Tuesday, November 15, 2005

the corners of the internet universe

I recently came across this. Whenever you need a break from whatever mindnumbing task you are working on, just randomly click through whatever images are presented in the right-hand bar. They change with each click so it gives the feeling of a random tour through their archives. amazing the things that people lose, and the the things that people find. Anyone who knows me also knows I could have a whole house full of items there. Grandma once put an odd twist on an old cliche and said that I would lose my butt if it wasn't attached.

I also recently found this fascinating diversion from everyday life. It is by some ol' guy, seemingly a Vietnam (or other) veteran. We might not agree about politics but his 'hobby' is brilliant. His commentary is sometimes moving, but it's also sometimes a little cheesy, especially the poems. Skip the poems, look at the photos. Don't miss this set (scroll down past the colour photo of the camera). I think it's the best. It's clearly from WWII. Any idea where these pictures were taken?

Finally, I can't get home any time soon. I miss home, I hate home, and I love home. Here are some things that I miss and that I love about home.

Friday, October 07, 2005

'Survivor' in the Academy

I just got back 'home' (what is home to a grrrl who feels like she lives in three countries?) from my first experience with interviewing in the British university system. It is quite similar to that which they use back home in the good ol' U.S. of A., but it differs in one crucial respect: all candidates are evaluated simultaneously in what I've come to call 'Academic Survivor'. You could make a reality TV show out of it. Fortunately, although this was my first interactive experience with Academic Survivor, I was a member of the 'live studio audience' when my partner was a contestant (a strong contestant, I might add, albeit unsuccessful) two years ago at a university that shares its name with a city in the deep South of the good ol' U.S. of A., and which is the hometown of musicians ranging from the Moody Blues to Electric Light Orchestra to Ozzy Osbourne. Being a member of the live studio audience while my partner suffered was fortuitous for me because it gave me valuable insight into this sadistic selection method. The Brits throw all three candidates together into two nights and three days of artificial camaraderie during which you dine together the night of your arrival, then the next day sit together while you await your job talk 'performance' (thankfully without the other candidates in the audience), lunch together after the faculty have had a 30-minute closed-door gossip session about you and your job talks, embark together on tours of the department, go out together for friendly pints at the local contemporary arts centre, and then sit nervously together the next day while you wait your turn for formal interviews with the selection committee. All the while wondering, who of us is next to be voted off the Island of Academia and lose the coveted prize of guaranteed employment for the next years? Social comparisons run rampant as one scrutinizes one's fellow contestants, sussing out their strengths and weaknesses compared to one's own. For example, I almost immediately surmised that my co-candidate from a southern European country was little or no competition, not due to her research or intellect (about which I was unable to obtain any diagnostic information), but rather to her amazing inability to suppress her whinging on about various trivialities (as well as stuff more substantial, such as the climate). But then I saw her greeted warmly by a member of the faculty who is also from her homeland. Aha, I mused, an inside track! Nepotism of a sort. Will it trump her unpleasantness? The third candidate was a guy from the same university that had stupidly (although thankfully, but that's another, less interesting, story) failed to offer the job to my partner two summers ago. Early on, I evaluated this third candidate to have at least an equally strong research track record as I, but less teaching experience. Also less personality. Personality is where we Americans can often (but not always) win out over the Brits. Also in my favor: This candidate bows to the gods of experimental reductionism in our field of research, which might give him an edge in the broader scope of the field, but in the narrower scope of this job, i suspected would not favor him, as his interests simply did not match with those of the faculty (mine did). So, Dr. Whinge had done me the good deed of getting her own self voted off the island, but Dr. Boring was still 'stiff' competition. I set about the two nights and three days to work hard to make him the next to get the boot. Being my charming, self-effacing, enthusiastic self, and emphasizing how well I fit with the faculty, along with my clear advantage in the teaching department, seems to have been a successful strategy. Dr. Boring was soon voted off the island and I received my prize: a faculty position in the vaunted halls of academia in a city that shares its name with a famous fictional hunter of crocodiles.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Precious Things

I live where the sun doesn't shine that often. And I love the sun. Today started off rainy and grey. This afternoon the sky cleared and I went again to the post office to try to mail my shoebox of love. The way back from the post office was pure pleasure. A skinny latte made with fair trade coffee not purchased at Starbucks in my hand, the sun shining on my face, and Ani Difranco on my ipod. Bliss.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Defying Nature

So the other day I woke up to the latest breaking story on BBC 4: women who wait till the age of 35 to have babies are defying nature. Now, I haven't defied nature in this way yet, and actually, I doubt that I ever will want to, but listening to this story elicited a really strong psychological reactance in me. Waking up to this story, about how inconsiderate and self-centered "career women" are to wait until their mid-thirties to conceive just simply started my day off on the wrong foot. Not again, please.

How long will it take until people -- including women -- stop trying to put women back in their place: young, barefoot, pregnant, and dependent on men? On how many points is this tired old chestnut about selfish career mothers just wrong and bad?

1. Is it defying nature to inoculate people against smallpox, pneumonia, and tuberculosis? Why are all these medical advances: transplant operations, stem cell research, gene splicing, or whatever, why are these not defying nature, while a woman who waits until she is secure in her career and confident in herself and chooses to be a mother when it is right for her (and therefore optimal for the hypothetical child), who might use medical technologies to extend her fertile years, why is THAT defying nature?

2. The people who wrote this editorial in the British Medical Journal are infertility specialists and their clientele is, overwhelmingly, the women 35 and over who they criticize. Really, rather dumb of them. Do they want to put themselves out of business?

3. The point made already by lucid women, including Diana Holland and Rehana Azam, who have pegged the authors of this British Medical Journal editorial for who they truly are: people, men and women (one of the authors is a woman, a successful medical doctor specializing in infertility -- wonder how old she was when she had her children) identified with the patriarchal arrangement who try to use "science" to justify the gender hierarchy and women's disadvantages relative to men. As Diana and Rehana point out in their article in the Guardian today on p. 27, the problem doesn't lie with women 35 and older waiting to have babies, the problem is with a social structure that is set up to the advantage of people (other than women; men) with wives at home to take care of their reproductive needs, not for two-career families, or, god forbid, single-parent (mother or father) families. If childcare and childrearing were valued, then the social system, which is artificial and constructed and no ways natural, would be reconstructed so that people could parent without career and income penalties. The system would be structured so that parents could take care of their children and their careers: more and better childcare programs for all -- regardless of economic status, and more and better childcare facilities within the workplace. For example.

4. Why do we never hear about men sacrificing their careers, working part time, sharing jobs, putting their careers on hold, for the sake of having and rearing children? Why is it still and only women? Why aren't men like Tony Randall, who had his first child at age 77, criticised for the fact that their children are, in all likelihood, never going to be able to even remember them, because these fathers are probably going to croak before the child's fifth birthday, for christ's sake?

Why do women who choose to delay motherhood get criticised by the very medical doctors who are making big bucks off of their fertility treatments?

These authors insist that the optimal time for a woman to enter motherhood, to conceive, is age 20 - 34, before she's even of legal drinking age in the United States. No, say those who know better than us what we should do with our bodies, no, we won't let you have that glass of wine, but please, this is your window of optimal opportunity for motherhood, please go conceive. We trust you with a baby, not with that dangerous glass of wine. Please find yourself a wealthy, preferably older, father for your optimally timed child, go forth, and conceive! It's only natural.

Why in the world would a medical doctor be encouraging motherhood to women who are, by almost any definition, still children, or at least girls? Why would any medical doctor encourage a girl of 20 to make herself a slave to diapers and sore nipples before she is old enough to have even earned a bachelor's degree? This is tantamount to consigning her to an uneducated life of dependency and drudgery.

I have half a mind to go forth and conceive, at my ripe old age, just to stick it to the British Medical Society and the authors of this article. But if in defying nature, I am to need fertility treatment, I'll never go to those hypocrites. I will be the $10,000 that they will never make.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Embryonic Streams of Consciousness

So this is my first post. Why am I doing this? My ideas are no better than anyone else's; indeed, you can see from the name of my blog that they may be a lot worse. What's a dumb okie got to say about anything that someone else hasn't already thought of and already articulated in a much cleverer way than I ever will? For a clever blog, you are much better off going to my all time favorite, charismatic megafauna .

I'm a transplanted Okie who lives far, far away from Louisiana, but I did get to where I am via a small conservative southern baptist convention liberal arts college in the middle of that state, where i did manage to lose my religion in the literal, not the southern, definition of the phrase (although i had many occasions to lose it that way, too, back in that former life). Although I lived in Louisiana, I never made it to New Orleans, mostly because i had shacked up with the worst of the potato version of so-called human beings. But that is a different story for another day.

Several days before Katrina hit, my friend Bologna called and asked me, "have you ever been to New Orleans?" "No," I replied. "Well, you never will," said she, who works for an international news agency and ought to know things like whether or not, in the wake of the hurricane, I would ever have the chance to bear my little breasts in the hope of receiving plastic beads in return, listen to jazz, or walk Bourbon Street. Her partner, also in the news business, predicted 25,000 deaths. Several days before the hurricane hit, Bologna was saying I will never see New Orleans and Bo was saying that 25,000 would probably die. Don't tell me, Porgie Pie, that you didn't know. You knew. And you didn't care.

Today I filled a "shoe box with love" to mail to evacuees in need of toiletries. If you want to do the same, go here. Doing this makes me feel good, like I did something; and crappy too, because this is all I have done, thus far. Filling a shoebox with toiletries does not get me off the hook of for my bit of collective responsibility, to respond not just now, but well into the foreseeable future. Responding to Katrina with a shoebox full of tampons and shampoo seems like pissing into the Atlantic. It's pitiful, embarrassingly small. Where are people going to be in six months, 1 year, six years? Where are those of us who give shoeboxes of love now going to be then? What will we be doing to do our bit?

Yes, I encourage you to go fill a shoebox and send it to Grambling. But don't stop there. It's a start, but it is not enough.