Friday, January 30, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday Part V

1. My favorite genealogy tidbit I've come across so far is from the 1910 Census, when my great-great-grandmother and my great-great-grandfather, who were married to each other, answered the question "number of years in current marriage" with two different numbers. Two people in the same marriage could not possibly have been in that marriage for 16 and 17 years, respectively, right?

2. Karma is lying to your professor - because you had really sweet tickets to a Georgetown basketball game, even if the Hoyas did play like crap - and saying you were sick so you could skip class, and then waking up the very next morning with a sore throat, stuffy nose, and nagging cough. I'm not complaining. I deserved it. I know.

3. Overheard in DC:
Man on his cell phone, presumably with his wife: "I love you like Barack loves Michelle."

4. There was a girl in my class this morning, a girl from Florida, who said that today was the first time she'd ever seen real snow. I didn't know people like that still existed.

5. Just before the basketball game last Thursday - the one that took precedence over my History class - we went to a Happy Hour with some friends. One friend said, "I'm going to New York tomorrow. Want to come?" I said, "Yes." She turned to Rhett. "Want to come to New York with me and Scarlett?" He said, "Yes." We all packed that night, and left for New York the next day after work. I love being spontaneous.

6. In case anyone's wondering, Grover Cleveland the Betta fish is doing most wonderfully after his near brush with hypothermia a few weeks ago. Is it absurd that, mostly for his benefit, I'm leaving the heat on when there's no one home?

7. My New Year's Resolution to "get back in shape" has been moving pretty slowly. It has thus far been limited to taking the stairs at work. . . as long as I'm going down.

Check out more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"If you don't know whether a body's dead, you don't bury it": Good, Secular Pro-Life Arguments

"If you don't know whether a body is alive or dead, you would never bury it."

So said Ronald Reagan in a 1983 article for The Human Life Review. The abortion debate often revolves around the question of when life begins. Conception? Implantation? Quickening? First trimester? Second? Third? Birth? Partial-birth? Is a "clump of cells" alive? An embryo? Is an embryo a clump of cells? What about a fetus? Is a fetus more alive at 7 months than at 2? Is a newborn 10 minutes after birth more alive than a fetus 10 minutes before birth?

All of these questions are essentially irrelevant.

I would argue that this is because life begins at conception, plain and simple, but I can't prove that to you. Neither, however, can you prove to me that it does not.

One of us is very wrong. If I'm wrong, my mistake would deprive women of a reproductive health service with no moral implications, having potentially damaging effects on women's rights and health. If you're wrong, your mistake would destroy an innocent life.

Would you rather imprison or execute a wrongfully-convicted "criminal"? If you might be wrong, if you can't know for sure, you opt for imprisonment, right? If you have to take a chance, either with someone's freedom or with someone's life, you err on the side of not accidentally killing the innocent.

I will not argue that carrying a pregnancy to term reduces the freedom of a woman, but if it did, that is certainly the lesser of two evils when compared to killing an innocent child.

If you were driving down the street, and saw a life-like baby doll lying in the middle of the road, would you run it over? You don't think it's a real baby, but you can't be 100% sure. Do you run it over? You do not. You swerve, you get out to make sure. You double check. You don't risk the life of what's even possibly a child.

Killing a baby is a terrible thing, and I don't think anyone disputes that. Killing a baby is such a terrible thing that it should be avoided at all costs. So terrible that even the potential, even the slightest possibility of it should be avoided at all costs. The possibility of killing a baby based on a misconception is such a terrible thing that the abortion debate simply must operate under the assumption, from all sides, that life begins at conception. The consequences are much more dire if the pro-choicers are mistaken about the beginning of life than if the pro-lifers are.

Monday, January 26, 2009

My Rosaries are Nowhere Near Your Ovaries: Good, Secular Pro-Life Arguments

I've begun to realize that most people who are pro-choice view any religious language - from the most concrete "Abortion is wrong because the Church says so" to the vaguest, most unassailable, "Life is sacred" - as justification of their view that anyone who is pro-life is trying to force his religion on the rest of the world. This, of course, is not true. While the idea of people joining the Church pleases me greatly - and I was never so honored as when a friend asked me to be his RCIA sponsor - my pro-life views have almost nothing to do with that. They just make sense. They just feel right. I understand the perspective of pro-choice people, which tends to be well-intentioned, but I really can't fathom how most of them come to their views, because, to me, the right to life is. . . self-evident.

While secular arguments for the pro-life position resonate with me precisely because life is sacred, they work just as well, I think, if that premise is left unspoken.

Imagine: "You shouldn't kill babies because all life is sacred." Works for me.

But try this: "You shouldn't kill babies." That works for me, too, and I think it works for everyone.

I'd imagine most people inherently believe life is sacred, but many will not explicitly acknowledge that, and trying to make them do so turns them off entirely. They know there's something special there, so they won't fight it, as long as you don't make them admit that "sacredness" is real, or that life's inherent worth is God-given. Just leave it at "life has inherent worth," and you'll get a whole lot further with some segments of the population.

With that in mind, consider this the introduction to a series of posts on the completely secular pro-life arguments that I find most compelling. I'll do my best to leave God out entirely.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Boys, Guns, and Abortion

My boyfriend is pro-choice. He's said, "I don't think abortion is a good thing, but I don't think you can make it illegal. If it were up to me, though, there wouldn't ever be a single abortion."

That was the most recent time we argued about this subject. The first time, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Scarlett: What would you want to do if we got pregnant before we got married?
Rhett: Whatever you want to do.
Scarlett: But what would you want to do?
Rhett: I'd support whatever your decision was.
Scarlett: But what you want to do?
Rhett: I'd be okay with whatever you wanted to do.
Scarlett: But what would your preference be?
Rhett: I don't have a preference. It's up to you.
Scarlett: Okay, pretend I'm in a temporary coma and can't have or make known an opinion, so the decision is entirely up to you and you have to make it before I wake up because afterwards it will be too late?
Rhett: I guess I might have a slight preference that maybe we keep it.

Why is that so hard to say? If you can say, "If it was up to me, there wouldn't be any abortions," why won't you express an opinion when I'm trying to leave it up to you?* Why has society beaten it into men that not only is this not their decision, but they're not even allowed to have an opinion? How on earth did we get to a point where even "I'd prefer we have and raise this child, but I'll support whatever decision you make" is considered coercion? Why do otherwise strong-willed, opinionated, caring men in communicative, involved, equitable relationships suddenly start acting like these most important of decisions are to be made unilaterally, and I'd better just leave the room while you think about it and decide. Why can't they say what they think, even in a hypothetical situation?**

Because society has apparently told them, time and time again, that to express an opinion is coercion, will force a girl into doing what her boyfriend wants. But imagine a girl who is honestly trying to decide whether or not she'd be able to bring a baby into a loving family to raise it well, despite being a young, un-wed mother. If what her boyfriend communicates to her is "I don't care whether this child lives or dies" - which is pretty much what "It's your choice. I don't have an opinion." communicates - the prospects of the kid having a loving family suddenly seem quite dim. The father could very well be open the idea of raising and caring for his child, but since he's not allowed to say so, she won't ever know - especially if he wouldn't even say so earlier in the relationship, when it was only a hypothetical discussion.

During this most recent argument we had about abortion, I asked a question that seems to be a pretty standard pro-life tactic. "Oh, so you don't think abortion is a good thing, but don't think it should be illegal? Name one other thing that you think there should be less of that you don't bother to make illegal." He named two.

Guns and cigarettes.

Good answers.

At first blush, they work well for you, pro-choicers. You don't get rid of the Second Amendment, even if you want to reduce gun violence. And of course you don't outlaw smoking, even though it's bad for you and we all wish no one smoked. That wouldn't be consistent with a smoker's personal autonomy.

But let's take these analogies a little further, shall we?

A plan for effective gun control and reducing gun violence would not include the government paying for guns for poor people. It would not include federal funding, to the tune of 336.7 million dollars a year to the nation's largest gun manufacturer. It would not include a bill designed to eliminate all current restrictions on gun ownership and use.***

We reduce smoking by telling kids in school not to smoke. No public school would ever tell kids not to have an abortion. Phillip Morris has to put warnings on cigarettes. Planned Parenthood doesn't have to start appointments with warnings about how bad abortions are. It's a good thing, an act of concern and compassion, to try to convince a friend to stop smoking. It's oppressive and coercive to try to convince a friend not to have an abortion. A girl can tell her boyfriend to quit smoking or they're through - now that's coercion! - but a guy can't tell his girlfriend - or even his wife - that he'd like them to raise their child, even if he doesn't issue an ultimatum, doesn't speak in absolutes.

I could maybe accept the "aim for fewer abortions without making it illegal" line of thinking if we actually treated abortion the way we treat other negatives that we don't make illegal, by actively discouraging it. As it is, we make it a special case, no one offers advice or makes suggestions for fear of "oppression," "coercion," or limiting "women's rights," doing nothing but paying lip service to the idea of reducing the number of abortions.

*Not that it would actually be up to him, because I abortion's simply not on the table for me, nor is there any likelihood of our getting pregnant before we're married.
**Is asking many rhetorical questions in a row poor blogging technique?
***I generally only use Wikipedia as a source for topics that are too controversial for me to find accurate, unbiased data by googling.

Friday, January 23, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday Part IV

Visit Jen at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

1. You know you're set in your ways - perhaps to a fault - when you reach for a pen and find yourself thinking, "Come on now! Who in their right mind would ever use blue ink?"

2. The kind of thing you would only ever overhear if you worked at an archives:
"Come tell me about some history so I can love you again."

3. I can't be the only person who sees a commercial for this and really, really wants to caulk a bathroom, can I?

4. Only in DC can you ask a crying not-quite-two year-old who the new president is and have the response be an excited "Brock Obmama!" and no more tears.

5. I find the new president's daughters very confusing. It seems to me that they are always referred to as "Sasha and Malia." Malia's the older one, though, and everyone knows that the older sibling always comes first when referring to a pair of siblings. Trust me. If the press knew that, I could stop being constantly confused by which one was older, and I would appreciate that.

6. I hate milk, and almost never drink it. When I eat chocolate chip cookies, I drink lemonade. Delicious.

7. Who would have thought that, in my second semester of grad school, I'd be back to reading Spark Notes for class? I'm not proud of it, but between Inauguration hoopla and an entire day devoted to watching 24, I didn't spend enough of my weekend devoted to homework. I'm going to have to come up with a real schedule for this semester, or else possibly cut back on my hours at work, but I can't really afford that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

March for Life, Part II

I decided to go to the March for Life today, even if it did just mean walking around the Mall for 20 minutes on my lunch break, even if my presence makes no difference in the fact that this country will support abortion more tomorrow than it did yesterday. It was inspiring - more so than I expected - to see hundreds, possibly thousands (this was before the actual March arrived) of people of all different ages and ethnicities, who actually believe that human life is worth protecting. As much time as I spend on the internet reading pro-life blogs, when you're from a blue state and live in the bluest of blue cities, your friends are all pro-choice, your family's mostly pro-choice and the rest apathetic, it's hard to conceptualize that the pro-life movement is this big and this real. All those pro-life writers, all those pro-life voters - they're real people! Flesh and blood people who care passionately about innocent lives. I've heard people say that the March for Life is more about solidarity than change, and that always made it seem inane. Of course the March has to go on - in many ways it's the only visibility the pro-life movement gets - but if you're only going to make yourself feel good about the existence of others like you, there's almost no point. I still feel like that, to a degree, but now I understand the point of solidarity, how important it is to not just know but to experience the fact that there are more pro-life people in this world than just me, my Aunt Sue, and that kid Jake from work. I understand action, though, too. I heard a few congressmen (I think) speak, and I'll have to look up who was who and who said what, but the one saying "We're winning this because of people like you" didn't speak to me. We may win the war - I have to believe, no matter how unlikely it seems, that we'll win the war - but, just as Obama is poised, pen over paper, to overturn the Mexico City Policy, so are we poised to lose a lot of battles in the coming years. The speaker who inspired me was the one talking about action - about letters to the editor, meetings with your congressmen, asking how they intend to vote before they do so, because complaining after the fact does no one any good. As I'm sure you can tell from this morning's post, I didn't expect the March for Life to make me feel good, to give me hope in humanity and the legislative process, to reinforce the belief that this is something worth fighting for. I was wrong.

March for Life

I'm at work today, mere feet from the National Mall. The Mall, today, is not as crowded as it was on Tuesday, or even as crowded as it was on Sunday afternoon for the concert, but it's crowded nonetheless, with pro-life protestors. Estimates I've seen say there are probably 100,000-200,000 of them. I support their cause whole-heartedly, and I may walk out there during my lunch break to see what's going on, but I'm not sure I "get" March for Life. It just doesn't seem to do anything. Abortion will be just as legal tomorrow as it was yesterday, whether I go outside or spend my lunch break inside online or doing homework, whether any of these well-meaning protestors show up at all.

Most pro-life efforts, for that matter, don't seem to do anything, and that's very frustrating for me lately. I've written my Representative, and my Senator (just the one - it didn't seem worth it to write Clinton, since she won't hold that office long enough to vote on anything in this Congress; I'll wait and write her replacement), but even that, concrete though it may be, seems futile; all of my congressmen have 100% NARAL ratings and are very pro-choice. Clinton is even a cosponsor of FOCA. What I say won't change how they vote at all. I'll dutifully sign a postcard when I go to church on Sunday. My postcard won't change how they vote. Whether I march down the Mall holding a sign at lunch tomorrow won't change how they vote. Prayer may change how they vote, but it sure hasn't yet. Volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center or praying outside of an abortion clinic are both ideas I've considered briefly, but I don't get the feeling that they save very many lives. Some, I'm sure, but until they can change society's mind and a senator's vote, it doesn't seem like any of it actually matters.

And I know that it does matter. Of course it matters. The deaths of millions of innocents certainly matter. Their lives, short though they may be, matter. But it doesn't seem like any of the pro-life movement's most concerted efforts are worth it, because it doesn't seem like they have any effect, and what modest effects they may have had over the past eight years certainly won't be matched by a similar response over the next 4 (or 8).

Which is to say, I should feel hopeful, knowing that my office is literally surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers at the moment. . . but I don't.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Inauguration Day Experience

In 2005, even though I'd voted for Bush, I didn't bother to attend the Inauguration or Inaugural Parade. I just honestly don't care that much about politics, I didn't want to deal with the crowds, and my roommate and I figured we'd rather stay home and watch soap operas. Who would expect that a Presidential Inauguration would pre-empt All My Children?

My fear of crowds was clearly much worse this year, since the crowds would be much worse. I watched the Inaugural Concert (who knew there was such a thing?) on TV in Rhett's living room, and didn't make any plans to go to the Inauguration itself. Monday, though, I started feeling like I was going to be missing out. It is kind of a big deal, after all. I made plans to try to meet up with friends for the parade. Parades are fun, regardless of what they're celebrating.

Once I got downtown, I realized that we were heading at the parade route from opposite sides, so I would have to cross Pennsylvania Avenue to get to where they were. After walking for a while and half an hour or 45 minutes in line, I started to hear whisperings from the people around me that no one was being allowed to cross the parade route, not even at the designated crossing points that had been advertised beforehand.

I had told my friends earlier that if it didn't look like we'd be able to meet up, I'd just go home. Parades are fun, unless you're watching them alone in a crowd. But I was already there, I was already waiting, I was in the one security line that seemed to be moving. Wouldn't it be too much of a waste to go home without even giving it a shot? I stayed in line, but I wasn't happy about it. I was getting quite depressed about prospect of waiting for 4 hours (turned out to be 5, but I couldn't have forseen the delay from Sen. Kennedy's seizure), alone, with no one to talk to, just to watch a parade celebrating a man whose ascent to the Presidency worries me more than it pleases me.

Then Rhett called. Even though he and his mom had had tickets to the Inauguration itself, the crowds were so bad they couldn't even get inside the gate to get to their seats. They had turned around and gone back to his apartment to watch on tv. I joined them. He gets stuck outside of presidential inaugurations at the same time I do; that's why I love him.

It was still maybe not my favorite way to spend the day; he, his family, and all of his friends are staunch Democrats who love Obama and hate Bush. I'm a right-leaning moderate who doesn't really like Obama, and doesn't really like Bush. I was not 100% on board with the champagne toast when Obama took the Oath of Office, nor with all the clapping when Bush left DC in what would formerly have been Marine One, but I'm not quite at the place yet where I want to have political arguments with Rhett's mother, so I drank my champagne, didn't clap, and watched tv without talking much. Still, it was a heck of a lot warmer than the Mall, and after something like 5 hours of Inauguration coverage and updates on Ted Kennedy's condition (which would have been welcome had they been updates, but since they were just repitions of the same information at 15-minute intervals, it got a little grating), we were able to change the channel and watch Cash Cab.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Politics on the Street Corner

Coming home from church last night, a group of people - most looked like teenagers, one or two might have been a little older - were talking about Obama and the upcoming Inauguration, which of course led to talking about Bush and the out-going administration. I'm no huge fan of George Bush - nor of Obama, nor, for that matter, of any politician I can think of - but you simply cannot blame everything that's ever gone wrong on him. I'm not nearly outspoken enough, though, to get into political arguments with strangers on the street by protesting when they say things like,

"Ain't never had no terror attacks before George Bush. Al-Qaeda started planning September 11 as soon as they heard George Bush was president."

I generally have no interest in politics, and don't have any plans to blog about it much if at all. There's startling ignorance displayed, though, by people who can hate someone without having all the facts - like that the plans for 9/11 were initiated well before Bush took office, or that there were plenty of terrorist attacks during Clinton's terms.

On a related note, I generally despise the term "drank the Kool-Aid" as used in reference to fans of Obama - I think it's insulting, and I have a lot of good friends who are fans of his - but I couldn't help but note that it unfortunately seemed very apt yesterday when I walked past the Metro. There must have been a dozen people selling T-shirts on the street corner - with everything from his face to the White House in grey, labeled "The Black House" - and a guy selling commemorative newspapers, not to mention all the tourists. I've gotten into arguments - online and in real life - for saying things like "he's only human," so I'm not going to comment any more, beyond saying I wish him all the best.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Grover Cleveland's Health Update

Update: Grover Cleveland is doing well. He still seems a little lethargic, and he wasn't as enthusiastic when I got home as he usually is, but he's up and moving and eating some, so I've got high hopes for him.

Friday, January 16, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday Part III

1. After a long Christmas break, I came back to work on Monday and learned that all the men's rooms had become women's rooms, and all the women's rooms had turned into men's rooms. Very important information, indeed.

2. I've had this idea in my head that I'm a good influence on Rhett's eating habits. After all, I've introduced him to exotic foods like the eggplant, the mango, the avocado, and the kiwi, not to mention cookies baked from scratch, and sushi. Earlier this week, I learned that this is a two-way street. . . when he introduced me to the corndog.

3. Inauguration mania is making living in this city quite an experience. I'm pretty sure Bush's last inauguration - I was here for that one, too - was nothing like this, although as a college freshman, there may have been some hubbub that I missed because I was in a bubble and isolated from the real world. This time around is madness, though. I got an e-mail from a friend, who lives in Virginia, just outside the District, asking me if I could babysit Monday for a family she usually sits for. It ended with, "I'd do it myself, but I can't get there, because all the bridges will be closed." Absurdity!

4. Earlier this week, I was intrigued by signs posted on tree trunks and telephone poles around Rhett's neighborhood. (It's not a bad area, I swear.) These signs read something to the effect of "This has been declared a Prostitution-Free Zone by DC Metropolitan Police." Okay. Unsettling, but legitimate. Closer examination, though, would reveal that they also said, "In effect: 1/16/09 until 1/25/09." Really? Shouldn't the whole city, be a "prostitution-free zone," you know, all the time?

5. This weekend, Rhett and his friends are reviving an annual tradition, wherein they watch the previous season of 24 in real time. An hour per episode, starting at the time the season started (6 am), staying up for 24 straight hours. I've never even seen an episode of 24. I'm not sure why I've let myself be talked into attending this event, but I have. I'm looking forward to it, but with a degree of trepidation.

6. Grover Cleveland (my fish) is doing very poorly. I think the house got too cold during the day yesterday while my roommate and I were both at work. As I type this (Thursday evening), he is locked in the bathroom, because that is the room that heats up quickest, since it's smallest. Keep your fingers crossed.

7. I've been walking around in a fog all week. I'm not sure quite what's up with me. I can't carry on a conversation well, and since I've been meeting lots of new people, both at work and in my classes for the semester, I think I'm coming off quite poorly. I'm not usually much of a conversationalist, but I don't usually feel quite as incompetent and tongue-tied as I have been at almost every turn lately. When I was having drinks with my close friends, I could laugh and say, "Sorry, I've been such a poor conversationalist all day" when I mumble incoherently at a pleasantry, but that's an awkward thing to say to that new guy at work I've made small talk with twice.

Make sure everyone checks out 7 Quick Takes Friday with Jen over at Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's Past Is Prologue

Since getting back to DC on Sunday, all I've heard about is the upcoming historic Inauguration. Traffic patterns for the historic Inauguration, crowd control for the historic Inauguration, Metro access for the historic Inauguration, and even a news story about how hospitals will only be offering emergency care that week, because of the historic Inauguration, so your stomach virus or diagnostic testing had better wait. Because it bugs me when people write history in the present - the future cannot yet be history, no matter how important it is - here are a few cool links about the actual past.
The reconstructed papers of the War Department, 1784-1800. An 1800 fire destroyed the War Department offices, and this project by George Mason University attempted to piece together what was lost by retrieving alternate copies.
This just popped up in the "Web Clips" at the top of my Gmail, but it includes a handful of cool and interesting facts about the history of the White House.
I've already linked to the Brooklyn Eagle's online archives, but I think it's cool enough and relevant enough to do again.
The National Archives is celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2009. This site should be updated throughout the year with information about events happening not just at AI (the main building in DC) but also at regional archives and presidential libraries throughout the country.
Free search of Ellis Island's records of incoming passenger ships. Go find your ancestors!
Did you know the Lincoln family dog was named Fido? 2009 in the Bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, and this site includes cool facts and information about Lincoln as well as links to exhibits and programs celebrating his 200th birthday.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Prayers, please

When I got home from NY last night, Rhett came over to have dinner and bake some cookies, but before we were able to sit down to eat, he was shocked to hear from a friend and learn that one of his close friends was just diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer.

I've only met this friend once or twice, so Rhett was obviously much more upset than I, but later that evening, as I looked at my boyfriend and happened to think that I hoped our kids would have his profile (I've always hated mine), it hit me that our friend has plans for the future, too. Hopes and dreams and plans and fantasies for the next five years or more (though probably not ones that involved kids with Rhett's nose). Now his chances of being alive in five years are very slim. As theoretically aware as any of us may be of our own mortality, I don't think it ever really occurs to a healthy 22 year-old that he might not make it to 27. As theoretically as I may have ruminated on the fact that Rhett and I would have sad times in our relationship, would have to help each other in grief and possibly tragedy, this always revolved around the funerals of distant uncles, or the very far-away deaths of our parents - the kind of things that are so remote that they don't yet have the power to inspire emotion.

Tragedy was not supposed to strike so soon.

I have a tendency - one that drives Rhett crazy - to take any negative situation I read about or see on TV and wonder aloud "What if?" "What if you you die of a heart attack and leave me and our three boys unable to make ends meet?" (Compliments of Secret Millionaire.) "What if we have trouble having kids?" (Thank you, Baby Mama.) "What if I miscarry once we do get pregnant?" (Courtesy of that episode of King of Queens I watched last week.) "What if our kid gets cancer? (Why on earth did Jon and Kate have to go to St. Jude Children's Hospital?)

The possibility of bad things is often in my mind, and I thought that, as a result, I'd be prepared for when bad things actually happen, as I know they inevitably will. I was not prepared. I was not even prepared for hearing news that did leave a possibility of hope, slim though it may be. I was not even prepared for bad news about the health of an acquaintance I barely know. I can't even begin to fathom how he must feel.

I know that this blog doesn't have what you'd call a "readership," but to anyone reading this, please pray - hard - for the health of a 23-year-old med student with brain cancer.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blog Advice

The Internet Monk posted, a while ago (but I'm new at this), on Ten Reasons I Don't Read Your Blog. Since I'm a newcomer to the blogging scene, since I'm pretty sure no one "reads" my blog, per se, I've read them and I'll be doing my best to pay attention to them in the future.

1. It's too personal. Personal is good. Too personal and I don't care. I should know enough about your life to understand you. I shouldn't know what you are doing with your homeschooled kids every day or how your sheets gave you a rash. Know what "TMI" stands for and blog accordingly.

Uh oh. I think my first real post had elements that could be described as "TMI." It won't happen again, I promise. And I'm not sure most of the rest of my posts have much "personal is good" at all.

2. You have no sense of humor. You can't laugh at yourself.

I'm working on it. It might not be evident yet, but I'm working on it.

3. Your level of knowledge regarding the subjects you write about is so low that a discussion isn't moved forward by what you write.

I'm not even sure there even ARE "subjects I write about," much less that I know anything about them.

4. Your posts don't have links that lead me to new, interesting and helpful sites I've not yet discovered. I tell this to beginning bloggers all the time, but usually to no avail. Season your posts with helpful links.

I'd never thought of this as important, but sure, I'll give it a go. As soon as I come up with some helpful links.

7. Your blog wastes my time. After I come there, I've learned nothing, seen nothing, felt nothing and been moved toward nothing. It was just there. I want my five minutes back. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but is there anything real, human, truthful, beautiful or worthwhile there?

At this point, I doubt it. Uh oh.

9. You keep playing with your site and it's annoying. The fonts/colors/template change. The sidebars grow like some kind of lab culture. You've added every tie-in, java box and whirling dervish you can find, and then you redo the template.

Well, no. No, I don't. In fact, I'm not particularly satisfied with my template, etc., at the moment - especially the sidebars - but I'm a little afraid to. Blogs scare me.

I'll try better in the future.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Damsel in Distress, 13 May 2007

While I was abroad in Florence my junior year of college, I kept a simple blog to keep my friends and family updated on my life. I'm going to repost a story I wrote there, about a year and a half ago.

I've been planning to regale you with the (comparatively) glamorous tale of spending last weekend at a beach resort on Elba as soon as I got the pictures uploaded, but for the moment you'll have to settle for the decidedly un-glamorous story of how I got myself rescued by firemen. That's right, pompieri to the rescue.

The morning didn't start out particularly well. I woke up to find the hallway full of more ants than I like to see anywhere but Christmas Eve (get it? ants=aunts? tee hee). I killed them with a vengeance (hope the uncles weren't upset!), and felt remotely like I was committing genocide. The poor things had no chance against me and my heavy shoes and my Windex bottle of death. Then I swept the floors, and then put my purse by the door so that I could mop myself into the front corner, grab my bag, and go grocery shopping (and ant-trap buying) while the floors dried. My plan was so clever! No sitting in my room waiting for the floors to dry so I could move again! No smudging the clean floors as I tip-toed out in my dirty shoes! Fool-proof!


I had no sooner closed the door than I'd realized that my keys were inside. Locked inside. Of the apartment where I now live alone, my last remaining roommate having moved out just two days ago. Of the apartment whose owner doesn't actually live in Florence - or anywhere near it, as far as I can tell. Interesting situation I find myself in, no?

What the hell to do?

1. Call the landlady. I could, but it's Mother's Day, and I don't actually expect or want her to drop everything and come let me in. In any case, if she lives as far away as I imagine she does, it really wouldn't be practical or feasible to do that, anyway.

2. Pick the lock? I don't know how, as useful as it would be in both licit and illicit circumstances. A summer project, perhaps.

3. Call the head of our program? Again, it's Mother's Day - and her mother's in the hospital. Very much a last resort.

4. Break the door? Almost tried it - there's a loose panel - but didn't know how the hell I'd fix it once I was done.

5. Try to jump onto the balcony from a neighboring building? Ah, now there's a plan! A much better plan than numbers 1-4. Three buildings butt up against ours on that side, and it appears that there would be rather precarious balcony access from each of them. Yeah, so I'm wearing a skirt, but so what? So I spend quite a bit of time trying to identify which windows in which buildings would be good windows to try, then stalking the doorways of those buildings to try to talk to the residents while working up the courage to ring doorbells and use my weak Italian to explain a complicated situation and ask a big favor from a stranger. Oh yeah, that's the best plan. Suuure. And then, surprise! Someone finally comes out of one of the apartment buildings in question. And she lives in the apartment in question. And she's a little old lady - and a big bitch. She seems pissed that I'd even ask her, she's too busy to help, and besides, "sarebbe troppo pericoloso." "It would be too dangerous." So? (Okay, so now that I've looked at the balcony, hers in the window that would be a fifteen foot jump over a three-story drop...but come on now, little old lady, you can't be a little pleasant?)

So I give up on the balcony-jumping option, too, and I go eat a panini and a pastry at the only café open on a Sunday afternoon, and then I go downtown. Not because being downtown will be at all productive, or help me solve my problem, but because I'm stressed, and in centro I can buy gelato and Twix bars. That occupies most of my afternoon, with the addition of buying an obscenely overpriced English-language chick-lit book to read while I'm sitting outside my building contemplating whether I'll be spending the night on a park bench.

After having thus passed the entire day, I came to the startling realization that I wasn't getting myself out of this mess. Nope, someone was going to have to help me. So I called both of my last resorts, the landlady and the program director. No response from the landlady, but the program director tells me to call the firemen, who will open the door for anyone, free of charge. It's something of a process on the phone - he doesn't understand me, I don't understand him, and he mentions that there's not really much he can do, since I don't have any document stating that I live there. But the firemen come anyway, a whole group of five or six of them, and a neighbor I've never met before comes out of his apartment to tell me that they were downstairs (because at some point during our garbled conversation, either I mispronounced something or he misheard something, and so their calls didn't go through), and they opened the door in about 2.5 seconds. And then asked for proof of residence. Uh, right. Eventually, they accepted my passport and a handful of handwritten applications, receipts, etc. which listed my address. And when they left, after saving the day, I realized that my clean floor (remember how this whole mess started?) was all smudged with the dust of firemen boots.

7 Quick Takes Friday Part II

Check out 7 Quick Takes Friday over at Conversion Diary! Here are mine:

1. Suellen, Carreen, and I each have a Betta fish, and because we're all home right now, their bowls are all sharing a shelf in the living room. Mine is named Grover Cleveland; Suellen's is Buddy, and Carreen's is Osi, after Osi Umenyiora, Giants' Defensive End. Mom says you can tell a lot about us based on our fish names.

2. No school, no work, home sick with a terrible cold, not interacting with the world at large this week. I find myself stuck for Quick Takes.

3. My sister Suellen came home from her apartment in the city because she was sick and threw up, and wanted to be home. This is the most foreign thing in the world to me. When I'm sick, I don't like anyone near me at all. I don't like people asking how I am, how I feel, what I need, and bugging me to eat and drink. I don't want to be taken care of. I can't be nice to people when I'm sick, I don't want to try to be nice to people when I'm sick, and being around people includes an unfortunate imperative to treat them like human beings. To a sick me, leaving an empty apartment to come home to a full house would be pure torture.

4. We've been keeping track. Now that Suellen's home, and sick, this house has seen 4 sick people, with 4 different illnesses, 4 different sets of germs over the past week. 3 of us are still sick. What an inauspicious start to the New Year.

5. Do you ever think about outer space? If it's never-ending, how can it be expanding? My head might explode.

6. Have you seen the commercials for the Creosote Sweeping Log? How they talk about fireplaces causing fires? It reminds me of how my grandparents' house caught fire, about 5 years ago. I have no clue if creosote was involved, but the chimney caught fire in the middle of the night, while my grandparents, their tenant, and my aunt and uncle and my 3 cousins were asleep. Their smoke detectors had no batteries. It was very nearly a huge tragedy. My grandfather - who doesn't hear well, doesn't see well, and doesn't smell well - was the one who was awaken by it in the middle of the night. He says he tasted it. That is not a reliable way to detect fires, so just make sure you've all got working smoke detectors!

7. Genealogy has a way of turning people morbid. Nothing has as much power to excite me these days as receiving the death certificate of an ancestor in the mail. I bug people to recall their grandparents' funerals so they can give me dates, so I can look up records. I sound way too happy when I tell people about my great-grandfather's sisters who died as children. These are some of my favorite things to talk about.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"To Give The Dogs A Chance"

From the Brooklyn Eagle:

Thursday, May 23, 1889

The Citizens' Association of Bay Ridge, through its secretary, L.M. Lent, has asked the Board of Health to give owners of dogs found running at large twenty-four hours in which to reclaim their animals instead of permitting them to be shot on sight, as has heretofore been the rule. Last Summer some valuable dogs were shot upon very slight provocation.

Yikes! I love little snippets into what life was like for people in other eras.

One of my favorite sites is The Brooklyn Eagle. You can pick any random date and click around on articles (which is how I came across this gem), or you can search for terms. Searching for the names of my relatives, I came across a number of items that referred to my relatives at the early part of the century. That only works for one side of the family - the sides with unpronounceable Italian names and the side full of names like John Smith are less promising.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Zip Codes

A friend just linked to this. I'd always wondered what the system was.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Better idea

I finally decided on a less awkward way to refer to my sisters in this blog without using their real names. If I'm calling myself Scarlett, and my boyfriend Rhett, then it only stands to follow that they should be Suellen and Carreen. It may take a little work to remember who's who, but for reference, Scarlett is the oldest, followed by Suellen and then Carreen. The same applies in my family, and I'm going to go back and update prior posts with these names.

Am I too nerdy for words?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Health is Wealth

After an iffy New Year's Eve* that I'm not going to rehash, I spent a generally pleasant New Year's Day with my sister and cousin and Rhett. I managed to drag Suellen and Rhett to church for the Solemnity of Mary, although Suellen only came because she got her days mixed up and thought it was Sunday. "It's not a Sunday? Why are we at church? Whatever, I'm taking this Sunday off." What part of the word obligation do people find so difficult? Then we all went out to lunch before the girls headed back to NY, while I stayed in DC for an extra couple days to spend time with friends who were in town who I don't often see. Right. That happened.

My throat was a little dry that morning, but I attributed it to either the high heat we'd left on all night or rawness from yelling to be heard over the music at the bar the night before. By that afternoon, my throat was decidedly sore. I went out to dinner with Rhett and a few friends anyway, and drank tea, but by the end of dinner, I was still sore and was feeling very out of it. Maybe feverish? I went to bed, but woke up the next morning unable to swallow, and definitely feverish (IMO, of course - I didn't have a thermometer). I wouldn't let myself take anything for the fever, because I'm a big proponent of the idea that the body's own defenses are the body's best defenses. Sure enough, after a few hours of fitful sleep, I woke up for real around noon with a much improved throat. I didn't get dressed or go out all day, and my head was killing me, but I let Rhett bring me orange juice and make me soup. He was so sweet all day. I can't remember when I've ever seen him go into "nurturing" mode before, but it made me think that he'll be a very good dad one day.

He very much disapproved of my decision not to take anything for my fever. My insistence that a fever is not a disease, it's a symptom and an immune response didn't do much to change his mind. I'm sure he thought I was making it up when I told him that my throat would have continued getting worse had I not let my body fight the infection the way it wanted to. It's still not great, but nothing like the raw, awful pain of the the first morning. I've googled around on the questions "should I treat a low-grade fever?" and "should I treat a low-grade fever in an adult?" About half of the results simply told you how to treat a fever, without any consideration of whether that's the appropriate first course of action. (Example: The other half, the only ones that mentioned whether or not treating a fever was a good idea, seemed to unanimously say that treating a low-grade fever in a child or adult with a functioning immune system was not necessary. (Example:

When I get feverish, I get to what I'd call the brink of delirium pretty quickly. I wouldn't say I'm actually delirious, and I'm aware enough to know that I'm a little "off," but I'm definitely not acting or thinking normally. That's no fun. It's not pleasant. I have, I think, had at least one brief bought of full-fledged delirium. Maybe I should have taken something for that, but, as I was hallucinating math problems and living in the chorus of John Mellencamp's China Girl**, I had no conscious perception that something was not right. And when I finally fell asleep, I slept thorugh the night and woke up the next morning with no fever and no trace of the nagging cold/flu/ickiness that had been plaguing me for several days. Two nights ago, of course, was nothing like that. My fever was nowhere near as high. I was just a little out of it. (And, of course, the lower fever was also less effective - my throat is still, slowly, healing.)

What I don't understand is why everyone prioritizes short-term comfort over long-term health (understand, of course, that when I say "long-term health" I mean "the shortened duration of this short illness"). Yes, I would have been much more comfortable had I taken Tylenol Friday morning. But I would have been much less comfortable for the rest of that day, and today, and probably tomorrow, because my immune system would have been hamstrung and the infection in my throat would have raged on unchecked. I can't think of anyone I know, except for maybe the members of my immediate family, who would choose to delay gratification in a situation like this. Do I surround myself with people who have poor impulse control? Do most people just not understand the nature of a fever? Is everyone in society so accepting of the conventional that the thought of not treating a fever, however much sense it might make, just simply doesn't even occur?

Anyone would take a particularly nasty medication if he believed that it would make him well. How is this any different?

We live in a culture of medication. If it's medicine, if the doctor tells us to take it, if taking the aspirin is what everyone around us does for a headache, we down the pills without thinking about it. We take antibiotics for viral infections because the doctor prescribed them. Um, the doctor's wrong. Common sense says as much. We bring down fevers with medicine that treats symptoms, not causes, and then wonder why we languish in miserable illness for days. Not treating something that's uncomfortable, or even ever so slightly difficult to deal with, is unthinkable. Not because when we do think about it, the idea confuses, upsets, or offends, but simply because we don't think about it. Ever. It simply doesn't occur to anyone that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. I can't comprehend how people can be so unthinking when it comes to what affects their own bodies. Our bodies are ours, both to care for and to rely on - without them, with them in poor condition - we're screwed, if I may be so blunt. So how on earth do people continue to treat their bodies on autopilot? If you give give significant thought to nothing else, shouldn't you give significant thought to how you treat your body?

*our New Year's was a bummer for entirely different reasons
**that was 6 years ago, and I haven't voluntarily listened to China Girl since.

Friday, January 2, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday

1. I started this blog just for kicks. About a day later, I realized that having it meant that I could participate in 7 Quick Takes Friday at Conversion Diary. I have never been so excited by the prospect of blogging! Of course, the week I start this is the week Jennifer skipped 7 Quick Takes Friday (what, a little thing like Christmas keeps you from blogging?), so I've been waiting and waiting for this day to come.

2. At Christmas Eve dinner, my cousin made a delicious pumpkin cheesecake. I cut myself a slice, and then realized I'd lost my fork - and forks were in short supply that night. I saw a fork on a table that, at first glance, looked clean, but as I picked it up I realized it had very clearly been used. I made sure no one was looking, wiped it on a napkin, and ate cheesecake. Another cousin cut herself a slice of cheesecake as I finished mine, and asked, "Can I use your fork?" In the interest of full disclosure, I told her where I'd gotten it, and she took it anyway and ate her cheesecake. I'm trying to convince myself and the world that this is indicative of a family that's very close-knit, but I'm pretty sure it's more indicative of a family with loose morals and poor hygiene that will stop at nothing for cheesecake.

3. My favorite word to text is "going," because you can type the whole thing just going (heh) back and forth between the 4 and the 6. It makes me so happy, every time.

4. The movie Doubt. Part of me wants to see it. It looks like a really good movie. The rest of me - the majority of me - wants to avoid it on principle, because it's just. so. tiring. that the only portrayal of the Church that anyone ever sees relates to sex abuse and scandal. Give me The Bells of St. Mary's any day. Except Doubt just looks like a really good movie.

5. I never go shopping. Really, never. It's not fun; I need to bring someone else, since I have no sense of style; and I can't justify spending the money - even when it's not mine. My parents gave me money to use to buy myself new clothes in August, and I put it off and put it off until this past Friday. Suellen and I went shopping at Loehmann's, and I bought tons of awesome things! Shopping isn't exciting, but having new things is! I went several years without owning any brown shoes, and now I can't stop looking at my feet in my cute new brown shoes, and I'm wearing them in my pajamas.

6. Speaking of shopping with my sister, we realized that we have strikingly different tastes. Everything I tried on elicited a response like, "Don't you want something a little spunkier?" until I started saying to all of her choices, "Don't you want something a little simpler?" When she pointed out that all my choices were solid colored with no pattern, I pointed out that the gray sweater was cabled. What does she want, polka dots?

7. Yesterday, my youngest sister, Carreen, came angrily into my bedroom and demanded her hairbrush back. "Why don't you just use your own?" she said. "Well," I responded rationally, "Suellen took mine, so I took yours." And I swear that it made perfect sense and seemed completely fair and logical until the words were leaving my mouth, at which point I became aware that, coming from a grown-up, that was not a reasonable excuse.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Woman 65 Years Wedded Frowns on Short Skirts

From the Brooklyn Standard Union, July 29, 1929 (via

On the eve of the sixty-fifth anniversary of her marriage, Mrs. Isaac FRANKLIN, of 792 East Twenty-first street, to-day is of the belief that “the quality of contentment is the one most essential to a happy marriage”.

“Most girls expect too much”, Mrs. FRANKLIN said. “Seeing a new hat on the street is no reason for going out and buying one when you can’t afford it. The essential things is to make the best of what you have and be content until you are in a position to get better.”

Living in New York and vicinity for practically the latter half of the last century, both Mr. and Mrs. FRANKLIN have seen many changes, the introduction of gas, and then electris lighting seeming to figure prominently in their minds.

Questioned as to this modern age, Mrs. FRANKLIN expressed both approval and disapproval. She doesn’t approve smoking, drinking and short skirts for girls. But she thinks everyone is much better off nowadays than they used to be. She likes street cars and automobiles and says she would go for a ride in an airplan if an opportunity presented itself.

Mr. FRANKLIN is eighty-nine. He arrived in this country from Germany when eleven and remembers New York when there was little development north of Forty-second street. His wife, who is a year younger, arrived also from Germany, a few years later. Mr. FRANKLIN enlisted in the Fifty-fifth Regimnet for the Civil War, but after a few weeks in camp at Castle Garden was mustered out, as he was not tall enough for service. They were married in 1864. One of the bridesmaids at their wedding is still living.

Mr. FRANKLIN was apprenticed to various trades and finally became a glazier. His first vote was cast for the Democratic party, but later he decided to become a supporter of the Republicans. He believes in prohibition, he says, but thinks it should be fixed somehow so that the workingman could get a glass of good beer and no “two per cent imitations.”

Both Mr. and Mrs. FRANKLIN are in excellent health and receive many visitors. Mr. FRANKLIN takes a delight in playing bridge and pinochie. Mrs. FRANKLIN sews, knits and crochets without the aid of glasses. A week or two ago they attended a wedding and Mr. FRANKLIN took part in several dances.

What poor Mrs. Franklin would think if she saw what passes for short skirts today!

(And she crochets without glasses? I can't even do that!)