fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-08-24 03:01 am
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my now-lonely office

I'm on research fellowship this upcoming year (meaning I don't have to teach), and my department needed my office for people that were actually teaching. Yesterday I went over to campus and cleaned out my stuff.

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It's a bit depressing, looking at it without my little taped-up comics and books. I left a huge stack of envelopes, file folders, etc. and also a few books that that I'm leaving behind. Also some wine from our semesterly symposia. I'm a bit jealous, actually, that the new people get all those bookcases to fill up and new desks/comfy chairs and a new computer. The new computer came in early May and the office was renovated over the summer, so I barely got a chance to enjoy it all.

I've had good luck in having mostly-absent office mates - people I liked but for whatever reason our schedules jived well enough that we both had the office for about as much as we needed it. Still, I'll miss knowing that other people are around and just hanging out with friends waiting for students to come by. I've taken to working at the local public library. I just wish they'd let me leave a crate of my books behind the desk. I'm tempted to "donate" them just so I can leave them on their shelves, and if I thought they wouldn't be reshelved at other branches I think I would.

(P.S.: I've gotten into a weird sleep schedule and didn't sleep at all Wed/Thur night. So this is me after eight hours of sleep. Those eight hours just started at around 5 PM yesterday evening.)

(Originally posted at LJ.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-07-27 01:10 am

friendship as more than just a membership status

Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 8.3

My FaceBook feed has been hopping quite a bit discussing political issues. I guess it always is, but for some reason I'm more aware of it than I usually am. Between the Chick-Fil-A blow-up and the Colorado shootings (and really, the only thing these things have in common is that they've been talked about a lot lately!), my more liberal friends have been passing around a lot of pictures with pithy quotes or sarcastic one-liners. Some of it is clever (the thought of one I saw a few days saying that Kermit and Miss Piggy had been supporting non-traditional marriage since 1974 or whenever still cracks me up).

But much of it isn't nearly so light-hearted. It makes it seem like "the other guys" (whoever they are) are completely unreasonable, either by taking a thoroughly reasonable point and making it seem like no atheist/Christian/liberal/conservative/whatever could ever agree with it... or by simply creating a straw man of what the other side actually says. And here's the thing. Sharing these things just takes a click of the mouse, and I know a lot of people share what they think is "neat" without necessarily thinking about how it will come across to others. It can create a world-class echo chamber - often from both sides at once!

Sometimes these memes start good conversations. If it's a friend who seems genuinely interesting in discussing these issues, I'll a lot of times comment and explain how and why I reacted. But with some people I get the impression that they're sharing this stuff to create a sense that *everyone* agrees with them (certainly every reasonable person). And it goes beyond that. Just in the last week I've seen three separate "friends" (the label works pretty much the same way on FB and LJ) say that if "you don't agree with me on _______, maybe we shouldn't be friends any more. Where _______ is usually a cause of some kind or a cherished belief, like the idea that gun control was important or that homophobia shouldn't be tolerated.

I've always been bothered by the way FB and LJ use the word friends to mean someone following my blog or updates. I love interacting with people on that level but that isn't what friendship is about. I mean no disrespect to people who choose to end an acquaintance because the person disagrees with you on some issue. That's certainly your right and I don't have any particular bone to pick with people who choose to do that. But when you call people in this relationship friends, I think that just muddles things up in the worst kind of way.

Lots of philosophers discussed friendship, but I think one of my favorite depictions has to be Aristotle's. For the non-philosophers in the house, Harald Thorsrud provides a decent introduction to Aristotle on friendship using Harry Potter examples. The gist is that Aristotle recognizes three kinds of friendships, from friends of convenience up through true friendships built around virtue. The true friendship is one that lasts, but more than that it's one that's built on improvement. I love you and want to become more like you so those virtues that you have and I lack, I try to develop. And vice versa.

When you say a friendship can and should be ended over an "issue," what I hear is that you think I can be dismissed over an issue. That's a pretty pale version of friendship, to my mind. And I realize that on the internet "friend" doesn't mean what it does off the internet, but that's sad to me. I've known lots of people online longer than I have hear in New York. We've probably seen each other through more situations and spent more time chatting, too. Fandom does that, but I think the internet in general does it, too. These are true friendships in the Aristotelian sense, or at least as close as us moderns ever get. I know I can count on them not to run for cover when the going gets rough.

All of which makes me sad to see such an awesome concept and reality used in such a casual way. Because I am much, much more than my stance on gun control, and if our friendship is anywhere close to the authentic ideal Aristotle requires, I need my friends to see that about me. Is this just semantics, a convenient name? Maybe. But even that seems wrong somehow. Because I think that when many people think of and use that word "friends" they really do just mean people whose blogs they follow. I try not to say that, because the word is worth holding on to. Doubly so for the truth behind the word.

Btw, this whole thing reminded me of an old Seinfeld clip; hilarious, but also a nice take on just what's bothering me so much about this use of friendship.  

(Originally posted at LJ.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-07-23 12:06 am
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thoughts on the Colorado shooting

 Life mile-stones have a way of making us reflect on where we are and where we'd like to be. In many ways, the fact that I'm facing a milestone just now is pretty inconsequential – it comes down to the fact that humans evolved five fingers on each hand (ergo: base 10 counting) and the way the human psyche thinks round numbers are important. But someone wise once said that the unexamined life is not worth living, so I try to grab those more reflective moments when they come along.

On top of turning thirty, I also was profoundly affected by several things over the last few months. Some of them were political, like the "success" of Proposition 1 in North Carolina – something about that whole political event, the way it was framed and the way I reacted to it, woke up something inside of me. Before that event I had more or less worked myself around to believing the standard picture that Christianity condemned homosexuality was wrong (IMO theologically, but also on general principles as well) – but my reaction to that political event was the first time my gay rights activism felt natural. It was actually a very Aristotelian moment; I was no longer doing things because rationally I thought it was what I was supposed to do, but because deep within myself it seemed like the most natural action given who I was and what I knew to be true and good. There have been other things, too, such as the end of a fannish event I've been involved in for eight years, and other little things in my life. I've just felt more at home in my own skin than I have in years. Some days I'm more at home than others, of course, but even in spite of being exhausted and working too many hours, it feels like I come closer to eudaimonia these days than I have in my adult life.

I'm not saying all of this as a "look at how enlightened I am!" kind of moment. Far from it. What I am trying to say is that part of being self-aware, figuring out what makes me tick and how I can be the best Marta possible, is paying attention to the world around me. That means paying attention to the world around me, and since a lot of how I view the world is through the various news pubs I read (Der Spiegel, the NY Times, and various Al-Jazeera blogs lately, and of course Stewart/Colbert videos), it's news stories that tend to spur on that self-reflection. So perhaps it's not all that surprising that I've been thinking a lot about the Aurora, Col. shootings. Things like this are how I define myself. And James Holmes, the alleged shooter, was a church boy.

I don't know whether he was a Christian or not. I rather suspect that comes down to what you mean by "Christian." The Christian Post bills him as a "'normal Christian boy" (possibly with mental health issues), whereas the Telegraph points to a profile where he described himself as an agnostic. I've seen some sources describe him as very involved in his local Presbyterian church whereas others just say he came a few times and sat in the back. His family was also a long-standing member of Penasquitos Lutheran Church in San Diego, though that could just mean attending services a few times a year. The safest biography I can come up with is he grew up to some degree involved in a mainline Protestant Church, and then as he grew older, he drifted from it (but probably not entirely). The bits I've read about him remind me of people I know, who grew up in church families but for whatever reason become less involved as he went into adulthood.

There're a lot of people like that, and I'm not sure how much we should hold Christianity accountable for these peoples' actions. That was the whole point of the taxonomy I was trying to work up a while ago; there just seems to me to be a big difference between someone who's really involved with a church (even if it's only socially), and someone who just claims that affiliation without getting particularly involved. That said, it's pretty obvious to me that Holmes was a church-goer, even if not a particularly involved one. It was a Lutheran church youth group he would have bee involved in as a kid, and it was a Presbyterian church that didn't catch him before he went off like he did. I'm not into blaming either of those groups, but if people are ready to blame Islam for the Taliban or atheism for Josef Stalin (as I've heard many Christians do), it's only fair to hold Christianity accountable for the James Holmes of the world.

Which leaves me… I'm honestly not sure where, actually. It's so convenient for me not to want to assign blame, since it's my own group that comes closest to being to blame here. I'm not one of those who claim that if you commit murder you were never a true Christian. ("True Christians" have done as much horrific things as any other group.) But even so, I find myself not seeing what good that blame game does. It doesn't seem like it would prevent the next catastrophe, and I suspecct it would make those already affected by this tragedy feel that much worse. At the end of the day, though, I can't escape (nor am I trying to escape) the stark reality: this carnage was created by someone who looks like me in so many ways.

I think in the end that's the most honest thing I can do. I don't know what made James Holmes do the things he did, or why any God that exists lets things like these happen. Believe me, I've been trying to understand that last puzzle for longer than I've been blogging, or studying philosophy, or even writing fanfic. Wrapping my head (or more properly, my heart) around the effing ineffable plan and the idiocy of theodicy, as I call it in my more light-hearted moments, since I've known what it meant to suffer. And I still don't know. But this seems like precisely the kind of situation where honesty and integrity requires I not fill that void in with cheap certainties.

Fancy words, I know, and they feel like lies as I type this, or at least so much of an over-simplification of things that they can't possibly be true. They're entirely too neatly put-together for situations like this. All I can do is sit with the fact that I have no answers here, and live with that (and maybe some day live beyond that?). That seems poor pittance in light of tragedies like this; but, sadly, it's all I've got.

(Originally written at LJ.)

fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-07-16 06:01 am
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At the Foot of Canal Street

music behind the cut )

Today's a sad anniversary for me. While things get less intense every year, this day always strikes me hard and I need a little help remembering it's only a small and passing thing, with a light and beauty beyond its reach (if I'm allowed to borrow a phrase from the idiom that's gotten me through things like these). Over the last several years, listening to John Boutte's song has been part of how I try to do that; it's almost an act of faith hearing these words, to hope that things will get better again. In particular:

When the levees have overflowed
And the street car has seen its day,
When all is gone, the plantations,
The Treme and the Vieux Carre,
I'll be swinging to that music
Way up on higher ground
Where Pops is blowing "Walk On"
With Gabriel making sacred sounds

With all the stuff going on in my corner of the interwebz, I thought this song was worth sharing. I don't know if it will resonate with other folks like it does with me, but even if it doesn't, it's still a nice jazzy, optimistic song - you could do worse than giving it a listen, I think. *g*
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-07-14 01:28 pm
Entry tags:

one of those m-type things

I've put the ones I've read in bold, the ones I intend to read in the reasonably near future in italics (in my case, this means I now own a copy and it is literally waiting in a pile). Feel free to pass it on, or adjust as needed. Some of these I don't think I would ever read, but who knows? Perhaps.


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes)
Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift)
Le Morte d'Arther (Sir Thomas Malory)
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)
Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) (pick a Dickens, any Dickens...)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne) (never liked this book, but I can say it's been read)

Autobiography, Memoir and Essays

The Confessions (Augustine)
The Complete Essays (Michel de Montaigne)
In Praise of Folly (Desiderius Erasmus) (I love his Enchiridion also)
Letters (Marcus Tullius Cicero) (I would add *any* of Cicero's essays, esp. the one on old age)
Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)
Meditations on First Philosophy (Rene Descartes)
Orthodoxy (Gilbert Keith Chesterton) (this was excellent)
Walden (Henry David Thoreau) (boring and supercilious, but I did read it)


The Bible
The Histories (Herodotus)
The Peloponnesian War (Thucydides)
The Republic (Plato)
Lives (Plutarch)
City of God (Augustine)
The Prince (Niccolo Machiavelli)
Utopia (Sir Thomas More)
The Social Contract (Jean Jaques Rousseau)
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Edward Gibbon)
Democracy in America (de Tocqueville)


Agamemnon (Aeschylus)
Oedipus the King (Sophocles)
Medea (Euripides)
The Birds (Aristophanes)
Poetics (Aristotle) (want to read this one too, but don't have a copy yet)
Richard III (Shakespeare)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)
Hamlet (William Shakespeare)
Tartuffe (Moliere)
The Way of the World (William Congreve)
A Doll’s House (Henrik Ibsen)
Saint Joan (George Bernard Shaw)
The Crucible (Arthur Miller)
No Exit (Jean Paul Sartre)


The Iliad (Homer)
The Odyssey (Homer)
Odes (Horace)
Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri)
The Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer)
Sonnets (William Shakespeare)
Paradise Lost (John Milton)
Idylls of the King (Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Selected Poetry (William Wordsworth)
The Complete Poems (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

(Originally posted at LJ.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-07-12 04:24 pm

a long-expected birthday

My dear people. My dear Bagginses and Boffins, and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks, Bracegirdles, goodbodies, Brockhouses and Proudfoots. Also my good Sackville-Bagginses that I welcome back at last to Bag End. Today is my one hundred and eleventh birthday: I am eleventy-one today.

Well, not quite that old: I am thirty today. Like Bilbo I find myself longing for mountains and stretched thin. I know some of you who have more years than you will laugh at thirty feeling old; but the last decade has worn me out. Plus I now feel old enough, not to be old precisely, but old enough that I'm not young. If that makes any sense.

I keep reminding myself that I'm still three years shy of my majority in hobbit-reckoning. So no need to act like a growed-up just yet, and no need to act like it at all, really. I can play the part when I need to better than I once could, but I suspect it will always be an exhausting endeavor.

Since I'm claiming hobbit aging, I should probably treat the birthday like a hobbit. That means mathoms. Lately I've been listening to the Piano Guys, a piano/cello duo that's big on YouTube. Here's my latest favorite song:

Read more... )

I didn't just choose to share this because it's a great song (which it is), or because new, fresh music is always such a gift to me. What I love about the Piano Guys is that they cover popular and classical songs (in this case Coldplay's "Paradise" with an African twist) but make them their own. This is near and dear to my heart because it is exactly what I try so hard to do in my own fanfic. Listening to their music, I've been reminded of one of my all-time favorite quotes from JRRT:

"Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairy-story--the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths--which I could dedicate simply: to England; to my country. [...] I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd."

Not absurd at all, my good professor. For me, fanfic at its best becomes a language, a metaphor, that we can use to talk about the things and experiences that matter most to us - but use a frame of reference that expresses them more intimately than would be possible otherwise. And it provides a framework so we can delve deeper than we might otherwise. A shared religious tradition does the same thing for me, which is why I think I probably spend more time blogging about religion than in actual religious worship. It's a way of talking about things to get beyond the surface, and thinking and talking about that seems to alternately break my heart and soothe my wounds.

In its own way, the same thing can be said for fandom and for my fanfic in particular. A close friend of mine once described her work as "fanfic as therapy," and that description always stuck with me. Fanfic often is therapy but not just for me personally. For me, it almost works as a Freudian psychoanalysis of the real: of whatever is most true, most significant, most in need of examining and understanding. I know other people whose work strikes me the same way, so much so that I wonder how it could happen any way other than intentionally.

That, for me, is the value of fanfic. And of myth, come to it. That's really what a lot of fanfic is, though it can be put to other purposes. And begging Tolkien's pardon, but the drive to do that isn't absurd. Not by a long shot.

Along those same lines I want to thank everyone who has given my birthday wishes, but in particular the people who ahve written me fic for my birthday. Both touched me deeply, albeit in very different ways:

  • Beauty by [personal profile] just_ann_now. There's just so much sun and light and happiness here, in all it. (Alec/Richard)

  • The Wardens by [profile] dwimordene_2011. There's Beorn, and Radagast, and they're just so other in the best sort of way. And of course the transformation of the hunting instinct to awe was beautiful - a very hopeful thought.

Thanks also to everyone who's said such nice things, both here and at FB. I do appreciate it.

On another note, enjoy Christopher Lee reading "The Raven":

Read more... )

This isn't quite as random as it seems. Recently, I was reminded of Dwim's "The Hamster" poem. Listen to Sir Lee, and try hard not to hear in your mind:

And yet the dark-haired stranger wand'ring, called 'Thorongil', set me pond'ring,
thrilled me—filled me with dread suspicions that I'd never felt before;
So that I, to still the craving of my mind, which might be raving,
To know the all of him not saving secrets buried at his core—
I'd have the all of him not saving things he'd shown to none before—
I bought a hamster, nothing more.

Scantily did it resemble he who bore the star-brooched mantle;
'Sir', I'd said, 'or Madam, truly I am not versed in hamster "lore";
Nor care I to risk your biting simply so's to gain a sighting
Of your underside for tidings of your gender that I should ignore,
As I would your namesake's myst'ry' — Here I set 'him' by the door; —
'Yet I can't, and so I'm sore.'

Years later, that poem still makes me laugh like little else.

A happy un-birthday to the rest of you. Thanks so much for making today a good one.

(Originally posted at LJ.)
fidesquaerens: (religion)
2012-06-06 12:39 am
Entry tags:

Jesus in Drag - the Trailer

Tim Kurek (a Christian author I follow over on FB) has a new book coming out. As he describes it:

In January 2009 I entered the closet a straight man and came out to my friends and family as a gay. I lived with the label for an entire year. After my life as I knew it had quickly unraveled into nothing, I began building a new one. I became a barista at a gay café. I played in a LGBT softball league. I protested in New York City with a group of gay activists that I had encountered years before while I studied Liberty University. And I even participated in a marriage equality event with the son on Jim and Tammy Faye, Jay Bakker. For a year I immersed myself, completely and utterly, in the small gay scene of Nashville, Tennessee, and experienced firsthand the agony of being isolated, repressed, and alone.

My book is the result of that year and it tells the story of the men and women that challenged, and ultimately changed my life’s path. It is a book about faith, and a book about doubt. But mostly it is a book about people, and how the men and women I’d always been taught to shun ended up saving my life.

He emphasizes that he is not writing about the gay experience, since (as he's not really gay) that's not a topic he feels competent to address. Rather, it's about a rather extreme exercise in empathy: a Christian trying to exorcise his inner-Pharisee, as it were, and to live with what many LGBT Christians live with "for real."

He's asking the same questions that spurred my own "evolution" on homosexuality, and changed me from someone who thought the Bible taught homosexuality was immoral to being convinced of the opposite. While I didn't go so far as Tim did (not nearly that brave, unfortunately!) I found myself asking questions like the ones that motivated his project. If I was gay, could I come out to my family and friends? Could I still be a Christian? What made any love I felt for another man better or more worthy of support than the love a gay friend of mine felt for his boyfriend? These on top of the obvious political problems of denying equal legal protections to anyone, based on a religious belief. It was this striving for empathy that really changed my position on homosexuality, and though this was private in my case - I lived with "what if's" rather than dealing with peoples' very real reactions to my actually coming out - I can definitely see the appeal of Tim's project.

Tim has a trailer out for the book...

Read more... )

... and he is accepting donations to help pay for a publicist and final book editing. Even if you decide not to donate (which I plan to, and encourage - this really is an interesting story that needs to be told), I hope you'll check out the trailer and think about the experiences he describes. It'll be four minutes well spent. The book comes out October 11.

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-05-30 09:07 pm

thoughts on gender

  I had two experiences. First, I went shopping and finished off my teaching wardrobe - several pairs of black linenslacks, white blouses, and a light-weight blazer jacket. All from women's stores, but the style is always a bit tom-boyish. As am I; my voice has always been low-pitched and I've always favored short hair, jeans + tees, and no make-up. 

Item the second: While on the train, I read a really interesting article from the New York Magazine about transgendered children: "S/he." It's well worth the read but longish, so here's the gist. Many transgendered people realize their cis-gender (the one assigned at birth by their parents and society; usually the biological gender). This being New York, you had some reasonably progressive parents trying to make sense of this and support the kids. It's a nice glimpse into transphobia even at that level (one parent's response I found particularly interesting was from a dad who didn't want to suggest to the child there was anything wrong with being a girl, and so he was at first hesitant to get on board with his cis-female son's identifying as male.)

But there's more to it than that. Say your kid tells you at the tender age of five that "she" wants to be treated as a he - that he really believes he is a boy, despite being anatomically female. That may be more-or-less feasible at five (setting aside transphobia the kid may have to deal with), but what about at thirteen? Because while Marcia may answer to Mark and dress and act and play as a boy, but there's still estrogen flowing through his body - meaning that puberty will come quickly, and with it the breasts and the menstruation. It would be traumatic. The problem is, doctors suggest the transgendered not start taking artificial hormones until they're at least sixteen. That's years of being trapped in a body that feels less and less like yours, with all that carries with it regarding social interaction and expectations. And we thought gay bullying was bad. I mean, it is, but this? :-S

So to address the situation, some parents have turned to what's called puberty-blockers - drugs that keep a body from going through puberty, until the child is old enough to start hormone treatment and go through puberty as their chosen gender. (The kid can also go through puberty as his or her cis-gender, simply by stopping the puberty blockers.) But it's a tough call. Several of the parents refer to it as "playing God" or think it marks transgenderism off as a disease (which most LGBT allies, myself included, wholeheartedly deny). 

Reading all this, I felt an immense sympathy for anyone going through this. Even with supportive parents, it strikes me as an enormously tough needle for a seven-year-old to thread. And given that most parents probably aren't supportive - either through their own beliefs or simply being a bit mystified by it all - I can only imagine what that's like. By the experience of transgender children as it's explained here resonated deep within me. I'm not transgender, but I'm enough of a tomboy that I never felt drawn to many of the traditional teenage things - dating, dances, and the like. I liked being one of the boys and was most comfortable where gender simply didn't matter. More to the point, I'm all too familiar with the no man's land between different groups. With religion/atheism in particular but other issues as well, where it sometimes felt like I could never be my whole self with anyone - like I always had to fashion my identity. This isn't a criticism of the people I grew up around, or the people at my church who I always seem to be too liberal or too traditionalist to truly fit in with (depending on the group), or my secular humanist friends who try to make sense of why an intelligent person would continue to claim a religious label. But sometimes it feels like, on an issue of great importance to me, I can't fully "be myself" - either because I don't know who I am or because I'm not brave enough to put myself out there, but in either case it's a true mind-warp at times.

None of this makes me transgendered. But I think it makes me particularly sympathetic to people who have a hard time getting who they really are "seen" by others. And maybe in my case the blindness of other folks is all in my head. But whatever the reason, my heart just breaks for these kids having to navigate this world and maybe feeling like even their own parents don't really see them for who they really are. That's hard.  

(Originally posted on LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-05-30 07:16 am
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RIP, Doc Watson

I had every intention of blogging about deep thoughts this morning before heading over to campus. A conversation with Dan Fincke over at FB has me thinking about how some atheists characterize religion, plus some reviews of Sam Harris's Free Will have me thinking about the purpose of incarceration - is it to punish or rehabilitate or protect the rest of us, and does that goal make sense in light of the latest neuroscience, etc. Deep thoughts all around; I do want to write about them in more depth.

But I'm feeling thoroughly curmudgeonly this morning. Mostly it's medical (a yeast infection means I feel too sore to move) but also the heat and weird sleep schedule - all of which means I'm in no frame of mind to deal with difficult, complicated topics with grace. :-S

I can, however, post some videos. I'm sorry to report that Doc Watson at eighty-nine has sailed west. Even at that age, it seems too soon; his music was a staple of my childhood. And following my tradition, whenever a musician dies, it's time for some music in memoriam:

First, Doc Watson by himself playing Gershwin's "Summertime":

Read more... )

And also a truly first-class jam session with Doc Watson, Ricky Scaggs, and Earl Scruggs:

Read more... )
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-05-24 08:38 pm
Entry tags:

Why should atheists have all the best thinkers?

Recently I read an article about Miley Cyrus and how she wasn't acting like she was twelve anymore. Miley says some really interesting things about what it means to find yourself when you're a child-star, and also talks about sex and the double-standard women face in Hollywood. Now, say I posted a link to that article here with a comment along the lines of how nice it would be if she turned out to be a Christian.

Something like that happened recently on a friend's FB page, only there my friend posted a link and a third party commented saying he hoped Miley was an atheist. That comment really got me thinking, because if I had said something similar coming at it from a Christian perspective, I'd expect some raised eyebrows around here. At a minimum. Such a comment would imply one of two things: either I thought Miley's comments couldn't be good unless they came from a Christian, or else I wanted all good things to be associated with Christianity. Either way, I can see how you guys might get a bit offended, or at least be confused why I should be concerned. A claim like that, if I heard someone else make it, would strike me as oddly provincial. And also selfish; whatever's good, I'd want to make it available to the most people possible. And since people tend to listen to their own groups more than they do "outsiders," that means I'd want wise people and thought-provoking comments coming from all corners of society – not just mine.

Read more... )

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
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2012-05-21 11:04 am
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things I learned walking to campus today

  1. Around here, charmingly dreary can apparently change to cats-and-dogs downpour in the space of a ten minute walk.

  2. My jacket is apparently only water-resistant, not water-proof as I originally thought.

  3. Jeans, once soaked, don't dry. An hour on the intercampus bus and these are still soaked.

  4. There cames a point when it's not worth stepping back from the curb to avoid getting soaked.

Also, apparently there's nothing quite so hilarious to my perverse sense of humor as seeing a baboushka on a walker trying to ford an intersection with six inches and more of water. I should be ashamed, but mainly I was tickled. It's been a long morning.

If you can't tell, apparently we're putting the mon(soon) back in Monday around here today. I'm sure someone somewhere needs all this moisture more than we do. Help yourself!
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-05-16 06:37 am
Entry tags:

on little cat's feet

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

The power was off this morning in my apartment (I'm thinking blown fuse, which only my super can change - will call in an hour or two). The lack of white noise from my fan woke me up, and as I didn't have a functioning alarm clock, I chose to go ahead and get up. And then because I needed a Latin reference and no power means no internet, I decided to come on over to campus.

Anyway, the upshot was that I was out for the day by around 5 AM. This is a first for me, the being out at that hour (I've certainly been working at 5 AM, from both ends of the day), and I'm privileged enough and enough of a romantic that I found the city really beautiful at that hour. "City" here is the Bronx, so it's hardly what you think of when it comes to NYC, but there was a surreal quality to it all. Some people were already out on their way to work, but for the It was also raining and all foggy, and the people who were already out were on their way to work. Nurses, and waitresses, and cleaning ladies mostly judging by the uniforms. There's a beauty to that exhaustion, at least from the outside.

Hence the poem above. It's by Carl Sandburg and has long been one of my favorites. I was reminded of it this morning because it captured the mood better than anything I've been able to manage.

I also can't quite help imagining Denethor on a morning like this. He'd slip a worn cloak low over his face and sneak down into the Third Circle market, watching as the various people set up shop for the day (the boy driving the cart full of water cisterns taller than him; the girl with a basket of flowers slung over her arm; the old matron who sells strong tea by the mugful for a copper groat to people trying to get their day started, and who'd be gone by midday; and, perhaps, a reveller from the night before passed out behind a garbage heap) - I'm sure he'd like letting his cares away for an hour or two on a morning like this when the fog hung thick around. My muse even came up with an old line his mother once told him: that great cities, like armies and trysting lovers, never truly slept.

I'd like to think I'd turn that into a proper vignette, but I don't know how long the mood will last and I'm really too sleep-deprived to attempt it just now. I hope the mental image is a good start to the day for some of you, at least.

(Originally posted at LJ; please post there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-05-09 12:29 am

thoughts on Amendment One

Tonight North Carolina voted to make it not only illegal but also unconstitutional for two adults to build a legally-recognized family unit, simply because those adults are the same gender. It's a bit odd - I haven't lived in NC since 2006, but I still feel like a Tarheel at heart, and NC news tends to hit me harder than NY news does. For me, this amendment isn't academic, it isn't general - it is a slap in the face to all affected, no matter the remove.

I have my own history with a good friend from my undergrad days who happened to be gay. And I remember the way he was impacted by homophobia he experienced. It breaks my heart to think of the gay, lesbian, whatever kid who's sitting in his college dorm room hearing that his state doesn't think whatever love he might find should be protected by law. The one consolation I have is that this kid, if he's been following the news all along, might have seen that many people in his state didn't feel this way. But I know how news media works. All those clergymen who signed the petition saying they opposed the amendment are dwarfed by that shameful Billy Graham ad )

This amendment process is offensive and insensitive to a minority group. It's also harmful to families with heterosexual parents but that aren't bound by parents. As has been pointed out many times, it makes it harder to deal with domestic violence, child welfare and any other range of things that affect stable but unmarried couples. But things like this are really and truly discouraging because they point to how little value we place on rational argument in this society. The bottom line is, in an amendment ratification process like this the best argument doesn't become law. Direct democracy like this doesn't give any weight to how well-considered your reasoning is. Are you voting because you have thought things through and one way or the other decided on a position, or are you voting out of fear or on a whim? The votes add up the same.

Also, it should not need to be said, but in case it does: not everything is up for a vote. I can't speak to legal rights - I heard somewhere that some Supreme Court marriage is a right, but I don't recall the details - but philosophically, the ability to form a family unit and receive legal protection of the same is a right. Sometimes the state has a good reason to keep two people from marrying, like with incest or pedophilia where consent is iffy, but there's just not a reason here. (As a side note, it actually amused me to no end that if we're looking for a biblical definition of marriage, polygamy probably comes closer to the mark than the one man, one woman formula. But that's neither here nor there.)

I know I've quoted this passage here before, but on nights like this, I have to go back to Dr. King. He wrote in the Birmingham letter:

Read more... )

Laws like this are a kind of segregation. And they make me sick.

One other thing: I know a lot of people will say that this is an instance of religion needing to stay out of politics. One thing I have seen over these last few weeks, though, is that religious people have been among the most active in challenging stereotypes and unchallenged beliefs some people have. The backward pastors encouraging parents to beat their limp-wristed children get all the attention, of course, but then you also have pastors like this guy:

Read more... )

I'm not convinced that this had much to do with religion, and to the extent it did, I'd suspect it was more religion used as a crutch for hatred and us-vs-them mentality.

Enough of that, though. And enough of these high-brow words. Tonight, I just wanted anyone hurt by this amendment (in any way) to know how sorry I am. It's not right, it's not just, and you don't deserve that pain.

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
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2012-04-30 12:50 pm
Entry tags:

(no subject)

I'm on the bus back from Baltimore to NYC.

It was a good weekend in the Charm City. The conference didn't go quite as well as I would have liked, mostly because it was a little outside my expertise and also because it was only a single day - felt like just once I was getting into the swing of things the event was over. I think I was spoiled a bit by my last conference being spread over three days. At a minimum I got exposed to some interesting ideas that I hadn't been exposed to before. It focused on the intersection of race and gender, and asked whether there were distinctly different concepts of being male or female (or black/white/whatever shade of brown/etc.) mattered).

For the interested, I started out with a basic line of thought that has really bothered me in the healthcare debate: the idea that being forced to buy insurance was an infringement on your liberty. Now, we can disagree over whether forcing everyone to buy a service from a private company is the best way of organizing health care. And we can ask whether we need to tie it in to having a job or not; and whether choices like smoking, exercise level, fat intake, etc. should impact premiums. All of these are legitimate debates. But just because you don't like having to buy health insurance doesn't mean you're the only one impacted by not buying health insurance. Specifically, when you can't pay for care (one way or another) you force a ahrd choice on me: either pay for your care or allow you ot suffer. That second option makes me go against a relationship we have (as neighbors, fellow citizens, fellow humans, whatever). And relationships matter, particularly to women. They seem significant, and forcing me to violate my relationships seems immoral somehow. That issue just hasn't entered into the debate.

I started by talking about someone named Carol Gilligan. She basically said that men typically think in terms of mrules and women tend to think in terms of relationships. The problem is, if you want to move beyond talking about what people actually do to what they should do, you run into a problem. Either you have to say men are better than women or women are better than men - a problem for obvious reasons! - or you have to say there's some way we can explain how they're equal, even though they aim after different traits. One approach stems from gender essentialism, and it's basically the idea that character traits (say, being nurturing) make you a good woman but a bad man. There's some pretty obvious sexism there and it also makes women into a separate group from men, rather than two halves of the same whole. Which is, you know, not particularly cool.

The third way that I wanted to look at (surprise, surprise) came from Anselm. He said that good humans love well. We recognize the things we ought to love and then love it. But it's a two-way street; particularly with God but also with other things, our love helps us know something's worth. It directs our attention, it inspires awe and hope and other things that help motivate us to really think about something. There's a single activity that good humans ought to do, but you need both the rule approach we associate with love and the caring/relational approach we associate with women. As the old line goes, God took Eve not from the head of Adam to rule over him, nor from his feet so she might be trampled by him, but God took Eve from Adam's side to stand beside him. Or something like that. The basic idea is you have an ethics for humans but it respects all the human psyche, male and female and everything in between. Which, frankly, traditional ethics hasn't done such a great job of!

Anyway. Enough deep thought, and enough focusing on this paper. Back to God-talk and the ontological argument for me. For now, I'm happy to watch the world pass by.

Speaking of, this meme from FB completely cracked me up:

Read more... )
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-04-18 04:45 pm
Entry tags:

in which I have an ouchie, a career opportunity, and a Besorg moment

#1. If there's anyway to avoid it, do not ever have a cyst excision. Keep your skin healthy, and catch them early. I'll spare you all the medical gore, but the preferred medical procedure these days is to make a very small excision and squeeze the cyst out as much as you can. It reduces risk of infection and scarring. They give you lidocaine for the actual incision, but there's not much that can be done about what they call "pressure." I've felt pain due to pressure; squeezing a sizeable mass through a small opening in tenderized skin is something else entirely. I started alphebatizing numers to keep my mind off it and got all the way to fifty-seven.

Was going to blog deep thoughts about the role of government this afternoon ([personal profile] roh_wyn, [personal profile] celandineb, you both got me thinking - thanks!) Or work on drafting my Euthyphro lecture. But the pain and general discomfort have me feeling a little loopy, so I think I'll just relax and watch dunk-dunk.

Anyone else who had this cyst excision done, do you have any practical advice? I'm doing the gauze pads and the pharmacy should deliver antibiotics tomorrow morning (standing around for a half-hour was not in the cards earlier). But it's really very tender and makes life awkward. What helps?


#2. The woman from career services at my university sent out a call for resumes, for a specific full-time receptionist job at an insurance corporation in the area. It wasn't really a mass email; at least, it looked to be addressed to me specifically. This amuses me to no end, and worries me. Am I so behind in my program that they think I need to be looking for entry-level work outside of academia?


#3. Over at FB, Neil Gaiman posted about this guy who asked Neil Gaiman to write him a poem, which said guy would have tattooed. Gaiman agreed, and the poem was illustrated by David Mack (of Kabuki fame). For folks with a FB account, the pictures are available here, and the poem itself is in the comments.

Personally, I doubt I'd ever want a tattoo that large. Really any tattoo - maybe a classy, small and exotic one, something in Mandarin or Arabic that was meaningful to me, but even that just isn't my style. Still, the idea of tattoo inevitably called [personal profile] just_ann_now's Besorg character to mind. Lines like

I will write in words of fire.
I will write them on your skin.
I will write about desire,
Write beginnings, write of sin.

are very inspiring to put it mildly.

(Originally written at LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-04-17 11:01 pm
Entry tags:

in which I am a good (if begrudging) citizen

So, I filed my taxes. If you (like me) are of the "never put off until tomorrow what can be delayed until the next day" school, do check out , which lets you file both state and federal taxes online for free if your income is under a certain level. I have no special relationship to them, but just used them myself and it seemed to go smoothly.

Also: dunk-dunk saved me a substantial amount tonight! On the score of a few hundred dollars. There's a Law & Order episode in I think the first season where a defendant is given legal immunity in New York county but not from the Brooklyn DA office; that's how they got him to testify and still were able to prosecute him. I rewatched it a few weeks back and so it wasn't too far from my mind. Anyway, when filling out the forms it crossed my mind that maybe I'm not a "New York City" resident - I live and work in the Bronx which is one of the New York boroughs, but isn't legally part of New York. So I was surprised to see I owed a lot of state taxes, and phones up the IRS to ask whether I was selecting the right status and they said that in point of fact for tax penalties I wasn't in NYC. Score one for fandom...

I don't know how a lot of people feel about taxes but in the past I actually liked tax day. Oh, sure, it was frustrating to go through all the forms and a bit depressing at how little I earned until this last year. 2010 was a special treat because I had a state tax bill that was exactly equal to my refund, so I had to unexpectedly pay $139 and then wait several weeks to get a check for the same amount. Idiocy, it burns, precious. But I also feel patriotic about me. I am more for social justice than I am for charity, so if you gave me the choice I'd rather have the government spend my tax money (if they do it efficiently and toward the right kind of things - I know, a big assumption) than get a refund and give that to a private charity. The reason's simple enough; charity puts me in a position of power that I haven't earned, and I also think it's downright Biblical ("when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing"; Mt 6:3).

But this year... well, it doesn't feel this way to me. I still like the social justice work my govt does, and with Obamacare (which I support though I really would have liked a public option to buy into) I have more reason to support that kind of work. The thing is, there are other things the government has done that basically drive home the point that even the "good guys" (from my perspective!) don't respect the rule of law. Government always involves a loss of liberty in one sense; law means there are some things I want to do that I can't do for fear of punishment. But I gain freedom in another sense - I always thought in the past - because there's someone to keep the Mitt Romneys and Donald Trumps of the world from taking advantage of me. I always thought of government as a kind of union, that allowed less powerful citizens to organize and claim their rights against businesses that were powerful enough to crush citizens privately. And I thought it did good, so I could support both the means and the ends that taxes point to. I still support the ends, but now I'm not so sure about the means, and it makes it harder to feel patriotic.

I know, I know. Only I would worry about that - and really, getting $126 back in a few weeks is no small thing; if anything, it's cause to celebrate. But I miss submitting my taxes feeling like I'd done my good deed for the week. :-S

On a lighter note, enjoy this pic of the importance of cooperation. Cute!

Read more... )

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-04-12 11:52 am
Entry tags:

laptop is back!

My laptop is finally back from repair-land and, at the risks of jinxing it, I think it's finally really and truly fixed. The keyboard was worn out so I had to send it in to be replaced, and then when it got back the bottom case was damaged so that the battery would only stay in if I held it on top of something (and not just a desk; something right up against it to hold the battery in.

HP does a good job of repair-work, actually. They have an online chat tool that I can use to report the problem, troubleshoot, verify warranty and authorize repair - all the stuff that I would have to do with a phone agent, but without the wait times, the difficulty of explaining what exactly is going on, etc. They ship you a box and FedEx it overnight, and usually get it from my doorstep to the repair center and back again inside of a week - all at no cost to me. The problem of course is that I have to be around during the day. With teaching and volunteer work there's really just one day a week. Return shipping is the one part of the process I see real room for improvement; they don't do weekend deliveries or let you schedule a day to have the computer shipped back, which is fine when they're just sending you an empty box which can be left outside the door, but obviously not when that box contains a repaired computer! Granted, this is more a shipping problem than an HP problem, but I do think HP could help here. For instance, if I can tell them I'm home all day Thursdays but not any other weekday, they could hold my computer in the warehouse until Wednesday, whenever they get done fixing it. Or they could just offer the option of weekday shipping, even if it's at a premium or a slower shipment.

Anyway, computer is back. feels like a new machine almost, with the very responsive keyboard and the new undercarriage. Who am I to complain? :-)

(Posted to LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-03-26 12:33 am
Entry tags:

home again, home again

While it may or may not be the case that I've never been to Boston in the fall (bonus points if you get the reference), I have been there at the height of spring. A friend is presenting her dissertation tomorrow late afternoon. I offered to see the actual defense, but I know less than nothing about her topic and apparently space in the room was at a premium, so I decided to go up this weekend to "keep her sane" (her words, not mine).

We fed ducks in the park (no, not those ducks but we did see the statue and fed their kin nearby. We went to the cinema to try to see Hunger Games but the tickets were sold out, so we hit some thrift stores (I'm now the proud owner of a macrame keychain) and then we went out drinking. Well, she did; I have next to no tolerance for alcohol so had some virgin fruity things.

This morning we went to early mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, which was an Experience with a capital E. A friend of hers came over and made us all what she called "California Italian" (think pasta, but with lighter sauces and more veggies), and then we got our cultural game on over at her university: an exhibit of inmate-created art depicting prison life, and a classical trio (piano--violin--cello) before I had to hop a train back to New York.

It's funny how little things turn out to be the most amusing. Case in point: at the church where we went to mass, they had a notice about the Ethiopian style mass they were holding later that night. The traditional name? The Ge'ez mass. That had us snickering like loons all afternoon long.

I also re-read Anselm's reply to Gaunilo on the train-ride back. I think the logical points are well-taken (Gaunilo does mis-state Anselm's argument), but there's a bigger point where Gaunilo is spot on. Anselm defines God in a certain way, and he says that once you have God in your mind --which you have to, once you've heard and understood the word "God"-- then it's a contradiction to say this hing in your mind doesn't also exist on its own. Kant and others asked whether existence was a property so you could say, if God didn't exist that violated the definition. (Anselm thought yes; Kant, no.) I actually think Anselm can handle that point if we interpret him right. But Gaunilo's raising a bigger problem, and I don't think any clever atheist would grant him those assumptions. It's not quite begging the question, but neither is it the argument that's likely to convince anyone who doesn't already believe their idea is of God.

Enough philosophy. I need to sleep so I can read some more tomorrow, and get caught up on student emails. I mainly wanted to let people know the fun stuff I was up to this weekend.

(Alas, no pics. The phone's memory card died on the train ride up. I'm really and truly convinced there are gremlins at work...)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-03-13 11:03 pm
Entry tags:

stories from the culture wars

Yesterday I mentioned that even back in high school I was a fledgling pacifist. That reminded me of a story I meant to share a while ago, which is only tangentially connected to pacifism. I thought of it when birth control first became a political issue but wanted to check with my friend (who the story concerns) before relating it. Then once she got back to me I forgot about it and never quite got around to relating it.

Anyway. When I was an undergrad at UNC-Greensboro, I had a flatmate who I'll call P. (at her request), who was raised by her grandmother. P.'s grandmother was by all accounts a good guardian but was also Catholic in a rather traditional way. P.'s health insurance was of course through her grandmother, so P. couldn't get any kind of hormonal birth control without her grandmother's consent. Somewhere along the line, P. had also picked up the idea that condoms weren't very effective even when you used them correctly. She had a long-term boyfriend and didn't particularly want to be a virgin but was very scared of getting pregnant.

Around that time, P. was diagnosed with ovarian cysts and was given a prescription for birth control pills. However, P.'s grandmother insists they call them "hormonal therapy" and that she keep the pills in an old standard prescription-pill bottle rather than the distinctive birth control container. Rather than feeling like she was sick, P. treated this diagnosis as great news: she now had the green light to have sex safely. Her grandmother eventually found out, but relying on something her priest had told her decades earlier during the Vietnam War was actually okay with it. I'm talking about the principle of double-effect; essentially, if you predict an action will have two consequences and you're only doing it because of the first result, the second consequence doesn't really count against you. (This is the theory that lets you drop a bomb on a terrorist, even though you know the schoolchildren who are also inside will likely be killed.)

Something about this amused me to no end. Not the sex per se; at that point in time I believed that pretty much all sex outside of marriage was immoral. (I was a bit prudish at the time.) But the mental contortions both P. and her grandmother went through over all this. Ah, theology!

(For the record, both P., her boyfriend, and her grandmother are perfectly nice people. The first two ended up getting married, as it happens, but not until after college and pregnancy had nothing to do with that decision. They are expecting their first child in August, though. Thanks to her for letting me share this story, and I wish them all the happiness in the world.)

(Originally posted to LJ; please comment there.)
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2012-03-12 06:37 pm

The War on Terror and the War on Women

  (Written for the March 2012 synchroblog; links TBA.)

I have a secret: for years now, I've wished I was eligible for the selective service.

In my country, at the age of eighteen all the guys have to register for the military draft. They don't actually have to serve, and chances are negligible that they'll be called up, since (for all our wars) America has been an all-volunteer army since I believe Vietnam. But ever since I've figured out how committed of a pacifist I am, I've wanted the ability to declare to God, country, and the world at large that there wasn't anyone representin me in this war, either.

I want to be clear about something: I respect what our veterans are trying to do. I nod at them out of respect when I see them on campus, and I've gotten in the habit of picking up pastries every week or two for my veteran neighbor, as a small token of gratitude. I also would gladly pay any tax asked of me to improve their safety while in service and their recovery once they leave. It's the generals and the contractors I have a beef with. I don't think our current wars are just, and given our track record of judicial process for people accused of war crimes and quasi-legal neverending wars, I think it will be a long time before I'd find an actual war I could support. And that's my point. I want the right to register as a conscientious objector to document this fact. Because I am not expected to fight, someone else "covers" me by default, so I get no say in the matter.

It's not just that theoretical point that bothers me, though. At the tender age of seventeen, I was a registered Republican and generally supported the idea of bringing democracy to the world, but I also wasn't sure now I felt about killing someone for that cause or any other, and so I asked my history teacher what were my options if I was morally opposed to war. He told me that I wasn't required to register for the draft, and when I asked why he explained that "Uncle Sam" didn't want to take mothers away from their children, or put children in homes with a mum suffering from PTSD. I'm now a few months shy of thirty years old, still happily single and happily child-free, in a doctoral program that I hope will lead to a professorship. In the meantime I am happy with my hobbies, my volunteer work, my church, and my friends both online and offline. I am living the life of the mind in a truly vibrant city, and it's a good life - just not the one my high school teacher thought I was destined for.

I thought about all this when I heard someone use the phrase "war on women" for the umpteenth time in a newspaper editorial this morning. Again, let me be clear: I think preventive birth control is a good thing, and I think subsidized or insurance-covered birth control is an even bett thing because it vies lower-class women the same liberties I have to manage their sexuality and its consequences. But every time I hear that phrase I bristle just a little bit (and sometimes quite a lot), because it carries with it the suggestion that as a woman I am defined by the bits of anatomy between my legs. It also suggests that if I personally didn't think of fertility like a disease, I would not be included in the collective of womanhood that was under attack. I've been on the receiving end of people telling me what it means to be a real woman, to feel comfortable with that. 

Given that this is a SynchroBlog post, I feel a strong pull to somehow tie this back to my religion. I could cite the many different roles women serve throughout the Bible, from Miriam to Esther to Mary Magdalene, and those stories are relevant. The problem is, they're part of a fabric that stretches beyond any one religious or literary tradition. I could just as easily point to Eowyn and B'Elanna Torres and Brenda Leigh Johnson and all the other strong women of literature. They weren't all shieldmaidens, either. Often as not, womanhood is as varied as human nature (as well it should be!). Our battle-cries need to reflect that.

(Originally posted to LJ; please comment there.)