Monday, December 21, 2009

New quote

Slavery or Bravery. Pick One.

That's my new quote. It's from a blog I really enjoy, Fashion Incubator, written by Kathleen Fasanella.

For those who don’t know, my self-identity is that of Steward, a less emotionally loaded way to describe nurturing. Steward sounds better than Nurturer. I could have used Cheerleading for the category title but that sounded dorky. Guardian sounded too paternal and by turns partisan so obviously, my thesaurus wasn’t helping much.

Until I came upon Courage and from there led Brave. Even though I’ve felt that for much of my life I’ve been suspended between tedium and terror, those were words I could identify with. In fact, I have a personal motto. It is:

Slavery or Bravery. Pick one.

And I believe it utterly; you can’t convince me otherwise. As someone who’s had a very difficult and sometimes tragic life, I know what it’s like to be born a victim and to live like one but came such day that I realized I didn’t need to remain a victim because being a victim is a choice and that wasn’t one I chose to make any longer.

You can be a slave to your past and to your culture and to the social pressure of your community, or you can be brave and choose your own life starting today. Choosing your own life might retain some of the past's good elements, but choose them and not the parts that make your life worse.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trusting your process

Yesterday was the day I have every week when it seems like I can't play any of my piano lesson. It's always frustrating because the day before, I had played all of my songs fine--maybe not quite up to tempo, and a couple of minor mistakes, but I could tell I was getting there.

The first day after my lesson, I'm playing with close attention, concentrating on reading the notes and playing them. I play very slowly, and go through the difficult parts by themselves a couple of extra times. I practice at least twice a day, each time for a minimum of 15 minutes; often it's more like half an hour three times a day, because I'm having so much fun learning piano. Over the next couple of days I start to play more confidently and with more pleasure than concentration.

But there's always the fourth or fifth day, when it seems like I fell apart: many wrong notes, hesitation before I play the next bar, and frustration. I push on, plodding through my minimum practice sessions. My goal is not to stop practicing any particular song until I have played it correctly at least once and preferably three times, but on the fourth or fifth day most of my practice sessions end with a song I have made so many mistakes on, I'm too tired to go on. I've even wondered whether I can do it at all, whether I have any ability to learn to play this instrument and make the notes into music for my enjoyment.

The only way I can handle the frustration is to remember that this has happened every week. I have to trust my process and keep practicing. Sometimes I slow everything back down, or practice just the hardest things for a few minutes. I know a big part of what has happened is that I got overconfident and stopped *reading* the music while I played, and I haven't actually memorized these songs yet, I still need to pay attention while I'm playing. I also tend to focus on what I'm playing with my left hand, and of course I lose track of my right hand work when that happens. But if I keep practicing through the rough spot, on the sixth day the effort pays off: not only am I playing better, but with ease instead of struggle.

My process isn't the same for everything I've learned, and discovering it usually takes more time than this. Trusting a process also takes time, but it's the only way to improve, so I do. Some kinds of learning I have to take a break from--a few days or weeks to let my new knowledge integrate into how I think and react and make decisions. Other kinds I need to keep making a regular, repeated effort to learn, to practice a skill and remember the tricks of performing it.

Take time to discover and trust your process for learning or doing anything important to you. Observe your patterns and use them to your advantage.

Saturday, December 05, 2009


The year after my divorce, I specifically asked my mother to have me and my kids over on my birthday. I just didn't want to have to plan, cook, and clean up my own birthday dinner with just my two sons. The month previous, my sister's birthday had (for some reason) been a big deal--nearly everyone in the family was there at Mom's, swimming in the apartment complex's pool, barbecuing in the back yard, and generally celebrating together. I didn't need that--for one thing they'd all just been, for another my sister is a family favorite and I am rather the opposite of that. I only asked my mother to cook dinner for me and my two sons, and have a birthday cake, on this first birthday after my divorce.

She repeatedly assured me that she'd invited the whole family just like for my sister's birthday, and that I'd be wowed by the cake. She'd call me up randomly to tell me what a great cake it would be, that she'd had this cake from the bakery before and it was wonderful.

After work on my birthday, I picked up my kids and drove out to my mom's for the birthday dinner. There were balloons! It was kind of neat. But hey, where was everybody? The entire family had independently decided (for different reasons) to fail to come to my birthday party. Well, I kinda figured they'd all bail, but at least my mother got me a birthday cake, right? That's really all I asked for and all I wanted.

After a delicious barbecued dinner Mom triumphantly brought out...a chocolate cheesecake. I smiled. She and my kids sang me happy birthday. She cut me a piece of cheesecake and urged it on me. I ate about half of it, praised it, and we all moved on.

About 15 minutes later she noticed I never finished my slice. "Didn't you like the cake?" she asked. "Cheesecake's your favorite, right?" she said.

"No, Mom, I don't like cheesecake. I have never liked cheesecake. Cheesecake is *your* favorite." I replied. I was disappointed but tried not to show it.

She got mad at me. Told me I did too like cheesecake, that I had always loved cheesecake. That I was only saying it to make her look bad. I kept trying to move on, I thanked her for the party, I told her it was very good cheesecake. I didn't argue with her, what was the point? I was never going to convince her that I've never liked cheesecake.

So not only did my entire family (brother, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins) bail on my birthday party after showing up just a month earlier for my sister's (and they all live within 15 miles of us, it's not like it was a huge trip) but my own mother hadn't paid enough attention in the 35 years she'd known me to notice that I don't like cheesecake, and served it to me for my birthday.

I have an aversion to being offered cheesecake, to even being at the same table with cheesecake, to this day.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Performance versus Mastery

Pixel Poppers says some of us are Addicted to Fake Achievment.

It turns out there are two different ways people respond to challenges. Some people see them as opportunities to perform - to demonstrate their talent or intellect. Others see them as opportunities to master - to improve their skill or knowledge.

Say you take a person with a performance orientation ("Paul") and a person with a mastery orientation ("Matt"). Give them each an easy puzzle, and they will both do well. Paul will complete it quickly and smile proudly at how well he performed. Matt will complete it quickly and be satisfied that he has mastered the skill involved.

Now give them each a difficult puzzle. Paul will jump in gamely, but it will soon become clear he cannot overcome it as impressively as he did the last one. The opportunity to show off has disappeared, and Paul will lose interest and give up. Matt, on the other hand, when stymied, will push harder. His early failure means there's still something to be learned here, and he will persevere until he does so and solves the puzzle.

If you're performance oriented, you'll do great on the easy stuff, but bomb out on anything that requires persistence over time to learn. Mastery motivation keeps you going on the tough stuff, and it's highly correlated with long term success in academics, profession, and personal life.

And it's as easy as how you praise: "You are so smart!" leads to performance and "You worked so hard!" leads to mastery. You can teach yourself to be mastery-motivated by focusing on learning how to do something that takes time, and praising yourself for that effort.

Hat tip Isegoria.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

On fantasies and feminism

Lots of strong reactions in various directions to the book and movie series Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, about a teen girl's obsession with a vampire boy who refuses to drink human blood, but Tiger Beatdown shows me a new viewpoint: they are *women's* fantasies, and that is both why some find them so compelling and why others find them ridiculous and threatening.

[W]e are used to seeing straight men’s goofy, unrealistic sexual fantasies. They are everywhere, all the time. Beer commercials, magazines, Michael Bay movies, porn obviously. We’re used to having female characters flattened out, falsified, emptied out and filled up again with a boundless desire to satisfy men’s needs for no apparent reason. We’re used to the fact that straight male sexual fantasy scenarios (or, at least, sexual fantasies marketed to straight men: and, hey, a lot of dudes are buying them) are cartoonish, in poor taste, unsophisticated, weird. We’re used to expressions of desire, public expressions, aimed at women the desire-expressers have never met and will never sleep with and will probably never even see in all three dimensions, outside of a movie screen or photograph or TV set – discussions of whether the men in question would, in fact, “hit that” or whatnot – and to the sale of those bodies, or at least images and facsimiles thereof.


this is everywhere. We’re used to it. It’s part of the accepted context of straight male desire – it’s tacky as all hell, aesthetically, and that’s just how they do – and so criticizing it, in an aesthetic way, seems pointless. Congratulations, you went looking for art in a product intended to provide boners and came up empty. Surprise! But when girls do the exact same thing – when they prove themselves capable of the exact same sort of objectification, and the exact same goofiness or tackiness or unrealistic fantasy in the name of getting off – well, it freaks people out. It’s weird. Why are they acting like this? Don’t they know that Robert Pattinson is a person? Why are they treating him like a big chunk of meat? Why doesn’t Edward Cullen act like a real guy would?

All of us objectify each other to some extent, and it's pro-survival. If I spent the same amount of attention on the person in the elevator who pressed the button for the 3rd floor as I do on my husband, I'd go bugnuts crazy; we use good judgment in deciding how much of our attention to spend on different people depending on how important they are to us and how much influence/impact they have on our lives.

And probably we all need to grow up, and deal with the fact that everyone we meet in the world is a person with a complex inner life, and also be open to the fact that people are pretty in different ways and our entertainment only portrays one very limited slice of the vast spectrum that is human prettiness, and etc. But also? Be less weirded out by the fact that ladies are getting all freaky about Robert Pattinson. Or be MORE weirded out by the dudes getting all het up about various lady movie stars. Take your pick. Because ladies are people. And if there is one universal truth about people, it is that lots of us are kind of gross.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Moving around on the political spectrum

Charles Murray likens Obama and the progressive left to Pauline Kael (who famously said of President Nixon, “How can he have won? Nobody I know voted for him.”)

Included in the article is a fascinating graph demonstrating that while most of the non-Latino white population in the US has been moving slightly more conservative, the progressive left (defined in the article as at the 95th percentile of income and with a graduate degree, but a lawyer, academic, scientist (hard or soft) outside academia, writer, in the news media, or a creator of entertainment programming (film and television) has jumped massively left.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Writing the other

An excellent essay on writing (and being) the other at Justine Musk's livejournal.


Before you can get into anybody else’s head, you have to get out of your own.

She discusses the halo effect of beauty, what it was like to realize she didn't live in the same world that men do, why some movies work in their depiction of women and some don't, and how women are allowed and encouraged to become like men but men becoming like women is taboo-level transgressive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Changing education

Laura at Apt. 11D responds to Thomas L. Friedman'sopinion piece on restarting the economy through educating people better (starting with kids, of course). She says school can't do it, not only do they have enough to do already with reading and writing but they don't do a good enough job of that:

Schools were set up to create a homogeneous mass of unthinking workers. That's what they do best. They reward kids who sit motionless in seats, draw inside the lines, and have neat desks.

And they punish kids who are self-directed, curious, and determined to find out the truth.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Changing out a quote

It's time to change out one of my sidebar quotes. This one is going away for a while:

There are four boxes to use in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, ammo. Use in that order. Ed Howdershelt

It's a quote I like, but I'm ready to move on to saying the same thing a different way. I'm substituting this one:

Oppressors can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace. James Madison.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Which Genes from Which Parent?

Apparently it matters. A Patchwork Mind discusses how some of the genes we get from each parent are imprinted to work differently. It's not as simple as "half from mom, half from dad, and the recessive gene only works if there's no dominant gene." Maternal genes "turn off" for some characteristics, and paternal ones for others:

it seems that maternal genes play a more important role in the formation of some brain areas, such as those for language and complex thought, and paternal genes have more influence in regions involved in growing, eating and mating.

When the turning off, or imprinting, goes wrong, this fault in how the different genes express causes some rare illnesses:

Among the rare disorders that result from imprinting errors is Angelman syndrome, which affects one out of 12,000 to 20,000 children in the world. Children with the syndrome are hyperactive and often smiling and laughing. In addition, studies suggest that more than 40 percent of affected kids suffer from autism spectrum disorders as well—experiencing great difficulty with language and social skills. The syndrome is marked by a reduction of maternally expressed proteins in a small section of chromosome 15, which is also usually paternally imprinted. In other words, genes from Dad are silenced as usual, but Mom’s genes are also imprinted by mistake—they are not as active as they should be to balance Dad’s imprinting effects. The brains of these children develop abnormally: their cerebral cortex is slightly smaller than usual, and a 2008 study in mice showed that cells in the cerebellum are also atypical.

Scientists are exploring whether gene expression issues may also be the cause of more common problems:

Badcock and evolutionary biologist Bernard Crespi of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia have since developed this theory, having most recently published an essay in Nature on the potential role that genomic imprinting plays in autism and psychotic disorders. “These disorders are opposites to one another, and imprinting is one of the mechanisms that can mediate that opposing feature,” Crespi posits. Although imprinting usually builds a balanced brain, if one parent’s contribution outweighs the other’s, then autism spectrum disorders (the result of too much net paternal influence, they argue) or psychosis (the result of too much net maternal influence) may instead develop, they say.

Alzheimer's and Tourette's also seem to be affected by maternal or paternal genes expressing differently from expected. There's no evidence from studies yet, but the concept is interesting. If we can prove that gene expression causes these problems, we may already have some tools to treat them:

If imprinting is solidly linked to the development of common mental disorders, then it may one day be appropriate to treat patients with drugs that manipulate gene expression. One method could be dialing down the activity of targeted genes, using a therapy called RNA interference—because it interferes with gene expression.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not really about politics.

I sometimes discuss political subjects on this blog, but I'm not really that interested in politics. Much like a lot of people, apparently, as The Monkey Cage reports on a survey finding:

Percent who have not heard of Glenn Beck: 42%

Percent who have heard nothing about the Baucus health care bill: 45%

Percent who have heard nothing about the ACORN prostitution scandal: 43%

Percent who have heard nothing about the 9/12 rally in Washington: 40%

Some people treat politics as a hobby. I'm not really one of them...or, if I am, it's a hobby I only rarely pursue.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A minimum recommended dose?

Of radiation? Maybe. Isegoria links to a study reporting on the result of an accidental Cobalt-60 contamination incident that exposed 10,000 people to 9 to 12 years of chronic radiation.

If the linear-no-threshold (LNT) model constructed based upon data from the atomic explosions in Japan is appropriate for evaluating chronic radiation, such excessive doses received by the contaminated apartment residents could induce at least 35 excess leukemia and 35 solid cancer deaths after 21 years. However, actually no increase cancers were observed. On the contrary, the spontaneous cancer deaths of the residents totaled 243 over 21 years based upon the vital statistics provided by the Taiwanese government. The mortality rate from these cancers dropped to only 3% of the general population as shown in the following graph.

There were also fewer hereditary defects in the children of exposed persons.

Scientists may be able to produce a radioactive vaccine to prevent cancer.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What has amused me lately

How I got out of writing an essay on HG Wells' The Time Machine.

Lojack your kid!

What goes with toad in the hole? Porn.

"Yeeessss," says Ian, a little unconvinced. "I'd like to do cabbage with something, though. Make it more interesting, give it an extra dimension. Cabbage and [ ]," he says, using his hands to explain. "Rob always cooks it with extra [ ]: it's really nice. Raisins or something."

"Hmmm," I say, unwilling to see in the first toad of the season with wizened fruit.

"I should ask the Internet," says Ian, summoning Google. "Ask it what goes with cabbage."


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Keeping up on the health care plan

At Little Green Footballs there is a link to a list of questions and answers about the health care plan in the US currently being worked on by our legislature. The questions were collected from commenters at LGF. The person keeping the list is inserting answers as they are discovered, with citations to where he found the answers. It might be a useful resource.

May the force be with you(r lunch)

Lightsaber chopsticks!

For the record, threats against Bush

Death threats when Bush was president versus death threats against President Obama.


Many readers may naively think, “The answer is obvious: no protester was ever arrested for threatening Bush at a protest because no one ever threatened him at a protest. Who would be that stupid? I certainly never heard of any such threats.”

Alas, if only it were that simple. Because the bald fact is that people threatened Bush at protests all the time by displaying menacing signs and messages — exactly as the anti-Obama protester just did in Maryland. Yet for reasons that are not entirely clear, none of those Bush-threateners at protests was ever arrested, questioned, or investigated (at least as far as I could tell).

There are burning effigies, bumper stickers with rope nooses, posters, graffiti, and excerpts from speeches.

Hat tip Common Reader.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm scared, so take away that guy's rights please!

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall wonders why people who have guns are allowed at presidential events. After all, he thinks:

you don't take a gun somewhere unless you think there's some chance you might have occasion to use it. So there's no question that these guns are brought as a provocation.

Maybe that's the only reason he'd take a gun somewhere--to threaten someone, like the president. People who are actually exercising their Second Amendment rights don't need a reason, don't have to justify carrying a gun. But if they were asked, they'd give reasons like the following:

1. I'm carrying to exercise my right to carry--rights you don't use might be taken away.

2. I'm carrying because a rapist might attack me, and I want to be able to defend myself.

3. I'm carrying because a mass murderer might begin firing at the crowd, and I might be able to stop him from killing more than one or two.

4. I'm carrying because I always do, and there's nothing special about this event that changes that decision. I wouldn't leave off my gun any more than I'd leave off my wedding ring.

5. I'm carrying to encourage others to exercise their rights. If they notice that I can do it, maybe they'll try.

There is one reason some people carry that is...not so much a provocation as due warning:

6. I'm carrying because once we had to fight a war to throw off an oppressive government, and if we need to do it again, I'm ready, willing, and most importantly, able to do so.

Those are all perfectly legal, justifiable reasons for carrying a gun.

Mr. Marshall concludes:

But put me down as not believing we should allow the brandishing of firearms in proximity of the president as an acceptable way of expressing opposition to the president.

Carrying is not brandishing (brandishing has a legal definition, it's not just a fancy word for "I saw his gun and I was frightened!"); expressing opposition to the president is protected First Amendment speech, until it rises to actual threat. Mr. Marshall questions the Secret Service's judgment, libels citizens exercising their Constitutionally-protected rights, and--without any evidence--implies that everyone who carries is doing so solely to express opposition to the president. He's rude, he's smug, and he's wrong.

Hat tip Jay Lake.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Epictetus: Against the Academics

- It's hard to change a man's opinion when he refuses to accept the truth set in front of him, and arguments won't sway such a person because he is hardened "like a stone."

- There are two ways of being hardened: one when a man isn't able to understand, and the other when he's won't go back on what he previously said, to withdraw from a position he already took, because he is dead to modesty and shame (about the mistake). This latter one is sometimes mistakenly considered power or strength by people who don't see the damage it does to one's character.

- There's no arguing with he who pretends not to perceive; there's no torture that will show him he is hardened. He pretends not to notice what he perceives to be true, to avoid feeling bad.

- But there's worse: the man who sees it, and allows himself to perceive it, but won't improve himself.


I laughed over and over while reading this aloud to my husband in the car on the commute home today. I've certainly dealt with these people, one just yesterday in fact.

Keeping an open mind is important, because I could have made a mistake, or new information could change a situation enough that I would change my opinion. And getting it right is more important than having been right in the first place, so making a mistake is a reason to improve myself, not to pretend I didn't make it.

I understand why my friend recommended Epictetus to me. :P

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Changing minds

I don't think you can change people's minds by just telling them they're wrong, or by comparing the costs and benefits of two alternatives, without taking into account their values. After all, you're picking the benefits--you may have excluded something important to them, because it's not important to you. Or maybe it's even something you see as an evil. There's a lot of unexpressed assumptions in most arguments I've read.

You might be able to do it (change their minds) by showing how your proposal is in accord with their values. I'm sure you can do it by changing their values, if you can manage that.

One person told me I changed their mind by presenting information they already had in a different way, which I suppose can be called perspective. (I wouldn't call it framing. I think framing has a deserved bad reputation--it's like push advertising. "If only we choose the right vocabulary we can get those dimwits to make the right decision!")

I learned a long time ago that most people learn best (most easily and most thoroughly) when they learn something themselves. Facts you can just tell, I mean drawing conclusions and figuring out problems. They keep the knowledge, they incorporate it into their worldview, when they work it out on their own rather than being told the solution. That was a hard truth for me: I like to tell people things. I like being the one that knows! And I like being helpful. But when I discovered the best help I could be would be to step back and let them figure things out, I started doing that as a first step in helping.

So, this started out being about the United States moving toward some kind of government-provided health care for all (citizens? persons within our borders?) using tax dollars. I haven't paid much attention-I'm not willing to pay the price of trying to affect this process, so the details are useless to me until it's in place in whatever form it ultimately takes. But what keeps catching my attention is the underlying struggle between two approaches to the problems of life: one, where we (as individuals) decide that this problem is best solved as a community, and agree to impose the costs of a solution on all of us (some voluntarily, some through coercion) by using government as a tool to provide that solution; and two, where we (as individuals) decide that this problem is best left in individual hands and to individual judgement about individual solutions, which also imposes some costs on everyone, just different costs.

People in all kinds of political associations (or lack of them) in all kinds of positions on all kinds of problems have this decision somewhere in the basis of their approach. And they decide it differently depending on the problem. What I rarely see is argument addressing this decision, this core choice about what solutions to try and how to make those solutions happen. Instead in the health care debate I've read mostly comparisons of the costs: if we stay with our current system X people pay Y cost, and if we move to government-mediated health care A people will pay B cost. Then the other side picks apart your cost analysis (which can always be done) and you've moved nobody from one position to another.

I think it's possible to move this decision one way or another by looking at values instead of costs. I know, I know--my friends in favor of single payer or a national health service will say that the other side doesn't care about poor people because the other side discounts societal effects on choice, and my other friends in favor of private health care will say the first side doesn't care about encouraging self-reliance and growth (of all kinds: intellectual, economic, research) because the other side thinks it's worthwhile to take away the fruits of personal labor to pay for other people's bad judgement.

I think it would be more useful to admit that one set of people thinks giving the government control of my health care is worth it because only government is big enough to provide care for everyone, and medical care is important enough to do it this way, and our current system is failing a lot of people. And that another set of people thinks giving the government control of my health care means imposing the worst of government bureaucracy on decisions that are very personal, that emotions matter to health care decisions and don't matter to government rules, and that every time I cede power over my life to the government I become more vulnerable to human mistake, human corruption, and clerical error. I think both sets of people would benefit from examining what governments in the United States do well and what they really get wrong; our culture is important to this discussion, more important than how other countries' health care systems work.

I don't think that conversation is taking place.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kids these days.

Michael Chabon's recent article in the New York Review of Books, The Wilderness of Childhood, wonders where future authors' imaginations will take root, since kids these days don't have free reign to play and think in the wildnesses. Their parents keep them home or in supervised, scheduled activities. I read it with growing anger.

How do I feel about Chabon’s mourning his imagined loss of freedom for other people’s kids? Angry. Angry that there’s one more attack on parents; angry at the unacknowledged privilege revealed by complaining that “middle class” parents giving their children opportunities and supervision but not the one specific opportunity he wants; angry that the risks of unsupervised time are minimized. How many of these complainers are people who were abused or bullied while unsupervised? How many were injured and had no one to call for help? How many were lonely for their parents, who pushed them outside instead of forming a connection? Of course these people support free time for kids–it worked out well for them!

Sure, if you have the wealth to live in a safe neighborhood that contains a wild space and lots of other kids whose parents have similar parenting styles (i.e., let their kids out to play unsupervised), running around in a gang of kids can be a great experience. So can time alone, wandering through a field of weeds and butterflies, pondering your place in the world, with no parent cautioning you not to touch, not to jump, not to cross that creek, not to...engage with the world. But what if you aren’t middle class or above, and the outside world isn’t safe?

I grew up a lot of places, most of them not safe for kids. One city where we lived for about 4 months, I was chased home every afternoon from school by a gang of kids and if they caught me, they hit and kicked me. I was 10 years old. Another place out in the country where we lived for 8 or 9 months, I was bicycling home from the market 4 miles away when a pickup truck ran me off the road into a ditch and I broke my arm. On a deserted country road. I lay in the ditch, tangled in my bike, crying for a couple of hours before somebody found me. I was 9 years old.

Of course it wasn’t all bad. When I was 11 and 12 we lived in a suburb, and I spent hours wandering a weedy field between two housing developments–it was about half a mile wide and a mile long. I found all kinds of debris and garbage, hobo camps, butterflies, and eventually a friend. I spent other hours playing kick the can, stick ball, and 4-square in an empty parking lot. But the common element in the good times and bad? No parent or responsible adult to turn to–my mother was at work or out partying all these times, and my dad hadn’t been around since I was 5.

Nostalgia and rose-colored glasses can't pretty up the loneliness, fear, and struggle of my childhood. Nor do I think I was the only one--again, you don't hear complaints about overscheduled kids from people who were injured by neglect, who grew up too fast, whose boredom led them to delinquency.

Parents have enough to worry about and society has a long history of deciding they're doing it wrong. First we had to ensure college acceptance through a broad range of extracurricular activities: music, sports, and some kind of volunteer work. Now we've overscheduled and our precious kids don't learn how to entertain themselves when they're bored, how to use their imaginations and explore their world. There's no getting it right when society moves the goalposts constantly, and when every wrong is blamed on parents' individual choices whether they match society's expectations or differ from them.

Hat tip Laura at 11D.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Topography as art? Why nota map of Beijing hutang neighborhoods or a quilt stitched with Brooklyn blocks?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The death of Michael Jackson

Laura at 11D asks readers to quantify their interest in Michael Jackson's memorial, and commenters are actually discussing their interest in his death and all subsequent events. I wrote there:

I'm probably spending a total of an hour a day this week on it; last week more like 4 hours a day, and the 3 days after his death, probably 6 to 8 hours a day. But then, I liked and admired him; his music was a large part of the soundtrack of my life in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Remembering him and his music, I remember myself at all the various ages and experiences when I heard his songs.

His effect on popular culture was astounding; his success with Thriller is unmatched by any three recording and performing artists since.

The catharsis of public grieving fascinates me. I've wondered whether it's relieving the stress of all the changes over the last year: the housing and economic crisis, the presidential campaign, the various disappointments endemic in the Obama presidency due to the overblown expectations that accompanied his victory.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A celebrity has died

My favorite humorous commentary on celebrity death: stereotypist's.

Quote today

"The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself even to think while you walk, but divert yourself by the objects surrounding you. Walking is the best possible exercise." Thomas Jefferson.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What's interesting?

On twitter jay_lake writes: We admire the strong, but the conflicted are more fascinating.

I don't find conflicted people fascinating, except in the way a snake might fascinate a mouse. I might find the conflicts interesting, but I want to resolve them, not wallow in their complexity. Maybe there's no resolution: accept the ambiguity of the situation and figure out the best next action. There's nothing to admire in being conflicted, especially if it also means stuck; decide and move on.

I'm far more curious about exploring strong people. Why are they strong? How'd they get that way? What kinds of situations have they faced? Was it learned or have they always been strong? Do they have any lessons useful to me?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Apparently the "academic women bloggers" are writing advice to young girls.

There's lots of good advice, though some of it is frivolous. What I told my sons when they were preteen and through their adolescences was that this is a great time to learn how to manage feeling bad. What helps when you're angry? What helps when you're sad? How can you take care of yourself when you're ill?

Maybe it's happy music, or a favorite book or movie. Maybe it's a walk outside. Maybe it's cleaning, maybe it's cooking, maybe it's eating a favorite meal or treat. Figure out what makes you feel better and keep it in mind for when you need it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wait One

A blog I've been reading for many years (since September 11, 2001 to be exact) has a good rule about jumping on bandwagons. When a piece of news comes out that you have a strong internal reaction to and want to do something about, wait one. Wait one day, wait one week, wait one hour--whichever is appropriate. Maybe it's a false rumor, maybe there's more information that will come out in the next news cycle, maybe the company you think is heinous will fix the problem themselves given a chance. Maybe the whole thing was a mistake.

You can still get outraged the next day. You can still send letters, sign petitions, and march in protest if you wait for what happens next. When you don't wait, you can't take back the negative publicity you gave to an innocent subject who fixed the problem in a timely fashion. When you don't wait, you work yourself up and spent your time and energy on a problem that isn't verified yet--energy you might need for a real problem.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Five versus Fifteen

I checked out this morning because I'm thinking about getting an MP3 player for the occasional air travel and for while I'm knitting. (I don't knit well enough to look away from it, so I can't watch tv or read while knitting as many knitters do.) However, I had a moment of shock when I read the Benefits of Membership page:

The average reader gets through only 5 books a year, but the average AudibleListener® member listens to 15 books a year.

Eek! Five books a year? I often get through 5 books a month, and sometimes 5 in a week. Getting all the way up to 15 books a year is something they are proud of?

More evidence that I'm an alien.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Extreme Sheepherding!

Using sheep as pixels, a bunch of Welsh shepherds made this video. Amazing!

Free range kids

Free range kids* are all the rage, and the commenting community at BoingBoing is up in arms about a 10-year-old kid getting picked up by the police because his mother let him walk half a mile to the soccer field instead of personally supervising him the entire way.

Some of the commenters are worried.
I really worry about a generation of kids that have never been allowed to run around without supervision. My niece (eleven years old) hasn't been able to roam as freely as I did when I was six and walked myself a half a mile to school. I went downhill after that, riding bikes with my friends or, gasp, even alone, miles away from my home with no supervision.

My niece is smart, aware, sarcastic and does great in school. But I can't help but fear what will happen when she is finally out of the bubble with so little experience at roaming free.

Many commenters tell stories about how tough and independent they were as children, and how awful it is that parents these days keep such a tight rein on their kids. What will become of these poor sheltered hothouse flowers when they get out into the real world?

There are a couple of easily-identified problems here: one is the vast excluded middle, and the other is the class question. Not that many parents actually schedule and supervise their children the way it is portrayed in, say, the New York Times' inflamatory articles about kids with soccer lessons, flute lessons, math tutoring, volunteer work, etc. every night after school for 4 hours and all day on the weekends. Nor do most parents *really* free range their kids (I mean, I only know one person who was arguably raised by wolves); they set boundaries, they provide a home and food and they teach their kids how to be independent before they set them free on the range to roam at will.

In fact I suspect it's mostly upper middle class (by income) and up who do it. The rest of us can't afford to, either in dollars spent on all those lessons or in parental time supervising.

Another issue is that a lot of the behaviors people proudly remember would be considered neglect under our changed societal standards for parents. Yeah, nothing happened, but if it had, how would a 10-year-old have coped? Yet another issue is that parents, knowing the societal standards for supervision, might hesitate to chance the interference of the government (in the form of Children's Services or such) in their lives, perhaps even the removal of the child for a short time while somebody who doesn't share their free range philosophy decides whether they're good parents.

It's amusing to see people displaying their outrage, exercising their feelings of superiority, and wagging their fingers at all the rest of us repressed, controlling parents. It's just not very connected to the reality I see in my neighborhood, either now or when my kids were little.

*I prefer mine in cages, doesn't everybody?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A good egg

Steve Martin is a good egg.

A high school in eastern Oregon planned to put on his play, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," until parents objected and the school board forbade it. The students raised local funds to do the play in an off-school venue, and Steve Martin read about it online. He's donating to the fund so that they can perform his play:

He said the offer was aimed at allowing people to determine whether they wanted to see the play, "even if they are under 18. I predict that the experience will not be damaging, but meaningful."

Martin said he could understand how some parents might object to their 16- or 17-year-olds delivering some lines, and he said whether the play should be presented at the high school itself "remains something to be determined by the community."

He said, though, that he believed young people could be inspired by seeing the play or, if permitted by parents, by performing in it, and that the La Grande student actors seemed to understand that the "questionable behavior sometimes evident in the play is not endorsed."

He said he disagreed strongly with local characterizations of the play as having to do with "people drinking in bars, and treating women as sex objects."

"With apologies to William Shakespeare," his letter said, "this is like calling Hamlet a play about a castle."

Friday, March 13, 2009


I mostly use blocks of solid colors in my life: my clothes are mostly solids, my home is decorated with solids. But the patterns at Pattern Pulp fascinate me. This blog documents and examines patterns in the world around us--store displays, clothing, wallpaper.

You can make your own patterns at Stripe Generator and Tartan Designer. I plan to use these for some of my knitting projects.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Being the Other

Feminist Mormon Housewives are discussing the HBO series "Big Love", which is about a family living in plural marriage--a fundamentalist sect of LDS. I left this comment:

As a Jew I think it would be wonderful if there were a major television show about Jews, treating them as normal people with normal problems and portraying something about daily life as a Jew, showing the variation in observances and the many different ways people live as Jews.

Choosing to portray members of the LDS as normal means you are not considered outsiders, weird, or alien. Very little of the show focuses on actual matters of faith and practice except the plural marriage principle, and even that is almost never explained, so the message I take from the show is that members of LDS are people just like me: they have problems with their kids, fights with parents, scheduling issues. They have dinner together, sometimes have trouble paying their bills, wonder whether they've made good decisions in their lives.

Try to remember the last time you saw Jews portrayed in the movies or on television. Now try to remember when you've seen them and it wasn't about the Holocaust: Jews portrayed as just regular folks with the same issues everybody else has, plus a few religion-specific ones. Not as victims (e.g., anything about the Munich Olympics or the Holocaust) or oppressors (e.g., anything about the Palestinians--and I'd like to remind everybody that not all Jews are Israeli, so why are all Jews held responsible for what happens in Israel?), just normal people with average lives.

That it can be done for LDS means you're considered part of the mainstream. That's a wonderful thing!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Managing my inputs

I've been reading a string of male-written SF novels lately, mostly military SF to boot, and the experience is reminding me why I've been focusing on women writers.

The books have been almost uniformly well written, exciting stories that I enjoy. Even more characterization than I expect from either male authors or military SF, but not so much as to take time away from chase scenes and battles. More than once I've had that bright feeling of discovery of talent and the pleasure of the unexpected.

But I started reading mostly women writers because I didn't like the effect on my perspective, on my world view, of reading male authors. In most of the books I've read by male authors, there are very few women (they certainly don't pass the Bechdel test). I don't exist, in these novels; I'm not even possible in some of them, there's no awareness of or place for a person like me in the worlds created by these authors.

While I'm sure there are some women authors of whose books this would also be true, it's not my experience. I can always find myself somewhere in the societies women write, at least so far.

I can't find myself in novels written by men, at least, not someone like me who is a woman: there are plenty of men I identify with in them, at least partly. But the attitudes toward women in most of them are destructive to my sense of self. This is already a world in which I struggle to exist as a woman, in which I deal with the subtle sexism in my own psyche as well as in the behavior of others, both as individuals and institutions.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A new quote

"There are four boxes to use in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, ammo. Use in that order." -- Ed Howdershelt (posted in a conversation about California's Proposition 8, which forbade gay marriage).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Health Prejudice

ElseNet a community is discussing (criticizing) a fat woman's nude magazine cover on the basis that she is thereby encouraging people to be unhealthy, and that no obese person can possibly be healthy.

What I always want to ask people who attack obese people on the basis of health is, do you also attack skinny people and moderate size people about their health?

The thing is, size and health are not directly related. Neither are exercise and health. Jim Fixx, the famous jogger, died of a heart attack, so clearly exercise isn't 100% preventive of heart disease (even though fat people are always told they just need to exercise and eat less). Lots of people who "look normal" or have "normal" BMI might have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, or some chronic disease that is untreated..and just because they aren't overweight everyone assumes they are healthy. They might be couch potatoes whose only exercise is walking around their home. They might be eating a horrible diet of junk food and pop all the time. They could even have cancer. But because they're not obese, nobody questions them.

You can't tell by a person's size what their health status is. Attacking fat people and excusing it on the basis of health is just prejudice: you don't actually know anything about their health. You're assuming they are unhealthy because of their appearance. You're not their doctor, and you don't actually know whether they're healthy: what their aerobic capacity is, their blood test results, etc.

You're bullying people and justifying it by pretending concern about their health. Cut that out: it's still bullying.

This also reminds me of how people criticize Israel on human rights, but aren't as frequently vocal about any other countries' human rights violations. Tell me again it's not antisemitism when you never mention Darfur, but write or talk about Gaza regularly?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Answering the unasked question

"How am I supposed to spend the measly $8 per week I get from the stimulus plan?" is a question answered by many economists here, at the Wall Street Journal. Some of the ideas are wacky, some are clever, and the explanations are excellent.

My favorite ideas on the list are to get an $8 hair cut (it's a locally-provided service that isn't regulated by any trade agreements and at that price is likely performed by a low-income worker who will plow the $8 back into the economy on food or the like) or to tip your cab driver extra (because they talk to lots of people they can spread the good cheer of a big tip further).

Language, Women's Culture, and Manners

A terrific post at Feminist Mormon Housewives about housework, expectations, language, and what it's like to be a woman (at least, it matches my experience of being a woman).

The phone rings, its electronic jingle unnerving – I still prefer the warm bell of the old pink rotary phone my parents had when I was a child. I wonder absently what happened to it. My husband’s voice travels upstairs: He addresses his sister by name, and then casually responds with, “Yes, of course. We’d love to have you.” His sister – the nice one, the one I like but only see two or three times a year – is in town. She will be by in half an hour.

Immediately the process begins: Dress the children. Clean the house. Where to concentrate my efforts? Would she be giving us something for the baby? (Do I have enough thank you cards?) No, that’s right, she gave us something already. (Have I sent her the thank you card?) An outfit. “Can you put the baby in the white outfit with the blue teddy bears?” It isn’t a question but a request. “She gave it to us.” My husband looks at me, part adulation, part confusion. “I don’t know how you keep track of all of that,” he says. I shrug and say, “It’s important in a woman’s world.”

Immediately, I think of Virginia Woolf and her ill-advised choice of hat.


This domestic arithmetic is second nature. Women speak their own language, tonal and nuanced as Mandarin: the same words will differ in meaning depending on circumstance. Years ago, I inadvertently shared this with my husband, not realising that men did not know this language. A woman on a TV show remarked that the house of her not-as-well-off friend was “cosy.” I breathed in sharply through my teeth. “Isn’t cosy a compliment?” my husband asked. And so I translated: In that circle, cosy means small, inadequate. Cosy means poor. Cosy means the friendship – so heavily based on money – is not equal, and may not survive. All that, my husband pondered, from a simple word that could, if the circumstances were different, be a compliment.

This domestic arithmetic, this language of women, exists in all cultures, though in different forms: A gift is a gift, but it is also a showing of largesse and wealth. Or, A gift is a gift, but it is also a silent recognition that your family needs help. Or, A gift is a gift, but it is also a showing that you are no more wealthy than I am. So many different meanings.

Negotiating this complex world is a learned skill, and one most women begin to learn very young. We are socialized into it, there are magazine articles and advertisements on television and role models everywhere we look.

And in comments, the same rebellion I've often felt but never had the courage to completely implement:

Bleah. Loved the post, but hate the rituals. To me, it feels like games… games i deeply distrust. I think I must have issues or something; if there is one game I play it’s the “I’m not going to play any games. You want to say something to me? Say it. Otherwise I’ll ignore any signals you may be trying (or not trying) to send me”.

I think it’s part of the reason why it takes me a good long while to make friends with people… I’d say, on average I’ve been in a ward or workplace 2 years before I start getting comfortable with people. But it’s worth it to me, to save “friendship” for the situations where I know that everyone is being honest, transparent… I am only friends with people who I know will say whatever they’re saying about me to my face.
by sare.

An Arab Jew.

My first husband's family is mixed; originally his father's family came from the Isle of Rhodes, they're Sephardic (Spanish, Greek, Middle-Eastern Jewry), while his mother's family is Ashkenaz (European Jews). Some of their family traditions for practicing Judaism are more Sephardic, others Ashkenaz. The recipe I learned for gefilte fish is definitely Sephardic! There's no boiling in broth, instead you fry the fish patties and then bake in tomato sauce. I never thought the only model for Judaism was the one in the movies Fiddler on the Roof and Yentl.

But I hadn't actually read anything from an Arab Jew. Not a convert, not the child of a mixed marriage, but a woman from a long line of Jews who also are Arabs, who lived in the Middle East all along.

As an Arab Jew, I am often obliged to explain the "mysteries" of this oxymoronic entity. That we have spoken Arabic, not Yiddish; that for millennia our cultural creativity, secular and religious, had been largely articulated in Arabic (Maimonides being one of the few intellectuals to "make it" into the consciousness of the West); and that even the most religious of our communities in the Middle East and North Africa never expressed themselves in Yiddish-accented Hebrew prayers, nor did they practice liturgical-gestural norms and sartorial codes favoring the dark colors of centuries-ago Poland. Middle Eastern women similarly never wore wigs; their hair covers, if worn, consisted of different variations on regional clothing (and in the wake of British and French imperialism, many wore Western-style clothes). If you go to our synagogues, even in New York, Montreal, Paris or London, you'll be amazed to hear the winding quarter tones of our music which the uninitiated might imagine to be coming from a mosque.
The same historical process that dispossessed Palestinians of their property, lands and national-political rights, was linked to the dispossession of Middle Eastern and North African Jews of their property, lands, and rootedness in Muslim countries. As refugees, or mass immigrants (depending on one's political perspective), we were forced to leave everything behind and give up our Iraqi passports.

She goes on to point out the discrimination within Israel against the Arab Jews and suggests looking past the artificial binary distinctions that not only reduce the region to Israel/Palestine but also oversimplify the issues.

Hat tip Alas, a blog.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell

This morning when I delivered his mail to one of my bosses I noticed Malcom Gladwell's new book, Outliers, on his desk. We talked about it for a minute (he'd actually borrowed it from another of my bosses) and he offered it to me, since I'd probably finish it before he had time to start it. I do read pretty fast!

So on my morning break I read some, and during my lunch, and afternoon break, and while I ate dinner (not while cooking it, though) and I'm done. It's a quick read, a small book with small ideas and small conclusions that adds up to a big potential for change. If you believe him, that is.

He postulates that although intelligence and hard work matter, you have to have the proper setting (time, culture, family, money) to make the most of them, and that if you examine their settings, what we think of as genius outliers are really as much products of circumstance as of ability and effort. Although I don't think he actually concludes this, it would be a logical extension of his summation that we can help far more people better themselves if we analyze and improve their circumstances in general than if we pick out "the best and the brightest" and spend our limited resources exclusively on turning them into geniuses.

Likewise, he theorizes that a lot of human-error problems can be traced to culture and therefore rather than looking at personal responsibility we should examine systems and cultural communication to prevent future tragedies.

And he starts a class war, maybe not intentionally, between the free range parents and the helicopter parents by giving lots of evidence that helicopter parents are more likely to produce outliers of success, whether financial or intellectual.

I was definitely stimulated by this book, to some thinking and considerable humor.

Express yourself!

At Nicola Griffith's blog, a study finding that putting your feelings into words activates the same areas of the brain as emotional self-control. Although given what I've recently read about the dubious value of interpreting fMRI (basically, some scientists are finding correlations because they're throwing out a lot of data) it's hard for me to evaluate this finding.

But just for the sake of argument, let's pretend it's true. It does kind of make sense: you have to discipline yourself to put feelings into words rather than acting them out, so you're practicing controlling your feelings already.

And parents of toddlers everywhere are vindicated in saying "Use your words, dear."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's a compliment, but...

I've been making myself things for a while now: I've knitted scarves and hats and purses, I put together a terrarium for my desk a month ago, and just this week I made myself a silk half-slip (because I can't find one my size in my price range). I was talking to a co-worker about the slip when another co-worker overheard the conversation and said she wished I'd make her one and she'd pay me for it. The terrarium was complimented that way too--would I make one for them? They'd pay for the materials. Some of the knitting also generates this response.

People, this is not a compliment. I'm glad you like what I made enough to want your own, but telling me you'd pay me to do it again for you (and I don't mean in a hypothetical, "Oh, you did that so well, people might pay you good money for that!" way) transforms the conversation from being about me to being about you, as well as implying that I have nothing better to do with my hobby time than making you something for money. Any mention made of how well I made it, or how much you admire my work, is lost in your envy and your expectation that I will want to assuage that envy with my labor.

Leaving aside whether I want to do it, none of these people could afford to pay me a decent wage for the hours I'd spend making their project. Just once, I actually made an offer: I'd knit some fingerless mitts, and at least half a dozen people admired them and wanted a pair. I said I'd do it, if they paid for the yarn and bought me lunch. Nobody jumped on that grenade!

Since then I've responded with offers to teach or show them how to do it; not one person has taken me up on it. Most of these things I'm only beginning at myself. The slip is only the second garment for myself that I've finished to my satisfaction, that is, it fits and reasonably resembles what I imagined it would be when I started the project. I've been knitting for quite a few years now and I've knitted a reasonably broad array of items and techniques, but I still haven't knitted myself a sweater (working on it). Gardening--well heck, I always used to kill house plants within a year, until my kids grew up. I still lose about one in five of the plants I buy, whether for indoors or the yard at home, and I'm buying easy plants! Nothing exotic, nothing that requires me to check the soil pH or spray fungicides or other substances: I just plop them in the ground in what I hope is the right spot, with the right amount of sun and shade; water weekly the first year; and fertilize at least once a year if I remember.

For the most part I'm stumbling around discovering this stuff for myself. I read books, I look at resources on the intertubes, and I plunge in. I took a class to learn the basics of knitting, and I have a friend who is a proficient gardener and loves to help me discover the pleasures of gardening, but except for that class and my friend's work and advice once or twice a season, I'm on my own and I like it that way.

I wish I could just get the compliments.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Tracking promise keeping

A different kind of promise, this time: The Obameter tracks the progress President Obama is making on his campaign promises. It includes the list of promises being tracked and status updates and some explanation of the assessment.

Hat tip Megan McArdle.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Keeping promises

Who knew that that the phenomenon of taking "virginity" pledges about saving sexual activity for later wasn't exactly recent?

We're saving ourselves for Yale. (scroll down, arrow at bottom of page).

As they downed their first cafe
The girls were heard to softly say:

"Oh, we have had our chances for overnight romances
with a Harvard and a Dartmouth male
And though we've had a bunch in, oh from Princeton Junction,
We're saving ourselves for Yale

And though we've all had squeezes
From lots of Ph.
We're saving ourselves for Yale

Hat tip to The Kitchen Cabinet.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"They told me they wanted anti-Israel stories because it made their lives so much easier. "

An interview with Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim journalist in Israel. Long but worth reading.

About his work:

And to be honest with you, I find it ironic that as an Arab Muslim living in this part of the world that I have to work for a Jewish newspaper or for the international media in order to be able to practice any kind of real journalism. Why? Because we don't have any free media. In the Palestinian areas we didn't have it when I was working there in the 1970s and 1980s, we didn't get one when we brought Yasser Arafat in to start the Palestinian Authority, and of course we don't have a free media today under Fatah, Hamas, and the rest of the gangs that are running the show out there.

About international journalists:

When I tried to alert my foreign colleagues in 1995, 1996, and 1997, to the fact that there was corruption in the Palestinian Authority, many of them asked me if I was on the payroll of the Jewish Lobby. I wanted to know where was this Jewish Lobby? If there was one maybe they would pay me.

I told them: “This is what I am hearing. The writing is on the wall. Come and listen to what Palestinians are saying.” And they told me they weren't interested in that story. They told me they wanted anti-Israel stories because it made their lives so much easier. They told me they didn't want to write anything bad about Palestinians, that Arafat was a man of peace and should be given a chance. I heard this from major American journalists, by the way. Leading American journalists. I don't want to give you their names right now, but I was really frustrated. And angry.

Listen. For all these years we've been attacking the military occupation. So why is it that when I tell you something that Arafat is doing, suddenly you don't want to report it and think it's Jewish propaganda? Most of these journalists did not even want to make any effort.

About the tunnels:

Smuggling is a business. We're doing Hamas an injustice by saying they're the ones who established the tunnels. These tunnels have been there since 1967. In the 1970s I visited some of the tunnels. In the 1980s I visited the tunnels. When Arafat was there I visited the tunnels. These tunnels are part of the culture. It's a cultural thing over there. If you have your own tunnel it's like you have your own business. Hamas now takes taxes and gives people a license to build their tunnel.

Simple pleasures for simple people.

Like me: the sheet of bubble wrap from inside the box of See's chocolates. It smells like chocolate and it pops!

I'd never be appointed.

I'd never be elected, either, but I'd never be appointed to political office because I pay my taxes. This is a clear class marker for "one of the little people" and so I will never be considered for appointed office by an elected official.


The Astronomy Picture of the Day is of lenticular clouds.

I remember the summer my sister and I visited our dad in Ohio. He was stationed at Wright-Patterson, and one of the times we visited the base was for an air show. There were lenticular clouds on the horizon, and Dad explained that they are often mistaken for flying saucers or space ships. We also saw a stealth plane that trip--there's a good air museum on base.

Righteous Anger

It doesn't win debates. As Megan McArdle puts it:

he who loses his temper, loses. His supporters see him as righteously inflamed by the moronic arguments of the other side. But the rest of the audience sees him as bully with a case too weak to be made without screaming.

Thin slicing first dates

Apparently a study has shown that although both men and women are terrific at judging men's level of interest on a first date, they're likewise equally poor at judging women's.

However, that doesn't mean it's because Evolutionary theory, said Place, predicts a certain level of coyness or even deceptiveness in women because if a relationship is abandoned they may face greater costs, including pregnancy and child rearing. When choosing a mate, it is in a woman's best interest to get men to open up and talk honestly to give her a better idea of whether they would be good long-term partners. It's because as women, we're socialized to keep a conversation going, and to pretend interest in men.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tabletop gaming

Popgadget linked an Italian luxury games manufacturer, Zontik Games. While there are many items on Zontik's website that I would enjoy owning, this dicetray is the one I wish I'd had during the years when we hosted a weekly RPG night. One particular friend had/has a habit of rolling his dice so forcefully at least one would bounce off the table to land somewhere difficult (the floor? among the books on the shelf? in an open shirt collar?), often cocked or unreadable. At one point I jokingly handed him a clear plastic box containing a few dice, telling him he had to roll those as they'd stay in the box! The poker set also looks especially nice, and although I haven't played much backgammon in years, maybe this luxurious set in blue with mother-of-pearl finish stones would motivate me to play.

Among items I *wouldn't* want to buy are a leather "flying disk" (apparently in spite of a price of $350, they didn't license the name "Frisbee!").

Monday, January 26, 2009


Robot a Day! At which the artist, who is making a robot a day 5 days a week, posts photos of the robots. The robots are structurally quite similar, but color choice and accessories turn them into individuals.

I make knitted robots; there's no way I could do one a day. I might be able to do one a week but only if I did nothing else during my downtime, and I'd rather read, watch a little TV, go for walks on my lunch hour, etc.

Courtesy of Dress a Day.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Differences in willpower

May be genetic.

Gene Expression links and excerpts a study finding a difference in brain chemistry between men and women in controlling the impulse to eat when hungry.

In men, but not in women, food stimulation with inhibition significantly decreased activation in amygdala, hippocampus, insula, orbitofrontal cortex, and striatum, which are regions involved in emotional regulation, conditioning, and motivation. The suppressed activation of the orbitofrontal cortex with inhibition in men was associated with decreases in self-reports of hunger, which corroborates the involvement of this region in processing the conscious awareness of the drive to eat. This finding suggests a mechanism by which cognitive inhibition decreases the desire for food and implicates lower ability to suppress hunger in women as a contributing factor to gender differences in obesity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Changing the list of things I'm good at...

Two different people complimented me on my whistling today. Apparently at work I whistle quite a bit--I wasn't entirely conscious of it. One cow-orker said she can tell I'm happy when I'm whistling and snapping my fingers. Later another cow-orker praised my whistling well enough that she could identify the song I was whistling.

All I ever notice is when I am flat, just like when I'm singing.

Good advice about political conversations

At Big Hollywood, advice given to the conservatives that works for lots of other people, too:

DON’T pretend you’re being brave when you criticize your government. Not while people in other countries actually, y’know, DIE, when they do that.


DON’T use the phrase “speaking truth to power.” EVER.

DON’T move to Canada.

DON’T say you’re going to move to Canada and then stay here. (I know it’s too late for Stephen Baldwin, but not for the rest of you.)

DON’T apologize to foreigners and say things to them like, “I didn’t vote for Obama,” or “He’s not MY president.”


DON’T automatically think people who disagree with you are stupid or evil. Some of them are, of course. But most of them aren’t, and you might actually learn something if you listen to them.

And finally, DON’T use the fact that many on the left behaved abominably for the past eight years as an excuse to behave the same way. America needs adults. And if it bothered you when they did it, it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t do it.

Works for me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Politics-Israel: Why it's working

There's been widespread outcry against Israel's recent tactics in Gaza, including protests, attacks on non-Israeli Jews, proposed boycotts. But apparently it's working:

Israel may have reached a deterrent moment in its war in Gaza against Iranian-backed Hamas. I spoke with a senior Arab diplomat last night. He told me that the Arab street is afraid that "the Jews have gone crazy."

Yes, it's true. He noted, "Israel has begun to restore its deterrence" in the Arab world. "Hamas miscalculated," he added. They had thought Israel would not attack, but would merely accede to tougher Hamas demands for an improved "Tahdiya," their version of a temporary calm.

This is perhaps one of the more optimistic assessments I have heard from Arab colleagues recently. There is supporting documentation. Hizbullah's immediate public denial yesterday of the Katusha rocket attack from Southern Lebanon against Israel's North and the reports on Lebanese TV of convoys of Lebanese (read: Hizbullah) vehicles moving north in expectation of a major Israeli reprisal strengthens this sense.

So while the world is screaming that Israel overdid it, Hamas replies "Hey, that's what it took to get our attention--we thought we could bully them because they were wimps, but we were wrong!"

In space, no one can hear you scream.

A fabulous article by Peter Hartlaub on movie tag lines brings back lots of fun memories.

Not all taglines are campy or laughable or just plain bad. Lines such as Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water and They're back remain part of the lexicon decades after everyone has forgotten the bad sequels that spurred them. (New journalism rule: Every time a lazy columnist, blogger or editor in the American media uses a variation of "They're ba-aaack," he or she gets a week's suspension without pay.)

Hat tip Girlhacker.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Why isn't it Jew hatred?

I know it's possible for a particular critique of the government of Israel to not be Jew hatred because I've read and heard them, but why do so many people deny that criticism of that government's actions is most often expressed as Jew hatred? Why are *Jews* around the world attacked verbally and physically, instead of Israelis? Or Israeli embassies?

Rabbi Marvin Hier's opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal makes the point:

Just look at the spate of attacks this week on Jews and Jewish institutions around the world: a car ramming into a synagogue in France; a Chabad menorah and Jewish-owned shops sprayed with swastikas in Belgium; a banner at an Australian rally demanding "clean the earth from dirty Zionists!"; demonstrators in the Netherlands chanting "Gas the Jews"; and in Florida, protestors demanding Jews "Go back to the ovens!"

Notice that's attacks against Jews just in the last week. Jews who aren't even in Israel; Jews who are never asked, "Do you support the actions of the State of Israel in Gaza?" before they are attacked; Jews who are attacked for the crime of being Jews.

How else can we explain the double-standard that is applied to the Gaza conflict, if not for a more insidious bias against the Jewish state?

At the U.N., no surprise, this double-standard is in full force. In response to Israel's attack on Hamas, the Security Council immediately pulled an all-night emergency meeting to consider yet another resolution condemning Israel. Have there been any all-night Security Council sessions held during the seven months when Hamas fired 3,000 rockets at half a million innocent civilians in southern Israel? You can be certain that during those seven months, no midnight oil was burning at the U.N. headquarters over resolutions condemning terrorist organizations like Hamas. But put condemnation of Israel on the agenda and, rain or shine, it's sure to be a full house.

There's a lot of evidence for a strong undercurrent of Jew hatred in Western culture; much like sexism and racism, some people would deny and others not even recognize it, but I believe it's there. And like racism and sexism, the first step is acknowledging it, but the important thing is the second step: be mindful of the possible Jew hatred in your reactions, in your judgments, in your choices.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


I had all my kids with me last weekend and we had fun playing with wooden trains (Brio and Thomas the Tank Engine). Here's my grandson in his engineer's overalls.

And here he is on his grandpa's lap:

Politics-Israel, more

Courtesy of Joel Rosenberg, one man's opinion. He begins with the story of his aunt and mother, who were at Belsen with Anne Frank--they had been schoolmates before.

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.


A year or so back I met a teacher while I was on holiday and fell to talking with him about Israel. He was a nice man and all he wanted was for fighting to stop and to end the suffering of children. And he had a question for me.

Why, he asked, doesn't Israel offer to give back the West Bank and Gaza? Why doesn't it just let the Palestinians have a state there? If the Palestinians turned it down, he said, then at least liberal opinion would be on Israel's side and would rally to its assistance.

So I patiently explained to this kind, good man that Israel had, at Camp David in 2000, made precisely this offer and that it had been rejected out of hand by Yassir Arafat, not even used as the basis for negotiation. I told him that Israel was no longer in Gaza, having withdrawn unilaterally and taken the settlers with it. The Palestinians had greeted this movement with suicide bombs and rockets. Yet the teacher, with all his compassion, wasn't even aware of all this.

Some links for education and entertainment

Nicola Griffith (a favorite author of mine) is starting an alternative publishing exercise:

Four weeks ago, I rather quixotically launched a co-operative publishing initiative. Lots of people have since been drinking the Kool-Aid *g*.

Girlhacker points to a family business that upgrades cheap Chinese pianos into something worth buying but not beyond your price range:

At the two ends of the piano-industry extreme, buyers can choose from high-end European builders who can charge $60,000 for a grand piano, or Asian companies mass-producing grands that can be had for about $10,000. Fandrich, 66, is shooting for the low middle. Starting with a new piano from China, he replaces parts and refines them by hand, selling grand pianos starting at $16,560.

Girlhacker again with a story about the success of a wildlife underpass that's helping as many as 800 deer a week survive crossing a freeway:

Herbin said the key to the project's success was the placement and design of the underpasses themselves.

"You've got to place them where the animals actually do cross so they don't have to learn a new migration route, but you also have to design them in such a way that they're not afraid of them," Herbin said.

Data from the first underpass installed in 2001 showed that the tunnel cut the number of deer killed at milepost 30 by more than half during its first year of operation.

"They did a lot of experimenting with the first underpass moving partitions around to get the proper size, height and width," Herbin said.

"And one thing they figured out was that if the deer cannot see open space on the other end, they're not going to use the underpass," she said.

Compromises make for success in Greg Hlatky's story of being laid off and finding a new job:

While still with my former company, some of the others whose jobs were to be eliminated were asked to stay on until the end of the year. This was more than a little annoying, since I myself would have liked to do the same. Yet it was a blessing in disguise that I left when I did. Of all those at my site to be cut, I'm the only one to land another job. And that was because I: 1) took a job well outside my primary experience and industry; 2) took a pay cut to do so, and; 3) was willing to relocate. With our delightful economy, God only knows what would have happened had I not been able to focus my energies on job-hunting!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Politics-Israel again

Steven Den Beste nails it again:

All the internationalist condemnations right now of Israel for its "disproportionate response" are really attempts to get the Israelis to fight at a level low enough to be logistically sustainable for Hamas.


Signs that the tide might be turning for Hamas? Residents of a Gaza neighborhood are confirming Israel's claim that Hamas militants had opened fire from the cover of a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge.

Slow seeing

The Common Room links a terrific photo of a landmark, taken with a pinhole camera and the exposure open for six months.