Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Belated Melancholy Monday: Real Family Values

I think the majority of the readers of this blog are as sick as I am of the hollow rhetoric of "family values." We could get behind a party that rallied around family values if it meant more than anti-gay, anti-feminism, and pro-gun. If family values meant that parents weren't penalized by employers for taking care of elderly parents or sick children, we would be ecstatic. If family values meant quality, affordable day care for men and women who need to work to make ends meet, or women and men who work because it is integral to their identity, we would yell "hurrah!" If family values meant that every child born in this country would be guaranteed affordable health care, we would be singing the praises of"family values" candidates. Or, if family values meant that we cared enough about our environments--our towns, cities, states, or world--then, well you get the picture . . .

The Sunday Times magazine has a wonderful piece, entitled "Family-Leave Values," which describes a new wave of lawsuits aimed specifically at holding the family values crowd to their rhetoric. Eyal Press details how the provocative ideas of law professor, Joan C. Williams, who wrote Unbending Gender, are catching on and being used to successfully sue employers who terminate men and women--conservative evangelicals or progressive lefties--for taking time off to care for their family.

Now that's putting your money where your mouth is. Funny, it isn't a "values" voter doing it, either. Williams even stunned feminists who thought this would never work.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How to Become Headline News

Ok, I'll admit I am slow, but I must be the last person on earth to figure out the new celebrity stunt of the early twenties, anorexic crowd: get several DUIs, mixed in with drug use, so you end up doing time in jail. That way you can assure that your inane self will bump reports of the dead soldiers in Iraq, or the latest scandals at the DOJ.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Notes from the Prozac Nation, Vol. 1, No. 3

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I Need a New Reel of Film, but Why?

You will have noticed that I am not able to get posts up everyday as of late. This may be a permanent situation, but it all depends on what develops in with my newborn. I am spending a lot more time sleeping in the day, so I can't really get a post up until the afternoon. Anyway, today's post is perhaps a self-indulgent sharing of a dream I had this morning.

The exact details of what happened aren't that interesting, but what sticks with me is the solution that was proposed, via my dream, to deal with unfortunate events. (I am sure that I am dreaming a lot more of scary things that could befall me or my newborn--which I am told is completely normal--eek!) So, I was dreaming that something horrible had happened, something that I didn't want to have occurred and suddenly I discover that I have the ability to rewind time and start over (sort of like the DVR function on my TV). But, no matter how many times I rewind time, there is always another person there, acting as a counterweight to my power, who can force the negative outcome. I can't anticipate how she will make certain that something bad happens, no matter how many times I rewind.

Then, suddenly, I discover another trick: I begin to see all events happening in time as recorded on film. I am not sure who the cameraman or camerawoman is, but I know that the only way to beat my nemesis, the one who wants to assure that something bad happens--something that would be nearly impossible to live through--is to find new film stock. It has to fit the camera. I can't just edit out the sequence that leads to misery. I have to start completely over and then I get a new destiny. Just as I am working looking for the right film, I awake.

What the hell does it mean?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Is This Feminist Full of Shit or Not?

SteveG has an occasional series called Bullshit or Not (see here), where he takes a quotation from a famous philosopher and asks his readers to call bullshit or not. I had this in mind while reading Louisa Thomas's comment in the Talk of the Town in the July 23rd issue of The New Yorker, entitled "In the Zone." After reading this column, it occured to me that I should start up a similar series where I ask my readers to call bullshit or not on whether a self-proclaimed feminist is full of bullshit or not? The first example should be Johnna Mink and her feminist pole dancing. Now, here is the text from the Thomas's column:

When, a couple of months ago, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, and Smith Barney revised their expense-account policies so that employees were forbidden to entertain clients at Hawaiian Tropic Zone, a Times Square restaurant featuring waitresses wearing bikinis, the restaurant’s owner and C.E.O., Dennis Riese, said that his feelings were hurt. He told the Post, “We are a totally misunderstood restaurant.” Over lunch the other day with a young investment banker, Riese set out to correct the record. (The banker asked that his name be withheld, in case his bosses were unimpressed with Riese’s defense.)

The first thing to understand is that Hawaiian Tropic Zone is not an upscale Hooters. “It burns me deeply to hear those words,” Riese, a short man in his mid-fifties, said. His holdings also include Tad’s Steaks, TGI Friday’s, and Tequilaville. He asked the banker, “Have you ever been to a Hooters?”

The banker, who is from Columbus, Ohio, replied that he had, once.

“Would you call this an upscale Hooters?”

“It’s a very different feel,” the banker said.

Nor is Hawaiian Tropic Zone a strip club. “No nipples,” Riese said. “You’re never, ever going to see a girl nude.” He continued, “I’m such a feminist. I love women and believe in them. And I’m not being P.C. by saying that men and women like to look at the woman’s form—it’s been going on since Michelangelo, you know, since they were doing statues of Venus de Milo. So I really believed that I was creating a restaurant that was going to appeal to men and women. I used colors that are very feminine in this place.” He gestured toward a tropical mosaic and toward a pair of soft-orange overhead lights shaped—as are the salt and pepper shakers—like breasts.

Riese called for a menu. “We have a section that says ‘simply grilled,’ because women don’t like to eat sauces the way men do,” he said. “They’re watching their weight more often.” He pointed at the menu. “Also, see, it says ‘sharing encouraged,’ no extra charge. Well, women have smaller stomachs. And maybe two young single girls have a smaller pocketbook, and the idea of encouraging two girls to come in—nobody’s going to put a spotlight on you, make you feel uncomfortable because you’re sharing a dish, or that you want something just simply grilled.” (Riese says that women make up about a third of the restaurant’s customers.) “Women like sexy. Talk about empowerment and feminism! There’s nowhere offering women sexy in the way they would like it to be—classy sexy!”

The waitress, a petite African-American woman wearing a black stringbikini top and a floral-print mini sarong, brought over a salmon burger for Riese and a green salad for the banker. A nametag at her hip identified her as India.

“Beautiful women use these attributes of theirs to get up in life,” Riese said. “I don’t think these girls are feeling exploited. If a bunch of guys are coming in and ogling them, it’s because they’re guys and those are girls! And that’s part of our biological nature.”

The banker had a question. He said, “I’d heard that periodically all the girls line up and customers rank each of them from one to ten. Is that true?”

“No, but we have a beauty pageant,” Riese said. “Twice a night. Music comes on, and they walk across that stage up there.” He gestured toward a catwalk over the bar. Behind it, fifteen giant plasma screens showed a woman in a blue bikini, running her hands over her body. “The ballots are on every table.” The winner, Riese said, “gets a little tiara, and she wins fifty dollars.”

“My understanding was that you rank them, from one to ten,” the banker persisted. “And it seemed surprising to me—I would think that the women who scored very low, especially ones who took pride in their good looks or their bodies—”

“But we don’t do that,” Riese interrupted. “That would be prehistoric.”

So what do you think? Is Dennis Riese full of shit or not?

You know, what is interesting about this move (Mink or Riese calling blatant patriarchal practices empowering to women) is that it reveals a lot more about the mind of 21st Century Americans. The media wants us to both hate and love feminism. Well, actually, they want to sell us that what we thought was sexist crap is actually empowering to women. Why? Because on some level, feminism has seeped into the collective consciousness of many Americans--men and women. After all, major brokerages are banning their employees from entertaining clients at establishments like Hawaiian Tropic Zone. This is, at minimum, an admission that wooing clients with barely clad hootchie women is inappropriate behavior because it is one step above taking clients to the Bada Bing! Women also have a sense that they should aspire for more in life than shaking their bootie at knuckle draggers, who try to seal major business deals by titillating their clients. How better to reconcile this sense of guilt or bad behavior than repackaging it and calling it feminism.

Ok, have at it folks . . . .

Monday, July 23, 2007

Melancholy Monday: On Kindness

My husband, Za, is a kinder person than I am. He prioritizes harmony over justice. I am the exact opposite. I cannot fathom the possibility of harmony if I believe an injustice has been committed. I am hard. And for years, I thought this made me tough, formidable, and reliable. I value friendship intensely, especially loyal friends and when people have committed (what I consider to be) immoral or just plain thoughtless acts, I am slow to forgive. Za, on the other hand, possesses one of the best traits of the aristocratic values that Nietzsche describes in the Geneaology of Morals: he easily forgets. Therefore, he does not lie in wait for the perfect moment to exact revenge; he does not carry with him bile and rancor towards those who have hurt him. He is not a pushover either; he is selective about who he will let get close to him, and if someone has really crossed the line (which takes a lot) he will not let such a person in anymore.

I tend to feel more white hot righteous anger. I am completely affronted by the mean things people do, especially if it is motivated by their own weak ego. I have spent years trying to be more empathetic and caring toward others, especially those who have hurt me. I have made progress, but I am nowhere near where Za is.

It occurred to me to write about Za and his kindness today, because I have come to draw another melancholy lesson from his temperament.

It is better--morally better--to prioritize harmony over justice.

I used to think that the project of seeking harmony was weakness, was a failure to stand up to bullies. I was wrong. First of all, there is no possible way to stand up to bullies. Anytime you do, you further empower them. You give them precisely what they want: your attention. Furthermore, you show them that you are invested, you care. To seek harmony is to learn when to be silent, to withdraw, or disengage from an ugly dynamic. To seek harmony also requires an important kind of discernment: to know which actions from bullies cause irreparable damage and which will eventually fade into distant memory, leaving no serious mark. Za has that kind of discernment and I am learning how to pull back and assess an situation the way he does.

Seeking harmony over justice--something that surely Socrates never did--is the essence of true kindness.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Notes from the Prozac Nation, Vol. 1, No. 2

Once again I am a little late on posting this series. I intend to get these posted on fridays, but let's face it: my life is a little different lately. Question: does anyone want to submit a piece for Melancholy Monday?

  • Increased Sales of SSRIs is correlated with lower suicide rates in Norway: An ecological study (the kind rarely carried out by psychiatrists in the U.S.) found this negative correlation. Read the abstract here.
  • Many patients are rejecting SSRIs and seeking alternative treatments: I have to say I was surprised by this article in the Wall Street Journal, which reported widespread disatisfaction with antidepressants, especially because the CDC reports these medications are the most prescribed drugs in the U.S.
  • An honest account from a mother who experienced not joy, but depression during her pregnancy: Jody Santos not only shares her experience of depression during pregnancy, but also argues that the "post-feminist family values" era silences women from admitting that they are suffering from crippling depression.
  • Is enhancement ethical?: David Plotz from Slate Magazine, after ending a series of reporting on enhancement technology, ends his series with a helpful analysis of the major objections to enhancement. Here is the series of articles related to this final article: "The Future of Memory," "Hearing Aid," "Wake Up Little Susie," "Cheat Your Way to A Great Body."
  • The more girls talk about their fears, the more anxious and depressed they become: This LA Times reports on the results of a study done lead by Amy Rose, published in the Journal of Developmental Psychology.
  • Thursday, July 19, 2007

    The Susan B. Anthony of Pole Dancing

    PD sent this Colbert sketch on Johnna Mink, who in her husband's words, is the "Susan B. Anthony of pole dancing." You've gotta love the manager of Larry Flynt's club who says about feminism, "I've gotta take a pass on that. I'm not dialed into feminism." At least he is honest about his position as well as honest about what pole dancing is all about. If you had any doubts, watch Johnna crawl on the floor with her butt in the air or her admission that her husband enjoys this more than she does.

    So Colbert is mocking aspects of 3rd wave feminism, attitudes that I have seen many of my female student adopt before they take a course with me. The idea is that feminism has empowered women to embrace their sexuality. In fact, I have heard more than one female student tell me how being sexually attractive to the opposite sex (which at my school is the fraternity boys who exemplify the most misogynistic attitudes toward women) is power.

    I have always been a bit skeptical toward 3rd wave feminism. I am on record with my students as suggesting that it isn't a true "wave," and that the view it purports to represents is not significantly an advance over second wave feminism. In fact, the media has tended to like 3rd wave feminism more than second wave because it stresses "individualism" and, as Johnna's husband says, "let's men watch pole dancing without feeling like pigs." In other words, a lot of what gets called 3rd wave feminism is more palatable to men since it doesn't demand that they have to make significant changes in their worldview or in how they treat women.

    Bravo Colbert!

    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    What do Hillary and Obama's Gender Performances Say About Us?

    SteveG sent me this interesting gender analysis of Obama and Hillary at Salon. The gist of the analysis is that Obama is the more femininie candidate, or what Lakoff would call the "nurturant parent," while Hillary exhibits more traditional masculine characteristics.

    "Obama is the female candidate. Obama is the woman," she said, after admitting that she was one of his supporters. "He is the warm candidate, self-deprecating, soft, tender, sad eyes, great smile."

    So what does that make Hillary Clinton? "She is the male candidate -- in your face, authoritative, know-it-all." To be clear, Oleson was not doubting the symbolic power that Clinton retains as a woman. But she was calling it as she saw it, using the language of Iowa City, a university town. "It's what the academes would call the difference between sex and gender," Oleson explained.

    This might be true, and I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this, but sure, let's go with it. However, even if it is true, the analysis isn't very deep or interesting. If you really want to get in there and analyze the "gender performance" (see Judith Butler) of Obama and or Hillary, you need to think a lot more about context. After all, running for political office is indeed a performance, and one that requires that the performers think more self-consciously than ever about what sort of gender they project and how this will put off or attract supporters. There is nothing unconsciously designed in the performance. So if you want to surmise that Hillary is performing as a "strict father," while Obama is a "nurturant parent," you need to ask yourself why they have self-consciously adopted these poses? What are they calculating about us and our preconceptions and stereotypes of traditional gender roles? Moreover, how might traditional roles, intersecting with race, influence our preference for candidates?

    While Michael Scherer does pick up on how off-putting traditional feminine characteristics--exhibited by women--sends a message of incompetence to the voter:
    But she must also be careful to avoid gender traps, like the question famously put to vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro in 1984: "Are you strong enough to push the button?" She must also avoid the pitfall of congresswoman Pat Schroeder, who teared up in 1987 when she announced that she would not run for president. ("She cried," announced the New York Times two days later.)

    "The first woman absolutely has to out-masculine the man, kind of like Margaret Thatcher did," says Georgia Duerst-Lahti, a professor at Beloit College who has written extensively on gender in presidential politics. "Men have a lot more latitude. Just think about Ronald Reagan when he would tear up. Could a woman ever tear up? No. But a man can tear up."

    He doesn't muse on how a black man, exhibiting hyper masculine traits comes off to American voters. In fact, the Obama people might have adopted the more "feminine" style to his campaigning precisely to avoid the long standing cultural aversion of the terrorizing macho black man. While male aggression is always already culturally loaded, it is all the more so when exhibited by black men who then threaten, rather than instill confidence, in white male voters.

    So, if Hillary and Obama are engaging in a little drag to win our votes, what this really reveals is how rigid we, the voting public, are in our ability to imagine a highly competent nurturing female candidate or to feel confidence in a macho, decisive black man.

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Melancholy Monday: On Transience

    What a task to write a melancholy monday blog today; I couldn't be more euphoric as a newly minted mother. I have been falling deeply and madly in love for the past 72 hours. I catch myself just staring at my daughter's face, stroking her cheek, rubbing her back and kissing her all over. While everyone tells you that you will feel love at first sight or a love you never knew possible, the descriptions never do justice to the unbelievable emotional changes that occur upon seeing your child. In fact, if there is something to be melancholy about today--and surely there is--it is how much my well-honed analytical mind was an obstacle to the total bliss of becoming a mother.

    I have often said that nature probably has it right when it comes to pregnancy. You are in all sorts of danger to get pregnant when you are young and surging with hormones. You make all sorts of bad decisions that can wind up getting you knocked up. And, perhaps that is best, since, in my experience, I waited a long time to have a child and thereby marshalled my intellect in the service preventing a pregnancy so much so that it was pretty difficult to make the decision to become a mother. [It should be clear to regular readers that I am a passionate advocate of family planning. I am not endorsing getting pregnant or continuing a pregnancy unless you are ready for motherhood.] If you have gone through a great deal of your life childless and you know, or at least think you know, what sort of changes and demands motherhood will place on you, well, it's not easy taking the plunge. At least, that is what I thought all of these years.

    Now I am almost mourning the precious moments I am spending right now with this magical being--moments that seem so fragile, that are passing too fast for me to hold onto. I am already missing my baby and I have barely begun tending to her. I just don't want this to end. I guess its the way we feel when we fall madly and deeply in love--and we are wise enough to know that the intensity of that passion mellows eventually. I also realize, however, that I wouldn't last long in this state of euphoria.

    It is true that being a new parenthood implies sleep deprivation, but in my case, its not that Maddie is waking me up constantly, but that I don't want to close my eyes and have her out of my sight. I want to spend every second with her and that is bound to burn me out.

    Motherhood euphoria is inextricably bound up with melancholy--a melancholy borne from the realization that this will all go too fast.

    Sunday, July 15, 2007

    Notes from the Prozac Nation, Vol. 1, No. 1

    A few days late, but as promised, here is the first installment of "Notes from the Prozac Nation."

    • CDC researchers find that antidepressants are the most prescribed drugs in the United States. See the CNN article here, with a so-so commentary by Elizabeth Cohen here (of course I think she simplifies the issue, but well, it is CNN). At the bottom of this Scientific American article is a link to the actual CDC report (pdf).
    • New Studies show that SSRI drugs are not linked to increase suicide risk. The NYT reports on two studies that refute previous arguments that SSRI drugs can increase suicide in teenagers and children (a belief that led to the black box warnings). Will this new evidence comfort parents who are told their teenager should be taking Paxil? This personal injury lawyer argues that the FDA black box warnings may have led to increased teen suicides.
    • Is Viagra good for Christians? Check out this very interesting blog post, "Christian Sexuality and the Ethic of Pharmaceutical Enhancement" at Baptist Blogger: Cold Showers for Fightin' Fundamentalists. This post is taken from a paper that the blogger wrote while a student at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a very thoughtful and interesting analysis of responsible use of Viagra and other male enhancement drugs.
    • Do Bioconservatives really know what they mean by 'human nature'? Rebecca Roache at Ethics Etc points out that opponents to the ethics of enhancement (the bioconservatives) do not have a robust definition of 'human nature' at work. Roache points out how this problem is similar to the dilemma that Carl Hempel identified about the truth of physicalism. If bioconservatives want to oppose enhancement technologies on the ground that they interfere with human nature, then, Roache points out, they will need to make a more convincing argument for preserving human nature as it exists now. They will also need to show why evolution is a more benign force in the transformation of human nature.
    • Does Your Soul Have a Cold? This is the name of a new documentary film made by Mike Mills that explores how American Pharmaceutical companies are ""exporting American definitions of depression and the use of antidepressants to the ancient culture of Japan." The film is apparently not anti-SSRIs, but rather how Big Pharma tends to sell a specific definition of depression that, not surprisingly, is best treated by medicines rather than psychotherapy.

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    Putting Childbirth Pain in Perspective

    I guarantee you that whatever I endured pain-wise yesterday giving birth to Maddie that it was noting compared to these two brothers getting gored in the buttholes! Ouch!

    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Madeleine Has Arrived!!

    Well, this has turned into a very short delivery. Shortly after the last post, the doctor came in and determined that Spaz was no more dilated than she had been at 8 AM and her blood pressure was still a concern. PLUS the pitocin, which is given to her to induce labor, had been in her system for some time, and the doctor was concerned about the health of the baby. So Spaz, in her usual determined, decisive, and purposive fashion, elected to go Caesarean, as the doctor recommended.

    I have to say, I would have been far more frightened than she appeared to be. I can only chalk it up to Spaz's previous experience with surgery combined with her matter-of-fact pragmatic attitude. She was very brave, and I was really proud of her.

    An OR was available immediately, and Spaz was whisked off before I knew it.

    Spaz is currently in recovery, and Za, "Mamasan" (Za's name for Spaz's mom), and I are waiting with Maddy for Mommy Spaz to come down. Maddy is ADORABLE, in excellent health (she got a perfect APGAR score...I don't know what that means, but it's good), has all the requisite fingers and toes, and is currently in the arms of Mamasan and sporting an orange-and-turquoise bonnet (none of that pink and blue gendered stuff for our Maddy). She weighs 7 lbs, 3.6 oz, is 21.5 inches long, and is wide awake and getting to know her world (which currently seems dominated by a huge, dark, stubbly, bespectacled face grinning irresistably at her).

    I'm sure once Spaz is up to it, she will want to tell you the rest herself, so I will hereby relinguish my blogging role. I sign off, for the first time, as "Auntie I."

    Geek Delivery

    Well folks, "I" am here in the delivery room with Aspazia, and we've decided to keep you all updated on her progress. This, therefore, may be one of the most geeky deliveries imaginable. (we considered i-chat but decided that was taking matters a bit too far.)

    It's 11:40 A.M., and here's the data: She's fully effaced and was at 2 centimeters when she was last checked around 8 AM. Her contractions were more painful than productive, and I arrived just after she'd received an epidural. (Spaz's temporarily reversed her stance on intelligent design, declaring that shot part of God's plan, apparently the shot worked!)

    Spaz appreciates the supportive comments....we'll keep you "posted" (ouch)!

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Live Blogging the Birth--Not!

    So, I am in the hospital dear readers. I have been admitted and the induction has begun. First I have been given Prepidil to get things underway and tomorrow morning I get some Pitocin to jump start contractions. My blood pressure was simply too high for the docs to feel comfortable to let me go home. So, here I sit in my hospital room with my laptop and wireless--the perfect pre-labor situation for this feminista.

    While it might be the coolest thing ever to live blog a birth, I am guessing that won't be a top priority once the contractions start (especially judging from the moans I am hearing on the ward!). In any case, tomorrow--Friday the 13th!--my daughter should appear. I will most likely have Za deliver the official announcement.

    In the meantime, feel free to say hi. I am pretty bored here in my little hospital room.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    The Ethical Harm of Manipulation

    My department assembled today to meet a candidate for an adjunct section of Intro to Philosophy today. It was fun to get together with the whole department and have some intellectual conversation--something I haven't had much of lately. Our candidate gave a mini-lecture on the "Allegory of the Cave," but his job talk spun into a much more interesting and, at least for me, enlightening discussion on what the true nature of manipulation is and why it is different from what Philosophy ought to be. While our candidate was discussing this in relation to the process and practice of Philosophy, I wanted to expound a bit more on the ethical harm of manipulation.

    Manipulation always entails a desire to dominate--have power over--another person. In fact, those who manipulate others--whether they be students, their "loved ones," the citizenry--are demonstrating that they do not believe the one who they are manipulating to be a free subject. To put it another way, manipulators do not respect their "prey." The way that most manipulators proceed is by either lying to the other, suppressing information, or distorting information. The whole goal of manipulation is to prevent--at all costs--that the other will arrive at conclusions differently from your own. The manipulator must control the other's decisions and force him or her to reach only the manipulator's conclusions.

    There is no room for dissent, debate, or even dialogue. The manipulator does not treat the other as an equal. And, what is meant by equal here is a moral person, someone who should be afforded full information and respect in his or her reasoning abilities to arrive at the best conclusions. To treat the other as an equal means refraining from lies, distortion, ad hominems, propaganda, and/or threats.

    I appreciated thinking of manipulation in connection with domination because it helped me clarify why the attacks against college professors by the right (e.g. the liberal professoriate are trying to manipulate students) are so misguided. There is a difference between inciting students--challenging students to question their beliefs--and denying them the right to disagree with you and to ultimately reject what you are presenting them. Those who manipulate do exactly that--and they use propaganda to do so. The goal of the manipulator is to make it impossible for you to find a way out of the belief system that he or she is presenting you with--to deny that there is another way to look at something.

    Clearly, professors who are trying to shake up their students by challenging some of their most cherished beliefs, or just challenging the current administration, are not, by inciting alone, manipulating their students.

    Ultimately, this clarification of what manipulation is far more helpful to me in making sense of personal relationships. We can all think of people in our lives who have tried to manipulate us to bend to their will. And, while being manipulated--especially once we realize it is happening--causes us suffering, I have always struggled to say exactly what kind of harm has been inflicted on us. The harm inflicted is that we have been treated as objects; we have been denied our dignity (as Kant would put it). Those who manipulate us, frankly, don't think much of us.

    Can't See My New Posts?

    Two of my readers have told me that they are unable to see my latest two posts (here and here). I am trying to isolate the problem. From the discussion boards at Blogger it seems that people who are viewing this with Internet Explorer (IE) might be having the issue. Are those of you who cannot always see my new blog posts using IE?

    Does anyone else have any ideas about what is going on?

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Brain Sex is What's Really Going on Between Professors and Students, Right?

    Crystal sent me this very interesting and thought provoking essay, "Love on Campus" on the kind of intimacy that can occur between the professor and student, and how that intimacy has been perverted or misrepresented in popular culture. William Deresiewicz begins by recounting the various Hollywood films that foreground the middle-aged, washed up, humanities professor who illustrates his impotence by taking advantage of young, nubile, and impressionable co-eds. Deresiewicz spends some time trying to make sense of why such a stereotype of the humanities professor seems to dominate the popular culture. His analysis is somewhat interesting, although I am not sure I follow him through all of his moves, i.e. this reflects parental anxiety as they hand of their kids to what they hope will be the in loco parentis of the college campus, the anti-intellectualism of Americans, screen writers pissed off at their English profs, etc.

    What really interested me about the essay was Deresiewicz' discussion of the "brain sex" kind of intimacy of the professor-student relationship that seems so foreign and hard to digest by the popular imagination. Consider these paragraphs:

    The relationship between professors and students can indeed be intensely intimate, as our culture nervously suspects, but its intimacy, when it occurs, is an intimacy of the mind. I would even go so far as to say that in many cases it is an intimacy of the soul. And so the professor-student relationship, at its best, raises two problems for the American imagination: it begins in the intellect, that suspect faculty, and it involves a form of love that is neither erotic nor familial, the only two forms our culture understands. Eros in the true sense is at the heart of the pedagogical relationship, but the professor isn’t the one who falls in love.

    Love is a flame, and the good teacher raises in students a burning desire for his or her approval and attention, his or her voice and presence, that is erotic in its urgency and intensity. The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare or anthropology or physics, but the fruits of the mind are that sweet, and intellect has the power to call forth new forces in the soul. Students will s ometimes mistake this earthquake for sexual attraction, and the foolish or inexperienced or cynical instructor will exploit that confusion for his or her own gratification. But the great majority of professors understand that the art of teaching consists not only of arousing desire but of redirecting it toward its proper object, from the teacher to the thing taught. Teaching, Yeats said, is lighting a fire, not filling a bucket, and this is how it gets lit. The professor becomes the student’s muse, the figure to whom the labors of the semester — the studying, the speaking in class, the writing — are consecrated. The alert student understands this. In talking to one of my teaching assistants about these matters, I asked her if she’d ever had a crush on an instructor when she was in college. Yes, she said, a young graduate student. “And did you want to have sex with him?” I asked. “No,” she said, “I wanted to have brain sex with him.”

    I’m not saying anything new here. All of this was known to Socrates, the greatest of teachers, and laid out in the Symposium, Plato’s dramatization of his mentor’s erotic pedagogy. We are all “pregnant in soul,” Socrates tells his companions, and we are drawn to beautiful souls because they make us teem with thoughts that beg to be brought into the world. The imagery seems contradictory: are we pregnant already, or does the proximity of beautiful souls make us so? Both: the true teacher helps us discover things we already knew, only we didn’t know we knew them. The imagery is also deliberately sexual. The Symposium, in which the brightest wits of Athens spend the night drinking, discoursing on love, and lying on couches two by two, is charged with sexual tension. But Socrates wants to teach his companions that the beauty of souls is greater than the beauty of bodies.

    And just as he finishes educing this idea, in walks Alcibiades, the most beautiful young man in the city. Alcibiades was the brilliant bad boy of late fifth-century B.C. Athenian politics, a cross between Jack Kennedy and Jimmy Dean, and Socrates must have known that he was the most interesting student he would ever meet, because Socrates’ love for him was legendary. But it wasn’t the kind his beloved imagined, and Alcibiades complains about how the older man, after bewitching him with divine conversation, would refuse to touch him. The sexy young student had fallen, to his amazement, for the ugly old teacher. At last, Alcibiades tells us, he contrived to get Socrates alone — let’s call this office hours — only to discover that all his teacher wanted to do was engage in more conversation. The “eros of souls,” in Alan Bloom’s Platonic phrase — “brain sex,” in plainer language — is not only higher than the eros of bodies, it is more satisfying.

    Can there be a culture less equipped than ours to receive these ideas? Sex is the god we worship most fervently; to deny that it is the greatest of pleasures is to commit cultural blasphemy. In any case, how can you have an eros of souls if you don’t have souls? Our inability to understand intimacy that is neither sexual nor familial is linked to the impoverishment of our spiritual vocabulary. Religion still speaks of the soul, but to the popular mind, at least, it means something remote from our earthly self. What it should mean is the self, the heart and mind, or the heart-mind, as it develops through experience. That’s what Keats meant when he called the world a “vale of soul-making.” And because we’re unequipped to understand the soul in this sense, we’re unequipped to understand Socrates’ belief that the soul’s offspring are greater than the body’s: that ideas are more valuable than children.

    Another blasphemy. If there’s one god our culture worships as piously as sex, it’s children. But sex and children, sexual intimacy and familial intimacy, have something in common — beyond the fact that one leads to the other: both belong to us as creatures of nature, not as creators in culture. After Rousseau and Darwin and Freud, and with evolutionary psychology preaching the new moral gospel, we’ve become convinced that our natural self is our truest one. To be natural, we believe, is to be healthy and free. Culture is confinement and deformation. But the Greeks thought otherwise. To them, our highest good is not what we share with the animals, but what we don’t share with them, not the nature we’re born with, but the culture we make from it — make, indeed, against it.

    That is why, for the Greeks, the teacher’s relationship with the child was regarded as more valuable and more intimate than the parents’. Your parents bring you into nature, but your teacher brings you into culture. Natural transmission is easy; any animal can do it. Cultural transmission is hard; it takes a teacher. But Socrates also inaugurated a new idea about what teaching means. His students had already been educated into their culture by the time they got to him. He wanted to educate them out of it, teach them to question its values. His teaching wasn’t cultural, it was counter-cultural. The Athenians understood Socrates very well when they convicted him of corrupting their youth, and if today’s parents are worried about trusting their children to professors, this countercultural possibility is really what they should be worried about. Teaching, as Neil Postman says, is a subversive activity — all the more so today, when children are marinated in cultural messages from the moment they’re born. It no longer takes any training to learn to bow to your city’s gods (sex or children, money or nation). But it often takes a teacher to help you question those gods. The teacher’s job, in Keats’s terms, is to point you through the vale of soul-making. We’re born once, into nature and into the culture that quickly becomes a second nature. But then, if we’re granted such grace, we’re born again. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his mortal soul?

    This is the kind of sex professors are having with their students behind closed doors: brain sex. And this is why we put up with the mediocre pay and the cultural contempt, not to mention the myriad indignities of graduate school and the tenure process. I know perfectly well that not every professor or every student feels this way or acts this way, nor does every university make it possible for them to do so. There are hacks and prima donnas at the front of many classrooms, slackers and zombies in the seats. And it doesn’t matter who’s in either position if the instructor is teaching four classes at three different campuses or if there are 500 people in the lecture hall. But there are far more true teachers and far more true students at all levels of the university system than those at its top echelons like to believe. In fact, kids who have had fewer educational advantages before they get to college are often more eager to learn and more ready to have their deepest convictions overturned than their more fortunate peers. And it is often away from the elite schools — where a single-minded focus on research plus a talent for bureaucratic maneuvering are the necessary tickets to success — that true teaching most flourishes.

    What attracts professors to students, then, is not their bodies but their souls. Young people are still curious about ideas, still believe in them — in their importance, their redemptive power. Socrates says in the Symposium that the hardest thing about being ignorant is that you’re content with yourself, but for many kids when they get to college, this is not yet true. They recognize themselves as incomplete, and they recognize, if only intuitively, that completion comes through eros. So they seek out professors with whom to have relationships, and we seek them out in turn. Teaching, finally, is about relationships. It is mentorship, not instruction. Socrates also says that the bond between teacher and student lasts a lifetime, even when the two are no longer together. And so it is. Student succeeds student, and I know that even the ones I’m closest to now will soon become names in my address book and then just distant memories. But the feelings we have for the teachers or students who have meant the most to us, like those we have for long-lost friends, never go away. They are part of us, and the briefest thought revives them, and we know that in some heaven we will all meet again.

    The truth is that these possibilities are not quite as alien to American culture as I’ve been making out. Along with the new stereotype that’s dominated the portrayal of academics in film and fiction in recent years has come, far less frequently, a different image of what a college teacher can be and mean, exactly along the lines I’ve been tracing. It is there in Julia Roberts’s character in Mona Lisa Smile, in the blind professor who teaches Cameron Diaz’s character to love poetry in In Her Shoes, and most obviously, in Tuesdays with Morrie, that gargantuan cultural phenomenon. Robin Williams offered a scholastic version in Dead Poets Society. But we seem to need to keep the idea, or at least the person who embodies it, at a safe distance. Both Mona Lisa Smile and Dead Poets Society take place in the 1950s and at single-sex schools. Cameron Diaz’s mentor and Morrie Schwartz are retired and dying. The Socratic relationship is so profoundly disturbing to our culture that it must be defused before it can be approached. Yet many thousands of kids go off to college every year hoping, at least dimly, to experience it. It has become a kind of suppressed cultural memory, a haunting imaginative possibility. In our sex-stupefied, anti-intellectual culture, the eros of souls has become the love that dares not speak its name.
    This last paragraph is particulary interesting, since Deresiewicz argues that when the popular culture does a good job representing the intimacy between professor and student--the flame that ignites the students' soul--the plot is set in the 1950s in single-sex schools. I have never noticed this before and now find myself bothered by this. I agree with Deresiewicz that this kind of intimacy exists, and that students seek it out. I have indeed encountered all sorts of students seeking out someone to open their world, their minds, and their souls to ideas. They don't always come knocking on my door, but certainly they seek out my colleagues.

    And, I also agree with Derewiecisz that this kind of passionate exchange between professor and student is indeed what keeps many of us in this lousy profession. There is nothing more intoxicating or satisfying than knowing you have opened a world to a student and that you have helped inspire their passion for ideas--it is much better than money.

    However, before turning this over to you to discuss, I do have to point out that I do think that affairs between students and professors occur all the time and that they are not always the impotent grasps of washed up middle-aged male humanities professors. I have seen plenty of women scoop up their young, nubile students--men or women. I have also seen young women students seduce male faculty. And, I would say, that my favorite part of the Symposium is how lusty, how sexually hungry Alcibaides is for Socrates. Alcibaides, perhaps, represents a kind of eros that is left out of the other speeches, the profound aching for a particular lover that is only intensified when it is unrequited. This kind of sexual longing seems to grow out of the professor-student relationship as well and I don't think it is at odds with the "brain sex" model that Deresiewicz is expounding on. It can co-exist with it and then, it is up to the players involved whether they exploit it or let it simmer . . . .

    Monday, July 09, 2007

    Melancholy Monday: The Messenger

    I don't think any of us can escape critics or criticism. Not all criticism is bad, mind you. Good criticism is the stuff that makes us grow, develop, and evolve. But, bad criticism--purely negative--criticism is wasted breath. We get this sort of criticism from people who don't like us. Who knows why they don't like us? Maybe they disapprove of what we do because if there were to do it someone would've given them the hairy eyeball. Perhaps our negative critics are jealous? Who knows. But, there is no avoiding the purely destructive, negative criticism that gets served up by people who want to hurt us.

    I am not so interested in the fact of negative criticism today, but rather the messenger, you know, the one who passes along the mean-spirited comments that another has made. I have always been fascinated by the messenger. It seems that there are two sorts: the hostile messenger or the commiserate-with-me messenger. The former is almost as bad as the negative critic. From my perspective, there is never any need, whatsoever, to pass along to someone the negative things--purely destructive and mean-spirited things--that others say. The old AA saying is helpful here: "what other people think about me is none of my business."

    Those who choose to share with you what destructive, hateful things others are saying about you are often motivated by hostility. On some level they agree with the negative critics, but they can take cover, and pass it off--not as their own view of you--but what these mean people say. A true friend, one who cares deeply about you, however, does not share with you the ineluctable negative criticism that others utter about your person. The hostile messenger is, quite simply, not a friend. And, when you find yourself being told, multiple times, the hurtful things that others say about you, by a "friend," you need to start questioning their friendship. A true friend knows that the mean stuff other people say about you isn't true and comes from a negative, destructive place. A true friend simply tunes it out or makes certain that this sort of negative, mean-spirited vitriol is not uttered in their presence.

    So, let's turn to the second kind of messenger, the "commiserate-with-me" messenger. This sort of person is persecuted by a hateful, negative, judgmental person (or goodness help them, many). Perhaps a relative in their charge, an ungrateful child, an overbearing boss, what have you. The "commiserate-with-me" messenger feels helpless and hopeless because of the negative person in their life, who is always finding fault, belittling or complaining. Rather that stand up to this meddlesome, toxic person, the "commiserate-with-me" messenger looks to implicate you in the misery, by telling you that so-and-so thinks X about you too and said Y about you the other day. The intention here is slightly different from the hostile messenger, who simply pretends to be your friend, while in reality agrees with the mean critics. The "commiserate-with-me" messenger wants you to feel as victimized and low as he or she does. Rather than confront the negative person in their lives, they want to share the wealth, so to speak, because misery loves company.

    In either situation, you need to make clear that these messengers are not welcome. Whether they want to directly hurt you or just implicate you in their own misery, they are not positive forces in your life. They are downright melancholy.

    A Little Restructuring

    I had a realization last night that I needed to return some structure to this blog, some predictability for not only the readers, but me the writer. Early in its inception I had two regular features here: Melancholy Mondays and Notes from the Prozac Nation, which appeared on Fridays. The former was usually a rather melancholy reminiscence or existential reflection, while the latter was a round up of interesting stuff in teh internets about depression, antidepressants, and/or bioethical issues. After all, this blog is originally a place for me to work out ideas related to my research interest in women, depression, and antidepressants. So, I think it is time to return to the mission.

    Stay tuned for a Melancholy Monday post later today. And, I am always happy to receive guest posts for Melancholy Monday.

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    Life With Beagle

    Today's blog post is dedicated to Marty the Beagle, aka "Devil Dog." Marty has been my faithful companion since the very day of my dissertation defense, during which he slept on my grandmother's lap due to a case of kennel cough. In fact, it was precisely this case of kennel cough that guided my decision to choose him among all the other beagle puppies. While the lot of them were hyper and frisky, Marty seemed mellow, soulful, and companionable. Boy, was I wrong, he was just sick. After I treated him with some antibiotics and his cough went away, his inner devil emerged and haunted me for the first three years of his life. It started with his "Cujo" puppy stage, in which he "teethed" on my hands, arms, and legs.

    He then developed the most guilt-inducing momma's boy syndrome. I would put him in his kennel, leave for work and hear him barking bloody murder all the way down the block. I was a horrible beagle mother. I started imagining him developing pyromania and seeking out ways to destroy the house to pay me back for abandoning him while I was at work. It was also during this period that he discovered how much I hated him chewing the carpet, the wood moldings or the furniture. My irritation at such behavior only seemed to encourage more of it, usually during my sleep time. I became a very light sleeper, listening for Marty's step and jingly dog chain, ready to awaken and scold him for destroying something else.

    He finally matured out of this behavior only to replace it with something worse: the run away. He learned to dig under fences, to look for an escape route when visitors came to the door, and how to break loose while still leashed. He would end up miles from home and his cute little face often got him taken in by some unsuspecting neighbor, who would beg me to come get him in the morning so as not to hear his hound call.

    Marty doesn't try to escape much anymore, nor does he chew things into bits. He doesn't seem to mind when I leave him at home all day, but rather looks forward to a long nap on the couch, interrupted by some spying on local cats and squirrels. His current devilry lie in his insatiable appetite, which leads him to open doors, jump on counters and lay at the feet of any newcomer to the house during a meal, lest some tasty morsel drop to the floor. If Marty suspects that he is not being fed the good stuff, he will "Act Out," usually by shredding the trash can all over the kitchen to let us know that he did not appreciate his boring kibble while we ate ribs.

    But, life with Beagle is a pleasure not reserved for the faint hearted. It is a kind of delicious masochistic pleasure that suckers like Za and I cannot imagine our lives without. Perhaps its a kind of punishment we need to stay grounded and focused on how fragile and fraught life is.

    The one solace we take from dear Marty is that he is sniffer, not a licker. And, I say this to let any readers know that should they ever venture into our home to visit Marty, they can take comfort in the fact that he won't stick his tongue down their throat. In fact, you'll get a brief sniff, that leads to a sneeze, and then he will promptly return to the couch and perhaps allow you to scratch his belly.

    Saturday, July 07, 2007

    Can an Academic Researcher Enjoy Her Life?

    I am still here! So, I thought I would reflect on a conversation I had with an old friend yesterday on the subject of the academic researcher life. The conversation started with a phone call from a friend who wanted to compliment me on a recent article that I wrote for the newsletter of a professional organization to which I belong. This organization is comprised of philosophers and psychiatrists and she happens to be both, with a M.D./Ph.D., so the compliment was well received indeed. It is hard to write interdisciplinary work that pleases both "camps."

    Cathy also congratulated me on my pregnancy. Then we started talking about how her career is going. She bemoaned how little writing and puzzle-solving (a good philosophical practice) she had been doing, since the hospital she was working at was understaffed and keeping her extremely busy. I was sympathetic to her time demands, but tried to nudge her to get a few of her papers out that I had read in draft, because, selfishly, they are so helpful to my own work. Then Cathy started talking about how much she has enjoyed her life since she took the last two years off from academic writing and research. She goes out with friends, has a new relationship, goes to civic events etc.

    That was the part of the conversation that interested me the most. You know, it is true that being an active or even diligent researcher makes it hard to enjoy your life. I am not sure how some people achieve that balance. When you are caught up in an intellectual puzzle you are trying to solve, it haunts you all times of the day. You start to get twitchy if you aren't doing at least some writing or reading. You say no to fun, to friends, to normal life, frankly, in order to keep writing.

    I remember meeting my Dad's new medical partner last summer, whose daughters were so glad that their Mom had finally left academic medicine to pursue private practice. The eldest daughter told horror stories of her mother spending hours in front of the computer writing, or working in her lab, or reading through the literature . . . It was really interesting to get this perspective from a teenage girl, watching her mother engage fully in the academic researchers lifestyle. She just wanted her mother to hang out, play tennis with her, have a BBQ or something. I, of course, understand the insane drive of the Mom though--the need to work through something, the all-consuming nature of this and the learned indifference to how this affects others.

    Right now, however, I am in limbo. I am not doing much active research or writing--while I still have two big projects looming. I am "nesting" and preparing for motherhood. And, I have found myself living a quite conventional, and lovely lifestyle. I do a little home improvement, go to the farmer's market with Za, try new recipes . . . And, I do all of this with little guilt that I am neglecting my important research.

    I am struck by how insane the lifestyle is of an active researcher. So many hours poured into labor that is woefully under rewarded or even appreciated. It is a sickness, I fear. But, I am not sure I would ever be able to shake it. But, Cathy, I say, keep enjoying your life. Those papers, those ideas aren't going anywhere. You can turn to them when you are in a quieter period or the urge is so unbearable that you cannot even enjoy cocktails with friends.

    Friday, July 06, 2007

    Procrastination, Even in Childbirth

    Well MMF readers, I think my delivery date is getting closer. At my last OBGYN appointment, the doctor told me that the baby had dropped and I was already a centimeter dilated. The night before the appointment I woke up to awful cramps for about 3 hours, not sure what they were and trying to drink lots of water so they would go away (Za was out of town until last night and I didn't want him to miss the big event). The doc explained that those cramps were probably the baby's head dropping . . .

    My BP was good after a week of doing virtually nothing and the baby's heartbeat was perfect. A good visit. Now, I am just waiting for the main event. I woke up this morning to more cramps and realized I better get packing for the hospital (not that I am going today, but I just don't have my bags ready to go if the contractions should start). I have been washing clothes, putting together the bassinet, and trying to get the baby's room--finally--in order.

    I find that even in childbirth I am a world-class procrastinator. It takes the physical discomfort of cramps to get my act together and prepare for the hospital. I put Za in high gear this morning getting the baby seat in the car, cleaning the car, and getting a bed ready for my mom (who will probably come early now she knows that the baby's head dropped).

    I am guessing that after all of this preparation today, it will be another 4 weeks before my baby girl shows up. :)

    But, should I wind up in labor soon, I will put Za in charge of announcing to the readership what is going on and how it turns out.

    UPDATE: I just discovered my first stretch marks. Eek. It must have happened when the baby's head dropped. Oh dear . . . I thought I was going to escape that one.

    UPDATE UPDATE: Hanno--Thanks for reminding me to pack a toothbrush. I totally forgot about that one.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Impressive Young Women Speaking Up

    Via feministing, I stumbled upon this story of about a third of this years' Presidential Scholars crafting a letter to President Bush to urge him to be a leader in Human Rights and denounce torture (see Alternet). This video shows two impressive and remarkable young women telling the tale.

    These are the sorts of role models I want for my baby girl. :)

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    Message for the 4th: Bush RESIGN!

    If you haven't caught Keith Olbermann's comment on Bush's commuting of Libby's sentence, get thee to MSNBC or Crooks and Liars immediately. I haven't yet written on this event because I think I have finally gotten to the point where I am completely burned out, disillusioned and therefore sick of politics. It is no surprise that Bush commuted his sentence. It is no surprise that Bush leaves open the possibility of pardoning Libby, if he chooses.

    Last week I was talking to my dear friend Harvey who recounted an article he read in Slate (I couldn't find it) that posed a thought experiment regarding Coke and Pepsi. The idea was what if Coke ran commercials that said something like, don't drink Pepsi, there is horse shit in it and Pepsi ran commercials that said, don't drink Coke, they got most of their ingredients from China or whatever, then the outcome of such a negative campaigning strategy is that the consumer would no longer want to buy either product. The point here is that this is what is wrong with our political system. Candidates run such poisonous, toxic messages about the other guy and the electorate throws up their hands, gives up, and stays home.

    Now, I have been more engaged in the last few years than ever, precisely because of my deep fear and concern of the Bush Whitehouse, but regardless of my concern, the lies, deceit and dirty dealings continue. I applaud Olbermann for his passion and dedication to challenging that power in his Special Comments. I don't have any of that left. It seems that the Bush Administration is above the law, or rather has proclaimed itself the law. When it rejects the sentences and evaluations of folks it appointed and chooses its own outcome, what other view is there to hold?

    And, while this post will no doubt invite some Bushie supporter to come remind me that "Clinton was let of the hook" or some other stupid red herring, I want to say that I have no more stomach for the childish and maddening argument style of politicians. You see, I am done. Keep your Ann Coulters, your Bill Kristol's, your Karl Rove's . . . keep those spin doctors away from me. Their words are poisonous and they corrupt he soul.

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    Nature Is Not Benign

    Most of my day revolves around my pregnancy. I am in the 9th month, and I have run afoul of a few complications. While no one has actually ordered me on bed rest, the implication is clear and so I spend most of my day inside, with my beagle, Marty, waiting for an appropriate time to eat again. My baby developed an irregular heartbeat around the 32nd week which has landed me in 2x a week Non-Stress Tests [NSTs] (the most misnamed test around). Then, just when my baby's heartbeat started to sound great, my blood pressure started climbing, so I continue to get the NSTs twice a week until labor begins. The only hitch is that I fear a bad BP will result in induction, which I don't want.

    In any case, I spend a lot of time thinking about biology in these hours where I am propped up on my left side, sipping lots of water, and whiling the time away. I think back to how intense the pressure during my pregnancy has been for me to "go natural" and I bemused that very smart, well educated, critical thinkers continue to think that nature is benign. I had a much needed and lovely lunch with my colleague yesterday. I was filling her in on the odd dynamic I found myself in all year with people advising me to avoid medication, avoid my local hospital because of the C-section rate, get a doula, etc. She too is a student of biology and couldn't help but critique the naive way in which the natural childbirth movement ascribes all that is good and right to nature.

    What I think is interesting is how natural childbirth folks--at least the ones I know--are the same people rolling their eyes over the Dover fiasco and sticking Darwin fish on their cars. These are not "intelligent designers," but rather great supporters of evolution. And, if you are a supporter of evolution, then you should know that nature is not benign and that so much can still go wrong . . . hence, my complications that leave me lying around like a lump, hoping that my BP doesn't go up or that my baby's heartbeat stays strong.

    My lunch companion also reminded me how incredibly fortunate we are to have access to all of this good medical care. While I get irritated that I spend a good portion of my week in the Maternity Ward, I should remember how many women out there still die from childbirth, are deprived of any prenatal care, and have no relief for long, difficult labors. At the end of the day, I am just grateful for the resources available to me and I try to focus on the end product: a healthy baby girl.

    Just as we were about to leave a friend with a newborn came in and started to ask about where I was going to deliver . . . I smiled a my lunch companion because she was just about to witness the officiousness that I had been describing. When the new mommy left, my lunch companion was just floored at the way in which parents--perhaps new parents?--feel compelled to assert their experience, their viewpoints on the uninitiated. This is, however, the life of a pregnant woman in the midst of highly opinionated, educated and frankly ideological parents.

    What my lunch companion reminded me that I need to fend off next is parenting advice--especially from these same folks. Eek. While nature is not benign, surely nurture-and nurturing advice--is just as threatening.

    Sunday, July 01, 2007

    Go Elizabeth Edwards, You Go Girl!

    I have to say, anyone, I mean anyone who finds Ann Coulter to be remotely engaging, intelligent, or entertaining is so radically different in tastes from me that I can no longer make sense of such a person. This, which is no different from her usual fare, just leaves me squeamish. I should probably never allow myself to watch her again.

    When I see these young women behind her, or supporters saying "Marry Me Ann" signs, I just find myself living in a different universe from them.

    It is also uncanny how Coulter defies all rules of fair debate and logic. She commits a red herring, she lies, and she completely mischaracterizes what Edwards says. And, she shows this as something legitimate to do in public discourse.