The Handmaid's Reminder

by Lana Lynne on 2.26.11

In Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale, women are separated by government mandate into two categories: legitimate and illegitimate. The legitimate women are further divided into seven distinct castes, all of which are based on reproductive ability and economic class, and range from wives (well-married women relieved of child-bearing responsibilities) to handmaids (fertile women who are assigned to high-ranking men to bear their children) to econowives (women who have married low-ranking men and must bear all sexual, emotional and domestic duties). It is a stark, terrifying imagining of a society taken over by a totalitarian theocracy, where women are stripped of all rights, money, jobs, families and systematically placed in their new roles under the guise of moral values.

The book came to mind recently with the House of Representative's decision to pass the budget bill that slashes support for family planning and reproductive care. Check out the recent New York Times editorial about the Republican War on Women.

At one point in the book, the narrator Offred, who is a handmaid (of Fred), talks about the wife of the household, Serena Joy. Serena Joy was a champion of the new social order before the revolution, gaining celebrity for her rousing speeches about "the sanctity of the home, about how women should stay home." But, the narrator slyly points out, "Serena Joy didn't do this herself, she made speeches instead." And after the revolution: "She doesn't make speeches any more. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn't seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she's been taken at her word." I searched page by page to find this passage after I read about Congresswomen Gwen Moore and Jackie Speier, who, conversely to Serena Joy, talked about their own access to reproductive care as young women and cut through the morally righteous rhetoric on the House floor.
In the late 19th century, Susan B. Anthony tried to reason with the courts by pointing out the obvious hypocrisy of the language argument surrounding the use of masculine pronouns in the 14th amendment:
[I]t is urged [that] the use of the masculine pronouns he, his, and him, in all the constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant to be included in their provisions. If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent, and accept the other horn of the dilemma….There is no she, or her, or hers, in the tax laws. The same is true of all the criminal laws. I insist if government officials may thus manipulate the pronouns to tax, fine, imprison, and hang women, women may take the same liberty with them to secure to themselves their right to a voice in the government.
Women have had that voice in the government for a long time now, and yet, their rights, and the rights of their partners by default, are still being manipulated and eroded. Yes, comparing this situation to The Handmaid's Tale is a bit hyperbolic. But it could be put to good use as a cautionary tale at this moment when extremist views are fueling lawmaking.


The Need for Bike Lane Activism

by douglas reeser on 2.21.11

I've been living in the Tampa Bay area for a number of years now, having moved here for graduate school. When I first got to town, I was excited to live in a place where I could ride my bike for most of my daily needs - the grocery store, restaurants and bars, music and the movies are all very close by. I realized very quickly however, that this is Car Country. Five years ago, I was one of the few to show up for a drink on a bicycle, and I paid the price in judgmental stares, as if I was something less than those who drove. The area has begun to wake up from it's backward-thinking slumber, as more and more people can be seen biking our city streets.

Sadly, this change has not come quickly enough. Just last week, the Tampa Bay area saw its 12th bicycle fatality in less than a year. This latest tragedy appears to have been the result of a car race down a busy street very close to the campus of the University of South Florida. It appears to be a trend. Late last year, a researcher from the university was struck and killed while biking home from the lab one night. A friend of mine was hit last year as well, but luckily walked away with only a few bruises.

Still, Car Culture prevails. This string of bicycle accidents has resulted in some press, some mobilization of small activist groups, and little else. Many people have commented that bikes shouldn't even be on the road, and openly display their disdain for bicyclists. Even the University has been loathe to act, only providing a few poorly advertised and poorly attended bicycle safety events. The idea that the roads are primarily for cars and cars first seems to be deeply rooted here, and the new Governor's threat to halt the funding for rail programs only contributes to such thinking - and such a reality.

As an observer of all this road-related mayhem, I have been thinking about what could be possible in such a situation. The local governments are slow to do anything to improve bicycle safety on the roads - most of which do not have bike lanes, even around the university. The university appears content to let its students risk their lives on the roads everyday. And the local culture seems to worship the Car as having god-given rights to the road. In times like these, it takes small groups of activists to take matters into their own hands - to make change.

This is just what happened in Mexico City, where the roads are equally, if not more dangerous than the streets in the Tampa Bay area. A group of dedicated cyclists got together and created their own bike lanes. They did not wait for the city government to get it done. They did not wait for the university to step up and pressure local government. They went out and made change. Check out the video below - and take notes Tampa Bay!

Drop the "I" Word

by douglas reeser on 2.16.11

Having spoken out in defense of immigrants that have been called "illegal", we here at Recycled Minds find this project by the Applied Research Center to be especially important. Their campaign, "Drop the I-Word", calls on the media, the public and public figures to stop using the term "illegal". The campaign explains the racist connotations of the word, and the negative effects of using such language - something that our world and communities can do without.

Check out the video, and join the campaign:

Rainbow Vandalism

by douglas reeser on 2.10.11

I just came across this video showing a guy who creates a self-powered machine that can create huge 10 meter high rainbows on the side of a building in seconds (check it out below). Most people would call this vandalism - especially the property owner and the law. But many people would say it is something more - art at the least, and perhaps some kind of social message. I find this interesting, as I have recently watched the Banksy movie, Exit Through the Giftshop, and have a renewed appreciation for street art (despite the capitalist victory that the film portrays).

Street art can send a powerful message to people. One need not look further than the many many images of the protests in Egypt. First we see the people, but after the crowds, the messages come through. The messages are street art - from spray painted slogans, to bodies covered in slogans in marker, to banners flying across the streets. Street art comes in many forms, and I might argue that, in the end, street art should make you pause.... and think.... and question the world around you. Street art in Egypt is urgent and vital to the movement, but street art in places like Tampa, Florida, or Tucson, Arizona have a more subtle tone. In the U.S. and most other countries, social movements are more muted, and less urgent (not to say that they are not needed!). Thus the messages of street art must connect with people on a different level. I'm not sure what that level is, but I think that Rainbow Vandalism is on to something.

Check out this video:

Is Running the Secret to our Evolutionary Success?

A Tarahumara runner
A Recycled Minds Conversation
by douglas reeser and lana lynne on 2.8.11

After viewing Christopher McDougall's recent TEDx talk (watch it below) based on his book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, we decided to have a conversation about the talk, the book, and certain items we found particularly interesting or irksome.

The book, just to give a bit of context, is McDougall's case that humans evolved because of our running ability. Wrapped around that argument are a few interconnected narratives: the evolution of the running sneaker and its relationship to running injuries; ultramarathoners, who run 50 and 100 mile races; and the Tarahumara of Mexico, who run for hundreds of miles with minimal footwear in the rough terrain of the Copper Canyons of northern Mexico. Of this last part, McDougall would probably argue that the fact that I added "with minimal footwear" is evidence of how far we've distanced ourselves from our running ancestors; and how deeply entrenched we are in consumerism. Considering the introduction of Nike's running sneaker was only in the 1970s, we now must be sold what once was our evolutionary advantage.

But to return to the Tarahumara: McDougall believes that (re)achieving our running potential does not rest solely on training, nor is it something that can be calculated in the lab. Rather, this potential is a combination of competitiveness and compassion and biology. In the TEDx talk, he explores the Tarahumara's lack of "modern ailments," as he calls them (such as war, heart disease, depression), why women are superior runners the longer the distance, why a 64-year-old can run as well as he did as a teenager, and how early homo sapiens found food without weapons. His conclusion places one idea in the center of all these items: that humans evolved as running hunting pack animals.

DC: I should state upfront that I am a fan of the barefoot running. I have been running in the 5-finger shoes for a year and a half, and am more than satisfied with the switch. Much of what McDougall says makes sense to me, and that has physically translated to less pain due to running. Still, there are a few problems that need to be pointed out about his TedX talk.

One, McDougall mentions that the Aztecs and Maya engaged with the Spanish, and that has resulted in there being few of these people remaining. While the Spanish conquest had devastating effects on the native populations of the Americas, it did not wipe them out as is popularly held. For instance, Guatemala has an indigenous population of nearly 6 million, most of them Maya. I work in southern Belize, where Maya communities make up over 80% of the villages in the region. In short, the Maya are still around, and in significant numbers, as are the ancestors of the Aztecs in central Mexico.

McDougall also characterizes the Tarahumara as being unchanged since the Stone Age (because they retreated from the Spanish). This denies them their history, and characterizes them as primitive. My anthropological training tells me that, without knowing the details, the Tarahumara culture has changed, grown, and adapted to an unknowable variety of challenges they have faced over the last 500 years. In the minds of many indigenous people and social scientists, portraying the Tarahumara as a "Stone-age" group perpetuates a racist ideology that places them below the "advanced" Western world.

LL: I agree that McDougall's TED talk implied a certain quaintness to the Tarahumara that may misrepresent their community. Perhaps he simplified their history because of the time constraints of the talk, or perhaps to bolster his argument. In the book, he obviously has more room to expand on the Tarahumara way of life. He talks about people leaving the community; some return (toting western influences) and others do not. Moreover, in the book, his writing approaches them in a very individual way. That is, his narrative does not try to encompass the whole of the culture; rather, he draws conclusions based on the interactions he has with the few people he meets. Although any conclusions he makes could be seen as oversimplification, I would argue that as a non-anthropological nonfiction storyteller, he handles writing about them in an honest, non-overreaching way.

In terms of the evolution issues he brings up, again, he goes into much more detail in the book, and the talk could have perhaps benefited from a little context -- how is he challenging conventional beliefs about human evolution? In the book, he explores the possibility of how evolving as a running pack might answer a lot of questions about some prehistoric mysteries: why we outlived the Neanderthals, why the human body evolved with certain anatomical features that only make sense if humans ran (instead of walked), why these anatomical features were different from every other mammal, and so on. From what I gathered, most evolutionary biologists scoff at the idea of humans as born runners because humans lack speed. McDougall argues that speed was and is not the issue. It is endurance and distance.

DC: I think the importance of endurance is a really interesting idea. It is commonly held that the development of bipedalism -- walking upright on 2 legs, freeing up the arms and hands -- has offered humans and our ancestors significant advantages. As McDougall points out, while a biped can not run as fast as other animals who use all 4 limbs to run, they could keep up a steady pace for much longer distances than those same 4-leggeds. Walking (and running) on 2 legs also exposes the less of the surface of the body to the direct heat of the sun, prolonging the time of activity before overheating. Further, by standing upright, bipeds can see for longer distances, and their hands are freed up to carry possessions, including their children, their food, and their weapons among other things. Clearly the move to walking on 2-legs was a significant development that aided in the survival of our species.

What is less commonly accepted, however, is whether bipedalism was the primary developmental advantage of ancient humans. In fact, a number of species that were also bipedal died off over the years, most significantly, the Neanderthals, but also a number of other ancient human ancestors. Anthropologists point out that increasing brain size was another development that occurred in early humans. This larger, more powerful brain likely plays at least an equally important role in the survival and flourishing of the human primate. It remains unclear which development came first, or if they perhaps coincided with one another. In short, it seems that McDougall is likely over-emphasizing bipedalism as the key to our adaptive advantage and ability to survive in ancient environments.

LL: If there is an element of overemphasizing to his argument, I don't feel like it undercuts the book at all. The story as it unfolds in the book is one that challenges conventional medicine and consumerism, and, in fact, shows how the two are often intricately intertwined. A worthwhile read, for the runner and those who've forgotten how (like me).

DC: I agree! I was running when I first read his book, but it certainly inspired me to shed my expensive running shoes and go run like my ancestors!

Image Credit: Norwas de Raramuri: Friends of the Running People at

Video: First Ever Footage of Uncontacted Tribe in Peru

by douglas reeser on 2.3.11

Survival International and the BBC Human Planet project have just released this amazing video footage of an uncontacted tribe in the rainforest of Peru. They hope that showing the world that such tribes do exist, the Peruvian government will yield to pressure calling for a stop to logging concessions being granted in the region. From the SI website:
"Peru’s President Garcia has publicly suggested uncontacted tribes have been ‘invented’ by ‘environmentalists’ opposed to oil exploration in the Amazon. This unique film shows uncontacted Indians on the Brazil-Peru border in never-seen-before detail. It is the first-ever aerial footage of an uncontacted community."
The Huffington Post reports that Peru's government, in response to the video, has already announced that they intend to work with Brazil to prevent further encroachment from loggers. Time will tell if this is simply talk to appease local and international activists or a substantive claim that will result in real action. For more information and photos, visit Survival International here>>>

And please be sure to e-sign the petition at the end of the video! We must support the rights of those who have their rights denied!

You can also view the video at Survival International; click here>>>