Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I was intrigued to read Elle magazine's coverage of the Gonzales decision. It was encouraging to find some actual substance in a fashion magazine.

A few favorite snippets (although I found all of it worth a read):

From Gloria Feldt:

The fierce antichoice backlash that erupted when Roe was decided crested with the recent Gonzales decision. The ruling's language drips with such disrespect for women that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg charged it "reflects ancient notions about women's place."

Yet in the 34 years since Roe, I've been shocked to observe that some of these ancient notions still remain. As president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America for nearly a decade until 2005, I repeatedly saw how men's and women's support of the right to a safe, legal abortion wavered according to the extent to which they considered a woman to be in control of her own life. If she's a victim of rape or incest, about 75 percent approve of the procedure, according to Gallup. But only a little more than one third approve when the woman or family say they can't afford to raise the child. Ask if the decision should be between a woman and her doctor, and around 60 percent agree; ask whether the woman alone merits the freedom to make that choice, and far fewer do.

At first I thought: How little trust people have in women's moral capacity to make decisions! Then I realized the idea of women having the power to decide is what sticks in craws. When women are victims, "ancient notions" aren't disrupted. When we exercise our volitional powers over procreation and thus our own lives, we profoundly upset the ancient gender applecart.

And from Ann Crittenden, an excellent critique of Kennedy's "reasoning":

So, he rules, we'll spare you all that grief and sorrow by deciding you can't have a partial-birth abortion (if your state so decides), even though there was substantial testimony from medical experts and groups, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, that this now potentially criminal form of second-trimester abortion is sometimes safer for women than other forms. This is for your own good, of course.

Where have we heard this before? You are too mentally challenged to master the rigors of a higher education, so we'll keep you out of universities for your own good. You are too gentle for the rough-and-tumble world of business, so we'll keep you out of the high-paying professions for your own good. You don't understand complicated political issues, so we'll spare you the confusion of voting, for your own good. You are too frail for competitive sports, so we'll keep you from running or swimming or discovering your body's capabilities, for your own good. And now paternalism's last stand is over motherhood. You don't know when you are ready to become a mother; whether you are suited to become a mother; what to do when something has gone dreadfully wrong with your pregnancy. So you can't decide.

When your parents tell you something is for your own good, it usually means something unpleasant, like eating your spinach or getting a shot. When grown men tell grown women something is for their own good, it's usually something imprisoning. As Justice Ginsburg put it in her magnificent dissent, "[T]he Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety."

And from Francine Prose, aptly named, as she brings some *much needed* attention to the rhetoric of the anti-choice decision:

If the language of Roe v. Wade is emotionally sympathetic and articulate, the language of Gonzales v. Carhart, the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the federal ban of partial-birth abortion, can be as crude and bloody-minded as that of a slasher film. Tellingly, the first "woman" we hear about in the ruling is not consciously facing the difficult dilemma of whether to terminate a pregnancy. In fact, she is unconscious, anesthetized so that the doctor (there are no "obstetricians" here, but only "doctors" and "abortion doctors") can perform a cruel and terrifying procedure. "The friction causes the fetus to tear apart....a leg might be ripped off the fetus…."

The appalling clinical descriptions and gross details go on for pages. "'The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping….'" The language, the terminology, and the focus are so inflammatory and mercilessly sensational that, at times, you almost feel that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the majority decision, is taking a perverse pleasure in the horrors he is describing. We hear about "the life of the unborn" and "the life within the woman," but not once about the life of the woman. Indeed, the most important—the only important—thing about her life is its potential for motherhood. ("Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child.") Her cervix and uterus are mentioned, but never her brain, which can make an informed choice...

The great irony is that this new ruling, so perfectly in accord with the "right-to-life" position, is so intensely focused on and written entirely in the language of violent death; whereas Roe v. Wade is all about life: its complexities and quandaries, its hardships and hopes, the rocks and the hard places that any of us may be caught between when we find ourselves at the raw edges of human existence.

Monday, July 23, 2007

New routines

The big news of the last week and a half: I've moved! Just down the hall. But I have twice as many windows and (finally) room for a papasan chair. I moved nearly the entire studio myself while Andrew was working -- took a day and a half, wheeling everything back and forth on my desk chair. And then cleaning the old apartment (which apparently *still* wasn't good enough for EV, they're charging me for cleaning... which isn't I suppose *that* bad considering I would have been charged twice as much to move if I wasn't a CA. That is, if I were allowed to move at all). The bad news about the cleaning fees spurred me to action today: I bought Mrs. Meyer geranium scrubbing powder, and a daily "shower spray" to maintain it. While I was pondering the various products at Mollie Stone's, this old, grandfatherly gentleman got into a conversation with me. And I decided to go with it -- he clearly wanted to chat, and it was nice to feel like I did something, well, at the risk of being redundant, nice. He was concerned about my catching the sales on bananas, not spending too much while I'm in school, finding Jesus (which for me translated into, having faith in the world), and staying in the graduate program. Back home, I scrubbed the already quite clean new tub, rinsed, and spritzed, just to smell the geranium. It kind of makes me *want* to clean.

Other news... A week ago (Monday) Rachel & I met up with Andrew for lunch. Such good, creative vegetarian food. Black quinoa, blueberries in balsamic vinagrette, salad with nectarine, etc. And oatmeal chocolate bars to die for. Which I later recreated at home after finally finding a recipe online that called for "only" two sticks of butter (well, and a bag of chocolate chips. And a can of condensed milk...). But so good!

Invited people over for a "studio warming" over the weekend -- we had said chocolate oatmeal bars & fruit for dessert, and Andrew made our drink-of-the-evening, cherry lime rickys (gin, muddled cherries and sugar, lime juice, ice, and mint). After spending so much time moving, shopping for food, and generally spending time by myself, it was lovely to see everyone and catch up.

I've been keeping up with my reading better than with my Rosetta Stone French. I finished New Grub Street, read The Handmaid of Desire for fun (Ryan's recommendation: it's a "wickedly" hilarious fictionalized account of the Stanford English dept), and today started The Red and the Black. So far, so good.

I'll have to post pictures of the apartment... For now, back to The U.S. vs John Lennon.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Saturday morning cartoons

By Tony Auth.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Out of touch like its 1789

Bush on health care:

"The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private insurance plans. I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room."

Yes. You just go to an emergency room. The most inefficient health care in terms of both time and cost.

And I was thinking, this kind of reminds me of... and then I stumbled upon it in the comments at Pandagon:

"Let them eat cake."

Summer days

It's been a while since my last update -- mostly because it seems like all the days start to flow into one another. I've been doing a bit of Rosetta Stone, a bit of reading, a bit of watching Degrassi with Andrew (his new favorite show), etc. I tried a couple of podcast yoga workouts, and am thinking about getting a mat and getting back into it. I've read Mansfield Park -- which I think is the most useful (for me) of Austen's novels. And I've started some of the reading I didn't have time for last summer -- Raymond William's Country and the City, and Gissing's New Grub Street. And I've booked my first trip abroad *ever*: I'll be doing a language study program in Montreux, Switzerland, from August 26th to Sept. 10th. Exciting!

So that's what I've been up to, in a nutshell.

Except for last weekend, which deserves its own paragraph. Andrew's father came out to visit us on the Fourth, and we gave him the tour of campus and downtown Palo Alto (which was complicated by the recent fire, which made a building unstable, thus rerouting all of traffic, both vehicles and pedestrians). We ended up at this random Thai restaurant on the Fourth, hung out at my new favorite coffee shop, and then took a Whole Foods picnic dinner to the Googleplex to wait for fireworks. We waited for hours for a 10-15 minute display -- which was nice, but after seeing the Boston display, it's hard to be impressed. Thursday morning I met up with Andrew's father for tea & breakfast at the Stanford bookstore, then we wandered around campus until it was time to have lunch with Andrew. In the afternoon, we read in the Bender Room of the library, and then met up with Andrew for dinner -- falafel followed by the movie "Once" at the Aquarius. Recommended. Friday I had some free time to do my thing -- Farmer's market, groceries, reading, etc... Then we all went to Three Seasons for a huge dinner (I tried to warn them, but they just kept ordering more). Saturday we headed into the city and took the ferry to Tiburon (it passes by Alcatraz & stops at Angel Island on the way), where we met up with Rachel, Josh, and the baby. Yummy lunch at Sam's, wandering around downtown, ferrying back... then Andrew's sporadic complaints of not feeling well solidified into downright sickness. I made a batch of soup, while he slept... he had a headache and fever, so we assumed a flu-like virus... Sunday he and his father still insisted on the Santa Cruz trip, so Andrew huddled in the backseat, cringing with every bump, and feverish in the sun. It wasn't until Monday, when he was too incapacitated to go to work and called a nurse, that we realized he had been suffering from food poisoning. After this diagnosis, we were able to actually start treating the problem. He's still on a "version" of the BRAT diet. His personal interpretation thereof.

Luckily he's much better now.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Pleasure reading

So my first pleasure read that has nothing explicitly to do with my studies/research: The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. And I *loved* it. A logical & humorous look at the arguments for and against the presence of a higher power, with a sampling of various approaches (physics, morality, history, theology, literature, etc.). I kept reading parts aloud to Andrew (often much to his annoyance). Dawkins just confirmed everything I suspected, but never articulated...

Some of my favorite bits:

"I am not in favour of offending or hurting anyone just for the sake of it. But I am intrigued and mystified by the disproportionate privileging of religion in our otherwise secular societies. All politicians must get used to disrespectful cartoons of their faces, and nobody riots in their defence. What is so special about religion that we grant it such uniqely privileged respect? As H. L. Mencken said: 'We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.'" - 27

"How many literalists have read enough of the Bible to know that the death penalty is prescribed for adultery, for gathering sticks on the sabbath and for cheeking your parents? If we reject Deuteronomy and Leviticus (as all enlightened moderns do), by what criteria do we then decide which of religion's moral values to *accept*? Or should we pick and choose among all the world's religions until we find one whose moral teaching suits us? If so, again we must ask, by what criterion do we choose? And if we have independent criteria for choosing among relgious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?" - 57

Not Dawkins, but quoting Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation, which I *clearly* need to read: "It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort [that the second coming will occur with a disaster] will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves -- socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be *glorious.* The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency." - 302

"As long ago as 1954, according to Robert Hinde in his thoughtful book Why Gods Persist, a Gallup Poll in the U.S. found the following. Three-quarters of Catholics and Protestants could not name a single Old Testament prophet. More than two-thirds didn't know who preached the Sermon on the Mount. A substantial number thought that Moses was one of Jesus's twelve apostles. That, to repeat, was in the U.S., which is dramatically more religious than other parts of the developed world." - 341

In total agreement: "The King James Bible of 1611 -- the Authorized Version -- includes passages of outstanding literary merit in its own right, for example the Song of Songs, and the sublime Ecclesiastes... But the main reason the English Bible needs to be part of our education is that it is a major source book for literary culture." - 341

"Does religion fill a much needed gap? It is often said that there is a God-shaped gap in the brain which needs to be filled: we have a psychological need for God -- imaginary friend, father, big brother, confessor, confidant -- and the need has to be satisifed whether God really exists or not. But could it be that God clutters up a gap that we'd be better off filling with something else? Science, perhaps? Art? Human friendship? Humanism? Love of this life in the real world, giving no credence to other lives beyond the grave? A love of nature, or what the great entomologist E. O. Wilson has called Biophilia?" - 347

" 'Tell me,' the great twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once asked a friend, 'why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the sun went round the Earth rather than that the Earth was rotating?' His friend replied, 'Well, obviously because it just *looks* as though the Sun is going round the Earth.' Wittgenstein responded, 'Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?' I sometimes quote this remark of W. in lectures, expecting the audience to laugh. Instead, they seem stunned into silence." - 367