Be the Village

I miss DuWayne. He used to have more time to come play online, even after he started school. It was limited time, of course, because he missed his kids and had to travel several states away to spend time with them. But with parents, you always settle for the time you can get.

DuWayne’s time online is even more limited these days, almost nonexistent, because he now has full custody. That’s a good thing. The boys’ mother lacked the personal and social resources for parenting. Being with DuWayne and near other family is good for the boys.

It’s not so good in that the boys still only have one parent fully involved in their lives. The boys each have their own challenges, and after being raised mostly by the parent who wasn’t up to dealing with her own trials, the boys’ challenges are worse. On top of that, they now have to deal with an absent parent.

David (three year old) is also starting to finally express his frustration at momma being gone – this started around nine months after he last saw her. He is wanting mommy when he is upset and he is also constructing very complex and idealized narratives that involve his mommy. Sometimes they are specifically about her, while others she is involved in more peripheral ways. One of his most recent involved his alligator friend who apparently bit him in the leg while they were playing (thus explaining some rather nasty bug bites). He then explained that his alligator friend and said friend’s mommy are homeless, so have been staying with his mommy (where he has decided he also lives). Mind you, last I knew and have no reason to assume this has changed, the boy’s mom is homeless and Daver is aware of this – though he often talks about his mommy living in a very fancy house.

On top of this, Caleb is extremely angry, as well as experiencing a wide array of other emotions – many of which are escapist in nature. He has really been pressing hard lately, to fight with me, the way he was fighting with his mom before I got them. He is even using much of the same language his momma used – though often refers to himself, not me. He calls himself a stupid fucking brat, a dumb bitch and in other similar ways. And he has admitted to his therapist and to my mother, that he might well be trying to replicate his relationship with momma – or that maybe he wants me to send him away to be homeless with momma – or that he doesn’t deserve to have a safe, warm home when his momma doesn’t have those things.

I am spending the vast majority of my time on the verge of a complete breakdown. It takes a great deal of effort not to just let go and flip out. But I can’t do that. I can’t afford it and more importantly, my kids can’t afford me losing it.

This is where we come in. DuWayne could use some assistance, and he’s figured out how his friends on the internet can help. All he’s looking for from us are books, some to help the boys directly, some to help him help them. Most of them are inexpensive. Several of them are science-related. All of them would be useful.

It blows me away to have this opportunity. DuWayne’s children are in a situation all too similar to those my brothers faced when I was younger. I couldn’t do anything about that, but I can, and have, about this. Join me?

Be the Village

Saturday Storytime: The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window

I was thinking to myself that I needed to post a story about changes today, since there are (good) changes in the works for this blog and for me. Then I got distracted by a story by Rachel Swirsky linked by The Future Fire for tomorrow’s #FeministSF discussion on Twitter. You’ll never guess what it happened to be about. All stories, of course, are about change somehow, but this one more than most.

Terror cut into my rage for a single, clear instant. “I’m dead?”

“Let me handle this.” Another voice, familiar this time. Calm, authoritative, quiet: the voice of someone who had never needed to shout in order to be heard. I swung my head back and forth trying to glimpse Queen Rayneh.

“Hear me, Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath My Window. It is I, your Queen.”

The formality of that voice! She spoke to me with titles instead of names? I blazed with fury.

Her voice dropped a register, tender and cajoling. “Listen to me, Naeva. I asked the death whisperers to chant your spirit up from the dead. You’re inhabiting the body of an elder member of their order. Look down. See for yourself.”

I looked down and saw embroidered rabbits leaping across the hem of a turquoise robe. Long, bony feet jutted out from beneath the silk. They were swaddled in the coarse wrappings that doctors prescribed for the elderly when it hurt them to stand.

They were not my feet. I had not lived long enough to have feet like that.

“I was shot by an enchanted arrow…” I recalled. “The midget said you might need me again…”

“And he was right, wasn’t he? You’ve only been dead three years. Already, we need you.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window

Lady Gaga Versus The Secret

If you don’t know what The Secret is, consider yourself lucky to have escaped one more instance of the sort of pseudo-mystical self-help craze that mostly helps the author. If you don’t know who Lady Gaga is, you don’t actually live on this planet, so please leave a comment in the interest of furthering human knowledge. If you’ve been tormented by the desire to know which of these media darlings would win in a head-to-head battle, your life is about to get so much better.

The battleground:

Just like Lady Gaga herself, her motivational advice is controversial. Essentially, she suggests that images of success (e.g., trophies) can take the place of actual successes (i.e., more victories). So instead of going out and making it happen, we reflect on past or imagined glory and do nothing. The symbol replaces the reality. On the other hand we have Rhonda Byrne, the Australian TV ad executive who wrote The Secret. A perpetual bestseller, The Secret advocates creative visualization, which involves creating vivid and compelling pictures of your heart’s desire, with the aim of drawing this vision toward you. If you believe and even act as if your accomplishments have already happened, Byrne argues, then happen they will.

The test:

The first clear voice on this issue of fantasy was that of Sigmund Freud, who wrote about the “irrational libido,” the part of our psyche that lives for immediate pleasure. To accomplish this, the libido uses what Freud termed a “primary process,” where it “produces a memory image of an object needed for gratification in order to reduce the frustration of not having been gratified yet.” So we imagine everything from revenge to accomplishment and then, without doing anything more, receive pleasure from the image alone. When we mature, we put primary processes in check and graduate to “secondary processes,” which deal with reason and reality. So as adults, we are able to delay gratification and endure the pain necessary to bring our plans to fruition. In short, Freud is definitely a Lady Gaga fan. Images and symbols, such as trophies, may be pleasurable to gaze upon but they can prevent us pursuing the real thing.

Alright, psychoanalysis is more than a century old and not exactly cutting edge science. But we can do better. Over the last decade, Gabrielle Oettingen of New York University has done a string of studies that test the power of fantasy on everything from romantic success to getting your dream job. Her basic design is to have three groups of subjects: a fantasy group, a control group, and a mental contrasting group. Fantasy groups are just that: essentially, proponents of The Secret who imagine they already have their desired outcome. The control group is the baseline, people left alone to their own devices. Then there is the mental contrasting group, basically following a form of Lady Gaga’s recommendation. They mentally contrast by fantasizing about what they want but then immediately afterwards compare where they are now with where they want to be. So if they want a better relationship, they fantasize about being with that gorgeous guy or gal but then deeply reflect afterwards on how they don’t have him or her. The mental contrasting group always ends by contrasting fantasy with reality.

Who wins? Lady Gaga or The Secret?

The answer. I only wish the stakes were higher.

The best things come across Twitter. Thanks to Sigrid Ellis for this one.

Lady Gaga Versus The Secret

Embracing the Euphemism

I’ve long had a complicated relationship with euphemisms. On their own, I don’t like them much. I’m annoyed by people’s inability to talk about the things they clearly want or need to talk about. Many of them reflect the negative attitudes that keep us from speaking plainly in the first place. And some of them are just gallingly twee.

However, put a bunch of them together in one place, and they go from an act of denial to a demonstration of our creativity in the face of repression and a testament to the fact that we will talk about these things, no matter how much we’re told we shouldn’t. One lovely example is this song, brought to my attention by Sex, Etc., a sex education site aimed at teenagers. I don’t need to tell you this isn’t work-safe, do I?

Then there’s this classic song about penis euphemisms.

Doing a song about euphemisms for breasts would be almost pointless. There’d be no challenge in it. As a friend’s father once pointed out (in a totally non-creepy way, for the record), any plural noun can be a euphemism for breasts. “Look at the refrigerators on that one,” being the illustration.

I also love the practice of using euphemisms to riff because you’re talking about a subject in depth and are going to get bored using the same word over and over, as when Scicurious wrote about constipation–and bras:

More to the point, previous work with girdles (heh, I love that, “previous work with girdles”, I shall have to quote me) has shown that you get smaller and slower #2 when you are “under the influence of a girdle”. And well, if a girdle, could maybe the pressure exerted by a bra change your log dropping abilities?

So they took 7 female subjects, ages 11-41 years (yes, really). All of them suffered from no constipation and were under no medication at the time. The women went braless for a week, then wore the bra for a week, and spent the last week uninhibited and nippin’ out. For those three weeks, EVERY TIME they pinched a loaf, they had to record it…and WEIGH IT THEMSELVES. One wonders what scales they had to do this, and how they got the women to do it. I really hope they were paid.

Or as when Bug Girl wrote about the relationship between pubic hair removal and the prevalence of pubic lice:

Honestly? I think the only reason this paper made it past the journal editors was because it was about pubic lice, and crotch crickets are inherently interesting because of the pastures they graze in. (Which, of course, is exactly why -I- am writing about them!)

I did some investigating (in the library, pervs!) and found that there is actually data available on happy trail hair removal for women in the US and Australia. The percentage of Australian college women who shaved their pudenda was around 48% during the same time period; but that means that the majority of women still had some or all of their original carpeting, whether or not it still matched the drapes.

We also know from a very detailed study of American women in 2010 that there is no dominant pattern to hair removal in the US. Women aged 18-24 were most likely of all age groups to have naked crotches, but even then only 38% of them were hair free down there. Having a hairless muffin was actually the least common pattern of body hair in the over 2,450 women studied. Additionally, removal of one’s No-No Fro was NOT related to having experienced an STD infection in that study–which strongly suggests that the sample used for the “Brazilian hypothesis” was not representative.

Any one of these euphemisms alone would bug me. (“No-No Fro”? Really? Could we send a more sex-negative message?) All of them together, however, make me laugh more than wince, no matter how appalling they are individually.

Embracing the Euphemism

Mock the Movie: Atom Age Vampire

Things are a bit quiet around the blog at the moment. Somehow, running myself into exhaustion every other day working on the house (updating a 70s-era bathroom with some water damage takes a bit of work) doesn’t leave me a lot of energy left for writing anything insightful, much less entertaining.

That’s going to have to change by Thursday, though. The Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding has started a new Twitter game: Mock the Movie. Think of it as a crowd-sourced Mystery Science Theater 3000. This Thursday, we have Atom Age Vampire.

The instructions are simple:

  1. Start following @MockTM on twitter.
  2. Start watching Atom Age Vampire this Thursday, August 18th, at 9PM EST. You can find it on Hulu, Achive Classic Movies or Google Videos.
  3. Once you’ve got Atom Age Vampire going, tweet your snarky comments to @MockTM. Directing our tweets to @MockTM will keep our followers from being overwhelmed with our snark!

Won’t you come mock with us? I’ll try to be on my game by then.

Mock the Movie: Atom Age Vampire

Saturday Storytime: The Fish of Lijiang

Having recently had a much-needed vacation and time to think, this story by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu, had maybe a little too much resonance for me.

Twenty-four hours ago, I had a multiplicity of identities: an office drone with a strict routine, the master of a gray Ford, the prospective owner of a moldy apartment tucked into a hidden fold of the city, a debt-ridden parasite, etc.

Now, I’m just a patient, a patient in need of rehabilitation.

It’s the fault of that damned mandatory physical exam. On the last page of the report were the words: PNFD II (Psychogenic Neural-Functional Disorder II). Translated into words normal people can understand, they say that I’m messed up and I must take two weeks off to rehabilitate.

My face flushed, I asked my boss whether I could be exempted. I felt the stares of everyone in the office burning into the back of my neck. Schadenfreude. They were delighted that the “boss’s pet” was shown to be human after all, weak in the head, collapsing under the stress.

I shuddered. That’s office politics for you.

The boss spoke slowly, methodically: “You think I want this? I have to pay for your mandatory vacation! People working at other companies can’t even get rehab even if they need it. But the new labor law requires it of us. Our company is a proper, globalized business; we have to set an example … Anyway, if you get worse, your disease will turn into neurosyphilis and infect the rest of us. Better that you leave now, yes?”

Ashamed, I left the boss’s office and cleaned out my desk. I ignored the stares. Keep on looking, you neurosyphilitic assholes. I’ll be back in two weeks and we’ll see who gets to be assistant manager at the end of the year.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Fish of Lijiang

I’m Just a Law

If you haven’t seen this clip from The Daily Show, you must. It is nostalgia, biting satire, political education, and John Oliver at his most entertaining, all in one.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Dodd-Frank Update
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If you can’t view this because you’re not in the U.S., you’re looking for the Dodd-Frank Update on your local Daily Show source.

I’m Just a Law

God’s Design for Discrimination

In case you’ve forgotten over the summer, Minnesota will have a “reserve civil marriage for straight people only” amendment on the ballot in 2012. The campaign has now started, since the Minnesota Patriarchy Council has put out a call for volunteers. There’s a bunch of rigamarole in their letter about “unaccountable judges” (in a state with judicial elections) and outside money (because none of the money they’re raising will come from out of state) that you can read for yourself, but much of it is about religion.

Their letter, however, demonstrates once again that the only argument (aside from an uneasy excitement over the details of gay sex) for denying all consenting, adult couples the right to marry is religious.

In November 2012 a measure will appear on Minnesota’s ballot to place the traditional and biblical definition of marriage – one man and one woman – into our state constitution.

Well, that’s one way the bible defines marriage, but it’s hardly the only.

As you no doubt know, Minnesota Family Council has been working for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity since 2004 – and your prayers and financial support helped make it happen.

Mostly the financial support–and the polls that have shown that more Minnesotans are coming to support marriage equality all the time. Better get this done right quick before more people have gay friends.

Now we have to get the amendment passed. To help make this happen we have become part of a broad coalition of leaders who are assembling the campaign to ensure this amendment passes, and I am writing to ask you to join our coalition as a volunteer. The coalition is called Minnesota for Marriage and includes Minnesota Family Council, Minnesota Catholic Conference, and National Organization for Marriage to name a few.

This is a coalition, yes. Broad, it is not. It’s a bunch of religious organizations. Where is any secular group claiming marriage equality would create any ills in this lifetime?

Even though this campaign promises to be a great struggle, we are very confident of victory – if we receive your help and that of thousands of other Minnesotans who believe in God’s design for marriage. With your support, we will help the voters of our state see the timeless institution of one man-one woman marriage as the foundation on which our society is built and the best environment for producing and raising children.

Timeless, huh? Like those polygynous marriages in Exodus?

While death and divorce too often prevent it, children do best when raised by their mother and father in a low-conflict marriage.

We know how well they pay attention to these studies.

We want to give every child in Minnesota the best opportunity for success.

Except the children of gay couples. They’re perfectly happy to deny those children the advantages of having parents who are married.

Whatever one may think of so-called same-sex “marriage,” every gay “marriage” intentionally deprives a child of either a mother or a father.

Setting aside the gender essentialism involved in skipping over the fact that another mother or father is added–“intentionally deprives”? Uh-huh. Where do these kids come from? If it’s divorce, they’ve got another (hopefully) involved parent. If it’s adoption, they didn’t have any to start with. If it’s an egg or sperm donor, that donor is also sometimes involved in raising the child and sometimes simply not interested in raising that child–or they wouldn’t have donated. In any situation, marriage equality adds a parent the child didn’t have before. What child loses by that?

For our campaign to be successful, however, we need people of faith to rise up, speak, and participate in the campaign.

Prayers won’t cut it here, either.

We know that when people of faith who support marriage stand together and participate in the kind of grassroots activities we have outlined, our campaign for traditional marriage will succeed.

Because the only people agitating against marriage equality are the ones who think their god has called upon them to discriminate.

God is the author of marriage, and our campaign will fight to preserve His vision of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for the benefit of families, children and all of society, and for His glory. Please join me in becoming a supporter of the marriage amendment today!

Yeah, no. I’m still pissed about the wedding I didn’t get to go to because it had to be held in Iowa. I’m cheering for the best man at my wedding, who is in the process of adopting one of those kids without any supportive parents. And I don’t think the appropriate place for constitutional amendments or religion is in denying people equal rights. Even if religion is really good at it.

God’s Design for Discrimination

Saturday Storytime: Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots

After last week’s story, it’s time for something less sparkly and less grim. Luckily, my friend Michael recommended this story by Sandra McDonald yesterday.

When I was a much younger woman, as part of the divorce settlement from my then-millionaire inventor husband, I asked for our house in Connecticut, a modest amount of alimony, and six sexy cowboy robots. Sentient sex toys, if you will.

The robots were my revenge for all the time and money Herbert had lavished on tawdry mistresses across the world. His company, New Human More Human, specialized in mechanical soldiers for the U.S. Department of Defense with a lucrative side business in sensual satisfaction. The factory delivered my boys in a big white truck. They jumped off the back ramp wearing shit-eating grins and oozing Wild West charisma. No other firm in the world could produce as fine a product. My husband was the Preston Tucker of his time: a brilliant innovator and visionary done in by vicious boardroom skullduggery.

If you believe that one strong man can succeed in the face of titanic conspiracy and unrelenting backstabbing, you probably believed global icing would be solved. Then the snow reached five feet high against your living room windows and your belief in science was shattered, as was mine.

In any case, Herbert fulfilled his divorce obligations. But he also incorporated his revenge. He had my guys created as sexy ice-skating cowboy robots with steel blades permanently attached to their feet. By design they were most happy when twirling, spinning, and jumping on ice. The frozen lake behind the house sufficed during the winter but back when summer was still a threat, I had to build an indoor rink to avoid months of pouting. There’s nothing more sad than a depressed sexy cowboy.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots

Women in Secularism Conference

W00t! The Center for Inquiry is hosting a conference on the topic of women in the secular movement!

Here at CFI we think it’s high time—it’s past time—for these and related issues to receive serious consideration. This is why we are proud to announce a special (dare I say historic?) conference on Women in Secularism, which will take place in Washington, DC on May 18-20 of 2012. To my knowledge, this is the first major conference sponsored by a national secular or skeptic organization to focus exclusively on the role and importance of women in our movement.

This is a hugely significant event. The contributions of women to our cause will finally receive some recognition. Speakers will include (in alphabetical order) Ophelia Benson, Jamila Bey, Greta Christina, Elisabeth Cornwell, Margaret Downey, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Sikivu Hutchinson, Susan Jacoby, Jennifer McCreight, Wafa Sultan, and Rebecca Watson.

Now I just have to figure out how to manage my time off next year for that and WisCon in the same month. May is apparently for feminism.

Thanks to Ophelia for passing along the news.

Women in Secularism Conference