ART UPDATE: I was back at my neighborhood coffee shop the other day and they are still displaying the same wretched art I wrote about a few weeks ago. I was amazed to see a sold sign next to the painting Woman at a Urinal. I guess there is more than one person out there with no taste, but I am pleased to report that Sexy Minnie has not yet sold.
OUR BLOGIVERSARY was yesterday and I missed it. So did Justin, but since he was busy taking the bar, I guess he's excused. Thank goodness the bar over. He better have passed, because I don't want to have to go through all that again. Neither does he, of course.
VACATIONS ARE IMPORTANT, DONCHA KNOW? I mean, why would you interrupt your Italian vacation just because your six children have been placed in foster care and with relatives after you left them with milk, bread, $7 and a credit card? And certainly it would be impossible to delay a trip to Mexico, just because you have to abandon your six-year old at the terminal to get on the plane. Relaxing and getting away really is everything isn't it? We should never let little things like responsibilites get the way.
THEY ARE POPPING UP ALL OVER: Peace activist lawn signs are sprouting around my neighborhood like dandelions -- nasty weeds. The two most popular ones say, "War is not the answer!" and "Why War? Wage Peace!". To the first, I always want to say, "That all depends upon the question, doesn't it?" There aren't any signs on our street yet, but Justin claims he's making a pro-war sign if any pro-Saddam signs show up. Here are two we are considering:
NOT THAT I EXPECT ANYONE TO CARE: But if you are wondering where everyone is around here -- I have two kids with colds and a husband taking the Bar Exam tomorrow. If you would like to come clean my house and cook something, I'd be happy to read the news and find something to say about it, even though that really isn't my forte. And if you wanted to come convince my daughter to sleep more than 3 hours at a stretch, I would love you forever.
BABY NAMES: I'm picky about baby names, as I've confessed before. I insisted we choose somewhat uncommon names for our two children (George and Philippa) but I also insisted that they be real names, properly spelled. I'm not the only name snob out there; Katie Granju has admitted to it too, but until I found this website, I'd never read anything so funny or spot on mocking some of the current baby naming trends out there.
ALMA MATER, ALWAYS PROUD:Vanderbilt joined four other schools in filing an amicus brief in the Univ. of Michigan case, in favor of affirmative action, and complaining that the University's First Amendment rights would be infringed if it doesn't get to consider race as an admission factor to achieve its educational mission. Almost makes you want to cry crocodile tears for the school which at one point in recent history had the richest students per capita in the United States.
SLEEP (OR THE LACK THEREOF) is a common topic among my mommy friends. Every mother I know seems to suffer from interupted sleep on a fairly regular basis and most of them, whatever their parenting style, occasionally let their kids into their bed if for no other reason than to get just a little more rest. So it came as no surprise to me that a recent survey by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that a lot more Americans are doing some co-sleeping than has previously been reported. I don't love co-sleeping and fortunately for me my son sleeps soundly through the night in his own bed most of the time and my daughter usually spends most of the night in her crib, but when chaos reigns in our household -- like last night when my infant woke up four times and my three-year old woke up three times, eventually we do whatever is necessary to get some sleep -- any sleep. For us that meant musical beds last night. My husband and I both spent part of the night sleeping in our son's bed after he woke up screaming; our daughter wound up in the bassinet in our room instead of in her crib, and by 5 a.m. all of us were sharing a bed. I look forward to sanity reigning once more, but until then I'll take sleep however I can get it.
OF WRITS AND GUNS: The great debate between Americans who think the threat of force gets in the way of diplomacy, and those who think it makes diplomacy work, began, appropriately, at the beginning of the American Republic. The debate began with the Anti-Federalists, who became the Republicans, who more or less became the modern Democratic Party, who condemned President John Adams for responding to French aggression on the high seas by sending a diplomatic mission to seek peace -- and building a navy in case of war.
The French began their revolution in 1789, which quickly turned into a preview of the great, wicked, bloody totalitarian revolutions of the twentieth century. This set off yet another war between France and Great Britain who, not highly valuing the rights of neutrals on the high seas, began preying on American shipping. Yet, having just seen his country through one terrible war with a European power and just begun a new constitutional government, President Washington determined to stay out of the European war. The Jay Treaty, by which American promised to let British creditors sue on their debts in federal courts in exchange for the British getting out of the Old Northwest, bought some measure of peace with Great Britain. But France interpreted the Treaty as a de facto alliance with Great Britain, and redoubled its depredations on American shipping, so that by the time John Adams became President, America and France were at war in all but name. And it was a pretty one-sided war at that, because the United States didn't have a Navy to speak of.
Despite French provocation, President Adams remained determined to make peace with France. Yet the French made an honorable peace impossible, refusing to recognize our emissaries (and later demanding they pay bribes to be heard). Frustrated, President Adams called a special session of Congress and proposed a new diplomatic initiative, but this time backed by the credible threat of force. Simply put, Adams proposed that the United States continue to walk softly, but pick up a big stick along the way.
The Republicans were appalled. Republicans, like Jefferson, had hailed the French Revolution as the offspring of the American and hoped that the France juggernaut would destroy Great Britain (while the Federalists, like Adams, were appalled by the bloodiness and depravity of the French revolutionaries, the democratic tyranny that had replaced the absolute monarchy, and, more to the point, the fact that the French were seizing American ships, killing and imprisoning American citizens, and insulting the honor, dignity, and sovereignty of the United States). The Republicans, including Thomas Jefferson, wanted peace with France at any cost, saw a military build up as an obstacle to diplomacy and a dangerous waste of money, and railed against Adams as a warmonger and a madman.
But President Adams persisted, ignoring both the Republican demands to respond to continued French provocations with begging, pleading, and cajoling and the Federalists' demands to declare war on France and form and alliance with Great Britain. Instead, President Adams began outfitting a small navy, as well as American merchantmen with guns, and dispatched a new diplomatic mission to express his country's willingness to make peace and readiness to make war. It worked, at least temporarily; the French finally dealt with the American delegation and agreed to some semblance of peace (although France and Great Britain would continue to abuse American shipping until 1815, when Britain ended its war with the United States and Napolean's defeat at Waterloo ended the long continental war).
There really is nothing new under the sun. When (mainly) Democrats and other anti-war politicians criticize President Bush for not "doing more" to win the support of our allies, for "rushing" to war, for not waiting until France and Germany bestow their favor on American foreign policy, they are repeating the mistake of President Adams' Republican opponents, believing that words and action, peace and war, are mutually exclusive options. In fact, they're complementary. Diplomacy consists of words, and words get their value from action or the credible promise of action. Writs don't run unless backed by men with guns. President Adams knew that, as does President Bush. They know that official edicts do not have inherent moral value. Civilized people may obey the law because they believe it's morally right to, but they have imbued those laws with moral value by vindicating them at the barrel of a gun and the end of rope. Without that vindication by action, words have no moral credit. At best they're bluffs, at worst blatant lies.
Which is why, without any credible threat of war, the Security Council's many, many Iraqi-disarmament resolutions have become lies, and absurd lies at that, because their demands for disarmament and promises of "grave consequences" aren't even valuable as bluffs -- no one believes them, anymore than they believe Iraqi legislation "outlawing" weapons of mass destruction. So when anti-war politicians and countries like France and Germany demand that the United States abandon even the threat of war, what they really demand is that the UN perpetuate its dishonesty and impotence. And when the United States and Great Britain demand that the Security Council vindicate its own edicts with war, what they really demand is that the United Nations speak the truth and regain some measure of moral authority, or else quit talking. Thus the delicious irony: the "unilateralist" United States and its allies, who supposedly snub and undermine international institutions like the United Nation, are the only ones who want to take them seriously.
BUT NOT BEFORE noting that the President has placed the United States in that rarest of settings, the win-win situation. By this I mean the fact that, should our "allies" on the Security Council join with the United States and its ally Great Britain in authorizing war against the Hussein regime, we shall have broken the UN to our will and made it slightly less useless in the affairs of mankind; but if our "allies" persist in their course of appeasement, then the United States and its true allies will make war on the Iraqi despot anyway, destroying a terrorist state and any pretensions the United Nations and its French and German boosters have to moral or political authority in international affairs. Simply put, we either make the UN something less of a fraud, or expose it as one (along with the fraud that France and German constitute great powers, much less represent "Europe.") I can't see the downside.
MISSION: MEDIOCRITY: Studying for the bar exam is unlike any other academic experience in my life. The goal, lawyers and cram course teachers tell me again and again, isn't to be the best, or even above average, but just barely competent, just one point above failure. Having done 25 years in school and been only recently paroled, that advice sounds heretical. Never, from Kindergarten through my third year in law school, did I ever think, or did a teacher or professor ever tell me, "All you have to do is not fail."
But that's all I have to do to get my law license in the State of Tennessee. In fact, that's all I can do, because the bar examiners have contrived such absurdly subtle multiple choice questions (two hundred questions to be answered in six hours, 1.8 minutes per question, with 120 out of 200 deemed a good score) and essay questions covering the breadth of Tennessee and general American law (twelve essays to be answered in six hours, everything from implied warranties under the Uniform Commercial Code to who gets the Thunderbird, two kids, and the frozen embryos in a messy divorce) that, as a practical matter, only a genius could excel! Indeed, the only reason to aim just a wee bit above that "pass" mark is that the consequences of falling just a wee bit below it are so utterly, unthinkably, nightmare-inducingly bad, foremost among them being having to take this accursed exam again, getting fired, and humiliation.
Which is why I think I'll get back to studying.
JUVIE LIT, A DEUX: I've written about the wretched juvenile drivel out there before, but I've just read about another book to add to the list. Marcel Pineau has written Panic in Baghdad for nine to thirteen year old French youths. In it, two children of French diplomats slip away from the French embassy and hide out causing the US to hold its fire until they are found. By hiding out long enough, they manage to stop the war entirely.
Of course, Pineau's plot depends on the assumption that the American street would see his kiddie collaborators as human shields -- and not targets.
MAKING YOU FEEL APPRECIATED: The Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Tennessee is giving out free socks to people on whom they do "random" shoe checks. That way they can make travellers feel "appreciated" despite the annoyance of going through security. Fixing the stupidity of the security system so that little old ladies in wheelchairs don't get searched would do a lot more to spare my annoyance than some free sweatsocks.
TOYS: Are toymakers just not creative these days or are Gen-X parents more nostalgic than previous generations? Suddenly, the toy stores are flooded with redesigned versions of all the toys my husband and I grew up with. Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and He-Man are all back. It is sort of strange to think of a new generation of kids getting into them and I wonder whether they will be as popular the second time around. Judging by my niece and nephew, who are hipper and more indulged than my kids, the toys are selling though. So when will Smurfs, Cabbage Patch Kids and My Little Ponies be hitting the shelves?
HATE THE COLD? Don't move to the tropics! Spend a year in the Far North instead! It may be counterintuitive, but after our year's sojourn in Fairbanks, winter in Nashville, which used to seem cold now feels balmy. I used to put on long johns when the thermometer dipped below forty-five degrees, but now I can actually run around in the snow in twenty- and thirty-degree weather without a coat and feel fairly comfortable for short periods of time. Not only can I handle the cold with a lot more grace now, but I also think winters in Tennessee are short-lived and sunny. There's nothing like living in cold, cold Alaska to make you appreciate winter in the South.
IMPROVING MY MIND: Despite going to Sewanee, a fine liberal arts university with an extremely good English department, I'm embarrassed to admit that I got out of college without taking a single English class. I managed this because I took a four semester Humanities course that covered Western Civilization from the Ancient World to the Modern and filled the requirements for English, Philosophy, Political Science and Art. It was a pretty good series of courses, but I've always seen it as a bit of a failing on my part that I never took English. In my favor though, I was a German literature major and I do have an MA in German literature, so I've done my fair share or literature reading and interpretation, I just haven't read much in my own language. So recently when I read that a friend of mine was going to try to start reading more literature, I decided I needed to do that too. I mean, post-graduate school and post-children, what do I actually read? Magazines, blogs, NRO and the occasional Regency romance novel don't quite fill up my head, at least not as I'd like it to be filled. This thrilled my husband the English major who has been making up a reading list for me. My major requirements have been that I not have read it before and that it be short enough for me to read without getting bogged down. So far, I've read C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce and Henry James's Daisy Miller. (By the way, am I the only one who sees major similarities between Daisy Miller and Thomas Mann's Death in Venice?) So here's my bleg -- e-mail me any suggestions of other short stories, plays or other works of literature that everyone should read. Maybe I'll get to them when I find the time.
CRUNCHINESS QUIZ: Whether you buy into the whole crunchy-con idea or not, some people are still definitely crunchier than others. Test your granola-factor here. I got a 41, so I'm only "sprinkled with granola."
JUST SHOOT ME: Is it just me, or is the "smoking gun" standard of proof, loudly demanded by the press and the anti-war crowd to justify war against Iraq, beyond idiotic? If you see a smoking gun, chances are someone just shot a @#$% bullet at you. If it hits you, you're dead or maimed, so having bullet-proof (ha, ha) evidence against the shooter won't do you much good. Fact is, only if the shooter misses, and gets taken out before he fires another shot, does the evidentiary value of his smoking gun do you any good. Does anyone really believe that's a sane standard for acting against a threat?
ETYMOLOGY IN REVERSE: The lecturer in my bar exam cram course on family law, a white woman, gave this hypothetical ground for divorce: "Your husband moves into a crack house in the ghetto." Gasps, then a swelling murmur, filled the room. It took me a few moments to register: my classmates, black and white, assumed "ghetto" meant "poor black neighborhood," and in America, I suppose that's true. But for some reason, what immediately popped into my brain was an image of very confused Nazi soldiers wandering about the Warsaw Ghetto looking for black people and only finding Jews. Ain't language funny?
Consider the most popular pragmatic arguments against war with Iraq: Hussein might unleash terrorists (with whom he otherwise has no ties) or chemical and bio weapons (which he does not otherwise possess); Muslims the world over might hate us and thus bolster support for terrorists (although Islam is otherwise a religion of peace, and terrorism is unislamic); allied Arab regimes might become destabilized -- it's safer not to act. Seems to me these arguments all assume that inaction is not just safer in this instance, in terms of the relative risks (likelihood x magnitude of harm) posed by action and inaction in these circumstances, but is inherently safer. Their common theory is that in world in which we can't control what other people do or the unintended consequences of what we do, we get the most control -- by eliminating the most variables -- by doing nothing.
Which would be true if the world were a giant pond and we were a lone, sentient, and mobile pebble wondering whether to jump in, or if life imitated Battleship (OBL: "Could you move already?" GWB: "Not yet. Still thinking.") But of course we're not alone: zillions of other sentient beings inhabit this world, some of whom want very much to kill us, and they don't have to wait for us to move before before they can descend upon us as some evil unintended consequence. In fact, they can just as easily descend upon us as the unintended consequence of our inaction.
PASS THE WHITEY CRAYON, PLEASE: When I recently went to an open house for a music class my son is taking, the teacher showed us around and proudly announced that when the children color she has People Colors for them to use. I'd never heard of People Colors before. They are 24 shades of skin color to encourage children to think about the diversity of colors that people come in. Holy propaganda, Batman! And talk about stupid crayon sets. What kid, no matter their skin color, wants to color a picture of their house/spaceship/whatever they are into at the moment in 24 shades of skin color? Blue, green, etc. are pretty useful too. I'm sure the educrats think that these kinds of crayons are very "validating," but do most little kids stare at their box of 96 Crayolas and wonder why their skin tone isn't in there? I know skin color never crossed my mind. Children I know are generally color-blind until taught differently. They notice race, of course, but they don't seem to make distinctions based on it. These crayons teach them to do that.
DEAR ABBY is a column that I have not made a habit of reading since I was in grade school, and so when I came across it today in newspaper in the break room I thought I'd take a gander at what free advice she's doling out in the post post-modern era. Dear as she may be, Abby (or her successor) is a fool, and a panderer to the art of moral equivalence. Today she suggests to her readers that it is untoward to share your religious beliefs with others. States she, "A devout and very sweet lady once told me she was 'sad' because she loved me and knew she wouldn't see me in heaven. I asked her why. She said, 'Because you haven't been saved!' Once I got over the shock that her heaven was segregated, I assured her that even though I might not be in hers, she would definitely be in mine, so please not to worry any further." Who knew that in addition to keeping up with a daily syndicated column, Abby is also dabbling in a career as god. Each of her responses regarding the topic are as unreservedly stupid as this one, though I don't encourage you to link to find out for yourselves.
SO YOU'RE AN ARTIST, HUH? My three-year old scribbles pretty squiggles, some of which even resemble circles. If I called him an "artist" you would mock me; if I mounted his "art" in semi-expensive frames and offered it for sale at the local coffee shop for hundreds of dollars, you might feel insulted. Which is how I feel whenever some self-described "artist" hawks his mediocre work at my coffee shop.
Out of charity, the most recent offender shall remain nameless. His first offense: a woman in a black cocktail dress, in a dimly lit room, hiking up her dress so as to urinate in a urinal. This image is ugly, disgusting, and weird; these, I can forgive. But what cannot be forgiven is the execution, from the crude, thick brush strokes that give the image a leaden quality, to the kindergarten-quality depiction of the human form, to the flatness of the lighting. The price: $600. Next, for $900, the "artist" offers a large centaur, whose face vaguely resembles Laurel of Laurel & Hardy, whose one-dimensional body has no muscles, no skin tone and features a large smudge on the lower chest, as if the "artist" began painting the male organ, then smeared it out when he remembered that that wasn't quite where it belonged, even on a half-man-half-horse. The most egregious offense against art and my eyes is entitled "Sexy Minnie": a crudely painted Minnie Mouse head stuck on top of a poorly painted nude woman's body, although we are spared the indignity of yet another childish depiction of human anatomy by a drape covering the "naughty bits." His price: $1300. I rest my case.
This "artist," like so many others of his ilk, believes he is entitled to ask large sums of money for his work because he painted really large canvases. That would be insulting enough, but there's more. He thinks he doesn't have to exhibit even the most basic skill because he's "cutting edge," because he paints ugly, disgusting, and weird subjects. No, no, no! Taste is subjective, and some people's tastes are sick and twisted, but even if they must create ugly images, they must create them beautifully -- with some skill -- before they can call themselves "artists" and ask money for their "art." You want to paint a woman relieving herself at a urinal? You want to throw blobs of paint at a canvas? Fine -- as long as you do it skillfully, in terms of color, pattern, technique, or something that distinguishes you from my three-year old. I won't buy either one, and if your idea of "beauty is truth, truth beauty" is a woman urinating is unusual places, I'll think you're a sick pervert who shouldn't be allowed in my neighborhood coffee shop. But least I won't feel insulted.
MY REGRETS: Only one reason why I found it not only impalatable, but impossible, to be a member of WLSA at Vanderbilt... At a lecture the group sponsored to "celebrate" Roe v. Wade last week, Professor Rebecca Brown opined, "'[a]bortion is uniquely complex from a legal perspective,' 'She added that the central question of Roe v. Wade is whether a state’s power to protect an individual extends to the unborn.'" "'Thanks to Roe v. Wade,' Brown said, 'the government can’t tell the individual how many children to have or how to raise those children.'" "'No government should have that daunting power in a free society,' she said. 'That’s the reason to celebrate.'" Astounding.
MUST HAVE SLEEP! Children are little darlings during the day -- except when they are spitting, calling people "Nimrods," throwing huge screaming tantrums in busy malls or engaging in other anti-social behavior -- but nighttime is really when the horror begins. Maybe I have no right to complain I did opt for this whole motherhood gig, but I will complain anyway. I like my sleep. I used to avoid college classes specifically based on too early a starting time. I also slept through an 8 a.m. class I was supposed to teach in graduate school. So motherhood is very rough on me. My three-year old usually (finally!!) sleeps through the night and my four-month old has figured out how to fall asleep at bedtime -- something it took her brother almost a year to master -- but she just hasn't figured out staying asleep, nor will she go back to sleep in her own bed once she's been fed. Every night my darling daughter starts hollering around 2 a.m. My wonderful husband gets her out of her crib, brings her to me, I nurse her and try to put her back in her own bed. It never works. She likes sleeping next to mom. I'm granola enough to like the idea of co-sleeping, but in practice it means that I don't sleep. So from 2:30 until George comes running down the stairs yelling, "Open your eyes! Get out of bed!" at around 7 a.m., I tussle with a restless baby who would happily be attached to my chest the whole time. I don't function very well on the three hours or so of unbroken sleep that I'm getting every night. I think I need a nanny on nightshift, maybe I can get one of those dewy-eyed attachment parenting gurus who know how to make every mother feel inadequate if they don't love co-sleeping, cloth diapers, want a minute or two alone sometimes and chose to wean after only twenty-five months instead of letting the child decide that it is time to wean and potty train at age five. Of course, too much exposure my turn my kids into flakes, but if something doesn't change soon, I may be willing to take that risk.
Note: I am not saying that all APers are flakes, but if you think that without following an AP philosophy all kids will turn out miserable and/or criminal -- well, let's just say everyone I know who thinks that way is kind of odd.
A SAD DAY: The loss of the Columbia brings back all the thoughts I had as a child hearing about the Challenger explosion from my school principal, except that now I could not even for a few minutes hold on to a naive hope that the brave astronauts could have survived. My heart goes out to their families and I hope that the cause will be found and fixed soon. We must continue our space exploration.