broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

I don’t believe in Hell

i don't believe in hell

I don’t believe in Hell

H. Bradford

6/7/19

This is a poem about abortion rights.

 

I don’t believe in hell,

but I’ve got an idea of what it might be.

Languishing orphans in a Romanian cage,

sitting in urine,

dying of AIDS.

The panopticon gaze on missed menses,

missed work,

miscarriages,

or visitor in the night,

his secretary,

his sister,

his kindly wife.

 

Every anomaly  is an invitation

for incarceration.

 

Hell is the body

under siege,

prone and pried open for all to see.

It is emergency room corpses,

sepsis, and secrets.

Deadly exorcisms of rape and incest.

 

Hell is hot like Alabama

or cold like the hands of a priest,

clutching the wealth of genocide gold

and clasping tradition like a rosary of bones.

 

Hell is a landscape where a thousand wombs bloom,

sprouting babies, soldiers, and beggars

each doomed to die ravaged and poor

Because life is a weapon

of wealth and

of war.

 

 

Advertisements

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

H. Bradford

6/5/19

I work at a domestic violence shelter, so much of my work involves care work.  Sometimes this is exhausting and demoralizing- especially the large amount of bodily fluids that appear around the shelter.  So, this is a poem I wrote about the not so wonderful aspects of care work.


Care is a wall,

A car crash for careers

And a barrier more than a connection.

It is blood in the halls

Leaky diapers on laps

And urine soaked sheets.

It is a thousand unmet needs

Needs that ooze biohazards and suffering

from the places quarantined by the state.

Care is the work of women

Women with accents and darker complexions.

Care is the everyday Chernobyl

Of tending to capitalism’s toxic leftovers

With no evacuation in sight.

Care is a wall

To fight, storm, or surrender.

To die hopelessly against.

Maximizing the Oslo Pass

Maximizing the Oslo Pass

Maximizing the Oslo Pass

H. Bradford

6.4.19


Visit Oslo offers a nifty pass that offers free access to over thirty museums or attractions, free use of public transportation, as well as discounts on restaurants, tours, and some other selected activities.  The pass costs about $51 or 445 Norwegian Krone. Considering that the Viking Ship museum costs about $11 and a visit to the Norsk Folkemuseum costs about $18, it is a great deal for anyone who plans on visiting a couple museums and using public transport to get to them.  I purchased a 24 Hour Oslo Pass and was determined to make the most of it.  Here is how I fared…


Obtaining the Pass:


I pre-ordered my pass online, but still had to pick it up at the Oslo Visitor Center, where the pass is validated.  The Oslo Visitor Center is located at the Oslo Central Station.  Thus, my first act of the day was paying a visit to the Oslo Visitor Center to pick up my pass.  The office has a variety of brochures and helpful staff.  During my visit, the office opened at 9am.  This means that the earliest that you can begin to use the pass (obtained at this location) is after 9am.   If a person wants to avoid the need to physically visit the Oslo Visitor Center, the pass can be purchased via the Oslo Pass app.  In any event, visiting the Oslo Central Station wasn’t inconvenient, as many buses leave that area and most museums don’t open until after 9am.  Validating it any sooner would not make sense.

Oslo Pass

Image from Visit Oslo https://www.visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions/oslo-pass/


Taking Public Transport:


Since there are many museums clustered on the Bygdoy Peninsula, this was my first destination.  To get there, I took Bus Number 30.  Use of buses is included in the Oslo Pass, so this saved $4, which is the cost of a single bus ticket (for one hour use with transfer).  The driver did not ask for my Oslo Pass, but this can be used as a ticket if there is a ticket check.  The trip to the first museum on the Bygdoy Peninsula took about 20 minutes (though a ferry can also be taken to Bygdoy Penninsula).  My first destination was the Norsk Folkemuseum, which is the first museum on the bus route and conveniently has a bus stop right outside the museum.

Cost: $4

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor


Norsk Folkemuseum:


The Norsk Folkemuseum opens at 10am during the summer months into early fall.  By the time I arrived there, the museum was just opening. As I mentioned, the museum costs about $18.  I wish the museum opened earlier, since it is an expansive complex of Norwegian buildings. Upon arrival, visitors can present their Oslo Pass at the ticket office, then begin exploring.  The first assembly of buildings feature indoor museums with various exhibits on Norwegian culture. A person could spend an entire day at just this museum. However, because I had an ambitious agenda I didn’t linger at any one exhibit.  A person can take their time absorbing various elements of Norwegian culture, such as arts, crafts, and costumes. I found the exhibit on Sami culture to be the most engaging and one to spend more time with.


As interesting as the indoor museums were, the real attraction are the 150+ buildings that constitute the open air museum.  The museum is believed to be one of the oldest and largest open-air museums in the world. The most impressive structure is the ornate Gol Stav Church, which was built in 1200 and moved to the sight when it faced demolition in the 1800s.  Another point of interest was large assembly of various farm buildings, complete with livestock, vegetables, and costumed farmer reenactors. There are homes or building representing various regions of Norway and a stand out was the sod roofed buildings from Fjordane.  More modern buildings can also be found in the “New Town” area of the open air museum.


Cost: $18

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor

Viking Ship Museum:


The Viking Ship Museum is a quick 400 m walk from the Norsk Folkemuseum.  Since this museum opens at 9 am during the summer, a person who already has their Oslo pass might choose to visit this one first.  Without the pass, the admission is $11.40. The museum is very popular and there were several buses there when I arrived. It also has tighter security, so visitors must check their bags before they enter.  The museum is impressive, but smaller, so it is reasonable that it could be visited in far less time than the enormous Norsk Folkemuseum. The main attraction are several preserved Viking ships and associated artifacts.  The main attraction is the Oseburg ship, which was constructed around 820 CE and used as a burial for two important women. The burial also consisted of a sleigh, animals, tools, a cart, and other items. This ship is the centerpiece of the museum, but other ships and artifacts are contained in the wings.  The Gokstad ship was built around 890 CE and served as the burial for an unknown man of importance who was buried with an assembly of animals that included two peacocks. The museum also includes the less reconstructed Tune ship. Viewing the ships and the various artifacts in the museum is interesting. The fact that the ships were so well preserved and that they could be rebuilt is also pretty amazing.

Cost: $11

No photo description available.


Kon-tiki Museum:


It is a little less than a mile walk from the Viking Ship Museum to the Kon-tiki Museum.  A person could also continue onward via bus 30 for a five minute bus ride. I chose to walk.  As for the Kon-tiki museum, I wouldn’t say that it is a must see museum, but it went along with a general museum theme of learning about Norwegian ships.  The museum contains the Kon-Tiki balsa raft that Thor Heyerdahl used to sail from Peru to Polynesia. It also contains the Ra II, which was a papyrus boat that was sailed from Morocco to Barbados.  The museum documents his life, the various expeditions he took part in, other participants in the expeditions, sea life, and elements of the cultures Heyerdahl interacted with. The museum is a little unusual in that some of Heyerdahl’s ideas were far fetched if not pseudoscientific.  But, his expeditions at least opened the door to what is possible when it comes to long distance cultural exchanges between people who were otherwise believed to be isolated from each other. He also helped to popularize experimental archaeology and this could benefit some indigenous people if they have control/agency regarding the experiments.  For instance, while visiting Hawaii a few years ago, I learned at the Polynesian Cultural Center that there are efforts to construct traditional ships and test out historical voyages across the Pacific. This could benefit indigenous people by preserving or rebuilding historical knowledge. Without the Oslo pass, admission would be $14.

Cost: $14

Image may contain: outdoor


Fram Museum:


Right next door to the Kon-tiki Museum is the Fram Museum.  Following the theme of the other two museums I had visited, this museum contains a ship.  In this instance, the ship was the polar exploring ship known as the Fram. The Fram was used to explore both the Arctic and the Antarctic in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The massive ship looks sturdy and shiny enough to be made of metal, but is actually made of wood. This in itself is pretty impressive, as it was the only wooden ship to travel as far north and south as it did.  Visitors can view the ship from several levels and board the ship for further exploration. The museum itself offers a great deal of fascinating information about polar exploration. I knew nothing about the Fram before entering the museum, but was enthralled by the artifacts and stories of the sometimes doomed and often life and death struggles of exploration.  The Fram was the ship that brought Roald Amundsen on his successful expedition to the South Pole. This museum is definitely worth visiting if polar exploration floats your boat.

Cost $14  (Or about $11 if purchased with Kon-tiki ticket.)


Image may contain: basketball court

Ferry:


There are other attractions on the Bygdoy Peninsula, including the nearby Maritime Museum (near the Fram Museum and Kontiki Museums), Oscarhall, Holocaust Center, and Huk and Paradisbukta beaches.  So, a person could reasonably spend the day at Bygdoy.  The Holocaust Center and Oscarhall cost about $7 each. Instead of remain on Bydgoy, I relaxed, ate a snack, and watched some birds from a bench before heading back on a ferry.  The ferry returns Bydgoy visitors to Pier 3 at City Hall. It is covered by the Oslo pass, but without the pass, a one way journey would cost about $7.

Cost: $7


Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, outdoor, water and nature


Historical Museum:


Although I had already visited four museums, I pushed onward to another museum.  I walked from Pier 3 to the Historical Museum, which is about a half mile walk. A person could take a bus, but it was easier just to walk.  The museum is open from 10 am to 5pm during the summer and costs just over $11. However, admission to the Historical Museum is included in the price of the Viking Ship Museum, so, the Oslo pass really doesn’t save a person money if they are already planning on visiting both museums.  By this point in the day, I was a little exhausted by my marathon of museum visits. Still, there were some interesting and enjoyable things at this museum. Highlights of this museum include a Medieval gallery, Viking artefacts, Egyptian mummies, and a collection of gold coins. I don’t think this museum is a “must see” museum in the way that the Viking Ship Museum, Fram museum, or Norsk Folkemuseum are.  The museum was a bit forgettable because it contained items one would expect in a history museum. If a person has a strong interest in Medieval doors and chairs, it may be worth a visit.


No Savings

No photo description available.


Oslo Reptile Park:


The grand finale of my museum marathon was going to be Oslo Reptile Park.  Oslo Reptile Park is located about .3 miles from the Historical Museum, which made it an easy destination.  The Oslo Reptile Park is open until 6pm, which also made it a good final destination as other museums closed at 5pm.  Admission to the Oslo Reptile Park is a whopping $17, so this definitely added value to the Oslo pass. Unfortunately, it was not as grand as I hoped.  It was tucked away in what looked like an apartment complex and contained about 100 animals. Despite the name “Reptile Park” many of the animals were actually insects or amphibians.  The Reptile Park includes two small floors of animals enclosed in glass. Of course, there are a variety of snakes to look at and perhaps the most chilling exhibit is a lonely Black Widow spider.  Visitors have the opportunity to watch the feeding of some animals or hold a snake (at least when I visited a staff allowed people to touch a snake. I don’t remember the species). It is a modest attraction and not worth $17.  But, with the Oslo Pass, there is little to lose in visiting. It is a nice change from the heavier, more historical information that my brain had been digesting all day, so, it provided a welcome splash of variety to my day. I imagine that keeping all those animals alive and well is costly, so the admissions price is probably necessary.  I finished up my visit here before 6 pm closing time.

Cost: $17

No photo description available.


Frogner Park:


With the museums closed, I was determined to do at least one final activity for the day.  I decided to head to Frogner Park, which contains over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Visiting Frogner Park is free.  However, it is over a mile and a half away from Reptile Park. Because I had been on my feet all day, I opted to take a tram to Frogner Park.  The tram took about 20 minutes and like the bus, would have cost about $4 for a one way trip with transfer. The park itself was very unique and relaxing.  The park is full of Vigeland’s bulky, bronze statues of naked bodies. Muscular men and thick women line the long pathway to the Monolith, a tower of 120 naked bodies carved into granite.  Gustav Vigeland was sympathetic to Nazis and their occupation of Norway. I didn’t know his political orientation when I visited the park, but the sculptures certainly idealized an ideal type of body (robust) and conveyed traditions of family and solidarity.  The park features a pond with birds and an assortment of gardens to enjoy as well. After spending some time at the park, I used the Oslo pass to return to my hostel and called it a day! It was a long day indeed!


$8 (Transport-both ways)

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor


Total Savings:


Regular admission to all of the museums would have been $74.   Additionally, $19 was spent on transportation. Since most people would buy a 24-hour day pass for transportation, I will count this at $12, which is the cost of a day pass.  The cost of the museum admission plus the day pass for transport would be $86. So, the Oslo pass saved me about $35. I tried pretty hard to squeeze as much value as I could out of the pass and was pretty exhausted by the end of the day.  I didn’t even eat lunch during my museum marathon! I felt accomplished and satisfied. I didn’t race through each museum, but I definitely pushed myself. I don’t think I could have fit any other museums or sights into my day. There is a limit to how much value one can extract from the Oslo Pass, as museums are mostly open between 9am and 6pm.   Therefore, although it is a 24 hour pass, there is a nine hour window to utilize the pass due to open and closing times and logistically I would have found it quite difficult to visit more than six museums. Some museums can be visited in about an hour (such as Reptile Park and the Viking Ship Museum). Others, such as the Norsk Folkemuseum, take over two hours.  By the end of the day I regret that I did not purchase a 48 hr pass. This costs 665 NOK or $76. For $25 more than the 24 hr pass, the two day pass is a pretty good deal and it would have been easier to spread out the museums and add a few more sights over the span of an extra day. Other sights that I would have visited include the Labor Museum and the Munch Museum.  Both of these were out of the way so they did not fit into my schedule. If a person really wants to visit a lot of museums, the 48 hour pass seems to be the way to go!


						
					

Anxious Adventuring: Blue Lagoon and the Construction of the Self

Anxious Adventuring_

Anxious Adventuring: Blue Lagoon and the Construction of Self

H. Bradford

5/31/19


There is really no reason to be anxious about visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.  After all, it is supposed to be relaxing. Still, I had some misgivings about it.  For the most part, this stemmed from my concept of self. I have never been to spa before.  Spas seem like one of those things for “other” people. When I say “other” people, I mean, well-kept, normal, better off, thin, Instagram ready people.  I see myself as abnormal, weird looking, not thin, and not well-off. Spas seem indulgent and feminine, not that that femininity or indulgence is wrong. I worried that perhaps there would be social norms or expectations that I would not meet.  Secondly, it is spendy. The most basic “Comfort” package costs around $94. This includes a silica mud mask, free drink, entrance, and locker/towel use. I worried that maybe choosing the “cheapo” package was a stigmatized choice or worse, there would be hidden costs.  Like many things that I feel uncertainty over, it turned out to be a good experience and insightful about how a person constructs their “self” while traveling.


My day started with a very early flight from Oslo to Reykjavik, so I arrived in Iceland feeling exhausted but also thankful that visiting the Blue Lagoon was the first and main activity of my day.  I had pre-booked my visit to the Blue Lagoon and the booking included an airport transfer to the Blue Lagoon and then another to the Reykjavik. Because the Blue Lagoon is located between Keflavik airport and Reykjavik, it seems that many people either visit the Blue Lagoon while entering or leaving Iceland.  This low-key activity gave me something to do when I otherwise might not have been up for much more. There was a bit of confusion over which of the many buses outside of the airport was my transfer as well as some waiting outside in the windy cold that served as a welcome to the country. But, once I figured out the appropriate bus (different tour operators use different busing companies) I was on my way across the black lava fields to my destination.  Blue Lagoon is located about 20 minutes away from the airport. Once there, I joined the throngs of fellow tourists exiting their respective buses and lined up to check my luggage. If I remember rightly, it was about $5 to rent a locker for my luggage.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor


After dropping my luggage off, I entered the main complex of the Blue Lagoon, where I again l joined a que.  This time, the line was for my entry wristband. The wristband serves as a key to a smaller locker (for purses or personal items), for entry and access to the amenities that come with the package that a person has purchased, and to pay for items (since it is connected to a person’s credit card).  While I stored my suitcase at the baggage check point for a fee, smaller items can be stored for free in the locker room. The locker was large enough for a backpack of items such as dry clothes, purse with wallet, cosmetics, personal towel, etc. The locker room is divided by gender, but trans or non-binary individuals who wish for private space for changing can ask for this upon request.  In the locker room itself there are shower stalls with curtains and walls, so it is private enough that a person does not need to get naked with others if they are uncomfortable with that prospect. Other reports mention that there is a staff who monitors the showers to make sure that everyone is clean when they enter the Blue Lagoon. However, I did not notice any staff tasked with this duty. Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor, water and nature


With changing complete, I headed off to the geothermal pool area.  Before entering the pool, one must leave their sandals or shoes behind, as well as deposit their towel (which is included with the fee) on a hook.  The thermal pool was expansive enough that even though it was busy, visitors were spread out. The demographics of the visitors seemed to be a mixture of older people and young people, with no children present at that time even though children over two years of age and older are allowed with a parent or guardian.  The tourists skewed towards white, young, and female at the time of my visit, but there was a number of older men and young men in mixed gender groups. According to research regarding spa tourism, women make up the majority of spa visitors. In a survey of spa goers at a resort in Crete, Greece, a convenience sample of spa users in a spa lobby consisted of 67% women and the most common age category of respondents was 45 to 54 to years old.  Most respondents, or 47%, had completed a Bachelor’s degree. The most common income category at 39% was 30,000 to 50,000 euros per year, followed by 28% making above 50,000 euros yearly income (Trihas and Konstantarou, 2016). While it is hard to generalize from a single study, it seems that spas would attract at least middle income individuals due to the fact that it is discretionary spending that lower income individuals may not be able to afford.  In the United States, 78% of spa visitors are women and the average age is 45. Kelly and Smith (2016) review research which suggests that this may be because women are tasked with more care work which lends itself to wanting to relax and because they feel more pressure to be healthy and attractive. They also suggest that this age is part of the U-bend, wherein individuals are believed to be less happy in their 40s and 50s (Kelly and Smith, 2016). Personally, I would hypothesize that women likely have more disposable income in their 40s, as this is when income peaks for women (Elkins, 2018).  This might lend itself to more spending on health and leisure. This age group may enjoy more capacity for leisure and health, as children may be older or grown. My perception was that the tourists at the Blue Lagoon skewed towards under age 40 at the time of my visit. While this is younger than the average spa visitor elsewhere, this may be in part because Iceland attracts younger tourists. The average age of a North American tourist to Iceland is 39.1 years old. The average age of an Asian tourist to Iceland is 34.6 years old and from Eastern Europe it is 31.7 years old. In a survey conducted by the Iceland Tourist Board, only 1 in 10 respondents were over the age of 55.  Most respondents were between the age of 24 and 34, followed by 35 to 54 (Oladottir, 2018). The demographics of my visit may also be unique to that moment in time.

Image may contain: one or more people, swimming, outdoor and water


In Trihas and Konstantarou’s (2016) study of a Crete spa, most visitors were there for relaxation, followed by physical health and beauty.  This is consistent with other literature they reviewed wherein tourists were often motivated by relaxation and relief. Other important factors in the literature review include novelty and self-exploration.  The self is a complicated concept. Some travel research has posited that travel helps one find their self, but the self is not a fixed thing that one finds. Rather, it is is something constructed through the process of travel.  One way of visioning the “self” was put forth by Sirgy and Su s as self-image (how one sees their self), ideal self (how one would like to see themself), social self (how a person believes others perceive their self), and ideal social self (how others would like to be seen).  Ideal self and social self pattern consumption decisions (Kelly and Smith, 2016). As for myself, my visit to the Blue Lagoon was motivated by curiosity, fear of missing out, and relaxation. On one hand, since I had never visited a spa before, I was curious what that experience would be like.  Additionally, the Blue Lagoon is often framed as a “must see” tourist attraction in Iceland. I felt that if I did not visit it, I may miss out on an important experience. Because I am always uncertain when I will visit a country again, I am influenced by travel books, blogs, or travel websites which list “must see” locations.  Finally, I figured it would be a relaxing experience, even if the experience was not familiar and included some stresses of fitting in or uncertain norms. The Blue Lagoon is more than a geothermal spa, it is an attraction in its own right, and I assume that there are others there who are also unfamiliar with spas but who chose it as a destination because of its reputation as an important tourist attraction.  My hypothesis contrasts with Trihas and Konstantarou’s (2016) study which found that 35% of the spa visitors in Crete had visited a spa at least ten times. While I cannot test these predictions without doing actual research, this might be an area for someone else to explore. Image may contain: one or more people, sky, mountain, ocean, cloud, outdoor, nature and water


While visiting, I didn’t feel particularly out of place, as people seemed too involved in their social groups or relaxation to pay much attention to others.  Nor did I feel stigmatized for choosing the cheaper option. The electronic bracelets are color coded depending upon the package that one chooses. However, most people had the same blue wristband that I had, meaning that most people were not spending hundreds of dollars on their experience.  Like me, many were probably content to just be there. The lagoon itself was amazing. The air was very chilly, as it was a late September day. However, the water was 100 degrees F and perfect. I sat there, soaking up the beautiful, milky blue water. I tried out the silica mud mask, which I felt was completely adequate for my visit.  If a person wants to spend more money, they can try out other masks. Additional masks can be obtained at a mask station. The Blue Lagoon is a mixture of sea water and ground water. The water is heavy with silica, which forms a white mud on the bottom of the pool, from which the mask is derived. Blue green algae are also found in the water.  The water can actually turn from blue-white to green in the summer due to algae growth and visitors can pay extra for an algae mask. Aside from algae and silica, the water has 2.5% salinity (Haraldson, 2014). In contrast, the average salinity of ocean water is 3.5%.


Like many people at the Lagoon, I took selfies.  Taking selfies to document the experience seemed like an important ritual for the younger, female visitors.  Like others, I tried to capture myself with a mask on my face, as this represented to me both the novelty of trying something new and the constructed luxury of existing in that space.  Warren and Batarags (2018) pointed out that many of the photos of the Blue Lagoon are curated to cut out certain elements of the visit.  For instance, most people do not photograph the nearby power station, local highway, or the buildings that surround the lagoon.  This gives a false impression that the lagoon is located in the middle of nature. It is true that I did not photograph those elements of the experience either. I suppose I have internalized the norms of what sort of photos one should take of the Blue Lagoon. But, honestly, I did not find it to be a jarring environment spoiled by buildings.  The buildings are dark colored and modern looking and seem to blend well with the natural landscape.  Cutting out buildings and highways constructs the scene of the selfie.  Goffman noted that individuals present a sense of self to generate a desired impression.  Taking selfies entails creating content for an imagined audience, editing and framing this content in order to highlight positive ideas one has about themselves.  In one study, 45% of UK, U.S., and Chinese students surveyed felt that looking good in a selfie was important.  For some sefie takers, impression management might be accomplished through filters or lighting  (Nguyen and Barbour, 2017).   In the case of the Blue Lagoon, it is accomplished through what is in the view of the camera and what is not.  Including buildings, the highway, or power plant creates a stage wherein the self is situated in more mundane environs.  The impression that is consciously or subconsciously constructed through selfies is that the location is natural and relaxing and more individual and exclusive than it may actually be. Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor


Aside from taking selfies, I took time to enjoy a drink from the poolside drink station.  Since my band included a free drink, I tried out a strawberry skyr smoothie. I will say that drinking a thick yogurt drink in 100 degree water isn’t actually that refreshing.  The beverage was a bit too heavy for the heat. Technically, skyr is consumed like yogurt, but is actually a soft sour cheese. So, imagine choking down a thick, sour cheese drink while sweating in a steaming pool.  Well, I wanted an “Icelandic” experience. Still, I felt fabulous drinking yogurt and saturating myself with the hot silica infused water. One benefit of the cheap package is that, like all of the packages, visitors are allowed to stay as long as they like.  So, I stayed a few hours. I left the water a few times to drink water from a nearby fountain. At least the water was free!

Image may contain: drink


As popular and luxuriant as Blue Lagoon is, it isn’t actually a naturally occuring hot spring.  Rather, Blue Lagoon is actually formed by the wastewater from the nearby Svartsengi power plant.  Svartsengi, which means black meadow, is located in a lava field that is thought to have been formed by volcanic eruptions that occured in 1226 on the Reykjanes peninsula (Bilba, 2013).  The black landscape, which is speckled with green patches of moss, creates an otherworldly backdrop for the vibrant lagoon. The power plant is visible from the Blue Lagoon and is itself a wonder, as it uses steam and salt water to create energy that provides electricity and hot water to thousands of homes in Iceland.  The steam is accessed by drilling 1800 M beneath the earth, where the water is 465 degrees F because it is warmed by magma from the spreading of the Eurasian and American plates. Steam is converted to hot air and salt and water are filtered from the steam (Bilba, 2013). It was the first geothermal power plant in the world to produce both heat and electricity.  It was constructed during the 1970s as a state and municipally funded project to serve the region’s energy needs as well as provide electricity and hot water to Keflavik airport (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019). The Blue Lagoon was meant to be a waste lagoon for water discharged from the plant, but the lava field proved impermeable to the water due to sedimentation, resulting in the formation of an expansive pool.  Because of this blocked drainage, new holes must be regularly bored into the lava field to alleviate some water build up (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019). The geothermal plant is not open to the public, but according to Tripadvisor, a person might be able to arrange a private tour by contacting the plant. Thus, the Blue Lagoon does not necessary have to be viewed as luxurious, feminine, or middle class. It could be framed as an industrial wonder fit for working class people of all genders. Image result for blue lagoon power plant image of Svartsengi Power Plant from: https://www.nat.is/blue-lagoon-history/


The Blue Lagoon began to take off in the 1980s, when psoriasis patients began bathing in the water as an experimental cure (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019).   The Iceland Psoriasis Society built the first rudimentary shelters along the lagoon and in 1987 the first public bathing facility opened. Blue Lagoon Ltd was established in 1992 and took over the facilities in 1994.  Scientific studies conducted between 1992-1996 provided the data necessary for Icelandic Health Authorities to declare it an official psoriasis treatment facility (Guðmundsdóttir, Brynjólfsdóttir and Albertsson, 2010).  The water is believed to relieve symptoms of eczema, arthritis, and sciatica and Iceland’s social security system covers visits to Blue Lagoon for medical treatment (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019).  Thus, before it was a tourist attraction, it was used for medical purposes. In 1999, construction upgraded the lagoon so that it is now regularly fed water and features amenities such as a cafe and restaurant (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019).  Today, the geothermal brine is replaced every 40 hours (Guðmundsdóttir, Brynjólfsdóttir and Albertsson, 2010) and the facility, which was updated in 2007, features massages, sauna, a shop, private retreat spa,  hotels, and clinic. In 2017, 1.3 million tourists visited the Blue Lagoon. Aside from tourism, Blue lagoon algae are harvested for a variety of purposes ranging from fish food to cosmetics.  Silica and salts are also harvested from the water for cosmetic purposes (Guðmundsdóttir, Brynjólfsdóttir and Albertsson, 2010).   Up to 4,000 people visit the Blue Lagoon each day, but when I visited in September, it seemed far less busy.


The Blue Lagoon is disparaged for being a tourist trap and over priced.  Both of these things are true. 31% of visitors to Iceland pay a visit to the Blue Lagoon, but 59% of visitors travel to Gulfoss/Geysir and 50% visit Thingvellir national park.  EVERYTHING in Iceland feels like a tourist trap, in that, well, most tourists travel there to partake in several popular activities and the country attracts millions of tourists.  If a person wants to avoid tourist traps, they might instead travel to Chad. So, to some degree, most people will likely visit something popular while visiting Iceland. Popular things are often denigrated as inauthentic or pedestrian.  Travel advice often hinges upon finding the unique, quaint, out of the way, and authentic. The Blue Lagoon is authentically the Blue Lagoon in the same way Disneyland is authentically Disneyland. It is an experience and one that constructs itself as healthy and indulgent, but in reality is a popularized pool of industrial wastewater.  Yet, to critique it for being popular and inauthentic is an exercise of cultural capital. According to Bourdieu, cultural capital is the tastes, knowledge, practices, and skills which are given value by elites. These things are transmitted through socialization by elite peers, family, or education systems. Tastes in food, music, clothing, hobbies, etc.represent cultural capital and are a source of status.  Everyone is socialized with certain skills, knowledge, or dispositions known as habitus. Habitus patterns a person’s relationship to cultural capital (Holt, 1998). For instance, a person who is not very knowledgeable about Italian food might visit Olive Garden and feel that it is an authentic Italian experience. The tastes of this individual might be denigrated as low class, ordinary, or uneducated because of their preference for a mass chain restaurant over a locally owned Italian restaurant or a trip to Italy itself.  Only a person with access to certain skills, networks, or knowledge would be able to discern what is deemed authentic by cultural elites. Of course, having economic capital is necessary for accessing so called authentic experiences. Returning to the Blue Lagoon, I had misgivings about visiting since I was not socialized to visit a spa. It was not part of my upbringing or education and represents a sort of cultural capital that I lack. At the same time, because the Blue Lagoon is so popular, it lacks the authentic veneer of more obscure geothermal spas in Iceland, the ones which locals ACTUALLY visit and the ones which are ACTUALLY naturally occurring.  It straddles the elitism of being expensive and the “low” culture of mass tourism. But, because it can be both elite (with hotel stays costing over $1000) and popular (visited by millions), it appeals to a wide audience who can customize their experience based upon their sense of self, economic capital, and cultural capital. Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and water


With that said, I would say that my visit to the Blue Lagoon was relaxing and interesting.  It challenged my sense of self (viewing myself as not a spa person) and took me out of my comfort zone (as someone who has not visited a spa).  I can appreciate the sense of self-care or pampering that comes with a visit and have since visited other geothermal spas. To increase my sense of being a “spa person” I have tried to reframe these experiences as interesting geological or industrial phenomena.  This creates the potential for them to be more gender neutral or at least less associated with beauty and wellness. I lack the cultural capital, or for that matter, gender capital, to fully enjoy or embrace the experience. Without overthinking it, it was relaxing to submerge in the warm water and novel to be in such a unique place.  I would recommend it to visitors of Iceland and also recommend paying attention to the demographics and behaviors of fellow visitors!

Image may contain: sky, ocean, plant, outdoor, nature and water


Sources:

Biba, E. (2017, November 14). Tour One of Iceland’s Incredible Geothermal Plants. Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/g1337/tour-one-of-icelands-incredible-geothermal-plants/?slide=4

 

Blue Lagoon – The History. (2019, April 26). Retrieved from https://www.nat.is/blue-lagoon-history/

 

Elkins, K. (2018, November 02). Here’s the age at which you’ll earn the most in your career. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/02/the-age-at-which-youll-earn-the-most-money-in-your-career.html

 

Gudmundsóttir, M., Brynjólfsdóttir, A., & Albertsson, A. (2010, April). The history of the blue lagoon in Svartsengi. In Proceedings of the World Geothermal Congress.

 

Holt, D. B. (1998). Does cultural capital structure American consumption?. Journal of consumer research, 25(1), 1-25.

Haraldsson, I. G. (2014). Geothermal baths, swimming pools and spas: examples from Ecuador and Iceland.

Kelly, C., & Smith, M. K. (2016). Journeys of the self: the need to retreat.

Nguyen, L., & Barbour, K. (2017). Selfies as expressively authentic identity performance.

Oladottir, O. (2018). Tourism in Iceland (pp. 1-28, Rep.). Icelandic Tourist Board. https://www.ferdamalastofa.is/static/files/ferdamalastofa/talnaefni/tourism-in-iceland-2018_2.pdf

Warren, K., & Batarags, L. (2018, October 02). Disappointing photos show what Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon looks like in real life. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/blue-lagoon-photos-iceland-reality-vs-expectation-2018-9#-think-again-the-blue-lagoon-is-located-right-off-a-highway-8

 

Trihas, N., & Konstantarou, A. (2016). Spa-goers’ Characteristics, Motivations, Preferences and Perceptions: Evidence from Elounda, Crete. Almatourism-Journal of Tourism, Culture and Territorial Development, 7(14), 106-127.

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

A modified version of this article appears in Socialist Action news and can be accessed here: https://socialistaction.org/2019/05/27/new-anti-abortion-laws-how-should-we-respond/

New Anti-abortion Laws and the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

H. Bradford

5/28/19


On May 15th, 2019, the most restrictive abortion law in the United States was signed into law in Alabama by Governor Kay Ivey.  The Alabama Human Life Protection Act, which passed the Alabama Senate 25-6, makes abortion illegal at all stages of pregnancy and makes no exception for rape or incest.  The bill seeks to make abortion illegal in Alabama in all cases but health threat to the mother, fatal fetal anomalies, and ectopic pregnancies. Under the law, abortion providers could face up to 99 years in prison.  This draconian law follows a wave of anti-abortion legislation across the United States which is aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade.   In 2019, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi have passed “heartbeat bills” which outlaw abortion at six to eight weeks and at the time of writing, six week abortion bans are moving forward in the respective legislative bodies of South Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisiana.  Many abortion seekers may not be aware that they are pregnant at six weeks and would have little time to make an appointment or raise the funds to obtain an abortion. In this sense, heartbeat bills functionally outlaw abortion. “Heartbeat” itself is a misnomer as at this stage of development, an embryo has not developed a cardiovascular system.  Rather, a group of cells generates rhythmic electrical pulses which is more technically known as fetal pole cardiac activity. Of course, a tactic of the anti-choice movement has long been to warp fetal development to infanticize embryos and fetuses. Thus far, about 30 abortion laws have been passed in the United States this year.


Attacks on abortion access are nothing new, but the latest abortion restrictions are bolder and represent a concerted effort to use the court system to overturn or at least chip away Roe v. Wade.  Since 1973, over 1,900 abortion restrictions have been passed.  About ⅓ of these have been passed since 2011. These restrictions have included mandatory waiting periods, restrictions on state funding, no requirement for insurance to cover abortion, state mandated counseling, parental consent laws, gestational limits, and hospital requirements.  The barrage of laws against abortion access has been accompanied by the proliferation of crisis pregnancy centers which pose as health clinics and are designed to confuse and outright lie to abortion seekers by providing false information and pro-life propaganda. There are 2,300-3,500 crisis pregnancy centers spread across the United States, but only 1,800 abortion clinics.  In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the right of these fake clinics to provide false information and false advertising when it ruled that California’s Freedom, Accountability, Care and Transparency Act (FACT) violated the first amendment. At the same time, there has been an effort to defund Planned Parenthood by blocking Title X funds that have assisted low income patients obtain contraceptives and other reproductive health services since 1970s.   The decades of attacks on abortion access was heralded by the Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976 with bipartisan support and barred the use of federal funds for abortion services. The truth of the matter is that the pro-choice movement has been fighting a losing battle for over forty years.


There have been a number of responses in reaction to the recent restrictions on abortion.   Some activists have called for an economic boycott the state of Alabama and other states with strict abortion restrictions.  A disturbing sentiment that sometimes accompanies the call for a boycott is that the people of Alabama are backwards, uneducated, and even incestuous.  While boycotting can be an effective tactic, it is important to remember that many people in Alabama are not supportive of the new abortion law. In a 2018 survey of likely Alabama voters, Planned Parenthood found that 65% of respondents felt abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest.  The law does not represent the sentiments of many Alabama voters, even those who are pro-life. Marches against the bill were held in Montgomery, Birmingham, Muscle Shoals, and Huntsville. Rather than boycotting the state of Alabama or denigrating the state as backwards, the efforts of pro-choice organizers should be recognized and the potential for conservative populace of the state to be brought around to the issue acknowledged.  A quarter of the children in Alabama live in poverty, the state has the second highest infant mortality rate in the country, and is the 6th poorest state in the country. It is ranked 50th in education, 46th in healthcare, and 45th in crime and corrections. The people of Alabama need solidarity, not shame. Rather than boycott the state which already lacks in infrastructure and is marked by racism and poverty, it would be more useful to boycott corporations that actively support or donate to the pro-life movement such as My Pillow, Hobby Lobby, Curves, Gold’s Gym, and Electric Mirror.


Another reaction to the recent ban is to wait for the courts to overturn the restrictions.  Activists are reminded that abortion remains legal, all three of Alabama’s abortion clinics plan to stay open, and that these new laws will be tied up in litigation before they can be enacted.  The narrative goes that the Supreme Court is not eager to overturn Roe v. Wade outright and that other restrictive abortion laws have been struck down elsewhere.   For instance, a 2013 heartbeat bill in North Dakota was struck down as unconstitutional.  Six week bans were also struck down in Iowa and Kentucky. There are a number of flaws with this perspective.  Firstly, it is disempowering and a difficult to build a movement around waiting for court decisions. Secondly, this perspective grants legitimacy to the court system.  The presidential nomination of and lifetime tenure of Supreme Court justices and Federal judges is fundamentally undemocratic. The feudal nature of these courts should be questioned and challenged.  This has lent itself to a cultish following of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is viewed as a liberatory figure who must never retire or die, lest abortion rights be overturned once and for all. The centrist justice is celebrated for her support of women’s rights, but her critique of Kaepernick’s taking a knee (which she apologized for), ruling against paying overtime to Amazon workers, support of warrantless searches in Samson v. California, and failure to condemn solitary confinement within the prison system in Davis v. Ayala mar her record.  Finally, it is important to remember that Roe v. Wade was passed on the premise that abortion is a matter of privacy.  The courts have never framed abortion rights as fundamental to ending the oppression of women or gender minorities.  Abortion legality has always had a shaky foundation.


Some activists look to the Democratic Party to protect abortion rights, framing this as a matter of electing more Democrats into office.  Already, potential presidential nominees have issued statements about abortion ranging from Kamala Harris’ remarks in a February 2019 interview that abortion should be a decision between a woman, physician, priest, and spouse or Bernie Sander’s statement that abortion is healthcare and would be covered by his plan for Medicare for All.  Yet, the track record of Democrats on the issue of abortion is part of the reason why we find ourselves with so many restrictions today. Of the 24 candidates vying for the presidency, only 11 mention prioritizing reproductive rights on their websites. It was Bill Clinton who said that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare in 1992, which was echoed by Hillary Clinton who used rare in her 2008 election campaign.  Abortion has become “rare” as access has been curtailed in a legislative death by 1,000 cuts. Joe Biden voted in favor of partial birth abortion bans in 1999 and 2003 and against federal funding for abortion. Like “heartbeat” bans, partial birth abortion is an anti-choice construction as the medical term is intact dilation and extraction. In 2017, Bernie Sanders unapologetically campaigned for Heath Mello, an Omaha Nebraska mayoral candidate and anti-choice Democrat.  Some Democrats, such as Louisiana Gov. John Bel are anti-choice. Bob Casey Jr., Joe Donnelly, and Joe Manchin are pro-life Democrat senators who voted for abortion bans at 20 weeks. While abortion has become increasingly partisan since the late 1980s, voting for Democrats is no guarantee of abortion access. Between 2007 and 2009, Democrats controlled the House and Senate and in 1993-1995 controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency. These eclipses of liberal power have done nothing to roll back anti-abortion laws or overturn the Hyde Amendment.  Democrats have consistently supported the Hyde Amendment. Even Barack Obama stated in a 2009 health reform debate that although he is pro-choice, he did not feel that financing abortions should be part of government funded healthcare. In the Machiavellian shell game between the two parties of capitalism, electability trumps values and it is ultimately the power of social movements and organized workers that sways the opinions of politicians. Recently some Democratic candidates have vowed to repeal the Hyde Amendment or defend abortion rights, but this is a function of the success of social movements rather than a sign of courage or conviction.


Boycotting anti-abortion states, depending upon courts, or voting for Democrats will not secure abortion rights.   The way forward for the abortion rights movement is to take cues from mass movements elsewhere in the world. In October 2016, thousands of women in over 140 cities in Poland protested against legislation that would have punished anyone who terminates a pregnancy with five years in prison and investigate women who had miscarried.  In March of 2017, Polish women protested wearing black, boycotted classes, and went on strike against the proposed new law and the restrictive abortion laws passed in 1993. This mass mobilization shifted abortion discourse in Poland and forced politicians to quickly retreat from new restrictions. In March 2018, thousands of demonstrators marched against a renewed effort to pass more restrictive abortion laws.  Ireland’s movement, Repeal the 8th, likewise mobilized against Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion. Inspired by Poland’s Black Protests, activists in Ireland marched and went on strike on March 8th, 2017 in cities across Ireland. 66.4% of Irish voters voted to legalize abortion in a referendum held on May 25th, 2018. Abortion is now legal and free in Ireland due to a movement that catalyzed by the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 because she was denied an abortion while experiencing a miscarriage.  The vote to legalize abortion was shocking to some, as Ireland had been a bastion of conservatism regarding abortion and like Poland, had strict anti-abortion laws. Social attitudes can change quickly, which should offer some hope to those who dismiss the southern United States as impossibly reactionary. Despite the efforts of the hundreds of thousands of participants in the Ni Una Menos movement that has sought to legalize abortion and end gender based violence, a bill to legalize abortion in Argentina failed by two senate votes in August, 2018. Even in the face of defeat, the protests and strikes continue as well as efforts to build a feminist international.  Recently, activists involved in the movement for abortion rights in Argentina protested on the red carpet at the Cannes Film festival at the premiere of ‘Let it be Law,’ a film about their struggle. A glimpse of the capacity to build such a movement in the United States happened on May 21st with a day of protest actions called Stop the Bans. Thousands mobilized in a day of action that consisted of over 400 protests spread across all 50 states.


The feminist movement must build upon the successful mobilization for the Stop the Bans day of action and continue to show up in mass to put pressure on politicians to support abortion rights.  Based upon recent feminist organizing that culminated in the International Women’s Strike, a framework for building a global feminist movement was put forth by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser in“Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto.”  Key ideas from the manifesto include tactics such as mass action and strikes against the conditions of paid and unpaid labor.  The feminist movement must abandon liberal feminist vision of equality under the law and instead fight capitalism head on, including fights against imperialism, mass incarceration, environmental destruction, and austerity.   Social Reproduction theory grounds the tasks of building a global anti-capitalist feminist movement. Understanding social reproduction theory (SRT) is vital to combating anti-abortion laws in the context of capitalism. SRT posits that capitalism does not reproduce the labor power required to perpetuate itself.  In other words, capitalism produces goods and services, but doesn’t in itself produce workers and due to profit motive (wherein profit is derived from surplus value of labor), capitalism does little to provide for the upkeep of workers. Thus, women are tasked with supporting the continuation of capitalism through biological reproduction, the care of non-laborers such as children, elderly, or people with illnesses, and unpaid household labor such as cooking and cleaning.  When women can control their biological reproduction through birth control or abortion, they are denying capitalism the reproduction of a future labor force. Lack of bodily autonomy enforces the traditional family and gender roles, thereby further enforcing social reproduction. At the same time, the drive for profit always works to erode or deny social provisioning such as paid maternity leave, free daycare, socialized health care, or other social benefits which the United States lacks, but encourages or supports reproduction.  This creates a contradiction wherein birth is mandated but not supported. It is little wonder that the war against abortion access has intensified in the last decade, following the world economic crisis that erupted in 2008. Abortion became legal in the United States in the same era as our waning hegemony and the accompanying age of neoliberalism that promotes austerity and the movement of industrial production to the low wage “developing” world. Women’s bodies are punished into ameliorating the crisis of capitalism.


The United States was founded upon the subjugation and destruction of bodies through slavery and genocide.  Reproduction is controlled in the name of national interests, which is itself a guise for the overarching interest of amassing wealth for an elite few.   At times, this has meant the forced sterilization of Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Blacks, low income women, and women with disabilities. In the interest of population control, birth control was first tested on women with mental illness without their consent and later Puerto Rican women.  Today, the rhetoric of walls and criminal immigrants is used to control some populations while the limits on abortion access are used to control another. A part of this continuum of control is violence and oppression of trans and non-binary people, whose existence challenges the gender binary and traditional family structures that have so long been the cornerstone of social reproduction.  Trans and non-binary people are denied reproductive rights along with women, as not all abortion seekers are women. The struggle for abortion access, as part of the larger movement for a feminism for the 99% must also be a struggle against racism, transphobia, ableism, and for the liberation of all bodies long subjugated by capitalism.


 

Anxious Adventuring: Balkan Dogs

balkan

Anxious Adventuring: Balkan Dogs

H. Bradford

5/23/19


While many places in the world have stray dog populations, it seems that Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia had more stray dogs that other places that I have visited.  These stray dogs, with tags in their ears, would laze about in the shade of statues or sniff the pavement in search of scraps. While there were many of them, nothing about them seemed threatening or worth noting.  I didn’t bother taking any photos of them, as I didn’t think that they would play any role in my travel memories. I regret this, as I wish I had photo evidence of the mangy mayhem I experienced. They were simply canine background characters in my adventures.  Even after a few guides warned me about them, I didn’t really think much about the warning. I thought that the guides were being overprotective or over concerned. I was wrong. This guy is finishing up an ice cream cone someone bought him

A dog eating an ice cream cone in Skopje: Image from: http://www.presentlynavigatinglife.com/skopje


My first warning about the Skopje dogs came from the leader of a walking tour.  As the group of walkers wandered around the statues of Macedonia Square, she casually cautioned that several people had been attacked by dogs in Skopje.  At the time, I wasn’t particularly concerned since the dogs seemed mostly disinterested in people. They meandered around the statues, minding their own business for the most part.  However, the threat is real.  While I don’t know the full extent of this problem, I did find a reference to a 67 year old man who was attacked by a dog in December, 2018 while walking in a park.  A 55 year old woman was attacked in October, 2018 while walking downtown.  Earlier in the year, a 17 year old girl had drowned in the Vardar River in the city of Gostivar while trying to escape a pack of dogs (A man and a woman attacked by wild dogs in Skopje, 2018).  In the town of Kicevo, about 112 KM from Skopje in western Macedonia, a four year old boy was killed by stray dogs in 2017.  His death unleashed a wave of vigilante poisonings of stray dogs, which prompted concerned animal rights activists to protest (Hundreds of protesters gathered to fight a spate of mysterious stray dog poisonings in Macedonia, 2017).  In 2018, over 1,000 bite incidents were reported in Skopje alone (Macedonia pledges action after girl drowns fleeing dog pack, 2018). While I could not find more recent data, the 2014 stray dog population of Skopje was estimated to be between 2000- 2400 animals. The 2014 population was down 25% from 2010, which may be due to efforts to euthanize or spay/neuter animals (Terzievski, 2014).


A man and a woman attacked by wild dogs in Skopje

Image from: https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/a-man-and-a-woman-attacked-by-wild-dogs-in-skopje/


My second warning regarding Macedonian dogs occurred on the way to Lake Ohrid at a stop at the sunken Church of Saint Nikolas.  The church was partially submerged in Lake Mavrovo and was abandoned to the lake after the construction of the Radika Dam in 1953.   This time, a guide warned of a dangerous dog that lived along the shore.   A muscular, black Rottweiler snoozed in some soft grass, but hardly looked like a threat.  I remained skeptical that the dogs were the problem that the guides were making them out to be.   It seemed like the sort of things that tourists were warned against by guides who were trying to show concern and be good hosts.  Later, I asked another guide why exactly there were so many stray dogs.  That particular guide was a dog enthusiast who owned several pets and who had once entered his pet dogs in shows.  He was happy to speak about the topic, and blamed the dog problem on irresponsible owners who released their pets to the street once they could no longer care for them.  This story matches the narrative of a Veterinary blog which also blames the problem on pet owners, but also that pet owners do not know proper pet care before buying a pet. The blog also blames the government, which does not enforce laws which fine pet owners for abandoning their pets and that Skopje only has one animal shelter.  Vardarishte, the only shelter in the capital, is a kill shelter that euthanizes the animals if they are not adopted in two weeks. Conditions in the shelter are poor, with 5-6 dogs kenneled together in unhygienic conditions.   The shelter also tags, vaccinates, and neuters animals for release.  Animal rights activists have organized against the conditions of Vardarishte and for control of their own animal shelter (The stray dogs in Skopje, Macedonia, 2018).  In April 2019, the shelter closed for 30 days after failing an inspection.  The shelter put a moratorium on capturing stray dogs while they were closed, taking in only dogs that had bitten someone (Main Skopje animal shelter closed for 30 days, 2019).  It should be noted that North Macedonia is not a wealthy country, so dealing with the stray dog problem may be beyond the budget priorities of the government.  Appropriate pet care may also be challenged by an unemployment rate of about 18-20% in late 2018 and the average monthly salary in 2017 was under $450.


Main Skopje animal shelter closed for 30 days: stray dogs will be left on the streets until they attack somebody Retrieved from https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/main-skopje-animal-shelter-closed-for-30-days-stray-dogs-will-be-left-on-the-streets-until-they-attack-somebody/


Despite the warnings about dogs, I really didn’t think much of them until the morning that I left Skopje.  I didn’t want to spend money on an expensive taxi to the airport and instead decided to take the airport bus.  However, my hostel was about 2 KM from the nearest airport bus stop. I didn’t think that walking a little over a mile before 6am was too big of a hassle, especially if it saved me over $20.  So, I set out with my bags into the early morning, determined to save some money and take a few photos of Macedonia Square. All was well until I arrived in the square, where dogs were still quietly snoozing.  It was a lovely morning and all very enjoyable until the sound of my small rolling suitcase awoke the dogs from their sleep. As I moved along, I was suddenly followed by an amassing pack of hungry dogs. The pitiful animals that had moved about the statues and tourists by day, now suddenly seemed far more menacing.  More joined them. They snapped and growled at each other. One nipped at my hand. The parade of dogs behind me and beside me might have been comical, except that I was alone and they were markedly unfriendly. I wanted to take a few final photos, but instead, I kept my face ahead, focused on the path along the Vardar river.  I passed by shops and cafes, where more dogs awoke from their slumber on the sidewalk. I moved head, dogs all around me. I ignored them, keeping a brisk and determined pace, but not daring to look at them lest they attack. In my head, I wondered what I would do if they attacked. A shaggy golden retriever looking dog seemed to be the head of the pack.  That was the one that snapped at my hand and growled the most at the others. I thought that if one dog made any sort of attack, they might start fighting each other in the chaos or commotion. I thought about kicking them or if I could swing my suitcase at them if they attacked. I hoped that maybe another human would appear and draw some of the dogs away.  But, no one else materialized and all of the shops were closed.


In the end, I arrived at the bus stop.  I loathed the idea of waiting there with a pack of dogs, but once I arrived at the bus stop, the dogs actually dispersed.  There was enough trash in the weeds and adjacent parking lot that the dogs could scout out their breakfast. I was no longer of any concern to them.   The whole thing seems rather unbelievable. It seems bizarre. But, in the moment it was very real and scary. I really thought that I was going to be attacked by dogs and that I might have to fight them.  It also changed how I felt about dogs. While those dogs had likely been pets at one time, in that moment, they acted like wild animals. They were not friendly pets or “dogs” in the way that I had always imagined and thought of dogs.  In the absence of human companionship and regular food, they behaved like unfamiliar predators. So, the gauntlet of dogs remains a scary memory, but in the end, nothing bad happened. An important lesson is that I should not have been as skeptical about the threat of dogs.  Thankfully, I wasn’t attacked, though in retrospect, I am not sure if I would have changed anything other than to try to be more prepared.


To avoid incidents with dogs, the CDC recommends never running from dogs, staying calm, avoiding loud noises, avoiding directly facing the dog, keeping a purse or bag between yourself and the animal, and curling up into a ball while protecting your ears and neck with your hands if attacked (Preventing dog attacks, n.d).  Other tips include avoiding eye contact with the dog, standing still in the face of unfamiliar dogs, telling the dog to go away in a commanding voice, and giving the animal a jacket or shirt to chew on if they attack (Cicetti, 2010).  In the United States, 60% of people attacked by dogs are children, followed by elderly people.  Each year, 800,000 people seek medical care from dog bites, so the threat of dogs is not simply a Macedonian problem (Cicetti, 2010). A 52 year old woman from Dallas was mauled to death by dogs and suffered over 100 bites.  There are 8700 stray dogs in South Dallas, which is more than four times the estimate for Skopje.  Rabies vaccinations are recommended for tourists to Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Slovenia and Turkey. Rabies is almost 100% fatal in humans (Problems Posed By Stray Dogs or Street Dogs Include Attacks and Bites, 2017).  However, the vaccine is expensive. I had asked for a rabies vaccination, but was told that it was over $3000 and that it was better for me to simply avoid animals. Getting a rabies vaccine is certainly a good preventative measure, if a person has the money for it! Though, the largest carrier of rabies in the Balkans are foxes, so the threat of rabid dogs may not be that high, especially since many stray dogs are vaccinated and tagged.  Tourists could avoid problems by getting vaccinated, listening to the advice of guides, not walking alone (as I had), spending more money on a taxi rather than walking at strange hours, and following some of the advice offered by the CDC.  I was fortunate that nothing bad happened, but I think it is something that tourists should take seriously.

The stray dogs in Skopje, Macedonia

From: https://iloveveterinary.com/blog/the-stray-dogs-in-skopje-macedonia/


 

Sources:

A man and a woman attacked by wild dogs in Skopje. (2018, December 24). Retrieved from https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/a-man-and-a-woman-attacked-by-wild-dogs-in-skopje

Cicetti, F. (2010, August 30). How to Avoid Being Attacked By a Dog. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/8525-avoid-attacked-dog.html

Hundreds of protesters gathered to fight a spate of mysterious stray dog poisonings in Macedonia. (2017, April 10). Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/stray-dog-posionings-macedonia-protest-skopje-animal-welfare-radmila-pesheva-anima-mundi-a7676236.html

Macedonia pledges action after girl drowns fleeing dog pack. (2018, November 06). Retrieved from https://www.apnews.com/766046e998f34c59bb583798fc04d8e1

Main Skopje animal shelter closed for 30 days: Stray dogs will be left on the streets until they attack somebody. (2019, April 06). Retrieved from https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/main-skopje-animal-shelter-closed-for-30-days-stray-dogs-will-be-left-on-the-streets-until-they-attack-somebody/

Preventing Dog Bites | Features | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/dog-bite-prevention/index.html

Problems Posed By Stray Dogs or Street Dogs Include Attacks and Bites. (2017, June 19). Retrieved from https://dogbitesohio.com/problems-posed-by-stray-dogs/

Terzievski, D. (2014, June). PDF. Bucharest: OIE Platform for Animal Welfare In Europe.

https://oldrpawe.oie.int/fileadmin/doc/eng/SDB_1/Country_Report_-_FYR_of_Macedonia.pdf

The stray dogs in Skopje, Macedonia. (2018, November 12). Retrieved from https://iloveveterinary.com/blog/the-stray-dogs-in-skopje-macedonia/

Birds of Copan

Birds of Copan 1

 Birds of Copan

H. Bradford

5/22/19


This past winter, I was able to travel to Central America.  One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Copan ruins in Honduras.  Before I continue, it is important to note that Honduras has been experiencing political violence and repression since the 2009 coup that overthrew democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya.  The United States has supported the coup in a number of ways, such as normalizing relationships with and recognizing the subsequent government. The United States has continued to provide military aid to the Honduran government, despite state violence of activists fighting for environmental, indigenous, and human rights.  The following is about birds, which seems pretty trivial and privileged. For more information about the political situation, I found that “The Long Honduran Night Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup,” by Dana Frank was useful in providing an overview of the U.S. role in destabilizing the country.  I feel that I can’t talk about the fun topic of birds without at least acknowledging the more serious social context, which I was sheltered from as a leisure seeking tourist.  The only indication that anything was amiss was a power outage that locals at Copan blamed on the government as a way to thwart New Year’s eve celebrations and the large number of armed police/military/guards.


While I could have traveled to Honduras for more noble reasons, such as with a Witness for Peace delegation, I was there as a tourist.  As a tourist, I visited the Copan Ruins. The Copan Ruins are located near the border with Guatemala and it represents the southernmost city of the Mayan civilization.  Mayan “civilization” itself sounds rather racist, as Mayans are still alive, have (what wasn’t destroyed or repressed) cultural continuity with pre-Columbian Mayans, and certainly accomplishing important things.  I suppose when this word is used is it to describe Mayans before the arrival of Spanish and before the abandonment of cities and monument construction at the end of the Classical period. Copan was a powerful Mayan city state located in the Copan River valley of Honduras.  People in area had been constructing stone structures since 9th century BC, but the dynastic history of Copan begins in 426 AD and ended between 800 and 850 AD. At its peak, over 20,000 people lived in the city. It is a World Heritage Site and an impressive complex of what seems like an endless array of ruins and stelae.  The site includes a ball court, Acropolis, stairways, residences, stelae, temples, tombs, altars, and other ruins. There is a lot of history to absorb and it is a lot to explore the entire complex. As fascinating as the ruins are, they are surrounded by forests which burgeon with birds! My attention was divided between history and ecology.  In the end, my love of birds probably won and that was what I absorbed most from the experience. Yet, these things aren’t entirely at odds, since many of the birds had a place in Mayan culture. Birds are history as much as the monuments! Here is an overview of some of the birds that I saw and how they might relate to Mayan or regional culture.


 

1. Scarlet Macaw (Ara Macao):

50244704_10156993541888659_4093791483121893376_o

A Macaw at Copan, H. Bradford 2019


A large number of Scarlet Macaws can be found at the Copan ruins.  I spotted over twenty while meandering around the ruins. They seemed most plentiful on the main trail from the visitor’s center.  The red parrots are hard to miss, as they are large, loud, and bright. The large number of Scarlet Macaws has to do with the nearby Macaw Mountain, which rehabilitates, breeds, and releases Macaws.  Other birds are also kept at Macaw Mountain, often as permanent residents because of injuries or health conditions the birds sustained while kept as pets. There are feeding stations along the trail to the ruins (Whitely, 2015).  They are the national bird of Honduras. Scarlet Macaws were culturally important to the Mayans, who, like the Aztecs, believed they symbolized the sun. Mesoamericans also traded the birds, which have been found in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.  The bird remains found in Chaco Canyon date back from 900 AD from captive stock of parrots (Greshko, 2018). Macaws may have had ancient population decline due to this trade. Scarlet macaws are native to tropical lowlands where Mayan civilization was most concentrated and they require pristine conditions to survive, as they nest in tree trunks.  Macaws are sensitive to deforestation, poaching, pet trade and are rare in the Yucatan peninsula. Today, they are more commonly found further south in Central America such as in Costa Rica (Stuart, 2015). Thus, the trade in parrots is why the macaws are found at Copan today, as the modern pet trade resulted in the need to rehabilitate the birds and eventually reintroduce them to the area.


Beyond trading them, they appear in Mayan stories.  Popol Vul, the ancient Mayan creation story, features a deity called Seven Macaw, which is a bird creature with some characteristics of macaws, but also characteristics of a snake eating hawk (Hellmuth, 2015).  In Popol Vuh, the Hero Twins, the central characters of the story, use a blow gun against Seven Macaw, which is perched atop a nance tree, which is a a type of tropical fruit (Iconography, characteristics of painted macaws on Early Classic, Tzakol, basal flange bowls, 2014).  In the Popol Vul, Seven Macaw describes himself as such:


    “I am great. I dwell above the heads of the people […] I am their sun. I

am also their light […] My eyes sparkle with glittering blue/green

jewels. My teeth as well are jade stones, as brilliant as the face of the

sky. This, my beak, shines brightly […] My throne is gold and silver.

When I go forth from my throne, I brighten the face of the earth.

Thus Seven Macaw puffed himself up in the days and months before

the faces of the sun, moon, and stars could truly be seen. He desired

only greatness and transcendence before the light of the sun and

moon were revealed in their clarity.”

(Helmke and Jesper, 2015: 28)


Copan ruins are the only place to see a specific depiction of a macaw (as the deity itself is not necessary a macaw) as this deity.  There is a depiction of a scene wherein one of the twin’s arms in the beak of Seven Macaw (Iconography, characteristics of painted macaws on Early Classic, Tzakol, basal flange bowls, 2014).  This depiction is located as an architectural decoration near the ballcourt. However, I did not know to look for this scene. Here is a replica of that artwork: Image result for A replica of a ballcourt decoration at Copan representing Seven Macaw, (Museum of Mayan Sculpture, Copan, Honduras).  Photo by Mark Cartwright, 2014 A replica of a ballcourt decoration at Copan representing Seven Macaw, (Museum of Mayan Sculpture, Copan, Honduras).  Photo by Mark Cartwright, 2014


Seven Macaw is one of four Mayan “Great Bird” deities, which represent the moon, sun, stars, and darkness.  Popul Vuh discusses the death and defeat of the bird, which was a prerequisite for pacifying the world to allow for the creation of humanity.  To defeat the bird, the Twins tricked it after hitting it with the blowgun. They told the bird that they were bringing a healer, but instead removed its teeth and eyes, which served as the source of its power (Helmke and Jesper, 2015).  Aside from the depiction of Seven Macaw, Copan ruins feature a macaw head ball court marker. Elsewhere, macaws, or at least stylized macaw like birds, are depicted on bowls, other ball game hachas. From the 2nd century onward, Mayans regularly featured Macaws in their art (Hellmuth, 2015).  In the Late Classic Mayan period, macaws are the most commonly depicted land bird (Stuart, 2015).

Image may contain: plant, tree and outdoor
Photo from the ball court, H. Bradford 2019

Image may contain: outdoor

H. Bradford, 2019

2.) Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma):

 

Image may contain: plant, bird, tree, outdoor and nature

Montezuma Oropendola, H. Bradford 2019


This large bird with an unwieldy name ranges from southern Mexico to Panama, occurring mostly along the Carribean side of Central America.  It is an Icterid, or member of the Icteridae family, which consists of new world blackbirds, new world orioles, bobolinks, meadowlarks, cowbirds, and grackles.  Although it is in the blackbird family, it really doesn’t look like a blackbird, as it is larger, with a large red and black bill, chestnut, black, and yellow plumage, and bare skin by its eye.  Montezuma Oropendola is considered common, is omnivorous, and can be found in evergreen lowlands, forest edges, plantations, and disturbed forests (Sample and Kannan, 2016). I spotted at least two of them near the park entrance at Copan ruins.  The name of the bird translates from Spanish to “Golden pendulum” perhaps because of its yellow tail and and the tree limb swinging mating dance of males (Fendt, 2016). Males weave drooping nests that hang low from trees. The only reference I could find regarding this bird and the Mayans is that Mayan art at Peten depicts the nests of Montezuma Oropendola (Oropendola, Montezuma, 2017).


3. Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis):

Image may contain: bird and outdoor

H. Bradford, 2019

Image may contain: plant, flower, bird, tree, outdoor and nature

H. Bradford, 2019


There are several species of orioles which can be found around the Copan ruins.  According to e-bird, these species include Altamira, Streak-backed, Yellow backed, Bar winged oriole, Spot-breasted, Baltimore, and Orchard orioles.  The pictured orioles are Altamira Orioles (I believe) since they don’t have streaked backs, spots on their breasts, don’t have a black head like a Baltimore oriole, nor are they as dark as Orchard orioles.  Alamira Orioles are found in Central America and range as far north as southern Texas. Like the Montezuma Oropendola, it constructs a long woven nest, which in its case, can reach almost 26 inches in length.  The Altamira Oriole was once called the Lichtenstein’s Oriole and Black throated Oriole. It is also the largest New World Oriole (Altamira Oriole Identification, 2017).  Yuyum is the lowland Mayan word for oriole and the Bonampak mural depicts a royal figure whose name translates to “Yellow Oriole” or Aj K’an Yuyum,  Yellow backed orioles are depicted in the Murals of San Bartolo (Stuart, 2014)


Seeing as there are seven species of orioles in the area and that each are some combination of orange and black, I would advise any newer or intermediate birder like myself to study orioles before visiting.  I struggled a bit and probably saw other species, but was too slow to identify or photograph them.


 

4. Motmots (Momotidae):

Image may contain: bird and plant

Out of Focus Turquoise-browed Motmot, H. Bradford, 2019


One of the most exciting birds that I saw was the Turquoise-browed Motmot.  It was a book that I saw in my bird book, so it had captured my imagination before the trip.  To suddenly see one and immediately recognize it was amazing! Turquoise-browed Motmots range from southern Mexico to Costa Rica.  They can adapt to a number of habitats, but prefer tropical evergreen and tropical deciduous forests. Since it perches on fence posts and wires, it is not too hard to find, and during my trip I saw them several times.  Interestingly, the tail feathers are not genetically slender, but get worn down exposing the feather shaft. Turquoise-browed Motmots nest in underground burrows (Streiter, n.d.). Both male and females have long tails, but they use them differently.  Both sexes wag their tails to indicate to predators that they have spotted the threat, but males use their tails for sexual displays as well. It is also the national bird of El Salvador and Nicaragua (Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa).n.d.)

Image may contain: tree, plant, bird, outdoor and nature
Hidden and shady view of Lesson’s Motmot


To make matters more confusing, there is actually another species of Motmot that can be found at Copan.  Lesson’s Motmot is also found in the area. I spotted one through some dense foliage, so I was unable to get a decent photo.  However, the two species are very similar in their plumage as both have bright turquoise brows, green coloration on their bodies, black masks, and racket tails.  Despite the poor photo of Lesson’s Motmot, the main difference that I could see between the two is that Lesson’s Motmot does not have the long, featherless shaft that the Turquoise-browed Motmot possess.  The featherless area is much shorter. Lesson’s Motmot is also chunkier and longer than the Turquoise-browed Motmot. Both birds were spotted on a trail that cut to the left before the main complex of ruins.  One source said that motmots can be found by cenotes, or underground pools. According to Mayan stories, the Motmot was the most beautiful bird, but lost its feathers after a hurricane and went to the cenotes to hide (Robinson, 2013).


5. Toucans (Ramphastidae):

Image may contain: bird, plant, tree and outdoor

Keel-billed Toucan, H. Bradford 2019


I didn’t actually see these birds at Copan, but nearby at Maccaw Mountain.  There are feeding stations for wild birds near the entrance of the rehabilitation center and various wild birds around the parking lot, even though the sanctuary itself features aviaries of mostly rescued animals.  The two species of toucans that I saw in this area were a Keel-Billed Toucan and Collared Aracari. E-bird lists these as the only two species of toucans found in the area. The Keel-billed Toucan is identifiable by its colorful green, red, yellow, and turquoise beak, which is why it is sometimes called the Rainbow billed Toucan.  They have no known affinity for colorful cereal and instead prefer a diet of fruit and nuts. They are considered common and their populations are listed as Least Concern, though climate change is pushing their range to higher elevations They range from southern Mexico to Northern Colombia, in humid lowland forest canopies (Jones and Griffiths, 2011). Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, bird, outdoor and nature

Collared Aracari, H. Bradford 2019


The Collared Aracari is smaller than other toucans in its range and is the northernmost Aracari species.  It is black, with yellow underparts, and a reddish color collar. It looks similar to other species of Aracari, but none fall within most of its range.  It does overlap with the Fiery Billed Aracari in Panama and Costa Rica. It is primarily a frugavore, but does eat insects, eggs, nestlings, and small vertebrates.  It is considered a species of Least Concern, but as a cavity nester it is sensitive to deforestation (Green and Cannan, 2017).


Northern Lacandon Mayan men would give yellow breast feathers from toucans to their wives as a gift.  Women tied the feathers into their hair to symbolize marriage. Toucan breast feathers are also featured in the garb of warriors on the Bonampak mural in Chiapas (Nations, 2006).  Otherwise, I could not find other references to the importance of toucans to the Mayans. While I don’t have any other Mayan stories, I do have a modern tale of greed. MIA, a California based non-profit concerned with Mayan archaeology and education, was asked to change their logo from a toucan because Kellogg’s believed it was too close to Toucan Sam (Hsu, 2011).  Kellogg’s also took issue with the use of Mayan imagery due to similar settings that Toucan Sam appeared in. The non-profit found that the only thing Kellogg’s had connected to Mayan culture was an online game where in Toucan Sam encounters a racialized villain character representing a Mayan (Cushing, 2011). A negative publicity campaign against Kellogg’s resulted in the company paying $100,000 to MAI, removing the online game, and featuring MAI’s website on cereal boxes (Patterson, 2011).   The offending logo can be found below:

Image result for MIA toucan logo kellogg's Clearly this logo is too similar to Toucan Sam…


6. White-throated Magpie-jay (Calocitta formosa)

Image may contain: bird, sky, tree and outdoor

White-throated Magpie-jays, H. Bradford 2019


I spotted several White-throated Magpie-jays along a trail that leads to the Copan Ruins.  They can be found at the forest edges, ranches, and outskirts of towns among the dry tropical forests of the Central Mexico to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, which is exactly the sort of environment I spotted them in (outside of town, by a pasture for cows).  Due to deforestation, their range is expanding southward in Costa Rica, thus they are a bird that actually benefits from human activity and are considered a species of Least Concern. White-throated Magpie-jays feed on both insects (but also eggs and small vertebrates) and fruits, switching their diet depending on if it is the dry or wet season.  They are social birds and unique because they form groups organized with a dominant female, her mate, and several female offspring. The adult female offspring assist with feeding the dominant female and her younger offspring. Male birds move between groups, unless the dominant female is nesting. Male magpie jays produce up to sixty vocalizations, which are used to communicate predator threats or the presence of low threat birds.  These alarm calls may be used by males to attract the attention of females, which otherwise might not have much use for them (White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa, n.d.) Image may contain: tree, sky, bird, plant, outdoor and nature In general, Magpie-Jays are a genus called Calocitta, which include White Throated Magpie Jays and Black-throated Magpie-jays.  The two birds can hybridize and both are known for their long tail length. Jays, or for that matter magpies which they are named after, are corvids or members of the crow family.  Members of the crow family are among the smartest birds in the world and some species are known to use tools, play tricks, hold funerals, and teach each other information. Experiments with Eurasian scrub jays conducted by Dr. Nicky Clayton of Cambridge University, using worms and beetles suggest that the birds may be able to consider the preferences of their mate when choosing whether to eat worm or beetle.  Her experiments with Western scrub jays demonstrated that the birds were able to remember where and when they had cached food. If a perishable food item such as wax worms had been cached several days prior (and was no longer palatable), the birds went for previously cached peanuts instead. This is despite the fact that the birds prefer waxworms. The jays were also found to be able to plan ahead by caching pine nuts in a room where they regularly found breakfast, so that they would find more food each morning (Balter, 2016).  While many corvids cache food, White-throated magpie jays are unusual in that they do not engage in notable caching activity. Corvids are believed to have descended from a moderate caching ancestor. New world jays themselves evolved from a caching corvid. Loss of the ability to cache occurred at least twice independently in corvid evolution as maintaining this ability has a high metabolic cost and requires an enlarged hippocampus (de Kort and Clayton, 2006). Because White-throated magpie-jays do not cache, I will assume they do not have quite the memory capabilities of other jays.  Still, they are pretty unique birds in that they have female dominated social groups AND they are unique non-caching jays.


I could not find any references to the significance of jays to the Mayans, but other Native American cultures have presented Blue jays as trickster, thief, or bully characters.  Cree people envisioned gray jays as benign trickers and its nickname Whisky Jack, may have come from the Algonquin word “Wisakedjak.” In Algonquin stories, Wisakedjak actually describes a trickster crane that let loose a terrible flood (Chadd and Taylor, 2016).


 

7. Clay Colored Thrush (Turdus grayi):


Image may contain: bird, plant and sky

I saw quite a few of these drab, unassuming birds hidden amongst the forests that shroud the Copan ruins.  Yet, oddly enough it is the national bird of Costa Rica. This seems odd considering there are so many colorful, charismatic birds in Central America.  It was designated the National Bird of Costa Rica in 1977 because of its song and association with the greening of the season (so perhaps end of dry season?).  It is known as Yigüirro in Costa Rica. It eats snails, worms, and insects. It was once named Gray Thrush after a British ornithologist and was also known as the Clay Colored Robin.  It is not shy around humans and can live in urban settings. Perhaps because it is common, has a pretty song, and often around humans, in Costa Rican culture it appears in poems, stories, and songs (Javi, 2014).  I am not sure what the Mayans thought of this bird, but it is neat that such an ordinary bird has national importance.


 

8. Turkey (Meleagris):


Image may contain: bird and outdoor


I saw a turkey at the Copan ruins and wondered what it was doing there.  I know that turkeys were domesticated by Native Americans, so I wondered if it was a wild turkey or a domesticated turkey.  In this case, it was a domesticated turkey. Turkey bones have been found at Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala dating from between 300 BC and 100 AD.  The species of turkey found at the site actually originated in Mexico, where all domestic turkeys are from. So, it means that Mayans imported turkeys from outside of their homelands to be kept or raised (University of Florida, 2012).  Originally, turkeys were domesticated for their feathers, which were used in ceremonies, robes, and blankets. In Mexico, they were domesticated in 800 BC and in Southwest United States this occurred in 200 BC. (Viegas, 2010) Both Anasazi and Aztecs domesticated turkeys.  Anasazi domesticated turkeys from Rio Grand and Eastern subspecies and the Aztecs from a vanished southern Mexican subspecies. The Anasazi domestic turkey has disappeared from history (Smith, 2017). All modern domesticated turkeys are from Aztec domesticated turkeys (Viegas, 2010) While a person can’t include domesticated turkeys on their birding list, they are still beautiful birds with a lot of Mesoamerican history.


Conclusion:


There were many other birds that I saw at Copan as well, including summer tanagers, golden fronted woodpeckers, rufous naped wren, black vultures, and more! So, this overview is not comprehensive of the birds that I saw.  It also doesn’t include many other birds that were important to the Mayans. For instance, water birds were actually surprisingly prominent in Mayan art. Over 52% of natural bird species depicted in Mayan art are water birds such as herons, egrets, and cormorants.  Of these depictions, 83% are from the Late Classic period, which was associated with drought (Stuart, 2015). The Copan ruins are near the Copan River, so it is possible that a person could see some water birds if they were near the river. Another bird that was important to the Mayans are Resplendent Quetzals.   Resplendent Quetzals can be found at elevations between 1000 to 3300 m and prefer evergreen cloud forests with plentiful fruit trees, where they forage from the canopy. They are considered Near Threatened, since they are sensitive to deforestation and climate change. Copan situated in a valley at 700 m above sea level, so, the elevation is not suitable for Quetzals.  According to E-bird, there have been some Resplendent Quetzal sightings at Finca El Cisne and the aptly named Montana El Quetzal, which are not far from Copan, but even these sightings are infrequent. Both Mayans and Aztecs revered the bird as a figure representing goodness and light, and as a deity of air. Its name comes from Nahuatl and the Mayan word for the bird is Kuk.  Quetzal feathers were reserved for royalty and priests and more valuable than gold or jade. The birds were captured, their feathers plucked, and then released, as it was believed that the birds would die in captivity. Aztecs associated the bird with Quetzalcoatl. Today, the bird is featured on Guatemala’s coat of arms, flag, and currency (which is called quetzal). Although they are not at Copan, I figured it was worth a mention due to their cultural importance.  With that said, the Copan ruins are a great place to enjoy nature. Since nature is as much a part of the history of the Mayans as the Copan ruins, a person shouldn’t feel guilty if they find themselves admiring the plants, birds, or butterflies instead of the city of stone. These things are all connected.

Image may contain: tree and outdoor

Sources:

Altamira Oriole Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Altamira_Oriole/id

Balter, M. (2016, July 22). Meet the Bird Brainiacs: Eurasian Jay. Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/magazine/march-april-2016/meet-bird-brainiacs-eurasian-jay

Chadd, R. W., & Taylor, M. (2016). Birds: Myth, lore & legend. London, UK: Bloomsbury Natural History, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Cushing, T. (2011, September 8). Kellogg’s Stakes Claim To Toucans, Mayan Imagery; Issues Cease-and-Desist To Guatemalan Non-Profit. Retrieved from https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110907/15550615845/kelloggs-stakes-claim-to-toucans-mayan-imagery-issues-cease-and-desist-to-guatemalan-non-profit.shtml

de Kort, S. R., & Clayton, N. S. (2006). An evolutionary perspective on caching by corvids. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 273(1585), 417–423. doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3350

Fendt, L. (2016, March 01). 6 Costa Rican animal names decoded. Retrieved from https://www.caminotravel.com/6-costa-rican-animal-names-decoded/

Green, C. and R. Kannan (2017). Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.colara1.01

Greshko, M. (2018, August 13). Early Native Americans Imported Exotic Parrots, DNA Reveals. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/08/news-ancient-dna-chaco-canyon-pueblo-macaws-archaeology/

Hellmuth, N. (2015, September 06). Macaws and Parrots in 3rd-9th Century Mayan Art. Retrieved from http://www.revuemag.com/2011/04/macaws-and-parrots-in-3rd-9th-century-mayan-art/

Helmke, C., & Nielsen, J. (2015). The Defeat of the Great Bird in Myth and Royal Pageantry: A Mesoamerican Myth in a Comparative Perspective. Comparative Mythology, 1, 23-60.

Hsu, T. (2011). Mayan group’s logo too much like Toucan Sam, Kellogg’s squawks. Retrieved from https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2011/08/kellogg-asks-mayan-group-to-remove-toucan-from-logo.html

Iconography, characteristics of painted macaws on Early Classic, Tzakol, basal flange bowls. (2014, October). Retrieved from http://www.maya-archaeology.org/neotropical-Mayan-ethnozoology-sacred-utilitarian-animals-reptiles-fish-birds-insects-iconography-epigraphy-faunal-remains/Mayan-iconography-scarlet-macaws-Tzakol-Early-Classic-bird-images.php

Javi. (2014, January 23). History of the national bird: Clay-colored thrush (Yigüirro). Retrieved from https://www.govisitcostarica.com/blog/post/history-of-the-national-bird-clay-colored-thrush.aspx

Jones, R. and C. S. Griffiths (2011). Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.kebtou1.01

Nations, J. D. (2006). “Maya Tropical Forest: People, Parks, and Ancient Cities”.

Oropendula, Montezuma. (2017, February). Retrieved from https://www.maya-ethnozoology.org/images-birds-species-bird-watchers-guatemala-mexico-belize-honduras/montezuma-oropendola-psarocolius-wagleri-bird-nests-peten-izabal-guatemala.php

Patterson, R. (2011, November 18). Kellogg Reaches Settlement in ‘Toucan’ Trademark Dispute – Few Feathers Ruffled. Retrieved from http://www.ipbrief.net/2011/11/17/kellogg-reaches-settlement-in-toucan-trademark-dispute-–-few-feathers-ruffled/

Robinson, J. K. (2013, July 23). Land of the Maya the way it was then. Retrieved from https://www.sfgate.com/travel/article/Land-of-the-Maya-the-way-it-was-then-4003689.php

Sample, R. and R. Kannan (2016). Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.monoro1.01

Smith, J. (2017, November 17). Tracing the Wild Origins of the Domestic Turkey. Retrieved from https://blog.nature.org/science/2017/11/20/tracing-the-wild-origins-of-the-domestic-turkey/

Streiter, A. (n.d.). Turquoise-browed Motmot, Costa Rica. Retrieved from https://www.anywhere.com/flora-fauna/bird/turquoise-browed-motmot

Stuart, P. (2015). Birds and environmental change in the Maya area (Unpublished master’s thesis). A Division III examination in the School of Natural Science, Hampshire College, May 2015. Chairpersons, Alan Goodman and Brian Schultz.

Stuart, D. (2014, April 20). A Glyph for Yuyum, “Oriole,” in a Name at Bonampak. Retrieved from https://decipherment.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/a-glyph-for-yuyum-oriole-in-a-name-at-bonampak/

Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/2168-Eumomota-superciliosa

University of Florida. “Earliest use of Mexican turkeys by ancient Maya.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120809090706.htm>.

Viegas, J. (2010, February 01). Native Americans tamed turkeys in 800 B.C. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35186605/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/native-americans-tamed-turkeys-bc/#.XOPizqR7mUk

White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/wtmjay1

Whitely, D. (2015, March 07). How the scarlet macaw returned to Copán, Honduras. Retrieved from http://www.grumpytraveller.com/2015/03/07/how-the-scarlet-macaw-returned-to-copan-honduras/

 

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

H. Bradford

4/9/19


It’s that time of year again.  This is the third year that I have spent February, March, and April trying to fundraise for abortion access.  I am not that good at fundraising, but I try.  I try to organize a team, promote the fundraiser, get some donations, and help with the organizing of the event through H.O.T.D.I.S.H Militia.   My contribution to the event is not as much as the contributions of others, but it is important to me.  For the past few years, H.O.T.D.I.S.H Militia, a local abortion fundraising group has attempted to raise $10,000 through a national fundraiser called “Bowl-a-thon” which is organized through the National Network of Abortion Fund’s (NNAF).   We have successfully met our fundraising goal each of the last three years that I have participated.  There are many reasons why I participate in this event, which I will outline so that readers have a better understanding of how the fund is used and why it is necessary.

This image was created by Betsy Hunt for H.O.T.D.I.S.H 2019


Abortion is Expensive:


Expensive is relative, as all medical expenses tend to be costly to those who cannot afford them.  But, considering that 40% of Americans cannot cover an unexpected $400 expense, abortion or ANY unexpected medical cost is expensive (Bahney, 2018).  At our local clinic, the basic cost of an abortion is $700, which goes up in price depending upon how far along the pregnancy is and if the patient requires a Rhogam injection.   The $700 cost is pretty similar to the cost at the other four Minnesota clinics listed on NNAF’s website.  This $700 cost is expensive for someone who was not intending to become pregnant, who only has a short time to raise the funds (less than 14.5 weeks at our local clinic),  who will see the cost increase the longer it takes to raise the funds, who must take the day off of work (since abortions are only provided locally on weekdays), must pay for transportation and perhaps day care or a baby sitter, and other costs.   75% of abortion patients in Minnesota were economically disadvantaged (State Facts About Abortion Minnesota, 2018).  I have recently had some unexpected medical expenses and it is extraordinarily stressful!  In my case, these are expenses that I can pay over time.  Unfortunately, at our local clinic, the payment is due in full at the time of the procedure.  There is no method to pay in installments.  $700 is therefore an enormous barrier for patients seeking an abortion.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H. provides supplemental funding to patients who might otherwise be unable to afford the full amount.


Insurance Often Doesn’t Cover Abortion:


In my observation, most patients with employer provider insurance must pay for the in full as the procedure is not covered by the insurance (some parts may be, such as an ultrasound, but patients are still responsible for the cost at the time of their appointment).  Many patients who seek abortion have not yet met their deductible or their out of pocket maximum.  Thus, it seems uncommon that insurance picks up the tab for the costs.  The H.O.T.D.I.S.H fund helps working people with insurance cover this unexpected expense.  It seems pretty unjust that abortion is segregated from regular health care, so that even those with insurance find that they must pay.  This punishes women and serves to stigmatize abortion as something frivolous or unnecessary.   In Minnesota, Medical Assistance covers the cost of abortion, but many patients do not have active M.A. because they have moved, did not submit paperwork, forgot to renew it, or any number of reasons.  Those who do must pay an $8 co-pay, but even this can be a barrier to someone experiencing domestic violence, homelessness, unemployment, or extreme poverty.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H funds are sometimes used to cover the co-pay or any additional expenses that Medical Assistance (Medicaid) might not cover.  It is also important to note that because of the Hyde Amendment, not all states fund abortion through Medicaid.  The Hyde Amendment prevents the use of federal funds to cover the cost of abortion.  States can elect to use their own funds to cover abortion, but only seventeen states have chosen to do this.  Minnesota is one of them, but patients from out of state may find that their Medical Assistance does not cover the cost.   For instance, Wisconsin only extends coverage in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment (Hyde, n.d.).  Finally, while Medical Assistance (Medicaid) covers abortion in Minnesota, Medicare does not cover elective abortion.  Therefore, individuals with disabilities who receive insurance through Medicare are unable to access abortion through that program.  As a caveat, I want to make clear that I am not well versed in the world of insurance, but in my observation at the clinic, insurance is rarely a guarantee of coverage.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H funds are regularly used to supplement employment health insurance coverage, MA copays, and to support Wisconsin residents on Badgercare.   Because 30% of Black women and 24% of Hispanic women receive Medicaid, as compared to 14% of white women, the national restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion disproportionately impacts women of color (Hyde, n.d).  The abortion restrictions through Medicare is ableist.  All of this is symptomatic of our need to repeal the Hyde Amendment, fight for universal and free health care for all, and demand that abortion be treated as ordinary health care.


Abortion Intersects with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault:


I work extremely part time checking in patients at our local clinic.  My short shift at the clinic is usually preceded by a night shift at a domestic violence shelter.  While I must maintain confidentiality at both places because of HIPAA and VAWA, I will say that I sometimes recognize patients from my other full time employment at the shelter.  I am usually familiar with at least one name from the patient list.  To me, it is extremely sad and angering that society portrays abortion seekers as selfish, irresponsible women.  This ignores the violence, control, and coercion that women experience in their relationships and how pregnancy is a tool of patriarchal dominance.  Pregnancy is a tool of patriarchal dominance in violent relationships, but also in everyday ordinary relationships wherein women must negotiate consent, birth control, their sexual desires or lack thereof as unequal partners on account of sexism, racism, economic subordination, heterosexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression that compound together within patriarchy and capitalism.   Providing abortion funding may help a patient escape from an abuser, begin to rebuild their life after sexual assault, and use their limited funds to leave a shelter for a housing opportunity rather than use that money to pay for an abortion.   It disgusts me that patients are met with a gauntlet of protesters who shame and abuse them for their choice with little concern or pause for the trauma that some patients have endured.   It also disgusts me that we live in a society where women can be forced to be pregnant simply because they cannot afford to terminate a pregnancy.   Funding abortion helps survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.


  Abortion Access is Always Under Attack:


Abortion is always under attack.   Each year, there are always new regulations and new schemes to limit abortion access.  In Minnesota, patients must receive mandatory information from a doctor 24 hours prior to their appointment.  If the patient does not receive this phone call, they are unable to have the procedure.  Minors must bring what seems like a mountain of paperwork documenting their identity, their parents’ identity, and acknowledgement of both biological parents that the minor is having an abortion.   In the absence of both biological parents acknowledging the abortion, the minor must appear before a judge, who will determine if they can have the abortion.   These current restrictions are fairly tame compared to the aggressive movement to further restrict abortion across the country.   This year, fetal heartbeat bans or six week abortion bans have been enacted, passed, or are in the process of passing in Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee.  This year, governors in Arkansas and Utah also approved bans on abortion at 18 weeks.  The Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee is currently reviewing a 20 week abortion ban in the interest of fetal pain, even though less than 2% of abortions performed in the state occur after 20 weeks and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists posts that it is not until at least 24 weeks of gestation that a fetus possesses the brain structures necessary process pain signals (Ferguson, 2019).  In the face of challenges to abortion access, many activists often frame it as a matter of how many Democrats are in power or that these bans will be overturned by the court system.  The fact of the matter is that the pro-choice movement has been losing the battle for abortion for over forty years.  This battle cannot take place in the arena of electoral politics, which has failed to prevent the avalanche of over 1,000 restrictions on abortion since 1973.  This has to occur by strengthening independent social movements capable of fundamentally transforming and challenging state power and while radically altering mass consciousness and discourse regarding the oppression of women.   Fundraising can be a supplemental stop gap measure in such a movement.  Fundraising should be used while putting demands upon the state and drawing attention to the systemic failures.  At the minimum, fundraising is a hands-on activity that could be used to connect pro-choicers to one another and the community.   At best, it needs to contribute to a fierce, strategic, and unwavering social movement that takes to the streets in protest and strike.  Power must be reclaimed by the masses, rather than consigned to courts and politicians.

This image was taken from NNAF for Bowl-a-thon purposes


Abortion isn’t Abnormal:


Abortion is always treated as a taboo.  It can’t be mentioned or is too controversial to bring up in polite conversation.  Yet, 1 in 4 women have had an abortion before the age of 45.  It isn’t abnormal.  It is ancient.  It is common.  By fundraising, abortion becomes more normal.  At least once a week, I remind people that I am fundraising for abortion on Facebook.   The actual fundraiser is fun.  We go bowling.  The bowling alley chooses to host an abortion fundraiser.  Bowling alleys are not typically considered enclaves of the feminist movement.  Last year, almost 100 people participated at the bowl-a-thon event.  This year, there are over a dozen teams and we expect a similar turn out.  The bowl-a-thon is a public way to be pro-choice and normal.  We are having fun fundraising.  The event has prizes and a party like atmosphere.  This isn’t about death, morals, taboos, secrets, and all of the dark ways that abortion is discussed in society.  This is about raising money and trying to have some fun while doing it.  Of course, it is also about all of the serious things that I outlined above.  But, part of this struggle has to be about making abortion less scary to talk about.  Asking strangers to donate- then having fun while doing it- dispels the the stigma around it.

Image may contain: 13 people, people smiling, people standing

 


Conclusion:


This year we have already met our goal of raising $10,000.  That sounds like a lot of money!  It is, but really, it doesn’t stretch that far.  Over a year, we can provide about $833 of support a month with those funds.  Remember, a single abortion procedure costs $700.  Thus, despite our best efforts and all of the people involved, we can really only pay for a little over 14 abortions a year!  Of course, the money is not used to pay for an entire abortion.  It is doled out more sparingly, typically with $100-$200 grants given to a couple of patients each month.  That really isn’t much at all!  It makes a difference to those patients, but $500 is still a large amount of money to come up with.  The amount we raise is small compared to the actual need.  Perhaps in the future, we will increase our fundraising capacity and be able to do more.  Better yet, it would be great if we could somehow change our society in such as way that we don’t have to fundraise at all.  Abortion would be available on demand, for free.  It would be wonderful if patients didn’t have to drive several hours to the nearest clinic or that everyone had guaranteed sick/personal leave so that missing work wasn’t an economic stressor.  Unfortunately, we have society as it exists now.  In this moment, the fundraising is both critical and inadequate.   There are still a few days left to donate to this year’s Bowl-a-thon.  The donation makes a difference locally, and hopefully I have illustrated a few reasons why!

To donate:

https://bowl.nnaf.org/fundraiser/1903989

https://bowl.nnaf.org/team/214270

Sources:

Bahney, A. (2018, May 22). 40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/2018/05/22/pf/emergency-expenses-household-finances/index.html

Ferguson, D. (2019, March 29). 20-week abortion ban bill advances in MN Senate. Retrieved from https://www.twincities.com/2019/03/29/20-week-abortion-ban-bill-advances-in-mn-senate/

Hyde Amendment. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2019, from https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues/abortion/hyde-amendment

State Facts About Abortion Minnesota (Rep.). (2018). Guttmacher Institute.

Capitalism and Self Care

capitalism

Capitalism and Self Care

H. Bradford

3/27/19


Whenever I hear the word self-care, I feel a little skeptical.  It seems like one of those feel good notions that activists and “helping” professionals ritualistically throw around to pay homage to burn out, compassion fatigue, or just the very human need for food, sleep, and health.  The Marxist in me always feels a bit cynical about the whole thing. To me, self care seems self-evident. A world in which me must pause, consider our needs, and carve out some extra space and time to meet these needs seems extraordinarily exploitative.  The concept itself seems atomizing, as the inability of capitalist society to meet human needs is placed upon the individual, who is tasked with adequately caring for themselves. At worst, it seems like a hedonistic excuse to retreat from society or struggle.  Self-care seems like the chore of maintaining oneself just enough to continue to be miserable. Some of this pessimism regarding self-care is founded, but some of it is not. Indeed, self-care has radical roots which should be reclaimed to push back against the crisis of care created by capitalism.


Capitalism and the Crisis of Care


To begin, it is useful to examine care more generally and how “care” connects to capitalism.  Care is often an invisible, expected, and taken for granted role for women in society. Women have long been associated with care, as in the care for children or care for families, but capitalism created the conditions wherein economic production and social reproduction separated into two distinct categories.  In other words, capitalism created a dichotomy between waged work and “care” (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).  Economic production became something that happened inside of offices or factories, where it was remunerated with a wage (Leonard and Fraser, 2016). “Care” became the sentimentalized labor that women often do as a matter of love than for pay, and as such, it is not as valued or recognized in society (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).


According to a 2015 report, 1.9 billion children under the age of 15 and 200 million older adults are in need of care.  This number is expected reach 2.3 billion by the year 2030. Globally, among 64 countries studied, 16.4 billion hours per day are spent performing unpaid care work.  76.2% of this is done by women (Women do 4 times more unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific, 2017). Around the world, women complete more unpaid labor in the home than men, wit the largest differences found in Asian countries such as Japan, China, India, and South Korea.  Women also spend less time each day engaged in leisure activities. For instance, in the United States, women spend about 262 minutes eat day on leisure activities, whereas men spend about 305 minutes. In Greece, women enjoy 318 minutes of leisure, whereas men have 393 minutes each day.  In Portugal, women have 200 minutes of leisure each day and men, 289 minutes (Taei, 2019). Among OECD countries, women complete 4.5 hours of unpaid labor each day or 271 minutes. In comparison, men average around 2.5 hours each day, or 137 minutes (Berman, 2017). The gender gap in unpaid labor starts young, as according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenage girls perform 38 minutes of chores each day, whereas teenage boys do 24 minutes of chores each day (Gollayan, 2019).

Image result for unpaid work around the world


The lack of leisure time and large amounts of unpaid household care work, certainly create the conditions wherein women need self-care.  Beyond unpaid labor preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning homes, caring for children, or tending to the sick, women are often relegated to exhausting, low paid, undervalued “caring” professions.  97.5% of kindergarten and preschool teachers are women, 94.4% of childcare workers, 94% of nurse practitioners, 89.9% of maids and housekeepers, 89% of teaching assistants, and 84.5% of personal care aids are women.  Women make up the majority of the service industry, as they make up 80% of restaurant hosts, 72% of cashiers, 71% of non-restaurant food servers, 70% of waiters, and 66% of hotel front desk workers (Rocheleau, 2018). Thus, when women are not at home caring for children, workers, and retirees, they often find themselves thrust into paid care work, wherein they care for children, serve food,  provide medical care, or care for the elderly. Cashiers, waitresses, personal care attendants, and hostesses each have an average income of under $22,000 a year, at least according to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among teachers, those who serve younger ages make less. For instance, Kindergarten teachers average $52,800 a year, whereas secondary education teachers average $58,300 a year (Wile, 2015).   Thus, those who engage in care work often face a wage penalty.

Image result for female cashier

Image taken from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-03/a-female-cashier-works-in-a-supermarket/6276318


One way that the amount of care work that women engage in can be explained is through Social Reproduction Theory.  According to Social Reproduction theory, capitalism charges women with the upkeep of capitalism. Social Reproduction posits that in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism needs both a future generation of workers and the upkeep of current workers, retired workers, and non-workers.  Thus, historically women have been tasked with having children, raising children, caring for the elderly or people who cannot work, cooking, cleaning, other household chores, and all of the other, mostly unpaid labor that goes into ensuring that capitalism can continue. Much of this labor occurs within the family, but some social reproduction may be provided for by the state or private sector (Arruza, 2016).  When the state engages in social reproduction, it can be said that the care work has been socialized. On the other hand, when the private sector engages in care work, it means it is commodified (Leonard and Fraser, 2016). For instance, when countries provide state funded day care centers or nursing homes, the state is engaged in the social reproduction of capitalism. However, as it will be argued later, many of the paid employees in such institutions are women.  As a whole, women are often engaged in what is generally called “care work” which is paid and unpaid labor that involves the care of people, but can also include care for animals, communities, or environments. While care work is not a specifically Marxist term or a phenomenon that is unique to capitalism, care work is an essential component to capitalism’s continuation. Capitalism is contradictory as it does not provide for its own upkeep. It requires workers, yet the profit motive drives capitalism to lower wages and lessened working conditions  The drive for profits also results in austerity, or cuts to social programs and the privatization of public institutions which provide care. This results in a crisis of care, in which women find that they have trouble balancing paid labor with reproductive labor (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).


The Crisis of Care is a profound insight to the nature of capitalism and may offer why self-care is so popular and necessary.  During the 20th century, many advanced capitalist societies expanded the state’s role in social reproduction. The global south did not experience this, as they were predated upon by imperialist powers of the north.  A strong labor movement pushed for social reforms that shortened the work day, banned child labor, provided some social welfare programs, and ensured a family wage. However, racism within more advanced capitalist countries such as the United States meant that not all workers enjoyed these benefits equally and access to the “family wage” was predicated upon heteronormative monogamous relationships (Leonard and Fraser, 2016).  Yet, in the last forty years in order to eke out profits in an increasingly competitive global economy, the gains of workers have been attacked in many ways. Following the post World War II boom, the United States began to lose its place in the world economically in the 1960s and 1970s as Japan and Europe rebuilt their economies. The United States also began to de-industrialize, as industrial union jobs went to more profitable, low wage, non-union places elsewhere in the world.  The loss of these higher paying jobs put pressure upon women to enter the workforce as a single family wage was no longer adequate, though the feminist movement also pushed to break down barriers to entry into the paid economy as a matter of equality, freedom, and self-determination. Between 1970 and 2003, 60% of new jobs created went to women, yet at the same time wages have been stagnant. For the first time, white women began to engage in paid labor as much as Black women (who historically have not enjoyed the privilege of working only in one arena of the economy).  Of course, much of this growth was in the service industry, though there was also growth in finance, real estate, and insurance industries (Eisenstein, 2005). These areas are interesting, because they are associated with what Marxist call fictitious capital, or a more unstable economic area where capitalists go when they’ve run out of space to invest elsewhere, so this sort of job growth is also indicative of the crisis of capitalism. While the United States was de-industrializing, there has also been a global push towards austerity and privatization (Eisenstein, 2005).   It is little wonder then that in the face of attacks at work in the form of depressed wages, longer hours, less stability and also the loss of social benefits, that the crisis in care has driven women towards self-care to restore stability, wellness, and balance in their lives.  Self-care offers a reprieve from the ravages of capitalism.

Image result for u.s. real wages over time

Just an image of Real Wages over time


The Commodification of Self Care


The economic conditions of capitalism limits the ability of workers to take care of themselves.  Self-care may resonate with some women because they are stretched thin between paid and unpaid labor.  It is little wonder then that in recent years, there has been increased interest in self-care. In 2017, there was an uptick in the self-care activities with a 17% increase in therapy, 34% increase in yoga, 16% increase in meditation, and 19% increase in daily walks (Daniels, 2018).  There are over five million posts about self care on Instagram (Lieberman, 2018). Self-care became more mainstream after the 2016 election and was googled twice as much as in year following it (Aisha, 2017). The popularity of self-care related topics on social media contributes to differences in who engages in self-care.  For instance, millenials spend twice as much as boomers on self-care. This younger demographic is more internet savvy, which allows them to search for self care ideas and get exposure to self care through social media (Silva, 2017). Problematically, self-care within capitalism is commodified and individualized. It also reflects of disparities in ability, rage, class, sexuality, gender, and other areas of oppression.  For example, the beauty industry is quick to appropriate “self care” as a means to sell products. Ofra Cosmetics used the slogan “Turn Your Skin Care Routine Into A Self-Care Ritual,” to turn using skin care products into an act of self-care (Boyne, 2018). By 2024, the skincare industry is estimated to grow to $180 billion and even congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared her skincare routine on Instagram, divulging that she keeps makeup wipes by her bed to allow her skin to breathe.  Healthy skin is seen as virtuous, rather than a signifier of wealth (Hill, 2019).

Image result for self care skin care

An advertisement for Mad Peaches Med Spa- http://madpeachesmedspa.com/skin-care-is-self-care/


One of the more obvious examples of the commodification of self-care is, Gwyneth Paltrow, who made $250 million by selling wellness products under her brand Goop.  The company sells such things as emotional detox bath soaps and vaginal steams (Daniels, 2018). These products fleece women of their money in the interest of classist and gendered notion of what it means to care for oneself.  Self-care could be a $10 tube of Goop toothpaste, an $85 medicine bag containing several crystals, or a $3500 gold sex toy (K., 2018). In 2017, the self-care industry was estimated to be worth $4.2 trillion globally. Over the past two years, the industry has a growth rate of 6.4%, which is twice the growth rate of the entire global economy.  The largest component is anti-aging, skin care, and beauty, which makes up $1.08 trillion. Another area of growth in the self-care industry is food, of which, foods categorized as keto, plant based, probiotic, low sugar, paleo, vegetarian, flexitarian, and gut healthy are the top food trends in 2019. Athletic wear, cannabis, and low cost gyms are also areas of growth within the self-care industry (Low, 2018).

Self-Care for the Cubicle-Bound

“Self Care for the Cubicle Bound”- From Goop- https://goop.com/beauty/makeup/self-care-cubicle-bound/


Self-care often gets mashed together with self-improvement and might be viewed as a modern iteration of this long standing theme in Western culture.  For instance, Socrates advised that young men should not enter political leadership until they have worked on themselves. Foucault observed that cultivating the soul and self was part of the thinking of Seneca, Epictetus, and many early Christian thinkers.  In U.S. history, the concept of self-care was used towards racist ends, as Samuel Cartwright justified slavery because slaves were unable to care for themselves on account of their inferior race. Scholar, Matthew Frye Jacobson used a similar argument against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, as he claimed they were unable to care for themselves.  The argument was also used to justify denying women the right to vote (Kisner, 2017). Within the self-care industry, the self-improvement industry is worth $11 billion. Mindfulness meditation, which seems like something that could be done for free, is a $1 billion industry (Lieberman, 2018). This aspect of self-care is dangerous for several reasons. Firstly, it does not challenge the notion that a person’s worth is predicated upon their efforts towards self-improvement.  As illustrated earlier, hierarchies of better or more capable selves and lesser capable selves, was twisted into arguments against immigration, women’s suffrage, and for slavery. Self-care is racialized inasmuch as wellness is often depicted as a pastime for white women. The arena of self care is often a white space designed for white women and wherein other white women profit (Daniels, 2018). Self-care naturalizes wellness as white while rendering the outcomes of self-care as virtuous (healthy skin, fit bodies, physical ability).  Secondly, because self-improvement costs money, it creates a divide between who can improve and who cannot. Wellness is reserved for the wealthy who can afford the time and money for such things as expensive fitness classes, skin products, or foods. Because self-care is an individual endeavour, it does not address or contextualize social problems such as poverty (Daniels, 2018). Finally, it is simply stressful and laborious to improve oneself, especially when people are already overburdened with paid and unpaid labor. In a UK study of 200 women who used fitness trackers, 79% felt guilty if they did not meet their daily goals, 59% felt controlled by the device, and 30% felt like it was the enemy (Lieberman, 2018).


This newest, commodified version of self-care is a new capitalistic incarnation of the concept, but it has meant different things throughout history.  The Civil Rights movement and feminist movement engaged in self-care as a political act as a reaction to the failures of white, patriarchal society to care for their needs.  Part of the early movement for self-care entailed setting up women’s health clinics to address the health needs of women as an alternative to medical institutions which many women experienced as sexist and hostile to women’s health.  Self-care was also a component of The Black Panther Party’s orgazing. The Black Panthers sought to address community needs that had been unmet by the state. As such, they set up clinics to address the needs of black people, such as testing for sickle cell anemia or lead poisoning (Aisha, 2017).  The Black Panthers established thirteen free clinics around the the country and connected poor health as an outcome of poverty (Bassett, 2016). Today’s concept of self-care, which focuses on the individual and is far less political and community based. Another understanding of self care is the medical term employed in high stress jobs such as social workers, therapists, and EMTs, who recognized the need for self-care to avoid burn-out or compassion fatigue.  This use of the term is certainly not as radical as the Black Panther or feminist movement concept of community building, but at the very least recognizes that work can be a source of personal strain. During the 1980s and 1990s, self-care became disassociated from its political roots and more connected to commercialized fitness and wellness trends that appealed to middle class white people. Fitness clubs and yoga classes are the types of ways that self care has manifested since then.  In recent years, feminists and activists in the black community have shown renewed interest in self-care as well (Aisha, 2017).  After the mass shooting in Orlando, LGBTQ people around the world used the hashtag #queerselflove to post selfies and Jace Harr, a trans man, created a popular online questionnaire entitled, “You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care guide” which asks users if they have drank water, feel disassociated, feel triggered, and other self-care questions.  Devin-Norelle, a trans black man, posted about self care after the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, saying “Healing is self-care is self-love, self-indulgence, and self-preservation, because sometimes we need to be reminded that #BlackIsBeautiful (Kisner, 2018).” Devin-Norelle’s post echoes a quote from Audre Lorde, who wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare (Boyle, ND).”  Similarly, Evette Dione wrote in Bitch Magazine that many people are poor, working themselves to early graves, and that self-care means pushing against society by asserting one’s own needs and existence (Kisner, 2018).

Image result for Black panther clinic

An image depicting the Black Panther’s Free Food Program- one of several social programs including clinics, food distribution, children’s breakfast program, and free ambulance.  From: https://atlantablackstar.com/2015/03/26/8-black-panther-party-programs-that-were-more-empowering-than-federal-government-programs/


Conclusion:


Care often falls upon the shoulders of women.  Women are often tasked with caring for children, elderly, those who are ill, their communities, and the environment.  This is done in both the paid and unpaid economy.   The strain of this physical and emotional labor leaves little time for self-care, but a strong need for it.  Capitalism commodifies self-care, turning it into something that requires time, effort, and money and bestowing virtues upon those who can accomplish balance, health, beauty and fitness.  While self-care could be liberating, in this economic context, it is another trap. It is time to return to the roots of self-care. Today’s society needs the militant, collective self-care.   Pressure should be put on the state and our workplaces for parental leave, paid sick time, healthy environments, socialized health care, free and expanded public transportation, living wages, affordable housing, reproductive justice, and all of the other things that are needed to live full and healthy lives.  Self-care must connect the self to the social struggle and build up people together as communities. We must care for another, while empowering each other to fight for the structural changes necessary to end sexism, racism, heterosexism, poverty, ableism, and all other forms of oppression once and for all. Chocolates, bubble baths, and yoga are alright, but self-care should be enjoyed with a revolutionary consciousness that seeks to end the child slavery that produces the chocolate,  the cultural appropriation that decontextualizes yoga among white people, and fights for access to clean water for all!  I suppose this sort of self-care is pretty exhausting, since it isn’t self-care as much as it is struggle. But, perhaps we can do self-care together, caring for each other along the way, so that we have strength and energy in each other. Finally, I think there is an important self-care tactic within the International Women’s Strike movement.  This is the tactic of striking, which is withdrawing labor. Self-care can mean withdrawing unpaid and paid labor to demand better conditions and a better world. The ultimate way we can take care of ourselves is to work towards a world wherein we don’t have to work with such effort, little pay, lack of control, and uncertainty.


Sources:

Arruzza, C. (2016). Functionalist, determinist, reductionist: Social reproduction feminism and its critics. Science & Society, 80(1), 9-30.

Arruzza, C.,  Bhattacharya, T., and Fraser F. (2019). FEMINISM FOR THE 99%. New York: VERSO.

Bassett M. T. (2016). Beyond Berets: The Black Panthers as Health Activists. American journal of public health, 106(10), 1741-3.

Berman, J. (2018, April 15). Women’s unpaid work is the backbone of the American economy. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-is-how-much-more-unpaid-work-women-do-than-men-2017-03-07

Boyle, S. (n.d.). Remembering the Origins of the Self-Care Movement. Retrieved from https://bust.com/feminism/194895-history-of-self-care-movement.html

Boyne, I. (2018, November 15). Self-care must separate itself from beauty industry. Retrieved from http://miscellanynews.org/2018/11/14/opinions/self-care-must-separate-itself-from-beauty-industry

Daniels, J. (2018, December 05). Opinion | This Holiday Season, Resist The Unbearable Whiteness Of Wellness. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-wellness-holidays-trump-gwyneth-paltrow-goop_us_5c07e65de4b0fc23611249c6

Eisenstein, H. (2005). A dangerous liaison? Feminism and corporate globalization. Science & Society, 69(3), 487-518.

Hill, J. (2019, March 19). Self-Care And Skin Care. Retrieved from https://the1a.org/shows/2019-03-19/self-care-and-skin-care

K., S. (2018, September 11). How Self-Care Became a $250 Million Business. Retrieved from https://www.couturesquemag.com/single-post/goop-self-care-politics-and-profit

Kisner, J. (2017, June 19). The Politics of Conspicuous Displays of Self-Care. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-politics-of-selfcare

Leonard, S., & Fraser, N. (2016, Fall). Capitalism’s Crisis of Care. Retrieved from https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/nancy-fraser-interview-capitalism-crisis-of-care

Low, E. (2019, January 28). Self Care Wellness Trends: Beauty, Fitness, Cannabis Fuel $4 Trillion Market. Retrieved from https://www.investors.com/news/self-care-wellness-trends-beauty-fitness-cannabis-market/

Gollayan, C. (2019, March 05). Teenage girls do more homework and household chores than boys: Study. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2019/03/05/teenage-girls-do-more-homework-and-household-chores-than-boys-study/

Harris, A. (2017, April 05). How “Self-Care” Went From Radical to Frou-Frou to Radical Once Again. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2017/04/the_history_of_self_care.html

Lieberman, C. (2018, August 10). How Self-Care Became So Much Work. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/08/how-self-care-became-so-much-work

Rocheleau, M. (2017, March 07). Chart: The percentage of women and men in each profession – The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/03/06/chart-the-percentage-women-and-men-each-profession/GBX22YsWl0XaeHghwXfE4H/story.html

Silva, C. (2017, June 04). The Millennial Obsession With Self-Care. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/06/04/531051473/the-millennial-obsession-with-self-care

Taei, P. (2019, March 08). Visualizing Women’s Unpaid Work Across the Globe (A Special Chart). Retrieved from https://towardsdatascience.com/visualizing-womens-unpaid-work-across-the-globe-a-special-chart-9f2595fafaaa

Wilding, M., & Wilding, M. (2018, August 15). When Self-Care Turns into Self-Sabotage – Great Escape – Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/s/greatescape/when-self-care-turns-into-self-sabotage-489cef9859e5

Wile, R. (2015, June 13). This epic chart shows the average wage for almost every job in America. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/the-average-wage-for-almost-every-job-in-america-2015-6

Women do 4 times more unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific. (2018, June 27). Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/news/WCMS_633284/lang–en/index.htm

A Rock and a Hard Place: A Story About Poverty and Wishful Thinking

A Rock and a Hard Place

A Rock and a Hard Place:  A Story about Poverty and Wishful Thinking

H. Bradford

3.11.19


I grew up poor.   Of course, poor is relative, and to some degree, everyone was poor where I grew up in rural Minnesota.  The median household income in Cromwell in  2016 was $26,094.  In contrast, Duluth, a city about an hour away, has a median household income of $45,950 So, it is a poor area for this region.  Against this backdrop, my family was poor, owing to the fact that only one of my parents regularly worked outside of the home for most of my childhood, my father’s employment was fraught with periods of layoffs and injury, and because my parents were very young when they had me (my mother was in high school).  While I wasn’t the poorest of the poor and benefited from support from my grandparents, I grew up aware that we didn’t have the nicest home (a trailer in the woods), best toys, braces for my teeth, other families seemed to have more, and that finances stressed my parents out.   I remember one winter when my father was laid off of work, we ate potatoes and eggs during January and February.  I remember wanting things to be better for my parents.  I remember, in about the first grade, wishing that Santa would bring us more money.   As a child, I really didn’t have the tools to understand poverty, how it works, how to escape it, or that escape from poverty is atypical.  In my immature mindset, poverty was something best escaped through some miraculous circumstance.  For instance, Charlie Bucket escaped poverty by finding a golden ticket in his chocolate bar and surviving the maniacal factory trials of a mad capitalist by virtue of his….virtue.  The Beverly Hillbillies escaped poverty by finding oil on their property.  Following this theme, I was convinced that we would escape poverty by finding a valuable rock.  This happened twice.


The swampy yard of my childhood featured at least two large rocks.  I would climb on one of them, which was mossy and would have been a good location for a rock garden if it wasn’t set in a swamp or shade.  Another rock that captured my imagination was located inside the forest across from our driveway.  This rock was also located in one of many swampy pools near our home which was ideal for finding frogs in the spring, but would dry up by summer.  Something about that particular rock captured by imagination.  It was gray and jagged.  Like the other rock, it was large enough to sit and play on.  Perhaps because it was deeper in the woods, surrounded by ferns and other prehistoric plants,  half submerged in a vernal pool, I imagined it was associated with dinosaurs.  I imagined that the rock had something to do with the extinction of the dinosaurs.  It became obvious to my mind that it was in fact, a meteor.  I knew, on a scientific level, that meteors are rare and valuable, so I decided that this was going to be our golden ticket out of poverty.   On a superstitious level, whenever we saw a meteor streak across the sky, my mother told us to say “money, money, money” as fast as we could, until it disappeared and perhaps money would come our way.  I was always disappointed that they never lasted long enough to say the incantation more than a few times, if any at all.  Money certainly never came of it.  In any event, I convinced my brother that it was a meteor.  It probably isn’t hard to stretch the imagination that far, since it was a large rock in the middle of a forest.  Obviously it got there somehow, so why not outer space?  My mind was not geologically grounded enough to consider glaciers.  My brother and I dragged my mother out to this meteor, convinced that it was going to make us some money.  She followed us to the rock.   Maybe she cautiously hoped that we had indeed stumbled upon something of value.  Just like Antique Roadshow, undiscovered wealth was waiting to be found.  I showed her the rock and explained the characteristics that clearly made it a meteor.  It wasn’t.  I don’t remember what happened after we brought her into the woods.  But, we never became wealthy from it and eventually I forgot about the rock and stopped playing in the woods.

Image result for rock with dinosaur toys

A random image of dinosaurs on a rock from FreePic


The second rock incident happened much later.  I went on a road trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario with my grandmother, brother, and mother.  I was about fourteen years old.  On the way back, we stopped at a rest stop or overlook, and I saw a large, clay colored rock.  I was convinced that this was an agate.  I suppose traveling up the North Shore of Lake Superior I had agates on the brain.  I convinced my brother that it was an agate.  Although it was dull and reddish brown, I was sure that if we loaded it into the car, then cracked it open, it would split into two perfect agate geodes.  The otherwise dull colored rock had a specks that glistened in the sun, which to me indicated that it was secretly an agate.   This was around the time my parents divorced and we were moving on to a new life in a low income apartment, on food stamps, in a new single parent household in Isanti, MN.  A magnificent agate would have been a huge help.  My mother was reluctant, but once again I got my brother on board.  We both convinced her to load the forty or fifty pound rock into our vehicle.  After all, we couldn’t possibly leave this opportunity for wealth behind.  It road around in our vehicle for months.  Eventually, my mother asked a rock collector at the county fair about it.  The expert scoffed at the idea that we would find such large agate.   But, we didn’t know how agates formed or how they would have broken up into smaller pieces over time.  I was disappointed that it was….just a rock.  It was a rock and an unwanted passenger in the backseat of our car.  I think we eventually rolled the rock onto the lawn of our low income apartment complex, which upset the management.  The last I remember was seeing it rolled up against a tree by the parking lot.  Did we get into trouble?  Did they make us move it?  Did they know it was our rock?  I don’t know.  I just know that once again, we pinned our hopes on a mineral miracle. Image result for agate geode

What I imagined we would find inside the rock….

              

I’ve been thinking about these stories lately.   It seems foolish that I believed, on more than one occasion, that we could escape poverty by finding valuable rocks.   But, these ideas are really no different than some of the other faulty thinking regarding poverty or social class.  For one, the idea of discovering something valuable to escape poverty is a common narrative in society.   I already mentioned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,  The Antique Roadshow, and Beverly Hillbillies.  Any story involving hidden treasure similarly follows the notion that wealth is out there waiting to be found.   Lottery tickets similarly create the notion that wealth is out there.  It is just a matter of the right numbers at the right time….and SOMEONE has to win.  Even if the odds are low, it COULD be you if you just participate.   The Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes also reinforces the faulty thinking that wealth is something that can unexpectedly happen.  Game shows also promote this idea, as contestants compete for money or prizes.   Of course, some skill might be involved, but a person’s ability to solve word puzzles, guess the correct price, or answer trivia questions is generally not a surefire way to make it ahead in society.  In another example, one of my favorite children’s stories was called Silly Simon, about a foolish young man who was abused by his mother and could never do anything right, until his silly antics caused a princess to laugh.  He was awarded gold from a king for this feat.   This teaches that wealth is something that can happen in just the right circumstances or with a not so useful skill-set that suddenly has value.   Another common trope is the orphan who is adopted into wealth, such as Annie, Oliver Twist, or a low rated TV show that aired when I was a child called Rags to Riches.  At least I never once imagined escaping poverty through adoption!   I grew up in a world informed by Publishers Clearing House, scratch tickets, stories of orphans and treasures, game shows, etc.  At the same time, never once did my pre-college formal education tackle the topic of causes of poverty.   This is a disservice to children, who are often bullied for their social class.  I remember my brother was once upset that a classmate of his (in Isanti) said that our family lived in the dumpster by the school.  I remember a classmate (in Cambridge) picking on my family for using food stamps and another teasing me because my family didn’t own our own washing machine (which I hadn’t even considered a sign of poverty until teased for it.  I liked going to the laundromat).   If children are not raised to understand social class, then being poor is mysterious and easy to blame on lack of luck or some kind of flaw.

Image result for silly simon


Even as I entered college, I really didn’t understand class.  I felt embarrassed that everyone else seemed to have stories about going on vacations that involved sailing in Greece or backpacking in Europe.   I didn’t want to talk about myself.  (Of course, at this point in my life I have traveled a lot, but upon graduating high school I had never been on a plane and felt jealous when I met college students who had studied abroad in high school or went on elaborate family vacations.  I felt less than them!  That this was not a matter of money, but that I wasn’t “good enough” to have these opportunities.  But, these feelings motivated me to prioritize travel).  I felt ashamed that my parents were not doctors, professors, business owners, lawyers, or any of the other prestigious professions that other students’ parents seemed to have.  I felt that there was something wrong with me and my family.  I felt that I was inferior.  That if I was smarter, more attractive, harder working, more talented, more outgoing, less strange, or any number of other qualities, that I too would have an exciting and successful life.  So, rather than analyze the difference between myself and other students I met as a matter of socioeconomics, I felt that I was defective.   Internalizing being poor as a flaw or a failure was just as faulty as believing that wealth could come from meteors (or lottery tickets, sweepstakes, game shows, etc.).  Yet, this is more insidious and pervasive.  It is something that I believe to some degree even to this day.  Being poor….it did make me flawed!   I have crooked teeth because we couldn’t afford braces.  I have a crooked spine as well.  We didn’t have access or an understanding of psychology, so some of these needs also went unmet or unknown.  So, I am not the optimal person I might have been in other socioeconomic circumstances.  Certainly, I am a passable person and everyone has flaws.  Yet, for all of my passion for learning, all of my talent, hard work, or any number of positive attributes, I will never be “living my best life.”   In parts, I am to blame.  A scarcity mindset prevents me from taking too many risks or living too freely.  I will never feel empowered to quit a job I don’t like or make major life changes because in the back of my mind, I know that there is a lot to lose and fear of going without. Image result for living my best life

Yeah, not really.  But life is….okay.


The narrative of self-determination  is perhaps the hardest one to overcome.  I can rationally conclude that success does not come from meteors, agates, game shows, or lottery tickets.  Yet, I have not quite abandoned the notion that with hard work, education, talent, risk taking, determination, etc. I should be able to accomplish my goals and dreams.   This is the narrative that our educational systems socialize us to believe in the most, as in the context of capitalism, educational systems need to justify their own existence by promising that education can help us become self-actualized, successful people.   So, this is why I find myself up against a rock and a hard place.   This is also why I think we need to be careful about what kinds of stories we tell ourselves about class.   We must abandon the language of “living the best the best life,” goal digging, girl bosses, slaying and narratives of self-made successes.   This isn’t to argue that everyone should adopt “learned helpnessness” or the idea that nothing we do has an impact on our environment or life outcomes.   Instead, I think that narratives about upward mobility or class should be tempered by socioeconomic realities rather than individual efforts.  This itself is contested, as conclusions about upward mobility vary depending upon how this is measured and defined.   For instance, the U.S. Treasury Department posits that upward mobility is a reality for low income Americans, who on average see their incomes rise over time as measured by tax returns.  If one defines upward mobility as entering a new tax quintile, then yes, upward mobility is possible.   Marxists define things more broadly, as class is about a relationship to production.  A quintile increase in taxed income may not translate to increased access and control of capital.  Because upward mobility is not operationalized by Marxists as increased status or income, social mobility is less common in socialist interpretations.  In this broader view, capitalism itself is prone to instability and declining rates of profit over time, so income gains are never a given and always challenged by a profit motive that is inherently at odds with high or even stable standards of living for most workers.  But, one does not need to be a Marxist to understand that life is limited by class, and compounding this, it is limited by gender, race, sexuality, ability, etc.  It is also limited by job availability, unemployment trends, globalization, new technology, etc.  You can work very hard, have many talents, educate yourself extensively, make all the right choices, and you can still end up working menial, unrewarding jobs in which you worry about retirement and live paycheck to paycheck.


It was foolish for me to think that we would find money in the form of a meteor or an agate.  Even if we had, that money would not have sustained us for long.  I had so much hope back then.  But, of course, this is false hope and wishful thinking.  My favorite quote is “We must prefer a real hell to an imaginary paradise” by Simone Weil.  Of course, she was probably talking about some spiritual nonsense, but I have always interpreted it as it is better to think clearly without hope, than have false hope in ignorance.  Unfortunately, there is not a lot of hope that most working people will have a windfall of wealth, much less live their lives without economic hardship and worry.  There are no meteors, agates, winning lottery tickets, etc. to save us.  Even education, hard work, innovation, talent, etc. are not tickets to a better life.  A better life is secured through collective struggle, not individual efforts or accomplishments.  It is class struggle that shortens the workday, promises pensions, provides health care, mandates paid leave, and all of the other benefits that ACTUALLY do improve lives and creates opportunities.   Living our best lives is a function of the mass movements that seek to end war, protect the environment, provide public transportation, end police brutality, empower women, dismantle racism, etc.  So, I do have some hope, or at least, a methodology for betterment.

Post Navigation