Thursday, December 31, 2009

On people who make the world better

Okay, so at the tail end of a year that's been liberally punctuated with stories of greed, infidelity, dishonesty, and flat-out hatred, it felt like a blessing this morning to hear a story about one anonymous stranger's kindness and generosity to some of the neediest people.
There was something special on the menu at a New York soup kitchen Thursday.

Those eating lunch at the Broadway Community Inc. facility in Manhattan got a taste of the luxury life, thanks to a gift of caviar from an anonymous donor.


Chef Michael Ennes of Broadway Community Inc., told CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallce when he heard of the caviar donation, he thought, "'Yeah, right.'"

But, in fact, it was an honest-to-God 500-gram, $1,100 tin of sturgeon caviar. Reactions at the facility ranged from "Holy crap, it's an $1,100 tin of caviar" to "What the hell are we supposed to do with an $1,100 tin of caviar?" But Ennes was resolute.

We're serving this bad boy, he said.

Of course, the challenge at that point was one of the fishes-and-loaves variety, making one tin of caviar go 150 ways. Ennes and crew served up sour cream and egg whites and yolks and chives on cornmeal blinis with a dab of $1,100 freaking caviar on top.
Diana Conyers, who received a meal at the soup kitchen, said, "I thought it would taste yuck because I never had caviar. It was surprising, it tasted pretty good."

Michelle Seliem and her 8-year-old daughter--who have been living in a domestic violence shelter for five years--loved it.

Seliem said,"It was delicious."

But what did it taste like?

"Fish," she said, laughing.

Though the $1,100 value of the caviar could have covered more meals for the needy, it was the experience that was priceless.

Hosna Seliem told Wallace, "I felt like a princess."

And I think that's kind of the point. These are people who, to put it baldly, eat at soup kitchens. Even at the most well-equipped shelters, they're likely to enjoy an appetizer of four servings of soup stretched six ways. The value of this anonymous gift was not the cash value of the caviar but the experience, for the diners at the kitchen, of setting aside five years in a domestic violence shelter, just for one day, and feeling like a princess. There seems to be a perception these days that if the poor aren't living in dark, squalid tenements and dressing in rags, they aren't truly poor or they don't deserve help. At least one person out there recognized that people who have nothing still deserve to have dignity.
George Evans, a diner at the facility, said, "Whoever donated this, maybe they woke up one morning and said 'I have a little more, let me give.'"

If you realize you have a little more, you can donate (and it doesn't have to be caviar) to Broadway Community Inc. or visit Feeding America to find a food bank in your area.

Happy new year, all. Stay merry and safe.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On protecting the drunks of New York from underpants bombers and masked bandits

Okay, so it's safe to assume that a holiday like New Year's Eve would be, if any day, one targeted for terrorism--there are a bunch of people wander the streets drunker'n hell, and an attack is likely to get a lot of attention and really stick in the minds of the attacked. Which is why New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is working to protect Times Square revelers from any threats nuclear, chemical, biological, or Gargamellical:
The NYPD will have radiation and biological detection devices deployed in Times Square, decontamination facilities set up, and sniper teams in position. Backpacks won't be allowed, garages will be searched, and surveillance operations conducted.

Plus, the mayor says, you too can help.

"If you see anything, they'll be plenty of police officers to talk to," Mayor Mike Bloomberg said. "Walk up and say, 'Hey, I may be wrong, but that guy looks nefarious.'"
(emphasis mine)

So this Thursday, New Yorkers, keep your eyes peeled for mustachioed men tying women to subway rails, disembodied metal hands accompanied by fluffy white cats, or a short little guy with a head that looks like a football.

And if you see something shifty, don't be afraid to find the nearest cop and tell him, "Listen, I'm not sure exactly what's up, but there are some guys over there in t-shirts with snakes on them who keep yelling, 'COBRA!'"

I mean, they don't look like they'd be able to make more than a momentary stand before being soundly defeated despite their superior numbers, but better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Santa Claus (there is one)

Okay, so not that radio silence isn't an (unfortunately) increasingly common thing here at Practically Harmless, but I'm going to be taking the rest of the week off to celebrate Christmas with my family. But far be it from me to leave my reader hanging. My Christmas gift to you is not my usual dreck but, instead, the non-dreck of a newsman in 1897 and a little girl who wants very much to believe.

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in THE SUN it's so." Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? VIRGINIA O'HANLON. 115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and safe travels.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

On unwed mothers, universal health care, and choice

Or, Sing of Mary, Pregnant and Uninsured

Okay, so I will never not be entertained by the fact that Chuck Norris (who has two speeds--walk and kill) has a column at WorldNet Daily. I believe that everyone is entitled to a voice, and I like the fact that Chuck Norris (who once shot a German fighter plane down with his finger by yelling "Bang") not only has his but has it endorsed by the fine and reasonable folks at WorldNet Daily. If there is anyone whose word should not only be considered but should, in fact, be law, it's Chuck Norris (who doesn't shower--he only takes blood baths).

This week, in honor of Christmas, Chuck (who does not sleep--he waits) takes on the question that's been on everyone's mind: What if the Virgin Mary had had Obamacare?
...[A]s we near the eve of another Christmas, I wonder: What would have happened if Mother Mary had been covered by Obamacare? What if that young, poor and uninsured teenage woman had been provided the federal funds (via Obamacare) and facilities (via Planned Parenthood, etc.) to avoid the ridicule, ostracizing, persecution and possible stoning because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Imagine all the great souls who could have been erased from history and the influence of mankind if their parents had been as progressive as Washington’s wise men and women! Will Obamacare morph into Herodcare for the unborn?

It's a reasonable question, of course. There are women all over the country who do end up giving birth simply because they lack the resources to terminate their pregnancy early on. And of the women who do manage to have abortions, whether by obstetrician or by coat hanger, any might have been carrying the next Einstein (or the next Hitler) or the next Fleming (or the next John Wayne Gacy) or the next Shakespeare (or the next John Stamos). So what if the Blessed Virgin had had full access to the range of medical services available to pregnant teenagers?

I seem to have a book here that talks a lot about Mary when she was pregnant. Let's open it up, shall we?

First, we have to consider the image of an unwed girl, fourteenish, who's sitting in her room in Nazareth, hand-weaving a nuptial garment and reading Twilight when a freaking angel comes down and says (Luke 1:28-38),
"Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Holy crap! Mary thinks. What is up? But the angel says,
"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end... The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

which one could imagine is a pretty intimidating thing to hear from an angel. And yet faced with the heavy burden of gestating and delivering the son of the Almighty, this 14-year-old says,

"I am the Lord's servant... May it be to me as you have said.

Damn. Not exactly the words of a girl who's going to get rid of it using federal tax dollars later. (Also, fairly ballsy words for a girl who's going to be discussed as a mild little virgin for the rest of her life, but that's another post for another time.)

Now, Chuck (who once ate three 72-ounce steaks in one hour--and spent the first 45 minutes having sex with his waitress) raises the entirely legitimate subject of the ostracism and persecution that would likely accompany her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. And the Bible does say that Joseph's initial plan was to divorce her. However (Matthew 1:20-25),
after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, “God with us.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

So it sounds like Joseph, too, was on board with God's plan and fairly excited about the prospect of being stepdad to the savior of the world. And we can also consider the fact that, had she changed her mind, even in that time Mary would have had several (not necessarily safe) options for terminating the pregnancy had she so chosen. So it sounds like Mary’s access to abortion coverage would have been pretty moot anyway, making Chuck’s (who once ate a whole cake before his friends told him there was a stripper in it) “what if Mary had been covered by Obamacare” about as valid a question as “what if the three wise men were actually space aliens.”

But that's not the real question. What Chuck (who can, in fact, believe it's not butter) entirely misses is that the wondrous thing about Christmas wasn't that Mary got knocked up and, for lack of health insurance, went ahead and had the baby. She was young and healthy and had the support of a fiance who was (with some angelic prompting) willing to stay with her and help her. The wondrous thing was that when Mary and Joseph were faced with such a formidable and awesome responsibility, they saw it as a gift from God and wanted it very much. Would that every child be conceived under such circumstances and that every pregnant woman have those options. And would that, in modern times, we are able to provide women like Mary all of the help and options they need.

On the wonders/hazards of technology

Okay, so quick survey of my reader. Wishlists on Amazon and other online retailers make things really easy for people who insist on buying us gifts at Christmas, whether or not that's a big deal for us, even if we swear quite sincerely that we don't need or expect anything at all, but the gift-giver insists that we make a list anyway because he wants to buy us something, but he doesn't know what we want, so it kind of feels like making a shopping list and sending him to the mall, but if it makes him happy we go ahead and do it because we love him and want him to be happy, The Boy.

Anyway, these lists frequently include an option to sort items by gifts purchased and gifts unpurchased. They question: Do you peek? Do you check back to the list and see what has already been purchased, or do you choose "purchased items" to sustain the surprise? For that matter, if you have kids, did you want to know the sex of the baby beforehand or wait until the doctor pulled it out and checked the undercarriage? It's kind of the digital equivalent to shaking presents under the tree, albeit a lot more accurate. (The Amazon wishlist is, of course, rather than the sex of the baby. One is discouraged from shaking babies.)

I'll admit: I was a checker. But at the same time, I was a sustainer. Having directed folks to my wishlist, I have gone back a single time with the intention of peeking. And when I did this, Amazon stopped me by hiding all of the already-purchased gifts. "Do you really want to know this?" Amazon asked. "Do you really want to ruin the surprise? You can click here to show the gifts that have been purchased, but if you do, they won't be a surprise." And facing that door, I chose not to peer through the keyhole to see what Godpapa Drosselmeyer had planned for Christmas. The promise of a surprise stands, and the delicious anticipation gets deliciouser and more anticipatory by the second.

Thank you, Amazon.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On a woman with her priorities straight

Or, Who's a Good Boy? Who Is a Good Boy? Is That You? Are You the Good Boy? Yes You Are. Yes You Are. You're the Good Boy. Yes Sir. Yes You Are.

Okay, so regardless of politics and my satisfaction with President Obama's performance thus far, I still have a hetero girlcrush on Michelle Obama. I like the way she dresses, I like her attitude, I like the way she is with her kids, and I like the way she manages to seem friendly and approachable while simultaneously non-shit-taking. I've long thought that I'd love to hang out with her for a day.

Now that's been amended to "hang out with her and let our dogs play together." I call this "'I think about how your life has changed, and you're managing a--' 'Whatevs Oprah puppypuppypuppypuppypuppy.'"

1. That is not a dog. That is a stuffed animal. I've seen real dogs, and real dogs do not look that soft and cuddly. They look soft and cuddly, but not that soft and cuddly.

2. Michelle Obama talks baby talk to her dog. I feel much better about talking baby talk to my dog.

3. Look at those paws. Just look at them. Are you looking? Don't you just want to take a bite out of those paws? Don't lie; you know you do.

(Also, don't miss Bo Obama's New York Times op-ed.)

(H/t my guilty pleasure LaineyGossip

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

On the various reasons for the season(s)

Okay, so during this morning's Wake Up Alabama on CBS 42 (don't judge me; it comes on right before the Early Show), our girl Shanisty Myers introduced a segment about Briarwood Church's live nativity scene (which is actually pretty pimp--they have live camels) thusly: "Now, we all know the real reason for the season..."

Now, while this particular segment would certainly be considered "Christmas-Friendly" (thanks for the link, Holly, and also, I hate you), it could also be considered "newscast-inappropriate" if only for the fact that its facts are questionable: We don't know that everyone does, in fact, know the reason for the season, partly because we don't, in fact, know exactly what the reason really is.

"ACG, you're just anti-Christian and anti-Christmas and you probably say Happy Holidays and you're going to hell!" The last part may be more or less accurate, as is the next-to-last, but the first two are absolutely untrue. I happen to be a Christian, and I happen to love Christmas. Love, love, love. Love the lights, love the music, love the wrapping paper, love the sudden attention to peace on earth and good will toward men, love Love Actually and The Muppet Christmas Carol and Mickey's Christmas Carol (now available on mp3 via, oh sweet baby Jesus do I love it so.

But that's just the stuff I love about the season. I also like the holiday itself in the sense that I do, in fact, know the reason for Christmas. And I love that, too. I love midnight Mass, I love advent wreaths, I love O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and the high note at the end of O Holy Night (thank you, Beth Campbell, and may God bless you and keep you healthy for the coming Christmas Eve). I love both the solemn and the joyous celebration.

But I can hardly say that Jesus is the reason for the season, because there's a lot going on throughout the season that doesn't involve Him. In addition to Christmas, we have Hanukkah, Muharram, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, and even, if you like, Festivus during the holiday/Christmas season. And for that matter, if we're really interested in celebrating the birth of Jesus, we'll be doing it in late September, when shepherds would be watching their flocks by night and all of the inns would be full (check it). So Jesus is really the reason for the season of early fall.

The upshot is: Learn to share, people. You wouldn't expect the checkout guy at Target to acknowledge your birthday, so why expect him to wish you a merry Christmas when he has no way of knowing if you celebrate Christmas at all? Besides, Christmas is one day (two, if you make a big deal out of Christmas Eve, which I always do). If you choose to have happy holidays, you get 19 days of happy (21 if you count New Year's Eve and Pan American Aviation Day). If you're willing to turn down 17 additional days of celebration just for the sake of laying dubious claim to the whole month of December, you're probably the kind of person who isn't going to have a merry Christmas anyway. So lighten up.

In the immortal words of this year's Gap holiday commercial, "Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go without a tree... I mean, do whatever you wannakah and to all a cheery night."

That means all of you. Seriously. Relax and let it happen.

Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

On an issue of safety

Okay, so past posts may have given the impression that I'm not crazy about kids, and that makes me sad, because it's entirely not the case. Parents frustrate me sometimes, though, and I do have one more message to convey:

Forget annoying; letting your kids free-range around a restaurant is dangerous. While your cute little queso-smeared angel is making laps around the tables, it would take a second and a half for some stranger to snatch her up by the armpits and carry her out the door. As much as I value a peaceful dining experience, I would rather be pelted with a thousand tortilla chips than see something bad happen to your kid.

Please, please, please look after your kids.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

On the second verse (same as the first)

Okay, so I thought my faithful reader might be interested in an update on my recent hassle with Artur Davis in re: the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. If you'll remember, I sent him a sincere, deeply felt e-mail imploring him to sign Representatives Diana DeGette's and Louise Slaughter's letter of opposition to Nancy Pelosi. His reply went a little something like this:
Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts and concerns regarding abortion services within the health care reform package. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.


I have joined other members of Congress in urging Speaker Pelosi to include language in any final healthcare reform bill that makes clear that no federal dollars can be used to finance coverage of an abortion...

As you might imagine, I was somewhat... frustrated by his response. I promptly sent a response to his response, not unsimilar to the corresponding blog post (although somewhat less profane), expressing my dismay that he obviously didn't even read my previous e-mail, that his views and values on the matter were obviously in direct contradiction to mine, and that I obviously won't be voting for him in his future gubernatorial efforts.

It took him not a week to respond:
Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts and concerns regarding abortion services within the health care reform package. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter...

Dude. You have to get better interns. Also, fuck you, Artur Davis.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

On Christian charity and good will

Okay, so in this holiday season, I think it would do us well to remember the words of Jesus when he said, "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you demanded two form of identification, established that my parents hadn't gone through the proper channels to immigrate from Bethlehem, and told me that Santa wasn't coming this year because I was a filthy criminal":
They don't claim to know who's been naughty or nice, but some Houston charities are asking whether children are in the country legally before giving them toys.

In a year when more families than ever have asked for help, several programs providing Christmas gifts for needy children require at least one member of the household to be a U.S. citizen. Others ask for proof of income or rely on churches and schools to suggest recipients.

The Salvation Army and a charity affiliated with the Houston Fire Department are among those that consider immigration status, asking for birth certificates or Social Security cards for the children.


The Outreach Program requires parents to show photo identification and birth certificates or Social Security cards for the children. [Lorugene] Young said she makes an exception if parents can show they have applied for legal status or that a child is enrolled in school.

Young said, "It's not our desire to turn anyone down. Those kids are not responsible if they are here illegally. It is the parents' responsibility.”

Um, yeah, Lorugene, you're absolutely right. It's not the kids' responsibility. And it would suck to deny them Christmas presents because of something that's entirely beyond their control. So why don't we try... not doing that.

This isn't the first time the Salvation Army has let politics and discrimination get in the way of good will and charity. In both San Francisco and New York, the S.A. has been willing to close shelters and cut programs for the needy rather than comply with legislation requiring that any businesses that have partnerships or contracts with those cities offer domestic-partner benefits. And they fought hard--successfully--to enjoy federal funds without sacrificing their policy that "unrenounced" gays are "ineligible for Salvation Army soldiership."

And now they want to deny Christmas to little poor kids. Wow. Nice going, there, S.A. Right Christian of you.

Commentary around the Web (and at the bottom of the linked article; never read the comments at the bottom of the article, never) seem to fall into the category of "WTF? What a bunch of douches. It's Christmas, ferfuckssake" or "There are too many Americans in need right now. These people need to just get Christmas presents from their own damn country." To the latter, all I can say is, "Poor children. Poor children, motherfuckers. Little poor children. Regardless of how they ended up in this country, they are poor children. It's not a matter of teeny little border-jumpers stealing teddy bears from the arms of good, clean-living American toddlers. It's a matter of not punishing little kids for what their parents have done and telling them they don't get Christmas because they don't belong here."

And what sucks is that a Salvation Army bucket may be the closest thing a person gets to charity the entire year. I know that personally, unless it's a collection plate or a ringing handbell, I frequently don't think about donating at all. And while I know so many people hate the incessant ringing outside of every store they visit at Christmastime, I absolutely love it and have always seen it as the ultimate symbol of what Christmas is supposed to mean: generosity, compassion, thinking about someone other than ourselves for one damn time in our lives. I don't know if I'll be able to look at it that way anymore, knowing that my handful of change wouldn't make it to some of the people who need it most.
Luke 18:16: "But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

We should expect nothing less from a Christian charity.

Little poor children, ferfuckssake.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On the land of T-bone steaks and unending tummy rubs

Okay, so UGA's beloved mascot, Uga VII, passed away Thursday morning from a heart attack.

As a Bulldog, I mourn the loss of our mascot, who was a big chunk of bulldog and a commanding presence on the sideline. As a dog owner, I feel awful for the Seiler family, who lost a family pet; those who have met him say he was a friendly, good-natured dog. The average lifespan for a bulldog is eight years, and the Seilers have seen the passing of six Ugas before, but I'm sure that doesn't make it any easier this time.

Georgia won't have a bulldog mascot on the sidelines this weekend against Kentucky, but there are plans to hang a wreath on his doghouse. The Seilers plan to have a dawg in place at next Saturday's game against Georgia Tech, although it won't necessarily be the next Uga.

Rest in peace, Uga VI's Loran's Best, and may you find mountains of kibble and bountiful bags of ice. You were a damn good dawg and a good boy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On the stupidity inherent in the system

Okay, so it's no secret that I'm fairly exercised about the current health-care debate, particularly in re: the Stupak Amendment and reproductive rights. So when I got to a link from the Center for Reproductive Rights encouraging me to send an e-mail to my representative, urging him to sign Representatives Diana DeGette's and Louise Slaughter's letter of opposition to Nancy Pelosi, I was all for it. I sat down and penned an eloquent missive to my rep, Artur Davis. No form letter, this--I spoke of the plight of poor and middle-class women struggling for access to health care, the need for that health care to be comprehensive and address all of their needs as determined by that woman and her doctor, not as decided by a bunch of strangers in Congress or a bunch of fundamentalists behind a Web site. I implored him to be brave, to do what he knew was right instead of what would be expected of him from the Mountain Brook housewives in his district. God, it was a fine letter.

I shortly got an e-mail from Nancy Northrup with the CRR, thanking me for participating. "Thank you for taking action on this urgent issue," she said. "Every message sent will make a difference."

Maybe in a different district. Maybe in a different state. Maybe, certainly, with a different representative. But not with our buddy Artur Davis.

Artie writes:
Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts and concerns regarding abortion services within the health care reform package. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.
Well, y'know, it's what I do. I care.
As the health care reform legislation continues to take shape in both chambers of Congress over the next several weeks, I share your concerns about the use of federal funds to provide abortion services. I have joined other members of Congress in urging Speaker Pelosi to include language in any final healthcare reform bill that makes clear that no federal dollars can be used to finance coverage of an abortion-whether through a public option or through the direct use of federal subsidies to individuals. I believe this approach is consistent with the Hyde Amendment, a thirty year old federal prohibition on the use of Medicaid dollars to finance an abortion.
It's a big deal, y'know? Whether we like it or not, abortion services are an important part of comprehensive health care for women, so it's important to defend--wait, what?
I have joined other members of Congress in urging Speaker Pelosi to include language in any final healthcare reform bill that makes clear that no federal dollars can be used to finance coverage of an abortion...
Ah. Well, then, fuck you, Artur Davis.

He goes on to blah, blah, blah, and abortion is controversial and emotional, and tax dollars and an event that offends people's beliefs, and whatever, and I don't care, because fuck you, Artur Davis.
Please know that as this process moves forward I will continue to keep your thoughts in mind.
Why start now?
Again, thank you for contacting me, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future on matters that are important to you.
I'm pretty sure you won't. I'm not a fan of wasting my time. But I can think of a lot of people I can contact on matters that are important to me, and I've got plenty of time to do it between now and November 2010.

So to wrap up: Neither you nor any of your interns even bothered to read my e-mail, you don't share my concerns, you won't get my vote, and to sum up, FUCK YOU, Artur Davis.

Think you might have better luck with your rep? Check out the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On choices

Or, The Stupak, It Burns

Okay, so on Saturday night, the House of Representatives told the women of America to get comfortable under that bus, because universal health care is actually going to be defined as universal except for some women, because their ladyparts sometimes require procedures that we find icky. It may sound like I'm being dramatic, but I'll tell you, it feels pretty darn dramatic. It feels like our elected representatives are willing to screw over poor women and women who couldn't afford insurance without getting it through their employer and women who may get pregnant accidentally and women who may get pregnant intentionally--in other words, every women with a functioning uterus--in the name of affordable health care for the other 49.1 percent of U.S. citizens.

The Stupak Amendment to HR 3962 bans abortion coverage for any private or public health plan receiving federal subsidies--in essence every plan available on the Exchange. Not for any amount of money, not for any woman. Not even for a woman paying her entire premium herself. Not in a box, not with a fox. Thus women who depend on their employers for insurance or women who must pay for their insurance themselves will be left paying out of pocket for what can be a very expensive procedure. Exceptions will be made, of course, for rape, incest, and the life--life, not health--of the mother, so if you're lucky enough to have preeclampsia, you can just wait until the seizures start and then the government will take care of you.

For some reason, Bart Stupak and friends think it's perfectly reasonable that reproductive health services are the only ones that can be left completely out in the cold. They don't, for instance, try to explicitly remove heart disease from the bill, even though it costs taxpayers more annually than women's health services and usually arises from preventable lifestyle choices. Sorry, chubbo, you're paying for your angioplasty out of pocket! Next time you'll think twice before reaching for that rack of ribs. You should have coughed up for that extra heart-disease policy when you had the chance.

Three arguments that I will not entertain:

1. There are more important things to worry about right now! This bill would provide health insurance to 96 percent of Americans; can't you just compromise for their sake?

Well, no, I can't. Among those 96 percent are nearly 150 million women who may someday need reproductive health coverage. Congress would never try to pass a bill explicitly requiring insurers to deny coverage for obesity, and if they did, Americans would be up in arms. They would never try to pass a bill explicitly denying coverage for sickle-cell anemia. Yet when it's women getting the fuzzy end of the universal health-care lollipop, we're expected to sit back quietly, in the name of compromise, and hope that we'll someday get our chance to politely request the benefits that are offered to everyone else without thought or question. Hell, it's the sitting back quietly and politely that's gotten us into this situation.

2. The Hyde Amendment already says that federal dollars can't be used for abortions. It's not like women are any worse off.

First of all, let me note that even if women weren't any worse off, they'd be no worse off than a bad position. The Hyde Amendment was bad from the start, and women have been fighting against it from the start. It's like saying, "Oh, he's just trapped in the forest with a broken femur. It's not like it's raining or anything." No, it sure isn't raining, but that doesn't mean he's okay out there with his broken femur, and it doesn't mean someone doesn't need to go in there and help him.

That said, no, in fact, women are worse off. The Hyde Amendment, lousy as it is, only says that federal dollars can't be used for abortions. The Stupak Amendment extends that to all insurance sold through the Exchange, even to women who themselves pay their entire premiums without using federal dollars. Whereas before, it was only poor women on Medicaid who were left out in the cold, now it's any woman who can't afford to pay $1,500 for a D&E after her much-wanted baby is discovered to have hydrocephalus. Sure, she could have bought an abortion rider, but she probably didn't expect to ever need an abortion, any more than a person would buy a bus-hitting rider in anticipation of being hit by a bus.

3. I think that abortion is murder, and I don't want my tax dollars to fund murder.

Of course you don't. Neither does the pacifist who believes that war is murder--and yet still has to watch her tax dollars fund war. Neither does the person who believes that the death penalty is murder--and yet still has to watch his tax dollars fund executions. But in 1976, our government ruled that people who oppose abortion have the special privilege of dictating how their taxes are used. Since by current numbers, 57 percent of Americans oppose the Iraq war while only 45 percent oppose abortion, you'd think Congress would be rushing to shield tax dollars from the military rather than from reproductive health, but somehow that isn't the case.

The upshot echoes what President Obama said in an interview with ABC--"This is a health-care bill, not an abortion bill." On the surface, it sounds kind of dismissive, like we're discussing health care now and abortion will have to wait. But taken in context, it has meaning. It means that abortion isn't a separate issue. It means that health care isn't health care without care for every aspect of health, serving every citizen. Discussing abortion as a separate issue ignores the fact that, like diabetes and cancer, reproductive health is an integral aspect of health care crucial to keeping America healthy.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Okay, so I count myself lucky to have friends of a wide variety of personal conviction--Christian to Muslim to atheist, pro-choice to anti-choice and that nebulous in-between where you would never have an abortion yourself but you totally support other women's right to have abortions when please, if you're honest with yourself, you can't know how you would act were such a situation to arise but at least you're not one of those women who are totally anti-choice right up to the point where they find themselves pregnant but then they get to have an abortion because they have a good reason and everyone else just hates babies.

A friend of mine of the Christian, anti-choice variety (who is also generally a very nice and reasonable man, and he and his wife are currently housing a 20-week-old fetus in her abdomen, which they're very excited about, and thus so am I) posted a link on Facebook without comment: Why does Planned Parenthood need a restraining order against Abby Johnson? And my response to that is, well, because.

Let me disclose right away that I am not generally a fan of Double X (for all values of "generally" equal to "at all"). Their XXFactor blog claims to give voice to "what women really think," but its content seems liberally sprinkled with the kind of "just because I don't espouse any generally accepted feminist values doesn't mean I'm not a feminist" drivel that gives Sister F***ers something to link to approvingly in their blogs.

Another thing I'm not a fan of is intellectually incurious--to the point of suspicion--blog posts. Regardless of writer Rachael Larimore's stated intent to "kee[p] an eye on" the issue, she's gotten off to a weak start with a post that accurately parrots a local news story and goes into no further depth, accepting Johnson's accusations about Planned Parenthood's business model without question and speculating--entirely to PP's detriment--from then on.

I won't pretend to know anything more about the subject than Larimore does, and I hope that more information will be forthcoming, but if she's not going to ask questions, I will. If either of my readers has any informed, relevant knowledge on the subject, I invite you to fill in my blanks.

Three questions...

1. Larimore presents the news that Abby Johnson left her job as director of a Planned Parenthood health center (she doesn't say when, but it was October 6) after seeing the ultrasound of an abortion, which I'm sure would be rather a moment for anyone, regardless of value affiliation on the subject. But one has to wonder how Johnson managed to work for Planned Parenthood for eight years--two of those as director--and not know what was going on in those procedure rooms. Was she aware of how surgical abortions work? Did she never wonder what those bleepy machines with the little TV screens were for? What did she think they were doing back there?

Question 1: How did she go eight years without realizing how surgical abortions work?

2. Larimore also repeats without questioning a quote from Johnson:
Johnson says she became conflicted because “she was told to bring in more women who wanted abortions,” and that the organization was “changing it's business model from one that pushed prevention, to one that focused on abortion.”
Johnson has said that she never received any e-mails or letters instructing her how to raise profits but that "Every meeting that we had was, 'We don't have enough money, we don't have enough money — we've got to keep these abortions coming.'" (Larimore didn't provide that quote herself, but a quick Google search provided a Fox News interview with Johnson as its second result.)

So. In their 2008 annual report, Planned Parenthood claims that three percent of the services provided at their health centers are abortion-related, while 36 percent are related to contraception; they say that 82 percent of their clients received contraception services in 2007. And they say that less than 40 percent of their overall revenue comes from their health centers. And PP's health center in Bryan, Texas, is only one of 850 in the nation.

(If you have a minute, check out Johnson's KEOS interview six weeks ago where she repeated those statistics, talked about the importance of reproductive rights, and mentioned how dishonest and threatening the Coalition for Life were and how she considered the 40 Days of Life to be harassment. Funny, that)

Recognizing that one abortion would certainly provide more income than, say, one pregnancy test or one pack of birth-control pills (although less, potentially, than one IUD or one year of BCPs), how many more abortions would Johnson have to bring into her clinic to have a substantial impact on Planned Parenthood's business model? Would she be expected to go out and recruit new clients to come in and have abortions, or would it be more effective to convince current clients not to use contraception after all?

Question 2: How many more abortions would Johnson have to bring in to have an impact on Planned Parenthood's business model?

3. In that Fox News interview that Larimore never managed to come across in her research on the subject, Johnson says that a visiting doctor could perform "30 to 40 procedures on each day he was there," two days a month. How many could one doctor actually perform in a day? I have this image of a doctor scrubbing in, performing the procedure, scrubbing out, and scrubbing right back in for the next one, like a game of whack-a-mole that leaves him with no time for chart notes or lunch. Is this realistic, or might Johnson have been exaggerating and/or sensationalizing a bit to Fox News because Bill Hemmer is such a muffin?

Question 3: Does the Bryan PP health center force its visiting doctor to work through lunch, or is Bill Hemmer a muffin? (The judges will accept "both" as an answer)

Larimore does ask one question in her post. She asks, "Why does Planned Parenthood need a restraining order against Abby Johnson?" (and also, "Is Planned Parenthood going to such lengths to keep Johnson from discussing its 'business model?'" but that's kind of the same thing). She doesn't want to jump to conclusions. And neither do I.

... and an answer

I do have access to this mystical device called "the Google," though, and it reveals to me wondrous things. For instance, the Google tells me that Salon obtained a copy of Planned Parenthood's petition for the restraining order, which included allegations that the same day Johnson was put on a "performance improvement plan," she was seen copying files and "removing items" from the health center, and that Johnson herself told clinic employees that she'd passed information along to the Coalition for Life and that "something big" was coming up.

Now, Johnson denies the allegations, but considering the threatening nature of much anti-choice activism (which Johnson herself decries in the aforementioned KEOS interview) and the Coalition for Life's own tactics of, for instance, calling the homes of clinic patients to tell their families that they've had abortions, it may be a safer move to restrain now and ask questions later. Later, for instance, on November 10, when a court date has been set up so that both parties can ask questions, and if the allegations turn out to be unfounded, the temporary restraining order won't be extended. But I like to think that if I were a PP patient, my medical records would remain confidential and my family unharassed by anti-choicers even if the clinic director did have a "change of heart."

Anyway, that's one thing that might be an answer to the only question that Rachael Larimore bothered to ask. We'll see how this thing pans out. I'll be watching.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

On fishnet Eskimos

Okay, so every reasonably sized non-Amish town will tonight be observing Halloween with that most holy of traditions: slutty costumes. I hit up B&A Warehouse last night for their annual party and found a veritable treasure-trove of slutty costumery--most identifiable, some not; some creative, most not. Some with pants, most--wait, no, none with pants. My bad.

Tonight, of course, women across the city will go all out, wearing clothes that would get them arrested on any other night of the year. Some will find couples costumes so that their significant others can play along--cop and slutty convict, convict and slutty cop, football player and slutty referee, referee and slutty football player. I've been trying to convince The Boy to go with me as doctor and slutty nurse, but he says he doesn't have the legs for fishnets.

Anyway, the most fun is always the people-watching, and people-watching is always more fun with a purpose. Tonight's purpose?

It's Slutty Halloween Bingo.

Slutty PirateSlutty GladiatorSlutty SchoolgirlSlutty CopSlutty Soldier
Slutty FarmgirlSlutty RefereeSlutty Baseball PlayerSlutty Native AmericanSlutty Construction Worker
Slutty GeishaSlutty Rainbow BriteSLUTTY FREE SPACESlutty BunnySlutty Angel
Slutty Little Bo PeepSlutty DevilSlutty FairySlutty NurseSlutty Strawberry Shortcake
Slutty WitchSlutty French MaidSlutty Bavarian BarmaidSlutty SailorSlutty Cat

All of these are, of course, actual costumes that I actually saw at B&A last night. Other costumes included Slutty Beach Volleyball Player, Slutty Eskimo, and Slutty Robin (a la Batman), but I didn't know how common those are in your area, so I left them off.

Print this bad boy out and get to checking things off! The first person to scan their winning card and e-mail it to me gets a Flying Spaghetti Monster t-shirt. I'll be posting my own updates on Twitter at #sluttyhalloweenbingo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On overcoming fear

Okay, so I've got a couple of posts in the can right now (wow, sounds weird, but it stays) that I haven't gotten to because I've been on VACATION, BITCHES. I've been overcoming my fear of an entire week at a secluded beach in Florida with the boyfriend and the dog, far beyond any cell signal and out of reach of my bosses, with nothing to do but hang out on the beach and go for walks and chill out in the evenings with a couple of DVDs. I'm not afraid of you, delicious shrimp and crab cakes and both bay and sea scallops! I WILL EAT YOU!

Anyway, more to come. In the meantime, here's my intensely aquaphobic dog (no joke; he's terrified. Apparently it's fairly common among sled dogs) venturing happily into the surf in pursuit of a stick.

Still can't get him into the pool, though.


Monday, October 26, 2009

On twits

Okay, so I have a Twitter account, and I've even used it--fairly consistently, in the beginning, up to the modest point of 100-ish posts and nearly that many followers. Recently, however, I've dropped off considerably, owing largely to the fact that I just don't have time to spend scanning Twitter to divine the meaning of life in 140 characters or less and to the concern that people, even those 89 people, probably don't care that much about what I say anyway. (It also doesn't help that, as a marketing/advertising person, I've been called upon repeatedly to trumpet the ineffable wonders of social media, and I'm just so sick of it. Social media is a tool, people. It only works as a component of a larger, coherent marketing plan. Simply having a Twitter feed is not going to drag in 10,000 new customers, nor is a Facebook page going to make you a millionaire. It's a tool, not an Easy Button, you lazy twits.)


There are people whose opinions on the meaning of life are closely followed. They are the ones we look to for 140-character strokes of brilliance. They are our modern-day philosophers, our reliable dispensaries of little wisdom-gelcaps. They are celebrities, and they always have something to say.

Tweets John Mayer:
You know who the most flamboyant crowd is? Straight, drunk girls. They're like a bunch of little Charles Nelson Reillys.

and Lindsay Lohan:
@samantharonson doesn't respond 2me b/c her family will cut her off if she contacts me...They control the one I love&im incapable of making
That damn character limit. Bring it home, Linds:
Any sort of difference. I'm in love with her, as she is in love with me....but her loved ones-hate her brilliance&resent her happiness

Convicted domestic abuser Chris Brown tells us:
and then expounds with:

One of the great questions of our time comes from Jessica Simpson:
Is "asks" even a word? If not, sorry 4 my layziness with grammar.

And one of the great answers of our time comes from P. Diddy:
BRAZIL!!!!! Ass! Ass! Ass! Phat round beautiful ASSES!!!!! Everywhere! Its a ASS suniami!!!!!!!! I think I like it here!!! Lol

But the problem with Twitter is that it's such a harsh, bland medium. The written word, pah--where is the nuance? Where is the emotion??!!? Where is TEH PASSION???!!//??!1!? Right here, says the Washington Post.

(Enjoy more dramatic tweetage hither and hither and hither and then keep going.)

None of this is to say that all celebrity tweets are incomprehensible Net-babble. Convicted domestic abuser Chris Brown, for instance, does have one nugget of true wisdom to offer:
IMA TALK ABOUT OTHER SH** FROM NOW ON.... ima fall back lol.. twitter will get u IN

lol indeed.

(H/T Celebitchy)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On answering the call

Okay, so yesterday I ran into this guy I know. I wouldn't call him a friend; I'd call him a friend of a friend, an acquaintance, although Jesus would probably call him my brother (not to be confused with the guy my parents would call my brother). This Guy had just, he said, gotten rolled in Five Points and needed a ride to the hospital. And, in fact, he looked bad; he had a cut above his eye that would probably need stitches and one on his nose and one above his lip, his jacket was ripped, and he was wobbling around like a guy who'd had his head smacked against the pavement much in the way This Guy said his had been.

I lied and told him my car was broken.

Not that I'm trying to excuse it, but I've known This Guy for about three years, and I had my doubts that the real story was precisely as he told it. This Guy has been an alcoholic since before I met him, drinking away his wife and his two young children and his home and every job he's ever had. He's spent probably 85 percent of the last three years homeless, not counting the time he's spent in lockup. And the aforementioned Friend (of whom This Guy was a friend) had taken him in, through the goodness of his heart, to try to help him get his life back together. He'd tried to get This Guy cleaned up and sober, help him find a job, resolve legal issues, try to talk with his wife. My Friend had bailed him out of jail, helped him find a lawyer, driven him great distances, and even given him a place on his couch to sleep for a period of time as he tried to get things straightened out. And over and over, This Guy failed and came back--started drinking again, lost his job, and came back; got his girlfriend pregnant, lost the baby, came back; served time in jail on a couple of old warrants, came back; got another job, started drinking again, lost the job, came back.

Every time, My Friend took him back in. Good Christian and Democrat that he is, on matters like this, he tends toward a big heart and a small brain. Every time, he was convinced that This Guy was ready to get cleaned up and just needed to make the effort. Even when This Guy came back, even when he showed up drunk, even when he stole from My Friend, he was asked to leave and not come back--and when he came back, there was an open door and another chance.

All of this is by way of explaining, if not necessarily excusing, why my heart wasn't as big when This Guy approached me. His story was questionable, and the alcohol seeping from his pores made me wonder whether the wobbliness was due entirely to his head injury. And so when he asked for a ride, I lied and told him my car was broken. I called an ambulance and sat with him until they arrived. When they asked how I knew him, I said I was a friend of a Friend, and This Guy looked kind of stricken, like he expected me to identify him as my own friend. When the police officer who responded pulled me aside and asked me if This Guy had any "bad habits," I told him about his history, even knowing that it would probably have somewhat of a negative impact on the way he would be treated. When the paramedics asked if I would be riding along in the ambulance, I said no. And then I went home.

Last night, around 11:00, I got a call from the hospital. I recognized the number and let it go to voicemail; it was an ER nurse telling me that This Guy was ready to go and needed a ride. Half an hour later, another call, same number, and I let it go. No voicemail this time. At midnight, another call, and I denied him a third time. No more calls after that.

I could say that I had the best of intentions, that I was trying to teach him a lesson or trying to push him out of the nest or trying to give him a chance to sit in the ER and sober up, but I've done enough lying recently. I just didn't want him. He wasn't mine, he was My Friend's, and I didn't want him--not in my home, not in my car, not in a box, not with a fox. I didn't want him in my life, and so I left him in the ER, and I don't know what he did or where he is. And that doesn't feel good. It feels like I've abandoned a person in need, and while I know, intellectually, that there's nothing I could do or can do to change the way his life is going, my heart is telling me that I should have tried. And since I didn't, it's telling me I was wrong.

I'm not sure why I posted this. It might be that I'm begging people to line up in comments to assure me that I did the right thing. But I've already talked to two people about it, one of whom was the big heart with the small brain, both of whom assured me that I did the right thing. But conventional wisdom is that when you do the right thing, you know it because you feel good about it. Sitting there last night, watching the phone ring and not answering it, didn't feel like the right thing, and it doesn't feel any righter in the light of day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On an open request for clarification

Okay, so I'm sincerely kind of embarrassed. I feel like there's something I've missed, like there's something I'm supposed to be automatically picking up on and that I'm just not seeing because I'm blinded by privilege. And if it turns out that I am, I sincerely ask to be set straight on the matter.

But I don't really understand why the Joe Wilson thing cracks of racism.

I'll be the first to point out how much racism has been ladled on President Obama and family since his presidential campaign really kicked up (okay, not the first, but I have said my piece). And the Deep South doesn't exactly have the best reputation for universal acceptance and colorblindness, with Wilson's own South Carolina taking a particular hit for classics like its Confederate state flag and the "McCain's illegitimate black baby" push-polling and the stupid use of Facebook by a So.Car. GOP activist.

But when Jimmy Carter says that Wilson's outburst was "based on racism" and fears of a black president, I just can't follow his logic. No matter how many times I review the video and the transcripts and the context of Obama's talk, I can't find anything in those two shouted words that can only be attributed to racism and nothing else.

There is truth to what Carter said. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president"; that's definitely true, as is his assertion in an interview with Brian Williams that a lot of animosity is directed at Obama because he's a black man. But I find myself unable to take the next step that bridges the gap between premise and conclusion, saying, "Not only are these things true, but they are the reason that Joe Wilson shouted the way he did." I'm looking, but I don't see the causality.

Similar is the assertion that all anti-Obama signs carried at "tea parties" and outside of townhall meetings are racist in nature. Sure, absolutely, many of them are--your "Home Don't Play Dat"s, your "White Slavery"s and "What You Talkin About Willis"es, your wandering white supremacists who neither side will claim. And many of the signs aren't racist. "Obama = Hitler" (or Stalin, or Che, or whoever) signs are both cheap and poorly thought out, but are they racist? Are they any more racist than the "Bush = Hitler" signs that went up during his presidential campaigns, just because Obama is a person of color?

My assertion is that sometimes an asshole is just an asshole. Sometimes, a tea partier or a townhall protester is just insulting and uncreative, with the underlying factor being stupidity rather than racism.

On "Hardball" today, Chris Matthews interviewed Senator Donna Edwards (D - MD) on the subject, unabashedly prompting her again and again to assign racism to Wilson's outburst. And again and again, the congresswoman, herself black, refuted it:
MATTHEWS: Do you think this is a race thing?

EDWARDS: I don't think it is at all. I mean I spent my time over the weekend in my district, you know, black folks, white folks, you know, across the stripes. Democrats and Republicans, who themselves expressed their disapproval and really their dismay. And so I don't think it's really about race. It's really about our institutions and the rules that govern us.

MATTHEWS: No. I think, I wasn't clear Congresswoman. I mean was it a racial thing on the part of Wilson? Was he expressing contempt for Barack Obama because of his heritage?

EDWARDS: I don't think that at all. I mean, I think there's been a vigorous debate about the policy and about health care. The problem is that, you know, while he offered a personal apology, it was actually a public offense to the institution. We just don't do that and we, we have to distinguish ourselves and, in fact, our rules are what distinguish us from other kinds of governments.

And so, unable to dig the response he wanted from Edwards, Matthews had to move on to Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post to find someone who'd agree that Wilson "smacks of the old days."

And then we have Maureen Dowd, who insists in her New York Times column that what we could have heard, had we been listening hard enough, was what Joe Wilson had meant to say--"You lie, boy." And once again, she brings up valid points--attempts to deligitimize Obama as president, the fact that some people will never accept a black man in the White House--and yet fails, such that I can see, to connect them causally to Joe Wilson's outburst.

Now, I think we can all agree that Joe Wilson is generally pretty racist. From there, the question becomes: Is a statement automatically racist if it comes out of the mouth of a racist person? Is racism like pernicious B.O., making everything around you stink even if you don't personally wear it? Or is it possible that a person who can easily come up with racism came up with, in this case, bad manners, a lack of propriety, and partisanship?

I'm not saying that his outburst couldn't have been rooted in racism; I'm just saying that once we come up with that possibility, we shouldn't shout "Eureka!" and decide we've found the answer. Maybe it was full-on racism. Maybe Wilson was simply overcome with passion and anger and couldn't control himself. Maybe he wasn't overcome at all and just didn't have the home training that would help him keep his mouth shut. Maybe he was trying to get attention and it didn't turn out as he'd hoped. Maybe he expected his fellow GOP representatives join him in a righteously outraged chorus and was embarrassed when they didn't. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe it's a combination of several of those things. But I don't see any signs that tell me I should stop digging when I hit "racist."

A lot of people, largely on the left, are saying right now that we as Americans need to have respect for the office of the president, and righties are cheering as patriotic and brazen all of the tea-partiers with their "Obama = Socialism" signs. This is in contrast to the Bush administration, when the lefties were protesting and holding the signs and the righties were calling them unAmerican and telling them to leave the country. Protesting, holding stupid signs, and having not nearly enough respect for the president are things that surpass time and race; that kind of assholishness is the great uniter.

Which is not to say there aren't some differences. While Bush was generally accused of stealing the 2000 election, Obama was accused of being Kenyan (and delegitimized for being a black man in what some saw as a white man's office)--there's racism behind that. When Bush was compared to a monkey, it was usually about his ears, and when Obama was, it was usually a slur on his ethnic heritage--there's racism there. It's not that it never happens. But it doesn't always happen, and when we automatically jump to that conclusion-to the exclusion of all others--whenever someone shows disrespect to Obama, we run the risk of dulling that message, and we miss a valuable opportunity to address a significant source of conflict that we might not otherwise see.

Unless I'm missing something, which is possible.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On the ultimate thrill

Okay, so I was going to hold off on this until we'd heard the final word, but it's looking like that could take longer than expected and I know my mom's been waiting for this video.

So here it is. Labor Day weekend, I got together with 902 near-complete strangers at DragonCon in Atlanta in a Guinness Book of World Records attempt. Our feat? To amass the greatest number of people ever in one place doing the "Thriller" dance at one time.

And it went a little something like this:

Alas, you can't actually see me in that video; I'd be all the way house right, about five rows back. Pity, really, because my moves were slick. Seriously. No, shut up, they were. But you can enjoy the dance stylings of the creepy Burger King king, the Joker, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (and Her attendant pirate), and a big silver Michael Jackson glove.

A few notes on the record attempt: Damn. The organizers had to go to ends to make this happen. Apparently, they had to submit video and still photography from several different angles, at least one of which showed all participants at the same time, and a log book signed by each participant as we came in. We all had to be dancing the whole time, and we had to be doing the 5:58 version. At some point, someone from Guinness will sit down with one of those pictures and literally count heads to make sure that every name in the logbook corresponds to a head on the dance floor. And what do we get? A certificate. Not even that--organizers Kimber, Lisa, and Lauren get a certificate, and the other 900 of us get the pleasure of knowing we solidly kicked the asses of 242 William & Mary students who did it back in April. Suck it, Tribe!

And a note on the Mexico City attempt: Nothin' doin'. Wrong version of the song (the two-minute one), and not everyone danced the whole time. But it still looked like a whole hell of a lot of fun, and I commend them for getting 13,000 people together for that fun. Maybe we'll get the City of Atlanta to shut down Peachtree Street for next year's attempt.

Further updates as events warrant.

On stimulus

Okay, so I've been a slackass, because I do that. And I might continue to be. No promises. But here are a few things to keep you busy until I get my stuff together again:

... of the economy
In times of hardship, people tend to return to... simpler pleasures, which is, I'm sure, why Newt Gingrich's American Solutions for Winning the Future (ASWF) gave their 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year award to Allison Vines, owner of pr0n DVD superstore Pink Visual. ASWF was quick to retract the honor when they found out Vines's line of work, saying they'd sent the fax "inadvertently" (says her marketing coordinator, "We’re not entirely clear on how one ‘inadvertently’ sends a fax to the right person at the correct fax number"), but I like the way that, just for a moment, Newt managed to "inadvertently" recognize a different kind of stimulus to a different kind of package.

... and also of the economy, I suppose
On Friday, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld a state ban on the sale of sex toys. I commented on this 'round about this time three years ago, and I still haven't figured out a bona-fide law enforcement purpose for an OhMiBod bluetooth bullet. Good to know that Love Stuff isn't going down without a fight, though. Fight the (battery) power!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On the only way to answer the crazazy (and also, Barack Obama causes the rain)

Okay, so conservative reactions at town hall meetings over the past couple of weeks have ranged from misled through disturbed to WTFOGMCNNBBQ?!!!1!!11! (occasionally sprinkled, like bursts of blue sky peeking through storm clouds or the last size-medium cashmere cardigan erroneously crammed among the maternity tops on the clearance rack, with reasonable and sincerely felt concerns). No surprise there. What is surprising, although not nearly surprising enough, is the number of speakers who actually respond to it, who take seriously inflammatory and/or misinformed and/or just plain crazy questions as if they aren't purely someone's opportunity to get on the teevee and spew some crazy.

Well, finally someone delivered the response that such questions should get, and that someone is Barney Frank.

For those of you who are audio-challenged and reading along at work:
Wackaloon: Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?
Frank: When you ask me that question, I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time? ... Do you want me to answer the question? Yes. As you stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis, my answer to you is, as I said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.

(Also note the shout of "Hitler didn't start with the Jews" somewhere in the background.)

Let future town hall speakers take that as a lesson: This is the way to deal with those people. Don't waste your time trying to reason with someone who's beyond reason. These people aren't trying to engage you in debate; they don't want their questions answered. They want to stand up and shout, be disruptive, propagate a myth, show off for their fellow wackaloons, maybe get on TV. And when you try to seriously address their questions, you only lend validity to an inflammatory statement that has none--and allow them to monopolize time that could go to someone with a realistic concern.

This is something that has pissed me off about the media for years now. In the interest of "fair and balanced" reporting, they think they're obliged to always give equal time to both sides of the story. Is this a good practice most of the time? Sure. But when one side is presenting a reasoned, reasonable argument and the other is coming from a place of fantasy and nonsense, giving time to that other side is a waste of time and makes something seem valid that clearly is not. If one side is saying, "We're 37th in the world for health care, nearly 47 million Americans are uninsured, and we see universal health care as the best way to address that problem for reasons A and B and C" and the other is saying, for instance, that Obama wants to send government agents into your home to brainwash your children, no. That other side does not deserve equal time. Nor does "Obama wants to kill your grandmother." Or "Obama is another Hitler."

By all means, if someone comes to you with a rational argument, talk with them. Engage in conversation. Give them a platform to make their point. Maybe you'll convince them. Hey, maybe they'll convince you. But when someone comes to you with "Obama is Hitler" or "Obama keeps an enemies list of anyone who logs on to a government Web site, and by the way, he's from Kenya," do not give them a sense of respectability by engaging. The only way to respond to them is the way Barney Frank did--that their baseless, inflammatory comment isn't worth your time or energy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On rebranding (not the kind that involves actual fire, although sometimes it feels like it does)

Okay, so I am, of course, just a little bit of an advertising nut, and branding fascinates me. That's why I loved this link from @BirminghamWorks, where Fortune magazine looks back over a dozen old branding efforts and their updated looks. It follows Apple from its Isaac Newton logo through the rainbow-striped disco fruit to the current, sleek chrome apple and Starbucks from its naked siren to its more stylized, less-naked siren.

The piece also looks at questionable brand renovations. The new Kraft logo, note the writers, is kind of nebulous and devoid of real meaning and also resembles the Yoplait logo, which is a General Mills product. The new "smiley" Pepsi swoosh could be a loser, and the Tropicana glass of orange juice was such a loser that they changed everything back just two months after its debut. The biggest stinker, they seem to feel, is the new Blackwater logo--they say it looks kind of sinister and spy-ish. I guess I can see that a little, particularly if you know what Blackwater (now "Xe," pronounced "zee," which everyone's definitely going to figure out on the first try) does, but to me, it looks more like a computer company. My first instinct is to wonder if they offer netbooks. Blackwater has a lot of bad press to overcome, but I don't really know where they're trying to take the company now, and this logo certainly doesn't give any clue.

Mentioned not in that article but in one from the beginning of July is Sci Fi's rebranding effort into... ugh, "Syfy." When I first read the press release that announced the change, I thought it was a clever prank designed to horrify viewers and marketing professionals alike before coming clean and giving everyone a relieved chuckle (and maybe an affectionate, "Oh, you're so bad."). And yet no. Now known as "seefee" around my household, the network hasn't really changed its programming--just its name, really. It's still, for the most part, a mix of Science and Fiction. They've added shows like "Warehouse 13," which is "a human story--about relationships, about isolation" that is also about... a warehouse full of supernatural relics. And shows like "Caprica," which is... a futuristic other-planet prequel to space-wars show "Battlestar Galactica." "It isn't about abandoning our dedicated fanbase," says Chris Czarkowsi, ad and sales rep for Seefee. "It's about including all those people who don't realize Syfy has anything to offer them. The point at which we change identity is when people don't see us so narrowly."

And the answer is a new, weird-looking brand that still doesn't tell people what the network has to offer?

I'm not promising that the new brand won't work out; the article reports that Seefee has drawn 12 new advertisers in the first quarter and that the rebrand did well with focus groups. But the question remains: How well will the brand do at attracting the new viewers, the ones who don't self-identify as sci-fi fans, to their programming? My biggest concern is that "Syfy" doesn't mean anything. It doesn't tell me anything about the shows they offer, the fact that sci-fi has been going mainstream for quite some time (Transformers, The Matrix, etc.), the fact that many of its shows are just as character- and plot-driven as they are techy or fantastical. It's just... seefee.

My instinct would have been not to convince potential viewers that seefee is the kind of TV that they want to watch but to convince potential viewers that sci-fi is what they've been watching all along anyway. A marketing campaign could easily push the more human tilt of some of its more human-tilted shows (the kissy bits from "Battlestar Galactica," the teary bits from "Primeval," the bits from "Sanctuary" that--wait, no, best to leave out "Sanctuary") to demonstrate the more human tilt of the network without having to rebrand it entirely. But maybe my instinct is wrong. The answer will be borne out in future viewership and advertising figures. But I hate waiting.

In the meantime, I'm sticking to my guns: A good brand needs to give some indication of the nature of the product or service you're offering, because you won't always be around in person to decipher your new logo for confused customers. The UK's "Consignia" lasted all of 14 months before switching back to a far clearer "Royal Mail." Where did Cingular go? Back to AT&T Wireless. And what the hell is an Altria?

Hint: It may or may not be Phillip Morris's attempt to escape Congressional-hearing notoriety; it's almost certainly not a beaver-looking critter with the tail of a rat.

On contagious confidence and joie de vivre: still not enough to get you into magazines

Okay, so doesn't Kelly Clarkson look awesome? She's standing there, right over a headline about body confidence, and does she ever look confident. Of course, it's easy to be confident when you look a good as she does. And although she's been known for her curviness in the past, it looks like she's slimmed down a ton; maybe she used those tips for slimming down and losing eight pounds and being hot by Saturday. Whatever she did, she looks fantastic, and I'm sure her skinny-mininess has contributed to her looking so happy and--wait. Hold on.

Do what, now?

But I thought--

Who's that girl in the cover photo, then?

There's been a nasty rumor going around that Self magazine airbrushed the hell out of Clarkson to put her on the cover. Obviously, it's just that--a rumor--because what self-aware magazine would Photoshop off about 20 pounds before putting her next to a headline about "staying true to" herself? Thank goodness Self EIC Lucy Danzinger took to her blog to set things straight.
Last Friday, the Internet was abuzz with the fact that I answered the question, did you Photoshop the September issue cover photo of Kelly Clarkson? with the answer: Yes.

See? It was noth--wait a minute.
Kelly has this amazing spirit, the kind of joie de vivre that certain people possess that makes you want to stand closer to them, hoping that you can learn what they know. In this case, you get the feeling Kelly has not let fame spoil her, but also that she was just born confident, with a generosity of spirit that is all about others and rarely about herself. She is, like her music, giving and strong and confident and full of gusto. Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best.

Her personal best? But--but that's not even her. Kelly Clarkson's chin isn't that pointed. Her arms aren't that skinny. If you watch the behind-the-scenes video Danzinger includes in her post, you can see exactly how much Clarkson isn't that waifish figure on the magazine cover. Not that she's not pretty--I think she's pretty and cute and looks really energetic and happy, and while I wish her usual stylist would help her pick costumes for her performances that don't look unflattering and uncomfortable and pinchy, her body is good and she's got so much personality. So you'd think that her personal best would be the best shot of her person. Not... well, some other person.

Danzinger first dismisses the claims by bringing up her own proclivity for throwing out any candid photos that aren't completely flattering and having the art department slim her down a bit before her picture goes into the magazine at any point. Then she dilutes her argument by adding that, also, too, retouching is a common practice with magazines to remove "any awkward wrinkles in the blouse, flyaway hair and other things that might detract from the beauty of the shot." Like, apparently, that stray 20 pounds. It's not until the very end of her blog post that Danzinger finally lets slip, probably inadvertently, that unaltered fatty-fat-fatties like the real Kelly Clarkson just don't sell magazines.
A cover's job is to sell the magazine[...]

Which fat chicks apparently don't.

What gets me is that it's right there. It's right next to a quote about staying true to yourself and covering an article where Clarkson talks about accepting and loving herself exactly as she is. "When people talk about my weight, I'm like, 'You seem to have a problem with it; I don't. I'm fine!'," she says. Fine, and alone, probably, within the editorial staff of Self, because they definitely aren't fine with you.

"Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best." Apparently, we're missing the personal from personal best, because, per the article, Clarkson already thinks she's at her best. Making her look her personal best would mean publishing a cover photo that was actually her. Danzinger & Co. made the choice to show her at their idea of her best, carving off 20 pounds of flyaway hairs and awkward wrinkles and covering her ass with a big yellow dot offering prizes-prizes-prizes.

And no, Luce, it's not the same as 'shopping out your own saddlebags or throwing away unflattering vacation pictures (although that seems like a great way to lose a lot of good vacation memories to me; sometimes the best memories also involve crappy hair or a sunburn). Those are things that you did voluntarily to emphasize your personal best. What you did was decide for Kelly what her personal best should look like, whether she's happy with her body as it is or not.

Danzinger closes:

Your job: Think about your photographs and what you want them to convey. And go ahead and be confident in every shot, in every moment.

But don't stop there, because confidence doesn't cover up the fact that you're an big old lardass who couldn't possibly sell a magazine as you are.

Because the truest beauty is the kind that comes from within.

And by "within," of course she means "but still close enough to the surface that it shows on the outside, too, because inner beauty doesn't make cover photos."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On good girls (talkin' bout the sad girls--wait, no, hold on)

Okay, so a friend hooked me up with a link to a recent Daily Beast article trumpeting the return of the "good girl." (Her comment: "I was a good girl before it was cool!" Being the Catholic daughter of an Italian-American cop in small-town Massachusetts will do that.) The article starts by mentioning some signs of the raunchification of modern society--cardio-striptease (ugh, so trendy), Heidi Pratt (ugh, so desperate), and Brazilian waxes (ugh--wait, no, ow, but I don't really see the harm with this one. Outside of the pain). And I will say that I've noticed an increase in raunchiness; very young girls are being exposed to blatant sexuality early on, and they're not getting the guidance they need to process it and understand it in the context of their own lives.

The much-welcomed antidote to the pole-spinning, nekkid-self-portrait-snapping Miley Cyruses of the world is, obviously, a young role model who is cool and fashionable and popular without acting sexual beyond her ken. And I'm all for that--not for keeping young girls young, but for allowing them to remain young. I think that Abigail Breslin is cool, Demi Lovato is cute as a two-week-old puppy, and Emma Watson is the kind of girl I'd like to hang out with myself, never mind handing them off to The Boy's nieces as a positive influence.

The thing is, these girls aren't just presented as good influences--they're presented as good girls, or, more specifically, "good girls." In practical terms, "good girls" are girls who live up to societal standards for "good"--they're virgins and they don't drink and they don't do drugs and they go to church. They don't smoke, they don't wear short skirts or a lot of makeup, they don't kiss with tongue--they don't do anything to rebel or threaten or even question the status quo. And maybe that makes them happy, and if it does, yay! It's good to be happy.

But what if that doesn't make them happy? I mean, there was a time in my life when I more or less did all of that, mostly for lack of opportunity more than anything else. I was miserable. It wasn't that any of the trappings of "good girl" directly made me unhappy; it was just that I wasn't happy doing it--none of it was really me. I was also unhappy being a 13-year-old; it's how it works. And now, as a drinking, makeup-wearing, tattooed, body-pierced, er... non-virgin (albeit still a churchgoing non-smoker), I'm ridiculously happy--correlation, sure, not causation, but it's there.

Goodness gracious

The question also arises as to whether one can be a good person without being a "good girl." If you spend your money on body art but make sure to save enough to pay your rent and your taxes? If you wear a lot of makeup but also read to your kids and help them with their homework and watch movies with them and explain the parts they don't understand? If you're a 16-year-old who sneaks cigarettes behind the gym and also gets good grades, acts in school plays, and volunteers at the animal shelter? Hell, if you spend your nights spinning around a pole and your days teaching illiterate adults how to read? The concept of a "good girl" creates a dichotomy where there might otherwise be a continuum.

I'm also kind of bothered by the fact that we tend to look at the "good girl" with an emphasis on girl. Of the 13 girls (women?) noted in the article's photo gallery, only one--Emma Watson--has followed the traditional transition to non-girlhood by going to college. And this is not to say that college is the only way to become an adult, but there has been a debate as to whether the professionally handled, fairly surreal life of a child star brings on adulthood early or actually prolongs childhood. Regardless, most of the others listed aren't old enough to vote, much less engage in any of the drinking and whoring around that generally characterizes a "bad girl"--they're still pretty much sheltered, parent-supervised, sometimes homeschooled, and it's easy to be a "good girl" when you're still a girl.

The article also presents to us Bella Swan, who is, above all, pretend, and it's easy to withstand the pressures of society when you're written that way. (That she's an example of a "good girl" who's also a "total asshole" goes unmentioned in the article.) But of course, we know how I feel about her.

Sweet Jesus

In writer Melissa Meltzer's favor, she acknowledges and even explores the effect "good girl" pressure can have on a girl who may be good but isn't, well, "good." She mentions Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, who points out that the archetypical "good girl" doesn't realistically exist in real life and that trying and failing to reach that particular star can drown a girl in a sense of failure and constant self-criticism. And then there's the legend that's graced many a t-shirt, bumper sticker, and embroidered throw pillow: "Well-behaved women seldom make history." As with many cliches, it carries a grain of truth; women who stick to the societally approved standard behavior and stifle any urge to step out and do what they feel needs doing generally reinforce, not challenge, the status quo.

The part of the article that really reached me, however, was the brief mention of Carlene Bauer's memoir Not That Kind of Girl. Bauer chronicles her journey from small-town fundamentalist evangelical Christian to New York pseudointellectual hipster to a self-possessed, self-aware, satisfied middle ground. The thing that complicates her journey--and makes it memoir-worthy--is that fact that, as a real person, she found it impossible to be comfortable shoehorned into any of the traditional archetypes. As a fundamentalist Christian, she still couldn't accept their vision of a touchy-feely Jesus over her own concept of a somewhat radical, shit-kicking Messiah. As a hipster Sylvia Plathodist, she felt the odd woman out trying to hang on to that relationship with God in that trendily agnostic environment. It was only when she became confident enough to break through the stereotypes and carve out her own personal niche--faithful if not religious, fun if not wild, rebellious within a reason of her own definition--that she found a comfortable place to land.

Of the book, Meltzer writes:
Her weekends as an undergrad might include hanging out at Tower Records (“Stone cold sober. Fully dressed”), attending a pro-choice march, and still making it to church on Sunday morning. Bauer was able to become the kind of girl who was both rebellious and pious, good and little bit bad. It’s the kind of life you can’t easily label, but hopefully one more girls will consider adopting.


Good grief.

Incidentally, the article defines modesty as the "antithesis of the thong." Not necessarily true. One can be perfectly modest on the outside whilst rocking lacy naughtiness underneath. The antithesis of the thong is bodily comfort in the buttular region.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

On ACG, Devourer of Words

Okay, so I haven't posted in quite some time because a) work has been surprisingly worky, requiring me to do work during my valuable slacking-off time, and b) I've got another post in the chute that will rock. This. City. To its foundations. (Okay, not so much; as much effort as I've put into it, it'll probably end up being a royal disappointment. I've gotten used to such.)

But I didn't want to make the potentially okay the enemy of the mediocre, and Amanda at Pandagon (to whom I may start referring as "Amandagon," just to save space. And seeing it in print, it looks pretty cool) has a post up about her voracious reading habits as a tween and a new book, Shelf Discovery, that calls them to mind.
I’m sure that many of you out there reading shared my fate---nerdy, overimaginative children who read everything in sight, without the constraints of taste or discernment.

Cereal boxes. Yes.
The habit of devouring books is one that I’ve actually put to great use as an adult, and I owe YA authors a debt of gratitude for that. And while I opened this post with allusions to the trashiest of the milestone books of youth, Skurnick actually covers a diversity of books that mark up one’s preteen and early teen years as a undiscerning reader. And so it’s a real trip down nostalgia lane, and impossible to put down. Beverly Cleary, Madeleine L’engle, Judy Blume, Katherine Paterson, Paul Zindel---books that proliferated in the 50s through the 80s because of the popularity of cheap paperbacks. Some are genuinely great books, and others are unrepentant trash. Skurnick is determined to find redeeming values in all, though she’s hard-pressed to do so with the oeuvre of V.C. Andrews, she actually makes a case for Jean Auel. If you’ve read every single thing that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote or had a habit of nicking books that had kserious-looking teenagers on the cover, you’ll love this. The only thing she missed was the Anne of Green Gables series, and so I’ll be forced to comb through the blog to see if she’s ever covered it.

It can sometimes be painful, or embarrassing, or painfully embarrassing to look back on those stories that occupied our time in those early-teen years of self-discovery (in the non-uberpersonal sense of the term). I've done it a couple of times here, revisiting the Sweet Valley High series in some detail and The Baby-sitters Club in more; I'd say I read those consistently up through about #54 and then sporadically up through #70. I also hit up the first seventy-some-odd Saddle Club books, up until I started riding more myself and discovering exactly how much Bonnie Bryant (and her ghostwriting crew) didn't know. Disappointing, that, too a 14-year-old. One of the commenters at Pandagon mentioned Lurleen McDaniel and her One Last Wish series, where tragic young girls find first love for just a moment before dying beautifully of cancer or diabetes or whatever, and I picked through a few of those before leaving off in search of something a little less depressing.

But my young-young-adult reading list wasn't entirely tween pulp. I mean, plenty of it was, but I read a lot. I was the only kid I knew whose parents had to tell her to stop reading. And it wasn't any attempt to censor my reading choices, just to guarantee my bedtime - my parents would have to do bed checks to make sure I wasn't reading under the covers with a flashlight until early hours. But I blame them completely; they were the ones who started reading to/with us every night. Favorites included The Berenstein Bears, which poor Mom was always begged to "read funny," requiring a nightly improv routine that would have made Eddie Izzard bow and step back. My first chapter book (that I remember) was Anne of Green Gables, followed by Anne of Avonlea and part of Anne of the Island before I started to really get kind of sick of Anne and her e and her neuroses. As soon as we were able to appreciate it (well, Doug was; I think I was a bit young yet), we had weekly reading nights where Dad would read to us aloud from books of Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes. Books were pretty much the environment when I was growing up. Which is good, because I was kind of an obnoxious kid and needed distracting.

Other high points: all of Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, The Secret Garden, Little Women, a little bit of Judy Blume (there wasn't much she could teach me that my parents hadn't already given me the benefit of the doubt and discussed with me), Piers Anthony (I read about two books into his Mode series; yeah, the cover had a horse on it), The Black Stallion (and successors), a little bit of Nancy Drew, The Chronic(what?)cles of Narnia. Never really a fan of V.C Andrews (ew, creepy) or Christopher Pike (pretty much pr0n for teens + supernatural thrill). That was also the time I started stretching a bit, trying at 1,001 Arabian Nights and some Poe and not really understanding it at the time but doing better on later reads.

Amanda mentions being a re-reader as a kid, but not now. I hate to admit that I'm hardly a reader at all at the moment; by the time I get home from the office, I hardly make it a priority to read still more words, although it's something I intend to work at. But as a tween, I was definitely a re-reader. Some books I read and put down - some I even read and gave away (although I was almost as much of a book-hoarder as I was a book-reader, a habit I haven't been able to kick) - but some just called out for a second (and third, and seventh) visit. Among them:

- The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. Fantastic escapist fun for a kid who was as frankly pedantic as I was. Puns! Grammar! Math! Oh, the geekish joy.
- A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle (and A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, although Wrinkle was the one I hit up over and over). Again, lovely escapism, this time starring a brilliant, antisocial girl who saves the world through brainpower. No idea why that would appeal.
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. A wonderful puzzle book.
- The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. Another wonderful puzzle book. Never saw the movie; couldn't bear to.
- Matilda, by Roald Dahl. A clever, bookish girl is underappreciated by the world around her. Detecting a pattern? Incidentally, my mom loved this one, too. (I also loved The Witches and The BFG. The man knew his stuff.)

What I love about a lot of those books is how many of them I've re-read as an adult. The plots still hold up, the suspense is still suspenseful, and the mysteries still seem mysterious. And looking back, they tell me a little about me as a child. Namely, that I was a pitiful little geek who never felt that she fit in after someone dragged her away from all of her friends at a difficult age, Mom and Dad. But I had Milo, and Meg, and Claudia, and Turtle, and Matilda. And that was... not nearly enough to grow as a well-rounded and balanced young adult. But that came later.

What books kept you up with a flashlight all night as a kid? Any I should look for now?