Monday, April 28, 2003

And in completely unrelated news, "The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for health authorities in South Carolina to collect names, addresses and other information about women seeking abortions, a power doctors say violates a fundamental duty to protect patient privacy." Mind you, this has nothing to do with punishing women who've had abortions, or making women more reluctant to have abortions. South Carolina is just trying to "improve state oversight of abortion providers." It's all just part of "ordinary state record keeping." Of course, no other state feels the need to pry into medical records of any kind, much less those related to a particularly controversial procedure. The fact that this is happening in the same state that wants to erect a 6 foot fetus statue to commemorate the fight against abortion rights is purely coincidental.

I just finished rereading The Handmaid's Tale for my book discussion group, and in light of Sen. Santorum's recent comments, it suddenly didn't seem quite as improbable. Now Julie has sent me this piece ofcharming news, which just reinforces my sense that the freaky, religious nuts are closing in. The South Carolina Legislature wants to erect a 6 foot tall statue of an unborn child as an anti-abortion memorial. Of course, they're having to cut the funding for schools and other critical state expenditures, but it's good to see that they're focusing on what's really important. Jeez - how do these freaks get elected?

Friday, April 25, 2003

You know, my kids are pretty wild, but I do believe it could be much, much worse. Of course, by all rules of parenting karma, I've just jinxed the hell out of myself and #3 will now be the King of All Wild Things and do something like burn down the neighborhood. . . .

Andrew Sullivan has some provocative insights into Senator Santorum's comments. You should also read his essays on homosexual marriage, especially this one about the inconsistency in the Catholic Church's positions on homosexuality and infertility.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

I have seen the depths that American women will go to to have good hair, and it is viciously gross. Today at the grocery store, I noticed a package of "Henna 'n' Placenta" hair treatment on the hair care aisle (brought to you by the makers of "Hoof 'n' Mane," a product originally designed for grooming horses, but marketed to women after equestrian gals noticed that it worked well for them as well as their horses). Why would the manufacturer think that a name like "Henna 'n' Placenta" would inspire people to buy this product? Why would anyone buy anything called "Henna 'n' Placenta"? Why would anyone willingly put something made out of placenta on her head? What kind of placenta is used in this product anyway? (I refused to get it off the shelf and examine it any closer.) Is everyone else as grossed out by this as I am?

The transcript to Sen. Rick Santorum's April 7th AP interview. This is Orwellian stuff. In a brief interview, Santorum spins the Catholic Church sex scandal as "sex with post-pubescent men" and characterizes the abuse as "a basic homosexual relationship." In his attempt to conflate pedophelia with homosexuality, he as much as says that the relationships were consensual (never mind that the priests were in positions of power and authority and the boys were too young to legally give their consent). Later he lumps homosexuality with bestiality (as well as pedophelia again), to argue that he's not "picking on homosexuality".

As incredibly offensive as this is, it's just a small part of his larger project - attacking the "right to privacy lifestyle." Santorum believes that the state has a vested interest in preventing adults from engaging in non-marital, non-procreative sexual activities. As he describes it, "The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we [here he's referring to the state's right to limit privacy] absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we're seeing it in our society". Santorum doesn't say exactly how he would limit privacy rights - he claims that individual states should decide for themselves about these issues, and they shouldn't be decided on the federal level. I'm not convinced that this is Santorum's true position - it's a fairly common conservative ploy to advocate that the democratic process be used to resolve these kinds of issues, but the reality is that issues like these are not settled in voting booths, but in the legislative process.

Think that this doesn't affect you because you're straight? Think again. Here's a few privacy rights that conservatives like Santorum are eager to take away from everybody:
1. The right to a safe, legal abortion
2. The right to safe, legal "on-demand" birth control. Many conservatives of this ilk believe that iud's and hormonal birth control are, in effect, early abortions. Others believe that access to birth control should be severely limited to married couples who can justify their need, based on life or death circumstances.
3. The right to live with someone you're not married to.
4. The right to engage in sexual activity with someone you're not married to.
5. The right to engage in non-vaginal sex with anyone, whether you're married or not, whether you're different sexes or not.

I realize that there are many conservatives who are good, decent people. But here's the thing, the Republican party keeps turning up these "fringe" elements, who embarrass the rest of them by mouthing off in public - how many of their true faces do we have to see before we realize Trent Lott and Rick Santorum aren't fringe elements? This is the real Republican party boys and girls. They soft-pedal this kind of rhetoric precisely because they know it would horrify most Americans. (After all, it's one thing to persecute gays, but quite another to outlaw good old fashioned blow jobs). When are the good and decent Republicans (like John McCain) going to disassociate themselves from this element in their party? Until they do, it's impossible for me to trust any of them.

Tina Brown, who I often think it is a twit, has a good column in today's Salon about the shift in news coverage now that the war "over." - the best quote: "Elizabeth Smart, Laci Peterson, the unsolved mystery of who killed Chandra Levy, and the biggest single American news story of the Iraq war -- the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch from her hospital ward in Nasiriya -- have provided the most obsessive narratives of American TV in the last couple of years. Why is cable news so addicted to missing girls and women? Is it because so much of the audience consists of boiling white males who feel stomped on by the economy and their wives, and girls in peril make them feel protective and virile? The rescue fantasy has never been more potent."

Read the article here (standard Salon disclaimer - if you're not a member, you'll have to click through a short ad in order to read the whole column).

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Oxford American, the ultra-cool magazine of Southern culture and literature is back, after a year hiatus. It's a little slicker, a little more self-consciously ironic than it used to be, but its heart is still in the right place, and it's still publishing some of the most interesting and compelling material around. This is a magazine for people who appreciate Dennis Covington (although sadly, it appears that his wife, Vicki, is no longer writing her fabluous column about spirituality for OA), the Red Clay Ramblers, Lee Smith, Hank Williams, John Edgerton, Alison Krauss, and Tennessee Williams. You don't have to be a Southerner to enjoy it, but it helps.

Run don't walk to your local bookstore or newstand and pick up the latest issue of Oxford American - it's the annual music issue and it comes with a bonus cd that's not to be missed. The magazine is chock full of interviews and articles about Southern musicians, from the canonized (Willie Nelson) to the undeservedly obscure (Johnny Darrell). The cd is a sampler of the best the region has to offer in a variety of genres and musical styles. It includes original "old-timey" music, as well as recent recordings by new bands; blues, jazz, rock, bluegrass, and country. Indicative of the sensibility behind the compilation is track #3, a cover of Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" by the Del McCoury Band. It works like a charm, reminding us (like the Chieftan's recent collaborations with various country musicians) that the music of the American South is only a few generations removed from the traditional music of the British Isles.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Interesting article about the demonization of the Liberal. My friend Merideth recently observed that the problem with political discourse in this country is that Liberals are afraid to stake out their positions too loudly, while Conservatives take every opportunity to explain their platform. Consequently, many people mistakenly believe that NPR is the Liberal equivalent of Rush Limbaugh - equating the Centrist position with far left and positioning Conservatives who are slightly to the left of Newt Gingrich as Moderates. This article certainly supports her position. So let me be the first to step up and say: "I'm a Liberal, and I'm proud!"

I believe in abortion rights, affirmative action, the ERA (how's that for a blast from the past), gay rights (including the right to marry the partner of your choice, regardless of your respective genders), and gun control. I'm anti-death penalty. I actually believe that many criminals can be rehabilitated. I'm willing to pay more taxes in order to provide a safety net for the unemployed, under employed, and uninsured. I think evolution should be taught in our schools. Not only that, but I'm a feminist. Boy, am I evil or what?

I can't stop thinking about that family in Dallas. I think the worst part of the whole story is that even those who are defending the couple aren't really questioning the assumptions behind the case. The primary defense seems to be that the couple were immigrants who didn't know any better, not that their behavior is perfectly normal. Who's really guilty of sexualizing young children - the mother who breastfeeds her children and baths with them, or those who would pathologize perfectly normal parent / child interactions? Which is the abnormal behavior: breastfeeding or dressing your child up in high heels, suggestive "evening wear," and a ton of makeup, to compete in a kiddie beauty pageant?

This is the scariest thing I've read in a long time - One Hour Arrest. Apparently in Texas, photos of a woman breastfeeding her child are "lewd and sexual" because she's exposing her breast in front of a child (which implies that breastfeeding itself is sexual and inappropriate, conveniently ignoring that the primary purpose of breasts is nourishing a child, not sexual arousal). The idea that the minimum wage clerk at Eckerd's should be the one to determine which photos are pornographic and which aren't is ludicrous, especially when Supreme Court judges can't even agree on what elements constitute pornography. And how many child pornographers are dropping of their pictures at Eckerd's to be developed, anyway?

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Diversions

In the bizarre news department: Penis Numbing Condom Planned. Don't men already complain that condoms dull the sensation? (Also known as the "shower in a raincoat" excuse.) So, what - they're going to take Viagra to get it up, use a special numbing condom to keep from getting off too soon, and then claim that women are high-maintenance?

This is a fun site - a blog dedicated to trivia and oddities.

Buy stock in your favorite celebrities on Celebdaq. Just a friendly tip - I'm making a killing on Catharine Zeta-Jones right now.

The Virtual Fortune Cookie

He Is Risen

Lent and Easter are my favorite times of the liturgical year. Through the years, I have swung between faith, doubt, and disbelief, but I always find meaning in the meditative penance of Lent followed by the unlikely joy of Easter. It's all so improbable - just as Spring seems impossible in the depths of January, and joy and excitment seem dead forever when you're in the darkest depression. But somehow it happens. The crucified Jesus greets Mary in the garden. The black drapings of the Good Friday service come down, revealing the radiant white of Easter. The sun comes up, the snow melts, the dark night of the soul ends and life seems possible again.

Eight Easters ago, I was recovering from a late miscarriage. Eighteen weeks into my first pregnancy, I had gone to a regular prenatal visit, and the doctor had not been able to find the baby's heartbeat. The excitement and anticipation of my pregnancy were stolen and replaced by a nightmare of hopeless and despair. My body refused to surrender the dead fetus, so a D&C was necessary. I spent Easter in bed, bleeding like a stuck pig and crying every time I woke up and remembered (again) that my child-to-be was gone. I felt divorced from reality, like I was floating in a bubble of grief and shock. It seemed impossible that I would ever have a child or a happy, normal life again.

I hesitate to describe what happened next, lest I sound like a freaky religious wingnut. It is entirely possible that my experience was a hallucination induced by my pain meds, or by my desperate need for some kind of hope. All I know, is that I was laying in my bed, feeling empty and detached, when I suddenly felt an overwhelming, physical sense of comfort, exactly as though an infinitely loving someone had wrapped me in a warm and enveloping embrace. I was filled with the certain knowledge that God loved me and that everything would work out. This sensation lasted a long time and when it faded, I was left with the feeling that things were not entirely hopeless. Everything didn't suddenly become better, but it was the beginning of my emotional recovery.

Two years later, I attended Easter services with my month old baby boy. Today the four of us will share a pew and sing "He Lives" together (Adam somewhat reluctantly). Next year, there will be another baby boy to photograph in his Easter best and hold in my lap through the service. Life goes on. Hopes are miscarried, loved ones die, and relationships fracture, but babies keep being born, new opportunities arise, and new friends and loved ones enter our lives. In the midst of grief and sorrow, the impossible happens and we discover joy. He is risen indeed.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Ok, the comment function seems to be working - feel free to add your thoughts. . . .

Testing the comment function. . . .

Friday, April 18, 2003

Shameless Self Promotion

I've installed a counter. Feed my ego - visit the site often. Know someone who might find my ramblings interesting? (Wait, don't answer that.) In the unlikely event that you do, pass along the url. . . .

If you're interested in getting a different perspective on the events depicted in this blog, visit my husband's site, A Violently Executed Plan.

As a former full time work outside the home mother, a former unemployed full time stay at home mother, and a current part time employed, part time student, mostly-at-home mother, I really appreciated this meditation on balancing motherhood and employment from austinmama.com.

The key must be striking a balance - time with your family, time for your own pursuits, enough money to get by, enough extra for the occasional treat. But Adam and I can't ever seem to find the point where all those things come out even. Both of us working full time means plenty of money, but no time. We end up spending lots of money on convenience (i.e. take out food), missing our children, and feeling rushed and hectic all the time. One of us working full time means that we all have more time but less money, and one of us has much more time with and responsibility for the children, something we had hoped to avoid.

When we both worked full time, Adam and I tried various schemes to keep Drew out of daycare. We cobbled together a network of childcare - unpaid help from friends and family, paid help in our home, working different shifts - with varying degrees of success. The exhaustion and stress of working opposite shifts, constant solo childcare duty, and never seeing each other nearly did us in, and we admitted defeat and put Drew in a series of daycares, all of which seemed great at first, but ultimately were less than satisfactory. So when Franny was born, I quit my job and stayed home full time.

I loved having so much time for my kids and getting to be there for all their little triumphs and tragedies. The slower rhythm of our life was like heaven after the rushed speed at which we'd been living. But the lack of adult company nearly drove me insane. In retrospect, I think I was fighting post-partum depression for a good chunk of Franny's first year, and spending so much time around the non-verbal and barely verbal didn't help a bit. Also, domestic work is draining. It never ends (especially when you have little helpers going along behind you, undoing everything you do), and it's pretty thankless work. When I was employed outside the home, I got a nice paycheck every two weeks, regular pats on the back from my manager and co-workers, and once a year I got an annual review, a bonus and a raise. At home, no one stopped to say, "Wow, great work washing those poopy underwear!"

Not to mention the lack of any paycheck at all, something which significantly altered our standard of living. Most mothering and women's magazines run a regular feature - "Can You Afford to Stay at Home?" in which they argue that working is so expensive (daycare, work clothes, gas, lunches out, dry cleaning, etc.) that you'd actually be better off if you quit your job and stayed home. (Oddly, no one ever argues that the expense of men working outweighs what they bring home in a paycheck.) There is some truth to all of this, but the flip side is that those expenses don't disappear when you quit working. Yes, I cook more from scratch now and we spend less on take out food, but I also spend much more on outings and lunches with the kids than I ever did on lunches at work.

And it's important to consider the opportunity costs of not working. I haven't contributed to a 401k or retirement plan in 3 years. I feel ok with this, because I started socking away retirement money early and I intend to be in a position to contribute again at some point, but it's a fact that my retirement will be reduced by the years that I wasn't employed full time. When I rejoin the full time workforce, I know my skills will be rusty, and I won't have the on the job experience of those who've been working while I've been at home - I'll most likely have to start several rungs down the ladder from where I left. I knew all of this when I left the workforce, but Adam wanted to continue in his career and I was planning to switch fields, so it made more sense for me to take some time off and then go back to school and find a different kind of work. I don't regret the decision - I still think it was the best thing for our family, but it's been harder in some ways than I expected and I've found myself longing for something more than domestic work.

Our latest attempt at balance involves me working part time and taking a class, while I debate the merits of going back to graduate school (more on that in another entry). It’s a nice compromise in some ways – I’m bringing in some money, I’m getting some intellectual fulfillment, and I still get lots of time with my kids. In fact, that’s the biggest drawback; I’m working part time, going to school, and still providing close to full time child care. It’s becoming obvious to me that I can’t continue to wedge everything else in on top of full time care giving – I’m either going to have to carve out some space for work and / or school, or give up those endeavors. I can’t keep up this schedule with a newborn, so I’m considering what I can pare out of my life for the next year (definitely school, and maybe work as well). I’m also making peace with the idea of putting Franny and the baby in full time day care when the baby’s a year old.

But who knows what life will look like then. That’s the tricky part of this high wire act – we’re making decisions based on today’s circumstances, and by the time we’ve implemented those decisions our children have grown into the next stage and our circumstances look completely different. Fifty years ago, we wouldn’t have had to think about this; our roles – the trusty breadwinner with his fedora and briefcase, the happy homemaker vacuuming the living room in pearls and waiting for hubby at the door with a martini – would have been set for us. Maybe in another fifty years, our grandchildren will have created a world where work and family commitments can be balanced without resorting to stereotypical gender roles. In the mean time, we’re making it up as we go along, and hoping for the best.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Interesting article about how buzz is generated in Hollywood. The author's faux naif tone is a little irritating though - did he really think that Hollywood executives had his best interests at heart? (Clearly he never heard the one about the blonde actress who was so dumb she slept with the screenwriter.)

Friday, April 11, 2003

Strange things I saw around town today:

1. A sticker in the rear window of a truck, something like the ones with Calvin peeing on a Ford / Chevy symbol, except it was an anthropomorphized longhorn bull (the University of Texas mascot), standing on his hind legs peeing on the Texas Tech symbol. Who would want that on their vehicle?

2. The marquee at the University Baptist Church which read "BS at 9:30 Worship at 11:00." My first reaction was, "wow, truth in advertising comes to the Baptist Church" but then I realized BS probably stood for Bible Study. . . .

What American School Children Need Is a Moment of Science

Faux science has invaded our schools. Is it any wonder that children who are taught that evolution may not be true grow into adults who don't trust scientists and fall for the most transparent pseudo-science and quackery?

This article about female POW's and sexual assault touches on many of my concerns about the way rape is handled by the media and the way rape is commonly viewed in our culture.

1. Rape is not a "fate worse than death." Women who pragmatically submit to their attackers in order to avoid further violence or death are not complicit in their assault - they're saving their lives with cunning and forethought.
2. Rape victims have nothing to be ashamed of. Why do newspapers avoid printing the names of rape victims, but readily publish the names of other victims of violent crime? The hypocrisy of this is highlighted by the way in which they lasciviously hint that sexual assault may have occured, in cases where the victim's name is already known. The coverage of the Elizabeth Smart case sickened me with it's intense focus on whether or not she'd been assaulted and the lurid speculation that any sexual activity between Smart and her attacker may have been consensual (see point 1 - the common view seems to be "if she was assaulted and survived, she must not have fought hard enough, so deep down she must have wanted it".)
3. Men can be raped too. You people in the back of the class, with the confused looks on your faces? Go read The Prince of Tides or Deliverance. Cultural attitudes towards male / male rape are contradictory - it's more often acknowledged as an act that is as much about power as sex, but it's also seen as the most shameful and unmanning thing that a man can experience (because he's being "used as a woman"). In our society, women are expected to live with the fear that they will be raped, but for men it is both more shameful and less expected.

Rhonda Cornum, a flight surgeon who was taken prisoner during the first Gulf War, describes rape as "just another bad thing that can happen to you." This seems like an eminently sensible and logical way to look at it. If this was common cultural currency, then we could avoid the coy media coverage, the horrified discussions of why female soldiers shouldn't be on the front lines, and perhaps a great deal of the guilt and shame that many rape victims currently feel.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Attention Sandman fans - wonderful comic artist Jill Thompson is working on a new Sandman related project which will be released this summer. It's a manga style Death story, which covers some of the same ground as the Sandman Seasons of Mist story arc, but from Death's point of view. For more information, check out Thompson's web site.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Some people have way too much time on their hands. . .Bible Stories out of Legos. Warning, this site contains "adult language," lego nudity, and lego people in "adult situations." (Why are you so surprised? The Bible is chock full of adult situations!) It's also screamingly funny.

Good Things About Today:
1. Awoke to a chilly morning, as opposed to stiffling, damp-sponge humidity of the past week.
2. Pleasant smell of clean house and cinnamon toast, as opposed to the dead rodent smell which has been lingering for the past week.
3. New dishwasher installed and appears to be functioning fine.
4. Hours of entertainment provided for children by dishwasher box
5. Lusciously yummy peach for lunch.
6. Feeling much more in control of my life.

Ways in which I am successfully taking control of my life:
1. Steps taken to eliminate rodents from the premises.
2. Bees eliminated from the exterior wall.
3. Dishwasher replaced.
4. New, improved housecleaning routine implemented.
5. Closet cleaned out, clothes that don't fit boxed up until after pregnancy.
6. Children's Easter outfits purchased (unfortunately, this might be a draw, since the money spent on said outfits was definitely out of control).

Things which still need to be whipped into shape:
1. Haircuts for me and kids
2. Sandals and dress shoes for kids
3. Sandals or tennis shoes for me
4. Money situation
5. Creepy, junk filled garage
6. Painting downstairs and laying laminate flooring in living room
7. Project that's due today for work
8. Final paper for my class
9. Too many other things to mention, as it depresses the hell out of me

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Adam and I aren't really good at household maintenance. We have the best of intentions, but the day to day upkeep just gets away from us. Consequently, it seems that everything in our house has a work around - the chair we use to prop up the dishwasher door, the knob on the washing machine that has to be switched back and forth to compensate for the missing one, the vice grips which are necessary to turn on the outside faucet. . .you get the idea. Anyway, the dishwasher fell off it's last legs today, in a flood of scummy, soapy water. I actually have mixed emotions about this, since I've been fantasizing about a new dishwasher in terms only slighly less glowing than those I reserve for James Marsters. But shelling out $500 at Sear's isn't exactly my idea of a good time - I can think of many better uses for that kind of money (books, clothes that fit, books, cd's, books, etc.).

It didn't help that I returned to find my email box full of depressing news and commentary. To wit:

Oregon's senate is preparing to debate a bill that would jail protesters as terrorists. Because traffic flow is so much more important than freedom of speech. . . .

MSNBC has hired loudmouthed bigot Michael Savage to host a weekly show. Because right wing nuts need more encouragement, apparently.

Or not, as Neal Pollack points out, they seem to be doing just fine on their own right now. And he's right, the war is bringing out the worst in some liberals too (like the protester waving a sign that read, "I support our troops if they shoot their officers").

It's a Sick Sad World boys and girls. . . .

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

I'm feeling very out of control of my life right now, which isn't surprising, considering that I'm a first class control freak and I'm pregnant. Pregnancy is joyful and exciting, but it's also hard for control freaks. First there's the inability to schedule exactly when you conceive - either birth control lets you down, or your body refuses to reproduce on demand. This is followed by 9 months of hormone poisoning - nausea, exhaustion, dizziness, and manic-depressive mood swings, not to mention the transformation into the Venus of Willendorf - all of which happens according to some pre-programmed genetic plan, entirely without your volition or direction. Your body takes over, subsuming everything into the baby making project. If you can surrender your will to nature's ingenious machinations, this is supposed to be a blissful and serene experience, but if your plan is more along the lines of making a baby in your spare time while you blithely continue on with the rest of your life, it can be a tad bit frustrating. (Of course it's also good practice for being a parent, which is all about letting go. Not that it's cured me of my need to make it all happen my way.)

Sylvia Plath (a control freak if there ever was one), wrote a poem which neatly sums up both the heady anticipation and the eerie loss of will which accompany pregnancy:

Metaphors
I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeast rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.