26 November 2008

Sacrificing For The Kids

The Times reports today that "to buy children's gifts, mothers do without." It turns out that the moms they interviewed are doing without that crucial new pair of designer jeans, or an updated work wardrobe to replace last year's fashions. The article twice uses the word "sacrifice."


It's hard for me to reconcile the words "sacrifice" and "designer jeans."

Actually, in the US and more heart-breakingly around the world (see: Zimbabwe) there are a lot of moms, poor moms who have recently gotten poorer, moms at the margins of the middle class whose income has dropped them back into poverty, who are making true sacrifices to provide for their kids. In that context, this article strikes me as unfortunate.

25 November 2008

Giving Thanks

Bossy asked her readers to give thanks, in ten words. Most gave thanks for health.

I gave thanks for health care, and for the job that guarantees it. Health care, good health care, is what's keeping me and my family members (one epileptic, two asthmatics) functional and apparently healthy most of the time. What is health, really? If we're taking several medications a day, but they keep us functioning just about like everyone else, is that health?

And y'know? Even with chronic illness, life is generally pretty good most of the time.

22 November 2008

Hollow Leg?

Bedtime. The Offspring says he's hungry. Indeed. He eats:

Half a sandwich
A fried egg
A bowl of yogurt
A whole sandwich
Another bowl of yogurt
One and a half rugelach.

And finally, he's full.

Secretary of State Clinton

In the excitement over Obama's election, we've lost track of how much life has changed for women in the United States in the last 40 years. David Brooks wrote in the Times this week about the academic credentials of Obama and his team: Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford... and Wellesley.

Hillary Clinton graduated from Wellesley College in 1969.

In the 1960s, the nation's "Ivy League" colleges and other elite institutions didn't yet admit female students. In 1970, Yale admitted women for the first time, followed by Dartmouth in 1972 and Princeton in 1977. Not until 1983 did Columbia University admit female undergraduates.

Also in 1970, Harvard merged with Radcliffe College, and MIT eliminated quotas on women admitted. In 1975, UPenn eliminated the College for Women, allowing women to study with male students in all programs. Title IX, which forbids discrimination against women in education, was passed in 1972, but it took many years to be fully implemented. (Some would argue that implementation is still lagging. A topic for another day.)

The nomination of the woefully underqualified Sarah Palin as vice-presidential candidate has obscured the historical importance of Hillary Clinton's run for president: she's the first woman to come close to winning a major party nomination. And let's not forget: the last female vice-presidential candidate was Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984.

The papers were reporting that it was "women of a certain age" who were supporting Clinton's presidential bid. (This is pretty snide, by the way, but another topic for another day.) I asked around among women friends and realized that a bunch of us in our early 40s were Clinton supporters. Who knew we had already reached "a certain age"?

But here I am, grinning from ear to ear again, because Clinton will be the US Secretary of State. And I know she'll do very, very well.

19 November 2008

What Do We Need? Health Care Reform. When Do We Need It? Now.

The New York Times opines that the United States is "the wrong place to be chronically ill." At one level, I have no cause to complain: I have good health insurance, and my health costs, and those of my family, are well covered.


The Mate, The Offspring, and I all have chronic illnesses, and the co-payments start to add up. Between us, we take eight medications a day year-round -- more when things flare up. There's seldom a month when one of us isn't in a doctor's office at least once, and we're all too familiar with the emergency room. Fortunately, when The Offspring's breathing gets particularly bad, I don't have to worry about how I'm going to make the $50 ER co-payment.

Does the insurance company perhaps think they can discourage me from visiting the ER by making the co-payment five times the cost of a regular doctor's visit? If that's the rationale, it's just plain cruel. If I'm laboring to breathe at 3 a.m. on Saturday, do they want me to contemplate waiting until Monday morning to see a doctor? If The Mate has a seizure in the middle of the night and hits his head, do they want him to wait until morning to get checked out? Please.

The other problem involves getting the insurance company actually to pay for health care. In the end, they always do. But because I work in New Jersey and live (and generally seek health care) in New York, submission of claims always seems to be getting fouled up.

Last year, The Doc prescribed a new medication for reflux, since the one I was taking wasn't doing the job. Then he had to make a phone call to the insurance company to reassure them that I had already tried the first one. No, they wouldn't take my word for it.
(Yes, I've cut back on tomatoes, coffee, and citrus. No, I don't go to bed with a full stomach. No, I hardly ever drink alcohol, so there's not really anything to cut back.)
Once a month or so, The Mate spends at least half a day on the phone with health care providers, the insurance company, and collection agencies trying to get everything sorted out.

That's a lot of lost productivity, in economist-speak.

And another thing.

People (insurers, big pharma) shouldn't be making fortunes off of health care. That's just wrong. The money should be going into the system, not into executives' second and third homes.

Bookworm Junior

When I was a little kid, my parents called me a bookworm. I was always sitting around reading something. Some members of the family still talk about the time I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was around 9. What can I say? It looked more interesting than the rest of the books on Aunt Maude and Uncle Farrington's bookshelf. (I remember asking my father what "rape" was. He answered in rather vague terms, as I recall.)

Eventually "bookworm" ceased to be sufficiently descriptive and my parents started calling me "the Reading Monster."

So I've been watching The Offspring's forays into reading with interest, to say the least. In the last few days, he's begun picking up books and... reading them! I watch this with pride and joy, but also with a little trepidation. How much longer will he let me read to him?

And then, this: Yesterday he was complaining of itching in a personal place and I went to google to find out what to do and as I was scrolling down skimming one of the sites he said, "Wait! Go back to where it says 'When To Call The Doctor.'"


Obviously, I need to start being a little more careful about what I read when he's around. We've long since stopped listening to the radio, to avoid inundating him with reports of dead girlfriends and hijacked taxicabs and whatever else passes for "news" in between the weather and traffic reports on 1010WINS. (We don't have television, so that was never an issue.)

Do I have to cancel my subscription to Mother Jones? Stop reading news sites when he's in the house? Put a blindfold on him when we ride the A train so he can't read the ads?

The visual landscape of advertising in Manhattan, with eye-catching images all over the buses and subways, is about to become, for him, a textual environment. I don't know if I'm ready to answer all of the questions that are sure to ensue.

17 November 2008

The Civil Rights Battle of Our Generation

In 1964, South Carolina repealed a law forbidding adoption by mixed-race couples. In 1967, the US Supreme Court struck down laws still on the books in some states against inter-marriage between people of different races. (More details here, in an article by Andrew Morrison in the Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal.)

The week before last, same-sex marriage was outlawed by popular vote in Florida, Arizona and, of all places, California; Arkansans voted in a law designed to keep same-sex couples from adopting children.

Sound familiar? But backwards?

How about Germany ca. 1935, when the Nazis outlawed marriage between "Aryans" and Jews? My mother has her parents' marriage licence from the late 1930s: it requires the applicants, her parents, to list the names of all their grandparents to prove their ancestry.

Waaaaay back in March 2000, Bob Jones University -- a Protestant fundamentalist college in South Carolina -- got around to getting rid of a school rule forbidding interracial dating after W (Bush 43) was criticized for campaigning there. This month, fundraising by the Mormon Church was instrumental in passage of the California law.

I see a commonality here. Conservative Christians fought against integration, fought against interracial marriage, fought against desegregation of schools... and they're still claiming their prejudices are supported by the Bible and trying to legislate their religious beliefs.

Forty years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., the US elected an African-American president. Will it take another forty years for Americans to recognize that gay men and lesbians are also fully human?

River Power Microhydro

The British are reviving the country's old mills, once used to grind grains, to generate electrical power. Each mill will generate only a relatively small amount of power -- a mill in Yorkshire will power 50 homes -- but as The Guardian points out, "With more than 20,000 mill sites across the UK, the potential is huge."

What if every New York City high rise had a solar grid and a wind turbine? How much of the building's energy could be generated right on site, with completely clean power sources?

It's an option to which we should be giving a lot more attention. But instead, we read about Exxon, which goes on insisting that Oil Is King. GM, Ford and Chrysler are about to go down the drain on their insistence on building huge, gas-guzzling vehicles. I wonder how much longer it will take for Exxon to shrivel.

15 November 2008


Found this reading her web site. A sample:

14 November 2008

Hack Cough Cough Gack

Bronchitis, prednisone, Levaquin. Thankful for good health insurance.

Civil Rights For All -- Even Gays

Obama is preparing for office. It's really sinking in: he's truly president-elect. I'm even tempted to look over the list of jobs for which his administration is hiring, in case I'd want to turn my back on tenure and move to Washington.

Also sinking in: four states rejected rights for gay men and lesbians in one fashion or another, as Judith Warner documents in the New York Times in her usual eloquent fashion. That's also sinking in: while the Times tells us that white folks have become more "tolerant" of African-Americans, people in several states have voted for a conviction that non-heterosexuals don't deserve equal rights in matters of civil union, adoption, and foster parenting.

(Important side note: Tolerance is different from acceptance, and acceptance is different from embrace. We should be striving for more than "tolerance" of difference; the definitions of "tolerance" include respect for difference, but also the ability to endure something bad.)

During the vice presidential debate, Biden said that neither he nor Obama "support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage." On the other hand, he made clear that he thinks that civil rights for gay and straight couples should be the same. In order to accomplish that, we need a national civil union law allowing any couple -- straight or gay -- to register in domestic partnership guaranteeing the legal benefits now allowed to married couples.

When my parents got married in Germany in 1963, they had a state marriage in some civil servant's office. Their religious marriage was a separate ceremony. They celebrate two anniversaries. When my husband and I got married in New Hampshire in 1991, we got a marriage license from the town hall, but it was completed by the rabbi on the day of the ceremony.

Civil union as defined by the government, and marriage as defined by religious organizations, need to be separated in the United States as a matter of freedom of religion as well as a matter of civil rights.

09 November 2008

Election Afterthought

After I watched An Inconvenient Truth the other night, I went on line to read a little more about Al Gore's biography. And I learned something interesting:

Bill Clinton was sworn in as president of the United States at the age of 46. He had served as Attorney General and Governor of Arkansas. Yet Hillary Clinton claimed that Barack Obama was too young (at 47) and inexperienced (after three terms as a U. S. senator from Illinois).


I was, and in fact remain, a big fan of Hillary Clinton. But this tarnishes the image a little for me.

Motherhood and Work

I wrote the following in reply to the November 7 entry in Lisa Belkin's New York Times blog, "Motherlode":

I’m a college professor and, while I have a certain amount of flexibility when I’m not in class (even when it comes to scheduling the interminable meetings), once I’ve set my schedule for a semester, I have to be in class at the scheduled time: I see students for 45 hours per term, and those hours have to be non-negotiable.

Depending on the subject that semester and that day, I might be able to get a substitute who could discuss the topic in a meaningful way, but that eliminates the continuity with preceding and following classes. And even if they can, few of my colleagues have the time to prepare a three-hour class on, say, ecocriticism and Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls, or on syntax and sentence diagramming, on top of their own schedules.

Sure, I could have avoided teaching Tuesdays this semester so I could stay home with The Offspring on Election Day and Veterans Day, but that doesn’t take care of the various holidays that fall on other days of the week.

Fortunately, The Mate works part time and is able to schedule commitments around both my schedule and our son’s.

When our son was young, the Mate found a group of (male) buddies also home with their kids. They guys are in arts, theater, things like that, with wives who have steady incomes and health insurance working in law, medicine, education.

I take your point about the title “motherlode,” and since I’m an English professor I do rather like it. But I’ve also heard way too many things about the presumed incompetence of fathers around their children. The mother of a friend asked who picked The Offspring up from school when he was in half-day preschool. “His dad.” — “But can he fix lunch?” One day in the park, a mom improvised with an empty yogurt container for a kid who needed a bathroom right away. “A dad would never have come up with that,” she commented afterward. I held my tongue, but with effort.

Thanks for your thoughts on motherhood and work. Even with a dad who’s more or less at home, I often feel as though I’m trying to keep several plates spinning in the air.

07 November 2008

An Inconvenient Truth

I just finished watching An Inconvenient Truth, starring Al Gore.

It's brilliant.

If you haven't already seen it, get it from Netflix or surf on over to Gore's web site and buy yourself a copy of the DVD. Then click on the Take Part button on the top left to find out more. Add Treehugger to your daily reading for more information.

And please write to president-elect Obama (oh, how I like the sound of that) and to your local elected representatives, and urge them to sign on to the fight against climate change.

Judith Warner: "Tears to Remember"

Judith Warner writes movingly, here, about reactions from the generations to Obama's win. Scroll down for a picture of a little girl, reaching up in wonder to touch her crying mama's cheek.

Hope for a New Generation

The Offspring and I regularly walk past the placards in the sidewalk on 135th Street commemorating the heroes of the Civil Rights movement. He frequently asks questions, and I've gradually told him some things about the people commemorated there -- David Dinkins, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Malcolm X are just a few -- and their work for civil rights.

That, of course, meant I had to back up a little bit and explain about the history of slavery and racism in our country. How do you talk about that to a five-year-old? A little at a time, like everything else.

And then one day he asked: Mama, will they put Obama here?

I choked back tears as I told him if he won the presidential election, maybe they would.

I marched against war in Iraq early in 2003. I was already pregnant, but having given up on having children after ten years of trying, it would take me a few more weeks to catch on. The Offspring was born -- a miracle! -- but I have often felt a heavy sorrow at the state of the world into which he had come.

This week, for the first time since he was born, I feel we've done something to offer hope to the new generation.

05 November 2008

I Can Still Hardly Believe It

Last night, I stayed up waaaay too late watching the returns come in. They called Ohio for Obama with less than half the vote counted, and I didn't believe it would stick. They called Pennsylvania, and I didn't believe that would stick either. They didn't call Florida until 99 percent of the vote was counted ... probably a wise choice.
I remember 2000 all too well. I went to bed thinking Al Gore was my new president, and awoke to the nightmare of a Bush presidency.

The polls closed on the west coast, and the media called the election, and I cried. McCain conceded. I asked The Mate if that meant it was really over. I listened to Obama's speech, and I cried some more.

I went and woke up The Offspring to tell him the news. I wasn't sure if he really heard me, so when I awoke to go the toilet some time later, I told him again. "Mama, you already told me." This morning, I asked if he remembered that I told him in the night that Obama was president. "Yes, Mama -- twice."


Then I asked The Mate if Obama was still president-elect.

45 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Today we welcome, I dare to hope, a new era in which people will be valued for their talents, celebrated for differences in perspective and vision, but never again reviled because of the color of their skin.

2008 is not an end, but a beginning.

04 November 2008

Obama Wins Landslide (in Tiny NH Town)

At this point, I've lived in New York longer than I ever lived in New Hampshire, where I grew up. Still, I feel a good bit of pride that the 21 registered voters of Dixville Notch, NH, in a fairly isolated conservative northern corner of a conservative state, have thrown their support behind Obama.

Yep, it's a tiny victory, and I'm gnashing my teeth, biting my nails, fidgeting at my computer as I await further results. But right now, it's something to hold on to, and I'm holding on to it with a glee that bubbles up from under the weight of the anxiety about what else might come.

03 November 2008

Raising a New Yorker

The other day, The Offspring saw The Dog sniffing at one of his toys. He walked over and said firmly, "No, Jojo. Don't even think about it." Did he get that from us? Or did he pick it up at school?

I was reminded of this this morning after I dropped The Offspring and The Carpool Kid off at school, and was then crossing Houston Street to get to work. I had George Winston in the CD player and I was trying really hard to stay calm. (Not easy, between the maniacs, the idiots, the truckers, the taxi drivers, the pedestrians, and the cyclists all weaving in and out of narrow lanes under construction.)

I didn't get exercised at the little black Honda driving between lanes and knocking over pylons. But then I reached the point where Houston Street veers off to the left, and Bedford Street goes to the right.

The livery cab to my right decided at the last minute to take Houston instead of Bedford, and cut me off. During the interminable wait for the light to change, a big silver SUV came along and cut in front of me from the left. And when the traffic finally started to move, the car behind the livery cab also tried to cut in front of me.

From inside my car, I'm screaming and gesticulating. "No! Don't even think about it! No way!" There may have been one or two unprintables in there, too. The nice woman behind the wheel is looking at me, clearly thinking: You better go back and find your mind, because obviously you lost it somewhere back there.

Right. You have a point. Back to George.

02 November 2008

New York Times: Reporting Like It's 1971

The Boston Marathon didn't allow women to enter until 1972, but the New York City Marathon included women from its first race in 1970 -- though the lone female competitor that year (along with 71 of the 121 male runners who entered) dropped out before the finish.

This year, incomprehensibly, the New York Times is live-blogging the men's marathon, while all but ignoring the women's race. (Paula Radcliffe just won.)

Go figure.

01 November 2008

More Outrage from the Right

Ann Coulter compares Obama to Hitler. Beyond the gross opportunism and wild inaccuracy of her remarks, she trivializes a horrendous chapter in history.

The New York Times reports that on Fox News,
the rest of the news media is portrayed as papering over questions about Mr. Obama’s past associations with people who have purportedly anti-American tendencies that he has not answered. (“I feel like we are talking to the Germans after Hitler comes to power, saying, ‘Oh, well, I didn’t know,’ ” Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator, told Mr. Hannity on Thursday.)
She's referring, presumably, to Bill Ayers (not to Todd Palin, who belonged to the Alaska Independence Party, which advocates Alaska's secession from the US, until 2002). As the Chicago Sun-Times reported, Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground; the FBI called it a "domestic terrorist group," and it bombed US government buildings.

Even Fox News acknowledges that charges against Ayers were dismissed. Ayers is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Thirty years later, Obama and Ayers both served on the same Chicago-area foundation involved in community development. Obama served for nine years, leaving in 2002; Ayers joined the board in 1999 and is still a member.

Obama has been quite clear about his assocation with Ayers. Coulter's claims are outrageous. That such obnoxiousness is not denounced by the more moderate members of her party is beyond dismaying.