Sunday, August 31, 2008

Obama Again

Sarah Vowell, who wrote Assassination Vacation, which cracked mr. delagar and I up all across the midwest one spring, as we were driving back from the CEA, has a column in the NYTimes today about Obama.

Much like my students, Vowell is from rural America -- Oklahoma, in fact -- and got to the university, apparently, as many of my students do, just barely: she went to the the University of Montana, using a combination of scholarships, loans, Pell Grants, and jobs (so do most of my students): her column talks about the difference the Pell grants made.

Here's my favorite -- well, my nearly favorite -- paragraph:

Every now and then when I have time to kill in Midtown, I duck into the Museum of Modern Art to stare at Van Gogh's "Starry Night." I love looking at the picture, but I also love looking back on when and where and how I first saw it -- on a slide in a first-year art history course[....]a course I paid for, in part with a Pell Grant, a program always and as ever championed by "my senator," Ted Kennedy, a program so dear to Barack Obama's heart that increasing the maximum amount of Pell Grants for needy students was the first bill he introduced upon arrival in the United States Senate.

Without the scholarships and the loans and the grants, where would Vowell be?

For those who don't want government to aid its citizens, in other words, what about people like Vowell?  Go read her book (or listen to it, even better, because it's great to hear her read): tell me we'd be better off telling people like Vowell to find their own boots and yank on those bootstraps.

Bah.  When our society works together, we're all better.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


mr. delagar and I have been listening to Lois McMaster Bujold's "Winterfair Gifts" while we ride around Pork Smith, and I love Bujold, I do.  She and Connie Willis are among my two favorite SF writers.  I totally love what she did with the character of Miles and later with his brother Mark, how she turns the usual SF notion of "genetic" Darwinism on its head (though I do wish she would quit having Miles insist that his deformities aren't genetic).  This is in such nice contrast to earlier science fiction, such as Mack Reynolds Lagrange Five, and Time Enough for Love, and literally dozens of other books in my youth (I can't name them, but I imbibed the thesis like scripture) which took as their theme that the human race had "stopped evolving" when we began "protecting our weak," such as our diabetics, and our cripples, and our children born broken or with Down's Syndrome.  A wise race, claimed these books, would drown such "monsters" at birth.

(Heinlein uses that exact word in Moon is a Harsh Mistress: not a baby, but a monster, which, being born broken, must be destroyed-- and I, at eleven, reading the book for the first time, swallowed that judgment whole, and believed it for the next twenty-seven or eight years, until I met Miles Vorsigan, and also Zelda, who smacked me up across the side of the head one day in class, figuratively, when I said something stupid one day.  Thanks, Zelda!)

The problem with the "drown the monsters" approach, besides how it's evil, since they are babies and not monsters, is that it's wrong.  Not just morally wrong, though that too, but factually wrong. True, when we were living on the Veldt, or in bad situations, there came times when we could not care for marginal members of society.  Those were not usually the damaged, though: I mean, sometimes, yes, no doubt.  But usually it was the old, or the newborn.  Mama can't feed another baby (I'm talking a healthy baby, not a broken one) so she takes it into trees. Or we're trekking to the new waterhole and you break your leg and we can't transport you, so we leave you behind -- not because you're genetically inferior, but just because we can't carry you.  (I suppose some manic darwinist could make the case that you're genetically inferior for slipping and breaking your leg...)

But on the whole, humanity survived because we find ways to take care of one another: to carry you along to the next waterhole, even after you break your leg, because you know what?  You're the only woman we have who know how to make spearheads, and if we lose you we're fucked. And we need to raise up the the little kid with the funny looking back because he turns out to be really good at weaving or working metal or figuring out how to negotiate with those bad fellas one valley over, and damn, isn't it lucky we didn't put him out for the wolves?

We don't only need tall, lean, smug guys who can write computer programs and solve quadratic equations -- in fact, you know, that's a fairly limited skill set -- and if we select for that skill set, we'll be in bad shape, is what I am saying.

Which saying, I like Bujold for what she has said on that point.

But: But: But:

On the feminist question?  She is starting to give me a rash.

Also, you know, okay, the whole feudal estate thing, I get it turns her on.  Whatever.  Me, I want a socialist paradise.  I get we're both living in a fantasy.  I'd love to see one or two annoyed members of the underclass on hers, that's all.  She tells us she has lord who don't act right -- well, where are the working class from those estates, and why aren't they pissed?  Everyone's jolly to be oppressed out there on Barrayar?

Anyway, not my point.  "Winterfair Gifts."

Sgt Taura coms to Miles' Wedding.  

Of course, as with all women in this sort of story, although she is clever in every other aspect of her life, she is too stupid to dress herself.  (Sgt Taura is a furry, half-cat, half human, and bioengineered to be fierce and fast. She's about nine feet tall, with giant fangs, golden fur, and big claws.  Every fella's dream, and all she wants is to be pretty.  She dresses in hot pink with lots of bows, as the book opens.)
Miles has to teach her how to be a real girl (yes! Just like in Pygmalion!).  He sends her to his aunt's dressmaker to whom Taura says, "I've never been to a wedding.  I wasn't sure what it was -- whether I should bring dresses or weapons."*

Aunt Vorpatril replies, "Dear, in the right hands dresses are weapons."

This was my first cough up a hairball moment.  "The fuck?" I said.  "What the fuck did she just say?"

"Hush," said mr. delagar.

The scene goes on.  They sweep Taura into the back, they bring out her hideous stupid clothing and give it to the fella who is obvious going to be her love interest (big dolt from the provinces, very strapping and handsome and brave, loves his Lord with all his loyal heart, took down an evil drug-addled terrorist with his bare hands one winter night, let's give him a round of applause, will we?) to take off and "burn" somewhere.

Later, this fella comes back.  Office Roic, his name is.  (Rock, get it?)

Taura is brought out, dressed in a lovely green whatever, there's a complete description, but frankly who cares, the important bit is how it affects Roic, of course, whose jaw drops.  She's stunning!  She's transformed!  She's -- a Real Girl Now!

Taura frets.  "I'm a bodyguard by trade," she points out to Aunt Vorpatril.  "How will I kick someone in the head in this dress?"

"Dear," Aunt Vorpatril says, "anyone wearing that will have volunteers to do the kicking for her.  Right, Roic?"

Roic closes his jaw and makes gulping noises.

"What?" I said.  "WHAT?"

"Can we just listen?" mr. delagar demands.

"But--" I say.  "But did you HEAR that?  Stand back and look pretty and the big strong men will do it for you?  Did --"

"All right with the feminist critique, I want to hear the book, okay?"

"Fucking crap!" I fume.

"Patriarchy!" yells the kid from the backseat.

"Can you two hush!" demands mr. delagar and turns the volume up.

Nor is this the first time, I might add: here's a fine critique of Civil Campaign, which I found via Feminist SF.

*These are not exact quotations, as I am listening to the text and not reading it.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Was that some speech? Yow!

Monday, August 25, 2008


I'm in the Harp's yesterday buying eggs so the kid can make popovers for our chicken gruel (we're making chicken gruel with barley now, hoping to make it through until Friday, when both mr. delagar and I get paid -- he got a raise, btw! The UA of Pork Smith is no longer paying Adjuncts diddley, as he now goes about telling everyone! Now they are paying them Squat!) and the guy in front of me at the check out asked the weekend manager (whom he obviously knew, because we live in that sort of neighborhood, well, all of Pork Smith is that neighborhood, everywhere you go everyone knows you, I can't buy eggs without meeting three or four of my students in the dairy aisle and produce section, and I'll have to tell you some day about meeting my student when I went out at three a.m. to buy condoms) -- where was I?

Oh, right. He asked the manager, and really the checkout section in general, who Obama had picked as his VP.

"Biden," said the woman running the register next over, a slender blonde girl with a sweet little stud through her upper lip.

"Biden!" said the guy who had asked the question, a beefy white guy wearing a polo shirt and cargo shorts, who had nearly clipped my bike with his gigantic white SUV in the parking lot and who had just ordered a carton of Marlboro Reds. "Man, I was hoping for Hiliary."

"Ha," said the blonde girl. "He's too scared of Hiliary, she's too smart for him."

"They'd fight too much," the store manager opined. "I don't know about Biden, though," he added. "That's not who I was hoping for."

The beefy white guy huffed in agreement, and took his cigarettes on out.

Me, I'm trying to keep a good thought.

Living in the Future

We're driving past where the new Target is supposed to some day open here in Pork Smith (I have ceased to believe this day will ever come) and while we're waiting for the light to change the kid asked me to explain why time travel* can't happen -- paradox issues, this is what she does not understand -- and I am attempting to explain, given my limited grasp of chaos theory and math in general, and all of a sudden her attention is caught by the new giant HD billboard which has come to our city, the first we have seen in these parts, which is right above that intersection, and showing -- well, who CARES what it is showing?

"Ooo!" she says, as though at a fireworks display. "Aah!"

"Yes," I say, because I have seen it a few times before. It shows an ad for Arvest Bank, and one for Wal-Mart. It says Life in Pork Smith is Worth Living! It's Huge and bright against the coming dusk, and like the big screens in Blade Runner, except it's the only screen in our world, and very pretty.

"It's--" the kid stuttered. "It's..."

"Ooo," I said. "Shiny."

She giggled and flung herself backwards in the seat. "Yes! Shiny!"

We're living in the future.

*Time travel in fiction, obviously, not time travel really. I have no hope of getting a handle on actual time travel.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Health Care Blues

I've been ailing lately -- not seriously, mind you.  I damaged my shoulder getting out of the white chair in our front room (the only comfortable chair in the house, it used to be white: we bought it when the kid was four months old, and I told mr delagar it was a bad idea -- we have an infant and you're buying a white chair? I said.  We just won't let her on it with food, he claimed.  Ho ho ho ho ho.) and now, a month and nine or ten bottles of anti-inflammatory meds later, the doctor tells me I have damaged tendons and maybe bursitis.

She gave me the big shot this morning, with the big needle, right into the joint (ow); also a bottle of pain drugs.  (Yay!)  Which this post is not about, how much I love Vicodin.  Y'all know that already.

Nope, it's about this guy standing in front of me while I'm waiting to pick up the Vicodin.  His kid has a drug-resistant staph infection.  The meds to handle that cost, and I kid you not, two thousand dollars for eight pills.  His insurance covers eight hundred of it.

Luckily the guy is rich as shit, and only blinks a little before whipping out his AmX.  My kid would have had to die,  frankly.

Nor am I joking.  Last week that was mr delagar, who is borderline diabetic,  -- the doctor, the same one who gave me the big shot, after trying other things for a month, wanted to put him on a drug which is meant to coax his pancreas back into action. Biata, I think it's called? Only our insurance won't cover it, and it's $270/month, which, as broke as we are, that might as well be two thousand dollars.

So we had to do without the meds.  The doctor is currently arguing with our insurance over whether they should pay for the medication or let his pancreas die (and then they can pay for all the really expensive care that will come from him being a diabetic, which, hey, that makes plenty of sense) and meanwhile he's on meds that don't work, but are really really cheap.

Someone tell me again why socialized medicine is a bad idea.  I keep forgetting.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Oh, help

So what do I say to someone who, I swear, I swear, used to be a liberal, who tells me he's voting for McCain because (a) McCain is not Bush and (b) Obama isn't "really black"?

I mean, besides beat his head into the nearest wall?

Friday, August 15, 2008


Rottin' in Denmark links to this post, which is nifty, and wonders "how many anecdotes [like this]  it will take to capsize the USS Complacency."

More than any blog/s can post, would be my guess.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Conversation at the delagar household

"Mama," the kid asks, "will I be pretty when I grow up?"

Now, see, I have thought about how I will answer 1,001 questions, but somehow this is not one I have ever considered.  Ack.  I have 1/1001th of a second to consider, of course, as well: and what to answer?  Yes, you will be beautiful?  (Oh, great, you've just reinforced the patriarchy!  Now she thinks she has to be beautiful to matter!  Tool!  What kind of mother are you?) Beauty?  What beauty?  You'll be smart! That's much better! (Oh, fine: why not just tell her she's ugly as sin, you harridan!!)

"Of course," I said, with hardly a pause (I hope).  "Why wouldn't you be?  You're beautiful now."

She considered this answer glumly.  "Do you think anyone will ever call me a slut?"

Oh. Ah.  Well.

"Well," I said, sliding down to sit in the white chair with her.  "Maybe, in fact.  But that won't have anything to do with you.  People do that to women to attack them.  It's got nothing to do with what the woman has done, or who she is."

"Did anyone ever call you slut?"

"That and other things, yes."

She gave me a measuring look.  "The C-word?"

(She doesn't know what the C-word is, because I won't tell her, but I have told her it's a really bad word.)

"Among other things, yes.  Listen, I hope it never happens to you.  But people -- men, particularly -- particularly a certain kind of man, who doesn't have much power in the world, likes to harass women, especially women who seem powerless.  That's why this kind of guy goes after young women.  From the time I was about thirteen until I was twenty-nine or thirty, guys like that were always yelling at me from cars, or saying things to me on the street, or coming up to me in malls or in stores, and saying -- things."

"You must have been very pretty," the kid said.

"That really has nothing to do with it," I promised her.  "I was young and I was a woman.  I looked like something they could dominate.  That's all it was.  They want someone they can be more powerful than.  It's nothing but patriarchy in action.  So what do you do if someone like that ever harasses you?"

She made her horrible hissing cat face -- it's very impressive, I have to say.

I laughed.  "Okay, yes.  Or?"

"Or I do Aikido on them.  Or yell," and she yelled, "GO AWAY YOU CREEP I'M ONLY TEN!"

"Excellent," I said.

And I can't tell you, while we're on the subject, how sad it made me that I had to have this discussion with my ten year old daughter.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Oh, Laws

I don't know what's sadder here: that McCain ('s speechwriters) plagiarized his speech; that it was plagiarized from Wikipedia; or that most of the tools commenting on this site don't seem to know what plagiarism is -- they seem to think it's something like "stealing facts."

It's no wonder our students don't know what plagiarism is - neither does 7/10ths of the country, apparently.

(Via Unfogged)


Two bits: Billy Bragg has released a new CD, Mr Love & Justice (it's been out since April, that's how out of the loop I am, but I just got it so I'm dancing).

Second, the kid informs me nicknames are no longer allowed.

"You may call me sweetie or pumpkin," she says.  "That's it."

Friday, August 08, 2008


So I'm driving around Pork Smith, in the blistering heat, with gas at its new low price of $3.53/gallon, and I make a two mile detour to go by the office (we're in the brief hiatus between Summer II and Fall semester now) and get the kid the copy of Howl's Moving Castle she wants to watch, which I have left at school (I show it in my WLIT II class).

"Crap," I say, having to dodge construction by the university and some idiots who are skateboarding on totally the wrong side of the road.  "I hope you appreciate what I am going through to get this movie for you, kid."

Nothing from the back seat.

"Hey," I say. "HEY!  I SAID, I hope you appreciate what I'm going through to get this movie for you!"

"What movie?" she mutters.

"Oh, fine," I say.  "This movie you've forgotten about, apparently.  Let's just go home."

"No! No! I remember!  I was just distracted thinking about Visual Basic!"

Well, okay then.

Here's the thing: the kid wants to learn how to write computer games.  You might have noticed, reading this blog, that I am just slightly computer impaired. (All right: I can turn them on and off, and I know to reboot if, after having turned them on, they start acting funny.  That is very nearly the extent of my computer skilzs.)  So when she came to me yesterday and started talking about this computer game she wanted to write and how hard was it, exactly, to learn to write games, I was wholly and completely out of my depth.

We went to all the various libraries in Pork Smith today and found them, as you might expect, nearly useless.  The University library had some books (on Visual Basic, yes), but these are aimed at college freshmen, and while she does, technically, read on that level, yikes, I was hoping for something a little more, um, something aimed at a 10 year old?  

So here's my question for anyone who might know: what book or resource should I be looking for?  She's ten, she's clever, she hasn't had all that much math yet, one of her parents knows a tiny bit about computers (he did tech support) the other is a total idiot, we need a kind of an introduction the writing code for games, or an idea to what we might look at if she wants to learn to write code for games -- see?  I don't even know how to form this question.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Seditious Tool

I stopped being interested in Mr. Card's work when he published what he thought was a fair and balanced work about them evil liberals attacking the U.S. with giant robot zombie weapons, I forget what the name of that book was -- Empire Chickens, was it? Anyway, it was so bad I couldn't get past chapter four, and chapter one, with its Good Soldier who never ever got PTSD, because (unlike the actual soldiers in my classes) he was a GOOD AMERICAN, loyal to His country, made me nearly too queasy to go on -- and Chapter two, I think it was, though it might have been chapter three, I was starting to get dizzy, whichever chapter it was where the Good Wife, who, although she had a Good Education, and was (HONEST) a liberal, nevertheless, did not want to do anything so SILLY as to have a JOB, not when she could have five (or was it six?) kids instead and bake cookies (YES! when we meet her she is baking cookies!) for them and do Good Soldier's laundry for him.

That's what good liberal wives like to do: make babies, serve husbands, bake cookies. Mr. Card knows, because he's a liberal. You can tell Mr. Card is a liberal, because he says so right on his blog. Also because he holds so many liberal positions, like, um, well...

Where was I? Oh, yes, I stopped reading Mr. Card's books sometime around Empire Chicken, and I began growing distrustful of his sincere assertations about his liberal credentials a few years before that. I don't remember just when he began posting Pro-Bush/Pro-Iraqi War rants -- sometime Post 9/11, but our pals on the Right (and yes, despite his claims to be a liberal, just like Andy, Mr. Card is quite some distance to the Right) all went a little, what's the word I'm look for, a little whacktard after 9/11, and not many of them have managed to make it back to shore yet, bless their hearts. So, okay. He wants to believe W. is, what's the word he likes to use, "statesman-like," okay, whatever.

He's been posting anti-gay rants for a few years, too. Went off on Rowling over it a few months ago, because of the Dumbledore issue. Ai. Whatever. Why anyone would care what other people do in bed, you've got me.

But now this --

Speaking of the California court's action on gay marriage, Card says:

"Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

"Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die."

Mr. Card is inciting others to sedition. Well, that's a bit much, is it?

Yes, I get that Teh Gay scares him. And I've read all the theories that maybe he's that gay guy he's always talking about who married a het woman because God wants him too. And yes, it is indeed true that there's no convincing straight sex in his books -- but, you know, there's very little convincing straight sex in any SF by any SF male writers. Sometimes I think male SF writers just don't have sex, is the problem.

(I except China Mievielle and Iain Banks and Richard Morgan: these guys can write sex. And I think China might be at least bisexual, so there you are.)

And also I agree that lots of the stuff in his books is weirdly homoerotic and I get that his religion makes it not okay for him to support gay marriage or gay anything and blah blah blah, but this is all beside the point: the point is, the United States is not a theocracy.

It's not a theocracy. No one makes any religion in this country support gay anything. But our laws are not religious laws. They're secular laws.

Gay citizens are citizens just like straight citizens are. No reason exists why my gay friends or relations can't have the right to do what my straight friends and relations can do. If Mr. Card can't handle that, he should ship his ass to Iran, which is a religious state, where the laws might be more to his liking.

Or move across the border to South Carolina and get to work on the secession thing they keep threatening -- how'd that work out for them the last time? Treasonous tools.

More here.