Saturday, February 26, 2005

Fun With Canes!

Last time I had vertigo, I held off on getting a cane. It just seemed like too much of a statement. Canes say "sick." Canes say "old." Canes say "disabled." But I am well past that this time, and I'm getting a cane. I am not going to fall on my ass again just because I'm in denial.

But I do want a hip, cute cane. Is that so damn much to ask? I want a cane that does not look like something that my grandmother would use. So I have been searching the internet for quirky, fashion-forward canes. And I'm not having much luck. I have found patriotic canes. I have found a cane in the shape of a pirate. I have found a cane that doubles as both a sword and a watch. But none of these appeals to me very much. Actually, that's a huge lie. The sword/watch/cane combo appeals to me immensely. But I can't justify spending three hundred dollars on a sword/watch/cane.

So where does a girl go to get a cool cane?

Friday, February 25, 2005

I am going to take a break from whining about my vertigo to link to this awesome idea: buy a custom-made salwar kameez on ebay. Essentially, you buy directly from a tailor in India, who makes your outfit to your specifications and then mails it off to you. I'm not convinced I could pull off a salwar kameez, but what a great idea.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

So the vertigo is definitely back. The timing couldn't be worse: I have an incredibly hectic couple of months ahead of me, and there's really nothing I can let slide. I'm going to have to be as productive as is humanly possible, and I'm going to have to do that while feeling like I'm on a sit 'n' spin. Crap.

I need to call my various doctors and let them know what's going on, but I can't quite bring myself to do it.

Aaaargh. I'm actually surprisingly calm, but this really isn't anything I want to deal with right now. At least this time they know what the problem is, and I shouldn't have to do all the stupid tests to rule out all manner of dread disease.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Ok, the room has stopped spinning, and I'm a bit calmer. But I'm still a tad freaked. That's the first sustained vertigo I've had since I spontaneously got better in early June. Also, my hands are freezing and blue, even though the heat is on. It's probably just stress: I'm freaked out, and stress makes my Raynaud's worse. But I'm afraid I'm having some sort of autoimmune meltdown.

Bleh. Maybe it was just a one-time thing. Here's hoping.


I'm having a vertigo attack as I type this. I honestly don't know how I'm going to deal with this all over again.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Vagina Monologues Controversy Goes International

Every year the feminist group on my campus stages a reading of The Vagina Monologues for Valentine's Day, and every year some conservative students grumble about it. It's anti-romantic, it's anti-men, it takes all the fun out of Valentine's Day. There was even a "Take Back Valentine's Day" campaign last year. I haven't seen The Vagina Monologues, and I'm pretty certain it wouldn't really be my thing, but there's something kind of annoying about the backlash. Nobody is being forced to spend the evening watching an ode to female genetalia. The performance is popular on campus because people want to go to it. If you'd prefer to do something else on Valentine's Day, by all means, do something else. What exactly is the big deal?

Anyway, the stupid "Take Back Valentine's Day" campaign can't hold a candle to the play's reception in Uganda, where the government resurrected censorship laws so that the producers could be forced to change it beyond recognition. For instance, the word "vagina" in the title has been declared obscene. Seriously. Apparently, in Uganda, one cannot use the technical term for women's genitals. The production was intended to raise funds for women who have been kidnapped and raped (the article says "abduct[ed] serve as forced 'wives'") in the war in Northern Uganda. It looks like the show will not go on.

The play was censored at the behest of Christian lobby groups, which objected to frank discussions of sexuality, particularly lesbianism. But African feminists have raised more legitimate objections.

But Ensler's play has also attracted criticism for offering a universal treatment of women's lives. 'It seems extremely arrogant that The Vagina Monologues remains the same everywhere,' Wainana said.

Although the drama draws heavily on American womens' experiences, the Nairobi performance touched on its Kenyan context with references to female genital mutilation and the high incidence of rape in the city's slums.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Ain't that America, land of the free...

Did you know that under the Sedition Act of 1918, an American could be sent to prison for 20 years for, and I quote,
uttering, printing, writing, or publishing any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language intended to cause contempt, scorn, contumely or disrepute as regards the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution, or the flag, or the uniform of the Army or Navy...
(There are a bunch of other things after that elipses, but they're not as interesting.) So you literally could be sentenced to 20 years in prison for saying "I think the American flag is ugly." There were acutally some people sentenced to 20 years for doing exactly that, although I think they were all pardoned after a couple of years. But still. Can you imagine spending two years in prison for saying "those knee breeches are a little goofy?"

So much for the First Amendment.

I'm sort of kicking around the idea of trying to track down the descendents of some of the people convicted under the Sedition Act. I'm curious about it. Do they know their great grandfathers went to prison for speech crimes? What do they make of that? Does it influence how they think about civil liberties issues today?

Friday, February 18, 2005

I really should have something deeply brilliant to say today, but I'm facing an exhaustion crisis. Essentially, I'm so stressed out about my dissertation that I can't sleep. But then when I try to work on the dissertation, I'm so exhausted that I'm not very productive. And that means that I'm not getting enough done, so I'm more stressed out and can't sleep. It's like the vicious cycle of dissertation angst. I'm so tired I'm having trouble making my eyes focus.

Actually, I think I need new glasses. The problem with my current eye issues is that, even though I go to the ophthamologist every three months, she never checks my vision. She checks for glaucoma and cataracts and uveitis and all sorts of real eye diseases, but not for your basic "your eyes have gotten worse and you need new lenses" stuff. (She's also, I'm pretty sure, secretly convinced that I have syphillis or brain cancer, and she's constantly suggesting I get a spinal tap, something that every single one of my other doctors finds totally insane. Oh, and she claims that the only reason that I don't want a spinal tap is that it's in an erogenous zone, which frankly tells me more than I want to know about my opthamologist's sexual proclivities. I guess the small of your back is an erogenous zone, but I don't want a spinal tap because of the whole "sticking a very long needle into your spine" thing. As Freud said, sometimes a really long needle is just a really long, sharp, scary needle. Also, she's the doctor who stood in the waiting room and told the receptionist to order a brain MRI for me, using my full name, oblivious to the fact that a professor from my department was sitting right there, waiting for her eye-doctor appointment. Since nobody in my department, including my advisor, knew that I was MRI-level sick, this was kind of a breach of confidentiality. Come to think of it, maybe I need a new ophthamologist.)

So anyway, that's a long-winded way of saying that I'm having trouble focusing my eyes because I am very neurotic and exhausted, but also maybe because I need new glasses.

By the way, is it very, very bad that I really want to make twinkie sushi? And I want to do that even though I should be spending every waking hour working on my dissertation, so that I can sleep?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Learn English or We'll Take Your Kids

According to this article, a family court judge in Tennessee has been ordering immigrant women to learn English or risk losing custody of their children. The most recent woman had been brought before him on relatively trivial charges: failing to immunize her child and missing some doctor's appointments. These are, needless to say, not things for which a middle-class white woman would be hauled into family court. The judge has told the woman that unless she can speak English at a fourth-grade level in six months, he will consider revoking custody. He also ordered her to use birth control, something that may well be against her religion. Lovely.

Now, I believe that immigrants to the U.S. should learn English. It's a vital skill to survive and get ahead in this society. Frankly, I've never met an immigrant who felt differently. But, as anyone who's tried to do it can attest, learning a language is not that easy. It takes a lot of time and effort. And this woman is facing a lot of burdens on her time, such as work and childcare responsibilities. Something will have to give, and you can bet that whatever it is, her child will suffer. This is a stupid, bigoted, punitive decision that goes against the very things that family court tries to accomplish: looking after the best interests of the child. It is not in the child's best interest to be neglected by her mother. Nor is it in the child's best interests to be wrenched away from her family because they happen to be immigrants. Hopefully, the mother will eventually learn English. If not, the child surely will anyway, as children have throughout American history. But this threat isn't going to help matters.

More than that, I suspect this isn't really about the best interests of the child. It's about the judge's attitudes about immigrants. He's not trying to protect the child: he's attempting to use her as leverage to get the mother to behave the way he wants her to. And that's a huge abuse of his power. There's really only one child abuser in this scenario, and it's not the mother.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bleh. I'm in a reasonably shitty mood. Today my rheumatologist, who is by far my favorite doctor and the only one who treats me like an actual person rather than a fascinating specimen, informed me that she's leaving in June. Immediately after that, the senior doctor came in and started bombarding her with a bunch of questions about me, as if I wasn't even in the room. (And since some of the questions boiled down to "is her heart about to explode?", I kind of wish he'd waited until I was out of earshot. I know that my heart might explode, but I don't really want to think about it any more than is strictly necessary. And no, "explode" is not the technical term.) And I'm not making enough progress on my dissertation. And I'm pretty sure I'm annoying and everyone hates me.

I think I may be premenstrual.

So today I am going to post about Veronica Mars. Have I mentioned that I love Veronica Mars? It's like the antidote to every crappy, male-centered teen drama that I also love.

The basic premise of Veronica Mars is this: Veronica is a high school junior who lives in Neptune, a sunny, Southern California town populated by rich people and the working-class folks who work for the rich people. The children of the two groups do not get along. Until last year, Veronica's father was the chief of the Neptune police, and she was in with the rich, popular crowd, mostly because she was best friends with uber-rich-kid Lily Kane. Then, in rapid succession, a number of terrible things happened. Lily was murdered. Veronica's father apparently botched the investigation in particularly spectacular and embarassing fashion and lost his job. Veronica's mother, apparently unable to handle the humiliation and loss of status, took off and hasn't been heard from since. Veronica's father set up as a private detective, but it doesn't pay very well, so the family had to sell their home and move to an apartment on the bad side of town. All of Veronica's friends ostracized her. And at a party she only went to in an attempt to show she was still standing, someone drugged and raped her. Now, she goes to school and helps run her dad's private detective agency. Every week, there's a mystery that is solved by the end of the episode. But there's also a season-long arc as Veronica attempts to figure out who raped her, who killed Lily, and what the hell is going on with her missing mother.

If this all sounds pretty dark, it is, sort of. But it's also a funny show, and Veronica is a great character. For one thing, she's the rare "smart girl" on T.V. who actually projects intelligence. But also, her wariness and sarcasm seem earned. In flashbacks, we see the more innocent Veronica of a year ago, when she was the earnest good-girl foil to Lily's wild child. If she's not that girl anymore, it's because she can't be. Veronica isn't cynical, but she's trying desperately to salvage her dignity and make sense of what's happened to her, and she hides behind sarcastic one-liners because she can't afford to show she cares. There's a real undercurrent of pain beneath the glibness.

So this show is the anti-O.C. For one thing, Veronica, the protagonist, is certifiably female. She is surrounded by supporting male characters, such as her father, her friend Wallace, her sometime-ally Weevil, her ex-boyfriend (and Lily's brother) Duncan, and Lily's ex-boyfriend Logan. But the show is named for Veronica, and it's told from her perspective. She does not merely exist to be someone's girlfriend. Also, this is a teen show that is not, fundamentally, about romance. There are and have been romances: Veronica used to date Duncan, and she has a crush on a cute policeman. But at the moment, Veronica is focused on surviving, on solving the mysteries in her life, on helping her father, on standing up for what's right... that kind of thing. Watching other teen shows, you'd get the idea that dating is the only concern in a high-schooler's life.

So anyway, the show has terrible ratings, may be canceled, and will almost certainly not be coming back for a second season. Probably, it will be like Firefly: one of those shows that people discover when the DVD comes out. I can live with that, I guess. But I'm going to be really irked if they take it off the air before we find out who killed Lily.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Sts. Cyril and Methodius Day!

I hope that everyone is doing something really fun to celebrate the feast day of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs. Today is a day to celebrate everything that is beautiful about Slavic culture. Eat some Slovak food. Read some poetry by France Preseren. Listen to some Bulgarian folk music. Today is a very special holiday celebrating a very interesting part of the world, and we should all find time to make the most of it.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Chiming in on the O.C.controversy here. Short version, for those of you not following these things: the hit T.V. show The O.C., following a precipitious ratings decline, is featuring a romance between two female teenaged characters, a romance that is carefully scheduled for February sweeps. Is this a sign of progress for gay rights? Is it a cheap ratings stunt that relies on straight guys' fantasies about hot girl-on-girl action, fantasies that are rooted in porn and in male dominance, rather than in respect for real lesbians or bisexual women? It's hard to tell.

A while back, I posted about my issues with The O.C.". I adore The O.C., but I still think it's a pretty sexist show, in which men and boys are real characters and women and girls serve the plots of the men and boys. The real characters here are endearing geek Seth, his smart, wounded pseudo-brother Ryan, and their father/guardian Sandy. The women are mostly real or potential love-interests for those three characters. And even though Marissa and Alex's same-sex relationship seems to break that mold, I'm not really on board with it. I'm tending to the exploitative ratings stunt camp.

The problem with the plot is that, although when viewed in isolation it seems to be handled tastefully and sensitively, the audience isn't viewing the plot in isolation. We're aware of these characters' histories, and that our influences our interpretation of their romance. So it matters that both Marissa and Alex are both pretty screwed up. Alex seems to be basically functional: she has a job and an apartment and hasn't been shown doing anything really stupid. But we know that her parents kicked her out of the house after she was expelled from at least three different schools, and her friends all seem pretty unsavory. And Marissa, the one who is a permanent character and who will still be on the show after this romance ends, is defined by her self-destructiveness. In the year and a half since the series began, Marissa has attempted suicide, been caught shoplifting, got in a fender-bender while driving drunk, and jeopardized her boyfriend's probation at least twice. In the first episode of the whole series, she ended up passed-out drunk in her parents' driveway. She puts vodka in her morning coffee, and she carries around a flask out of which she drinks at school. Her last two relationships were both with working-class guys whose appeal seemed to be, at least in part, that in her wealthy, privileged world, dating a blue-collar man is construed as rebellious. When she was dating Ryan, she made his life a living hell, constantly getting into trouble and demanding that Ryan rescue her. In a show populated by needy, manipulative damsels in distress, Marissa has always been the most needy and the most fucked up.

If you're already inclined to see same-sex relationships as good things, you could view Marissa and Alex's romance as the first healthy relationship Marissa has ever had. But if you are inclined to think that all queer folks are sick or sad, you can see the relationship as part of Marissa's usual pattern. You can see Marissa and Alex not as two teenagers in love (yay!), but as screwed-up, self-destructive characters who have found another way to act out and self-destruct. And I suspect that the show, which has generally depicted all sorts of teenaged behavior, from drinking to drugs to sex, in a pretty non-judgemental fashion, is deliberately keeping this ambiguous. That way, they get points from gay-rights groups, but homophobes can see what they want to see.

Incidentally, The O.C. has dealt with homosexuality once before. Last year, uber-jock Luke found out that his supposedly happily-married dad was gay when Luke and Ryan accidentally observed Luke's father kissing another man. The resulting fallout made for the closest thing that The O.C. has had to a Very Special Episode. When Luke's father was outed, Luke's jock asshole friends ostracized him, which kicked off Luke's redemption arc and his transformation from a violent bully to a goofy, loveable lug. The outing crisis allowed various characters to weigh in on what it means to be a good man and a good father: the message was that what matters is being there for the people you love, not being straight or otherwise conventional. (That's in line with the show's overall message about what it means to be a man, an important theme in the first season.) Because Luke's father always loved and supported his wife and kids, and because he stuck around and dealt with the pain caused by his deception, Luke was able to forgive him. Last we heard from Luke, he had moved to Oregon to live with his newly-single, newly-out father. When Seth needed to get away from his family, he went to Portland to stay with Luke and Luke's dad. This aroused comment because of the running-away thing, but nobody seemed to think it was a problem that Seth was staying with a gay man. In fact, they seemed relieved that he had found a safe place to go.

I wasn't crazy about the Luke's gay dad plot. For one thing, it was a lot more heavy-handed and moralizing than The O.C. usually is, and I like my moralizing done with a lighter touch. For another, I never entirely bought that one trauma could transform a character as outlandishly horrid as Luke quite that quickly or smoothly. But from a gay-rights perspective I thought it was pretty well done.

However, two things are different about Marissa and Alex. The first is that they're women. (Actually, they're girls. Alex is supposed to be 17 and Marissa 16 or so.) There's the whole hot-girl-on-girl porn element, and you get the feeling that the guys who produce this show do like their porn. There's been one positive, humorous mention of porn, two episodes featuring strippers, and one featuring wacky hijinks involving prostitutes. Fun! And in general, as I've said, this show tends to objectify women, even as it produces nuanced, sympathetic male characters. So that doesn't bode well. But also, the show's creator has told reporters that he's been pressured to back away from controversial subjects and that he doesn't want to alienate conservatives. And frankly, a lesbian storyline that doesn't irritate conservatives is not necessarily one that I want any part of.

And with that, I am off to watch Desperate Housewives. They're going to revoke my feminist credentials any day now.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I am holed up in the library, where I really should be painstakingly working my way through newspapers from 1918. But instead, I am going to venture into the abortion debate, something which I usually avoid, mostly because I don't think I have anything all that new or interesting to add.

But over on Alas, a blog, amp has linked to a post by John a pro-lifer in New Zealand who initially claimed that abortion is all about control. And that's a bad thing. Pro-choicers can't accept that the world is not entirely controlable, and supporting abortion rights is our pathological response to our need to believe we're in charge of our destinies. Amp pointed out that we try to assert control in many ways: through mainstream medicine, for instance, which tries to treat disease rather than just allowing nature to take its course. The reason that John thinks that it's pathological to support abortion rights is that he, unlike pro-choice people, thinks that a fetus is a person, and therefore that abortion is an illegitimate and not a legitimate means of controling our lives. John has partially conceded the point although he still seems to think that women's desire to control what happens to our bodies is a bit different from his desire to control what happens to his.

Since the "control" issue doesn't really work, he shifts tactics and starts talking about fetal personhood. He says that "From the moment of conception to birth, there is no morally significant dividing line at which the foetus could be said to magically transform herself into a baby." Viability, he says, is not a good dividing line because it isn't static: babies become viable at different stages in the pregnancy depending on the quality of medical care available. Since the only fixed, static, clear moment of magical transformation is conception, we have to accept that a fetus is as fully a person as you or I from the moment it is conceived.

I would argue that this line of thought stems from John's own inability to confront the world. John needs certainty: he's terrified of ambiguity. But sometimes that certainty isn't available. Sometimes we have to make due with imprecise solutions, because certainty and precision aren't the highest goods.

If it's not clear when life begins, it's also no longer clear when it ends. Death used to be pretty straightforward: at some point, you stop breathing, your organs stop working, and everything shuts down. Thanks to modern medicine, that's not true anymore. Certain systems can be kept alive even as others die. There's great controversy over when a person is actually dead: is it when all systems stop, or can we declare someone dead even while machines are still keeping parts of their body alive?

The unambiguous, precise answer to this would be not to declare someone dead until every bodily system had ceased to function. The problem with that has to do with organ donation. If we wait until the entire body has shut down, it's too late to harvest organs for transplant. Instead, when a person's brain has ceased to function, we declare that person "brain dead" and begin the organ donation process. "Brain death" is, according to many medical ethicists, a fiction, but it's a fiction that has saved or improved the lives of countless people. In fact, we routinely harvest organs from people who are certainly dying and who have no chance of recovery but who could be said, in some sense, to still be alive.

It's a little bit scary to confront this ambiguity. It's a little frightening to think that I could be in a car accident tomorrow and someone could cut out and take away my still-beating heart. But we tolerate that ambiguity because almost everyone recognizes that the good done by organ donation outweighs the moral problems associated with killing someone who is, at least according to some systems of belief, still alive.

There are a lot of other complex issues that don't lend themselves to clear, simple solutions. For instance, we have to decide at what age a person is an adult and can be held legally responsible for his or her actions. Sometimes, we set an arbitrary age, even though not everyone is equally developed at 16 or 18. Sometimes we try to determine on a case-by-case basis, but then all sorts of biases come into play. In a perfect world, every person would be evaluated semi-annually by a completely impartial observor who would determine whether that person was old enough to drive, drink, marry, sign a legal contract, give informed medical consent, and/or be punished for committing a crime. But we can't achieve that perfect world, so we do the best we can. We don't do well enough; we will never do well enough; we must always try to hone our systems and make them better. But we're never going to come up with a magical formula for determining when someone is an adult, or when they're dead, or when a fetus is a person. And we just have to have the courage to confront a world in which some really important things will never be clear and certain.

It's scary and it may be sad, but we can't come up with rules that will reduce moral questions to obvious, black and white issues. There will always be shades of gray. We will always, sometimes, have to come up with the best possible but still unsatisfactory solutions to ethical quandries. John seems to suggest that moral certainty is the highest good. He seems to think it's ok to sacrifice people's lives or happiness so that we can draw an absolute line, so that we can reduce complex and possibly unanswerable questions to clear, easily-dilineated categories. And I just don't think that people should be sacrificed to his need for certainty. When the clearest answer produces real suffering, we need to consider that maybe the moral imperative to reduce suffering trumps the imperative to find the solution that is ethically pure.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Great. So according to Find Your Spot, the U.S. city for which I'm best suited is the city in which I grew up and near which my parents still live. That is to say, the city I fled at the earliest possible moment and have been badmouthing ever since. I have become what I despise!

I think I need to retake the test so that it will tell me I should live somewhere immensely more fabulous.

I woke up about fifteen minutes ago, and I planned to do what I normally do: turn on NPR and stay in bed for a half an hour. But then I heard something that made me sit up in bed and rush out to preserve it for posterity. Honestly, I've heard a lot of shit over the past few days, but this takes the cake.

The story was a commentary by , Ev Ehrlich, Clinton's undersecretary for commerce, about why Democrats need to think about Social Security reform. He said the issue was important to two key constituencies over whom the parties will be fighting: young people and Hispanics. The reason it's important to Hispanics is that the work-force will increasingly be comprised of them. In the future, the number of Hispanic workers will rise and the number of white workers will fall, as the white population ages and retires. Hispanics will be the people paying into Social Security, and white people will be the recipients. And then he said the following thing, which I believe I'm quoting verbatim:

"To put it crudely, and to exaggerate, in the future white people will expect to be supported by their domestic workers."

What does it say about the Democrats, or for that matter about NPR, that their representatives think it's ok to equate Latinos and domestic workers? Maybe the only Latinos that Ehrlich knows are the people who clean his house and make his garden pretty, and maybe he assumes that's true for NPR's predominately white, predominately well-off listeners as well. But it's insane to revert to that stereotype in a commentary that hinges on the fact that Latinos are an increasing economic force in this country. And if the Democratic Party wants to appeal to Latino voters, it might be helpful to banish the racist stereotypes about them. Similarly, if NPR is serious about appealing to diverse audiences, it could start by asking commentators not to equate entire ethnic groups with the household help.

(And for that matter, it's dumb, offensive, and bad strategy for the Democrats to assume that all white people are wealthy enough to be able to hire domestic workers. Eeek! And also, aargh!)

ETA: a half an hour ago, sitting at my micro-film reading machine, I panicked. I thought "I wrote that blog entry about Ev Ehrlich, and it can't be right. He can't actually have said that: it's too stupid and offensive and... stupid. I must have heard wrong. I must have been half awake. I've probably slandered Ev Ehrlich!"

So I went and downloaded the audio and listened to the piece again. And there was no mistake. He really said it.

And there, folks, you have another reason to vote for the Greens. That is, if you're American. Otherwise, you should just be glad you're not. There seem to be very few oases of non-moronic-ness in this country.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Some student group on campus is having a big Mardi Gras party tomorrow. Doesn't that seem kind of wrong? I mean, it's great to have a Mardi Gras party the Friday before actual Mardi Gras, since a lot of students can't make it on Tuesday, but the Friday after? Isn't it, um, Lent? Aren't Catholics, the people who, after all, invented Mardi Gras, supposed to not really be partying on Fridays during Lent? It seems kind of like throwing a big Passover pork sandwich barbeque. I'm all for using any excuse to have a party, but if you're going to co-opt other people's rituals, you should at least respect their traditions.

Am I over-thinking this?

Oh, dear. Three years after everyone else, I have just realized that I can plug my computer into the ethernet connection at the library. I am currently doing just that, and my internet connection is so damn fast. It zooms. It downloads pictures in the blink of an eye. Internet radio, here I come!

This is seriously dangerous. I will now never leave the library. And I have no idea how much money I'm going to blow on iTunes now that I don't have to wait 15 minutes to download a single song.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

It looks like one of my least favorite right-wing, misogynistic columnists, The Irish Times's resident nutcase Kevin Myers, has finally got himself in serious trouble. You see, he's trying to resurrect the term "bastard" to describe the children of unmarried couples. He also likes "MoB" or "mother of bastards" to describe the women who give birth to such children. In a country where about a third of children are born to unwed parents, and where within living memory women were terribly shamed for having children out of wedlock, this has not gone over well. Myers has been forced to offer an abject apology, which sadly you can't read without paying 80 euros for an Irish Times subscription. No word on whether he'll keep his job, although I'd be surprised if he didn't.

Ever since the Magdalene Sisters came out, I've found myself trying desperately to explain to people that Ireland really isn't like that anymore. That's not to say that Ireland is a feminist paradise, because clearly it's not. But Irish attitudes about sexuality are more complicated than people think. And to me, the outrage at Myers seems much more typical of contemporary Ireland than his attempts to stigmatize the children of unmarried parents.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Bush to Sick People: Fuck You

Wondering how Bush is going to pay for his little Iraqi adventure? Today we learned how: he's going to screw over sick people.

According to this New York Times story, Bush's budget contains deep cuts in health programs. The Centers for Disease Control's budget would be cut by nearly 10%. Funds to train nurses would be cut by 64%. A program that treats people with traumatic brain injuries would be eliminated altogether. The National Institutes of Health, the agency that performs medical research, would get a tiny bit more money, but not enough to keep up with rising costs, so it would have to scale back its research efforts.

Meanwhile, abstinence education programs would get a 50% raise.

Friday, February 04, 2005

In which I mindlessly follow blog trends...

My Friday random top ten. I'd cat-blog, too, except that I don't have cats.

1. Poor Little Me, Eliza Carthy
2. Sometimes, My Bloody Valentine
3. Honey and the Moon, Joseph Arthur
4. The Banks of the Suir, Laurence Nugent
5. Criminal Piece, Ted Leo
6. Ear Wax, Bauhaus
7. Lightening Strikes, The Clash
8. The Sick Bed of Cuchuliann, The Pogues
9. You're Wondering Now, The Specials
10. Care of Cell 44, The Zombies

That list is awfully heavy on stuff I listened to in high school.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I was all set to write a fascinating, or at least vaguely coherent, post when I heard brakes squeeling and a big crash and saw flashing lights out my window, and then three minutes later a cop came and rang my bell to tell me that someone had crashed into my parked car. She, the crasher, is ok, she has insurance, and my car doesn't look too badly injured, so I guess it's not a big deal. But I'm now cold and tired and a bit frazzled, so I am not going to aim for fascinating or even coherent.

I'm just going to link to this awesome website about African-American migration, which I found via < In general, immigration historians have not paid much attention to the African diaspora, for a variety of reasons, none of them very good. Also, we tend to think about transnational migration and migration within countries as if they're two totally separate things, which makes sense if you're talking about the modern era but not so much if you're talking about anything before the 1920s (later for Caribbean immigrants), when a stricter regime of immigration control was put in place. That's all beginning to change, which is lovely, but if you're not an immigration historian of fairly recent vintage, chances are very good that you weren't taught much in school about African-American migration, especially voluntary international migration. This site discusses both voluntary and forced migration, and it looks at both international and internal migration streams. And it has lots of pictures and maps, which are very slow to load on my pathetic dial-up connection but which will probably be extremely fascinating to all of you lucky people with DSL. Yay!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Credit card debt? Irresponsibility?

This isn't news, and in fact I think I've blogged about it before, but a new study from Harvard confirms that the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in America is medical debt. The average medical bankrupt, according to the survey, is a working to middle-class woman in her forties. Over three-quarters had insurance at the onset of their illness. Their average out-of-pocket medical bills were over $10,000.

So yeah. We need national health care. Nobody should be financially wiped out by illness. In a just society, nobody would be. This is, dare I say it, an issue of moral values, albeit one that neither party much wants to talk about.

I hate utility companies

And that's all I am going to say on the matter, because otherwise I will turn into a howling, seething rage monster, and that will scare the neighbors.

Living off the grid has never looked so appealing.

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