Monday, October 30, 2006

So, you think you're smarter than me?

You may be thinking, "Hah! That foolish woman has a faltering grasp of grammar. It's than I."

Au contraire, mon pest. A recent Language Log post linked to an older post explaining why either me or I is correct. Per the Columbia Guide to Standard American English:

"Than is both a subordinating conjunction, as in She is wiser than I am, and a preposition, as in She is wiser than me. As subject of the clause introduced by the conjunction than, the pronoun must be nominative, and as object of the preposition than, the following pronoun must be in the objective case. ...Some commentators believe that the conjunction is currently more frequent than the preposition, but both are unquestionably Standard."

So if you've been internally berating yourself every time you use "than me," cut yourself some slack. It's A-OK.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My name is...

Funny dialogue between Ben...jamin and me this morning on the way to school, while he dawdled despite the second bell having already rung. Actually, ring is the wrong verb here—the sound's a little closer to an air-raid siren than to a bell. Takes time off the end of my life every time it blasts the air when I'm too close to the loudspeakers.

Anyway, the boy was walking slowly through a frost-covered sward of weedy, trampled grass.

Me: Pokey! C'mon, Pokey.

Ben: My name's not Pokey.

Me: C'mon, Tim. (He asked yesterday why we hadn't named him that.)

Ben: My name's not Tim.

Me: C'mon, Toby. (He has a school friend by that name.)

Ben: My name's not Toby.

Me: C'mon, Toby!

Ben: (more vehemently) My name's not Toby!

Me: (Silently giggling to myself: "My name's Kunta Kinte!")

If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you might be too young to recall Roots, the seminal 1977 TV miniseries based on the book by Alex Haley.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ooh, I hear elections are coming up

Most of my ballot choices will be easy.

My Democratic congresswoman is in tune with my stances on all the issues, and in a heavily liberal district, she's likely to garner at leasst 70% of the vote. My U.S. senators—Barack Obama and Dick Durbin—aren't due up for reelection yet.

A lawyer friend gave me this link for bar associations' guidance on judicial candidates (with the advice to scroll down to find another link for the Chicago Bar Association's ratings listed elsewhere), so I'll print out whatever's there and take it to the polling place (conveniently located around the corner in Ben's school!).

For statewide offices, there are a bunch of Democratic incumbents to vote for. The only conflict here is that I'll have to hold my nose while voting for Rod Blagojevich. Sure, he tends toward corruption—that venerable Illinois/Chicago political tradition—but he's our corrupt politician. With his bold action on key issues near and dear to my heart—requiring Illinois pharmacists to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, initiating universal health care coverage for the state's children, and proposing universal preschool—he's built up plenty of good will. That keeps me from considering his GOP rival, Judy Baar Topinka. She's a woman, yes, but Blago's feminist political credentials are probably better than hers.

Then we have the Cook County races. The big one here is the battle for the Cook County Board President seat, and those of you who aren't from the Chicago area may not have heard about it. (Cook County includes the city of Chicago as well as dozens of suburbs, and has a population of 5.3 million. So this is a significant post.) The Dem incumbent, John Stroger, was fond of political hiring and maintaining a business-as-usual stranglehold on political reform. In the primaries, a County Commissioner with the delicious name of Forrest Claypool fought hard for the Democratic nomination, and I strongly supported him. (I didn't donate or volunteer, but trust me—in my head, the support was fervent.)

Anyway, about three weeks before primary election day in March, John Stroger suffered a massive stroke. His volunteers picked up the pace with phone calls, and a seriously ill man handily won renomination. Eventually, he made it out of the hospital and into rehab, and eventually, without ever seeing or speaking to the media, John Stroger issued a letter. Or maybe he didn't. Maybe someone wrote and signed it for him—who knows? The letter said, in essence, "I'm stepping down and I want my son Todd on the ballot in my place in November." His son Todd, whose political and executive experience is meager, who has never served on the County Board. The Democratic officials acceded to this wish, whoever it belonged to, and thus Todd Stroger is on the ballot.

His Republican opponent is Tony Peraica, and local Democratic politicians sent me a letter mentioning Peraica's anti-choice and anti-gay record. Which means Peraica's views are antithetical to mine—except that he supports the reform efforts, while Todd Stroger's whole raison d'etre is "politics as usual." Todd Stroger isn't even making much of an effort to define himself as a candidate—really, one is left to see a vote for Stroger as a vote for continuing the malarkey that's gone on, and the best way to further Forrest Claypool's reform goals is to vote for a right-winger.

So I might actually vote for a Republican. The last time I did that, it was to send a representative to Springfield, and I think he was a Rhodes scholar. Peraica's much less appealing than that guy—whoever he was—but Cook County needs some housecleaning, and continuing an unenthusiastic Stroger dynasty is repugnant to me. It would be lovely to write in Claypool's name on my ballot, but Peraica will have to fight for every vote he gets in a blue city. A friend pointed out that the County Board Commissioners tend to have a Democratic majority, and so Peraica couldn't do much harm on that front.

If you're in Cook County, what do you think about the Stroger/Peraica faceoff?

Monday, October 16, 2006

What mystery?

Just read the Salon interview with Richard Dawkins, whose book, The God Delusion, is ranked #6 in Amazon sales. I'm an atheist, like Dawkins, and always have been.

The most interesting part of the interview, for me, was the discussion of the grand "why" questions.

Dawkins says: ...Now, the mere fact that you can frame an English sentence beginning with the word "why" does not mean that English sentence should receive an answer. I could say, why are unicorns hollow? That appears to mean something, but it doesn't deserve an answer.

The Salon interviewer, Steve Paulson, rebuts: But it seems to me the big "why" questions are, why are we here? And what is our purpose in life?

Dawkins: It's not a question that deserves an answer.

Paulson: Well, I think most people would say those questions are central to the way we think about our lives. Those are the big existential questions, but they are also questions that go beyond science.

Dawkins: ...Those of us who don't believe in a god will say that is as illegitimate as the question, why are unicorns hollow? It just shouldn't be put. It's not a proper question to put. It doesn't deserve an answer.

Paulson: I don't understand that. Doesn't every person wonder about that? Isn't that a core question, what are we doing in this world? Doesn't everyone struggle with that?

Dawkins: There are core questions like, how did the universe begin? Where do the laws of physics come from? Where does life come from? Why, after billions of years, did life originate on this planet and then start evolving? Those are all perfectly legitimate questions to which science can give answers, if not now, then we hope in the future. There may be some very, very deep questions, perhaps even where do the laws of physics come from, that science will never answer. That is perfectly possible. I am hopeful, along with some physicists, that science will one day answer that question. But even if it doesn't -- even if there are some supremely deep questions to which science can never answer -- what on earth makes you think that religion can answer those questions?


You know what? Dawkins' interviewer thinks questions about humankind's grand purpose are a universal. They're not. I've never found reason to dwell on such things. I certainly don't "struggle" with these questions—I've scarcely even mused absentmindedly about them. I'll grant you that plenty of people do ponder the meaning of life, but then, plenty of people express a belief in a higher power. (To each her own.) I just might buy Dawkins' book.

Edited to add a link to Pharyngula, including a clip of Dawkins' appearance on Stephen Colbert's show.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bulleted list

• I wanted to show you a picture of the snow-dusted shrubs in my front yard, but Blogger didn't cooperate. It's the first half of October, and this is not the Upper Midwest! WTF? I understand weather from Alaska is to blame. If you're reading this from Alaska, please put yourself in time-out. I froze my buns off walking Ben to school this morning.

• Wait, it's not Ben, it's Benjamin. He's decided he prefers his full name because it has three syllables. If he could legitimately stretch it to six syllables, he'd do it. Gotta respect a person who wants to take up more space in his world.

• The teacher's kid had emergency surgery yesterday, so the teacher's out all week. This is a matter of great delight to Ben...jamin. The writing, writing, more writing business is pushing his fine motor skills to their limit, if not the breaking point. Much drama. Damn, I wish it were easier for him. I don't want him to express fear and loathing of school, and he's so smart—it's just the fine motor skills. So anyway, his class is having substitute teachers all week, and so far they haven't been doing much in the way of teaching and assigning homework. During school yesterday, they drew pictures. Ben...jamin drew a portrait of his father entitled "Dad is mad." Hee! I'm delighted that he didn't assign the angry trait only to me. (And I hope the teacher's kid is doing okay. He's only 11.)

• Speaking of me, Ben...jamin had a bad dream this morning. He's inherited my proclivity for vivid, memorable dreams (Mr. Tangerine seldom remembers his dreams). In this particular dream, a creaking bathroom door scared him, as did the presence of me and my doppelgänger. One me was talking on the phone, while the other me was getting Ben ready for school. He was apparently a little freaked out because he couldn't ascertain which one was his real mom. What could this mean?

• Benjamin has acting class today. They're enacting a scene from the first Harry Potter (which I can't resist pronouncing the way Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington pronounced "Mister Kotter") book/movie. The DVD's on its way from Amazon—we've never read or seen any of the installments. The kid's also signed up for tumbling class (with his best friend from school/cohort in hijinks) and floor hockey (with a girl from his class last year—she has lost six baby teeth already! It's a crazy look. I suspect Benjamin will hang onto his baby teeth for a long time—nothing's even loose yet. But his back molars have almost all emerged, finally—we'll see what the dentist says on Saturday. Speaking of the dentist, I was curious about her unusual first name and wondered what ethnicity she might be. So I Googled the name...and found her knitting blog and her MySpace page! Nothing she need be embarrassed by, but when you have such a unique name, it's hard to hide on the internet.) Wow, that parenthetical remark went off on a tangent. Anyway, lest you think I'm one of those parents who overschedules her child, let me clarify that each class cost $5 for 10 weeks (thank you, city taxpayers!), and Benjamin knows he can drop any class he wants to. But he seems to want to continue all three. Hey, that wasn't my plan!

• The joys of the Mirena IUD: Last week, I was at my wit's end, fretting about Benjamin's academic woes. Crying, losing perspective. Then on Friday morning, lo and behold, wicked cramps! It's not the end of the world—it was merely hormones! What I like about the progestin-releasing IUD (besides its awesome efficacy as a contraceptive) is that I had the PMS and I had the cramps, period. Nothing. Not a drop or a spot to be seen anywhere.

• Hey, the snow's gone. Now everything's wet rather than snow-clad. But not to worry! The flurries will return. And I'd thought I was nuts for ordering Ben's winter coat and matching accessories (love those Lands' End squall coats for kids!) in September, but he looked quite dapper in his toasty-warm flame orange coat, gloves, and scarf this morning.

• You know what I'm doing right now? Procrastinating. I finally did sit down and do some work on my book yesterday, but haven't touched the project yet today.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Foley follies

The Mark Foley imbroglio provides a much-needed reminder of the Chris Farley character, Matt Foley—the motivational speaker living in a van down by the river. Here's a clip with Christian Slater (though my favorite Matt Foley skit was the one with David Spade and Christina Applegate).

One disingenuous argument floated by the GOP mouthpieces a few days ago was that, gosh, they couldn't come down hard on Mark Foley for "over-friendly" e-mails because, gee whiz, they'd get accused of being anti-gay, and they're really not like that. That's total bull, of course—the party that pushes a constitutional amendment to forestall same-sex marriage is concerned about not coming off as anti-gay? Sorry, not buying it.

Another issue relating to this is that the problem wasn't that Foley is gay, it's that he made inappropriate advances to kids. For more on this distinction and the scapegoating of homosexuality in a case that's not about homosexuality, read Joe Solmonese's essay at the Huffington Post. Solmonese is the president of the Human Rights Campaign. He writes, in part (echoing my own thoughts):

The same GOP leaders who are trying to write gay people out of the Constitution chose not to investigate inappropriate sexual behavior because they were worried that they might be branded as homophobic? This has nothing to do with homophobia. This is about the sexual solicitation of teenagers. In fact, The Journal of the American Medical Association found that 90 percent of pedophiles are men, and that 98 percent of those men are heterosexual.

There's plenty more to say about Foley, Hastert, and the GOP media machine, but it's all been said elsewhere. Just wanted to remind you that homosexuality and homophobia are not at issue here, and those who suggest they're pertinent are trying to create a smokescreen. Turn on the fan and blow that smoke away, will you?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hey, you're kinda cute online

Between the blog-cosmos and e-mail, you know what happens from time to time? You encounter kindred spirits, people who write things so clever or insightful that they seem to be channeling your own thoughts, if only you could write so eloquently. And thus ensues the delicious phenomenon of the intertubes-based intellectual crush.

Come on, 'fess up—you know exactly what I'm talking about, don't you? The intellectual crush may be someone you'd date in real life if you met them, or someone you wouldn't remotely be attracted to, or someone of a sex other than the one you're interested in (e.g., you're both straight people of the same sex, or you're a straight woman and he's a fabulous gay man).

If you like writing and you like reading, and you encounter the writing of someone brilliant and funny, oooh, that's juicy. I'll bet you can think of a couple people right now who fit your personal category of "brainy dreamboats who make you swoon in at least a hypothetical way." I don't know about you, but I'm apt to fall for people who have a ginormous vocabulary of $10 words and are adept at using these words correctly; wit is also essential. I can forgive the occasional typo, but I could never bring myself to have an online crush on anyone who doesn't write well.

The beauty of the internet crush is that on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog—or a man or a woman, or cute or plain, or sitting around in baggy pajamas. Rather, you can be judged on the merits of your mind. This opens the door to intellectual flirtations freed from the confines of reality. Some of you may remember having a straight girl's crush on another girl. (My most memorable one of these was around age 13, when an older girl who was a YWCA youth-group leader was just perfect—I craved her attention and, oh, how I wanted to be her.) I presume boys, as well as grown men and women, can get smitten with role models, too, aside from sexual orientation—I've witnessed a woman swooning over Tertia (and why not?) and a man swooning over Michael Bérubé (who wouldn't?).

And there are no geographic limitations—you can have internet crushes from thousands of miles away. You may have a particular interest in an abstruse topic that fascinates exactly nobody in your circle of friends and family—but online, you can mingle with a slew of like-minded people…some of whom may be eminently crushworthy because of their brainpower.

Most crushes are like chocolate sauce—your dinner is certainly complete without it, but it lends a sweet and intoxicating touch and enriches the experience in a most delicious manner. Sure, it'd be unhealthy to live on a diet of just chocolate sauce. But isn't it fun to cultivate a few intellect-based crushes, enjoy feeling smitten from time to time, and hone your flirting skills via e-mail and blog comments?

(Cross-posted at Bitch Ph.D.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Exquisite Car

A week ago, Ben and I lunched on Giordano's Chicago-style stuffed pizza with a friend from out of town. It was such a treat to have another adult around on a weekday, providing cover for ordering a beer with lunch. Drinking alone with a kid just seems wrong, but it's so very civilized to have a drink at mealtime.

Ben, being six, is a teetotaler, so he drank ice water. When he'd finished his water, out of boredom or thirst, he walked over to the restaurant host to ask for more water, please. The host was so charmed, he gave Ben a gift: an Exquisite Car ("All Styles Are Wonderful!") emblazoned with the restaurant's logo. The car's a Smart car (neat!) that blasts loud music (grr!), and it came in a box rich in incomprehensibility (oh, sweet pleasure!). To wit:

"The both sides's car door can successively beat the on and off to shut"

Not clear enough? Maybe an illustration will help:

There are ample safety warnings in languages including broken German (wow! an umlaut on an E!) and Itkflian:

Not to mention a red warning box in English, with 10 lines of text packed within a 0.5x0.75-inch space:

In addition to a "Function Explain" diagram, there was also this clear illustration:

I have yet to witness this "bump up and go" business, and frankly, I'm disappointed. I was hoping to learn how to bump up and go.

Style counsel sought

You may have seen the Gap commercial featuring Audrey Hepburn, back from the grave to dance in skinny pants. While I can't abide the ad, I'm wondering about skinny jeans. Is there an age beyond which a woman must eschew the skinny-pants style? I have skinny legs, and wow, did I ever love wearing skinny jeans when I was about 15, but now I'm over 35. Is the cutoff for skinny jeans dictated by age or leg girth?