Monday, March 31, 2008

Looks like real education, eh?

I love how our child can be poking around the basement for some new excitement, find an old tool of a parent's, and start fiddling around--and wind up in a pose perfect for the twice-a-year county homeschool review....

This--this follow-your-heart glee--is what learning is really about. I feel so honored to be a part of it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Last night while we celebrated Earth Hour, we shared a lovely local meal:

Meatloaf with local ground beef, an egg, and a little milk all from the same source combined with onions from the farmers market, dried tomatoes (which we dehydrated ourselves during the summer) and chives from a pot on our deck.

Garden Greens from our own backyard: a little chard, a little kale (both of which made it through the winter, and some baby dandelion weeds, sauteed in local butter with some more of the onions and the soaking liquid from our sundried tomatoes.

Baked Potatoes from our farmer's market dressed with sour cream from our above-mentioned meat-and-dairy source.

* * *

We topped off our celebration by rereading (by candlelight) a bit of the perfect spring book: Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

Then we serenaded ourselves before bed by playing trios on our recorders--something we have not done in far too long. What a fulfilling way to spend Earth Hour!

* * *

Earth Hour

Tonight is the international Earth Hour, also known here in the States as Lights Out America.

Turning off the lights for just one hour does make a small difference all by itself--but primarily, this is a symbolic opportunity. Join us in celebrating it by turning off your computer, your television, and the lights. Sit down for a romantic meal by candlelight, read poetry, play word games, pull out your guitar or banjo for a sing-along--and lets spend the evening talking with our families and friends tonight, remembering what is really important to us. What a great opportunity to recognize that the "sacrifices" that we have to make in order to protect the earth and its inhabitants may not be sacrifices at all but may ultimately bring us to a better and more authentic life.

* * *

Friday, March 28, 2008

Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Black and White

Peter Singer, the author of such classics as Animal Liberation and The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, wrote a very powerful book in 2004 called The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush. Over and over, President Bush has embraced not only the ideology of cut-and-dried moral thinking but its rhetoric: "We are in a conflict between good and evil, and American will call evil by its name," the president said in 2002. Our "moral nation" would go to war (literal and figurative war) with "the axis of evil."

For him, "moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time, and in every place." And rather than using evil as an adjective and then condemning behavior, Bush has a tendency to use evil as a noun--as Singer says, "as a thing, or a force, something that has a real existence apart from the cruel, callous, brutal, and selfish acts of which human beings are capable." This is not a way of talking about ethics that fits in easily with the diverse modern secular world.

Singer's book is an extended discussion of Bush's own moral philosophy. The author contrasts the president's views on stem-cell research to his position on capital punishment, questioning what the "sanctity of life" actually means to Bush. If you say you care about the legions of children living in poverty, is it ethical to cut services in order to pass tax cuts for corporations? Singer has a knack for contrasting policies that really highlight large moral inconsistencies such as the rhetoric about free trade versus the reality of massive subsidies to industry. The importance of both family and states rights--except in the case of gay marriage. Or--perhaps my favorite: having a brief but messy affair with a presidential intern and lying about it versus lying about why the nation should enter a very long and messy war.

Singer speculates that the president might well be stuck in "conventional morality," the characteristic of teenagers, in which simple moral rules constitute one's moral outlook, and the idea that such rules might conflict hasn't sunk in yet. At the very least, Bush has not thought through the complexities of the issues he is called upon to deal with.

As reviewer Colin McGinn summarizes, "The conventional view of George W. Bush is that, while he is a man of marked intellectual limitations, he is governed by a consistent set of deeply held moral convictions. Singer's book refutes this comforting myth. Bush is a man of sporadically good moral instincts, perhaps..., but he sways inconsistently and opportunistically in the political breeze, and has no idea how to make his beliefs fit coherently together."

* * *

Coming up soon: a review of Glenn Greenwald's 2007 book A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Philosophy of Fair Isle

I recently started my first big stranded project: Philosopher's Wool "Color Your Own" cardigan in the Fall colorway. My hope was to make my way through the sleeves before the heat set in enough that I wanted a lighter project.

Well--one week later and they are both done! Fair Isle knitting is incredibly addictive and it just flies--at least when it is knitted with worsted-weight yarn.

But now...

I'm hesitating about casting on 200 stitches for the body....

I currently have way too many projects on the needles and keep finding excuses not to do such extensive counting. Hrmph.

But I'll screw my courage to the sticking place (yes--I just saw the Folger's amazing Macbeth)and pull out the long needles, the black yarn, and several markers to mark my progress. Wish me luck.

Project Spectrum: Fire

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Growing Your Own--just a little...

Due to my long lingering case of croup, I have not done a whole lot of anything--blogging, cooking, knitting, gardening, even reading. But last night we ate the first fruits of this season's garden: a sprinkling of herbs (chives and parsley).

We wilted some baby spinach, sauteed some mild fish, and put together a light sauce from fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice boiled down with butter. The little home-grown herb garnish was just the right finishing touch.

And while the grapefruit juice was reducing, I took the highlighter to the seed catalog and dreamed of the last freeze date.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


David and I received a thanks for our donation to Doctors Without Borders today, with this amazing photograph on the front. There is something about the combination of poverty, tradition, deep pride, beauty, and plastic that just hit me in the gut. I can't even break apart what I feel.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Homegrown Revolution

Isn't it incredible how dangerous the act of creating can be?

As these inspiring gardeners say, when you produce your own food and are able to separate from the commerical food supply, you are in danger of becoming free.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


After one post on pain and the next on fear, I suppose you must really be craving a happy post--but unfortunately, I am living in the house of the plague.

For a week I've been coughing my little head off--apparently with the croup. (Did you even know that post-toddlers can get croup?)

Just as I did when I had asthmatic symptoms or whooping cough or what have you when I was a little girl, I've spent an enormous amount of time in the steam of a hot bath. Can't wait to see the water bill.... But the steam really works, at least for an hour or so. And now I'm taking oral steroids, too. (I asked the resident doc if I could go to the olympics and he said not this week--due to the cough, not the drugs.)

David came home from work last night feeling very ill himself--possibly the flu?--and is asleep upstairs. At least he gets an adult illness....

Our son is still healthy and has been making us endless cups of tea, repositioning our pillows, and getting pretty bored. Luckily, our friends have been looking after all of us and entertaining him occasionally. He is a pretty amazing kid who doesn't need much to be happy.

Although I still bark quite a bit and my head is too cloudy-headed to do any significant work, I'm starting to get a little better, I think.

Upcoming: a series of posts on unconventional revolutions, a series of posts on the ways people have imagined life in a chaotic future, and a picture-heavy post of me modelling my still-as-of-yet-unseamed-but-still-lovely aran cardigan.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in the morning"

--F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Crack-Up

Son and I enjoyed watching the DVD How Art Made the World last week. One of the most fascinating parts included a discussion of the power of images that tap into the the fear of death.

In the DVD, the presenters were talking about very early art--but when I looked further into a research study cited in the documentary, I came across the extensive work of Sheldon Solomon and Jeff Greenberg. Although in the film they do not explicitly discuss the manipulation of fear in modern politics, their larger works do.

Their book In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror explores the way that terrorism, by tapping into our deep fear of death, destabilizes society in a way far greater than the actual threat itself.

It is because of our anxiety about our own deaths that we reach out to strengthen our relationships with people with like minds. That could be all for the good--but what is far more pronounced than our efforts to create community is our efforts to conceive of people with whom we do not share a world view as our enemies. In a time of peace, we might be able to coexist happily, but in a time where the threat of death looms, we feel we must fight the opposition. And to fight that opposition, we feel we must have a parent-leader whose rule is not challenged.

We've seen how the Bush administration has recruited that natural process in order to support his own ends and his own position of power. Making sure the American people stayed in a state of fear allowed him and his cronies to avoid any significant opposition from his people.

The researchers from the Art documentary looked at campaign rhetoric as well. As one summary of their study said, "In one experiment Greenberg and colleagues ran during the 2004 campaign, volunteers who completed a questionnaire that reminded them about their own inevitable death (how thoughts of their own death made them feel and what they thought would happen to them physically after they died) expressed greater support for Bush than voters of similar leanings who were not reminded of mortality. The researchers also found that subliminal reminders of death increased support for Bush (and decreased support for Kerry) even among liberals."

Even Newsweek knows this stuff. In an article that ran only two months ago, they showed that the manipulation of fear was by far the most effective kind of political rhetoric--and they showed how all candidates were using it, even those who explicitly condemned it. They end their article saying that "a candidate who neglects the fear factor should have a concession speech ready to go."

* * *

As I packed my bags to return to the DC area from NC, I turned on the television. Not having television at home, I am always stunned by the intense images and messages that most people have targeted at them every day. (In yesterday's post about pain, I did not think about how much pain Americans see every day, acted out before them on the screen.)

Hillary Clinton's new ad--about who you want to answer the emergency phone at 3am when your children are sleeping--was playing. As opposed to the old Mondale ad saying exactly the same thing, Clinton's ad adds the deeply emotional overlay of protecting our own personal homes and our families. At home, we have a mother checking on her children. In the White House home, we have a national mother taking care of her symbolic children--us. (I guess I do prefer this image to yet another patriarchal leader--but good grief....)

I am overwhelmed, disappointed in her in a way I never thought I would be. Clinton did not get my vote in the primary, but I've always said I would be quite happy to vote for her and work for her in the general. I would be absolutely thrilled to see her as the next president, if she became the Democratic nominee.

I suppose I still will be, but her abuse of the fear card worries me tremendously. Talking about security is clearly important in this campaign, but what Clinton has done in not straight-forward talk. Instead it is a calculated strategy. She and her handlers must have read that Newsweek article.

What makes me so upset by this ad is that I see it as the first act that will tear down the Democrats. Yes--Clinton and Obama have criticized each other before, have sniped at each other, have done some of the preliminary work for the Republicans in all sorts of little ways. But this feels very different, very large.

I also wonder if the ad will backfire even if Clinton does get the nomination. If McCain were to say the same about her, what would the answer be for most of America? I'm not sure I want to know that answer. (Um... and this tactic didn't work out so well for Mondale...)

Instead, I want a president who will try with all of his or her might to keep that phone from ringing.

* * *

"One of [Bill] Clinton's laws of politics is this: If one candidate's trying to scare you, and the other one's trying to get you to think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears, and the other one's appealing to your hopes; you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope." --Bill Clinton, 1994

* * *

So that does it. I'm putting Fear on my "Do Not Call" list.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I spent the past few days in North Carolina, enjoying the beautiful spring temperatures and flowering trees that seem to have popped up there.

Last Thursday evening, my cowriter and I gave a book reading and a signing in Durham at one of my all-time-favorite bookstores (after prepping for it over gelato at the incomparable Francesca's.)

The next morning, the two of us headed over to Chapel Hill for a conference on Civil Rights and the Body. For two days we listened to the papers of many young scholars--about the pleasures of the body, about gaze, about illness, about violence. Our paper was the final one of the meeting.

It felt so...good? comfortable? be with other scholars who are also enmeshed in horror. So often we as a society--or possibly we as a species?--shy away from this kind of intense focus on difficulty and pain. Here I was with others, equally obsessed with racial violence and its very specific affects on individual people. Many of us spent a lot of the weekend on the verge of tears about our own projects and about other people's work.

I sometimes wonder how people who deal day after day with immediate pain in others incorporate it into their lives. How do doctors, for example, handle having patients who are dying or who are in intense pain? Clearly, being on the fringes of violence or illness is nothing at all like the pain felt by the actual victims and patients--but on the other hand, the historian or the social worker or the doctor or whatever is supposed to leave the archive or the office and go back to the perfectly normal world where there is no space carved out for their own emotional devastation.

I raised this question with a few of the other historians there, joking that my next project will be on the history of birthday parties or something. One, who studies lynching and Jim Crow violence, told me that after his lynching book, he wrote about utopian communities. This kind of change is something in our bodies calling for self-preservation.

* * *

I returned home with a big sleep deficit and a massive sore throat. Now, instead of obsessing about the violation of people's bodies in history, I'm thinking about phlegm. Cough, cough.


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