Something Nice

Proudly, Alison and i have all but quit watching the television. Oh sure, i'll turn it on if she goes to bed before me--see if i can't catch a Mythbusters i haven't seen (like many people, i'm sure, i've got the hots for the girl on there)--but mostly we just turn it on to watch a dvd.

(another factor is that Alison has really never watched teevee anyway. It was just me. However, since i have stopped smoking AND decided that sugar was killing my brain and hence given it up, i just can't allow myself to sit there and look at it. i wasn't previously aware of it, but i have always abhorred television--i evidently just tolerated it because it give me something to do while i ate really awful things).

Anyway, that's the case this evening. No television. Alison and i are sitting at the table both playing with our computers. I figure she's actually working. I've been reading people's blogs.

I don't do it much. Mostly i just maintain my end of this thing because i've found that people seem to like me more when i don't talk to their face like i talk here on this blog. It's an outlet, you know? Anyway, i went on a blog binge and enjoyed the pooh out of it.

This is what i have to report:

Tonight i have throughly enjoyed reading a blog called
Tiny Cat Pants. (which oddly--or perhaps not--addresses a post to one of Alison's childhood friends, Tracy Moore.)

Also, i want to say that Alison and i have been remiss by not adding JAZ's most excellent blog to our "blogroll" or whateverthehellyacallit over there on the side of the page. I spent quite a bit of time reading him tonight and found myself enamored of him...with him...gee whiz...found myself enamored.

okay. there you have it.

A Common Denominator

Alison and I spent a fun weekend in Richmond, VA with Trey and Megan. (that's Alison's brother and sister-in-law [and in-laws all-around for me]). We ate lots of good food, had fun shopping around in Carytown (an endless row of funky, locally-owned shops) and saw the movie Pan's Labarinth, which, i do believe, could easily fit into the category of Gory Christian Allegory.

But that's not the point of this post. Here's my point (or the beginning, thereof): For Sunday morning breakfast Alison and i went over to Trey and Megan's (we stayed at a hotel). We stopped and bought some sausage and the Richmond Sunday paper. In that paper was a story about how parents letting kids drink alcohol at parties was responsible for the deaths of several area teenagers per year. Turns out that thirty states in the U.S. allow parents to give consent to their children drinking--and anywhere! Like at a restaurant and stuff. How cool! Did you guys know this?

Alright. Now hold on to your britches...

Anyone who has visited Charleston has seen sweetgrass baskets. Local folks--gullah folks--have made an independent living down here for a long time by making these baskets. They sell them downtown in the touristy Market and they sell them on the side of the highway coming into town. Well, growth around here is threatening the well-being of a particular type of grass of which these baskets are best made. It's a shame because to lose these basket makers and their art would be a terrible loss.

Here's another one:

There is very close to 3,100 dead soldiers in Iraq as of this writing.

and another:

My mfa project consisted of work that took place in two poor crime-ridden neighborhoods in New Bedford. During the time i was living there, Alison stayed in Nashville in our house--also in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood. Also, when i drove back and forth between these two places i would pass through one of the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods of all: the South Bronx.


it appears that we are altering the climate of the planet rather quickly.


the average American spends almost 45 minutes of their day driving to and from work.


14.4 billion dollars were spent on public safety by the Department of Transportation in 2004.


naw, that's enough. The common denominator, of course, is the automobile.

I recently started playing a game called "what part does the car play in this?" and discovered that it's a big factor in a lottalotta stuff. It's amazing what kind of hoops we'll jump through just to keep from saying "hmmmm...maybe limiting the use of the automobile is the solution here."

Give this game a try for yourself and see what happens. When another sticky issue raises it's head--whether it's the destruction of a neighborhood or making child car seats affordable to the working class or U.S./Chile relations--try factoring how that situation would change if the automatic right for the use of an automobile was to have its carte blanche revoked.


Something new

Okay, people.

This blog is emphatically pro-choice. Way, way, way, way pro-choice. Indeed, one of the listowners (although probably not the other) could even be described as fanatically pro-choice (which always makes me remember the historian's statement that there's a difference between being a fanatic for freedom and a fanatic for slavery). I don't think any of us is in any doubt about this at the moment.

So now that we've established that, let's move on. Here's a picture of Biffle with a Big Gulp:

We make it a habit to photograph large big gulps and this may be the biggest one of all. Is there ever any reason you need a gallon of Coke in the car with you?


Blogging for choice

Today is the 34th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, so the NARAL Pro-Choice America is sponsoring Blog for Choice. Click here for links to all the blogs that are participating.

They've asked us to weigh in about why we're pro-choice. I did a bit of that in my post on Saturday, but I'll offer a few abbreviated thoughts here before I head to work.

I'm pro-choice because a woman's ability to determine whether and when she gets pregnant affects every other aspect of her life. Everything--my relationships, my job, my economic status, my existence in my own body--would be affected were I to get pregnant. Now, that's not to say that they would be affected in a negative way, but they would be affected, and only I am in a position to weigh all the factors and judge whether or not pregnancy and motherhood are right for me.

I'm in favor of comprehensive sex education and the widespread availability of birth control (with lots of options), emergency contraception, and abortion. I'm in favor of much broader support for mothers and children so that people who do want to have kids can do so (is it worth mentioning here that the states that have the most restrictions on abortion also provide the least support for poor children?)--and these positions are also part of what it means to me to be pro-choice.

So, happy Jan. 22. Those of you in the Charleston area might want to come out tonight to a screening of the film The Abortion Diaries at the Circular Church at 7 p.m. Director Penny Lane will be there to lead a discussion after the film.


This morning at the clinic

Every Saturday morning, protestors show up at the one abortion clinic in Charleston. Since last winter, several women I respect and admire have been running a clinic defense program, coordinating volunteers to escort the women through the protestors and into the clinic.

I went this morning. In a freak act of religious solidarity, churches have divided up the weekends when they'll come out and heckle the patients. Catholics get the third Saturday of the month, and as the morning progressed, they showed up in greater and greater numbers, until there were probably 40 of them lined up in the grass in front of the clinic parking lot. They chanted in unison--hail Marys and various credos that I wasn't familiar with, involving saving people's souls from hell--and yelled at the women as they entered the building. Standard stuff, mostly: "Don't kill your baby!" and "Your baby has fingernails and can feel pain!" and "Abortion is murder!"

Once patients are in the parking lot, they're safe--that's private property, and the protestors can't get near them. But after a certain point in the morning, the parking lot filled up. When one woman drove into the parking lot (having to dodge the protestors who try to block every car as it enters), I went up to her car and told her that she'd have to park across the street.

"I'm so scared!" she said. And I could see why: when you park across the street, you're fair game for the protestors. You have to walk through them to get into the clinic. She was by herself, probably in her early 20s.

"Well, a bunch of us are going to follow your car over to where you park, and we're going to walk back here with you," I told her. "It's going to be okay."

As soon as she left the parking lot, several protestors started following her car, too, and we had to really hurry to beat them to her door. "I'm scared!" she said again.

We flanked her on all sides, and as we walked, I just kept talking to her: "You don't have to listen to them or take anything they try to give you. They're going to yell, but they can't do anything to you. Look, see that yellow line? As soon as we step over that line, they can't follow you. We're really close now. Just don't listen to them at all. You don't even have to look at them."

And then we were over the yellow line, and she went in.

I was really lucky. When I had my abortion, there were no protestors there. I got to go into a quiet clinic and have a medical procedure. And I'm so grateful for that. I can't imagine how awful--how angering, demeaning, frightening, sickening--it would have been to have strangers surrounding me, blocking me, yelling at me and condemning me for making such an important, personal decision.

I was really honored to be at the clinic this morning. I got to be brave so that she could be scared, and we got her in.


Road narratives

Well, Biffle's spacebar is sticking on his computer, so he's not interested in writing anything right now, which means I might as well share this random thing that has occurred to me lately: I really love road narratives. Maybe not books so much--none of my favorite books happen on the road, although I did get all kinds of gooey feelings from On the Road when I read it in high school--but movies and songs. Little Miss Sunshine, Thelma and Louise, The Muppet Movie are all road movies that I love--and that I love in part because they take place on the road. And songs--"America" by Simon and Garfunkel, "On the Road" by John Denver.

When you're on the road all your normal life constraints are loosened. You have this free space to try new things, to consider new possibilities. Road narratives are always sort of nostalgic, too, like the characters are grieving the identity they're leaving behind.

Anyway, since I've realized that I like this genre, you all can offer me recommendations of road books/songs/movies that I should check out.


Holding things

Recently Biffle and I were walking through a department store. He was carrying some towels, and I offered to carry them for a while. He said, "No--I kind of like holding them. It's comforting. I never got to hold things like this growing up."

I hadn't really paid attention up until that point, but he was sort of clutching them to his chest, with his arms wrapped around them. He said, "This is how girls held things. If you were a boy and you held your books this way, you got called a fag."

"How were you supposed to hold things?"

"Like this." He dropped his arm so that it was hanging straight down to his side. "Even if it was incredibly inconvenient and uncomfortable, you had to hold your books this way."

And then I remembered being in tenth grade health class, with a teacher whose qualifications for teaching were that he was the assistant football coach. He told us that guys naturally hold their books "like clubs," because that's how their bodies evolved from the "caveman days," and that girls cradle their books because their bodies are made for holding babies.

I don't remember how I reacted. When I was in tenth grade, I'd stopped wearing make-up, but I don't know that I'd started questioning biological determinism, so I probably thought, "Hmm. Clubs vs. babies, biologically programmed into our bodies. I guess that explains things." Meanwhile, the boys in the class were being trained in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to perform the version of masculinity that would keep them from being "fags." They were being trained down to the level of how to hold their books. And then the performance was so pervasive that the teacher could tell us that this was "natural," not culturally constructed.

Barbara Ehrenreich has an essay where she talks about how ridiculous it is to look at the way men and women perform their genders and presume that this is in any way "natural." She says, "It's like studying giraffes in a zoo and concluding that giraffes can't run."

These days, of course, I'm totally sold on the idea that gender is culturally constructed. "Natural" is one of those red flag words that always gets my attention and makes me skeptical. I think that almost every way in which men and women act differently from each other is based on training rather than something inherent in our physical make-up. And yet the subtleties of our gendered construction continue to surprise me--the small ways in which Biffle has been trained to exist in his body differently than the ways I've been trained, and the ways homophobia was used casually, pervasively, throughout his childhood and young adulthood as a tool for keeping him in line.


Caveat emptor

We recently switched to the new version of Blogger. I don't suppose it's any different for the reader, but it apparently has all kinds of new features for us. The only one I've discovered is that somehow, as I switched our blog over to the new software, the malicious A.I. that runs the program decided to put Walter's name on every post I've written, and vice versa. So if you look below, you'll see that Alison wrote about why Walmart sucks, and Biffle wrote about being the nerd girl at the Honors reunion. Somewhat out of character, really.

I believe this particular glitch is now fixed--I did, in fact, write this post, as well as the ones from 1-4-07--but please keep this in mind if you read our archived material.

If anybody knows how I might fix this problem, I'd love to hear about it.


Cash McGraw

Check out Eliza's dog trainer's blog, which today features the unbelievably cute new member of the McGraw family.

Answer to the quiz

I'm sure none of you will be surprised to learn that Biffle is playing bluegrass right now, so he's unable to give the answer to the QUIZ from earlier today. He has instructed me to tell you all that the thing that is special about the letter to the editor is that it consists of three paragraphs and three sentences. One sentence per paragraph.

I also think an acceptable answer is that it contains absolutely no real information. I suspect that it's written in code--only homophobic South Carolina Episcopalians can understand it. It's probably informing them about a secret meeting coming up.


Go read this letter to the editor in today's Charleston newspaper.

When you're finished, come back here and comment on what makes this particular letter special.

Answers at 10.


Wal-Mart Will Always Suck

Listen: Two years ago Alison and i had to make a decision that really made us think: we had to decide to 1) stay true to our word, or 2) put 10,000 dollars in our pocket. The story leading up to this decision is boring--it was just one of those things that comes up when you're selling a house, so don't worry about the details. The only reason i mention it is because of how hard we had to consider which we were going to do.

To help us decide, we consulted friends and family. We consulted realtors and strangers. I think we both consulted higher powers than that, even. In the end, we went with what we thought was right and sent the 10k folks packing and i don't think either of us regret it. The amazing thing, however, was the number of people that thought we should take the big money. Evidently, when there's money involved, folks are tempted to have an entirely different ethical system than they might normally use.

Here's another short story for you: Right before our President took us to war back in 2002, or whatever, Alison and i were on a street corner in Nashville at an anti-war rally. We had a dog with us. We were not carrying a bongo drum. We did not smell of patchouli. I think because of these details, the teevee newsperson on site figured the two of us were probably good for a lucid comment. She asked something like "do you think the President's reasons for this war are legitimate" or something. Alison had the soundbites at her fingertips. She was great! And then the reporter turned to me...Sounding all the world like an Apocalypse Now-era Dennis Hopper let loose on Hillsboro Village, I pleaded man, it's all about the oil, man. The reporter, deftly figuring out that this one had simply left his bongo drum at home, quickly moved on. Had she stayed, however, i would have laid some heavy wisdom on her:

When there's ten trillion dollars at stake, you can bet yer sweet ass there's some funny business goin' on.

Anyway, read this .

Listen: Wal Mart wouldn't know an ethical business decision if it bit them on the butt. Making the ethical choice rarely ever makes one wealthy, and Wal Mart is one of the wealthiest companies in the world.

In the article the automaton of a reporter tells us,

"During an extraordinary meeting in Las Vegas in early October, competing bulb makers, academics, environmentalists and government officials met to ponder, at times uncomfortably, how Wal-Mart could sell more of the fluorescent lights."

Tell me: Since when does the world's most successful retailer really need a professor and a tree-hugger to tell it how to sell something?

Here's another brain teaser for you:

"To keep up with swelling orders from the chain, Osram Sylvania took to flying entire planeloads of compact fluorescent bulbs from Asia to the United States."

If this is so, then how many years does it take one planeload of 100 watt CFLs to offset the noxious gases pumped out by a single trans-Pacific flight?


We are told "Mr. Hamburg recalled telling [the CEO of Wal-Mart] “You need to look at what is being sold on the shelf,” over a dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes." Oh, those folksy Wal Mart guys! Eatin' mashed potatoes and turkey! Who gives a crap what they had for dinner? And, again, why on earth is an environmental studies professor giving business advice to the head of Wal-Mart? And even so, can't he do better that "take a look at what is on the shelf?"

And why did Wally World have to hold all these summits and stuff? Couldn't they have just gone to IKEA 10 years ago and see how they were trying to sell the same thing, for the same reason, and do that?

And when exactly did Wal Mart buy the Times? Man, believe me, i'll think twice before i take seriously anything this Barbaro guy writes. He quotes CEO Scott as saying: "The environmental movement is begging for the Wal-Mart business model” and then opines "It is the environmental movement’s dream: America’s biggest company, legendary for its salesmanship and influence with suppliers, encouraging 200 million shoppers to save energy."

Well, i assure you that my environment at least is not "begging for the Wal-Mart business model." I mean, heck, i like clean, free water and air. And, please! It is not the "environmental movement's dream" that Wal Mart is "encouraging 200 million shoppers to save energy." Environmentalists dream that Wal-Mart's Bentonville headquarters are attacked by a plague of locusts and that the rest of us develop the courage to do the next right thing.