CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

Brendan Eich case raises free speech issues for people who don’t understand how free speech works

No, Virginia. Intolerance of intolerance isn’t the same as intolerance of human beings.

When it became public that recently appointed Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich had donated to the controversial anti-gay rights Prop 8 initiative in California back in 2008, things – as we used to say back home – blowed up. Rarebit yanked an app from the Mozilla marketplace and in a highly visible move, dating site OK Cupid asked its users not to access the site with Mozilla’s Firefox browser.

Eich fought back, and we witnessed a couple of days of textbook crisis management as the company (and its under-fire CEO) worked to convince the world that a person’s official and personal beliefs can be compartmentalized – that is, you can be anti-equality in your private life but suitably inclusive at work. Continue reading

NaPoWriMo 2014: write like nobody’s reading

National Poetry Writing Month begins today. Will you write 30 poems in 30 days?

Well, no. I won’t, not me personally. I retired from writing poetry a couple years ago. But before I did I wrote four books and am currently looking to publish them, so I definitely salute the annual celebration of the art.

Here at S&R we have a deep and abiding respect for verse, and we encourage you to break out the quill and parchment (if you don’t have a quill and parchment pen and paper, or even a word processing package such as Microsoft Word will do) and get your poetry on. Continue reading


Gay marriage: Fred Phelps’ death is the end of an era, but it isn’t the end of the fight

The passing of Fred Phelps actually makes the struggle for gay marriage and LGBT equality a little more difficult.

A few days ago I summed up the impact the late Fred Phelps exerted on American society, concluding that he was, ironically, one of the best things that ever happened to the LGBT community’s quest for social justice. A number of other observers agreed, including Jay Michaelson at The Daily Beast and Peter Scheer at TruthDig, who thanked him for “his years of service to the gay rights movement.”

Continue reading


Fred Phelps is dead: the LGBT community owes him a debt of gratitude

An evil man has departed the Earth, but not before inadvertently making it a better place.

Without Contraries is no progression. – Blake

Fred Phelps, founder of Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church, is dead.

Over the past several years Phelps distinguished himself as one of the most vile people in America, which is no small feat given the high profiles our society has accorded Hall of Fame hatemongers like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

As he has lingered on his deathbed in recent days, we’ve had a chance to ponder this moment and discuss what the proper response might be. My own pot shot – “may his funeral be well attended” – paled compared to some of the (justified, it must be admitted) rage against the man’s legacy. At the same time, we saw altogether more noble comments from people like Facebook’s First Citizen, George Takei, who reminded us that hate is conquered not by more hate, but by love. Continue reading


Should your son join a fraternity? Read this. Right now.

Dear Parents: if your son goes to college, joins a fraternity and screws up, you could lose your home.

Do I have your attention yet?

How many times in my adult life have I heard this?

YOU were in a fraternity?

Doc Sammy, in another life.

Doc Sammy, in another life.

Yes I was. Theta Chi, Gamma Omicron chapter, Wake Forest University. I know, I don’t fit the stereotype. Neither did my chapter. Sure, we had parties. We drank, sometimes more than was strictly healthy. We were appropriately hormonal for a pack of 18-22 year-old guys. We were noisy and obnoxious and occasionally rude, especially when singing a rousing round of “Roll Out Your Mother” during Parents Weekend football games.

But consider this. Theta Chi, during Spring Rush of 1980, was the first place in my life I ever heard anyone talk about diversity. Today, of course, diversity is a critical concept in corporations, in schools, in government, everywhere. We are becoming a more diverse nation that promotes equal rights and standing for people of all races, for women, and finally for the LGBT community.

I’ve been paid by large corporations to develop diversity training, in fact, and what a wonderful irony that my first introduction to the importance of the concept came in a fraternity. Continue reading

Online Dating

Dear women of and OK Cupid: WTF is wrong with you?

Women – and men – in online dating communities are acting like goddamned sociopaths. This needs to stop.

Okay, not all of you. But some of you. Men, too – I’m guessing this isn’t just women. See if you recognize yourselves below.

On multiple occasions I’ve been talking to women I met through OK Cupid. Things going great, we really seem to be hitting it off, and then we agree to meet. The woman has even been the one asking me out, in fact. I say yes, then … poof. Gone without a trace. Never hear from her again.

This is odd behavior, especially when she just asked me out, right? Am I saying yes wrong? WTF? Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Christine de Pizan – and whatever medieval feminism is…

Maybe feminism isn’t all that recent as a social movement – or, “we built this city on women’s roles…”

The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan (image courtesy Goodreads)

One of the tendencies of modern scholarship has been to “re-interpret” texts from other historical eras in light of modern (or postmodern – or post-postmodern) sensibilities. My most recent completed work from the 2014 reading list (I’m a little behind now due to some family matters) is by 14th/15th century author Christine de Pizan. The Book of the City of Ladies is typically medieval. Its author uses much material from “other sources” – which is medieval-speak for “borrowing” freely from both classical and contemporary sources – and the work is itself allegorical – the “city” of the title is actually de Pizan’s book.

The premise of the book is, however, anything but medieval. Christine de Pizan explains that she is “building the city” at the behest of three virtues (all represented in feminine form, of course): Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. These virtues – which are cardinal virtues of women, Pizan is subtly arguing – have appeared to Pizan in a dream in order to help her defend the intelligence, honor, and integrity of women. Women’s intelligence, honor, and integrity have been maligned, primarily, Pizan explains, at the hands of two groups of men – theologians and courtly romance writers. Theologians, despite their elevation of the Virgin Mary to a status nearly equal to that of Christ, primarily depict women as the source of mankind’s trouble dating back to the original troublemaker Eve. Courtly romance writers such as Jean de Meun in Roman de la Rose portray women primarily as sexual objects – creatures to be used for male pleasure and amusement with little or no thought given to their sense or feelings. Continue reading

Reading List

The updated 2014 Reading List

Because books are – well, books…

Books and more books (image courtesy

Well, I’m already expanding the 2014 reading list. My wife, the artist Lea Booth, is partly to blame. She’s not just an enabler, she’s a fellow addict for reading, and she’s the one who, late last week, suggested that we stop by our favorite used book store.  So we ended up with new titles which I’ll describe briefly below – and an expanded reading list that will make colleagues and fellow reading addicts like my pal wufnik happy.

So below you’ll see the new additions to the list – and a few comments about each and a surprise concerning one of them. If you have any thoughts – or want to add to my workload, feel free to comment.

The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic - Terry Pratchett. At the continued behest (read: badgering) of my colleagues at Scholars and Rogues I took the plunge and bought a copy of the graphic novel versions of these two works from the DiscWorld series. Continue reading


ArtSunday: The architecture of home…

Even in America, home is where (historically) the class is

I grew up in a Southern mill town.

Such towns come in one of three primary flavors: tobacco, textiles, or furniture. My hometown was a textiles town, the home of several major textile companies over its roughly 220 year history.  As a fellow writer who’s also an Eden native once put it, most of the population of these towns worked in one “good Bastille” or another. Of course, that’s all gone now. Like most Southern mill towns, Eden, NC, is a town struggling to find an identity even as it struggles to survive. Continue reading

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Black Thursday

Thanksgiving is now Black Thursday and Black Friday is upon us: what should America not be thankful for?

The nation gives thanks … for what?

I was never a William Burroughs fan, but I nonetheless find myself thinking about his 1986 “Thanksgiving Prayer,” surely one of the most caustic (and insightful) takes on our great American holiday. I’m in this sort of mood for a reason. Or two, or three.

First off, you may have noticed all the static around the news that more and more businesses will be open today, getting a jump on tomorrow’s appalling orgy of consumerism, Black Friday. That term originated in the early 1960s, apparently, with bus drivers and the police, who used it to describe the mayhem surrounding the biggest shopping day of the year. Continue reading

Online Dating

Online dating: the physical attraction problem

In order for an online dating service to work, it has to reliably move people past the merely physical and help them perceive their match’s real attractiveness.

In a post a couple weeks ago I mused about how the online dating world is plagued by what I guess we’ll call the “physical attraction problem.” I touched of a bit of controversy, both here and on Facebook, because there was some disconnect between what I set out to say and what people wound up hearing. Perhaps that’s on me. In any case, the question of attraction is important if we’re ever to improve on our current trainwreck of an online dating system.

I’ve been thinking about these issues, for reasons noted in that top link, and I can’t help feeling like the single biggest hurdle to getting from to something that actually works for people is physical attraction. Continue reading

Online Dating

The real problem with online dating

Online dating sucks, especially for a guy like me. There has to be a better way. sucks. eHarmony sucks. OK Cupid sucks. Plenty of Fish really sucks. (Although, it should be noted, at least those last two have the advantage of being free.) I assume that Christian Mingle sucks, although perhaps in ways I haven’t thought about yet.

I hate online dating, and if the comment threads on Lisa Barnard’s much-read post and my own critique of the process from last year are any indication, a lot of you do, too. It’s shallow, it inspires dishonesty and while there are certainly cases where people find happiness with online dating sites, I suspect the most common case is frustration and a general decrease in the ambient self-esteem levels of those participating. Continue reading

Dad and cat 1962

Watching my dad die

Dad and cat 1962My dad, David White, died on Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 10:10 PM.  I found out the time later–I didn’t think to look at the clock when it happened.  He died after five days in the hospital, after two weeks of being unable to eat, after nearly 25 years of congestive heart failure following a heart attack at age 49.  He died at the end of three days of dying.  I still called him “Daddy.”

People asked if he had been sick.  Well, yes, he had been.  But he had been sick for so long that we sort of took his illness for granted.  When he went into the hospital the previous Tuesday, no one was terribly worried.  My mom called in the evening to tell me that she had taken him to the emergency room because he was still so nauseous that he could not eat.  When I had dinner with them the week before, he had eaten very little because his stomach was upset–he never got any better.  Mom said, “Don’t come down.  They admitted him after we waited in the emergency room for four hours [that was unusual--his heart condition usually rated more attention].  The doctors are trying to get the nausea under control.  I’ll call you tomorrow night and let you know how he’s doing.”

You see, my dad went into the hospital normally once or twice a year, usually for either dehydration or excess fluid on the lungs (it’s the lasix tightrope walk–ask any racehorse).  The doctors would change some of his meds, re-prescribe others, and eventually send him home with an equally well-stocked pharmaceutical larder.  We thought this would be the same kind of incident, even though, after a June hospital stay, we were told the incidents would become more frequent.  He finally accepted a wheelchair (which he never used after it was delivered) and oxygen at home to ease his breathing.

Mom called on Wednesday and reported he had a better day–he had even been able to eat some cream of chicken soup (apparently the dietitian had overlooked his heart condition and had not prevented the soup from reaching him).  I was once again hopeful and promised to leave school early on Friday to spend some time with him.

When she called Thursday night, the news was not so good.  The nausea was back.  The dietitian had cracked down on his food choices.  No more cream of chicken soup (too high in fat, not on the heart diet).  No potatoes or other high potassium foods (the result of a misdiagnosed kidney condition earlier in the year).  My mom argued with the nutritionist–my dad wanted the soup (it had tasted good) and he was going to have his soup, either from their kitchen or from hers.  He got his soup, but he could barely eat any of it.  She said I had better come down on Friday.

On Friday morning I got to school a little early to prep for a meeting.  My cell phone rang as soon as I entered Tudor House.  It was my mom, “You need to come down now.” I picked up my husband, John, and a suitcase and we headed for the hospital an hour away.

Daddy had been moved to the Cardiac Care Unit at Mercy Hospital (I still call it “TM” as in “Timken-Mercy” even though the name changed several years ago).  He had just been settled in the room when I got there.  My sister and mom were both there.  Both had been crying.

CIMG0530My dad had no blankets covering him.

The lack of blankets startled me more than the breathing at first.  My dad wore a heavy down coat most of the time–even in the summer–over his standard t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweater vest, and sweater, all the result of a permanent chill because of poor circulation.  The fact that he was not heavily bundled up and apparently not cold was a bad sign.  The good sign was that he was lucid.

“The doctors said there’s nothing they can do but keep him comfortable.” Mom was that blunt.

The CCU staff was wonderful.  His cardiologist had cared for him since Daddy’s heart attack in 1985 and Dr. U was the one doctor my parents trusted implicitly.  Even he acknowledged the end of the road–my mom said he was almost in tears.  The doctors suspected the nausea was being caused by one of the heart meds that was keeping him alive and there was no way to address the situation.  They would have had to stop all of them and restart them one at a time to eliminate the culprit.  That was not an option.

Daddy’s breathing became more regular as the nurses got his anxiety under control.  But his condition worsened.  He asked for pain medicine in the afternoon–one of the side effects of worsening congestive heart failure is pain in the extremities as circulation weakens in the body’s attempt to keep the vital organs functioning.  His nausea also increased and he began vomiting more frequently.

I must make a confession at this point: I’m squeamish.  I can’t deal with blood or vomit.  My sister was a real trooper when Daddy was actively sick.  I, wimp that I am, ran for the washcloth and the nurse.  At some point while I was out my sister changed the channel from “Law and Order” to “The Kardashians.” It’s weird what details stick with you.  It was the first time that I saw that particular show–it added to the unreal nature of the weekend.

We stayed until late Friday evening and then went back to my parents’ house for the night.  My mom stayed at the hospital.  Sometime that night my parents made a decision.

On Saturday, my dad’s symptoms were about the same.  He slept more and was frequently sick.  At one point, when my sister and mom went for lunch, he woke up for awhile and talked to me about the natural gas explosion and fire in San Bruno, California that was being covered on the news.  We discussed the suspected corrosion of the pipes as a possible cause.

There were a lot of things I wanted to say–but I couldn’t get the words out.  I wanted to thank him for all the understanding over the years, for his constant patience with my mom’s health, for welcoming me home when my life fell apart (more than once).  As usual, I connected with him via the news and missed that emotional piece that neither of us seemed to be very good at.  The opportunity passed.  That’s my biggest regret.

Friends and relatives visited.  At some point one of the nurses brought in a heavy looking round magnet on a cord and hung it from a hook on the wall.  I knew it was a magnet because it stuck to the wall on its side, looking like a bright blue doughnut.

Later Saturday afternoon, my mom asked us all to come out to the waiting room.  She told us that she and my dad talked Friday night and made the decision to stop his remaining meds.  The doctors said that, once that happened, Daddy would die within a short period of time.  They would increase his morphine to continue to keep him comfortable.  He would lose consciousness, his blood pressure would drop, and eventually his heart would stop.  We understood that he was suffering and that nothing could be done and this was the remaining course of action.  Were we OK with it?  Yes.  Did we want to be around when the meds were stopped?  Yes.

Sunday morning, early, we all gathered at the hospital.  He looked around at us and said, “Well, I’m ready if you are.” Daddy kissed us all and told us that he loved us.  I thanked him.  The nurse turned off the IVs, except for the one with the morphine.  He closed his eyes and slept.  We stayed close by.  It felt somewhat morbid to sit and wait.  But I knew I had to stay and bear witness.

After a couple of hours, my dad woke up.  He looked around and seemed to be rather surprised to see us.  He put his head back against the pillow, “What’s taking so long?” My mother looked thunderstruck (I now understand what that expression looks like), “Well! What at kind of a question is that?” My brother-in-law tried to be philosophical, “These things aren’t in our hands.” Me? I burst out laughing, “Well, you’re the math guy.” He seemed to think about that and slept again.  Aside from answering nurses’ questions, he didn’t speak again.

Morning became afternoon.  The nurses brought us coffee, cookies, and some fruit.  Daddy’s blood pressure remained steady.  It declined a bit and then rose again.  My husband and I began to think it might be another day or so.  Later in the afternoon, we made the decision to drive home to the east side of Cleveland to get more clothes and necessities.  On the way back to Canton, we stopped and got some Chinese food.  I got back in the car and found messages from my sister:

    5:51:45 PM Last bp reading 62/17 but they switched arms HR still 70
    5:54:01 PM Ill update u in 10 min
    6:05:17 PM 67/24

I feared I would miss being at my father’s bedside because I was hungry and that I would have to bear that burden of selfishness forever.  I replied:

    6:24:35 PM We’re on our way back.

More messages on the return drive:

    6:27:33 PM He seems the same it may have been the changing arms Hr still 70
    6:36:30 PM 61/18 at 630
    6:43:51 PM We’ll be there ASAP
    6:45:22 PM K i know ur mom wants u to b here

We arrived at the hospital before 7 PM–Daddy was still with us.  My mother and sister continued to cry intermittently.  Daddy’s blood pressure continued to drop.  One of the nurses closed the door to the room and pulled the drape part-way across the windows to give up some privacy.  I sat near his feet, on his left side, my mom on my right, holding his hand.

There was nothing to do but watch the numbers fall and listen to his breathing grow more shallow.  After 9:30 the alarms went off more frequently.  The nurses silenced them–there was no help to summon.  Just after 10, it became clear that it would be any minute.  The final alarm went off.  The nurse took that big blue magnet and placed it on Daddy’s pacemaker to disable it, in case it fired (someone had told me earlier what it would be used for).

Daddy was gone.  We sat with him for awhile, waiting for the doctor to come and make the pronouncement (some things are not done until someone declares them done).  The nurse came in to tell us the doctor was delayed.  We waited awhile longer, saying our goodbyes.  Then we escorted my mom off the CCU floor for the last time.

Daddy70I so wish I had had the courage to have the difficult talks with him: about his illnesses, his final arrangements, his funeral.  But I didn’t.  I understand all the reasons people don’t talk about those things:  it’s a reminder of mortality, it’s morbid, it’s rude.  But I should have asked him how he was really doing.  He told me basics about trips to the doctor–but not about the slow decline over the years.  We could see some of it.  But we never talked about the fact that he was Dying.

In the end, lacking his wishes and input, we improvised–we did the best we could.  I guess that’s how we go through life, despite our best plans and intentions.  We made the funeral arrangements, I immersed myself in a tribute video for the wake, I had a memorial placed in the football program for the high school whose games he attended for over 35 years.

It’s been 3 years now.  Daddy’s ashes still sit on the mantle of the fireplace he built.  I wrote most of this shortly after the funeral.  It took this long to be able to edit the piece without crying–too much.  I think of him with every great science news story, or when some some politician we spoke of gets his comeuppance or I get to travel some place new and wonderful.  Or when I call my mom and get the answering machine and hear my dad’s voice, still taking calls.

Given our mutual uncertainty about the hereafter, I don’t think much about “heaven” in connection with my dad’s afterlife.  I’d like to think he’s sharing another dimension with Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan, finally understanding all those equations and theories that he strove to understand in this life.

Love you, Daddy.

It’s SchadenFriday: Weiner not getting a rise in polls + that poor pepper spray cop

Hot dog!

I love to talk about my famous weiner.
That is what you’d truly like to see.
And if I run for office as a Weiner,
Everyone will point and laugh at me.

C’mon, everybody! You know the words. Second verse, same as the first. Could get better, but it’s gonna get worse.

Let’s see…

No impulse control. Check.

Moral compass of a pickup artist. Check.

Upbraided by Pelosi with, “needs to get a clue.” Check.

Pelosi, it should be noted, knows a thing or three about getting a clue. She has, after all, been part of the huge Dem/GOP drive to erode your privacy rights for a very long time. She gets clues.

Oh, yeah, and Pepper Spray Cop is back in the news. Won’t somebody please shed a tear (he didn’t cause by spraying)?


Image credit: Public domain, courtesy of


HobbyWeek: Digging up the Dead

The central figure here is not an idiot or moron. The idiotic expression was produced by a sudden poke in the middle of my back by Uncle Will’s thumb and the reaction was almost fatal. The family tries to suppress this picture, but I mean to keep it alive as long as I am alive. I, Emmy, have spoke this.

It began with a photo that I found in the mid-’70s. My Aunts Jo, Marion, and Rose took my mom and me to the Neely house in Rayland, Ohio to see if there was anything there that we wanted as it was being cleaned out so that my cousin could rehab it for her family. We found lots of antique glassware, my great-grandmother’s rocking chair, and lots of other fascinating, filthy items that just had to be saved. Somewhere, I picked up a sepia-colored photograph–bent, repaired with tape, and absolutely fascinating. The quote at the beginning was written on the back and the white house to the left is where I found it. I tucked it away in an envelope to await the day that I could afford to have someone restore it.

The hook

My dad told me that the note was written by Aunt Emmy, who I had met when I was very young. She didn’t marry until she was 60, and then her husband died after ony a year and a half. She spent her last years in a nursing home in Wheeling, West Virginia, called Altenheim. The name on the sign was written in very fancy script and was hard to read. One day a young couple stopped by, parked and approached the porch where Aunt Emmy was sitting. “We’re here to see the antiques,” the man announced. “Well, you’re looking at one of them,” Emmy replied. I had a hero. I also had a model for aging well.

That photo sat in its envelope for decades, moving with me from apartment to house. I heard more Emmy stories. I also heard stories about her brother, Wink. How he took a bus out to Kansas in the 1920s and bought a plane. The seller spent a couple of hours teaching Wink how to fly it, and then Wink flew it home. To Ohio. By himself. This is the same uncle whose ship was sunk by a German U-Boat before the US got into WWI. The Germans were very polite about it. They surfaced and signaled their intention to the merchant vessel, gave the crew time to get into life boats, and then torpedoed the ship. Oh, the Germans came back with food and water for the crew. They didn’t want to kill the Americans, that might bring the US into the war too early. Uncle Wink, with the big grin on his face, stands to the far left with my paternal grandmother. His real name was William Winslow, named for the mischievous Uncle Will with the errant thumb.

But, in the end, it wasn’t the stories that compelled me to start seriously putting together the pieces of my family tree. That took the death of my father in 2010. All of a sudden, the stories stopped. I felt compelled to record what I had heard and connect the dots. I had to pick up Emmy’s torch.

There are two things in my background which make genealogy a natural rabbit-hole for me to fall down. The first is that I majored in and taught history. I was influenced by my Uncle Jack, a priest and historian who told the best stories about long-dead cardinals. The second is that I love a good mystery. Add to that a strong streak of perseverance (instilled in me by my father) and and a real curiosity about anything in my background that might explain how and why I ended up as me. In other words, how far did the apple fall from the tree?

The mysteries

There are two main mysteries over which I have been obsessing pondering. The first involves a letter to my paternal grandmother and the second involves the death of my great-great-grandfather during the Civil War.

The letter is a one-page typed document, written by my grandfather (nicknamed “Teeny” since his childhood) to my grandmother, Jeanne, who was visiting her ailing sister in New York in March or April of 1930. He had, according to the letter, recently been fired from his job and was still angry about it. It sounds as if there was some sort of scandal:

My Grandmother

The methods pursued in my release were positively rotten, and don’t think for a minute that I have been keeping quiet about it. I haven t [sic] the first person yet to say that they were justified in their action. . . . I am getting sick of talking about it to people it doesn’t do any good, I want a little action. . . .

So Good Night Darling and don’t worry every thing will work out alright, someday, We will have the pleasure of watching somebodyelse squirm.

Here’s the kicker, on the outside of the envelope, in my grandmother’s handwriting are these four lines:

Wherever you go
Whatever you do
I want you to know
I’m following you

At that point, my grandparents had been married less than 6 months and the Depression had started. Within eight years, at age 36, my grandfather would be dead from cirrhosis of the liver. By the time my dad was two, he and his older brother slept at their grandmother’s house most nights. There are no photos of my grandfather except for a tiny photo of him as a toddler pasted into the family Bible.

The second mystery involved Teeny’s dad, Daniel, who had been orphaned in the 1860s before he was six years old. His parents, Aaron and Isabel, married sometime in the 1850s and had three daughters before the Civil War started. They lived in what was called District 44 of Virginia–today it’s called Triadelphia, a town to the east of Wheeling, West Virginia. I’ve found Aaron’s parents and siblings. I know that some of his brothers, his father, and at least one uncle joined a Union regiment in the part of Virginia that seceded from Virginia to become West Virginia.

Aaron was 28 in 1860, Daniel was born in 1863, so Aaron lived until some time in 1862, at least. I can’t imagine that he did not fight in the Civil War. But I have no idea what happened to him or to Isabel. Granted, that part of Virginia/West Virginia was dangerous–there was a lot of internal turmoil and Confederate raids. Perhaps they took the children to live elsewhere, were killed in a raid, died of disease, or maybe a combination of those. Perhaps Aaron died on the battlefield. Daniel and one of his sisters show up in the 1870 census records, orphaned, more than a hundred miles away in Donegal, PA on neighboring farms. Eventually they returned to the Ohio Valley, across the river from Wheeling.

The wrong information

Of course it turns out that some things you heard about your family while you were growing up were wrong.

My mom’s family missed an entire nationality. I was always told that her side of the family was German–which is true, so far as I can tell, so far–for my grandfather’s side of the family. But my grandmother’s side of the family came from The Netherlands in the 1600s and helped settle the Hudson Valley. It’s a long way from that to a coal town in the West Virginia hills.

My dad’s family has the rumors of famous ancestors. We have one near-miss: the one of the earliest arrivals was a younger brother of Edward Winslow, he of the original Pilgrims on the original voyage of the Mayflower. The other rumor is that we’re somehow related to Oliver Cromwell. Great, some people get Jefferson, I get a Roundhead. I am happy to report that, aside from a handwritten note on an old family tree, there is no evidence to support this.

The surprises

In the course of my research, I’ve connected with a distant cousin in central Ohio. She was tickled to learn that I knew that one of our grandfathers had married 2 sisters (sequentially, the first died, no bigamy, so far) and that the sisters were listed under several different names because of their various marriages.

The Reaves

It took me several years to locate two individuals whose portraits I photographed at my Aunt Geraldine’s house before she passed away. I spent an afternoon scanning photos and making notes on who all of the people were. Finally, she retrieved two pastel portraits on convex drawing board in ancient oval frames. I was allowed to remove them from the frames for photos. She said, “Those are the Reaves.” I couldn’t find any Reaves on my mother’s side and they weren’t too many generations back. Then one day I tripped over them. Well, I tripped over their daughter, anyway. I think the portraits I have are too old to be my great-grandfather and mother. One of these days I’ll find their names, too.

My Aunt Jane let me borrow a suitcase that was found in the attic of her old house. It turned out to be full of photos and letters from my paternal grandmother’s family. That’s how I found the Mysterious Letter. There was also a collection of postcards from various southern hotels my uncle stayed at in the 1950s. A 1941 George McQuinn baseball card. An envelope containing 3 curls cut from my dad’s hair when he was a year old. Dozens of handwritten deeds. A box of family letters. Lots of envelopes full of negatives.

And at the bottom of an old box of assorted chocolates, in two pieces, was a glass negative. The only one I found. It was Emmy’s picture. Turns out that it scans beautifully. I haven’t had a chance to restore the image yet. But I can see that I didn’t do too badly with the first one, especially where I had to improvise (for example, creating Uncle Paul’s jaw line that had been obliterated by a fold). Of course I have to restore it. Emmy would want it that way.

I mean to keep it alive as long as I am alive. I, Cat, have spoke this.

Father's Day

Happy Father’s Day: "The Day Daddy Died"

Today is Father’s Day, and S&R would like to wish a happy one to America’s dads.

At the same time, and in the contrary spirit that often typifies what we do around here, I’d like to be the one who acknowledges that our relationships with our fathers are often less than we’d hope for. Frankly, some dads are complete bastards, and in many cases they’re probably at least a complex mixed bag. And why not – being a parent is hard, I’m told. This basic reality makes the guys who get it right even more worthy of our love and respect.

It’s no worse than fair to say that my own father lived his life out between Mixed Bagville and the untamed Bastardlands, and truth be told I have a hard time remembering him as more good than bad. Continue reading

Parenting in the age of (runaway) digital media

A newly released report from the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University tells us some things we probably already know and some other things that ought to disturb us a little. Our good friend Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark, author of The Parent App, walks us through the main findings and offers some analysis in a post at Psychology Today, and it’s worth a read, especially if you’re  a parent.

On the “we knew that” front, Clark notes that modern parents are “much more comfortable with communication technologies than were the generation of parents who preceded them” and that “these parents are using technologies like the TV, smartphones, computers, and tablets to manage family life and to keep children occupied.” Also, “joint media engagement drops off markedly for children who are six or older.” The report also confirms the explosion of smartphones and tablets “in the homes of those who have children aged 0-8, noting that 71% of these households have a smartphone, 42% have a tablet device, and 35% have both.”

The “slightly disturbing” part includes the revelation that “[d]igital media don’t even make the list of things that parents are ‘very concerned’ about,” which seems a little at odds with the finding that “most parents (70%) don’t think that these technologies have made parenting any easier.”

Then there’s the “more disturbing” category:

39% of families are media-centric, consuming an average of 11 hours of screen time each day. These families are very or somewhat likely to use tv to keep children occupied (81% say this). About half of these families leave the tv on all or most of the time and about half (44%) have a tv in the child’s bedroom. Children in these families spend an average of 4.5 hours a day with screen media (remember, these are homes with children who are 0 – 8 years old). Lower income families tend to fall into this category.

As I say, worth a read.

Clark reveals some important insights into what it all means and offers some useful advice (being both a leading scholar in the field and a mother of two affords her a good bit of expertise into the challenges facing today’s parents). For instance:

Instead of looking for guidelines about how much is too much screen time, we need to encourage parents to think about teaching time management and we need to provide young people with opportunities to learn how to remove themselves from or end screen time. Michael Rich, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and advice author at, suggested that families consider instituting a “digital Sabbath” in which they experience life together and apart from technologies. He also noted that this is often harder for parents than for their children. Barbara Fiese, Professor at the U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, noted the importance of encouraging healthy habits in the whole “family ecology” of which media ecology is one part.


We need to remember that we don’t all experience media in the same way.

This was one of the points I wanted to make, as I observed that not all families even want to adopt a “media-light” position. I noted that the “helicopter parent” or “concerted cultivation” approach to parenting tends to keep families too busy to watch television and is framed in relation to viewing all leisure as a waste of time. Media are only seen as positive in these families when they fit within what in my book The Parent App I term an ethic of expressive empowerment. However, not all parents can engage in the kind of concerted cultivation activities that tend to make media use lighter. They may face economic, health, language, or job- or transportation-related challenges. Or their neighborhood’s not safe and so staying inside with media is a positive alternative.

This is just a sampling. I strongly encourage you to take five minutes and go read Clark’s post at PT. I often tell people that I have the smartest circle of friends of anyone I know, and Lynn is a sparkling example of what I’m talking about. If you’re a parent, or if you know one whose home has been Borged by digital media to the detriment of the family’s health, pass it along.


What do women not want from men?

Red Flag

Often, the evidence suggests, sex in long-term relationships.

What most people know about Sigmund Freud could fit on the head of a penis. But many are familiar with his late-life lament: “What does woman want?” In 2009, reporter Daniel Bergner wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine titled What Do Women Want?, in which he reported on research into the nature of women’s sexuality. This week the magazine published Bergner’s latest article, which might well have been titled “What Does Woman Not Want?”

Bergner writes:

Dietrich Klusmann, a psychologist at the University of Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, has provided a glimpse into the bedrooms of longtime couples. His surveys, involving a total of almost 2,500 subjects, comprise one of the few systematic comparisons of female and male desire at progressive stages of committed relationships. He shows women and men in new relationships reporting, on average, more or less equal lust for each other. But for women who’ve been with their partners between one and four years, a dive begins — and continues, leaving male desire far higher.

The actual title of Bergner’s new article is Unexcited? There May Be a Pill for That, in which he describes the development of medication for women seeking help with flagging sexual desire. It seems that a Dutchman named Adriaan Tuiten has finally invented a drug, in two variations called Lybrido and Lybridos, that is effective and may soon be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The ill and the elderly aside, why do many women in good relationships avoid sex with their partners? Among the usual suspects: fatigue from juggling home and job; poor body image due to aging, lack of exercise, and childbirth; aversion to her partner’s out-of-shape body; and, of course, the festering resentments that infect even healthy relationships. Also, leave us not forget men’s relentless empty-out/fill-up sexual cycle, at obvious odds with many women’s longer cycle during which sexual desire peaks just before menstruation.

But what’s most likely to dash the hopes of men in relationships who feel deprived of sex has only just begun to be presented as a coherent whole. Setting – dinner, dress, intimacy – have traditionally been deemed important in aiding women, especially those in lengthy relationships, to “get in the mood.” In fact, enhancing desire thusly may come in a distant second to a mechanism Bergner outlines in the earlier article. He begins by explaining that

The generally accepted therapeutic notion that, for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, [Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas Marta Meana] told me, often misguided. “Really,” she said, “women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic” — it is dominated by the yearnings of “self-love,” by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need. Still on the subject of narcissism, she talked about research indicating that, in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies center less on giving pleasure and more on getting it.

To reiterate:

 “When it comes to desire,” she added, “women may be far less relational than men.”

Broadly generalizing, if Professor Meana makes sense to you, sex for men is about women; sex for women, about women. Many women need to think of themselves as desirable to become aroused. But it doesn’t seem to matter to most men if women experience themselves as desirable. (Would that more men spent time making clear to their partners how desirable they find them. Facilitating that can be achieved, in part, by establishing setting, not to mention making themselves presentable.)

What’s more, while men are famous for looking for sexual thrills – as embodied, for example, by the phrase “get some strange” – that may better describe what women yearn for, according to Professor Meana. From the first article again.

… Meana thinks of female sexuality as divided into two systems. … On the one hand … there is the drive of sheer lust, and on the other the impetus of value [by which she means] the closeness and longevity of relationships: “But it’s wrong to think that because relationships are what women choose they’re the primary source of women’s desire.” [Emphasis added]

As I interpret Professor Meana, most women, like most men, first seek to meet their primary need. But, unlike men, they experience difficulty getting their primal needs met within the context of their relationship.

Meana posits that it takes a greater jolt, a more significant stimulus, to switch on a woman’s libido than a man’s. … And within a committed relationship, the crucial stimulus of being desired decreases considerably, not only because the woman’s partner loses a degree of interest but also, more important, because the woman feels that her partner is trapped, that a choice — the choosing of her — is no longer being carried out.

Some women just like the idea of sex and devote themselves to it as if it were an artistic pastime. But few individuals – men as well as women – are inclined to turn “in theory” into “in practice” on a regular basis. Bergner’s recent article reveals some of the issues the availability of a prescription raises.

But of course swallowing a tablet can take us only so far. Chemically enhancing a woman’s desire might play out in all kinds of ways within a relationship. …  Women might feel yet more pressure to perform: Why not get that prescription? their partners might ask; why not take that pill?

As if to confirm their apprehensions, one of the article’s commenters, who calls herself Jewels, wrote:

Oh, ugh. Now I have to figure out a way to keep the nyt magazine out of my husband’s paws this weekend. … Just what he needs and I don’t: some ammo to wave around! “You should look into this pill! Right now!!!”

Implicit in her objection is what will likely prevent drugs such as the Lybridos family from ever achieving the mass popularity of erectile dysfunction drugs for men. In other words, many women don’t want to want sex. This includes, per Professor Meena, not only women who are unenthusiastic about the prospects of quotidian sex, but those who long to act on their fantasy of sex with an exciting stranger. They would be especially responsive, according to another researcher in the earlier article, to one who taps into a “take me” fantasy.

As you can imagine, when a woman demonstrates no interest in improving her sex life with her partner, the red flag it unfurls flaps wildly in the storm winds of a marriage. Her partner can’t help but conclude that his worst fears have come true and that, stuck in a sexless relationship, he’s now certifiably undesirable (never mind that may actually be the case), his masculinity shattered.

If he can afford to, a man can arrange to secure sex elsewhere. But, furtiveness inevitably erodes what’d left of the relationship. If up front, he’s likely to find that, to his partner, extramarital sex still qualifies as unfaithfulness and, despite herself, evokes jealousy.

With more people retaining their health longer, some speculate that – child-custody issues aside for the moment – succumbing to the seven-year itch deserves to sheltered under the same umbrella of social mores as, increasingly, same-sex marriage has been. In fact, though, not more than a handful of men and women have the stomach to purposely weather both the devastation of uncoupling and the subsequent grueling search for new love. Ultimately, most men seek one committed relationship. Women? The same, but, to many, sex is a clause that can be excised from the “contract” a few years later without necessarily renegotiating.

There may be no short-term answer, but, long-term solutions are readily apparent. We can begin by accepting that Professor Meana may be right and that, for many women, sex may never be part of daily life. Instead, we need to focus on what can change. Women should not be made to feel that that something is wrong with them just because they decline sex within a committed relationship. No one should attempt to shame them into taking medication.

Besides, that only succeeds in reminding them of all the men who have leered at them, groped them, perverted the concept of seduction by turning it into coercion, and, worst-case scenario, raped women or sexually abused them as children. No matter how wild women’s fantasies – still tame compared to those of many men – lack of interest in sex is more likely to be a symptom of how women have been treated by men both from their own births and from the beginning of the Neolithic Era than any “hard wiring.”

Credit is due those women who stand ready to seek medication to increase their sex drives. Nevertheless, it’s patently unfair to place more than a small portion of responsibility for any lack of interest in sex on women. It’s lamentable that, at this late date in history, it requires spelling out. But respect for young women in their formative years may be the truest indicator of sexual passion in the adult woman.