer’s books, he even had the good fortune to interview Shermer for his podcast, The Libertarian Dime, a few years back (during the Amazing Meeting, natch!). So he was rather enthusiastic when we snagged a review copy and it arrived in the mail a few weeks later. Busy as he was at work, it then sat around for a few months, gathering dust, until I finally picked it up and started leafing through…and quickly became engrossed.

The basic premise of The Believing Brain is that people form beliefs, and then the explanations for these beliefs follow. (Which is exactly the opposite of how things “should” work – or the opposite of how we’d like to think our rational human minds function, anyhow.) Far from being logical, unbiased, free-thinking agents, we are instead driven by minds that function as “belief engines,” designed by evolution to see patterns in the world – whether real or imagined – and to infuse them with meaning. Thus, beliefs are formed, and the (selective) gathering of (supporting) evidence is secondary. Of course, Shermer’s thesis is much more complicated than this, and draws from the fields of psychology and neurobiology, with a heavy emphasis on behavioral neuroscience (biopsychology) and evolutionary psychology. (Shermer has a bachelor’s degree in biopsychology and a doctorate in the history of science.) He cites a wealth of evidence to support his argument, including research examining the link between activity in different areas of the brain and the propensity to believe in pseudoscience, superstitions, conspiracy theories and other forms of “bunk.” (The book includes a generous, twenty-three page appendix.)

The Believing Brain is divided into four parts. Part I, “Journeys of Belief,” features profiles of skeptics-turned-believers and believers-turned-skeptics, including Shermer himself. Though perhaps unnecessary (the book does clock in at almost 400 pages, after all!), this is a nice, light read, and helps to guide the reader into the meat of the book: Part II, “The Biology of Belief,” which introduces the topics of patternicity and agenicity and discusses how the brain, through neural activity, is involved in each. Part III shows these principles in action: belief in the afterlife, god, aliens and conspiracies all serve as examples of false beliefs preceding valid evidence. Finally, we see in Part IV how beliefs manifest in politics, and how a whole host of biases (e.g., confirmation, self-justification, attribution, sunk-cost and status quo, to name a few) help to trick our minds into believing that we are almost always right (and, conversely, those who disagree with us are almost always wrong). (Those who’ve ever taken a social psychology course will find “Confirmations of Belief” reassuringly familiar.) Lastly, In “Geographies of Belief” and “Cosmologies of Belief,” Shermer illustrates how popular beliefs evolve over time, and positively so through the application of science and the scientific method.

Though I mostly enjoyed The Believing Brain, I do have a few quibbles. Since his thesis draws so heavily upon evolutionary psychology, I would have liked for Shermer to have at least acknowledged some of the criticisms of the field. Additionally, while the research discussed in The Believing Brain suggests that not all of the variations in belief can be attributed to biological factors – for example, environmental and social factors may also play also a role – Shermer doesn’t seem to want to touch either with a ten-foot pole! I found myself especially frustrated by one of the book’s parting chapters, “Cosmologies of Belief,” which draws upon the history of cosmology to demonstrate how beliefs can be changed. Since all of my knowledge about space and time comes from Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica, I found myself struggling to understand the science in the chapter; science in action became the forest to cosmology’s trees. A more widely understood topic might make this chapter more accessible to a wider audience.

My biggest complaint, however, is perhaps the most minor of them all (well, “minor” inasmuch as it occupies the least space – less than a page, to be exact). Early on, in his introduction on patternicity, Shermer singles out celebrities Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey in order to chastise them for their crusade against vaccinations (supposedly because of their link to autism). My problem isn’t with the scolding – it’s well-deserved – but with how Shermer goes about it. He describes a 2009 Autism Awareness Day episode of Larry King Live: on one side of the debate, medical researchers. “On the other side of the table were the actor Jim Carrey and his ex-Playboy bunny partner Jenny McCarthy.” Not only is this an ad hominem attack (they’re celebrities! so they must be stupid and ill-informed!) and appeal to authority (misguided at best, given how Shermer spends the next 300 pages demonstrating how we’re all subject to irrational, misguided beliefs, education be damned), but in describing McCarthy as an “ex-Playboy bunny” – instead of an actress, comedian, or (more generally) a celebrity or entertainer – he engages in a pernicious, subtle bit of slut-shaming as well. Not only is she vacuous and gullible like her partner the actor – but she takes her clothes off for money, to boot! (The horror of it all!) Reductive and sexist. I nearly quit reading the book after choking on this tripe, but pushed on and am happy to report that it’s an anomaly. Still, I hope Shermer revises his choice of words in future editions of the book. (Mine is an ARC.)

Anyhow, given the complexity of the subject matter, it’s helpful if you have some background in biopsychology; while Shermer does a good enough job of explaining the basics of neural communication, I found myself pulling out my old college textbook for extra help (and especially illustrations!). Even so, The Believing Brain is an engaging – if not always easy and breezy – read for the layperson. Methinks this book will appeal most to those in the skeptical/atheist community, as well as those interested in popular psychology books.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 24: Three months o’ links!

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Considering I haven’t posted a link roundup in more than three months, this one actually isn’t all that long. What can I say; I’ve used what little free blogging time I’ve had to prepare for the upcoming Vegan MoFo madness. Speaking of which, brand spanking new graphics and an up-to-date press release are now available. Go grab some and spread the word! 400 participants and counting – let’s make it 500, kay? Come November 1st, you can follow the fun on Twitter (VeganMoFo, #veganmofo), the (new!) PPK forums, and Vegan MoFo Headquarters International. See y’all then.

Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better”;

Stephanie @ Animal Rights & AntiOppression: “You Coming Out or What?”; and

The Bullies Suck T-shirt

In the wake of a spate of suicides, committed by gay teenagers who were each the target of homophobic bullying, the LGBTQ community and its allies celebrated National Coming Out Day on October 11. Together, these events have focused attention on movements to prevent bullying – particularly those aimed at LGBTQ (or perceived LGBTQ) youths – including the It Gets Better Project and The Trevor Project. The former invites members and allies of the LGBTQ community to upload encouraging videos to its website, the message being that “it gets better”; the latter operates a hotline for LGBTQ youths and young adults in crisis, and also provides resources to parents and educators.

As part of this anti- anti-gay backlash, a number of celebrities and public figures have shared their own experiences publicly – including Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, whose heartbreaking speech went viral and was aired in full on various media outlets, including CNN (where I first saw it). I’ve embedded the video above; even though it’s rather long, clocking in at almost 13 minutes, I urge you to watch the whole thing. It will bring you to tears.

And, while you’re already a sobby, snotty mess, head on over to AR&AO, where Stephanie shares her own “coming out” story. These issues – homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and the like – are relevant to animal rights activism simply because so many activists belong to marginalized groups; nonhumans are not the only animals exploited and mistreated en masse, for no reason other than the simple fact of their birth. All oppression is bad oppression, and all forms of oppression harm individual activists, as well as social movements and the beings for whom we advocate. These are not “special interests,” to be addressed only after the “important” work is done; these are our interests, to be tackled in concert with other “isms.”

To this end, Ari Solomon of A Scent of Scandal, Josh Hooten of The Herbivore Clothing Company and Jennifer Martin of Ink Brigade created a line of t-shirts to show solidarity with the victims of anti-LGBTQ bullying. Called “Bullies Suck,” the tees are available for purchase through Herbivore (just $20, with kids’ sizes, to boot!); all proceeds will be donated to The Trevor Project.

(More below the fold…)

more randomness: food, needs, food needs, dairy/rape, dennis kucinich & dogs

Sunday, August 15th, 2010
  • After a nearly six month hiatus, I have a new post up at Animal Rights & AntiOppression! In an interview with humane educator Zoe Weil, we look at the connections between our treatment of nonhuman animals, the earth, and one another, and explore humane education as the bridge between seemingly disparate social justice movements – and the solution to our many (many!) human-made ills.

    Check it: “The World Becomes What You Teach”: An Interview With Humane Educator Zoe Weil

  • Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (psych101 students, represent!), Ellyn Satter developed a corresponding hierarchy of food needs, arguing that one cannot “choose” to consume healthy products unless one’s more basic needs – such as having enough food to eat, having acceptable food, and having reliable, ongoing access to food – are already met.

    Satter's Hierarchy of Food Needs

    Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs:
    Bottom to top, the six needs are as follows: Enough food; Acceptable food; Reliable, ongoing access to food; Good-tasting food; Novel food; and Instrumental food.

    The choice to consume vegan food (vs. the necessity of consuming vegan food) seems to rest at the apex of Satter’s hierarchy, and as such, can only be made “when all underlying needs are consistently satisfied”: “The person functioning at the apex of Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs reliably gets enough to eat of rewarding food and has food acceptance skills that are good enough to allow him or her to eat a variety of food. That person is thus in a position to consider choosing food for instrumental reasons: to achieve a desired physical, cognitive, or spiritual outcome. This description is analogous to Maslow’s concept of self actualization.”
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    While this hierarchy is primarily being discussed in relation to our consumption (or lack thereof) of nutritious, healthy food, i.e.:

    The graphic suggests that getting enough food to eat is the most important thing to people. Having food be acceptable (e.g., not rotten, something you are not allergic to) comes second. Once those two things are in place, people hope for reliable access to food and only then do they begin to worry about taste. If people have enough, acceptable, reliable, good-tasting food, then they seek out novel food experiences and begin to make choices as to what to eat for instrumental purposes (e.g., number of calories, nutritional balance).

    As Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist writes, sometimes when a person chooses to eat nutritionally deficient or fattening foods, it is not because they are “stupid, ignorant, lazy, or just a bad, bad person who loves bad, bad food.” Sometimes, it’s “because other needs come first.” (Source: Sociological Images)

    it’s equally applicable to veganism and vegan foods: obstacles such as hunger, poverty, food insecurity, lack of access to food, etc., severely constrict people’s ability to choose a vegan diet, on multiple levels (e.g., individual, community, population). As long as we’re serious about creating a vegan world, we must address these human inequities as well. (That, and it’s the right thing to do.)

    Check out the Food Empowerment Project for more.

  • (More below the fold…)

    On Carnism: Why Do We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows ?

    Monday, March 1st, 2010

    Carnism by Melanie Joy (2009)

    Carnism: The Psychology of “Meat”-Eating 101

    four out of five stars

    Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism (2010) though the website Basil & Spice. As a former psychology major and vegan of five years (and vegetarian for eight years on top of that), Carnism is right up my alley. Dr. Joy, a social psychologist and animal advocate, deconstructs our “meat culture,” identifying a number of key defense mechanisms that shield Westerners from an uncomfortable reality: how can we claim to “love” and “care for” nonhuman animals, yet enslave, torture, slaughter, dismember, process and consume them to the tune of tens of billions* per year? The answer lies in our carnistic system.

    Carnism 101

    Carnism, Joy posits, is the invisible belief system (or ideology) that underlies our unthinking consumption of “meat.” We have so internalized this behavior – “meat”-eating – that we do not even recognize it as a choice, but rather blindly accept it as a normal and necessary way of life; “meat” consumption is “just the way it is.” Carnism is the logical counterpart to vegetarianism: just as one can decide not to eat meat, so too is meat-eating a choice. And yet, while the terms “vegetarianism” and “veganism” are part of common parlance, we have no such word for “carnism.” Because the ideology that supports “meat” consumption remains unnamed, it’s seen as something natural, inevitable, existing outside of a belief system. Or it’s not seen at all – it’s invisible. We can avoid thinking about it because we lack the tools (words) with which to talk about it. In naming, there is power. Words matter.

    This is, I think, is Carnism‘s greatest strength. With the introduction of one simple, short word, Joy gives us a tool with which to single out our “meat” culture for criticism and critique. “Carnism” unveils the choices behind the curtain – choices which are so incongruous with our innate sense of compassion, Joy argues, that we must go to great lengths to defend these choices from scrutiny. At a macro level, this is called psychic numbing: “we disconnect, mentally and emotionally, from our experience; we ‘numb’ ourselves. […] Psychic numbing is adaptive, or beneficial, when it helps us to cope with violence. But it becomes maladaptive, or destructive, when it is used to enable violence.”

    On both an individual and institutional level, we engage in a number of defense mechanisms that help us to achieve psychic numbing:

    (More below the fold…)

    Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 17: F-O-O-D.*

    Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

    “assortment of vegan chocolates”: A dozen+ gorgeous vegan chocolates sit atop a white porcelain cake stand. Nom! CC image via quintanaroo (the chocolate-maker herself) on Flickr.
    ——————————

    Regretfully, I spent most of the long weekend either tossing and turning in bed, or retching and heaving over the toilet (read: vomiting; either way, what a mental image, yeah?), and thus was unable to get much of anything done. The perfect time for a link roundup! The commentary is rather sparse, but seeing as I feel like I’ve been through the ringer and back, I hope you’ll forgive me.

    johanna @ Vegans of Color: Vegan cookbooks: helping folks eat the Other

    The Vegan Ideal: A Western Vegetarian ‘Foray’ into Non-Western Culture

    johanna and Ida provide several examples of the “exotification” of non-Western foods (“African,” “Asian,” Hawaiian and Cambodian, respectively), with an eye on vegetarian/vegan contexts (cookbooks and a veg gathering at veg-friendly restaurant).

    Stephanie @ Animal Rights & AntiOppression: Domination and Rape in Avatar: This Is “Respect” for Animals?

    While I’ve seen many a discussion of Avatar‘s problematic racial politics, anti-speciesist reviews appear to be few and far between. This piece from Stephanie is a must-read; the title says it all, really. (Mary also discussed the film back in December.)

    Marji @ Animal Rights & AntiOppression: Sarah’s Diary: Remembering

    Marji imagines what rescue hen Sarah’s diary might look like. It is predictably heart-breaking. I’ll be honest; I have not yet been able to read the entire piece.

    Of course, I feel rather silly when considering Marji’s description of the “mock-diary”:

    This is Sarah. She turns seven this February 14th. She is one of 2,000 hens we were legally permitted to pull from a small, 160,000 egg-laying hen operation. I know this diary is horribly anthropomorphic. I pulled Sarah out of that cage. For hours, I breathed what they breathed, saw and smelled their world. It was horrifying. I have tried, for years, to fathom what it must have been like for them from birth to grisly death. I can’t.

    If there were a goddess, surely you’d find her volunteering at an animal sanctuary.

    (More below the fold…)

    Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, "Wake up, bacon breath!"

    Thursday, February 11th, 2010

    (I’m paraphrasing, of course!)

    It’s been a few months since last I wrote about Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s series of short videos addressing the issues of veganism and intersectionality. (Dear Mozilla: It’s 2010, and yet you still do not recognize the word “veganism.” For reals!? Get with it, mkay?!) In the interim, she’s released three additional segments.

    Thus far, she has covered a number of topics, including:
    gender-based exploitation;
    the universality of the maternal instinct;
    violence in the animal agriculture industry;
    raising compassionate children;
    the agricultural revolution and animal ownership;
    forming connections with nonhumans; and
    the impact of slaughterhouse work on the human spirit. (Wheh!)

    (As an aside, does the cute green top she sports throughout the series make you terribly nostalgic for summer or what?)

    In “Growing Food for People,” Patrick-Goudreau touches upon the intersection of “meat” consumption, hunger and poverty, noting that we have the resources (land, water, technology) to feed the world’s population – if only we stop using so much of our existing food supply to fatten up the “farmed” animals birthed, raised and destined for slaughter. “Meat,” dairy and egg production are terribly inefficient – and increasingly inadequate, given our burgeoning population.

    In “Becoming Empowered and Making a Difference,” she notes that each of our actions represents a choice made, whether consciously or not. Continuing on one’s present path of “meat” consumption is as much of a decision as is the adoption of a vegetarian or vegan diet. Because our society is centered around animal exploitation, however, only the latter is recognized as a belief system, while the former remains unnamed and invisible – a given. (For more on this, see Carnism: Meat, Deconstructed.)

    (More below the fold…)

    Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 15: BEEF!, Bitches & "Bruised Feelings"

    Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

    BEEF! For Men With Taste

    vegansaurus!: BEEF!: nicht für Frauen–unless your Mann gives it to you

    In which “beef” has its own magazine (and it’s a gentleman’s magazine, natch!): BEEF! for Men with Taste. Luckily, vegansaurus is all over that shit.

    Ida @ L.O.V.E.: Political Correctness, Political Expediency, and Veganism and

    Royce @ Vegans of Color: notes on “Veganism Overly Defined”

    Ida (taking a break from The Vegan Ideal to guest post at L.O.V.E.) and Royce respond to a guest post at Vegan Soapbox (Veganism Overly Defined) in which the author dismisses an intersectional approach to veganism and animal advocacy as “attach[ing] favorite causes” and “baggage” to “Veganism.” Likewise, vegans who object to human-based “isms” “get so involved in the bruised feelings of some humans that the plight of voiceless animals becomes a marginalized issue.” Emphasis on “bruised feelings.”

    Carol J. Adams: Remembering Mary Daly and

    jenna @ L.O.V.E.: Feminism and Animals: What You Won’t Find in the 101

    Mary Daly, a self-proclaimed “radical lesbian feminist,” recently passed away at the age of 81. While much has been written of Daly’s radfem theology, I didn’t realize that she was also an animal rights advocate and vegetarian until I read a memorial written for Daly by Carol Adams. Herself a former student of Daly’s, Adams’s obit is rather charming and provides a glimpse of what it must have been like to be a young adult attending college in the ’70s.

    Unfortunately, Daly was also something of a transphobe, perhaps most famously referring to trans people as “Frankensteinian.” On this point, jenna’s post at L.O.V.E is well worth a read; in it, she illustrates why, as advocates for justice, compassion and respect, it is ill-advised and hypocritical for vegans to leave any marginalized group, human or non, behind. (Also click through the many links jenna provides to The Vegan Ideal, where the intersection of ecofeminism and transphobia is discussed in much greater detail. That is, if you haven’t yet; I’ve included many of these posts in past link roundups.)

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    Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 11: Battered, Bruised & Consumed

    Monday, November 9th, 2009

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    Natalie Portman @ The Huffington Post: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals Turned Me Vegan and

    Carol J. Adams: A vegan-feminist lament

    Natalie Portman – a newbie vegetarian-to-vegan convert, thanks to Jonathan Safran Foer’s welfarist Eating Animals (zuh?) – recently caused a stir when she compared the consumption of “meat” to the consumption of women, i.e., in the form of rape:

    He posits that consideration, as promoted by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which has more to do with being polite to your tablemates than sticking to your own ideals, would be absurd if applied to any other belief (e.g., I don’t believe in rape, but if it’s what it takes to please my dinner hosts, then so be it).

    Naturally, Portman’s remark(s) unleashed a torrent of speciesism – to which Carol Adams responds with a vegan-feminist lament.

    (This is the point at which I’d normally swoon over Ms. Portman – but I’m still somewhat heartbroken over her Jane Hancock on the “free Polanski” petition.)

    Striking at the Roots: Carol J. Adams on Activism, Veganism and Models for Change

    In what’s shaping up to be a series (see also: Mark’s conversation with Andrew Zollman of LGBT Compassion), author/activist Mark Hawthorne interviews vegetarian (vegan?) / feminist Carol Adams. The two touch upon sexism within the animal rights movement, masculine vs. feminist models of change, the gendered nature of animal exploitation, and guerrilla activism. Keep it coming, Mark!

    Stephanie @ Animal Rights: Are American Rodeos More Acceptable Than Spanish Bullfighting?

    Stephanie details an alarming trend: as Spanish animal advocacy groups work to bring an end to bullfighting, promoters of American rodeos are promoting the “sport” as a “humane” alternative. Clearly, the question she poses – Are American Rodeos More Acceptable Than Spanish Bullfighting? – is a rhetorical one, and the answer is a resounding hell no! Here, colonialism meets speciesism, and everyone loses. Save for the colonizers, of course.

    (More below the fold…)

    Book Review: Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith, Martha Beck (2006)

    Monday, April 20th, 2009

    “Your religion is crazy!”

    five out of five stars

    Growing up the daughter of an infamous Mormon apologist can’t be easy; doubly so when you’re raised in a cloistered, uber-evangelical conservative Mormon community in Provo, Utah. Just ask Martha Nibley Beck, whose now-deceased father Hugh Nibley made a career out of twisting (and sometimes even fudging) the facts for the Mormon church.

    In LEAVING THE SAINTS, Beck remembers her child- and young adulthood. One of eight children, Beck and her siblings lived in near-poverty. Though her father was well-respected in Mormon circles, an academic job at Brigham Young University (BYU) is considered “God’s work” – and thus is its own reward, with an appropriately paltry salary. Beck married her husband John at a young age (twenty-one – that’s old maid in Mormon years!), and the two left Provo so that Beck could attend Harvard, where she eventually earned a PhD in sociology. The two returned to Provo after the birth of their second child, Adam, who has Down Syndrome; Beck felt that her choice to have Adam would be met with greater support in Provo. While living in Provo, Beck finished her thesis at Harvard, gave birth to her third child, and took a part-time teaching job at BYU. Within three years, Beck experienced repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse; soldiered through academic repression and intellectual purges at BYU; and, along with her husband, resigned from BYU, left the Mormon church, and fled from Provo. (Though it’s not revealed in LEAVING THE SAINTS, both Mr. and Mrs. Beck later divorced and “came out” as homosexuals.)

    Beck’s most contentious claim is that her father sexually abused her from the ages of five to eight. The feminist in me tends to believe women when they say they were sexually assaulted, abused or raped: the rate of false reports of sexual assault are no higher than that of other crimes; the rates of report, investigation, prosecution and conviction in sexual assault cases are notoriously low, i.e., victims are unlikely to report such crimes and, when they do, the likelihood that they’ll find justice is nil; and, finally, such cases are rife with victim-blaming, such that women who report sexual assault are put on trial themselves. Given these circumstances, I find it highly improbable that most women would simply “make up” stories of sexual assault, for whatever reason.

    However, I also find recovered memories suspect, particularly if they’re recovered during psychotherapy. Elsewhere, Beck says that, while she did undergo psychotherapy, this was only after her repressed memories began to resurface. Additionally, physical evidence (including extensive vaginal scarring) does point to past trauma. Beck also claims to have elicited a confession of sorts from her mother when she initially told her of the abuse. Unlike the childhood memories of sexual abuse, it’s unlikely that Beck’s mind manufactured this memory; so either she’s lying or she isn’t. Though her mother later recanted, this might be easily explained both by Mormon culture and the fact that Mrs. Nibley is wholly dependent on her husband for support.

    Whether you believe Beck’s recovered memories to be real or not, LEAVING THE SAINTS is nevertheless a fascinating look at the Mormon religion and culture. Unlike older religions like Christianity and Islam, Mormonism is so young that it’s been documented – extensively – in modern history. Contemporary news reports reveal founder Joseph Smith as a con artist and fraud, and his own accounts of church teachings and personal revelations show that he was also an egotist and philanderer. For this reason, I find Mormonism (and similar “young” “religions” like Scientology) remarkably interesting. (Full disclosure: I’m a heathen vegan feminist.)

    Most of the exposes I’ve read previously have focused on fundamentalist, breakaway Mormon sects which still practice plural marriages (see, for example, Jon Krakauer’s UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN). In contrast, LEAVING THE SAINTS looks at mainstream Mormonism – and reveals it to be just as wacky, dysfunctional and misogynist as the excommunicated cults. For example, Beck’s account of a women’s forum held at BYU, which she moderated shortly before leaving the church, is jaw-dropping – and actually has one Mormon scholar blaming children for their own sexual abuse!

    Beck recounts her journey – leaving the saints and finding her faith – in a series of flashbacks, interspersed with a conversation/confrontation she had with her elderly father in a hotel room shortly before writing LEAVING THE SAINTS. Beck is a master story teller, and though the reader can posit a guess early on as to the source of Beck’s trauma, the details are no less surprising once Beck’s repressed memories come flooding back with ferocity. As an atheist, I had some trouble relating to Beck’s spiritual journey, but these sections are written beautifully, and non-practicing religious/New Age readers will no doubt enjoy Beck’s quest for a more intrinsic, less prescribed sort of faith.

    (This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

    Book Review: Strategic Action for Animals by Melanie Joy (2008)

    Monday, June 16th, 2008

    Here, finally!, is my review of Strategic Action for Animals: A Handbook on Strategic Movement Building, Organizing, and Activism for Animal Liberation (Melanie Joy, 2008). At 2,000+ words, it’s perhaps my longest book review yet. Towards the middle, I kind of wander off the book review path, discussing issues of “mainstreaming”, violent vs. non-violent tactics and intersecting oppressions. Some of these are central to Strategic Action for Animals, while others are just touched upon. They all struck a chord with me, though, maybe because they’ve been floating around the internets lately. But bear with me, it’s all related.

    By the by, I posted a condensed review on Amazon, so if you’d like the short of it, go here (or here, if you prefer LT).

    Otherwise, onward.

    Strategic Action for Animals by Melanie Joy (2008)

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    Anthrozoology, A to Z (Book Review: Social Creatures by Clifton P. Flynn)

    Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

    Social Creatures, edited by Clifton Flynn (2008)

    Anthrozoology, A to Z

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    (Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the publisher’s invitation.)

    In Social Creatures: A Human and Animal Studies Reader, editor Clifton P. Flynn has assembled a diverse selection of writing and research on the topic of Human-Animal Studies (HAS).

    HAS (also called anthrozoology) is, quite simply, the study of human-animal interactions. Because of its multidisciplinary approach, HAS is a vast and varied field; human-animal interactions can be examined through a multitude of lenses, including psychology, sociology, ethology, anthropology, zoology, veterinary medicine, health science, history, philosophy, women’s studies and ethnic studies. Consequently, scholarship in this field represents a motley body of work.

    Social Creatures both reflects and embraces the heterogeneity of Human-Animal Studies. The thirty-one pieces in this hefty volume are grouped into nine topics: An Emerging Field; Studying Human-Animal Relationships; Historical and Comparative Perspectives; Animals and Culture; Attitudes towards Other Animals; Criminology and Deviance; Inequality – Interconnected Oppressions; Living and Working with Other Animals; and Animal Rights – Philosophy and Social Movement. A number of subjects are touched upon, including the human-animal bond; religious perspectives on animal rights; animal rights philosophy; the effects of gender on attitudes towards animal rights and participation in animal rights activism; correlations between support for animal rights and other social causes; grief in companion animal caretakers and shelter workers; and links between cruelty to animals and interpersonal violence, including child and partner abuse, to name but a few.

    (More below the fold…)

    Blogging Against Disablism Day: Sexism & Personality Disorder Diagnoses

    Thursday, May 1st, 2008

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    By way of Elaine, I discovered that today is Blogging Against Disablism Day. (There are so many blog against/blog for/blog about days, it’s hard to keep track. Anyone know of a roundup or a calendar something? Similar to The Truth Laid Bare’s Ubercarnival? Which has been giving me a database error like forevah? Anyones?)

    Initially, when Elaine mentioned Blogging Against Disablism Day, I wasn’t planning on participating; not because it’s an issue I don’t care about, but because I wasn’t sure what I might contribute to the conversation. In today’s post, Elaine discusses mental disability, more specifically, depression, generalized anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder, which got me thinking.

    As an undergrad, I majored in psychology (I know, *groan* – not another one of those human resources assholes. But I was *serious* about my classes, dammit!) and, aside from the required courses, was given some degree of latitude in my psych studies. Between my psych major and my honors classes, I was even allowed to earn six credits through independent study projects – two fairly comprehensive literature reviews, one of social anxiety disorder (“The Identification and Etiology of Social Phobia”) and another on personality disorders (“Assessing Axis II: Issues & Controversies Surrounding Personality Disorder Diagnoses”). Even cooler, the lone clinical psychology professor at my college was also heavy into women’s studies, so I was able to take several of her courses – while she supervised my projects. As a result, one semester I had the opportunity to tackle the same topic for two different classes, both with my totally awesome feminist prof.

    So my last semester of college, I literally spent half my time researching and critiquing personality disorders – categorical vs. continuum models, the Axis I/II distinction, problems with diagnostic instruments and criteria, the biased application of personality disorder diagnoses, etc. By far the most fascinating topic – perhaps because I was simultaneously taking my first and only women’s studies course, Psychology & Women – is the amount of gender bias inherent in Axis II diagnoses. That is, in most of the personality disorder labels.

    For my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day, I thought I might excerpt a portion of “Sex & Gender Bias in Personality Disorder Diagnoses” (2001 – my, how I date myself!), my final paper for the Psychology & Women course. Why, you ask? Well, it’s important to recognize that the psychiatric and medical communities are just like any other, warts and all; even supposedly objective professionals bring personal agendas and biases to the table. These color both the research and application of mental disorders and their diagnoses, such that a seemingly scientific condition such as depression can serve to reinforce (or enforce) gender roles. In the past, the DSM identified homosexuality as a mental disorder, and in the ’50s, lobotomies came into favor with the families of women who did not, or could not, fulfill their gender roles satisfactorily. In short, medical professionals don’t always operate with the patient’s best interests in mind.

    While there are a number of ways in which personality disorders reflect sex and gender bias, tonight I’ll focus on the criteria itself. The very symptoms one must exhibit to “earn” a personality disorder diagnosis oftentimes reflect gender roles, such that a woman (or man) who conforms too closely to her or his stereotyped gender role may be diagnosed with a personality disorder.

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    A taste for flesh, in the flesh

    Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

    An interesting study, conducted by Cancer Research UK, suggests that children “inherit” (at least in part) a taste for meat and fish from their parents. In contrast, a preference for fruit and veggies wasn’t linked to nature, but to nurture: the more a child’s parents encouraged herbivorous eating, the more kids expressed enthusiasm for nature’s candies.

    From the BBC:

    Children largely inherit their taste for high-protein food like meat and fish, research suggests.

    However, Cancer Research UK found a liking for vegetables and puddings was less likely to be fixed, and more the result of the menu provided by parents. […]

    Lead researcher Professor Jane Wardle, of Cancer Research UK’s health behaviour unit, said it was not clear why environmental factors were more influential in determining preferences for fruit, vegetables and puddings.

    She said it might be down to the greater variety of choice available in these categories – unlike in meat or fish.

    “It might be that children who witness their parents show enthusiasm or distaste for certain types of vegetables or puddings are likely to follow suit.

    “Or it might be that if a particular food is always available children learn to like it.

    “For instance if a fruit bowl is always full of bananas children might think of them as being a favourite food.”

    Professor Wardle said the findings suggested that parents could have a profound impact on their children’s dietary preferences – and steering them towards healthy options could set a blueprint for life.

    “Finding out more about why children like and dislike foods is important in helping us understand the problems of obesity.”

    Additionally, the researchers examined gender differences in food preferences:

    The Journal of Physiology and Behaviour study also found girls were more likely to enjoy vegetables than boys.

    Might this have a little sumthin-sumthin to do with the stereotype that “real men” eat meat, while the womenfolk are expected to suffice on tiny sparrow’s portions of lettuce and broccoli?

    (Crossposted at Hell Food.)