Cynthia McKinney on Gaza

The news that Cynthia McKinney would be on the Free Gaza movement’s latest trip to Gaza made me very nervous, since both Free Gaza and Cynthia McKinney’s immediate circle have a history of pretty explicit anti-Semitism. Indeed, email updates from Free Gaza over the past few days have contained multiple references to “The Zionist State,” again reducing Zionism – a complicated and multifaceted political philosophy – to nothing but an especially bloodthirsty form of racism. Today Free Gaza distributed a letter from McKinney herself, which contains two references to warnings her father gave her about traveling to Israel. The references raised huge red flags for me, considering his past assertion that “Jews have bought everybody. Jews. J-E-W-S,” and I’m finding it very difficult to read them as anything other than implicit support for his views on the Jewish people. People like to claim there’s no such thing as guilt by association, but when you’re as lackadaisical about distancing yourself from bigotry as she’s been, it says a lot about your own feelings.

After thinking about it, I decided to post her dispatch from the trip – during which the ship was rammed three times and forced to dock at Lebanon – as much to start a discussion as to disseminate information on what the Israeli navy is doing. If you spot anti-Semitic sentiment that I’ve missed, please do call it out.

By the way, here’s Salon’s take on it. Alex Koppelman writes:

[The inclusion of McKinney on the trip] puzzles me; the way I see it, there are a limited number of answers to the question I posed. Maybe the organizers genuinely think those incidents don’t represent McKinney’s feelings about Jews, and maybe they’re naive enough to believe that having her on board (no pun intended) works out in a cost-benefit analysis. Or maybe they’re principled enough to stick by her and to take the PR hit, even though they should surely know she won’t bring much in the way of money or support. But there’s still that nagging voice at the back of my mind saying that the explanation is not quite so innocent, and that bothers me. Certainly it should bother those who genuinely wish to see peace — a fair peace, for all sides — in the region, as her presence in the movement can only serve to harm that cause.

As I’ve made clear from day one of this blog’s existence, I stand with the people of Gaza (which does not mean that I stand with Hamas). But there’s no nagging voice at the back of my mind. I think the organizers knew exactly what they were doing.

In any case, here’s the update I received today:

December 30, 2008: Oh What a Day! by Cynthia McKinney

I’m so glad that my father told me to buy a special notebook and to write everything down because that’s exactly what I did.

When we left from Cyprus, one reporter asked me “are you afraid?” And I had to respond that Malcolm X wasn’t afraid; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t afraid. But little did I know that just a few hours later, I would be recollecting my life and mentally preparing myself for death.

When we left Cyprus, the Mediterranean was beautiful. I remember the time when it might have been beautiful to look at, but it was also filthy. The Europeans have taken great strides to clean it up and yesterday, it was beautiful. And the way the sunlight hit the sea, I remember thinking to myself that’s why they call it azure. It was the most beautiful blue.

But sometimes it was rough, and we got behind on our schedule. We stayed on course, however, despite the roughness of the water and due to our exquisite captain.

There were no other ships or boats around us and night descended upon us all rather quickly. It was the darkest black and suddenly, out of nowhere, came searchlights disturbing our peace. The searchlights stayed with us for about half an hour or so. We knew they were Israeli ships. Who else would they be?

They were fast, and they would come close and then drop back. And then, they’d come close again. And then, all of a sudden there was complete blackness once again and all seemed right. The cat and mouse game went on for at least one half hour. What were they doing? And why?

Calm again. Black sky, black sea. Peace. And then, at that very moment, when all seemed right, out of nowhere we were rammed and rammed again and rammed again the last one throwing me off the couch, sending all our food up in the air; and all the plastic bags and tubs–evidence of sea sicknesses among the crew and passengers–flew all over the cabin and all over us. We’d been rammed by the Israelis. How did we know? Because they called us on the phone afterwards to tell us that we were engaging in subversive, terroristic activity. And if that if we didn’t turn around right then and return to Larnaca, Cyprus, we would be fired upon. We quickly grabbed our lifevests and put them on. Then the captain announced that the boat was taking on water. We might have to evacuate. One of my mates told me to prepare to die. And I reflected that I have lived a good and full life. I have tasted freedom and know what it is. I was right with myself and my decision to join the Free Gaza movement.

I remembered my father’s parting words, “You all will be sitting ducks.” Just like the U.S.S. Liberty. We were engaged in peaceful activity, a harmless pleasure boat, carrying a load of hospital supplies for the people of Gaza, who, too are sitting ducks, currently being bombarded in aerial assault by the Israeli military.

It’s been a long day for us. The captain was outstanding. Throughout it all, he remained stoic and calm, effective in every way. I didn’t know how to put my life jacket on. One of the passengers kindly assisted me. Another of the passengers pointed out that the Israeli motors for those huge, fast boats was U.S. made–a gift to them from the U.S. And now they were using those motors to damage a pleasure boat outfitted with three tons of hospital supplies, one pediatrician, and two surgeons.

I have called for President-elect Obama to say something. The Palestinian people in the Gaza strip are seeing the worst violence in 60 years, it is being reported. To date, President-elect Obama has remained silent. The Israelis are using weapons supplied to them by the U.S. government. Strict enforcement of U.S. law would require the cessation of all weapons transfers to Israel. Adherence to international law would require the same. As we are about to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, let us remember that he said:

1. The United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, and
2. Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about things that matter.

I implore the President-elect to not send Congress a budget that contains more weapons for Israel. We have so much more to offer. And I implore the Congress to vote “no” on any budget and appropriation bills that provide more weapons transfers, period.

Israel is able to carry out these intense military maneuvers because taxpayers in the U.S. give their hard-earned money to our Representatives in Congress and our Congress chooses to spend that money in this way. Let’s stop it and stop it now. There’s been too much blood shed. And while we still walk among the living, let us not remain silent about the things that matter.

We really can promote peace and have it if we demand it of our leaders.

Once More, With Feeling

At least one reader has taken issue with the title of my last post, so let me clarify. Via Glenn Greenwald, Marty Peretz hits the nail on the head:

So at 11:30 on Saturday morning, according to both the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz, as well as the New York Times, 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters demolished some 40 to 50 sites in just about three minutes, maybe five. Message: do not fuck with the Jews.

You heard him.

Not Israelis. Not right-wing Israelis. Not right-wing Israelis in positions of political power. The Jews. Because, you know, the hive mind. We Jews love a good fight. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict isn’t complicated or nuanced; the attacks on Sderot don’t warrant a serious rethinking of military and political strategy. It all comes down to this: don’t fuck with the Jews! ‘Cause we’ll GETCHA!

This is my community.

This is not my community.

Are we clear?

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

This is not my community.

Two Israeli ad campaigns in recent years: “Israel: No one belongs here more than you” (“you” being the white middle-class American tourist) and “Israel: Not What You See in the News!” (paraphrased)

Number of Gazans dead today: at least 200.

If you can’t figure out why this is unacceptable – if you insist on an eye-for-an-eye mentality, in which one Israeli eye is worth an infinite number of Palestinian eyes – then quite frankly, you’re a privileged fuck with no concept of how violence is perpetuated or what the phrase “human rights” actually means. (And will I delete your odious, bigoted comment? You bet.)

EDIT: Matt points out the problem with my use of the phrase “an eye for an eye.” More explanation here.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Hankies and Hand Towels!

Here’s a rockin’ awesome way to save paper: carry your mucus around in your pocket! Ha ha ha! No, seriously.

Using a handkerchief instead of tissue is a really easy way to reduce your waste. At first glance, it may seem gross to put that snot-rag back in your purse instead of throwing it away, but a) human mucus is mostly water, and b) if you’re anything like me, you carry the Kleenex around for a million years anyway. To wash it, simply rinse it with water and hang it up to dry. (If you have a wicked head cold or a nosebleed, no one will fault you for switching back to disposables. Although I do wonder if you could toss pathogen-laden tissues in your composting toilet.)

Plus, using a hankie gives you an excuse to learn embroidery! Ooooh:

(Image description: a multicolored sparrow silhouette within an embroidery hoop. “12-18” is embroidered in the top left corner.)

(Via Our Descent Into Madness.)

Once you’re hankie-savvy, why stop there? When I was in Japan, I noticed that none of the public restrooms had paper towel dispensers. This baffled the hell out of me until someone explained that everyone just carries little towels around with them. Next time you’re in a public restroom, take a peek into the trashcan and imagine how much waste could be avoided if we all stopped using paper towels. Especially since we throw them away after wetting them with clean water.

Since I’m no longer in Japan, I’m not sure where to buy the little restroom towels, but a washcloth or tea towel would work, I guess. One note, though: get the towel out before washing up. I’ve ruined more than one important paper rummaging through my purse with dripping hands.


When I was a kid, I was always a little puzzled by the practice of adding a new candle each night of Hanukkah. If the light in the temple was static – that is, the same amount of oil burned for the whole time – why do we add more and more each night?

(I should note that Hanukkah was pretty much the only holiday we celebrated when I was a kid, and even then, “celebrating” usually meant wrapping presents in blue and white paper. This says a lot about American Jewish culture.)

Here’s one interpretation of the accumulation of candles: hope builds. Sure, the original light was just one lamp, but imagine what it must have felt like to gradually realize, as the nights went on, that they were going to make it.

Happy Hanukkah!

A Recession Story

MLA (the Modern Language Association – where English professors go to party) just released a report on academic employment. Overall, the number of full-time jobs in academia has more or less stayed the same, while the number of part-time jobs has jumped due to increased student enrollment. The number of full-time jobs in English decreased by 10% in ten years. Across the board, part-time jobs are held mainly by women. Funny how the more white women and people of color attend and teach college, the less we pay the people working in the classroom.* What a coincidence. Isn’t that interesting.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was giving up on academia and searching for a nonprofit job. I’ll be honest – I didn’t work that hard at the job search. I sent out maybe five resumes, had one interview. If I really set my mind to it, I could probably have found something in a few months. But due to the nature of part-time work, which forces you to constantly cycle through job after job (most of us TAs and adjuncts pick up side jobs like private tutoring whenever we find out that a section has been cut or an offer has fallen through), I’d already spent the past year and a half sending out resumes on a semi-regular basis, and I was tired. Plus, a funny thing happened when I emailed the department chair at my other campus to tell him I couldn’t keep the class I was teaching: he offered me another one.

I sat on the offer for a few days. Another class meant $1,300 a month instead of $650. It meant I could make rent and buy groceries. I emailed him to accept it, and then slumped in my chair and cried for an hour.

Not because of the job itself. Composition is tough – especially since most instructors have little or no training in teaching composition – and isn’t what I entered academia to do. But it can also be really rewarding to work with students on producing something memorable, to expose them to essays you love and ideas that excite you, to figure out which assignments are going to yield heartfelt, honest writing. Getting a sentence to click is a wonderful thing, whether you’re at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop or the local JC. And the problems that teaching present are problems I enjoy working through.

I cried because I was resigning myself to at least four more months of unequal pay for equal work, instability (remember that we’re classified as temporary part-time, which means we can be dropped with zero notice if the school wants to save a buck), and almost no health insurance. I cried because I know I can be more than an interchangeable grade-dispenser. Because I have so many ideas on how to make college what it should be, how to create more effective and worthwhile courses, how to take a nationwide system that only values credits and degrees and change it into a system that values analysis and action. Here’s an idea: for those of you with recent experience in academia, notice how, at community colleges, almost every single English class is a composition class? Putting aside, for now, the sheer fucked-upness of a system in which students take 2, 3, or even 4 semesters of composition before they’re allowed to actually study something, notice how many composition classes strive to be “content-free” – meaning that we’re supposed to teach writing without a subject, writing without thinking? The average composition textbook contains a mishmash of essays about any ol’ thing; students are supposed to study rhetorical modes like comparing/contrasting and proposal claims without engaging in actual ideas. My husband and the other TAs in his department have actually been told not to teach readings they’re interested in, for fear that subject matter will somehow contaminate the students’ work on citations and paraphrasing. Fuck that. Why not let instructors teach topics courses (that is, writing courses that center around a subject)? While I’m teaching my compare/contrast lesson and correcting their semicolon use, could I please also expose them to women’s social justice movements or 20th century American Jewish thought? May I please give students the option of choosing a composition course based on which themes look interesting, rather than making them scroll through thirty identical sections of a boring required class? Why are we so adamant about keeping lower-income students away from ideas?

Some schools are already teaching topics courses (although they’re still not paying their part-timers anything resembling reasonable salaries). UC Irvine, for example, has a program called Humanities Core, in which students learn rhetoric and composition through the lens of philosophy, literature, art history, and even urban planning and music. Even UCI’s regular composition program (for students who aren’t humanities majors) offers a few general themes like Empire, Frontiers, and Heroism, and lets TAs choose their own readings (like actual novels and stuff!) instead of working from standardized textbooks.

Hell, let’s take it even further – why not try to integrate composition into other courses? Why not learn about citations in your freshman literature class, or process analysis in biology? Crazy, I know. And yes, remedial writing would still be an issue; there are some problems that do need a semester’s worth of intensive work. But perhaps we could address deficiencies in K-12 education instead of trying to solve serious literacy problems in a semester or two.

I know there’s a wider debate about topics courses versus content-free courses, and I’m not saying there are no good arguments for content-free writing instruction. But when part-timers are treated as second-class educators and are excluded from curriculum design and decision making, we’re barred from taking part in that debate – even though we’re the ones at the center of it! And when community college students sit through semester after semester of courses like Critical Thinking and College English Skills and Fundamentals of Composition, with textbook after textbook like From Inquiry to Academic Writing and Perspectives on Contemporary Issues while their richer (white) counterparts at the Ivies are reading Toni Morrison (no, the irony isn’t lost on me), the whole idea of “higher” education loses its meaning.

Why not employ us full-time? Then maybe we’d have the time and resources to make these courses better.

Because next semester, I’m going to walk into those classrooms with the same textbook, and we’ll have the same scattered, non-contiguous discussions about whatever subject is in the essay that happened to be on the syllabus. (I know I just talked shit about it, but From Inquiry to Academic Writing does have a bell hooks essay, which is pretty cool. But we’ll talk about it for 40 minutes – 20 of which will be devoted to thesis statements and transitions – and that’ll be it.) I’ll take home the same just-enough paycheck each month; I’ll keep fearing illness because a hospital visit is out of the question.

This isn’t what college is supposed to be. This isn’t what academia is supposed to stand for. But for the students and educators without the connections or the funds to be at a $40K-a-year school – that is, for white women and people of color – this is what it’s become. It’s impossible to change the system when we’re more concerned with whether we’ll still have work in four months.

At the community college that laid me off, almost every single section of the remedial writing course is taught by a woman. Filled with testosterone? It’s literature for you – get out that copy of Heart of Darkness! Got boobs? Here’s a grammar workbook!

And this type of discrimination is routine.

Next May, I’ll consider taking up the job search again. But for now, with the economy free-falling and half a million jobs gone in one month, I couldn’t bring myself to cut off my only source of income. The thought of approaching February with no paycheck on the way was too frightening. I just couldn’t do it. I know I’m not the only one who’s frustrated, scared, and rapidly losing hope – in academia or otherwise. I’m not the only one who’s always battling the feeling that my income determines my worth – that if my boss is making $100,000 and I’m making $10,000, then he must be ten times as useful a person as I am. I’m not the only one who knows that the structure around me is eating itself up, but feels powerless to stop it.

And the time we spend scrambling to get ahead in this system – a process that always necessitates stepping on someone else – is time that we’re not organizing and fighting it. And that’s not an accident.

Enjoy your recession, everyone.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

*Sources: Education Portal and American Council on Education. Pages 26 and 27 of the MLA report have breakdowns by gender. While most fields are increasingly dominated by part-timers, fields like engineering and physical sciences – which are still mostly male – have much higher percentages of full-time positions.

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Grow Some Lettuce!

From The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen:

This is a good first project for a beginning farmer. Lettuce is easy to grow, and tastes so much better homegrown than from a bag. Better still, it is always fresh when you want it, instead of rotting in crisper drawer (sic).

It is easiest to grow lettuce in cool (but not freezing) weather. Lettuce is not a sun worshiper. In climates with freezing winters, you should plant lettuce in the early spring. In warm climates you can plant it in the fall as soon as the summer heat dies down, or any time over the winter.
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