Sunday, November 30, 2008

In Deep Doo-Doo, One More TIme

Sometimes, it pays to be an airhead.

This morning I dropped my husband at the airport in Columbus and planned to do some shopping with my kids. We proceeded to Old Navy and found a couple of hoodies (or as the Tiger calls them, "hoodie-hoods). I reached for my credit card - and found none. I'd left it in some undisclosed location.

I'm not a passionate shopper, but my little town is shopping purgatory, and just getting to Columbus requires close to an hour-and-a-half drive. So I was chagrined. No cheesy bread sticks and Sangiovese wine from Trader Joe's. No chance to drop the kids at the Macy's playplace while I shopped for pants. Not even a browse through Crate and Barrel.

And so we turned around in the drizzle and headed home, me fighting sleep at the wheel, the kids in the backseat playing out some wonderfully weird game involving a rapacious giant slug.

Any dreams I'd had of a little nap at home vaporized - all too literally - when we walked in the door of our house and were hit by a wall of sewer gas. Longtime Kittywampus readers might recall a similar incident from last May. (Go here for a picture, if you dare).

This wasn't quite as bad as last May's adventure in nostalgia plumbing. It was just our semi-annual encounter with the city's antiquated sewage system. And there I stood, alone, in deep doo-doo once again, and my husband on a plane heading for Vancouver.

From Adult Engrish, which - like my city's sewer system - is the gift that truly keeps on giving.

Time for Feminist True Confessions: I talk a brave game, but when it comes to all things mechanical, I defer shamelessly to my husband. So, even though we own a sump pump, I didn't know how to operate the dang thing. Luckily, I have the best neighbors in the world. Their dad/father-in-law (he who originally picked up that pump for us) happened to be in town. They all swooped in and saved me before the water rose high enough to damage anything.

And here's where my earlier brain fart proved a gift. If I hadn't left my credit card in the pocket of an old jacket, I'd have arrived home several hours later. I'd have found not a ten-foot puddle, four inches deep at its center, but a foot-deep flood throughout the basement.

The pump did the trick until the rain resumed. Then the water started to rise again as backwash from the city's drains overwhelmed our pump, no matter how hard it worked. I was waiting for the city crew to appear like choirs of crapalicious angels and clear the clog in the sewer main. To calm myself, I decided to play a tune on the piano. This sheet music happened to be propped open on it. No shit.

So I played it, with feeling ...

... and soon thereafter a crew of city wastewater workers who'd been rousted out of their cozy post-Thanksgiving homes appeared in the cold drizzle outside my door. They localized the clog, which was, indeed, on the city's side. In my basement, the crud first spurted like a geyser, then receded. The workers said they'd try to return tomorrow with a camera that can run down the sewer main and do a sort of endoscopic exam on it.

My dear neighbors kept the kids while I applied about a gallon of bleach to the floor. Then they fed me dinner. They plied me with homemade egg nog. The kids performed a magic show. When we finally ventured home at bedtime, the house - according to my little Bear - smelled like pumpkin pie again. With a slight note of bleach.

Far more dramatically than on Thanksgiving, I'm reminded of a whole bunch of ways that I'm blessed.

Some Things Just Don't Translate

I think I've been a touch too serious lately. At any rate, I needed to lighten up, and maybe my blog does, too. I nearly pulled a belly muscle browsing the "adult" section of It's all in pretty terrible taste. That's the point.

Anyway, here's a little sample. This one might make a splash in the classroom when I teach about the beauty ideal, dontcha think?


And this sounds like a delightful contrast to all that heavy Thanksgiving fare ... yum!

(Also from

I've admittedly got a weakness for this sort of thing** after living in Germany, where similarly tasteless slogans popped up on the occasional T-shirt, along with just plain goofy logos like the "San Francisco Fifty-Niners." I think people get their ideas of socially acceptable English partly from R-rated movies (oops!). The translator in me is smugly gleeful, knowing that the world will always need translators who are adept in both language and culture.

(** Language bloopers, I mean - what did you think? Oh, the tofu. Right.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Thing with Feathers

I know that we're all still supposed to be jubilant over the election. This is supposedly our honeymoon, these days between Obama's victory and his inauguration, before he's had a chance to start disappointing us in earnest. But elation hasn't been my mood; not at all. Maybe I'm just too tired from the endless campaign, but I've felt cautious, depleted, reflective, even a little melancholy. The November days are short and bleak, and the thing with feathers threatens to fly south for the winter.

Photo by Flickr user tanakawho, used under a Creative Commons license. No birds were harmed in its making.

And so I find myself mulling over this business of "hope" and what it's good for - what the "thing with feathers" might animate, beyond the sloganeering.

For one thing, I think hope is an effective antidote to fear. As such, it's crucial to real democracy. Of all the laws and policies born of fear during the past eight years - the Patriot Act, the Abu Ghraib interrogations, the Guantanamo Bay internments, the rampant wiretapping - I can't think of one that was wise (and many were plain unconstitutional). Fear turns off people's critical faculties and turns citizens into subjects.

Uncritical hope can be exploited by demagogues, too, but not so easily. Hope is not self-sustaining: Reality has a way of intruding on hope while tending to reinforce people's fears. Historically, dictatorships have rested far more on fear than on hope, and idealistic revolutions-gone-bad have always shifted from hope toward fear before spawning such atrocities as Stalinism or the Terror. Hope can move people to take to the streets, but fear is a far more potent motivator if you're out for blood.

But even in times of threat and crisis - especially then - hope can lead us back to our core values. Hope can guide us toward a foreign policy aimed at strength through alliances rather than intimidation and militarism. Hope can inspire an economic rescue plan aimed at restructuring our economy - moving our automotive industry away from gas guzzlers and our energy infrastructure toward renewables - instead of just panicking and giving AIG and Citibank whatever they want.

Hope itself is a renewable energy source. We're going to need that in the months and years ahead.

Hope is also a gift to our children. It's an example of how to live, a precondition for making the world better for them, a source of joy. It can help them cope with their nascent awareness of injustice and violence; it can nurture their empathy and protect them against cynicism. It's part of the very air I want them to imbibe. I just loved how Tim Wise captured this in a recent essay on Alternet:
[M]aybe it's just that being a father, I have to temper my contempt for this system and its managers with hope. After all, as a dad (for me at least), it's hard to look at my children every day and think, "Gee, it sucks that the world is so screwed up, and will probably end in a few years from resource exploitation...Oh well, I sure hope my daughters have a great day at school!"

Fatherhood hasn't made me any less radical in my analysis or desire to see change. In fact, if anything, it has made me more so. I am as angry now as I've ever been about injustice, because I can see how it affects these children I helped to create, and for whom I am now responsible. But anger and cynicism do not make good dance partners. Anger without hope, without a certain faith in the capacity of we the people to change our world is a sickness unto death.

(Read the whole essay, "Enough of 'Barbiturate' Left Cynicism," here.)
Paired with a sense of responsibility, hope is also a lot of work. (Maybe that, too, is why I feel so darn tired?) That's where Emily Dickinson got it wrong. She wrote:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
I actually think hope demands our all. It's voracious. It will swallow us whole. And so technically, I guess, it won't "ask a crumb of me" since it doesn't settle for crumbs.

Hope is much like bell hooks' notion of love as she describes it in her essay, "Romance: Sweet Love." Unlike romance (which she equates with infatuation and putting up a false front), love requires a choice, hooks writes. Love demands that we commit to it over and over and over again, every day, for as long as we want it to endure. I think hope is like that too; anything easier isn't hope, it's mere romance and self-delusion.

In other words, hope is a whole lot like a longstanding marriage. It's not always easy to sustain. It requires a body-and-soul commitment. It demands our energy.

But like love and marriage, hope can give energy, too. And when that alchemy of hope occurs, that's when the thing with feathers takes wing. That's when its chirps meld into full-fledged song. That's when it keeps us warm.

Photo of a lovely befeathered kitty named Lynksys by Flickr user SuziJane, used under a Creative Commons license.

Six Random Things about Me(me)

A little while back, Henry of Henry's Travels tagged me (or was that just a whisker rub?) for a "six random things about me" meme. I don't know if I can match the feline brain for sheer randomness, but here goes anyway:

1. I once played organ for a Christian Science congregation, though I'm neither an organist nor a Christian scientist. The congregation consisted of about a dozen people, average age 67, and only two who sang loudly. Unfortunately the two lusty singers tended to be about a half-beat behind the organ. It was a strictly mercenary gig; they were willing to pay $10 per Wednesday evening service and $15 for a Sunday morning. I was only 17 and those were 1981 dollars, so I felt rich indeed. It was the most I've ever earned making music.

2. I have a master's degree in engineering, which I'm guessing is true for less than one percent of women's studies professors. My field was industrial engineering - aka "imaginary" engineering, which fit me just fine. I've never worked as a "real" engineer, yet I've used that part of my education in a whole slew of ways. It taught me to pick apart statistical studies. It demystified science for me. It gave me basic knowledge that was super useful in translating technical material from German to English.

3. I was on the field at the 15-yard line for arguably the most famous and definitely the strangest play in the history of college football:

And yes, I do know the trombone player who got tackled in the end zone. He's a friend of mine. His trombone survived the tackle pretty much unscathed.

4. I'm an incorrigible slacker and underachiever. College classmates of mine (one degree of separation from me) include a Nobel Laureate in physics, a journalist who was kidnapped and executed by Al Qaida, and a cable news anchor who once dated Rush Limbaugh. All things considered, I think I'll stick with underachieving.

5. Although I'm not a very girly girl, my favorite color is purple. This started in third grade, when I had a purple dress with a pink and purple striped turtleneck collar and matching long sleeves. I also convinced my parents to paint my room lavender that year. As a result it took me a long time to understand the point of the Jenny Joseph's poem "Warning," which begins, "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple ..."

6. I never learned to swim. Growing up landlocked and snowbound in North Dakota, I lived 30 miles from the nearest pool. One summer we were bussed there, to the little town of Gackle, and plunged into the icy water - to no avail. I only learned to dog paddle a few years later while visiting my cousins in California. I've gone white water rafting, water skiing, and snorkeling anyway. Life vests are a fabulous invention.

Contrary to the rules of this meme, I'm not gonna tag anyone else. I was always a total loser when I played tag as a kid; the only thing worse was Red Rover. (Hmm, I guess that amounts to a seventh random thing ...) If anyone decides to play along anyway, leave a comment and I'll gladly link to you in an update.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Staying Abreast of Men's Fashions

Y'all know that I teach women's and gender studies. You know I'd take to the streets for the right of all human beings to express themselves in whatever genderqueer manner they like - and to be safe and respected while doing so. That's a basic principle for me.

And yet ... the allure of some things just mystifies me. Exhibit A: Holly of Self-Portrait As recently linked to this feature on bras being marketed to men in Japan. (There's video but I couldn't see a way to embed it, so you gotta click and go there.)

As Holly said: "I don't know what to say." I'm not so sure I do, either, but I'll try anyway.

First, this strikes me as the latest example of the viral nature of capitalism, especially where bodies are concerned. The beauty-and-body market for women is so swamped, it's hard to find a new niche. Compared to women, men's bodies haven't been nearly so thoroughly shaped and fashioned, at least not in commodified ways. Enter the metrosexual, who spends a larger chunk of his budget on fashions, hair products, and the like than does the typical dude.

And it's not just masculinity that's in flux. Bras, too, have evolved tremendously since their invention just about a century ago. The bra emerged as the corset was on the wane, but it took decades to really catch on. For the flapper styles of the 1920s, the goal was to flatten, not support. In the 1930s, cup sizes became standardized and bras began to be sold as a ready-made garment, but they still weren't universal. Only in the postwar era, with its buxom icons like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, did bras become a staple in American women's wardrobe. By the 1970s, bras were in decline; though feminists didn't actually burn them, some women stopped wearing them. The bra made a comeback again in the buttoned-down 1980s. By the 1990s you saw bras being worn as outerwear - and the Wonderbra was born.

As Joan Jacobs Brumberg writes in The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, the history of the bra is primarily the history of its commercialization. Once the postwar market had been saturated, bra manufacturers cast about for a new market. They found one in young girls who hadn't yet begun to develop. Allying with physicians, they convinced mothers and their preteen daughters that for the sake of health and beauty, girls needed to start wearing bras even before they had breasts.

So I'm inclined to see Japan's new man-bra the intersection of the metrosexual with a saturated but always ravenous body-shaping industry. (an irreverent and not always PC blog on Japanese culture) notes that these bras are most likely targeting metrosexuals with transgender tendencies, since the bras are really too petite to be targeting full-fledged transsexual or transgendered persons. That seems pretty plausible to me: a man who's truly trying to pass as a woman won't settle for a AAA cup.

There may be something specifically Japanese about this product, too. Take a look at an ad for it (swiped from, which has more along these lines):

I totally don't understand Japanese culture beyond what I learned from the movie Lost in Translation, but I'm fascinated by how the ads for this product harness conspicuously Western models. I know that this is a common trick in Japan (and the whole premise for, which chronicles this tactic gone hilariously wrong). This makes me wonder if - within Japanese culture - transnational masculine beauty standards might somehow grant greater license for transgendered behavior. Or if Caucasian models just give the product a certain metropolitan cachet. I'd love to know more.

However you slice it, the advertising for this man-bra engages in some major gender-bending. provides a translation:
Times like these call for a Men’s Bra:
  • Even us guys want to know how a woman feels!
  • We want to reel in our emotions! (lit. “strain/tighten our emotions”)
  • I have the body of a man, but I’m a guy who feels like a little girl!
  • I want to remember a gentle feeling.
  • I need support for my chest!
  • There are sure to be many reasons, but the most important thing is to feel gentle/tender.
So far, there seems to be a modest market for wanting to "know how a woman feels." About 300 of these had been sold at the point when this hit the media a couple of weeks ago. That's not a huge number, of course, but it's definitely more than zero. I'm hoping that most of the buyers are hoping to "feel gentle/tender" rather than "like a little girl"; that diminutive sort of creeps me out, to be honest.

I guess my feelings about this are similar to my reaction to makeup for men: cool for those who really are into it. But at the same time, I'm glad my own mate won't hope to find a man-bra under the Christmas tree - and not just because airmail won't get it there on time. I may teach gender studies, but I guess I'm just kind of limited that way. Then again, one of the main things I've learned from feminism is to honor desires - my own and others - as long as they do no harm.

But the cat-bra? Now that's where I, personally, draw the line.

From I Can Has Cheezburger?

Giving Thanks for Obama's Appointments?

Heck no! I'm not the least thankful for the first batch of appointments to the Obama administration. Honestly, they strike me as a bunch of turkeys so far.

Photo by Flickr user Hey Paul, used under a Creative Commons license.

Hillary Clinton for secretary of state? Umm ... I'm all for mending fences, but the only area of substantive policy differences between her and Obama was foreign policy. As I explained at the start of the primaries, Obama's early opposition to the Iraq War convinced me that he would be more judicious in foreign affairs than Clinton, given her vote to authorize military action and her saber-rattling on Iran. If Clinton is kept on a short leash, her appointment would be hollow and meaningless. If not ... well, as I said back in February, peace is the basis for advancing any of the other goals I care about, whether combatting poverty or achieving a sustainable energy policy or securing health care for every American.

Larry Summers as Obama's top economic advisor? Never mind how he infamously speculated on women's biological shortcomings in science and math; that only cost him the Harvard presidency. I'm much more put off by his role as co-architect of late Clinton-era deregulation, which cost all of us a stable economy. Our next Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, also shares culpability for our current morass. On the flip side, none of those economists who've given us trenchant analyses of the mess - Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, Robert Reich, even George Soros for goodness sake - appears to have any formal role in the new administration.

In fact, there's not yet been a key appointment that I've cheered. I wallow in worry when I read analyses like William Greider's at The Nation. Greider sees Obama's appointments as capitulating to center-right policies. In terms of temperament and ability, he notes, these appointees are managers and technocrats who can make the wheels of government turn but don't have the stomach for radical change:
Alas, Obama is coming to power at a critical moment when incrementalism is irrelevant. The system is in collapse. Financial chaos won't wait for patient deliberations. ... Wasting more public money on insolvent mastodons is the least of it. The real scandal is it doesn't work. It can't work because the black hole is too large even for Washington to fill. Government should take over the failing institutions or force them into bankruptcy, break them up and sell them off or mercifully relieve everyone, including the taxpayers.
Part of me thinks that Obama is smart enough to embrace a paradigm shift. Also at The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel argues that while Obama is a pragmatist at heart, times are tough enough that pragmatism itself will force him to take bold action. Digby leans toward a similar assessment, though she's reluctant to prognosticate:
I suspect that on the economy, it's going to have to be a hell of a lot more progressive than anybody dreamed it would be even three months ago. There are no conservative solutions to economic meltdown except just letting it happen --- and I don't think anyone expects Obama to do that.
I don't have a crystal ball, either, and as a historian I do much better at looking backward, anyway. Historically, we're at a great hinge - like the Great Depression, like the Civil War - that could swing either way. With visionary leadership, Obama could exploit the current crisis, much as FDR did, to institute universal health care, launch a sustainable energy and environmental policy along the lines of the Apollo Alliance, and reintroduce regulation that will create a framework for healthy markets. At the HuffPost, Robert Creamer argues Obama is likely to pursue progressive policies because the center of American politics has shifted dramatically to the left and because Obama recognizes historical necessity:
Change doesn't happen incrementally. I think of it as the "Drain-O" theory of history. At key points in history the pressure for democratizing, progressive change overwhelms the forces of the status quo. Then, as the pipes are suddenly cleaned out, massive numbers of progressive changes can finally flow. America is about to experience one of those periods. How much we can accomplish, and how long this period lasts will depend on many factors that we don't yet know -- and one that we do. It will depend heavily on our success in continuing to mobilize the millions of Americans who elected Barack Obama into a movement to enact his program.

Like Obama, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln all installed people in their cabinets who they believed to be effective managers who could deliver. They all had their share of outsiders and progressives, but many were old Washington hands. Yet all of these Presidents faced historic challenges that demanded and enabled them to make fundamental change. And all of them were guided by progressive values that were sharply different from those of Bush, Cheney, and Delay. Obama shares and articulates those values more than any political leader since Robert Kennedy died forty years ago.
Obama himself seems to have finally realized that we progressives are growing nervous. He's insisting that he will set the tone, and not his advisors:
[U]nderstand where the vision for change comes from first and foremost: it comes from me. That's my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure that my team is implementing it.

(Obama as quoted by Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly, via Alternet)
I'm enough of an optimist - and the historical pressures are inexorable enough - that I'm willing to hope that's this is true, and that his vision is basically a progressive one.

I'm enough of a cynic - and worried enough about the $2 trillion in hush-hush loans that the Federal Reserve has granted to banks - to think that we'd had better hold him to it. If we fail, there won't be much cause for gratitude, come next Thanksgiving Day.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

One of My Many Blessings: Maple Pecan Pie

I've been sluggish about posting the past few days; apologies to anyone who was kind enough to drop by anyway. I've been under the weather, and pies needed to be baked - both pumpkin and pecan - along with all the other trappings of Thanksgiving dinner.

When I lived in Germany, I came up with my own version of pecan pie that didn't require corn syrup. Since I couldn't find it there, I substituted maple syrup instead. (This was before nutritionists started to pillory corn syrup as the devil's own nectar.) My maple pecan pie is still plenty sweet but I think it's way yummier than the conventional version.

Maple Pecan Pie

1/2 cup butter (one stick), melted
1 1/2 cups pecans
3 eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
9-inch pie crust

Melt the butter and let it cool. Toast the pecans for about 5 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which will keep them from getting soggy; then chop them very coarsely. Beat the eggs until frothy. Add the brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and butter; beat until mixed. Sprinkle the pecans over the bottom of a prepared pie crust (I cheat and use Marie Callendar's frozen crusts, which are quite good and vegetarian-friendly to boot). Pour everything else over the nuts. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then at 350 for about 40 more.

This is what mine looked like. It wasn't my biggest blessing, this Thanksgiving, but it was still pretty darn good.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pussy Politics and the Media

From I Can Has Cheezburger? captioned by me, Sungold.

The November 19 issue of Time magazine has an article on "Plastic Surgery below the Belt." If you're thinking it's not a man's belt, you would be correct. The article is on cosmetic surgery for your girl parts.

It goes without saying that we here at Kittywampus are friend and ally to all pussies. Not to be a simpleton about it, but we pretty much endorse the old nursery rhyme - for felines and human alike:
I love little pussy, her coat is so warm,
And if I don’t hurt her she’ll do me no harm.
So I’ll not pull her tail, nor drive her away,
But pussy and I very gently will play.
To my mind, that motto rules out anything involving a knife. I'm not referring here to pelvic reconstructive surgery intended to repair falling organs or incontinence. The surgeries in question are done solely for cosmetic purposes. The best known of these is labiaplasty, which involves surgically trimming a woman's inner lips to look symmetrical, tidy, and small. While I think women's motivations for plastic surgery are much more complex and interesting than feminists sometimes assume, I also think that mutilating one's potential for sexual pleasure - just to meet some totally artificial beauty ideal - is plain stupid and wrong.

The Time article reports that about 1000 such procedures are performed in the United States each year. If so, that's not exactly a trend.

What's more significant: the fact that labiaplasty and similar procedures are now being publicized in a major American newsmagazine, thus introducing a whole new cohort of women to the world of genital insecurity. (Arguably, I'm fueling this fire, too, but let's be realistic about our relative readerships; Time has a few more subscribers than I do.)

Time definitely skewed the article in favor of the critics of such surgeries, and I'm grateful for that. They quote Leonore Tiefer, a feminist psychologist who is fighting the medicalization of female sexuality on several fronts, including the quest for a "pink Viagra." They also gave the final word to sexologist Laura Berman, who suggested
the best way to start enjoying your body could be far simpler than surgery: "You may need a new boyfriend."
That last line points to the article's major blind spot. Time fails to ask: whence the pressure for a tidy pussy?

Clearly, the usual culprits - Cosmo et al. - are not providing the visuals. Time notes that before-and-after photos can be found on the web; I won't link to any but if you're inclined to track some down, you can find key phrases (though mercifully also no links) at The Daily Bedpost.

But why would a gal start googling for photos of a pretty pussy if she weren't worried about it in the first place? Cosmo might be stirring up insecurities. I only ever read it at the hairdresser's but in every recent issue I've seen, it seems to harp on the new "necessity" of waxing one's kitty. Which, in turn, leaves every fold exposed. This is why I'm not in favor of Sphinx cats, even though I can warm up to just about every other breed. The feline form looks divine, regardless - but it's far more fetching when it's furry and pettable.

Then there are a few guys who regale their female friends and/or girlfriends with their narrow notions of pudendal beauty. I don't personally know any men in this category but Em and Lo at the Daily Bedpost report on this real gem of a guy, as described by one of their readers:
He said that some vaginas resemble "kebabs" and that a lot of guys are really put off sex when they get a hot girl naked and find that her vagina isn't as "neat" as they imagined it would be. It made me feel really self-conscious about my own, even though I never have been before.
If any man had ever said that to me, back when I was single, every last friend of mine - and every friend of theirs - would have heard about his sublime douchiness.

But maybe that was back in the day. Maybe young men today have raised their standards. Maybe it's not just younger men. I live in a pretty sheltered bubble that way, surrounded by men who are progressive, who genuinely like women, and who would never dream up that kebab comparison - and not just because we women would never let them live it down.

So what's changed? Porn has got to be at the root of this. Where else is there a plethora of images that allow women's labia to be scrutinized, judged, and found wanting? How else could a young woman feel so worried about her perfectly "normal" adult anatomy that she writes to sex columnists to inquire about surgery? (Em and Lo gave her a very sensible answer that's worth the read.)

Why are oodles of teenage girls (!) writing to Scarleteen (as Time reports) and expressing a similar self-loathing? By the way, that's another quibble about the Time article: It's great that it led off with a reference to Scarleteen, but dispiriting that it didn't mention the great work Heather Corinna and her associates are doing. Scarleteen has devoted a whole page - currently the first link on their homepage - to debunking the myth of the perfect pussy and advising these girls that they are really and truly lovely and sexy just as they are. Maybe Time was too prissy to link to a page with anatomical line drawings.

Anyway, I blame industrial porn. And frankly, I wonder - of the 1000 or so annual labiaplasties and similar surgeries - how many of them are performed on aspiring porn stars?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Garden Timing: Snow Easy Feat

I love my garden. I love digging in the dirt. And yet I'm a terrible gardener when it comes to timing. I can never get it right.

So this afternoon found me digging through snow in front of the house, frantically trying to plant a slew of tulip and daffodil bulbs before the ground freezes solid.

Sure, there are reasons for my bad timing. I had to get Obama elected (singlehandedly!!), then had to wait until my back felt better, then had to finish the end-of-term grading. Even today, I was rushing rushing rushing before the sun went down and my assistant (the Tiger) lost patience - both of which, predictably, happened toward the end.

And yet, I got 200 bulbs in the ground. Not well. Not deep. But they're in. Tomorrow, more snow is supposed to fall.

I'm pretty sure that's an unsubtle metaphor for how I manage my life.

And now we wait and hope for a reprise of last spring's glory.

All photos courtesy of my garden porn collection. Today's bulbs went into new beds; I'm hoping that these tulips - photographed in April 2008 in front of my house - might return for a third year.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

End-of-Term Caturday

I just finished grading 400 pages of final exams. Classes don't resume until January. My kids are in school until December 19.

I'm feeling being rich in time and tickled pink about it. Time to prepare for two new classes in winter quarter, write a few less-superficial blog posts, and maybe even strip the wallpaper in the dining room. Oh, and I'm hoping to get some serious sleep too, if the kids allow. (Ha.)

Forget about that half empty/half full silliness. My martini glass is full to the brim - though less wholesomely than this kitty's - complete with two gin-drenched olives.

From I Can Has Cheezburger?

Friday, November 21, 2008

South Dakota's Less-Famous Loony Abortion Law

Bad abortion laws in South Dakota are a lot like a game of Whac-a-mole. You knock one down and another one instantly pops up.

You probably heard about the latest attempt to ban abortion via referendum in South Dakota, which went down to defeat on November 4. I'm willing to bet you're less familiar with another batshit abortion law that was passed there in 2005 and finally went into effect last July after a judge lifted an injunction against it. I only heard about it now through my nerdy reading habits.

According to the latest New England Journal of Medicine, South Dakota's new law mandates that
physicians in South Dakota must tell any woman seeking an abortion that she is terminating the life of "a whole, separate, unique, living human being" with whom she has an "existing relationship," that her relationship "enjoys protection under the United States Constitution and under the laws of South Dakota," and that abortion terminates that relationship along with "her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship." ...

The law also requires that doctors give pregnant women a description of medical and "statistically significant" risks of abortion, among which it includes depression and other psychological distress, suicide, danger to subsequent pregnancies, and death. Physicians must tell women the approximate gestational age of the fetus and describe its state of development.
Information is good, right? But this isn't information, it's propaganda.

Take, for instance, the law's characterization of the fetus. Since when is a fetus a "separate" being? I'll gladly grant the rest - that it's unique and human and alive - but "separate" only applies once the fetus is born. Until then, it's intimately tethered to a woman by its umbilical cord. This is an elegant and wondrous system. But separate, it's not.

The only reason this law can claim "separate" status for the fetus is that we've grown used to seeing disembodied fetuses. Intrauterine photography is pretty amazing. It's also deeply deceptive, because it routinely effaces not just the womb but the woman - a woman who most assuredly is a separate, unique human being. (See Barbara Duden and Valerie Hartouni for more sophisticated versions of this argument.) When we see a fetus floating through what appears to be a starless universe, it's very easy to imagine that the fetus is an autonomous person - and to forget about the personhood of the woman whose universe it inhabits.

The legally protected "relationship" between woman and fetus that this law posits is entirely nebulous, as the NEMJ argues. The law's vagueness opens up doctors to second-degree misdemeanor charges, which of course is the editorialists' main concern. The NEMJ doesn't directly address the impact of this "relationship" language on women, though it does make a connection to the new paternalism espoused by pro-life activists and enshrined in Gonzales v. Carhart:
In the U.S. Supreme Court's most recent abortion case in 2007, Gonzales v. Carhart, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that "some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained." Had these women been better informed, he suggested, they might have chosen not to abort and thus been spared the "grief more anguished and sorrow more profound" caused by discovering how their pregnancy had been terminated. Many commentators interpreted Kennedy's words as an invitation to state legislatures to amend abortion statutes to add informed-consent requirements. South Dakota appears to have answered this invitation.

(Source: NEJM)
This language affects far more than just the doct0r-patient relationship. It shapes the cultural image of the women who are unhappily pregnant. By using terms like "right" and "protection," the new law casts these women as the victims of abortion - as mere pawns manipulated by husbands, lovers, and doctors. This has been a tactic embraced by anti-abortion activists for the past several years. Since it bore fruit in Carhart v. Gonzales, we can expect the victimization thesis increasingly to permeate anti-abortion rhetoric.

At the same time, the "relationship" palaver imputes a mother-child relationship where none exists - not yet and maybe not ever. If a woman rejects the victimization frame and fully owns her decision to terminate her pregnancy, this instantly triggers the bad mother frame. This language is an attempt to invoke mother guilt, pure and simple.

Even the "medical" information is a load of ideological crap:
The purported increased risks of psychological distress, depression, and suicide that physicians are required to warn women about are not supported by the bulk of the scientific literature. By requiring physicians to deliver such misinformation and discouraging them from providing alternative accurate information, the statute forces physicians to violate their obligation to solicit truly informed consent ...

(Source: NEJM)
Yep. And it's not just psychological risks that the law fabricates; it also suggests that abortion is physically perilous. In fact, the opposite is true. A woman is over twenty times more likely to die from a full-term pregnancy than from a first-trimester abortion, according to the ACLU. (For more on the strong safety record of early abortions, see the Guttmacher Institute's Fact Sheet on Induced Abortion in the United States.)

Of course, medical and legal facts and logic had nothing to do with the framing of this law. It's an attempt to intimidate women. From that angle, South Dakota's consent requirements are sadly incomplete. Why not round out this "information" with the risk of a vengeful god casting thunderbolts at women who abort?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Cats Say When We're Not Listening

Just because it's finals week and I'm coming down with a lousy cold that has sucked all the intelligence out of my head and replaced it with marshmallows (to be mildly euphemistic) ... it's time to up the Kittywampus cat content quotient. The curmudgeonly one on the left captures my mood. Enjoy. (Meow.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bloggers: The Adjunct Professors of the Media?

The founder of Shakesville, Melissa McEwan, reappeared earlier this week after contemplating an end to her blogging career. I can't say I blame her. She does a daunting amount of work for no pay whatsoever. Melissa's long post explaining her absence and return is touching and illuminating. It sounds like she's experiencing the post-election fatigue that has struck many of us, combined with burnout from long hours for only intermittent recognition. And she's been working for free. Now, many of her loyal readers are pledging to support Shakesville with a regular stream of donations.

I'm glad Melissa has a supportive community. I think it's lovely that she's getting lots of donation offers. But she'll need an awful lot of small donors - or a few exceedingly generous ones - to even make minimum wage for her efforts. This still doesn't add up to an income!

Melissa's quandary makes me wonder how sustainable independent, progressive blogging will prove to be. It's precisely these truly independent progressive blogs that are creating a meaningful public sphere - a cradle of civil society - in a country that desperately needs reasonable, critical discourse. Yes, progressive bloggers do say "fuck" a lot, but they're civil on a far deeper level. They've placed relentless pressure on Democratic candidates to respond to our concerns. They've given voice to those who've been silenced. They've pushed a host of issues onto the agenda of the corporate media. In short, they're playing a leading role in transforming American politics. I seriously wonder if Obama could have won without them.

And most independent lefty bloggers do this work without any compensation. With loads of luck, their blogging might catapult them into the limelight long enough to snag a book contract or some freelance writing for established media. Needless to say, even those folks aren't getting rich from their writing.

What to do? Donations can only be a temporary, patchwork solution. In fact, the whole language of "donations" and "tip jars" has been troubling me all day. Other people who work their asses off to do a job don't expect to live from donations! They're paid wages or salaries. The language reminds us that they've earned their pay. Don't bloggers do the same? Or will people persist in seeing major projects like Shakesville as basically a hobby?

Here's where I have some hard-earned empathy for Melissa and others in her boat - less from my experience as a small-potatoes blogger than as a long-term adjunct professor.

Both bloggers and adjuncts repeatedly get the message that they should feel lucky to have a creative outlet for their talents. Both are too often looked down upon by colleagues who ought to be their allies: tenured professors and conventional journalists. Both earn a pittance or nothing at all. (In America, adjuncts usually get paid something, but in Germany unpaid gigs are quite common.)

And yet both bloggers and adjuncts serve an essential function in society. We educate. We inspire. We provoke. We contribute an outsider's perspective. We fill needs neglected by those in more comfy positions.

Universities, at least, have resources that can potentially be used to improve the lot of adjuncts. This just requires the will to recommit to teaching, as opposed to administration and capital projects. (My chair and dean have done that for me, and I'm now on an annual contract - bless them!)

The solution is less obvious for blogs, where many of the readers are themselves unpaid bloggers. As I've already suggested, the donations model is not sustainable on a large scale or in the long run. Melissa rightly argues that ads are no solution, either, especially for feminist blogs where key terms generate bizarrely counterproductive ads. Just one example: Last spring, Feministing was plagued by a Playboy ad, as my friend Sugarmag pointed out (I'd link to this if her blog were still up).

I don't have any realistic solutions. I do have a few fantasy ones. Maybe George Soros would establish a foundation for lefty bloggers? Better yet, how about a foundation supported by a surtax on Rupert Murdoch and other major media conglomerates? I think that'd be perfectly just, considering the yawning gap that they've created in media coverage - and that bloggers are bridging.

I just know one thing for sure: we'll be totally blinkered in seeking solutions until we reframe politically engaged blogging as something far more important and serious than a hobby. We need to ditch the talk of donations and tip jars. Especially on the scale of Shakesville, blogging is a public service and a crucial, vibrant part of civil society. Those who provide this service should be able to earn a decent living from it.

And before I get way too sanctimonious, one final thought: I hope that Melissa really will use some of her earnings to buy some first-rate catnip and paint her house sparkly purple, as some of her commenters suggested. That is what we do with real income. We spend it on both projects both noble and silly without having to be accountable to "donors." If Grey Kitty, patron cat of Kittywampus, were still here today, she'd remind us that there's nothing nobler than good 'nip, even if it did make her drool.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Modest Bike Brag

I don't often brag about my athleticism. Frankly, there's not much to brag about. Oh, I look athletic enough - especially with clothes on. But functionally? I'm a klutz and a sloth. At best, I'm good for an occasional short burst of activity, much like your average feline but completely minus the grace and power.

So no one is more amazed than I at my perseverance in biking to school this fall. I used my bike every single day, with just three exceptions: once when my husband's complicated schedule required me to drive our car home again, once when I had an appointment at the far end of town, and once when I saw the eye doctor right before teaching and my dear spouse chauffeured me. (By the way, it is downright imbecilic to get your eyes dilated and then expect to function well in the classroom. I don't recommend it.)

I even biked to the post office through sleet yesterday. Well, the truth is that I got caught in sleet on my way home - the sky was clear on the trip over - but the first version of the story sounds more intrepid, don't you think?

This morning I biked through actual snow. Here's the scene mere seconds before takeoff.

Okay, I just exaggerated for effect once again. The roads were clear this morning, although the air was sub-zero (celsius, that is).

I'm sure you're wondering about my snazzy fender ornament, so here he is: the original Janosch Little Tiger. He's not only cute; he also makes me look way faster than I'll ever actually be.

Seriously, I don't expect to keep this up throughout the winter. This morning, my sinuses wanted to pack up and move to San Diego. I realize that as a born-and-bred North Dakotan, I ought to be hardier; today, a friend opined that I used up all my cold tolerance in my first sixteen winters. I like his theory since it makes me sound like less of a wimp.

I'm still a sloth (or feline) at heart, and in every other muscle, too. But I've gotten just old enough to realize that I have to do something to fight decrepitude, or entropy will prevail.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Free Vi*agra and the Pursuit of Happiness

Happy LOLcat from I Can Has Cheezburger?

Never mind the Vi*agra spam in your junkmail box. Mexico City is about to make that obsolete, at least if you're an elderly man. Starting on December 1, the city will dispense free ED drugs to men over 70.

With this program, Mexico is putting its rich neighbor to shame. In many cases, even those Americans with decent health insurance don't have coverage for ED drugs or contraceptives. (Let's not pit them against each other; each can be crucial to sexual health.) Men recovering from prostate surgery, where ED drugs are a standard part of the rehab regimen, often end up mail ordering them from India because insurance won't pay. For the uninsured, ED drugs are often simply unaffordable. In a similar vein, birth control has actually gotten pricier in recent months as federal subsidies have been allowed to expire.

Mexico City's stated rationale is an interesting one, as CNN reports:
"Everyone has the right to be happy," said Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, governor of the federal district that encompasses the Mexican capital.
I realize that a strict libertarian or conservative would surely see the Mexico City plan as out of bounds. These are the same people - like John McCain - who oppose funding for contraception. They'd be just as outraged at the idea of funding a bunch of old fellows' jollies.

And yet, as blogger Leah Cohen points out, our Declaration of Independence guarantees the pursuit of happiness. Of course, the pursuit of happiness is not the same as actual happiness. By the same token, the right to be a sexual creature doesn't guarantee we get to have sex with anyone at any time we desire.

Even so. Call me a socialist, but I think the Mexico City scheme is a wonderful idea. Sexuality is a major part of potential happiness, and major sexual dysfunction can so quickly torpedo it. This is not just about orgasms; it's about pleasure and connection and intimacy, which ED can seriously disrupt. As such, it can benefit these men's partners, too.

I'm aware not everyone will agree that the government has any role to play here. But even if you think that sexuality is trivial, what about health? Because the second, stealth aspect of the Mexico City initiative is to entice these guys to get a thorough medical checkup.
"We have to protect people -- senior citizens above all," [Governor Casaubon] said in a statement Thursday. "Many of them are abandoned and lack money. They don't have medical services, and a society that doesn't care for its senior citizens has no dignity." ...

To obtain the medicine, men must first undergo a "very, very detailed" medical check to screen for and possibly treat ailments such as hypertension and diabetes, the government said.

Centers in Mexico City also will offer a variety of treatment to elderly men and women.

(Source: CNN again.)
That last sentence gives away the agenda, which is apparently much broader than sexual health. (The article unfortunately doesn't spell out the scope of the other services, so I don't know anything about what women will be offered.) Some of these men who seek ED meds may not require them if their hypertension or diabetes is brought under control. In others, ED may be the visible signal of hidden underlying disease. Their clinic visit may result in a diagnosis that would've otherwise been missed. These are guys who currently receive little or no health care, so their checkups will likely reveal a host of other issues, too.

Unlike the United States, Mexico committed years ago to viewing health care as a right, not a privilege. Now it seems to be making a serious attempt to follow through on this promise. The provision of ED drugs thus needs to be viewed as one tactic to deliver basic care to a long underserved population.

Reframing health care as a right rather than a privilege is, of course, a truly radical proposition, especially for those of us north of the border. But is it so radical, after all, to view health care and adequate food and clean water and - yes - even sexual health as basic rights? Aren't they all essential to the pursuit of happiness?

We live in a culture where there's a lot of palaver about "staying positive" during even the most dire illnesses. If you've ever been seriously or chronically ill, you know that - while we may grow or learn from the experience - it rarely enhances our happiness. It's very hard indeed to be happy while suffering severe pain or nausea. It's harder yet to be chipper if you're no longer alive.

During the presidential debates, Barack Obama said he agrees that access to health care is a right. What do you think? Is it properly within the role of government to promote people's happiness? And would you draw the line at sexual happiness?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's a Jungle in Here

Even though the Bear's birthday was a whole week ago, his "kid party" was today. I'm so glad we waited. He wanted a rainforest theme, and if we'd done his party last week, we would've had banana chips and animal crackers and that would have been the end of it.

Instead, now that I've finished grading my mega-pile of essays, we actually had time to decorate and play with the idea. Here's the rainforest wall the boys created (with lots of involvement from their dad).

The closeup view is much lusher.

The cake was chocolate, courtesy of Betty Crocker, baked as 425 degrees because I'm still harried enough to be a total nitwit. The buttercream frosting was luscious enough to mostly mask the cake's slight dryness around the edges. The unnatural green hues were a pretty effective distraction, too.

The cake is supposed to represent a rainforest. Here's the Amazon as seen from the crocodile's perspective.

Discerning viewers may have already noted that the animals look suspiciously like the plastic critters in the Fischer-Price zoo set.

I know a mother who can create wonders from fondant. She could produce a cake like this without any plastic at all. Okay, so she's a professional cake maker. I honor her skills. I'm also perfectly satisfied with the creativity that my little family and I muster.

We played animal charades and had a "jaguar treasure hunt" through our neighborhood despite snow flurries. The parents had a glass of white wine or a cup of espresso (or both, as required to adjust their nerves). No presents (the Bear decided to instead collect food for our town's perpetually empty food pantry). No clowns. No Chuck E. Cheese. And still - everyone got what they came for.

I'll admit, though, that with thirteen rambunctious kids in the mix, the wine really didn't hurt.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Boob Radar

Photo by Flickr user Dave Pearson, used under a Creative Commons license.

One reason I've been quiet the past couple of days is that I've been squandering loads time on the phone arguing about a rejected medical claim. As I mentioned briefly last summer, I had a mysterious little blob turn up on a mammogram in spring 2007. I got lots more mammograms plus a total of three MRIs at half-year intervals. Insurance won't cover the last MRI unless they get more documentation from the doctors. Right now, I owe $3200 unless (until!! let's think positively) my insurer steps up and covers the exam.

I know, I know. I'm very lucky to even have an insurance company to wrangle with.

The MRI really was medically necessary. It's better than a mammogram in evaluating "dense breast tissue." I would like to say that I've got these fabulous dense, firm, perky hooters and that's why the MRI was needed. But in fact, this says nothing about my hawtness; dense tissue is linked with "youth" and in the universe of mammograms, I'm just a babe - chronologically, that is.

The MRI really did provide superior information in my case. It showed that my blob was regular in shape and that it wasn't growing, both of which suggested it wasn't malign. The last time I had an MRI in June, it showed that the blob had in fact disappeared. (Most likely, the blob was some kind of inflammatory process in a cyst. Yes, I realize I was lucky.) A biopsy might have provided the same information, but biopsies can be pretty painful, and the blob was small enough that it would have been hard to locate.

So, both medically and psychologically, the MRI accomplished what a mammogram couldn't. I've stopped worrying about the blob. I feel a whole lot less alienated from my body.

But. The MRI costs roughly ten times more than a mammogram, which is why insurance demands justification.

Let's dream a moment. What if we had an imaging technology that offered the sensitivity of an MRI at the cost of a mammogram but without the radiation exposure? That's just what researchers at the University of Bristol hope to develop. They've come up with a new approach to boob-a-vision. And it's based on ... radar.
Professor Alan Preece and Dr Ian Craddock from the University of Bristol have been working for a number of years to develop a breast-imaging device which uses radio waves and therefore has no radiation risk unlike conventional mammograms.

The team began developing and researching a prototype around five years ago ... [Dr. Craddock says:] "This new imaging technique works by transmitting radio waves of a very low energy and detecting reflected signals, it then uses these signals to make a 3D image of the breast. This is basically the same as any radar system, such as the radars used for air traffic control at our airports." ...

Mike Shere, Associate Specialist Breast Clinician at NBT [North Bristol NHS Trust], added: ... "It takes less time to operate than a mammogram approximately six minutes for both breasts compared with 30-45 minutes for an MRI, and like an MRI it provides a very detailed 3D digital image.

"Women love it as they compare it to a mammogram and find the whole experience much more comfortable."

The radar breast imaging system is built using transmitters and receivers arranged around a ceramic cup, which the breast sits in. These transmitters view the breast from several different angles. ...

Professor Preece from the University's Medical Physics, said ... "Using this engineering knowledge we built the machine using ground penetrating radar, a similar technique to land mine detection to take four hundred quarter of a second pictures of the breast to form a 3D image.

"Women do not feel any sensation and it equates to the same type of radiation exposure as speaking into a mobile phone at arms length which makes it much safer."

More testing remains to be done. The next round of studies will focus on young women (us of the dense, perky breasts!) and look at whether boob radar is as sensitive as other methods. But the researchers are optimistic about both the scientific and the economic utility of this technology. They think it can be produced cheaply on a mass scale.

Wouldn't it be cool if radio imaging replaced mammograms? I already discussed the cost and precision factors. Negligible radiation exposure would be a huge point in its favor, too. I know that the medical establishment always reassures us that the risk from mammograms is minimal. But as someone who's now been exposed at a very young age to several mammograms per year with lots of extra views taken, I'm uneasy. We were told that CT scans were safe, too, but recent research seems to indicate considerably greater risks than originally claimed, especially where kids are concerned.

I don't suppose the inventors will pay me any heed, but I vote for the name "boob radar" for this new technology. Both words are palindromes. What's not to love?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coming in for a Chaotic Landing

I've got a heap of essays to grade before my last classes of the quarter meet tomorrow. In the midst of my work chaos, here's the state of my living room floor:

It's covered with helipads, in case that wasn't abundantly clear. The Bear got a little remote controlled helicopter for his birthday. He created one paper landing pad for it. The Tiger decided that a dozen or so landing pads would be even cooler. (There are also locations in the dining room, the kitchen, at the foot of the stairs ...)

At least glitter glue is not a featured product in these helipads.

Most of the pads are pretty simple. Some feature an H, sometimes with a circle/slash around it, which I guess means that they're anti-landing pads.

Here are a few of the fancier ones.

This one bears some resemblance to an animal or maybe an egg.

I'm not entirely sure if these are teeth or mountains. Either way, as a landing pad it looks rather perilous. Note the abundance of Scotch tape, which at least ensures it won't slip as you touch down.

This one strikes me as pure Paul Klee.

Now it's back to my essays. It's going to be a very long and late night. But the academic quarter is mercifully close to its end, and however rough the ride, I am coming in for a landing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Palin-God Ticket in '12?

Just a few days ago I was savoring Katha Pollitt's valedictory address to Sarah Palin, "Sayonara, Sarah." Go read it if you haven't already. Bask in it for a moment. And then come back for today's dose of harsh reality.

Scroll down past the anti-Cathar LOLcat, cutely yet heavyhandedly representing a medieval correlate of spiritual warfare, a doctrine to which Palin has been linked ...

From I Can Has Cheezburger?

... okay. Deep breath.

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that Palin plans to run for high office again, should it be God's will:
"I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door," Palin said in an interview with Fox News on Monday. "And if there is an open door in '12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door."
I realize that Palin herself is leaving a door open here. No more, no less.

But. Given her lack of reflection, her fundamentalist religious beliefs, and her apparent blindness to her own inadequacies, what do you suppose her God will do? Will he swing open that door?

Let's just say that if Palin's God had a barn, His livestock would be scattered all over the universe by now.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Not a Frigid Wench after All

Photo by Flickr user elisfanclub, used under a Creative Commons license.

When I read Madame Bovary for a college seminar on history as viewed through the nineteenth-century European novel, my professor - a witty, slightly arch gay man - waggled his eyebrows and asked us what we thought Flaubert meant when he said that Emma Bovary's predecessor, the first Mmme. Bovary, had cold feet in bed.

Well, I understood it all right. As an otherwise warmblooded young lady, I just didn't care much for the implications. Maybe it's a souvenir of having grown up in North Dakota, but my feet are cold nearly all the time. So are my hands. I've been known to wear wool slippers even in July.

Now, nearly a quarter century later, science has finally come to rescue me from these intimations of frigidity. As Kate Wighton reports in The Independent (via Alternet), we are basically tropical critters, and that leads to a host of problems at higher latitudes:
Our extremities dictate how hot or cold we feel; the temperature in our hands and feet varies widely compared with that of our organs. If our hands or feet are chilly, we'll feel cold. Most of our biological temperature sensors are located in the skin, and we have four times as many cold sensors as hot sensors. Our heightened sensitivity to cold makes a chilly draught invariably feel more uncomfortable than a warm breeze.

And women really do feel the cold more than men, but this is because they are better at conserving heat than men. Mark Newton, a scientist at W.L. Gore, the company that makes Gore-Tex, and a researcher at the University of Portsmouth, explains: "Women have a more evenly distributed fat layer and can pull all their blood back to their core organs."

(Read the whole thing here.)
From this, Wighton concludes: "So there is literal truth in the old saying cold hands, warm heart."

Or is it really a warm heart after all? Flaubert was correlating those cold feet with entirely different "core organs." Then again, "cold hands, warm nether regions" doesn't pack the same punch - unless you go with the sort of Anglo-Saxonisms that don't generally appear in family newspapers.

Either way: Did you hear that, Emma Bovary?

Wighton also reports on a recent Yale study that found we're apt to behave more warmly when our bodies are comfortably warm. We conflate psychological and physical warmth.

I'll buy that. Right now, I've got a hot water bottle, my woolly slippers, a black velour turtleneck over my long-sleeved T-shirt, and a cozy warm laptop. (I worried about reports of the MacBook Pro overheating before I bought it, but this time of year computer heat is more a feature than a bug.) I just talked to my mom in California. My kids are finally asleep. My thermostat is at 70 degrees F. If I get any warmer I'll turn into a skinny white Oprah.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Bearish Birthday, and Nine Years of Parenthood

The Bear turned nine today. We celebrated by going to a concert where his choir performed. (Audio is here for anyone who's curious; if you're plugged into a real speaker you can actually hear some decent music behind the audience's rustling and coughing.)

Afterward, we got together with some dear friends and ate this cake:

Apart from the obvious model, the cake was patterned after some cookies at a post-election party that got devoured before the Bear had a chance to try them. This was my attempt to make amends for that little disappointment. (It was also a design that didn't require any cutting, and since I'm still semi-debilitated, I wanted to keep things simple.)

Contrary to appearances, I'm totally not trying to indoctrinate my kids. I do think that being a parent means you get to try to pass on your values. Very, very high in my firmament of values - ranking just behind kindness and empathy - is critical, independent thinking.

So I've told the Bear he may well vote contrary to me someday. (Secretly I tend to think he probably won't; if I teach him to ask tough questions, he's virtually immunized against voting for the next G.W. Bush.) Way back during the primaries, I asked him why he thought Obama would be a good president. Ending the war in Iraq topped his list. Education was way up there, too.

The Tiger, for his part, just likes to jump up and down and say "Obama winnded! Obama winnded!" He still has a ways to go with both his political consciousness and his past-tense verbs.


Earlier today, I mentioned to the Tiger's father that we've now been parents for nine years. His response? "Ha ha ha ha ha!" That captured my incredulity, too.

I laugh at all the moments of absurdity. Just yesterday, the Tiger turned up with ball-point ink crisscrossing his face, resembling a psycho Spiderman. He steadfastly denied applying any ink to himself.

I marvel at how the time could go so slowly and so swiftly all at once. Those near-sleepless nights and endless tantrums seemed to expand into eternity. And yet, looking back, I wonder what happened to the mini-Bear who'd throw his beloved stuffed animal, Mama Bear, out of his crib, and then bellow with fury that she was no longer snuggled up against him. Wasn't that just a few weeks ago?

I still wonder why I thought I was qualified for this job. No one really is, are they? It's all on-the-job learning, and if you screw up, there's a whole world hanging in the balance. Hmmm ... it's not so unlike the presidency, in miniature, when you think about it.

The Bear has extremely keen hearing unless he's being asked to clean his room. Predictably, he overheard my comment about nine years of parenthood. His response: "What does that have to do with anything?"

What, indeed, my darling little Bear? Nothing, of course, from the center of a world in which I've always been his mama, in which I'm as taken for granted as oxygen and his still-beloved Mama Bear.

And yet everything - more than he can possibly know unless he too someday becomes a parent.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Back in Trouble Again

Image by Flickr user _underscore, used under a Creative Commons license.

My back flared up today, though not as colorfully as this illustration. The picture does show the state I'm in: laid out, drugged out, and thoroughly sluggish. ("Snailish" doesn't quite work, does it?)

Earlier today I had a few moments where the pain hit eleven on my personal scale. Unluckily, I was in the shower when that happened and had a heck of a time getting out without falling.

The trigger this time? Shaving my legs. Which I suppose tells us that shaving is stupid and unnecessary. I'm an old Deadhead with feminist proclivities, so why do I bother? Still I persist.

I'm doing considerably better by now - no longer in agony, just groggy and stupid and discouraged. Real blogging will resume once my synapses stop misfiring.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Prop 8 and Obama's Better Angels

If any of us were truly naive enough to believe that Obama's election would bring all Americans together, walking arm in arm, singing "We Shall Overcome," the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Barack's chief of staff doused any such delusions.

I'm not sure what I think of this pick. Maybe Obama needs a tough enforcer to keep Congress on board. Or maybe Emanuel will become a polarizing figure who creates additional tensions between the White House and Congress. Best case scenario, as Mike Madden puts it at Salon: Emanuel will be the bad cop to Obama's good cop, allowing Obama to get stuff done without himself getting too bloodied in the fray.

What I hope: That even as he inevitably makes mistakes and betrays progressive principles, Obama will still be able to inspire our better angels. In return, we progressives will have to call on his better angels. We need to press him so that those betrayals are few and infrequent. In fact, as Digby argues eloquently, he can't govern left-of-center, even where he wants to, unless we keep the heat on him. For perhaps the first time ever, progressive voices - from Rachel Maddow through to us itty bitty kitty blogs - are strong enough that we should be able exert real influence.

Here's one crucial place to to begin: by mitigating the damage caused by Prop 8 in California, the harshest disappointment of this week. Glenn Greenwald notes that Obama can help to this by repealing at least the worst sections of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Obama is on record as having opposed DOMA from the get-go. During the primary campaign, Obama called for its full repeal. In the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden promised that gay and straight couples would have identical civil rights under an Obama-Biden administration.

Time to deliver, guys. It's the least you owe to the countless LGBT voters whose votes were crucial to Obama's victory. It's the least you owe to basic human decency - not to mention the constitutional principle of equal protection.

Greenwald says that while repealing DOMA wouldn't repair all the wreckage of Prop 8, simply revoking its provisions that bar the federal government from extending full rights to same-sex couples would transform many lives. He cites the case of binational couples who are forced to live apart or outside of the U.S.

That's an example that really cuts close to home for me. I was able to "import" my husband from Germany because he has boy parts and I have girl parts. How arbitrary is that?

So, President-Elect Obama, I may not be an angel, much less a better one. Please hear us anyway. Please make repealing DOMA a priority for your first hundred days. The "fierce urgency of now"demands no less.

The angel in the photos is not a random one. It's "Gold Else," who perches atop the Siegessäule in Berlin. The same Siegessäule where Barack Obama gave his grand Berlin speech last July. The very same Siegessäule that is Berlin's paramount symbol of gay rights. I took these photos just before Obama began to speak (moments before my camera batteries crapped out).