Saturday, July 30, 2011

All the news that's fit to blog. Maybe.

When I started this blog, it was, for the most part, discussions of the events of the day filtered through my own particular life experiences.  I did not write very much about my family, and, although more, not all that much about my every day activities.

That has changed over the past few years.  I stopped blogging almost completely in 2008 and 2009, posting a total of 20 posts in two years, twelve less that I have thus far in this July alone.  When I recommenced writing in 2010, the posts were mostly about me (with far too much navel-gazing), with far fewer about the world around me.  Although the purpose of the blog remained the same (to give me a generalized outlet for my writing), the subjects and tone changed, and not necessarily for the better.

Lately, I have been trying to figure out why this is. I know that part of it is a result of long-term unemployment: except for last year's four and a half month stint with the Census Bureau, I have not had a paying job since Thanksgiving 2008.  I have worked hard:  I have been important in my teenage sons lives, and have contributed to society through volunteer work.  At the nonprofit where I volunteer, I am greatly appreciated.  Which is great, except that I can't pay the mortgage with it, and they can't afford to hire me. (I know: I have been doing grant research, and filling out online applications, and I see the budgets.)

Unemployment damages your trust in your own capabilities.  I know that I tend to obsess far more over the things I cannot do than the things I can.  I can write clearly and convincingly, but I tend to downplay that ability.  A friend has told me that I seem scared of the possibility of my own success; she may be right.  I am terrified of letting people down, and am a firm believer in the Peter Principle, so I tend to skirt the possibility of rising to a level of incompetence by tending to not rise at all. Even though I am trying, it becomes hard to sell yourself to employers when you don't feel you have anything to sell.   

However, that does not completely explain the shift in focus here.  This blog has never gotten many hits.  I don't expect it to do so. I have no responsibilities to others to live up to, and feel no pressure. Why have my interests shifted here? And it is not only writing about the world around me, to a great deal it has been stopping reading about the world around me, as well.

What happened? Burnout.  Then fear.

Sometime in the middle of 2007, I began to get "outrage fatigue."  So much had happened to change America for the worse, that I found myself saying "yeah?  that's not at all surprising."  (One of my favorite quotes from the 2000s was from Teresa Nielsen Hayden: "I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.")  My expectations for my government had sunk to a level where being angry seemed pointless. In some sense I had done everything that a good conscientious citizen is supposed to do: I voted, I talked to my fellow Americans, I wrote letter after letter to my Congressional representatives.  And the slide continued.

The election of Barack Obama gave me some hope.  But only briefly.  It is not that Obama has done all that badly: there are a great many things he has done right.  (There are things that I am deeply angered at the failure of this administration to keep to its election promises, chiefly the detainee issue and Guantanamo.)  But he is hamstrung by a Congress, media and (if we are to believe said media) a populace that has moved beyond simple self-interest to insanity. 

The conversation about the debt ceiling is insane.  The willingness of politicians to play chicken with the country's economy is insane.  The failure of many of the people to use basic critical thinking skills about these issues is insane.

You don't want any deficits?  Stop the wars, and raise taxes.  Funny, you were all for increased deficits under the prior administration.  There is almost little room left to cut, unless you want to gut wholesale social programs, not to mention things like NASA -- and, even though we are NASA family, if we had to there are other jobs out there for my husband -- and, more importantly, the FDA, Agriculture, OSHA and the EPA.  You gut their budgets, and you have no one to blame but yourself when your next door neighbor's kid dies from e. Coli or salmonella contracted from eating non-inspected food, or you come down with cancer from the toxins in your water, or your son is seriously injured in a workplace accident that was entirely preventable had said workplace been required to meet safety standards, or the drug that your wife takes for her arthritis turns out to cause liver disease.

This idea that there are people who do not pay taxes?  Individuals pay all sort of taxes, even though they pay no income tax.  They pay payroll and Social Security, and sales tax, and property tax in some form, either directly if they own their own home or by proxy when the landlord passes the costs through. And the less money they make, the more these taxes hit home.  (Warren Buffett is, in my opinion, a hero.)

The income disparities between those at the very top and those at the very bottom have not been so large in decades.  Again if one listens to the media, far too many people seem not to know or, if they do know, not to care.

There has been a YouTube video making the rounds about a supposed boondoggle of a housing project in Tacoma, Washington.  All sort of crazy claims have been made (falsely) about how it will benefit foreigners and poor people.  What intrigues me is not the video, but how people put trust in someone they don't know simply because what he is saying fits into their own preconceived notions. On his website, he makes such claims as that the Jesuits are hitmen for the Vatican, that the U.S. was dissolved in 1933, and that the Federal Reserve outlawed money in 1913.  This guy is a complete loony.  That people take anything he says seriously is frightening. (And yes, as I (and Don Marquis) have said before, ideas are not responsible for the people that hold them, but there are or should be limits on what you take at face value. Especially from someone who claims he used to be an ambassador.)

It's not just nationally, either.  California has its own brand of insanity, economic and otherwise.

I can't even talk about health care issues right now, or what is happening in the abortion arena.  All I can say is that, sadly and selfishly, I am relieved not to have daughters.  I am afraid for the future for my sons, I can only imagine what mothers of young women feel.  I have to fight from falling into despair for my country. Part of the way I have done this is by concentrating on the little picture, on my family, on me.

I keep telling myself that there are areas of progress.  The movement on same-sex marriage has heartened me a great deal, as has the pending end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the administration's refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.  The Lily Ledbetter act, the first thing Obama signed when he became president, was a very good thing indeed. In California, recently districts were redrawn to reduce gerrymandering.  And there have been other places where there is burgeoning pushback from thoughtful people.

I keep telling myself the country has seen much tougher times:  we have many protections that people in the 19th century did not have.  The Great Depression was also worse.  The safety net may be shredding, but it is still there.

Somehow it doesn't seem enough. But it will have to do. By trying to insulate myself from what is going on in the country, I am failing in the first duty of every adult citizen, to stay informed so that you can make informed decisions, so you can pressure your government to make intelligent decisions.

A number of the quotes on my sidebar -- especially those from the Book of Micah, Mary Harris, Reinhold Neibuhr and Molly Ivins -- talk about the responsibility to work for, as the John D. and Katherine T Macarthur Foundation says in their mission statement, a "more just, verdant and peaceful world."  Molly Ivins, in particular, talks not only about the work, but the joy that exists in that work.

I think it may be time to pick up the fight again, even in the small way I do so. Molly, I hope you're right.

Friday, July 29, 2011

No to go on about this...

I had talked about how I needed to find a way to make my trivia abilities a paying proposition. Last night, I did, sort of.

The scene: an Applebee's in San Jose. 
The set-up: a local trivia contest (i.e., not from a company such as BuzzTime or Brainstormer). Each round was a timed ten-question multiple choice test. The person with the most correct answers wins the round. In the case of a tie the person who turned their sheet in first wins.
The results: Four rounds. Four first answers in. Four wins. Not even close, really: not only was I the first person to turn their answers in, in each round I had the most correct answers. In the last round, they knew I had won before anyone else turned their sheet in:  I was first, and I ran the round. (I overheard the scorer talking to the manager.)

Fifty dollars in gift certificates: ten for each of the first three rounds, twenty for the last.  The manager did not look pleased.

The Resident Shrink (who was an amused bystander) and I figured out if we can just find other Applebee's with similar set-ups, we could be set.  Of course, it's Applebee's, not a really nice restaurant, but still... I have covered my jello shots and Sangria from last night, as well as the Resident Shrink's lemonade and dessert.  I have also covered next week's -- and the week after's -- drinks and bar snacks.

All of this eases my deep sense of failure at doing so poorly on Jeopardy! all those years ago.  : )

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Remember how I talked about my prowess at trivia? It deserted me last night, as Team Echidna came in four points behind the winners (the wonderfully named Empathetic Bullfighters).  Still, we were a team of two, they were a team of six.  Sheer numbers -- or lack thereof -- ought to count for something.

However, the night before, playing Buzztime trivia at Applebee's, my ranking for the next to last game was ... 1.  In the NATION.  It was 11 p.m., but still... from what I could tell from the rankings shown, there were about 4,000 people playing all across the country.

Not shabby.  Not shabby at all.

It's been a day.

The freezer died yesterday.  It is difficult to tell if it is totally gone, or just has frozen up and needs to be defrosted (it's an old freezer).*  So last night I and the Resident Shrink went out and bought dry ice, and spent a while tossing things out of the freezer which were too far gone (i.e., the chicken and thawed frozen french fries) or probably should not have been saved in the first place, such as last Christmas's extra pan of stuffing. (George Carlin has this issue covered, I think.)

This morning was spent cooking hamburger patties on the grill and ground beef on the stove so that we could more easily fit them in the limited fridge space we had left.  (Of course, Sunday had been a Costco run, so there was pretty much no fridge space, except that the self described "horde of locusts" and "zombies that eat everything except brains" had had three days to whittle down the food supply.  Not to mention when they had their teenage-boy friends over.)  Tonight will be spaghetti with meat sauce, tomorrow will be tacos, and lunches all this week will be cheeseburgers. At least for the carnivores: the vegetarians (read RHM, mostly) will eat tortellini and frozen pizza.

One thing did help, though, although I perhaps did not recognize how much at the time: when I was at my most my stressed this morning, Railfan not only helped politely and cheerfully, several times he asked me to look at him, and he smiled to try and cheer me up.

You know, no matter how bad it gets, I have my family.  And I love them.

*It is all the Rocket Scientist's fault.  When he went to Morocco earlier this year, the kitchen sink sprung a major leak.  He goes to the Arctic, and the freezer dies.  He just has to stop leaving the country.

My son, the performance artist

One of the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy's jobs this summer is painting houses.  He came home a few minutes ago.

Me:  You have paint on your ear.
NSLDB: Cool.
Me:  Wait, are you saying this is a fashion statement?
NSLDB: Of course.
Me: Is everything a fashion statement?
NSLDB: Yes... then again no.

I am so going to miss him when he goes back to school.

One Million Lawyers, revisited...

And this time I lost.

It started with the Red-Headed Menace and I talking about, of all things, his birthday wish list which included Princeton Review Study Guides.  (For perspective, he's only a sophomore. Obsessive, much?) Since he hadn't said which review guides, I joked that I could get him the GRE guide, or the MCAT guide.

"I don't want to be a doctor.  I would be a lousy doctor." (I agreed.) "I'd make a good scientist or a good lawyer.  Maybe I should become a patent attorney because it's so cutthroat.  I have a friend with both parents who are patent attorneys, and he says they say it's absolutely brutal."*

So then we're off...

RHM: Okay, what law is involved in phone wires?  Wait, let me guess... zoning law.
Mom: Also FCC regulations, I think.
RHM: Okay, what's the law involved in that tree on our fence?
Mom: I don't know -- nuisance law?
RHM: Okay... what if the tree drops fruit in the neighbors' yard? Whose fruit is it?
Mom: Theirs.
RHM: Aha! Then what if is genetically modified fruit?  What about the seeds? Can they plant them?
Mom: If it's genetically modified fruit, then you are Monsanto Corporation and will likely sue the pants off them.
Mom: You do know that you have no idea whether I actually know what I am talking about or are lying through my teeth to you, right?
RHM: True...Okay... what about this old clock?
Mom: I can't say about that clock specifically, but clock designs generally are covered by copyright.
RHM: This peanut butter?
Mom: I'm sure the FDA has lawyers on staff.
RHM: And if it has salmonella, then there would be lawsuits. Okay, what about that cactus? [Indicates the potted cactus he asked for and got for his tenth birthday.]
Mom: ....
Mom: ....
Mom: Okay, you stumped me. 

I can't tell if I am more annoyed that I lost the argument, or proud that he didn't.  And, more to the point, that he wanted to have it in the first place.

*The the fact that he wishes to be in a cutthroat profession says far too much about his personality.

Friday, July 22, 2011

One of my favorite shows these days is History Channel's How the States Got Their Shape.  It is full of odd factoids that my magpie mind latches onto, and has an engaging and warm host, Brian Unger.  And let's face it, history is just plain fun. (Okay, okay, your mileage may vary....)

Tonight via the magic of On Demand (one of the few advantages to having Comcast Cable), I was able to watch two episodes that I had not seen before and instantly loved: "Culture Clash" and "Mouthing Off."

The first deals with culture clashes within -- as opposed to between -- states.  Since the show discusses both the clash between multiple generation Floridians, mainly cattle ranchers, and more recent immigrants AND the discord between Northern and Southern California, I was instantly riveted.

The second was even more fun: "Mouthing Off" dealt with dialects and accents. Having lived in a number of places with distinctive accents and having had my own at one point,* I found it both fascinating and amusing.  And unexpectedly moving:  as a demonstration of the variety of accents, the show cut between people with various accents reading the Gettysburg Address.  I found myself choking up.

I am mainly bookmarking here, since I would really like to write longer posts on both these subjects. 

There was, however, a small aftermath: after watching the second show, I asked the Red-Headed Menace, who had not seen it, the question that was asked of a number of people about the name of a specific class of items:

"What do you call a carbonated beverage?"

"What regionalism?"

"What do you mean?"

"Usually I call it soda.  Sometimes I call it soda pop. Except for with Grandma.**"

"What do you call it when talking to your Grandma?"


Yep.  He is an All-American kid, all right.

*I still do, given a sufficiently high enough level of exhaustion or alcohol.
**That would be his Grandma in Georgia.  And the show missed an important generational difference: with older Southerners, especially in Alabama, carbonated beverages are often not "Coke," but "Co-Cola."

Isn't that the truth.

The quote of the week comes from the Red-Headed Menace:

"Teenage boys are like zombies, except we don't eat brains.  We simply eat everything else."

Field Season. Again.

It's that time of year again.

The Rocket Scientist left this morning for the Arctic Circle.  Because of an inter-agency dispute that went to high levels of government in Washington, there was a delay in shipping materiel up to camp, which meant a corresponding delay in his departure for the field.

There was one nice side effect: he was home, if only for a very few hours, on his actual birthday.  This has not happened since the Red-Headed Menace was a year old, thirteen years ago.  The field season has become an annual rite in our family, as inevitable as tax day and, as far as I'm concerned, about as welcome.

Summers are always unpleasant for me.  This does not help.  It is easier now, though: when my sons were young, it was much rougher.

I miss him, of course, but it is more than that.  It is hard to spend two weeks trying not to be afraid.  I am not necessarily a coward, but when it comes to field season I worry.  A lot.

The things I worry about are many and various: from the remote -- polar bears -- to the much more realistic: a small plane crash into the Arctic ocean.  I worry he won't be able to get his project done.  But mostly these days I worry about appendicitis.  Well, not appendicitis per se, but any sort of medical emergency which lies beyond the limited supplies at camp.

Devon Island is remote.  If a serious medical emergency occurs, it takes 12 to 24 hours get to a hospital.  That's if the weather cooperates.  Last year, part of the team was six days late getting to camp because the weather was bad enough they could not fly in.

I try not to think about this.  There are steps I take: I don't watch Deadliest Catch (do you know you can only live about 10 minutes in water as cold as the Arctic Ocean?), I don't listen to certain songs ("Brown-Eyed Girl" (his song for me) and this year my favorite new song from Great Big Sea "Safe Upon the Shore."  I avoid pictures of icebergs (even though there are none anywhere near where he will be) and polar bears.

All of this is superstition, I know.  What will happen, will happen.  I trust him to take every precaution to come home safely.

He is not a cop, a soldier, or a fireman.  Those people face danger everyday, and their families must have to live at some level, even low, with fear for their loved ones and put it out of their minds and get on with their lives.  The least I can do is follow their example.

And I would never want him to stay home.  Field season matters a great deal to him.  The work drives him.  He is by nature an explorer, a scientist.  In very many ways, this is the best time of the year for him, even given the stress of preparation and the long hours and cold weather and the worry about the project -- whatever project it is this year -- and being away from the family.

I would never want to change this part of who he is.

Oh, well. I am sure he will come home safely.  And next year he will go to Devon again. And then, from Thanksgiving to New Year's, he will be in the Antarctic.

Oh, joy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

We do this not because it is easy...

“That’s one small concession to deficit realities, one giant blow to the dreams of children who want to be astronauts when they grow up.”

Great Quotes From the End of NASA’s Space Shuttle Era, by Jim Santel, in McSweeney's

Forty-two years ago today, Neil Armstrong descended from the Lunar Module of Apollo 11 onto the surface of the moon.  It seems so long ago and yet like yesterday.

It is one of those "Where were you?"  moments.  I was eight years old, walking barefoot (as I often did, even on the hot Florida asphalt) to a park a mile away when a family member drove up in the car.  "Get in," they said. "We just landed on the moon!" The rest of my family was gathered around the old black and white set in the living room, watching in wonder.

The papers trumpeted the feat and our wonderful future. For one of his birthdays, the Rocket Scientist's mother gave him a framed copy of the Atlanta Constitution from the next day, which she had been saving for years. The sky was no longer the limit -- there seemed no limit to human ingenuity and drive.

The moon.  That seemed inconceivable.  Even today it seems so inconceivable that there are conspiracy theorists who believe it never took place, even though their crackpot beliefs have been thoroughly discredited.* (Thank you, Mythbusters!)  Sometimes, when I look at the full moon hanging in the sky, I find myself in awe.  People walked there.  We left our imprint in that dust.

For many of those who were alive then and remember that era, the history of manned space flight since then has been dispiriting.  The moon was supposed to be the first step: the space station a stopover on the way to other, more distant places.  Build the space station; build colonies on the moon; then Mars; then... who knew?  The stuff of science fiction seemed within our grasp, with the possibility of being turned into science fact.

It hasn't happened.  Oh, space science -- important science -- is still going on, with unmanned missions to planets and asteroids. The Space Shuttle, for all its shortcomings, still produced good science, but was not that first step outwards.

I am pessimistic about whether manned flight to other planets will take place in my lifetime. It is a shame: there are things a rover cannot do that a human can.  Rovers, no matter how well piloted, do not have curiosity.

I think Tim Kreider captures what I feel quite well.  Although I would disagree that manned space flight was frivolous: the space program spurred us on as a nation to do a much better job of teaching our children science and math, not to mention the technological innovations it spawned. Instead, today we have many people in many places trying to force us to expose our children to some insane religiously-based, totally nonscientific belief about the origins of the Earth and of mankind, and who disregard what science is showing us about the future of our planet's climate. Far from being revered, in some circles science is treated with disdain.

It's sad.  For all of us, but mostly for our children, whose visions of flying to stars may have to remain just that.  Visions.

*I would provide links, but I really do not want to give these people more website hits.  It will only encourage them.  Not that they really need encouragement.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Geez, Louise, people, that's stealing.

There is a big brouhaha in some leftist circles today as Internet activist Aaron Swartz was indicted by the U.S. government on a variety of charges. According to the email I got from Demand/Progress, "As best as we can tell, he is being charged with allegedly downloading too many journal articles from the Web. The government contends that downloading so many journal articles constitutes felony computer hacking and should be punished with time in prison."

These people didn't read the indictment.  They could not have.  I, on the other hand, did.

What Schwartz is accused of is not "downloading too many articles."  He is charged with breaking into a locked cabinet at MIT (he has no association with the Institute, being a Fellow at Harvard's Institute for Ethics,  (I think there is a self-writing joke, right there) obtaining access through MIT computers which he had no right to use and accessing the contents of JSTOR, a subscription service for reading and downloading scientific journal articles.

He is then alleged to have downloaded 4.8 million articles from JSTOR, a large portion of their library.  1.7 million of these were potential income makers for JSTOR, being available for purchase from independent publishers through JSTOR's Publisher's Sales Service. All the while taking intricate steps to avoid being caught and stopped.  The intent was to make the information free to the public.

Mr. Swartz is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and I make no stand on whether the charges are true.  Nor do I want to wade into the murky waters of the philosophy behind copyright law, in large part because I lack the knowledge to do so. Nor do I want to discuss the computer hacking charges in detail, because, again, I lack enough knowledge of computers and the law to make reasonable assessments of the situation.

No, what I am seriously annoyed at is this assumption that any time the government goes after someone for computer crimes, the charges are automatically bogus.  Not to mention the incredible misrepresentation of the indictment contained in the Demand/Progress email.

Free information on the Web is a lot  like Marxism: it's a great idea in theory, but ignores a lot of real world  considerations.

Yes, services like JSTOR (and LEXIS/NEXIS) are expensive.  Yes, this means sometimes the information is only available through large institutional libraries, and sometimes you have to pay to access them, depending upon the library's policies.

Yes, these are for-profit enterprises.**  That does not mean that they are parasites, squirreling away materials that would otherwise be at the public's fingertips.  A lot of these articles are in scientific journals, and would no more free online from the publisher than they would be were you to buy a copy of the journal.  Publishers of scientific journals are paid for their work.  Without the journals, where would researchers publish their results? If they did not exist, the exchange of knowledge within and between researchers within and across fields would come to a screeching halt.

[Edited to add: it should be noted here that the Rocket Scientist disagrees vehemently with me on all this.  "Scientific publishers are evil. When you publish a paper you have to sign away all your rights so that they can make money off selling your work to libraries or database companies." The Resident Shrink then pointed out that she is prohibited from posting one of her scholarly papers on the web.  I would argue that this is a different -- decidedly serious -- problem with the system above and beyond the issue presented in the Swartz case.]

Services like JSTOR are incredibly important to the free flow of scholarly information. They make research easier.  Aside from searching capabilities, library space is limited, and JSTOR and its like allow libraries to expand the information they offer sometimes by orders of magnitude. They can also be collators of information:  recently I used LEXIS/NEXIS Corporate Alliance to compile and download a list of all businesses in two cities that had gross annual revenues of more than a million, sorted by income. Could I have gotten this information on my own? Possibly.  Except that I would not have known where to start looking, and it would have undoubtedly taken a great deal longer than ten minutes.

There is a reason they are so expensive.  This access does not come free.  Rights and fee-sharing agreements with publishers have to be negotiated.  Aside from the actual payments, at some point this may mean legal costs. IP lawyers -- even in-house counsel -- are not cheap. All this information has to be stored somewhere, which means server time and space and IT professionals to make sure the servers stay up and running.  And all of this assumes that the information from the publishers is in electronic form to begin with, not anything that has to be entered or scanned.  In the case of the database services I use, someone has to do a lot of interpretation of data.  Someone has to write the search code and interfaces for users, and design, set up and maintain the website. (And users, even the most ardent "information should be free" people, get cranky when websites go down.  Who do they think fixes them, the Internet pixies?)

So, if the charges are true, what Swartz did was abscond with the hard-earned  results of the work of a great many people, from publishers to all the people who work to make sure that information remains in a form that a lot of people can get to (certainly more people than would have access were services like JSTOR to vanish).

That, ladies and gentlemen, is theft.

**Not always: the fee-based databases I am currently using (at least until the trial subscription runs out) are from the Foundation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to helping other nonprofits. These databases are available for free at a some 350 cooperating institutions throughout the country.

Trivial matters.

Often on Tuesday nights, the Resident Shrink and I (and the Rocket Scientist when he can join us), collectively known as Team Echidna, go to a bar called The Loft  in San Jose to play Brainstormer Trivia.  We're pretty good:  of the five times we've played there, we've won three, and one game we lost by tanking the final tiebreaker.  We view it as a form of gambling: if we win, the $50 gift certificate covers our dinner for the evening.

This is not the first place we've played trivia: when Gordon Biersch in Palo Alto ran Brainstormer games, we often won the "small team" prize, which was usually glassware.  At one point we had twelve pilsner glasses and five mugs -- all but one of the pilsner glasses have subsequently bit the dust, unfortunately.

There is another company which does bar trivia, called BuzzTime.  What it loses in the human touch it gains in being able to play against people all over the country at the same time.  Tonight we went to an Applebee's to play BuzzTime.

My standings in the national rankings in the four games I played were 42, 19, 6, and 27.  I won all the games at the bar level.

Then they held a "hosted" game -- same company, slightly different format, with a real live person reading the questions -- and I, with some help from the Rocket Scientist and the Resident Shrink, torched the competition.  We won a $10 gift certificate.

I know it sounds like I'm bragging....

Oh, hell.  Of course I'm bragging.  But it's not like I'm cocky or anything: as my dearly departed Dad used to say:

"You ain't cocky if you can do it."

And I can do it.*

I just wish there were some way to make a living doing it.

[Edited to add, Tuesday night:  I went to The Loft for Trivia: five teams of four and me, playing as "The Lonely Echidna" -- I came in second by one point, after changing at least three answers.  I  need to keep reminding myself to go with my gut.  I lost to the Gringos, who have won something like 15 times in the past few months -- and they have not even been there every week.] 

*The one time I did very poorly at pub trivia, I was highly distracted by other things going on in my life that evening.  Not to mention that that game had an entire round of "identify which Sex and the City character said this."  WTF?  I and my teammate that night (not the Resident Shrink nor the Rocket Scientist) did, however, run the "Princesses" round.

Monday, July 18, 2011

And now for something completely different....

If you've just seen HPDH2, you really need to look at this piece from the Tonys.  Daniel Radcliffe is a wonderful actor, and I am so glad that he is moving well beyond his Harry Potter persona.

[Edited to add: I wonder what he could do with the role of Mark in Rent.]
[Edited to add more: It just struck me how short he is. According to IMDb, he's 5'5". Not that makes him in any way less talented or gorgeous looking.]

Calling Clarence the Angel

I have been given an assignment by my therapist.  After I told her about my list of fifty things that were good in the world, she gave me homework:  list fifty things I have done to make the world a better place. The problem is, I am having a difficult time thinking of fifty.

My first attempt:

1. I have raised three pretty decent human beings.  In some sense it saddens me that the first thing I think about is my kids: I'm not sure it is helpful to be so totally self-identified in terms of other people.  But there it is.  And raising decent human beings is a lot harder than one might think. (Also, does this count as one thing or three?)

2. I have supported Rocket Scientist, and in some ways made his work possible.  His work may well change the future, and in my own indirect way I have made this possible.

3. I have written words which have changed people's lives.  I have written about my experiences, and had other women tell me that my candor allowed them to talk about their own, and start to heal.

4. I have talked to people whose lives are falling apart, and I have been there to let them talk about all the ways in which the loss of their loved one is almost beyond bearing.

5. Given the particulars of the biggest blog hits here, I have introduced a large number of people to the work of Wilfred Owen and the story of Harry Burn and the ratification of the 19th Amendment.  I think both of these are good.  Now if I could only get more people interested in Alice Paul and the women of the Occaquan workhouse.

6. I have written about matters of ethics and morality such as torture.  Whether anyone's opinion was swayed by what I wrote I don't know, but putting things out there is important.

7. On occasion, I have made my friends and the people who read my writing laugh.

8. When I was working as a paid trivia question writer, and later when I ran my LiveJournal dedicated to trivia questions, I provided entertainment and knowledge to my friends and others.  (I suppose my appearance on Jeopardy! could fall under this category, as well : ) .)

9. I have written to my Congressional Representatives and Senators.  I have even written to the President, when I thought a matter of national importance was at stake. Not to mention letters to the editor.

10. In 2006 and 2008, I posted extensive voting information regarding registration, absentee balloting and "Voter's Bills of Rights" (for all fifty states) on this blog and my LiveJournal, at least some of which was accessed by other people.

11. Through my piece in the Stanford Lawyer, I helped other people understand how simply learning law changes lives for the better.

12. In 2004, I was an election monitor in Tampa, Florida, doing my part for democracy.

13. I was a hard worker for the Census, which in its own way was in support of American democracy.  Yes, I was paid, but I put my whole heart into it.  I have a terrific work ethic.

14. I led adult education workshops at my former church.  Whatever my current issues with my faith, I helped others find out more about theirs.

15. I wrote quite a number of Bible studies -- good ones -- that were used in my parish and beyond.

16. I read in church, bringing joy to many, and helped teach others to read aloud properly.

17. I sat on the Committee on Ministry for a women who has gone on to be a priest.

18. I have been a thoughtful fellow student. I am not sure I have done enough with my education to justify its existence, but in class I raised questions that I hope made other people think. Sometimes asking the right question is as important as finding the answer.

19. For several years, I ran a program which brought community leaders into an elementary school to read.  It introduced and reinforced the importance of reading to many schoolkids in an important point in their lives.

20. When I volunteered at the elementary school, for a few months I helped children with memory problems begin to learn to read.  My child was not among them.

21. I have made lots of very good brownies for a great many people.

22. I have taken food to the hungry in the form  of tangerines from our tree for Second Harvest Food Bank.

23. I have helped raise money for charity.

24. I hold doors open for people, usually, unless they are holding them open for me.

25. I am polite to waitstaff.  Correction, I am polite to pretty much anyone. And I have raised children who act likewise.  (In a recent Facebook discussion, a friend called my kids "some of the best-behaved kids I've ever seen.")

26. I helped rescue birds on a couple of occasions.

27. I have made jewelry that has brightened women's lives, including some sold at auction for charity.

28. I have supported the local Starbucks, making it more possible for the only gathering in our neighborhood to continue to be healthy. : )

That's all I can think of right now -- 28.  A little over halfway through.  I don't know how I am going to find the other 22. And I'm not sure if some of them -- all the writing, for example -- should not be lumped together.  If I consolidate all the things that come out of this blog together, that reduces the count to 23, and if I put together the ones involving charitable/volunteer work, that knocks off another two. And all the church ones together, again that removes another three.

At any rate, fifty seems an insurmountable number.  Clarence, are you out there?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Who were they?

The kind of ancestors we have had is not as important as the kind of descendants our ancestors have.
Source unknown.

The Rocket Scientist has developed a passion for genealogy.  He has traced his family back as far as he can, and mine as well.  Contained in all those wealth of facts and figures, birth and death dates, residence location, and marriage records, lie some fascinating stories.

It turns out that I can, if I choose, apply for both membership in the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I can think of few supposedly reputable organizations that I would be less likely to join than those, so this amuses me mightily.

Some of his ancestors where in Virginia pretty shortly after it became a colony. In addition to English blood, he has Scotch and Irish (which may explain the red hair).  His ancestors include governors or two states.

But most amusing to all of us is the story of his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.  This ancestor was the son of two first cousins -- first cousins on both sides, maternal and paternal (two sets of siblings intermarried).  Which would make him his own second cousin, two times over.  They lived in Arkansas.  [Supply your own  joke here.]

Mysteries have been solved: why my paternal grandfather cut off ties with his birth family, making it difficult to track his ancestors at first.  My great-grandfather divorced my great-grandmother, who about a year later married another man in the same town.  Given that one of my grandfather's siblings was born about a year before the divorce, and given the paucity of divorces in Georgia in the 1910s, it does make one wonder.

But most interesting to me is my mother's side of the family.

When I was an attorney, long long ago in a galaxy... okay, pretty close to here, I was telling a fellow associate that my mother was a native Floridian, which were in fact scarcer than hen's teeth.  He scoffed, stating that his ancestors had been in California for four generations.  I felt vaguely ashamed.

It turns out I can trump him.  My mother's family was in Florida for seven generations, back to the early 19th century, having immigrated there shortly after it was bought from the Spanish.

Some context: this was before the setting of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's The Yearling, long before air conditioning and the land boom of the 1920s. Before the Second and Third Seminole Wars. Before Florida was a state. Florida was an inhospitable place, and my ancestors lived there for seven generations.

Of course, there was a very high probability they were slave-holders: agriculture in the territory consisted of plantations, and 44% of the population of 140,424 in 1860 were slaves.  This makes me quite uncomfortable, as it should, but refusing to face the past is the province of the coward.  I am not a slave-holder, but am the descendant of them, and it behooves me to do all that I can to work towards the eradication of the legacy of slavery and institutional racism which still exists in this country.

It turns out I am a Southerner -- a Floridian and a Georgian -- through generations and generations.  Allowing for the fact that my dad was a Navy brat, I am part of the first generation to live (and probably die) outside the South.  Me and my sister in Alaska are, in our family at least, pioneers.  My sons are definitely not Southerners, being about as Californian as one can get.

Interesting.  I never thought of myself as a pioneer. 

As far as the second part of that quote, that is still to be seen.


Short review of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2:

Good movie.  All of the principal actors have aged very nicely, and turned into really nuanced actors, especially Daniel Radcliffe. Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom showed the most growth as an actor and a character. (Not to mention he is a very handsome young man -- who would have foreseen?) The absolutely wonderful Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall has much more to do than in the past few HP movies. 

Alan Rickman is... Alan Rickman.  He is Snape. Ralph Feinnes is oddly subtle as Voldemort, about as unsubtle a character as you can get.

It is most definitely not worth the extra money in 3D.  The 3D effects, while there, were pretty subtle -- except for one or two moments where the movie was slowed down quite annoyingly to emphasize the 3D motion. The best 3D effect was clearly Voldemort's snake Nagini, and even that would be almost as scary in 2D. [Edited to add: IMAX 3D, on the other hand, was great.]

Given that I tend to get bored in all but the most engaging movie (short attention spans 'r' us), my attention wandered only very briefly in this one.  I felt it could have used a small editing -- maybe ten minutes cut here and there.

Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-.  That's about right.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aha! So that's what's going on.

Ever since I have had this blog I have had Sitemeter installed. (The basic package, which indicates server location but not individual IP addresses.  I don't want to shell out additional bucks for something I'm only going to use if someone is stalking me, which is highly unlikely to happen.)  I rather like seeing where people who are reading me live.  Not that in any case I know exactly who is who (although in a few cases I can make intelligent guesses.)  My numbers have always been abysmal.  On a very good week, maybe seven people a day visit this blog, according to Sitemeter. 

So then I started looking at my Blogger stats, which show up as much higher. As much as by a factor of three. What gives?  It was driving me nuts.

It turns out that if you go from one site with a Sitemeter page to another, then it does not count the second page unless you refresh your page.  Since a lot of people --  myself included -- do not refresh their browser pages between sites, and since a lot of blogs have Sitemeter installed, visits are way underreported.

This of course does not include people who read via RSS feed or Google Reader.  (Quite frankly, I find Google Reader the easiest way to access blogs, but that's just me.)

So, that mystery solved.  There are still only a few people reading me, but I think I can live with that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yet one more of those difficult moments in parenting.

When he was in fourth grade, The Red-Headed Menace was not the most popular kid in school. Partly this was because he was occasionally obnoxious, but mostly because he was extravagantly individual in a milieu that did not reward extravagant individualism, to say the least.

Like many elementary schools, RHM's school had a "mail" system.  Kids could send messages to each other or to kids in other classes. Under most situations, this was a force for good: learning to communicate is an important skill for children of all ages, and the more competent they are at it at ten means that there is that much less to learn when they are, say, thirty.

One day, I pulled up to the school to pick up RHM and was greeted by the school's principal.  I was told of how my son had misused the school communication system to insult others.  It turns out that RHM, after having gotten into an argument with kids in the other fourth grade class, had sent a letter through the mail system purporting to be from all the kids in his class telling them "you stink."  Before I could finish forming the obvious question, the principal cut me off at the pass.  "We knew it was RHM," she explained, "From his handwriting."

Ah, yes, handwriting.  All three of my sons have penmanship that most chickens would be ashamed to own up to.

The principal told me that RHM had been ordered to write letters of apology to the other class for insulting them and to his own for misrepresenting them.  I was to speak to him sternly about how horrible his behavior was.  And I did.  With the principal watching, I managed to keep a completely straight face and lecture him on the importance of civility to his peers.  When what I really wanted to say was...

"Look, kid.  The next time you want to send nasty notes through your school mail system? For God's sake,  TYPE them. That way you have a fighting chance of getting away with it and I won't have to have these awkward chats with the school authorities."

Hey, I've never claimed to be the world's best mother.

Proper Font usage, revisited.

When submitting documents such as papers or grant proposals, you are told to use Times New Roman. Job coaches tell you that TNR or Arial are best for resumes – depending upon whether your job coach is a fan of serifs or not. But what should you use all those other times? Herewith, a primer of usual fonts for unusual occasions.

For the Dear John letter: Zapfino.

Dear John, I am leaving you for the nanny. Sheila says hi, by the way.

For the ransom note – what else but Courier?

Leave 20 million behind the oak tree at the church if you ever want to see your beloved iguana Fifi again.

For the letter of recommendation for your trusted servant: Cracked.

To Whom It May Concern: Igor is a wonderful lackey, and has connections to get the best brains for whatever your project requires.

For the letter excusing your ten-year-old from gym class: Futura.

Please excuse Timmy from gym class. He suffered a broken collar bone when Lassie pulled him from the well.

For the letter your ten-year-old writes to excuse himself from gym class: Comic Sans.

Please excuse me from gym class because I don't feel well. Timmy's mother.

Faux-suicide notes for the obnoxious ex you plan to murder depend upon the method:

Poisoning: Apple Chancery
 Please forgive me for all the horrible things I've done to you, [your name]

Hanging: Papyrus (or alternatively, Herculanum)
I just can't live with myself after I broke [your name]'s heart...

Shooting: Impact.
I am so ashamed of myself, and hope that [your name] can forgive me.

Sympathy note to obnoxious ex's spouse, who is splitting the insurance proceeds with you: PilGi.
[Ex] was truly a one of a kind individual. I am quite sure your life will never be the same without him. I will call on you next week.

Poison Pen letters from the person who saw you leaving your ex's house just before the body was found: Marker Felt.

I know what it was you did, and you don't honestly think you're going to get away with it, do you?

And, finally, your confession after the cops track you down, with the incriminating copy of the suicide note in your Documents file (since you always forget to clear out your Documents file, even though you remembered to kill the copy on your desktop): Copperplate.

Yes, I did it. And here's how I did it. And I would do it all again if I had a chance.
I think that just about covers all the eventualities, doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Another list of fifty things.

As I said in the title of a post the other day, I have been feeling pretty blue lately.  The reasons for those are complex, and much of it is nothing I can (or more accurately, am willing to) discuss in such a public space.  So I think it is time for another list to remind myself of the good things that are out there.  (It will undoubtedly be somewhat redundant with previous lists.) If life has been pretty good for you, please skip.  If it has been as crappy for you as for me, I hope this helps:

The baristas at the Starbucks two blocks from my house.
Venti Non-fat Half-Caf Mocha Coconut Frappucinos.
San Francisco.
Muir Woods.
Redwood trees.
Crepe Myrtles that are just beginning to bloom.
Garlic herb sourdough bread from the Arcangeli Bakery in Pescadero, California.
Marianne's and Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream.
Phish Food.
Food Network.
The Internet.
And yes, FaceBook.
Apple Computers.
Georgia (my computer).
Georgia O'Keefe.
That none of the cars are in the shop.
Lands' End clothing.
Grilled corn-on-the-cob.
Other people's birthdays.
We are past the solstice.*
Fourteen year olds who are trying to refine their ability to tell truly awful jokes, and only partly succeeding.
Seventeen year olds who smile and hug you for no reason.
Twenty year olds who make coffee -- good coffee -- in the morning.
Knowing that, while it saddens me that my kids are growing up and away from me, they still talk to me.  I may have done something right.
That all of us are in (relatively) good health.
The China Mieville book (Krakken) which I have just started reading and which looks to be very good.
Mary Chapin Carpenter.
The Beatles.
Great Big Sea.
Show tunes.
Stephen Sondheim.
Singing in the car.
Pandora radio.
Pandora the cat.
Penwiper the cat.
The works of Connie Willis.
Swarovksi crystals.
The meds which pretty much make it possible for me to keep on keeping on.
Decent health insurance, which makes me very lucky.
The Pacific Ocean.
The color blue, in all shades, but especially jewel-like royal blue.
Art. Except for that of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.
Good people.
Love, in all its myriad forms and with all its range of associated emotions and complications.

*I know for some of you this is not a feature but a bug.

My new resolution for, well.. a while, at least

I have spent quite of time bitching online and off about the weather around here the past few months.*  Two nights ago, I saw a Weather Channel show on The Top 5 Weather Disasters, followed by The Top 5 Tornadoes and The Top 5 Hurricanes.

Those top 5 weather disasters included hurricanes, the great Super Storm of 1993, tornadoes, floods and the Dust Bowl. (I lived through the Super Storm in 1993,  in Northern Virginia.  In a house with no heat except that provided by two small space heaters, just me and a two and a half year old.  The Rocket Scientist had had to fly to California, poor baby.  The furnace died just about the same time the storm hit, and in driving snow I -- and the toddler -- went to the closest Lowe's and bought what were literally the last two space heaters available in the store, and probably in the area.**  The toddler (the Not So Little Drummer Boy when he was really little, and before he had discovered drums) and I huddled upstairs in one room except when I would go downstairs and fix us food.  This is not an experience I would recommend to anyone.)

Where I live, we only get the very occasional earthquake. It seems not worth mentioning. 

So I hereby resolve not to whine... at least not until fall, when we get those two weeks of really hot weather.

* Not today, though: it is 72 degrees and sunny, with crystal clear cornflower skies.

**And boy, are they good space heaters.  It is now eighteen years later, and they work just fine -- we use them in the winter sometimes when it gets chilly.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I mentioned in a post yesterday that I should not read any more Internet polls because they annoy me so much.  In addition to the one which claimed that the Republicans were traitors, two others caught my eye:

Should Casey Anthony have been convicted?
Should gays have the right to marry?

Both of them annoy me for exactly the same reason.  There seems to be an underlying assumption that the exercise of constitutional rights is somehow open to debate by the general public.

With a very few exceptions, people had their information about the Casey Anthony trial filtered through the lens of the popular media.  The popular media have every interest in inflaming public opinion: it sells papers and garners ratings.  Irrelevancies are expounded upon as if they are crucial.  The jury, on the other hand, has to look at relevant evidence, and has to examine the credibility of witnesses for the prosecution and the defense.  They cannot take on faith that what purports to be clear evidence of guilt is such.  They are rightfully required to acquit if the evidence presented by the prosecution does not show guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

That "beyond a reasonable doubt" requirement is very important.  A person should not be sent to jail because some large number of people who are following the trial half-heartedly, or only through what is shown on their television set expounded by people such as former prosecutor Nancy Grace, believe that the accused committed the crime. Not to mention the part of the public who believe that People magazine is a credible news source.  Occasionally, will someone get away with murder? Possibly.  No system is perfect.  But the alternative is worse:  the likelihood that innocent people will suffer is inevitable.

Case in point: Richard Jewell.  Remember Richard Jewell? He was the security guard whom the FBI listed as a suspect in the Olympic park bombing.  The media presented so called "evidence" against him and a great many people thought he was the bomber and should go to jail.

Problem was, he did not commit the bombing, serial bomber Eric Rudolph did.  Jewell's life was ruined, even after the FBI cleared him. Had he gone to trial, the pretty flimsy evidence against him would have been touted by the media as being overwhelming, resulting in people calling for his conviction. And many people are far too in love with law enforcement: there is a mentality out there which says that the cops would not have picked someone up had they not done whatever they were accused of.  In many cases that's true, but cops are human* and make mistakes and are often subject to pressures that high profile cases get solved as soon as possible.

And now for that other Internet poll:

My objection to that one is simple: rights -- and I do believe that same-sex marriage is a right -- are not and should not be a matter of public opinion.  The Constitution (not to mention state constitutions) exist to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. Had Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia been a matter of public opinion at the time, then segregation would still be legal and states could still control who gets to marry based on race.

I personally know people who strongly oppose the separation of church and state.  These people have no problem with sectarian prayers in public schools.  If it were a matter of voting, these people could easily mobilize their base and, at least in some areas of the country, impose their sectarian beliefs on schoolchildren of other faiths or none at all.

As I said, I hate Internet polls.

*Don't get me wrong: cops have a very difficult job, one that I could not do.  For the most part, they are conscientious public servants.  They are, however, as human as the rest of us.  They make mistakes sometime.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

So what does this say about me?

A friend of mine on FaceBook has often shown me wonderful things from McSweeney's (which if you are not reading you should be).  These lists by John Peck may be my favorites in a long time:

What Your Favorite Classic Rock Band Says About You
What Your Favorite Classic Rock Band Says About You, Part Two
What Your Favorite 80s Band Says About You

My answers are The Beatles,  Jimmy Buffet and Mr. Mister.  This would make me... someone who can do exactly 1.5 pull-ups, has used AAA as a cab, and who has forgotten both soup in the freezer and ice cream in the microwave on the same night.

Sadly, two out of three of those are spot on.

No, it's not treason.

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 115, Section 2381

I should not actually read polls on the Internet.  This  morning on FaceBook, a friend posted the following poll:

Are Republican​s willing to ruin the American economy and destroy the faith and credit of the United States just to prevent President Barack Obama from getting reelected?

The top answer was "Yes, and it's called Treason."

No, it is most emphatically not.

What the Republicans are doing may be incredibly stupid, short-sighted, and unethical (and I'd be willing to go so far as to call it un-American), but it is not treason.  Treason has a very specific meaning within the law, and for very good reason.

The writers of the Constitution grew up under British rule  They could remember when treason was very loosely defined as "whatever the king or Parliament defined it to be."  The founders defined treason as a very specific act of waging war against the United States. And yes, before anyone brings up sedition, there were acts of Congress defining sedition very loosely. If you want to argue whether or not what the Republicans are doing is sedition, go at it.  (I don't think it qualifies even as that, myself.)

Those of us on the left have always been infuriated by our political opponents calling us traitors, very rightfully so.  When we are doing the same to our them, we are sinking to their level. Whatever the political expediency of that act, it is completely reprehensible.

I refuse to become as awful as they are.  I have to live with myself.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Because I have been pretty blue the past few days

I needed to put something here that I can look up without having to Google it.

 "It's Not Just For Gays Any More"
If you've seen a show, then you already know
how magical theater can be!
It's a two-hour, live-action, barely-affordable
un-lip-synched version of Glee

So this song goes out to the rest of you
Those who've never seen theater before 
Because Broadway has never been broader...
It's not just for gays any more!

If you feel like someone that this world excludes,
It's no longer only for dudes who like dudes!
Attention every breeder, you're invited to the theater!
It's not just for gays anymore!

The glamor of Broadway is beckoning straights
The people who marry in all 50 states
We're asking every hetero to get to know us better-o
It's not just for gays anymore!

It's for fine upstanding Christians who know all the songs from Grease
It's for sober-minded businessmen who yearn for some release!

So put down your Playboy and go make a plan
to pick up a Playbill and feel like a man!
There's so much to discover

With your different gendered lover
It's not just for gays...
the gays and the Jews...
and cousins in from out of town you have to amuse...
and the sad and bitter malcontents who write the reviews...
and also foreign tourists and groups of senior citizens
and wealthy suburbanites and liberal intellectuals
although that group is really only Jews and homosexuals
I've lost my train of thought...
Oh yes, it's not just for gays anymore!


We've got swarms of Mormons, showgirls, sailors, dancing boys and nuns
Plus a Spider facing death-defying budget overruns

So people from red states and people from blue
A big Broadway rainbow is waiting for you!
Come and be inspired
There's no sodomy required!
It's not just for gays, it's not just for gays
We'd be twice as proud to have you if you go both ways!

It's not just for gays anymore!
 Written, brilliantly,  by David Javerbaum, and performed, again brilliantly, by Neil Patrick Harris.
I have accomplished nothing today.  After spending all day yesterday learning how to hit up foundations for money,  I should have spent today rereading my notes and planning my work out for the next week.  I have totally failed to do that.

Sigh.  I have no plans for tonight, I think that is where my energy needs to go.

Sometimes it is difficult to motivate yourself when you know that no matter how you screw things up, no one can fire you because they're not paying you in the first place.  Fear can be very useful, sometimes.

A small personal side note to the shuttle launch

I think that one of the ways that the Rocket Scientist knew I was the woman for him was that I was willing to stay up all night to watch the shuttle launch, especially since he would not return the favor in July by staying up to watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer get married.  Spoil sport.

[Edited to add: The Rocket Scientist insists he did too wake up for the royal wedding -- he remembers "long trains and stuff." "You must have gone back right back to sleep, then." "Well, it wasn't very riveting, was it?"]

There she goes, my beautiful world

In words that have been and will be repeated ad infinitum all this week and next... today was the end of an era.

I saw that era start on April 12, 1981, in a crowded common room in the first entry of Senior House at MIT.  It was a  momentous event, especially in a place where more than one in the watching crowd had the promise of, if not going into space themselves, helping see that others got up there.  Just how momentous it was could be determined by how many Senior House residents got up to watch television at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning.*

I saw that era end, a little over thirty years later,  in my bedroom surrounded by the rest of my household. 

We seemed more optimistic back in 1981.  This was the first step -- there would be a space station, and then returns to the moon, then on to Mars, then on to ... who knew? The shuttle would just be the first -- we would develop true spacecraft that could get to space and return on their own power.

Of course, it was dangerous.  Everyone knew it was dangerous.  Except then we forgot: it became too routine.  We were brought back to reality, horrifically, with the destruction of Challenger. After Challenger, there was a lot of questioning about whether we should continue, about whether we have any business spending the money and will to get back to space. 

We did, and we have gained by it. We put up the Hubble telescope, which has greatly expanded our knowledge of the universe.  Along with our partners, America created the International Space Station. Technologies developed for the shuttle have impacted everything from medicine to outerwear.  Yes, some of those might have been discovered or developed independently. But space provides a laboratory for solving problems -- the solutions to which can be used to make life better for everybody on earth in ways that might have not been imaginable otherwise.  Sometimes you can't even recognize a problem until you see a solution.

It amazes, frustrates and infuriates me how excited people have become about the last flight.  If there was that level of interest in more of them, maybe this flight of Atlantis would not have to have been the last one.  We are hesitant to spend the money to explore space, but more than ready and willing to reap the benefits that space exploration spawns.

I know that I am not in any way whatsoever a disinterested observer.  I have been invested in the success of NASA up to my eyeballs since the mid-1980s.  But, as I have said before, I think the desire to, as Gene Roddenberry put it, "explore strange new worlds ... to boldly go where no man has gone before" lies in our very DNA. 

I saw the start of the shuttle program.  I knew I would see it end.  I just never expected to see it end and have such low hopes for the future of manned space flight.

*Of course, for many of them, it was a matter of not going to bed Saturday night.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

If you are upset about the Casey Anthony verdict

I have three things to say to you: 1) unless one of the jurors or spectators read this blog, which I seriously doubt, none of us were in that courtroom, and while I can't speak for you, I don't trust the media's coverage of most criminal trials, especially not sensational ones;  2) the burden of proof lies with the prosecution to prove she was guilty NOT repeat NOT with the defense to prove she was innocent; and 3) most importantly, just because someone may be a poor excuse for a mother, or even a human being, does not automatically make them a murderer.
This notion that "justice for Caylee" somehow required the conviction of her mother for her murder speaks not of a concern for the rule of law but of a pursuit of retribution. And the equation of "justice for Caylee" with her mother not only being convicted but receiving the death penalty demonstrates a desire not for justice but for blood vengeance.
However you feel about it, the system worked.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Independence Day

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. 
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. 
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Note to self: If you insist on wearing the very low-cut black knit dress with the cross-over bodice, it is inevitable that at some point during dinner you will drop food into your cleavage. 

Long, long ago...

28 years ago yesterday I forced a man I loved and three of my friends and relatives into powder blue tuxedos.*

The Rocket Scientist married me anyway.

To state the glaringly obvious, the world was a much different place in 1983.

It would be one year before the Macintosh debuted.  What would become MS Word was distributed free (on floppy disk, of course) in PC magazine. The ARPANET (which you needed to beg, borrow, or steal a number to access) officially changed to the Internet Protocol, creating the Internet.  And, although none of us would recognize it until years later, transforming all our lives.

In 1983, the total of record titles available on CD was under twenty.  Cassette tapes ruled, because you could put them in your Walkman, which at that point had been around for only four years.

The top three songs that year were "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson, "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club, and "Flashdance... What a Feeling" by Irene Cara.  The movie that the last came from had started a craze for legwarmers and torn shirts for women.  (I still have a pair of legwarmers around somewhere.) All was not easy listening, though: the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their first album.

No one had heard of Rollerblades (introduced in 1987), or grunge music. VCRs had been around less than a decade, and the movie and recording industries were, as usual, fighting tooth and nail to restrict consumers' access to them.  It would be a year before the Supreme Court ruled that yes, you could legally record that last episode of M*A*S*H, or that first episode of The A-Team.  Of course, this was before the entertainment industry came to understand that VCRs created an entirely new and very lucrative income stream for them.  And revolutionized the access that most people had to pornography.

At that time, most of us thought, mistakenly,  that Star Wars would be a trilogy.  (Some of us feel it would have been much better if it had been left as such.) We felt about the release of Return of the Jedi much as many of us feel about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.  1983 saw the release of that ode to the baby boomers, The Big Chill (such a great soundtrack),  and a prefect gem of a movie that did only so-so at the box-office but which would spawn at least one catchphrase and become an integral part of many Decembers since then, A Christmas Story.  That year also saw the release of the most annoying, soppily sentimental, and manipulative Best Picture winner ever, Terms of Endearment.

Karen Carpenter died.  Among many others, including Buckminster Fuller.  And a lot of people whose names mean something to me, but who are non-entities to my children.  Actor Jessie Eisenberg was born.

The third year of Ronald Reagan's presidency had both the invasion of Grenada and the declaration of the third Monday on January as a holiday in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1983, two separate research groups, one French and one American, announced they had isolated the retrovirus that caused HIV.  The role that one strain of HPV played in the development of cervical cancer was identified.  Sally Ride broke a glass ceiling as well as the atmosphere, becoming the first American woman in space. GPS became available for civilian use for the first time, thus insuring that eventually all of my family vacations would be filled with demands from my loved ones to geocache.** 

Our world has changed in ways unimaginable in 1983.  As has my personal universe.  But the Rocket Scientist has been there through all of it.

Here's hoping he's here for whatever the world will be like twenty-eight years from now.

*It could have been worse: the really hot color that year was a sort of burgundy pink.  And my poor bridesmaids... the color was a lovely cobalt blue, but the cut of the dresses was ... well, you know how you always tell your bridesmaids that they can use their dresses later if they simply shorten them? Uh, no.

** I am the only person in my household who does not geocache.  On vacations, there tends to be as much geocaching as everyone else thinks they can get away with before I throw a temper tantrum.