Katha Pollitt | The Nation

Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

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Poems about Poems: Why Not?

Is there something wrong with writing poems about writing poems? And if so, what? My friend Richard Howard was the first person who told me he didn't approve of that subject, but since he said it while saying nice things about a poem I had written on that very theme, I didn't take it as a blanket prohibition, just a personal preference. It turns out a lot of people share it. Jackie Sheeler, commenting on yesterday's post, compares it to ‘talking to your analyst about being in therapy." Actually, I think that's what psychoanalysis is supposed to be all about (see Daniel Menaker's hilarious novel, The Treatment, for the cleverest portrayal ever of a shrink, the impossibly vain, hostile, and infuriatingly accurate super-Freudian Dr. Morales, who thinks everything is about himself, sex, or both). But maybe that's why I didn't stay in it very long: talking about the shrink to the shrink just seems so rude. Expensive, too.

The self-referential nature of art is old news. We don't mind songs about singing and singers, or paintings about painting and painters, as any self-portrait is bound to be: here am I the painter, painting myself painting myself. There are dozens of movies about movie-making: Sunset Boulevard, Day for Night, Contempt, Adaptation, to name just a few. Why should poetry be different? Why shouldn't poets, from time to time, reflect in verse on what is, after all, their occupation and preoccupation?

Perhaps there's a moral aspect: poetry is not "the real world," where real people , ie people who don't read poetry, live. So if you want to reach real people, you have to write about something they care about-- baseball or the Byzantine Empire or having a baby, whatever, just not about poetry, because you can be sure that's the one thing they don't care about. Writing a poem about poetry only going to puzzle and bore non-poets. Worse, it's going to sound "elitist," which is a grave sin in our faux-egalitarian country, where it's okay to rejoice openly in having lots more money, houses, boats, cars, gadgets, and power than others, but not in having a big working vocabulary, a good education or a consuming interest in anything unprofitable. Perhaps writing poems about poetry comes across as a way of saying, I'm so special. Prompting the inevitable response: Who do you think you are, anyway?

Given all this, it's not surprising that when poets write about writing poetry, they often sound a little depressed. My psychiatrist-writer friend Anna Fels , whose book Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives you should read right away if you haven't already, takes a clinical view: "As a shrink," she wrote in an e mail after reading yesterday's post, " I've wondered sometimes if such poems represent depressive periods in bipolars or cyclothymics since so many modern poets have been bipolar." Maybe, but maybe those poets are just responding naturally to the situation of the poet in our time, the sense of being always at the margins, of having to justify one's existence, of offering the world something the world doesn't really want.

Here's a wonderful poem by Grace Paley (right) about exactly that:

The Poet's Occasional Alternative

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead      it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft     a poem would have had some
distance to go      days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it       many friends
will say       why in the world did you
make only one
this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadness I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership      I do not
want to wait a week     a year      a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

****Just out from Random House: The Mind-Body Problem: Poems by Katha Pollitt


Complain, Complain: Poems about Writing Poetry

Now for something completely different. This week I'm guest-blogging at The Best American Poetry. So much fun! I'll be putting up here what I wrote over there the day before. Here's Sunday's post:

Have you ever noticed how many modern poems there are in which the poet complains about the difficulty of writing poetry? I suspect this is a relatively recent addition to the long list of poets' complaints, perhaps replacing the traditional lament that the poet's girlfriend won't sleep with him. Now chances are she'll do that, at least for a while. Back in the day poets wrote scads of poems about about how cold and heartless or just mysteriously uninterested the desired woman was, but at least the poem itself was not the problem. Poets were always comparing themselves to shepherds tootling on flutes or panpipes, which sounds restful and pleasant and not very musically challenging, or to madmen raving, birds warbling, or other images of spontaneous and untutored communication. Perhaps it was easier when you had the Muse to do the heavy lifting.

I thought about this because of a dinner party I recently attended, to which each guest was asked to bring a poem to read around the table. Most of the guests were writers, although I was the only poet. I am embarrassed to say how long it took me to choose my poem -- so many of my favorites I had to disqualify as too long, too sad, too intimate, too familiar, or inviting an inaccurate autobiographical reading. I mean, nobody wants to have to hear the whole Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock before they get to eat dessert. Aha, I thought, Stevie Smith! A poet I love. She's funny, she's poignant, she has lots of short poems. Lots of short poems about Christianity (no), death (no), ridiculous people (no) and unhappy love(no!). Just when I was about to have a fit -- because did I mention that I left all this to the last moment and had persuaded myself that I was about to make a great fool of myself in front of a whole roomful of people I admired and esteemed and even, in one or two cases, was a bit afraid of and was beginning to wonder if possibly my humiliation was the whole secret point of the exercise -- I found this wonderful poem:

Mrs. Arbuthnot

Mrs. Arbuthnot was a poet
A poet of high degree,
But her talent left her;
Now she lives at home by the sea.

In the morning she washes up,
In the afternoon she sleeps,
Only in the evenings sometimes
for her lost talent she weeps,

Crying: I should write a poem,
Can I look a wave in the face
If I do not write a poem about a sea-wave,
Putting the words in place.

Mrs. Arbuthnot has died,
She has gone to heaven,
She is one with the heavenly combers now
And need not write about them.

Cry: she is a heavenly comber,
she runs with a comb of fire,
Nobody writes or wishes to
Who is one with their desire.

As it happens, another guest brought a poem on the same theme, Brenda Shaughnessy's "A Poet's Poem":

If it takes me all day,
I will get the word freshened out of this poem.
I put it in the first line, then moved it to the second,
and now it won't come out.
It's stuck. I'm so frustrated,
so I went out to my little porch all covered in snow
and watched the icicles drip, as I smoked
a cigarette.
Finally I reached up and broke a big, clear spike
off the roof with my bare hand.
And used it to write a word in the snow.
I wrote the word snow.
I can't stand myself.

If Mrs. Arbuthnot had written a poem about not writing that poem about the sea wave, it might have been this very poem.

So if nobody writes or wishes to who is one with their desire, has the poem itself become the elusive, resistant love object, the modern Phyllis or Clorinda?

Anti-Choice Terrorism

There were lots of young people in the crowd, and at the microphone, for Monday evening's spirited rally in Union Square to honor Dr. George Tiller. It was quite a contrast with the last gathering occasioned by the murder of an abortion provider, the candlelight vigil at Columbus Circle in l998, after the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian. Back then, the crowd was small and middle-aged and rather dispirited. This time, people were awake and angry.

It's about time. Time to demand federal legal protection for abortion rights. Time to demand that law enforcement take seriously the violent anti-abortion underground. Time for doctors to show some spine, defend their colleagues who perform this necessary service to women and reintegrate abortion into normal medical practice. Time for women to come out of the closet and talk about their abortions, so that people will realize that the woman who terminates a pregnancy is their wife, their mother, their sister, their friend.

It's time, too, to stop the pretense that the "debate " over abortion consists of two equally extreme positions, and that wisdom resides in the mushy middle, where everybody disapproves of abortion except when they want one for themselves or someone they care about. There's only one set of extremists here, the one that uses language like "babykiller," " Nazi," "murderer," and "death mill," kidnaps and murders providers and clinic workers,burns and bombs clinics and drives cars into them, posts pictures of clinic workers and their families on the internet, and harrasses patients on their way to get care.

Only one side writes like this about the murder of Dr. Tiller:

"But I also know joy. Not the shallow type of joy but a deep resonating joy. I feel joy that no longer will this wicked man slay the judicially innocent. I feel joy because justice, albeit of a rough variety, was visited on someone who so thoroughly opposed a culture of life and who worked so assiduously to spread the culture of death. I know joy because the truth of Scripture that those who take up the sword shall die by the sword is seen as authoritative. I know joy because I know that no longer will Dr. Tiller be sucking out the brains of people, or torturing people with saline or dismembering people in utero. How could a sane person not feel joy at the death of a mass murderer and a terrorist?"

backwaterreport/Covenant News

That's Bret MacAtee, Michigan pastor and Constitution Party activist.

People mock the word "choice" --it's consumerist, euphemistic, wimpy, calculated. But one thing you can say for it: It honors the individual conscience. If a desperately ill pregnant woman wants to risk her life to give birth, if she wants to carry an anencephalic fetus to term so it can die in her arms, or have her rapist's baby, or become a mother at 14, or produce octuplets, pro-choicers are not going to compel her to abort. Pro-choicers don't go around lecturing girls and women that they will blame themselves forever if they have a baby they may not be equipped to raise well. They don't paint gory pictures of the horrors and dangers of childbirth to scare pregnant girls and women into ending their pregnancies with a quick and safe termination. They don't tell women Jesus is going to send them to Hell if they sacrifice their futures to the whims of a wayward sperm -- although they might mention from time to time that the Bible nowhere mentions abortion. Pro-choicers don't blow up churches or assassinate the leaders of Operation Rescue.

Only one side wants to force women to live by its so-called morality, and only one side murders and bombs to make its point. Only one side has a terrorist wing.

In the days to come, let the public discussion acknowledge that.

Obama's 100-Day Hope Check

Are Barack Obama's  supporters wondering where the hope went? Does the campaign now seem only a golden dream? After all, Obama's been in the White House for over three months, and people are still losing jobs and houses, US troops are still overseas, single-payer health care is still not on the agenda.  Surely the President should have fixed all that by now with the power of his mighty hope machine.

In her current Nation column, Naomi Klein claims that disillusion is setting in. She has a  clever list of  words to describe the phenomenon: Hopefiends feel hopebreak which will (hopefully) lead to hopelash, "a 180-degree reversal of everything Obama-related." Enough of these cowardly compromises! Back to the streets! 

I have a lot of respect for Naomi Klein, but I think her own hopes for  a mass radical movement are getting in the way here. According to polls, after all, Obama is wildly popular.  A Harris Interactive poll released on April 7 found that 68% of Americans  have a good opinion of him. That doesn't necessarily mean they approve of everything he's doing, but it means that a heck of a lot of people who didn't vote for him like him now.  Is there any evidence that "a growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard"? And by the way, did anyone over the age of  21 ever really believe this? That hope, an emotion, was going to "save the world," the way  children clapping their hands saves Tinkerbell? Are Americans really such idiots? Hmmm, better not answer that. 

Naomi and I must talk to different people. For example, I don't know anyone as stupid as the hopefiendish "Joe" who "actually believes Obama deliberately brought in Summers so that he would blow the bailout, and then Obama would have the excuse he needs to do what he really wants: nationalize the banks and turn them into credit unions." Think what you're saying, Joe! Had Obama intentionally put in someone he knew would fail, he would not only be a clairvoyant and a psychopath-- callously indifferent to the ruin of possibly millions of people--  he'd also be risking political suicide. Because had he first chosen a course he knew would fail he would not have the political capital to "what he really wants."  

I know a lot of people who supported Obama, and every time I see them I ask how they think he's doing. The only people I've found who've given up on him, who feel betrayed, misled, and foolish, are those leftists who didn't like him in the first place and voted for him in a weak moment as the lesser evil. They, predictably, went back to their cabins on Mt. Disdain before Obama  had even been inaugurated.   Obama will never satisfy the left because no president could. FDR didn't satisfy the left either.

I was a strong supporter of Obama but I always thought hopespeak fell somewhere between metaphor and twaddle. Obviously, Obama was not going to turn the US into Sweden. Obviously, he would make all sorts of compromises and deals.  And obviously I would hate that. That's politics.  Where am I on the hope-o-meter?  Like everyone, I'm worried about the bailout, Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm appalled that he envisions no prosecution of those who set up the legal framework of torture  and those who carried it out. And what about Bagram? On the plus side:  he's been terrific on women's rights and reproductive rights here and abroad, made some excellent appointments (Hilda Solis at Labor), reached out to the Muslim world, opened communications with Cuba and Iran, said he'll close Guantanamo, declared an end to torture, and, with the stimulus, successfully challenged the notion that government spending (except on the military) is bad. He's made it less embarrassing to be an American.  I think he'll make good judicial appointments. If another Katrina happened tomorrow, I think he'd handle it well.

It's important to challenge Obama. No president deserves mindless loyalty. But color me modestly hopeful -- for now.         

Get Rid of Bush's Last-Minute HHS Regulation

Thursday, April 9th, is the deadline for comments on the proposed rescission of the Bush administration's last-minute HHS regulation expanding provider "conscience" clauses to allow just about any health worker to deny contraceptive services to women. Under this vague, confusing rule, a pharmacist could refuse to fill a birth-control prescription, and also refuse to get another pharmacist to do so. A nurse could refuse to give emergency contraception to a rape victim, and give her a lecture about "babykilling." Abortion clinics would be forced to hire, and retain, personnel who refused to carry out the very duties they were hired to perform. Nor does the regulation stop there. Conceivably, a health-care worker could refuse to care for a gay, lesbian or transsexual person, on the grounds that to do so would violate their religious beliefs.

The law already provides "reasonable accomodation" for religious beliefs, by the way. This regulation is just President Bush's farewell gift to the religious right. It only takes a few minutes to encourage President Obama to return that gift to the store.

(Thanks to intrepid reporter Cynthia Cooper for the heads up.)

1) Go to this site:  http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=SubmitComment&o=090000648090229f  

2) Sample letter from the Center for Reproductive Rights -- I am writing to support the "Rescission Proposal" to repeal the Provider Conscience Regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in December.

The regulation unnecessarily expands the current laws protecting healthcare workers at the expense of women's access to healthcare. The regulation creates uncertainty that could allow healthcare providers to deny access to contraceptive services by equating them with abortion. In addition, it allows providers to deny women the information necessary to provide informed–consent for their healthcare.Undoubtedly, the women who are hit the hardest by these regulations are the most vulnerable in our society. Many low–income women rely on federally–funded hospitals and clinics and cannot afford to shop around for healthcare providers. By expanding both the types of workers who can refuse services, and the range of services which can be denied, the government is restricting access to health services for those who already face significant barriers in accessing basic healthcare.

I ask that you rescind this unnecessary regulation which only exacerbates the lack of affordable healthcare for women in this country.

[Optional - add your additional comments here]

Your name


From My Inbox: WRRAP Says Thanks; UPDATE

Despite hard times which have made philanthropy hard for many, readers responded to the appeal in my last post for donations for the Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, which helps low-income women from all over the country access abortion care. Here's an e mail I received from WRRAP yesterday, with some details about the situations of the women they've been able to help, thanks to you.

Too often, the debates surrounding abortion obscure the women themselves. Right now, for example, we are hearing a lot from pundits like Will Saletan, who argues that women have unwanted pregnancies because they are careless about contraception, conjuring up a picture of lackadaisical sluts who just can't be bothered to take their pill. Real life is more complicated: chaotic lives, poverty, social isolation, lack of regular access to health care, ignorance, misinformation, drugs, alcohol, male violence and hopelessness all play a part, along with the simple facts that every method has a failure rate and nobody's perfect. Similarly, it is hard for some people to imagine women so poor that they cannot come up with, let's say, $500 for a first-trimester abortion -- don't they have friends? won't the man help? Can't they just put it on a credit card? Hello, this is a country where millions rely on food stamps and soup kitchens! Where people can't pay their utilities or their rent!

The descriptions of WRRAP clients below are a tiny window into the struggles of low-income women. More information, and a donation button, can be found at www.wrrap.org.

UPDATE: Keep it up, trolls. Your callous, ignorant and sexist comments have inspired readers to donate over two thousand more dollars to WRRAP since this post went up.

Subject: Thank You is Not Enough

Date: March 30, 2009 12:16:05 PM EDT

To: katha.pollitt@gmail.com

Dear Katha:

Your mention of our work brought us donations totaling $955. It was money that was greatly needed and was put to immediate use.

These are the just some of the women we helped since over the last 2 weeks:

A 38 year-old woman with one child from MI. She and her husband are starting a new business that hasn't yet generated income. Her family and friends are helping them and they needed very little money from us.

A 29 year-old low-income woman who works but her insurance will not cover abortion services.

An 18 year-old doing part-time work with no insurance. Her parents are unemployed. The man beat her and left when he found out she was pregnant.

A 17 year-old student who can't tell her mother. She went through the system and got a judicial bypass.

A 20 year-old with one child who lives with two sisters and three other children. Works part time at McDonald's and the man will not help.

A 28 year-old who is a multiple cancer survivor. She and her boyfriend are living in their car.

A 29 year-old with three children. She works part time and receives $200 a month in child support.

A 40 year-old with four children. She makes only $500 per month. Her low-income mother helps her with rent and bills. The man left.

A 34 year-old with the mental capacity of a 6 year old was raped. Her sister is her guardian and is one of the working poor.

A 34 year-old with 5 children lost her job, her insurance, her home and stays with friends while her kids are with their grandmother.

A 26 year-old with one child, lives with her mother on Medicaid and little or no child support. Fetus had profound anomalies that were incompatible with life.

Over 50% of these unwanted pregnancies were the result of failed birth control.

We are so grateful to you and your readers for your generous support of poor women in crisis.

Joyce Schor

Judith Krain

National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers

March 10th is National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers, and man oh man could they use some love. Obama's victory may protect Roe v Wade in the Supreme Court, but state legislatures are doing their best to pile on the obstacles and restrictions: mandatory ultrasounds are the latest fad, with bills being considered in eleven states ( because apparently women are so stupid they might not realize they're having an abortion because they're pregnant). And then, as Michael Winerip reported in an unusually thorough piece in Sunday's New York Times (in the Style section, sigh, along with the rest of the girlynews), the women's health activists who form the backbone of many clinic staffs are retiring and proving hard to replace in the more conservative and rural regions, like upstate New York, the South and Midwest. Doctors, nurses and technicians are reluctant to work in clinics in anti-choice places where they will be picketed, socially ostracized and forced to protect themselves daily against possible violence. Low pay is another factor: anti-choicers love to talk about abortion as a business, but adjusted for inflation, the price of a first trimester abortion is about what it was thirty years ago, although security-related costs have skyrocketed -- one reason why clinic staffers make about half what they would in another specialty.

Will the next generation step up to the plate? Sally Burgess, head of the National Abortion Federation, thinks that growing up with legal abortion, too many lack "the fire in the belly." Then too, med school policies mean only a small proportion of medical students are even learning how to perform this relatively simple procedure.

You can show your support for the selfless people who make more than words on a page by making a donation to the Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP) , an all-volunteer group which helps low-income girls and women around the country pay for their abortion care. As the economy sinks and unemployment rises, more and more women will find themselves both needing to terminate a pregnancy and unable to come up with the cost. Help WRAPP be there for clinics and for women.

Donations of any size are more than welcome (and yes, the rather odd name on the Paypal account is correct -- I checked), but if you send me your receipt for $50 or more, I will mail you a signed copy of Learning to Drive: and Other Life Stories, my collection of personal essays.

Open Letter to Defend Shirin Ebadi

From the Campaign for Peace and Democracy comes this open letter in defense of Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate and defender of women's rights and human rights.I think it does an excellent job of disentangling support for human rights in Iran from the bellicosity that sometimes accompanies it. In fact, as Shirin Ebadi herself told Amy goodman (Democracy Now, February 4, 2009)

"A military attack on Iran or even a threat of a military attack on Iran will deteriorate the situation of human rights and women's rights, because it gives an excuse to the government to repress them more and more often."

You can add your name or make a tax-deductible donation to publicize the statement atthe Campaign for peace and Democracy website. Problems? E mail the CPD at cpd@igc.org.

IRANIAN HUMAN RIGHTS LEADER SHIRIN EBADI IN DANGERPeace Activists Call on Teheran to Ensure Her Safety

To:Supreme Leader Ali KhameneiPresident Mahmoud AhmadinejadAyatollah Shahrudi, Head of the JudiciaryMohammad Khazaee, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United NationsIslamic Republic of Iran

We are writing to protest in the strongest terms the threats that have been mounted against Shirin Ebadi, co-founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center and the Organization for the Defense of Mine Victims. Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, has spoken out vigorously and repeatedly for women's rights and human rights for all in her own country. She has also been a vocal and effective advocate for peace and against military attacks on Iran in international forums.

Ebadi today is in considerable danger. On December 21, 2008, officials prevented a planned celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and forced the closure of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), which Ebadi helped found. The Center provides legal defense for victims of human rights abuses in Iran. The group had invited nearly 300 human rights defenders and supporters to the private celebration. A few hours before the start of the program, members of state security forces, and plainclothes agents entered the DHRC building. They filmed the premises, made an inventory, and forced the center's members to leave before putting locks on all entrances.

On December 29 officials identifying themselves as tax inspectors arrived at Ebadi's private law office in Tehran and removed documents and computers, despite her protests that the materials contained protected lawyer-client information.

Ebadi's former secretary has been arrested, and on January 1, 2009 a mob of 150 people gathered outside her home, chanting slogans against her. They tore down the sign to her law office, which is in the same building, and marked the building with graffiti. The police, who have been quick to close down unauthorized peaceful demonstrations, did nothing to stop the vandalism.

In similar cases, Iranian authorities frequently have followed office raids and other harassment with arbitrary arrests and detention, often leading to prosecutions on dubious charges

As peace activists, we have a special concern for Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi has spoken out, as we have, against any U.S. military attack on Iran. In 2005, Ebadi wrote, "American policy toward the Middle East, and Iran in particular, is often couched in the language of promoting human rights. No one would deny the importance of that goal. But for human rights defenders in Iran, the possibility of a foreign military attack on their country represents an utter disaster for their cause." ("The Human Rights Case Against Attacking Iran" by Shirin Ebadi and Hadi Ghaemi, The New York Times, Feb 8, 2005).

We oppose any military attack on Iran by the United States or any other nation. We reject too the hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it protests repression in Iran while turning a blind eye to or actively abetting comparable or worse repression in countries with which it is allied like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Israel in the Occupied Territories. And we condemn as well Washington's double standard in criticizing Iranian repression while itself engaging in torture and undermining civil liberties at home. But that in no way deters us from protesting in the strongest terms the denial of basic democratic rights to the people of Iran. We protest because we believe in these rights, and also because we see social justice activists in Iran and all countries as our natural allies in building a peaceful, democratic world.

We call on you to cease and desist from the threats to Shirin Ebadi, to move immediately to prevent any further harassment, and to ensure Shirin Ebadi's safety and security.

INITIAL SIGNERSErvand Abrahamian, Janet Afary, Michael Albert, Kevin B. Anderson, Bettina Aptheker, David Barsamian, Rosalyn Baxandall, Medea Benjamin, Michael Bérubé, Norman Birnbaum, Eileen Boris, Roane Carey, Joshua Cohen, Noam Chomsky, Gail Daneker, Manuela Dobos, Ariel Dorfman, Martin Duberman, Carolyn Eisenberg, Jethro Eisenstein, Zillah Eisenstein, Daniel Ellsberg, Jodie Evans, Gertrude Ezorsky, Samuel Farber, John Feffer, Barry Finger, Joseph Gerson, Jill Godmilow, Arun Gupta, Thomas Harrison, Nader Hashemi, Adam Hochschild, Nancy Holmstrom, Doug Ireland, Melissa Jameson, Jan Kavan, Nikki Keddie, Leslie Kielson, Ian Keith, Kathy Kelly, Assaf Kfoury, Naomi Klein, Dan La Botz, Joanne Landy, Jesse Lemisch, Sue Leonard, Mohammed Mamdani, Betty Mandell, Marvin Mandell, Kevin Martin, Scott McLemee, David McReynolds, Ali Moazzami, Claire G. Moses, Molly Nolan, David Oakford, Bertell Ollman, Christopher Phelps, Charlotte Phillips MD, Katha Pollitt, Danny Postel, Dennis Redmond, Sonia Jaffe Robbins, Matthew Rothschild, Jason Schulman, Stephen Shalom, Adam Shatz, Alice Slater, Stephen Soldz, Stephen Steinberg, David Swanson, Chris Toensing, David Vine, Lois Weiner, Naomi Weisstein, Reginald Wilson, Kent Worcester, Stephen Zunes

This Week's Woman We Love to Hate

Just in time for the Big Recession comes Nadya Suleman, the unemployed single mom with six kids under the age of seven plus a complete set of octuplets and no more sense than a goldfish. Must there always be an woman whose out-of-control female body gives us something to gawk at? Step aside, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Palin (remember all that ridiculous conspiracy theorizing about her baby really being Bristol's?), Jessica Simpson's weight and the endless procession of celebrity baby bumps. Photos of Suleman's naked grotesquely distended pregnant belly rule the internet, along with much speculation about her resemblance to Angelina Jolie (plastic surgery?), her finances (unclear), the father (mysterious) and the fertility doctor who violated professional guidelines by implanting so many embryos in her (time to regulate!).

Suleman, who says she's only trying to make up for her lonely childhood, seems completely insane to me. Indeed, she's been treated for a variety of psychiatric conditions. But she's obviously not too crazy to try to seize the day. She hired a pair of publicists who gave new meaning to the word "chutzpah." In response to a horrified editorial in USA Today,they wrote that she would raise her children in a "caring, Christian home" with the help of that child-raising village Hillary Clinton likes to talk about. They've even set up a website where said villagers can send good wishes, cash and presents. A caring, Christian home! Take that Phyllis Chesler, who, mistakenly identifying Suleman's father as Palestinian (he's Iraqi), wonders if she'll "become a poster child/mother for....free baby formula and diapers? Or for Jihad?" Here in the US, it's Christian fundamentalists like those in the Quiverfull movement who think God put women on earth to breed armies of the faithful.

I've received a number of e mails urging me to defend Suleman on feminist grounds. But really, there is nothing feminist about borrowing all this trouble. We're supposed to be reasonable creatures, remember? Talk about giving single mothers by choice a bad name! Suleman seems to have combined an extraordinary degree of planning for conception with no realistic planning for childraising. If the Suleman house was a daycare center it would be illegal. Even if all the octuplets are healthy, a big assumption, the fact that three of her six older kids are receiving disability payments from the state of California -- one is autistic, the others have undisclosed problems -- underscores how hard it will be to give all these kids the attention they need. Just helping an autistic child to thrive is a huge amount of work all by itself.

The vitriol heaped upon Suleman as her story dribbled out revolves around the money the octuplets will cost society, beginning with an estimated 1.3 million dollars for their premature birth and extended hospital stay. If she was a millionaire (or a married christian) people would call it a medical miracle,wish her well and move on. The vituperation on comment threads -- "spay the stupid bitch!" and "they need to cut out this woman's uterus" are typical -- shows that welfare reform did nothing to put a damper on the all-American resentment of "welfare queens." Her case, though, is not much like that of real mothers on TANF, who have only 2.3. children on average, and would probably have fewer if they had better access to sex education, birth control and abortion, and better prospects in life to begin with-- prospects like Suleman's, who comes from a middle-class family (school teacher mother, translator father) and has a college degree. Basically she's a one-off, a mentally disturbed individual with excellent manipulation skills. She's the maternal equivalent of a cat collector.

Well, America loves big families-- the Christian fundamentalist Duggars (18 kids and counting) are currently sharing the small screen with Jon and Kate Plus 8 ( a blended family that includes artificially conceived sextuplets). True, we prefer them married, with a traditional division of labor. But we love freak shows, too, and celebrity wannabes who combine blithe narcissism with a staggering lack of self-awareness, so maybe Suleman will reap big money for interviews, photos, a reality show ,a book deal and she won't be a burden on the taxpayer after all. Won't that be frustrating to the people who want to feed her freeloading self to the woodchipper now? Or maybe she'll be nudged aside by some other reproductive train wreck-- as I write, "13 year old Dad spends first Night at Home with Baby, Plays Playstation" has 213 comments on Huffpost.

The latest development is that the publicists have resigned, citing death threats, and have been replaced by an agent, Wes Yoder, whose Ambassador Agency claims to be the oldest Christian-based talent agency in the United States. His best known client? Rick Warren.

Octomom Told Doc: Don't kill my babies!

Christmas at Nadya's: It's All About the LOVE!

Jesus to the Rescue. And not a moment too soon.

Today's the Day to Donate to Tom Geoghegan

Have you been wondering about the best possible moment to donate to the campaign of progressive labor lawyer/ writer/ activist Tom Geoghegan? As you may know, he's running in the Democratic primary for Rahm Emanuel's seat in Congress. Well, it's today. Midnight tonight, February 11, is the FEC filing deadline for campaign contributions.

Why does this deadline matter? A strong showing encourages donations from those who've been waiting to see if the campaign has legs. It also attracts press. So far, none of the candidates have gotten much attention in the local media -- you could help change that.

Even a small donation, added to others, really helps. So don't be shy, visit

Tom's ActBlue page.

Why should you support Tom Geoghegan? He wants to give all Americans single-payer health care. He wants every American to get a decent pension on retirement-- social security, as the working people and retirees in his district know all too well, is not enough to live on. He wants to restore controls on banks and the credit industry so Americans aren't burdened by usurious rates of interest that, until recently, were illegal. And as if that weren't enough, he's really smart, he's honest, he's pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. He not only wrote one of the best books ever about unions, "Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor when it's Flat on its Back," he's fought for worker's rights in court for thirty years. That is not something many politicians can say.

Read more at the campaign website. Read even more about it at The G Spot.

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