nanowrimo: finale

So life happened, and nanowrimo did not this past ten days or so. I was not inspired to fiction writing, so my word count fell short of the personal (not to mention official) goal of nano.

But I had fun participating . . . and maybe next year when I'm not in the middle of heavy academic writing and all, I'll be able to relax a bit more and enjoy the fluffly piffle of dashing of things made up.


sunday smut: links list on sex and gender (no. 1)

So I've decided to give in to my pleasure at perusing all things human sexuality and gender identity related in my blog feeds and try setting aside my Sunday post for highlighting my favorite links of the week on those topics. We'll see how it goes!

This week, I found myself following with bemusement the story of a straight couple in the UK who applied for a civil union, only to be denied on the basis that the law explicitly excludes opposite-sex couples. As Hanna said, what sort of dumb-ass bureaucrat said to themselves, "Aha! I know what I'll do! I'll redress discrimination in one set of laws by writing legislation that discriminates in the opposite way!"

JoAnn Wypijewski, of The Nation wrote a column back in September about the trend of medicating human sexuality that is perceived as abnormal -- specifically about the newly-imagined disorder known as "female sexual dysfunction." I recognize that hormones and other physiological factors do play a major role in our sexual lives and pleasures, but I also think her observations are worth considering:

"So many times I don't think sex is a matter of health," Dr. Leonore Tiefer, a sex therapist and founder of the New View Campaign to challenge the medicalization of sex, told me the other day. "I think it's more like dancing or cooking. Yes, you do it with your body. You dance with your body, too. That doesn't mean there's a department of dance in the medical school. You don't go to the doctor to learn to dance. And in dancing school the waltz class is no more normal than the samba class."

Greta Christina, at the Blowfish Blog, has some "harebrained speculations" about why, if sexual orientation is rooted in biology, there are so few people who identify as bisexual.

For some reason, I find the amount of disgust leveled at Levi Johnston for his Playgirl shoot utterly dispiriting. Sure, I find Palin's bid for the vice-presidency and the way the family exploited Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston's pregnancy deeply problematic. I also find it tacky that Johnston is exploiting the media attention by posing in a nudie magazine. But that is absolutely no excuse for anyone to pile hate upon him for not being their ideal object of desire. None. If you think what he did was wrong for any reason other than that you don't like how he looks, say so. If you don't like how he looks don't fucking look. It's that simple, people.

And finally, a word of advice: "These are the names of tulips. Let us allow them to remain the names of tulips." In the wake of the bad sex award shortlist release, and the inevitable discussion over what makes "bad" and "good" sex writing, avflox at BlogHer shares a few tips on writing sex.


links list: audio-video edition

Last Monday, I spent seven hours at Northeastern entering metadata ("information about information") into the Greenstone database for my scrapbook digitization project. Since this only really required the left side of my brain, I entertained the right side of my brain by listening to podcasts, NPR programming, and other miscellaneous audio programs. Here's some of what I listened to.

I started out with the latest podcast from RhRealityCheck (25 minutes), which included a interesting interview with author Laura Scott, who is doing a survey/book/documentary project about couples who remain "childless by choice." As Hanna remarked, do we really need a whole website to support the decision not to have kids? But she had some thoughtful observations and thankfully did not come across as defensive or hateful of children, which in my experience many people who identify themselves as "childfree" or "childless by choice" do -- especially in the anonymous spaces of the internet.

Then came the week's episode on Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me which included a great riff by the panelists on the new Twilight movie, New Moon, out in theatres this week: Who's Carl This Time? (9 minutes)

From On the Media's November 20 show came Online and Isolated?
(7 minutes, transcript after the jump):

Social scientists have long suspected that the internet contributes to our growing isolation. But Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, set out to test that assumption. He says they found that Americans aren't as isolated as we thought and that being active on the internet might actually help prevent social isolation.

On September 23, Terry Gross interviewed author David Weigel @ Fresh Air (40 minutes)

Is the conservative right undergoing a transformation? Journalist David Weigel thinks so. Weigel covers the Republican party for the online magazine The Washington Independent, where he's written about tea party protests, anti-health care activists, the "birther" movement and the recent Values Voter summit.

Weigel formerly covered national politics for the libertarian magazine Reason. He's also written for Slate, Time.com and The Nation.

And finally, writer Lenore Skenazy @ Free-Range Kids posted a lecture on free-range parenting she gave at Yale University's Zigler Center. Skenazy talks about the insane levels of parental fear about letting children explore the world (1 hour video).

*image credit: valu thrift headphones by Thrift Store Addict @ Flickr.


have a restful thanksgiving

Hanna and I are planning to enjoy the day sans things academical and plus Charles Shaw merlot and a Tofurky roast from our local Trader Joe's.

Bonus Radical Feminist Link: Women Postpone Thanksgiving Dinner to Meet Militant Feminist! a 1909 news story via Sociological Images.


booknotes: hunting ground

I find it difficult to read new fiction during the semester, and tend (if I have the time), to revisit old favorites rather than branch out in new direction . . . even new directions that take little intellectual or emotional effort. But this passed week, Patricia Brigg's new installment in the Alpha & Omega series (werewolves; modern American West), Hunting Ground, so in the spirit of Hanna's recent five-minute book reviews, I thought I'd offer a couple of reflections.

Warning: Mild plot spoilers for those who care.

So the Alpha and Omega series started out in a short story from a mass market paperback collection of supernatural romance stories, On The Prowl. Anna (cringe) is a recently-turned werewolf living in Chicago whose pack has been exploiting her. When the Marrok (head werewolf of North America) sends his son Charles to deal with the problem, Charles and Anna have a love-at-first-sight supernatural bonding thing and she ends up leaving Chicago and moving back to Montana with Charles to become part of his pack and (eventually, in the first novel-length book) his mate. So that's the basic set-up.

While the first short story worked, I was disappointed with the first novel, Cry Wolf, since it felt like a long drawn-out love-at-first-sight-slash-recovery-from-sexual-abuse-via-sex plot (sans any satisfying sex, so what's the point, really?). But I was willing to hang in there for the sake of the interconnected series, so when the second one came out this fall I put it on my reserve queue at the library.

And I'm happy to report that some improvement was made. Having gotten Charles and Anna together at the end of the first novel, we've moved on (mostly) from romantic angst to supernatural international political negotiation: the werewolves in the U.S. have decided to go public and some packs elsewhere in the world aren't happy about it, so Bran, the Marrok, invites them for a diplomatic summit, held in Seattle, sending Anna and Charles as his delegates. Supernatural shenanigans and power-struggles ensue.

Things I'm pleased about:

Anna is developing a backbone, aided, in part, but her particular werewolf powers, which entail being somewhat outside of the normal pack structure and able to stand up to the Alpha wolves (she describes this at one point as being a "zen wolf" which I thought was kinda funny).

Briggs shifted the focus of the plot in this second book from Anna and Charles relationship to the political negotiations, which was a good decision. I'm not against relationships and sex -- it's okay to have both in the story, and in the Mercy Thompson series her ongoing negotiations with the guy she ends up involved with are a fun sub-plot/parallel-plot. But they are never THE plot, which they were in Cry Wolf. So side-lining them while simultaneously giving Anna a more active role in the relationship (as opposed to being the traumatized partner) was a good move.

Setting it in Seattle was fun -- I like my urban fantasy out West, which is possibly just personal bias since I enjoy the landscape of the Pacific Northwest so much myself. And the coastal setting works in her favor in this instance.

Things not-so-pleasing:

Why does Briggs have to go and sexually traumatize her heroines before getting them connected with men (all her main female characters have so far been straight) who support their independence? Sexual trauma is less a feature of Mercy Thompson's character as it is Anna's, since she is raped in one of the later books when her character is pretty well-formed. With Anna, her history of sexual abuse at the hands of her first werewolf pack threatens to overwhelm other aspects of her character. I also resent the implication that for women trauma = sexual abuse. While obviously not minimizing (for women or men both) the violation that is sexual violence, I'd suggest there are other ways to signal "damaged female character" than have them be a survivor of rape.

Unsatisfying sex scenes. If you're going to write sex scene that aren't "off screen," then have the guts to finish what you started. I felt like Briggs, in a couple of instances, was ramping up to a nice sweaty, satisfying bout of on-screen sex only to cut it off abruptly and imply that a "good time was had by all" without actually giving us details. It was weird. In my book, if you're going to skirt around the sex by using that sort of maneuver, it's best not to begin the scene as if you're going to follow through.

On the whole, I'd say this is a middling-to-solid continuation of the series. So far still enjoy Mercy Thompson more as a heroine (begin with Moon Called), and hope to see a fifth installment in the near future. But if another Alpha and Omega book comes out, I'll likely pick it up as well to see if she can build on the gains made in this one.

Related: My earlier reflections on Booknotes: Bone Crossed, the last Mercy Thompson novel.


On the Syllabus: The Great Crusade and After

A few weeks ago, I posted an excerpt from Charles and Mary Beard's The Rise of American Civilization on the women's struggle for suffrage and the passage of the 19th amendment. Below is another version of this same story, offered in the twelfth volume of A History of American Life, a formidable accounting of American history edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger. This volume, The Great Crusade and After, 1914-1928, was written by Preston William Slosson and first appeared in 1930. In the section "Woman Wins Equality," Slosson writes of female suffrage

The Nineteenth Amendment which extended the political franchise to American women, already emancipated in everything save politics, followed about half a year after the Eighteenth, prohibiting the sale of alcoholic liquors. The twin amendments--twin victories for feminism some would say--had much in common. Both prohibition and woman suffrage had roots deep in American history and represented a final triumph obtained after almost a century of continuous agitation. Both were attempted in many places on a state-wide scale before they forced their way to the front as national issues. Both were first mooted by Puritan reformed in Northeastern states, when actually carried into effect by their radical sons who had moved to the Western plains and mountains, and opposed almost to the last ditch by their conservative grandsons who had stayed in the East. (157)

Several things strike me about this framing of the 19th Amendment. Much like the Beards, Slosson writes of suffrage as the culmination of a century-long struggle of women for "equality," possibly going even further than the Beards by explicitly describing enfranchisement as the last barrier to women who were "already emancipated in everything save politics." Pairing the 19th Amendment with Prohibition places women's suffrage rights in the context of nineteenth-century social reform movements. He is not wrong in making the case that Prohibition was seen, in many circles, as a victory for women generally and feminist activists particularly, since the evils of liquor were often characterized by prohibition activists as adversely affecting women and children by encouraging men to spend wages on drink and neglect their families in favor of the homosocial (largely-male) world of pubs and clubs where alcohol was served.

A few pages later, Slosson goes on to describe how the suffrage campaign was ultimately won, highlighting what he sees as "the almost complete absence of 'militancy'" in the American campaign as opposed to the British.

In England a fairly large radical wing of the suffrage movement had tried to badger the government of the day into action by such means as broken windows, interrupting public meetings, destroying mailboxes, and other 'nuisance tactics.' Nothing so extreme occurred in the United States, the nearest approach to it perhaps being the picketing of the White House with banners denouncing President Wilson (himself already a convert to the cause) for not putting more pressure on Congress . . . Even this very mild form of militancy was frowned upon by the majority of American suffragists, who used no method except political organization and open discussion. Their speedy success seems to have been due in part to the skill of their political managers, in part to the chivalric tradition in American life which made it difficult to refuse any really sustained demand by women . . . and in part as a tribute to the indispensable services of American women during the World War. (160)

It is notable here that Slosson fails to mention that even the "very mild" tactic of picketing the White House led to the imprisonment of a number of suffrage activists, hunger strikes, and force feedings (see for example Doris Stevens' account Jailed for Freedom). I also think it's fascinating to see how he opposes militancy with "political organization and open discussion" in a way that not only favors the latter, but also implies that it was more feminine (appealing to the "chivalric tradition in American life"). I think a number of women activists would at the time have taken umbrage at the notion that one hundred years of agitation equaled "speedy success." Many of the women who were among the first generation of modern women's rights activists were no longer alive when the 19th Amendment became federal law. For them, the success was far from speedy: it was, in essence, non-existent.


Quick Hit: Launching 'Paper Not Included' Blog

Today is the official launch date for Paper Not Included a new group blog that Hanna, along with four other bloggers, will be contributing to. They plan to blog about books and reading with a particular emphasis on new ebook technologies and their effect on books and reading culture. Add them to your blog reader of choice and see what they have to say!


nanowrimo: week three update

I had fun this week customizing the NaNoWriMo word count widgets to show my progress as a percentage of my own personal goal (30k words, or 1,000 words per day on average) rather than as a percentage of the national contest goal (50k).

Who knows, if I have some leisure time over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, after writing my final independent study paper and my wiki presentation for Collective Memory, I might sprint to the finish line and submit my word count to be verified as a winner afterall. But possibly not this year.

Meanwhile it's back to the writing!

links list: the mostly sex and gender edition

I have a couple of short "on the syllabus" posts in the works, but somehow the books I'm writing up never seem to be the books I have with me when I sit down at a computer with some time to put together a blog post. So those'll have to wait for tomorrow's day of catching-up (fingers crossed they get the power in our apartment back on, or they'll have to wait a little longer!)

In the meantime, here are some links from the week's feeds.

Haute Macabre offers us silence in the library, a fashion spread set among cobweb-swathed bookshelves (and I was so proud of myself for getting the post title reference!)

The web comic sad pictures for children asks do you feel happy or insane?

I'm really hoping we get to see the Tim Burton retrospective at MOMA before it closes next April.

CarnalNation highlighted the results of a (totally unscientific) British sex survey done by London's Time Out magazine which I found a strangely fascinating read. They questions and multiple-choice options are inherently flawed, but some of the comments were fun and the Time Out editors who pulled the results together clearly weren't taking the endeavor that seriously.

In Common Claims, posted at the National Sexuality Research Center, historian Sharon Block suggests similarities between Early American discourses about sexual assault and the media coverage of Roman Polanski's recent arrest.

Similarly, in "Gay Priests? No, Confused Priests" Marty Klein writes at Sexual Intelligence about researchers at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice who are looking into the causes of sexual abuse in the catholic church.

Courtney at Feministing posted a round-up of responses to an earlier column she wrote about feminism and masculinity.

Hadley Freeman asks "do lesbians rule Hollywood?" (if so I never got the memo and I'm wondering where I sign up for my percent of the royalties!) Somewhat puzzling, but still a fun read.

In the same vein, Kelsey Wallace over at Bitch Magazine reports that acording to Marcus Buckingham of the Huffington Post the gender wars are over and women won! (it was a war? and we did? why does no one ever tell me these things??!?)

The shortlist for the bad sex awards has been announced (Philip Roth wins particular notice for claiming in the text of his sex scene that he is not writing "soft porn." Dude. If you're going to write a sex scene, don't get all squamish about it in public! Although frustratingly enough he's right: it's not soft porn, it's excruciatingly bad porn.)

The bad sex scene shortlist prompted Sarah Duncan at the Guardian to ask "where's the good sex in fiction?"

While we're on the subject of bad sex in fiction, Hanna forwarded me this I-choked-on-my-cocoa hilarious review of the second Twilight movie, which hit theaters this week. It's tough picking my favorite passage, but I think it might just be:

Bella gets dumped by Edward (for her own safety, naturally), and spends thirty minutes grieving via night fits normally seen in three-year-olds. Edward’s spirit appears at random intervals to scold her like she actually is one. Jacob wants her to be his girlfriend—except it’s too dangerous—except she’d better not go back to Edward Cullen or else.

Can we all say Wuthering Heights 2.0? It's only a matter of time before baby Renesme (yes, that really is the baby's name) gets dangled from the second floor balcony of the Grange.

*image credit: iphone brushes life drawing by Quaxx @ Flickr.


putting the breaks on school insanity?

From The Guardian comes a story about Canadian parents who hammered out a legal agreement with their children's school district that guarantees that their children will not be sent home with additional work at the end of the day (or at least that that work will not affect their performance evaluations).

Usually it is the children, not the parents, who are loath to spend their evenings practising spelling and learning times tables. But a Canadian couple have just won a legal battle to exempt their offspring from homework after successfully arguing there is no clear evidence it improves academic performance

After waging a long war with their eldest son, Jay, now 18, over his homework, they decided to do things differently with their youngest two, Spencer, 11, and Brittany, 10. And being lawyers, they decided to make it official.

It took two years to negotiate the Milleys' Differentiated Homework Plan, which ensures their youngest two children will never have to do homework again at their current school. The two-page plan, signed by the children, parents and teachers, stipulates that "homework will not be used as a form of evaluation for the children". In return, the pupils promise to get their work done in class, to come to school prepared, and to revise for tests. They must also read daily and practise their musical instruments at home.

The tone of the Guardian article seems to me very much along the lines of, "can you believe the crazy things over-involved parents will do on behalf of their kids?" Framing the parent's struggle with the school system in the context of their training as lawyers and the fact that this case went to court makes it seem like an extreme reaction to something that most people who have gone to school, or send their children there, take for granted: assignments which must be completed after the school day is officially over. Part of me wants to agree that turning this into a legal battle was extreme, and that if you're going to send your children to a school for their education, then on some level you should play by the school's rules. None of the other children at the school, presumably, will have similar protection against being penalized for not completing homework assignments. That doesn't seem fair.

On the other hand, the Milleys are challenging the authority of schools to have the final say in what is good for their children, and that (I would argue) is valuable not just for their own children, but for other families whose children are negatively affected by institutional schooling practices. Not every family has the flexibility, financial ability, or desire to pull their children out of public schools, yet this shouldn't mean that they have to give up their role as parents in the cooperative (ideally) enterprise of raising small persons.

And the Milley's arguments are not off-the-wall concepts. As they themselves noted in their negotiations with the school, the neutral and at times negative effects of burdening children, especially very young children, with homework assignments has been documented. In a 2007 article for Principal educator Alfie Kohn makes the case for "rethinking homework":

1. The negative effects of homework are well known. They include children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and possible loss of interest in learning. Many parents lament the impact of homework on their relationship with their children; they may also resent having to play the role of enforcer and worry that they will be criticized either for not being involved enough with the homework or for becoming too involved.

2. The positive effects of homework are largely mythical In preparation for a book on the topic, I’ve spent a lot of time sifting through the research. The results are nothing short of stunning. For starters, there is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied. Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits.

3. More homework is being piled on children despite the absence of its value. Over the last quarter-century the burden has increased most for the youngest children, for whom the evidence of positive effects isn’t just dubious; it’s nonexistent.

It’s not as though most teachers decide now and then that a certain lesson really ought to continue after school is over because meaningful learning is so likely to result from such an assignment that it warrants the intrusion on family time. Homework in most schools isn’t limited to those occasions when it seems appropriate and important. Rather, the point of departure seems to be: “We’ve decided ahead of time that children will have to do something every night (or several times a week). Later on we’ll figure out what to make them do.”

The rest of Kohn's article offers alternatives to homework and a bibliography of further reading on the subject.

While it's disappointing that, in this particular case, the Milley family had to put the breaks on after-school schoolwork for their family alone, through a "differentiated homework plan," perhaps their example will begin a school-wide (or broader!) conversation about why we so rarely question the value of "homework," instead holding it up as an inherent good and a fact of life for schooled youth.


nanowrimo: week two update

I don't have so much to report this week, except that I've decided my own personal goal this year is 30,000 words (1,000 words / day) rather than the competition goal of 50,000. By that measure, I am slightly ahead of the game and having fun to boot! I have two short stories in the works and have been having fun fiddling away at them when I have the odd moment. I'm rediscovering the pleasures of writing for fun and discovering that I am better at incorporating dialog than I was when I last wrote fiction (when I was about fifteen).

More next weekend!


"ghost sex" and other goodies: a links list

Not so much commentary on this rainy Saturday links list, but some good stories for those who need procrastination fodder!

Ghost Sex by Chris Blohm @ Skepchick (thoughtful and amusing both)

Bats Have Creative Sex Lives, by Jennifer Viegas @ Discovery News (warning: there is a photograph)

Jeff @ Alas, a Blog, tells us why he's defending Carrie Prejean in the wake of a sex scandal (I didn't know anything about this before I read his post: this proves I don't read enough celebrity blogs)

Whose Team Is It, Anyway?, is the latest of Katha Pollitt's Subject to Debate column @ The Nation which along with Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling's Trading Women's Rights for Political Power are the two pieces I managed to read this week on the Stupak Amendment / health care reform debacle.

The Embiggining by Sweet Machine @ Shapely Prose (the complicated feelings cause by losing weight because of an illness)

TMI by Thomas @ Yes Means Yes ("How many times has someone said something on a thread, followed by a string of 'I thought I was the only one, I’m so glad to know I’m not alone'?")

Rambling Musings on YA Books by Spiffy @ hippyish (newly renamed blog of Spiffy from Out of the Locker)

"Men's Rights" Groups Have Become Frighteningly Effective, by Kathryn Joyce @ double x (via pandagon)

A Pro-Life Vocabulary Lesson from EvilSlutClique @ sexgenderbody ("Well, here's a case of inventing a phrase just to shoot it down, because nobody really says stuff like 'I'm going to health clinic to have an abortion'. But I think I am going to adopt the phrase 'morally legitimate health care facility,' that really rolls off the tongue.")

In Spain's Extremadura region, sexuality education includes encouraging young people to explore their own bodies through masturbation.

The Anatomy of a Catalog Record @ the American Antiquarian Society's Past is Present blog (worth clicking on the image to enlarge; funny and informative!)

Academic freedom update by Michael Berube @ American Airspace (I haven't watched the video yet Michael, but I am distributing the post to my colleagues -- does that count?)

Mormon Make Out
, a giggle-inducing video from The Colbert Report @ Killing the Buddha (and yes, the basic story is true although the mormon missionaries kissing in the last scene are, I think, either extremely obliging or actors).

Wizard of Oz: Apocalypse -- Now Casting @ Geek Girl Diva (wins for best movie poster of the month; and I think Morena Baccarin should play Dorothy)

Crab Bee is Renee's latest design @ Threadless

Hanna had two posts up this week that I think are worth linking to: if mine's mine what's yours and this is how you remind me . . .

And also via Hanna, Bestill by Jocelyn @ O Mighty Crisis (the most beautiful musings on family and courtship, love and stillness I have read in many a month)

*image north end rain by temporarySPASTIC @ flickr


sexuality education: asking the wrong questions?

Christopher White, over at the National Sexuality Resource Center, has a thoughtful piece up about the way we assess whether sexuality education is effective here in the United States.

I spend a great amount of time talking to educators, researchers, students, friends, family members, and many others about why I think it is important that we reframe the ways that we think about sexuality education and sexuality research, shifting away from a model that focuses on disease and prengancy prevention that I believe pathologizes sexuality and sexual behavior in a way that is harmful and confusing. One of the responses I constantly receive regards the evidence of such an approach and whether or not it will continue to work; and to be honest, this is a part of the conversation where I tend to flounder a bit. "Chapter Nine" [in When Sex Goes to School by Kristin Luker] allowed me to understand why I have such a hard time answering this question, and I disagree with Dr. Luker about whether or not this is the right question. The problem is not whether or not it works but how we (and I mean everyone from researchers to students to politicians to parents to teachers) decide whether or not it works.

I encourage you to check the whole thing out.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the ways we do and do not speak about sexuality in our culture -- who does the speaking, who does the listening, in what contexts, and with whom. This is largely because I really like talking and thinking about sex -- hell, I'm a talker and a thinker, and when it comes to things I take pleasure in, I enjoy talking and thinking even more than usual! -- but talk about sexuality that respects personal privacy and social convention (or at least disrespects social convention with knowing intent) is an extremely difficult balancing act!

More on this, possibly, to come, particularly as it pertains to my future in the library/archives profession. But in the meantime, I'm not sure I have much more to say as a direct response to the piece, other than that I basically agree with him: when we focus so completely on disease and pregnancy prevention, and on the negatives of young people being sexually active (thus the equation of "successful" sex education with delayed commencement of sexual activity), we lose out.

We lose out on the chance to have much more holistic conversations about the pleasure our sexuality can bring to ourselves and relationships, and how that pleasure can be meaningfully integrated into the rest of our lives in a whole range of contexts. And I personally feel like our culture is that much more impoverished because of our unwillingness to have those conversations -- in school and out of it, with young people, middlers, and elders alike.


Quick Hit: Letters of the Presidents

I have a brief post up on the Beehive describing a talk given my friend and colleague Tracy Potter and her intern, Sarah Desmond, at the MHS on their project documenting the letters written by U.S. Presidents in the Society's collections. For those of you interested in political history, wander on over and check it out.


"Who ARE these people?"

Yesterday, LISNews linked to a post by self-described "conservative librarian" Bert Chapman, who blogs at townhall.com, in which Mr. Chapman made the "economic case against homosexuality." For those of you who might entertain fleeting hopes that he was taking the New York Times route, and tabulating the cost of homophobic discrimination against gay couples in our society, I am sad to report that this is not the case. No. Instead, Mr. Chapman tries to argue that "our nation cannot afford the extremely high financial costs of this [homosexual] lifestyle."

I realize that open-mindedness and empathy for one's fellow human beings are not legally-enforcible prerequisites for the library science profession -- but, damn there are days when I sure as hell wish they were.

The people I am glad to call fellow-professionals, however, are the folks who took the time to post comments on the LISNews item. You are all made of awesome (as Hanna would say) and remind me why I think librarians are some of the coolest people around. A sampling of comments thus far:

"oh, yes, the shopping. I had to give up the lifestyle when I couldn't afford the clothing."

"'Lifestyle' - really? Really? I can't believe people still use that word in this context."

"There are a number of lifestyles I object to. The idiot lifestyle, the bigot lifestyle, the uneducated lifestyle, the fearmongering lifestyle, the use-of-the-word-"lifestyle" lifestyle, the describing someone's existence as a lifestyle, the vile hate disguised as a scholarly opinion lifestyle, the cowardly bully lifestyle and the sub-literate Townhall columnist lifestyle."

And my personal favorite: "Who ARE these pathetic bigots and how in Hell did they land in my profession? Get OUT..."

"eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month"

Today, November 11th, is Armistice Day, the day 91 years ago when the First World War officially came to an end. As an undergraduate when I spent an academic year at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, I was struck by the omnipresence of the World Wars on the landscape and architecture in Britain. Public memorials proliferated: in churches, schools, high streets, shops, public parks, town squares, train stations . . . name a space and somewhere there will be some sort of memorial plaque or monument or dedication to the fallen. Perhaps it was because of my status as a foreigner (one sees more as a visitor than as a resident in any space), but I did come away with the feeling that Britons co-exist with their collective memories of war and loss in a way that Americans, so often, do not. We remember war, sure, but we are uncomfortable facing the reality of violence, preferring instead to depict war as a triumphant enterprise.

One of my favorite memorials from Aberdeen is this mosaic, funded by a woman who lost three sons during the Second World War, all pilots in the RAF. It is located on the King's College campus in Old Aberdeen, and I used to walk passed it frequently on my way to and from classes, the library, and errands on High Street.

I don't really have any Big Thoughts for today other than to encourage all of us to take a few minutes in the midst of whatever our regularly-scheduled plans are to reflect on how often humanity is, indeed, inhumane. And how we live with that reality every day -- whether we choose to collectively memorialize it or not.


from the neighborhood: mass ave and boylston

This clock stands on the southwest corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street and presides over my commute to and from work every day.


stuff and things: some links from the week

As I put this list together on Saturday morning, it's a crisp, clear, chill autumn day. Daylight savings time last weekend has ushered in early nights (Hanna is happy) and brought us back the earlier sunrise (I am happy), at least for the next month or so. Leaves are turning and falling and we definitely need our heat on overnight, as temperatures are dropping to around freezing. It's both difficult and easy to believe that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Meanwhile, here's what I've been reading on the internets this week.

Leading off with some good news from last Tuesday's election day, the town of Kalamazoo, Michigan (not too far from where I grew up), passed an ordinance against discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (I like to think they did it in part so they'd get congrats from feministing :)!).

In similar news, the Louisiana justice of the peace who refused to perform a marriage ceremony for an interracial couple has resigned. I'm really only disappointed he didn't get fired first. And the couple is still pressing a federal civil rights suit against him.

On a sadder note, Britain's only Steiner Waldorf teacher training course, at Plymouth University, was forced to close due to lack of funding.

This offensive sign from a doctor's office in Aspen, Colorado, has been making the rounds on the feminist and pregnancy/birth blogs. The folks at Unnecesarian are holding a photoshop contest to re-design the sign to say more directly what it actually means (e.g. "if you want to have a say in your health care and the health care provided to your children, then fuck off"). Go check out some of the submissions here and here!

Ophelia Benson, over at the Guardian argues that atheism is not, and cannot, constitute a political or religious movement: "Mere non-belief in any X can't by itself constitute a movement, because it's merely an absence (or at most a refusal) of belief. If every absence of belief in [your chosen belief-object here] amounted to a movement, the traffic jam would be a nightmare." Since I've been thinking a lot about counterculture activism right now, I appreciate the distinction between criticizing X activity or philosophy and actually articulating an alternative. Living one's life defined by opposition seems like a very impoverished mode of being to me.

Speaking of believers and nonbelievers, when Hanna and I were in Vermont a few weeks ago we saw a news blurb in one of the local papers about , Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, an organization that offers to care for your pet in the event you are taken up in the rapture and your pet (not being in possession of a soul) remains behind. ClizBiz over at blogher also saw the story and wrote a post about post-rapture pet care.

Following links this week, I discovered a web magazine, killing the buddha, "a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the “spirituality” section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God. It is for people who somehow want to be religious, who want to know what it means to know the divine, but for good reasons are not and do not." Since I definitely fall into the category of "people made anxious by churches" I'm looking forward to seeing what this magazine has for me :).

Cracked.com brings us the five most ridiculous sex self-help books, which had me in tears on Thursday night. Sample commentary from book #1 (How to Make Love With Your Clothes On: 101 Ways to Romance Your Wife): "Reading the introduction to this book is like reading the panicked ramblings of a man with his dick caught in a Bible while his wife is flapping directly at him on leathery wings holding a Bible laser." (As a side note, you can see from the URL that the post was originally titled "How to F*** Like a Librarian" and has since been changed . . . I'd like to think a few of my fellow librarianistas gave the poster a piece of their mind because, as Hanna said, "well, we know that's patently false.")

From the Guardian again, via Hanna, comes a fun run-down of films in which architecture stole the show. I haven't seen all of them, but it sure as hell made me want to see Blade Runner again (and my dad had the same reaction when I sent the story to him!)

And on a final happy note, Wallace and Gromit celebrated their twentieth birthday on 4 November! Many happy returns of the day, you two. Hope the cheese was tasty.

*photo credit: Autumn sail, Boston by Kportimages @ Flickr.


nanowrimo: week one update

I've reached the end of week one of National Novel Writing Month with the first four parts of my "short" story completed. I thought it was going to be a little short story and it's turning into a novella -- a process which is taking me back to my teenage years when novels tended to span hundreds of typed, single-spaced pages with no end in sight. I was aided and abetted by an inadvertent seven-hour wait in the Grand Rapids airport on my return to Boston . . . I doubt I'll have the luxury of dashing off quite so much silliness in the weeks to come!

I'm still not sharing this story with anyone but Hanna (maybe I should put: "For British Eyes Only" on the top of every page?) but I'll give you a feel random details to make of what you will.

1) I'm setting the story in Chicago, and a crucial scene takes place at the Field Museum; I chalk this up to early childhood readings of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

2) I've appropriated a plot element from "The Stackhouse Filibuster" from Season 2 of The West Wing; those of you who are devotees can have fun guessing which one. (And can I say one more time that I miss that show so damn much?!)

3) So far, I've figured out how to get in references to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Dr. Who . . . I'm undecided as to whether having opened the door I'll need to work in specific episodes of DW, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures just to be clear I'm not playing favorites.

Until next week -- wish me continued verbosity. And for those of you who are also participating, hope you're having loads of fun!


On the Syllabus: The Survival of a Counterculture

The book I've been reading this week for my thesis research, The Survival of a Counterculture: Ideological Work and Everyday Life Among Rural Communards, by Bennet M. Berger (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981) was a find on the Brookline Booksmith $1 cart by Hanna while I was on vacation visiting family (thank you H, for thinking of me!). Even though it was published the year I was born, and written by a sociologist rather than an historian, I am still finding a lot of really good observations and theoretical musings that help me clarify my thinking about the interaction of philosophy and practice in human communities.

Berger set out to study the place of children within "hippie" communes, and although his observations range far and wide in this particular book -- not focusing on children to the exclusion of other aspects of commune life, he still spends a good deal of time describing adult interactions with young people. The following excerpt is from his third chapter, "Communal Children: Equalitarianism and the Decline of Age-grading."

In treating the history of the concept of childhood, social scientists have emphasized the differences between [the pre-industrial] status of children . . . where they are regarded simply as small or inadequate versions of their parents, totally subject to traditional or otherwise arbitrary parental authority . . . [and on the other hand] the modern, industrial, middle-class view of children [in which] children are increasingly treated as members of a distinctive social category, their social participation . . . increasingly limited to age-homogeneous groups.

. . .

The prevalent view of children at The Ranch (and other communes like it) fits neither of these models exactly. Rather than being members of an autonomous category of "children" or being inadequate versions of their parents, legitimately subject to their arbitrary authority, children and young people (or "small persons," as they are sometimes deliberately, perhaps preciously, called) are primarily regarded as "persons," members of the communal family, just like anyone else -- not necessarily less wise, perhaps less competent, but recognized primarily, as my colleague Bruce Hackett put it, "by lowering one's line of vision rather than one's level of discourse."

Berger's later descriptions of adult-child interactions at The Ranch illuminate and refine this general philosophical approach to understanding young people in the context of the communal structure -- obviously there are nuances to each portion of this description (how is the "less competent" aspect dealt with? what does it mean for children to be seen as potential sources of wisdom?). But I was struck by the re-orientation necessarily in a community where this is the starting point for adult-child interaction, rather than one of the first two positions described (and in our modern American society, the modern, industrial, middle-class ideal dominates, whether or not it is upheld religiously in daily practice). What would it be like to interact with kids primarily "by lowering one's line of vision rather than one's level of discourse"?


from the neighborhood: juxtaposed two

And for an even more dramatic juxtaposition, here is an 1862 letter from the Goodwin family papers on our Binder Minder copier ready to be photocopied for a researcher unable to visit the Society in person. Talk about oldgasms.


On the Syllabus: The Rise of American Civilization

In my class on archives and collective memory this semester, our final project is a group presentation of one particular case study in how an event or person or activity survives in collective memories over time. My small group chose to focus on female suffrage and the passage of the 19th Amendment. For my portion of the presentation, I am looking at how the American suffragists situated themselves in the context of American history, and subsequently how they moved to consolidate the public memory of suffrage activism in the 1920s and early 1930s.

One of the examples I've looked at is the 1927 second volume of history of America, The Rise of American Civilization: The Industrial Era, written by the prolific husband and wife team Charles and Mary Ritter Beard. The Beards' account of American history was a linear, progressive narrative (as the title suggests); it foregrounded the economic and political contributions of everyday people in contrast to histories that focused on political and social elites. Mary Beard had, herself, been active in the suffrage movement, although she later criticized mid-twentieth-century feminists for focusing too heavily on women's oppression at the expense of female contributions to "civilization" over the long duree. In The Rise of American Civilization they had the following to say about the push for enfranchisement.

Amid the turbulence connected with this reconstruction in political machinery, woman suffrage was once more brought out of the parlor and the academy, reviving an agitation which, after giving great umbrage to the males of the fuming forties, had died down during the Civil War . . . With a relevancy that could hardly be denied the feminists now asked why the doctrine [of universal suffrage] did not apply to women, only to receive a curt answer from the politicians that sent them flying to the platform to make an appeal to the reasoning of the public at large (562).

This is followed by a description of the state-by-state campaign, the winning of the vote in Western states, and the political tactics of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman's Party (go see Iron Jawed Angels). The three-page section ends on the following triumphal note:

In September, 1918, with a congressional election at hand, [President Wilson] went before a joint session of the Senate and the House in person to urge the passage of the national suffrage amendment, yellow with age, as a measure "vital to the winning of the [First World] war." By June of the following year, the requisite two-thirds vote was assembled and the resolution was sent to the states for ratification. After three-fourths of the commonwealths had approved it, the Nineteenth Amendment was proclaimed in the summer of 1920 a part of the law of the land. The fruit of a hundred years of agitation and social development had finally been garnered.

For the Beards, female suffrage was a naturally-evolving extension of "social development," a process that extended an ever-increasing body of rights and privileges to Americans. Their worldview seems flawed today, when we harbor deep skepticism about the progressive, linear nature of history and change over time, but I find it noteworthy that they chose to include female suffrage within that picture of social development, however antiquated it may be. I also think it is worth highlighting the Beards' sense that the battle was won: "the fruit of a hundred years" was now ripe to be plucked by women who chose to exercise their elective franchise. There were activists at the time who challenged this narrow, single-issue concept of turn-of-the-twentieth-century feminist activism -- the decision to turn the Nineteenth Amendment into a definitive end point was a deliberate one on the part of Charles and Mary Beard (and it fit well with Mary Beard's very individualistic notions of women's power and oppression).

It's also worth pointing out that there are people today who would agree with the Beards that the right to vote wiped sexism away once and for all, sounding the death knell of feminism (those of use who've come after are, as folks so often feel free to inform us, just deluded in our belief that the need for feminist activism remains alive today, nearly a century later). Similarly, there are folks who persist in insinuating (if not outright arguing) that the world might be a better place if women still remained disenfranchised. The suffrage movement might well be the most iconic image of the modern feminist movement, but the ubiquity of its public historical memorializing has hardly brought us to consensus as to its meaning.


from the neighborhood: juxtaposed

One of the craziest things about working at an institution that's been around since 1791 (and in its current location since the 1890s) is that old furniture gets put to new twenty-first century uses: this cabinet once used to store the Parkman Papers now houses our staff microwave.


monday links: back to boston edition

As this posts, I'm somewhere in the air between Michigan and Massachusetts, retracing the route I took last week to visit family and friends. Even though I was vacation, I didn't entirely tune out the blogosphere. A few things that made it into my Google Reader "share" queue:

The gals at Pursuit of Harpyness point out the importance of the Oxford comma. Are conservative Christians really arguing that "the exclusivity of Christianity as a path to salvation and homosexuality"? Somehow, I think not :)!

However, I don't think any grammatical errors are responsible for the misinformation about c-sections and (on a lighter note) Halloween candy being bandied about the media; as Stephen Colbert points out, gay marriage appears to be levying a "terrible toll on fact-checking."

Urban Prankster shares a photograph of a living sculpture project that just makes me imagine lots of blood pooling in lots of heads.

Speaking of heads, here's a short and helpful college library instructional video on how to print documents at the library while avoiding the zombie horde.

Via Skepchick comes Wondermark's handy guide to supernatural collective nouns.

My friend Rachel passed on this list of 10 Reasons Why the Quiddich World Cup is the Best College Sporting Event from the Mental Floss blog.

Hope you all had a good Halloween weekend (with lots of appropriately-cursed candy, of course)

*webcomic by xkcd.


Welcome to NaNoWriMo

With a story from The Onion.

SAN FRANCISCO—After gently unfastening the elastic strap keeping his dearest musings safe from prying eyes, little literary artiste Evan Stansky penned a few more darling thoughts into his clothbound Moleskine notebook Wednesday. "These are much higher quality than the notebooks you find at CVS," lilted the auteur, who couldn't be bothered to use—dare it be said—a journal of lesser craftsmanship or pedigree, or one not famously used by such legendary artists as van Gogh and Hemingway. "They're a little more expensive, but I try to write on both sides so I don't go through them as quickly." At press time, the princely scribe was seen finishing his apricot jasmine tea, asking a mere mortal sitting nearby to watch his literary accoutrements, and then prancing off to the Starbucks powder room, light as a feather.

You will most likely not get to read a single word I produce for National Novel Writing Month this year, since now I have woken up to the fact that my possession of dozens of moleskin notebooks means I am vulnerable to satiric lampooning at the slightest whim. But wish me and all the other thousands of participants luck as we forge ahead! I shall report back when it's all over.