Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Better Off?

All day I've been thinking about that rambling Flanagan article. It starts off with a story about her mom who stayed home with her kids, as moms did back in the old days, until the montony of housecleaning and the semi-attention to the kids got to her. She finally said "to hell with all that" and got a job as a nurse. The article then described how the twelve year old Caitlin felt about her mom's exit.

At the end of the article, Flanagan muses whether kids are better off in daycare or with their mothers (no mention of dads). Even if they are better off with their parents, what about the toll on women who have to forgo promising careers to do the right thing?

Typically, she has no answers, but perhaps that's reality. For women with kids and careers, it's all anxiety, regret, tension, and unresolved questions.

Today was one of those days without a babysitter or a mom to help out. No playdates. No school. No adventures planned since there was a doctor's appointment smack in the middle of the day. Just me and the kids. And that question looming overhead... are my kids better off with me?

Now if I was like my sister, a 100% committed stay at home mom, there would be lots of organized games, perhaps a craft project, and a network of other mom friends. Her kids are in good hands.

What did we do today? Well, after Steve left for work, I dressed them all up and marched them to the playground. But having a short attention span, I grew weary of slides and swings, so we went to the local diner for brunch. Mostly because I think short order cooks in NYC are the smartest human beings on the planet. How do they keep track of twoeggsbaconcheeseonaroll, twoeggwhiteslightlyscrammbledbaconhomefries, coffeeregular to go. (Coffee regular = coffee with milk no sugar.) The three of us sat at the counter and chowed down on greasy carbs.

We came home for Ian's nap and Jonah watched Playhouse Disney. Good parents watch with their kids and discuss subplots. Me, I answer e-mail.

After the doctor's appointment, we got bathing suits and squirting toys to play at the local water fountain. After an hour of Ian falling over and over on the pavement turning his knees to veal, we left. It was fine. My eyes were rolling up into my head with boredom anyway. Then we did what I do best. We got ice-cream and took a hike through the park. Dinner. Bed.

Are the kids better off with me rather than some professionals who would be making duckies and shit out of yarn and a soda can? With lots of other kids around them?

In between the calorie filled treats of the day, I kissed Ian's bloody knees about a hundred times. Since Jonah's obsessed with numbers, I asked him what was 3+4, 2+3, 8+2, 0+10. Not because it's good for him, but because he likes it. We cheered for Ian when he pointed to the right letters on the billboard. I helped Jonah lay out train tracks (after I finally put down the New Yorker). I ran with a shreaking Ian through the sprinklers. I talked with Jonah about soccer camp, being a train conductor when he grew up, and a future trip to the beach.

Duckie crafts and friends v. treats and kisses. I don't know. Maybe it's a draw.

Changing the Subject

Caitlin Flanagan has her first article in this week's New Yorker. Too bad it's not on line, because, the chick bloggers, like myself, would be going crazy. Flanagan has the ability to both charm and piss off her readers at the same. The trouble with her writing is that it is so seductively good that you forget that she doesn't make any real points. She weaves this way and that without taking a firm stance of her own. The words are nice, but the thinking is sloppy. More on this tonight.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Bully on the Pulpit

Yesterday, I wrote a cautiously pro-blogging post. Today I’m so disgusted with the whole business that I am tempted to close down my blog and skewer the entire enterprise in my blog paper. What happened?

My husband, who lurks in corners of the blogosphere that I don’t tread, found a blogger who tore apart (for a second time) the survey we sent him. This blogger was insulted that we should ask him questions about his blog, when we could quite simply read through 3 years of his archives and the archives of the 70 other bloggers we surveyed. He said that we were lazy.

He had other questions about our methodology as well. But instead of e-mailing us his questions or calling the phone number we provided or simply throwing the thing in trash, he blogged and sent us the link. The post was unfair, insulting, uninformed, and arrogant.

If he had written or called, we could have provided polite answers to all of his questions. Our survey was extremely standard, vanilla political science. Nothing sexy at all. And we’re not total research rubes. Together we have over twenty-five years of experience doing this sort of thing. I have experience not only in survey research, but with random interviews, elite interviews, and focus groups.

I sat in bed last night thinking about how I should respond. I couldn’t comment on his blog, since he didn’t have a comment section. Even if he had comments, my response would have probably never have been read by his readers anyhow. The damage was done on the front page of his blog.

I thought about writing him a very polite letter explaining our methodology and hypotheses, but there would be no guarantee that he wouldn’t print it on his blog. He could unfairly edit it and add further sarcastic comments, which I could not respond to.

This is truly a downside to blogging. Each blog is not a democracy. It is operated by the whim of its owner. Most of the time that is all fine and good. It is interesting to get different people’s perspectives on the news of the day, their views on the latest movies, and even what their kids said at breakfast. The personality of the blogger is definitely appealing.

But when bloggers personally attack others, who are not public officials or celebrities just private citizens trying to go about their work, this undemocratic creation is deeply troubling. Especially since there is no opportunity to satisfactorily respond. Perhaps if I had a more important blog, I could respond in kind (and provide a link to his blog), but I don’t. My co-author doesn’t have even a little blog like mine, so she has no voice whatsoever.

Another nasty side effect of blogging is that hit counts can go to your head. Occasionally, hit counts can inflate egos creating not only the so-called pundits, but a hundred little bullies. Blogs are not soap boxes for speaking your mind, because bloggers don’t have to respond to hecklers in the audience. Blog readers don’t have the opportunity to hear responses to posts and weigh differing points of view. The heckler has been effectively silenced.

Occasionally, I see references in other blogs to the usenet. I was never involved in the usenet, but it sounds more democratic than blogging. People could discuss matters as equals. There was no central operator to control and regulate conversation. Loren King has a good post about his preference for the usenet.

So, now what, Laura? I’m going to check what’s on TV tonight.

UPDATE: See a response by Liz Ditz


Monday, June 28, 2004

The Blogging Polis

I'm working on a paper on the politics of blogging. As it often happens, I've taken a long detour down one section of the paper because it interests me.

I've been wrestling with the question, is blogging a new form of political participation. Our survey partially answers that question, but it also needs some political theory. So, I've been reading Carole Pateman and Hannah Arendt to find out how they defined participation and how well blogging fits in with their ideas.

Though their definitions are vague, there is definitely a notion that participation means people talking and acting in the public realm. The classic example is a New England townhall meeting where all citizens came together to make decisions based on their self-interest, values, and the community good. Others look back to the Athenian polis as another place where there was maximum participation.

So, is the blogosphere a public space, like the New England townhall meeting? Is it a place where individuals can debate ideas and policy proposals and have some impact on political officials? Over the past week, I've spent too much time researching this section of the paper that will probably get edited down to a page or two.

In the meantime, I got an e-mail from my downstairs neighbor in Apt. 11C. She stumbled across my blog and sent me the link to hers. While my neighbors are all very nice people, we don't know each other well. Mostly, it's just a smile and a wave in the hallway. Maybe we'll stop and chat for a second about the noisy guys who park themselves in front of our building all night. Now, because of our blogs, Apt. 11C and I suddenly know a lot about each other. In the real world, we were strangers.

There are definitely problems with the blogosphere. It is a poor substitute for a noisy room where people interact face to face to debate political and personal matters. But in our busy, individualistic world, it might be all we have.

Read This

How the interest rate hike is going to affect most Americans, especially lower income families.

Why should we care for the poor? Because of some pansy notion of fairness or because of a system of rights.


Sunday, June 27, 2004

Wedding Weekend

Saturday evening, my little brother got married. We’re all overjoyed because we adore his wife and because they get along so well. Good work, Chris.

Father Ashley married the couple in a little church along the Hudson River. I've been to six of Father Ashley weddings. He always gives a warm, intelligent talk, and later tells me about his research on immigration in NYC and his walking tours of the Lower East Side. Sometimes, he'll discuss his radical days in Chicago hiding Black protesters in the basement of his church.

The reception was just as we like it. Low on the ceremony, large on absurdity.

Absurdity was aided by all those three feet and under. About 15 young kiddies raced in circles around the dance floor and hid under dining tables. Of course, my kids were in the thick of it. No matter how many times, we counseled Jonah not to tackle his cousin, Arianna, it just never sunk it. Like a drunken Kennedy, Ian with his strawberry blond hair lurched around in increasingly, grubby preppy clothes guzzling Shirley Temples. He joined in on the tackling and managed to survive the long day without a meltdown.

Chris gave the DJ very strict instructions about acceptable music and about refraining from commentary. But Vinnie in his knee length formal coat could not be contained. Simply playing Van Morrison and Aretha Franklin was beneath him. At the end of the evening, Vinnie broke free from Chris’s short leash and forced everyone on the dance floor in a big circle around the now less than happy couple and crooned New York, New York. Good times.

All day, I felt like someone beat me with a stick. All the bending down in high heels to scoop up kids off the floor. But I managed to get some good reading done and packed a couple of boxes.


Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Morality of Bourgeois Life

Norman Podhoretz just received the Medal of Freedom.

Podhoretz is featured in the great book, The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe by Russell Jacoby.
Normal Podhoretz was "described as the "the most brilliant young critic of our day."

"In 1957 a twenty-seven-year-old Podhoretz touted the mature life against revolution and bohemia. "On the whole," he proclaimed, postwar America offered "a reasonably decent environment for the intellectual." This situation required a new intellectual garb since "the old style of 'alienation,' represented by commitment to the ideal of Revolution and an apartment in Greenwich Village" smacked of the 1930s. The 1950s called for a "new style of 'maturity,'" that assumed "the real adventure of existence was to be found not in radical politics or in Bohemia but in the 'moral life' of the individual ... in a world of adults."

For Podhoretz "the trick" was to "stop carping at life like a petulant adolescent" and get "down to the business of adult living as quickly as possible." This was not "conformity" but the realization that "the finest and deepest possibilities" of life could be found within 'bourgeois' society."

...He warns his son of a 'spiritual plague,' coursing through the nation's bloodstream, which attacks "the vital organs of the entire species, preventing men from fathering children and women from mothering them." To be adult, he tell his son, is to be a father. "There can be no abdication of responsibility more fundamental than the refusal of a man to become, and be, a mother."
I would add some commentary, but I'm rather busy with the kids today. Family life might one make more of an adult, but it sure interferes with writing.

Now Cough!

10 million women who lack cervix get Pap tests anyway.

This would only happen to women. Would doctors continue to test men for cancer on tissue that no longer exists?

"OK, sir, turn to the side and cough."

"But Doctor, there's nothing down there. Remember that terrible accident with a chain saw?"

"Nonsense, I'm supposed to this test. We always do this test. You probably feel comforted because we do this test. Now cough!"


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I'm Humming Oklahoma in the Shower

OK. Just admit it, Laura. You like show tunes. Sure you've moshed at CBGBs, but you have also taught your kids the words to "Pore Jud Is Daid."

Yeah. It's true. My parents had three kids in four years, while my dad was busy getting tenure, so I was shipped over to my grandparents' apartment a lot when I was young. When I was there, my grandma played the songtrack to South Pacific or Oklahoma. In the evenings, we would watch Holiday Inn or Singing in the Rain. I used to have a big crush on Gene Kelly.

Steve and I watched the AFI's top 100 film songs last night, and I hummed along to most of them.

I just noticed that Dan Drezner is outraged by the omissions on the list and by all the corny ballads in the top twenty. I'm totally with him on that. And the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction is the best.

My own partial list of glaring omissions:
Anything from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, like Down In The River To Pray, Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby, or I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow.
Younger Than Springtime from South Pacific (1958 Film Soundtrack)
Linda Ronstadt in Gilbert & Sullivan - The Pirates of Penzance
Oh, What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma! (1955 Film Soundtrack)
I'm So Tired, by Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles.
Shout from Animal House [Getting too tired to do the linky-linky thing.]

If you weed out the Streisand, Julie Andrews, there are still some damn good songs on the list that deserve to be heard outside of some piano bar in the Village. Grandma would have approved of: As Time Goes By, I Could Have Danced All Night, Cabaret, Somewhere, Ol' Man River, Some Enchanted Evening, I Got Rhythm, Yankee Doodle Boy. I was pleased to see: Stayin' Alive, Come What May from Molin Rouge, and Rainbow Connection.

I've heard that the new Cole Porter movie is getting mixed reviews, but it should have a good soundtrack with songs by Diana Krall and Elvis Costello.

Read This

A review of David Brook's Paradise Drive. "Born in abundance, inspired by opportunity, nurtured in imagination, spiritualized by a sense of God's blessing and call, and realized in ordinary life day by day, this Paradise Spell is the controlling ideology of American life."


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Tuesday is Reader Mail Day

Last week, I had a couple of personal posts on how we plan to arrange our new house. Will our boys be closer and learn to share more with others if they share a bedroom? By not having a formal diningroom, which is a growing trend, will that result in less communal gatherings or in a more practical use of space? Here's what some of my readers had to say:

Teep still feels that a dining room can be a place for community even if it isn't traditionally organized.

Make it a library around the edges, but leave room for a table (with leaves, which are mostly not in the table) and chairs in the middle. Most of the time, you can use the table for the following useful activities:

-- reading and/or research (not the computer kind)
-- homework (primarily for the kids)
-- scrabble / monopoly / canasta / puzzles (Yes, my family still does this sort of thing together.)
-- extra space for holiday baking efforts
-- all manner of arts and crafts projects (psyanky, easter egg dying, salt-flour dough items that get hard and you can paint them), school projects (dioramas, scale models, etc.) where having room to work is important.

Kathe agrees.

Pish posh on the need for a dining room. We entertain, we cook, we just don't need everyone to sit formally around a big long table. If you put books and chairs in there, that is nirvana!!! plus people can easily sit and chat and the kids can play and the mommies (daddies I guess but usually in my house the mommies) can chat. or the mommy can read while the babies play -- N_I_R_V_A_N_A!!!

Dining rooms feel stuffy, formal, uncomfortable -- it's just a different way of entertaining. my dining room has been used once. the china cabinet is so well organized that i don't dare go in there to get anything out so we don't use our china. I just have to dust the furniture and once in a while i walk through to get somewhere else. But I long for a room lined with book shelves, some comfy chairs, cute rug on the floor, kid stuff. ahhhhhhhhh.

Kristine talks about dividing her house by function, rather than by ownership.

We've done several different things and have finally settled on something that works really well for us--our (3) kids have a "sleeping room" and a "playing room." The sleeping room has basically nothing in it but beds--dressers are downstairs near the washer and dryer (no schlepping baskets!). The playing room has all their toys (not so many--we're sort of minimalist Waldorf toy types)...

The formal dining room, which is too small for really great dinner parties anyway, is a reading room--wall to wall bookshelves and lots of pillows and cushions. No other furniture. When we invite people for dinner, we move our table from the kitchen into the living room, add the leaves and put it in front of the couch...

We like having the house divided mostly by function, rather than by "owner." (I guess we probably won't start calling the master bedroom the "sex room," though :) So that breaks the ownership rule and is "mom and dad's room.") And I actually like the ritual of moving the table for company. It shows that we are making room in our daily life for something special, not to mention that it gives me a chance to scrub all the nasty stuff that accumulates around the table legs--eek!!

Does sharing a room with others shape character? Isabel thinks yes.

I shared a bedroom w/an older brother for a few years; then I got my own room around kindergarten. So I don't have a lot of experience sharing a bedroom, although I did have to share a lot of other things w/my five brothers. I've often thought that forced sharing served me well when it was time to go to college, have apartment roommates, etc. I wonder if it also contributed to my belief that I don't own the world, nor does it owe me anything, nor am I the center of the world, etc. Basically, routine sharing as a child helped me be less selfish.

Another reader, R.T., disagreed. Her two brothers were very different and never learned to get along.

They argued, wrestled and fought daily--and for the most part, the battles revolved around space usage. Felix would pick up Oscar's various grosser items (banana peels, half-eaten cupcakes, the snail collection multiplying in the closet) and toss them out. Oscar would of course, protest the loss of these treasures and restore them toute-suite. Oscar, who required a certain amount of quiet to maintain his perpetually low heart rate and reclining posture, would grow angry with the bouncing that was frequently heard in the upper bunk above him at nighttime as Felix enacted out the day's plays on the baseball field. To this Oscar would bang his largest book and/or reading lamp with consequence being they both would end up on the floor going at it life and limb until either my Mother or Father would appear to pull them apart.

I also received a couple of e-mails about Longaberger basket parties in the suburbs. I was a bit puzzled about the charms of a basket party, but I've been informed that they do involve a lot of booze and are an opportunity to dump the kids with their dads. I really should write an essay about this. Isabel fills me in more.

Our neighbor two doors down has a niece who's a Longaberger lady; this neighbor hosts the occasional basket party. Many neighbors go and buy at least a small item. We really do it to have a good time, eat junk food, take a swim in her pool, and (for moms) leave the kids behind and talk to other adults for a few hours. I once bought the cheapest basket available - a $45 business card holder. And yes, there are people who collect these baskets: our neighbor's granddaughter gave guests a tour through the house once, pointing out all the Longaberger baskets her grandmother owned, for a grand total of 64 (and that was a few years ago).

UPDATE: Palabreria and Theory of the Daily adds their two cents.

Pay Up

Quick. You have about 1-1/2 of nap time, what do you choose to do with those precious quiet minutes: pack a box or harass the Kerry campaign. Well, of course I abused a Kerry volunteer.

Kerry put forward a pretty wimpy childcare tax credit program last week, and I wanted to get some details, and bully them to do more. Here, you call them, too. 1-202-712-3000.

It provides a meager amount to SAHM of infants, a childcare tax credit increase from $500 to $1000 (full time childcare costs at least $10,000 per child), and an increase in after school programs for kids up to 13.

I'm going to get into parental politics bigtime in a week or two, so I'm holding myself back right now. But here a few thoughts.

A large part of the economic boom of the nineties was due to the vast expansion of the workforce by educated women. These same economists think that the economy would do even better if more women worked full time. So, the government wants women in the workforce? Then they have to pay for it. With childcare centers. And schools can't continue to operate on an agricultural cycle.

Education is going to have massively expand to cover care for children, while the parents work. Schools must be responsible for children over the summer and during vacations. Or else, government has to pressure businesses to create jobs that mimic the school day.

Of course, this is not the best possible scenario, which would involve everybody working less and caring more for their kids. But, you know, I don't think that anyone in Washington wants that.

For other blog commentary on Kerry's proposal, read Dawn Friedman and Rebel Dad.

[Reader mail tonight. Lots of it.]

UPDATE: More on this from Palabreria.


Monday, June 21, 2004

Read This

Another article on blogging. It's a little fluffy, but not a bad overview.

The Stepford Kids? Not only is there enormous pressure on women to be perfect, but now the attention has been turned to the kids. Can't have kids who are even the slightest bit different. Read this article about how the new test for fetal abnoralities can insure that we only make perfect kids.

thwip, thwip

On Friday, we debated who would be the victor in a Spiderman v. Robin Hood face-off. Who has the bigger cajones?

Everyone's money was on Spiderman. He's got the radioactive spider juice in his veins enabling his spidey-sense. And he can aim his web for swinging around and grabbing things. All Robin Hood has is a quiver of arrows and good aim. They both wear tights, so the outfit thing is a draw.

Teep wrote in to say that not only are Spiderman's villians way scarier than the Sheriff of Notingham, but Spiderman wouldn't be afraid to throw a sucker punch. Spidey would rock Robin Hood's world. He's more pragmatic. Poor Robin Hood grew up in a world where chivalry ruled and he probably couldn't go toe-to-toe without moral qualms. I think Spidey is somewhat more practical.

Well, I like an underdog, so I'm rooting for Robin Hood. Plus, I think that Robin Hood has a secret weapon. Two words. Merry. Men.

If Robin Hood and the Merry Men had him surrounded, Spiderman's web solution could get all used up. Instead of a satisfying "thwap, thwap," he would press his middle finger to his wrist and get a "thwip, thwip." Spiderman might still win, but he would get a good pounding.


Friday, June 18, 2004

Two Debates

There are a couple of debates raging over here in Apt. 11D.

#1 -- Armed with weapons of their choice, who would kick whose ass -- Robin Hood or Spiderman? Steve says Spiderman. Jonah and I say Robin Hood. Ian says Ball.

#2 -- Formal Diningroom or Book/Play area? Laura says "Nobody is doing formal diningrooms anymore. I don't have or want girly china and figurines. What would I do with a china cabinet? Books. I have a lot of them. I would rather display them. I don't want a fancy room that nobody uses." Mom says, "That's the problem with your generation. Nobody cooks for each other anymore. Now your Aunt Theresa puts together big Italian meals and then invites over all sorts of people for interesting conversation. And our extended family gets together once a month. When your Grandfather was alive, he would prepare a big Italian meal every Sunday. Now everybody just goes to a restaurant or sends out. It's not the same thing."

Read This

Rebel Dad is posting his heart out this week in honor of Father's Day. Check out this champion of the stay-at-home dad, especially his posts on Kerry's tax credit plan for at-home mothers.


Thursday, June 17, 2004

Book Discussion

Harry at Crooked Timber and I are reading No Exit: What Parents Owe Their Children and What Society Owes Parents by Anne L. Alstott. Alstott critiques the lack of societal support for parents and suggests solutions.

We're going to discuss the book on both blogs, but since I don't have a comments section, most of the action will be at Crooked Timber. This will all happen later this summer. Read along with us.

The Politics of the Interior

I'm in a rush tonight. I have to read Hannah Arendt for a paper on political participation, and then I'm going to write 10 thank you notes to Jonah's friends for their thoughtful gifts and for grinding cake into our livingroom rug.

In the meantime, I received much mail today from people telling me how they organize their homes and their sleeping arrangements for their kids. I loved all of it. One blogger even posted pictures of the interior of her home.

But like I said, I'm in a rush, so here's a site with a ton of links about Le Corbusier. I like his philosophy, sometimes more than his actual output. A machine for living. Clutter free interiors. Modernism. Good stuff.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

More on the House

Preparing to move has dominated every scrap of free time this past week. There is always such a big learning curve whenever you have these big life changes. I've been continuing to research movers and learning more about the seamy underside of this industry.

Allison sent me a link to a moving watchdog website that keeps a blacklist of the bad guys. Those that scalp you with hidden costs like moving tape or even worse, hold your furniture captive until you fork over extra cash.

This watchdog group also offers some pointers. Rule #1 -- never hire a mover from NY or FL. Well, I can't do anything about that. Rule #2 -- never, never send in your information to a website that arranges for all the local movers to give you quotes. Every scumbag mover will call you up and offer "too good to be true" prices. Oops, I did that. A mover that had been courting me was on their blacklist. Thanks, Allison.

To distract ourselves from the headache of packing tape and bubble wrap, we've been discussing the organization of our home. What will go where. Who will go where. What will we tear out. What we plan to do in the distant future. When we win lotto.

One of our decisions is causing a surprising amount of second guessing by the folks. Even though we have three bedrooms, we're going to have the two boys share a room for sleeping, and the other room will be a playroom. I hope that sharing a room will make the boys closer. They can talk to each other in the dark before they go to sleep. Also, they will have to compromise more and be more flexible. I kinda think that sharing a room will make them better citizens, less individualistic, and more concerned with the community. Yep, I'm a big commie.

Other decisions are also causing raised eyebrows. Like turning our diningroom into a library. Whatever. More on our other harebrained schemes another time.


I have to update my blogroll. One of my pet peeves about other bloggers is that their blogrolls ossify after a short while. This means that the older bloggers dominate the TLB ecosystem.

I'm guilty, too. Updating one's template is boring, boring work. I really need to spend the time this weekend and amend things. In the past few months, I've been reading a lot more blogs by women. I usually find them after they link to me (thanks, all). So, I'm reading a lot of good blogs, and they need props in my sidebar.

In the meantime, let me point out a new blog by women that just started XXblog.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Kids and Their Words

Jonah, very proudly: I made a great burp today at school. I know that because all the other kids laughed.

Ian's words of the day: truck, car, train, bus, ow, bye mom, Angela

Culture Wars

David Brooks has an interesting op-ed about America's two aristocracies.
It's been said that every society has two aristocracies. The members of the aristocracy of mind produce ideas, and pass along knowledge. The members of the aristocracy of money produce products and manage organizations. In our society these two groups happen to be engaged in a bitter conflict about everything from S.U.V.'s to presidents. You can't understand the current bitter political polarization without appreciating how it is inflamed or even driven by the civil war within the educated class.

He says that the educated class is divided by their careers. There are the idea-oriented professionals, like teachers and journalists, and they vote Democratic. Their opponents are the business leaders, and they vote Republican.

Income does not explains the different party choices, according to Brooks. There are plenty of rich folks on the Upper Westside who would rather cut off their arm than vote Republican.

These aristocracies make their voting choices based on the style of the party.
Knowledge-class types are more likely to value leaders who possess what may be called university skills: the ability to read and digest large amounts of information and discuss their way through to a nuanced solution. Democratic administrations tend to value self-expression over self-discipline. Democratic candidates — from Clinton to Kerry — often run late.

Managers are more likely to value leaders whom they see as simple, straight-talking men and women of faith. They prize leaders who are good at managing people, not just ideas. They are more likely to distrust those who seem overly intellectual or narcissistically self-reflective.
The straight talking, golf playing, punctual stock broker will vote for the former frat boy. The book reading, opera loving, often tardy professor will vote for the classical guitar player.

This is too cynical for me. Brooks assumes that the actural political differences between the two parties makes no difference. The two aristocracies don't take into account the differing perspectives on the war or education or abortion or any real policy issues. For Brooks, people vote for the candidate that is most like them in their work ethic and taste in literature.

Life style choices or culture does explain some voting behavior. There probably is some correlation between your party choice and whether you buy your shirts from J.Crew or L.L. Bean. Brooks might have something about the culture wars. But policy choices are important, too. Within the idea circle and within the business circle, they do talk about issues like the war in Iraq. The trouble is that there is so little intersection between these two worlds. The idea people aren't hanging out at the golf club, and the money guys aren't chit-chatting at intermission time during Rigoletto.

I was just reading Cass Sunstein's theory that the internet world encourages like-minded people to insulate themselves in little cliques. He calls it cyberbalkanization. Some bloggers have rejected that notion. But I think that the outside world is balkanized already. Why should the internet be different?


Monday, June 14, 2004

Movin' On Up

I got a crash course on moving companies this morning. I spoke with about four or five companies about the cost for moving from a four floor walk-up with three bedrooms in Manhattan to New Jersey. One adjunct course = one move.

Some of these guys charge $125 an hour, but that includes some boxes and transportation. Another guy charges $95, but adds on a buck for every inch of packing tape.

At those prices, I'm sure as hell not letting anybody take any tea breaks.

Another interesting and little known fact -- all moving companies in New York City are operated by Israelis. Moishe's and The Shleppers are two of the biggest.

New immigrants who come to the city are drawn to industry that already employs their buddies and relatives. The Israelis are in moving, the Irish are in construction, the Indians are in the newspaper kiosk business, and the Italians went into sanitation and did hit work for the mob. (Only I can say that.)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Hooker

I have a weakness. Well, I have several weaknesses, including a love of mallowmars, E! True Hollywood specials, and any gossip about Courtney Love. But the weakness that I'm writing about today is my amusement with bad modern art. The more cynical it is, the better.

I think I've found perhaps the best example of art that is sure to offend my parents. It's Andrea Fraser's Untitled (2003).
Fraser's videotape Untitled (2003) was scheduled to go on view at the Friedrich Petzel Gallery in Chelsea on June 10. In it, the artist is seen having sex in what some have characterized coyly as ''every imaginable position,'' with an unidentified American collector who paid close to $20,000 to participate in this curious 60-minute work of art.

....'This is one of the most complicated pieces I've ever done,'' Fraser confessed.
From an interview in TimeOut New York:
TONY: So it's artist as prostitute and dealer as pimp.
AF: Not exactly. I did start out with that association, which goes back to Baudelaire, who said, "What is art? Prostitution." But if Untitled were simply a literalization of that idea, I don't know how interesting it would be. Prostitution remains a metaphor here. The collectors didn't pay for sex; he prebought a tape and covered production costs, which is now a common practice. It's a form of participation -- but one that's purely economic. The difference with Untitled is that is also required the collector's intimate participation in the production of the work. What he paid for the piece was more than money. He paid by taking a huge personal risk.
Damn. This is deep stuff. Fraser is part of a long tradition of risk-taking artists who do the nasty before the camera: Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, and perhaps the granddaddy of this movement, Rob Lowe. But Fraser takes it to the next level -- she distributes and sells the tape on her own. She eliminates the middleman, the internet pornographers. It's groundbreaking work.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Back from the Blog Break

I suddenly knocked off the blog writing last week. I was a little fried. A conference paper is nagging me. I've been writing the beginning and end to the paper, even though the middle isn't even in rough form yet. That is sure to cause some problem down the line.

Mr. Ian, my two year old, is most responsible for tiring me out. We're trying to get him to talk more. He's not talking as much as other two year olds, and even though more serious problems have been ruled out, we're still worried. I've been narrating every minute of the day to reinforce his vocabulary.
Ian eats his cereal. Ian loves cereal. Mommy loves cereal. Jonah loves cereal. Daddy eats cereal. That's kitty. Hear him go meow. See him puke on the carpet. Bad kitty. Mommy is tired of talking. Mommy is losing her mind. Watch Mommy bang her head on the table.
After several days of constant babbling, I couldn't babble on the blog in the evening. Instead, I just curled up with the remote and watched the top Heavy Metal Moments on VH1.

Steve had off on Friday, because the stock market was closed, so we had an unexpected three day weekend which we packed with lots of family excursions around the city.

Took the kids to the Central Park zoo, which is always fantastic. Jonah watched a play about migrating birds curtesy of the parks department. He sat in the front row with the other kids completely absorbed in the corny production. He had a huge grin on his face. When did he become so old?

We had a picnic in the Fort Tryon Park. And Steve and the boys roamed around Van Cortland park in the Bronx. The kids slept well.

I even had some kid-free fun. On Friday night, I ditched the family for Kerioke night at a local bar. Usually Kerioke places are only amusing for those times when the fat guy grabs the mike and sings "Like a Virgin," but when you live in an artsy neighborhood, it is something entirely different. All the frustrated actors come up to show their stuff. A Japanese guy with a pompadour sang several Elvis songs in baritone. I heard a gay version of "Piano Man." And the blond streaked bartender belted out "Black Velvet." I had too many pints and laughed with friends.

I expect that life is going to crank into overdrive in the next couple months. Blog breaks might happen more often. Be patient. At some point, maybe in September, I'm going to upgrade the blog, maybe change the name, and do some different things, like have a virtual book discussion with other bloggers. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Gone Fishin'

I'm sorely in need of a vacation from the blog. Be back on Sunday night.

Cranky and Confused

It's 93 degrees in the city today. 100 if you include the humidity. All the cement sucks up the heat and cruelly blisters us red heads. We're cranky around here today.

Our upcoming move just can't happen fast enough. Our life is on stand still until July 15th, when we can vacate this microwave oven that is our apartment. We're so looking forward to all the ease and convenience that the suburbs promise.

One thing that I haven't really been thinking about is how much I'll like suburban society. I just haven't cared that much about whether or not I'll be able to fit into the suburban culture, because other issues have taken priority. As a committed city girl for 15 years, what will others think of my black wardrobe and snotty city attitude? I guess the previews for the Stepford Wives have been making me queasy.

Also, my sister told me about that she recently attended a basket party. Apparently, suburban women go to parties where someone gives a presentation about Longaburger baskets and then the girls giggle and buy. I'm baffled. Why would anyone collect such things? Why would you go to a party that wasn't co-ed or involve booze? Ah, many mysteries of suburban life lay ahead.


Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Read This

Why the poor don't clip coupons.

Jennifer Lopez gets married to Marc Anthony. Just 6 months after Bennifer imploded. And only year after Marc Anthony had a big wedding that was featured in InStyle magazine. Can anyone say J. Ho?


Monday, June 07, 2004

I Was A Welfare Queen

According to the New York Times, new supermarkets aimed at WIC recipients are cropping up.

Some interesting facts from the article... The program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or W.I.C., helps feed 7.7 million people each month by providing vouchers for infant formula, juice, eggs, milk, cheese, cereal and dried beans. About 47 percent of all babies born in the United States each year participate in the program.

What the article didn't say... The vast number of graduate students who have families while still in school are on WIC. Graduate students living on a $12,000 stipend easily qualify for the program, and no one gives you a hard time. No one says, "you should get a real job, Egghead, and stop leaching off the government." Although perhaps they should.

So, like so many grad school families, we were on W.I.C. for a year. As I said, qualifying for the program was easy. The paperwork was relatively painless. I was given a stack of vouchers based on my response to question: breast feed or bottle. I wisely said both.

The vouchers are made out for very specific items. You can't blow it all on Twinkies. There were vouchers for cheese (Monteray Jack or cheddar), whole milk, frozen juice (orange, apple, or grape), and formula. Formula was the real prize. Baby guzzles about $100 of formula a month.

The vouchers have very specific dates on them. They have to be used up by a certain week or they become void.

Now for the weird part. You can't redeem your voucher for formula and walk out of the supermarket. You had to buy everything, the cheese and the juice and the milk, whether you wanted it or not. Most annoyingly, they required you to purchase vast quantities of milk. Like two or three gallons per week. Far more than an average person could consume. We had to give away some of the milk to neighbors so it wouldn't go bad.

Now for the annoying part. You had to cart all that milk home. Not every supermarket accepts WIC vouchers. We had to walk to a far off supermarket over on Broadway. All that milk doesn't fit in the back of babystroller, so you had to have someone help you get it all home. I suppose if you had car it wouldn't be such a big deal. But I'll let you in on a secret. A lot of poor people don't have cars.

Surely, there was some deal with the milk farmers over this one. Some Vermont Senator got a little pork back home in exchange for my backache.

That was the abbreviated story of us on WIC. I could tell you how humiliating it was to get the voucher signed by the store manager. Or long waits at the WIC office to get recertified. Or the required parenting classes. Nah. We're just amazed that experience was only four years ago. We've come so far since then.


Sunday, June 06, 2004

Ronald Reagan is Dead

What to write about Reagan's death? Much today will be written today about his political legacy by those who worshipped him and those who detested him. Let them take care of that.

For good or for bad, I came of age during the Reagan years. Just as my dad can remember every detail of the day when Kennedy was shot, I remember hearing the news of Reagan's assassination attempt in the corridor of Tenafly High School. Later, I remember my sister racing across the campus of SUNY Binghamton to tell me about the Space Shuttle explosion. I was standing by the fountain at the arts building where the students would wade their feet on hot days. It's funny how those tragedies freeze time for a moment.

The Reagan years were also when I graduated from high school and college. When I got my first job as an editorial assistant in New York City. Reagan was background noise while I became an adult. No matter what I thought of his tax policies, I can help but feel somewhat affectionate towards the old codger for that reason.

What I have been most impressed with in all the latest coverage of Reagan's death, is the nobility of Nancy. Who would have thunk? While Reagan was president, she seemed nothing more than an overly thin, superficial Hollywood wife. But then she cared for the brain dead president with such affection and devotion for ten years. There was more character under all that big hair than I would have guessed.

A Birthday Weekend

Jonah turns five on Tuesday and to celebrate that blessed event, we threw him a kiddie birthday party today complete with party favors and an organized craft and kids tearing about the apartment high on Shrek-colored Mn'Ms.

We spent the whole weekend cleaning up for those two hours of fun. We had to make a cake and have drinks on hand for the grown ups. We mostly left the small beasts to their own devices, though I did organize a craft area where they could paint and glue a brown bag which later become a favor bag.

Six boys were invited, along with their families. So our apartment was packed. Good thing we ordered three large pizzas.

I am tempted to gossip here about the bad parenting of others, but I won't. All I have to say is... set limits, people.

Why do we do things? Go to all that trouble of cleaning and making cakes and allowing chaotic kids to grind chocolate cake into the carpet? I guess it all for that moment when your kid blows out his candles with his best buddies by his side.


Friday, June 04, 2004

Read This

An article about Caitlin Flanagan. (via Ms. Musings.)

The suburbs aren't as white bread as they used to be. Red and Blue America might be turning purple, according to the Brookings Institute. But the reality is that in a nation with rapidly diversifying neighborhoods, racial segregation looks less typical all the time, and political predictions trickier and trickier. See, now that I'm moving to the burbs, I'm becoming a suburban reactionary.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

It's A Fine Day for a Bra Burning

On Tuesday, I was walking down Broadway to Inwood library when a perv started following me. He mumbled that he was going "to rock my world" and nasty stuff about redheads. That hasn't happened to me in a while. Nothing repels pervs more than a baby stroller.

I would like to say that I turned around and kicked him the groin, but I didn't. I just walked extra fast into the library, which just enraged him and he began mumbling threats.

I'm still mad that I didn't do the groin kick or at least throw a few choice profanities. Why didn't I? I don't know. He was bigger than I was. I wasn't prepared. I didn't want to create a scene.

Sunday NY Times magazine had an article on teenagers and hooking up. Apparently, teenagers today are avoiding dating and instead looking in chat rooms for sex partners. Even more disturbing than slutty teenagers is the fact that most of the hooking up involves girls servicing the guys. Here, read Belle Waring's take on it.

You know, feminism has taken a lot of hits in recent years. Sometimes even from me. But I think during times like this, we could stand a little bra burning. More empowerment. More angry chicks.

The backlash against feminism has meant a loss of the many good things about this movement. Young teenage girls should be standing up for themselves. And so should I.


Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Teacher Assessment

So, I'm on an education kick lately on the blog. I wanted to respond to my letter of the week from Sarah. She made a lot of interesting points, but today I'm only going to respond to her problems with assessing teachers.

Sarah writes that NCLB relies on student test scores to evaluate teachers. Teachers are held responsible for their class scores. If we move to a system of merit pay and teachers with the best student test scores are paid better, than this will negatively affect teaching. Teachers will teach to the test.

"Teaching to the test" is not always a bad thing, if the test is a good one, and there is still a lot of room for creativity.

I do think that teachers shouldn't be assessed solely on their students' performance on a test. Anyone who has been in the classroom knows that sometimes you have a great class and sometimes you have a stinker.

Still, assessing teachers is not impossible. A reader today asked me, Why are we talking about systems for assessing teachers? Do we assess doctors? Lawyers? Graphic designers? All other professions are assessed, even doctors. They routinely take exams. During daily rounds, their decisions are questioned. And if they screw up, they get sued.

My husband works for a Wall Street firm. Every year, he goes through a week long evaluation. His boss evaluates him by filling in a lengthy form. Steve is also evaluated by all of his co-workers, including the secretary. Steve then evaluates his co-workers and his boss. There's a system. If he is evaluated poorly, he is fired. His bonus is based partly on this evaluation. Sure, it can be a bit subjective, but that's how it works in other professions.

Teachers also can be evaluated by other teachers and by the principal. When I taught special education, everybody knew who the good teachers were and who the bad ones were.

Of course, teachers might feel more secure about these evaluations if administrators were more well trusted and respected.

More on Women and Blogging

So, the topic of women and blogging just won't die. Why aren't there more women political bloggers? Why are there so few women among the top blogs? Where are the women blog readers? More from Dan Drezner and Trish Wilson and Ms. Lauren at Feministe. I'm getting a bit tired of it, but I will add a couple more points.

Why aren't there more top women political bloggers? Well, after reading the comments at Dan's blog, I'm very tempted to say that it's because blog readers are misogynists. But I know that can't be true. I do think that women blogs could be linked more often by the guys.

And I don't know about the other women bloggers, but I am a bit hamstrung by my other responsibilities. Today, I addressed 10 invitations to a 5 year old birthday party, attending a class trip to a zoo in New Jersey, took the kids to visit my sister, found a parking spot, and quickly ordered rice and beans from El Malecon. Didn't get to touch the computer until 7:30 today. Whatever.

Part of what really pissing off Trish was that Dan's survey revealed almost no women elite bloggers. Dan's survey only asked media sources for their top three favorite blogs. Maybe if he asked for a longer list, more women would have shown up.

John Hawkins of Right Wing News just did his own poll of elite conservative journalists about their favorite blogs, but didn't limit them to three.

A lot more women bloggers showed up on his list. And remember he interviewed only conservatives. Included on his list was Sheila A-Stray, Sky Watching My World, Joanne Jacobs, Wonkette, Natalie Solent, and even Apt. 11D.


Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Tuesday is Reader Mail Day!

Here's a great e-mail from Sarah, a future teacher with comments on my post about how to attract great teachers. I'm going to have to put off my comments until tomorrow, because I'm knee-deep in an excel spreadsheet right now. (I'm developing a ridiculously complicated system for ranking the blogs.)

I am 24 years old and recently graduated with my masters degree in Art Education (my bachelors degree is in Art). My masters degree also certified me to teach in the state of Florida and I am beginning my first job this fall. I can't wait!

I agree with you that money is not everything to teachers. Sure, they are under-paid and overworked, but I think that payment is a small piece of the puzzle. One of my art education professors told my class, "If you're in this program because you like art and want your summers off, I suggest you get out. You won't be happy in this profession if those are your reasons for being here." Though I'm not a veteran teacher, I have been through my student teaching internship and have some teaching experience, and I know this is a very true statement.

When you suggest that teachers become more "white collar" rather than "blue collar" I couldn't agree more. That "professionalization" is abundantly more than payment or hours clocked in. I know there are bad teachers. Teachers who punch the clock, who don't put in the extra hours. I personally worked under one of these teachers. It was obvious that she wasn't happy and that the kids weren't happy and the artwork coming out of that classroom was very mediocre. Sad.

Many teachers (I wish I could say most) arrive early, stay late, sponsor a club, take on extra work, and devote virtually all waking hours, not just to school their students, but to educate them. Paying teachers more or less will not change bad teachers into good teachers. Some people go above and beyond. Others don't. This follows through in all fields. However, it means more to everyone when teachers do it because they are directly influencing childrens' lives.

I think that paying good teachers more is a nice idea. The problem within that is the question of how to measure that. With the No Child Left Behind Act, schools and teachers are being held accountable; however, they are being held accountable with standardized testing. We are moving close and closer to teachers being paid for performance, which may not be a bad thing, but to assess this, we are using these standardized test scores from standardized tests that are unfair to many students and that only tell part of the picture. As a result, teachers are teaching to the test. Students are learning that there is one right answer A, B, C or D. Relying on this method is creating students in the US public schools who find one right answer. We are not creating students who are free thinking or can think outside the box. In 5-10 years, the repercussions will start to be seen as these students enter college and eventually the job market. We need all kinds of students to serve this country and this world. Creating students who are good at taking a standardized test won't facilitate this.

I know I am probably preaching to the choir with this, but I simply bring these points to show that politicians and those in educational leadership positions are attempting these things. They are just attempting them the wrong way. If anyone has any insights into how to assess teacher, they should speak up.

I think that perhaps more the issue of getting good teachers lies in changing the attitude of the American public about teachers. More often than not, the attitude is that teachers are teachers because they aren't good enough to do anything else. Sort of the, "Those who can't do, teach" mentality. I've seen this attitude in everyone from the highly academic and educated to the adolescent 6th grader. It exists and is very real and is a very real detriment to recruiting good teachers.

I know this to be a fact because I deal with this every day. I have completed college and a masters degree. I have always been at the top of my classes throughout high school, college and graduate school. I did well on the SAT and GRE. I am a high achiever and always have been. I choose to be a teacher because I love teaching and because I know that the best person I can be is a person who is an art teacher. I see my peers around me turn up their noses at the thought of becoming a teacher. Especially in the art world, teaching is definitely a second rate job. I considered it the highest compliment ever when someone said, "Sarah teaches young children to make things and I can't think of anything better to do than that."

I try not to allow the turned up noses and snotty attitudes towards teachers get to me, but it is something so socialized within the average American, that I can even see it in myself. With a sister just graduated from West Point, and a sister at the top of her classes at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, it is easy for me to feel overshadowed by accomplishes that our society considers great. I do not feel that way and wouldn't change my life choices regarding my career, to switch with my sisters for anything. I absolutely feel privileged to be an art teacher and can not wait to do so. I know it is the profession for me. Not just a profession, but a vocation.

This is the sort of reason good teachers enter the teaching profession. This is the sort of attitude academia and society need to foster to ensure good education in the future. Without it, people like me, who have been at the top of their classes along with future lawyers, doctors, politicians, engineers, ect., who choose to be a teacher for all the right reasons, will not choose it. Our children, our society and our future are injured.

Ladies! Oh, Ladies!

Matt Yglesias asked where are the ladies? Why aren't more women reading the political blogs?

I've already written about why more women don't write the political blogs. I wrote that there is a real testosterone feel to most of the political blogs, that the field was pretty well crowded already, women have less time, and other stuff.

Last week, I skimmed the top hundred blogs listed in the The Truth Laid Bear. And now I have more insights about why women aren't reading the political blogs. Different politics. A vast majority of the top hundred blogs are pro-war. Sorry guys, but there is a real gender difference on the war. While I would not advocate pulling out the troops today, I was never gung-ho about this war. Most women feel the same.

Also, any blog that makes reference to Star Trek or refers to a "captain's log" is going to drive off the women faster than black socks and sneakers.

I think that women would read more political blogs if they were written by women, aimed at women, and with more pictures of Hugh Jackman sprinkled about. (I'm itching to pimp my blog, so that I can add some choice pictures of the Man from Oz.)

Matt speculates that women don't read the political blogs because they aren't interested in politics, and surveys consistently show that women are less informed about politics than men. Is that true? Why is that? It's hard for me to relate. I've always loved politics. But I guess it didn't hurt to have a political scientist dad who made us memorize all the presidents in order and recite speeches about Watergate at cocktail parties.

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