My Favorites of 2013

Posted in Book Reviews, Editorials, Podcast Reviews, Site News on December 31st, 2013
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Happy New Year everyone! Here are some of my favorite things about 2013.

Favorite BookEighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman. In 1889 two women writers raced around the world to see if they could beat the fictional record from the famous Jules Verne novel. This is an amazing story and Goodman writes this non-fiction book like a novel. I feel like I have a grasp on what New York and other cities felt like in the late 1800′s and although a lot is different now, in many ways the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I read Around the World in Eighty Days before I read this book so I could understand the inspiration for the trip. Like Gulliver’s Travels, many people think this is a children’s story. But it’s mainly an homage to British Imperialism. Jules Verne is to H G Wells what Stephanie Meyer is to J K Rowling.

Verne was terrible at writing women, something that is actually addressed in Eighty Days. Bly gets to meet him on her travels and Verne’s wife says she thinks his books need more women characters. And although it seems redemptive that two women took on the challenge of Verne’s male heroes, unfortunately Bly and Bisland still had many of the same racist attitudes as Verne did.

Still this book is a fascinating read. Every page is better than the one before it. And send these quotes to anyone who tries to justify something sexist by making an appeal to tradition. Bly and Bisland quite frequently expressed feminist sentiments.

“After the period of sex-attraction has passed, women have no power in America.” -Elizabeth Bisland

“A free American girl can accommodate herself to circumstances without the aid of a man.” -Nellie Bly

“Criticize the style of my hat or my gown, I can change them, but spare my nose, it was born on me.” -Nellie Bly

New TV ShowMaron I don’t watch a lot of television these days, but I do really like Marc Maron’s show in IFC. The show brings to life all of Maron’s delicious and sardonic humor.

Podcast Host – Lindsay Beyerstein. Lindsay is a new host for the Center For Inquiry’s Point of Reason Podcast. Check out her interviews with Katherine Stewart, Paul Offit, Barry Lynn and Kathryn Joyce.

Blog PostThe Retro Husband by Ruth Fowler is my favorite blog post by anyone on the internet in 2013.

Video GameFiz: The Brewery Management Game This game is similar to the classic Lemonade Stand or newer Facebook games in that you are running a shop and have various aspects of products and personnel to manage. But it is so much more than that. There is a storyline that I got wrapped up with and very clever dialogue and plot twists. I played it through in a week, which took me about 22 hours total. Good thing I’m on vacation, it’s hard to put this game down once you start it.

Most Popular Posts at Political Flavors in 2013:
What’s Wrong With The Lingerie Football League? I didn’t know how many people search for the LFL online. I’m also quite pleased that I was linked by the Huffington Post and the French women’s magazine madmoiZelle.

For our Girls to Succeed, We Must Reign in Rakish Boys
aka “What if dress codes for boys looked like dress codes for girls?” I had fun writing this post although at times I felt that I was being incredibly creepy. I’m very glad people like it.

Best wishes for 2014!

The Happiness Myth: A History of What Really Makes Us Happy

Posted in Book Reviews on January 15th, 2013
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Right now, we know more about our universe than ever before. But as we advance in knowledge, are we advancing in happiness? Jennifer Michael Hecht explores the idea of happiness from a historical and philosophical perspective in The Happiness Myth. The book challenges popular notions about what should make us happy.

Hecht explains about how ideas about happiness have changed over time, and how even though we might be living longer and having more material wealth than ever before people report that they are basically as happy as they were in 1950. After a basic overview on happiness advice throughout the ages, she explores ideas about drugs, money, our bodies, and celebrations and what they meant to different people in different times and places and explains how we might use this knowledge to make ourselves happier today. Often this is a matter of reconsidering notions that “everyone knows” to be true. For example, in the past, people spoke rapturously of how tea or coffee made them feel. Today, we value these beverages first and foremost for the way they increase our productivity. Or, that women used or wear restrictive corsets or girdles to achieve an hourglass figure. Now, women are expected to look just as shapely through diet and exercise alone. I was especially fascinated by the descriptions of the Greek Festivals and how they might compare to today’s parades and holidays.

One of the things I liked about this book was how it challenged a lot of assumptions I hold that I haven’t given much thought to. And every time it happened, I was more amused to consider why I thought what I thought instead of feeling defensive or sheepish.

The Happiness Myth drives home the point that “there is nothing new under the sun,” but instead of using it as an admonishment, it’s meant to provide comfort and guidance for the future.

Hecht encourages us to get out and see for ourselves if what our culture is telling us really true, or if people from the past might have had a better idea on how to be happy. The book isn’t an argument for a return to any bygone era but rather a critical examination of current assumptions with a little help from those who came before us.

What the Founding Fathers Wanted

Posted in Editorials on February 6th, 2012
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Citizens of the United States respect our Political Ancestors, the “Founding Fathers”, more than the citizens of any other nation on Earth. Most nations respect their major historical figures, but we practically worship ours. We name our streets, social clubs and companies after them, even putting their images on our currency -as a reminder of what ideals we value. Thorough study of their deeds tells us much of the origins of our nation, but they should not be Iron Rails upon which we should set our future.

The Founding Fathers -or “Founders” if you’re into that whole brevity thing-  are a hard to pin down group -there were over 100 men we could call “Founding Fathers” -participants in the Continental Congress, the American Revolution, and Constitutional Convention. Many were lawyers, many were soldiers, all were white, male, and of some means. There’s a prevalent belief among politicians and pundits that if one could simply latch on to a Founding Father that shares one’s opinions, one could win every single argument they have about politics. This is not so, for many reasons.

Firstly, we must stop projecting our own political labels onto the Founders. Were they liberals rebelling against a heartless stodgy authority? Were they Conservatives securing their ability to make money without interference by bureaucrats? We cannot claim them as “Liberal” or “Conservative”, as these labels did not yet exist. The modern political spectrum is a product of the French Revolution, which began after the American Revolution ended.

Secondly, the Founders often contradict one another. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had a very public, very embarrassing feud during George Washington’s first term. Furthermore, one could easily contrast Benjamin Franklin with his fellow Pennsylvanian, Dr. Benjamin Rush. The famous deist libertine is nothing like the priggish puritanical physician (in his defense, Dr. Rush was a very charitable man, if a little boring). There has been more than enough ink spilled about every Founder, and they were not always in Harmony. The Constitution was vaguely worded to ensure it would actually get ratified, and each of the signatories argued what it actually meant after ratification.

Thirdly, just because an opinion was held by a Founding Father doesn’t make it correct. Jefferson didn’t believe black people were equal to white people. Despite his native brilliance, he held a very wrong-headed belief. Additionally, being racist doesn’t automatically make one as smart as Jefferson.

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, there are various topics on which we will never know the opinions of the Founders. They all died before medical science had developed to the point that surgery could be considered remotely safe -the danger of infection made it a last resort. Abortion as we know it did not exist yet. They also didn’t know about heavier-than-air-flight, radio waves, or modern medical science. Were we to apply “Original Intent” consistently, we would not have the FAA, the FCC, or FDA. Say what you want about the effacacy these organizations, but the fact remains that there were things that the Founding Fathers could not anticipate, and in the passing centuries, we had to sort it out without them.

Most of the Founding Fathers were concerned about posterity, and imagined the United States was a “new order for the ages”, that would outlast them, their children, and their children’s children. No one doubts that they’d be pleased with the result, and pleased that people still honour them. But a country that devotes all its energy pleasing men long dead will not survive in the face of new challenges. We now have to trust ourselves. America needs to embrace the idea of a living Constitution, cease the deification of the Founding Fathers, and approach challenges in a way that is effective but just.

At least, I hope that’s what the Founding Fathers would have wanted.

Poetry For Choice – 17th Century Edition

Posted in Poetry on March 3rd, 2011
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Last month Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this moving post about why he is pro-choice in the wake of the Republican party’s war on women. In the comments, SWNC posted an Anne Bradstreet poem. It is relevant to the fight to save reproductive rights in America today. Although New York City just passed a bill regulating Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Republicans nationally are closing in on not only abortion rights but access to contraception as well. We should remember how treacherous childbirth once was in the United States, and still is in other parts of the world.

Before the Birth of One of Her Children
All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,
But with death’s parting blow are sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrevocable,
A common thing, yet oh, inevitable.
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon’t may be thy lot to lose thy friend,
We both are ignorant, yet love bids me
These farewell lines to recommend to thee,
That when the knot’s untied that made us one,
I may seem thine, who in effect am none.
And if I see not half my days that’s due,
What nature would, God grant to yours and you;
The many faults that well you know I have
Let be interred in my oblivious grave;
If any worth or virtue were in me,
Let that live freshly in thy memory
And when thou feel’st no grief, as I no harmes,
Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms,
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.
And if thou love thyself, or loved’st me,
These O protect from stepdame’s injury.
And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,
With some sad sighs honor my absent hearse;
And kiss this paper for thy dear love’s sake,
Who with salt tears this last farewell did take.

John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story

Posted in Book Reviews on February 14th, 2011
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In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to write about John and Abigail Adams. They have been called America’s first power couple, and it’s said they shared the great American romance. My sources for this post are from the musical 1776, the book by David McCullough and HBO Miniseries John Adams and the book Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey.

I read John Adams in anticipation of the HBO miniseries. Before that, I had only thought of them as characters in one of my favorite musicals. McCollugh is an amazing storyteller, and he makes it easy to lose yourself in history. The pictures he paints of Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Paris of the late 18th century are so engaging. He quotes heavily from John and Abigail’s letters and personal diaries. They both had strong personalities which shone through in their writing.

The excerpts of the letters I have read are fascinating from a historical perspective, and so charming and moving. John and Abigail wrote to each other of their daily lives while he was away in Congress and later representing the United States to France, Britain and Holland. But the letters from their courtship are worth a read as well. They wrote to each other while John was traveling for his law practice, and when he went to be inoculated for small pox very soon before their wedding. The HBO miniseries really captures the trials of their marriage, and how much time they spent away from each other. This profoundly effected them and their relationship, and I think it’s what has captivated people about them. We romanticize separated lovers and John and Abigail’s story was not only true, it had a happy ending. They were reunited after years apart and spend their remaining years together.

I am currently reading Withey’s Dearest Friend which focuses on Abigail’s life. It’s very good so far and I would also recommend it.

Some have paralleled the pamphlets of the American Revolution with today’s blogosphere. The similarities are numerous. One of my favorites is that people in those days often took pseudonyms, like today’s screen names. Abigail went by Diana to some of her friends as a teenager and later as Portia. She often called John Lysander.

The thing I find most compelling about John and Abigail’s relationship is the deep respect they had for each other and that it was known to everyone that he valued her advice above all others. They were products of their time, but progressive on their ideas about the role of women. Of course, we only know of Abigail’s talents because of her husband. But that he was enthusiastic about her participation is remarkable for the time, and still admirable today.

The one thing I would really like to know about their story is whether of not there was a place called Cupid’s Grove in Massachusetts. Obviously in 1776, the term is used as a euphemism for having sex. It might very well have been… but John Adams referred to it with regard to both Abigail and her cousin Hannah, who he unsuccessfully courted before her. And in his memoirs he was adamant that he was chaste before marriage so I’m left wondering if it was a name he bestowed on a particularly scenic portion of countryside.

Happy Valentine’s Day!