Monday, February 25, 2008

On Conditionality and Parenting

I've billed myself as a 'no nonsense' parent before on this blog but a recent example is this.

The other day Seven was practicing piano and, let me preface by saying that she's got a lot of natural talents in this lifetime, but we suspect piano will take a bit more (ahem) attention on her part. It's one of those things we require of her at this point for all of the great externalities that learning piano gives you (appreciation for music, attention to detail, math skills, personal satisfaction and self esteem, etc. etc.). Unfortunately, the whining that accompanies practicing in the current period may far outweigh the future discounted value of those positive (and mainly theoretical) externalities.

When she was done practicing on that particular day, I said: Good job!

Or "well done", or something. I am all about effort both in my personal and professional life and am finding it hard to convince her that anything worth doing will probably take a bit of practice, but, having learned to read so easily, she remains unconvinced and is certain that she's a terrible piano player.

She responded: Do you REALLY think so?

I replied: When you ask me questions like that, do you want me to be honest or do you want me to be nice?

She: Honest.

Me: You did good!

Her: Not great?

Me: No. But really, really good. I'm proud of you.

So then, the other day we were ice skating for a second time in as many weeks. She was doing remarkably well, given the (thank God!) melting, somewhat slushy conditions, but she was falling a bit more and so, was less confident.

After one spill she looked at me: Do you love me?

Me: Of course I do, honey. My love for you is not conditional on your ability to skate.

She: What IS it conditional on?

I thought for a minute and said: On you being born.

She: So, you won't love me when I die?

Me: I didn't say that it was conditional on you being ALIVE, just that it was conditional on you being BORN.

And then I thought about reincarnation and wondered if we had known and loved each other in a previous life. Maybe it is conditional on one of us being born at some time.

But as I was stumbling around in my head, she was off skating. And falling.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On Perfect Alignment: the Lunar Eclipse

I think that what I'm concerned about with this job decision thing is, what will my life look like if I give up my job/career in ten years or so when the kids' life starts to take off. Will my life wane as theirs waxes?

This eclipse is natural.

Even desirable.

I'm sitting next to the both of them right now, making an exception to our Lenten pledge of "no tv" (which, I must say, only BioMom has really ignored!) to watch the first episode of American Idol: the top twelve girls. I look over at the two of them on the couch right now, she, engrossed in the show, he engrossed in her. And, well, MOVING. That's all he wants to do, really is move. And imitate her. And I am willingly, hopefully, enchantedly eclipsed by them; their energy, their pureness, their light, their optimism, their lack of cynicism. Their hope.

I just had Seven's parent-teacher-conference and it felt like Obamamania in there: YES SHE CAN!!!

But will I be satisfied with this eclipse in 15 years when Big's off to college and Seven's off to her life?

I wish our eclipse could be like the moon's tonight's: Beautiful and intense, but brief. A moment to stop and respect the alignment of the sun, earth and moon. Right now I am aligned with Seven and Big. Our orbits coincide and it is deeply satisfying. Their time is still mine and I can lavish in it.

But will it be the same when we are not so aligned. When we are not all three on the couch together enjoying the same entertainment (both Idol and Big running around doing somersaults on the couch)?

If the alignment is not forever nor should be the eclipse.

Something Even Colder

Last night.

-30 to - 40 degrees windshield.

Will this ever end?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

Something Old. . . Or is it New?:(Or: Is what is bad for the hetero goose, good for the lesbian gander?)

In my Gender and Economics course this semester we are exploring the so-called "Opt-Out Revolution"

While the term (coined by Lisa Belkin of the New York Times Magazine in her 2003 article by the same name) is new, the debate is old.

The article got feminists of all ilk in an uproar about, well, lots of things, but mainly a) the notion of staying home with your kids and whether we can ascribe normative values (positive or negative) to women who make that choice (particularly highly educated women who were supposed to be the gals poised to take over the world, so to speak) and b) the notion of "choice feminism" more generally)

Should women stay at home with their kids? It goes back at least to when women started working in the first place (at least post-industrialization type of wage work. . . Women, particularly women of color, have always worked).

Such an academic discussion is coming right on time for me as I ponder this exact choice in my life at the moment. In a recent blog, I revealed my current struggle with the balance of work and life, and the possible (in)flexibility of my workplace in terms of having an opportunity to go part-time.

The Opt-Out article (and others that followed during that media blitz) essentially pointed to mainly anecdotal data of highly educated (and, they point out, educated by "elite" institutions) women who have made the choice to leave the labor market and be with their kids rather than pursue those high-powered 80 hour workweek careers that would have lead them to the upper echelons of the workplace, smashing all glass ceilings along the way.

The articles essentially say that these women are making the choice to leave the market because they realized that they don't have the ambition or desire to become CEO's --to put in the hours OR reap the rewards associated with it--particularly once they've had kids.

Some authors like Katha Pollitt point to the sexism of the premise of these articles -- that women, somehow, are turning down the rewards of the feminist movement, essentially saying that "women don't want what feminism has to offer". That, in fact, newspapers run articles like this on a regular cyclical basis, without any proof of what is actually happening, just to make women who chose to work feel guilty about it.

Follow up articles address the empirics behind the anecdotes and show that on an economy-wide basis, there is certainly no "revolution" in terms of women (and specifically the women who have the choice to stay home -- read women with rich spouses) choosing to stay home with their kids. While we might observe a small blip in the female labor force, it isn't due to kids (see Heather Boushey).

The most fascinating and thought provoking work has been done by women's studies professor Linda Hirshman ("Homeward Bound" in American Prospect, November 2005) who doesn't doubt the anecdotes but has a real problem with this sort of choice feminism. She argues that liberal feminists altered the path of the feminist movement in introducing "choice feminism" -- a dilution of Betty Friedan's movement that allows any choice made by a woman to be a "feminist choice." Essentially, it is saying that if a woman makes the choice, it must be okay (see a great entry by Echidne of the Snakes on Choice Feminism).

I had fallen for this line of thinking because it marries well with economics and libertarianism. "What's wrong with a woman choosing prostitution or becoming a stripper? It was her choice?" Or "What's the difference between a woman choosing graduate school or choosing to stay home with her kid or choosing to pay $600 on a pair of Manolo Blahniks, a pair of diamond earrings, or a gas-guzzling SUV??? They are all simply choices made by rational people (notice no gender assignment and all the baggage that goes with it) that enter into a transaction upon their free will, with perfect information about all of the costs and benefits (past, present and future) that have gone into making that transaction a reality."

But Hirshman's article is compelling.

She is judgmental about the choice of these elite women to stay at home. She does not think that a choice is a choice is a choice and nor does she think that all choices made by women are "feminist" ones.

She says:
Here’s the feminist moral analysis that choice avoided: The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust. To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, 'A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read.'

On opting out, she thinks that it is both bad for them as individuals and bad fo
r society as a whole.

Why bad for society?
As for society, elites supply the labor for the decision-making classes -- the senators, the newspaper editors, the research scientists, the entrepreneurs, the policy-makers, and the policy wonks. If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, the rulers will make mistakes that benefit males, whether from ignorance or from indifference. Media surveys reveal that if only one member of a television show’s creative staff is female, the percentage of women on-screen goes up from 36 percent to 42 percent. A world of 84-percent male lawyers and 84-percent female assistants is a different place than one with women in positions of social authority.

Why bad for individuals?
A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world. Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives. At feminism’s dawning, two theorists compared gender ideology to a caste system. To borrow their insight, these daughters of the upper classes will be bearing most of the burden of the work always associated with the lowest caste: sweeping and cleaning bodily waste. Not two weeks after the Yalie flap, the Times ran a story of moms who were toilet training in infancy by vigilantly watching their babies for signs of excretion 24-7. They have voluntarily become untouchables.

So yeah. This stuck in my craw a bit. There is no doubt that the roots of my introspection probably have more to do with approaching a (ahem) certain age. I am definitely experiencing a sense of self doubt and uncertainty that can't be assuaged by simply purchasing an antique convertible (but still). Am I willing to give up a tenured position and the years of work, study and preparation that got me there to avoid the commute and be at home with Big for the next year and, after that to be at home for Big and Seven with home-made snacks after school?

Is Hirshman right? Did feminism fail to alter the gender division of labor in the household? She claims that: Great as liberal feminism was, once it retreated to choice the movement had no language to use on the gendered ideology of the family. Feminists could not say, 'Housekeeping and child-rearing in the nuclear family is not interesting and not socially validated. Justice requires that it not be assigned to women on the basis of their gender and at the sacrifice of their access to money, power, and honor.'

Okay okay. I get it. Women shouldn't be expected to shoulder the minutiae and repetitious, dirty details of the household. And when women "choose" that, we can't take that choice at face-value. That choice comes with a bunch of eco-socio-politico baggage and invisible constraints -- social norms, institutional rules, gender roles -- that penalize women who don't make that choice (feel guilty sending your kid to day care anyone?) and reward women who do (can). This choice isn't the same as all other choices (but my choices above were picked especially to show that NO choices are as simple as the ones presented in economics textbooks. Even the ones where the author tries to be 'hip' in his examples like 'should I choose another slice of pizza or another glass of beer?').

"But. . . " said that little devil over my shoulder who is dreading the commute back to my mediocre state school and who recognizes the so-called irrational tug of my heart strings with the thought of leaving Big and Seven on a more regular basis, "Is it really so exploitative if my spouse is a woman, not a man?" What if my sacrifice allows another woman to, say, become president of a law firm? Or allows another woman to 'have it all' -career AND kids? What if I DO feel that working on a part-time basis would feel more sane? And what if we can afford it?

Does this change the analysis?

Is what is bad for the hetero goose good for the lesbian gander? Or does it not matter. If it smells like a duck, is it a duck?

I was discussing this with a fellow stay-at-homo who is also chafing up against the constraints of housewifedom and all of its repetitious, dirty, low-caste chores. She reminded me of the work that gender theorists have done on the notion that gender is a behavior, how we act, how we perform. In that sense, it doesn't matter what sex we are (or what sex to whom we are married -- or, better said, for whose sex we clean toilets) it is what we DO. So if Linda Hirshman married Judy Butler, let's just say she'd keep her academic job and Judy'd have to hire out some help or clean her own toilets, or just let them be filthy, or, at last resort, pitch in.

I think that one key to all of this would be to explore stay-at-home-dads. How do they view their roles? What social costs do they face as they buck social norms? What are the fallouts to their marriages?

Also, I can't help but think that an overlooked part of this argument is the notion of the masculine workforce. So, rather than considering balancing kids, home, and a forty-hour workweek, these 'elite' women are looking to balance kids, home and an 80 hour workweek with unlimited responsibilities. Can feminism continue to make headway through "work-life" policies that breakdown this most masculinist of institutions?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Something Blue


I've been a bit of a curmudgeon on this very RED day.

I guess it could be worse, to be a blue among the red. I am a bit like the great state of Minnesota that way, so I guess I'm in good company.

Seven woke us up today at 6:30 a.m. (I deduced tonight after noticing how much she had to have read in the two books she is currently plowing her way through, that in order to have read that much and to have been up in our room by that time, she must have gotten up at 5:00a.m.) with this ridiculously bouncy and practically swooning energy about this Hallmark Holiday.

At 6:30a.m.

As I said, I was being a curmudgeon.

How can one not be excited about a fuzzy-feeling holiday. Even Big, by 8:00a.m. was saying "Happy Valentimes Day!" and "Ohhhh! A Valentimes card!!"

I get a little uprooted on these "special occasion" days that require a bit of extra attention in addition to the everyday chores. We woke up to a beautiful blanket of snow, which meant on this Thursday, not skiing or sledding, but shoveling.

I perked up a bit when during my first class today, an all male singing group came in and serenaded two students with some awfully suggestive lyrics to the tune of Pat Benetar's "Heartbreaker" and another, entirely original song that was much too lewd to reprint in any capacity, but hilarious in its context.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Something Borrowed

Okay, I'm joining the blog party started by The Other Mother, and followed up by LesbianDad in honor of the eleventh anniversary of Freedom to Marry Week. Her organizing theme is "something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue". Oh, and here is a list of others playing the same game!

I'm starting with something borrowed, because I am borrowing this theme.

In honor of Freedom to Marry Week, I am also borrowing the libertarian's attitude toward Gay Marriage: why does the government give a damn?!?

Tomorrow (or Friday) return for something old: a Baba's take on the Mommy Wars or, is it opting out if you're shaking up with a woman??

Thursday, February 07, 2008

On Electability

Nicholas Kristof's op-ed piece on today's New York Times ("Who is More Electable?") essentially argues that Obama has a better chance at beating McCain. One clue, he says is that "in Tuesday’s balloting in 14 'red states' that were won by President George W. Bush in 2004. Mr. Obama won nine while Hillary Rodham Clinton won four and is ahead in the fifth."

In other niches: "Mr. Obama does surprisingly well among evangelical Christians, an important constituency in swing states. For example, Relevant magazine, which caters to young evangelicals, asked its readers: 'Who would Jesus vote for?' Mr. Obama was the winner and came out 27 percentage points ahead of Mrs. Clinton."

And, are we more sexist or racist?: "Another way of looking at electability is to wonder whether it’s more of a disadvantage to be black or to be female. Shirley Chisholm, the black woman who ran for president in 1972, argued in effect that there were more sexists than racists in America. 'I met more discrimination as a woman, than for being black,' Ms. Chisholm once said. . . . And recent polling and psychology research seem to back that up."

One compelling argument that I haven't seen anyone make is the Black Republican's vote. How could it possibly be for Hillary and how large is that faction of voters?

The Joys of Parenting: Part I

Biomom and I, used to Big waking us up on the morning with his mumbling and grumbling, woke up late today because he decided to slept in.

Seven has to be at school at 7:55 (really, 8:00 a.m.), so waking up at 7:40 makes it a bit of a rush. I followed Biomom downstairs to find Seven (who gets up somewhere between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.) just hanging out in her pajamas.

I thought to myself, on the verge of her eighth birthday, at what point in a child's life can they be expected to recognize that they need to take responsibility for themselves and a) get dressed without being asked and b) grab something for breakfast out of the fridge without it being made for them?

In anticipation of this possible rush, the night before, I had reminded her to get ready for school first thing when she gets up. Get dressed before you go play or read or whatever. I've been attempting to instill this Catholic notion of getting the bad out of way before enjoying the good -- eat your veggies before dessert!

When I saw her, still in her PJ's at 7:40, I reminded her that I had reminded her to get dressed first, the night before. Her response (which, incidentally, has clouded my morning still and it is 9:50--hence the early and unusual blog post on a Thursday, a teaching day) was: It was a suggestion. . . You suggested that I get ready first!

She had, apparently, decided the suggestion to be unworthy of attention or follow-through. Alas.

Getting her out the door was followed by going upstairs to retrieve Big from his crib. I walked in to him exclaiming: Poop!

Yes, I thought. It certainly smells of it!

When I turned on the light, I found, to my horror, him holding on to a little brown ball, not unlike Bill Murray in Caddyshack, but this, unfortunately, was not a Babyruth.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hedonic Marriage and Strange Bedfellows

I just finished reading a round of essays on the topic "Can Marriage Survive" on the Cato Institutes's Website.

I heard about the online discussion after coming into contact with Betsey Stevenson's work on the AEA panel that I chaired at the annual economic nerd conference in January, and was unafraid of her association with the libertarian-oriented Cato as I had seen (and agreed with) their views on gay marriage in the past. So, given a bit of extra time on my hands for academic reading, I ventured onto their website. Let me be clear, I am not a libertarian, but I do see their point from time to time.

In any case, the discussion on marriage is an interesting one, and worth your read. The lead discussant, Stephanie Coontz (author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage) makes, essentially, two points:
Her first point is that marriage is not on the verge of extinction, but it is definitely changing. It is not the social-organizing institution that it once was. Historically, says she, ". . . for millennia, marriage was much more about regulating economic, political, and gender hierarchies than nourishing the well-being of adults and their children." As technology (birth control), norms (about divorce, cohabitation, being single, having out-of-wedlock children, and sending kids to day-care), and women's economic opportunities changed (labor force participation, wages, occupational choice and of course, education), so too did the constraints that supported what we knew as marriage. Now that people no longer HAVE to get married to have sex or have kids, and now that people no longer HAVE to stay married, what does the institution mean and what does it do for us as a society? Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers argue (in their response essay) that marriage has moved away from a unit of production to a unit of consumption and that one of the consequences is that we choose mates for companionship rather than economic prosperity.

According to Stevenson and Wolfers: "So what drives modern marriage? We believe that the answer lies in a shift from the family as a forum for shared production, to shared consumption. In case the language of economic lacks romance, let’s be clearer: modern marriage is about love and companionship. Most things in life are simply better shared with another person: this ranges from the simple pleasures such as enjoying a movie or a hobby together, to shared social ties such as attending the same church, and finally, to the joint project of bringing up children. Returning to the language of economics, the key today is consumption complementarities — activities that are not only enjoyable, but are more enjoyable when shared with a spouse. We call this new model of sharing our lives “hedonic marriage”."

Coontz claims that in many ways, what's left over is better: the divorce rate has fallen (especially among the college-edu-ma-cated), when people do get divorced, they're much friendlier about it, men are less likely to just walk away from their kids and teen birth is on the decline. What's more, couples are more likely to share housework and productive work (i.e. not adopt that 1950s strict division of labor in which the man works outside of the house for a wage and the woman stays at home changing diapers) and they are more stable because of it. Husbands and wives have more egalitarian views about gender and as a result higher marital quality.

Hum. . . This is sounding more and more like, well ALL of the research on GLBT (especially the L part of that acronym) families. My work on the division of labor in lesbian households expanded on other short and relatively non-random surveys that showed that lesbians tend to be a) less likely to have a strict division of labor in the household and b) have more egalitarian ideas about how to conduct family business. As a result, they tend to be more equal. The jury was out on their stability although Neoclassical researchers like Gary Becker presumed that GLBT families would, by definition, be less stable (he never considered the fact that they received no institutional support as being a primary cause of this instability rather than some essential consequence of homosexuality).

So have we exchanged quality for quantity (in terms of the number of marriages as well as their length in years)?

Her second main point is that we can no longer structure social policies, work schedules, health insurance systems etc. etc. on the assumption that our commitments and care-obligations will be organized through marriage.

She concludes that instead of asking "what kind of family do we wish people lived in?" we should ask: "what do we know about how to help every family build on its strengths, minimize its weaknesses and raise children more successfully?"

This sounds like an excellent starting point for a positive political movement supporting GLBT families, particularly those with kids.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fat Tuesday

So BioMom and I's votes officially canceled out tonight.

Unfortunately, due to a school board meeting and other sundry affairs, we couldn't hash out our differences over a bottle of wine, as our neighbors did tonight, and head into the caucuses united.

The caucus experience (my first in Minnesota) was bizarre. I literally walked in, stood in a huge line for a while until a woman came around with what seemed like a piece of notebook paper in one hand and a pile of little ripped pieces of notebook paper in the other, told me and the people around me to fill out our names and addresses on the big piece, after which we could have one of the little piece of paper, on which we'd write our presidential candidate preference, and file down into an auditorium where we could (literally) put it in a plastic trash can with all of the other votes.

It felt like I was voting for the prom queen in high school.*

*Hats off to Cousin for the analogy.

Overheard at Macalester

While walking between classes moments ago:

"Dude. It's a fucking a prior science! That's what's so fucking cool about it!"

Monday, February 04, 2008

Paul Krugman for Hillary based on the Health Care Differences

February 4, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Clinton, Obama, Insurance

The principal policy division between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama involves health care. It’s a division that can seem technical and obscure — and I’ve read many assertions that only the most wonkish care about the fine print of their proposals.

But as I’ve tried to explain in previous columns, there really is a big difference between the candidates’ approaches. And new research, just released, confirms what I’ve been saying: the difference between the plans could well be the difference between achieving universal health coverage — a key progressive goal — and falling far short.

Specifically, new estimates say that a plan resembling Mrs. Clinton’s would cover almost twice as many of those now uninsured as a plan resembling Mr. Obama’s — at only slightly higher cost.

Let’s talk about how the plans compare.

Both plans require that private insurers offer policies to everyone, regardless of medical history. Both also allow people to buy into government-offered insurance instead.

And both plans seek to make insurance affordable to lower-income Americans. The Clinton plan is, however, more explicit about affordability, promising to limit insurance costs as a percentage of family income. And it also seems to include more funds for subsidies.

But the big difference is mandates: the Clinton plan requires that everyone have insurance; the Obama plan doesn’t.

Mr. Obama claims that people will buy insurance if it becomes affordable. Unfortunately, the evidence says otherwise.

After all, we already have programs that make health insurance free or very cheap to many low-income Americans, without requiring that they sign up. And many of those eligible fail, for whatever reason, to enroll.

An Obama-type plan would also face the problem of healthy people who decide to take their chances or don’t sign up until they develop medical problems, thereby raising premiums for everyone else. Mr. Obama, contradicting his earlier assertions that affordability is the only bar to coverage, is now talking about penalizing those who delay signing up — but it’s not clear how this would work.

So the Obama plan would leave more people uninsured than the Clinton plan. How big is the difference?

To answer this question you need to make a detailed analysis of health care decisions. That’s what Jonathan Gruber of M.I.T., one of America’s leading health care economists, does in a new paper.

Mr. Gruber finds that a plan without mandates, broadly resembling the Obama plan, would cover 23 million of those currently uninsured, at a taxpayer cost of $102 billion per year. An otherwise identical plan with mandates would cover 45 million of the uninsured — essentially everyone — at a taxpayer cost of $124 billion. Over all, the Obama-type plan would cost $4,400 per newly insured person, the Clinton-type plan only $2,700.

That doesn’t look like a trivial difference to me. One plan achieves more or less universal coverage; the other, although it costs more than 80 percent as much, covers only about half of those currently uninsured.

As with any economic analysis, Mr. Gruber’s results are only as good as his model. But they’re consistent with the results of other analyses, such as a 2003 study, commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that compared health reform plans and found that mandates made a big difference both to success in covering the uninsured and to cost-effectiveness.

And that’s why many health care experts like Mr. Gruber strongly support mandates.

Now, some might argue that none of this matters, because the legislation presidents actually manage to get enacted often bears little resemblance to their campaign proposals. And there is, indeed, no guarantee that Mrs. Clinton would, if elected, be able to pass anything like her current health care plan.

But while it’s easy to see how the Clinton plan could end up being eviscerated, it’s hard to see how the hole in the Obama plan can be repaired. Why? Because Mr. Obama’s campaigning on the health care issue has sabotaged his own prospects.

You see, the Obama campaign has demonized the idea of mandates — most recently in a scare-tactics mailer sent to voters that bears a striking resemblance to the “Harry and Louise” ads run by the insurance lobby in 1993, ads that helped undermine our last chance at getting universal health care.

If Mr. Obama gets to the White House and tries to achieve universal coverage, he’ll find that it can’t be done without mandates — but if he tries to institute mandates, the enemies of reform will use his own words against him.

If you combine the economic analysis with these political realities, here’s what I think it says: If Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, there is some chance — nobody knows how big — that we’ll get universal health care in the next administration. If Mr. Obama gets the nomination, it just won’t happen.

Katha Pollitt Signs up for Obama

From my blog at

Hillary Clinton is smart, energetic, immensely knowledgeable, and, as she likes to say, hard-working. I've been appalled by the misogynous vitriol (and mean-girl snark) aimed against her. If she is the nominee I will work my heart out for her.

But right now, I'm supporting Barack Obama. On domestic politics, their differences are small-- I'm with her on health care mandates, and with him on driver's licences for undocumented immigrants; both would probably be equally good on women's rights, abortion rights and judicial appointments. But on foreign policy Obama seems more enlightened, as in less bellicose. Maybe Hillary Clinton's refusal to say her Iraq vote was wrong shows that she has neo-con sympathies; maybe she simply believes that any admission of error would tar her as weak. But we already have a warlike president who refuses to admit making mistakes, and look how that's turned out. The election of Barack Obama would send a signal to the world that the United States is taking a different tack.

When Obama won Iowa, I was surprised that I was glad. Much as I would love to pull the lever for a woman president -- a pro-choice Democratic woman president, that is --I realized at that moment how deeply unthrilled I was by the prospect of a grim vote-by-vote fight for the 50 percent+1 majority in a campaign that would rehearse all the old, (yes, mostly bogus or exaggerated) scandals and maybe turn up some new ones too. I wasn't delighted to think success would mean four more years of Bill Clinton either, or might come at the price of downticket losses, as many red-state Democrats fear. Democrats have nominated plenty of dutiful public servants over the years -- Humphrey, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry . They have always lost (or in Gore's case, not won by enough to not lose). Obama may not be as progressive as we wish over here at The Nation-- and maybe someday we can have a serious conversation about why Edwards' economic populism, promoted for years by important voices at the magazine, was such a bust. But Obama is a candidate in a different mold. He's a natural politician who connects with people as Hillary Clinton, for whatever reason, just doesn't, and appeals to the better angels of their nature. He sparks an enthusiasm in people--independents, the young, the previously disengaged. An Obama victory could have big positive repercussions for progressive politics.

I usually resist words like "hope" and "change." But with Supertuesday barely 36 hours away what I think is, let's go with the charismatic candidate this time. Let's go with the candidate voters feel some passion about. Let's say goodbye to the Clintons and have some new people make history.

Plenty of feminists support Obama, by the way. for example Kate Michelman, former head of NARAL, and Ellen Bravo of Nine to Five. I signed a letter from " New York Feminists for Peace and Barack Obama." Other signers include the historians Linda Gordon, Alice Kessler Harris and Ros Baxandall; the sociologist Judith Stacey; the political scientist Ros Petchesky,and writers Margo Jefferson and Meredith Tax. You can read it and, if you are a New York feminist, sign it, here .

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Bulgarian Girl Dolls

It's almost Seven's birthday and we've put off the purchase of the inanely expensive American Girl doll long enough. It's her "golden birthday" (eight on the eighth) and she's convinced us that it is time.

After much deliberation, she's chosen Kit.

Frankly, it was much harder for her Godfather to choose. As I write this, approximately 1/2 hour after BioMom pressed 'enter' on the collective order, he is reconsidering his choice of Emily (who he originally insisted was from England), instead favoring Julie (because she's his age--assuming that the girls are approximately eight years old--and because he had concluded that Emily was "B-rated", being just Molly's sidekick and as a consequence, not sporting her own DVD. I'm not sure why he didn't simply choose Molly in the first place as he contended that "she's pretty without her glasses!").

Note to self: it was the best decision in our life to give her two gay godfathers. They've been on board with all of her interests from baby dolls to Barbies to now this. They're even conspiring about an American Girl Hadj: a train ride to Chicago in '09 to the American Girl Doll Mecca.

As they considered their options, I considered expanding the trademark to other countries. Imagine, for example, Bulgarian Girl Dolls!

There's the Communist-Dictatorship-Era girl ("Nadegda" or "Hope" in English) who is liberated from her proletarian chains and moves to the urban center only to find that her family has been spying on her for years, notifying the Stasi of all of her transgressions against The Party. Her DVD documents her time spent in the the Gulag.

Then there's Roma and Turkish Bulgarian American Girl Dolls, representing three and (according to some census measures) up to fifteen percent of the population respectively. While the Turkish girl ("Emel Etem") comes equipped with agricultural tools for the production of substandard tobacco that is no longer profitable since trade relationships with the former Soviet Union broke down after the economy transitioned to a market, the Roma girl ("Ivo") is homeless and her DVD documents her attempts at panhandling in tourist destinations.

There's also the Pomak girl, a Muslim Bulgarian ("Bilyana"), who is a descendant of Christian Bulgarians who were converted to Islam during the period between the 16th and 18th century during the Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria. Her DVD depicts the stunning views of the Rhodope mountains where she resides and discusses the pejorative origins of the name "Pomak." It reports on the 1930s movement (begun by the Rodina organization) in which the minority group moves back to their Bulgarian roots as well as their reconciliation with their Christian and Muslim faiths. Because they have promoted a more secular way of living, she wears modern non-Muslim clothing and has been educated, despite her sex.

Oh and, don't forget Post-Transition "Penka" who, unlike her highly educated parents, has decided not to continue on to University because there are no jobs in her home town of Smolyn. Even in Sophia the jobless rate continues to hover at 15 percent on average, making the return to an investment in higher education nearly negative. In a post-nine-eleven world, she is also much more restricted in her ability to get visas to work study overseas despite getting high scores on her entrance exams. Her DVD chronicles an attempt at entry into the tourism industry (her fluency in French, English, German and Russian made her an excellent candidate for a position as a hostess at one the many hotels at the sea resorts in Varna on the Black Sea) but a brush with the illegal sex trade forces her to resign and head back home, joining many of her twenty-something friends in economic deprivation and hopelessness.

An Argument for Obama

Dear [Blogauthor],

I hope Groundhog Day finds you with a note of spring in your life!
I'm writing because on Tuesday we'll have an important chance to bring some new life to our country by voting for Barack Obama in the presidential primary.

I've been supporting Sen. Obama's campaign since last summer for many
reasons: his early opposition to the war, his history as a community organizer focused on the needs of real people, and his stands on many important issues like the environment, our economy, and health care.
He shares my priorities and values.

Just as importantly, his ability to inspire people to hope for real change has energized a growing movement. I've heard that note of hope and engagement in my friends and students, and I've felt it myself!
And that's what we need to move us past partisan gridlock to get good ideas and important changes into law and practice.

As a lesbian, I am especially moved and impressed by the fact that Sen. Obama has been the biggest and best advocate for LGBT issues that we've ever had in a presidential candidate. He's taken a strong stand on our issues: he's pro-ENDA, wants to end Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, and supports giving same-sex couples rights at the federal level, among other important positions.

Obama's appeal to LGBT people isn't lip service to a group of voters whose votes he needs – Obama walks his talk to our community! Barack Obama has brought the message of LGBT equality and resistance to homophobia to general audiences around the country -- from a major address at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and meetings with evangelical ministers in Tennessee to speeches and debates before thousands upon thousands of people in Denver and San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, Springfield, Illinois and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

I can't convey in words how moving it is to hear a presidential candidate stand up for LGBT people in this unprecedented way. Please see for yourself in these video clips of Obama speeches:

At Ebenezer Baptist Church (especially at 9 min 4 sec -- 13 min 19 sec):

Accepting the historic endorsements of Senator Edward Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy (esp. 9 min -- 10 min 30 sec)

In "Countdown to Change" speeches around the country (esp. 8 min 10 sec -- 10 min):

There's more in the Obama Pride document I've attached.

I strongly urge you to vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday and to convince your friends, neighbors, and families to vote for him, too!
Please pass the word along to everyone you know.

Barack Obama is the best candidate for LGBT people and for every American.


M. V. Lee Badgett, Ph.D.
Cell: (310) 904-9761