Monday, July 29, 2013

What Pets Add

Please, if you're juxtaposing this post with the one I wrote yesterday, remember that this is a "web log" and what I'm thinking about today just happens to be less important than what I was thinking about yesterday. It happens.

But this article pissed me off. In it, Allison Benedikt says that people shouldn't have kids and dogs at the same time.


My favorite comment so far comes from "Fundog:"

Don't blame the smart, loyal, loving family dog for your inability to manage your damn life.  

I know that Allison Benedikt just had a baby--her third--and she's probably feeling overwhelmed, as almost all mothers of young babies do. She's not sleeping properly, and she's having to deal with the reconfiguration of her family, as well as the honest to goodness demands of three children under the age of five. 

But her experience is not universal. We had Darwin before Boo came home, and we spent months getting him ready. Where before he had spent dinner time sitting on the couch with me, smelling my breath to see what I was eating, and then the rest of the evening sprawled out next to me on the couch, we taught him--before the baby arrived--that he was no longer allowed on the couch. We brought him to family events so that he was exposed to toddlers. We let him see and smell all the new baby stuff we acquired, and he spent a long time investigating our luggage when we returned from our first trip to Russia. 

We did our best to prepare Boo, too. After all, there were no dogs (or cats, for that matter) in her Baby Home. We included pictures of Darwin and Henrietta in the family album we left behind after our first trip. 

When Boo came home, we introduced them carefully to each other. We made rules for each (Boo, once she became mobile, was not allowed on the dog bed. Darwin could not come on the blanket we put on the floor for Boo to have tummy time.) and we plunked Boo into her stroller every afternoon so that we could take Darwin on his walk.

Henrietta passed when Boo was two years old, and we didn't get another cat right away. There were many reasons for this, but certainly the fact that we had a young child and hadn't yet decided whether there would be additional children was a factor. That's a decision you can make when you don't have a cat. We did end up getting Cat about a year later. When Darwin died, we didn't delay. Wonderdog joined our family almost immediately. 

It is true that Darwin didn't get the same kind of attention after Boo arrived that he did before. Nobody in my life enjoys the kind of attention from me that Henrietta got when the two of us lived alone together. But I think he lived out his days happily, and I know that Boo is better off because she lives with pets. In addition to the well-documented health benefits of living with pets, Boo has learned a lot about sharing our attention, paying attention to the needs of others, and responsibility. At 9 years old, Boo is now able to clean the gerbil cage, walk the dog, and will soon be able to change the litter box. She helps to train Wonderdog and comes with me to dog shows. And in losing two pets (so far) at two different developmental stages, she is learning how to cope with loss, too.

Having a pet isn't for everyone. Dogs, especially, require a great deal of time, attention and training. The adoption of a pet is something that should be thought through carefully, especially if one has or is planning to have small children. But there are many benefits--to children and adults--to having a pet, and those benefits should be considered as well.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


As it turns out, reproductive coercion is something that happens. That is, men sabotage their partners' birth control, or lie about condoms falling off, or intimidate/threaten/beat their partners to prevent them using birth control. Reproductive coercion is a form of abuse. Its purpose is to tie a woman to her abuser for life.

This is a terrifying notion. The idea that a man could betray me in that fashion, the idea that any woman could have to bear the consequences of that betrayal, and the idea of a child having to grow up in that situation is utterly frightening.

But then consider what else is happening to these women. Imagine being in a situation where your partner is trying to force you to become pregnant, or in a situation where you are already pregnant against your will, and then trying to get help.

In many parts of this country, a woman in that situation will be slut shamed. Even well-meaning doctors might assume that woman is a fool who doesn't understand how to use birth control.

Or, that woman could encounter a professional who "values life."

After being abused by her partner, this woman could be denied access to birth control by a pharmacist. She could be denied access to the morning after pill. In many parts of the country, there is no practical way for this woman to access RU-486, a pill that induces abortion, which would be a way that she could obtain an abortion without her partner's knowledge. In some states, if she is married to her abuser, he will be notified if she attempts to have an abortion at a medical center.

Can you imagine coming to the realization that your partner lied to you--put holes in a condom or claimed it fell off and he didn't notice, or hid your birth control pills, or flat-out raped you--and that you were pregnant as a result? Can you imagine being then told by your doctor that you should've known better? That although you arranged a doctor's appointment at a time when you were able to get away from your abusive partner, you have to come back in 24 hours because the state isn't sure you really want an abortion? That you can't have RU-486 unless you can come back to the doctor's office two more times, even though this is not medically necessary, and instead you could go home, take the second pill, and say you were having a miscarriage? Or that you can only have an abortion if your husband, the man who betrayed you so you could never get away from him, signs a paper giving you permission?

I desperately hope that reproductive coercion is rare. But even if it is, the idea that anyone is put in the position, in the United States, of being forced to bear a child and be tied for life to a man who abused her in that fashion is abhorrent. The fact that this exists is reason enough that safe, legal abortion should be available to every woman. Because nobody deserves to live that way. No child deserves the life that goes along with that. Adoption might be an option in a situation like that, but adoption could also result in the abuser escalating his abusive behavior. In any case, it's not up to me. It shouldn't be up to the government. This should never happen to anyone, but if it does, the least we can do is allow a woman the dignity of deciding what happens next.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


If you don't already listen to Star Talk Radio, you should start now. I have loved Neil deGrasse Tyson for years, every since he first appeared on, then began hosting, Nova Science Now*. He's the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at The American Museum of Natural History, and is known as the guy who de-planeted Pluto. He's brilliant.

And on this week's episode of Star Talk Radio, he said this:

The more pockets of knowledge you have command of, the more creative you can be....
He was talking about hip hop, and really just rephrasing something in order to understand how MC's work, but he said something profound.

This should be what we all answer every time a child says, "Why do I need to know this? When will I ever use this in life?"

Because the fact is, nobody knows when you'll use it, or how you'll use it. And "creative" applies to more than just hip hop, more than just art. Learning is itself a creative act. When you learn something, you are creating understanding, and it is much easier to learn when you can connect the new information to something you already know.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Because we need creative thinkers in every field or we would never have progress. Inventing a new product requires creativity. Solving problems requires creativity. Negotiating contracts requires creativity. But creativity is also essential to putting robots on Mars or dealing with personnel or training dogs. We need people in every field who are able to think in new ways, to look at problems from multiple directions and to create metaphors that help us all understand the universe from a perspective we never saw before.

And that means we need people to have command of as many pockets of knowledge as possible. Because you never know when that math lesson or book you read in high school or painting your parents made you look at in the museum will be the key to understanding a problem you have to solve.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, in trying to understand for himself how MC's write music, stated for all of us why Public Education is essential to the functioning of a democracy. He explained deftly why schools must teach not only math and English, but also science and art and music and physical education and foreign languages and drama and dance and creative writing.

Because education in a variety of disciplines is the key to creativity. The more systems of thought you understand, the more you can think. And the more you can think, the better you can do whatever you do.

*He's no longer the host, but you can find some of his episodes on Netflix, and he'll soon be hosting the new version of Cosmos, which should be awesome.

Monday, July 22, 2013


The year is 1991 and I've just finished my performance in the worst play ever written, which was the fall play at my high school that year. I'll let the playwright off the hook by mentioning neither his name nor the title of the piece, but it was a real, published play that was produced at my high school at least twice and presumably elsewhere, and it was terrible, and should never see the light of day again.

However, I had done my best and was back stage getting ready to change out of my costume and hang it up for the next night's performance when I felt my dad's hand clamp down on my shoulder.

"Oh, hi dad!" I said, as I turned to see my mom walk up behind him. "Just give me a minute to change and then I'll be right back to give you both a proper hug."


I was confused. This wasn't Broadway. They hadn't travelled miles to see my opening night. It was high school. I still lived at home. We had eaten dinner together before the show and were going home in the same car shortly. Or maybe out for ice cream. A few minutes to change was hardly an unreasonable request, especially since a hug might wrinkle my costume. And he still hadn't let go of my shoulder.

"Are you engaged?"

"Um. No."

"Okay. Go change. We'll talk about this later."

Earlier that night:

My parents were waiting for the play to start and they ran into a neighbor they hadn't seen in a long time.

"Congratulations," she said. "I hear Xanny got engaged!"

"No, no," my mom replied. "She got accepted to college early decision."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Neighborhood Community Day

It's an amazing day in my neighborhood today. There are inflatable rides and snow cones, a bake sale and sack races and jousting in the pool. I feel like community events of this type used to be more common and have either disappeared or gone totally commercial. (Every street fair is now exactly like every other street fair.)

But here you can whack your neighbor with a soggy pillowcase until she falls into the pool or play softball together or just watch your kids go up and down the water slide a hundred times. It doesn't cost a fortune ($12 for unlimited rides, plus a snow cone and cotton candy) and the money goes to our community anyway.

Perhaps that's one reason why ours continues--we have pools, parks and a building to maintain, so there is a sense that the money has a common use--but every community has community expenses. Even if it's just subsidizing the rides themselves, it's worth it.

So go out and support your local community event. Or organize one. They make everyone feel good about where they live.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sorry, Trayvon.

I didn't realize until this morning how depressed I've been about the George Zimmerman trial. I had thought about writing about the verdict, but Emily Bazelon and John Oliver already said what I wanted to say, and better than I could say it.

It seemed that everyone I knew--in real life and on Facebook--was either silent about the matter or profoundly depressed. A co-worker confided that he had been crying about it all week. A childhood friend asked how she was going to explain this to her children. A friend of my parents who lives in Florida and used to work in the legal system spoke of the legal climate in Florida.

In the face of this, I felt I had nothing to share. Nothing new to add to the conversation.

And yet it felt as if the world was despairing, and I retreated to the habits of depression: watching TV, playing repetitive games like solitaire, disrupting my sleep cycles, forgetting to charge my iPod. And not making anything.

This morning I was trying to decide what to wear in the heat wave that's plaguing us, and I found that Hopper had brought one of my dresses home from the cleaner. It's knee-length and sleeveless, so I put it on. I got my hair cut short on Saturday, and it's a great haircut that always looks cute. I slipped into my adorable polka-dot flats, grabbed my book (because I had forgotten to charge my iPod) and I set off for the bus.

There was a horrible accident today that shut down a major highway in my area, so the bus took forever. But when I arrived in New York, I decided that I looked good, I felt good, and I should be glad I wasn't in the accident. Then I saw a young woman telling a young man in a suit to text her soon. He replied, "Awesome," and the look on his face was priceless.

I followed the woman out the door of the bus station and thought that watching a young man fall in love is a great way to start the day, and that's when it hit me. I decided I needed to walk through the park, past the dog run, because dogs don't despair. Dogs don't care about discriminatory laws or crazy vigilantes or even dead boys. Dogs are all about now. Sure enough, there was a poodle entering the dog run, his tail wagging earnestly. He didn't care that there weren't any other dogs in the park. He was going to get to sniff the whole dog park off-leash, and that was awesome.

Things may be feeling a bit hopeless right now, but life goes on, and where there's life, there's hope. We don't do Trayvon Martin any favors by slipping into despair. We need to get up and face life and make this world a better place in whatever way we can.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Serge and The Doctor

I just finished reading Electric Barracuda by Tim Dorsey. If you're not familiar with Tim Dorsey, he writes awesome novels about Florida. His main character, Serge Storm, is a serial killer who kills bad guys (sexual predators, misogynists, bankers) in all sorts of creative ways.

Serge also sincerely loves Florida and its history. And he delights in enjoying life--playing on a playground, collecting shells at the beach, swimming in a swimming hole--in a way that the non-crazy just can't.

Aside from the serial killer part, he reminds me a lot of the 11th Doctor. Some of the lines The Doctor has been saying lately (Bunk beds are cool! A bed with a ladder? You can't beat that!) could come out of Serge's mouth. I shudder to think what Serge would do with a TARDIS.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Shade Walk

I've been trying to exercise more recently, and this heat is making it hard. So this morning I took Wonderdog on a Shade Walk.

Rules for a Shade Walk

1. Get your dog and go for a walk.

2. When you come to an intersection, choose the shadier route.


*If you are carrying a bag of dog poop, you may choose the route that takes you to the nearest public trash can. (Always clean up after your pets!)

*When you're done, just plan the shadiest route home you can think of and take it.

Wonderdog and I used this method and took about a 40-minute walk. That's a lot more than either of us has had recently (well, since Thursday) and it was already pretty roasty by the time we dropped Boo off at camp. At least this way he'll be able to get by with just two little "business" walks in the afternoon and evening. We don't want our Wonderdog to get heat stroke.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Senator Mark Kirk

This morning I watched this story about Mark Kirk. He's a Senator from Illinois, a moderate Republican who had a stroke a year ago and has just returned to work after a year of intense therapy to recover his ability to walk and talk.

He's against Obamacare and extending Unemployment Insurance.

Here's what they forgot to ask on CBS Sunday Morning:

How would you have survived the past year if you had lost your job and your health insurance as a result of your stroke? 

I looked up what would happen to me, just as a point of comparison. For the sake of argument, I assumed that I had a full-time job at the same pay grade as my current, part-time job. It's a job that requires a Bachelor's Degree and some experience.

Had I suffered a stroke a year ago, I would have received six months of pay at my regular salary and six months at 66 2/3 of my salary. For the first six months I would have paid the same amount for insurance that I was paying when I was working, and my insurance payments would go up after that. So just when my pay was cut by 1/3, my insurance payments would go up. My employer's benefit website does not specify the amount of the insurance payment.

Those are actually pretty good benefits. Assuming that Hopper could keep up the insurance payments, I would continue to have insurance for an entire year. I don't think the insurance packages at my workplace are as good as the Federal insurance that Senators get, but they're not bad, so I'd be able to get regular therapy, though maybe not the specialized intensive therapy that Senator Kirk was able to access.

But that's me. Most people wouldn't get paid beyond whatever sick days they had, and they'd likely lose their insurance when they stopped working, as well, or have to pay for COBRA. And that's just college-educated folks. If you have a job waiting tables or loading trucks, you can pretty much forget having anything. Oh, and if you couldn't get back to a state where you could balance a tray of dishes or lift heavy boxes, you could forget getting your job back even if you could recover in the 12 weeks allotted by the Family and Medical Leave Act. If you couldn't return to work after 12 weeks, you could lose your job.

Nobody should be denied necessary health care. Nobody should be without food. Everyone should have a safe place to sleep at night, and everyone should have access to a basic education. These are not "issues," they're basic human rights.

If you can't see that, Senator, maybe you need to think about what this past year would have been like if you didn't have health care and employment insurance paid for by the government.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I saw this article on Slog today and it really resonated with me.

For those too lazy to click through, it's an article saying that Jews have had to deal forever with cheeseburgers being in restaurants, even though cheeseburgers are forbidden by the Bible, so conservative Christians can deal with gay marriage being legal. (In short. Go read it. It's a good argument.)

Of course there are fundamentalist Jews out there--every religion has fundamentalists--but the rest of us are used to being a minority who has to deal with everyone else all the time. Heck, now I'm a vegan (mostly) and guess what? I have to watch people eat meat all the time. I smell it when I walk down the street. I see it displayed in the window of butchers. The supermarket is full of animal products that I choose not to eat, for scientifically sound health reasons.

And yet I can't stop them.

I can't stop people from eating meat. I can't stop restaurants from selling cheeseburgers. I can't stop Christmas trees everywhere.

And all of that is why nobody can stop me from practicing my religion, or preaching my non-religion, if that's what I decide to do. In this country, everyone gets to practice her own religion. But we don't get to impose that religion on others. We can't stop McDonalds from selling cheeseburgers, and we can't stop my friend from sponsoring her wife for citizenship.

I can't tell you that Baptism is a meaningless magic trick, and you can't refuse to pay for your employees' health insurance just because it covers birth control. It works both ways.

Yeah, it's hard to be a religious minority. I imagine it's even harder when just a few years ago you were in the majority. But being in the minority doesn't automatically make you oppressed. Being unable to impose your views on others doesn't make you oppressed, either.

It sucks sometimes. But the same rules that stop you from stopping gay marriage also protect you from being shut down for preaching your message of hate.

You just have to turn the other cheek. Who said that, again?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Russia is pissing me off again

The most horrible thing has happened to a child who was born in Russia.

He wasn't exactly adopted, because it appears that a "gay" couple (it will become evident why I doubt their homosexuality in a bit) hired a Russian woman to be their surrogate. In the US, surrogacy does not involve adoption, as far as I know. In any case, the men-who-claim-to-be-a-gay-couple sexually abused their son in a whole variety of horrifying ways, which is an inexcusable crime and these men deserve to not only lose their son forever but also to rot in jail and then hell. (You know, if there is an afterlife, which there isn't but at moments like these I like to imagine one because there really is no way these men could suffer enough in one human lifetime.)

Russia has no jurisdiction in this case because the child in question was an American citizen at the time the crimes were discovered, the men involved were an American and an Australian, and the crimes happened in France, Germany, the US and New Zealand (I think. News reports are not consistent.) The American Judge who did have jurisdiction sentenced the men to 40 years in prison. The boy is now living with someone else, either a relative or another family (again, news reports are inconsistent.)

But here's why I'm pissed at Russia. If you have the stomach for it, read this story from an Australian news source, and then this one from Russia. For those who are easily sickened, I'll sum up: The Australian story gives us some details including the names of the convicted criminals, what happened, and what is going to happen now. The Russian story features our old friend Pavel Ashtakov, who claims the boy was purchased from his mother, that Americans sexually assault children all the time, and that the solution to the problem is to stop international adoption.

I'm not exaggerating. At all. He seriously said those things, and this guy is a major influence in Russian politics AND the principal man in charge of deciding what happens to the 120,000 children currently living in Russian orphanages.

This is the same country that just made it illegal to be gay in public. Because, you know, kids won't grow up to be gay if they don't see gay people holding hands on the street and there are no Russian pedophiles.

And they gave away my friend's kid this week in defiance of a request from the European Court that no action be taken until they heard my friend's case. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, my friend is devastated and I feel her pain. It's real pain, and Pavel can go to hell for causing it. (Note the above disclaimer about hell.) But I don't think Pavel was ever going to let those 300 kids go, and that being the case, it's better for the little girl to be in a family than in an orphanage, and hopefully my friend will be able to move on now and find a child she can adopt. I hate myself for feeling that way, because it feels like I'm letting my friend down, but this is just a hateful, horrible situation and there's no way to feel good about it.

I may even have to boycott the Olympics next winter, which would be really hard for me because I am a total Olympic freak, but that country has gotten completely bonkers and I'm afraid for the safety of gay Olympians, and afraid to seem to be endorsing anything Russia is up to right now. The human rights violations are just sickening and I'm not sure there's anything we can do about it.

Update 7/1/13:

I got this comment on Facebook, and thought I'd post it here for everyone to read:

Janine Beth Howard Gorell Of course Pavlov never mentions that orphans "graduating" from orphanages are REALLY ripe pickings for exploitation. And there are a lot more of those with adoption being unilaterally closed.