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Archive for January, 2009

Discombobulated kitteh from I Can Has Cheezburger?

If I seem charmingly magnetic today, it’s because I got all the atoms spun around in my brain.

I didn’t come out of the MRI in as many pieces as this kitty. I did find it a tad discombobulating, compared to my experience with the breast MRI. Maybe that was because the machine made some remarkably high-pitched whirs. Maybe I could feel those atoms whirling. On balance, I still like the John Cage-like music of the machine. Some of the lower pulsing noises would’ve made a nice backdrop for a nap, if not for the $3000/hour price tag.

Since I kept my appointment for the MRI, you’ve deduced by now that it was probably more than just the Bactrim making me sick. I’m going on that assumption, since I still have lots of symptoms. I won’t know much more about their possible causes until Monday, when I see my doctor again.

I’m getting checked out for most of the auto-immmune bugaboos. The one that fits my symptoms uncomfortably well is multiple sclerosis. That’s not always an easy diagnosis to make, and it can be a very tough one to live with. If that’s it, you can hope for a relatively benign form of it. Or you can hope that the promise of stem-cell treaments are borne out: Just today, researchers announced that they had halted and occasionally reversed disability in early-stage MS patients, using their own immune stem cells (not embryonic ones).

For now, I can just say my motor problems are marginally improved; they seem to be worst in the afternoon and when I’m cold. My brain fog is definitely better, though it’s hard to keep up with conversations in a group. I have a tough time focusing on very dense prose. Your average blog post is just about at my mental level, conveniently enough. :-)

I’m trying to get enough sleep (even napped this afternoon), avoid my favorite grape-based neurotoxins, and downing fish oil and vitamins (a B-complex and D). I’m going to ask for a B12 shot. Assuming some sort of demyelination has occurred, I want to promote remyelination. Any ideas gratefully accepted!

My colleagues are being wonderfully supportive in word and deed. Everyone on the team for the big class on Religion, Gender, and Sexuality is helping in one way or another. Another colleague found money to pay one of my co-instructors to grade the midterms, which will spare me a lot of stress and gain me some sleep. In women’s studies, my students are patient and accepting, while my fellow professors have offered to help in any way they can. I’m blessed, and I know it.

But I’m also scared. And so all of your good thoughts, vibes, prayers, and whisker rubs are gratefully, promiscuously appreciated.

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North Dakota grows a lot of durum wheat. You’ve surely eaten it in your noodles. North Dakota is first in the nation in exporting sunflower products. It also ships out sugar beets and other wholesome foodstuffs.

Years ago, however, we sent a rather toxic export south to Okalahoma. Having made a career as an economist, he wandered onward to Texas and thence to Washington, DC, schlepping the sludge of free-market fundamentalism, religious intolerance, and general mean-spiritedness wherever he went.

That unfortunate export was Dick Armey, who turned up this week on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” program insulting Joan Walsh, the editor-in-chief of Salon.com:

I am so damn glad that you could never be my wife cuz I surely wouldn’t have to listen to that prattle from you every day.

(Quotation courtesy of Henry the Cat of Henry’s Travels)

Joan Walsh had a great, real-time comeback: “Well, that makes two of us.”

Henry – who also posted the video – tried and failed to determine whether our pal Dick actually has a wife. He consulted Wikipedia, which was so sadly worthless, you have to wonder if it was sanitized by Dick’s own people.

But Henry: If you want to know something about a North Dakotan – even one in the diaspora – you ask another North Dakotan. Because we know each other. And if we don’t, we know someone who knows someone. That’s me: well-connected at the top levels of North Dakota society, and shamelessly willing to dish. It’s all hearsay, of course. But that’s what you’re here for, right?

So I happened to know that Dick Armey went to Jamestown College. (This is confirmed by his online hagiography.) That’s where both my parents got their degrees (my dad in music, my mom in English and bridge … but mostly bridge). They weren’t classmates – Dick is too young for that – but Mom taught school with a woman who knew him directly.

From that connection, I knew that Armey had been married – I think to a gal from North Dakota – but at some point he dropped his first wife. My mom’s friend was indignant about this, but I don’t know the details, and Mom’s not clear on them anymore, either. I seem to recall hearing he traded Wife #1 in for a younger model, but I’m not certain.

At any rate, even if I’ve gotten every insinuation wrong, there’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around. According to the Religious Freedom Coalition of the Southeast, Dick distinguished himself by preaching fundie “values,” but prior to his political career, he allegedly sexually harassed some of the students he taught … and traded up to a second wife who just happened to be a former student.

Dick Armey’s “documented conduct along the lines of the President’s” was reported in the May 4, 1995, Dallas Observer. Three women who had been students when Armey was a professor at North Texas State University went on the record to document Armey’s “inappropriate” behavior. Susan Aileen White (who earned a master’s in economics from the institution), Anna Weniger (who subsequently acted as an economist for the New Mexico legislature) and Anne Marie Best (a future economics professor at Lamar University) all took offense at Armey’s inappropriate behavior toward female students. Weniger left the university for several months, partly because of Armey’s actions.

Not all the women at North Texas State were offended by the professor’s advances. Armey’s current (and second) wife had been one of his students.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of their report, but the hypocrisy sure rings true, based on what my mom’s friend told her.

Or, as my mom said to me on the phone last night: “Well, from what she said, he’s just an asshole.” Coming from my mom – who is literally a former church lady – that’s salty language. And for that allegation, Dick Armey’s political career provides evidence galore.

So Henry, is there a Mrs. Armey? I’m not sure if there’s currently one. But if there is, I sure wouldn’t blame her for kicking him to the curb.

P.S. You have no idea how much self-control it cost me not to play with – nay, diddle with! – Rep. Armey’s first name in this post. I’m trying to act like a grow-mutt. I was doing pretty well until, oh, ten seconds ago.

Update, 1-31-09, 12:30 a.m.: Salon has a much better sourced account of Dick Armey’s misogynist misadventures. It largely confirms my version, except that his first wife, Jeanine Gale, was the one who filed for divorce. Makes perfect sense, if she’s a smart woman and he is, indeed, an asshole. The money quote from Salon:

Armey’s brother Charley, who has stayed close with his first wife, says Jeanine Gale, who had a master’s in education and taught school, was “a women’s libber” who didn’t put Armey’s needs first. Armey’s second wife, Susan, his brother says, is nearly the opposite.

No wonder poor Joan Walsh – and I – will never stand a chance!

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Last time I posted a picture of this vine, it bore a clematis blossom.

Today we woke up to an ice storm that kept the kids home from school for the third day running. They’ll be home tomorrow, too; we’ve blown through all of our snow days, and then some.

The university closed due to weather for only the second time in the past eight years. In Columbus, Ohio State canceled classes, too.


All this ferocious beauty. The neighbors’ Japanese maple was one of the few trees that seems not to have lost any twigs or boughs. Lots of people lost power. I got lucky.


Oddly, we had a lake in our backyard in the midst of all the snow and ice. In the foreground, you can see my butterfly bush, bowed but not quite broken. It’s an apt enough metaphor for all us beleaguered parents, wondering when our kids will ever return to school.

My boys have been pretty great about letting me tinker with lecture material while they play. The Bear has even shoveled snow as stoically as his North Dakotan ancestors. (It probably helped that I bribed him.) We’re just all really ready to get back to a normal routine.

As for me, I’ve felt a bit better the past two days, though still far from normal: less tremor-ish and a lot less stupid. I’m off the Bactrim now but the improvement predates that. So the mystery thickens, and we’re doing more tests. I luckily got in to see my doctor yesterday … because today, even the clinic was shuttered due to the storm.

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From the annals of classic 1970s ads, here’s a reminder of what’s gone lost in the world of play since my childhood.

I’m not arguing for a pink-and-blue-tinged nostalgia. I remember how clearly trucks were considered a boy toy. My little brother adored his Tonka trucks while I stuck to my stuffed animals. I was no gender outlaw in the sandbox. He got a doctor kit for Christmas; I got a nurse kit. All we really cared about was the bottle of candy pills. Still, the message hit its mark.

But by 1972, marketers couldn’t just ignore the burgeoning social ferment. In the first of these ads, check out how many dads are involved with their kids – sons and daughters alike. Note the nod toward racial inclusivity. In all honesty, toy marketing is no more racist or sexist in those ads than it is today; maybe less so.

And man, were these ads prescient for 1972! Thirty-seven years later, we’re surrounded by plastic crap that breaks on contact. We’re deluged by gadgetry meant to entertain rather than engage. I love the line:

You see, we’ve learned that when a toy doesn’t need a kid, in a very short time, the kid doesn’t need the toy.

But enough seriousness. If you’re old enough to remember 1972, by now you’re recalling the classic Tonka elephant commercial and wondering where it went. It’s here in this clip, too; ain’t YouTube grand? Unlike platform shoes and Richard Nixon, the Tonka elephant hasn’t gone terminally uncool. (Well, okay, so Nixon was never cool.) Enjoy!

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Yesterday, in response to Amanda Marcotte’s post arguing that that New York Times should give Steven Pinker a column on language to distract him from bloviating on ev psych, I said:

Now that you’re found the perfect job for Pinker, can we launch a re-employment program for Bill Kristol, too?

And lo! Today comes word that the Times has ended Kristol’s contract (I read the happy news at Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.) I feel a lot of empathy for people getting laid off right now. For Kristol, it’s pure schadenfreude, sullied only by the news that the Washington Post has already offered him a monthly gig.

So I may be cognitively impaired at the moment. (I’m feeling much like I did a few days ago: still much afflicted with these neurological symptoms, still waiting for an answer.) But I seem to be developing powers of prognostication. Maybe even mind control! I’m gonna go try to bend some spoons now.

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I foolishly clicked on the “don’t click …” link at this post by Auguste at Pandagon … and slid into a world of “reborn babies.” In case you want to live a little crazy, too, here’s where not to click.

If you’re more prudent than I, maybe it’s enough to know that reborn babies are ultrarealistic dolls weighted to flop like a newborn baby. They’re sold on ebay, among other venues, for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Some are sold to mothers who’ve suffered a stillbirth. It’s easy to snark at these dolls, but it’s not my place to judge any comfort a bereaved mother might find. However, most are marketed to women who’d like a baby but are too old to get pregnant or just don’t want an infant that poops and burps and eventually talks back (according to this MSNBC feature).

About the reborn babies themselves I’m generally in agreement with Auguste. I, too, think they are uncanny. Freaky. Replicants among us. Then again, I’m spooked by clowns. Even as a little girl, I wouldn’t play with baby dolls. I adored my stuffed animals. They were cuddly and didn’t look like aliens.

But here’s what surprised me when I explored the photo galleries at Reborn-Baby.com: Nearly all of the dolls were female. I saw just two boys out of roughly forty dolls! Not every dollmaker has such a skewed sex ratio, but girls seem to predominate across the board. For instance, at Destinys Reborn Babies (no, they don’t believe in apostrophes), the ratio of girls to boys is about two to one.

Now, I’m not willing to argue that the purchasers of reborn babies constitute a representative cross-section of the population. But their behavior merges with what I’ve observed anecdotally: the historical preference for a boy may have shifted toward girl babies in the modern West.

This is a remarkable transformation. Just a century ago, the rural German women whose birth experiences I’ve researched hoped and prayed for boy babies. Never mind their own innate preferences. If they failed to bear sons and heirs, no matter how modest their situation, they were considered failures as women. The whole community knew they were deficient. Their husbands and in-laws treated them with contempt. Mothers-in-law were particularly harsh. Not surprisingly, those women desperately desired boys.

The roots of this preference go back to ancient times. It was sustained by the importance of brute strength in the pre-industrial age, especially on farms. But probably more decisive were rural inheritance practices that resulted in daughters carrying off part of the family property as a dowry when they married, whereas sons inherited directly and continued to provide for their parents in old age.

Here’s one example from a midwife in rural Bavaria circa 1920 or 1930, who attended a farm wife who’d borne three girls in a row. When the expectant mother went the hospital (due to the threat of complications) the farmer told her not to bother phoning if the baby was another girl. Predictably enough, it was a girl. The farmer neither visited his wife in the hospital nor picked her up to bring her home. The midwife said that husbands normally didn’t even bother to look at a baby girl for the first couple of months – and they blamed the midwife, too, for the baby being the wrong sex.

While I’m very glad for the shift in attitudes (not to mention the modern awareness that the father’s X or Y determines sex), I’m not at all convinced that a general preference for girls would be a real improvement. For one thing, reversing sexism wouldn’t end it. It would only flip the terms of the inequality. This is structurally the same as the question of whether matriarchy would be superior to patriarchy. As long as one group is lording it over another, it’s not fair or just … not that we’re in any danger of living in a matriarchal society, mind you!

For another thing I suspect that all kinds of rigid assumptions about girls are wrapped around the growing preference for them. Girls are thought to be easier to manage. They’re imagined to be more docile. How is this progress from the tired old stereotypes of female passivity?

Objectively speaking, there are lots more cute clothes for little girls. If you’ve ever taken a look at the Land’s End girls section, you know what I mean. I totally get the pleasure mothers have in dressing their daughters; I’ve envied it, to be honest, while pawing through drab piles of camoflage T-shirts. But what does it mean that we start sending the message from birth forward that a girl’s appearance matters more than a boy’s? And how can we then hope girls will resist the pressure to crave “sexy” styles before they even dream of puberty?

Finally, mothers may hope for a “mini-me,” much as fathers have long hoped for a Junior to carry on the family name and their personal legacy. Such hopes can only be dashed. The burden of a legacy is a heavy one for any baby, whether a boy-child or a girl-child.

I actually always pictured myself as the mother of a daughter, so I may well be part of this new wave. Instead, I got two boys. I’m just wise enough to realize that quite possibly I would’ve made more mistakes with a girl, projected too much of myself onto her, assumed she’d be too much like me.

My boys remind me continually of how much greater the human potential is than the old straitjacket of gender roles would suggest. They’re capable of great empathy and gentleness. (Okay, every once in a while the Tiger wallops the Bear, but that’s rare these days.) They’re creative and funny. They’re definitely boys, but they’re not imprisoned by the role.

One thing my boys don’t do? Play dolls. But like the little-girl version of me, they cuddle and love their stuffed animals. That seems just about right.

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Reluctant patient kitteh from I Can Has Cheezburger?

So Thursday night I got sprung from the hospital, once the ER doctor called my regular doctor and got him to promise to see me the next day. Feeling much like this LOLcat, I dragged myself to the hooman vet. He examined me pretty thoroughly. All my reflexes appear normal. Nothing seems to be bulging in my eyeballs. My grip strength is just fine.

Both doctors seem to agree that I’ve got some weird neurological thing going on, but it’s subtle and almost definitely not due to a stroke. In fact, I seem to be perfectly healthy except for an unexplained tremor, a sense of heaviness, wobbliness, and clumsiness in my limbs, brain fog, overall fatigue, and – for lack of a better term – a trippiness in my view of the world. Regrettably, it’s not a good trip.

My family practitioner seems to think my crackpot theory is probably the leading one: that I’m having a freaky drug reaction. No, I haven’t been promiscuously digging into unmarked vials of pills again. The day before I started feeling bad, I was prescribed Bactrim for an infection. Among its side effects are some neurological ones, including peripheral neuritis, ataxia, dizziness, and more. These are pretty rare, but they’ve been reported. The timing in my case is highly suggestive.

So we’re going to wait and see what happens and not spend thousands of dollars on testing just yet. The next test would be an MRI, and we decided to hold off on that unless I get worse. Yesterday, I actually felt better. Ditto this morning. Then I took a Bactrim and within an hour I felt worse. Just now, I began to feel a little better again. I’m thinking this weighs in favor of Bactrim being the culprit. Unfortunately I have to take it for a few more days because the infection is better but not gone.

Now, in the bad old days, I might’ve been diagnosed with hysteria! At least I’d have a name for it … But I’m grateful that some seriously scary stuff has been pretty well ruled out (stroke, brain tumor, any kind of bleeding in my head). If I don’t feel better once I’m off the Bactrim, then I’ll have to get checked out for MS and possibly other conditions that whack the myelin of the peripheral nerves. I’m trying to stay calm about all those possibilities, because logically I really do think it’s a drug reaction.

Anyway, thanks to all of you who’ve sent well wishes. I’ll let you know how this turns out. In the meantime, between my clumsy brain and fingers, my blogging may range from sporadic to stupid. (Then again, that can happen anyday!)

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