Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tinfoil Hat? Try this White Bonnet on for Size...

This boggles the mind. The Arizona House of Representatives yesterday introduced legislation to criminalize women selling their eggs. Women selling their eggs. Illegal. This is the same body that, in the past couple of weeks, has floated laws prohibiting minors from obtaining prescriptions (read: birth control) without parental consent, and prohibiting cities and counties from providing their employees with health insurance plans that cover abortion. This newest bit of lunacy doesn't advance parallel penalties against men who sell their sperm, ostensibly because the bill seeks to address the "health risks" egg sales carry. I highlight the word "sales" there because there is no provision against egg donation. Just against making a profit from it.

Do I really have to slap the cover of The Handmaid's Tale up here to make the point crystal clear? A couple of weeks ago, during the Blam Blam Cheney uproar, Jon Stewart noted on The Daily Show that "you couldn't make this stuff up. The sad part is that we don't have to." Okay, all together now: This bill is not about protecting women's health any more than the prescription bill is about protecting teenagers from being prescribed phen-fen by overzealous doctors. It is about exerting control over women's lives via their bodies, in a twisted manifestation of biblical injunctions about the absolute authority of men over their wives and daughters.

Ever write something and say to yourself, "I can't believe I just typed that shit?" Yeah. That. The slow but steady erosion of women's control over their own bodies is now reaching into areas I never, in my worst paranoid nightmares, suspected it would. Where does any male legislator find the sheer hubris to decide it's a good idea to tell women they can give away as many eggs as they want, but selling them is not allowed? Is it the spawn of a late-night drinking game under the Capitol rotunda in Phoenix, the boys sitting around the table trying to one-up each other with outlandish bills? Where does it lead? Better yet, where does it end?

I don't understand why we--collective We--have allowed things to go this far, to allow this encroachment of one particular fundamentalist flavor to crowd out so many others. Why are more women not up in arms? Can so many of us truly feel that safe, that insulated, that we can believe none of this will really ever affect us? It's a roll of the dice every time we hop in the sack with a guy, every time we hedge our bets and walk alone through the parking garage at night. Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine percent of the time we'll be okay. That one percent that walks up swiftly and silently behind while we're fiddling with the condom wrapper or wondering if we remembered to take the pill today or digging the car keys out? That one percent can be a motherfucker in the current climate.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Persona non Femma

Chalk up another weekend spent validating that completely unintentional soft-butch persona I can't seem to shake. Still riding the crest of the mad-carpentry wave that rolled in with the New Year, I spent much of Saturday and Sunday building a CD shelf out of the scrap lumber left over from the dismantling of the former bookcase. I was quite pleased, as the total investment on this project was $3.22 for a small bottle of Titebond wood glue. For something different, I left the original dark walnut stain in place on most of the boards, just sprucing it up with a new coat of glossy polyurethane, and sanded others down to raw wood to be re-stained with the trusty Pecan Gloss. The result is a nifty contrast throughout the piece, with dark and light alternating shelf by shelf, inside and outside. It wasn't a huge gain in storage capacity, but it looks much better than the former veneer-over-fiberboard contraption that leaned perilously in away from the wall.

There's a palpable difference in the feel of the spaces with their new shelfy additions. The warmly stained wood glows in the lamplight at night, and the pieces finally built to the scale of the room lend a sense of completion and integration. Much better than the mishmash brought from other houses that didn't quite fit, either together or to the room itself. It feels good to me to be surrounded by wood, and when it is the work of my own hands it's immensely satisfying. It ain't perfect, not by a longshot, but for bargain-basement pine and a limited workshop, it's fine. I could go on about the minor imperfections here and there being an obvious metaphor for the human condition, but will fall back on the stock rationalization of "it gives it character" instead.

My grandfather was an amazing carpenter. My first experience with wood and saws for something that counted was helping him build a fence with a latticework top in his back yard. My dad is a pretty fair hand as well; he bought me my first circular saw and gave me a tutorial by having me help build a table for the model train set he put together in the basement for me and my brothers. It's been my only circular saw, actually, a Black and Decker that will probably last forever. Perhaps a power planer will be my next major power tool purchase. I'm getting into the salvaged wood thing, spurred by the seemingly endless supply of scrap lumber in Tucson (refer to the Brush 'n' Bulky post). Found wood provided all the shelving in my shed, but if I had a planer... oh, my, just think of the end tables and shadow boxes I could build!

So yeah. Carpentry
, with Tom Petty as the soundtrack, and then soccer on Sunday (1-1 against Ragtags). No injuries save for a punctured thumb on Saturday (courtesy of the anti-kickback spur on the table saw, which was a little too zealous in its mission to keep a board in place) that is still oozing. Soft-butch persona preserved through use of calendula and a band-aid instead of big badass butch super glue (which I did, admittedly, briefly consider, but decided against because I didn't have any other super glue-worthy projects in line and didn't want to open a fresh tube that would just dry out before I needed to use it again). Legs still unshorn going on six weeks, not in service of any statement, but simply being sick of dealing with it.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Post-Brush 'n' Bulky

Tucson's Brush-and-Bulky pickup service comes a few times a year, transforming the curbs and alleys into a packrat's smorgasbord. In past years I've acquired pallets, tons of scrap lumber that's found its way into planter boxes and backyard forts, firewood a-plenty, and an old rocking chair I refurbished for (and scored MAJOR points with) an ex-girlfriend's birthday present. This month's holiday fell at an awkward time, as I was in the middle of finishing the bookcase, cleaning out the shed, and culling the piles of scrap wood in the back yard, so I didn't pick up as much stuff as I would have liked. I did take several dozen 2x4 stubs (if nothing else, they fit perfectly into the chimenea) and a great mini kick bass drum. The drum is a bit dented and has two broken heads, but a quick trip to Beaver's Band Box and twenty bucks should land me a dandy new noisemaker. Notable items I didn't pick up include a set of adirondack chairs and end table, mainly because I couldn't quite decide if their owner really was meaning to set them out as trash, and a wrought-iron wall sconce with two candleholders, that one mainly because I was on foot and didn't want to haul a not-quite-funky-enough large sconce a couple of miles back home.

I set out last night to see if the city guys might have missed anything good. I only found two spoons and a book of matches but didn't really want to stuff them into my pockets. One dumpster had a big pile of radiology journals near the top, but I didn't see enough of a resale market for them at Bookman's to make it worth the effort to dig them out.

The girlfriend doesn't accompany me on these scavenging expeditions. Maybe it's a little... I don't know, different, perhaps, or maybe it looks bad to be rooting around in dumpsters, but I learned at a tender age about the treasures that find their way into the trash when people are either overwhelmed with moving or overconditioned to pitch something when it gets a bit scuffed. When I was a wee tad I lived in an apartment complex with my mom in northern Indiana, and every month when people moved out we peeked into the dumpsters to see what got jettisoned. I found toys, she found kitchen implements. The crowning glory was a small still-life in oils of a teapot and flowers that we gave to her mother without comment on its origins, and then got secret giggles every time we went to Grandmother's house and saw the painting hung on the wall.

Living in the university area, I get to experience the mass giveaway that accompanies the exodus of the undergrads every May. The amount and quality of completely good clothing, housewares, and books they throw away is criminal. Last year I ended up in a dumpster with a couple who were collecting unopened packaged food, plates, napkins, and pillows for a homeless shelter. I promptly dug in to help them. We had accumulated a nice pile of goods when were unceremoniously pulled out and detained by a university cop who busted us for trespassing, who lectured us for stealing things from university property for our own profit. He glared at me and asked if I was an activist. I managed to deadpan, "No, sir, I'm an archaeologist." He eventually let us go with a warning to never come back, because now we're In The System, but made us leave the stuff for the homeless back in the dumpster. As far as my own personal profit, I got some trade credit at Bookman's for some of the books I found before rent-a-cop showed up, and I kept an army sleeping bag, rain poncho, and web belt I pulled out of the dumpster at the apartment complex at Speedway and Campbell. I gave the volleyball, basketball, and baseballs to my son, and washed the bags of pristine t-shirts and shorts I found before dropping them off at Goodwill.

The university, perhaps shamed by the attention this issue has gotten in the local papers in the past couple of years, has attempted to head off the scavengers by posting No Trespassing signs on the dumpsters at move-out time. I understand the liability issue, but wish I had the balls to defy them and keep diving. Not for myself, but for the people who genuinely need the cases of macaroni and cheese, the blankets, the unopened rolls of paper towels, the clean and hole-free clothes that are tossed by the Hefty bag-full by kids who don't want to go to the effort of moving them. I wonder how much participation they'd get if they set up donation centers next to the dumpsters at the frat houses, if they'd bother to separate the usable stuff from the trash or just toss it all in the closest can.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

My Uterus Is Sovereign Territory

Sigh. The South Dakotans are barely restraining the gleeful cackles. You can't blame them, the poor things; ever since Alito's confirmation they and their ilk have been bobbing around, hopping from one foot to the other, rubbing their palms together, licking their chops, just waiting for the soonest possible moment to introduce a piece of shit legislation like this one. No abortions in South Dakota. The sole exception is to save the life of the mother, and I'm guessing the mother would have to be bleeding out from a severed femoral artery for the state to even grudgingly agree to the procedure. No exception for rape, either unrelated or incestuous. No concern for the life of the woman or girl involved. Just for the embryo.

No recognition that a girl's life may be endangered by an unwanted pregnancy in ways that are not always immediately fatal or apparent to the inexperienced eye. Only a man who has never been sexually assaulted can say with a straight face that carrying her rapist's fetus to term and delivering the baby will not destroy a girl. She is effectively murdered; the child she was before the assault ceases to exist. She is told that her life is inconsequential and must now be sacrificed for the clump of cells implanted inside her against her will. She must deal with the enormous physical and emotional burdens that even a planned-for, desired pregnancy brings. She must see her stomach swell with each passing week, feeling the fetus move inside her, every kick and poke of an uninvited person inside her reminding her of the initial intrusion into her body. And she knows that everyone else sees it too. Everyone who knows her will know why, will know what happened, will be a partner in her punishment simply by seeing her.

For it will be a punishment. Biology dictates that the woman, the girl, is left holding the bag when the man takes off. Forcing a rape victim to carry the process through to its end stamps her with the scarlet letter, brands her as damaged goods, with no way to hide or escape. All the old dicta we thought we'd outgrown (oh, she must've been asking for it, she didn't call for help, she didn't fight hard enough, she shouldn't have been walking alone, she should have told someone about what her daddy was doing to her, and did you see what she was wearing that night?) will come home to roost on the plains, in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore. What is this law, but "you've made your bed; now lie in it" writ large?

There is no way out except the old ways. Rich women will fly someplace else. Poor women will stab at their cervixes with knitting needles. Or at their wrists with razor blades.

I'm guessing South Dakota isn't going to follow up on this Draconian measure by making birth control readily available and affordable, by teaching effective safer sex methods in classrooms.

In other news, a Republican state rep from Mesa introduced legislation in the Arizona statehouse to prevent AZ cities and counties for purchasing health insurance plans for their employees that cover abortions. Unbelievably, no similar provision has been introduced to prevent those insurance plans from covering erectile disfunction medications.

All hail the mighty penis. If women and girls get pregnant, well, hell. It's our own damn fault, or a gift from God. Somehow I think they want us to see it as both.

Thursday Photo Fun

The visit with the family was actually quite a lot of fun, despite being hectic at times. We went to Poca Cosa for dinner, fortuitously on their last night in the original location at the base of the Santa Rita Hotel. I am glad for that. I'm not sure what the new space will be like, but I so love(d?) the old place that was simultaneously dark and bursting with color.

My aunt wanted a picture of the lovely plate.

GodDesShivAllaHalleluJah, it was good. Fookin' killer. The family was suitably impressed and near-orgasmic with the food, always a good thing. Aunt and uncle promounced it equal to, and possibly surpassing, anything they've encountered in Chicago with their gourmet club, and we all agreed Rick Bayless should be so lucky as to kiss Susana Davila's beautiful ass.

My primary feeling coming out of the weekend was relief. The last several all-family confabs had been so unpleasant that I was frankly dreading this one, assuming it would be just another in a growing string of clusterfucks. But it wasn't. We sat around the fire Sunday night, eating and drinking, telling stories, laughing. I built a little pocket shrine to my grandpa (picture to the right) and wished as hard as I could that we could go back to what we were as a family before he died. The old man was the glue. Maybe now we're regaining our center.

Maybe I'll stick that picture on t-shirts for my brothers and uncles so we can remember.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fox, Henhouse. Henhouse, Fox.

I do not understand the thinking that allows the administration to believe, even in that waking moment between opening eyes and having that first cup of coffee, that it's an acceptable risk--let alone a Good Idea--to give a United Arab Emirates company any modicum of control over US ports. The glaring lack of security in the ports has been discussed endlessly without solution... so the solution is to hand them over to a country that facilitated financing and travel for half of the September 11 hijackers, a country that is one of only three on the entire planet to have recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan?

"After careful review by our government, I believe the transaction ought to go forward," Mr. Bush told reporters who were traveling with him on Air Force One to Washington, according to news agencies. "I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I am trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, 'We'll treat you fairly." '

Golly, could it have something to do with the fact that the "Great British" haven't financed terrorist or military attacks against this country since the War of 1812? They have been kicking the shit out of Ireland for the past 600 years, which pisses me off no end, but that's not the issue here. Could it possibly be related to the UAE's very public support of Osama and the boys? Maybe? Just maybe? And this from Rummy:

"We all deal with the U.A.E. on a regular basis," he added. "It's a country that's been involved in the global war on terror."

Involved in the war on terror... sort of like Typhoid Mary was involved with public health.

I have read speculation that the whole thing is a gambit, a ploy of the Neocon endgame that either positions Congressional Republicans to look like they're standing up to the increasingly unhinged White House, or, for the extreme tinfoil hat camp, opens the gates of middle America to a devastating terrorist attack that will cement the Bush Empire's power for a generation to come. The first possibility? Maybe. The second? Not so much. Follow the money. I'm not sure that anyone has yet publicized the money trails oozing out of the UAE deal, but knock me down with a feather if they don't lead to the goodfellas of the Carlyle Group.

How much longer will the stalwart farmers and ranchers of the red states continue supporting this administration?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Problems? We Got 'Em! Solutions? Meh.

Problem: Arms eroding. Gut growing.
Solution: Get your lazy ass to the gym.
Problem: Lazy ass. Well, maybe not lazy so much as over-scheduled.
Solution: Get your lazy ass to the gym.
Resolution: Well, fuck.

Problem: No money.
Solution: Meth lab?

Problem: Tethered to bathroom today due to funky bug apparently picked up over weekend.
Solution: Rice and tea. And keep running shoes on.

Random notes... I remember, a few days after the September 11 attacks, the first time I heard Bush repeatedly utter the phrase, "the Homeland." I wondered why his handlers thought it a good idea to latch onto a term with such strong sematic associations with historic totalitarian regimes. Well, I guess that's been answered... I still hate having NHL players in the Olympics, and don't get me started on the NBA bozos in the summer games. I think it every time around. It will never be as sweet as 1980, never again, and I'm not really interested in even watching them play... Skeleton, now that looks like fun. I wonder if they could add some traffic cones or jumps through burning hoops. That would be awesome...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Bolt from the Blue

Every so often (not often, really, but "every so rarely" just doesn't sound right) I receive a moment of utter clarity, a blindingly brilliant beam flashing through my being that illuminates a rock-solid connection between what I had thought were distant dots with no relationship to each other. In recent years I have acquired a mentor of sorts, a crusty, grouchy codger who frightens many people but has taken me under his wing and taught me quite a bit. Over the weekend my mentor from my teenage years--amazingly, someone often perceived as a crusty, grouchy codger who frightened many people but took me under his wing and remains the finest teacher I have ever had--called because he was in town for a wedding. It was uncanny. The entire time I was on the phone with Tom (mentor from the before time in the long ago place far away...), I couldn't shake the perception that I was actually talking to Dave. The voice was the same. The mien was the same. It was like walking into a funhouse where the walls and doors are set at crazy angles and even though you know you're standing on level ground, the disconnect between your brain and what your eyes are telling it sends you careening sideways into the floor.

We never did get together due to just unfortunate crazy schedules we couldn't get to mesh. We did talk on the phone a couple more times, and I still never quite got the picture of Tom in my head extracted from the picture of Dave that popped up with each conversation. At the end all I could do was shake my head and think, well, I guess that explains a few things. I had thought those two dots were filed away in very different compartments, separated by innumerable headings and subheadings based on time and geography. Apparently they have been inhabiting the same box in my brain for a long time. Funny what we carry around with us, thinking we're continually forging into new territory when, in fact, it's one big circular track and we keep skating lap after lap, only occasionally recognizing that the scenery hasn't changed much.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Friday. Yep.

Got an e-mail response yesterday from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ08) to my e-mailed howling about the lack of Congressional oversight of the FISA wiretapping mess. It was very nice, quite long, well-written. This was just about the time Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) cut a deal with the administration to "fix" FISA so that the administration's blatant lawbreaking may be rewritten for the history books as a breathtakingly prescient, cutting-edge bit of counterterrorism operations that literally rewrote how the New American Empire dealt with threats both perceived and potential. Swell. I e-mailed Roberts this morning to tell him what a wanking bastard he is. Not expecting much of a response.

The family rolls in this evening. I am neither excited nor full of trepidation. I am simply resigned. Maybe I'll blame the complicit Senate for that too. Why not?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Anniversary Song

Today is a day like any other for most people, and a day that comes once a year for a few people like me. This is the date we settled on as our anniversary five years ago. At the time it seemed like the best fit, the best approximation of when We began. Not the first date, not the first time falling into bed, but a beginning that came somewhere between those two other mileposts.

It’s so very middle school. It feels so demeaning to the relationship to have to sift through the complex layers of attraction, exploration, and discovery to identify the nickpoint, the Continental Divide between who we were before and who we subsequently became. If you ever dated someone in high school or college you know what I’m talking about, giggling with your friends as you talk about the dance, the first kiss, dragging out the night in the car in the driveway before reluctantly surrendering to the clock and going inside, and waking up the next morning to an entirely new species of light shining through your window, thinking before thinking anything else, ah, yes, I’ve got someone. The awkward, stumbling celebration of “our one-month anniversary” and feeling, at the six-month mark, that you’d accomplished something major.

Then you got married and all those other invented, adopted anniversaries fell by the wayside. That was the one that counted, after all, and once you were in an official, stamped-and-sealed marriage of your own, it was hard not to smile condescendingly behind your hand when your single friends talked about having to find the perfect gift because, you know, their three-month anniversary was coming up and they wanted it to be extra special this month…

Then you got divorced and you came out and you found the love of your life and suddenly you realize you’re smack-damn-back in the middle of sophomore year ticking the days off the calendar toward your sort-of anniversary, and you feel more ambivalent about it every year.

Well, maybe you didn’t. I did, and do.

For what it’s worth, we’ve been together five years today, roughly, give or take a week or three, with a house, a mortgage, and a jointly purchased sideboard to show for it, a general reluctance to adopt the trappings of a marriage the state won’t recognize preventing us from making more than a token effort to look at rings or talk about a ceremony. A lot of “real” marriages don’t last this long.

It’s difficult not to be a tad melancholy.

Not that it matters much, anyway.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hmmm, Investigate Wiretapping, Or Let It Slide? What to Do, What to Do?

Well, props to the mostly-nameless, near-anonymous folks in the House. The House Judiciary Committee is discussing a resolution filed by John Conyers to demand the full shit, once and for all, from the administration about the domestic spying/warrantless wiretapping/The Program. The video feed isn't identifying these folks other than by their state, but the ones so far have rightfully called out both houses of Congress for dereliction of duty in their failure to exercise oversight of the executive branch. They're saying--out loud!--that allowing the president to disregard FISA statutes on the excuse of Terror!Terror! effectively gives him unlimited power to act without checks, without oversight, without any limits. One woman indignantly pointed out the absurdity of Congress investigating whether Jose Canseco was on steroids but declining to investigate whether American citizens' civil rights are being violated.

Essentially, they're standing up and repeating the same points the leftish blogosphere have been making since the story broke.

Oh. Here comes the usual "if the president doesn't have the power to spy on the terrorists and protect the nation. the Constitution is moot" bleating.Well, it was fun while it lasted.

You'd Think an NRA Darling Would Have Listened to Eddie Eagle a Bit Better

I am heartened by the hue and cry being raised by actual hunters across the country (not including Texas, where "safety" apparently means "one more damn thing I can saw off my gun to cut weight") about the Blam Blam Cheney incident. I don't hunt, but I deeply appreciate that there is only one right way to do it. Most of the men in my family hunted in their younger days, and most have since gotten to a place where they prefer to watch and photograph wild animals rather than shooting them for dinner, but we all retain an absolute asshole level of obsession with gun safety. Let's review, shall we?

* All guns are loaded. Even if it's really not, you always treat a firearm as if a round's in the chamber. This gets you in the habit of handling your guns very carefully and reduces the risk of an accidental discharge, should you, say, remove the magazine but forget to check the chamber.

* Always point the muzzle in a safe direction. This follows from the mantra that your gun is always loaded, even when it's not. You keep the muzzle pointed to safety. Always. This means not swinging the end of the gun toward a person or dog while you're looking at it. This means carrying with the muzzle pointed down at the ground. This means not looking into the bore from the business end.

* Safety stays on and finger stays off the trigger until right before shooting. You never, never, never walk through a field with your safety off. You absolutely never walk with your finger on the trigger, never place your finger on the trigger as you raise your weapon. Doing otherwise risks an accidental discharge should you stumble, cough, or, oh, I don't know, get a jolt from your pacemaker.

* Never shoot until your line of fire is safe. You don't shoot, obviously, if a person or non-target animal is between you and your target. But you also don't shoot if people are forward of your position in the firing line. You never shoot in open country (i.e., not in an enclosed range) if you're not sure where some of your party is. You don't shoot until you know that everyone in the area is accounted for and safely behind you. You absoutely don't swing around to follow a target moving, at shoulder level, on a trajectory taking it behind your position, with your finger on the trigger, firing without determining the safety of the several new firing lines you're establishing through 180 degrees in the span of less than a second, Mr. Vice President.

Yes, I'm a liberal tree-hugger who's never shot anything more sentient than an old can. But I have the utmost respect for the power of firearms and doggedly follow the safety rules associated with them. Anyone who injures someone through their arrogant disregard of the safety rules all outdoorsmen are responsible for exercising should be charged with assault. Even if the other guy was ignorant enough to join in a three-gun hunt. It's not a hell of a lot different from hopping in the car after a drink or two too many.

Valentine Roundup

Got a lovely card and single rose, and--AND--a gift card to Home Depot. I am in Lesbian Heaven. Hoping the girlfriend will request a new piece of furniture requiring purchase of a dado set for the table saw. Homer, that's dado, not dildo.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Rant

Ah, so now the White House is blaming the man Dick Cheney shot--er, pardon me, I mean "peppered"--in the face while on his prepackaged slaughterfest--oh, I do apologize; I meant to say "legitimate quail hunt"--over the weekend. Can no one in this administration except Brownie own up to his errors? If you have ever taken a gun safety course or spent time, as I have, shooting with experienced hunters, law enforcement officers, or infantry combat leaders, you know that the absolute first rule of firearms is to keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times. The second rule is to never fire until you have acquired your target and the rest of your line of sight is clear. You look, look, look with your weapon on safe and your finger off the trigger. You never wheel 180 degrees to shoot a bird at shoulder level, especially when one of your hunting party has left the sight line.

They blame the guy for coming up behind Cheney unannounced. Wellllllllll, when you're rejoining your group, the safest way to do that is to approach from the rear. You don't circle around and walk into their line of fire. You also don't come up yodeling, because if you prematurely flush a bird or a covey, someone might just shoot you for being such an asshole. Approaching from the rear is the safe thing to do because hunters with a brain in their heads only shoot within the line of sight, i.e., forward, and bird hunters are supposed to carry at no less than 45 degrees to minimize the risk of an accidental discharge injuring a dog or an idiot who's wandered too far forward of the line.

I don't see how you sugarcoat this. The nimrod ranch woman who tried to downplay the incident--oh, we've all been peppered before, ha ha ha, oh, it's not like it got in his eyes or anything, tee hee--is repulsive. If it happened as spun, Cheney is at best grossly negligent and dangerous in the field. She said he didn't do anything wrong? Well, bzzzzt, sorry, try again. He violated the key rule that says you don't shoot until you know what you're shooting at, and that you're shooting in a safe direction for the rest of your party. He was tracking wildly in complete disregard for the rest of his party. If it didn't happen that way? If the man was much closer than the official account states, say 10-15 yards instead of 30? You know, a close distance that would explain the tight hit pattern on his neck and face, enough to land him in ICU for more than 24 hours? That would make an accidental discharge more likely, probably the result of carrying the gun with the safety off, pointed in an unsafe direction, with his finger on the trigger.

Why the White House believes the first kind of negligence is preferable to the second escapes me. These are supposed to be the good ol' huntin' and ranchin' boys, aren't they? The kinds of guys who don't have their heads up their asses when it comes to handling firearms? Who should all know the rules taught religiously by their friends the NRA (who have been curiously silent)? Are they counting on most Americans not understanding hunting safety and etiquette to the point that they'd swallow this story blaming the man who got shot instead of properly blaming the man who pulled the trigger? Think they would have handled things the same if it had been John Kerry or Al Gore instead of Cheney?

Who ya crappin?


Happy Valentine's Day, baby. You know I love you best.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Valentine's Eve Blah

Ah. The weekend was a flurry of abject dykiness, alternating among soccer fields, Home Depot, and the backyard workshop. I managed to finish the built-in bookcase (save for the trim at the very top, which will wait until tomorrow night, probably), replace the top of my workbench, clearcoat the extensions on the table saw, install a cupholder on the outside of the shed next to the table saw (water bottle cage converted into beer bottle holder), and almost score a goal on Sunday. Nicked the crossbar and went over.

Valentine's Day is impending, and of course it puts me in something of a wistful mood as I think about how things might be if my state and the nation as a whole would speed up its journey on the progressive road. When I look at my life as an adult lesbian in Tucson, there aren't many hardships on the surface; I have not faced overt discrimination beyond that imposed by the beloved government I support with my taxes (getting to that in a moment). Buying a house with my partner was not a problem; our realtor is gay. The mortgage company didn't give a rat's ass what gender we were; they simply amended a couple of the forms and were happy to take our money. My doctor is a lesbian, and her patient information sheet has check-boxes for both "married" and "domestic partner." Zero chance of unsolicited witnessing or nonsectarian harrumphing in that office. Even our vet is a lesbian; none of her staff bat an eye when we call about one of the pooches and they pull up two women's names in their records. When I called my gym (where I have noticed only a few gay people, but maybe I'm not looking hard enough) to add my partner and her kid to my membership, I explained that I wanted to upgrade to the family membership but that my partner was another woman. I asked if we still counted as a family. The membership lady exclaimed, "Of course you're a family!" and promptly added them.

It's a sheltered existence. From the outside, it might look so comfortable, so easy for me to be out in Tucson, that I should almost feel guilty sometimes for wanting more.


I realize I am protesting against hypotheticals. If my partner worked someplace else and was uninsured, I couldn't add her to my policy, but she works right here and has her own individual coverage. If my employer wanted to can my ass for being a moral abomination, I'm pretty sure he could under state law, but he doesn't concern himself with his employees' private lives until they impact their work performance--and then it's generally to see what he can do to help. I send my son to a Catholic school that would be within its legal rights to bar him, or bar me from having anything to do with the students, but instead they are explicitly welcoming.

That's why it is so important to remember that injustice anywhere is, functionally, injustice everywhere. It would be so easy for me to sit back, secure in my current situation, and cross my fingers that things will continue to improve for us and certainly never return to the pre-Stonewall days. To be complacent. It may seem like endless gazing at the green grass on the other side of the fence when I chafe at the lack of legal recognition for my relationship, despite the fact that in almost every aspect of my life, I am no different from any other married person out there. I have my stable relationship, my kid-and-a-half, my dogs, my house, two trucks in the driveway. I go to work, buy groceries, cook dinner, do yardwork, help the kids with homework, puzzle how to fix the leak in the new pressure-assisted toilet. I'm not openly mocked or, god forbid, assaulted when I go out in public in my obviously lesbian persona. I'm not denied service at restaurants, financial institutions, or the hardware store. I'm in no more danger of losing my job than the straight woman who works next to me.

I would seem to have it all.

All except those 1,100+ rights and responsibilities automatically conferred by marriage. The peace of mind that comes with not having to worry about paying astronomical taxes to keep the house should my partner die, or about her getting what might be left of my Social Security benefits, or about some crazed blood relative coming out of the woodwork to claim medical power of attorney. Beyond the tangible benefits, it's the.... the legitimacy, I suppose, that comes with an official imprimatur from the state--an odd feeling, given my lengthy list of quibbles with said state. It would mean so much to me, I do believe, to know that I was really married and not just playing dress-up with a ring or the semantic sleight of referring to my partner as "the wife" here or "my spouse" there.

I will go get her a Valentine tonight, and will probably pick through the "to my wife" ones and the "to the woman I love" ones and know that they are not meant for me to buy. I shouldn't rail at being excluded from pre-packaged, trite expressions of love, and should just make her one myself anyway, but it's the principle of the thing. Just this once, I want to be in the club.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Reservations and Other Family Fun

A sizable chunk of the family, both natural and elected, is landing in Tucson next weekend. I have... roughly seven days, eight hours, and 49 minutes to prepare. The healthy route, I think, would be to draw up betting sheets similar to the ones you use for your office Super Bowl pool (who will be the first to utter an audible expletive in an inappropriate setting? who will be the first to storm from the room?) and make complete sport of the whole sorry situation.

They're coming for my son's confirmation, for god's sake (uh, yeah, we'll be addressing the ethical issues surrounding a lesbian sending her kid to Catholic school in a later post; just let me get through the next 7:8:47 intact f
irst). This should be a time of celebration in a time-hallowed family tradition dating back to 1867 in this country and a dozen-odd centuries back in Bohemia before that. Instead of, say, our much more recent tradition of ugly flareups at family gatherings.

I have to keep reminding myself that I'm pushing 40 and have the moral authority to tell the problem people to take it outside or, better yet, shut the fuck up. It's hard when those problem people are my parents. I mean, Jesu on a friggin' pogo stick--if your mutual situation is that unbearable, get a fucking divorce and put the rest of us out of our misery. My aunt and I plan to take the initiative and banish any offenders so the rest of us can carry on with what we do best, namely, playing games and drinking fine wine
and laughing late into the night. The history of nastiness is fairly recent but is taking its toll. This is not the atmosphere I want my son to remember when he grows up and builds his own family. The aunt and uncle who are coming in are my favorite people on the planet, hands down. We'll band together and see what happens.

Meanwhile, I'm pondering restaurant choices. Cafe Poca Cosa is always at the top of my list, but if they're booked or not down with a party of 12, I need other options. Preferably something unique and identifiably Tucson. I owe the aunt and uncle hugely for an epic, tragi-comic dinner we experienced in Chicago over the summer. The Kid and I were in town to coincide with another uncle/aunt/their brood's visit. That uncle and aunt are particularly enamored with Rick Bayless and wanted to dine at his signature Topolobampo in the River North neighborhood in Chicago. They decided to go on an architectural boat tour up the Chicago River and then mosey over to Topolobampo for a 6:30 seating. Kid and I chose to join them for the boat tour but, lacking money and nice clothes at that point of o
ur trip, planned to eat at a neighborhood bar and either meet them after dinner or catch a train back out to the 'burbs where the aunt and uncle live. So far so good...

The boat tour was phenomenal. Chicago has an incredibly rich architectural history, and viewing it from a boat while sipping a Heineken from the on-board bar is a great and civilized way to take it in.

It was also a rainy way to take it in. I was initially pleased; Chicago never looks so much like itself to me as on a gray, rainy day. However, as the tour progressed, the rain came down harder. And harder. When we pulled back to the dock, it was blowing near-horizontally. The crew helpfully offered rain ponchos at a discount; one dollar instead of three. We took the glorified Hefty bags and ran for the ticket kiosk, crowding in under the 12" overhang that provided only psychological shelter from the rain that was, at this point, apparently being fired from several Gatling guns.

The group sprinted for the cars we'd come in, and I drove my Chicago uncle's truck (even after living in Tucson for 11 years, I still know downtown Chicago better than he does) toward Topolobampo. Arizona uncle pointed out the futility of the Kid and me walking around in a monsoon trying to find a place to eat, and asked us to join them for dinner, his treat. I pointed out the low probability of us getting seated wearing shorts and t-shirts that were soaked through. He assured me he'd get us in.

We arrived at the restaurant, and, well, shit. Pretty fucking fancy place, that. While the uncles smarmed the maitre 'd (my brother is an important architect from Arizona! He's a huge fan of Mr. Bayless! We got soaked on the boat tour!), I skulked to the bathroom to turn my adidas t-shirt inside out for some minimal veneer of respectability. The staff eventually relented and seated us, cramming eight dripping people into a table meant for six, at the very back of the room next to the kitchen. The waiter graciously offered to bring the three kids in the party tacos from the next door Frontera Grill, which is the more-casual cousin to Topolobampo. So far, so good. He brought them limeades too.

The Kid and I, heartened by the service--or at least by the fact that we hadn't been thrown out on our asses--ordered an appetizer to share, and I ordered the pork loin, and a glass of wine. The uncles ordered the tasting dinner ($75 apiece, $125 with matched wines) and things went downhill from there. Our $11 appetizer appeared... and consisted of three masa patties, each approximately the size of a Kennedy half-dollar, each topped with a couple of teaspoons' worth of stuff. Oh, they were delicious, phenomenal flavors theretofore unencountered by this tongue, but... FUCK! The entrees were equally sublime, equally miniscule. Just freaking tiny. The pork loin plate held four slices of meat roughly the size of... well, you know when you peel a banana, how big each of the individual peels is? Yes, not quite that big. Undeterred, the uncles passed around their plates so everyone could taste the morsels of beef, the moles, the pipian. The gazpacho, with its tiny frozen balls of lime sorbet, was exquisite. Arizona uncle walked his wife to the restroom. She has MS and, despite my uncle's carefully guiding hand, stumbled into another diner, spilling his wine. They were glared and muttered at. Aunt returned to the table, mortified and angry, in tears. We comforted her the best we could and ordered coffee. It did not appear. The bill, however, did appear... roughly three feet long, with several items double-charged. Arizona uncle raised a fuss. An allegedly amended bill appeared, still not corrected. More arguments. A third bill arrived, at which point the uncles were ready to pay anything just to get out of there. $735. Seven hundred--hundred!--thirty-five. Dollars. Fuck. FUCK! They had charged the kids $3 apiece for refills on the limeade, of which each child probably had three or four over the course of the two-hour meal. Wine--the house red--was $12 a glass, of which I had ordered two. The Kid and I weren't sure if we should crawl under the table or just flee, setting fires behind us as we ran.

We helped ourselves liberally to the matchbooks in a bowl on the hostess stand.

The valet brought the truck, and Arizona uncle told the valet Mr. Bayless could go fuck himself. He grinned and pocketed his $10 tip. Uncle asked me if I could stop at the first Burger King I could find, since he was still starving.

So yeah, I promised Poca Cosa the next time they came to Tucson. It'll set me back a couple hundred bucks, but debts will be repaid and it will all feel worth it somehow.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Good Old Fashioned Revival

At first I was annoyed that Mrs. King's funeral was taking media attention away from the Gonzales hearings. Then I watched the re-run on C-Span last night.

My God.

For the first time since election night 2000, I am filled with hope. Carter's and Clinton's oratories were masterful, spurring standing ovations every time they implicitly called out the Bushies for their violations of civil rights, their neglect of the poor, their unjust war in Iraq. I hope people were watching, and listening.

Of course, if they were watching Fox, they just got Sean Hannity screaming about uncouth liberals not knowing how to be respectful at a funeral service. The code words are sounding more and more shrill, the veil increasingly thin. At least Bush I had the grace, after observing he'd never been to a funeral quite like this, to go with the flow and join in the spirit of his surroundings rather than stubbornly sticking to his conservative Episcopalian template. And Clinton, who followed him, matched his grace with a good-natured tip of the hat--"not bad for the 'Frozen Chosen'".

Hope. And work for change.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Jumping on the 'Toon Bandwagon

hat should just about do it. Bring on the rioters.

NSA Hearings Hangover

One of the unfortunate things about living in Tucson is the time difference between here and the East Coast (currently two hours; three hours during daylight savings). That means I only have about half an hour to collect myself here at work before the hearings pick up again. Yes, I can listen and do my work at the same time. Blogging it may be another story, but I digress.

I was struck again yesterday (and again, and again, and again) by the administration's strategy of constant repetition of facts that, while true, are irrelevant to the matter at hand. Q: Mr. Attorney General, did this president authorize the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens? A: During times of war, presidents all the way back to George Washington have authorized warrantless surveillance of foreign spies and enemies. Yes, yes they have. That's not at issue. At issue is the degree to which American citizens have had their privacy illegally invaded. Gonzales and his defense attorneys, er, I mean, some of the Republican senators questioning him repeatedly invoked George Washington's interceptions of British communiques as if that--spying on a foreign enemy in a declared war prior to the existence of the US Constitution--is somehow sufficient precedent for a modern president to wiretap US citizens without a warrant, without probable cause, in apparent clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to the very much existant US Constitution.

Perhaps the most troubling spectre to float out of yesterday's hearing was that of other surveillance programs we don't know about yet. The Attorney General framed many of his responses as pertaining only to "the program we are discussing today." The most telling moment came when Kennedy asked directly whether other, more insidious domestic spying programs were either in the works or already operational. Gonzales hesitated, silent, for a good two or three seconds, sighed deeply, and stammered, as if his tongue had suddenly swollen to the size of a canned ham, that he could not answer that question.

What the hell.

I found this particularly interesting in light of the fact that Specter refused to swear Gonzales in at the beginning o f the proceedings. Was this a faint glimmer of conscience at work, as if Kennedy touched a nerve that, despite being deeply buried, is so hot that Gonzales coldn't help but flinch?

If this is troubling to me, well, it's troubling. I have a lot of baseball caps perched on my bedpost, and not one of them is made of tinfoil. I watched the X-Files religiously, but I'm not big on conspiracies (I was, however, very big on Gillian Anderson--speaking of whom, what the hell happened to her brain that she decided she needed to join the anorexia brigades? Sheesh).

Monday, February 06, 2006

NSA Hearings, Updatable...

Did I say I was too tired to get pissed off this morning? I'm sufficiently coffeed now.

How fascinating that Arlen Specter declined to swear in AG Gonzales. How fascinating that, after Feingold demanded a roll call vote from the committee on putting AG under oath, Specter claimed to have proxy votes from two committee members who weren't present, but refused to show them. I don't think you need to be a certified cynic to wonder what purpose any hearing of this level serves when the testimony is not sworn. Apparently the question of 4th Amendment violations are not if the same pressing importance as, say, the use of steroids by Major League Baseball players. If memory serves, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were required to take the oath before testifying.

Hyperbole and deliberate distortions by Gonzales so far (10:23 EST). Updates by the minute, I'm sure, particularly when Feingold and Kennedy speak.

10:32 EST: Gonzales is ducking the issue of retroactive FISA warrants by claiming answering would compromise the classified nature of the details of the program, er, ahem, The Program. A commenter on Glenn Greenwald's blog suggested that each question should end with, "Is this how you would answer if you were UNDER OATH?"

10:36EST: Specter actually calling AG on declining to go to Congress for approval because he knew the approval was not likely to be granted ("not likely to be granted" here meaning "likely to send Congress rolling in laughter before tossing you out on your ass"). AG ducking and weaving like The Champ. Leahy up next.

10:39EST: Leahy not taking any bullshit. AG brow-sweating.

10:44EST: Zoom. Leahy goes for the kill. "Where in the authorization of all necessary force is the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens permitted?" AG: Uh, uh, ah, sir, um... Leahy: "... what you call a cumbersome procedure, but what most people would call a simple procedure, to go get FISA authorization..." Oh, snap. Leahy: "Mr. Attorney General, you're not answering my question." Ba-zing. Bob. Weave. Duck. "Al Qaida!"

10:49EST: Hatch up. Jesus fucking Christ. He's still promoting the facade of this being about "foreign intelligence."

10:57EST: Hatch repeats the falsehood that authorizing the Prez to take all necessary action to "protect us" somehow exempts him from following the law. And he continues Hayden's distortion of the 4th Amendment, emphasizing "reasonable" over "without a warrant." Kennedy up next.

11:06EST: Goddammit. Kennedy pulled a Biden rather than asking any of the simple, pointed questions that could have been asked at this point. All his diatribe did was open the door for AG to reiterate his "we believed The Program was lawful" speech. Fuck-o-matic.

11:14EST: Debra Burlingame, sister of Flight 77 pilot, repeating the Administration line. Appeal to emotion. 'Nuff said.

11:28EST: Biden calls for secret hearings to avoid issues of classified information, says the failure to do so seriously calls into question Congress performing its assigned duties of oversight. "When will we know when this war is over?" AG: when AQ is destroyed and no longer poses a threat to the US. Biden: "In truth, we will not know when we have won... because AQ has morphed into several different organizations.. as long as any of them are there, you will continue to assert that you have this plenary authority." AG: Ah, I'll have to study that.

11:33EST: Apparently one Biden-like performance is required in each hearing, and Kennedy fulfilled that obligation during his ten minutes, freeing Biden himself to ask concise, pointed questions.Can you assure us that no one is being spied on who shouldn't be? AG: I can't give absolute assurance. Biden: Who can? AG: We have safeguards...

11:40EST: Biden: We need assurance that no one is being eavesdropped on unless it's emanating from foreign soil, with that assurance under oath, under penalty of law if they misrepresent themselves to this committee... not that I'm suggesting this attorney general is doing so...

11:50EST: Kyl: Congress has an important oversight role, but other entities have equally important oversight responsibilities--especially the president! Fox, henhouse. Henhouse, fox.

11:57EST: Kohl: Is there anything the president cannot do in a time of war? AG: we think he's acting within an Act of Congress. AG points out Congress many war-related roles, including declaring war, in support of his argument that the wartime president does not operate in a vacuum... ignoring the fact that there has was no Congressional Declaration of War in the first place.

12:10EST: AG: The FISA requirements for getting warrants just take too much time. So the president can ignore them when he feels like not making much of an effort. Given this president's penchant for avoiding work, well, I guess that's that.

And speaking of avoiding work, I gotta get back to it. Oh my head.

Super Duper Bowl

Ah, an entertaining game (after the first quarter, anyway) that finally went the way I wanted it to. As a big Jerome Bettis fan, dating back to his Notre Dame days, it was especially sweet. Notes from Da Big Game:

* As usual, I did not pace myself well at all when it came to the snacks. We don't often get big piles of deep-fried stuff at home, so the plates of Mexican egg rolls and regular faux-Chinese egg rolls disappeared within the first five minutes of the game. Undeterred, we moved on to the buffalo chicken tenders at the start of the second quarter and the chili cheese fries at halftime. I realize now why we thought it would be a good idea to have a veggie platter--nobody eats much of it, so we wouldn't have felt half as close to death as we ended up.

* I balked at the idea of having wine instead of beer, but the part-time housemate doesn't drink beer, so we ended up with a lovely jug (!) of zinfandel. Thank god for red wine's ability to cut right through several layers of deep-fried snacks.

* Commercials? We got 'em:

* The FedEx caveman, the pair from Ameriquest (defibrillators and the lady on the plane), and the streaking sheep at the Clydesdales' annual football game made me laugh out loud. The baby Clyde getting a helping nudge from the big horses was my sentimental favorite.

* The GoDaddy.com ad and the Pizza Hut Jessica Simpson ad were the most nausea-inducing (hey, let's sexualize 13-year-old boys!).

* In retrospect, I guess I'm surprised that there was only one overblown razor ad. Note to Gillette: get over yourselves already. It's a friggin' RAZOR, not a WMD.

I'm really too tired from the weekend to have the energy for political crabbiness. At least not until another cup of coffee goes to work. Nevertheless, I was bothered by something I heard on NPR just as I was pulling into work today. In the little rundown of headlines, Steve Innskeep stated that outrage over the Mohammed cartoon continues to roll. True dat. But the statement was phrased, "Muslims are outraged over a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed as violent. So protestors attacked the Belgian consulate and ransacked a Christian neighborhood." SLIGHT editorial problem there, Steve-o. The outrage is not over Mo being depicted as violent, but over him being depicted at all. But if adherence to fact eliminates the opportunity for a pithy ironic comment, well, fact be damned.

**Edited to add: I have close to zero sympathy for the people who decided to go on a rampage over the cartoon. Well, exactly zero. My empathy with your perceived religious insult pretty much ends when you think the insult makes it incumbent upon you to set buildings on fire and stone people to death.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday Morning Lite

After a week of the State of the Union, domestic surveillance bullshit, and fraternal right-wing crap, I'm plumb tuckered out. Time to go to my happy place, which very well may be Wisconsin.

It's all about fishing there. Fishing and beer. All the small towns dotted along the shores of Lake Superior had signs touting fish boils. I never did find out exactly what they are, but I suspect they involve large cauldrons, boiling water, several fish, and about a dozen cases of beer. I mean, how the hell else are you going to get a boiled fish down?

We camped right by the lake outside the town of Superior. I'd always heard that Lake Superior is cold, but the shallow waters here made for pleasant wading in July. The beach was about ten feet wide, covered with rounded egg-sized stones. When the tide came in the beach disappeared and we beat a hasty retreat back up the bluff.

No trip to northwest Wisconsin can be complete without a visit to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and its flagship four-story muskie, in Hastings. You can go up the flight of stairs inside the muskie's gut and take in the view from the observation deck built into its mouth, peering out through its fierce teeth onto the oversized fiberglass fish scattered across the museum's grounds. Of course it's hokey. But it's a four-story muskie. A FOUR-STORY MUSKIE!

The other buildings house displays of world-record fish. Real giant muskies, bass, trout, catfish. If it's abnormally large and has been hauled out of the water on a hook, it's probably here. As are carefully arranged displays of lures, reels, tackle boxes, boats, and hundred of outboard motors.

People were very friendly in all the small towns we went through. It's hard not to be friendly in a place where the convenience store coolers have styrofoam packages of nightcrawlers, leeches, and crickets right next to the Bud Light. Our Arizona license plate sparked great interest; most folks wondered how we could live somewhere so hot. The two ladies pulling on longnecks at the bar in Sisko's Campground noted that their last few winters had been comparatively mild, earnestly telling me it hadn't hit fifty below probably since 1995.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Black, White, and Gray, Gray, Gray

Got an interesting e-mail from my brother yesterday. "Interesting" here means "yet another bit of forwarded right-wing myopic drivel," of course. It was prefaced with "this is for all you LIBERALS out there!" Never a good sign. A little background: Bro is an Army Ranger who put in eight months in Afghanistan and five in Baghdad. Yes, he had to totally buy into the Bush plan and believe it in order to survive over there. I'll give him that much. But he's been back for about a year and a half now, he's intelligent, and dammit, he's young. So I'm calling him on his bullshit now, as gently and non-emotionally as possible. He forwards "you might be a true American if..." and I respond with a Wikipedia link to "true Scotsman fallacy."


Yesterday's missive was a parable about a young woman in college who chose to have no social life and worked her ass off to maintain a 4.0 GPA. She told her dad she was worried about one of her friends, who was lazy, partied all the time, was very popular, and only had a 2.0 and was probably ruining her future job prospects and life as well. Dad replied that the girl should call the registrar and donate one of her GPA points to her friend so they'd both have 3.0s, because that would be fair, wouldn't it? When the girl indignantly replied that she'd worked for her GPA and wasn't about to give any of it to someone who didn't want to work, her dad triumphantly responded, "Welcome to the Republican Party."

::pause to collect myself::

Bro thinks this is brilliant because he really likes the idea of hard work and perseverance paying off. Well, channeling Sally Struthers, sure, we all do! The problem here, the major issue this story and its healthy life-via-forwarding points out to me, in big flashing letters, is that there are different kinds of successful people in the world--those who use their own personal experience as the absolute standard of success against which everyone else may rightfully be judged, and those who see their own personal experience as proof of not only human potential but also the complexities of the human experience. Sure, hard work and perseverance are big determinants of success--but they are not the only ones. Not all rich people worked their asses off to get where they are. Not all poor people are lazy bastards who'd rather wait in line at the welfare office than get a job at McDonald's.

The up-by-your-bootstraps crowd tends to conveniently ignore the role played by good timing, good connections, and good luck. For every inspiring story of the kid who started as a dishwasher and ended up owning the restaurant, how many more kids had the bad luck to take their first job at a place where the boss wasn't interested at promoting from within? How many couldn't get hired in the first place because they didn't have reliable transportation, or a phone, or the right skin color? I'm not trying to be an according-to-O'Reilly-typical handwringing, cringing "liberal" who wants handouts for everyone across the board. I'm saying that there are infinite shades of gray between the black and white being portrayed as absolutes. For every single welfare mother, there's a trust-fund kid partying his way from Dubai to New York via Amsterdam. For every millionaire who's self-made (what are the numbers on that, again? something in the neighborhood of one percent?) there are ten guys in South Tucson working two jobs and still barely scraping enough together for rent and the electric bill.

It's so easy to pontificate, so easy to say, well, if I could make it, then anyone can make it who WANTS to. Got news for you. Nobody enjoys living in poverty. Nobody enjoys living above the federally determined poverty line but still going paycheck to paycheck. All the determination and drive in the world won't help when you're in a minimum-wage job and your car breaks down, or you have a major medical crisis, or the small company that hired you goes belly-up and you don't have the safety net of a big savings account, or wealthy parents, or a well-connected uncle.

I'm middle class by every definition out there. My parents had reasonably good jobs when I was a kid, so they sent me to a private, academically rigorous grade school. When they couldn't pay tuition, my mother's parents helped out. The preparation that place provided me meant that when I hit the Catholic high school, I had
enough proficiency in the basic skills to devote more time to advanced learning and extracurriculars. That in turn won me a scholarship to Northwestern University. I initially majored in communications, but wasn't thrilled with it, so one night while I was leafing through the course catalog, looking for a new major, my then-boyfriend suggested trying an archaeology class he had taken with this really cool prof who worked in Peru and acted like Indiana Jones. I took the class, loved it, and adopted anthropology as a double major and the really cool prof as my undergrad advisor. It turned out that he had connections with a guy at the U of Illinois-Chicago who was the world's leading expert in his field, so I segued smoothly into grad school over there (not without substantial GPA help from said advisor, who tended to give me As in his classes even when I probably didn't deserve them). My best friend from grad school ended up moving to Tucson to continue his doctorate at the U of A, and a year later, when my job prospects in Chicago stalled, he mentioned that he wasn't going to be able to devote enough time to the job he had gotten (through one of his university contacts) with a contract archaeology firm, and suggested I put my name in for it. The guy who was hiring did not like my friend at all, and in fact told me later he had tried mightily to find someone, anyone else, because he figured he wouldn't like me either, but luckily for me, no one with a better resume applied. So here I am, eleven years later, still riding the wake of having been born into a family that valued and could afford good education, and all the resulting random suggestions and good connections I stumbled into along the way.

Even with all that good luck and good timing and good connections, and hard, intellectually rigorous work, I'm still living paycheck to paycheck, carrying massive debt, no savings account, and a minimal 401(k) that I cannot make any contributions to because I need the entire paycheck for mortgage, utilities, groceries. Health insurance premiums keep going up. Price of gas keeps going up. Property taxes go up, kid's tuition goes up. There are still weeks when it's macaroni and cheese or stretching the box of Bisquik to make it to payday. Being outside and staying in shape are perks to the refereeing gig, but I took it for the money, to get a little breathing room. Money is a constant stress. But even then, at the back of my mind, I know that if I suffered a bona fide disaster, my family would be there to bail me out. I can't begin to conceive of what it's like to live day to day without a steady job, without a reliable ride to work, juggling bills to decide which utility is really the most important, not getting medical care for my kids unless it's a dire emergency, being one car wreck or serious illness or employer's caprice away from ruin, and knowing that people are sitting out there in relative comfort, shaking their heads, just KNOWING that I deserve whatever ills befall me because, if I really wanted to, I could just work a little harder and have all the money I need.