Flight of the Tatas: Summary and Analysis

Whew! That was a Telling Knots first! I’d like to put things into perspective now with a summary and my analysis of the issues.

On the blog

I first became aware of the Flight of the Tatas event when fellow-blogger Scorchy Barrington posted a link to this article about it in the  Wall Street Journal online European edition. This was on Wednesday, July 3rd. I published a post about the event and my first thoughts on it on Thursday, July 4th.  Beginning on Friday, July 5th and continuing today, July 6th some people who had never commented on the blog before and who appeared to be unaware of my orientation in writing it began to write comments that I and many of my friends found offensive. Some of my friends and I began to respond in kind. Things went down from there. Today I cleaned up the ad hominem attacks and the strongest language. Comments are still open, but if the level of discourse degrades, I’ll shut it down.

Behind the scenes

I spent some time on July 3rd and 4th looking for any evidence that Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) was aware of this purported fundraiser. All I found was their logo among the sponsors on the Flight of the Tatas home page. Nothing else. I decided to contact them. Things were further complicated by some technical issues on the LBBC site that resulted in my first two emails (to LBBC development and communications addresses) being returned as undeliverable. I sent my third to the “mail” email address on July 4th and it did not come back.

On Friday, July 5th, Jean Sachs, the CEO of LBBC replied to my email. I published her message in my blog that day. I found her response completely reassuring.

Analysis: What’s the problem with Flight of the Tatas

Because at least a couple of the comments seemed to me to be genuinely puzzled about why this event offended me and so many others, I decided to spell it out more carefully. There are two issues specific to the July 4th Flight of the Tatas event, and there are some more general issues.

Specific Issues

According to the message from Jean Sachs, the event used the Living Beyond Breast Cancer name and logo without permission. I am no lawyer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a copyright infraction or something of the sort. That’s one issue.

Another specific issue is that LBBC were not consulted, were not asked if they wanted to be a part of this event. It is as though the event organizers just put down the first breast cancer organization they came across or perhaps knew from personal contact. This is bad corporate manners, bad event organizing and very arrogant.

It must also be said that many people in the not-for-profit economy do not believe that all money is the same, do not believe that it doesn’t matter where donations come from. Some people and some non-profits feel that it is wrong to take donations of money that was gained through exploitation. I have personal experience with two very different organizations that have turned down sizable donations because they did not want to give the donors the legitimacy that accepting would have conferred.

General Issues

Why is an event featuring “a bevy of topless skydivers” offensive to so many people who have breast cancer and/or who are active in breast cancer awareness?

Sexualization of breast cancer in fundraising and awareness campaigns is a very sensitive issue. This can be seen, not only in the event we’re talking about now, but even in more mainstream campaigns. There are many reasons to object to it:

* It tends to portray breast cancer as a condition that damages our identity as women, rather than as a disease that kills almost one-third of the people affected by it.

* Breast cancer does not strike only at women. Men get breast cancer and men die of breast cancer.

* Slogans like “save the tatas” (which was not invented by the organizers of this event) tend to present women as sexual objects and give the impression that the worst thing that happens to someone who has breast cancer is that they may lose their breasts, and that this loss is catastrophic.

* Slogans like “save the tatas” are semantically similar to slogans like “save the whales”, further tending to make women “other than”, to ignore their full human existence.

Breast cancer is not cute. Breast cancer kills people. In all likelihood it will kill me and at least two of the commenters (that I know of) in the July 4th thread. This is a life-threatening illness. Those of us who object to this trivialization and sexualization tend also to object to these slogans and the various pink campaigns wherever they appear.

These are wonderful topics for further conversation, but let’s all remember that we can disagree with respect. Ready, set, go!

Flight of the Tatas: LBBC Responds

Yesterday I posted the text of my email to Living Beyond Breast Cancer about their supposed association with a topless skydiving event in Las Vegas that claimed to be raising money for LBBC.

It is with great pleasure that I can confirm that Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) had absolutely nothing to do with Larry Flynt’s Flight of the Tatas event on July 4, 2013. I just received the following email from Jean Sachs, CEO:

Thanks for your email regarding the Flight of the Tatas event.  I apologize for not responding sooner but LBBC was closed yesterday and most of my staff are out today as well.
I can tell you that LBBC was not a sponsor of this event.  We never gave the organizers permission to use the LBBC logo, never agreed to be the beneficiary and, in fact, only learned of the event on Wednesday, July 3rd.
LBBC’s marketing staff member Kevin, copied on this email, will be reaching out the organizers of this event on Monday.
I will be on vacation next week but if you would like to speak with me directly please give me your number and I will call you.
Thank you, Jean Sachs and LBBC, for responding so rapidly and for assuring us of the integrity of the organization. You’ve made many people feel much better.

Flight of the Tatas? Really?

Breast cancer cell

Breast cancer cell. Not what Larry Flynt has in mind, I’d wager.

I was already simmering with anger about the trivialization and sexualization of breast cancer when I wrote yesterday’s post about men with breast cancer. My rage boiled over when I saw that a fellow rabble-rouser living with breast cancer, my friend Scorchy Barrington, had posted a link on Facebook about the single most tasteless breast cancer fundraiser I have ever heard about: “Flight of the Tatas”. (Sorry, I refuse to link to their site.)

Here is the first paragraph of the press release that was published in the Wall Street Journal online European edition under the disclaimer “The Wall Street Journal was not involved in the creation of this content”:

LAS VEGAS, July 3, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Larry Flynt‘s Hustler Club, the most audacious gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas, will host “Flight of the Tatas,” a topless charity skydive beginning at 7 AM on Thursday, July 4, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Benefiting the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Foundation, a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to supporting women affected by breast cancer, the unique event will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most topless skydivers. LBBC empowers all women affected by breast cancer to live as long as possible with the best quality of life.

Participating in this display will be an “adult entertainment legend”, an “adult film superstar”, and a celebrity magician, “along with a bevy of brave and daring topless jumpers”.

The fundraiser is being sponsored by Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club & Casino and Hustler Hollywood, among others. It is taking place today, July fourth. This is supposedly a benefit to help Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC), but I could find nothing in the press release or the dedicated web site that indicated how much of the money raised would go to LBBC. In fact, LBBC is listed as a sponsor along with “Little Pussie Big Cock” and various of Larry Flynt’s Hustler enterprises (and others).

There is a “Donate for Breast Cancer Research” button on the home page. That’s all I found. I am writing to LBBC to try to get more information, but the event is today. I’ll post whatever I hear from them. I have rarely wanted more sincerely to be shown to be wrong in my assumptions. (The text of my email to LBBC’s development people is added at the end of this post.)

Now, I am not a “citizen journalist”. I am a woman who has metastatic breast cancer and a blog, a feminist with left-leaning social and political ideas. I have been known to displace my fear and anger about the cancer that is trying to kill me onto other targets. But even if that is what I’m doing now – so what? This strikes me as a very deserving target, indeed.

A more blatant example of trivialization and sexualization of breast cancer can hardly be imagined than a “Flight of the Tatas” in which “a bevy of topless skydivers” will attempt to beat the Guinness world record for jumping out of airplanes half naked and then land at a “gentlemen’s club” owned by that monument to taste and respect for women, Larry Flynt.

The event is today. By the time you read this, it will be over, most likely. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. Am I just an old school feminist? Is this as disgusting to you as it is to me?

Addendum: Text of my e-mail to LBBC’s development staff

I was extremely surprised to find out that LBBC is listed as both the beneficiary and a sponsor of Larry Flynt’s “Flight of the Tatas” event taking place today in Las Vegas. Can you tell me, please, what percentage of funds raised by the event was promised to LBBC and if this is a percentage of the net or gross intake from the event?

It seems an odd sort of event for a breast cancer organization to be associated with.
Please feel free to comment on the blog or to contact me directly. I am very interested in knowing how LBBC’s involvement with Larry Flynt’s Flight of the Tatas event came about.
Thank you very much.

Let them eat… garbage?

Just as there is more to me than simply being a person living with cancer, this blog is about more than cancer. It’s about my life: my joys, things that concern me. One of the things that is concerning me very much these days is poverty.

According to a recent report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the poverty rate in Israel has risen to almost 21% of the population, making it the most impoverished of the 34 countries considered “economically developed”, having overtaken (“undertaken”?) Mexico in that regard. It ranks fifth in income inequality (the gap between the richest people and the poorest), after the United States, Mexico, Chile and Turkey.

Reading the reports and thinking about different people I knew during my working life, I remembered one of the first posts in this blog, originally published on October 31st, 2011. I thought I’d repost it today.

The photos are from the road in front of my house in central Jerusalem.
There is a summary in English of the OECD findings about Israel at the HaAretz newspaper English site, here

Oh! God! That bread should be so dear,

And flesh and blood so cheap!  

(Thomas Hood in The Song of the Shirt)


Sack of bread (and trash) tied outside a rubbish bin.

There is a Jewish tradition that it is virtually a sin to throw away bread. Many people in Israel, at least here in Jerusalem, are very careful about putting leftover bread out in public instead of throwing it away.  There is good reason to believe that the underlying reason has to do with providing for the community’s poor, but no one I’ve asked has ever been able to find me a definitive source for this. Some people say they leave bread out “for the poor”, and others “to feed the birds”. I imagine that there are quite a few people who put their leftover bread outside because “that’s what we do”.

Josa Bivin talks about the custom in her article “Lechem – Bread” on the En Gedi Resource Center site. She writes:

The importance of sharing one’s bread with the poor has remained in the Jewish consciousness until today. Instead of dumping their bread along with the rest of their garbage into the garbage carts parked along the streets, they save the bread in plastic sacks and hang it from the metal projections on the sides of the carts. That way, the bread is potentially available to the poor.

She goes on to say that once she saw “a young, poorly dressed man” take some bread that had been left out this way. I’ve never seen anyone take it, and a person would have to be in desperate straits indeed to dig the bread out of the trash bag I saw on my street this afternoon.

If you really wanted to feed the poor, wouldn’t it be more straightforward to use the day-old bread for toast or croutons or bread pudding? Then you could give the money you save by not buying bread the next day to the local soup kitchen that provides nourishing meals free of charge to anyone who needs them.

Even if someone is desperate enough to dig a piece of bread out of that rubbish, what is the cost to their dignity? What does it say about a society that puts food for the poor in a bag tied to the rubbish bin? Not only is the poor person who has to feed himself or his family debased, but so is the giver. There is no dignity in this transaction for anyone.

At least it doesn’t go completely to waste.

Guest Post by Aliza Bat-Ami: Another View of the BDS Campaign

A couple of weeks ago, on Wednesday, the 16th of January, I posted a controversial video called “Israel & Palestine: a very short introduction“. At that time, a very dear, longtime friend of mine who writes under the name Aliza Bat-Ami left a detailed comment, disagreeing with the message of that video. You can read her comment here

In the interest of respectful and open dialogue even (especially!) when people strongly disagree on important matters, I invited Aliza to write a guest post of rebuttal. I am honored to present it here. You are welcome to leave your comments here, or to email Aliza directly by clicking on her name below the title.

Thank you, Aliza, for allowing me to publish your response.

Another view of the B.D.S. campaign.

 Aliza Bat-Ami

The video “Israel and Palestine – a very short introduction.” starts by stating that  Jews fled Europe after “harsh persecution” and  that they were encourage by “the Zionists”  to came the Land “where the Jews had an age-old connection“(my emphasis).

We have indeed:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
…. How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?

These words, written over two and a half millennia ago, written at the time of the first forced dispersion from the Land of Israel to Babylon, sum up our connection to this place.

But, after many years and much pain and difficulties, in 1948 the modern State of Israel was declared.   The video makes it very clear that the Arabs rejected the proposed two-state solution presented them by the British (and have consistently rejected every offer since.)

Much happened thereafter, events which were presented in the video in a biased, simplistic way, ending up with the supposed “land-grab” of the West Bank.
[Use these links for accurate information on the formation of Israel, about Israel and the West Bank , the peace process, and the Palestinian refugee problem.]

The video concludes by a call to boycott, disinvest and sanction

Israel (B.D.S) for her deeds, as this will lead to a (non-specified) just peace.

This isn’t going to happen, for the following reasons.

First and foremost it is clear that the underlying aim of much of the anti-Israel B.D.S. movement (and certainly as presented in this video), is the destruction of Israel.  Even Norman Finkelstein, no friend of Israel, makes this point (see video).  The threat of extinction is no inducement to change, rather it encourages protective strategies. So why expect Israel to respond to such threats by national suicide?

Secondly, the video runs together the unsettled issue of Israel and the Palestinians, and the situation of Arab citizens of Israel. These are not the same issue at all.
Yes, things could be better but the video also makes no mention of the equality afforded to Israeli Arab, nor the fact that prominent and outspoken Arab critics of Israel like Ahmed Tibi and Haneen Zoabi sit in the Knesset, nor to the presence of Arab Israelis in all parts of society, including the High Court and universities. It also ignores the issue of obligations of all citizens in a democracy (Article 29 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

Yes, things could be better in the administered territories too, but B.D.S.  campaigns do nothing to help the Palestinians improve their lives, begin state building, or develop democratic institutions. They do not advance peace but only make the parties more inflexible.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not black and white. Arguments supporting boycotts ignore the context of Israel’s actions in order to justify penalizing only Israel.

Those behind the boycott efforts never mention the on-going terrorism that Israelis have suffered from, and they never mention groups like the PLO, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Have you actually read these documents?  In case you think I am exaggerating, here they are in plain English: The Palestinian National Charter: 1968 ; the Hamas Covenant 1988The Hezbollah Manifesto  (from the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation, an NGO dedicated to the aim of the  ‘Cedar revolution’ site; or  from a pro-Hezbollah site, here).

The world should really pay all the Arab leaders the courtesy of listening to what they say, believing them and taking them at their word. What is meant in effect is the dismantling of the State of Israel and the dispersion (or elimination) of the Jewish population.

The video also mentions the USA as a “terrible friend” to Israel, supporting and enabling all “crimes”. At least in that the B.D.S. supporters might be encouraged by the commencement of President Barack Hussein Obama’s second term. He might well prove to be a “friend” to Israel more to their taste. If that happens, I hope that the Jews will turn to a different Friend, the God of Israel, who has a longer track-record of commitment and involvement with events here.

What do I hope for our future?  Peace and health and the possibility of happiness.  And yes, righteousness and justice at all levels in my society.
I would like to live in a society without want and conflict, where all members take equal part and also give back equally.

If you want to do something for peace, then come and visit with an open mind, and take part in some constructive joint program (e.g. Abraham Fund,) to help all the different people here.

The position that Israel is the cause of the sad situation in the Middle East ( at the very least)  has become the unexamined and – mostly – unchallenged dogma of current world opinion, especially in my own native land of BritainBut does that make it factual and true?
The truth of these allegations can easily be checked online by consulting source documents, or summaries such as these links (the formation of Israel Israel and the West Bank , the peace process, and the Palestinian refugee problem.)

Wednesday Video: Peace in the Middle East

This video is unabashedly political. It takes sides. From where I sit on the ground, it presents an accurate picture of the history and current state of affairs in Israel and Palestine. (“Where I sit” is precisely on the “Green Line“.)

This video will make some people, including some people I love, angry. I am sorry, deeply sorry. At the same time, I cannot live the life I have left without testifying to truth.

The video is from the Facebook page Israel Loves Palestine. There is also a page called Palestine Loves IsraelPeace is important. Peace does not come easily. Often, peace can only be attained through pain and sacrifice. 

Have you done anything for peace today?

Live Tweeting a Rocket Attack Alarm

From my Twitter account (@knotellin) less than an hour ago:

14:15     Air raid sirens in Jerusalem RIGHT NOW.

                Sitting on the floor, back to windows, under a stone archway. Waiting for boom or all clear.

                I hear military aircraft, presume they are Israeli.

14:19     Israel GPO tweeted explosion was heard. I didn’t hear anything and I’m not moving until I hear it’s okay.

14:23 Israeli police say no rockets struck within Jerusalem city limits.

14:29 Calming down, slowing breathing, getting up to drink some water and go back to what I was doing. Welcome to my life.

The first three tweets were pretty much one right after the other, as fast as I could type, hunched over the iPad while I sat on the floor between the kitchen and main room, back against the natural stone wall. I’ve corrected the speed-and-stress-induced typos in all of them.

It was over very quickly for us here. According to the army spokesman, the rocket fell south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in an unnamed Palestinian village. (Precise locations are not given so as not to assist the rocket launch crews in perfecting their aim.)

I’m calm now, but it will take a while to get rid of the tension headache.

It was surreal, sitting there and reading tweets about being cheerful and booksales and medical confidentiality issues with email while I tweeted the rocket alert and waited for an explosion. It was kind of good, though. A good, grounding reminder that normal life goes on and all this is just a little blip. Okay, a big blip, but still just a blip.

I don’t really know why I’m posting this, other than that it seem like a real good post for my “Scenes from my life” category.

Cancer and War

“Israel and the Palestinian Territories Today” from news.bbc.co.uk.

Today is, I think, the sixth day of the Israeli offensive in Gaza. It did not come out of the blue, but many people believe that it is aggressive and disproportional. Some see it as a cynical political exercise at the expense of human lives, and still others believe it is a simple case of self-defense. I don’t intend to talk explicit politics in this blog, but I’d like to talk about how the situation affects me.

I live in Jerusalem, a city that is holy to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, so my area is a low priority for organized hostilities. My neighborhood, however is right on the Green Line, so it is a focus of what I call “street-level nationalistic violence” – violent attacks on individuals or small groups by a person who may or may not be part of a larger organization. These include bus bombings, stabbings, shootings and attacks with heavy machinery, as well as acts of nationalistically motivated criminal vandalism ranging from uprooting entire olive groves to spray painting racist graffiti at sensitive locations.

I have experienced being shot at and life under rocket attack, and I’ve blogged a little bit about my own experience in a bus bombing. Immediately following that experience I was virulently racist and radically right-wing. I’m not proud of that any more than I can take credit for the change that has occurred in me. However, having been such a person, I feel that I am well-situated to understand, at least on an emotional level, the more radical points of view in this conflict.

One thing that strikes me is the extent of “otherization” by both sides. With exaggerated and often false statements, people separate the opponent from their own daily experience by such a huge divide that the opponent almost stops being seen as a person. This is usually coupled with demonization, adding up to disgusting statements that serve only to increase feelings of anger and self-righteousness.

It isn’t unusual in such a situation to hear the word “cancer” bandied about. They are a cancer in the land. We have to cut out this cancer surgically. They are spreading and taking over like a pernicious cancer. I have heard all these statements by people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I was thinking about that in terms of my own cancer. As you know, I don’t like the bellicose vocabulary of oncology, terms like “fighting cancer”. In “Have I survived yet? Part I” I wrote:

I don’t use the vocabulary of war in talking about cancer because war has a winner and a loser and no one knows which side is which until the dust clears. I prefer the language of coexistence: living with. The cancer and I share space. That doesn’t mean I don’t treat the disease, and I’d have infinitely preferred not to have to share, but it does mean that I do not invest my mental, emotional and spiritual energy in battle and thoughts of destruction. 

Is it surprising that I approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the same way? Neither group is going anywhere and it is just not possible for one to destroy the other without being itself destroyed, so wouldn’t it be better (saner, more logical, easier) to find a way to coexist? Coexistence is not easy and it is not without pain, but I have found it infinitely less draining than spending my energy in hatred and struggle. (And there I am talking about cancer and war, both.)

One of the things we know about cancer is that it is a terrible drain on the body’s resources, physically and emotionally. Cachexia, fatigue and depression associated with cancer can be seen as evidence of this. We also know that war is terribly costly to a nation, in both economic and social terms. In fact, I would go so far as to say that is not “the other” who is the cancer on the land; the real cancer is war and aggression.

Okay. I know I sound like the love child of a peacenik and a bliss ninny. Even so, I think I’m on to something here. Wouldn’t it be cool to relate to war and armed conflict as a disease that needs a cure? Would that kind of paradigm shift lead to better results?

The rapist who asks for pardon, but not forgiveness

The convicted rapist, Moshe Katzav.

Moshe Katzav was the eighth president of the State of Israel. On the 22nd of March 2011 he was convicted of two counts of rape and several other sexual assaults, along with other charges relating to obstruction of justice, and sentenced to seven years in prison. On December 7th of that year, after his appeals were denied, he entered Maasiyahu Prison to begin serving his sentence.

Maasiyahu is a minimum security prison, and considered to be among the “easiest” prisons in the country. It is here that politicians convicted of crimes are usually sent (how I hate writing that phrase!) because it has a “Torani” (Orthodox Jewish) wing where the prisoners lead much the same lifestyle as students in a yeshiva (Jewish rabbinical and post-rabbinical seminary).

From the time he entered the prison, Katzav made it clear that he believed himself to be entitled to special treatment. (It is his attitude of entitlement, I believe, that got him there in the first place.) Prisoners in the torani wing are allowed to wear their own clothes unless they leave the wing (to make purchases at the canteen or receive visitors, for example). Katzav refused to put on prison uniform when his wife came to visit him two days after his incarceration, and was therefore not permitted the visit until a compromise was reached and he agreed to wear a prisoner jacket over his street clothes. He refused to provide a DNA sample during a Prison Service campaign in cooperation with the police to collect samples from all prisoners in March 2012. He has refused to participated in rehabilitation programs. (1)

Today Katzav has requested a presidential pardon, the stated grounds of which are that he did not receive a fair trial (an appeal on the same basis was denied immediately after his trial) and that the humiliation and damage to his reputation and personal status involved in being required to resign the presidency as part of his plea bargain was punishment enough.

The minimum requirements for a sex offender to receive a presidential pardon in Israel are that he accepts responsibility for his actions and undergoes a program of rehabilitation, including psychological counseling. “Accepting responsibility” is defined as admitting guilt and expressing remorse. (“I did it and I’m sorry.”)

It will come as no surprise that Katzav has not accepted responsibility and has refused to participate in treatment and rehabilitation programs.

In processing requests for pardon from sex offenders, it is usual that if the offender does not accept responsibility and participate in the programs he is considered dangerous to the public. However, the High Court has ruled that each case must be evaluated individually, so Katzav’s request must be given due consideration.

What can I say? I hope he receives all the consideration he deserves.

Earlier posts on Moshe Katzav:

A rapist finally goes to prison

Unbelievable. Expected, but unbelievable.


1. The details of Katzav’s imprisonment in this paragraph are from an article on the Walla news site http://news.walla.co.il/?w=/10/2575540, posted Monday, 15 October 2012 08:03. The are also noted in an article on the business newspaper Globes website http://www.globes.co.il/news/article.aspx?did=1000789976, posted the same day at 11:09.