Monday, August 29, 2011

[CLASSIFIED] The Beautiful Skin Guarantee

I am lucky enough to have emerged from my rounds with puberty-based acne with nice skin.  I like makeup, so people often ask about products I use, and those folks are often surprised when I say I don't wear foundation very often.  But for a little bit of rosacea in my cheeks, my skin tone is very even and tends to stay blemish free, barring a zit or two right before I get my period.  Genetics-based luck is part of it, and it would be silly to not acknowledge that, but I also credit a great deal of it to a mysterious beauty secret I discovered some time ago.  I have decided to reveal this secret to you all.  It may take some work for you to find it, but if you want perfect skin, you're going to need to put in some work.  I'm sorry, but not everything in this life can be simple.

The secret ingredient is....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Girl Scouts Will Teach Your Girls to Be Awesome, Full Stop.

I am convinced that there is a swath of people on the right who have just decided to act like cartoon villains to see how long they can get away with it.  Today's Maleficent wannabe is Wendy Wright, who is an asshole.
On Parshall’s show, Wright said parents should call for an investigation into whether the money from Girl Scout cookie sales goes to teaching “young girls to be activists and advocates for a radical sexual agenda.” She blamed the Girl Scouts leadership for supporting a “radical, feminist, pro-abortion form of activism and training these girls up to be feminist activists.” Wright urged parents instead to have their daughters join a “wholesome, pro-God, alternative to the Girl Scouts” called the American Heritage Girls. The American Heritage Girls was founded by Patti Garibay, who, according to CNS News was “motivated to leave the Girl Scout organization when the group decided it would take no position on homosexuality” and to encourage instruction in “traditionally feminine skills, such as sewing, cooking and laundry.” American Heritage Girls bills itself as a “Christ-centered” group that denounces “moral relativism.”  (source)
So let's have a talk.

A lot of feminists talk about an "aha moment" or a "click moment," where they realized, in a beam-of-light-style revelation, that they were feminists.  I did not have one of these moments.  I can't remember the first time I said aloud that I am a feminist.  But I can tell you why I am a feminist.  I am a feminist because being a woman is fucking hard.  I am a feminist because it is bullshit that my body is considered constantly available for public discussion, be it from cat-callers or politicos.  I am a feminist because I should never have to justify my decision to work, or to not have children, or to have children, but I do, on a weekly if not daily basis.  I am a feminist because it's ridiculous that people assume that I can't possibly be a "real" sports fan.  I am a feminist because I am sick of explaining that I can be good at cooking and also not like doing it. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family and an environment where by and large the people around me were okay with me doing whatever the hell I wanted, and who saw me as a person first, and a woman later.  However, this is not the norm, and once I left that environment I realized how unusual it was.

I had a weird relationship with the Girl Scouts.  I was in Montachusett troop 101 in Worcester, Massachusetts as a Brownie and a Junior, and I attended both Camp Neyati in Spencer and Camp Green Eyrie in Harvard.  I didn't really love the weekly troop meetings.  I liked hanging out with my friends, obviously, and I had a good time, but for me, "Girl Scouting" meant lots of canoes and fire, and there wasn't a whole lot of that on a weekly basis.  There was a lot of sewing and crafting and stuff like that, which I also liked, know.  No fire.  It was when I started going to Camp Green Eyrie that I really started loving Girl Scouting, and it was in those tents and under those trees that I came to understand the power of women, and the limitless potential for all of us.  I made friends there with whom I am still in touch, and did things I never would have expected to do.  I'll never forget rolling up to the mess hall at the end of our Voyager unit, having hiked and canoed for a week, covered in mud and scrapes and running five minutes late for dinner, feeling so damn awesome because we all did the hell out of that trip.  That was when I knew I could do whatever I wanted to do.

That's what Girl Scouting taught me.  You'll notice there's nothing in there about hating God or about abortion or about radical feminism.  Shocking, I know.  It was about achieving awesomeness as a human first and a woman second, and having a damn good time while we were at it.  Also?  Fire.  And sometimes canoes.

And let me tell you something, Wendy...the Girl Scouts are not the ones pressing an agenda on the young women in their organization.  It is YOUR attempt to politicize their day to day activities that forces the political into what is a simple, healthy environment for young women.  You take an entirely unrealistic view of how organizations work, on top of this.  Would you like to know how much of a fuck I gave about what the Girl Scouts of America's upper echelons were doing when I was a Junior?  LESS than zero.  I cared about the girls in my troop or my camp unit, and I cared about what we were doing that day, and maybe if I still had time to zone out a little bit, I might have cared about some residual shit from school or my friends.  But when shitbags like you force political issues to the fore of organizations whose primary services have nothing to do with political action, you make it political.  And frankly, had someone like you come out shame fingers a-blazin' when I was having a good time being outside and canoeing and getting dirty and learning how to sew AND start fires and talking about how to be a good citizen...well, Wendy, I might just have thought that maybe people like you were the ones pushing a shady agenda worth avoiding.

But I will thank you, before I let this go and return to my radical feminist life.  I'd like to thank you for inspiring me to rejoin the Girl Scouts today.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nous Te Souviendras

There are few absolute truths about politics.  No matter how strongly we hold our beliefs or how clear and righteous we believe them to be, there will always be someone who believes the opposite with equal fervor, who believes their stance is just as obviously good.  This is why those seeking absolutist solutions to political challenges are doomed to failure, and why those policies will simply be overcome, not necessarily by opposing parties or individuals, but by the passage of time and the fluid state of politics itself.  For this reason, the few truths that do exist about politics are all the more sacred, and cannot be claimed by one passing party or one mortal individual.

There is one truth above all the truths, and it's simpler than one might think: we live together as humans on this Earth.

It's not that simple, of course, but in a few essential ways our joint presence on this Earth is all that matters.  It means that we cannot escape each other, that every man, woman and child who dies is a loss for all of us, and the birth of every boy and girl is a promise that they will change us all, for good or ill.  It means that every resource we discover or create will be drawn upon by us all, that once exhausted they will be missed by us all.  It means that the better we make our neighbors, the better they can make us, and as we degrade them, we degrade ourselves.  None of this is optional, and because none of it is optional, we all have to be invested in the communal project of our own existence.  This means that no matter our differences - and we have had them, and will have them, forever - we must understand that we are all together, as humans, on this Earth.

Each of us is delivered to this home naked and screaming, with little but luck and circumstance to direct our path forward, and this demands that we respect each other as humans fundamentally, before anything else.  This too requires that we remember that those below and above us share this humanity.  None of us are infallible, none of us are perfect, none of us escape life without feeling fear or being intoxicated by love.  Still, we must rely on imperfect humans to shape our politics and our societies, because there are no other options. God, the universe, chaos, chance - these options are no options at all because they write no policy and take no votes, make no speeches and settle no arguments.  To require them to do so would be insulting in itself, to resign great sublime powers to the grind of determining the minutiae of human life, and it would rescind from us the great power of free will, which allows us to learn from our mistakes and victories alike.  It removes the miracle of humanity and its beautiful relationship to everything beyond us - it renders God and the Webb telescope equally irrelevant.  We must work through this business of living together with each other, as imperfect, mortal human beings.

Canada lost a man who understood this today.  The Honourable Jack Layton passed away today after a long fight with cancer.  He will be fiercely missed.

Jack Layton was no apolitical being and he could never be called a non-partisan voice.  He lead the New Democratic Party to extraordinary gains this past election, and his last letter, when directed at his party, his caucus and his beloved province, rings clearly like the bells of the ships and ports of Quebec with his liberal identity.  Liberals in Canada have lost a powerful leader, one whose work, had it not been cut short by cancer, could have taken Canada to a new position on the world stage.  As a liberal, I hope every day for a leader like Layton, a leader who is willing to mount a spirited defense of liberalism in its robust, rich and appropriate form, and to challenge the image of liberalism that has been painted by those foolish enough to believe Mao and Stalin represent liberalism, rather than their own perverted and ultimately weak doctrines. The NDP will have an extremely difficult time replacing Jack Layton, and they may never succeed - every so often we are given political leaders who are simply unique.  They will find a new leader, and they will have strong leaders, but they may never replace Layton.

What I think makes Layton special is when he turns to Canada as a whole, it is at the end of his letter, and it is nothing but these universal truths.  In the end, Layton understood that he stood on this Earth, amidst his fellow humans, engaged in a communal project that will outlast but still enrich all of us in the time we do have, and bear up those who will succeed us. You can - and should - read the entirety of his letter here, and it would be foolish of me to try paraphrasing his last message to Canada, so I will simply leave it here.
And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Swear That's Not a Jug of Pee in my Bathroom: Down with Shampoo

Good news: you can buy apple cider vinegar in gallon jugs!

Bad news: if you keep these jugs in your bathroom, it will look like you are keeping a gallon jug of pee under your sink.  And that you are having some kind of kidney issue.

Upshot: Worth it.

As part of my excising chemicals from my beauty routine plan, I read up on shampoos.  I don't know when the last time you read your shampoo bottle was, but there's nothing in the ingredients under about 47 letters, and half of them are Xs or Zs.  That's not really encouraging.  However, lots of people were on the internet all "just use stuff in your kitchen!" and that didn't sound sufficiently hardcore, either.  You see, I've had dandruff forever, and when I say I have tried every product out there, I mean every. product.  Head & Shoulders, Redken, Selsun Blue, Pureology, Neutrogena T-Gel, Lush's Campfire solid shampoo, name it, I've tried it.  Now, a lot of them worked, particularly T-Gel and Pureology, but I found that they made my hair really flat with tons of flyaways.    Also, for those of you not familiar with T-Gel, the active ingredient is tar, and there's just no escaping that smell.  They have a new formulation that they claim smells better, but I don't buy it.  That shit is persistent.

Anyway, the problem has been solved because the hippies who run the Internet are right once again.  In the course of my Googling, I kept running into two kinds of suggested rinses: baking soda and apple cider vinegar.  My friend Juls had already suggested apple cider for the callus-fest that is my feet, so I had some on hand, and for some reason Rich and I decided when we moved into our house that we needed a constant supply of baking soda (...why??) so we had a ton available.  I took these items into the bathroom, grabbed an empty shampoo bottle, and got to work.  Lots of sites I read were very specific about measurements, but I have taken the "throw a bunch of it in the bottle then fill it up with water" approach because I'm lazy and also because I can't pour things.  This is true, I don't know why.  I tried the apple cider vinegar first, filling up a smallish (17 or 18 oz.) bottle about a third of the way, filling it with water, and then shaking it up.  I put the rinse on my hair in the shower, then left it there while I did my whole shower routine, which takes about 10 minutes.  I washed it out, ran two drops of Oscar Biandi Jasmine Oil Hair Serum through my hair and blow-dried it.  I immediately noticed that my hair was extremely shiny and had great body to it. Victory!

The next day I tried the baking soda rinse.  I put a golf ball sized heap of baking soda in the bottle and filled the rest with water, then shook it all up and followed the same process.  My dandruff was INSTANTLY gone, and my hair was like the hair Romance period painters put on ladies gallivanting in the woods.  It was unbelievable!  I am never going back to regular shampoo, and with the hair oil, I've completely abandoned conditioner as well.  I never would have thought I'd be saying stuff like this, but it's such a revelation I can't deny it.  I now use the baking soda rinse for everyday showering and a cider vinegar rinse once a week.  I'd also like to note that I did try using shampoo in a pinch after about two weeks of using these rinses, and it made my hair flat as anything and impossible to work with.  I'm completely sold!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Grand Deodorant Experiment Has Come to an End

Every now and then I make grand proclamations about how I'm going to eliminate X from my life in the name of good living and do-goodery.  One of the recent ones was "I'm going to eliminate chemicals from my life wherever I can," which lead to several wins and one significant non-win.  In the win column, we have giving up shampoo, conditioner and face wash and replacing them, respectively, with baking soda and/or cider vinegar rinses, nothing and olive oil.  More on that tomorrow and the next day.  However, the non-win column is dominated by my attempts to switch to less-chemical-heavy deodorant, which makes me sad.  I was kind of looking forward to being all hippy-dippy with my crystal deodorant.  Alas, for me, it is not to be.

Deodorant is kind of tricky, right, because everyone sweats and stinks in different ways.  For this reason, I'm going to do my best to hit up the full pros and cons of all deodorant options, because what doesn't work for me might work for you!

Deodorant #1: Deodorant Cream from Soapwalla

This was a recommendation from the lovely ladies at No More Dirty Looks, and it's actually a pretty good one for most situations. You can buy it at Soapwalla's Etsy store. It's a little weird to get used to using a cream, but it does work well, and you can kind of feel better where you're applying it.  The smell is a true unisex scent, which makes it a good option for men and women.  I will definitely use this one in the wintertime when I'm going to school.  The main problem I had was when I worked out using this cream, after a certain point it did wear out.  My personal feeling is that it's okay to get a little stinky when you're at the're supposed to be sweating, and everyone else around you is also engaged in sweat producing activities, so I don't think it's worth worrying about.  That said, I'm a chronic Doing Stuff After The Gym Person.  That means I'd really gotten used to relying on the staying power of chemical deodorants to let me pop in to CVS on my way home from the gym without worrying about smoking out the poor cashier, so I got to feeling a little gross about doing stuff after the gym.  If you shower at the gym, though, it should be no problem.  You don't need a ton, so although the $10 pricepoint is a little high, it makes up for it in lifetime.  This was the most successful of all the natural deodorants and is definitely effective.

Deodorant #2 That Weird Crystal Deodorant the Hippie in Your Life Uses by Crystal

Yep, I went there.  This has always intrigued me, simply because it sounds like such unbelievable bullshit.  What convinced me to try it was some judicious Googling to find out how it actually worked, and once I learned a little more about the mechanics, I was more convinced that it might actually work.  The crystal is actually a salt, and rather than preventing perspiration, it keeps bacteria from getting established on your skin.  It's the bacteria that make sweat smell, so if they can't set up shop, you'll stay pleasantly you-scented.  You wet the stone and swab it around under your arm and you're good to go.  I will note that the plastic packaging of this particular variety of crystal deodorant (which I was able to pick up at my local RiteAid) is EXTREMELY satisfying to click up, and it's also recyclable.  I did not find this as effective as I would have hoped, but I think for wintertime it would work fine, because there's usually a little less sweat involved with winter and fall.  I was surprised to find that it did work!  It's just not a super high-test deodorant.  It's possible that with continued use it would improve, but that wasn't my personal experience.  If you don't sweat a lot, this might work just fine for you!

Deodorant #3 Tom's of Maine Apricot Deodorant
This one was by far the best smelling option.  I've been on a big apricot kick in the past year, having also picked up the glorious Apricots and Cream Philosophy 3-in-1 shower extravaganza, so when I saw the Fresh Apricot scent from Tom's, I snapped it right up.  The scent is really lovely, but I didn't find the deodorant itself very effective.  It wore off by midday and didn't hold up at all at the gym.  I like Tom's efforts to use natural products and recyclable packaging, but this was a big disappointment.  I wish it had been better, but I think I'll stick with Soapwalla and the Apricots and Cream body spritz from Philosophy.  Better luck next time, Tom's.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Books Yay!: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

I finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog in my bathtub, sobbing.  It was like a Lifetime movie in there, people.  Ever since then, I've been chasing the beauty of that book, and while I haven't found it yet, Amazon has recommended some good books that it thinks are similar, one of them being Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

Major Pettigrew reminds me of a man standing on the edge of the advancing Nothing in The Neverending Story.  His wife has passed away, his neighbors are abandoning the British gentility which has always guided him through interactions with them, and his son is such a man of the modern age that he may as well be a different species.  On the passing of his brother, Major Pettigrew's family erupts into a display of poor behavior and entitlement unlike anything he has ever seen, particularly over the matter of his brother's hunting gun, which is one of a pair owned by the men's father and split amongst them to be passed down through the family.  They are a birthright, and it seems that the Major is the only one who still regards them thus.  As he struggles to make sense of this disappointment and retain control of the heirlooms, he must too manage a fledgling romance with Mrs. Ali, a beautiful, quiet widow who runs the shop near his home, and deal with the ugly striving of his son.

For what is essentially a romance novel, Major Pettigrew takes on a truly impressive number of difficult topics, and explores each in remarkable depth.  The overarching theme is one of cultural dynamics and how they shift.  Pettigrew's father's guns were a gift for his service in colonial India, and the Major's golf club wants to throw a colonial-India-themed gala to celebrate the event.  Not only do many of the members fail to understand why this is not really appropriate (white people glorifying colonialization!  Hooray!), but Simonson also shows us several ways that non-white people involved with the event choose to deal with the situation - one family sees it as a business opportunity, while Mrs. Ali is clearly uncomfortable, and so on.  The gala shows the hazards of glorifying times and behaviors that were dominated by the domination of other people, and it's easy to look down on those behaviors from our current time, and to brush off all of the old monarchic traditions that produced them.  But Simonson is not ready to let us discount tradition entirely.  Pettigrew's little village has caught the eye of developers, and their proposed atrocities would stabilize the shaky fortunes of the local Lord, whose economic footholds have grown less sure as modernity sweeps in and redistributes wealth from the aristocracy.  In view of the fuckery of the gala, one might be prepared to cheer this development as sweeping away the rotting vestiges of an oppressive structure, but Simonson shows us that doing so also threatens the community bonds built under the system, which tie people together and encourage them to care for the land and buildings and people amongst which they live.  It's not all bad, Simonson is telling us.

There's also an interesting look at the dynamics of Muslims living in England, as well as the differences in generations within the religion itself.  Mrs. Ali is a modest woman who is mindful of her religion even as she takes soft little steps outside some of its more hardline positions, but she must contend with her nephew, who comes to the shop to deal with the woman who is mother to his child.  He is extremely rigid, and has a difficult time dealing not only with his own family's trespasses but the behavior of those in the community at large.  This is all before we get to the mother herself, who is a rebellious, punky woman lashing out at both the restrictions of her religion and the prejudice that she encounters in the world around her.  It's a rich and lovely portrait of the decisions we all must make as religious people, and Simonson seats it beautifully in the context of English society, adding yet another layer of consideration to our view of these characters and the qualities they represent.

I don't want to tell you how it turns out for all of these people, because you should read the book on one of our remaining summer days, outside, in the sun, with a glass of iced tea.  It is in turns hysterically funny, incredibly sweet and crushingly sad, and the overall effect is of a beautiful story about the way we lived and live our lives.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Books Yay!: Bossypants, by Tina Fey

I've never really been a big Saturday Night Live fan.  I like the best of clips and such but for whatever reason, I've just never felt compelled to watch it every Saturday night.  I have the same relationship with standup comedy specials; when someone says "watch this, it's funny," I do, and it's always funny (assuming the recommender has good taste know who you are, people who tried forcing me to like Dane Cook), but I still click past those specials when I'm looking for something to watch.  However, despite my SNL apathy, I love Tina Fey, not only because of the brilliant Mean Girls but for her willingness to be outspoken about women and feminism in the media.  What I particularly like is that she is a very real manifestation of feminism at its core.  I often say to people who claim to not be feminist that feminism's essence is about women having social and political equality to direct their lives as they see fit, and anything else that a feminist claims it is about is laid over that foundation as a result of that feminist's desires.  Feminism is not a monolith.  Instead, it means that some women will choose to work construction and buzz their hair short and some women will choose to have dinner on the table by 5:30p in heels and pearls, but that society has pressured neither group into feeling they must do those things.  I appreciate that Tina Fey exemplifies this reality; she speaks openly about feeling pressures one way or the other, and talks about the existence of those pressures while also making choices for herself that line up with all kinds of different forces.  Having that conversation is important, and having an intelligent, well-spoken woman like Tina Fey to guide that conversation is a real asset.

Bossypants is a combination of memoir and general observations about life in comedy.  I appreciated that it didn't lean too heavily one way or the other.  It seems like many people feel like a memoir has to Say Something or have some kind of self-help-y underpinning to it, and that seems silly to me if the author isn't an actual self-help-dispensing person.  If some publisher thinks you're saleable, it's because people like you and want to know about you, and I don't think that necessarily means they want to know how you got to be you.  Tina Fey has written a kind of memoir of her young life and the progress of her comedy career, and the advice she does give is not about how to make it in comedy necessarily but how to apply the lessons that she gleaned from comedy in your life.  I particularly liked her descriptions of her youthful awkwardness, because for once - for once! - it was framed as "man, everyone is so awkward when they're kids," which is true, instead of that stilted "don't hate me because I'm beautiful" apology-cum-compliment-fishing way so many famous beauties tend to lean towards.  It might just be better writing, but it's nice that the " we're cool, right? I'm just like you!" tone is absent there.

I really enjoyed hearing a woman who I think most people see as very together and balanced as she Does It All explain that it is incredibly challenging to do It All, no matter how it comes off to observers.  She's not bemoaning the challenges of being a mom in a competitive and time-consuming field, but rather acknowledging that those challenges exist.  She is obviously happy with her choices even though they certainly contribute stress to her life, and I think that's a healthy thing to show people.  Not to return to the "other memoirists are doing it wrong" place, but I do think people often breeze over big and persistent challenges without admitting that they complicate and strain their lives, and that makes the reader feel inadequate, like they should somehow feel bad about feeling pressure from challenges in their life.  I don't think celebrities exist to make people feel good about themselves or anything, but I think that too much pretending success is just a walk in the park is what has given us a world where children say they want to be "a celebrity" when they grow up and where we have deranged programming like Jerseylicious.

This is a great read, and Fey's writerly voice is wonderful.  This would be a great pick for a short day trip, and I think it would also be a good audiobook to pick up.  It would be a good choice for young people, too.  Fey does a great job of stressing the value of continual striving and hard work, and she's so relateable.  I think it would really help a lot of kids realize that they can do what they want, but that the world is not just waiting outside their door to hand success over without a fight.  Pick up a copy!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Round Up!: Why No One Except Grandma Can Have Nice Things

I missed last Friday's roundup because I was busy contemplating whether or not I should just drink myself into oblivion to cope with the debt ceiling fallout.  Luckily, I've decided against it, so here's this week's hit parade!
  • Steampunk Fashion on Display at HCC (ABC13, Texas) First on the list is my grandmother's upcoming exhibit in Houston, TX, because Grandma is awesome and so is this exhibit.  She is a fashion historian and recently gifted her historical collection (which, by the way, is about 5,000 pieces strong) to her American Costume Society compatriot Kay King at Houston Community College.  Some of the pieces were used to put together a fabulous steampunk exhibit, and my Dad, Grandma and I will be headed down to Texas at the end of September for Elizabeth Brown Day and the exhibit's opening!  Here's the news clip from the local ABC affiliate:
  • What's Happening With the London Riots? (Mother Jones)  Mother Jones routinely posts these rolling update articles about major events, and I find them immensely helpful.  As far as the riots, I encourage everyone not to dismiss the rioters outright.  Of course there are some people who just want to watch the world burn, but this is not that simple.  I point you to this quote from a young man who NBC was asking if rioting really achieved anything: "Yes.  You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?  Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."  These are people fighting for a voice.  
  • States Can Now Opt-Out of No Child Left Behind Provisions (Amy Bingham, ABC)  No Child Left Behind is the single most damaging thing to happen to American education in its history, full stop.  The decision to let states opt-out of its ridiculous and useless provisions is a huge step in the right direction, and I'm proud of both Secretary Duncan and the Obama Administration for taking it.  I hope that it is fully dismantled in the next few years.  (For some smackdown on NCLB's shitty test-based standards, you can read this report from the National Academies.)
  • How the US Media Marginalizes Dissent (Ted Rall, Al-Jazeera)  I recently submitted a paper for publication - cross those fingers, everyone! - about the way media frame debates compared to public opinion polling.  I found that overwhelmingly, the media preferred to polarize complex issues, establishing two fairly extreme poles as the dominant views and completely dropping the grey area out of the debate.  I suspect few people will be surprised to hear that most of public opinion is, in fact, in the grey area.  This article takes a similar approach, examining the language used to marginalize voices that don't fit the media's established framework, particularly with references to people as being "serious" or not.  [NB: I have been so impressed by Al-Jazeera as a whole lately.  I'm not sure if their quality has gone up or I'm just bumping into their articles more frequently, but I think they're putting out excellent, excellent work.]
  • Canada Has Lessons, No Answers, for US Debt Woes (Randall Palmer and John McCrank, Reuters CA)  Americans often think that we are or must be wholly unique.  This was particularly visible in the healthcare debate, where other nations' systems were critiqued and held up as examples of why "universal healthcare, full stop" would not work, but not examined as systems that we could either pillage for parts or learn from to build a better system.  Instead, the discourse went something like "we must create a system wholly new or nothing."  Our politics have suffered from this mindset, because it disconnects us from historical context that provides balance and depth for our political system as a whole.  This article talks about Canada's own happy fun time with debt problems and explains a bit about how they recovered, though it rightly admits that exactly replicating Canada's approach would not be a perfect fit. 
  • Megyn Kelly Destroys Guy Who Called Her Maternity Leave a Racket (Maureen O'Connor, Gawker)  I can't usually stand Megyn Kelly, but this clip is absolutely glorious.  She is dead on, the guy looks openly embarassed - as he should - and he has zero response.  I hope Kelly remembers this interaction the next time she's railing about entitlements (as Jon Stewart pointed out the other night).  
  • Us. And Them. (Chris Carroll, National Geographic)  An interesting article on the progress of humanoid and "helper" robots, and the ethical challenges posed by their development.  I know I'm That Girl Who Always Talks About Robots, but this is a serious thing - military funding is pushing a lot of robotics development while shelving ethical considerations, and with the push for AI, there's a very real danger that technology may progress beyond where we CAN place ethical frameworks on robots.  This needs to be talked about.
  • Falcon HTV-2 is Lost During Bid to Become Fastest Ever Plane (Ian Sample, The Guardian)  Speaking of DARPA funded projects, the Falcon HTV-2, a rocket launched unmanned aircraft capable of travelling at Mach 20 and crossing the continental United States in 12 minutes, was lost during a test flight.  This makes me sad even though I know it's a weapon of war, because I've been clinging to wild aviation projects like this following the death of the shuttle program.  
  • Rare Sand Cat Kitten Gives Hope for Conservation (Zooborns)  WARNING: WEAPONIZED CUTENESS AT LINK.  A sand cat kitten was recently born at Zoological Center Tel Aviv - Ramat Gan, and is currently wiping the floor with all other comers in the Adorable Baby Animal Olympics (Cat Division).  This is a big, exciting deal, as sand cats are endangered and have great difficulty breeding in captivity.  
  • Every Picture Tells a Story (Janice Harvey, Worcester Magazine)  A couple weeks ago, Janice Harvey wrote a column about how totes grody laydees with tattoos are.  Not surprisingly, people did not like this, and proceeded to call her an asshole loudly, publicly and aggressively.  She published an apology the other day, and while I appreciate the guts it takes to apologize publicly, I think this apology is kind of a template for how NOT to do it.  It basically amounts to "you just didn't get it" (if you click through to the original, you'll see why her trying to play it off as humor is either incredibly disingenuous or demonstrative of a fundamental lack of understanding about how humor works) followed by "you guys were mean just like I said you were, you trashy bitches."  I give her points for trying to change her attitude, but she has a long way to go in understanding that there is no single type of woman (or man) who gets a tattoo.  (That it was shitty to use a public forum to trash a specific demographic still seems to elude her, so...whatever.)  Janice, maybe this will help: I've owned my own businesses, I'm a Ph.D candidate in a very conservative field, I'm married, I wear makeup and heels, and I have tattoos.  Keep your shit in your own basket.
  • Teaching With Twitter (Kohenari)  This is a very cool project wherein a professor at the University of Nebraska is teaching his political theory course with Twitter, and invites outside folks to join in.  I'll be doing this course and I hope you will too! 
This week's music comes from the Great White North Courtesy of Chief Economic Adviser Len Badwin, who unfortunately linked me this video when he was upset about missing a music festival at which the Tea Party would be playing.  While it's sad he missed the festival, I'm glad he linked me the video because I quite like it. As with so much Canadian music, good luck finding it on iTunes.

What the HELL, iTunes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Face Just Does That (But You Still Shouldn't Vote For Me)

Right, so this:
Sorry if that made you spill your coffee.
People are in a big snit about this cover, and the criticisms range from "why did you make her look so crazy?" to "it's sexist!"  The sexism charge bears some examination, and a lot of people have suggested applying the "what would people say if this happened to a man" standard.  I think they're probably right to say that people would freak if Newsweek posted a picture of a male Presidential candidate looking this...bad.  I mean, that's the reality of it, this is a bad picture of a pretty woman.  Some people are trying to argue that there are plenty of pictures bouncing around the internet of McCain or Bush looking whacked out, and that's true, but we're not talking about pictures bandied around on the internet, we're talking about a horrible picture on the cover of a major news publication ( comment on whether or not that's good), captioned "The Queen of Rage," which doesn't even make sense.  I do think the media is comfortable with savaging female candidates in a way that they simply aren't with male candidates, and we've seen it from Clinton to Palin to Bachmann.  That in and of itself reeks of "oh, look at this little girl, trying to play White House."  And to the editors and reporters who perpetuate that crap, I have nothing but hearty Fuck Yous, always and forever.

That said.

I'm not entirely sure this photo is AS non-representative as everyone would like it to be.  Michele Bachmann HAS crazy Manson-lamp eyes.  They're very pale against her dark hair, and she often wears dark suits.  Here's her Congressional photo, to the left.  Those eyes are still unsettling.  She also tends to do a thing where she's not quite looking at the camera but a little bit above it (and I'm speaking generally, not about that snafu with the response to the State of the Union where she just wasn't looking at the right camera).  What I think is going on is an attempt to counteract eyes that squint a bit.  When I smile widely, my eyes all but disappear.  This happens to my whole family.  Sometimes, when it's an important photo or I'm just conscious of it, I try to hold my eyes open.  The result is usually much like both Rep. Bachmann's Congressional portrait and the Newsweek cover.  I look a little too intense, like I'm trying to steal someone's soul through the camera.  When you try to compensate for stuff your face does naturally, you're inevitably going to produce some weird looking alternatives.  As someone who is in the public eye frequently, I'm guessing that this is always at the front of Rep. Bachmann's mind, and it should be.

Much better.
When I work with speechwriting clients on delivery, one of the things we talk about is being aware of what our bodies get up to while we're not paying attention and counteracting it.  I, for instance, touch my face ALL the time, and I also tap podiums when I use them.  When I am speaking in public, I adjust for those things so I give a more polished performance.  I'm sure someone has talked to Rep. Bachmann about this and that it's something she focuses on.  I suspect this because the further she gets from a purely photo-op-centric environment, the more natural she looks.

Now, all of this aside, I vehemently dislike Bachmann and think she'd be a disaster of a President.  She's way too interested in producing a theocracy, she's aggressively anti-LGBTQ, she's simply wrong about a bunch of important facts, and she's way too willing to shift her stories to fit the moment, up to and including her own personal history.  I believe that she is a dangerous person.  I highly recommend reading Matt Taibbi's excellent profile of Bachmann in Rolling Stone for a more in depth analysis of why she needs to be kept as far away as possible from the White House.  But not because of a bad Newsweek cover.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

An Open Letter to the Tiny Puritan Who Lives in My iPad

Dear Wee Puritan,

First of all, I would like to thank you for your tireless corrections to my typing.  Sometimes I use my iPad on the train and things get a little jostley, and it's nice to count on you to correct my typing when some inconsiderate jerk flounces into the seat next to me with an entire office's worth of papers and laptops, skooshing me into the window and knocking over my various belongings.

Second, are you okay in there?  I always thought of Puritans as being - forgive me - a bit narrow of thought, but certainly as full sized human beings.  I know that Apple's manufacturing has been under fire lately, so I'm a little concerned that the process of getting you in there was not a pleasant one.  If you want to get out, please send a sign and I'll see if I can figure something out.  I hope you're okay in there.

Third, and most importantly...we need to have a talk.  It's 2011 and while I recognize that you probably think the amount of swearing I do is extremely unladylike, an affront to morality, and unchristian, but you're going to have to accept that I am going to swear, and I'm going to do it a lot.  When I write "hell," I do in fact mean "a firey place where bad people burn in eternity."  I am not going for "he'll," and honestly, Tiny Puritan friend, if you looked at the context, which I know you can do, those two words aren't really interchangeable.  One's a contraction, for goodness' sake.  We also have to talk about the word "fucking."  I use that one a lot, buddy.  It's not going to change, especially not if those fools in Congress keep ruining everything.  I don't mean "ducking," Tiny Puritan.  I am not talking about ways to test for witches, and I am not talking about walking under low doorframes.  I am cussing because sometimes profanity is the only way to go, and so help me, I am going for the big guns when the occasion calls for them.  You have got to stop changing that one, because it ruins my flow and my flow is very important to me.  This extends to all usage: do not twist my words into treatises about waterfowl, sudden drops in altitude, or references to "motherduckers."

Motherducker isn't even a word, Tiny Puritan.

You need to knock that shit off posthaste.  I'm worried about your living and working conditions, because my iPad is pretty small, but if you do not stop messing with my cussing fits, we are going to have issues.  Stop sanitizing my work, or I'm going to run the iPad through the dishwasher and then everyone will be upset.



Monday, August 8, 2011

Someone Give Fox25 a Medal

Apparently our local Fox syndicate has had a busy 2011.  They have this amazing commercial playing right now, which opens with lots of whooshing and screens that read "News in Boston"/"is RELENTLESS" before cutting to a series of dates and clips, with freaking bomb countdown noises in the background.  The overall effect is a suggestion that the Fox25 News Team somehow orchestrated the news stories being shown, and it is HYSTERICAL.  Here are some of their achievements to date:

4/26/11: "Police in Boston found the baby alone in the car, but the mom has not been seen in days..."

5/1/11: "Osama bin Laden is dead, there are thousands of people on the Common right now..."

5/2/11: "...he was found in a compound in Pakistan."

5/16/11: "The bitter reality is they have no idea who this little boy was..."

6/1/11: "At least three tornadoes turning homes into piles of rubble...right over the city of Springfield..."

6/2/11: "It is incredible to see these [tornado] sites first hand..."

6/15/11: "The Bruins pull off a game 7 victory...[A Bruin speaking, I think Tim Thomas:] 'Best day of my life, woooo!'...Your Bruins, Stanley Cup champions, get those Duck boats ready!"

6/22/11: "James Whitey Bulger captured in Santa Monica, California...he was hiding with several hundred thousand dollars inside his apartment."

6/24/11: In all of New England history there has never been a case like [the Bulger case]..."


My favorite part of all of this (besides the bomb noise) is that the last mention of authorities of any kind as drivers of the action is in the first item, which gives the whole thing the sense that for instance Kevin Lemanowicz, the meteorologist, went down to Springfield and called down the tornadoes, or the female reporter (who I don't recognize) talking about Whitey Bulger actually captured him.  It's the most spectacular little dose of hyperbole I've seen in a long time.  I insist that these people be recognized for their good work immediately, and be dispatched to Washington to fix all the disaster down there.  After all, it's not every year that you find numerous abandoned/dead children, take out Public Enemy Number One, summon tornadoes, win a Stanley Cup AND catch Whitey Bulger.  GIVE THESE PEOPLE THEIR DUE!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On the Debt Ceiling and Its Attendant Fuckery

The debt ceiling situation broke my soul a little, so I haven't been talking about it in this space much.  It actually got so bad at one point that I wound up making an agreement with my primary talking-about-politics friend to not talk about politics for several days because even though we usually agree, we were creating this stressful echo chamber of rage every time the debt ceiling came up.  However, a couple of my friends have asked about my thoughts on the matter, and it's important to talk about this stuff so people know what's going on and what should be going on.  I responded to a request for my thoughts on Facebook, and I'll flesh it out here (though not too much, since I got on a tear and the comment wound up being almost 1000 words).

1. No fucking way should this ever have been the clusterfuck it was. The debt ceiling is a self-imposed mechanism that deals with the Treasury's ability to pay what Congress tells it to. Congress has a say in what we pay for via the budget process. When it gets to an issue of needing to raise the debt ceiling, the time to fight about what comprises our debt is long since over - the money has been spent and it's a matter of letting the Treasury pay the bill. This should have been a clean raise and I think Obama should have used the 14th Amendment to at least demand that it be that way, even if he wasn't comfortable addressing the additional budget considerations that (stupidly) got rolled into the debate by allowing the GOP to frame the discussion early on. Coming out swinging and using the 14th Amendment to frame the debt ceiling raise as a narrow discussion would have made everything a lot clearer and less stupid for everyone.

2. Anyone who didn't come away from this realizing that the Tea Party members of Congress are a dangerous group of privileged assholes with the GOP's nuts in a vise is a fucking moron. They have twice now demonstrated that they do not understand how government works, as evidenced by the budget shit they tacked on to this debate and the policy riders they tacked onto the budget discussions, which you may remember as "the last time they almost shut the government down." They are a bunch of childish, ignorant, selfish assholes and I am done pretending otherwise. If they were truly about the objectivist, libertarian ideology they say they are, they would join up with the incredibly rich, nuanced and energetic libertarian community in this country. But they aren't. They care about draconian social conservatism and don't give a shit about liberty in any way shape or form. I understand that there are Tea Party members who do genuinely care about liberty and want to deny this reality of the Tea Party, but they are wrong, and I am sorry. Those people who don't want to be called racist, sexist, xenophobic ignoramouses need to get the fuck out of the Tea Party because that is what these Tea Party candidates and representatives are bringing to the table.

2a. I believe that everyone's voice is worth hearing in American politics.  That doesn't mean I think everyone's voice needs to be acted on, but I think they all need to be heard, not only because democracy runs on dissent but also because an idea that cannot stand up to challenges is a bad one to act on.  Establishing certain ideas as status quo and expecting them to stay that way forever dooms any polity to failure; continual challenges to them keep them vibrant, adaptable and relevant.  However, lying to the people you're ostensibly in a discussion with is not acceptable and represents a forfeit of your legitimacy in the debate.  Speaker John Boehner got up in front of the American public and lied to their faces about what was at stake, where the debt had come from, the need for budget cuts to be appended to the debt ceiling, and his own interactions.  That is shitty at best and treasonous at worst.  John Boehner has been in Congress much longer than the Tea Party has existed.  That he was willing to set aside his institutional knowledge to advance a foul and dangerous Tea Party plan is incredibly disturbing.

3. I am disappointed in Obama's choices, but I am MOST disappointed in the way he handled the negotiations and who apparently attended them. Nancy Pelosi never should have been third man in on those discussions and it sounds like she was.  There has been a lot of theorizing that this is part of a larger play to the middle on Obama's part.  If that is the case, it's a huge mistake.

3a. I probably would have invoked the 14th Amendment and drafted an Executive Order for a clean raise. The problem with this is that out debt's stability resonates through our markets and the world economy, and markets are a game of confidence. [Insert con game pun here as necessary] The deadline was met. We made it. Yay. I guess. Except there will be doubt about the stability of our bonds for years to come, and that is a dangerous thing for both our economy and the world's. Markets were dipping well ahead of the deadline, and S&P basically had to be talked out of downgrading out AAA rating during the process, and has now gone ahead and done it.  Markets don't make autonomous decisions - the numbers don't decide whether to go up or down. They are chaotic systems and they operate on peoples and groups' whims and fears. This has been damaging for us already, and pretending otherwise is fucking foolish.

I think Obama resisted using the 14th Amendment because he understands that entering into negotiations like this and then acting unilaterally would have an effect on our governance and political system that would outlast even the economic costs of a default, and that it would be worse. No matter what these ignorant motherfuckers tell you, that man understands and respects the Constitution, and he understands that American democracy is contingent on compromise in the service of a communal project of governance. I respect the shit out of that even if I would have made a different decision.

4. All that said, everyone needs to calm the fuck down. I'm already twat-deep in people getting all hysterical about about we need to recall Obama and how he's betrayed us and 2012 we're all voting for Ralph Shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down. You have two options in 2012, and those options are Barack Obama and whatever the shit the GOP comes up with, and you bet your ass there's a chance it could be Michele "Crazy Pants" Bachmann. The deal is not one I like, and I would have liked to see either a.) a clean raise or if budget shit just HAD to be involved, b.) one with a tax increase for the rich and dramatic military cuts [Note: the plan as passed includes $350B in cuts to the base military budget with potential for more.  The People's View has a great overview of what's going on and why everyone should calm down.]. As it is, the debt ceiling is good through 2013, so we don't have to go through this fuckery again until after the election which I assure you benefits everyone. In the agreement, Obama managed to preserve Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while also securing big time military cuts, which fucking NO ONE has been talking about since ever and which we desperately need to be talking about. I also think that this can be parlayed into a solid smackdown of the Bush Tax Cuts when they come up again soon, because the Tea Party and GOP just spent 6 months showing what a bunch of priviledged corporocrats they are and how wrong they are about fiscal policy. People are already tired of these motherfuckers telling them how business should get off scott free while everyone else sucks it up. That shit is not going to fly again.

5. My main concern is with this special committee, which entrenches the two party system and is unconstitutional. We have a group to figure out cuts to the budget. It's called FUCKING CONGRESS and we ELECT IT.

TL:DR: That shit was exhausting and stupid and never should have happened, but the deal isn't as bad as all the pearl clutchers are making it out to be.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Navigational Difficulties

Once upon a time I got lost in Pennsylvania.

If you've driven though Pennsylvania, you may know that large swathes of it kind of all look the same.  It's beautiful, all rolling hills and nice greenways and the exact same gas station in all 46,055 square miles, why, WHY I ask you is it like that, but if you are not sure where you are, it can be a little disconcerting.  I got lost pre-GPS (in my life anyway) and didn't have a Pennsylvania map.  You would think that my Quakerness would come with some kind of inborn Pennsylvania-specific GPS system, but this is not in fact the case.  I threw a Hail Mary pass and called my Dad.  This is how it went.

Me: Dad, I'm lost in Pennsylvania and I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

Dad: Okay, what was the last road you were on?

Me: 84.  No.  81.  Maybe.  Or 78.

Dad: What did the last exit you saw look like?

Me: [describes median and shape of exit.]

Dad: What are you looking at now?

Me: The Pennsylvanian variety of gas station.  It's kind of blue.

Dad: Oh, okay.  Here's what you do.

And then he gave me directions from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, including exit numbers.  There may be slight paraphrasing in here, but the bottom line is that I described my surroundings to him and he managed to give me exit-by-exit directions home.  He used to drive trucks, so he's been all over the place, and appears to have spent much of his time on the road memorizing America's highway infrastructure.  This is both awesome and useful.

I've inherited a lot of Dad's traits, but the navigational skillz are not on the list.  I rarely know what street I'm on, and this includes streets in Worcester, where I've spent the vast majority of my driving life.  If you ask me to give you directions, I will force you to navigate by trees and sculptures.  This is totally confusing to Dad.  Now, he is a strong believer in forcing you to work your own shit out.  At one point in high school when he was trying to force me to work out navigation at the kitchen table before I went somewhere, I snapped, grabbed a piece of paper, and sketched something like this:
No, it's not some kind of black magic diagram.

This was my explanation of how I understand American public planning.  What this indicates is that there is one path from my house to various locations I frequent, the paths never cross, and I don't know what I'm passing through on my way.  This does add a certain excitement factor to driving, because I occasionally pass one of my known landmarks on my way to another known landmark and get all excited about this newfound knowledge.  Over time, I've gotten better at navigation, but I still rely on a GPS if one's available, because occasionally my brain snaps back into "AND THERE IS NO OTHER PATH" mode and I immediately get lost.

The genetics, they are strong...but they can't save me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Living with Cats is Much like Stockholm Syndrome, Y/Y?

The sound that cats make before they puke.

I'm guessing that pretty much everyone just thought of the same thing, and many of you thought of it before you even got to "that cats make before they puke" because that sound is the most horribly distinctive noise ever for some reason.  Important question: why is it so frigging resonant?  The cat could be downstairs inside his little litterbox igloo and I could have my headphones on while vacuuming upstairs and I'd still hear that shit.

Anyway, the orange one started making that noise a few minutes ago.  I'm writing a technical paper right now, which means I've been spending a lot of time sitting on the couch with my laptop on my lap and an extravagant blanket of paper and binders and like...assorted writing detritus locking me in.  So the cat starts making the vomit noise, and I look down at the ground helplessly, at which point he barfs on my mitten book.  And of course he barfs on the mitten book, because it took me three months to find a replacement copy when I lost it a while back and then took two weeks to actually get delivered.  Do you know what the first thing I thought was?

"Well at least he puked on the book and not the carpet."

THAT IS NOT HEALTHY.  That's like going "well, at least he only hits me in the torso so no one notices my black eyes."  Some freaking animal puked on my belongings and I approved of his choice of barf locale!  I used to be sane.  Oh and needless to say he ralphed up fish food flakes because his OTHER favorite way to bring joy to my life is knocking the fish flakes off the table and last night when he did it, the cap fell off.  The other cat, by the way, is sleeping on all of my papers at once somehow, and emits whiney squeaks when I try to use them, like, "sorry cat, I'd hate to disrupt your life, since you get paid for using these materials and all.  OH WAIT."
Yeah, they look cute now.  Fuckin' cats.