Monday, June 30, 2003

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Today in the car:

Drew: "Educational tv is good for you."
Me: "Well, in moderation."
Drew: "What does moderation mean?"
Me: "Not too much or too little. Even good things can be bad if there's too much of them."
Drew: "Like power. Too much power can be a bad thing. Just like Napolean and Julius Caeser - they were good men, but they got too much power and they turned bad."

Six year olds who understand "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" scare me.

Shameless Self Promotion

I have a new column debuting at AustinMama.com - Domestic Disturbances. My first column, "a compelling look at a new trend in feminists circles, Susan Faludi's pop culture interpretations and a certain backlash that happened recently on AustinMama.com" (the description from the AustinMama.com newsletter) appears in today's edition. Read it and let me know what you think.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Drop My Basket Index

Today's index is a much improved 18.75, despite the newest crisis* - our oven has died. For those keeping score at home, in the past 6 months we've exterminated bees, exterminated rats, replaced our dishwasher, had the air conditioner ducts repaired, and now will most likely have to replace our oven. And the washing machine appears to be on its last legs (the gory-looking rust stains it's leaving on all of our clothes are the tip off). Ah, the joys of owning your own home. . . .

*It's amazing what a nap will do to improve your outlook on life.

Nature or Nurture?

In Gina's anti-Barbie diatribe, she asks "Are we born drag queens, or do we learn it?" In other words, are girls and women genetically programmed to love frills and frippery or are do they develop those tastes through socialization?

I am profoundly irritated by parents who make coy remarks about how obvious it is that gender differences are innate because little Brandon was "all boy" from day one or Caitlin has always been "a little princess." These parents inevitably insist that they did nothing to socialize their children that way, but nonetheless their children exhibit markedly gendered behavior. My question is how is it possible to raise a child in our culture without constantly exposing him or her to stereotypical ideas about men and women? Unless you avoid all media, make your own toys and clothes, and raise your child in complete isolation from all other adults and children, he or she will be surrounded by culturally approved ideas about masculinity and femininity. Even if such extreme measures were possible, you'd still have to contend with your own deeply ingrained ideas about gender roles. In the face of such an insidious and pervasive meme, how can we untangle how much of masculinity or femininity is inherent and how much is learned?

My reading and my experience with children (and adults) suggests that there probably are some cognitive differences between males and females, but it is very unclear what exactly those differences are, and how wide the gaps between the sexes are. What seems most likely is that there are differences in the ways men and women think, but that there is a wide range of "normal" for each sex, and a great deal of overlap. This is obviously true of most physical differences, such as strength and height - most men are taller than most women, but the tallest woman is quite a bit taller than the shortest man. Perhaps women are more likely to be verbal and less likely to be spatial, but certainly there are many men who are more verbal than many women.

So most likely the behavior differences between boys and girls (and men and women) are a combination of nature and nurture, and we'll probably never know exactly how much influence each one has. It seems to me that it doesn't matter much anyway. Children are neither blank slates waiting to be encoded nor preprogrammed robots. They come into this world with many tendencies and inclinations - parents and teachers are then obliged to direct these traits into socially acceptable behavior while also helping to develop the qualities that make the child uniquely him or herself. In some cases these qualities may conform to societal expectations more than we're comfortable with, in others they may be at odds with what our culture considers "normal." In either situation, the must important gift we can give our children is to accept them and love them for who they are. In addition, we can also encourage them not to limit themselves to traditional definitions of "masculine" and "feminine," but to mix and match to suit their own tastes - the girl who wears only dresses and loves to play princess can also hit homeruns, and the girl who refuses to wear dresses and loves to play kickball may also enjoy ballet class. Our culture wants to divide certain traits, toys, clothes and behaviors into two neat camps and force us all to choose one or the other, but this is a false dichotomy which only serves to reinforce traditional gender roles (a "tomboy" is escaping the girly role assigned to her by adopting a "masculine" role, but she isn't necessarily questioning the validity of those roles). The really revolutionary thing is to recognize that these things aren't gendered at all.

A Brief History of Sodomy Laws

Andrew Sullivan explains how sodomy came to be considered a sin and then a crime. Sullivan's explanation of why sodomy (as it has been defined historically and legally) is something that heterosexuals are as likely to commit as homosexuals is especially clear and straightforward.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

The "Drop My Basket" Index

Introducing a new feature, named for Vivi's horrifying breakdown in The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. The following factors are used to calculate the index (today's values included):

Add:
1 point for each hour of sleep lost per family member the previous night – 4
1 point for each missed nap - 1
1 point for each towel used to clean up wet messes on floor – 5
3 points for each deliberate, gratuitous mess (i.e. throwing yogurt into the ceiling fan or spreading caramel dip on the cat) – 3
2 points for each body fluid related mess – 2
1 point for each extra bath required due to messes of any kind – 1
5 points for each broken / damaged object (add 20 points if object is irreplaceable) – 0
1 point for each chore completed, only to be undone by children - 1
2 points for each frustrating, pointless power struggle - 10
1 point for each errand or required outing (add additional ½ a point for each child who accompanies you on each outing) – 1
1 point for each minor injury – 0
10 points for every emergency room visit - 0
2 points for every sick family member (add 5 more if all are sick) – 0
5 points for every project attempted while children “entertain themselves” - 0
15 points if one parent is away for the majority of the day - 0
Extra points as necessary for unexpected, stressful circumstances – 5 for broken air conditioner, 3 for the $300 it took to fix it
Subtract:
2.5 points for every enjoyable family activity or outing - 0
5 points for every enjoyable adult activity or outing – 0
2 points for each instance of unbelievably cute, helpful or bright behavior – 4
2 points for every extra hour of adult sleep - 0
1 point for every extra hour of child sleep – 0
5 points for each relaxing treat (i.e. massage, good quality chocolate, vodka tonic with extra lime) - 0
10 points for every book / movie / tv show / commercial inspired realization of how blessed you are to have children – 0
Extra points as necessary for extraordinary, heartbusting, pride inducing behavior – 0

Today's Drop My Basket Index: 32

Update

There were holes in our air ducts, so all the cool air was blowing into the attic. The ducts are now fixed, but we have to wait another hour and 15 minutes until we can turn on the air conditioner. It's approximately 90 degrees in here right now. Yuck.

Welcome to the Hellmouth

It's June in Austin, I'm 7 1/2 months pregnant and our air conditioner is broken. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

Protecting Minority Rights in a Democracy

In regard to Lawrence v. Texas, Merideth writes very thoughtfully about balancing democracy / majority rule against the civil rights of minority groups.

Is Harry Queer?

Michael Bronski explores the gay subtext of the Harry Potter novels. Bronski's analysis is quite savvy, especially his argument that homosexual subtext aside, the books are certainly queer positive (in the larger sense of queer - unconventional, abnormal, nonconformist). "The Harry Potter books are a threat to normally accepted ideas about the social welfare and good mental health of American children. Not because they romanticize witchcraft and wizardry, but because they are deeply subversive in their unremitting attacks on the received wisdom that being "normal" is good, reasonable, or even healthy." Which might be why I love them so much. . . . (I found this link, along with several of the other Potter related links I've posted recently in the Bookslut Blog.)

Again, I'm reminded of Buffy, which has frequently used magic and the supernatural as metaphors for homosexuality (starting with Buffy's secret slayer identity, but explored in many other plot lines, especially Willow's wicca / lesbian identities in which the subtext became text.)



Gina Succumbs to the Blog Meme

My dear friend Gina has started a blog - you guys, seriously. . . .. She is (like all my friends - maybe you've noticed?) bright, funny and articulate. And an inveterate listmaker - she couldn't resist participating in the Friday Five.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Chris Explains It All For You

Chris expanded on his comments on Lawrence vs. Texas this afternoon - this is the clearest explanation of the implications of the decision that I've read.

Permalink to Chris's Comments on Lawrence vs. Texas

Chris kindly responded to my hectoring gentle suggestion and added permalinks to his blog - go here to read his insights on yesterday's Supreme Court decision.

Friday Five

The Five Albums I've Listened to the Most in my Lifetime (to the best of my recollection, in no particular order)
topic suggested by Will

1. Harry Chapin - Greatest Stories Live - The soundtrack of my childhood. This album was one of my parents’ favorites and I don’t remember not knowing every word to all the songs. I could probably still recite all the banter Chapin goes through with the band and the audience during “30,000 Pounds of Bananas.”
2. Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes - During my last 3 years of high school, this tape played fairly constantly in my 1975 powder blue Chevy Malibu. It rotated with David Bowie, The New York Dolls and Mott the Hoople in my boyfriend's 1967 Galaxy for our Friday Night trips to Southside and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
3. Don McLean - American Pie - What was playing during this same period in my high school best friend's car. Along with:
4. James Tayler - Sweet Baby James - And Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Yeah, it was the 80's, but we mostly prefered to pretend like it was still 1975 as far as music went.
5. The Beatles The White Album. Do I really have to explain or justify this? It's The Beatles!

Possibly should be in the above list, too close to call:
1. Jimmy Buffet - You Had to Be There
2. Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
3. Grieg: Peer Gynt Suites
4. Joan Baez - Diamonds and Rust
5. Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits

This topic is inherently biased towards older music and music that you discovered when you were younger. Here are some albums that would make the list if it was based only on the past ten years :
1. Suzanne Vega - Nine Objects of Desire
2. Nanci Griffith - Flyer
3. Lyle Lovett - Joshua Judges Ruth
4. Yo Yo Ma - Bach: Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites
5. Maura O'Connell - Just in Time

It's the Dance Sensation That's Sweeping the Nation

Everybody's blogging. My friend Chris just started a blog, Pressure Valve, which you should read for his witty commentary, as well as his informed opinions about legal matters (he's an attorney, which means he actually knows what he's talking about when he posts about recent Supreme Court cases, unlike me and Adam).

He's posted some interesting commentary on Lawrence vs. Texas (the anti-sodomy case) and it's implications - just scroll down past his Friday Five for today.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Take That Senator Santorum!

The Supreme Court has ruled that Texas' anti-sodomy law (which only applied to same sex couples) is unconstitutional. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes that homosexuals have "the full right to engage in private conduct without government intervention."

And I'm willing to bet any amount of money you'd like that this won't result in rampant legalization of bestiality, despite Santorum's slippery slope arguments.

Censorship in our Public Libraries

The Supreme Court has mandated pornography filters in public libraries which receive federal funding. The problem is that these filters are universally acknowledged to be hit or miss, allowing clearly offensive material in, while blocking many legitimate sites (especially those providing medical information). The Supreme Court's decision states that "overblocking" isn't a problem because patrons may easily request to have the filters turned off. I don't know enough about how these systems work to comment on this - does anyone know if it is as simple as the ruling suggests? Significantly, the law does not require libraries to disable filtering when that is requested, and of course, many people might be embarrassed to ask a librarian to do so.

Lots of good links on this issue at The Shifted Librarian (a link I got from Neil Gaiman's blog).

What Bush Knew and When He Knew It

CNN cautiously reports that components necessary to construct nuclear weapons have been discovered buried in an Iraqi scientist's garden. Although this does indicate that Saddam Hussein was hiding information from weapon's inspectors, it is important to remember that these components were from the pre-1991 weapons program and had never been unearthed during the time that sanctions were in place. Josh Marshall sums up why this find isn't the "smoking gun" the Bush administration has been promising us.

If weapons of mass destruction are found, will it matter whether Bush knew they were there or just took a lucky guess? Absolutely. Everyone knew that it was possible that Iraq was hiding nuclear and biological weapons. Bush stated it as a matter of fact, and used that "fact" (along with the even less substantiated suggestion that Iraq had links to Al Qaeda) to propel the US into a war in which we lacked the support of the international community. Intent counts - even if a lie unwittingly turns out to be true.

FYI

The Harry Potter discussion between Polly Shulman and David Edelstein in Slate will be going on all week (updated daily). This is a really fascinating conversation, which has broadened to include the purposes of children's literature in general. Warning, it is spoilery.

A Darker, Edgier Harry?

Bunsen had plenty of suggestions for ways that J. K. Rowling could have made the latest Harry Potter more "adult", too bad she ignored all of them. . . .

(Warning: Sick humor and adult content. No spoilers, though.)

Read the Damn Book!

It's not that I don't appreciate the extra traffic I'm getting from people googling to find out the ending of the latest Harry Potter book, but why would anyone want to ruin his or her reading experience that way? You really will enjoy the book much more if you allow the story to unravel at it's own pace. Sorry to be an old fuddy-duddy, but honestly!

So, please, I beg of you, turn back now before it's too late! (And I say this as someone who has occasionally succumbed to Buffy spoilers, always to my subsequent regret - it completely ruins the Holy Shit! Quotient.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Austin's Internet Blackout

Yesterday there was some kind of major outage with internet access in Austin. Jessa Crispin has a novel explanation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Parenting Advice from the First Year

Adrienne Martini shares what she's learned in her daughter's first year. Very sage advice. I've already been through this twice and I still intend to bookmark this article to refer to after the baby comes. (It's amazing how those memories of infancy blur after a few years.)

But Wait There's More!

I promise I'll post something non-Harry related soon. Anyway, here's a cool link - sort of a Harry Potter faq. One particularly useful feature is a table comparing the differences in the British and American editions.

Monday, June 23, 2003

More on Potter

Polly Shuman and David Edelstein debate the pros and cons of the new Harry Potter book. (I know you'll be shocked to discover that I'm firmly in Edelstein's camp.) They also have some interesting things to say about reading the first new Potter since the movie franchise began, and how the movies affected their reading. (I was pleasantly surprised to find that my original mental images of the characters and locations had survived viewing the movies. This is why it is imperative to always read the book before you see the movie.)

More Wingnuts on Harry Potter

Apparently, Harry Potter brings out all the whackaloons, from all sides of the political spectrum. The only thing they have in common is their obvious inability to read the book before they comment on it. This guy appears to be unclear on the actual defnition of "socialist" as well. In fact, for someone who's arguing for more stringent standards in education, he appears to be remarkably poorly educated.

Some Things Do Get Better With Age

James Marsters' year book photos - bwah! (Scroll down for the funny drama-geek-in-action ones.)

Harry Potter Media Roundup

It shouldn't be a surprise that the intellectual snobs and smug anti-trendies are engaged in serious Harry Potter bashing. After all, the books are popular which is the kiss of death to this crowd.

Jennie Bristow worries that the books are being enjoyed more for their "readability than their quality," bemoans the "infantilization of culture" indicated by adults reading books written for children, and then exhibits her lack of knowledge about the books by claiming that the most recent volume continues to portray a black and white world where death is the only thing to be feared - exactly what doesn't happen in HPatOotP. (She also engages in some entirely unnecessary Enid Blyton bashing, but gives no indication of what she feels is appropriate reading material for children or adults.)

Alex Good worries Potter mania has led to book releases becoming hyped events like movie premieres. Because no one eagerly anticipated books before Harry Potter. Good needs to review his literary history just a bit - over hyped literary phenomenons have been a regular feature of publishing from the very beginning. In the days when novels were regularly published as serials, the mania frequently verged on hysteria (a ship arriving from England was mobbed by a crowd desperate to know what had happened to Dicken's Little Nell). And far from being flashes in the pan, many of these literary fads (like Dickens and Dumas) have stood the test of time and taken their places in the canon. Good also joins Jennie Bristow in his condemnation of adults who read children's literature, because apparently the target audience makes all the difference in quality. Again, Bristow is showing is 21st century myopia. The whole concept of novels for children or young adults, as a separate category from adult novels, is a relatively recent one. Obviously, there is a difference in quality in a child's picture book and an adult novel, but this distinction grows increasingly fuzzy as you compare books for older children or young adults to so-called adult books. Are C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman really less complex than Danielle Steele? Are J. K. Rowling and Susan Cooper more formulaic than John Grisham?

Positive reviews are beginning to trickle in though:

Salon's review is very positive and well-written.

The BBC's gimmick was having an actual witch review the book. Despite the silliness of this, the review is articulate and interesting.




Harry Potter

Warning - This entry contains major spoilers for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Read it at your own peril!

I've finished Harry Potter #5 and I'm quite satisfied. The previous volume in the series was a little ungainly, but Rowling's hit her stride with this one and everything flows beautifully. Harry is now 15, and the plotting and the characters reflect this. Harry and his friends are deep in the throws of adolescent angst and disillusionment, and the black and white world of previous books has been replaced by one rife with shades of grey. Rowling's style is more sophisticated now as well. She's been accused of being formulaic, but in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the set pieces we've come to expect are shaken up quite a bit, and in many cases, framed in entirely different ways.

Not only does Rowling avoid following her own formula too closely, she also steps out of the conventions of the genre quite a bit. The end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire seemed to be setting the series up for a classic battle of good vs. evil, beginning in the next book. Instead, HPatOotP deals only with very first stirrings of the epic battle, and is solidly focused on the bureaucratic nightmare of getting the government to acknowledge the threat. The focus is on the banality of everyday evil, rather than the glamour and horror of supervillain Voldemort. The news that a major character would die in book 5 suggested that Harry's beloved and wise mentor, Dumbledore, would die, leaving the younger generation to battle on their own. Instead, Sirius dies, leaving Harry even more bereft of family connections. Meanwhile, Dumbledore assumes far greater power and agency than we've seen in him so far.

The comfortable wish fulfillment world of the previous novels is all but gone. Harry feels excluded and abandoned by the adults he once trusted, Hogwarts is no longer the haven it once was, and the wizards who once lauded him are convinced he's a lying, attention seeking, lunatic. To top it all off, Harry's father may not have been the paragon he imagines. Pretty typical teen-age emotions, but not the usual stuff of heroic fantasy. Rowling's strategy of allowing the characters to mature and change as the series progresses is creating a fascinating blend of reality and fantasy which avoids the ham-handedness of allegory, while skillfully using metaphor to convey the difficulties of growing up. In fact, what I was most reminded of as I was reading HPatOotP was not The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings, but the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although Rowling and Whedon are operating in very different fantasy traditions, in many ways they're using fantasy and metaphor in very similar ways.

Friday, June 20, 2003

More on Gay Marriage

Julie posted this very funny link in the comments to a previous post, but I wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to see it, because it's hysterical. A small sample:

"In the state of Texas except for Austin which everyone knows is surprisingly cool despite how it's in, you know, Texas, where you still cannot legally buy a dildo or engage in homosexual sex but they pretty much hand you a nice big phallic shotgun as a welcome gift when you visit, the legislature immediately passed a law requiring each and every male to smack any other male they see really hard on the back and buy him a pitcher of bad beer in a manly gesture of football-lovin' patriotic homoerotically repressed solidarity."

Friday Five

Five Books or Movies that I Know A Lot About Despite Never Reading / Seeing Them (topic suggested by Merideth)

1. Fame (the movie) - I saw a few episodes of the tv show, and, since I attended a fine and performing arts high school (The Alabama School of Fine Arts), everyone always asks if my high school was "just like Fame." My general sense is that the movie is like a second rate John Hughes flick with singing and dancing on tables. I've added it to my netflix queue, so I guess I'll soon find out.

2. The Canterbury Tales - I had to memorize the prologue in high school and possibly (I can't really remember) I read a few of the tales. We also watched a poorly made movie based on some of the stories. But I don't think I've ever read the whole thing - in fact, I dropped my English major to a minor to avoid taking Chaucer.

3. Paradise Lost - Again, I've probably read excerpts for various classes, but I've never read the whole thing. Maybe someday. . . .

4. Les Miserables - I've seen the musical multiple times, I can recite the lyrics to all the songs, and I've seen a couple of the movie versions. A few years ago, Adam and I made a valiant effort to read it aloud to one another. We got several hundred pages in and nothing had happened, except that Hugo had established that the bishop was a really great guy. That phrase has become our family code for something that's been hammered into the ground. We abandoned the book in dismay. I have a feeling it would be a better book to read by myself, since I could skim all the repetitive stuff. I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually.

5. Rashomon - I know, I know. It's a classic of Japanese cinema, and it's the basis for all those artsy different points of view movies. I had a particularly obnoxious professor in graduate school who referred to it incessantly, and it's taken me 7 years to even think about watching it. It's in my queue - I'll actually watch it some day. Maybe.

I'm proud to report that as of a year or so ago, I can remove Moby Dick from this list, as I finally got around to reading it. I'm trying to fill in the holes in my education. Honest.

More Wisdom from Anne Lamott

Lamott's column always makes me cry. This one is particularly beautiful. Go. Read.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Action Alert

Texas Governor Rick Perry has called a special session to address the Gerrymandering redistricting the legislature was unable to get to during the regular session due to the "Killer D's" going AWOL. Check out Adam's blog for steps you can take to protest this decision.

The Truth is Out There, But No One Cares

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Bush administration built support for the second Gulf War on a foundation of half truths, myths and outright lies. The problem is that no one seems to care.

The Washington Post reports that much of the initial information released about POW Jessica Lynch was false (she did not hold off attackers until her amunition ran out, she was neither shot nor stabbed, there is little evidence that she was mistreated while in Iraqi custody). Clearly, in times of war communication can be garbled and mistakes can be made. However, those in the Bush Administration who originally used these stories to bolster support for the war have made little attempt to debunk them now that it has become obvious that they are false.

Let me make one thing clear: Jessica Lynch is a hero, as much as any member of our volunteer armed forces. She was injured in the course of performing her duty, she was captured by enemy forces, and she did what she had to do to survive and return home. She does not need embellished stories or a dramatic rescue to make her a hero; she is a hero by virtue of her sacrifices for her nation. She most emphatically does not need to be described in the terms that are commonly being used in the American media, such as the Post's description of her as "blond and waiflike." This language diminishes a capable soldier to a damsel in distress. Can you imagine a male POW being described as "brunette and childlike"?

"'Jessica Lynch, we're the United States soldiers and we're here to protect you and take you home,' a Special Forces soldier called out, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., who briefed reporters three days later.

'I'm an American soldier, too,' she answered from her hospital bed." Damn straight.

And what about those mysterious weapons of mass destruction? Bush assured us he had it on the best authority that Iraq was an immediate threat to the United States, but we're still waiting for a scrap of evidence to this effect. Meanwhile, a signifcant portion of the American public continues to believe that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction, and that they were involved in some way in the events of September 11. From today's Salon (watch the ad, read the article): "Before the Iraq war, a Knight Ridder poll showed that nearly half of Americans surveyed believed, erroneously, that there were Iraqis among the Sept. 11 hijackers. During the war, a Los Angeles Times poll showed that 59 percent of respondents were convinced, despite all available evidence, that Saddam was either partly or mostly responsible for Sept. 11. Now that America's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is becoming an increasingly contentious political issue, a third of respondents in a University of Maryland poll believed that the weapons already have been uncovered. A fifth of those polled think Iraq actually used such weapons in the war." Bush may not be directly responsible for all of these misconceptions (although he bears some responsibility for most of them), but he has certainly used them to his advantage, and made no attempt to refute them.

So it appears that Bush lied or, at the very least, misled the American public in order to push us to war with Iraq. Isn't this more significant than the president lying about whether or not he got a blow job? Why doesn't anyone seem to care?

Defenders of Marriage

A little song for those who are appalled by Canada's recent decision to grant marriage rights to all it's citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.

David Frum worries that as a result of gay marriage "The law will increasingly see couples as interchangeable 'parents'" and won't favor women over men in custody disputes. Like this is a bad thing? I'm all in favor of courts awarding custody to the best *parent* regardless of gender - if gay marriage makes this more likely, it's certainly a nice fringe benefit.

Homosexual marriages are here to stay in Canada and Holland. Great Britain will probably be the next country to expand marriage rights to all it's citizens. America's Defense of Marriage Act allows the US to refuse to acknowledge these marriages - a direct contradiction of international marriage law and precedent. Historically, nations honored one another's marriage contracts, whether or not those marriages would have been legal had they been performed in another country (for example if first cousins married in England, they would still be legally married in the United States, even if they lived in a state which outlaws marriages between first cousins.) Imagine the chaos that would ensue if marriages were only considered legal in the country in which they were performed. This is a far greater threat to the sanctity of marriage than allowing loving couples of the same sex to marry.

(Edited on 6/20 to add that I forgot to include Belgium in my list of countries where homosexuals can legally marry.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Technically Declined

I'm feeling like an idiot because I've just spent 2 hours futzing with my blog template trying to add a permalink feature. In retrospect, I should have waited until I was a little more rested - even with all my wits about me, my html knowledge is kind of spotty, and being exhausted and easily frustrated didn't really help. But, I think I've finally got it.

Here's the drill. If you want to link to a specific post, click on "link." This will take you to the archived version of the post. You can copy and paste that address to refer someone to that entry.

And, as always, you can click on "comment" and read or post comments to entries (hint, hint).

Sunday, June 15, 2003

What My Father Taught Me

aka "Norm's Life Lessons" (tm Ben Grimes)

1. How to change a tire.
2. The importance of changing your oil every 3000 miles.
3. To save money.
4. How to do my own taxes.
5. How to drive (but not how to drive a stick shift - that was beyond my father's patience).
6. How to build a fire.
7. How to run without losing my breath.
8. To exercise regularly.
9. To waterski - first standing on the tops of his skis and then with him in the water behind me, holding my skis straight until I popped out of the water.
10. The importance of education.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 13, 2003

Friday Five II

Will's list is funny, but his list of The Top 5 Things Adam Hates is hysterically accurate.

Friday Five

Five Things That Make Me Cranky

1. Cilantro (It tastes like spicy soap, and overpowers the flavor of any other spices.)
2. The guy at the comic shop / bookstore who says, "Picking up your husband's comics, huh?" when I buy comics. ('Cause, duh, girls don't read comics.)
3. Gun nuts (guns are evil)
4. Barbie (ditto Barbie)
5. Women who say, "I'm not a feminist, but I believe in equal rights for women." (This is me, clenching my teeth - that's the freaking definition of feminism, you lamebrained moron!)

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Other Mothers

Wonderful essay by Katie Allison Granju about the women who've helped her raise her children.

Who I Am When I'm By Myself

Well, not exactly by myself, but more so than usual. Adam left yesterday to take Drew to his parents for the week. Franny is here with me, but having half the family gone makes a big difference. I got a lot done last night after Franny went to bed, mostly because I was putting off going to bed by myself. Also, there's something about being the only responsible adult on duty that makes you realize that unless you do it, it won't get done.

I suspect I don't get enough solitary time. I'm a fairly extroverted person, but I need alone time to recharge, and alone time is in short supply when you have young children. The closest I get is locking myself in the office and writing or surfing on the internet, which isn't the same as being truly alone, even if Adam is running interference with the kids. There again, I think I do a better job at chores, and finishing projects if I'm by myself. Maybe it's that I don't multi-task very well, so it's hard for me to completely immerse myself in what needs to be done if I'm also watching kids?

My biggest regret is that I've never lived alone. I lived with my parents (and my brother), then lived in the college dorm, and moved from there to Adam's apartment when we got married. I honestly can't think when I've been alone for more than a few hours, certainly not in the past 6 years. The closest I've ever come to living alone is the semester my room mate moved out at the last minute and it was too late to find a replacement. I was still living in the dorm, but I had a room all to myself.

I occasionally fantasize about what it would be like to be the final controlling authority on everything in my life. I could have everything just so, and know that no one would mess it up. I'd organize the books my way. I'd know that if I saved the last cookie for later, it would be there when I got back. I could change my plans on a whim and never have to consult with anyone. I'd avoid all those petty arguments about the best way to do laundry / mop the floor / cook spaghetti sauce. There are times when it sounds like heaven.

I feel obligated to insert here that I realize how blessed I am, and that I love my family. Also, because I am truly an extrovert, I think I would be very, very lonely living by myself. Most of the time I don't need less community around me, but more (especially of the adult variety). One of the reasons I enjoyed that semester in the dorm so much is that I had the best of both worlds - a thriving community of friends and companions a few steps away, and a private sanctuary to retreat to when I felt the need. Maybe I just need a treehouse in the backyard - preferably one that I can pull the ladder up on. . . .

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Censorship or Editorial Judgement?

Stanley Fish on free speech issues in campus newspapers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

More on the Proposed FSLA Changes

According to Molly Ivins, the proposed changes would allow companies to pay straight time for overtime rather than the currently mandated time and a half.

Is It Fair to Discriminate Based on Family Responsibilities?

Ann Crittendon (not to be confused with right wing wacko Danielle Crittendon) argues that while such discrimination is legal, it unfairly penalizes parents and others who are unable to work more than 40 hours a week due to family obligations. This discrimination also affects parents who take advantage of flex time or family leave policies and are then penalized by being moved to the so-called Mommy or Daddy track, or by losing their jobs.

Although I agree with Crittendon, I'm a little uncomfortable at the implication that only those with families deserve relief from mandatory overtime. In corporate America, most employees are salaried and are expected to work much more than 40 hours a week without any extra compensation. We're not just talking about doctors, lawyers, and high powered executives who presumably make large enough salaries that it justifies the extra hours they put in (and who also have a much higher degree of autonomy and control over their hours) - these are $24,000/yr file clerks and data entry drones who are working under strict supervision and with little say so as to when they take their breaks or what hours they work. The 40 hour work week was instituted with clear guidelines regarding professional (exempt) employees and hourly (non-exempt) employees. In many fields these guidelines are being ignored in favor of paying everyone a salary, understaffing, and working everyone for as many hours as possible.

The Labor Department has proposed changes in these guidelines beginning in 2004, but other than increasing the minimum wage necessary to qualify as an exempt employee (a figure which hadn't been changed since the 1970's), the other changes will actually increase the number of employees who qualify as exempt.

Mandatory overtime should be illegal for all employees, not just those with family obligations. And voluntary overtime should be compensated fairly with comp time or time and a half wages. I realize that this will be difficult to enforce in some fields, where irregular hours are the rule, but the trade off of increased paperwork for greater employee satisfaction seems more than worth it to me.

Howard Dean for President

I attended a Howard Dean rally in Austin last night and I was blown away. Dean is a charismatic speaker with vivid, clear ideas about where this country should be going. He's a member of that nearly extinct species - the old-fashioned liberal Democrat. His record as governor of Vermont speaks for itself: a balanced state budget (that's stayed balanced despite the economic downturn), civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, and state health insurance which covers 99% of Vermont's children. Last night, Dean spoke eloquently about the need for guaranteed universal health care, equal rights for all Americans (regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexual preference), and increased funding for education. In the years that I've been eligible to vote, Dean is the presidential candidate who comes closest to my position on the majority of issues.

Of course, none of this matters if he can't beat Bush. But after last night, I'm beginning to believe he might be able to. Dean drew an enthusiastic crowd of over 3,000 people last night, to a volunteer organized rally that was planned in just 10 days, primarily using the internet. The fundraising goal of $10,000 was met before Dean began speaking - the total donations exceeded $15,000. These are phenominal numbers for this early in the campaign and they speak to the momentum that's gathering around Dean.

Dean's using a drastically different strategy than most of the Democratic hopefuls - one that hasn't been used in several election cycles - he's running as an unabashed liberal. He doesn't try to play down his record, or to kowtow to the Republicans - he's calling them on the mistakes they've made, and he's proudly flaunting his liberal credentials. Given that Gore could have won with a clear majority if he'd had the Green vote, this strategy makes perfect sense. It's time for Democrats to stop being ashamed of what they are, and proudly embrace their progressive roots. We need to play to our strengths, not hide them in an effort to appeal to conservative voters who aren't going to vote for a Democrat anyway.

I believe Dean is a candidate who can unite the Democratic party and bring disillusioned liberals who voted Green in 2000 back to the fold. I also believe that he can beat Bush, and repair some of the damage the Republicans have inflicted on this country. I urge you to find out more about Dean and if you like what you see, tell others about Dean, donate money to his campaign, and volunteer.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Monday Morning Laugh Break

Adam and I heard Ian Frazier reading this on Prairie Home Companion years ago, and we just recently found it on the internet. Laws Concerning Food and Drink - a parental diatribe regarding dining etiquette, in biblical language. Exceedingly funny, especially for those of us with children.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Sibling Rivalry Reaches New Heights

Franny has taken to raiding Drew's room, and I think he's beginning to resent it. He made a sign for his door today that reads, "My rom privit to Franie." At least he hasn't shut the door on her finger to keep her out. My little brother still complains that the door sliced off the tip of his finger - apparently there's an 1/8 of an inch difference between his left and right little fingers. Whine, whine, whine. . . .

Friday, June 06, 2003

Friday Five

Five books which are largely responsible for my mental furniture (in no particular order):

1. Possession by A. S. Byatt (romance, postmodernism, academia, literary mystery, serendipity)
2. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (intellectual romance, the meeting of true minds, "the worst sin - perhaps the only sin - passion can commit is to be joyless")
3. Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger (New York intellectual angst)
4. The Chronicles of Narnia (Yeah, I'm cheating and counting all of them as one book)
5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (sisterly devotion, the charms of domesticity)

The common threads seem to be 1. family life (especially in large families), and 2. The romantic trials of intellectual women (along with a healthy dose of anglophilia).

Attention Book Sluts

In recompense for my whining, I'll direct you to the marvelous Book Slut web 'zine. This month's issue is particularly entertaining and useful - check out the new Bookslut with baby column and the Comicbookslut's review of ten years of Vertigo comics. The bookslut blog is updated daily with news about books, reading and the publishing world. You can also buy all sorts of cool merchandise with the bookslut logo on it at cafe press. I've got my eye on the coffee mug.

It Never Rains but it Pours

It's been a crazy week at our house. First Franny got some kind of evil stomach bug and spent 24 hours doing her Exorcist impression, then she got a nasty cold, and then Drew got the stomach thing. Between that and the dog hurting her ear and bleeding all over Drew's bed, and the creepy Amityville Horror honey dripping out of the ceiling (yes, the bees are gone, but we still have a large portion of their winter larder), plus the usual assortment of toileting accidents and near misses, I'm about ready to burn the house down and start over. General cleaning and sterilizing is not going to cut it this time.

To top it off, we're behind on all our chores, so we've spent several days eating take-out and scrounging for the least dirty clothes to wear. And it's been raining for days now, which means the kids can't go outside to play, even when they've felt like getting up off the couch. Oh, and I pulled a muscle in my back yesterday. It's ok though, it only hurts when I move, or breathe, or lie there doing nothing at all. . . ..

Possibly there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Franny's cough seems better today, and surely Drew will stop throwing up soon. We might even be able to leave the house this weekend! Or, I could catch the stomach thing and end up in the hospital getting rehydrated on an iv drip. Actually, that's not sounding so bad right now - at least I'd get some rest.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

Those of you who are familiar with this screamingly funny website (and if you're not, you should check it out - it will make you feel much better about your relationship, no matter how disfunctional it is), will be interested to know that the creator has written a novel "loosely" based on the website (it has the same name). I may have to pick this up to read in the hospital after the baby is born.

Bizarre Associations

When I opened the Netflix website today, there was a list of recommendations waiting for me, based on the ratings we've given other movies. Each rec includes a brief description of the movie, a list of the stars, the director and "similar to:" indicating another movie you liked that (presumably) the recommended movie is similar to in tone or plot. One of my recommendations today was Grave of the Fireflies - an incredibly depressing anime about 2 abandoned children in post WWII Japan. According to the movie experts at Netflix, this movie is "similar to:" Eddie Izzard: Dress to Kill - a recording of the hysterical transvestite comic Eddie Izzard performing his standup routine in San Francisco. Similar how? In that they're both about carbon based lifeforms? OH, maybe because they're both dvd's available to rent at Netflix? I feel like I'm missing something here. . . .

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Backlash 2003

It's become trendy in some feminist circles to dismiss Susan Faludi's Backlash as an overwrought and hysterical polemic. Faludi's 1991 analysis of sexist subtext in popular culture is at odds with the current direction of Pop Culture Studies which tends to celebrate transgressive and revolutionary messages in seemingly mainstream texts. In the light of this trend, Faludi seems like a fuddy duddy hold out from the '70's - the great aunt who's still crying sexism while the younger generation is having a great time deconstructing '50's sitcoms using queer semiotics. Sadly though, I'm beginning to feel like the wolf she warned us about is sitting at the door.

Faludi's argument is that 1980's and early 1990's American popular culture was rife with hidden messages encouraging women to return to more traditional roles. Like the Nazis, American conservatives wanted (and continue to want) women to focus on "Kirche, Kueche, Kinder" (church, kitchen, and children), rather than economic independence or careers. The majority of Backlash is an analysis of the subtle and not so subtle ways this message was incorporated into popular tv shows, books, and women's magazines. Some of Faludi's readings of these texts do seem a little farfetched or twisted to support her argument. For example, she relies heavily on certain episodes of the 1980's drama thirtysomething which she claims are pro-marriage / stay at home mothers and anti single and career women, without discussing other episodes which contextualize these ideas and do not support her thesis (at times, Faludi seems unable to differentiate between texts that encourage traditional roles for women, and those which are examining the exact tension Faludi is exploring - the conflicting pressure on women to be successful in the public sphere and to also maintain Donna Reed perfection at home). However, her basic premise is sound: in the face of rapid changes in women's roles in American society, reactionary elements stepped up the pressure to convince women they'd be happier and more fulfilled at home. These forces have not backed down in the intervening decade, instead they recently seem to be stepping up their campaign and becoming increasingly blatant about it.

A whole cadre of conservative women have written non-fiction books endorsing stay-at-home motherhood and decrying the evils of feminism; Danielle Crittendon (What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman), Wendy Shalit (A Return to Modesty: Rediscovering the Lost Virtue), and Sylvia Ann Hewlett (Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children), are some recent examples. Now Danielle Crittendon has written a novel, Amanda Bright@home (Salon article - watch the short ad, read the story), to further spread her message that a woman's place is in the home. These women are not arguing that parents should structure their lives so that one or the other parent is providing the majority of caregiving for young children - they're advocating a return to the 1950's when men were macho breadwinners and women were nurturing caregivers and everyone knew his or her place (nevermind that this idyll never really existed except for a fairly small group of middle and upper class families). In their view, men who stay at home with their children are wimps, women who work part time or from home are unfairly dividing their attention and not focusing on their children, and only women who devote themselves full time to parenting are real mothers.

I recently plugged Adrienne Martini's column in austinmama.com. Apparently not everyone who read it found it as accurate as I did. A poster to the austinmama.com comment boards was appalled by the idea that a mother would willingly allow someone else to take care of her child so that she could engage in personally fulfilling work. The vitriol in this letter is breathtaking - the anonymous poster closes with "I don't pity poor, bored, creatively-challenged you for one second. I do, however, pity your child. Imagine being a small child who realizes that Mommy is too busy "being creative" to raise you." Because of course, only full time stay at home mothers are "raising" their children - if someone else takes care of your children for any amount of time, then you're farming them out to "strangers" and abdicating all responsibility for their upbringing. Of course men can still be real fathers no matter how little time they spend with their children, in fact, they'd better get out there and work some extra hours - someone's got to make a living, and obviously it can't be mom, since she's devoting every moment of her life to nurturing her little darlings.

The true believers out there (like the austinmama.com poster) may believe that they are doing what's best for their children, but I don't for one moment believe that the conservatives who are pushing this agenda are doing so out of altruistic motives (these are the people who are currently engaged in a. gutting the Head Start program, and b. denying tax cuts to the poorest and most deserving Americans, while handing them out to those who need them the least). After all, if this were really about giving children more time with their parents, there are many ways to achieve this in a non-sexist manner. The most obvious would be to extend family leave laws (which apply to mothers and fathers) to include more unpaid time off or expanding the program to include paid leave (perhaps out of unemployment funds). Or you know, we could stop pushing unemployed single parents off of the welfare rolls (apparently it's only middle class women who need to be at home with their kids, the poor ones need to get off their lazy butts and work, no matter how substandard their daycare options are). No, this is isn't about children at all. Call me cynical, but I think it's about stripping women of financial and professional power, and making them dependant upon men. Possibly, it's also about making things easier for big business by encouraging women to remove themselves from the workforce at a time when businesses don't need as many employees.

I'm not taking the opposite tack and damning all stay at home mothers, after all, for all practical purposes, I am one right now. I would love to see mothers and fathers have the opportunity to spend more time with their children. I am also sympathetic to some parents' concerns about the daycare system. Families need to examine all their options and find the solution that works for them - whether that is two parents employed full time, one parent at home full time, or some combination of full and part time work. The right solution for each family will vary depending on the personalities involved (parents and children) and the skills and abilities of each parent, and these solutions are likely to change over time. Parents also need to think through the ramifications of their choices, realizing that some choices are more risky than others - what will happen if the working parent loses his or her job? what are the opportunity costs (in terms of lost seniority, rusty skills, and reduced retirement savings) for the non-working or underemployed parent? - and develop contingency plans to minimize these risks. Finally it's important to examine the underlying implications of our choices, and what they communicate to our children. I want my children to know that men and women can both nurture children and be breadwinners, and that parenthood does not mean effacing yourself and your dreams in favor of total devotion to your children. Because of this, it's important to me that my husband and I co-parent as much as possible, and that my children see us both pursuing our avocations and career goals. I believe we can communicate these values without both of us working full time, but it takes more conscious effort and planning to do so. Whatever solutions you find for your family, I encourage you to fight those who would limit women and men's choices. Do it for yourself, for the men and women who fought to expand our options, and especially for your children.