in praise of do-nothing days

Hanna and I spent Thanksgiving vacation at home this year, in Boston. We didn't travel and for the most part we didn't plan to do a lot of stuff. Between last Tuesday afternoon and Sunday night we just ... spent time together. And it was good. It's the first vacation of that kind I've had, really, since moving to Boston. At least for that duration. It can be hard, sometimes, to purposefully do "nothing" ... nothing that counts as productivity, that is. Of course we did stuff. And even in those moments when we weren't baking, reading, cleaning, talking, watching movies, surfing the 'net for pretty pictures ... even in those moments of true idleness, we were doing something: we were being. Together. And it was good.

Hope y'all had a good vacation as well; I'm sure I'll get my hand back into blogging soon enough.

UPDATE: For more photographs from our long weekend, see Hanna's most recent post at ...fly over me, evil angel ....


happy thanksgiving day, one and all

Mostly, this year, I'm thankful for a long weekend at home with Hanna and Geraldine. As I'm typing this, we're hanging out on the couch with half an eye toward the Thanksgiving day parade, catching up on our leisure reading and looking forward to the arrival of our friend Ashley for tofurky dinner.

And 'cause this is the Future Feminist Librarian-Activist, I wanted to note that I woke up this morning to the voice on WGBH (our local NPR station) saying, "It's Thanksgiving morning, and your work in the kitchen is almost done Moms!" 'cause clearly "Moms" are the only people capable of putting together a Thanksgiving meal. (As Hanna said, "Well, in my house it was always my dad!")

And it might just be because I don't often watch network television, and rarely morning television -- not to mention on a treacly American holiday -- but wow. The narratives of consumption, "family," all revolving around gender roles, is front and center. In a train-wreaky sort of way.

Not that the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has ever been about anything but consumption. But it's fascinating to see how that's all packaged in the mainstream, completely bland-yet-powerful cultural frames of family (Victoria's Secret models gushing about the newfound bliss of motherhood), nationalism (yes, for those of you who were listening, Colin Quinn did liken the parade to the Nuremberg Rallies) and relentless consumption. Also, this is the first time in a while I've actually been witness to a critical mass of commercials aimed at the twelve-and-under set and crivens! It's one thing to read about the aggressive gender-segregated marketing of children's toys (see booknote on Delusions of Gender)? It's another thing entirely to actually see it first-hand for three hours. I think on some level it's the sort of stuff I believe intellectually is out there, but I don't believe-believe people are really that actively and nakedly endorsing stereotypes.

But no: it's there, front and center. Amazing. I feel like I should be taking notes on the language used to shape meaning of the day and the way in which the parade (apparently) perfectly "captures the essence" of whatever this day is about in our collective imagination.

Huh. I didn't start this post as a rant. So I guess I'll stop there and go back to enjoying the day. Particularly the work of Sir Terry Pratchett, whose existence in the world has brought us passages such as this, from his latest Tiffany Aching novel, I Shall Wear Midnight.
And what are my weapons? [Tiffany] thought. And the answer came to her instantly: pride. Oh, you hear them say it's a sin; you hear them say it goes before a fall. And that can't be true. The blacksmith prides himself on a good weld ... We pride ourselves on making a good history of our lives, a good story to be told.

And I also have fear -- the fear that I will let others down -- and because I have fear I will overcome that fear. I will not disgrace those who have trained me.

And I have trust, even though I am not sure what it is that I am trusting.

"Pride, fear, and trust," she said aloud. And in front of her the four candles streamed fire, as if driven by the wind, and for a moment she was certain, in the rush of light, that the figure of an old witch was melting into the stone. "Oh, yes," said Tiffany. "And I have fire."
Enjoy your rest, wherever you are, and then carry on with pride, fear, trust, and fire. Doing whatever it is you are called to do.


from the archives: making archival images accessible online

Last week, I finally finished the scanning and metadata entry project I began over a year and a half ago at Northeastern: Two photo albums and a scrapbook compiled between the 1890s-1920s by Marjorie Bouvé, a young Boston woman who founded a school of physical education. The photographs and scrapbooks document her adolescence and college education (she attended Bradford Academy and Smith College), and her work as a teacher. Hopefully, hopefully, early in 2011, I'll be able to link to the interactive database containing all the images and records I created.

Nearly 2,000 of them.

But for now, I thought I'd give you a taste of what it means to create what we in the archives world call "digital surrogates" of archival images. Partly 'cause I think it's interesting. Partly 'cause I took a phone call from a gentleman this week at the Massachusetts Historical Society who didn't understand why all our records weren't just digitized and up online (as our Collections Services director would say: "if you see it online, it wasn't elves that put it up there!").

So what does it mean to enter metadata for each digital image we create? Well, here's a sample record I pulled from the database, which is the metadata (the information about the creation and content of the image) associated with one page of a letter in Marjorie's scrapbook.  You sill see from the file name that this is the ninth item cataloged from page one of volume four from the Marjorie Bouvé papers (collection M89).

<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Description">Item separated from m89_s4p001v005. Item related to m89_s4p001v008.</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Title">Letter to members of the Rainy Day Club from M. Anagnos, 20 August 1892.</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Creator">Aganos, M.</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Creator">Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.RelationIsPartOf">Marjorie Bouvé Papers (M89), Box 1</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.DateCreated">1892-08-20</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.DateAvailable">2010-10-23</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.RightsRightsHolder">Copyright Northeastern University</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Provenance">Haidt, Marie</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Format">3215 x 4073 pixels</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.RelationIsFormatOf">7.75 x 10.0 inches</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.RelationIsFormatOf">Social Stationary</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.CoverageSpatial">Boston (Mass.)</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.CoverageSpatial">South Boston (Mass.)</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Subject">Correspondence -- Massachusetts -- Boston</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Subject>Correspondence -- Massachusetts -- South Boston</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Subject">Scrapbooks</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Subject">Social stationary</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.subjectHeadingPersonalNameTerm">Aganos, M.</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.subjectHeadingPersonalNameTerm">Bouvé, Marjorie, 1879-1970</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.subjectHeadingPersonalNameTerm">Caverly, Edith L.</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.subjectHeadingPersonalNameTerm">Eaton, Alice</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.subjectHeadingPersonalNameTerm">Kelly, Edith A.</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.subjectHeadingPersonalNameTerm">Smith, Lillian</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.subjectHeadingPersonalNameTerm">Smith, Marion E.</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.subjectHeadingPersonalNameTerm">Wilkins, Christel W.</Metadata> 
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.subjectHeadingGroupNameTerm">Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind</Metadata> 
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.scannerModelName">BookEye 3 A1</Metadata><Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.imageProducer">AJC</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.maximumOpticalResolution">400dpi</Metadata><Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.dateTimeCreated">2010-07-21</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Identifier">B001927</Metadata>
<Metadata mode="accumulate" name="nuhistph.Url">m89_s4p001v009</Metadata>

This record is in XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and can be read by a variety of web-based display programs (at Northeastern, we use a content management system called Greenstone).The information I enter, and enclose in tags) allows the content management system to display the images and the information about them in a prettier, user-friendly format. See, for example, the images in the Freedom House Collectionwhich Hanna (and a team of others) worked on a few years ago.

Some of the information is generated automatically by Greenstone, but all of the data in the file set you see here was entered by me.  Fingers crossed it all pays off in the end, when y'all get to flip through a digitized version of some pretty cool turn-of-the-twentieth-century pictures and ephemera ... all from the comfort of your very own personal computers.


booknotes: delusions of gender

Continuing my meander through recent literature on gender and neuroscience (see booknotes on Sexing the Body, Brain Storm, and Fixing Sex), this week I finally got around to reading Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (2010) by Cordelia Fine.

Written for a more popular audience than Brain Storm or Fizing Sex, Fine's Delusions of Gender has been popping up in the mainstream media more than either of these titles, despite the fact that they all revolve around similar issues: at the most basic level, how sociocultural contexts ("nurture") influence "nature," or those things that we consider to be somehow innate and fixed (and somehow knowable) within the body. Specifically those things which we identify as relating to gender and sexuality.

In Delusions, Fine reviews both popular and academic literature that purports to describe the way in which human brains a wired differently based on the sex of the person in question: the ever-popular idea that there is somehow a "hard-wired" or "innate" gender difference and that, despite our best intentions at gender-neutrality or equality, men and women will forever and always constitute two distinct (usually opposite) groups of humans. Sometimes, these differences are seen as so extreme that men and women find it impossible to communicate, to learn in the same classrooms (men are good at math while women are good at language?), to share the same tasks (doing laundry might lower men's testosterone levels to dangerous extremes, while the same task gives women an oxytocin high?), or inhabit the same planet (perhaps, as Futurama's "When Aliens Attack" episode suggests, men are really from Omicron Persei 8 and women are from Omicron Persei 9?).

Fine's purpose in reviewing this literature is, by and large, to point out the ways in which the claims of these writers draw on faulty data: poorly-designed studies, studies that do not provide evidence for the authors' claims, studies that, in fact, suggest the opposite of what the authors claim, and studies with very limited generalizability.  Further, she explores what the evidence is actually telling us about gender difference (more below) and challenges us to consider how we, as human beings, lose out when neurosexism (the claim of immutable gender difference) continues to enjoy great popular support and to inform policy decisions, such as the push for single-sex education.

None of Fine's conclusions will be a great revelation to those with a background in any social science discipline, particularly those interested in the sociocultural forces that shape gender and sexuality.  However, I found her psychological and neurobiological perspective extremely helpful in illuminating the way in which powerful cultural stereotypes inform our subconscious and unconscious behaviors and identities even when our concious minds resist those messages. When faced with evidence of behaviors that don't match up with our conscious intentions, human beings often resort to the "biology as fallback" position. That is, if I tell my son it's okay for boys to play with dolls and he still eschews them for trucks or the tool set, then there must be an "evolutionary or divine" reason for that behavior. If career women are "opting out" of successful careers to be a primary parent, or coming home from work to do the emotional heavy lifting in the family, it must be because they're "wired" to be nurturers, while men are not.

The problem is, the data don't support these conclusions -- there is no reliable evidence that women's brains are inevitably better at caretaking, while men's brains like trucks and solving construction problems. So: if evolution isn't our fallback option, what might better explain these behavioral differences?

The answer, according to Fine, lies in the way our organic beings (including our brains) interact with the environment around us -- not just the natural physical environment (i.e. what hormones we're exposed to in utero) but or sociocultural environment as well.
Take a look around. The gender inequality that you see is in your mind. So are the cultural beliefs about gender that are so familiar to us all. They are in that messy tangle if mental associations that interact with social context. Out of this interaction emerges your self-perception, your interests, your values, your behavior, even your abilities. Gender can become salient in the environment in many ways: an imbalance of the sexes in a group, a commercial, a comment by a colleague, a query about sex on a form, perhaps also a pronoun, the sign on a restroom door, the feel of a skirt, the awareness of one's own body. When the context activates gendered associations, that tangle serves as a barrier to nonstereotypical self-perceptions, concerns, emotions, sense of belonging, and behavior -- and more readily allows what is traditionally expected of the sexes (235-236).
So despite our individual best intentions, Fine argues, we are at least in part held hostage by our environment -- we are adaptable creatures, constantly negotiating that balance between our conscious ideals and those actions and self-presentations that will protect us from negative feedback, from marginalization, and threaten (on a very basic level) our survival.

So far, so good: the personal is political, as any well-schooled feminist activist can tell you.

Yet it doesn't stop there, because Fine's most crucial argument is still just around the corner.
The fluidity of the self and the mind is impressive and is in continual cahoots with the environment ... Nor is gender inequality just part of our minds -- it is also an inextricable part of our biology. We tend to think of the chain of command passing from genes, to hormones, to brain, to environment. ... Yet most developmental scientists will tell you that one-way arrows of causality are so last century. The circuits of the brain are quite literally a product of your physical, social, and cultural environment, as well as your behavior and thoughts. What we experience and do create neural activity that can alter the brain (236).
We are, in other words, permeable organisms, highly attuned to our environment (in all senses of the word), constantly calibrating ourselves to thrive and survive within that particular context. And if the context we are attempting to thrive in is on that expects oppositional, gender-essentialist behavior, then not only our conscious minds, but our very corporeal bodies, respond to that expectation and alter ourselves accordingly. It's not nurture building on nature, but rather nature and nurture twined together in a constant feedback loop, informing and reforming one another in a neverending cycle of change.

"When researchers look for sex differences in the brain or in the mind," Fine concludes, "they are hunting an ever-moving target. Both are in continuous interaction with the social context" (236).

One final observation before I close this post, and that is to highlight the way Delusions reminds us not to underestimate our children. Fine spends quite a bit of time dissecting the evidence of gender difference observed (both in formal studies and anecdotally) in infants and very young children. This is because, for obvious reasons, researchers often seek data concerning brain differences in very young humans -- humans, it is supposed, who have had very limited exposure to sociocultural influences that would shape their beliefs or behavior. Thus, gender-progressive parents who seek to encourage a full range of emotional expression and activities in their children (regardless of assigned sex), often express despair when confronted with daughters who are obsessed with dressing in pink (and only pink): if the parents have encouraged the child to try a full range of clothing colors and the three-year-old settles on princess pink, the argument goes, the child must then be expressing her "true" (natural) self.

Not so fast.

This conclusion, I would argue (drawing on Fine's text), both over- and underestimates children. It overestimates the power of children to resist the power of cultural stereotypes and peer pressure at the same time that it underestimates the intelligence-gathering abilities of children, who are primed in the early years of their lives to figure out, above all, how to survive. And when you are part of a social species, as human beings are, then your survival -- on a fundamental level -- depends on the speed and accuracy of your ability to gather and analyze social data, and to understand how to adapt yourself to social situation X in order to maximize your changes of survival.

And remember: despite the fact that, as an infant, your primary caregivers are (if you're incredibly, incredibly lucky) loving, supportive parents, you can't depend upon your parents: you have to negotiate survival in a chaotic, appallingly complex social environment beyond the doors of your parental home. How do you do this? You gather information constantly and attempt to make sense of it. You have to figure out how the world works because if you fail to understand the rules of the game, then you will die.

Nonconformity? Self-expression? Living on the margins? Those all take a back burner.  I'm not talking ideal scenario here -- ideally, survival and self-expression, survival and nonconformity, these would not be mutually exclusive. But we've created a world, dear readers, in which they often are.

And kids: they are smart enough to figure this out.

And being disinclined to die, they conform.

This isn't "hard-wired" gender difference. This isn't stupidity. This is romper-room street smarts.

So what do we do about this?

Quite simply: we have to create a better culture: one in which kids don't have to choose between conformity or death. And we need to remember that this has to happen on a huge big cosmic scale. Not that our little single-family, daily interventions don't help (as I was typing this, for example, Hanna sent me over to EPBOT to voice my support, as a female Star Wars fan, for a nine-year-old girl who's being bullied for taking a Star Wars water bottle for school ... 'cause apparently SW ain't for girls). Those small-scale interventions give kids (not to mention the rest of us) the space to consciously resist those subconscious and unconcious pressures. But unless we effect larger sociocultural change, we will continue to operate -- to use Fine's phrase -- with "half-changed minds."  And our bodies will continue to bear the scars of gender stereotyping.


sunday links list | my friends write good stuff edition

via Into the TARDIS
This isn't really, properly speaking, a "Sunday smut" list, seeing as not all of my friends have a filthy mind like I do. But they've been writing some good stuff lately, and I thought I'd share (and hopefully encourage a little blog hopping in my readers).

Hanna @ ... fly over me, evil angel ... composed a two-parter on the three episodes that comprise season one of the new Sherlock: "Catch you ..." and "... later." Pay particular attention to the awesome point she makes in the second half about the character of Holmes and the elusiveness of his emotional life.
What I think is interesting in the new Sherlock is how detached Sherlock has become. The Brett Holmes was distanced, uninvolved -- but never unemotional. He had a sense of humor (albeit occasionally a peculiar one), a great deal of pride in his skill and accomplishments, a keen sense of class distinction, an ear for music, and rather snobby tastes in food and wine if I remember rightly. My point here in assembling this rather mongrel list is that Holmes never came across in the original Doyle stories as suffering from any kind of psychiatric condition: yeah, he was a bit weird, but it's mostly the kind of weird you can write off as being genuine Victorian gentleman weirdness. (This is the same kind of weirdness that comes across with the father of the family in Doctor Who's "Tooth and Claw" episode, written off by the Doctor with, "I just thought you were happy!")

This Sherlock is a little bit beyond that -- this is sort of like what would happen if you took Conan Doyle's Sherlock, crossed him with Cracker, and then added some of the late Prime Suspect Jane Tennison. He is not only distant, he is actually removed. We don't know why -- I would imagine speculation runs rife in fandom -- but there are, presumably, reasons.

Tasha @ Natasha Curson - a trans history) has two pieces up that I like, one on the language we use to talk about trans issues, and one on body modification surgery. From the first post:
Ultimately, we all want to be ourselves and to be able, as  far as possible, to express ourselves freely. For trans people getting to that point can be a very difficult journey. I’m still on my journey, and it took me decades just to get on the right road. Many people struggle, or don’t make it at all. So where does this leave us when it comes to labels/names/words? I think labels can empower when we use them ourselves, or when others use them about us respectfully and affirmatively. If they are used in order to limit the ambition of others, or to direct hate towards them, the effect can be incredibly powerful.
Also on the subject of personal experience and the naming thereof, Minerva @ Hypomnemata offers some thoughts on emotional and physical intimacy in a post In Which the Gloves Come Decidedly OFF!
In a way, my asexuality has only made this habit more clear.  I spend so much of my time saying what I won’t do, that I’ve lost sight of figuring out what I will do or what I do want.  It’s rather ridiculous actually, since I make it a habit of telling people not to do what I’m doing, namely self-limiting.  I’m not sure how accurate my perceptions are, but I feel like this is a trend that’s not under-represented within the asexual community.  I see a lot of blog posts about the ways in which we are different from sexuals, the ways we won’t engage in intimacy, but I haven’t heard much about the ways in which we will.  Where are the discussions about our expressions of intimacy, the concrete nitty-gritty of what asexual relationship intimacy looks (would look) like, and not just in a theoretical fashion?
Diana @ The Waki Librarian has good thoughts to share on the relationship between academic discourse and professional conversations. While she's talking specifically about the library-and-archives field, I'd say the same balancing act can be found around any area of interest: what is the relationship, in the end, between theory and practice, and how do we -- as individuals and as colleagues in a given field -- understand, articulate, and utilize that relationship?
For me, yes, there are differences between academic discourse and professional discourse that occurs via social media, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t and shouldn’t be overlap between the two discourses. I’m an academic and do quite a bit of research and writing in the formal, traditional academic model. It’s a very important discourse. Research is important for producing the kind of quality evidence available to use as a basis for decision-making and to further develop theory and models in our field. It is important to be able to write your results up in an article in such a way that it withstands peer-review and can be used as a credible source. No one, I think, would deny that. But it doesn’t do one lick of good just sitting in an article that few people will ever read–especially in our field which is an applied, practical, professional field. Keeping an academic discourse cloistered is silly and inhibits good ideas from spreading. I adore the intellectual stimulation of academia (and the excuse to do research), but I really don’t enjoy the concept (and practice) of academia as a world and conversation set apart from every other conversation happening in our field.
And my friend Lola @ Oh, My Sainted Aunt (her recently-launched tumblr blog), offers this gem of people-on-the-street observations
Overheard at the Museum:

Visitor [looking at photographs from 1918 influenza pandemic]: “I didn’t know they had an influenza epidemic in the 1600s.”

Well, I didn’t know they had photography either. Everyone learned something new today
Hope you're having a lovely weekend ... I don't know about you, but I'm psyched for a nice long Thanksgiving holiday. Hanna and I are taking Tuesday afternoon through Sunday off from work, and plan to enjoy every damn minute of it.


trans day of remembrance

Today is the 12th Annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance, on which folks around the world take time to remember those who have died as a result of anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.

For most of this week, I didn't think I had anything to offer for today -- at least here on this blog. Being involved in feminist politics, and caring about intersectionality, I've become increasingly more aware of trans issues over the past decade or so.  Particularly in the last few years, I've come to know as personal friends a couple of people who self-identify as trans in one way or another.  And -- in the way of such things -- as the issue became more concrete (in the shape of people whom I crossed paths with in daily life) in my life, the once-abstract theoretical and political issues began to matter in a way they had not before. But I don't have anything very profound or original to offer when it comes to memorializing the dead.

But I've been thinking a lot lately about gender, sex, and body policing, and I realized this week that that sort of community policing has a lot to do with anti-transgender hatred and prejudice, and the violence that hatred and prejudice can beget. So today, for Transgender Remembrance Day, I want to write about the importance of understanding about how personal opinions about other peoples' bodies, when expressed in the world (and enforced through a variety of sociocultural mechanisms) aren't just assholery, insecurity, or stupidity. Well, yeah, they are. They're the opinions of stupid, insecure assholes. But in the past, much more than now, I think I believed it was in the power of people to just blow off stupid, ill-informed opinions. Sure, they hurt. Sure, they should not have been said. But you can't control what other people think or say (still true) so ... in the past I've focused on how to make those asshole opinions matter less to the individuals who were being bullied, harassed, ridiculed.

And all of that is as good as far as it goes.

But recently, I've been thinking way more about the collective power of body policing, and how combating it on an individual level just isn't enough.  We need to connect the dots as much as possible between everyday, individual acts of body policing (passing judgment on whether someone picked out the right shirt, whether they should lose a few pounds, whether they "pass" as their chosen gender, whether X act is appropriate for their gender identity) and a culture that normalizes that pressure to conform to such an extent that folks who are prone to violence feel justified in exerting physical and emotional force in order to exact "correct" behavior from their victims.

We all make snap judgments about our fellow human beings. We're socialized to do so: it's part of the process of making sense of an otherwise untenably chaotic world. And I'm sure a certain amount of that categorization activity is necessary for us to function successfully as organisms in our environment.

But today, I'd like to point out that not all interpersonal judgments are necessary for our (physical and social) survival. Assessing whether someone's likely to be an abuser? Probably a good skill to have. Passing judgment on whether or not someone made "good" or "bad" decisions about how to dress this morning? Whether their food or exercise choices are healthy? Questioning their self-identified gender or sexual orientation? Making them feel somehow dirty or wrong for being who they are in the world ... when who they are is hurting exactly no one?

It's just not cool. And it helps to perpetuate a culture in which we make it our business to police the gender and sexual identity of those around us, according to our own personal understanding of what boundaries should and shouldn't be crossed. And that includes the personal understanding of those of us who think queerness is cool and the gender binary is passe AND those who think that any deviation from gender essentialist, heteronormative world is a fucking nightmare. And will resort to violence in order to protect themselves, and those around them, from it.

So next time you find yourself judging someone else's identity or self-expression? Take a deep breath and think twice. I'd like to believe each time we do that, we make the world a little less violent than it otherwise would have been.

And maybe, collectively, we can stop so many people from dying just because someone stupid found their existence offensive.


photo of the day: queen elizabeth + guns!

I refuse to become one of those bloggers who constantly apologizes for the occasional radio silence ... so I trust you all to understand it's that time of the semester and chalk the lack of posts up to a busy work and academic schedule.

Meanwhile, I never followed through on my promise (threat?) to post more pictures of the women of Who last Friday. So in lieu of that, for now, some first impressions of the recently-released (here in the U.S. for those of us plebes who can't afford BBC America) Season 5 of Dr. Who.  Hanna and I got the first disk in the mail and watched it last night.

(Hanna's planning a post on these episodes next week: watch this space for a link)

Mild spoilers below for those who haven't seen "The Eleventh Hour" and "The Beast Below."

In short, my feelings are something like this:

Queen Elizabeth the Tenth (Sophie Okonedo), Starship UK
The Beast Below
Which definitely suggested to me that someone on the writing team had been watching this:

Zoe (Gina Torres), Firefly
Queen Elizabeth X was just maybe my favorite thing about the first two episodes.

Although I admit partly this is because I'm kinda waiting to get more of a feel for the Eleventh Doctor and his companion, Ms. Pond.

They seem to be trying to get around the breaking-in period with the new companion by doing a sort of time-traveler's-wife number on her; not entirely sure how it's working out, but it seems to have given her an edge in terms of not letting the Doctor bully her.

I'd love to see her and Donna work together (are you listening Mr. Moffett?), since I think Donna could offer her some advice on how to refine her instincts vis a vis the Doctor into something sharper and more effective.

Both episodes had lots of energy and I'm really liking the steampunk look of the repaired (regenerated? healed?) Tardis.

I felt like there was something essentially unsound about the premise of "The Beast Below" (5.2) but I have to think about it more before I can articulate it.Something flawed in the psychological manipulation in which only two choices are presented: to remember (and die) or forget (and comply). Particularly in the case of the Queen, who seems to have convinced herself she must perpetually forget and remember and forget and remember over and over again.

I'm also hazy on why the "beast" would eat those very adult citizens who chose to remember and protest. If it has enough agency to refuse to eat the children who have been chosen as sacrifices, why would it accept the very adult humans who could be its allies?

So yeah: I'm left with niggling questions.

But I'm a fan of the Queen ... and her cape ... and her guns.


28 days from now ...

...it'll be Ms. Future Feminist Librarian-Activist thank you very much!

This post was going to go up yesterday, but a combination of illness, homework, and holiday scheduling conspired against that. So ... one day late, here's what I have to say.

A month from now (Friday, December 10th) I'll be finishing up my final class in the Simmons College GSLIS program, seven semesters (and one summer class) after I began the program in Fall 2007. In January, if all goes well, I'll have an officially-conferred Master's in Library Science. My Master's in History won't be complete until May, and yet ... this still feels like at least a partial milestone.

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts about this transition, being the sort of person who always has more thoughts. Mostly, right now I have these preliminary observations.
  • Graduate school did not fundamentally alter my love-hate relationship with institutions of higher learning and formal education in general. If anything, it amplified those feelings, and the tension between them, to an uncomfortable degree.
  • At the same time, graduate school has fairly fundamentally altered my relationship to academic work. In undergrad, I tried as much as possible to take classes for the love of learning, and throw myself with good faith into the content of every course.  In graduate school, I was much more selective about where I directed my energies. The jury is still out on whether one or the other of these is a preferred approach.
  • Librarians, as a group of professionals, are unquestionably awesome 
  • I am less than convinced that library school is the best way to approach training professional librarians.
But for now, I'm looking forward to what comes next, including my first tattoo (details to follow), winter vacation, my thesis revision (yes, I'm daunted, but also excited to pick it up again), and a wee bit more time with my girlfriend.

And now it's back to work.


movienotes: holiday (1938)

Doris Nolan (Julia Seton), Cary Grant (Johnny Case) and
Katherine Hepburn (Linda Seton) in a publicity shot for Holiday (1938).

On Monday, when Hanna and I were both home sick from work and self-medicating by streaming video through our Netflix account I suggested we watch a Katherine Hepburn film and Hanna found us the 1938 Cary Grant / Katherine Hepburn romantic comedy Holiday.

In a nutshell, this is a classic "man engaged to wrong woman eventually finds the right woman who's been under his nose the whole time."  Thirty-year-old self-made businessman Johnny Case (Grant) becomes hastily engaged to Julia Seton (Julia Nolan) the daughter of a wealthy banking magnate while on vacation at Lake Placid. When he turns up at his intended's house mansion to meet the family of his future bride he finds Julia's black sheep elder sister, Linda, with whom he experience an immediate rapport.  The remainder of the movie is spent waiting for Johnny to realize that Julia's vision of their future life together (in which he will follow in her father's footsteps) and his own dream of quitting business and traveling the world are incompatible. And that (surprise, surprise!) Linda's rebellious desire to escape the family fortune and see the world might suit him much better.

If I ever end up, in a future life, becoming an historian of American cinema, I can imagine quite happily building my scholarly career with a close analysis of 1930s and 40s romantic comedies and dramas, particularly those written around the characters played by actors such as Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn.  These films fascinate me with their willingness to ask, through plot and character exposition, what it means for men and women to form egalitarian relationships (see for example All About Eve and Woman of the Year). They also openly explore issues of money, work, and class in a way that modern romantic comedies and dramas mostly fail to do.  In most television and films today, characters' lifestyles and purported wagework rarely match up in reality. In Holiday, we are looking at the lifestyles of the rich and famous, yes, but the question of money and values is front-and-center within the plot in what I thought were some fascinating ways.

In Jennifer Pozner's book on reality television, Reality Bites Back, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, she observes that much of reality TV involves the double-edged sword of American culture's obsession with wealth: we are encouraged to ridicule and despise the rich while simultaneously coveting what they have and the lives they lead.  In Holiday, the main character, Johnny Case, essentially spends the entire film deciding between two relationships with money and work life. He is on the verge of closing a business deal that could either secure him a job at his future father-in-law's bank (where he could make even more money and be the type of businessman his fiancee desires him to be) OR he could take "early retirement" and use the money to travel and explore the world while he still has the energy (as he puts it) to do so, and to discover what he wants from life.  He's been working, he tells Mr. Seton, since he was ten years old, and he wants a change.

While this fantasy of a Grand Tour is, essentially, the sort of life of leisure open to men of Mr. Seton's wealth, Seton himself despises the idea as positively un-American, a childish attitude that his daughter needs to school out of the future son-in-law. When one is wealthy, it seems, the only acceptable way to use that wealth is to use it to create more

Linda, despite the fact she is also the daughter of Mr. Seton, has rejected this attitude toward money. Instead, she encourages Johnny (and, at first, her sister with whom she vicariously identifies) to escape the family and travel.  In a way, she plays a proto manic pixie dream girl (a common role for Hepburn, although seldom with as little independent agency as she has in Holiday). We see Linda almost entirely within the confines of the former children's play room -- the only place in the Seton mansion she says she feels at home. In the play room, she and her younger brother Ned (who has retreated into the helpless infancy of an alcoholic) invite Johnny and his middle-class friends to join them in reliving the antics of their youth: gymnastics, music, puppet theater. Linda's separation from the adult world of her father and younger sister is in part self-imposed, but it also seems she has been typecast as a permanent dependent: there are frequent allusions to "doctor's orders" and "headaches" and "rest."  Elder sister, in this instance, has not become a parent in the absence of her mother (who has long since died) but has rather retreated to childhood.

Linda and Johnny finally do escape the Setons and (as the viewer anticipated from the opening moments of the film) run away together to see the world. We are left, at the end, to imagine for ourselves how their lives played out from there -- one assumes in a very "un-American," Bohemian fashion. Though Linda has promised to return one day to rescue, in turn, her brother from his stultifying fate.  Father and daughter (Julia), it seems, are left to enjoy their shallow, yet unimpeachably American (read: earned not inherited), riches.


call for participation: study of engaged couples

Essin' Em over at Sexuality Happens brought my attention to a study being done of couples who intend to get married within the next year. The researcher writes:
I am looking for volunteers for a study of attitudes towards marriage and parenthood among engaged couples. The study consists of a 25-30 minute online survey. To qualify for the study, you must be 20-35 years old, live in the U.S., and plan to marry or have a commitment ceremony within the next 365 days. You and your romantic partner must not have children, and this must be the first marriage for both of you.
The sex/gender of the individuals in the couple do not matter; no mention is made in the call for participants about poly relationships, but if you're in one and otherwise fit the bill I'd encourage you to contact the researcher and offer yourselves as part of the sample. The more diverse the sample population, the more interesting the end result will be.

You can read a bit more about the study (and get contact details) over at Sexuality Happens.


"you should call it the doppler effect. then people will shag you."

shout and scream by Mindaugas Danys
available at Flickr.com
So this past weekend I was enjoying some stimulating, thoughtful conversation over on Emily Nagoski's blog about teaching women's sexuality in higher education. A student in the semester-long class on the subject recently contacted Emily and suggested that the course material was "unintentionally heteronormative." This provoked an interesting conversation on the comment thread about how to teach the biological aspects of human sexuality to students more comfortable in the world of sociocultural analysis -- students who are (rightly) suspicious of simplistic truth claims from the world of hard science, but who are perhaps hastily dismissing an entire way of seeing the world that could be useful, as long as it remains one of many tools we have to increase our understanding.

I digress. If you're interested in that conversation, you can head over to the original thread.

The thing is, a commenter jumped into the conversation and suggested this student -- solely on evidence that they used the word "heteronormativity" was an "unhinged crank," who "sees 'heteronormativity in A/C plugs and sockets" When Emily replied "I know with certainty they are not," he begged to differ:
Anyone who would accuse the Emily Nagoski I know of ThoughtCrime – excuse me, “heteronormativity” – is nearing the straitjacket stage of gender politics.  
The thing is -- this guy obviously knows and wants to defend the thoughtfulness and openness of his friend. Both of these impulses are laudable. But I really, really wish we had a Godwin's Law for references to ThoughtCrime, ThoughtPolice, 1984 and the derogatory use of "politically correct"  and the label of  "language police." Attempt to invalidate someone's argument by accusing them of being the thought police? You lose.

Like with Godwin's Law,  the Feminist Librarian's Law of Accusations in Place of Honest Reflection, allows that there are instances in which it is legitimate to speak out against genuine instances of attempted censorship or policing of other peoples' life experience. I believe policing other peoples' sexualities, identities, bodies, clothing choices, food choices, and yes, even language choices (when it comes to self-identification and description at least) is not okay. It's their life, not yours. And unless their actions are causing you or other people demonstrable harm (for which you have to show not just claim causal effect), it's none of your damn business. And if there were actually state-sanctioned censorship going on here, it's legitimate to challenge it. (Although I'd suggest accusing the proponents of being the "thought police" might not be the best way to get your message concerning freedom of speech across.)

The thing is: No one in this scenario has tried to thought-police anyone.  A student in a class has raised concerns that a class on women's sexuality is unintentionally perpetuating heteronormative culture. Heteronormativity is not a "thought crime": it's the accumulated effect of myriad cultural cues that suggest to us that the normal (and best) form of sexual identity and expression is one in which individuals' gender matches their assigned sex, that gender expresses itself in only two mutually-exclusive ways ("male" and "female") and that the most appropriate expression of human sexuality is through opposite-sex pairings.

Far from acting as the Thought Police (who, ahem, had the weight of the government behind them), the student in Emily's class is raising a question from the margins. Our government supports heteronormativity not its opposite. One cannot literally act as the "thought police" unless one has the power of cultural, political, and/or legal authority behind them.

In my experience, the people who get most often accused of policing other peoples' thoughts or words are people who are challenging the status quo.  People with no political authority or cultural weight behind them. While the people who respond to those challenges with accusations of language policing and characterizations of the first person's challenge as a call for "political correctness" are defending the status quo.  They're skeptical of the first person's challenge, dismissive of their concerns, and all too ready (as this gentleman has) to label the challenger as a "crank" or "unhinged."

This is not what Orwell was talking about, people. This is not censorship.  This is just, you know, people bringing up ideas that are outside your comfort zone.

And crying "thought police" just 'cause you're a little uncomfortable is, shall we say, slightly over-egging the cake.

In my experience, the only goal of this tactic to get the challenger to shut the fuck up by telling them their question-asking is an hysterical over-reaction or a calculated power-play (probably both!). It signals to me that the accuser the doesn't understand the crucial distinction between the exertion of power-over with the full weight of the Powers That Be behind it and the actions or speech of those who are challenging the Powers That Be the passive or active abuses the often come with those Powers.  It signals to me that the accuser does not care enough about the challenger as a person or about their ideas to give them due consideration, even if that person and their ideas make the accuser uncomfortable.  Reflexive defensiveness: Not. Cool.

Had similar experiences? Discovered ways of dealing with this sort of response effectively? Share in comments!


sunday smut: tumblr highlights (no. 7)

Mostly, I'm posting some highlights this week so I have an excuse to share this picture with you. It makes me smile every time I look at it.

There were some wonderful posts this week on reaching outside ourselves with compassion and non-judgment. Since Hanna's meditation homework for the week (she's taking a series of classes on the eightfold path) was to only speak words which were "kind, true, and necessary," I thought it would be appropriate to highlight the work of folks who are encouraging us in that direction.

Amanda Marcotte @ Pandagon mused on political dynamics of the bile directed at so-called "hipsters."

What’s fascinating to me is that these narratives are so evocative in our culture, and the consequence of that is that the group being bashed as smug and elitist---hipsters, liberals---is assumed to be the ones that have to do the compromising and apologizing. The mainstream narrative in our culture is that hipsters have all these privileges of good taste and pleasure (which is impugned into money, though statistically, I’m guessing they’re no more or less middle class than their traditional bashers), and therefore they’re the ones who need to be taken down a peg, even though in the real world, the people bashed as "smug hipsters" are hardly exempt from being treated like shit for who they are, which is one reason they shun living in rural and suburban communities where they’ll be excluded and choose to live in urban areas where they can find people they get along with.
Read more at The Narrative of Inauthenticity.

Anna @ FWD/Forward writes about how the world-at-large continues to presume that only able-bodied folks participate in real life activities ... until someone with disabilities has the temerity to ask to be included in everyday life.

What I end up getting out of this story is that the burden of pushing for something to be accessible pretty much consistently falls on people with disabilities themselves. We have to ask because no program, no building, no website, will be willingly designed with the idea that people with disabilities are part of a broader target audience. Only websites, buildings, and programs aimed right at people with disabilities will do so. (Until laws are passed, of course. And even then the law will be only grudgingly followed.)

Accessibility is often treated like a favour that non-disabled people do for (or even to) disabled people, one that is given out of the goodness of one’s heart. It’s an individual’s problem to bring up, and the solution is for individuals to come up with.

...We don’t act like putting a door in the front of our building is a favour we are doing. We assume that doors are necessary. And yet, people treat having a ramp to that door as a favour they are doing, when the ramp serves the same purpose: it allows people to come inside.
Read more at Accessibility is Not an Individual Problem.

Rachel @ The Feminist Agenda talks about how effortless it is to write with respect about transgender folks.

None of these things appear to have required a superhuman effort on the author's part. None of this required arduous editing and rewriting. Perhaps this is because the author appears to have simply approached the story as if it were about a real human being, deserving of just treatment and human compassion.

I propose that this approach could serve as a model to guide you in your coverage of news stories involving transgender people. Just think of them as humans, and treat them with the kind of respect that you want to be treated with. I promise you, it's not that hard.
Read more at How It's Done.

Anna North @ Jezebel reflects on what it means to parent a child whose appearance or behavior is deemed "weird" by the majority of society.

...sadly, being a "weird" kid doesn't always turn out so great. The father of bullying victim Asher Brown said of his son, "He was very different. He's not the type of kid that would try to wear the newest clothes or try to do the coolest thing. He was an individual." And for this, Brown was tormented until he committed suicide. Of course, some kids who act differently from the rest are embraced — but unfortunately, some suffer.

That doesn't mean Asher Brown's parents should have made him dress differently, any more than they should have made him pretend to be straight. The people who need to change are the perpetrators, not the victims of bullying. But at the same time, let's not pretend that being the "weird" kid at school is easy. Parents need to support their kids' individuality, but they also need to watch out for signs of bullying, and teach kids to talk to an adult if it happens. And, unfortunately, they may need to advocate strenuously for their kids's safety, because schools don't seem all that good at doing this on their own.
Read more at Should Parents Let Their Kids Act "Weird"?

Tumblr blogger lucy @happy monsters shared the following thought, which I will include here in its entirety.

Instead of judging someone, calling them slut or whore or dumbass or jerk or whatever, isn’t it easier to tell yourself you simply don’t understand their lifestyle and let it go? I’m something I used to dislike, only because I used to be ignorant. And now I understand. People have different lives and different upbringings, make different choices, like different things; to each and everyone of them their decisions are just as justified as yours are to you.

Next time you call someone a bad word, remember that there is someone out there who’s just as willing to judge you for what you do because they don’t know you. Then you complain about judgmental people? No one wants to be a bad person, honestly, but they’re deemed so by people who don’t understand them. No one. Furthermore, people are governed by emotions most of the time, just as much as you are yourself, so try walking in someone else’s shoes for once. Strong emotions almost always hinder rationality, just because you are more sober than someone at a given time doesn’t mean you’re any better at handling things.

I need to remember this, even if I’m not making sense, even if none of this is true. Because so far it’s working and I’m beginning to empathize with everyone around me better. Long way to go, though. Long way to go.
Check out the rest of lucy's blog at happymonsters.tumblr.com.

And finally, Lisa Factora-Borchers @ My Ecdysis has written a follow-up post to her beautiful (and oft-cited) explanation of the term "kyriarchy" in which she challenges a recent mis-use of the term in an article published in The Guardian. The Guardian author suggested the term was about "individual liberation." Lisa writes

The purpose and measure of kyriarchy – and feminism in general – is not to increase our time at the microphone so we can more accurately assign BLAME. The purpose and measure of kyriarchy is to further understand the power and crippling tendencies of the human race to push, torture, and minimize others. It is in our nature to try and become “lord” or “master” in our communities, to exert a “power-over” someone else. Kyriarchy does not exist to give us tools to further imprison ourselves by blaming our environment, upbringing, or social caste. It is the opposite. Kyriarchy exists to give us tools to liberate ourselves by understanding the shifting powers of oppression. It is not about passing the megaphone to men so they can be included in the oppression olympics. Simply check-marking our gender, sex, race, ablity, class, citizenship, skin color and other pieces of identity will not free us from the social ills of our stratified society. Kyriarchy is not the newly minted alarm clock to wake us up to what’s wrong. It exists to radically implement our finest strategies to deconstruct our personal and political powers for the liberation of self and community. For self AND community.

Which is why I so vehemently disagree with Hodgson who believes that the most helpful piece of kyriarchy is “its emphasis on individual liberation…”

Please indulge my own theory-making right now: There’s no such thing as liberation if the word ‘individual’ precedes it.

I cannot speak for Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. I cannot pretend to even guess what Hodgson herself means in writing that phrase “individual liberation.” However, in the spirit of feminist theology, in the spirit of radical understanding of power, I would argue with 100% confidence that the absolute LAST thing that kyriarchy strives for is individual liberation. Solely pursuing your own liberation often comes at the expense of others. That’s not liberation, that’s mainstream feminism.
Read more at Truthout About Kyriarchy: An Open Letter To “Feminist” Writers, Bloggers, and Journalists.


saturday survey: librarians, archivists and historians as activists

My history adviser, Laura Prieto, alerted me to this survey being done on librarians, archivists and historians as activists in preparation for a conference paper to be delivered at a meeting at the University of Dundee, Scotland, in December. From the solicitation email:

If you are a historian or archivist, broadly defined, and you consider yourself an activist, we invite you to fill out a survey about your experiences. The definition of "activist" that we are using is "an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, esp. a political cause." This survey is being collected for a study of historians and archivists as activists. The survey explores the ways in which people participate as activists and the consequences for their employers and themselves. We anticipate this survey will take approximately 20 minutes to complete.
Although the email only indicates archivists and historians, the actual questions about occupation include "librarian."

The researchers doing the study are:

Bea Hardy, Interim Dean of University Libraries
College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, VA

Sonia Yaco, Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, VA

If you feel you fit the bill and have twenty minutes to spare, help bolster their sample size!

UPDATE: Again, the survey can be found online here: https://forms.wm.edu/997. I neglected to put the link in earlier due to my lack of black tea and the earliness of the Saturday-morning hour :). Thanks to Hanna for alerting me!


friday fun: the women of who

I promised you cat pictures this week and failed to deliver ... but I have a half hour left here at the front desk of the MHS this rainy, windy, dreary Thursday afternoon and I decided to prepare some beautiful pictures courtesy of the whospam tumblr blog and whoniverse tumblr blog for your Friday edification and pleasure.

Mercy Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan) in The Next Doctor
the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and his real-life daughter Georgia Moffett
who plays the titular character, Jenny, in The Doctor's Daughter.
Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan) in Blink
Nancy (Florence Hoath) from The Doctor Dances
Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), Sarah Jane Adventures

Donna Noble (Catherine Tate)
Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), Torchwood
Obviously incomplete. Have any favorite gals I missed? Leave suggestions for next Friday in comments (and picture links if you have any particular images in mind!).

Happy Guy Fawkes Day, everyone ... enjoy your weekend!


quick hit: reality, spectacle, and medical museums

On Friday I posted a review of Jennifer Pozner's new book on reality television which in turn inspired my friend Laura, at her newly-minted blog Oh, My Sainted Aunt, to muse on the relationship between reality television and our relationship to the objects in medical museums. Such is the incestuous power of the interwebs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about reality television, as it is a popular lunch topic at my new workplace and I generally listen rather than contribute, as I do not watch reality TV.  But here’s the context, ya’ll, and why I’ve been thinking about spectacle lately.

You see, I work in a medical museum, an historical collection of pathology material, which includes lots of medical oddities in jars.  The human tissue includes bits of tattooed skin, congenitally deformed fetuses, skulls, diseased tissue, and so forth.  These materials were collected over the past 150 years, some ethically, some not (and some have been repatriated, etc.), but the mission was medical and scientific advancement (insert ethics and human experimentation caveat here).  Historically, much of this material would have also made it’s way into side-shows and freak-shows, which were popular (and socially acceptable) forms of public entertainment.  Remember of course, that this was also done with real live people as well, such as in the “native” exhibits that the Colombian Exposition and World’s Fairs.  Suffice to say that we have a history of using human beings (the odd and unfamiliar) as a source of spectacle and speculation in ways that were and are profoundly dehumanizing.  (See where I’m going yet?)

Read the whole thing over at Oh, My Sainted Aunt (and then follow her blog on your reader of choice!)


tuesday morning economics: academia edition

Somewhere in me, I have a post percolating about the way my personal perspective on, and awareness of, economic issues has been subject to a steep learning curve in the last three years since I started graduate school.

In sum, while I had a fairly firm grasp on personal finance and budgeting when I entered graduate school, taking out the student loans necessary for my education, the high cost of living in the Boston metropolitan area, and the experience of bringing my material life together with that of another person for the first time raised new anxieties and questions. Additionally, attending graduate school for a professional degree -- not to mention doing so in the context of a recession -- means being caught up in a series of explicitly economic propositions. For the first time in my life, I have formed a relationship with education that is, in part, about economics. (More on why this is a new dynamic for me will have to wait for that later post).

I don't have time, right now, to write at length about these personal experiences. But I do want to draw your attention to a fascinating series of posts over at (once again) Tenured Radical and Historiann about the politics and economics of academic employment.
With good (read: lively!) comment threads on all of them for further reading. While the discussion here is primarily focused on faculty (teaching and research) positions, the economic climate of higher education inescapably touches those of us in the library field, particularly those who work at said institutions of higher education (not to mention that there are library positions with faculty status and tenure track).  In a more abstract sense, this conversation about the economics of education is a conversation about how to make a living doing intellectual work in fields that are not widely respected by the corporate sector (i.e. history! women's and gender studies!) and are often seen as peripheral to education of "real" worth (see the catch-22? "real worth" here = financially lucrative; the market is seen as the neutral, unbiased arbiter of social as well as economic value).

So there's your difficult-yet-worthwhile reading assignment of the week ... I promise more pictures of cats and other miscellaneous fluff on Wednesday!