Follow Me on Twitter

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dear Abby: What's In Your Bag?

Right after US Weekly does a review of the latest arthouse indie film and updates its readers on Europe's sovereign debt crisis, it plunges even greater depths of current affairs.

It asks stars like Niecy Nash (no clue), Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party of Five, something about ghosts, John Mayer, breasts), and Stacy Keibler (George Clooney, Lake Como) "what's in your bag"?  It's a penetrating analysis of what kind of lip gloss they can't live without and how much more they spend on eye cream than the rest of us.  It's all very relatable.  The only downside is the number of dictionaries and thesauri one must have nearby during one's review of said column.  The stars use BIG words, like Creme de la Mer ($275 for 0.4 oz).

Naturally, every time one of this blog's fans reads about the organic vegan water preference of the Hollywood It Girl du jour, she thinks of me.  So in this installment of Dear Abby, I'm answering the hard-hitting question: what's in my bag?

While many mothers these days are trying to adapt a cute designer-ish tote bag into the standard diaper bag role, I am not.  That takes too much energy.  Plus, common folk tote bags involve too few compartments and pockets.  I need options for where I'm going to lose things, and I need my bag to do its part in the hide-and-seek game that I so enjoy playing with crumbs, snacks, and pharmaceutical products.

Ergo, my bag is the size of a small carry-on suitcase; if actually checked as luggage with an air carrier, I would have to pay the extra weight surcharge.  That's because my bag weighs as if it is carting elephant tusks....still attached to the elephant.

The bag is a lovely oblong shape in the color "camouflage."  Kind of like this:

Only more camo-y.

It would look appropriate for me to use if I (a) were an extra in the Hunger Games; (b) a bow-and-arrow enthusiast wearing a neon orange baseball cap; or (c) trying to scramble over a national border.  I am none of those things.  I use the bag because my sister-in-law won it or something and she gave it to me.  (Because I live in Maine, and she lives in New York City.)

The outside pockets of the bag contain, in no particular order:

  • A collection of napkins from local ice cream establishments;
  • Sanitizing hand spray that I have applied to my children maybe 0.5 times;
  • A red crayon;
  • A thin film of crust from snacks consumed in the days of yore;
  • The feather of a passing seagull;
  • A white rock collected from a beach and lovingly named My Rock; and
  • A dried-out tube of lip gloss purchased at CVS in 2010 ($3.99).
I just love all these items so much and I couldn't live without them.  I use the napkins to wipe my upper lip sweat that I lather into after hauling the bag and two children around for a few minutes.  I use the sanitizing hand spray to pretend with onlookers that I'm a parent who cares about germs and cleanliness.  I use the red crayon as a lip liner.  I use the snack dust to rub on my teeth for when I need a protein kick.  The seagull feather doubles as a comb, the white rock as a way to break into my house when I've forgotten the keys, and the lip gloss tube as a teething ring. 

They're all organic and very expensive and fancy and I'm very special.  But also down-to-earth and fun-loving, in a quirky and endearing sort of way.

The inside pockets of the bag contain, in no particular order:

  • Regular diapers, swim diapers, and overnight diapers;
  • Wipes;
  • Vaseline and diaper rash cream;
  • 23 crayons in various states of decay and decapitation;
  • A thin film of crust from snacks consumed in the days of yore;
  • A small toy store's worth of plastic chew toys, including some perhaps meant for a dog;
  • A change of clothes in size 3-6 months for my 11-month-old son;
  • A change of clothes in size 5T for my 4-year-old daughter;
  • Snacks for babies;
  • Snacks for preschoolers;
  • Instant coffee (decaf); and
  • My wallet.
I just love all these items so much and I couldn't live without them.  I use the diapers only when my son smells so badly that we're borderline causing a public health emergency.  I use the wipes to clean up every end of each of my children, as well as to wash my car.  The Vaseline and diaper rash cream are my hair products (the former for days I want straight, the latter for days I know I'm stuck with the curls).  The crayons would keep my daughter entertained, if only I had remembered to bring a coloring book or at least a scrap of paper.  But I'm a fast thinker and I did bring my wallet, so my dollar bills are covered in flowers and fireworks.  The snack dust acts as glitter for art projects on the fly.  The chew toys are for me to use to try to distract my son and then invite frustration when the only thing he wants to play with is my earlobe or my front teeth.  The changes of clothes are sentimental reminders of what once was and what is to come.  The snacks are for grocery store check-outs, car rides longer than 1 minute, and daughters who need something to do with their mouths other than tell stories that last an average of 12 minutes.  The instant coffee is there because it was purchased at a grocery store a couple weeks ago and I just keep forgetting to put it in the kitchen.  My wallet is there so I can buy the coloring book I forgot and/or so that I have proper identification if and when I decide to make a break for Canada.

They're all organic and very expensive and fancy and I'm very special.  But also down-to-earth and fun-loving, in a quirky and endearing sort of way.

Stars - they're just like us!  And vice versa!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Civic Pride

If I had a nickel for every time my daughter asked me what a national nominating convention was, you'd have to call me Oprah Winfrey de Diaz and I'd have to rename this blog MINE.  My little patriot was a mere 4 months old when Barack/Joe and John/Sarah did their wave-salutes on giant stages, and what can I say?  She was intrigued even then.  Her little legs would kick every time Barack wagged his finger, and she just cooed every time Sarah removed consonants from the end of her words.

You can only imagine, then, how stoked -- yes, stoked -- she is now that she is a more sentient, interactive 4-year-old.  It's "On Morning Joe..." this and "Politico reported..." that.  She channel surfs between MSNBC and CNN during rest time, and darn if I can't get her to bed after Chris Matthews plays his latest game of Hardball.

Her enthusiasm is rubbing off on her brother.  He will now only stick objects in his mouth if they are red, white, or blue.  Children are just such sponges, aren't they?

My husband and I decided to take the bull by the horns.  Drawing on past success, we figured the best way to teach them the ins-and-outs of our political parties' nominating conventions was to bring the lesson close to home.  It worked so well when we taught them about paying taxes by making them line up all their favorite things and then giving us half of them so that we could use them for unidentifiable purposes. 

For this civics lesson, we told them that our family made up the Diaz Nutso Convention, or DNC.  We explained that we would be gathering to elect Papi as father of our family.  With this as our foundation, we then followed the 10 steps I have set forth below.  I urge you to try this with your family.  Also, be sure to pin the 10 steps to your "1,001 Ways to Raise Ill-Informed Children" Board on Pinterest.  I mean, pay it forward, right?

God bless.

  1. Pick a host location.  Obviously this needs to be done with careful planning and an advance team with a mind for details and a stomach for fast food restaurants.  The host location should scream of armpits.  As in, the armpit of X state or the armpit of Y region.  Because you want your host location to be the exact opposite of the stratospheric ideology you will spend your convention blowing out of your mouth.  You want a host location that is seedy, run-down, and bordering on the brink of catastrophe (political, economic, social, and/or meteorological).  That helps to put your high-minded, gloating arrogance about the divine mission of your convention in starker relief.  If it's helpful, I am proud to share that our DNC took place at Funtown, Splashtown, USA (just past the baker's dozen car dealerships in lovely Saco, Maine).
  2. Fundraise.  This is where you hammer home to your kids that politics is all about making it rain.  Rain money, that is.  Because who cares what your message is or what your plans are if you can't shout them from atop a bank-busting checking account?  It is very important to bring your children into the effort to collect money from extended family members, unsuspecting friends, and people who are fast and loose with their PayPal account.  Inspire people to donate by preaching to them that your family will be a model in frugality, budget monitoring, and belt-tightening.  Then spend more than 5 months' mortgage payments on helium balloons.  Follow that up by drafting a speech about eliminating wasteful spending.  Teach your children the phrases "selective consciousness" and "total lack of self-awareness."
  3. Prepare your platform.  This part's fun.  Identify the most harebrained aspects of your family life, and decide to champion those. The more extreme the position, the better.  Say that these ideals will be what defines your family, but then work very hard to make sure that no one outside of your family ever hears what they are. Ever.  Because they should be that embarrassing.  Again, to help you here, one of our major platforms was a nod to our 11-month-old.  We agreed that all of us - adults, preschoolers, everyone - would wear diapers.  All day, every day.  No matter that 3/4 of us were potty-trained.  If there was any way to get buy-in to our family from the baby of the family, this was going to be it.  So we'd do it.  Or at least, we'd say we would.  And then we'd hope like h-e-double-hockey-sticks that no one would ever look too closely at our bulging mid-sections.
  4. Check credentials.  Make sure the people who will be voting on the father of the family to become the father of the family are qualified to do so.  Find your kid's birth certificates, take them to Staples, laminate them, and hang them from lanyards around your children's necks.  Make sure they're the long-form birth certificates.  A simple certificate of live birth will NOT do.
  5. Praise God.  Take some time here.  Make sure everyone understands that we've reached the most important part of any convention.  Engage the family in a scavenger hunt to drum up every religious artifact in your house.  Bring them all to the convention.  The Children's Bible.  The potato chip that looks like Mary Magdalene.  The nails.  Whatever is boring.  Then, engage a local barbershop quartet to sing "Amazing Grace" every 15 minutes, and a local priest to say grace every time someone pops a piece of gum.  When the children look confused and remind you that their father hasn't been to church since his First Communion, look at them in horror and accuse them of being crazy and/or stupid and/or a terrorist for saying such an asinine thing.  (Later, give them a hug and say that of course they're right, but rules are rules and if they can't follow them, well, they can move to Canada.)
  6. Vote.  Speed through this part.  Even though the convention is ostensibly convened for the exact purpose of an election by way of vote-casting, emphasize that the purpose of the convention should not get in the way of all the balloons and fun with confetti.  I mean, everyone already knows that Papi is the Papi of the DNC, right?  It's been known for ages, in fact.  Silly children.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, after taking the vote, everyone should cheer wildly and the New York Times should be conscripted to send breaking news alerts that Papi has been elected Papi of his family.
  7. Speech from Mami.  Balance is crucial here.  Mami's speech should be good, but not too good.  Upstaging her husband would be catastrophic. At the same time, Mami needs to win at least the hearts of her audience.  She needs to remind them that even though Papi sometimes has to lay down the law, and even though he sometimes seems distanced when he first ambles through the door after work, he's really a delightful, ticklish, stud of a guy.  Anecdotes about Papi saving/rescuing Mami in some way are helpful.  Reference should most definitely be made to some stupid nickname he never uses or that endearing coffee run he went on 9 years ago.
  8. Speech from Papi.  Now we're in the big leagues.  A speech that should be soaring, with lots of gesturing and perfectly-timed pauses that indicate applause would be appropriate.  Papi should make sweeping promises with almost no detail, and should say exactly what he thinks everyone wants to hear -- even if some of those things are either mutually exclusive or internally inconsistent.  Making sense doesn't matter.  Making history does.
  9. Speech from the Next Guy.  Carve out time for a primetime speech by the Next Guy who will take over the role as The Guy in your family.  This is, of course, kind of awkward.  We're all supposed to be excited about the current father of the family, after all.  No one is supposed to be looking down the road at who's coming next, before Papi has time to cement himself in our memories as the Papi Ronald Reagan Bill Clinton.  But it must be done.  Find a Guy who has already kind of endeared himself, but who's younger and more fiery and more awesome.  Reassure the kids they'll have 4-8 years to get used to the idea of calling this Guy "Dad."
  10. Move on.  As soon as all the balloons have fallen and the confetti has been canon-shot, go home.  Forget about everything that just happened.  Start hating each other again.  Let Papi ignore all the promises he made, but resent him for it all the same.  Start counting down the days until the Next Guy takes over. 
         The only thing you should keep doing is fundraising.

Monday, August 27, 2012


"Your aunt played soccer!"

"Soccer is so much fun!"

"Look at these awesome long socks with leg armor in them - they're pink!"

"You get to bring a water bottle!"

"We will be approximately 5 feet away from you at all times!"

"I need a way to kill a Saturday morning with you once it gets too cold for the pool!"

These are the enticements I gleefully sang (and/or thought in my head) as I tried to sell my daughter on the idea of taking soccer lessons with the other 3-5-year-olds in our town whose parents had $54 to spend on a fall weekend diversion.  I thought it would be a good way for her to meet some new friends, run around a little, and start learning about organized sports.  Also, I wanted to survey the market on over-contraptioned folding chairs/mobile beds up close and personal.

I am under no pretensions about my daughter's athletic predestination.  The sportiest I get is when I run on a treadmill for the extra reading time.  My husband had to stop playing volleyball in high school when it was confirmed he would never stand taller than (the bottom of) the net. 

I get that the chances of us sending either of our children to college on an athletic scholarship are as good as our chances of sending either of our children to a playdate with Snooki's off-spring: 50/50.  I also get, though, that we probably won't be able to fully fund our children's college tuitions unless they figure out some way to absorb some of the costs.  So it really wouldn't hurt them to try to surprise us in the athletics department. 

What I'm saying here is that I didn't sign my daughter up for Saturday soccer with visions of the NCAA dancing in my head...but lightning has to strike somewhere, right?  Bolt of electricity, consider my daughter your circuit connector.

This is a bad metaphor.

If history has taught me anything, it's that my daughter so far is trending in line with genetics.  When she tries to do the doggy-paddle, she kind of looks like she's sweetly drowning.  When she tried tumbling, she tumbled, but not really in the way the class had in mind.  When she took dance classes, she spent the end-of-session "performances" staring at her feet and not moving an inch of her body.  When offered the chance to play tennis or golf, she opts for coloring.

I am also learning that she is incredibly shy in new situations.  My chatty, exuberant story-teller becomes a mute who tries to hide under my skirt.  Drop-offs become an exercise in subterfuge and awkward clothes maneuvering.

Being a fast learner, I figured that a class with people she didn't know doing a sport she'd never tried was just the thing to make this fall a success.  I tried to prep her and psych her up with the above exhortations.  I let myself believe her when she expressed some remote excitement at the idea of soccer, and tried to ignore the fact that the excitement seemed directed more at the post-activity snack than the activity-activity activity.

Fifteen bouncy, happy, screamy children greeted us on Saturday morning.  The field where they would be having their lessons was about the size of an average house hallway.  The parents were camped out on the sidelines.  When the parents extended their arms, they could touch their children.  When the parents whispered, their children could hear them.  When the parents breathed out, their children's hair blew in the wind.

This was all too much for my daughter.  We were too far away, the noise was overwhelming, and the implicit requirement that she move her body was too rigorous.  If we really wanted her to do this thing called soccer, couldn't she do it while standing on our feet and holding our hands?  Or could we perhaps hoist her up on our shoulders?

We pep talked.  We cajoled.  We threatened.  We said things like:

"You're going to play and you are going to like it!"

"See all those people your height out there?  Those are children and they will be your friends!  Now MOVE!"

"Come on, just move one foot.  One foot.  It will be fun!  You can DO it!"


Nothing worked.  This is how she spent the entire 45 minutes:

My daughter is the one in the pink shin guards and the pout.  The statue one.

You would have thought we were condemning her to a life of canned tuna fish and Shia LaBeouf movies.  Actually, she probably would have preferred that life.

At one point, she complained to me that she didn't want to play because the ball was "too wet."  From the morning dew, you see.

Somewhere around the 40th minute, she did kick a ball.  I think because she wanted to drill it into my head in retaliation.  Still, we celebrated like she'd just Abby Wambach-ed the thing into the back of the net.  We told her she'd had a real breakthrough and had gotten herself out of her funk.  In truth, we were mostly telling that to ourselves, but we let her half-believe it too.

Mercifully, there's no class next week because of the Labor Day weekend.  Which gives us 2 weeks to convince her that momentary participation does not mean eternal separation, and we'll still be her parents.  Sitting right there.  Three skips away from her. 

Or, it gives us 2 weeks to convince ourselves that we can cut our losses now and start spending our money on bigger coloring books.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Dear Abby: What's Your Dream, Baby?

I try not to name drop on this blog.  It gets hard, because I am the ultimate hobnobber.  I mean, just the other day I was at the pool with my kids and my daughter started swimming with the little girl whose father owns the Wal-Mart retail space in town.  I KNOW!
Today, I just can't hold back.  Because today's Dear Abby post comes from none other than Bill Simmons.  That's right.  The Sports Guy/Grantland editor-big-shot himself.  I.  KNOW!!!
Okay, okay.  The inquiry didn't come directly from Bill.  But one of his Grantland staff writers did post an open call for submissions to a Grantland Fantasy Island competition, in which the winning auteur gets to be Grantland's new fantasy sports writer.  I read that to be just one step removed from an exclusive invitation to Yours Truly to (a) please share my fantasy sports picks; and (b) join Grantland's writing staff.
You're reading it that way as well, right?
So, without further adieu, I present to you my submission to Fantasy Island.  Enjoy.
No Shades of Grey in This Fantasy
Fantasy, meet a dose of reality.  We’re building a make-believe roster, but we’re not poaching stars from various teams.  We’re sticking with one team – one bound for the Super Bowl.  Because identifying a team that is going to be successful means identifying a group of guys that is ready to stats bust.  Because Eli sparked Victor, Aaron sparked Clay, and Drew sparked, well, New Orleans.  Because it makes sense.

Arthur Blank, real owner of the real Atlanta Falcons, also co-founded Home Depot.  The man has given us both a store to build our homes and a team to build our points.  Let’s raid his tool chest and build a fantastic team.  You can do it.  He can help.

Yes, we’re poaching from the Falcons.  

Grab your Lane Kiffin.  Let’s roll.

As with any house worth its mortgage, first priority is a solid foundation.  Enter Matt Ryan, QB.  Five seasons in, he has the experience to back up the football intelligence he has demonstrated since his rookie campaign.  With an offense primed for an air attack, he spent the off-season developing his arm strength and studying up on red zone efficiency.  Come Sundays, he can launch offensive assaults with a mix of backs who can catch, tight ends who can tackle, and receivers who can time-travel.  Then he’ll go home to memorize the next playbook and digest game tape.  Elsewhere, Brees, Flacco, and Cutler will be helping with nighttime feedings and putting the X’s and O’s on sleep schedules.  Mark my words: Matt’s best throw this season will be the No Postseason Wins monkey he throws off his back.

Now, the part of the house that is fun to look at.  Roddy White, elder statesman of the Falcons’ WR tandem, is, in American Idol terms, in it to win it.  He knows that (a) he’s got a youngster nipping at his heels; (b) Falcons Nation wanted more from him last year; and (c) he remains Matt’s go-to target.  Even better, he knows he’s still got it, and he fears nothing.  If the guy will call out Roger Goodell on Twitter, imagine the bravery he’ll unleash on gameday.  Calvin Johnson, take your Megatron nickname and enjoy being the next thing to self-destruct in Detroit.

The aforementioned youngster is, of course, Julio Jones.  With his first true preseason under his belt, he’s had a chance to harness his insane athleticism and quickness to let it loose in the right way at the right time.  To watch Julio is to watch a science experiment unfold.  He can lay out, leap, catch in traffic, and run downfield faster than a (Usain) bolt of lightning.  He’s the reason A.J. Green stopped going by “Adriel.”  If anyone could prove that guys one consonant removed from “Ariel” were pure fairy tales, it’s Julio. 

No house is complete without a reliable roof.  Hello, Tony Gonzalez.  The numbers game is easy with him.  Jersey number: 88.  Going into last season, he’d caught 88 touchdown passes.  Touchdown plus extra kick: 7 points.  Last season, Tony caught 7 touchdowns.  Tony’s years in the league: 16.  So Tony will have 16 touchdown receptions this year.  It’s the symmetry befitting of the fittest, fiercest tight end in history.  Rob Gronkowski only knows the word “symmetry” because he used it in a sentence once to describe his lady friend’s “additions.”

There’s no resting comfortably without a superior security system.  For that, hire the Falcons’ defense.  New coordinator Mike Nolan studied the chemical compounds of water and applied that chemistry to his defense.  A defense that can knock you down, flush you out, and make your hands really, really slippery.  A defense that counts some of the league’s best athletes as its starters.  Further south, Wade Phillips is entering season two as coordinator of the Texans’ defense.  Remember, he followed up his playoffs-making season at the Cowboys by going 1-7 before getting fired.  The owner that goes with the Texans’ defense is getting robbed.

Finish with the decoy lawn ornament.  Popular opinion says the sleeper from the Falcons is place kicker Matt Bryant.  The Falcons are scoring touchdowns this year, though, not kicking field goals.  The real sleeper is Jacquizz Rodgers, RB.  This 5’6” surprise lurked in the shadows of Michael Turner’s thighs last year.  Now it’s his turn to give the pass game a rest.  His growth spurt more of a growth sputter, defenders won’t see him until he reaches the end zone.  The answer to this pop quiz is Quizz.

More winners.  More winning.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Riddle Me This

I try not to write about about the exact same topic on this blog, certainly not two posts in a row.  Although I wrote about the Todd Akin controversy on Monday, I am still so fired up about it that I find myself unable to write about anything else today.

On one hand, I apologize for the heavy political turn the blog is thereby taking this week.  The good news is that I've already written Friday's post, and I can assure you that it is the opposite of political.

On the other hand, whatever.  This is where the national conversation is.  If you're tired of the chatter and want to push away from the table, I get it.  Hopefully, you'll be hungry again Friday, and I'll see you then.

With that, here we go.

If my brain had a mouth, it would be agape.  The fall-out from Akin's statement is as confounding to me as the statement itself.  There are two principal reasons.

The first is the utter tone-deafness of Akin and his remaining supporters.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the blindly political tack they are taking frustrates me almost to tears. 

Akin has been derided for his comment by nearly every segment of our society -- from scientists to comedians to radio hosts to babysitters.  Yes, he has received a tongue-lashing from the media and from his fellow politicians, too.  But here we have that rarest of occasions when The Media and The Politicians of all colors and stripes are saying the same thing: Mr. Akin, your comments are counter-factual.  They are counter-intuitive.  And you have become counter-productive.

Heavy-hitters within the Republican establishment called on Mr. Akin to step aside before yesterday's deadline to withdraw from the Missouri Senate race.  They include ranking Republicans in the House and Senate, Karl "Money Bags" Rove, and Mitt Romney himself.

Mr. Akin refused.  In fact, he fought back.  Right after he told candidate Romney to go mind his own business, he blamed the "liberal media" for making a mountain out of a molehill.  Uhh....please refer to the forty-thousand foot sampling provided above.  Unless Mr. Akin's definition of "liberal media" is as crack pot as his definition of "legitimate rape," he seems to be the long-lost fourth monkey of the heretofore "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" trio.  Maybe his name is "Rape No Evil."

What's more, Akin is trying to boil the entire controversy down to his "missp[eaking] one word in one sentence on one day."  He accordingly blames all of us for our "overreaction."  As if we are all simply fuming because he put "legitimate" in front of "rape." 

Even if that were the sum total of his boneheadedness, I feel pretty good about the legitimacy of the griping over his illegitimate use of a modifier before a word that already encapsulates the legitimately horrific crime that is rape.  As we all know, though, Akin's statement included his proposition that a female body has a big burly bouncer at the velvet rope in front of her Fallopian tubes.  A bouncer that throws rape sperm out on their tails.  And voila!  No pregnant rape victims!

This is not an issue of word choice, of course.  This is an issue of respect, dignity, empathy, and basic intelligence.  The problem with Mr. Akin's statement is not that he chose the wrong words to make it, but that he made it at all.  That he made it is evidence that he thought it.  That he thought it worth repeating is evidence that he believes it.  That he believes it is evidence that he understands neither rape nor women nor biology.  That he wants to proceed apace to national leadership is horrifying.

Amazingly, he's not alone in trying to spin his way out of this.  A major endorser of his, the Family Research Council, reiterated its strong support of Akin on Monday afternoon.  In a statement, they moaned that this whole brouhaha was simply a case of "gotcha politics."  More specifically, the President of the FRC's Action PAC (ie. political fundraising arm) said:

“I know nothing about the science or the legal implications of his statement . . . .I do know politics, and I know gotcha politics when I see it.”

Oh my sweet bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  Just to really make your eyes bleed, I'd like to inform you that the speaker of that little gem is....a....WOMAN.

Hey there, missy.  You're going to try to duck and weave a statement that is both highly offensive and biologically wackadoodle to go with the "woe is us, shame on them" counter-offensive?  You're willing to profess a lack of comprehension about the basics of your own reproductive system, but you're going to play "I Spy" with political shenanigans?  This isn't gotcha politics.  Gotcha politics is a campaign ad that plays a sound bite from a speech 12 years ago and then a sound bite from a speech 12 days ago to point out the contradictions.  If this is gotcha anything, it's gotcha humanity.  As in, hey, humanity, you gotcha a real jerk in your midst and he wants to be one of your elected leaders.  Just thought you should know.

The second aspect of this fall-out that has my mind in a twist is the reaction of the Republican party.  Yes, it is good and I suppose slightly reassuring that so many of them have so uniformly come out to publicly condemn Mr. Akin's statement and his senatorial bid.  But.  But as Maureen Dowd put it, this may just be a case of the Republican leaders trying to lock the crazy uncle in the attic before he ruins the family picnic. 

I remain optimistic enough to cling to the belief that most Republicans do not ascribe to the Akin Model of Female Sperm Mongering.  I do trust that most of them understand that a woman can't control whether she has a period or not with her mind.

What I do not trust are the rest of their insinuations surounding the abortion issue.  Methinks their plans on that point line up pretty squarely with the rest of Akin's position on it.

The same day -- THE SAME DAY -- that all those Mitts and Pauls and Johns were trying to get Akin to shut up and get out, the Republican platform committee held a meeting.  The platform committee goes by that name because it, um, sets the platform for the Republican party.  So it's a good name. Yesterday, in preparation for the Republican National Convention where Mitt Romney will get all the balloons dropped on him, the platform committee approved language calling for an amendment to the federal Constitution that bans abortions.  Period.  There is no "except" clause in the approved language.  As in, there's not even an exception allowing for an abortion in the case of rape, incest, or the best interests of the mother.

And Paul Ryan himself, the man who could be our Vice President, not only went halvsies with Akin in co-sponsoring the House bill outlawing taxpayer funding of abortions except in cases of "forcible" rape, he also co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act.  That's known as a "personhood" amendment -- very similar to the one endorsed by Republican party leaders on Tuesday -- that would give a fertilized egg "all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood."  In other words, whatever is guaranteed to you and me under the federal Constitution would also be guaranteed to a zygote that hasn't even made its trip to the uterus.  That means that, under the equal protection clause, we'd have to apply our laws against murder to the zygote, so abortion's out.  So, too, some forms of contraception and maybe even in vitro fertilization.

The loudest Republican voices are decrying Akin.  Romney campaigners are insisting that the Republican party's platform is one thing and Mitt's is another.  Paul Ryan is saying that he was kidding with the whole "forcible rape" thing and that if Mitt wants to allow for abortions in the case of rape, well, then, that's his call as President and his explaining to do at the pearly gates.

Who are we to believe?  What are we to believe? 


I'm afraid I have a guess. 


Monday, August 20, 2012

Science, Space and Technology

Dear Representative Todd Akin,

I apologize for contacting you via blog post.  Whilst I understand that you serve on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and therefore could be presumed to be familiar with things like "the Internet" and "electronics," it has recently come to my attention that you may be more comfortable communicating via tablet (rock, not iPad) or messengers with exceptional memories and fast horses.  As a long-serving member of the House of Representatives and a current candidate for U.S. Senator from the great state of Missouri, however, I am hopeful that whatever minion you have assigned to "computers" will find this letter and relay it to you while you skin a boar (maybe one you killed with your concealed weapon?) or sip on a nice glass of mead.

I say all this, of course, because of your statement yesterday that abortions should not be allowed even in the case of rape because pregnancy from rape is "really rare."  Or, as you put it:

"If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

I don't know what kind of books your Science, Space and Technology Committee gets from Scholastic, but I do wish you would share them with the rest of us.  Or, at least, with me.

You see, I thought those notions about a woman only getting pregnant if she "liked it" and if she "wanted it" and if she "was asking for it" were all the rage back in the 1200s.  (Also known as the 13th Century.  Also known as the Middle Ages.  Also known as Medieval Times.)  I thought that with the invention of things like the microscope and, you know, science, that everyone agreed there was more to reproduction than some saucy female's lustful impulses. 

But you, sir, seem to have some inside track or some backwards track that screams, "NOT SO FAST, PROGRESS!"  Although many have taken to condemning you for your insights, I want more.  You are, after all, hoping to remain a national political figure, aiming now to become one of only 100 members of the Senate.  That place where they draft, debate, and delay legislation that affects all of us peons, including all of us silly females that don't know any better.

Let's take your statement piece-by-piece, shall we?

First, the "legitimate rape" piece.  It's interesting to me how much you enjoy putting adjectives in front of the word "rape."  In that "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions" legislation that you co-sponsored with Paul Ryan (current candidate for Vice-President! Yippeee, right?!?) you kept on wanting the Act to read "forcible rape."  What part of "rape" is it that you think needs a narrowing definition?  I'm pretty sure dictionaries are all on the same page about the word -- the general consensus is that a rape is a sexual assault involving sexual intercourse without the consent of the woman being intercoursed with.  Is it your concern that some assaults are invitational?  Or that when a woman says no, that minx really means yes?  Or that if a woman just kind of hates being violated, and doesn't reach the point of near-suicide in the aftermath, the rape really wasn't all that bad and she probably half-enjoyed the attention?  Circle one.

I know you lost the battle on "forcible rape" and later drafts of your legislation read simply "rape."  (Stupid liberals.)  You sure showed those Democrats, didn't you?  Went ahead and seized on another modifier in your interview yesterday -- that word "legitimate."  I am again resorting to dictionaries when I note that "legitimate" is defined as "conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards."  Because I'm just a stupid female, I need some help here, too.  What are the rules of the road when it comes to rape?  I mean a real rape, not just a rapey-rape.  Like, does it only count if some of my bones get broken during the process?  How piercingly do I have to scream while it's happening?  How shuddering do my cries have to be?  If I'm only deathly afraid, and not soul-crushingly afraid, have I merely suffered an especially uncomfortable pap smear?  Most significantly, if I'm wearing a skirt at the time, was I asking for it?  I'd really appreciate answers to all of the above.  What can I say, I'm a planner.

Let's move on to the "female body" piece of your sentence.  I don't think this should take long.  I mean, yuck, right?  Basically, female bodies just disguise the temptress that lives inside.  The dim-witted dummy that needs an old white guy to tell her how to regulate her ovaries and what to do with her uterus.  I look in the mirror and all I think is, "You're not even competent to take care of yourself.  But you should definitely take care of any zygote any man deigns to implant in you.  Because you are nothing more than a vessel of sperm."  So I get it.  "Female body."  Thing.  Not home to a person.

Now we're at perhaps my favorite piece of your statement.  The "shut that whole thing down" piece.  I think (to the extent I am capable of thinking) that the "whole thing" is pregnancy.  What I really need explained is how that devil's playground of a female body is able to "shut down" a pregnancy after a rape.  I am desperate for an answer.  Why?  Lots of reasons.  (A) If you're aware of some bodily secretion or mantra or prayer that can get a woman to prevent a pregnancy, I'd like you to whisper it in my ear.  I know you're probably not in favor of things like contraception, so I'm not saying I'm going to use this information for contraceptive purposes.  I'm just saying I think I could get past the operator at Pfizer pretty quickly, and Pfizer might like to market this as a contraceptive.  If I make a buck in the referral process, I swear I will give that money to my husband.  (B)  I struggled for two years to get pregnant with my son.  Was my husband raping me all those years?  (C)  If my husband wasn't raping me for two years, what was my female body doing wrong?  (D) If the female body can "shut down" a pregnancy, can it "open up" one?  This would have been helpful to me during those infertility/rape(?) years.  I daresay it would be helpful to other female bodies that are having a hard time getting pregnant/avoiding rape(?).  Please share.

If I might be so bold, I have other questions for you, although not of the "legitimate rape" sort.  I know you're busy clarifying all the ways in which you misspoke yesterday because in truth your heart does go out to all those gals who enjoyed their rapes and let themselves get knocked up and who'll get an abortion over your dead saintly all-knowing body, it was just that you opened your mouth and said the words your brain told your lips to utter.  Perhaps when you're done clearing all that up, you could help me with the following:

1.  Why do we need health care if an apple a day keeps the doctor away?  I don't understand why this argument isn't trotted out more in the War on Obamacare.  Are you saving up the apple orchard rebuttal for the Republican National Convention?

2.  I stepped on a crack in the sidewalk this morning.  How long does my mother have until her back breaks?  Relatedly, how many apples does it take to mend a broken back?

3.  When I was pregnant, I went to my ob/gyn and found out the sex of both of my children using ultrasound technology.  Who would you recommend to represent me in my malpractice suit against said "doctor" for not using that test where you tie my wedding ring to a lock of my hair and hold it above my navel and watch whether it swings in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction to determine gender?

4.  My husband took a long, hot bath once and during his bad-decisions phase in college, he drank a Mountain Dew.  Where, behind rape, would you rank these alternative explanations for why I had a hard time getting pregnant? 

5.  My daughter (future stupid woman) has this umbrella she loves.  It's got princesses on it.  She likes to pretend it's a parasol and keeps it open inside the house when she plays dress-up.  Is she going to get hit by a car or contract malaria?

6.  Where's your favorite place to purchase leeches?

7.  How was it, exactly, that you were nominated for and accepted to the Science, Space and Technology Committee?  Is it because you are from outer space?  If so, we'd all be REALLY curious to hear about your childhood there.  Do the pictures from the Mars rover make you homesick?

In closing, I would like to thank you for reminding us all that just because a theory was discredited centuries ago, that's no reason to deny that theory a place in today's society.  A place like a law or a moral or a chapter in our science book.  Certainly, a place in our national leadership.

Since you have given me so much to think about, I would feel remiss if I didn't give you something in return.  I have been trying to think of what a man like you could possibly want.  You already have your A rating from the NRA, your theologian's degree, your special seat at the right hand of God.  What could a stupid woman like me possibly have to offer you?

I've got it!  Given that we females can't be trusted with our own bodies, I am sure you are of the view that we should never have been trusted with voting privileges.  So I'll tell you what.  I will never, ever use my vote in favor of you or your kind, and I will try to get as many women as I can to not use their vote for you too.  You're so welcome!  It's my pleasure, really.

Yours (obviously),
Female Body # 4752355A

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dear Abby: The Billable Hour

As many of my posts outright discuss, or at least indicate, I am a lawyer.  Or, as I introduce myself on Wednesday nights in a dank church basement as I drink weak coffee and eat a stale donut:

"Hi, I'm Abby.  And I'm a lawyer."

This has prompted one reader to ask me to explain what in the heck a billable hour is, and what it means for lawyers to work on a billable-hours basis.

The short answer is that a billable hour is the way Satan tells time, and to work on a billable-hours basis is to work for the devil.

Have a great weekend!


Just kidding.  I of course have a longer answer.

The first thing to know is that not all lawyers work with billable hours.  As far as I know, the only ones that do are the ones who work at law firms.  It's their penance for making more money than their non-firm brethren and sistren.

The second thing to know is that billable hours put the ache in "administrative headache."  It boondoggles the mind that something so ministerial could seem so benign in theory and transform into something so heinous in practice.

The basic way law firms make money is to bill their clients for the amount of time the firm's attorneys spend on a given client's work over a given period of time -- usually a month or a quarter.  Attorneys' billable rates depend on the seniority of the attorney and the market the law firm is in.  That means a partner bills more per hour than a junior associate, and a firm in New York City can charge more per hour for all of its attorneys than a firm in Portland, Maine can.  To get a sense of the difference, some partners in New York City can charge around $1,000 per hour, and mid-level associates get billed out at several hundred dollars per hour.  Partners in a place like Portland probably bill out at the same rate as associates in New York City, and associates in Portland probably bill out at the same rate as secretaries in New York City.

What the law firm wants to know, then, is the multiplier.  How many hours times $1,000 can we put on the bill for Partner A, and how many hours times $350 can we put on the bill for Associate B?

This, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road.

Each lawyer at a firm needs to keep track of the amount of time he/she spends doing this/that work.  Of course, nothing is ever simple, which means most work is never done in neat hourly increments.  To account for that, firms mandate that their attorneys track their time in either 15-minute or 6-minute increments.  My firm used the 15-minute yardstick, which meant that I had to tally my work in quarter-hour parcels.  For example, an explanatory email to one client could get a 0.25 entry in my time entry wizard, and revisions to a summary judgment brief for another client could get a 3.75 entry in that same wizard.

Because the time tallies get submitted to the client for review, and because clients are ogres who want to know what they are getting for all the money they are shelling out, attorneys also have to provide meaningful descriptions of the work they did in the time they report.  It's not enough to just say that on Friday, August 17, 2012, I did 3.75 hours of work for BossyPants Client.  You've got to say what you did during those 3.75 hours. 

That shouldn't be so hard though, right?  I mean, you're sitting there doing the work.  Just make a note of it as you're doing it or after you've finished it!

Oh, my little goldfish.  Do another turn through your plastic castle.

When you're working for seven different clients on seven different matters with dozens of assignments for each and your phone keeps ringing and your email keeps dinging and your sleep cycle looks like the output from a heart-rate monitor and you have to schedule time for bathroom breaks and coffee runs and you have pre-deadline deadlines and you sometimes have to race home to see your offspring or your mate, keeping neat little notes about how you're spending your time somehow always obviously falls to the bottom of your life's torturous to-do list.  It'd be easy if you could just have a constantly regenerating memo that says "How I Spent My Day: I Got My Ass Kicked by This Client, That Client, and That Client. Love, Abby."  But it's not easy because those kind of sweeping generalities are not smiled upon.

So, at the end of the month, you get reminder after nasty reminder that TIME IS DUE SOON! KISSES! from some anonymous/automated Firm Police member.  And you look at the random scraps of post-it notes and gum wrappers and take-out napkins that piled up in the corner of your desk, right under the three-hole punch you stole from your paralegal and the book on The History of the Internet you actually had to read.  All you find on those sad excuses for a journal are even more random notations about what you did three Fridays ago, and for who.  You try to assemble that literary Tourette's syndrome into a presentable haiku of the sado-masochism that is your life.  You go into your firm's oh-so-user-friendly-unfriendly-blinking-cauldron-of-death time entry application and you write things like:

Friday, August 17, 2012

3.75 hours.  Recollected back to the days when I was subjected to billable hours.  Wrote blog post to share that misery with my unsuspecting readers, who deserve better.  Rejoiced that I am now simply a salaried lawyer.  Ate a large, carb-heavy lunch to try to erase the pain of the memories.

2.50 hours.  Researched the meaning of life.

1.25 hours.  Participated in conference call with friends who are still at law firms in a brainstorming session about how to rescue them.  Considered life rafts, Humvees, and slides made of lollipops as alternatives worth considering.

The third thing worth knowing about billable hours is that they define the life of a law-firm attorney.  So as to identify dead weight and/or people with lives outside the office, law firms have minimum requirements for billable hours.  Not only do those thresholds exist on a yearly basis (ie. You Must Bill 50,000 Hours Per Year If You Don't Want To Get Shit-Canned), in many firms they also exist on a daily basis (ie. Please Account For At Least 8.50 Hours Of Your Day, And If You Were Not Doing Work For A Billing Client During Any Of Those 8.50 Hours, Please Leave An Entry Under "Other" And Do Your Best To Come Up With A Creative Way To Explain How You Wasted Your Time, And Ours.)

As such, there is a constant, albeit subtle, layer of panic in the hearts and stomachs of all law firm lawyers who know that they have to at least meet those minimum thresholds of billables.  A slow day (ie. a day with low billable hours) today means that tomorrow it's dinner at the office or that work is going to have to get done on the weekend.  Otherwise, you'll do the unthinkable and fall behind the pace you need to keep in order to meet your minimums.

The corollary to this is that lawyers with a high billable count at the end of the year are usually rewarded with a higher bonus.  In addition, lawyers with high billables over multiple years are usually best suited to get themselves made partner or otherwise promoted within the firm.  To law firm higher-ups, billables are a tangible sign of an attorney's commitment to the work, value to the firm, and capability as a lawyer.


There you have it.  Everything I can remember about what it means to work under a billable hour regime.  My PTSD may be getting in the way of a full-bodied recollection, and I apologize for any gaps in this retelling.  I have been seeing a hypnotist, though, and I feel like we're on the cusp of a really powerful breakthrough.  Just the other day I remembered the automatic coffee machine we were all so excited to get in our office kitchen back in 2007.  Which indicates to me something big is just around the corner of the cobwebbed recesses of my mind.

The wide, wonderful world of being a lawyer.

Go forth and have a joyous weekend, rich in the knowledge that this is not your world.

Unless you're a lawyer.  In which case, I just hope you're not working at a firm.

If you are, you just wasted 0.25 hours.

What to get in on the Dear Abby fun?  It's easy!  All you have to do is send me a present and the other stuff that's described here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Now That

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
What can we expect for fall?

NOW THAT Jennifer Aniston is engaged, we can expect Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to wed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the ceremony taking place on the Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city.  Brad and Angie will each walk along one of the statue's extended arms, scramble up the side of Christ's head, and exchange rings of braided unicorn hair at the part in Christ's hair.  Their six children will watch the ceremony from hot air balloons hovering nearby.  The bride will wear blood.

NOW THAT Taylor Swift has bought a mansion in Hyannis Port, MA to be nearer to the summer-time retreat of her boyfriend, Conor Kennedy (grandson of Bobby Kennedy), we can expect her to drop a single entitled "Waaahhh, I'd Never Vote for You Because You're A Jerk."  In interview after interview, she'll explain that she penned the ditty after a "certain someone" told her that he didn't like cats OR kittens and that blondes have kind of proven to be bad luck for his family.

NOW THAT Katy Perry is dating John Mayer, we can expect John to break up with her via tweet and for Katy to then begin dating Adam Carolla.  Because she can't get enough of guys who are fringe-famous and who say stupid things.

NOW THAT Miley Cyrus has cut off her hair and plastered pictures of herself all over the Internet, we can expect Liam Hemsworth to cut off their engagement and get plastered. 

NOW THAT Chad ("Ochocinco") Johnson has found himself out of work and out of a wife after an ill-advised domestic head-butt, we can expect VH1 to launch a new show called "Screwing Up An Implausibly Good Thing, Time and Again: The Chad Johnson Story."  Given VH1's penchant for not making sense (see "Basketball Wives," starring women who are not wives and their non-husbands who are not basketball players or basketballs), the role of Chad Johnson will be played by Betty White.

NOW THAT Kristen Stewart has been caught cheating on her boyfriend and costar Robert Pattinson, we can expect her to continue her campaign of multilateral devastation by (1) publishing her haiku about why it is so hard to be her; (2) updating IMDb with a list of her upcoming projects, including her lead role in Taylor Swift's directorial debut, "Puppies"; and (3) starting a clothing line.

NOW THAT Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis are dating, we can expect Demi Moore to start dating Justin Bieber and wearing clothes from Gap Kids.

NOW THAT the guy who founded Crocs was arrested for DUI after being found "drunk as crap" in his Porsche, we can expect Crocs to offer a line of slippers in bright orange and black-and-white stripes.  And a line of ankle monitor bracelets. 

NOW THAT Ryan Lochte has landed a guest role on 90210, we can expect the following storyline: Naomi decides not to move to New York because she decides not to move to New York.  So the gang celebrates with a big bash on the beach (guest starring a beach and David Hasselhoff).  The party is kind of awkward for Dixon and Adrianna, given that Dixon stood Adrianna up when they were supposed to meet to breathe heavily in a non-conversation about "making this work."  All is forgotten, though, when Liam spots a frothy circle in the ocean.  The group looks meaningfully out to sea while they debate whether what they are seeing is a wave, a champagne bottle being corked, or a man doing the butterfly.  After wasting precious time, they finally realize it is a swimmer in distress.  Naomi and Silver slip out of their shorts and race into the water to save the drowning man.  They get him to shore, make out/perform mouth-to-mouth with him a little bit, and the man starts sputtering "I wanted to do whatever it takes to help my country."  He keeps saying that same line in response to every question he gets asked, which indicates to the group that he is suffering from a coma or a bad dream.  Then someone recognizes that the man is Ryan Lochte, and everyone does a little jump/scissor-kick when they realize that means he's just fine.  (Guest starring Ryan Lochte.)

NOW THAT Nick Lachey is starring in NBC's soon-to-air reality competition "Stars Earn Stripes," we can expect Jessica Simpson to announce that she is starring in Fox's not-yet-greenlighted-but-not-canned-either sort-of show whose working title is "Land of The Brave."  Jessica gushes that the show will have her shopping for a husband who has to be a member of the Atlanta Braves.  Things get awkward when Jessica is reminded that she is engaged and that the song ends with "land of the free, home of the brave."  There is no improvement when Jessica offers up that she will take the land for free and is happy to live in a home with the bravest guy from the Atlanta Braves.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

To Whom It May Concern

Dear To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to advise you of a change to this blog.

To wit: I will now be posting only three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Why?  Because on Tuesdays I will be advising the Romney campaign on how far up from his ears he should allow his grey hair to spread.  And on Thursdays I will be playing hopscotch with Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson, whose schedule has suddenly cleared up.

To the extent those commitments allow, I am also hoping to use Tuesdays and Thursdays to do some writing that maybe, someday, in a not-so-distant future, will appear somewhere other than this blog.  Like maybe my daughter's preschool circular or the back of a milk carton (because I've lost my grip with reality and I'm asking for the public's help to find it).

In addition, this new schedule will hopefully prevent you, my loyal reader(s), from getting stricken with Blog Fatigue.  If you're going to get tired of my musings, much better to let that decline into apathy or outright loathing assume a slower and steadier descent.  Don't you agree?

I hope you'll keep reading on this slightly tightened schedule, and I hope that I will be able to delight you with my ramblings here and elsewhere.

Thanks for reading.  Keep it up.

Thanks again.

Seriously, thanks.


Bye bye, now.


P.S.  Thank you!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lucky Number IX

I am friends with an idiot.

A couple weeks ago, a "friend" on Facebook updated his status with the following commentary:

"Girls sports are a joke."

(SPOILER ALERT: "Friend" is male.  Better stated, Friend is a boy.)

Merriam-Webster defines "joke" as "something said or done to provoke laughter; especially: a brief oral narrative with a climactic humorous twist."

So, Friend, how exactly are "girls" sports a "joke"?  I know that's a lot of quotation marks to compute, but I'm going to assume you made it to the question mark.  Please share with us why, exactly, an entire category of athletic competition is undertaken to get you to giggle.  Is it funny to you that women (a/k/a former girls) know how to run quickly away from something other than you?  Does it tickle your funny bone that women can slam something other than a door in your face?

Help me.  Explain to me how a woman stepping up to swish a free throw or diving in to break a world record or lining up to outpace wind is the first scene of a comic strip.

Better yet, help me help you.  I've got a little narrative to lay down that'll just kill you with the hee-haws.

Here's the punchline: the U.S. Olympians of the female persuasion won two-thirds of our country's total gold medals and nearly 60 per cent of our country's total haul.

Too many fractions and percentages?  Okay, amigo, let's break it down like this:

  • U.S. women won 29 gold medals.  U.S. men won 17.  (29 is MORE than 17.  In fact, it's 12 more.)
  • If you stripped the U.S. of the 59 total medals the women won for their country, the U.S. would have left the games with a total of 45 medals.  Which means China would have won the medals race and the U.S. would have finished fourth.  You don't get a medal for fourth, do you?  (If you don't know, ask a U.S. male Olympian.  He's more familiar with a non-medal finish than his female counterpart.)
  • The women were as successful winning their medals in individual events as they were in team events.  In fact, women work well in teams on a variety of surfaces: turf, asphalt, hardwood, sand, uneven bars, grass, water, etc.  Pop quiz: did the U.S. men's soccer team even compete in the London Olympics?
  • The women who slayed the Olympics are not very rich and not very famous.  The men who participated in the Olympics could have funded the Olympics and could have been the globally-recognized face of the Olympics, even if the only men who participated in the Olympics were the men's basketball team and Michael Phelps.

I am totally lol'ing right now! 

Woops!  I just ROFL'd.  But now I'm back in a sitting position to say something even...okay, breathe, Abby, breathe....funnier.  Ready?

The United States Olympic Committee is the only national Olympic committee that receives no government funding.  In order to support Olympic athletes, the USOC relies on private donations.  Go ask any Super-PAC (you'll have no trouble finding a friendly ear - they're run by men) what helps make the coffers fill up with the coinage.  It's SUCCESS!  Even a whiff of it!

So those under-paid, under-recognized, uber-successful, ultra-winning women just did the USOC a major solid by winning medal after medal.  Because the medal-to-dollar exchange rate?  It's very, very good.

Oh.  My.  God!  I can't take it anymore!  Stoppp!!!  Am I still at Comedy Central's roast of Roseanne Barr? 

Nope.  I'm in reality.  More people like Friend should check it out.

Happy 40th anniversary, Title IX!  Two score years ago our legislators brought forth on this continent, a new playing field, conceived in equality, and dedicated to the proposition that women can kick as much ass as men.

Look where we are today.  Four decades of fighting for and finally receiving sort-of equal opportunity and treatment in the world of sports, U.S. women are not only performing apace with the male ballers and torpedos and lightning bolts, they've just outperformed them.

Oh, so, hey, Friend?  The joke's on you.

Like any good comedian, I say we beat this dead horse.  I say we take the laugh-factory ladies and we deploy them to other segments of our society that have been so long dominated by men, and we see what they can do.  I've got a notion that our female medalists could see some real success in, for example, politics.  And that they could do a number cleaning up, say, Wall Street.

I mean, look:


Pres/VP:  The Williams Sisters.  I'd put Venus in as President because she's slightly more predictable and her handshake is gentler.  Plus, Serena in the VP role, a la Dick Cheney, could prove revolutionary.  Methinks with one grunt from her, Iran would rebrand its nuclear activities as "New-Clear," a national brand of acne face wash.

Secretary of State: A two-headed monster peopled by Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings.  They are comfortable on the international circuit, their families are already used to lots of travel, and they perform well wearing very little.  Plus, they like to be called by three names.  So they're exactly like Hillary Rodham Clinton, only double the fun.

Secretary of Defense: This one is a layup.  PUN INTENDED.  The women's basketball team.  Silky-smooth transitions from zone defense (for when Europe gets feisty) to man-to-man (Middle East, they're looking at you).  Strong inside presence (Ayatollahs and Vladimir Putin, beware) with a quick-handed perimeter presence (get OFF that border, you drug runner!).

Secretary of Treasury: Carmelita Jeter.  She was the anchor of the women's 4x100M relay who, as she capped off a new world-record time, haughtily pointed her baton at the clock.  Clearly, this is a woman who is not afraid of numbers.  Or records.  (Hello, deficit!)

Attorney General: Jamie Lynn Gray.  She won the 50-meter three-position rifle.  A sharp-shooter who is calm under pressure.  The right woman to shoot an argument to smithereens and then reload for the next target of b.s.  All without breaking so much as an upper-lip sweat.

National Security Advisor:  Kim Rhode.  Gold medal skeet shooter.  Let's see who wants to throw some piece of crap clay disc up in our business after she's blown it out of the sky.

Secret Service: Is there any question that this would not be Kayla Harrison (gold, judo) and Claressa Shields (gold, middleweight boxing)?  Who you lookin' at?

Special Ops: No need for million-dollar helicopters or rope-repelling here.  Our ladies can leap, jump, fly, balance and twirl their way into the most impenetrable of compounds.  Just give them a pole (Jennifer Suhr, gold, pole vault), some running room (Brittney Reese, gold, long jump) or some hair spray (women's gymnastics team, minus McKayla Maroney, who is being saved for an individual role, below).

UN Delegation: The women's soccer team.   Sure, they rankle a few feathers (sorry, Canada).  But they've got the wisdom born of experience (Christie Rampone, 4-time Olympian and mother of 2), they've got the cunning born of rules mastery (Abby Wambach and all that counting), and they've got the "get that shit OUT of here" born of steely eyes (Hope Solo and those steely eyes).  Plus, even when they get kicked in the face, they get up and return the hurt where it counts (Carli Lloyd, who was literally kicked in the face during the Canada match and then scored the two U.S. goals in the gold-medal win against Japan).

Supreme Court: The women's water polo team.  Because the silly robes are replaced by the silly swim caps with ear cups.  And because there's a lot going on underneath the surface of the water, but all that an observer sees is the ball getting drilled into the net.

Wall Street

Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York: McKayla Maroney.  I mean, duh.  Where else would her "I'm so not impressed with that" smirk pay such dividends?  (Here, the pun is intended.)

Securities and Exchange Commission: The women's swim team.  There are the laws, and then there is the gray area.  Like water finds its way around a rock, banks and hedge funds will find their way around the law.  But who's good at beating water to the other side of the rock?  Missy Franklin, for one.  Allison Schmitt, for two.  I could go on, but I think you get my point. 

The Banks: The women sprinters.  They will try to outrun McKayla and the swimmers, which is good.  We'll only know the watchdogs are doing their job if they can keep up.

Ba-dum ching!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dear Abby: Who Are The Baristas In Your Neighborhood

A wise woman once said "Nothing feels more American than walking by a Starbucks with a Starbucks from another Starbucks."

It is my pleasure to introduce you to that wise woman.  Meet @christinahonan.  Coming soon to something awesome near you or your reading material.

It is also my pleasure to respond to another inquiry from the Dear Abby mailbag.  In this installment, we take our Rorshach test blobby things and our Venn diagramming colored pencils to our local Starbucks establishment.  And we ask the question:  What makes a barista Starbuckian?  Who, Mr. Rogers, are the baristas in my neighborhood (Starbucks)?

If you've traveled one mile or you've traveled one million miles, you know that there are only a handful of things you can take for granted:  gas is expensive, flying is a pain, children don't enjoy being packed as luggage, and there will be a Starbucks on every block of your journey.  What my Rorshach'ing and Venn diagramming have laid bare is another travel truth we can hold to be self-evident: the same people work at all of those Starbucks.

Here they are, in no particular order:

The Hero:  This is the woman putting herself through college and single-handedly raising her two children.  She works the 5AM-9AM shift before she goes to classes before she works the afternoon shift at the grocery store before she gives her children dinner before she works the night shift at the gym.  She makes you feel supremely guilty that at 8:30AM, you're stressed because the line is two people deeper than it usually is, which means you'll be two minutes late to the only job you hold down.  A job that allows you to sit in an ergonomic chair at a desk with an Internet connection while you sip your $4 coffee.  You want to buy this woman a bed made of petite vanilla bean scones and tell her to take a load off.

The Artista Barista:  This is the guy who swirls designs in the top of your drink and insists there is a meaningful difference between foam and froth.  He is both friendly and intimidating, what with all his pretension that his first name is Star and his last name is Bucks.  He moved back to the United States ten years ago after living in a tent in Costa Rica weaving rugs and learning Spanish.  Since his return to the States, he has been perfecting the art of warming a drink to 180 degrees without the aid of a thermometer.  He thinks artificial sweeteners are for Republicans and cup sleeves are for people who drive cars.

The Renegade: This guy could have been an Artista Barista, but he couldn't figure out how to get a passport and thought skateboarding was a legitimate means of border crossing.  He does not believe in capitalism, consumerism, or colors.  He does performance art involving bubble wrap and Mentos, and light installations using nothing but glow sticks.  When his parents threatened to kick him out of the garage once and for all, he begrudgingly found the most ironic job he could imagine: a coffee tender at Starbucks.  He greets every order with a snarl and works the night shift.  Because his manager wants to minimize his interaction with sentient beings and children, and because it allows him to spit into every cup he assembles for the morning rush.

The Little Miss Sunshine: This girl is one decibel shy of a high school cheer squad and took the job when she lost out in the final round of auditions for Glee.  She loves babies, unicorns, and the world "Hello!"  She also happens to love The Renegade.  Which is very confusing for both of them.

The Ex-Con: This is the employee who is never heard and only rarely seen.  He is usually lurking somewhere between the coffee brewing station and the entrance to the nether regions of the supply closet.  He is most easily identified by the mop he is wielding and the vacant look in his eyes.  His utility to the Starbucks operation is always in doubt, except for those rare instances in which a customer needs to be arm-wrestled into a submissive receipt of an under-heated Soy Chai Latte.  He works only Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays since Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for check-ins with his probation officer.  He does, however, boast a tattoo of a Starbucks on his shoulder.  Unfortunately, the woman in the center ring is depicted giving the finger.  With both hands.

The Valedictorian:  She mans the cash register since she can do change in her head and can remember up to 16 orders at a time.  She also speaks French, Spanish and Arabic, which makes her useful for both taking orders and reminding tourists that the bathroom is for paying customers only.  She took the job three years ago when she couldn't decide whether to go to law school or to vet school.  She doesn't understand why or how she is still there, but she is enjoying herself for the first time in her life.  Her parents' reaction to the situation is the exact opposite, as they've made abundantly clear by removing her from the yearly family newsletter sent out at Christmas.

The MGM MBA: This eager beaver left his job on Wall Street and spent several hundred thousands of dollars to attend 2 years of graduate school for his MBA.  He was told he would make "connections" and be able to really "network" so as to take his career to the "next level."  Instead, he made some "enemies" after he "poached" a presentation on the ingenuity of mortgage-backed securities and now his career is "in the toilet."  After six months of disappointing interviews, he found himself reading memoir after memoir about the gilded age of Hollywood.  Seizing on his silver lining, he decided that, like the mail room gopher turned Harvey Weinstein, he would start at the bottom of the coffee food chain until he, too, one day finds himself a titan of industry.  A great plan that will surely turn dividends, just as soon as he stops spending his shift trying to beat customers at the New York Times crossword puzzle left out at the pick-up station or shorting stocks on

Bottoms up!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Economics of Children

We all know that children are expensive.  We all know that because I wrote about it.  And we all know everything we all know because we all read it somewhere on this delightfully entertaining yet informative New York Times-E! News-Parenting Magazine love child.  (Yes, threesomes can produce offspring.  Biological.  Fact.)

Anyway.  And not to blow your minds.  But sometimes children can save you money.  True, you'll spend those savings on some other child-related product, like the latest Strawberry Shortcake ankle bracelet or a great bottle-drying rack that looks like hyper-neoned grass.  Predestination notwithstanding, sometimes your kids will come in so handy that they'll obliterate the need for you to invest your time, energy and savings account on something you would have back in the days you used birth control.

Today's example: pets.

That's right.  Having a baby means you can put an end to that years-long debate with your significant other over whether you're more of a cat family or a dog family.  When you become a person-family, you become a unit that can enjoy all the perks of having a domesticated animal living in your house without having an actual domesticated animal living in your house. 

My son has generously volunteered to show you how this all works.

Here's what he did, just this morning between the hours of 6:30AM and 8:30AM:

  1. He alerted the household to the fact he'd awoken by making low, gurgling noises from the recesses of his throat.  The longer we ignored those noises, the louder they became.
  2. When I finally entered his bedroom and turned on the light to signal the beginning of his day, he rose up on his haunches and kind of wiggled his behind.  That is the signal for "YESSSSS!!!!  Let's get this party STARTED!!!"
  3. He went to the bathroom in a place that is not a toilet.
  4. The first thing he wanted to do was to be escorted on a walk through our house to see how things compared to the state he'd left them in last night.  "Hall light?  Still there.  Outlet covers?  Still in place.  Whirring fan?  Right where I tried to topple it over before bedtime.  Carry on, day."
  5. Next order of business: food.  Some Cheerios landed in his mouth, some landed in a drool patch on his upper neck.  Most landed in a spray of whole grains on the floor.
  6. He greeted every new addition to the day with either a tail shake or a yelp of excitement.  In the case of his sister, both.
  7. When left to crawl, he remained somewhere within the six inch radius of my right ankle.
  8. He tried to eat my shoes.
Clearly, we are a dog family who had a son instead.  I don't need an animal covered in fur to wag, slobber, bark, heel, gnaw or soil things.  Because I have a human covered in skin that does all of that for me.  I don't take him for walks with a leash; I take him for walks with a stroller.  I don't take him to the vet; I take him to the pediatrician.  I don't take him to PetSmart; I take him to Target.

My economics classes were the reason I upped my glasses prescription and doubled up my meds.  So I'm not really sure if this is a lesson in savings or a lesson in supply and demand or a lesson in substitution.  Maybe it's a lesson in import-export and tariffs.  Or Reaganomics.  Now that I think about it, this must be a lesson in Reaganomics.  Because really, isn't everything a lesson in Reaganomics? 

It doesn't really matter.  The bottom line is, if you can't resolve your dog-cat debate, just have a baby.

I'm currently working on a theory as to how a baby can resolve the buy-versus-rent debate.  I'll get back to you as soon as I have that appropriately modeled.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


16 days after a crazed gunman walked into a Colorado movie theater and killed 12 people, a crazed gunman walked into a Wisconsin Sikh temple and killed 6 people.  I'm no Mayan, but I might be keeping my activities and my children close to home on Tuesday, August 21st.  Americans are getting into a bad habit of committing random acts of violence against their fellow Americans.

Wade Michael Page -- the Sikh temple shooter -- was a 40-year-old man with something of a criminal record thanks to his tendency to drink and drive.  He served in the Army until he was discharged in 1998 for excessive drinking.  He spent the next fourteen years of his life bouncing from odd job to odd job.  His only consistent gigs seems to have been making and promoting his neo-Nazi hate music and preparing for the racial holy war he hoped would come.  He was on the Southern Poverty Law Center's watch list for white supremacists, and his body bore the tattoos of his campaign.

Just weeks before his shooting spree, Page broke up with his girlfriend, moved into a duplex, and stopped showing up for work.

Then he went to a gun shop, took and passed a background check, and successfully purchased a 9mm handgun.

His closest friends say they knew he espoused the white supremacist beliefs, hallmark among them, of course, hatred of non-whites.  They never pegged him to be one to act on that hatred, though. 

Guess they didn't know their friend as well as they thought.

Page is now dead.  He was killed during a shoot-out with the police that arrived on the scene of his murder mystery.

So here we are.  Two inexplicable events of inexplicable human suffering brought about by some inexplicable breed of fear and loathing.  Two tragedies that we will likely never understand, with one gunman alive but deranged and another gunman deranged but dead.

I of course grapple with the events themselves, but I am also absorbed now with questions about the aftermaths to them.  To my mind, there is something different about how we responded to the movie theater murders as compared to how we are responding to the Sikh temple murders.  They are uncomfortable questions.

After the movie theater murders, there was round-the-clock news coverage on every angle of the tragedy: survivor interviews, remembrances of the victims, candlelight vigils, the beginnings of a gun control debate.  NBC broadcast the Today Show and the evening news from the movie theater parking lot.  President Obama and Mitt Romney issued statements and paid visits, as did Hollywood movie stars and local pro-sports stars.

After the Sikh temple murders, the news has covered the shooting by leading with the story, unless there's something big from the Olympics to report on.  We know about the temple president who tried to fend of Page with a butter knife, but we know relatively little about the other victims.  NBC is camped out in London to cover the second week of the games.  From the White House, President Obama said he was "heartbroken" about the Sikh temple shootings, and urged his fellow Americans to engage in some "soul searching."  From Des Moines, Mitt Romney said he participated in a moment of silence -- in Chicago -- to honor the victims of the "Sheik" temple shootings.  Oops, Mr. Romney.  A Sheik is a Muslim term for a village leader.  A Sikh practices a religion that has nothing to do with being a Muslim.

Perhaps I have just coincidentally not been as close to my television or to my Google in recent days as compared to my interactions with those two sources in the days following the movie theater murders.  I don't think that's it, but I acknowledge that I haven't been scientific about tracking my viewing/news searching habits.

What if this difference in treatment is real, though, and not just a by-product of personal circumstance?  What's the reason behind it?

Maybe the Sikh temple victims are the unlucky winners of the silver medal in Attention Span.  Maybe we're all so glued -- and the networks are so committed -- to the Olympics coverage that we don't have time for outrage or mourning.  We're too busy cheering and tabulating.

Maybe the indignation and the abject frustration we felt in response to the movie theater murders is harder to replicate in the wake of the Sikh temple murders because of the difference in their execution.  I was certainly up in arms (no pun intended) in July when I read about the nature and extent of the weaponry and body armor the movie theater shooter sported during his spree.  It is harder to muster those same emotions to the same degree here.

Page bought the type of handgun the Supreme Court has said is legal under the Constitution.  It is the type of weapon we could compromise on in the gun control debate -- it is not made for war, it is made for hunting and/or self defense.  It can kill, but it can't kill as quickly as an automatic or as viciously as some other instrument of death.  And Page was allowed to take the gun home only after he passed a background check.

Perhaps a background check that doesn't pick up on a person's documented ties to white supremacist hate groups isn't a reliable background check.  But it will be hard to win the argument that we should limit the purchase of an otherwise legal gun to someone on the basis of his speech or associations.  Because the Constitution also protects both of those rights -- free speech and free association.  Big time.  Maybe even bigger time than the right to holster a gun. 

It's far easier to make a convincing argument that a murder spree like the movie theater one is absurd because it was committed with weaponry that has no place in the hands of ordinary civilians.  In that sense, it somehow seems easier to get angry about the very fact of the movie theater shootings.  Just because the argument is easier doesn't make it better or more worthwhile.  But an easier argument probably makes it easier to jump on a bandwagon.  Maybe that explains some of the difference in the reactions.  I am not sure.

Because maybe, unfortunately, maybe we are reacting differently to the Sikh temple murders because of who its victims were.  That is a revolting possibility to confront.

There is first the easily identified racial distinction.  I believe the movie theater shooting victims were, to a person, white.  I believe the six victims of the Sikh temple shooting were, to a person, non-white, with names that are difficult for many of us to pronounce.  Five were non-white men, with long beards and a turban on their head. 

** An earlier version of this post mistakenly stated that a (white) police officer was among the six victims.  That officer survived the shooting, but suffered several significant injuries.  I apologize for my error. **

Do we collectively react differently because we collectively see less of ourselves in the images and stories related to the Sikh temple shooting?  My family does not look like that, my family does not talk like that, my family does not worship like that.  My family will not die like that.  Is that the source of the disconnect?

Or is there a different side to this racial element?  Have we become desensitized or immune to the horrors of mass murder when it relates to religious worship?  There are stories every day about wars -- large scale or small -- that turn on the question of religion.  Openly embracing your faith can be an act of bravery or an act of defiance and maybe even an act of provocation here, there and everywhere.  So when someone dies in performing an act of faith, have we come to see that as simply a statistic bearing out?

These are gruesome questions prodding at gruesome realities.  The only answer I have right now is that I wish none of this was happening.  I am at a loss for other answers.  But I will keep seeking.