Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Holiday Season

There is something about Christmastime that makes me all sentimental. I turn into one of those "Dammit, hurry up and wrap the presents so we can have a bunch of them under the tree way before Christmas Day" people.

One of my holiday quirks that my husband just doesn't get is my love of and need for Christian Christmas music. As you all know, I am not religious in the slightest and am best described as an Awakened Catholic. But 13 years of Catholic school and Christmas masses have taken their toll on me, and I LOVE old, traditional, Christmas music. I will take "O Holy Night" over "Jingle Bells" any day of the week. My favorite Christmas carol ever is an extremely obscure Latin song called "Angelus Ad Pastores Ait" - I sang it in high school when I was part of the concert choir and have been obsessed with it ever since. As much as I have trolled the internet, I am as of yet still unable to find a recording of the arrangement we used back in '99. I look for it every year.

I consider every Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Christina Aguilera, Faith Hill, and every other pop/country bastardization of Christmas music to be the most horrendous shit ever created. It makes my ears bleed. I hate "Silent Night" just because of how many times it's been recorded and fucked with over the years, so I don't listen to it anymore.

There is something about the sound of a choir - the harmonies, the intricate balance of parts, the full sound they create - there's nothing like it in the world. "The Carol of the Bells," for example, is just not the same when performed any other way. I think that's why the Christian stuff is so dear to my heart - because it's all written for choirs to perform, it's very intense and complex, has so much more substance.

But really, it's more personal than that. Every year, from kindergarten through senior year of high school I was part of a Christmas concert. I have, at one time or another, sang just about every Christmas carol you can imagine in an auditorium or church. We had some great musical directors who went on to conduct large-city orchestras. In other words, this was serious shit for us. It meant spending block after block of classroom time practicing singing our parts for the show instead of doing long division. And it is rehearsing a complex harmony in a large, empty, echoing church that makes you fall in love with a particular piece of music.

My senior year Christmas concert we sang "Angelus Ad Pastores Ait" and "Lo, How A Rose Ere Blooming." I loved, Loved, LOVED doing the less well-known stuff. It sticks with you. So for the rest of my life, no matter how far from religion I may stray, the songs about the birth of a savior will continue to bring tears to my eyes when performed the "right" way.

The other, similar holiday feature that strikes a chord with me is The Nutcracker. My mom used to have The Nutcracker Suite on cassette tape (imagine!), and my little sister and I would put it on full blast and dance improv ballet on the hardwood floors in front of the lit-up Christmas tree in our socks. My mom used to put on the PBS broadcast of The Nutcracker Ballet every Christmas, and we would watch Clara's every move with rapt attention, hoping that her twirling techniques would magically bestow themselves upon us through the TV screen.

We would drink egg nog and hot chocolate with candy canes in it. Decorating the tree was an all-night affair that we were always excited about. Christmas was the one time of year where almost no one in my family fought, or was angry, and nothing bad ever seemed to happen. Our family would come together at one big gathering, we would get dressed up, we would spend the entire day together eating, talking, and exchanging gifts. A decade later my parents would be divorced and we would never again see our entire family in the same place to share a holiday together.

When it was over and the tree was gone, the excitement was worn off, The Nutcracker tape was put away, things would return to normal and the arguing and fighting would resume. I remember one time my sister and I pulled out The Nutcracker Suite sometime around April and tried to dance to it again. It just wasn't the same.

The nostalgia I feel for these small holiday-related things is strong. I dragged my husband to my old high school last night to see the Christmas Concert that I was a part of exactly 10 years ago. It left much to be desired after seeing all the changes that have taken place. I loved my high school, so it breaks my heart that it's been altered so drastically. I did not get the Christmas fix I so desperately needed.

So today, I am taking my little sister to see The Nutcracker ballet at symphony hall. Hopefully it is every bit as captivating as I remember.

Monday, November 30, 2009

This Post Has Been Brewing....

Some may think I'm being brazen, given that my child is still unborn and yet I have very strong opinions on this topic. Brazen or not, I have given a lot of thought to and done a lot of research on this issue.

First, to get you caught up, please check out this article.

Part One: The Parent Police

I hate people who think they have the right, responsibility, or reason to tell a parent how they should raise their children. FUCK you. That's my opinion on these assholes. Choosing not to breastfeed is not a mortal sin. Letting your 9 yr old child ride the subway alone in a city with the 297th (or some crazy number like that) lowest crime rate in the country does not mean you deserve to be in jail. Feeling a bit resentful that getting pregnant requires you to give up your body, your mind, drinking, smoking, and the other fucktillion things that warrant vigilance does not mean you're a selfish person and shouldn't have children. Fuck you assholes who believe you have the right to say otherwise.

The GUILT that has been imposed on parents in this country is the primary culprit for the insanity that has taken hold of parenting practices in the last decade. The secondary culprit is the spreading of the nonsense belief that there is such a thing as a PERFECT parent.


Which brings me to....

Part Two: Fundamentalist Parenting

What is it with extremes in this world? When did we decide that we could learn how to raise children by reading books written by strangers?

The child-worshipping culture that has emerged is no doubt harmful and handicapping to an entire generation of children who can't handle failure and are unable to make their own decisions, and who feel entitled to having no boundaries. These kids are likely to be useless adults - with finger-pointing as their favorite hobby.

And now we have what's being called "Free Range Parenting." First, I should say that this particular parenting style is a gazillion times closer to the kind of parent I want to be than the so-called "helicopter" parenting.

But, The Hypocrisy!!!

"Become a "Free Range Parent! Learn why this is the BEST way to raise your child! Buy the book! Buy the CD! Read the blog and the newsletter! Buy the t-shirts and the 'best' handmade classic toys!"

Once again, we need someone ELSE to tell us how to raise our children! And we wonder why douchebags in the park feel entitled to judge your non-organic snacks!

Part 3: The Good Old Days

This is my favorite email forward ever. I've had it for almost 4 years and never fail to be reminded of it when I think about becoming a parent. Enjoy and please feel free to comment.

"TO ALL THE KIDS WHO WERE BORN IN THE 1930's 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, AND EARLY 80'S!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking .

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.

Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because.....


We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.

No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem .

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms..........WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no
lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays,
made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever!

The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned....


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gender and Violence

The other day I was reading The Liars' Club by Mary Karr, a memoir of her childhood in Texas, when I came across an incredibly disturbing scene that made me start to shake with disgust and horror.

In this scene, 7 year-old Mary has just finished reading Charlotte's Web up in her bedroom and has this revelation about the importance of the book and its true meaning. She calls for her male babysitter to come upstairs so she can tell him about it. He comes upstairs and she starts babbling to him about what she had read, about the significance of Charlotte and Wilbur's friendship. He asks her if she would like to be his special friend, and at this point we know where this is going. In the next few paragraphs, Karr describes (very graphically) how this babysitter gets (forces) her to perform oral sex on him. At SEVEN YEARS OLD.

Now first of all, I read books like this all the time - I was not shocked out of innocence by this occurrence or anything. Second of all, she had already described being raped by a neighborhood boy at an even younger age earlier in this same book. But something about this particular scene - the way she described it or perhaps the vividness of the image in my head - this one had a very different effect on me.

I sat there stone-faced and shaking on the couch, book in my lap. My husband asks if I'm okay. I say "no," he asks why not, I explain the scene to him. He shakes his head in disgust/anger and says "See? That's why I don't want to have girls."

At this point I realize that my take on the situation is quite different from his. I get angry and ask quite forcefully, "Oh, you'd rather have the perpetrator of the crime be your child than the victim???"

I realize that this was a very sexist thing to say, and a very sexist feeling to have in the first place. But I have heard so many people express a preference for having sons because of similar reasons, claiming that boys don't need to be worried about as much, that I reacted viscerally to both the scene and my husband's statement.

What does it say about us and our culture if we would rather raise violent perpetrators than victims? What does it say about us and our culture that we associate a specific gender to one status or the other?

I have heard strong, independent females say things like "Oh, I'm so glad I never had a daughter. Boys are just soooo much easier." As if girls require some kind of high-maintenance parenting and boys just kinda take care of themselves.

My thoughts after reading the passage in Karr's book were essentially that I have to imagine it is much easier to teach a child how to never be a victim than it is to teach a child never to be a perpetrator. How do you teach your son (effectively) not to ever touch another person or force them to touch him against their will without making sex and sexual contact seem dirty, wrong and forbidden (Because we all know where those lessons lead.....Jeffrey Dahmer, anyone?).

Isn't it easier to teach a girl that she has rights, that her body is her own, that she doesn't have to respond to intimidation and that fear doesn't have to control her life? Isn't that easier than teaching a boy to control his hormonal urges, to respect females as equals, to respect female sexuality in a world where all the messages he is bombarded with are to the contrary?

I think the most disturbing aspect of that passage for me was the fact that I never once got the impression that this boy wanted to hurt Mary. He wasn't being mean, he wasn't malicious. I believe he had a strong sexual urge, he needed an outlet for it, he saw an opportunity and took it. I don't think he believed he was hurting her. I didn't get the impression that this boy was the type who would grow up to be a child molestor or a rapist. But nonetheless, he did what he did to her.

And I'm willing to bet this shit happens all the time and no one ever hears about it. The sick fuckers always seem to be adults and get caught because they do it over and over again. But what about the ones who, just once, lost control of their shit and no one ever finds out what happened?

We all know of ways to protect kids from bad people in the world. Sometimes we can't control it, but we all do our best.

But how can we effectively protect our kids from themselves?

The Question of Afghanistan: Your thoughts?

I keep getting emails in my inbox from various political organizations I have dealings with regarding Afghanistan and the question of whether or not to send more troops. 90% of the time, I am in near-perfect agreement with these organizations' stances on various issues, but this is one issue I can't get behind them on., Code PINK, Progressive Democrats, etc., all seem to want me to protest the sending of troops into Afghanistan, and call for the complete pulling out of troops. They want me to engage in protests if Obama decides to okay the troop surge. I'm not sure it's a good idea to do any of these things.

Afghanistan is where we should have been in the first place. I want all of our troops out of Iraq, without question or hesitation. But Afghanistan is a different issue. Call me old-fashioned and bloodthirsty, but I still want Bin Laden's head on a stick.

But I am now a military spouse, and I understand the sacrifice our men and women in uniform and their families make in order to perform orders handed down by our government. I don't want to see more injuries and loss of lives as a result of another war. But we're having these things happen day after day after day in Afghanistan and the military is telling us it's because they don't have enough troops there for security efforts to be effective.

Now if I were president, I would remove all troops from Afghanistan and send a team of CIA special operatives into the area to find and capture/kill Bin Laden and bring his body back to the US. This would be done in secret, of course - the plan only coming to public knowledge once the capture was successful. I am a big fan of targeting the specific enemy rather than an entire group of people who may or may not be marginally related to that enemy. I think it sends a better message about use of power for justice than bombing entire cities and villages full of innocent people.

But maybe I've seen too many spy movies.

What do you guys think? Where do you stand on this issue? Should we send more troops or call for a complete withdrawal?

Friday, November 6, 2009

This Sucks.

Being knocked up sucks. Anyone who says differently is either extremely lucky or is suffering from a mental disorder characterized by delusion.

At first it's all, "Wow, holy shit! This is amazing, I'm so excited!" And then the hormones kick in.

I'm not even SICK. I have been lucky enough to escape the morning sickness, which is probably some function of my evolution, seeing as I am such a wuss about nausea that I would have already drowned myself in the bathtub if I were unable to stop vomiting.

Even without THAT, this completely sucks balls.

The exhaustion is unbearable. Have you ever seen a 2 year-old that is utterly wiped out and hasn't had a nap in like forever? That's me - a whining, miserable, exhausted, weepy mess. I have never been this tired in my life. There is no such thing as "enough" sleep - I could nap all day, get 10-12 hours of sleep at night - doesn't matter, still feel like shit. Worse than that, it is nearly impossible to get comfortable in bed at night and I have to get up to pee at least twice. Why on earth is it so hard to sleep at this point, before my physical shape is even a factor in my discomfort?

And the cramps. Oh my god, the goddamn cramps. No one tells you about this until AFTER you're knocked up. I have been down on all fours at 3am on my kitchen floor with tears in my eyes because apparently my uterus decided it would be a great time to play twister with my ovaries. The stupid cramps come and go constantly - it's not like PMS or your period, when you know they'll go away. And to add insult to injury? You can't take anything but fucking Tylenol. Not even extra-strength Tylenol. Definitely not Vicodin, though the situation seems to merit it more than others I've experienced.

But probably the worst thing, for me, is the stupid pregnancy brain. Becca pointed out in my previous post that I kept referring to swine flu as "H191" rather than "H1N1." Fucking DUH. This is your brain: :) This is your brain on progesterone: O. Yup, big empty space. I have been missing exits on the highway, leaving bags of stuff I just purchased at the checkout counters of stores, leaving my coats/jackets in places I visited for work, forgetting words in the middle of conversations, forgetting CONVERSATIONS in the middle of conversations. Saying "Yeah mom, I'll email that info over to you right now while I'm thinking of it," hanging up the phone, and having no recollection of what I was supposed to do or why.

I'm not exaggerating. In fact, I'm sitting here right now thinking "There were way more examples than this, but I've completely forgotten them." Dammit! I am so frustrated that I can't get my brain to work properly I don't know what to do with myself. For those of you who did this while in grad school, or while conducting research that required cognitive effort, or while simultaneously raising another little one at home - you are my heroes. Because I can't even fucking load the dishwasher these days. I don't like feeling dumb. I don't like worrying that there are typos in my emails and blogs, or that I'm saying the wrong words, or that I'm forgetting something important. This is not me, and I hate it. I hate it a lot.

Not being able to drink also sucks. But that doesn't suck as much as not being able to smoke. I'm not resentful about it - I should make that clear, seeing as this was a choice I made. But there are times when I'm just like "Fuck. I could use some damn nicotine" and it becomes apparent how much my little routines have already been changed.

I think the hardest thing about being only 8 weeks is that there is nothing to show for it. Not that I'm in a big hurry to blow up or anything, but there are no flutters, no ultrasound photos, no heartbeat, no knowledge of biological sex, nothing. It's like I have to get up and remind myself every day - "Why am I not smoking a cigarette with my cup of coffee? Oh. Oh yeah. Damn." I ordered a non-alcoholic Strawberry Fresco with dinner tonight, and immediately felt like the waitress assumed I was underage. When I go to work and there are bags under my bloodshot eyes, I feel like my clients assume I have a drug problem.

Which leads me to the last thing I want to bitch about - not being able to tell everyone. I mean, yeah, you CAN. But given the risk of miscarriage in the first 12 weeks, it just seems really stupid to tell people you wouldn't tell if something went wrong. So I'm not. But then you have to try and remember who knows and who doesn't, and try not to slip in front of those who don't, and hide pregnancy books when acquaintances come over, and explain the Tigger puzzle you've been working on that's sitting on the dining room table as nothing more than a diversion to keep you from thinking about Marlboro Lights.

So far, the only thing even remotely entertaining about pregnancy is the food cravings. Though in my case, I won't call them "cravings." They're more like food fantasies. I don't "need" them, I just "want" them. Up to this point they have included spicy food of all kinds, frosted strawberry pop-tarts (which I hadn't eaten since I was 11), hot dogs, baked chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes, and lasagna from Olive Garden. Not even that weird in general, but very weird for me.

Hopefully the next 4-5 weeks will pass quickly, I'll start to feel better, and I can stop bitching about this thing I did to myself. But in the meantime I feel somewhat responsible to let any other clueless young women out there know what they're in for. I wish someone had told me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Vaccinations and Insanity

I support Amy Wallace:

Perhaps the aspect of this so-called "debate" that I find most fascinating and frustrating is its lack of pre-existing platform. Eg., it's not a conservative versus liberal or Republican versus Democrat or northern versus southern kind of debate. There is no pattern of irrationality to be discerned - just one, single, stupid, fucking, poisonous, pandemic idea that is grasped by some and ridiculed by others.

The foundation problem, as I see it, is that when parents find out that something is wrong with their child, they need to find someone to blame - some semblance of control they can regain over their lives. That someone to blame can't be themselves, not entirely. And random bouts of unfairness in life is just an unacceptable idea - surely there must be a REASON!

I've mentioned before in my blog how I feel about yuppie, child-worshipping, paranoid, Lysol wipe-obsessed parents. Did I forget to say selfish? My bad.

Parents nowadays have this irrational fear of germs and dirt. It is selfish. They don't want their children to get sick. Of course this doesn't sound selfish at the outset, who wants to see a little one feeling miserable? But if you try to save your child from being sick as a child when they can stay home and be cared for by an adult, they WILL spend much of their adult life being sick instead because you never let their immune system develop. And I think that's selfish. And it's all about control.

You cannot control anything in this life except for your own behavior. If your child is autistic, there is a pretty good goddamn chance that there was nothing you or anyone else could have done to prevent it. We don't know yet what causes autism - shit, there is still debate over what, exactly, autism IS. But if you begin with major distrust of the medical community that is trying to help you, how can we ever make progress toward understanding, treating, and preventing autism?

But beyond that - you have no right to endanger my life or the life of my children because of your personal beliefs in celebrity tales of woe. How many children have to die? How many is ENOUGH for you before you realize that you are playing with fire? If Jenny McCarthy believed her child was strangled by swimmies, would you throw your child into the pool without them and hope they learn how to swim really quickly?

The utter lack of common sense in this country right now is staggering. This whole belief that correlation equals causation, the lack of understanding of how probabilities work - are so many of you really that uneducated? Do we need to start a mandatory statistics and probability course for adults in this country?

Why does everything have to have that flavor of hysteria?

Less than an hour from now I will be getting the H191 vaccine. I originally had no intention of getting it, because I was more concerned about making sure the most vulnerable populations had the vaccine available to them. And, I won't lie, I had some concerns about the safety of it, given how quickly the FDA approved it and sent it to market.

But my job requires me to spend a lot of time in schools across my state. And several of them have closed down recently due to H191 breakouts in which huge numbers of kids were sick with the virus. I am also 8 weeks pregnant. That fact combined with my job puts me in an extremely high risk group. When I started to see that the virus had come to my neighborhood and then found out I was pregnant, it was no longer a question of "if" - it was a question of "when."

It is my responsibility to make sure my baby (even if it is the size of a raspberry) is as safe and healthy as possible, and sometimes you need the numbers game in order to make that decision. But in order to do that, you have to make sure you know what the numbers mean. When the virus was in Mexico, I wasn't worried about it. But when it came to New England and started hitting hard, the minute risk became justified.

All you can ever do is make the best decision you can using the information that is available to you at the time. Moms smoked and drank and did god knows what else while pregnant right up until the 90's. The vast majority of us were born healthy and turned out just fine. Does that mean it's okay or safe to smoke and drink while pregnant now? (I wish.) No, and the Pregnancy Police will be sure to point out every reproductive felony you commit, rest assured.

The point is that your unvaccinated children are dying. And you are risking the infection of children who are not yours. Do you really want to send the message that a dead child is better than an autistic child?

Because that, my dear readers, is fucked up no matter which way you try to spin it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Invasion of the Body Snatcher: Month 1

A week and a half ago I found out that I'm pregnant. Holy crap. No need for congratulations - it wasn't exactly some feat of accomplishment. In fact, the running joke in my house is that it was the first thing my husband did when he came home.

You know what the craziest thing is? It should not be that much harder to get into grad school than it is to become someone's parent.

I debated whether or not I wanted to post about this on the blog or keep it a secret until the rest of the IRL people knew. But the advice and support available to me offline is pretty limited and I figured what the hell. If something bad happens, I'd probably post about it on here anyway.

I did not expect it to happen that fast. Not in a million years. That said, the timing of it is perfect because I'll be due in June and I get summers off from work. I was 2 days away from calling my GYN and asking for a new Rx for the pill when the test came back positive. It's amazing how that works out.

So here I am, 8 weeks pregnant this coming Monday. I'm not sick at all which is fantastic, but I do get cramps like a motherfucker and I'm not allowed to take anything stronger than Tylenol. Not even extra-strength Tylenol. I am also exhausted most of the time. I told my husband that getting out of bed in the morning is like trying to re-animate a corpse with nothing but a set of jumper cables and a D battery. I sleep like shit, getting and staying comfortable is nearly impossible, and it doesn't help when 4am finds you down on all fours on the floor trying not to cry as your uterus throws a violent temper tantrum inside your abdomen.

Nope, not a whole lot of sunshine and roses here. Nosirree.

I am also a complete and total airhead. I knew the stereotype of the pregnant brain and all that, but holy shit they weren't kidding. I have all but left the house without pants on. The other day I was driving on the highway, moved over into the right lane because my exit was less than a mile away. And in that .75 mile or so distance, I forgot what I was doing and drove right by the exit ramp. That has never happened to me in. my. life.

I went out and bought the obligatory What To Expect When You're Expecting. It's pretty boring, but I appreciate the information. My other book, though, was worth every last damn penny I spent on it, and that is The Girlfriends Guide To Pregnancy. HI-LAR-I-OUS. Author Vicki Iovine is now my idol. The wit and humor in that book is so fantastic and needed that I haven't been able to put it down. In fact, I am currently reading the section on what to bring to the hospital even though I am 9 months away from that point. I just can't stop reading.

Something I wasn't expecting:

I have been cool as a cucumber about this whole thing. Not overly excited and yuppie-psycho, but not pessimistic and brooding either. I've been very zen - accepting it, allowing myself to be happy about it, willingly taking on the responsibility, mentally preparing myself for the possibility that it might not work out this time around.

Yesterday afternoon I saw the slightest potential sign of something going wrong. I knew on a rational level that it was 99% likelihood of nothing and that I was probably being paranoid. But when the possibility entered my head that I might lose the pregnancy and it felt as if I had some evidence right in front of me, I lost my shit.

I always thought, given what I know about my family's reproductive history, that I could face something like that with the understanding that it is not my fault, that it happens, that it's so early, etc. But when you're looking that demon in the eye, it's a totally different fucking story. It was in that moment that I got to feel what it's like to be a mother instead of just the earthly vessel that I feel like the rest of the time.

Everything is fine. At least for now and as far as I know. My first appointment isn't until 11/10 and next week I have to get the H1N1 vaccine since my job requires me to visit about 14 schools a week and some of them have just closed down due to the swine flu. Hopefully the vaccine doesn't make me sick because I've been running on E for weeks now.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Kitchen Adventures

I have made some seriously cool stuff in the kitchen in the past week or so. Inspired by the book Julie & Julia (not the movie, haven't seen it yet), I made 2 Julia Child recipes: Oeufs en Cocotte avec Sauce au Cari, and potato-leek soup. The eggs were awesome, I loved the curry sauce. But in truth, it is way too much of a pain in the ass to be any kind of practical breakfast. However, the claim that it is a powerful hangover cure is spot on - IF you can drag your sorry ass out of bed to cook it.

The potato leek soup was also pretty damn good. I had never eaten a leek before in my life, had no idea it was a type of onion. Used a potato ricer for the first time - I am pretty convinced it would make some damn good mashed potatoes, texture-wise.

I had found a recipe in one of my cookbooks for a casserole that sounded tempting, though in general I am not a fan of casseroles. It was for Southwest Chicken Tortellini Casserole, and goddamn was it good. I have been craving spicy food lately like nobody's business, but while this dish wasn't actually "hot" spicy, it had a nice, soothing spiced tone to it. I plan to kick it up a notch next time.

Today I am attempting to make chili for the first time. I LOVE chili. I am starting with the basic recipe found in the Betty Crocker cookbook (the bible-sized one). I have a couple of tweaks planned, including Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with chiles instead of the plain diced tomatoes, jar salsa instead of the canned tomato sauce, and simmering with a seeded jalapeno or two to add some kick. The recipe calls for the chili to simmer for just over an hour, but I plan to simmer it for at least twice that long. Any tips for me from fellow chili-lovers out there?

It's a cold, shitty, rainy New England sunday - I think it's got "CHILI" written all over it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Unexpected Twists and...Christianity Internalized?

We thought we were all set. The condo was sold, we had found a house we loved, A was finally home from the military and we were all like "Let it rock, baby!"

But then there were issues with his job status that were going to keep us from getting a mortgage. And we thought we were fucked because of the contract on the condo - we were going to have to move in November no matter what. We had nowhere else to live and about a million things were up in the air - could we get the house? Were we totally unable to get the house? Was he going to get this new job that he really wants or wasn't he? WTF were we THINKING, anyway??

We were about ready to kill each other from the overload of stress. I formed a habit of hiding out in a bubble bath for as long as possible as soon as I got home from work. He spaced out in front of a marathon of Supernatural episodes. We drank too much, smoked too much, and argued too much.

And then today, we got word that the condo didn't appraise as high as we needed it to. We could take an additional loss and continue to sell it to our current buyer. We could let the buyer go and reduce the asking price to fit the appraisal. My husband texted me these options while I was on the road, and I responded:

"Take it off the market. And thank god for small favors."

What we needed more than anything else was time. The condo wasn't supposed to sell in 3 weeks. We weren't supposed to need to close on it before A found a new job. We needed time just to find the ducks, let alone get them in a row.

And time is what was granted to us today - in a form that most home-sellers would consider a major setback.

So thank you, Universal Chaos, for working in our favor this time. I raise my margarita glass to you in salute.

On another note, I had a very strange and unexpected reaction to a plot line in one of A's episodes of Supernatural. Now I don't actually watch this show. I was reading a book about Chicago hookers at the turn of the century and the information from the episode came to me peripherally.

Basically, the archangels of Christianity were coming down to earth searching for human "vessels" so they could fight a war against Lucifer and bring about the apocalypse. But they were total assholes - giving one of the brothers stomach cancer as a torture method to get their way, being more concerned with relieving themselves of the responsibility of running heaven than with the suffering and death they were about to bring to the humans on earth, etc.

Michael, Raphael, Gabriel - they were all part of this plot. And they were all dicks.

And this really, deeply, bothered me.

Might I remind you, I am an Atheist. A Catholic-born one, but an Atheist nonetheless. So the fact that it bothered me, bothered me even more.

But my reaction to it was "WTF? The archangels are the protectors of mankind. They are supposed to be the embodiment of kindness, perfect love, and compassion! What the hell kind of bullshit are these writers trying to spin??"

And then I gagged in my mouth a little for even having that reaction.

My grandmother, when I was growing up, was very into the stories of the angels. She claimed to have seen them, and spun fantastical tales of the presence of angels on earth. When I was 4 or 5 years old, I spent every night praying feverishly, asking for an angel to come to me. Obviously, no one ever showed up. I was very upset that my grandmother could see angels and I couldn't. Really, this was probably the first domino to drop in my long and twisting path to Atheism.

The best explanation that I can come up with is that my feelings were aroused in the same way that they are when a beloved fairytale or novel is bastardized for television or the movies. It's not that I believe in angels, but goddammit, you're going to characterize them in the way they were meant to be and has always been told! As in, Michael is supposed to be the most beautiful, most powerful, and most loving angel that ever existed - not some douchebag that smites people for not conforming to his will.

But still. Strange, huh?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A New Chapter, Or a Different Story?

When I announced on this blog that I had decided I was done with academia, I expected a lot more push-back. I anticipated scrolling through comments like "What?!" and the like. But I didn't get that. Instead I received supportive, "make the best choice for you"-esque comments. My first reaction to this was: "You guys thought all along that I couldn't hack it, didn't you."

It's amazing to me, how much weight has been lifted by letting go of the whole "I'm going to make a difference in this world" mantra bullshit. I still question myself frequently, wondering if I'm taking the easy way out, or whether I was cut out for it to begin with.

But it's been a major paradigm shift. It's never easy when your entire world outlook changes overnight - when something that used to be marginal in its importance becomes crucial, and the thing you always thought was necessary becomes minor at best.

I had carved myself out a small niche in the world of academic bloggers - a world I no longer feel a part of. In some ways I feel ashamed for backing out of the fight for women academics. In some ways I feel that I have minimized my potential in exchange for peace of mind. In many ways I feel like "the one who gave up." I'm sure that many of you probably think these things about me as well. And that's okay.

I lost a huge amount of readership during my transition. I think that's a big part of why I disappeared for awhile. When you no longer feel there are readers to whom you have an obligation, you begin to wonder what the point is. But I made friends here. PhizzleDizzle, who is one of the awesomest chicks I have ever met, is now way too far away for an in-person friendship to feasibly work, and that makes me incredibly sad. Though I wish her the best, as always! And to all of you, I still support the work that you do and the dreams that you have, and want everything you want in life to happen for you.

That said, I hope many of you will still follow this blog as your look into the path not taken, at least not yet. The path where husbands don't live hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away. Where roots are put down in a small New England town, where jobs are only 40 hours a week, where domesticity is not a dirty word. Where, if nothing else, we can all find out together exactly how long it will take an academic-at-heart to go completely stir crazy before she throws herself back into the rat race.

I'm not quite sure of the direction this blog will take in the coming months. I'll figure it out as I go along. But the title was always "Pieces of Me" so no matter what, I won't truly be deviating from the original intent.

I thought about "outing" myself on the blog, but I've said too many not-nice things about people to do that comfortably. So instead, I will offer to out myself on Facebook to those of you who don't mind outing yourselves in return. If you'd like to get to know me more personally, see who I am, etc., shoot me an email at and I'll give you the link to my facebook profile.

In the meantime, I hope you will continue this journey with me as I figure out what is most important to me and blog about my progress.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Holy Crap - Where Did The Time Go??

My last post was 8/25??? How on earth did that happen? Not to worry, folks, I am still alive. Just being a slacker where blogs are concerned.

On the homefront - A is now home, at least on the weekends. It's been great having him back, but I'm still so used to him not being here that every weekend feels like a major disruption to routine. It's nice - a wonderful alternative to the boring existence I had going on for so long. My FIL talked us out of buying the house I posted about. It had a major mold problem in the basement among other horrible things. We have found another house that we love, but A's in-between job status means we can't put an offer in yet because we have to make sure the financing is good to go. Either way, our condo is sold and we have to move in November regardless of whether we have a house or not. Here's hoping that we have a house.

Work/school - I am debating getting a master's in some variation of writing or communications. I feel like it's a good idea to apply while letters of rec are still fresh and available. We'll see what I'm thinking next month, because work has been absolutely crazy. I put 600 miles on my car last week alone! I am completely jaded by academia and social psychology - it's strange, the feeling is like a long-term love affair that just ended because we drifted apart or something. Or like I gave a marriage ultimatum, academia said "Sorry, I'm just not ready," and I said "Okay then, no hurt feelings, but I am moving on." Yeah, it's more like that.

My 100 book goal - I fell a bit behind because of Proust, but it's still achievable at this point. Just finished Swann's Way and decided that the rest of Proust will have to wait until I am bedridden or something. Right now I am reading The Lovely Bones, seeing as I am the last person on earth to read it. Next up are The Lost Symbol, Julie & Julia, and The Time Traveler's Wife, to give me a dose of things I can read and enjoy quickly. I plan to post the complete list toward New Year's, when I see my final progress.

Heads up to those of you who either love Jane Austen or can't stand her books - there are currently some young adult twists on her stories that are so completely twisted and fucked up that you just have to enjoy them - Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, and Mr. Darcy, Vampire.

I think that's it for now. I was very excited to see that Bruce Hood himself commented on my book review of Supersense! Check it out if you haven't already!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

House Hunting

I'm super excited, but trying to keep myself grounded in reality and not get my hopes up. I went to look at a house yesterday that's in foreclosure - normally I've just been looking at houses on the traditional market. But despite the fact that my realtor said this one needs a lot of work, I asked her to humor me and take me to see it.

Oh. My. God. It needs work, no question. But this house has every possible thing that A and I could ever want in a house - over 2400 sq ft, inground pool, sunroom, outdoor hot tub and fireplace, English garden with fruit trees, master bath with a corner jacuzzi and 2 person glass-enclosed corner shower, finished basement not included in sq footage, big yard, huge heated garage, fireplace, recessed lighting, contemporary style. We could NOT afford this house if it was not owned by the bank.

I am in love.

And because it's a foreclosure that needs work, it's priced not much higher than what we paid for our condo over 2 years ago. So we could AFFORD the work!

We're hoping that it won't turn out to be Pandora's Box. We know it needs a lot of cosmetics, electrical, possibly plumbing, and definitely a new roof. But as long as the heating system is okay and there are no structural problems, we are all over this house like white on rice.

We both love projects. The other house on the top of my list is double the price but absolutely pristine. I love that one too, but I think we'd be bored with it considering that it doesn't even need paint (it's already in the color scheme I would choose.) It doesn't have any of the extras, but it's a really nice house.

But the foreclosure. Oh my word. It has so much damn potential to be an amazing house - the kind of house that my teenage children's friends would come to visit and think we're rich or something. Not that I care about that sort of thing, but I do look forward to impressing people with our pure blood, sweat, and tears.

I saw a shooting star last night while I was telling my husband about it. I'm not really into those cosmic sorts of things, but it was so low in the sky and happened at exactly the time I looked up. I really hope it's a good omen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Focusing on the Mundane For Awhile

Today marked my return back to work after 6 weeks off for summer break. Those of you who remember my rants about the changes my company handed down right before the break will recognize that I am about to enter a period of stress and chaos. BUT - I thrive on stress and chaos so it will be a welcome change of pace after 9 months of what can only be described as mind-numbing boredom.

Lots of things going on in this head of mine lately, lots of changes coming down the pipeline. Husband comes home in just over 3 weeks, which is awesome. In the meantime, we are putting our condo on the market and looking for a house. Just found my DREAM house this past friday, but it's a bit on the pricey side and because of that, I can't make an offer on it until A comes home. 2 years ago when we were selling our old condo and looking for a house, I got so sucked into the process I couldn't see straight and was more stressed out than I have ever been in my life. I refuse to do that again. So whereas 2 years ago I would be freaking out about this house thinking if we don't buy it NOW then ZOMG!!! we might lose it forever!!! Nope. Not doing that again. If it's still there when he comes home, great. If not, I know will we find another one that I will love just as much. Let's hope I can keep this perspective.

I am no longer on the pill, taking a "come what may" attitude toward it. It's funny, various physicians and nurses have asked repeatedly when learning my medications have changed, "Oh, are you trying to get pregnant?" And I respond, "Well, not exactly. I'm not trying NOT to get pregnant." For some reason, when I think of people who "try" to get pregnant I imagine women trolling fertility websites, stocking up on ovulation tests from Costco, pre-shopping for maternity clothes and looking into cord blood banks (saw an ad for this in my GYN office - holy creepy.) That's not me. If we get pregnant, I will be super excited and happy. If we don't, then we don't. Again, not going to let myself get stressed out over something I don't really have all that much control over.

I am looking into applying for master's programs this fall. I'm thinking of possibly doing an MA in communications rather than psychology, or possibly doing an MSW or an MA in counseling. My focus is on something that will get me a job, not just a piece of paper. A MA in general psychology is useless, and usually doesn't even get you advanced standing in a PhD program, so I figure why bother with that. There's a program nearby in Writing, Rhetoric, and Media Arts that I thought might be kind of cool. I'm looking at it from two different points of view - either focusing on something I would like to teach or focusing on something I would like to DO.

The master's program idea is kind of a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It will keep me in a position to have fresh letters of recommendation for PhD programs down the line if I choose to continue that path regardless of what degree I earn in the meantime, and hopefully will broaden my skillset and make me more marketable for jobs. I am looking for flexibility and stability in my life and I think this might help make that happen.

I have a new personal goal that I stole from a certain academic who I admire to read 100 books by the end of this year. I'm at about 45 this year so far, running the gamut from nonfiction to chick lit. I am about halfway through Proust's Swann's Way, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for about a year waiting for me to have the time and attention it deserves.

I know my attention to the blogosphere has been spotty - been doing a lot of traveling and a lot of work around the house to get it ready to sell. As I type this, I have grout residue under my thumbnail that won't seem to go away from a bathroom project I tackled this weekend. I don't know the direction this blog will take over the next few months, but I know my readership will probably change dramatically, if not drop off completely. But the blogs I read and follow won't change because I love all you guys and my addiction is still pretty strong.

Onward and hopefully upward!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why Do We Rape, Kill and Sleep Around?

Why Do We Rape, Kill and Sleep Around?
The fault, dear Darwin, lies not in our ancestors, but in ourselves.
By Sharon Begley | NEWSWEEK

Published Jun 20, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Jun 29, 2009

Among scientists at the university of New Mexico that spring, rape was in the air. One of the professors, biologist Randy Thornhill, had just coauthored A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, which argued that rape is (in the vernacular of evolutionary biology) an adaptation, a trait encoded by genes that confers an advantage on anyone who possesses them. Back in the late Pleistocene epoch 100,000 years ago, the 2000 book contended, men who carried rape genes had a reproductive and evolutionary edge over men who did not: they sired children not only with willing mates, but also with unwilling ones, allowing them to leave more offspring (also carrying rape genes) who were similarly more likely to survive and reproduce, unto the nth generation. That would be us. And that is why we carry rape genes today. The family trees of prehistoric men lacking rape genes petered out.

The argument was well within the bounds of evolutionary psychology. Founded in the late 1980s in the ashes of sociobiology, this field asserts that behaviors that conferred a fitness advantage during the era when modern humans were evolving are the result of hundreds of genetically based cognitive "modules" preprogrammed in the brain. Since they are genetic, these modules and the behaviors they encode are heritable—passed down to future generations—and, together, constitute a universal human nature that describes how people think, feel and act, from the nightclubs of Manhattan to the farms of the Amish, from the huts of New Guinea aborigines to the madrassas of Karachi. Evolutionary psychologists do not have a time machine, of course. So to figure out which traits were adaptive during the Stone Age, and therefore bequeathed to us like a questionable family heirloom, they make logical guesses. Men who were promiscuous back then were more evolutionarily fit, the researchers reasoned, since men who spread their seed widely left more descendants. By similar logic, evolutionary psychologists argued, women who were monogamous were fitter; by being choosy about their mates and picking only those with good genes, they could have healthier children. Men attracted to young, curvaceous babes were fitter because such women were the most fertile; mating with dumpy, barren hags is not a good way to grow a big family tree. Women attracted to high-status, wealthy males were fitter; such men could best provide for the kids, who, spared starvation, would grow up to have many children of their own. Men who neglected or even murdered their stepchildren (and killed their unfaithful wives) were fitter because they did not waste their resources on nonrelatives. And so on, to the fitness-enhancing value of rape. We in the 21st century, asserts evo psych, are operating with Stone Age minds.

Over the years these arguments have attracted legions of critics who thought the science was weak and the message (what philosopher David Buller of Northern Illinois University called "a get-out-of-jail-free card" for heinous behavior) pernicious. But the reaction to the rape book was of a whole different order. Biologist Joan Roughgarden of Stanford University called it "the latest 'evolution made me do it' excuse for criminal behavior from evolutionary psychologists." Feminists, sex-crime prosecutors and social scientists denounced it at rallies, on television and in the press.

Among those sucked into the rape debate that spring was anthropologist Kim Hill, then Thornhill's colleague at UNM and now at Arizona State University. For decades Hill has studied the Ache, hunter-gatherer tribesmen in Paraguay. "I saw Thornhill all the time," Hill told me at a barbecue at an ASU conference in April. "He kept saying that he thought rape was a special cognitive adaptation, but the arguments for that just seemed like more sloppy thinking by evolutionary psychology." But how to test the claim that rape increased a man's fitness? From its inception, evolutionary psychology had warned that behaviors that were evolutionarily advantageous 100,000 years ago (a sweet tooth, say) might be bad for survival today (causing obesity and thence infertility), so there was no point in measuring whether that trait makes people more evolutionarily fit today. Even if it doesn't, evolutionary psychologists argue, the trait might have been adaptive long ago and therefore still be our genetic legacy. An unfortunate one, perhaps, but still our legacy. Short of a time machine, the hypothesis was impossible to disprove. Game, set and match to evo psych.

Or so it seemed. But Hill had something almost as good as a time machine. He had the Ache, who live much as humans did 100,000 years ago. He and two colleagues therefore calculated how rape would affect the evolutionary prospects of a 25-year-old Ache. (They didn't observe any rapes, but did a what-if calculation based on measurements of, for instance, the odds that a woman is able to conceive on any given day.) The scientists were generous to the rape-as-adaptation claim, assuming that rapists target only women of reproductive age, for instance, even though in reality girls younger than 10 and women over 60 are often victims. Then they calculated rape's fitness costs and benefits. Rape costs a man fitness points if the victim's husband or other relatives kill him, for instance. He loses fitness points, too, if the mother refuses to raise a child of rape, and if being a known rapist (in a small hunter-gatherer tribe, rape and rapists are public knowledge) makes others less likely to help him find food. Rape increases a man's evolutionary fitness based on the chance that a rape victim is fertile (15 percent), that she will conceive (a 7 percent chance), that she will not miscarry (90 percent) and that she will not let the baby die even though it is the child of rape (90 percent). Hill then ran the numbers on the reproductive costs and benefits of rape. It wasn't even close: the cost exceeds the benefit by a factor of 10. "That makes the likelihood that rape is an evolved adaptation extremely low," says Hill. "It just wouldn't have made sense for men in the Pleistocene to use rape as a reproductive strategy, so the argument that it's preprogrammed into us doesn't hold up."

These have not been easy days for evolutionary psychology. For years the loudest critics have been social scientists, feminists and liberals offended by the argument that humans are preprogrammed to rape, to kill unfaithful girlfriends and the like. (This was a reprise of the bitter sociobiology debates of the 1970s and 1980s. When Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson proposed that there exists a biologically based human nature, and that it included such traits as militarism and male domination of women, left-wing activists—including eminent biologists in his own department—assailed it as an attempt "to provide a genetic justification of the status quo and of existing privileges for certain groups according to class, race, or sex" analogous to the scientific justification for Nazi eugenics.) When Thornhill appeared on the Today show to talk about his rape book, for instance, he was paired with a sex-crimes prosecutor, leaving the impression that do-gooders might not like his thesis but offering no hint of how scientifically unsound it is.

That is changing. Evo psych took its first big hit in 2005, when NIU's Buller exposed flaw after fatal flaw in key studies underlying its claims, as he laid out in his book Adapting Minds. Anthropological studies such as Hill's on the Ache, shooting down the programmed-to-rape idea, have been accumulating. And brain scientists have pointed out that there is no evidence our gray matter is organized the way evo psych claims, with hundreds of specialized, preprogrammed modules. Neuroscientist Roger Bingham of the University of California, San Diego, who describes himself as a once devout "member of the Church of Evolutionary Psychology" (in 1996 he created and hosted a multimillion-dollar PBS series praising the field), has come out foursquare against it, accusing some of its adherents of an "evangelical" fervor. Says evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliucci of Stony Brook University, "Evolutionary stories of human behavior make for a good narrative, but not good science."

Like other critics, he has no doubt that evolution shaped the human brain. How could it be otherwise, when evolution has shaped every other human organ? But evo psych's claims that human behavior is constrained by mental modules that calcified in the Stone Age make sense "only if the environmental challenges remain static enough to sculpt an instinct over evolutionary time," Pigliucci points out. If the environment, including the social environment, is instead dynamic rather than static—which all evidence suggests—then the only kind of mind that makes humans evolutionarily fit is one that is flexible and responsive, able to figure out a way to make trade-offs, survive, thrive and reproduce in whatever social and physical environment it finds itself in. In some environments it might indeed be adaptive for women to seek sugar daddies. In some, it might be adaptive for stepfathers to kill their stepchildren. In some, it might be adaptive for men to be promiscuous. But not in all. And if that's the case, then there is no universal human nature as evo psych defines it.

That is what a new wave of studies has been discovering, slaying assertions about universals right and left. One evo-psych claim that captured the public's imagination—and a 1996 cover story in NEWSWEEK—is that men have a mental module that causes them to prefer women with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 (a 36-25-36 figure, for instance). Reprising the rape debate, social scientists and policymakers who worried that this would send impressionable young women scurrying for a measuring tape and a how-to book on bulimia could only sputter about how pernicious this message was, but not that it was scientifically wrong. To the contrary, proponents of this idea had gobs of data in their favor. Using their favorite guinea pigs—American college students—they found that men, shown pictures of different female body types, picked Ms. 36-25-36 as their sexual ideal. The studies, however, failed to rule out the possibility that the preference was not innate—human nature—but, rather, the product of exposure to mass culture and the messages it sends about what's beautiful. Such basic flaws, notes Bingham, "led to complaints that many of these experiments seemed a little less than rigorous to be underpinning an entire new field."

Later studies, which got almost no attention, indeed found that in isolated populations in Peru and Tanzania, men consider hourglass women sickly looking. They prefer 0.9s—heavier women. And last December, anthropologist Elizabeth Cashdan of the University of Utah reported in the journal Current Anthropology that men now prefer this non-hourglass shape in countries where women tend to be economically independent (Britain and Denmark) and in some non-Western societies where women bear the responsibility for finding food. Only in countries where women are economically dependent on men (such as Japan, Greece and Portugal) do men have a strong preference for Barbie. (The United States is in the middle.) Cashdan puts it this way: which body type men prefer "should depend on the degree to which they want their mates to be strong, tough, economically successful and politically competitive."

Depend on? The very phrase is anathema to the dogma of a universal human nature. But it is the essence of an emerging, competing field. Called behavioral ecology, it starts from the premise that social and environmental forces select for various behaviors that optimize people's fitness in a given environment. Different environment, different behaviors—and different human "natures." That's why men prefer Ms. 36-25-36 in some cultures (where women are, to exaggerate only a bit, decorative objects) but not others (where women bring home salaries or food they've gathered in the jungle).

And it's why the evo psych tenet that men have an inherited mental module that causes them to prefer young, beautiful women while women have one that causes them to prefer older, wealthy men also falls apart. As 21st-century Western women achieve professional success and gain financial independence, their mate preference changes, scientists led by Fhionna Moore at Scotland's University of St Andrews reported in 2006 in the journal Evolutionand Human Behaviour. The more financially independent a woman is, the more likely she is to choose a partner based on looks than bank balance—kind of like (some) men. (Yes, growing sexual equality in the economic realm means that women, too, are free to choose partners based on how hot they are, as the cougar phenomenon suggests.) Although that finding undercuts evo psych, it supports the "it depends" school of behavioral ecology, which holds that natural selection chose general intelligence and flexibility, not mental modules preprogrammed with preferences and behaviors. "Evolutionary psychology ridicules the notion that the brain could have evolved to be an all-purpose fitness-maximizing mechanism," says Hill. "But that's exactly what we keep finding."

One of the uglier claims of evo psych is that men have a mental module to neglect and even kill their stepchildren. Such behavior was adaptive back when humans were evolving, goes the popular version of this argument, because men who invested in stepchildren wasted resources they could expend on their biological children. Such kindly stepfathers would, over time, leave fewer of their own descendants, causing "support your stepchildren" genes to die out. Men with genes that sculpted the "abandon stepchildren" mental module were evolutionarily fitter, so their descendants—us—also have that preprogrammed module. The key evidence for this claim comes from studies showing that stepchildren under the age of 5 are 40 times more likely to be abused than biological children.

Those studies have come under fire, however, for a long list of reasons. For instance, many child-welfare records do not indicate who the abuser was; at least some abused stepchildren are victims of their mother, not the stepfather, the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect reported in 2005. That suggests that records inflate the number of instances of abuse by stepfathers. Also, authorities are suspicious of stepfathers; if a child living in a stepfamily dies of maltreatment, they are nine times more likely to record it as such than if the death occurs in a home with only biological parents, found a 2002 study led by Buller examining the records of every child who died in Colorado from 1990 to 1998. That suggests that child-abuse data undercount instances of abuse by biological fathers. Finally, a 2008 study in Sweden found that many men who kill stepchildren are (surprise) mentally ill. It's safe to assume that single mothers do not exactly get their pick of the field when it comes to remarrying. If the men they wed are therefore more likely to be junkies, drunks and psychotic, then any additional risk to stepchildren reflects that fact, and not a universal mental module that tells men to abuse their new mate's existing kids. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson of Canada's McMaster University, whose work led to the idea that men have a mental module for neglecting stepchildren, now disavow the claim that such abuse was ever adaptive. But, says Daly, "attempts to deny that [being a stepfather] is a risk factor for maltreatment are simply preposterous and occasionally, as in the writings of David Buller, dishonest."

If the data on child abuse by stepfathers seem inconsistent, that's exactly the point. In some circumstances, it may indeed be adaptive to get rid of the other guy's children. In other circumstances, it is more adaptive to love and support them. Again, it depends. New research in places as different as American cities and the villages of African hunter-gatherers shows that it's common for men to care and provide for their stepchildren. What seems to characterize these situations, says Hill, is marital instability: men and women pair off, have children, then break up. In such a setting, the flexible human mind finds ways "to attract or maintain mating access to the mother," Hill explains. Or, more crudely, be nice to a woman's kids and she'll sleep with you, which maximizes a man's fitness. Kill her kids and she's likely to take it badly, cutting you off and leaving your sperm unable to fulfill their Darwinian mission. And in societies that rely on relatives to help raise kids, "it doesn't make sense to destroy a 10-year-old stepkid since he could be a helper," Hill points out. "The fitness cost of raising a stepchild until he is old enough to help is much, much less than evolutionary biologists have claimed. Biology is more complicated than these simplistic scenarios saying that killing stepchildren is an adaptation that enhances a man's fitness."

Even the notion that being a brave warrior helps a man get the girls and leave many offspring has been toppled. Until missionaries moved in in 1958, the Waorani tribe of the Ecuadoran Amazon had the highest rates of homicide known to science: 39 percent of women and 54 percent of men were killed by other Waorani, often in blood feuds that lasted generations. "The conventional wisdom had been that the more raids a man participated in, the more wives he would have and the more descendants he would leave," says anthropologist Stephen Beckerman of Pennsylvania State University. But after painstakingly constructing family histories and the raiding and killing records of 95 warriors, he and his colleagues reported last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they turned that belief on its head. "The badass guys make terrible husband material," says Beckerman. "Women don't prefer them as husbands and they become the targets of counterraids, which tend to kill their wives and children, too." As a result, the über-warriors leave fewer descendants—the currency of evolutionary fitness—than less aggressive men. Tough-guy behavior may have conferred fitness in some environments, but not in others. It depends. "The message for the evolutionary-psychology guys," says Beckerman, "is that there was no single environment in which humans evolved" and therefore no single human nature.

I can't end the list of evo-psych claims that fall apart under scientific scrutiny without mentioning jealousy. Evo psych argues that jealousy, too, is an adaptation with a mental module all its own, designed to detect and thwart threats to reproductive success. But men's and women's jealousy modules supposedly differ. A man's is designed to detect sexual infidelity: a woman who allows another man to impregnate her takes her womb out of service for at least nine months, depriving her mate of reproductive opportunities. A woman's jealousy module is tuned to emotional infidelity, but she doesn't much care if her mate is unfaithful; a man, being a promiscuous cad, will probably stick with wife No. 1 and their kids even if he is sexually unfaithful, but may well abandon them if he actually falls in love with another woman.
Let's not speculate on the motives that (mostly male) evolutionary psychologists might have in asserting that their wives are programmed to not really care if they sleep around, and turn instead to the evidence. In questionnaires, more men than women say they'd be upset more by sexual infidelity than emotional infidelity, by a margin of more than 2-to-1, David Buss of the University of Texas found in an early study of American college students. But men are evenly split on which kind of infidelity upsets them more: half find it more upsetting to think of their mate falling in love with someone else; half find it more upsetting to think of her sleeping with someone else. Not very strong evidence for the claim that men, as a species, care more about sexual infidelity. And in some countries, notably Germany and the Netherlands, the percentage of men who say they find sexual infidelity more upsetting than the emotional kind is only 28 percent and 23 percent. Which suggests that, once again, it depends: in cultures with a relaxed view of female sexuality, men do not get all that upset if a woman has a brief, meaningless fling. It does not portend that she will leave him. It is much more likely that both men and women are wired to detect behavior that threatens their bond, but what that behavior is depends on culture. In a society where an illicit affair portends the end of a relationship, men should indeed be wired to care about that. In a society where that's no big deal, they shouldn't—and, it seems, don't. New data on what triggers jealousy in women also undercut the simplistic evo-psych story. Asked which upsets them more—imagining their partner having acrobatic sex with another woman or falling in love with her—only 13 percent of U.S. women, 12 percent of Dutch women and 8 percent of German women chose door No. 2. So much for the handy "she's wired to not really care if I sleep around" excuse.

Critics of evo psych do not doubt that men and women are wired to become jealous. A radar for infidelity would indeed be adaptive. But the evidence points toward something gender-neutral. Men and women have both evolved the ability to distinguish between behavior that portends abandonment and behavior that does not, and to get upset only at the former. Which behavior is which depends on the society.

Evolutionary psychology is not going quietly. It has had the field to itself, especially in the media, for almost two decades. In large part that was because early critics, led by the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, attacked it with arguments that went over the heads of everyone but about 19 experts in evolutionary theory. It isn't about to give up that hegemony. Thornhill is adamant that rape is an adaptation, despite Hill's results from his Ache study. "If a particular trait or behavior is organized to do something," as he believes rape is, "then it is an adaptation and so was selected for by evolution," he told me. And in the new book Spent, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico reasserts the party line, arguing that "males have much more to gain from many acts of intercourse with multiple partners than do females," and there is a "universal sex difference in human mate choice criteria, with men favoring younger, fertile women, and women favoring older, higher-status, richer men."

On that point, the evidence instead suggests that both sexes prefer mates around their own age, adjusted for the fact that men mature later than women. If the male mind were adapted to prefer the most fertile women, then AARP-eligible men should marry 23-year-olds, which—Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall notwithstanding—they do not, instead preferring women well past their peak fertility. And, interestingly, when Miller focuses on the science rather than tries to sell books, he allows that "human mate choice is much more than men just liking youth and beauty, and women liking status and wealth," as he told me by e-mail.

Yet evo psych remains hugely popular in the media and on college campuses, for obvious reasons. It addresses "these very sexy topics," says Hill. "It's all about sex and violence," and has what he calls "an obsession with Pleistocene just-so stories." And few people—few scientists—know about the empirical data and theoretical arguments that undercut it. "Most scientists are too busy to read studies outside their own narrow field," he says.
Far from ceding anything, evolutionary psychologists have moved the battle from science, where they are on shaky ground, to ideology, where bluster and name-calling can be quite successful. UNM's Miller, for instance, complains that critics "have convinced a substantial portion of the educated public that evolutionary psychology is a pernicious right-wing conspiracy," and complains that believing in evolutionary psychology is seen "as an indicator of conservatism, disagreeableness and selfishness." That, sadly, is how much too much of the debate has gone. "Critics have been told that they're just Marxists motivated by a hatred of evolutionary psychology," says Buller. "That's one reason I'm not following the field anymore: the way science is being conducted is more like a political campaign."

Where, then, does the fall of evolutionary psychology leave the idea of human nature? Behavioral ecology replaces it with "it depends"—that is, the core of human nature is variability and flexibility, the capacity to mold behavior to the social and physical demands of the environment. As Buller says, human variation is not noise in the system; it is the system. To be sure, traits such as symbolic language, culture, tool use, emotions and emotional expression do indeed seem to be human universals. It's the behaviors that capture the public imagination—promiscuous men and monogamous women, stepchild-killing men and the like—that turn out not to be. And for a final nail in the coffin, geneticists have discovered that human genes evolve much more quickly than anyone imagined when evolutionary psychology was invented, when everyone assumed that "modern" humans had DNA almost identical to that of people 50,000 years ago. Some genes seem to be only 10,000 years old, and some may be even younger.

That has caught the attention of even the most ardent proponents of evo psych, because when the environment is changing rapidly—as when agriculture was invented or city-states arose—is also when natural selection produces the most dramatic changes in a gene pool. Yet most of the field's leaders, admits UNM's Miller, "have not kept up with the last decade's astounding progress in human evolutionary genetics." The discovery of genes as young as agriculture and city-states, rather than as old as cavemen, means "we have to rethink to foundational assumptions" of evo psych, says Miller, starting with the claim that there are human universals and that they are the result of a Stone Age brain. Evolution indeed sculpted the human brain. But it worked in malleable plastic, not stone, bequeathing us flexible minds that can take stock of the world and adapt to it.

With Jeneen Interlandi
Find this article at
© 2009

Thank you to Dr. Ron Levant, The Man of masculinity studies, for bringing this article to my attention.

Friday, July 17, 2009


By all accounts, I have been through some serious shit in the past year or so. It has drastically changed who I am and what is important to me.

I have decided to put off grad school indefinitely. At least, grad school for a doctorate.

"What??? WHY?? WTF is your problem, JLK???"

It's actually quite complex. My first response to this question is that I just don't give a shit anymore. Yeah, psych is still really interesting to me. But all of the bullshit I have to go through just to get to do it? Fuck that. I've got better things to do with my time and energy.

Academia is not like other jobs. Psychology, especially, is incredibly competitive. If you want to, say, become a lawyer, you get an undergrad degree, get into law school, and when you graduate you take the bar and become a lawyer. Same thing with becoming a doctor. Or just about any other job in the world - you study your shit, then you go out and do it. That is not the case with academia and definitely not with any branch of psychology other than clinical.

At some point during my tenure at my MRU, I lost sight of what my initial goal was - to teach in community college where relationships are meaningful, professors have control over the content and schedule of their courses, and where differences can be made. I was so dazzled by the thought of being "important" in my field that I forgot what my entire purpose was - where my loyalty lies.

My desire for a PhD was all about ego. I have always railed against the idea of becoming too specialized, too focused on one or two tiny aspects of a field as a whole. I think this practice, particularly in psychology, is detrimental to the progress of the discipline. But I wanted to be "Dr. JLK."

I was also incredibly selfish. My husband is not an academic, nor will he ever be. I never really thought about what it would mean to drag my husband and eventual children all over the country in pursuit of grad school, post-docs, adjunct positions and hopefully at some point a tenure-track professorship.

Please keep in mind that I am not judging anyone who has made the decision to pursue academia regardless of family status. I'm just not a person who is willing to do it.

Truth be told, if Yale called me up tomorrow and said "We made a huge mistake - we'd like to admit you for this fall" - I would go. But I am not wasting another second of my life trying to prove to some unknown admissions fucknut that I am good enough to slave for them for 5 years. I won't do it. It is utterly masochistic and I don't want to be part of a system that arbitrarily decides who is worthy and who is not.

Being separated from my husband last year combined with his being gone this year for the military has forced me to re-examine my priorities in life. My marriage, my family is more important to me than anything else in the world. I hear these stories about academics who live apart from their spouses, who have to keep 99 balls in the air just to keep their family functioning. Fuck that - it's not for me.

I can spend my life trying to make a difference in my field - trying to be important to strangers and to get my name in future textbooks, OR I can spend my life trying to make a difference in the lives of people I care about. To be an important influence on them - even the ones I haven't met yet.

No one, no matter how much he or she may have loved her job, ever says on their deathbed "I wish I had spent more time at work."

Nope, it's not for me. I won't lose another fucking second of my life to the pursuit of something that is fueled (for me) by ego and a desire for recognition. I have a good job. I have summers off, 5 weeks of paid vacation a year, I work from home, and I have all the freedom I could possibly ask for. Sure, it's boring. But it allows me to have a life outside of my job.

I may go for my master's so that I can teach. I know I'll get into any program I apply to at that level. I'll have my babies and raise them the best I can. And maybe when they're grown up I'll want to go get my PhD.

But I will not waste another second of my twenties trying to get somewhere that I'm not currently wanted. I am not being defeatist, I am not giving up, I am not quitting. I am recognizing that it's just not fucking important. I am nearly positive that continuing on the path I initially set out for myself will result in much more regret in the long-term.

And I have more than enough regret in my life already.


Go Read this.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I recently finished reading the book Supersense: Why We Believe The Unbelievable by Bruce M. Hood. At the time, I had no idea how relevant the information in this book would be to a lot of the discussions going on in the blogosphere surrounding religion, science, and this whole "New Atheist" thing.

First, the author bio: Bruce Hood is the chair of the Cognitive Development Center in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol. He was a research fellow at Cambridge, a visiting scientist at MIT, and a professor at Harvard.

The man, quite frankly, is brilliant. And entertaining, which is a rare combination in my opinion.

I hope to blow your minds with some of the information from this book, or at the very least get an interesting discussion going.

Here is the basic thesis of the book: Humans are pre-programmed to believe in the supernatural, whether that takes the form of religion, superstitions, or other beliefs that, if true, would violate the known laws of science.

A good number of you who read this blog consider yourselves to be Atheists, as I consider myself. We also consider ourselves to have scientific minds, to be so-called skeptics, etc. In other words, we feel that we only look at facts and evidence when it comes to existence on this planet.

But for 99.9% of us, that simply isn't the case, as you'll soon see.

First, let's talk about science and the layperson. Hood uses Noam Chomsky's language example "colorless green ideas sleep furiously" to demonstrate that even though the sentence perfectly follows the rules of grammar, it does not make any sense to us because of what we know about the words used. Hood says:
"So any new idea has to fit within existing frameworks of knowledge. This is why some ideas can be so difficult to grasp. Science, for example, is full of ideas that seem bizarre simply because we are not used to them. It's not that people are being stupid when it comes to science. Rather, many scientific ideas are just too difficult for many of us to get our heads around. On the other hand, folk beliefs about the supernatural seem quite possible. That's why it is easier to imagine a ghost than a light wave made up of photons. We have seen neither, but ghosts seem plausible, whereas the structure of light is not something we can easily consider." (p.8)
Notice that he says "imagine" rather than "believe in." His point is simply that for the average person, we can place the idea of a ghost into a framework, but the idea that light is made up of particles just doesn't make any intuitive sense. Think about this in terms of evolution. Yes, the Christian debate is more complex than this, but at the very heart of it is this idea that it is easier to imagine a divine being creating life on earth than it is to imagine man emerging from primordial soup only to gradually become the homo sapien we are familiar with today.

Hood's next major point is that as adults, we think that when we learn something new we abandon any previously held misconceptions. But this isn't entirely true:
"Consider an example from the world of objects. Imagine two cannonballs of exactly the same size. One is made of light wood and the other one is solid iron that is one hundred times heavier. If you were to drop them both at the same time from the leaning Tower of Pis, what would happen? Children think that heavier objects must fall much faster than lighter ones. Heavier objects do land before lighter ones, but only just, and that's because of air resistance....As a child, I did not believe this until a physics teacher demonstrated that a feather and a coin fall at exactly the same speed in a vacuum. Most college students make the same mistake. The amazing thing is not that adult students get it wrong, but rather that these are students who have been taught Newton's Laws of Object Motion and should know better. They should know the correct answer. Somehow the scientific knowledge they have so painstakingly learned loses out to their natural intuition about weight and falling objects." (p. 19)
I got that one wrong. Why? Because if I imagined a feather and a coin both falling off the table, I could not imagine a scenario in which the coin didn't land first. I don't experience life in a vacuum. So even though I KNOW what the correct answer is, the fact that it intuitively seems less plausible overpowers my learned knowledge.

Now here's where Hood starts to blow my mind:

Would you wear a sweater that belonged to a serial killer?

Would you rather own an original work of art or one that is an exact replica created by an expert forger?

Have you ever felt the desire to have an admired person autograph something?

Could you drink out of a glass after it has been touched by a sterilized cockroach?

Would you slurp your favorite soup after it has been stirred by a brand-new fly swatter?

Why does spitting on your own food make it disgusting despite the fact that you need saliva for digestion?

Some triggers for disgust have to be learned, as we know from cultural variations. But many of them seem to be hard-wired. And while the value of things such as art and signed items are culturally determined, nearly all of us tend to subscribe to some measure of preference for originals, old items, and things that someone of importance to us has touched or been in the presence of.

For now, let's concentrate on disgust:
"For me, the really interesting aspect of disgust and the associated contamination fears is that they all show the hallmarks of supernatural thinking. This is because they trigger psychological essentialism, vitalistic reasoning, and sympathetic magic. For example, sympathetic magic states that an essence can be transferred on contact and that it continues to to exert an influence after that contact has ceased. This is known as the "once in contact, always in contact" principle.....There's an old saying that a drop of oil can spoil a barrel of honey, but a drop of honey can't ruin a barrel of oil. This is the negative bias that humans hold when it comes to contamination. We intuitively feel that the integrity of something good can be more easily by contact with something bad rather than the other way around.

However, it's difficult to be reasonable about contamination once it's occurred. It's as if the contamination has energy that can spread. For example, imagine that your favorite dessert is cherry pie and that you have the option of choosing between a very large slice and a much smaller piece. Unfortunately, your waiter accidentally touches the crust of the large slice with his dirty thumb. The same thumb that you just saw him pick his nose with. Which slice would you choose? Given the choice, most of us would opt for the smaller slice, even though we could cut off the crust where the waiter touched it and still end up with more pie. As far as we are concerned, the whole slice has been ruined -- as well as our appetite." (p. 162)
I think most of us feel this way, despite the fact that it is not rational, reasonable, or logical. Now let's look at what Hood has to say about valued objects:
"We all treasure sentimental objects from within our lifetime that do not necessarily have any intrinsic worth other than their connection with a family member or a loved one. These objects are essentially irreplaceable. For example, engagement or wedding rings are typical sentimental items that are unique. If lost or stolen, most people would not regard an identical replacement as a satisfactory substitute, because these objects are imbued with an essential quality. Psychologically, we treat them as if there were some invisible property in them that makes them what they are.

But what if it were possible to make identical copies? Imagine that a machine existed that could duplicate matter down to the subatomic level, such that no scientific instrument could measure or tell the difference between the original object and the duplicate - like a photocopier for objects. If the object was one of sentimental value, would you willingly accept the second object as a suitable replacement? For most people, the answer is a simple no.

Identical replacements are not acceptable because psychologically we believe that individual objects cannot be replicated exactly even by a hypothetical perfect copying machine. This attitude is based on the assumption that originality is somehow encoded in the physical structure of matter. We intuitively sense that certain objects are unique because of their intangible essence. However, such a notion is supernatural." (p. 205-206)
Can any of you truly say that you would accept duplicate copies of objects that have sentimental value for you, without a moment's hesitation or any lingering doubt? And we're not even talking about living things - simply inanimate objects. I think all of us, Atheists or no, have certain things in our lives that we can't help but hold supernatural beliefs about. There are certain things and certain scenarios about which even the most rational, logical mind cannot escape supernatural tendencies.

One more example from Hood:
"Imagine that you are a hospital administrator and you have $1 million that can be used for performing a life-saving liver transplant operation on a child or to reduce the hospital's debt. What would you do? For most people, this would be a no-brainer -- of course one must save the child.

The economic psychologist Philip Tetlock has shown that people are appalled when they hear that an administrator would make the decision to benefit the hospital, even though more children would gain in the long term from such astute financial planning. What's more, they are also outraged if the hospital administrator decides to save the child but takes a long time to arrive at that decision. Some things are sacred. You should not have to think about them. You can't put a price on them. Likewise, if the choice has to be made between saving one of two children, this decision must take a long time. The choice should not be made quickly.

We intuitively feel that some things are right and some things are just plain wrong. Some decisions should be instantaneous while others must be agonized over. Decisions can haunt us even when there really should be no indecision. Every choice has a price tag if we care to consider relative worth. There are no free lunches, and so while we may be outraged and indignant about some choices and decisions, the reality is that all things can be reduced to a cost-benefit analysis.

However, a cost-benefit analysis is material, analytic, scientific, cold, and rational. This is not how humans behave, and when we hear that people think and reason like this, we are indignant...Likewise, when we hear that people could wear a killer's cardigan, live in a house of murder, collect Nazi memorabilia, we are disgusted. We feel it physically. Though a cost-benefit analysis may reveal our reaction to be out of balance with the actual costs, we still intuitively feel a moral outrage and violation of society's values." (p. 251)
So what's the point of all this? Well first of all, you should read the book. Second, we all subscribe to supernatural beliefs in one way or another. Some of us are more susceptible to them than others, but it is nearly impossible to function as a social being without having some of those beliefs, otherwise there would be no group cohesion.

It is very interesting to examine the way the mind works, especially in this particular subject. If we believe that a hat or a scarf that once belonged to a long-lost relative is special and priceless, unique and irreplaceable, imbued with some invisible quality or essence that makes it what it is, is it really such a huge leap to go from that belief to subscribing to alternative medicine or something as pervasive as religion?

Atheists are not completely exempt from supernatural beliefs. We just have fewer of them. And many aspects of science are so complex and counterintuitive that they run contrary to our existng frameworks. What seems to you, as an expert, as indisputable fact may seem just as far-fetched and supernatural to a layperson as belief in the effectiveness of prayer is to an Atheist. And this, in my opinion, is what allows scientists to also be theists.

I don't know what the fuck a "New Atheist" is, nor do I really care to. In my opinion, the entire notion is ludicrous and pointless. You either are an Atheist or you're not. To make further subdivisions from there is to turn it into either a religion or a political movement, neither of which it should be. But I digress.

If we can further understand the mind's tendency to believe in supernatural things and to revert back to childish notions of how the world works, we may be able to, if nothing else, teach science more effectively and without this need for debate. Do I believe that creationism should be taught in public schools or that evolution should not be taught in Christian schools? Absolutely not. But what this line of research is showing us is that maybe believers are born, not made, and that it is at least somewhat irrelevant what we try to teach people.

If you have even the slightest interest in these topics, I highly recommend this book.

In the meantime, discuss.

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