Monday, December 13, 2010

The Politics Hiatus Continues

I've cheated, sure. A couple of times. I've hovered over an RSS feed to get the scoop, I've perked my ear up as my husband watched Rachel. But, for the past week, I've not obsessed over politics. And it's been very illuminating and liberating.

My pal, Paul, from over at Near Earth Object (an excellent blog, by the way), is considering taking a hiatus as well. Regarding my last post, he writes:

"However, where Meg is wrong is in her implication that our politics might not actually result in everyone she loves dying or the planet exploding. Those things really could happen, thanks to our political system! I mean, we can’t get START ratified!"

And, of course, he's right that these things really could happen. But where I think he's wrong is: same is it ever was. If Mrs. Weasley could leave the Potterverse, her clock would always be pointing at "in mortal danger" for everyone. The Sword of Damocles is never not hanging over our heads. The world literally could end at any minute. Economic devastation is always right around the corner. And it's always been that way. Security is an illusion. But a nice one. It's why I think people believe in God and Sarah Palin (oh, I'm sure I pissed off a lot of people there.... I kid, I kid!)

Paul and I are of like minds in so many ways, but we have, I think, one difference: he thinks things are worse now than ever. I think they're just about the same but we know a lot more. Who's to say who's right? But I think we live in unique times that are also entirely like every time ever before. Unique in that we have so many channels for information. We no longer rely on the stentorian tones of Walter Cronkite to tell us what to think. We now have voices upon voices interpreting every event. Not unique, in that it's about the same scary shit that's almost always happening.

One of the things that Jon Stewart said during his rally that really resonated with me was "when everything is amplified, you can't hear anything." I'm taking this break because I found myself at a point where I felt assailed by the information and opinionating and the goddamn wearisome snark.

Politics matter. As the late, lamented Molly Ivins said, they are part of the warp and woof of our lives, and we have an obligation to understand what's happening in our world. But we are assailed with information, from all sources, with interpretations upon interpretation of that information until it gets to the point where it's almost impossible to find any perspective. And so, I walked away. After the New Year, I'll come back. But, until then, it's going to be all mystery novels and Christmas specials and Star Trek recaps. And I think that's OK. For a while.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Hiatus

So, I've now been 1.5 days into my politics hiatus. I get scarily obsessed with it from time to time and start to believe that every thing that happens has enormous consequences that will result in everyone I love dying and the planet exploding. I wake up in the middle of the night worried over things I cannot control. The 24 hour news cycle is bad for all of us. Really bad.

Additionally, I've grown weary of the snark. I used to love snark. But the internet is festooned with snark of the worst kind; artificial, trite and overdone. 99% of the political snark on the internet is to genuine satire what Precious Moments or "Love Is" are to genuine sentiment.

I'll come back to politics. I think it's important to know what's going on and what with the hysterical partisanship of the country these days, it's easier to get the whole story from the intertoobz than it is from the "impartiality is reporting what each side says and not bothering with analysis or fact checking" traditional media. Also, I love it. But, for a week or so I'm steering clear. I need a break. I'm sick of politics and I'm sick of snark.

But I could NEVER be sick of the internet.

So what to do? If I'm avoiding my political blogs, what do I read while I'm eating my lunch? And this happy afternoon, I have made the awesomest discovery. There's this fellow named Zach Handlen who is recapping Star Trek: TNG over at The Onion's AV Club. And he's doing it in a way that's thoughtful and entertaining, but not particularly snarky. And if anything invites snark, it's Star Trek. But I, like so many, unabashedly love it. And this Zach Handlen guy is writing to those of us who love that show. So this lunchtime, instead of growing increasingly irritated by a preponderance of "cave" puns made by people who know they swiped that pun from somewhere but are still devoted to the idea of their own cleverness, I sipped my Diet Coke, ate some soup and revisited the question of Wesley Crusher, who was such a problematic character. Didn't you just hate him? Except for those times he was awesome? Or when you felt really fond of him?

Lunchtimes have gotten so much better, it didn't really matter that my soup was kind of gross.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Suppose I Could be Missing Something...

But between DailyKos reccing 10 diaries a day that include the word "cave" in their title and a 10 minute jaunt into The Ed Show, where he seemed desperate to get Alan Grayson to say Obama "capitulated," I find myself both frustrated and flummoxed.

I get fighting the good fight. I really do. But I have little doubt had Obama refused to give into the GOP demands to keep throwing our tax money at rich people, the end result would not be Senate GOP-ers deciding to go ahead ahead with Obama's tax plan. Rather, it seems far more likely to me that they'd be perfectly contented to let taxes go up on everyone, let unemployment benefits expire for millions of Americans, and watch the economy and jobless rates go down and up, respectively. In then, in two years, they'd be rid of Obama. Which is, after all, their admitted end game.

Obama may have a messaging problem, but if you really think that just a little bravado would get us what we want with the senate as fucked up as it is, and with a GOP willing to filibuster literally every piece of legislation that Obama wants (even the stuff they suggest), then I think you're nuts. Noble, maybe. But nuts. Probably just nuts.

Much like health care, this is a shitty deal. But it's better than nothing. And nothing is exactly what you get when you go all "my dick is bigger than yours" with the nutbars running the Grand Old Party. Because they just don't fucking care. They have one goal and one goal only.

To that end, if Jesus Christ himself were sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, and had a D after his name, Jim Demint (who's really running the party) and his cronies at Fox would find a way to make him out to be a godless gay socialist nazi. The government branch that gives cover to Demint and his ilk are where you need to focus your rage. In the meantime, the 5 million people who'll get an unemployment check next month are probably grateful as a motherfucker that Obama dealt.

As am I.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Teaching Our Girls


I blog about this topic kind of a lot, since it's near and dear to me. But, just to catch you up, when they asked if we wanted to select a gender before getting our adoption referral, I knew I wanted a girl. I felt like I had so many things to teach a girl and that I really wanted a daughter. I'd feel guilty about specifying this except I don't. Fortunately, Don didn't care either way and was happy to agree to this.

Of course, your confident passion on what to teach your daughter gets a little shaky when you've actually got one, when all your philosophies and theories have to meet practical application. But it's a topic nearly always on my feminist mind.

First of all, enough enough enough with the "standing on the front porch with a shotgun" thing. I've already ripped on the whole notion of the overprotective father as some kind of adorable metaphor. It's worth saying again, though, have some confidence in your daughter's judgement and afford her some agency. And never think it's cute to accept a rape culture as just the way men are wired. They aren't. Have some respect for your gender, dudes. Honestly, it kills me that feminists have the reputation of man-haters. Clearly, the biggest man-haters out there are the people who market beer. We feminists like men, and demonstrate that by not expecting them to act like addlepated fuckwits.

Here's another one, though, that's been quite on my mind: teach your daughter that it's not her job to be sexually appealing. It's nice to look nice. It's nice when other people think you look nice. But it's time to rid our girls of the notion that their primary obligation is to look good. Yesterday, I read comments on THREE separate blogs about how old-looking or poorly dressed Hillary Clinton is (one of which charmingly referred to her as "fatarse."). Sarah Jessica Parker will have to address "aging in Hollywood" in every fucking interview she does. But her husband, former teen heartthrob, will never be asked that. That Beer in Hell movie, for the love of the FSM, got made!

Praise your daughter for being smart, for being funny, let her be weird and don't obsess about her hair (I'm having SUCH a hard time with that one). Don't raise her in an environment where you mock and marginalize women who don't fit a heteronormative (and increasingly impossible) idea of what a woman should look like. Raise your girls so that if someone makes fun of how she looks, she'll feel confident enough to let it roll off her back.

You know that mean girl thing that we hear about so often, the slam books and the blithe tossing about of "bitch" and "whore"? They learn that shit somewhere. Probably not from their parents (except for maybe really awful parents). But it's rife in our culture and when we take on the responsibility for raising girls, we take on the responsibility for teaching them that it's not right and they don't have to accept it. It's a hard ass lesson to teach, when so much in the culture acts against us. But I suspect it's not such a hard one to learn.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Don't Panic


Back when Don and I were off to Russia to get Laney and the whole thing never stopped seeming tenuous and every 15 minutes something happened that made it seem like the whole thing was bound to go completely tits up and we'd end up Laney-less, we took to quoting Douglas Adams and reminding each other often, "Don't panic." It's such good advice! If that desperate, worried look crossed my face, Don would look me right in the eye and say "You got your towel?" And I always remembered that I did have my metaphorical towel. Plus there were Russian Pan-Galactic Gargleblasters on the really bad days.

After last night's shellacking, I'm remembering that. And not panicking. I'm remembering that even though it sucked balls that the bad guys picked up 60 seats, there were also some pretty great things that happened. I'm particularly pleased that Sharron Angle's despicable, racist campaign didn't work. Not by a long shot. Lexington, Kentucky elected an openly gay mayor. We held onto the senate where crackpot tea party legislation will go to die. And I also know a certain Kenyan Muslim Anti-Colonialist Pinko Commie Hitler who has a veto pen. And, y'all, come on! It's going to be kind of fun watching John Boehner's legislative acrobats. He has to find a way to keep the tea party (who keeps on telling us they don't belong to any political party) happy. I'm sure they'll hold him to the same lofty standards they held Nancy Pelosi.

Speaking of whom, that one does hurt. She was an awesome speaker. The last two years we lefties complained about how little was getting done, how frustrated we were with the progress. And then, a week before the mid-terms we started talking about how legislatively successful the last two years have been. And they were. We got a lot of shit done, and it was shit that was worthwhile if it wasn't politically expedient. It was some motherfucking governing. Nancy Pelosi did good work and I am grateful for her. And I got no regrets about the guy I helped put in the White House.

So, here's what you do: Hug your loved ones, cry into your bourbon (beer, wine, whatever your poison is) and then suck it up, grab your towel, and know your enemy. And most importantly, recognize that it is impossible to understand the historical context of a moment you're living in.

The 24 hour news cycle + the internet is like Halloween candy. I keep grabbing it, even though I know that too much is bad for me. I think post Jon Stewart's rally and two years into the most legislatively successful presidency in my lifetime, I'm going to make a concerted effort to stay involved, but not panic. And not think end times every time something on the Internet freaks me out.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gays

Many years ago, my roommate Maura came home from a waitressing shift having made a revelation. She'd learned that if you call a guy a pussy you can get him to do anything. She described a conversation kind of like this:

Her: Pick up my last table, would you?
Him: No, I'm ready to go home
Her: Pussy
Him: OK

This is writ large, there was more to it than that. But about 15 years ago, she and I started this campaign of calling guys "pussies" and then delighting in how clearly uncomfortable it made them.

The proud feminist I am now kind of regrets this. And then I started seeing how all these new women Republicans picked up on it and started really regretting it. Christine O'Donnell with the whole "man pants" things. Sharron Angle and Sarah Palin tossing around frequent exhortations to "man up."

It seems clear that they must believe that women are capable of elected office (at least for half a term or so). When they call a guy a "pussy," I'm pretty sure what they're calling him is a fag.

Which just underscores my old theory that the quickest way to become a star of the Republican Party is to channel your inner 6th grade bully. And it's not really a problem that Harry Reid and Chris Coons don't care if you call them "fag" (grown ups aren't insulted by childish nonsense like that).

These ladies are dog whistling at their base. And they think their base is made up of a bunch of assholes. Which it probably is.

Guns

This is an extended clip from The Rachel Maddow Show of her talking to Joe Miller supporters. I'd be willing to bet, dollars to donuts, that all three of the people she talks to have spent a lot of time in front of their TVs watching Fox News. Just a few years ago, we might have been surprised that people who clearly spend a lot of time engaging in political activities and watching cable TV news could be this shockingly ignorant. Nowadays, though, it's so expected, it's banal.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

God

I've been thinking a lot about these freedoms the Tea Party keeps telling us that Obama is going to take away. And I think it's mostly got something to do with religion. Bill O'Reilly is always on about this non-existent War on Christmas. And Christine O'Donnell seems to really believe that the idea of separation of church and state is some radical liberal plot dreamed up by Bill Maher or something. Apparently, to the Tea Party, being Muslim or atheist is sufficient to make you unfit for office. Glenn Beck foams at the mouth at radical secular progressivism.

And all this is confusing since what are they so paranoid about? There is literally no impediment, social, civil or otherwise, to being Christian in America. But somehow a whole swath of people have been convinced, against all logic and despite clear evidence to the contrary, that the only way they'll get to continue being Christian is to deny everyone else the right to not adhere to Christian rules.

The end result of this is theocracy: government based on biblical law as interpreted by the most conservative practitioners of that faith. Which may sound familiar.

It's a profound sickness we have in this nation and we have the good folks at Fox to thank for it. Glenn Beck and his Fox cronies have made their Faustian bargains. They don't give a rat's ass about god. They don't care about church or have any interest in Jesus beyond how they can use him to fatten their bank accounts.

And you know? It's just gross.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Racism

A simple explanation of what racism is:

It is racist to blame an entire race for the actions of individual members of that race. It is racist to be afraid of people because of the way they worship god. It is really racist to decide you know what's in a person's heart because of the way they look. It is fantastically, extraordinarily racist to believe that people should not be allowed to hold elected office because they are Muslim.

It is racist to blame members of a race for your own prejudice against that race.

It is worse to be racist than it is to point out racism.

The only defense against racism is awareness of it.

I got preachy there. Things are getting ugly. Stop being racist.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Adventures in Slow Cooking from a Terrible Cook, Part 2

So, after the last post on slow cooking, my neighbor passed on his slow-cooker recipe (see comments at the last link for recipe) which I adapted based on what I had in the pantry and what I like. This is a curry recipe, which I used hot curry for and which made me sweat. But, I have to say, it was pretty good.

- 5 small potatoes, washed and cut into 1" chunks (the recipe called for peeled, but as a vegetarian I like to get my iron where I can and potato skins have loads of it)
- Most of a bag of frozen lima beans (I like lima beans. Shut up)
- 1 can vegetable broth
- 1 can rotel
- 2 Tbsp peanut butter (this was my own idea and the very first time I've gone off recipe this radically and it ended up good!)
- 2 Tsp hot curry powder
- 2 Tsp paprika
- 1 Tsp turmeric
- 1 Tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 Tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 Tsp ground mustard
- 1/2 Tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 Tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 Tsp allspice

Note - Every measuring spoon I have has been lost to the garbage disposal, so above were just estimates. This is how I roll and probably quite a key to why I'm such a terrible cook)

Throw all that in the crock pot on high for 5 hours or so.

Mix 2 Tblsp water with 4 tsp corn starch (estimated) and stir it into the crock pot for 30 minutes.

I made brown rice (since I didn't have any basmati) and threw it in there.

Score - Tasty. The peanut butter was a good idea. I think if I try again, I'll throw some raw cashews and a can of coconut milk in there and go full on Mussaman.

Thanks for the recipe, Michael!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do-Overs

I should warn you from the get go, sap is imminent. Lots of it.

I was going to blog tonight about this restaurant Leona's which I'm convinced is waging some incredibly complex and long-standing practical joke against me. No restaurant can be that consistently terrible and flourish. But something else happened and I decided I wanted to write about that.

Laney and I left Leona's at about 7:30, came home, brushed teeth, read stories got all snuggly and almost asleep when Laney said to me, "Can you go downstairs and get Fluffy." And then a cold feeling of dread descended over me. We left Fluffy at the restaurant. Fluffy was still in Leona's playroom.

Fluffy is the Build-A-Bear which is actually a dog that we got for Laney at the start of the school year. She loves this toy to distraction. Fluffy is her constant companion. She rides with us to school and waits in the car (because Laney feels that the car is safer for Fluffy than school) until it's time to go home. She sleeps with Laney every night. And we'd left Fluffy at the damn restaurant.

Tears sprang to Laney's eyes and I was just about to start my "You left your toy at the restaurant and now are going to have to deal with the consequences. I'll call and hopefully she'll still be there tomorrow but you need to take better care of your toys." But before a single word left my mouth, some primal feeling overtook me and instead I said, "Come on, let's go get her."

This is REALLY not like me. I was still working through the resentment that I'd given $40 to this terrible restaurant and I still have to make Laney's Halloween costume since she's got a party tomorrow. Besides, Laney would be asleep in 10 minutes even without Fluffy and then I'd be on Meg-time. And yet there was no question. We were going to get Fluffy.

As we were driving to the restaurant, I started to tell Laney about Peppy who was my favorite stuffed animal when I was about her age. I hadn't thought about Peppy in years. It was somewhere in the mid-70s, and I was visiting my cousin in Texas. My uncle had taken us to a carnival or state fair or something and had won or bought the doll for me. And I named her Peppy. And I loved her. Peppy was one of those cheap carnival prizes and was meant to look just enough not like Snoopy to avoid copyright infringement. I'd put blue eye shadow and pink blush on her and loved her to distraction. She looked like Snoopy if Snoopy were a particularly down-on-her-luck hooker. And she was my constant companion.

One year, I reckon I was about nine, we were on a trip to Florida and we stopped midway in a hotel. My friend, Beth, and I were sharing a room with my big brother and his friend, Joe. My parents were in the room adjacent. Nolan and Joe were playing wrestling with the dog and poor Peppy's head got ripped halfway off. In my eagerness to prove how grown up I was, I said "Oh, just throw her away."

Beth, always so much wiser than me, said "Are you sure?" I can conjure up her look of friendly, concerned admonition as if it were yesterday. But I had a little pre-pubescent crush on Joe and wanted to show him that I was NOT a baby.

About 10 miles on our way to Florida the next morning, I started to regret the decision. I crawled in the back of our Rambler and cried quietly. I felt so guilty and stupid. Beth understood. She was always such a good friend! "Poor Pepsi," she said (Beth called her Pepsi), and patted my head.

And now 30-odd years later, I had my chance to Make It Right. I told Laney all about my Peppy on the drive to the restaurant and when we got there (Leona's primary virtue is being close), there was Fluffy, sitting quietly in the playroom... waiting for us.

On the way home, Laney hugged her doll close to her and asked me if I would be happy if she could get Peppy for me. She's such a sweet kid and was so relieved to have her doll back and wanted me to feel like she did. I thought about it for a second and said "No, Peppy was for me as a little girl and I'm not a little girl anymore." And then she asked if I wished I could be a little girl again. And I said, "Well, you grow up and get to be all sorts of things. I got to be a nine and now I get to be 41, and get to have my own little girl and that's pretty great."

But (and I am honestly embarrassed to be this sappy), I think that little girl crying in the back of the Rambler is still with me and now, 30-odd years later, I feel OK about poor Peppy.

Laney is sound asleep now with her arms wrapped around Fluffy. And that's pretty great.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Freedom of Speech

First a tweet from Sarah Palin:



This is just an exhausting wingnut meme. They love the Constitution. They luuuuurrrve the Constitution. They are totally hot for the Constitution. They want to marry the Constitution and have like a million of its babies. But they can't be bothered to read the damn thing.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

You'll note that it doesn't say "There shall be no consequences for what you say provided your wingnut bona fides are in order." Juan Williams didn't get arrested. He got fired. Sheesh. If Eugene Robinson started spouting off on MSNBC about how all the tea party people were inbred rednecks whose parents are first cousins, you can damn well bet Sarah Palin would be leading the tweet charge for his dismissal from The Washington Post. And the Washington Post SHOULD fire him if he did that. But Eugene Robinson doesn't say racist shit on the TV and Sarah Palin agrees that it's the Muslims own stupid fault that Juan Williams is scared of them. And anyway the Constitution is totally hot for Sarah Palin and will say whatever she wants it to just like Todd and Sean Hannity. And this is how the entire Fox nation ends up believing the Juan Williams has been constitutionally abused instead of verbal diarrhea-ing his way into a 2 million dollar contract with Fox.

I think I have a pretty good handle on what the first amendment is all about. And I think it's pretty much at the heart of why we work as a country, even when the country seems filled with people saying profoundly stupid things (same as it ever was, but now with its own basic cable network!). We do have the first amendment to thank for those Westboro Baptist nitwits who spew their hate at the funerals of fallen soldiers. But we can also thank the first amendment for this, which (at the risk of going all grandiloquent) is everything that's great about America:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Adventures in Slow Cooking from a Terrible Cook

A while ago, I decided to bust out the crock pot. This blog is my inspiration and I consult it constantly even though I know that the best thing I make in it will be worse than the worst thing she does.

This is not false modesty. I am a terrible fucking cook. Seriously. I lack focus, patience, will and desire. I cling to the desperate hope that Laney will end up a prodigy and start spending her afternoons making wholesome delicious vegetarian meals for us to share.

This is, as we used to say in the south, not hardly likely. The kid will eat nothing but pasta and broccoli and would eat it them both raw if I weren't around to throw them in boiling water.

But I like to eat. And I try to eat healthy things. And we are broke like a joke. So about a while ago, I started Crock Pot Sundays.

This Sunday was my third or fourth venture on the slow cooker, and I think I'm getting a little better. I started with this recipe and then, since I didn't have the right ingredients and no inclination to go to the store, I just pretty much emptied stuff from my pantry into it. As follows:

1 can chickpeas
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can corn
1 bigass can tomato puree (why did I have tomato puree? My pantry is very mysterious. I think cans of things just kind of appear in it)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Turmeric
Pepper
Salt
Chili Powder
Fake Beef Crumbles
Can of Water

Tossed it in the crockpot, cooked it for about 6 hours and, you know what? not bad! It's pretty flavorful and definitely filling. I reckon a cup of it is about 150 calories and chock-a-block with fiber. And it's lunch for the week for about $6.

Thumbs up.

Crock pots make things taste good. They give the food a chance to really soak up the flavors. I think this one turned out well thanks to the turmeric, which is a lovely spice and should be in everything. Even Halloween candy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oh, New York... Carl Paladino? REALLY?

Carl Paladino, the GOP candidate for governor in New York, recently said:

"I don't want [children] to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option. It isn't." Gay people, he thinks, "would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family than being gay".

This reminded me of a dinner table conversation I had what must have been going on 20 years ago with my mother. My cousin, who'd come up with me and my brother in this area somewhere between sibling and cousin, had recently come out as a lesbian and my mother was upset about it. She didn't think my cousin was a sinner or a going to hell or anything really stupid like that. But she was worried that life would be so hard for her. She felt like she could have done more to protect her from this painful homosexual existence. It reminded me a lot of the same worries folks espoused about interracial relationships: "I'm not upset about their relationship, but how miserable the lives of their children!" I actually think this came from an honest place for a lot of people who just couldn't grasp that biracial kids weren't going to be living in perpetual 1955. Shoot, they might even end up doing pretty well. They didn't understand that these fears were more a propagation of a prejudice than a reaction to it. In their world, the blended children and the gays were shunned and mocked. And they had little faith that the world could ever be different.

But it was. My cousin now has a great job, a great life and, most importantly, a partner who is made of awesome, who loves her completely and who fits into our family like a hand into a glove. No one is surprised by this. If you are a wonderful and smart and kind person, it stands to reason that if all goes as it should with the universe, you end up with someone who deserves you.

My mother would be surprised if I reminded her of this ancient conversation. She loves my cousin and her partner and understands easily that gay people are no happier or unhappier in their relationships than straight people (which is to say: happy, unhappy, really depends on the time of day and if you've gotten enough sleep). Gay people just are. They exist. Being gay isn't a rebellion or a political stance. It's no more radical or exotic than being left-handed. If we want to go large and look at this in the grander cultural environment, it's clear that not only are gay lives happier with the liberty to live honestly, but life is easier and more peaceful for us straight folks who accept this simply.

It's surprising to me that in 2010 there are still people who think like Carl Paladino. Keeping up all that machismo must be exhausting; this miasma of denial like creating an imaginary kaleidoscope, and insisting to the rest of the world what you see through it is real-er than what's really real. All of us, surely, know gay people who are living rich, full, happy lives. Don't all of us, at least tangentially, know gay people who are enjoying successful relationships (should be marriage, but will be soon); gay people who are raising happy kids by following the simple algorithm that good parenting is achieved not by neglecting your own needs but by putting your kids' needs first? Isn't life just easier for all of us when we stop freaking out and creating drama where there just is none?

It really is. Trust me on this. If not, ask my Mom. She'd totally agree.

Also, Carl Paladino is a colossal asshole. Really, New York? Are you just trying to make us feel better about the whole Blagevich fiasco?

Friday, October 8, 2010

eReader

I got an eReader! I got the Sony one, which is the best one you can get when money is no object (money is no object because we don't have any and we got this one for free). I like it. It takes some getting used to, but I'm getting there. I like the idea of being able to have a whole bunch of books in one handy container that I can carry around in my purse. It's slim and light and my only problem with it is that you can't flip back through pages like you can a regular book. There's a way to. I just don't know what it is yet. But I will. My favorite thing about them is that I can read truly shlocky stuff in public and no one will know! I have a feeling I'll be checking out those Twilight books real soon.

Printed books won't go away. If you want to get a printed book, you'll be able to. But I suspect eBooks will be the norm within the next 10 years. After all, they're cheaper, more environmentally friendly and they're cheaper (did I mention cheaper?).

(While I'm talking about cheaper, they're not cheap enough yet. But they will be. They're like CDs. Publishers can get away with charging $10 for a novel now. But eventually, they'll have to admit that an electronic novel costs a fraction to publish what a printed one does. And the cost will reflect that. This may democratize casual reading in a way that libraries should but somehow don't.)

People will worry though about what this portends. Millions of words will be written on the subject (ironically, most of these will be read on computer screens). Old school types will pine and worry that the next generation is missing out on a fundamental feature of life because they aren't reading books the way older people like to read books.

Here's what I think: back in 1440 when Gutenberg invented the printing press a bunch of people at a dinner party sat around mourning its advent; agreeing with each other that if it's not handwritten, it's so impersonal.

Such is the hallmark of any new technology. Let's all roll our eyes at it. I bet Gutenberg did.

One final note: if I were to just hear the word "Gutenberg" completely out of context, I'd totally think Steve not Johannes. Would you? I suspect that if American culture is really in demise, this is the symptom. Not eReaders.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mrs. Catt



On August 18, 1920 the Tennessee state legislature met to vote on women's suffrage. 35 states had already ratified it and once it passed in Tennessee, it'd be a done deal. Carrie Chapman Catt, the head of the National Women's Suffrage Association, thought she had the votes. But when the vote ended at a 48-48 tie, the speaker, who was sympathetic to women's suffrage, voted no. Rat bastard. Can you believe it?

Fortunately, a 24 year old representative named Harry Burn, known as solidly anti-suffrage, had gotten a letter from his mother that morning. She'd written, "Be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt out." And so Harry Burn changed his vote. The bill passed and thus it came down to a note from Mom that women finally got the right to cast their vote.

I love this story. It's a delightful story. But the stone cold bummer of it is that by 1920, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were dead.

No good progressive act has ever happened in America without a long hard slog against an entrenched conservative power base that Does. Not. Want. Change.

But we fight the fight and remember that the fight is worth fighting even if you don't live to see victory. Because, in the end, progress will out. But not on its own.

The America we live in now is better than it has ever been before. We're a better country for women voting. We're better for our growing acceptance of the LGBT community. For god's sake, you'd think you wouldn't even have to say this out loud: but we're a better America than the one in which people could own other people.

American culture, for all its weird celebrity obsession and 24 hour news cycles, is more open and accepting than it has ever been before. And for that, we owe a debt of gratitude to the lion-hearted few who would not give up and to the Moms who knew when to write a timely note.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Whineypants Flea Post


There are fleas in our house. This is the most demoralizing, disgusting experience of my life and I am including the Bush years. I'm not saying I would trade a flea-free house for another few years of Bush, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit I'd think about it. I'd attend tea party rallies and keep my mouth shut to get rid of them. I'd watch Two and a Half Men for 24 straight hours to get rid of them. I'd give up wine to get rid of them. Bourbon. Cheese.

They're in my car, in my clothes. I've been on a continual loop of laundry for a week now. My bedding (all of it) has been washed no fewer than FIVE times in like eight days. We've vacuumed and steamed and washed washed washed. My commitment to a chemical free house has vanished. The dog is flea-free, but only because she's been doused in a flea and tick mist that she hates. My bedroom carpet is covered in Borax and my mattress is damp from the steamer. There's not a comfortable spot in the house, except Laney's room. Which SOMEHOW, small mercies, has stayed flea-free (I've probably jinxed it).

All the windows are open and I'm praying for a cold, cold night. Maybe that'll do it.

I feel dirty, despite having showered about 8 billion times over the last few days. Feeling dirty, coincidentally, also makes me feel fat. Which is just fucking great.

And the worst of it? It's my own fault! If I'd remembered to frontline the dog monthly as I was warned to, repeatedly, we wouldn't be dealing with this now.

So, look, the moral of this whineypants post: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (George, if you're reading this: THAT'S a platitude). But platitudes become platitudes because they're generally fucking true. Save for retirement. Don't drink or smoke too much. Eat healthy. Vote. And, for god's sake, put the damn frontline on the damn dog EVERY fucking month.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

thefacebook


I had a few interesting Facebook experiences yesterday. First, I read a review of The Social Network in the paper that made me REALLY want to see it. Later on, in the office, a friend was telling me about the lunch conversation during his last training jaunt. He was the only one amidst the sandwiches and cans of soda in the conference room who used Facebook. The conversation went something like:

Them: I don't need to tell people I just had toast
Him: That's not really what it's about
Them: I don't want to hook up with old boyfriends
Him: That's not what it's about
Them: Oh yes it is.

And then, over my own lunch, I checked in with Stephen Colbert who was interviewing Aaron Sorkin, writer of The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin is not on Facebook. He tells us why: "Social networking is to socializing what reality television is to television." The audience responded with a bemused silence. He asked Colbert to clarify what the audience thought about his statement. Dutifully, they applauded.

I wish I could have been there to explain to him that they were silent because what he said made no fucking sense. There's not a person out there who confuses hanging out on Facebook with hanging out with real people. People who use Facebook understand that it is something new, not a replacement for established social conventions. No Saturday night barfly has ever said, "Huzzah! Facebook! I'm going to stop hitting the bars and never leave my house." People use Facebook as an easy way to invite people to birthday parties... not as a place to throw a birthday parties.

But this is familiar territory for the Sorkin. His weird loathing of reality TV paired with his blithe willingness to make all reality television into "Naked Conscience-Free Who Want to Marry a Millionaire and then Eat Bugs" was the weakest of many weak links of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It was clear that Aaron Sorkin didn't know what reality television was but felt free to comment on how terrible it was.

Sound familiar?

Here's my thing: I'm a mom whose husband works nights and have a job in which I spend most of my day sequestered in front of a computer screen. Facebook (and Twitter) is just an awesome way for me to connect with other people out there. People who say funny and sweet things. People who have parenting advice and can suggest movies to see. People I can complain about Newt Gingrich too. People I can gab about Project Runway with (I think Mondo has this thing locked up) and argue (still) over the finale of Lost (grrrrrrr). It's great fun and a great way to keep from feeling lonely when real life forces force you to be alone.

And if you've never used it, stop telling those of us who do what it's about. It's not what you think it is and you sound like one of those Luddite nerds from 2002 bitching about cell phones. A half a billion people across the world have decided this is a valid way to talk to each other. Get with the program or shut up about.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

GrumpyPants McBloggyHead

I am GrumpyPants McBloggyHead. I may have reached critical mass with American political culture and so I'm gonna blog it out and become TightPants McSleepyHead instead.

Here's how it seems to work for me. The government is Republican-led. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and government coffers are exhausted in the process. A democrat takes over. Suddenly the whole world cares about the deficit. The democrat is thwarted in attempts to make legislation when the the cynical, corrupted punditry goes full barrel into the culture wars. Republicans come back. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Rinse. Repeat.

Obviously we all wish Obama's leadership had been bolder. But dude has accomplished quite a bit. And yet, of course, we all know it could be more.

And this is how it is for us in the reality-based community. We want to celebrate his accomplishments and hold his feet to the fire on his failures. But it is exhausting to talk about Obama in any reasonable terms in America these days because the Republican chatter machine has gone Completely Batshit Crazy. I mean, I expected the culture wars, but this stuff out there makes "Clinton murdered Vince Foster" look almost reasonable. Well, that's not true, but, you know what I mean!

Out there in the ether, Obama is a Kenyan nationalist. He's a Muslim. He's a Communist. He's a Nazi. And, for fuck's sake, dude isn't even particularly LIBERAL!

There are too many stupid things being taken seriously in this country. So, in the interest of alleviating my grumpypants and the sheer exhaustion of modern political discourse, I've decided to make a list of the stupid things out there. The culture wars make us all stupid (I'm actually just being polite there, the culture wars tend to make the righties much stupider than the lefties):

- It is stupid believe that your right to be Christian is in any way threatened
- Is it stupid to believe that you have to deny people the right to practice their religion in order to ensure your right to practice yours
- It is stupid to believe that the Barack Obama is Kenyan, Muslim, Communist, Socialist or a Nazi
- It is stupid to believe that the 1.4 billion Muslims are all terrorists
- Is it spectacularly stupid to believe that Congress should take a vote banning Shari'a law in America.
- It is stupid to believe that Obama is responsible for the deficit
- It is stupider when you didn't care about the deficit from 2001-2008, but think it's a REALLY BIG FUCKING DEAL now
- It is stupid to believe that the only way to protect the sanctity of your marriage is to deny the right to other people to marry
- It is stupid to believe that all (or any) of our economic woes could be alleviated if we kicked out all the undocumented workers and their US citizen children
- It is stupid to blame the problems in America on the powerless
- Racism is stupid
- Homophobia is stupid
- Sexism is stupid

Dear America, stop being stupid.

\grumpypants

Monday, September 13, 2010

The American Theocrat

I'm an atheist. This means I'm pretty sure there's not a god. Note that I say I'm pretty sure. These are things that can't be known, you know? What I do know is that my life is more rich, more complete and more satisfying if I live it believing that we're in it for each other. I am an optimistic woman and believe that virtue is its own reward. I'm a connoisseur of kindness. I seek it out like your more crackpot Christians look for Jesus in the burnt toast (but find it a lot more often). It breaks my heart a little that the old John Lennon song has now been crusted over with an uncrackable veneer of schmaltz, since what he was imagining was, in fact, pretty fucking radical. I think, in short, (and I'm pretty sure I'm right) that the world would be a better place if we'd all just give up on god.

That said, all that no-god stuff understood, I can't count on two hands the number of people I love who are Christian. I love so so so many people for whom the teachings of Jesus are profoundly important and provide the foundation for their whole system of living.

And what's not at all surprising? These people love me too. We get along gangbusters.

It should be fairly obvious to any adult person with a couple of brain cells knocking around side by side that we can share the world in a rewarding, fulsome way with people whose system of theology differs from our own. Shit, some of my best conversations are with my Christian cousin (and dear, dear friend) just chewing over how we see the world.

This isn't hard.

This is, in fact, the way most of us live.

Which brings me, laboriously, to the new American Islamophobia. And how the people ginning it up are nothing more than bullies. And I can't stand a fucking bully.

These newly emboldened American theocrats have defined American in this narrow, retrograde way. It's not enough to say America is Christian. America is a very particular kind of Christian. And if you disagree, well then, you faggots, you ragheads, you n*****s and dykes - get the hell out, because you're not really American.

I've had the narrow eye of the Newt Palins in the world staring at me because I believe that women should have agency over their own bodies, because I don't believe that professing faith in Jesus automatically makes you a good person. And I've usually been pretty good with a tacit "go fuck yourself" and moving on with my life. But. This. Is. Different.

Now they've extended their mean, narrow worldview out into places that can't get it. They're spewing their poison in places that don't understand freedom and are painting this whole country (which I love) in broad, bloody strokes as a place that hates anyone who isn't Christian (by narrow definition).

And, it pisses me off. I am sick to death of the bullies. I'm sick of the way they've turned the entire media into a high school cafeteria where they flip the trays over anyone who doesn't kowtow to the notion the head Christian cheerleader and the Christian Quarterback count more. And I'm sick of them speaking lies of my country, lies about who we are, lies about what freedom is.

It's time to start talking louder than the theocrat bullies.

I'm an atheist and a feminist and a vegetarian and a better American than anyone who thinks that makes me less of one.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Holy War, Batman!

My friend, Paul, has asked me to clarify a bit on my repeated claims that Islam is not radical. There are, of course, radical Muslims, radical sects of Islam, etc. But, when I speak of Islam, I'm speaking in the same general terms as if I were speaking of Christianity, Judaism, Hindu, Atheism, etc. In these here United States when we see someone walking out of Sunday services, we don't tend to think "I bet they're on their way to murder an abortion doctor" or "I wonder if their 'God Hates Fags' signs are spelled correctly." We tend to assume they're just average workaday normal people.

On the other hand, when we see someone exiting a Mosque, we are evidently supposed to think, "That guy hates me and would happily kill my children in front of me just prior to chopping off my hands and head."

This is a spectacularly shitty injustice. As the president said today, Muslims in America are our neighbors and co-workers. They work in the hospitals where we go when we're sick. They're tellers at the banks where their CEO bosses are otherwise occupied with robbing us blind (another post... another post). I cannot imagine how it must feel to have your way of life so loathed and mistrusted.

Of course, these notions don't spring up whole unto themselves. They get ginned up by people seeking power and attention. For the latter, we have the Palins and the Becks of the world who bear a striking resemblance to Florida Pastor Batshit in that they are willing to shout "terrorist" and "traitor" at anyone, so long as it gets the cameras pointed in their direction.

But, when you're talking about the power-seekers, you need to go full on Holy War. Which brings us to Mr. Newt Gingrich. Newtie, of course, reached biblical levels of hypocrisy and sleaziness in the 90s when he shut down Congress and led the impeachment fight purportedly because the president got a hummer but really, you know, because he could.

Those kinds of shenanigans are almost adorable when compared to his latest foray into the dirtiest sleaze that ever sleazed. This trailer actually makes me physically recoil. The link is to a story in TPM, I don't recommend watching the trailer itself, but it's there if you want to.

At the risk of coming off as a Blame America First liberal (which, for the record, I'm not and which is, furthermore, about as big a group as Florida Pastor Batshit's flock). But it takes a special kind of shameless to claim that we're (this allegedly Christian nation of America) under attack by theocratic Muslims when we're the one dropping bombs on them.

Lookit: I'm going to say this again and again. Newt Gingrich claims he's a Christian. I will do all Christian people the simple courtesy of not assuming that he speaks for them. Contrariwise, we all ought to extend the same courtesy to the Muslims of the world.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Point of All This

Oh, you guys, I've done something to my whole spine. I slept funny a couple of nights ago, but thought I'd walked it off. Then I worked out this afternoon and now I hurt in a straight line from below my left ear, down my back and on past my left butt cheek (what the hell kind of spinal twinge manifests itself in the butt cheek area?). I have to talk myself into moving from any seated or supine position. I think this is what being old must feel like. Shit. I might be old. I'll try some yoga to see if that takes some years off.

But let's leave the butt cheek and move onto the heart of this post: I've been tweeting regularly lately with various attempted witticisms as to how Barack Obama is not a Muslim and that there's also nothing wrong with being Muslim. I thought I'd break free of the 140 character limit and talk about why I'm doing this (and to complain about my sore neck, back and butt cheek).

I'm not kidding myself that I'll change any minds. I don't reckon that some poor simple-minded sap will randomly glance up at his Tweetdeck and suddenly recognize that his pastor is telling him lies and retweet with, "Crp! Btr skp Koran burning!" I don't think that some tea party disciple is going to read my sucky tweets and decide that it's not the Muslims and the Mexicans that are responsible for his economic woes (hint: it's corporate interests and congresspeople who collude with them). I don't imagine that some Ayn Rand devotee will friend-of-a-friend their way to my Facebook status and say "Wait! Maybe if Atlas Shrugged we'd all be better off!"

I do it because it makes me feel better. It's all less scary when I manage to access the underlying hilarity of it all. And, I hope, maybe those of you who inbox me with supportive messages and comment on how you're enjoying my sucky tweets will post some of your own. I don't think it's rude to remind people that the anti-Muslim fervor sweeping this country is poisonous. And, goddammit, fundamentally anti-American. I understand how you might not want to get all up in it with crazy Aunt Lulamae and her 2nd Amendment remedy for them damn raghead terrorists, but maybe if it's fun enough you will. And maybe Aunt Lulamae will wise up and get the idea that maybe (just maybe) she's the pot calling the kettle black.

Lookit: I'm 41 years old and this is the most racist I've ever seen this country. And, folks, I grew up in Memphis, Tn where, back in the 70s, it seemed every third pickup truck had a rebel flag embossed across its back window. But this is worse. And, if possible, stupider. Radio talk show hosts that play to enormous audiences think it's a legitimate grievance that Jay Z can use the n-word and they can't. The former speaker of the house and almost certain GOP candidate for president thinks Saudi Motherfucking Arabia should be setting baseline standards for religious liberty in America. Mainstream Christian pastors speak out in front of their huge congregations and declare Islam an evil religion. These are crazy, racist times.

Still, I'm an unabashed optimist and have little doubt that we'll make our way through this. We have before. But, in the meantime, I have to do what I have to do to keep myself from going crazy. And this is my cure:

My sore neck has somehow traveled to my left butt cheek. Which is weird. Less weird: Islam. Also, Barack Obama is not a Muslim.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Incalcuably Diffusive

I'm nearing the end of this vacation and am writing this in a state of profound exhaustion. Honestly, this has been the most tiring vacation! We walk and walk and walk. And there's just SO much to see. But, despite the fatigue and sore feet and kidly whines, I think every American should come to DC. The things you see here are inspiriting and powerful. They point out how everything good in America (and I think these things are manifold) have all come through hard fought fights. Through wearisome, soul-crushing forays in bureaucracy and politics. People have sacrificed their lives and seen their fondest dreams go unrealized. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabth Cady Stanton were both dead before women got the right to vote. But, they had abiding faith in America and Americans, and it paid off, even if they didn't live to see it. I get all teary and moved when I see memorials to their activism. I get teary and moved when I see a lot of the memorials here. Basically, all of them.

But amidst all these glorious stories, I may remember this most from this vacation: I was walking down Constitution Avenue with Laney and (let's call her*) my niece, Lexi, in desperate pursuit of a McDonald's. I had two hungry girls who were both picky about what they'd eat and would happily go hungry and be cranky if not presented with food that fit their narrow dietary preferences. Courtesy GoogleMaps on my iPhone, I'd found a McDonalds and we were on our way. But navigating DC was proving taxing, so I stopped and asked three on-break sanitation workers if I was on the right way to 7th Street. Here's the conversation:

Them: Yeah, it's that way. What are you looking for? [See 7th Street was farther than I thought]
Me [wry smile]; McDonalds
Them: Is there one there? Yeah. But, wait...

And then they had this confab and, after some discussion, directed me to a much closer McDonalds. It would have been nice enough to let me know I was on the right path. But, instead, they took some time and really helped me out.

Today, Laney and I were walking through the Museum of Natural History and I was marveling at the delicate balance animals and earth manage and how much we human folks have fucked it up and I got to wondering what is it about us that's superior to animals. Would the world just be better without people? But then I realized that there is one thing we're capable of that animals aren't and that is kindness. Decency. Concern for other people. McDonalds might be one of the great evils of the world, but the willingness of those three garbage men to spend two minutes helping me out is, not to get too grandiloquent, everything great about people and is what makes us worthwhile.

There are very few people who've walked the earth who are capable of the grand acts that have thrust us forward in huge steps (even while they're also painfully incremental). We can't all be Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Abraham Lincoln. But we can all be decent people. We can all take a second to just be nice to someone for no other reason than because we can. I think this is manageable. And I also think it's beautiful.

A couple of quotes:

We're born, we live a little, we die... By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift my own life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that
- E.B. White from Charlotte's Web

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
- George Eliot from Middlemarch

Here in the middle of my life I figure I pretty much have two choices: give up because we can't fix it and no one seems to be able to or just try to be a decent person and have a little faith that kindness not only matters but is the thing that matter most. I'm pretty sure the latter is true.


* Lexi is my cousin's daughter, But, you know, small families. She's a niece.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Nostalgia Paradox

It's scary out there. A whole school of fish seem to have committed suicide in Delaware. No one has a job. The weather keeps getting more and more extreme. A loud, fringe element in America is noisily racist, paranoid and proudly ignorant.

It's hard not to hearken back to my youth, when the air was probably cleaner, everything didn't come wrapped in 8000 layers of non-biodegradable plastic, and we were all free to be you and me.

The problem with that is that this is clearly the best time in history to be a woman. We enjoy more liberty, more freedom, more respect than we have at any other point in history. This is true for most minorities and gay people too.

Knowing this, it's hard to be entirely hopeless.

The good old days were really only good for folks like Rush and Glenn, who are comfortable as bullshit lord of the manor types. But I like living in a world that's getting more and more open. Which is, of course, the same thing that freaks out the retrograde right.

Things may be really scary out there, our government might be broken, planet earth may be getting rid to kick us all off; but, I have to be glad that my opinion on these matters is afforded the respect it's due (which might not be much, but that's not down to my silly, girly brain). Also: I can freak out over it in MUCH more comfortable underwear.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wedgies

I've lost my passion for online political argument. It used to be my life blood, but the internet sucked it out of me. Arguing on the internet is the most pointless, enervating, frustrating thing out there. And, I've gotten to the point where I find it honestly upsetting.

I was recently engaged in a discussion on the internet with a person I don't know. He said he thought Mike Huckabee was OK. I said that I think Mike Huckabee is a colossal asshole. He told me that gay marriage is a wedge issue and he resents being tossed around like a football.

Fortunately, I was on my way out the door and didn't have time to put together a response. Instead, I thought about what he said. Kind of a lot. At first I was really pissed about it. And then I'd kind of get his point. And then I'd get mad again. And then I'd think that this would be an interesting conversation. Then my dander would go back up. After a while, I hit on what made me so angry and it was that he seemed to be accusing me of using gay marriage as a weapon in some larger battle of playing "j'accuse" with the right.

But, I don't think is a fair estimation of my position at all; which is, in short, that gay marriage (or, more to the point of why Mike Huckabee is such a colossal asshole, gay parenting) is a civil right. I think those of us, both homo and hetero alike, who feel strongly about this, do so because we want it to happen NOT because it's a convenient way to separate us from the right. I think we come at this genuinely. Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, may honestly believe that gay people adopt children because they couldn't find a puppy that matched their drapes. But it's far, far more likely that he's trying to appeal to people who think gay people are immoral and that the children must be protected from them.

Shutting up about gay marriage isn't going to make Mike Huckabee stop campaigning on how icky and scary the homos are.

But, I didn't write that down. Because, I just didn't think I could take another one of those shitty facebook exchanges. Honestly, they make my stomach hurt.

So, instead, I wrote it down here. And now, hopefully both of you have enjoyed my musings on Gay Marriage: Not My Wedge Issue."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Great Moments in Parenting


About three months ago or so, Laney and I took Ginger to get her nails trimmed. On the way home from the walk, Laney asked me to carry this little box she'd brought with her because she wanted to hold the leash. I happily traded. It's cute to watch a kid walk a little dog. We got ice cream on the way. A little kid with a dog and an ice cream cone? Like nuclear cute. It was all Norman Rockwell up in Rogers Park.

But then we got home, and Norman Rockwell transmogrified into Edvard Munch. Laney reclaimed her box, looked inside and burst into angry tears. "Where, Mommy," she demanded through her sobs. "Where's the rubber duckie that was in here!"

Shit.

I told her that I guessed it had fallen out of the box and suggested that we forget about the duck and move on with our lives. That went over about as well as you'd expect (thud, sob). So, we walked around and tried to find the duck.

We didn't find the duck.

This was back in April. Over three months ago. Countless cheap, plastic toys have come in and out of favor since then. I recall in particular an incident where Laney's favorite "My Pretty Pony" (a toy roughly the size of your thumb) was lost on a beach outing but then, like a godly favor from Poseidon, emerged unschathed from a roiling Lake Michigan. The toy gods (whom, evidently, I've confused with the Greek gods) have been smiling on us. The lost duckie was in our past.

And then tonight, some three months after the dog walking lost duckie incident, Laney came out of the bathtb and stood naked in front of me, tears streaming down her pretty face, "It was my faaaaaaavorite duckie! I miiiiissssss my duckie! And YOU LOST IT! WAAAAAAAHHHHHH"

And, folks, we were off.

I gathered up my meager sympathies and consoled her (with some gentle scolding about personal responsibility and grudge-holding). I got her dressed and helped her brush her hair and teeth. She cried through it all. I spun a charming yarn, liberally borrowed from The Velveteen Rabbit, about the wonderful place that lost, loved toys go. I cuddled and snuggled. I tried to distract with Junie B Jones. I employed reason and logic. I toyed with the idea of spiking her water with a double dose of Benedryl (I didn't). I offered to let her fall asleep in our bed. Nothing worked.

She cried, she wailed, she keened. She sang baleful Irish dirges about the uniqueness and beauty of the long, lost duckie. I went downstairs and dug up another rubber duckie. Foiled! This rubber duckie's beak was OPEN! The lost duckie's beak was CLOSED! Her lost duckie was one of a kind. She refused to believe my (now irritated) assertion that the lost duckie was, in fact, one of about 8 million made by cheap labor in some environmental nightmare of a Chinese factory

After an hour, I gave up. I kissed her, told her I loved her, and left her to her misery.

I sat down here at my computer listening to the sounds of passionate, kidly mourning a floor up.

She's quiet now. I think she's finally asleep now.

Here's my advice: have kids. Kids are great. But, try to make sure they only like playing with really big things. Nothing smaller than say a dachshund. And, for the love of all that's holy, make sure you keep booze in the house. After a night like this, you're gonna need it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Just, Really, The Stupidest Man in Journalism

Jonah Goldberg was syndicated in the Tribune. He might still be, but I gave up reading the Tribune editorial page a while ago. Anyway, back when I read him in the Tribune I was continually struck by how stupid he was. I mean, I know that it's not nice to call people names, but it boggles my mind that this guy makes money as a political thinker. Because, seriously, he's really really really dumb. As evidence of that, I'd like to point you to this incredibly stupid article:

If only the Founding Fathers had included an annual “Tyranny Day” in the Constitution. Every 364 days America could debate and scheme, pitting faction against faction, and on the 365th day the Supreme Soviet of the U.S. could simply “do things that are tough” and shove 10 pounds of policy awesomeness into democracy’s 5-pound bag.

You know what he's talking about? Tom Friedman admires how China banned those damn plastic bags. In other words, give me cheap, shitty plastic bags that will be in landfills when our grandchildren are dead, or give me death!

At first, I thought it was stupid because the American government, in lots of different political environments, bans things all the time. Child labor, for example, or arsenic in drinking water. The government banning things is how they get to be illegal.

But, I am a dirty fucking hippie who hates those bags, so in the interest of fairness, I'll try to delve more closely into Goldberg's arguments.

Tom Friedman (whom I mostly know as the guy who told the Iraqi people to "suck on this" and predicted the successul consummation of the Iraq war would happen in six months... and made that prediction every six months for about five years) put forth a clearly liberal argument. See? Liberal argument? See? It's liberal, so this is definitely also Barack Obama's position and any moment Fuhror Obama will be issuing an edict banning plastic bags because he said that investing in a green economy would create jobs, without a single thought to the people who make all those plastic bags who are probably Chinese. There's no point in looking too closely at the minutia of our legislative process (e.g., how it's Congress who make and pass law, not presidents). Barack Obama, you see, is arrogant because Tom Friedman thinks banning plastic bags would be a good idea which is the same thing as thinking that investing in green economy creates jobs. See?

God. Do you really not get this? Barack Obama is a tyrant because banning plastic bags is tyrannical and they didn't even really do that in China but Tom Friedman wants to do that, which means he's way more tyrannical than the Chinese government and this also means that Barack Obama will do that and then we won't have any plastic bags and Jonah Goldberg totally read somewhere that there was increased bacteria on reusable bags (if you didn't read the article, it's worth noting that I did not make up this compelling argument for the continued use of cheap, shitty plastic bags).

Lookit: Jonah Goldberg is a dumb guy. And he's a guy taken seriously by Washington insiders, I think, because his mother used to write stuff. I'm pretty sure he constructs his arguments in crayon. But, he still makes a healthy living espousing his stupid, stupid arguments.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, only got to be Head Tyrant In Charge because he had the good fortune to be a black guy.

See?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Charlotte's Web


Laney and I just wrapped up Charlotte's Web. I cried so hard during the penultimate chapter that Laney had to take over reading for me. To her credit, Laney finds it more annoying than upsetting when I have these emotional breakdowns. It irritates me too. My dad was also prone to them. And also annoyed by them. Being a teary motherfucker is no fun for anyone, I tell you.

Anyway, I hadn't read Charlotte's Web since I was a kid. I suspect most people haven't. I suspect that most people who read it as adults are reading it with their kids. But this is a shame. It's a charming book for children. But, if you're reading it, and someone you've loved has died, it's powerful. It knocked me over reading it tonight. This isn't just being a teary motherfucker. It's just... well, listen:

"Why did you do all this for me?" he asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you."

"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift my own life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."


Seriously: "we're born,we live a little, we die." What a beautiful, sad, true assessment of the whole damn thing. There's no god, no reward, no special purpose. Instead, the best we can do it try to life up our own life a little because mostly, it's something of a mess.

I love that. I really do.

And the end! Do you guys know the last line?

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

Laney had to read that line to me too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hey, Guys - Been a While, Huh?

I haven't blogged in so long. Which is not to say I haven't had things I wanted to blog about, I just haven't been able to string together the paltry amount of time I typically use to write this stuff. But, my VM is out of disk space and the kid's asleep and I worked through a thorny problem with my book and the dishes are done. So, I figured I'd check in.

Shit. The dishes AREN'T done. Oh well. Three quick things I've been thinking about, which just about cover the sphere of things I write about here:

Kid

I don't sing Laney too many lullabies anymore. She's kind of like me in that she needs a zero-stimulus environment to fall asleep. I need a dark, quiet room (people who can fall asleep with the TV on blow my mind). Laney needs for there to be no other living people besides her. But tonight we were very snuggly and so I decided to sing her the old lullaby. This is based on a standard, but was adapted and expanded as she grew. Now, it's total habit to me. But, dude, it's weird. And I thought I'd better write them down. This is Laney's Lullaby:

Hush little baby, don't say a word
Mommy's gonna buy you a mockingbird
If that mockingbird don't sing
Mommy's gonna buy you a diamond ring
If that diamond ring turns brass
Mommy's gonna buy you a looking glass
If that looking glass gets broke
Mommy's gonna buy you a billy goat
If that billy goat runs away [here's where we go off book]
Mommy's gonna buy you a record to play
If that record gets a scratch
Mommy's gonna bake you some cookies in a batch
If those cookie's don't taste good
Mommy's gonna buy you a bat made of wood
If that bat makes you strike out
Mommy's gonna buy you an old man with gout (wha?)
If that old man walks real funny
Mommy's gonna buy you a big pile of money
If you spend that money too quick
Mommy's gonna buy you a candle with a wick
If that candle burns too bright
Mommy's gonna sing to you another night.

One day, Laney will be singing that to her own child and will, in the middle, stop and think "old man with what?"

Cultural Things

So you know how people say that swearing is the sign of a poor vocabulary? Bullshit (see what I did there?). I read in a Tom Robbins book many moons ago (a book I'll never read again because I lurved Tom Robbins as a youth and am pretty sure that 40 year old me would hate him and some of my youthful passions just need to be sacrosanct, no matter how much crabby middle-aged me disapproves) that there's no such thing as a synonym. A flood, says Wigs Dannyboy, is not the same thing as a deluge. I think this is true.

It is also true, of course, that people can use swear words as a crutch, but let's not paint with too broad a brush. Some kid walking through the mall saying "And I'm all like fuck that shit and she's all like bitch bitch bitch and I'm all like no fuckin' way and she's all like fuckin' shit" should not be the standard bearer of swears. A blogger I like coined (I believe) the phrase "metric fuckton." In doing so, she's created an evocative, sensible term. When she says it, you know just what she means. In other words, she's being the exact opposite of inarticulate. The exact opposite of "inarticulate," not for nothing, is probably not "articulate." Maybe it's eloquent? Pithy? Comprehensible?

English is so awesome.

Politics

Finally, just a quick question: doesn't everyone know now that deficit hawks only care about the deficit when a democrat is in office? It's trite to the point of cliche by now, but people keep taking them seriously. I don't get that. A Republican president can light trillion dollar bills on fire and George Will would be all "la la la let me see how much life I can suck out of baseball with my obnoxious erudition deedly dee dee." But stick a D on the back of the title and suddenly we're bartering away the future of our children.

Feels like such an obvious sucker's game to me. I guess that's politics!

Guess I'd better do the dishes now.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hilarious Things My Kid Says: Part 8 Billion in an Ongoing Series

When Laney is seeking therapy as an adult for the various ways I screwed up her childhood, number one on the list will be how I was always rushing her. The thing I say the most to her is probably "I love you." But running a close second is "Come ON, Laney, we're LATE!!!!"

So, yesterday, we had to do this meeting at her summer camp which didn't get out until a little after 8:00. And then there was the long drive home. And Laney's feet were filthy, which meant she'd have to take a bath. And the dog needed to get out. In short, there were a series of chores to accomplish before Laney could go to bed, all of which I wanted done apace. So, from the moment we got home I was nagging at Laney to hurry up and get out of the car and NO you don't need to take all your toys and stop lying on the dog it's time to get upstairs and get ready for bed and no of course you can't play on the computer it's 8:30.

All of which culminated in this exchange:

Me [standing in the bathroom over the tub]: Laney, if you don't get in here and get in this tub, I'm going to snap.
Laney: [silence]
Me: [striding forcefully down the hall towards her room]: Laney... WHAT are you doing?
Laney: [standing in her bedroom with her pants off and her shirt half over her head] Come on, Woman. Are you really going to scold me for taking my clothes off?

BWAAAAAHAHAHAHA

She's so got my number.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Family Day, Part Three

When we left the orphanage the last time, I felt pretty good. "Two weeks," we kept saying to each other. "That's nothing."

When we flew back, we told our Dutch flight attendant what we were doing. As it turns out, she was adopted too and she told us this great story about how when she first came to her family's home, she kept secreting away pieces of bread into her pockets and her mother smiled at her and said, "No matter how much bread you take, I'll always give you more." I loved that story so much. And I loved how happy our flight attendant was for us. It gave us so much hope for the future. Here was this happy young woman who told us these stories that were beyond her memory, but which nevertheless exemplified her relationship to her own adoption. We saw how good it could be.

We got to Chicago and got ready.

Our friends threw us this wonderful shower. We had so many things for Laney! This little girl who'd never had anything of her own.

So we waited. And waited and waited and waited. There was nothing anyone could say to us that would sound good. More to the point: there was nothing anyone could say to us that wouldn't piss us off. It was impossible for anyone to understand what we were going through and that (understandably, if not reasonably) pissed us off.

We waited and waited and waited. And waited and waited some more. And heard nothing.

It took 10 weeks. Two and a half months. Not two weeks. With no word, no acknowledgment that anything was in the works. Nothing.

I survived on a steady diet of nicotine, alcohol and spite. I'm not sure how Don survived. I was just barely getting by on my own.

But then, one day, I got an email from Larina. "When are you coming?" she said. "We've got a really good judge."

So I called the agency and told them about the email. They concurred and told us we were going back to Russia.

When we got back to Blagoveshensck it was spring. When we were there in February, the whole city looked like his kind of dystopic Narnia, all white frozen sidewalks, with bullet-like puncture wounds from the stiletto heels that the Russian ladies wore all the time. When we got there in May, it was green and beautiful.

This time when we visited the orphanage, they let us take her outside. And they didn't time our visits. We could hang out with her as much as we wanted. And so we took her outside and walked her around and played. The other kids in the orphanage got to go out with the aides. You know how there's that warning on strollers to not put kids in the basket? They'd have two kids in the seat, one in the basket and, sometimes, one on the top. Once, Don was walking Laney around and found himself surrounded by about 15 three year olds. They all pointed at him and said "Dadya! Dadya!" which we think is Russian for Uncle. They all wanted him to play with them, pay attention to them, pick them up. It would have broken your heart into a million pieces, if you'd been there. It might be breaking it now to hear that.

A quick aside about the people who work at the orphanage. These were wonderful women. These were women who cared deeply about these kids. But they were operating under such a tremendous load. There were 500 kids in Laney's orphanage, and not nearly enough resources for them. We knew Laney was hungry, but we also knew that the people there were looking out for her. Most of those kids would languish away there, but that the doctor (remember her? from the green room?) was doing everything in her power to get this sickly little girl adopted. I believe that the doctor at the orphanage thought that Laney would die if she weren't adopted. This is a hard thing for me to write down. But I'm pretty sure I'm right. The kids in the orphanage who were healthier? Ironically, they weren't so lucky.

On Thursday, May 26, 2005 we had our court date. We found out that the day before officials had gone to Laney's birth mother and asked "Are you sure you want to to this?"

I have nothing but good feelings about Laney's birth mother. When I talk about her to Laney, I always describe her as the beautiful Russian lady who was very sad. She gave us this enormous gift. She gave us our life. But it pisses me off that the government officials did that. They had almost two years to establish her certainty. They didn't approach her when Laney was sick and hungry in that orphanage. They waited until she was going to leave Russia. In the end. it didn't matter. She was sure. And I love her (really, love her) for being sure.

At court, the representative from the Ministry of Education (they're in charge of adoption in Russia) did her damnedest to block our adoption. She insisted in court that we wouldn't be able to afford to raise Laney. She did everything she could to convince the judge to stop the adoption. Not for the faint of heart, remember? We had her nonsense translated into our ears as she spoke and didn't have the words or the opportunity to object. Luckily, Sveta, our lawyer, did.

I stood up to speak. And, me being who I am, said most of what I wanted to say through tears. "Please, your honor," I said. "We are so in love with Lena. We promise to take such good care of her."

And then the judge said "I see no reason to interfere with this adoption."

And that was it! Larina told us through this massive grin. Don and I hugged each other and everyone else.

We went to file the last paperwork in the region. It was giddy and exciting. Sveta and Slava and Larina were so happy for us. They encouraged us to stop and buy flowers for the women in the orphanage. We could have lit up Blagoveshensk with our smiles. Don bought a huge bouquet.

As we were driving up to the orphanage in the rickety old van, driven by the wonderfully sweet Slava who'd picked flowers with Laney earlier in the week, I thought "This is it. This is the last time we'll have to come to this place." I'd say it was bittersweet, but I don't want to lie. It was just sweet.

We walked in and had to wait for a long while. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to say goodbye to Laney. I don't know what happened while we waited, but I imagine tiny little Lena was showered with kisses and tears.

When a kid leaves an orphanage, they leave with nothing from it. The clothes they're wearing are necessary. She was our daughter now. We'd have to dress her. They gave us exactly one diaper. I'd bought this blue plaid dress with a little hat and a blue coat. Don and I were such rookies. You should have seen us try to diaper her and get her tights on. It was a joyful comedy of errors. She looked so sweet in her little dress and her giant hat.

Larina was very proud to tell us that in Russia, children can't sit in the front seat. Laney sat on my lap in the back of the van. We'd brought a can of those toddler puffs, and she sat on my lap, just looking around popping puffs into her mouth. She was so chill. It was awesome.

We spent the weekend in the hotel in Blagoveschensk. We'd take walks along the Amur River and play in the room. The room had a couch and a double bed. At night, we'd pull the couch up to the bed to make a secure place for her to sleep. She'd fall asleep and Don and I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my laptop.

Laney never cried when we visited her in the orphanage. She'd always been very even tempered. But when we pulled out the food in the hotel room, she went just about feral. She'd eat and eat and eat. And if she saw food, she had to have it. And if we didn't give it to her, she'd throw herself on the ground and scream. We worried she'd get sick, she ate so much. So we hid food from her. But we remembered the flight attendant's story and let her have as much as she could eat.

The diapers were epic.

Flying from Blagoveshensk to Moscow was ... well, you know the worst flight you've ever had? This was worse. This was like Oceanic 815 bad. Without the crashing. It started off OK. But then the food cart came around. She ate all of her dinner, all of mine and the lion's share of Don's. Laney weighed 19 pounds at this point. But when our three meals were gone and she realized that she wasn't going to get any of the food from the other 200 people on the plane? Well, that pissed her off. And she cried. And then she pooped. I changed her ginormous diaper in the bathroom, while she wailed in anger.

She cried for seven straight hours. It never waned into whimpers. She wailed the wail of righteous fury. It was so bad that Don divided the trip up into 15 minute intervals. There were 28 fifteen minute intervals. Don counted them down. 22 intervals to go, he'd say. 17 intervals to go. It helped.

So, here's what we learned on that flight: Failure to thrive, my ass. That kid was thriving right in front of our faces. She was thriving with extreme prejudice. All she needed was enough to eat, and someone to love her best of all, and that kid was mighty.

She still is. She's a mighty girl. She's our mighty girl.

Family Day, Part Two (gettin' schmoopy)

Go here for part one)

On Feb. 11, 2005 (which was Don's 39th birthday, not for nothing), a FedEx was delivered to my office with pictures of Laney. She was clearly not nine months old. She was nineteen months old. And so beautiful.

I took the pictures to Don at One North and we began planning the trip almost immediately.

It was a thrilling, overwhelming day. Our consultant at EAC was not an adoptive parent. I still have an email from her in which she said "Calm down. Take a pill. Lol." She was a dumbass. I didn't care. We were adopting little Elena. We were at the end!

We traveled just a few days later. First to London, then to Moscow. We stayed in Moscow for a few days where we met the family who'd be traveling with us. They were not like us. They didn't like us. Who cares. We were getting our baby girl!

It takes 7 hours to fly from Moscow to Blagoveschensk and you do this flight in a post-Soviet airplane. Which is a lot like a bus. American air travel is hardly glamorous anymore. But we're talking about a whole 'nother level of not-glamorous. Also, it was roughly 8 million degrees on the plane. It was the second most miserable flight of my life. You'll hear about the most miserable a bit later.

When we landed, I was so pleased to get out of that plane and into the negative 8 million degree air. Blagovechensck, dear readers, was hella cold. But, Russian ladies (if I dare to stereotype) will not let you be in the cold. They are very insistent that you button your coat and get out of the cold! So while Don waited for our luggage, I sat in the van with the heat on full blast. I felt like I was falling apart. I was so tired and so hot and so scared and so excited.

We rode the rickety old van to the hotel with the couple who weren't like us (and didn't like us). We checked in. I put on a little makeup and brushed my hair. Larina, our translator, looked at me and said "You look wonderful!" I found this very bracing, even though she probably meant "thank god you don't look as terrible as you did a few minutes ago." And then we went to the orphanage. The utilitarian, bleak, barren orphanage, down at the end of a sparse gravel road, where you always heard dogs barking like they were really hungry.

After a bit of a wait, we were taken into this big green room where we waited for them to bring us Laney. Oh, lordy, were we nervous! There was a woman at a desk in the middle of the room, in a white nurse's uniform. Turns out she was the doctor and was there to observe us. We perched on a couch. An orphanage attendant brought Laney in and we sprang up. Laney (or as we called her then, Lena) was all done up in the same fancy red dress from the pictures. The nurse put her in my arms.

This is the important part:

I was wearing a zippered jacket. I was feeling the weight of Laney in my arms for the first time and felt so happy and so in love. She was tiny and delicate and pale to the point of translucence. She reached to the zipper pull on my jacket, touched it, tugged it a little and looked at me. It was the sweetest moment of my life.I can still feel it if I think about it for just a second.

And then she sneezed. This enormous, productive sneeze! It was like half her body weight in snot! Larina swept over and just grabbed the snot off her nose with her bare hands. Because that's what Moms do, right?

Don held her and taught her to make funny faces and cuddled and hugged her.

Oh, we were such smitten kittens, the two of us!

We went to the orphanage twice a day to visit her. We played and played with her. Laney loved to put the charm on my necklace in my mouth. She loved to make fishfaces with Don. She was so wee and so hungry and so sweet. And sick. She had this lump on the back of her head. We emailed a doctor back home about it. He wrote back:

Thank you for your note. I am very concerned because of this child's extreme failure to thrive and the "lymph nodes" you described that were "drained." In fact, I think the "lump" on the back of her head may be another lymph node. This raises a number of concerns, especially if she might have some kind of chronic infection such as tuberculosis. There were no pictures attached so I can't give you feedback on that. But her medical history is very disconcerting for me

Do you see what I mean about adoption not being for the faint of heart? That email scared the shit out of us. But it was too late. That little girl was OURS!

At the end of the week, we pulled up in the rickety old van to the orphanage. We had to leave. We had to leave and wait for them to tell us when we could come back. I cried and cried and cried. I'm crying a little right now remembering it.

As we walked up to the door, Don stopped me and said "Let's leave her with a smile." And I did my best. But, oh, it was so hard to walk out that door and not know when we were coming back.

"Two weeks," said Don. "We'll be back in two weeks."

Next post: we weren't back in two weeks.