Archive for January, 2010

On Wednesday, my six-year-old son, the Tiger, “lost a battle with gravity,” as my friend who witnessed the situation described it. He fell from the monkey bars on the school playground, to the great detriment of his left elbow. You could see that there was an actual bend in his arm just above the elbow.

We transferred up to Columbus after our local ER determined he’d probably need surgery. His dad deposited us at Children’s Hospital, then went home to take care of the Bear. The Tiger was almost heartbreakingly brave through all of this, even when he got an IV in his uninjured arm.

The good news is that the orthopedic resident at Children’s determined that the Tiger’s fracture could probably be treated without surgery. She set it under deep sedation and we were discharged before the night was over. There’s a lot more to that part of the story, which I’ll write about as I’m able. Right now, I’m still dizzy with exhaustion from the past few days, busy pampering the Tiger, and reeling from the night’s emotional trauma.

The Tiger is feeling pretty good today following a miserable first 36 hours. He’s off pain meds, which is a mixed blessing because he was extremely charming while on Vicodin, and now he’s rather cranky – but his pain is blessedly subsiding. He’s learning how to maneuver in the world with his left arm in a sling. Unfortunately, he’s a lefty, so eating is tricky, and schoolwork will be well-nigh impossible.

We’ll return for a recheck on Wednesday, at which time we’ll learn if the Tiger still needs surgery. He has a supracondylar fracture – a break in the humerus just above the elbow. It’s a common injury for kids his age. It’s also “serious,” if the intertubes are to be believed, with the short-term potential for harming arteries and nerves. The Tiger appears to be fine on that score, but the main possible long-term complication is failure of the bone to grow properly, since the fracture runs through a growth plate. His odds of unimpaired growth are pretty good if the bone is positioned properly. If not, well, that’s why he might still require surgery. Supracondylar fractures are rated on a 1 to 3 scale, with 1 meaning the bone is still in alignment, and 3 always needing surgery. The Tiger’s break is between a 2 and a 3, which basically means the bone was substantially displaced but still hanging together by a thread.

Oddly, his cousin – my sister’s daughter – who’s two months older had a very similar fracture just two months ago. She did end up with surgery (and a pin – ugh), and she broke her left radius just below the elbow. Like the Tiger, she too faces a risk of impaired growth. My sister has been a wonderful source of support and advice. The whole family is stunned that the cousins would go through such similar experiences – at the same age, almost to the day.

Ever since my niece’s accident I’ve been ruminating on how impossible it is for us to perfectly protect our kids. Throughout most of human history, it was common for parents to bury one or more of their babies. Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder have been echoing through my head – especially the fifth one, where the protagonist regrets letting his child go out in a storm. The text (by Friedrich Rückert) begins:

In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus,
Nie hätt’ ich gesendet die Kinder hinaus

In this weather, in this windy storm,
I would never have sent the children outside

Four years after Mahler finished these songs, one of his daughters died at age four of scarlet fever. He later wrote:

I placed myself in the situation that a child of mine had died. When I really lost my daughter, I could not have written these songs any more.

These days, we don’t often face the specter of child death, and as a society we repress the fact that it still occurs. As a society, we try to convince ourselves we can always keep our kids safe, if only we buy the right products and hover over them incessantly. Moments like this – when a child’s little body suffers damage that could be permanent – break through our thick carapace of denial.

The storm never subsides completely. It ebbs and whispers, only to rage anew. We can’t always keep our children inside, nor should we. Therein lies our kids’ vulnerability – and our own.

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A few weeks ago I floated the proposal – which I swiped from Cenk Uyger – of using reconciliation to pass meaningful health care by vastly expanding Medicare. Now it seems that Ezra Klein is warming up to the idea:

My preference is that House Democrats pass the Senate bill and then run their fixes through the reconciliation process. But I think there is an argument that the current health-care bill has been terribly compromised by the months of controversy, the shady deal with Ben Nelson, the ambivalence of key legislators, the endless meetings with industry players, the wasted time, and the collective freak-out of congressional Democrats in the aftermath of Scott Brown’s election.

There is another option.

Democrats could scrap the legislation and start over in the reconciliation process. But not to re-create the whole bill. If you go that route, you admit the whole thing seemed too opaque and complex and compromised. You also admit the limitations of the reconciliation process. So you make it real simple: Medicare buy-in between 50 and 65. Medicaid expands up to 200 percent of poverty with the federal government funding the whole of the expansion. Revenue comes from a surtax on the wealthy.

And that’s it. No cost controls. No delivery-system reforms. Nothing that makes the bill long or complex or unfamiliar. Medicare buy-in had more than 51 votes as recently as a month ago. The Medicaid change is simply a larger version of what’s already passed both chambers. This bill would be shorter than a Danielle Steel novel. It could take effect before the 2012 election.

(The rest of his column is here.)

I realize that reconciliation is tricky, and it can’t do things like eliminate discrimination based on preexisting conditions. It can only deal with budgetary items. Also, Medicaid is no panacea. It’s second-class health insurance in some pretty major ways. Many doctors won’t accept it.

Still, a massive expansion of Medicare would also be a massive step toward affordable health care for all. It would establish the principle of universal coverage without making millions of Americans essentially captive to private insurers. It could set the stage for further expansions of Medicare.

Regulatory reform could still be achieved, though probably in a more piecemeal way. How many congresscritters would come out in favor of preserving the insurance industry’s right to discriminate on preexisting conditions, if that were the centerpiece of a bill? (This would obviously assume the prior existence of an individual mandate, because otherwise people would try to game the system, only buying insurance after they needed it.)

Anyway, just ’cause Ezra Klein likes it doesn’t mean it will happen. But his suggestion does mean that the policy wonks who have a voice in the debate haven’t declared “game over.” It means that we could accomplish meaningful reform without the likes of Ben Nelson and Scott Brown and (shudder) Joe Lieberman. It could mean thousands of lives saved.

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Okay, I have to fess up: there are no cats whatsoever in this clip. It’s goats all the way. I found this clip recently while helping my younger son, the Tiger, with a school assignment on the “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” and it just tickled me.

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In a couple of my previous posts on Mary Daly, I mentioned that her secularized notion of “idolatry” – which she saw in first-wave feminists’ singleminded focus on suffrage – can be applied to modern-day feminism as well. Today, on the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I’d like to dwell on how “choice” has served as an idol – as a foundational concept that can’t bear the weight it’s been given.

“Choice” was an attractive term to the defenders of abortion rights in the 1970s because it provided a way to counter a growing “pro-life” movement without having to say that they were “pro-abortion.” Even today, defending “abortion” is a politically dodgy proposition. My Democratic ?? !! @*&$# congresscritter, Charlie Wilson, D-Bluedognia, proudly claims at every opportunity that he’s pro-life. He and his cronies are sure not going to come out in favor of abortion.

By now, though, we need a more flexible strategy, as lots of folks – especially radical women of color – have argued before me. What about access to abortion, birth control, sex education, prenatal care, and fertility treatments? How about reproductive rights and justice? What about bodily autonomy and self-determination?

Yes, it’s important that women have choices. It’s even more crucial that we have the material, social, and cultural wherewithal to exercise them.

Denying the means to exercise choice shows that we, as a society, just don’t trust women – especially those women who don’t already enjoy a panoply of privileges. Conversely, “trusting women” doesn’t matter a whit as long as their choices are highly constrained.

And while we’re at it, let’s remember than no one –  female or male, fertile or not – has real bodily autonomy without access to health care. Reproductive autonomy isn’t just a women’s rights issue. It’s a matter of human rights.

Addendum, 1/24/10, 3 p.m.: Based on the comments to this post, it looks as though I haven’t fully clarified why I think feminists would be wise to walk back from our overreliance on “choice.” From the get-go in the 1970s, “choice” referred to narrowly to the formal legality of abortion. It was a product of liberal feminism, which framed abortion in terms of negative liberty – or freedom from interference. However, that wasn’t nearly enough to secure reproductive rights for women, broadly conceived, including a right to birth control, sex ed, etc. This would have required the issued to be reframed in terms of positive liberty, which includes the resources and means to act and exercise one’s liberties. (I’ve written about these disparate concepts of liberty here.) “Choice” also failed to highlight even the violations of negative liberty perpetrated on women who were poor or non-white, such as coerced sterilizations and pressure to use abortion or long-term birth control.

In theory, of course, “choice” could embrace both notions of liberty and and could include issues beyond abortion. Despite some feminists’ efforts to expand the term, however, it continues to carry historical baggage. The popular understanding of “choice” is that it’s shorthand for legal abortion. Its meaning has constricted and frozen. I hear this from my students in women’s studies classes, as well as from critics within feminism. That’s why I’d prefer we stop privileging “choice” in favor of “reproductive rights” and “reproductive justice.” These concepts highlight the importance of positive liberties and challenge us to think about the whole spectrum of gendered health issues.

Thanks to figleaf and kb for pointing out that I didn’t connect all the dots – a hazard of writing when I probably ought to have been sleeping instead. :-)

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While I’m stewing a couple of longer posts, here’s a medical breakthrough. And for once, I don’t have anything critical to say about it. I’m all gee-whiz-isn’t-science-awesome!

Science Daily announces that a team headed by Dr. William Dooley of the University of Oklahoma has developed a technique to radically shrink large breast tumors. The study is not out yet (it’ll appear in the Annals of Surgical Oncology), so here’s what Science Daily reports:

They are working on a treatment called Focused Microwave Thermotherapy. The technique, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, uses a modified version of the microwave technology behind the “Star Wars” defense system.

In the most recent study, researchers tested the therapy on tumors that were an inch to an inch and a half in size. These large tumors usually require mastectomies. When researchers used the heating therapy within two hours of patients receiving chemotherapy, the tumor was more susceptible to the chemotherapy and shrunk rapidly. The percentage of patients needing mastectomies was reduced from 75 percent to 7 percent.

(More here.)

In other words, only a tenth of the women who would’ve needed a mastectomy ended up having one.

In their next step, the researchers will zap tumors as large as five inches. (I cringe at the idea that a tumor could grow that large without detection. We’re talking about the size of a small melons. My entire breast isn’t five inches in diameter.) In theory, the therapy could be applied to any organ that can be immobilized.

So this is really, really cool. It’s also making me rue my role in the Star Wars program – Reagan’s, that is, not Darth Vader’s. Back in the summer of 1984, I worked as a lab assistant at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto. I was supposed to grow laser crystals. The specifications were tight. The equipment was old. Control of the reactor was all manual. I grew a lot of crystals, measured them, tested them, watched them fail. This went on all summer. Donuts were served daily, and they were scrumptious. Only at the end of the summer did I learn that those useless wafers were all intended for Reagan’s Star Wars initiative.

I felt much better.

But now I wonder. What if our failed research could have fed into a great peacetime medical application, as this thermotherapy process promises to be? How many other projects funded by the DoD, Department of Energy, etc. might spawn brilliant but overlooked civilian applications? I mean, I know we’ve got computers and the Internet thanks to DoD, but what other wonders might be hiding in their junk closets?

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One Good Thing …

… about the Senate Democrats losing their filibuster-proof 60-vote majority?

At least Joe Lieberman won’t be able to kick us around any more.

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Tuesday Recipe: Little Raspberry Tarts

These are a variation on the pecan tassies that I make at Christmas. The raspberry/almond combo might even be better than the original.

Tart dough:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
Filling (see below)

In a small mixer bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese. Stir in flour. Cover and chill about one hour or till easy to handle. Cut into 24 pieces. Shape into one-inch balls. Press onto bottom and up sides of ungreased 1 3/4-inch muffin cups. Fill each with one rounded teaspoon filling. Bake in a 325 F oven for 20 to 25 minutes or till done. Cool slightly in pan. Remove and cool well. Makes 24.

Almond-Raspberry Filling:

Divide 1/4 cup red raspberry preserves among pastries (about 1/2 teaspoon each). Beat together 1 egg, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon real almond extract, and 1/2 cup  ground almonds. (I used Trader Joe’s almond meal, plus a handful of chopped almonds that I first blanched and popped out of their skin.) Spoon one level teaspoon of the mixture over preserves. Sprinkle with coarsely chopped sliced almonds or a whole almond. If desired, drizzle cooled baked tarts with additional red raspberry preserves (I didn’t bother).

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Shortly after Mary Daly died, I speculated that the notion of “idolatry” might be useful for secular feminists, but I didn’t develop the idea much further. In Beyond God the Father,  Daly suggests that in the past, feminists positioned suffrage as a kind of secular idol, and she warns against the “new wave” of feminism (e.g., the second wave) doing the same. For Daly, idolatry isn’t the worship of a false deity. It’s not making sacrifices to a golden calf. It’s setting up an idea or goal as “ultimate” when it’s actually transitory, like the achievement of suffrage. I’d argue that “choice” has had a similar status in second-wave feminism.

Unfortunately, she fell into precisely this trap by setting up “women” as a kind of idol in her later work, beginning with Gyn/Ecology, with the result being an “ethics” that demonized both transsexuals and men.

The shift in Daly’s thinking between Beyond God the Father (1973) and Gyn/Ecology (1978) is massive. She moves from examining social constructions and stereotypes to making universal pronouncements about the essence of men and women. Consider this passage from Beyond God the Father:

The roles and structures of patriarchy have been developed and sustained in accordance with an artificial polarization of human qualities into the traditional sexual stereotypes. The image of the person in authority and the accepted rationale of “his” role has corresponded to the eternal masculine stereotype, which implies hyper-rationality (in reality, frequently reducible to pseudo-rationality), “objectivity,” aggressivity, the possession of dominating and manipulative attitudes toward persons and the environment, and the tendency to construct boundaries between the self (and those identified with the self) and “the Other.” The caricature of human being which is represented by this stereotype depends for its existence upon the opposite caricature – the eternal feminine. This implies hyper-emotionalism, passivity, self-abnegation, etc.

(From Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation, 15)

Daly goes on to say that both women and men have begun (as of the early 1970s) to free themselves from these stereotypes. I’d quibble with the idea that those stereotypes have been eternal. Historians have shown them to be just a couple of hundred years old and limited to white women and men in the West. However, in light of her later work, it’s remarkable how much distance Daly places here between these “caricature[s] of human being” and actual men and women.

Compare this to how she view men, women, and stereotypes five years later:

Thus women continue to be intimidated by the label anti-male. Some feel a false need to draw distinctions, for example: “I am anti-patriarchal but not anti-male.” The courage to be logical – the courage to name – would require that we admit to ourselves that males and males only are the originators, planners, controllers, and legitimators of patriarchy. Patriarchy is the homeland of males; it is Father Land; and men are its agents. …

Despite all the evidence that women are attacked as projections of The Enemy, the accusers ask sardonically: “Do you really think that men are the enemy?” This deception/reversal is so deep that women – even feminists – are intimidated into Self-deception, becoming the only Self-described oppressed who are unable to name their oppressor, referring instead to vague “forces,” “roles,” “stereotypes,” “constraints,” “attitudes,” “influences.” This list could go on. The point is that no agent is named – only abstractions. …

As a creative crystallization of the movement beyond the State of Patriarchal Paralysis, this book is an act of Dis-possession; and hence, in a sense beyond the limitations of the label anti-male, it is absolutely Anti-androcrat, A-mazingly Anti-male, Furiously and Finally Female.

(Gyn/Ecology, 28-9)

No longer does Daly see a chance for men to liberate themselves. Instead, humanity is divided into two opposing camps, men and women, and all men are tainted by their sex. In her concluding chapter, Daly describes an exorcism through which Hags and Crones purge their gathering of the male (or male-identified) Demons that have “infiltrated” them. She literally “Demon-izes” men.

Daly’s idolization of women forms the basis for a friend/enemy distinction that suggests women need to destroy their enemies as a matter of self-defense. As I’ve already discussed here, Daly accused MTF transsexuals of being the necrophilic pawns of patriarchy who sought the destruction of women. She postulated that they were the agents of a “Final Solution” that would violate women’s boundaries and render them “‘living’ dead women.” By appropriating the language of genocide, Daly implies (though never says explicitly) that MTF transsexuals have no right to live. She never says bluntly that they should be “exterminated.” Instead, she says they should be “eliminated.” However, I don’t think one can read “elimination” in a post-Holocaust world without understanding it as a potential euphemism for “extermination.”

Daly’s friend/enemy distinction is similarly virulent when it comes to men. In a 1999 interview with What Is Enlightenment? magazine, Daly made concrete the fantasy of purging men that she outlined in the closing chapter of Gyn/Ecology.

WIE: In Quintessence, your idyllic continent is inhabited by women only, but the rest of the world is inhabited by women and men.

MD: I didn’t say how many men were there.

WIE: Which brings us to another question I wanted to ask you. Sally Miller Gearhart, in her article “The Future—If There Is One—Is Female” writes: “At least three further requirements supplement the strategies of environmentalists if we were to create and preserve a less violent world. 1) Every culture must begin to affirm the female future. 2) Species responsibility must be returned to women in every culture. 3) The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately ten percent of the human race.” What do you think about this statement?

MD: I think it’s not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore.

WIE: Yes. I find myself now thinking that’s a bit shocking.

MD: Well, it’s shocking that it would be shocking.

A bit shocking? The language of “decontamination,” too, harks back to the Holocaust. She reduces men to un-persons, mere objects to be destroyed due to their toxicity, a contaminant that threatens womankind. This is the sort of objectification that any feminist – indeed, any decent person – should denounce as hateful and dangerous.

How, exactly, is the population of men to be “reduced and maintained”? Note the euphemism, again – it’s not Daly’s, but she accepts it enthusiastically. What would be done with the present generations of men? Would they be allowed to die a natural death, or would she want to hasten the process along? As for future generations, would she favor prenatal selection, which would require universal usage of IVF – surely a “technophallic” solution, in her own terms? Selective abortion? Male infanticide? Who would decide which men were allowed to live? Daly sidesteps these questions by suggesting an “evolutionary process” will do the trick, but that’s scientifically untenable and patently absurd.

Reverse all the genders in the above, and you’ve got a dystopia to rival Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. And we shouldn’t be shocked, just because the vision entails the elimination of men instead of women?

Of course, Daly’s us/them thinking went even further. As Daisy Deadhead points out, Daly excluded many women from the category of “women”! – or at least the women who count:

As a Catholic, I believe she did irreparable harm to Catholic women who sought to reform the Church; she advised radical women to withdraw from it, leaving the liberal women who preferred to stay, twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. (I notice she didn’t advise them to withdraw from other patriarchal structures such as, um, academia.) In her later books like Pure Lust, she was positively hateful to any feminists who did not follow her out of the Church, but instead chose to stay and fight. Her way or the highway.

Daisy also mentions a point that my previous posts didn’t address (on the assumption that most feminists already knew about this): Daly never gave an adequate public response to Audre Lorde’s contention that Gyn/Ecology was racist and colonialist. If this is news to you after all, you can read Lorde’s “An Open Letter to Mary Daly” here.

This is the problem with idolizing one category of people. The resultant us/them thinking draws the circle ever more tightly around “us.”

None of this would matter if Daly’s most venomous ideas had died with her, but they didn’t. At Questioning Transphobia, Queen Emily has laid out the legacy of excluding trans people from feminism, which has been deadly in some instances. The consequences for men have been less dire simply because they’re not a marginalized group like transgender people.

However, Daly’s idolatry lives on among a subset of self-identified feminists who embrace her defense of male-hating. (See also here, and don’t miss the comment thread.) They are relatively few in number, but it’s incumbent on the rest of us feminists who love men, who love humans, to categorically reject a feminism that leaves any space for eliminationist thinking. It’s up to us to reject what Daly originally called “a caricature of human being.” In fact, that’s the best way I can imagine to honor Daly’s better legacy.

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Caturday: The LOLbible, Illuminated

The Ceiling Cat’s Twitter alerted me to this fabulous take on the LOLcat Bible.

LolCat Bible Illuminated Manuscript from jonandrewdavis on Flicker. Since it’s not licensed under Creative Commons, I’m posting it with the hope that he’ll consider it fair use – and that people will visit the rest of this set on Flickr, “Divine Comedy,” from an exhibition he held last spring.

By the way, I love how closely the diction in the LOLbible creation story follows that of my younger son. “Ceiling Cat maded teh skies and teh Urfs” – it could come straight from the Tiger, extra -ed verbs and all. Only difference? The Tiger prefers the spelling “Erf.”

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I winced when I saw this Columbus Dispatch headline – Call to toughen “slavery” law – but the article surprised me. In a good way.

An Ohio legislator, Teresa Fedor, is about to introduce a law that would make human trafficking a stand-alone crime and not just an adjunct to other crimes. She’s supported in this by Mark Lagon, head of the Polaris Project, for whom “trafficking” and “slavery” are apparently not just code words for cracking down on prostitution:

Lagon recommended that Ohio law be changed to make human trafficking a stand-alone crime and to include a broader definition that covers forced labor in addition to coerced sexual activity.

(Source, here and below: Columbus Dispatch)

Now, I’m not a big fan of prostitution. I think it enshrines a type of male privilege that I’d rather see die out: the privilege to avail oneself of a fuckable body at all times. I don’t see that as advancing women’s sexual autonomy. However, I really don’t want to see sex workers be persecuted and prosecuted for making choices that are rational and not, to my mind, immoral.

Nor do I want to see trafficked domestic workers (for instance) completely ignored because there’s nothing sexy about their enslavement. (As if forced prostitution might be sexy??!!?)

Also, I hate hearing that underage girls were arrested whenever a prostitution ring is busted. A thirteen- or fifteen-year-old girl is not mature enough to consent to sex work. She really is a victim. She should be treated with kindness and helped to finish her education, not branded a law-breaking tramp.

Lagon said that Ohio needs to increase assistance, such as emergency housing, to trafficking victims, particularly juveniles.

“We don’t have a place to put these prostituted teens when we find them,” Lagon said. Too often, they are viewed as criminals to be locked up rather than victims to be helped, he added.

Of course, most sex workers are not victims. Most choose their work consciously and deliberately as the best of their available options. Many enjoy it more than most other folks enjoy flipping burgers or scrubbing other people’s toilets. Thanks to sexism and the illegality of prostitution, many prostitutes earn better money than an alternative career would offer, given their educational attainment and work experience. Also, as Audacia Ray observes on the basis of Indian sex workers’ experiences, social programs intended to “rescue” women from prostitution fail because they regard them as voiceless victims, failing to account for women’s agency and socioeconomic constraints.

For of-age sex workers, the victim/criminal dichotomy is not helpful. Many of them are neither, and we need to find new language (like, um, worker?) to describe their status. That can’t happen, though, as long as they’re still subject to criminal prosecution. So even the revised law in Ohio will fall far short of ideal – and that’s assuming 1) it passes 2) with Lagon’s preferred language. But it’s at least a start, in a state that’s usually quicker to judge than to empathize.

Update, 1-13-10: Here’s a video overview of the work of SANGRAM, the Indian organization Ray describes (via her post at RH Reality Check).

posted with vodpod

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It was yesterday. Two years. Huh.

So I guess that makes today my first anniversary of forgetting my blogoversary. Because I spaced on it last year, too, amid snow days and work stress.

It’s never too late to raise a glass, right?

Festive kitteh from ICHC?

Here’s to 753 posts … the patience of my regular readers … the thoughtfulness and civility of my commenters … and the disappearance of my most Nuckolheaded troll ever. (Google hufu for an intro to this charming fellow, if you missed him.)

Oh, and I’m enjoying my flash-in-the-pan Technorati authority. I have no idea how “authority” is calculated these days, but it registered the spike in rage about Mary Daly. Given how dry that post was, I’m thinking I should write super-nerdy posts more often, using actual books. Next up: how to do perfect footnotes according to the Chicago Manual of Style!

Truth is, I mostly write about what interests me. I write to learn. I write because the static in my brain has to go somewhere. It’s a somewhat solipsistic approach, which makes me all the more grateful for my readers.

I write in hopes of being a better teacher. I brought the Mary Daly material into the classroom today while discussing exclusionary practices in second-wave feminism. I understood it better, thanks to my commenters.

Here’s the deal: I’ll spare you that post on Chicago-style footnotes if you’ll stick around.

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We need a word for “Schadenfreude-in-advance.” That’s how I feel upon hearing (via litbrit at Cogimatus) that Sarah Palin is slated to join Fox News. Oh, the joys of fractured syntax! The invention of historical facts on the fly!

Howard Kurtz reports at the WaPo:

Palin, who resigned as governor of Alaska last summer, will appear as a commentator on various Fox shows. She will also host an occasional program that will examine inspirational tales involving ordinary Americans.

Palin will join Mike Huckabee as a Fox contributor who was also involved in the 2008 campaign. The exposure can only help Palin if she decides to pursue a 2012 presidential bid.

Kurtz gets paid for what, again? Oh, right, he’s a media analyst! Can I have a chunk of his salary? Because we all remember the wreckage of her Katie Couric interview. Only in a weird parallel universe would further exposure help Palin. That parallel universe does exist, and it’s one big tea party. Last I heard, though, the teabaggers don’t add up to 51% of likely voters.

Fox will obviously try to keep a tight leash on Palin, but any extemporizing will lead her straight through the looking-glass, into a world where up is down and lies are truth. Jon Stewart will have a field day. Let’s hope there are lots of Daily Show viewers among likely swing voters.

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Caturday: Mean Kitty!

We here at Kittywampus are ashamed to be so late to this party. “Mean Kitty” already has 28 million views! I am such an old fart. Such a square! I’m so square that I still use the word square!

Anyway, on the off chance that you’re equally square, here’s “Mean Kitty.” Enjoy!

Surely that’s a sweet kitty, yes? I’d take him in a heartbeat. My own offspring invented the formula “adorable + ornery = survival!” Sparta would be a dose of the mellow, by comparison.

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We here at Kittywampus have a long tradition of kvelling about snow days. Foolishly, we thought that when our offspring entered public school, we would be able to pursue our paid work from 9 to 3:30 with only the occasional blip for ridiculous holidays like Columbus Day (the kids get it off, the uni doesn’t).

But I soon learned that our school district regards a quarter-inch of snow as an emergency. And thus we’ve been out of school since Tuesday. Add on the Bear’s sick day on Monday, and we’ve been out of school since December 18.

Verily, we’ve done something to anger the Ceiling Cat. He hath smote us with a plague of snow.

From ICHC, captioned by me, Sungold!

I’ve been trying to teach my classes at the college while our dear neighbor girl watches the kids whenever I can’t weasel out of a commitment. She’s wonderful – smart, responsible, and very kind to my kids – but she’s just 12. I keep feeling a little as though I’m stepping out of a 21st century Dickensian tableau whenever I slink off to work.

As soon our dear sitter leaves, my kids start climbing the walls. (Maybe ask Santa for crampons, next year?)

This scene is being played out, theme with variations, through Southeast Ohio. I advise you to buy stock in Celestial Seasonings (producer of Tension Tamer tea). If you’re living in SE Ohio, you might as well invest directly in the tea. I tried funnelling it into the Bear today, who said he was stressed. “It tastes yucky, Mama. Bitter.” I’d added honey, but I wasn’t about to argue. I happily guzzled the rest of his mug.

think it’s a good thing that laudanum has gone out of fashion as a liquid chill-pill for kids.

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Historiann is wondering if there’s solid evidence that Mary Daly actually was transphobic. After a food-fight erupted in comments on Shakesville’s post, “RIP Mary Daly,” Historiann asks:

Did any of the very opinionated commenters [at Shakesville] who were so very concerned about Daly’s transphobia offer quotations, or, you know, any actual evidence of her grave sins against humanity?  (I mean, aside from citing Wikipedia?)  Did anyone do what Mary Daly herself did her whole life–commit scholarship by citing evidence, chapter and verse?

(More here.)

Now, I wasn’t involved in that pile-on because I’m generally uncomfortable with how the laudable idea of safe space sometimes becomes a silencing mechanism at Shakesville, and so I never comment there. I fully agree with Historiann: the snap judgments in that comment thread epitomize a real problem in feminist blogdonia – a tendency to assume bad faith and judge quickly and harshly.

But yeah, Daly did write some nasty things in Gyn/Ecology. I spent some time today digging through it (the relevant passages can all be found online, though you have to cobble them together from Amazon and Google Books). I didn’t find the term “Frankensteinian” applied verbatim to transsexuals, so technically Wikipedia may be incorrect in imputing it to her (or maybe I just didn’t find it). But only technically. I’ll get to the Frankenstein thing in a moment.

First, some context. Saying that radical feminists/hags must find their own selves, Daly cautions against being “swallowed up in male-centered (Dionysian) confusion. Hags find our own boundaries, our own definitions.” So far, so good. What’s not to like about defining one’s own boundaries? It’s smart and healthy, both personally and politically. But then Daly starts crossing my boundaries:

The Dionysian solution for women, which is violation of our own Hag-ocratic boundaries, is The Final Solution. To succumb to this seductive invitation is to become incorporated into the Mystical Body of Maledom, that is, to become ‘living’ dead women, forever pumping our own blood into the Heavenly Head, giving head to the Holy Host, losing our heads.

This is an example of Daly’s language-play leading her into incoherence. Meaning disintegrates: what does it mean to give head to the Holy Host? Last I knew, you chew on the host, which is sort of the opposite of what men appear to enjoy in fellatio – or have I been missing out on something important? There’s no substance in that metaphor, only a drive-by condemnation of blow jobs.

But that’s a frivolous point. What made me flinch here – and we haven’t gotten to the transphobia yet – was her appropriation of the Holocaust. It’s legitimate to look at genocide in comparative history. It’s not okay to use it as a metaphor for women identifying with men.

This notion of a Dionysian Final Solution forms the launching pad for Daly’s attack on trans people:

Dionysus sometimes assumed a girl-like form. The phenomenon of the drag queen dramatically demonstrates such boundary violation. Like whites playing “black face,” he incorporates the oppressed role without being incorporated in it. In the phenomenon of transsexualism, the incorporation/confusion is deeper. As ethicist Janice Raymond has pointed out, the majority of transsexuals are “male to female,” while transsexed females basically function as tokens, and are used by the rulers of the transsexual empire to hide the real nature of the game. In transsexualism, males put on “female” bodies (which are in fact pseudofemale).

(This and previous quotations are from Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, 67-8)

Here, Daly uncritically appropriates Raymond’s notion of a transsexual empire – a sort of conspiracy by men to invade and colonize women’s bodies and the feminist movement. She expresses no skepticism, only approval. I don’t see any way to redeem this. It’s transphobic through and through.

Two pages later, the next section is titled “Boundary Violation and the Frankenstein Phenomenon.” Daly positions Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as “prophetic,” claiming it foretold “the technological fathers’ fusion of male mother-miming and necrophilia in a boundary violation that ultimately points toward the total elimination of women.” (70)

So Daly’s appropriation of the “Final Solution” is no accident. She literally warns against a genocide that would wipe out all women.

How would this occur?

Today the Frankenstein phenomenon is omnipresent not only in religious myth, but in its offspring, phallocratic technology. The insane desire for power, the madness of boundary violation, is the mark of necrophiliacs who sense the lack of soul/spirit/life-loving principle with themselves and therefore try to invade and kill off all spirit, substituting conglomerates of corpses. This necrophilic invasion/elimination takes a variety of forms. Transsexualism is an example of male surgical siring which invades the female world with substitutes.”

(Gyn/Ecology, 70-71)

Other “manifestations of phallotechnic boundary violations” include “male-created genetic engineering” and cyborgs along with behavioral psychology and “other Master Mothers, such as physicians and surgeons (especially in gynecology/obstetrics and in neurosurgery), psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors of all kinds.” (71)

Not to make any excuses for the history of gynecology, which is absolutely rife with human rights abuses, but “transphobic” almost seems like too weak a word. The most charitable reading of this passage positions MTF (male-to-female) transsexuals as the unwitting dupes of evil surgeons. Alternatively, MTF transsexuals are themselves agents intent on destroying the female world.

So no, I didn’t catch the word “Frankensteinian” in the midst of all this, but that doesn’t make it any prettier. Transsexuals are at least associated – and possibly identified – with necrophiliacs and power-mad men. They are described as modern-day, real-world Frankensteins. This is defamatory. This is hate speech.

Daly returns to transsexuals in her flights of fantasy at the end of Gyn/Ecology. While describing an “Amazonian Dissembly,” she imagines a group she calls “the Obsessors” who are purveyors of women’s sexualization, bearing such items as cosmetics, Penthouse, and the Pill:

It is also noted that among this faction there are some who appear to be eunuchs. One is carrying a placard which reads: “I am a lesbian-feminist male-to-female transsexual. Take me in.” As they begin to file off the platform two Harpies swoop down into their midst, causing them to stumble and stagger in all directions.” (420)

It’s clear that Daly denies trans people the basic respect of acknowledging their own identity. Even more, she calls them “eunuchs,” implying they are sexless. And in the end, she gleefully imagines them being driven off from the gathering of women.

Except, of course, this scene didn’t only occur in Daly’s imagination. Self-identified radical feminists have often excluded trans women in real life. They just haven’t had the aid of flying Harpies.

But that’s only the end of Gyn/Ecology, which was published in 1978; it’s not the end of Daly’s career. (In my head, I’m channelling Paul Harvey: “And now you know … the rest of the story.) In comments to my previous post, Xochitl – a young woman who worked personally with Dalystates that Daly renounced such transphobic views later in life:

I got to know Mary in the last few years of her life – and of course I had to speak up for my trans friends – I’ll gladly report that Mary no longer held the same trans-phobic views that Jan Raymond expressed in her dissertation decades ago. I cannot report changes about Raymond’s thoughts only because I have not followed up on how her ideas developed. But I can attest that Mary’s own thoughts and perspective on this definitely changed – which only makes sense considering that for her to live is to change and move and grow with the movement of Ultimate Intimate Reality – Goddess is Verb for Mary Daly – there is no way she would have maintained static ideas.

One day I will write more on this – I do not want future generations of feminists, trans friends included, thinking of Mary Daly as their enemy.

She really is an ally. Of course this is not to diminish the harm and effect that any trans-phobic expressions will continue to have. That’s the risk any of us take when we put something in writing – it seems so permanently true. But in reality, all texts simply capture one moment – it is only a reflection of that one moment in ones developing thoughts and theories…

I have no reason to doubt Xochitl and pretty good cause to believe her. Judging from her blog, she strikes me as smart and principled. She describes herself as queer and Christian in an unorthodox way (if I’ve read it right). Yes, she’s got some personal loyalties, but her political and religious commitments are her own, not Daly’s.

It would have been wonderful if Mary Daly had publicly renounced those transphobic passages from Gyn/Ecology. I’m not aware of her having done so – but if anyone knows better, please correct me. (I’m not so interested in static ideas, myself, especially if they’re wrong!) Daly could have sent a signal to the younger generations of women who’ve embraced radical-cultural feminism and its attendant idea that the mere existence of trans people poses a danger to “real” (cis) women. Whatever one’s feelings about the content of her work, Daly lived a remarkable life. Disowning her transphobia would have been a generous gesture that might have influenced younger generations. It might even have opened up her legacy to the trans people and their allies who know her only as the philosopher who called them power-mad, necrophiliac monsters in the shadow of Frankenstein.

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You may have already heard that Mary Daly, theologian and radical feminist, died on January 3 after a couple of years of poor health. And if you did, you might have recalled how she excluded men from her university classes. Or maybe you thought back to her playful use of language, which becomes downright baffling (to this reader) in her later work.

Quite possibly you remembered her as a radical separatist who took the essentialism of cultural feminism to its logical extreme, locating the ills of patriarchy in the natures of men themselves. For a historian – especially a feminist historian – her essentialism just won’t fly. Men have not behaved precisely the same throughout history, nor have they all been villains. But even apart from her ahistoricity, Daly’s vision of men as hopelessly mired in misogyny is politically and theologically bleak. There’s no potential for change unless you want to box out half of humanity from liberation. I happen to believe that men and women alike deserve a better, freer, kinder world. I’m not convinced in the least that men are the lost cause Daly makes them out to be.

Then there’s her transphobia, which appears to be part and parcel of a certain kind of separatism. (After all, separation is feasible only if you can draw a clear, bright line between your chosen allies and the Other.) Phil BC at a Very Public Sociologist notes:

Daly also supervised Janice Raymond’s PhD dissertation. Published as the notoriously transphobic The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-male, which in all seriousness contends that transwomen are patriarchal agents in the women’s movement and whose existence “rapes” women’s bodies. Unfortunately, such absurd and reactionary views tend to swill about the feminist blogosphere still, inflaming bitter disputes wherever they rear their ugly heads.

(Read as a whole, Phil’s obit gives a very balanced assessment; go read it if Daly intrigues you. See also Helen Boyd’s obit at enGender.)

Raymond’s views cannot speak for Daly’s, but I know that if a student wanted to write a thesis celebrating the KKK as pro-white woman, I’d politely tell them they’d need a new adviser. If Daly had a beef with Raymond’s argument, she could have excused herself from Raymond’s committee. She didn’t.

But I’m not writing about Daly only to bash her for her politics. She’s one of those complex figures whose odious views in one area didn’t preclude daring and deeply thought-provoking theory in another area:

It is reasonable to take the position that the sustained effort toward self-transcendence requires keeping alive in one’s consciousness the question of ultimate transcendence, that is, of God. It implies recognition of the fact that we have no power over the ultimately real, and that whatever authentic power we have is derived from participation in ultimate reality. This awareness, always hard to sustain, makes it possible to be free of idolatry even in regard to one’s own cause, since it tells us that all presently envisaged goals, lifestyles, symbols, and societal structures may be transitory. This is the meaning that the question of God should have for liberation, sustaining a concern that is really open to the future, in other words, that is really ultimate. Such a concern will not become fixated upon limited objectives. Feminists in the past have in a way been idolatrous about such objectives as the right to vote.

(From Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation, 28–29)

She then goes on to identify three false deities – or idols – in Christianity. The first is the “God of explanation” to whom we turn to explain, and thus justify, that which is unexplainable: the suffering and death of children, the structures of social privilege. The second idol is “otherworldliness,” conceiving of God as a judge in a remote heaven who keeps people docile with the promise of rewards and punishments after death. Daly says this idol can be dethroned simply by living a full and rich life in this world – which women, particularly, are discouraged to do. The third idol is God as the Judge of sin, which promotes self-destructive guilt, especially in women who violate patriarchal church teachings on sex and family roles.

All of this is radical but also reasonable and compassionate, assuming one has any interest whatsoever in reforming Christianity/religion and liberating women within religions. If you’re an atheist, then Daly may be a waste of your time. Yet even then, don’t her comments on idolatry within the feminist movement still ring true today?

And might not Daly’s harsh views on men and trans people have melted away, had she simply followed her own counsel by recognizing that separatism was historically transitory, and that women, as “presently envisaged,” was conceived too narrowly? Of course people often harbor great contradictions, and so it’s not surprising that Daly did, too. But here, in her early work, she imagines a path toward human liberation – one that should be open to all persons, not just womyn-born-womyn.

Update January 7, 12:30 a.m.: In a follow-up post, I explore Daly’s Gyn/Ecology to assess whether she really was a transphobic as the interwebs make her out to be. The short answer: Yes. The long answer: Oh my, and with eunuchs and power-mad scientists to boot! Yet, late in life, she may have moderated her views.

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Every once in a while, I hear childfree-by-choice people emphasize that they’re not anti-child; they just enrich the lives of kids by being actively involved with nieces and nephews, or they teach, or they volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. All of that is essential to keeping the lives of parents and kids afloat, and I’m not dissing it in any way. I think it’s wonderful. It’s lifesaving, in fact.  I’m also 100% supportive of the decision not to reproduce. It’s really not for everyone – including a substantial fraction of those who’ve chosen (or stumbled into) parenthood.

But every once in a while someone says that their contribution to society’s future is equal to that of parents because they do some volunteer work with kids – and thus want to claim educational or health benefits equal to those of parents that they could then assign to a beneficiary of their choice – and if not, then no one should get such benefits. I balk at such arguments. In an ideal world, all humans ought to have such benefits, decoupled from their jobs, but as long as they adhere to employment status, then parents do have a special claim to including their kids under those bennies.

My argument for this boils down to this: “Kid puke.” I have lots of recent evidence for this, but since no browser supports scratch’n’sniff technology, you’ll just have to use your fertile imagination.

Because it’s only parents as a rule (occasionally grandparents) who are available to those kids 24/7. It’s only parents who clean up a trail of barf leading down the slide of a child’s cute bed from Ikea, who roll up the terminally soiled carpet and trundle it out to the garbage, and who attempt to decontaminate not just the floor but an amazing array of vertical surfaces. I say “parents” advisedly, because this is not a one-person job … and if it is, that partnership is either moribund or already dead. Surely solo barf clean-up has got to be one of the hardest jobs in single parenthood.

And yes, I knew this was part of the job description before i signed on to motherhood, but that doesn’t make it easy, trivial, or fun. That also won’t help me fall asleep. My ear is cocked for the next round. I know I need to sleep since the new quarter starts tomorrow, and I should be fresh and quick-witted. Instead I’ll probably sway and shuffle into the classroom and hope that my students are chatty.

I’ve got more to say on the differences between parenthood and other caretaking in a serious vein. But something about inhaling those fumes makes it hard to be philosophical or reflective.

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K at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction draws our attention to something that might sound like a joke, at first blush, but is miserable to actually live with: persistent arousal syndrome. It’s been mocked in the media as “restless vagina syndrome,” which trivializes it by equating it with restless leg syndrome(which in turn is only trivial if it’s not robbing you of your sleep, by the way).

Basically, persistent arousal syndrome refers to an almost-constant engorgement or nervous excitement of the genitals. It’s relieved only briefly by orgasms that can occur at the most inconvenient time – even while driving or talking to your mother-in-law. It sounds to me a little bit like what men describe experiencing with blue balls, except that it’s constant, unprovoked, and goes to eleven.

K, who suffers from a different type of pelvic dysfunction, is rightly outraged by articles that treat persistent arousal disorder as an invention of Big Pharma or simply a joke:

Why is this funny?
How is this fake?
Would you actually be comfortable having an orgasm in front of a stranger or in a medical setting, as three of the women in that study are reported to have experienced? What if you were sitting on a bus and the woman next to you started going into an uninhibited orgasm, what would your reaction be? Envy, discomfort, leering, slut-shaming… acceptance?
Why, when nothing else provides long-term relief, would this not merit medical research and possible treatment?

(Lots more good stuff here. See also her follow-up post, which gives voice to a woman who’s suffering from this condition.)

I think one reason people are tempted to crack stupid jokes is because we’ve got such incoherent cultural ideas about women’s sexual responses. We all “know” that women “normally” have great difficulty orgasming; hence all those how-to articles in women’s magazines. (Oddly, there don’t seem to be quite so many how-to articles aimed at women’s male partners.) On the other hand, regular watchers of porn “know” that all you need to do is get a woman naked and she’ll be panting for it, climaxing without any direct stimulation at all!

So which is it?

Whatever the source of the joking, the consequences for women can be dire. A group of Dutch physicians recently reported on an elderly woman who was so desperate that she’d had surgery to remove her clitoris. It didn’t work:

Females despairing of restless genital syndrome (ReGS) may request clitoridectomy for treatment of unwanted genital sensations. … Following a clitoridectomy for spontaneous orgasms, a 77-year-old woman was referred to our clinic for persistent unwanted genital sensations and feelings of imminent orgasm. …

Results. Genital dysesthesias, paresthesias, intolerance (allodynia) for tight clothes, aggravation of symptoms during sitting, restless legs, and overactive bladder were diagnosed. Laboratory assessments, and EEG and MRI of the brain were in agreement with aging, but all results were within the normal range. MRI of the pelvis disclosed varices of the uterus and of the left ovarian vein, and a visible scar in the region of the clitoris. Sensory testing of the genital area showed various points of static mechanical hyperesthesia at the left dermatome of the pudendal nerve. Manual examination of the RIPB also elicited the genital sensations at the left side of the vagina at about the 3 o’clock position.

Conclusions. This patient fulfilled all clinical criteria of ReGS that is believed to be caused by neuropathy of the left pudendal nerve. Clitoridectomy abolished spontaneous orgasms for a great part but not completely, and it did not diminish the typical dysesthesias, paresthesias, and feelings of imminent orgasms that typically belong to ReGS.

(From the abstract for M.D. Waldinger et al., “Restless Genital Syndrome Before and After Clitoridectomy for Spontaneous Orgasms: A Case Report,Journal of Sexual Medicine 13 Nov 1009, epublication ahead of print)

If this condition is disabling enough for women to take as drastic a step as a clitoridectomy, then it’s no laughing matter. My first reaction was to wonder what doctor would agree to perform the operation, but on reflection I’m willing to bet that this was a last-ditch attempt to provide relief after the woman had tried various drugs and physical therapy to no avail. In other words, it might have been more ethical to attempt a cure through surgery than to refuse it. I still shudder at the idea.

This report also provides some evidence for K’s hypothesis that this syndrome is a result of nerve dysfunction. For what it’s worth, I think she’s right on the money. These are the same nerves that are wired for great pleasure. It’s no surprise that when they go kerflooey, they can cause equally great distress, be it pain, unpleasant tingling, or unwanted arousal.

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Surely I can’t be the only one feeling a little melancholy at the start of a new year?

Rationally seen, I’m actually on a good trajectory. Last year was a doozie for me, with the onset of a mysterious ailment on Inauguration Day that continues to disrupt my life. I still don’t have a name for it – which is mostly good news, because I didn’t much hanker to call it MS or vasculitis or lupus – and I still feel lousy most of the time. I’m slowly getting better with more energy from month to month. I’m grateful that my cognitive capacities seem to have recovered, apart from minor trouble recalling names. My hope for 2010 is to get the upper hand over the remaining pain, tingling, and fatigue.

But the start of the new year always brings retrospection as well as hope, and I guess it’s inevitable that we grieve what we’ve lost.

For me, New Year’s Day is also the anniversary of the death of my dear cousin Jacquie, whom I lost to an especially aggressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She’s now a decade gone. If you’ve ever listened to Diane Rehm’s radio program and admired her gift for listening to her interviewees, then you’ve had a taste of Jacquie’s great gift, too, though she never made a career of it. She knew how to make people feel that whatever they were doing and thinking was just fascinating. I don’t believe it was ever fake, either. This deep, pervasive fascination was how she embraced the whole world. In midlife, she returned to college and completed a bachelors and master’s in anthropology. She was the one person in my family who understood the love of academia, and so she was my only relative who fully understood that part of me. A generation older than me, she was like a sister to my dad, and he still breaks into tears if he starts thinking too much about his loss. He’s not the only one.

And then, in a different register but still important to me, the anniversary of Grey Kitty’s death overshadows the next couple of days. She, too, died of lymphoma, to the best of our knowledge. She left us on January 3, 2001. I wrote about her last year on that anniversary, so I’ll stop before I get even more maudlin.

The days are short. The skies are dark. Holiday lights and baubles are going back into storage. The next ten weeks will bring the chaos of snow days and power outages, sick children and struggling parents. The North Dakotan in me says that I should be grateful to live in southeast Ohio. The Californian in me asks, WTF was I ever thinking when I left???!

The economy is still a shambles. Health care reform is about to shipwreck on the shoals of a mandate with weak cost controls. We’re still involved in Iraq and miring ourselves ever deeper in Afghanistan.

So let me tally up the good: George Bush and Dick Cheney are no longer our lords and masters. My kids are healthy, bright, and basically kind-hearted – well, to everyone but each other. None of my loved ones with a cancer history have had a recurrence. My niece’s serious arm fracture seems to be healing well, so far. Life is peachy with my dear mate; we’ve been watching the final season of Monk and remembering why we like each other. My teaching load should be slightly lower this quarter than last, giving me time for nature’s greatest tonic: sleep. I still have a job (at least until May) and my husband’s job is secure. My family loves me, and I love them. I have a community of friends who sustained me during the darkest days of last winter. We’ll do it again.

Also: tomatoes.

Here’s wishing you blessings, joys, and good health in 2010. Feel free to commiserate or celebrate – or both! – in comments.

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