March 10th, 2010 | Uncategorized

Alison B in front of Charles Addams ptg

I’m trying to get back to work after a week of travel. I was at Penn State last Thursday, and look! They have a giant Chas. Addams painting! It’s part of the Fred Waring Collection, which is part of the university library archives. Actually, the FWC was one of the many sponsors of my visit. I dimly recalled Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians as having played some kind of outmoded lawrence-welkish kind of music when I was a child , but back in the big band era this guy was apparently a big deal.

fred waring

Not only was he a band and choral conductor, he’s the Waring of the Waring Blendor. And in his spare time he became a jai alai champion. You can see his wicker jai alai launcher thing in one of the many display cases in the archive. See the old “blendors” in this one? Anyhow, this dude was also a big fan of cartoons, and he has a whole lot of original cartoon art all over the place by people like Chester Gould, Milt Caniff, Ernie Bushmiller, Al Jaffee, and Bill Keane.

But the really coolest thing about Fred Waring is that he saved everything for his whole life. And he made so much money that he could give all this stuff, from laundry tickets to music manuscripts to raccoon coats to jai alai equipment, to Penn State to organize and make available forever and ever.

The other notable thing that happened to me recently is that I learned about a brilliant program that will keep you off the internet for up to eight hours at a stretch! It’s called Freedom. Thanks to Elizabeth Bluemle, author and co-owner of Flying Pig Books, for turning me on to this. I simply don’t have the self-discipline to not check my email every .02 picoseconds, or go haring off to Google to research every inchoate neural flicker before it can turn into a thought, let alone an idea. I once heard about a guy who had his girlfriend change the password on their internet service every morning, and not give it to him no matter how hard he begged. I admired that setup, but it seemed a bit unwieldy. Freedom achieves the same end with less fuss.

Elizabeth also told me about Write Or Die—a program that starts deleting what you’ve written if you stop typing for a moment—but I haven’t had the nerve to try that yet.

Oh! And one more thing. Come to the Kate Clinton/Lily Tomlin show on Staten Island on April 17th. Hol and I are gonna go! It should be pretty amazing.

101 Responses to “freedom”

  1. indigirl says:

    wow, am I first?! Thank you for Freedom… I think I need that. Write or Die sounds a bit extreme for me though.

  2. Marj says:

    I have my own version of “freedom”, courtesy of my somewhat idiosyncratic wi-fi…

  3. Ruth in RI says:

    Write or die! Why didn’t anyone tell me about this program before????

  4. --MC says:

    That’s a lovely Addams mural. If I were in New York, I’d go to that Adddams show ( ) and then try to scrounge tickets to the “Addams Family” musical.

  5. Janelle says:

    Wow, write or die sounds really scary…until you realize that it should maybe just be called ‘write or erase…’ .
    Also, I love the idea of going to a museum dedicated to a person who did MORE THAN ONE THING! No one is just good at one thing, but lately I’ve noticed how rare it is for anyone to be recognized for achievements in more than one field. I’d love to see a resurgence of the ‘renaissance man’ ideal.

  6. butchysmurf says:

    When I was nine or so, my friend Margrit and I spent hours going through her parents’ huge stash of New Yorkers to look at all the cartoons. Charles Addams changed me forever. Did you know he had earned a degree in architecture prior to his cartoon work? Look at his depictions of buildings closely. Kind of like you, Alison, in his desire to get the space and detail just right.

  7. Anne Lawrence says:

    Charles Addams is really cool. Second person plural should subscribe to the NEW YORKER and purchase the collection of NEW YORKER cartoons that is published yearly. Did anyone else see the four covers drawn for the 85th anniversary issue by Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti, and Adrian Tomine? Multiple covers are always cool.

  8. kate the kid says:

    i am in the process of writing my dissertation…hope to be done very soon…and a friend (at least i think he is a friend-smile) told me about the write or die program…i have no nerve to check it out either…i just can’t imagine stopping to pee and then there goes all your writing…EEEEKKKKK! i couldn’t stand it…i guess it is one way to make you save your work, huh? i tell my students that i check my email, frequently…no one ever emails me, but i check it anyways…and it’s true i rarely get (good) emails(smile). peace.

  9. K.B. says:

    I tried Write or Die, but it didn’t erase what I typed, it just played the violin in a rather annoying fashion to get me to continue.

    I downloaded Freedom, anticipating hours of blissfully relaxed work, until I realized it would also cut off internet radio! 🙁

  10. K.B. says:

    … no way could I work without Groove Salad!

  11. Aina says:

    …Am I the only one struck by how young Alison looks in the first photo? She could pass of as a Penn state grad student!

  12. Ginjoint says:

    @ Aina: “It’s just bone structure, Pats. My whole body just hangs off these cheekbones!”
    – Eddy from AbFab

  13. hairball_of_hope says:

    Minor correction… the name of Waring’s ensemble was ‘Fred Waring and *his* Pennsylvanians.’

    While most of us think of the Waring Blendor in regard to drinks, food, etc. it’s also a pretty standard piece of lab equipment, used to whizz up all manner of specimens into liquified form.

  14. For me Waring always conjures the Linda Ronstadt lyric from “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”:
    Well he put me through some changes, yeah
    Kinda like a Waring Blender

  15. NLC says:

    To pick a credit-where-credit’s-due nit here:

    As much a fan of Linda Ronstadt’s that I am (and have been since at least the days of the Stone Ponies), the lyrics to Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me (ditto Werewolves of London, Lawyers, Guns and Money, and much, much else) were by the late, lamented Warren Zevon.


  16. Bechadelic1 says:

    @ Aina # 11
    That’s exactly what what struck me about AB in the photograph – the fact that she looks so young.

    Other than that I learned a lot (as usual) from this entry, including the fact that Jai Alai is the fastest sport in the world (google search). There’s no way ‘mac-freedom’ would work for me. I’m a self-confessed Internetaholic and there would be much gnashing of teeth and other withdrawal symptoms if I had to do without my connection for even a day.

  17. Khatgrrl says:

    The first science lab I worked in , right out of college, had a Fred Waring Song Book on the shelf. For that matter, they also had an old toilet seat, mounted on the back of a door, with a picture of Reagan under the lid. Ahh, those were the days…

  18. Acilius says:

    I know that the Waring Blendor is an extremely useful device. My parents still have one they received as a wedding present in 1950, and I grew up hearing my Dad talk about all of its applications in cookery and science.

    Aside from prompting him to talk about that, almost the only use to which that particular Waring Blendor has been put in the last few decades is making chocolate milkshakes. The sole exception was one time when I was a teenager and I told my parents I’d like to make a vanilla milkshake. Their response was stunned silence, broken after almost a minute by a stammering, “Well, if you’ve made up your mind to do that, we’ll wish you luck.”

    When I compare this with the utter nonchalance they showed the instant my sister came out to them as a lesbian and the unreserved support they’ve shown her since, I realize they aren’t actually open-minded. They want us to conform. But they’ve reserved their attentions for the really important things.

  19. Susan says:

    Anyone have any suggestions for a similar program — Freedom, not Write or Die — that would work on a PC? We currently do our best to unplug the Internet for several hours each day, but I would prefer not to have a choice about it.

  20. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Susan (#19)

    One very easy (and free) way to do this is to simply unplug the network cable from the computer (or turn off your wireless if that’s how you access your local network). Of course, if you need to access networked devices over your local network such as printers, Samba boxes, etc. you can’t do that.

    Another easy and free way to do this is to go into your router configuration and set up an access schedule for the MAC address (or static IP address) associated with the computer you want to restrict. Most routers, even the cheapest no-name generics, allow you to do this. This would allow access to local devices such as networked printers and data storage while restricting network traffic outside your LAN.

    Both of these methods are free, simple, and operating system-independent, meaning they will work on Mac, Windoze, Linux, *nix, etc.

  21. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Susan (#19)

    Upon rereading my response, I guess I sailed over many heads here.

    The router (the gizmo that your computer either plugs into via a network cable or connects to wirelessly) is really a small embedded computer running Linux. In most cases, this is NOT the same box as your cable or DSL modem, unless you got suckered into some package POS from your ISP.

    Either way, the router can be accessed via its IP address and administrator password to configure various settings. If you didn’t do something silly like simply take it out of the box and plug it in when you bought it, you likely logged into the router to set up your wireless passkey (e.g. WEP, WPA).

    If you didn’t set up your wireless passkey and change the adminstrator password, now is the time to do it, otherwise you have a wide open network and security problems up the wazoo.

    Most routers are at one of several typical IP addresses. For example, Linksys routers are usually at D-Link are usually at Look in your quick installation guide, or Google the model number and the words ‘default IP address’ (no quotes) to find out if you don’t have luck with the usual addresses.

    You enter the IP address in the URL bar of your browser. Most router interfaces require Javascript and cookies enabled.

    You will normally get a screen asking for the administrator password. You did change this when you first set up the router, right? Use that one. If not, use the default password. For example, Linksys and D-Link are usually Admin (this is case-sensitive). Again, if you don’t know the default, and you can’t find it in your quick setup guide, Google the model number and the words ‘default password’ (no quotes).

    I tell every home user to put a sticker on the underside of the router with the IP address, admin password, and wireless passkey. You will never remember them down the road when you need them, and you will never be able to find the manual or piece of paper where you think you wrote them down.

    Once you’re logged into the router, there are normally a bunch of links or tabs to various configuration options. The access schedule is usually buried under an Advanced or Miscellaneous option.

    You have to specify which computer you are restricting via the access schedule, and depending on the router, you specify it via a MAC address or a static IP address.

    Most home users use something called DHCP, which means the IP address of the computer is automatically assigned by the router each time it boots, so you can’t use the IP address because it changes all the time.

    The MAC address is a unique hardware address associated with every piece of network hardware ever made. You may be able to find the MAC address via a status screen on your router, but the easiest way is on the computer itself.

    For example, on a Windoze box, you would open a command prompt and use the IPCONFIG command to find the physical address like so:

    Click on Start, Run
    Enter CMD in the box, click OK
    In the CMD window, type the following:

    IPCONFIG/ALL (not case-sensitive)

    Look for the physical address, it will be a bunch of hex numbers separated by hyphens, e.g. 00-20-FE-1C-3A-12. This is the MAC address of the network card in your computer. If you have more than one network card (e.g. a wired connection and a wireless one), each will have its own unique MAC address.

    Type EXIT or click on the X in the upper right corner to close the CMD window.

    Now you have the MAC address you want to restrict via the scheduler. Enter the MAC address, enter the days/hours restrictions, and save the router configuration.

    You’re all set. Test it by trying to access something on the Internet while restricted, your browser (and e-mail) should time out.

  22. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    Here’s a low tech way to do it.
    1. Go to library.
    2. Take out a book.
    3. Go to a room away from the computer and read it.
    4. After a few hours of blissful reading, it’s okay to check email.

  23. Brazenfemme says:

    @8 – kate the kid

    I agree, there are enough distractions and potential accidents for erasing the work (including the cat across my wrists writing this right now) without a program to induce OCD level saving! Good luck with your dissertation – I am also on the last leg of it all.

    @22 Anna in Albuquerque – LOL!

  24. Susan says:

    Thanks, Hairball!

  25. Anne Lawrence says:

    She is young.

    Just leave your computers at home and go somewhere. Or download the freeware security scanner “a squared” and run a deep scan to look for viruses/trojans/worms/etc. because it is a powerful scanner and takes a long time to scan and eats up so much of your memory you can’t use our computer while it is running. Just Google “a squared anti-malware”.

  26. Tori Poppy says:


    Well explained. You really are a geek of the highest order! ~_^

    *Tori bows down in honor*

    Acilius, Enjoyed the vanilla milkshake story, laughed so hard! I love vanilla… even use vanilla flavored tooth-paste! LOL

    “Jai Alai” so that’s how it is spelled!?! First saw that word and was totally confused, TG for Google after a bit it dawned on my poor vocabulary challenged brain “High Lie” ha! Played that in high school… okay.

  27. Bechadelic1 says:

    @ H O H # 21
    bowing in awe of your in-depth geeky knowledge
    @ Tori Poppy # 26
    bowing in awe of your playing the world’s fastest sport. Plus thanks for telling me how to pronounce it properly. I’ve been saying Jai Alai using both the ‘J’ and the ‘A’.

    Now can someone tell me what the difference is between googling with words inside quotes and googling without them? I know I should simply google that question, but I think I’ll get a clearer answer here.

  28. NLC says:

    Bechadelic #27:

    In Google:
    Searching for Alison Bechdel means: Search for pages that contain either Alison or Bechdel.

    Searching for “Alison Bechdel” means: Search for pages that contain the complete string Alison Bechdel.

    (Although in each case Google’s algorithm will probably give you a lot of overlap.)

    As an aside, I often find it useful to go directly Google’s “Advanced Search” page:

    On that page, you are given fields specifically for each of these options (as well as others).

  29. Bechadelic1 says:

    @ NLC # 28

    Thanks for helping me differentiate between the two, NLC. hmm, I’ve never used Google’s advanced search feature. Must try that next. It looks like it has some useful filtering options. Thanks again 🙂

  30. judybusy says:

    I just spent a week in Puerto Rico, internet-free, totally immersed in the experience. I didn’t miss it at all….of course, I downloaded pics and shared them my first evening at home, but that’s more of a procrastination-fighting technique than net obsession!

  31. NLC says:

    All of the answers above have been excellent, but while I don’t want to put words in AB’s mouth, I think she’s raising a slightly different question than some have answered?

    That is (based on her published descriptions of how she works) the question is not one of turning off or walking away from your computer. Rather, given that you are already working at a computer, how do you fight the siren call of the internet, when it’s always lurking there, a mouse-click away.

    (As someone who works full time on a computer, this is a problem I have some sympathy with. Worse, in my case, my work requires constant internet access. My work-around is that –in most cases– I find the work is more interesting than what I can do on the net, leaving net-access to be my occasional 5min “watercooler break”. OTOH, speaking as a recovering “Free Cell” addict, I admit that the first thing I do when I get a new computer is to strip out all of the games that it comes installed with.)

  32. Elizabeth says:

    Write or Die has varying levels of consequences. Kamikaze mode is the one that erases your words in reverse order. The lesser levels play crying babies, screeching violins, etc. Very annoying, but not truly diabolical. There are also different levels for how long you get to pause while typing. The Evil level pretty much demands near-constant keystrokes, while Gentle lets gives you more leeway. I think my description of the worst consequences scared Alison off for good, but some of you might have your courage renewed….

  33. hairball_of_hope says:

    @NLC (#31)

    I sympathize with your situation, I can’t restrict network access either because I need it to do my job.

    Back in the Stone Age of Computerdom (and back when I had a REAL office with a real door I could shut), I would block out a two hour chunk in the late morning to get work done uninterrupted. No interruptions unless the building was on fire, was the rule I told everyone. Except my boss, who understood he could pop in if he needed something, but mostly he respected the boundary.

    I put the text pager (remember those things?) on vibrate, and stuck it in my coat pocket so I wouldn’t hear it. I put the phone on voicemail. Unless one of my objectives was to wade through a backlog of e-mail (and what I considered a backlog in those days is probably an hour’s worth now, laughable), I didn’t touch my e-mail.

    I usually was able to do the work block about three times a week, and it did wonders for my productivity. I could focus a concentrated effort on data analysis, writing code, writing a white paper, reading documentation, whatever.

    I was disciplined enough to maintain the sequestration because I felt it had so many benefits for me, both productivity-wise and for my psychological well-being. Boundaries can be an empowering thing, and in some sense, a liberating thing (*I* control this block of time, not you).

    Fast forward to today… first, no physical boundaries in the cube farm. No door, and there’s no noise boundary, so I hear everyone else and they hear me. Which means I can’t hide, and folks have no compunction about wandering by or cube gophering to “just ask a quick question.” I could be retired if I had $1 for every “quick question” I’ve ever answered, and few of them are actually quick, and many often require more work by me.

    Then there’s the e-mail onslaught. It’s really an e-mail tsunami. A typical day for me is somewhere between 150 and 250 e-mails. I disable the stupid pop-up notifier on the computer, which limits the interrupting quality of the e-mail deluge, but it’s a significant battle to keep up with my e-mail. I set e-mail rules to file certain messages into folders based on topic and or sender, but that’s not effective for the vast majority of the crap I get. I do have to read them eventually, but at least they’re not cluttering up my inbox. Then there are all the duplicates I get (heaven forfend that someone should reply to a continuous message thread instead of 19 parallel message threads), and I at least have to read the latest reply on each before hitting DELETE.

    Now for the latest in technology time-suck stupidity, net meetings. Back when a meeting meant a person had to physically go somewhere, there was a limit to how many meetings a person could be scheduled for each day. Not so when all that’s required is to put an item in the Outlook calendar, whether or not the recipient is willing to sit through the blathering nonsense.

    One day this week, I had three net meetings, with multiple real meetings sandwiched in between. I was a presenter on all three, so it wasn’t as if I could just sit there and let the net meeting drone on in the background, I had to do a lot of work and PowerPoints for each one in advance. I finally got to my e-mail late in the day. 217 new messages in my inbox. Two Advil, a cup of tea, and two hours later, I had whittled it down to about 30 that still needed responses.

    Back to controlling the Internet compulsion (or in Alison’s case, the Google compulsion)…

    This isn’t a technology problem, it’s a personal one. Technology isn’t going to solve it, because the typical person is using the Internet/Google/e-mail compulsion to procrastinate and avoid doing real work. If the Internet is restricted for AB, she’ll probably find something else to do to avoid the work on her memoir, perhaps cleaning the refrigerator, perhaps creating videos of the cat, the birds, whatever.

    The heavy slogging of her memoir is what she’s trying to avoid. Identifying and coming to terms with what she’s avoiding is what’s going to improve her productivity, not cutting the plug to the outside world. I understand it’s not just a work thing, it’s a complex emotional/psychological thing, because this work is about her personal life. In some sense it is self-analysis, ultimately self-analysis put on display for the world to read, and for critics to praise or pan. A very scary and daunting prospect, not for the faint of heart.

    Last word on Internet obsession….

    I’ll bet somewhere there’s a 12-step group for Internet-aholics. I think there’s going to be a classification in the DSM-V for it. I’m going to resist Googling this to find out for sure. Really.

    Which reminds me of a Judith Sloan routine… she belongs to The Thirteenth Step. It’s a 12-step program for people addicted to 12-step programs.

    (… goes back to her backlog of voicemails and e-mails, trying to clean them up before the next wave washes over her …)

  34. Nel says:

    I couldn’t resist Googling it because the idea amused me so. If you put 12-step program for internet addiction in to the basic search engine, you get over a million hits. I didn’t look at them all individually, but it seems that you can work your program over the Internet, of course, and at least one seems to have a distinctly Catholic flavor.

    I look at this website when I am avoiding work, procrastinating returning phone calls or cooking dinner, or just when I want to hear/read intelligent, interesting people discuss the odd, interesting, banal and occasionally oddly culinary. But I have trained myself to not turn on the computer when I come home from work, giving myself a 12 hour Sabbath from it every day, and to not turn it on in the morning until I’ve done something else relational or tending of self. That has taken discipline beyond what I knew I had.
    I am scared to get an Iphone, however, because I might become someone who becomes an OCD checker of factoids and email.

  35. Tori Poppy says:

    H o H, hit that one on the head…

    “Internet/Google/e-mail compulsion to procrastinate and avoid doing real work.”

    Let’s see… it’s Friday at 9:00PM and I have a ton of stuff to still do… but here I am reading this blog-thread! LOL So off to answer the e-mails from Asian vendors (for whom it is only mid-morning on Sat. a normal work day…) and try to finish stuff promised for Monday… *sigh*

    Wonder if some of the problem isn’t rooted in poor work-life, family-life separation?

    Anyway, back to work… till tomorrow for 10 minutes! LOL ~_^

  36. Diamond says:

    Maybe there’s a middle way between using technology to limit our use of technology, and trying to go it alone?

    One compromise solution that works for me is to set an hourly alarm on a cheap digital watch and then take the three minute breathing space that we all know makes sense.

    Easier said than done of course (What, a whole three minutes? I’m busy!) but I find it really does help me make a sensible decision on how I can best spend the next hour.

    And, with a knowing sense of irony, you can always follow an online mini meditation . . .

    There’s lots of these available and I like the following because it fits with my existing meditation practice and pacing programme. (I have quite a serious progressive medical condition and have to take this stuff seriously to keep any quality of life, but much of what I do will work for anyone)

    Suggest you ignore the heading and introductory text and just click the three minute breathing space on the audio player:

  37. hairball_of_hope says:

    Useful Internet diversion during yet another stupid net meeting…

    One of my colleagues confessed that he entertains himself during net meetings by calculating how much money we’re wasting on the meeting. He uses for this purpose.

    Fortunately, the dweebs of IT haven’t blocked the website yet, but I’m sure we will soon be greeted by the austere warning “This website does not serve a business purpose and has been blocked” Real Soon Now.

    (… goes back to watching a real deluge out the window and thinking it sure beats snow …)

  38. Calico says:

    #14 – Hi Maggie – you know what?
    I believe Warren Zevon wrote the tune, and Linda covered it.
    I miss that guy-he was one of a kind and a great songwriter.
    (Browne and Raitt tribute-Poor poor pitiful me)

  39. Calico says:

    Here’s another beauty from Warren – on his last album with all his music buddies:

  40. Yeah, I didn’t know who wrote “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” but wanted to evoke it unmistakeably and called it Linda Ronstadt’s lyric meaning her as the singer who made it big. Just in case a third person wants to correct me. (grin)

    Going to time-wasting websites during work to me mostly indicates your job is failing to engage you — which is true for most of us, I bet. Doing it instead of connecting with family indicate emotional barrier. Doing it instead of the creative expression you’ve chosen for yourself indicates lack of discipline. None of these problems can be addressed by software.

    On the other hand, with regard to creative work, I (who write at least 5 hours a day most days, from discipline and habit) find it can’t be approached like making burgers or running a sewing machine. Going in and out of full-press invention and self-expression seems to be the norm, not a sign of slacking off. Synergy and diversion, for me, are essential elements in the creative process. If I hit a spot where I think “What is this character going to do now?” and there isn’t a clear answer, doing something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT for five minutes or half an hour is usually invaluable to me. The fact is, my unconscious keeps working on the question but removing pressure frees up other approaches. I’m not Calvinist by nature, which helps; I’m 12th generation Southern, and taking things slow is a geographic necessity.

  41. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    @judybusy#30 — Puerto Rico is a great place to hang out, internet or no! Where did you go what did you see what did you eat? Did you go to Rincon ARgentina in Ponce and eat their hanger steak? We went in there and asked what was good that night, and the waitress just looked at us and said “Meat.” We loved wandering around in the desert in the south and in the rain forest in the north of the island, and we went to see the great radio telescope in the jungle. It was thrilling! Tell me more about your trip.

  42. Calico says:

    Don’t know if this is true, but I read once in a preface to said novel that Flaubert took a whole week to write one page of his haunting and genius “Madame Bovary.”

  43. --MC says:

    What’s that James Joyce anecdote?
    Joyce spends a whole day writing. His friend asks “How’d you do today?”
    “I wrote three words!”
    “Well … that’s all right, at least you wrote three words.”
    “Yes, but .. I don’t know in which order they go!”

  44. Kate L says:

    I’m back, briefly… I just saw that Ginjoint asked after me in the previous post, too! Thanks, everyone who wondered where I had gone. My virtual world continues to close in. Windows XP is now not only blocking the DTWOF site from my office computer, it is preventing me from updating to the new version of Adobe FlashPlayer, so I can’t watch Rachel Maddow anymore. MSNBC is blocked from my local cable extended basic lineup, provided by the big-name national cable company that has the local franchise for the next 25 years, so on my TV at home MSNBC looks like a premium movie channel I don’t subscribe to. The internet had been the only way for me to watch young Dr. Maddow. The local cable francise-holder lets the increasingly crazy people from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel come through loud and clear, though. (Kate signs off just before the ominous, windowless van with the directional radio antenna closes in on her location.)

  45. Tori Poppy says:

    Hum… guess I’ve been black-balled? Ouch. Sorry.

  46. Pam I says:

    MJ: “your job is failing to engage you — which is true for most of us”. If you ever doubted that, look at the faces on the tube train or bus in the morning.

    I could stop my teaching job tomorrow and have just about enough pension to live on, but not to LIVE on. But I suspect if I do leave, I’d spend far too much of all that new time and head space, on t’net.

    Now it’s Sunday 1 pm already and the temperature has at last got to a point where I want to leave my snug office/living room (the only room I heat) and get on with the spring clean-up. Please don’t interrupt.

  47. Dr. Empirical says:

    “your job is failing to engage you — which is true for most of us”.

    “You don’t like your job? There’s a support group for that. It’s called…EVERYBODY! We meet at the bar!”

    -Drew Carey

  48. Alex K says:

    I miss Drew Carey. That’s chronic. I also miss the bar. That’s acute. The hotel-room “minibar” contents here in Riyadh are strictly from Temple Square, Salt Lake City.

    This may be a long five days.

    No, I have no inner psychological resources. Why do you ask?

  49. Alex K, who knew you were so damned funny? You and Dr E together are like Abbott and Costello. Thx, you goofballs.

  50. Kate L says:

    This from Kate the Elder,

    Did anyone see this week’s episode of Law and Order Special Victims Unit? I usually avoid watching the first few minutes of any Law & Order epsiode because something awful always happens, but past that I tune in. This week’s Law & Order SVU was an episode dealing with lesbian hate crimes. Although the episode had its problems (the usual violent dyke stereotype), there was a very interesting scene in which Officer Olivia Benson (played by actress Mariska Hargitay) wonders if she might be lesbian. If she is, all I can say is, Oh, Baby! : )

  51. Ian says:

    Speaking of TV, if a series called ‘Tropic of Cancer’ airs on BBC America then watch it. It’s about travelling around the world along the line of the Tropic of Cancer. The presenter is a bloke called Simon Reeve (with whom I am smitten) and he started his journey on the Baja California peninsula in Mexico and travelled East via mainland Mexico to Cuba and then to the Bahamas. His visits to the various migrant labour encampments were harrowing, but very interesting.

  52. Marj says:

    Not familiar with Mariska Hargitay, but of course I read her name as Mariska HARTIGAY. Is that a Spoonerism or a Freudian Slip?

  53. Acilius says:

    @Calico #42: “Flaubert took a whole week to write one page of his haunting and genius “Madame Bovary.”” That’s nuthin’. Max Brod said that Franz Kafka often told him that his entire literary output was simply one attempt after another to write a single page of flawless German prose.

  54. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Marj (#52)

    Wishful thinking is more like it.

    Hargitay, in case you’re unaware, is the daughter of the late blonde sex-goddess Jayne Mansfield. Mansfield was decapitated in a horrific auto accident; Mariska and her brothers (young toddlers and children at the time) were in the backseat when it happened.

    The Mansfield crash is the reason there are the low crashbars on the rear of tractor trailers since the 1960s; Mansfield’s car slid under the rear of the trailer and it took off the top of the car. The addition of crashbars ostensibly will prevent such accidents.

  55. This will date me — like a lot of my pop culture knowledge — but whenever I hear the name Mariska Hargitay I think of her mother, Jayne Mansfield. As one of the blonde bombshells of the 50s/60s. Mansfield was my parents’ favorite over Marilyn Monroe, mostly because Mansfield was in real life quite brilliant. When she was killed, the adults around me talked about it forever, seemed like, focusing on the story that she had been decapitated (she wasn’t, it’s an urban legend) and how tragic it was that she had never been able to break into the serious acting she wanted to do. Mariska is the daughter of Mansfield and Mickey Margitay, a Mr. Universe whom I dimly remember from the talk show circuits of the time.

    Fact is, Mariska Hargitay is a stellar actress and I shouldn’t saddle her with her mother’s legacy. But there it is in permanent association.

  56. HoH, we cross-posted, how typical.

  57. hairball_of_hope says:


    Ahhh… GMTA (Great Minds Think Alike). The decapitation (or near-decapitation) is an urban legend? I do know the low crashbars which prevent vehicles from sliding under the rear ends of trucks were an outcome of the Mansfield accident. Time to hit Snopes…

    And here I was fretting over correct usage of ‘an’ vs. ‘a’ preceding the word ‘horrific’.

  58. hairball_of_hope says:

    Ok, now the facts from Snopes…

    Mansfield was not decapitated per se, but the top of her skull was severed when the car slid under the truck. Ick. Not much difference to me, it’s still pretty ugly. I do think about this accident any time I am following trucks on long stretches of interstates in low visibility.

  59. Dr. Empirical says:

    Wait… Am I Bud or Lou?

  60. hairball_of_hope says:

    Happy Pi Day, y’all!

    (… goes back to find her missing braincells amidst 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716 …)

  61. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Nel (#34)

    “I look at this website when I am avoiding work, procrastinating returning phone calls or cooking dinner, or just when I want to hear/read intelligent, interesting people discuss the odd, interesting, banal and occasionally oddly culinary.”

    From the “Oddly Culinary” Dept. comes the discovery that giant pitcher plants in Borneo, the largest carnivorous plants in the world, have evolved their size and form to act as tree shrew potties.

    Quoting from the article:

    N. rapah pitchers have huge orifices, but they also grow large concave lids held at an angle of about 90 degrees away from the orifice.

    The inside of these lids are covered with glands that exude huge amounts of nectar.

    [… snip …]

    “In order for the tree shrews to reach the exudates, they must climb onto the pitchers and orient themselves in such a way that their backsides are located over the pitcher mouths,” explains Dr. Clarke.

    The tree shrews then appear to defecate as a way of marking their feeding territory.

    That suggests these supposedly “meat-eating” plants have evolved a mutualistic relationship with tree shrews.

    The tree shrews get nectar, a valuable food source, and in return, the plants get to catch and absorb the tree shrew’s faeces which likely supplies the majority of nitrogen required by the plant.

    Aren’t you glad you read this BEFORE making dinner? Bet you’ll never look at Hamburger Helper the same way again.

    (… imagines the MAD Magazine version of the Bard’s classic, “The Toilet Training of the Shrew” …)

  62. Acilius says:

    This is a picture of Jayne Mansfield, isn’t it? I find it strangely disturbing, and I don’t think it’s only because the angle obscures the heads of a few of the figures with her.

  63. Acilius, yep, that’s her. There was a constant media circus around her, and there must be a kajillion photos of her that illustrate the sexual exploitation of the era. From which we had a brief respite, until a new and even more savage but sophisticated sexual exploitation media era took hold, now in control.

    From what I’ve read (I don’t remember this personally), Mansfield was trying to “control her image” in part by staging almost farcical incidents focused on her breasts, which is all that men seemed to notice about her. It didn’t work except to keep photographs of her in every magazine (a la Anna Nicole Smith). She never became a human being in the press, even after she died.

    It’s my belief that when systems of oppression are as massive and entrenched as sexism, racism, classism, there is no way to successfully manipulate or subvert them — everything that doesn’t emphatically contradict the lies soaked into our brains and every cultural arficact gets assumed to be an affirmation of those lies. Objectification has to be constantly named and repudiated, even if they call us stupid, humorless, rigid, cold — you know the epithets.

    Nevertheless, given her times, I’m impressed that Manfield tried to make a joke of it all. And — extrapolating here — perhaps some of that effort was a lesson to her children. I don’t see Mariska Hargitay playing into the sexual objectification game of Hollywood, although she certainly could. Except for the now mandatory stripping and hobbling of women at awards shows, she appears in public dressed and serious. And she has the serious, performance-based career to show for it.

  64. little gator says:

    how the decapitation story started: There’s a poorly-focused photo of the crash that killed Jayne Mansfield. That hairy headish-looking thing is not her head, but a wig she was wearing.

    I know a gay woman(she is quite femme/lipstick(her words(and im too lazy to get the partenths right)) and will not change her belief that she is not butch enough to qualify as a lesbian, poor dear) who is also in love with Ms HartiGAY.

  65. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Maggie (#63)

    Ah yes, the epithets, veiled and explicit… I’ve yet to hear the word “strident” applied to a male. And of course, the word that “rhymes with rich.” I tell them either, “It’s *MS. BITCH* to you!” or I explain that it’s actually an acronym for “Babe In Total Control of Herself.”

    Hargitay is indeed serious. She’s also a certified rape counselor, something she got into because she received so many letters at L&O-SVU from real victims of rape.

    Neither Mansfield nor Marilyn Monroe became human to the press after their deaths. Elton John sang about Monroe in “Candle In The Wind” (Bernie Taupin lyrics):

    Even when you died
    Oh the press still hounded you
    All the papers had to say
    Was that Marilyn was found in the nude

    Elton John and Taupin updated the lyrics for Diana after her death in 1997, and the story was pretty much the same, in death as in life, she was hounded by the press.

    I can’t think of a male who has suffered the same treatment other than Michael Jackson, and then we were treated to the spectacle of everyone suddenly mourning a person whom they hadn’t done squat for while he was alive. Where were all these so-called friends when he was routinely assailed in the media as “Wacko Jacko?”

    Dolly Parton has made a good showing of staying in control of her image while allowing the immature press to focus on her boobs. She’s managed to use the fascination with her mammaries to her advantage. That woman is smart, talented, and knows how to deal with money. Dollywood (her theme park in the Smoky Mountains) really makes money. I love her comment about dumb blonde jokes, “I don’t mind dumb blonde jokes. I know I’m not dumb. I also know I’m not blonde.”

    As for feminists and lesbians not having a sense of humor… have any of these Neanderthals ever seen Lily Tomlin, Kate Clinton, Paula Poundstone, et al.? I recall the old lightbulb joke, “How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb? Hey, that’s not funny!”

    (… goes back to her fesbian-leminist spooneristic Freudian slip malapropisms …)

  66. --MC says:

    What about a song for Jayne Mansfield? Ah, but there is one: “Kiss Them For Me” by Siouxie and the Banshees.

    Nothing or no-one will ever
    Make me let you down ..

    Kiss them for me — I may be delayed
    Kiss them for me — I may find myself delayed

  67. hairball_of_hope says:

    Off-topic, of interest to the USAnians…

    Hey, has everyone gotten the Census form yet? I was surprised to find only 10 questions, and not one about marital status. At all. I guess that’s how they sidestepped the politically-volatile questions of sexual orientation and LGBT marriage.

    This time around, folks can pick multiple race boxes, but there’s only a binary male/female choice. Lots of sub-typing of Hispanic and Asian origin, the respondent can check boxes and/or write in the specific origin.

    I guess it’s politically safer to enumerate exactly how many folks of combined Guamian-Laotian-Peruvian ancestry than to enumerate how many LGBT folks live in the US.

    If we’re not broken out as a category, it’s as if we don’t exist.

  68. Tori Poppy says:

    Is anybody else having trouble posting? I write posts… hit “post” and they never appear?

  69. Tori Poppy says:

    Oh… is it verboten to actually type someone’s name? 69 went… but 70 didn’t

    are there some rules to follow? help!

  70. hairball_of_hope says:


    More than one URL in a post will put it in spam-limbo, then Mentor (our hospitable blog cleanup maven) will have to release it from limbo.

    Some strange things can trigger the generic spam filter, such as the name of the over-50 retired persons org (you know the one, four letters starting with A). The local big-name opera company also triggered the filter. Dunno why, I never thought geezers and opera were a threat to th blogosphere, but what do I know (geezer and opera fan)?

    There are a few other oddities that relegate posts to purgatory, usually Mentor is right on the ball (and way early in the AM, Eastern time) taking care of stuff.

    If there’s a problematic name, try separating the letters with hyphens, e.g. B-U-S-H or B–U–S–H instead of BUSH. Anything that looks like a URL, use the words ‘AT’ ‘DOT’ and brackets[] around words to get past spamageddon filters. Also, I seem to recall strings of the letter ‘X’ don’t get past the filter, because it looks like pr0n (another bowdlerized word to get past the filters).

    Good luck Ms. Poppy. As always, if caught or captured, the Director will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This post will self-destruct in five seconds.

    [Tori Poppy, HOH: I’m not sure what’s been happening to the messages, but there don’t appear to be any messages listed in the Spam-traps, so, whatever happened the original messages seem to have simply disappeared. (Just to let you know if a message happens to trigger any of the more serious troll-traps on the site the message would disappear as well, but in that case the sender should get an explanatory message. But it doesn’t sound like that happened in this case.) I’ll try to keep an eye out. –Mentor]

  71. Interrupting Cow says:

    hairball_of_hope: #65:

    As an additional note on the “How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?” joke.

    I’ve often heard this as “How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” This is a seemingly small difference, but it gives the joke something of a different slant. (That is, the focus is not humorlessness as such, but a supposed readiness for uncovering offensive meanings in an otherwise innocent situation.)

  72. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Interrupting Cow (#72)

    Good point. Usually the lightbulb jokes are presented as a string of jokes, and I guess I never noticed if the string used ‘screw in’ vs. ‘change’ and the subtle difference in interpretation of the feminist version depending on the word choice.

    Here’s one that definitely depends on the use of ‘change’:

    How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but it has to want to change.

  73. Tori Poppy says:

    Thanks guys, I’ll keep trying, and you are right no T-R-O-L-L messages returned. Maybe it’s my browser or my virus protection messing with me?

  74. Calico says:

    #74 – Maybe try a different browser.
    Sometimes IE8 acts funny – Mozilla Firefox is a good one to try if you don’t already have it.

  75. Catbus says:

    Uh, the pedant in me would like to point out that in jai alai the highest speed ever officialy recorded, according to Wikipedia, was 188 mph where in comparison the cars in Formula 1 racing can reach 220 mph or even more, so guess that’d make Formula 1 the actual fastest sport in the world?

  76. HoH, I always heard the “Lightbulb has to want to change” joke as “How many feminist therapists…”

  77. Bechadelic1 says:

    @ Catbus # 76

    You have a point. Wikipedia actually says that it’s promoted as the fastest sport in the world by the Basque Government, because of the speed of the ball….etc. So I guess it’s just a sort of promotional positioning for the sport more than anything else. That’s apart from your excellent point that there are far faster sports such as motorsports…

  78. Catbus says:

    Re: my previous post about what’s actually the world’s fastest sport I just got caught in a pedant spiral and started wondering about ‘sports’ like, say, drag racing (cars and motorcycles) where they can exceed 300 mph and also about that winter Olympic event, the biathlon, where they use rifles for target shooting, that is, would the bullets from said rifles be held to the same standard as a jai alai ball?? Okay, now that i’ve put these thoughts to paper, or, rather, screen, the pedant spiral’s stopped, at least for now!

  79. Catbus says:

    Alas, no, still spiralin’: just saw Bechadelic’s comment about motorsports which led me to thinking about how in motorsports one is ensconced in steel, carbon fiber, and other layers of protective elements and in biathlons noone’s expected to catch the bullets whereas in sports like jai alai you have to catch these pants-wettingly fast missiles with your own hands (not bare hands, but still! Wicker’s wicker, which seems like pretty scant protection). So guess it comes down to semantics and categorizing and all that crap.
    Years ago I read somewhere that Fred Waring didn’t consume alcohol and invested in the blender biz as a way of promoting healthy drinking, that is, he liked to mix fruit juice drinks. Kind of ironic, given the ubiquitousness (ubiquity?) of these blenders in bars. At least we have Jamba Juice 🙂

  80. Marj says:

    #54 et seq: thanks for the Hartigay, uh, Hargitay background.

    #64: fed up with uncomfortable inadequate underwear, I finally went out this lunchtime and bought some men’s underpants. Bliss! Do you think I’m butch enough to qualify as a lesbian now?

  81. Marj, I think if you wear them, they’re clearly not men’s underpants.

    And when did butch become conflated with lesbian? I mean, like what year and theoretical shift caused that calumny? What a terrifying, powerful word lesbian is. We had one generation that claimed it and expanded its definition. I wonder if I’ll live long enough to see the wheel circle round again and a new generation not afraid to be self-defined, defying all THEIR rules by woman-rejoicing, come up with a new casting and appreciation for lesbian. It’s needed until the gender binary is dead, a struggle that’s actually lost ground since 1985. Out here in the real world, I mean.

    “Wicker’s wicker” sounds like a quote from Wicker World.

    Happy Ides of March, y’all (to quote little gator).

  82. Pam I says:

    Another colluding-in own-oppression joke:
    How many feminsts does it take to change a lightbulb?
    [loud angry shout…] ONE!

    *dives behind sofa*

  83. Kate L says:

    kate the kid, brazenfemme,

    The best advice I got as I wrote my dissertation and prepared for my final defense came from a guy at my university who had already gone through the process at (big-name midwestern university. Badger connection). Without any appeal for advice from me, one day he told me that it was natural to feel frazzeled at this time, because earning a doctorate is something that very few people in the world accomplish. As I was in the final weeks of my doctoral life, and losing 30 pounds as a result of the stress, I found his advice somehow the most useful of any that I received.

  84. Marj says:

    Maggie #82: one has to hope that this particular calumny exists only in the head of lil gator’s lipstick femmy acquaintance… except, presumably, something must have put it there.

    Vive la difference? How about “vivent les differences” – the more the merrier.

  85. Khatgrrl says:

    HOH #68
    I filled it out quickly, but doesn’t it ask your relationship to person 2 in your household? I checked married, but there was a whole host of other choices which of course elude me now. I figured that since female was also checked for both of us that they “would do the math.”

    I too was surprised that the only choices were male or female. For some reason I thought that we were more advanced than that. Silly me!

  86. hairball_of_hope says:

    (… colluding along with Pam behind the sofa …)

    How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Don’t mind me, you go right ahead. I’ll sit in the dark.

    (… goes back to ducking missles from the world’s fastest sport, competitive guilt-tripping, where one *is* expected to catch the missles, barehanded …)

  87. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Khatgrrl (#86)

    I guess I didn’t look beyond person #1 in the form, and now I’ve already mailed it. Darn. I received the bilingual English-Spanish form, so I would have had to flip the page to even see person #2 questions.

    A bit presumptuous to assume that if persons #1 and 2 are married, that they are married to one another.

    There are plenty of folks who live apart from spouses for work or other reasons (e.g. long-term temporary assignment, education, remote work location), and they are still considered married, but they’d be filling out separate Census forms Look at the roomie situations for members of Congress. Heh.

    Or does the form explicitly ask the relationship of person 2 to person 1? Now I’m wondering about poly-relationships… How would they record persons 2 and 3 both indicating marriage to person 1?

    Oh nevermind… the spiraling pedant thing is contagious.

    (… goes back to kicking herself for not perusing the whole damn form …)

  88. I haven’t seen the census form yet, but as someone who pores over census forms from 1790 through 1930, I’m certain the relationship of those in the household who claim marriage is spelled out in relation to each other. Until now, when two people of the same gender indicated they were married, that form was considered to be an “error” and not counted. This is the first census in American history where the potential exists for an accurate count of lesbians and gays in committed relationships.

    However, those of us who are single are shit out of luck, still, in terms of being counted for the sexual preference we claim.

    Yes, the gender binary is rigid on these forms, and I can’t imagine it being successfully challenged any time soon because (1) thinking outside that box scares the piss out of the patriarchy, and (2) a lot of folks within our own communities are happy to keep it in place as long as they can change genders within the two box system. At least you can answer what you want within the binary without anyone questioning your answer.

    For anyone who has the form in hand, has any progress occurred in the racial designation categories? Specifically, are they still bundling all versions of “Hispanic” in with “white”? (A deeply fucked practice.) And what are the options for indicating mixed race? Is there any room allowed for spelling out the mix? The Right really doesn’t want this kind of data collected, and I don’t know who won the battles this time around.

  89. Jain says:

    Another time the distinction between change and screw’s important is in one of my favorites:

    How many hippies does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    Hippies don’t screw in light bulbs; hippies screw in Volkswagen vans.

  90. Dr. Empirical says:

    I’m not merely a comic book geek, I’m a Legion of Superheroes geek, the geek geeks make fun of!

    With that in mind:

    Q: How many Thalokians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

    A: Don’t be silly! Only Imskians can screw IN a lightbulb!

    I think I’ll wait until morning to explain that…

  91. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Maggie (#89)

    The race category is separate from the Hispanic and Asian heritage categories. You can check as many race boxes as applicable, you’re not limited to one.

    In the Hispanic heritage box, they have a bunch of national origins for Hispanic which you can check off as many as apply, plus a write-in box that you can also check off. Same for the Asian/Pacific Islander heritage box, you can check off as many as apply, plus a write-in box. That’s how they will get the accurate count of the black Guamian-Laotian-Peruvian populace of my hypothetical rant above, but totally miss the single LGBT (and possibly the married LGBT, if they tinker with the data as they have done in prior Censuses).

    No religion questions at all, I seem to recall prior Censuses had a question on religion. Or perhaps I’m remembering the American Community Survey, a smaller population sample that’s done in-between Census years with way more questions. That one definitely had questions on running water availability, number of rooms in one’s dwelling, etc.

  92. Thxm Hoh, that’s good news on the racial self-definition front. Complexity is reality.

    No censuses prior to 1930 have ever had a religion question. I’ll scream bloody murder if they include one, because there’s no allocation of resources need that would justify asking such a question. Not while we still have (vanishing) separation of church and state.

  93. Kat says:

    I got my census form in the mail today. It asks for the name, sex, age, race, and whether the address is the main residence of “person 1.” It then asks the same questions for people 1-12, plus their relationship to person 1. Your choices for that box:

    “Husband or wife; biological son or daughter; Adopted son or daughter; stepson or stepdaughter; brother or sister; father or mother; grandchild; parent-in-law; son-in-law or daughter-in-law; Other relative; roomer or boarder; housemate or roommate; unmarried partner; other nonrelative”

  94. Tori Poppy says:

    Thanks Kat, so seems like if anybody really wants to know this census might be capable of recording the info?

    Maggie, agreed, no religious questions please!

    Dr. E, I promise not to make fun of you! LOL

    Thank you Hairball #71 and Calico #75. I do always browse with Firefox, but am wondering about my anti-virus… will try turning it off prior to posting and see?

    Funny Jain, (cute joke) does getting high in a VW Van count? I never screwed in one… and my kids swear I’m a hippy? But now I have proof to contradict that assessment.

    Maggie 89 agreed that deviation from gender binary is “unacceptable” for the baby-boom generation. But I wonder if after that passes (me too) this will be the last of that dogma? Three things make me wonder,

    The recent visibility of Inter-sex conditions and the tragedy of SRS performed on babies in the 50-70’s+ simply to make them conform at any cost.

    The availability of the internet to spread the information re Inter-sexed and TS people.

    And lastly the fact that there has been a huge “sea-change” in the reality of most TS people’s transitions; 20+ years ago it was the norm to drop off the face of the earth, transition, then live life “stealth” in the correct “new” gender. Yet today the norm is to transition in “broad daylight” and try to keep as much of your life, career, family etc intact as possible. Given actual data from SRS surgeons there are way more TS people than the DSM accounts for perhaps as many as 1 in 500 people. Each one is a ambassador to improve visibility of gender variation.

    It is amazing how gender has become such a “non-issue” with the teens/twenties crowd. One of our biggest worries was how our kids friends and peers would react to our non-standard 2 mom non gender conforming family. It simply didn’t materialize.

  95. Diamond says:

    Our UK census form sounds pretty similar to yours. One year my three housemates and I described our relationship to each other as sisters, as we objected to the suggestion that only blood relationships and marriage are legitimate connections. Four different surnames though.

    We lived in an equivalent area to our DTWOF chums and when the weary and underpaid census collector came back to our house to clear up the apparent anomalies in our form, she was long past being entertained by this sort of thing. In fact she made it rather clear that she didn’t experience being landed with all this extra work as particularly sisterly . . .

  96. Khatgrrl says:

    Thanks Kat. It wasn’t “married”. How could I forget that I checked “wife”? Too much other crap going on I guess. Good thing that someone is actually paying attention.

  97. Acilius says:

    @Jain #90: Q: How many university presidents does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
    A: They don’t screw in lightbulbs, they screw in hot tubs.

    @Tori Poppy #95: I can tell you’re new around here. Soon you’ll join the rest of us in making fun of Dr E all the time. (Just not on the threads he can read. On the other blog, the one everyone but him knows about.)

    @Kat #86: I disliked three things about the census form. I filled out the one for our household while the Believer (a.k.a. Mrs Acilius) was sitting next to me, doing some work on her computer. I started with myself, so that I would have gone through my part before I had to ask her any questions about her part. That made me “Person One” and her “Person Two.” Which doesn’t sound very egalitarian to me.

    Second, when I did get to the Believer’s part, it asked for me to define her in terms of her relationship to me. That’s very definitely not the way we do things in our house, I can assure you!

    Third, the definition that fit the Believer was “husband/wife.” All right, we’re an opposite sex couple, legally married- so I’m a husband and she’s a wife- but I’d rather those be separate categories. So if I wanted to call the Believer my husband or she wanted to call me her wife, we would have that option. I grant you, as gender neutrality/ gender equality/ genderqueerness issues go, that’s not usually considered one of the biggies, and had we been presented the option we would have gone the conventional way. Still, I did notice it and it did bother me.

  98. Dr. Empirical says:

    As fodder for more Doctor-mockery (Acilius- I know all about that other site. I just post there with a different pseudonym. Can you guess which one?):

    People from planet Imsk have the ability to shrink, like long time member of the Legion of Superheroes (and sometime lesbian, depending on who’s writing her) Shrinking Violet. So Imskians can screw IN a light bulb, though I don’t see why they’d want to.

    Only funny to a Legion geek…

  99. From looking as censuses from 1790 to 1930, it’s clear the census-taker was instructed to begin with a “head of household”, and I can imagine that mindset still prevailing. In those years, this was of course the husband, though not necessarily the oldest male; if there were more than one grown generation living together, head of household would be the adult male who was the chief breadwinner. A woman could be head of household only if she were widowed, had her own income, and wasn’t living with grown brothers or sons whose property ownership rivaled her own,

    Although a head of household was always designated, they were not necessarily the source of household information transmitted to the census-taker. Genealogists try to study the data for a family group over more than one census, because there are invariably errors in the information presented.

    One common source of these errors is the census-taker himself (almost always a male prior to 1930). These jobs were often allocated on the basis of patronage (it paid well) rather than literacy, understanding of human diversity, confidentiality, or handwriting legibility. The census-taker could be, and often was, impatient, judgmental, or drunk, in addition to being ass-ignorant.

    They were also almost always white and of Northern European origin, which has profound implications for the veracity of what they recorded. In areas with high populations of immigrant populations with non-English surnames, census-takers more often than not will simply take a phonetic stab at translitering a name, or if they ask the interviewee to spell their own name (which a lot of folks prior to 1930 could not do), the census-taker would write down a hasty alphabet soup without diacritical marks or other indicators of actual name identity.

    Racism, overt and presumed, also makes a mockery of this record-taking which is often the ONLY evidence that an African-American lived in a given place. White census-takers mispell black first names far too often for it to be their usual kind of ignorance — and the mispelling is not simply individual choice on the part of that interviewee, you can tell the difference. Especially right after the Civil War but continuing on through the 1920s, it was dangerous for an African-American in the South to admit to literacy and intelligence, particularly to a nosy, hostile white man hired by the local government to walk up to your front door and lay eyes on every member of your family. You let that cracker spell your name however it amused him to do so — you had much bigger battles to fight.

    Further, in the plantation South where 90% of the African-American population had formerly been owned by 10% of the white population, the issue of surnames is volatile. Former slaves who took the surnames of whites who had owned them, who had treated them well at some point, but still lived in the area were under pressure to spell that surname differently from the white version — so there was immediate recognition of which “color” belonged to that similar surname. This wasn’t as necessary woth common names like Davis, Turner, Brown, Black, etc, so one way to not get tagged with a race-identified surname was to choose a “generic”. Or that of a former President. All clues to survival, and the disempowerment associated with name and lineage denial implicit in slavery.

    Further, in parts of the South where white terrorism held sway (KKK and other groups, heavy incidence of lynching), it is common to find the individual giving the names and ages of their family members to be deliberately lying, especially about teenagers of either gender. Ages are off by several years, nicknames are used instead of given names, and these will vary from one census decade to the next in a way that smacks of intentional obfuscation. This practice can also be found in censuses of the late 1800s in predominantly Jewish settlements in Russia, where the names and ages of boys are fudged by their parents to keep them from being conscripted into the Czar’s army. Jews who grew up under that threat can be expected to continue the ploy for a while after they immigrate to the U.S.

    Another common source of error in the information recorded in earlier censuses is if the family member imparting the information is the father rather than the mother. Fathers will get the ages, places of birth, and even the names of their wives and children wrong much more often that mothers do. Savvy genealogists know to analyse the data from a given census decade for this effect. If the property value is precise, if the place of birth for the husband is correct but not the wife, if “place of birth of parents” is left blank or filled in with guesswork ditto marks, and/or if the children’s data has obvious mistakes, it’s a “dad” reporting to the census-taker and must be considered more likely to be wrong.

    As for locating our queer forebears on those earlier censuses, it’s almost entirely supposition. Only a tiny percentage of folks would have had the ability to live outside a heterosexual family setting prior to WWII, and mostly these would be male and white. And that’s assuming they would want to live apart from their extended family, which we cannot assume from a modern headset. The way we have collected and named the identity of gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or queer is a very recent label — not the practice of same-sex love or gender rebellion, but the decision to create a gathered and agreed-upon definition to accompany those choices. For homosexual in general in America, it’s an identity that began to be constructed as we understand it during the 1930s but greatly accelerated during WWII with the massive population shift of an entire generation from isolated farms to cities and same-sex military environments. For gay and lesbian, it’s since the 1950s and 1960’s. For trans, it’s since 1985. We can’t plaster modern labels onto earlier generations, we can only describe their behavior and listen to what sparse written record there might be as to how they defined themselves.

    So in the census, our “lesbian” foremothers were likely married, mothers and grandmothers. A few were maiden aunts able to live together or with a bachelor uncle, not tied by marriage to a man. It’s impossible to tell definitively who were bisexual and who would have preferred lesbianism but had absolutely no chance to live that way.

    The ability to live alone or with other women is very recent and a freedom the Religious Right wants to eradicate. They know as well as we do its implications.

    The current census will have its data analyzed but the actual records themselves will not be released to public view for 72 years, so I (and most of us) will be dead before anyone can take a look at who we actually were, how we arranged our living situations. Too many of us will still be hidden by the assorted enforced invisibility of major oppressions. But clues will abound, and future researchers will speculate about us, I’m certain. I like that knowledge.

  100. Kat says:

    Acilius, the “who’s person 1” dilemma is an interesting one….I have to say it didn’t occur to me immediately (of course I’m person 1….why wouldn’t I be? Okay, maybe I’m just selfish like that).

    But yes, why have numbers? Although, someone does have to come first on the form, even if it’s just “list all those who occupy this residence,” someone’s name has to go on the first line.

    What would you do otherwise? “Who lives in this house and are they related to one another in any way? If so, how?”?

    I’m not sure how to phrase those sorts of questions without some kind of implied hierarchy creeping in.

    Boyfriend and I are apparently both census geeks. I knew that already, though, because a few years ago, when I had some bad insomnia, I spent several nights in a row researching the 1327 Paris Census. It was pretty fascinating.