This Week on teh Interwebs

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Since it is December 6th…

A few weeks back, Carla Bruni was in Vogue magazine talking about how she doesn’t feel the need to be a feminist any more. I think that is cute.  She specifically said that her generation doesn’t need to be feminist, like she is that young or something. I admire her frankness- she also owned up to being a real bourgeois- but what she is selling is quite dangerous.  I agree with her- Carla Bruni doesn’t need to be a feminist.  Why? Because she is a heiress who was born into money, who made a hecka lot more money modeling, then made some more money singing, then married the president of France. She has the capital she needs several hundred times over.  People like Carla Bruni “don’t need” feminism. The waitress trying to pay for her abortion? She needs feminism.  The talented manager who keeps getting passed over for senior management and board positions? She needs feminism. The working mother whose husband expects her to bring home the bacon and be Donna Reed too? She needs feminism. The single mom who can’t afford childcare while her ex-dude is off making more babies with someone else? She needs feminism too.  But a rich lady who can afford to walk away if her dude doesn’t fly right? Ok Carla, you don’t need feminism.  For me it is always about capital.  We don’t all get good husbands. We don’t all get money. Until then, we need feminism. I need the same salary as a man with equal talent. I need access to management positions if I want them. I need to not be judged for being divorced. I need to not be judged for choosing not to have children.  These things aren’t possible without a feminist bent.

Feminism gets a bad rap these days.  I feel like everything my mother ‘s and grandmother’s generations fought for is going down the drain.  Women in their little suburban homes who think death or divorce can’t happen to them. The same women who egg on men when they say that feminists are bitter and hate men and don’t want to do housework.  Which leads me to the title of this post. You know who I think of when some man tries to diss feminism to me? I think of this dude. People want to talk about how he was an isolated, crazy gun toting mental case- but read about some of the stuff he says. Women taking men’s jobs, women wanting their cake and eating it too for crazy things like maternity leave (OMG right), women being opportunists who only want what belongs to men without fighting the hard fights.  That is the undercurrent to what people say when they start going off about how feminists are “bitter” or feminists “hate men.” It has been 23 years since the Polytechnique massacre.  Are women really better off? Listen to the crap men and, scarily, women are saying about gender politics and roles.

And I love it when Muslim men want to go off about how “Islam doesn’t need feminism because blah blah respect women blah blah Islam gave rights to women blah blah.” But I still don’t think Islam as it is practiced these days, aka Hislam, is fair to women and true to what the early Muslims intended. Come back and tell me how great Muslim women have it when:

  • scrubs who sleep around, cheat and beat their wives aren’t allowed to come to jummah and get shunned the way cheating or promiscuous women get slut shamed at the masjid too.
  • women have equal spaces in our masajid and both men and women’s spaces have childcare sections. For these past two points, rip a page out of the Christian playbook. I grew up in churches where EVERYONE was welcome.
  • men stop abusing polygamy and call it sunnah when they don’t have a job and three of their wives are on welfare
  • women stop being judged by their clothing
  • imans stop telling women who are victims of DV to “have some sabr sister” while the yeahbros at the masjid welcome her husband to hang out for coffee and hookah
  • when Muslim men walking the walk and living according to the sunnah when it comes to fair treatment of women becomes a majority situation, not a minority one

I don’t consider myself theologically liberal at all but the place of women in our ummah leaves to be desired. We have bigger problems than women leading prayer or wearing hijab or not. The pathology of the ummah in how it treats women runs deeper than just a few crazies doing “honor killings”, just like how Marc Lepine was a random crazy but still part of a larger pathology of hatred and violence against women.  Islam is a beautiful religion, but we gotta get back to the roots. Don’t betray the peace and grace of MY RELIGION TOO by making flippant, offhand comments about how feminists are man-hating “lesbians.” Our scars run deep.


Debrief on the DALF C2

When I took the C1, one of the jury members during the oral exam encouraged me to take the C2.  I didn’t need the C2 and nobody really needs it (you only need a B1 for a French or a Swiss (in Romandie) passport, a B1 at the university of Lausanne (I think because they make you take more classes) and a C1 for most French-language universities.  Out of pure vanity (bred from years of being knocked down by people with shitty English telling me how bad my French was) I decided to take the C2.  The key reason I wanted to take the C2 was because, like when I took the C1, my written French had gone down, paradoxically since working in the French part of Switzerland. At work, you mainly use French to talk with colleagues, and what you write in French always turns out to be the same thing. So your speaking skills grow as conversations change, but your writing skills stagnate because it is always the same formulas and stock phrases.

Most of the hits on my blog come from people looking for information on the two DALF tests.  As such, I hope the link above helps for the C1, and my advice below is pretty much the same for the C2: study the test format and how to “give them what they want” by taking a prep class; and work on your “peripheral” skills- if you don’t have a good “general culture” you will not have the gimme points you need. I passed in rather poor test conditions (had been in the hospital and was physically ill the day of the oral) and yet I hadn’t studied the way I wanted. This is not a humblebrag, read on:

1. To some extent, if you don’t have the level for the C2 you just don’t have the level.  You can prepare and study for the test and learn the proper techniques, but what wound up pushing me over the top despite an appalling lack of preparedness was the fact that I had a huge vocabulary. That’s not something you can work out over a couple of months. Either you have watched a lot of French tv and read a lot of books, or you haven’t. This is why I DO NOT suggest spending only a few months studying for this exam if vocabulary is your weak point.  At the C1 level vocabulary is important too. You can write gramatically and stylistically perfect French and speak without an accent, but if your vocabulary capital isn’t very high, you won’t pass either exam.  I would have failed this exam without my vocabulary.  I saw this in my prep classes: there were students better accents (ok everyone has a better accent than me) and with stronger grasps on grammar who were lacking the style and catchphrases of a larger vocabulary, which only comes from having a love for Francophone culture. This means watching tv, listening to the radio and reading books and magazines. If you don’t do these things already in French or don’t want to for the purposes of the exam, you might want to stick with the B2 or the C1.

2. The C2 is an unnecessary test- I can’t think of any place, maybe a journalism school or an advanced teaching school where a C1 wouldn’t do, and the C2 is a bit harder. Even the HEP in Switzerland only asks for the C1.  I think BS-ing the C1 is within the reach of a fair amount of people but trying to BS the C2 like I did is an expensive gamble. Ask yourself why you want the C2? Can’t the *easier* C1 accomplish the same goal?  I would be interested in any comments from people who were specifically asked for a C2 exam for administrative or professional reasons. As mentioned above, mine was pure vanity, and an exercise in regaining self-esteem after being told by people how shitty my French is. Well no, apparently it isn’t because I passed and now I have the piece of paper.  Also remember that language proficiency is the law of diminishing returns: someone with a high B1 in French isn’t getting much more out of his or her professional or social life than I am at C2. So…if you are taking it to be “papered up,” great, but if your boss or your school only wants a B1 or a C1, this is a tiring and difficult way to overkill.  (as an aside, another subject for another post is how the B2 is a bullshit exam in French and you might as well take the C1).

3. Even more so than for the C1, speaking good French isn’t enough, LEARN HOW TO TAKE THE TEST. The C2 is harder than the C1, with only two sections: the listening and oral are combined, and the written comprehension and the essay are combined. I scored much higher on the oral section (I had gotten a perfect score on the C1) but on both tests my writing was disproportionately lower (still passing but yeah). My score in writing was lower than it could have been because I didn’t respect the format, because I didn’t learn the format, because I missed so much class being sick and travelling. Know how to write a “plan”, know how to write the different types of essays requested. Like I said for the C1, you either need to take a prep class, get a ton of books, or have spent time in France-French schools to understand the pedantic way they want things. This advice goes for all language tests, actually: speaking well doesn’t mean you write well, and it doesn’t mean you know how to follow instructions and have good test taking techniques. Like the SAT, the DALF C2 needs prep time.

4. For books, I used the same ones mentioned in the C1 prep, but also another Tegos book,    “Réussir le nouveau DALF – Niveau C2.”  Remember at this point in language study, you shouldn’t have any picky grammar issues. If you do, you don’t have the level. You should be able to write 300 words in a couple of hours without relying heavily on a dictionary or a spellchecker. I didn’t use my dictionary in the C2 except for reading it at the end when I finished an hour before everyone else.  You should be able to have an involved conversation about a specific news topic in reasonably full detail. So these books really only focus on listening and writing, and your teacher preps you for the spoken exam.  If you need a push in grammar (I did before the C1), I really like the Nouvelle grammaire du francais from Hachette for reading. I’ve used various editions of it since my Montpellier days and it is good to just flip through. You could then get a workbook, either the Hachette edition (niveau moyen, more on that next sentence)or the one CLE Grammaire progressive du francais  intermediate edition). I’m not suggesting getting the advanced books because one tip from my C2 teacher, who is right, was not to use the “advanced” exercise books for grammar help but to pick out books aimed at a B1 level- because if you are truly lacking in something, any advanced book isn’t going to tell you why you don’t know it, whereas an intermediate book is going to spell it out.

I hope these random thoughts help.  I’m happy to respond to comments and if you found this because you are taking the exam, good luck!

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Forty years ago

Forty years ago, the Bobigny trial took place, a turning point in legalizing abortion in France. While not at the same legal level, it has the same impact in France as Roe v Wade.

The story is of a girl who was raped by a classmate at age 16. In many ways, it is your typical “how to get an abortion in times of illegality” story- it all boiled down to money (remember: when you make abortion illegal, the rich and well connected will always find a way to have one) and the young girl’s mother wound up taking her daughter to an illegal abortionist and then having to take her to the hospital for hemorrhaging.

As I said, the girl’s story is sadly banal as far as abortion stories go, with one catch. As an American living in the Todd Akin era, one point in the Bobigny trial case is crucial for me: The girl and her family were ratted out to police BY HER RAPIST, who got nabbed for some unrelated petty crime and hoped tattling would get him out of trouble.  Are you with me here when I say rape is about power?

This situation wouldn’t happen in France today. But it could very easily, almost too easily, happen in the United States almost forty years later.  This part of the story is a perfect example on why I see abortion rights as an extension both of feminism and reproductive health. I cannot even imagine the pain, injustice and indignity of being raped, getting pregnant by rape and going through an entirely unsafe abortion where she almost died, and then the anguish of going through a court trial also because of her rapist.

This is the reality of why people like Paul Ryan scare me. Rape may be “another means of conception” or when Todd Akin wants to redefine what rape is for the millions of women who have been raped. The Bobigny trial is ancient history in France but the post-Roe America is future TODAY. Look at all the women in jail for being pregnant. Look at the personhood movement.  I can dig that people have religious or moral objections against abortion, but limiting access to abortion is when injustice like this happens.


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I don’t know what the answer is

(Phone post, sorry) So today i had lunch with a friend who grew up in the former Czechoslovakia and we started talking about religion. He mentioned how he was baptised in secret, had to hide to go to church and all that. It made me quite sad.

One of the few things I liked about the second Bush administration is that he expanded the “American” version of freedom of religion. While his motivations were definitely Christian, his policies applied to all religions, and even today it is easier, for example, to be a practicing Muslim in the US than it is in any European country except England.

I, like a lot of other people, have problems with some of the tea party actions in this election season regarding religion. I don’t like what Bobby Jindal has done with schools and vouchers in Louisiana. I feel like what were inclusive Bush-era policies are being turned and twisted into Christian-only policies. Yet at the same time i can understand and respect when a Christian says that certain things are deal breakers because of their religion. I have my deal breakers too and people shouldn’t have to justify it, and it makes me sad to see my Christian friends defensive over their right to freedom of religion.

Which is where my problem is. How can people truly have freedom of religion in a society while at the same time protecting non believers and including all religions? We have established that the French model is absolute bullshit, but the American model needs to be tweaked now too (thank you Personhood etc).I don’t know where the middle ground is. What scares me is living in a place like France, or living in a place like the ex-communist countries, where religion is de facto (france) or de jure (ex communist countries) illegal. That is a very real fear of mine. And while the Murdochs and Akins of this world did take things way too far this election season, I’m worried about a backlash against Christians, because what affects one religion affects us all. And i don’t know what the right answer is, but for now i still believe an inclusive freedom of religion is the answer.


What I have learned about the menz

Well last night’s post didn’t go as planned due to staying later at work than intended, rushing to french class etc…so here is one today with another one in the evening.

The past few years I have learned a lot about people and how nasty they can be. It is strange to me how someone can function in society apparently normally, but below the surface be royally screwed up.  Although I play my cat lady schtick, I’ve learned a lot about men in the past few years. Here are some bullet points:

1. If someone cannot have a normal conversation with you about a casual topic, they may not be that into you.  Beyond formal niceties like the weather, and logistics info like house cleaning or bill paying, if the person cannot -and doesn’t want to- just shoot the shit with you for a half hour or so, it is because they have nothing to say to you.  Likely because they are saving that kind of conversation for someone else. Be wary of people who do not ENJOY talking to you about anything and everything- it is because they ENJOY talking to someone else.  Bad moods and silence are huge red flags.

2. Which leads me to my next point: we only have a limited amount of emotional capital. With work and hobbies and friends, you only have so much left at the end of the day to give to your partner. If you are giving this to someone other than the person you should be giving this capital to, it shows. Relationships only thrive when you invest in them, and if you invest in a relationship with someone outside your main relationship, then your main relationship will wither. No surprise then, that affairs tend to be strong emotional connections- because you are investing the only capital you have  in your affair rather than your “relationship.”  So if you want a good relationship, don’t cheat.  You can’t handle it. In other words, you don’t cheat because you have a bad relationship, your relationship is bad because you cheat or are open to cheating. Fix your relationship rather than running away to someone who flatters your ego.

3. Just because someone is right for you on paper doesn’t mean they are “right for you.” When you are with the right person, you know it. It feels right. Fighting, power struggles and drama do not happen weekly or monthly in normal relationships, they happen rarely.  If you keep wondering why you don’t get a second date, or stressing on why dude isn’t calling back, it is because it isn’t the right place or time or person and someone better is out there. The right guy, regardless of his “stats”, is not going to have problems with your hair, or the way you hold silverware, or getting an SMS from you. The chase gets very old, and if you feel like you are chasing someone, it is time to stop- they might not be that into you.

4. What has love got to do with anything? I don’t believe in soul mates any more.  What I do believe in are responsible, mature adults who choose to own up to their relationships, nurture these relationships, and put effort into making them work with phone calls, date nights, and shared activities.  I know what it is like to think I love someone who frankly isn’t treating me respectfully, and what I realized when I walked away is that love is a choice. I can choose to be in pain because I “love” someone, or I can choose to put the few positive feelings I have on the back burner and find someone who does not cause me pain or see me as a backup plan.  If someone doesn’t like you (as shown by the points above), they can’t love you.

5. You are ok just the way you are. Everyone flips out early in relationships about looking good and doing and saying the right things, but if every day is a new criticism about your clothes, your weight, how you choose to spend your time, your opinions, then you aren’t with the right person and both of you need to be free to find people with whom you are more compatible.  So-called love isn’t worth changing fundamental parts of who you are, and someone who wants you to change to fit their vision doesn’t love you, they love themselves.

6. It is ABSOLUTELY OK TO BE SINGLE.  I feel like in our societies the single, and especially those without children (another topic for another post) get looked down on like something is fundamentally wrong with them as people. This is unfair. There are a lot of reasons for staying single. Some people stay single a long time to heal after an abusive relationship; some people stay single because they want to; some are just single because, and that is ok.  I can tell you that being alone is way better than being in a shitty relationship.


Computer literacy

One office where I worked had a strict policy regarding computer literacy.  It was a law firm and it went a little like this: support staff (accountants, secretaries, paralegals) were given a basic computer literacy test during the hire process. If they failed the test, they weren’t hired. If they did poorly on the test, it made the difference in shortlist time. Lawyers, who are often hired for network/money reasons, were given the same test on their first day, and either given new training or extra support staff (if big money was involved) if their skills weren’t up to snuff.  The sad thing is that the test was nothing special: opening, using (including typing test for secretaries) Microsoft Word, doing a basic presentation using a template in Power Point, a couple basic calculations in Excel (like what you would do for an expense report), an overview of the company’s legal document database (in dev version for interviewees).   And yet, it was unbelievable how many young secretaries (either digital natives or digital immigrants of my generation) failed the test. Seriously, these days how do people get through college without using Word and having a minimal proficiency?

The strange thing is, now that I work in IT, I find the most savvy software users in my admittedly limited sample are not necessarily the under-25s but, strangely enough, people of my parents’ generation, who are 55+. I have quantitatively had the most problems with people on the high end of Generation X, the ones who were on the tail end of having to use a computer in college. Meanwhile 65 year old dudes who used to have to use abaci and slide rulers are downloading stuff from torrents. But that, as usual, is another story for another post.  What continues to blow my mind is how anyone who wants to have any kind of an office job today thinks they can get away with not having basic skills in Microsoft programs (which are still the industry standard, sorry) and, most importantly, not want to learn these skills.  I think having a certain ease with word processing programs, for example, means you can write something yourself rather than dictate it to a secretary and proof her work (lawyers excepted for longer documents). I also find it absolutely criminal that a career secretary (not someone who came in from another profession like retail) need to be taught several years out how to do a mail merge. That for me is something you learn at your first job. Some people say that if you hire a CFO then he is hired to crunch numbers, not use a computer, but if a CFO can’t use SAP or Excel and, more importantly, doesn’t want to learn, I think that says a lot about that person’s initiative, drive and professionalism. Computer literacy is professional development on the same level, for me, as staying current with industry trends. I don’t understand people who refuse to learn.


Requisite election day musings

I’m happy to have had a busy day in Amsterdam so far…work has slowed down but I have some French homework to do before my plane. The more I think about this election, the more sad I am. The election being over won’t change anything because people have gotten so nasty. I’m grateful to live in Switzerland and to have travelled enough in my youth to know that there are different and better ways to live than some of the shtick Mittens tried to sell us during the election in the US (note to naysayers: why yes, I will stay in Switzerland since it is so awesome, you can stay in your third world America, not my problem).  An Obama win doesn’t make me happy either, with all the drones and monitoring and all that.  Either way, the United States is a broken, messed up place, and the election outcome isn’t going to change that regardless of who wins. As I have said before, the only thing that scares me about a Romney win is that women will lose most of the rights our mothers and grandmothers fought for, as Mitt Romney and especially Paul Ryan simply hate women unless they are pregnant white married Donna Reed types. You say now “oh it is just abortion” but it isn’t- the War on Women is only just beginning. I don’t think Roe v Wade would survive a Romney presidency’s Supreme Court justice picks. And if Obama wins he is only pushing off the inevitable for a few years until teabaggers have full (instead of the current partial) control over national policy. But in other matters of policy the two mainstream candidates are essentially the same in my book.


I have a lot of work to do tomorrow at my first day back in the “real” office in a week and I am afraid I will wind up staying up tonight (last time the results were called around 4am), or not being able to sleep even though it really doesn’t matter who wins.  I guess I care because this is the last election that “means something” to me. Why? In 2016, I don’t even have to be American any more if I don’t want to. News flash: I DON’T, the tax burden is too high as I get older and no one elected anywhere wants to change our tax code meant to stick it to the middle class and until the United States stops being one of only three countries in the world- effing Eritrea and North Korea being the other two- who tax its expatriates, having an American passport will only bring me trouble when I retire because I can’t afford the accountants rich ppl like Mitt Romney have. People ask me why I don’t like being American? Well we fight wars I don’t want to fight, take rights away from women, forget about our old people, and tax expatriates. I don’t understand all the people I know who are proud of their countries. I don’t know what to be proud of. I had a professor in college from Benin, and he was like “yes but you had public services (like schooling) growing up I didn’t have etc” (I’m summarizing) but what he didn’t realize is that the American dream doesn’t exist any more and people are pretending that is does. I come from a middle class family and it took a lot of people hustling during the relatively prosperous 90s to get me through college, and what was spent on me meant less money for my cousins to go. I am the only one in my extended family with no school debt and I was one of the first of my cousins to actually complete a degree because of all the people helping me out. And I still worked 3 jobs. And. So if it was that hard for me, how hard is it now, in the recession, for someone from the lower classes to rise up? Practically impossible. Yet another thing this election won’t change: at the end of the day, our ruling classes, Democrats and Republicans combined, are all about keeping people in their caste, poor people staying poor, middle class people always struggling to stay there, and the rich getting richer off of everyone else’s backs. I’ve said it since college, it is all about the class struggle. Pick a social issue and I can bring it back to the class struggle.


I’m calling it for posterity: I think Obama would win a free, fair election but we don’t have those in America any more (see Bush v Gore), so I’m calling it for Romney, who will take Ohio and Florida due to voter fraud, vote tampering and other forms of disenfranchisement.   My intuition tells me there will be some court challenges- I don’t think this election is over tonight.