Discover Weekly: “See the Light – Calvin Harris Remix” by The Hours

I love the Discover Weekly feature on Spotify.  I’m not sure how they figure out what to put on this playlist that they make for me.  Sometimes they find things that are just not my cuppa, but usually they do a great job of finding songs I enjoy.

Now, I should say that I don’t listen to music a lot.  I rarely just sit and listen.  Usually, I only hear music when I’m in the car with my husband (He doesn’t like to listen to podcasts and books like I do.) or when I’m working.

But in an effort to post a bit more frequently, I figure I will pick a song from my Discover Weekly playlist and share it.

So, here’s this week’s pick:

“See the Light — Calvin Harris Remix”
The Hours

A Week Early!

Our surrogate told us this morning that the OB says she’s probably going to give birth a week early.  That means we’re looking at just four more weeks, rather than 5!

SQUEEEEEEE!!!!!

Planning for the Future

One of the things I’m really excited about for our baby girl is setting up savings and investment accounts.  It’s so annoying that I have to wait until she’s born to get her social security number and get these accounts going in earnest.

Aside from a normal college savings account, I’m planning on opening a custodial investment account for her.  This will allow me to drop a bit of money into the stock market on her behalf. I’m planning on just buying Vanguard funds and pretty secure stocks.And when she turns 18 or 21, it will become her account to manage.

And to make this “easy,” I’m planning on just automatically transferring money to these accounts each week or each paycheck.  I do this for myself already and it’s very handy.

My family couldn’t afford to sock money away for me like this when I was growing up, but I’ve always heard about the power of compounding interests and the value of investments over time.  It’s thrilling to think of how this will pay off for her!

Girls in the Boy Scouts and the End of Western Civilization

The BSA Expands Programs to Welcome Girls from Cub Scouts to Highest Rank of Eagle Scout

Today, the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into its iconic Cub Scout program and to deliver a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout. The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls, the organization evaluated the results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders, as well as parents and girls who’ve never been involved in Scouting – to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.

[…]

Starting in the 2018 program year, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts. Existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls. Using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts program, the organization will also deliver a program for older girls, which will be announced in 2018 and projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the Eagle Scout rank. This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families.

I think this is a smart move and, if I were a young woman, my curiosity about the opportunity to earn Eagle Scout would definitely be piqued.

I earned my Eagle Scout rank in high school. I was also a member of the Girl Scouts in order to help out with my sister’s troop, but because I’m a man, I was not allowed to earn any badges or rank.

These two organizations have a long history here in the US and around the world.  BSA was founded in 1910 and GSUSA was founded in 1911.  Some people don’t realize that they’re actually two separate and distinct organizations that have little to do with one another in spite of the suggestion from their names of some Januslike relationship.

So, as you might imagine, there are a lot of people absolutely freaking out about this change.  They see this as part of some nefarious progressive agenda to erase gender, emasculate our men, and destroy America and the whole of Western Civilization.

Here are two key points that I think people should keep in mind:

  • BSA and GSUSA are two distinct organizations and their programs are different. I would argue that the GSUSA Gold Award is equally challenging to achieve as the BSA Eagle Scout Rank is.  But they’re different.
  • BSA has allowed girls to join parts of the organization for years. This decision merely expands which groups they can participate in and what they can earn as members.

I think the reason for the change is much simpler than alarmists think.

Check out this slide deck.

I believe this presentation presents the numbers and challenges facing a single district, but the decline in membership over the last decade has been widely reported.  If you care to scrounge through the BSA annual reports (I do not.) you can crunch the numbers for yourself. (As you’re going through the annual reports, you may note that the Boy Scouts already admits girls into certain programs. This change is merely an expansion of the programs that admit them.)

This isn’t a huge surprise.  There was the sex abuse scandal in the scouts.  And the BSA was very late in accepting gay and trans scouts/leaders, in my opinion. But when they did it led, of course, some to call for a boycott of the Boy Scouts. So, yeah. It hasn’t been a great several years for the Boy Scouts of America.

Purely from a business perspective, this seems like a completely rational move.  Don’t have enough customers, but you can expand into a new market with the flip of a switch? Obvious choice is obvious.

The decision may have the secondary benefit of making the organization appear more open and accepting and combat their reputation for being a source of “toxic masculinity” and all that.  But that’s a terrible basis for what is a business decision.

And maybe that’s what I need to emphasize here: BSA and GSUSA are businesses.

I think there’s a legitimate debate to be had over whether a co-ed leadership organization is better than single-gender ones.  The Girl Scouts of the USA suggest some factual claims relating to that argument in their reaction to the announcement:

The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented by educators, scholars, other girl- and youth-serving organizations, and Girl Scouts and their families. Girl Scouts offers a one-of-a-kind experience for girls with a program tailored specifically to their unique developmental needs.

But I don’t see this as an argument against the Boy Scouts’ decision. I see this as an argument toward the question of whether one organization is better for girls.  Given the choice between BSA and GSUSA, which one is the right choice for you and your daughter?  That’s something parents will have to assess for themselves.

I still resent the BSA’s prior stance toward gay and trans scouts although I do support their right to admit (or not) anyone they like.  The cover up of sexual abuse is intolerable and I am still not convinced that all the guilty parties have been brought to justice and that the scouts have done anything to prevent it from happening again.  The religious underpinnings of the organization bother me a bit.

Although I’m an Eagle Scout, I have close ties to GSUSA. I grew up 40 miles from Savannah where the Girl Scouts was founded.  I have close friends — men and women — who have been GS camp counsellors, leaders, and scouts.  I think GSUSA does a phenomenal job at fund raising through their cookie sales. And I’ve been generally impressed with the benevolence and drive of their program and membership standards.

If my daughter someday expresses an interest in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, I will go with her in exploring those options. I’ll talk to her about what she’s looking for from these organizations and programs. And I’ll help her to make a decision about which (or both) is best for her. And if she chooses to join, I’ll try to keep a close eye on how things are going and make sure she’s not hurting herself or being hurt in her participation.

But to those who see this change in Boy Scout policies as part of some nefarious plot to undermine civilization: calm down. Be prepared. Be trustworthy, loyal, helpful… 

Happy Coming Out Day!

It’s National Coming Out Day!

I “knew” I was gay in middle school.  I knew it as soon as I knew I had romantic/sexual feelings. But I fought and repressed those feelings for years.  In fact, it wasn’t even until after I came out that I was able to understand those feelings I was having and realized that although I wasn’t conscious of being gay, I “knew” it deep down.  It caused me a lot of hurt and anxiety to get over those feelings and work through it all in order to come out of the closet.

So, I love seeing young people who acknowledge and own their identities. I love seeing other young people accept their LGBT friends as equals and friends.  It really warms my heart.

But I sat on a panel once in which an audience member asked what they should do about their nephew who was — in their eyes — obviously gay, but denied it.  It hurt their hearts to see him headed down this path of repression and self-denial.  I imagine there are a lot of parents in this same situation and want to make sure that their children know that they’re safe at home.

Here’s the thing: you can’t come out for someone else.  Don’t even try.

If you tell someone they’re gay and they aren’t ready to admit that, then they’ll likely deny it.  And they’ll be hurt and angry with you for the trouble it causes. So, just relax. Let them come out in their own time.

In the meantime, here are some things you can do for the young people you love, both gay and straight, to make sure they KNOW you’re there for them no matter what:

  • Be vocal about your support for gay families.
  • Start young and talk to your children about how there are lots of different kinds of families out there.  Boys can grow up to marry boys. Girls can grow up and marry girls.
  • Advise them against saying things like “That’s gay.”  It’s using ‘gay’ in a negative way and suggests that gay is a bad thing.
  • Tell your kids you’ll love them no matter who they love when they grow up.
  • Encourage your children when they express interest in things… even if those things aren’t “normal” for their gender.  Even straight boys can do fashion.  Straight girls can fix machines.
  • If you know some gay people, let your children see you being friends with them.  It’s not enough to just SAY that you’re cool with gay folk.  You have to show that you are.

When I was a kid, we used to love to play a game that we called by several names, but the most common was “Smear the Queer.”  I didn’t know what that word meant, but my mom heard us talking about the game and she asked that we find a new name.  I asked her why and what it meant.  She didn’t go into any detail, but she said that queer people are just different from us and it was hurtful to play a game called “smear the queer.”  So, we started calling it “Clobber the Robber.”

I think back on that now and I am so proud of her for standing up for gay people like that and trying to teach me and my cousins to be kind to gay people.

You never know when you might say the right thing and make a big difference in your child’s life.

How Do I Explain This to a Child?

I’m actually looking forward to explaining to our children where babies come from.  The biology of sexual reproduction is pretty straight-forward even if there are a bunch of associated issues — dating, relationships, etc — that aren’t so complicated.

Speaking of which, I am NOT looking forward to discussing sexual assault and harassment with my children.  News like Donald Trump’s remarks about grabbing women by their genitals or the accusations against Harvey Weinstein are not only appalling, but involve some very complex issues.

OK. So, it’s easy to say, “When someone touches you in a private place without your permission, that’s wrong. It’s called sexual assault and if it happens, you should tell me or your daddy or another adult that you trust.”  That’s comparatively easy.

But how can I explain to my daughter that when she tells an adult, they might not listen to her because she’s a girl? How do I explain that one girl telling on a person who does bad things often just isn’t enough and it usually takes several girls telling on the bad guy before anything happens? How do I explain that even women as strong, rich, and beautiful as Angelina Jolie have a hard time dealing with bad guys like this?

On the surface, these are relatively simple things to state: some people suck and you have to fight against them.  You say people shouldn’t have to tolerate this sort of treatment.

But we know that fighting back can cost you your job. It can make people say scary things to you on the internet.  It can cost you your privacy and peace of mind.  And, a lot of times, you’ll never win until enough people are in the same situation you’re in decide to all speak out.  That won’t get your job back or the money you spent or the friends you lost, but at least people will finally believe you… even though you’re a girl.

I don’t know how to adequately explain injustice to a child and still encourage them to stay strong and fight back.  It’s hard to look at the ugly aspects of life and society and still be hopeful about the future.

So, I think I’ll have to try harder to teach her to be strong. I will have to show her that strength comes from honesty and being fair to yourself and those around you.  Being a girl doesn’t change anything.  She can work hard, love herself, be independent, smart, innovative, caring, and resolute all that the same time.

Life isn’t simple or easy sometimes.

Book Review: The Core by Peter V Brett

SUMMARY: (4 of 5 stars) A very nice conclusion to the series. It’s a little bit predictable, but the likable characters and the gruesome-but-fascinating magic system make it very enjoyable.

SPOILER WARNING: From this point forward, I’m going to discuss this book without any concern about spoilers. So, if you don’t like spoilers you should stop reading now.

The Core is the fifth and final installment of Peter V Brett’s Demon Cycle series and I have to say it’s a good way to wrap things up.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series, but the following three were just okay in my opinion.  But I finished a book the other day and I was lining up my next few reads and I got an email alert that this one came out.  So, I figured I’d just go ahead and wrap things up. I’m glad I did because this is the second best book of the series.

Readers of the series will recall that the fourth book ended with the apparent death of the two main protagonists, Arlen and Jardir, one of whom we’ve been led to believe is the fabled Deliverer.  Guess what. They didn’t really die.  Arlen staged that whole thing so that he and Jardir could kill a buncha demons, yadda yadda yadda.  Anyway, they’re back now because they’re going on a quest to kill the demon queen.  Since they’re actually walking to The Core, it takes them months.  Meanwhile, various supporting characters are all fighting demons on different fronts with their own concerns and conflicts.  Bottom line: the good guys win.

So, here are some random thoughts on things throughout the book.

First and least importantly, the word “ichor.” This word is almost exclusively used throughout the entire series as a reference to the splashy viscera, guts, entrails, blood, internal fluids, raw tissue, innard, insides, bowels, entrails, insides, vital organs, gore, and whatnot of the demons.  I get that the word “ichor” has a connection to the mythological and by using it and not other terms, Brett is able to maintain a sense of “alienness” to the demons.  They’re inhuman, so we don’t want them to be described in human terms.  I get it.  But maybe the fact that they have insectoid social structures and the leader castes have giant, bulbous heads, weird eyes, and all that is enough.  I dunno. I’ve never written a novel, but I do know that I got real tired of the word “ichor.”

It’s a tiny bit predictable.  If you pause for a second, you can easily guess who’s going to have a baby, who’s going to die, and how the main threads of the story will resolve themselves.  You saw the spoiler warning about so: everyone has a baby, Arlen and a bunch of supporting cast — some loved, some less so — die, and at the darkest hour, Arlen saves the day.  None of this made it any less fun for me to read, though.  But if you were looking for some new story structure or a twist ending, you probably shouldn’t tune into the final book of an epic fantasy series for that.

One specific comment: Is it just me or was the death of Jake whatshisface kind of gratuitous?  The last time he made a significant appearance was back in like book two, I think.  And Arlen got over the fact that his ex-girlfriend married him.  It was no longer an issue.  But in this book, Jake makes a sudden appearance and proves to everyone that he’s a craven little punk and then goes and dies two seconds later.  I’m just saying this felt a little extra to me, like maybe Brett knows “Jake” in real life and “Jake” has welched on a bet or something.

The tone of this book is different.  This is hard to put my finger on. And the earlier books bounced around in tone/style a little as well.  But the reason I struggled with previous books was because some of them were just very sad and dark for me.  This one was pretty upbeat throughout.  The characters do struggle and some fail, but overall, it felt like the heroes were just straight-up kicking ass from dawn to dawn.  This isn’t a legitimate complaint because I kind of loved it.

I don’t understand why there wasn’t any “payoff” for the fact that Olive is intersex.  It seemed like it was going to be a really big deal and then it ended up being nothing.  I mean, great for the positive treatment of an intersex character.  But as a reader that felt like, “Alright, then.”

I hate the artificial folksy wisdom/mannerisms throughout all the books, but it was especially bad in this book.  The worst scene was Leesha using a creeky rocking chair to manipulate the conversation among a whole bunch of people who don’t know her and are not native to the manners and society of her culture.  It was just very weird and there are lots of touches like that.

I did like the magic system and the demons in these books. I would have loved even more exploration of the biology and social structures of the demons. I don’t fully understand the motives of the demons, but that’s OK. I love all the different kinds.  (I noticed that the Krasians think there are only seven types of demon, but there are actually lots more that they don’ t know about. I thought that was a really nice touch.)

And there are lots of very likable characters throughout the books.  Oddly, I didn’t like the main guys very much at all.  I mostly enjoyed the supporting people.

So, yeah. This was actually my second favorite book of the series behind the first book.  I’m glad I decided to stick with this series for it.

Children and the Second Amendment

After the horrible attack in Las Vegas, a lot of people are talking about guns and gun control again.  We’ve had a lot of these terrible shootings in the last few years and it’s no surprise to me that people see this as a disturbing trend that needs to be curtailed sooner rather than later.  I have very mixed feelings about it.

I grew up in rural south Georgia.  Guns were everywhere.  My mother didn’t let me and my sister have toy guns except for squirt guns. And none of the squirt guns were allowed to look anything like a real gun.

My mom wasn’t scared of guns as such. She could handle one well.  I remember one morning her taking one of my dad’s guns and stepping out of the back door in her robe to take out a raccoon that was stuck in a trap by our chicken pen. It only took her one shot.  She knew that guns are dangerous and have to be handled with care and precision.

So, I shot guns as a kid. My dad and my uncles taught my cousins and I to shoot.  In Boy Scouts, I earned my shotgun and rifle merit badge. I never had any interest in going hunting because it sounded boring to me, but my cousins said they enjoyed it. And I laughed along with hilarious stories of people doing foolish, but ultimately harmless things with guns. Like the one about our family friend who had a handgun with him while he was out fishing and a snake dropped into his jon boat. The snake lived, but he had to wade out of the swamp he was fishing in. Guns are just part of that way of life.  They’re commonplace, but respected.

I’ve been out shooting a few times as an adult. I took a concealed carry class while I lived in Tennessee because I was curious about it.  But, so far, guns just aren’t my thing.  They’re loud and, in spite of my experience with guns, I don’t feel like I know enough about them to handle them without a lot more education.

=-=-=-=-=

The Second Amendment is a troublesome thing for a lot of people.  It’s one sentence and it’s written in such a way that I can only imagine that its author thought, “This is obvious. I don’t need to explain anything more about this.”  And yet there is a lot of debate about it.

Some people take a hard line and say that the Second Amendment means citizens should be allowed to own as many weapons as they like up to and including nuclear arms.

Some people say that the Second Amendment does not apply to all weapons, but simply to things which can be handled by a single person, things like rifles and handguns, but not nuclear weapons and fighter jets and whatnot. The basis for this argument rests on drawing a distinction between “arms” and “ordinance.”

Some people say that the Second Amendment was relevant in a time when a firearm was necessary for survival and included things like muskets. They say it did not anticipate weapons like AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.  So, they say that if we have to allow guns, then we should limit that allowance to our modern day equivalents of muskets.

Some people say that the Second Amendment is an outlandish concept in modern society and it should be repealed and no private citizens should be permitted to own guns.

There are, of course, a lot of other perspectives on the Second Amendment that fall between these various positions.  I’m not a lawyer, but here’s how I read the Constitution.

First, some relevant excerpts from the text:

AMENDMENT II: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

ARTICLE 1, SECTION 8 (Powers of Congress): To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

I’ve seen it argued that private citizens shouldn’t have the right to own weapons for fun, but rather the reason given for the right to bear arms is for the purpose of maintaining “a well regulated Militia.” And the reason we have a Militia is to “suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.”  And the reason we want to suppress insurrections and repel invasion is “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

However, I’m inclined to read the Second Amendment as saying, “People have a right to keep and bear arms and because we want to make sure our militia is filled with people who know how to use them, we don’t want to infringe on that.”  The distinction is that the “well regulated militia” is not a general justification for the right to bear arms, but a specific justification for mentioning it in the founding document of the land.

The Constitution does not mention self-defense by the individual.  The Ninth Amendment says, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” though. The notion of self-defense as an individual right is well-established among the ideas and philosophical underpinnings from which the Constitution is drawn. So, it’s safe to argue that the Founding Fathers took a person’s own right to defend their person and property with firearms as a given.

I’ve seen some people argue that another reason why we retain the right to bear arms is so that we might even need to fight back against our own government.  I’m sympathetic to this view and I believe some of the Founding Fathers were, too.  But I’m not sure The Constitution provides any support for that view… especially since from the perspective the federal government, such efforts would likely be viewed as an “insurrection” for which Congress might call the militia.

Fast forward to today where we have these incredible weapons at our disposal. The average person can easily manage a firearm that shoots hundreds and hundreds of bullets at an amazing rate. They’re powerful enough to punch through walls and other barricades.  And they can reach, with lethal force, people thousands of feet away.  They are terrifying devices in view of what they can do and it’s no wonder my mother insisted on absolute safety and respect for these tools.

My read on the Second Amendment is that people have a right to own and use firearms for personal defense or recreation or hunting or whatever.  But I don’t see it as an absolute right.  Meaning, I don’t read it as a right to bear ANY AND ALL firearms.  You can bear arms, but only certain arms and under certain conditions. So, I don’t see outlawing automatic weapons, for example, as an infringement of that right.  I also don’t see any problem with keeping guns from some criminals and the mentally ill. I think some sort of background check or even waiting periods are reasonable steps to put into place for would-be gun owners.

I would love to see more of an education/proficiency requirement for owning a gun.  I mentioned the carry class I took in Tennessee. That class was woefully inadequate to the purpose, in my opinion.  But the law stipulated that we had to have something like 8 hours of class time, so we sat in a classroom for 8 hours while an ex-cop told us stories about people with guns.  If you know guns well, being forced to sit in that is stupid. It’s time-consuming and adds nothing to your knowledge.  Those people should be allowed to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency and leave right away.  People like me who want more in depth education should be able to get more than anecdotes from a chubby ex-LEO.

I can see why some would see any restrictions on which arms a person can buy as a slippery slope toward infringement. And I do think we should be careful when we consider placing any new restrictions on gun ownership. I don’t think such decisions should be motivated by emotional responses to horrific events like the slaughter in Las Vegas.

I don’t have any good answers for these questions. The problem of mass shooting is very disturbing and I don’t have a good solution for stopping them.

=-=-=-=-=

I would love if I could teach my children about guns and gun safety. I don’t want them to have emotional reactions to guns in the way that I see so many responding.  I don’t want them to freak out if they see someone with a gun, rather I want them to  assess the situation and respond accordingly.

I was on the subway in NYC a few years ago and the train stopped at a station and stayed there for a while.  Other passengers and I heard some shouting and started looking around.  I stepped off the train and saw a man walking very quickly toward me with a gun drawn and pointing it at the ground.  He was very focused on something toward the front of the train and I believe he was a plain-clothed cop, so I stepped backwards out of his path and when he went by, I looked at the the woman next to me and we both quickly moved behind a concrete barrier on the other side of the platform.  Soon, it was all clear and we got back on the train and went about our business.

Perhaps more importantly, I want my children to take an intellectual, not emotional, view of these topics.  I’d rather that they seek to understand the facts; I’d rather they grasp the ideological principles of freedom and the concept of rights; and I’d rather they grapple with the challenge of finding solutions accordingly.

Conversation with Insurance Company

Susan* (via email): Hi, your claim for parental leave is denied. Call me if you have any questions or concerns.

Me (after calling several times): I definitely have some questions, but I haven’t been able to reach you.

Susan (via email): Don’t call ME, call the main line.

(After I call the main line): Hi, this is Susan. How can I help you?

Me: Hi, Susan! You emailed me and said my claim was denied and I have some question/concerns about that which I’d like to discuss.

Susan: Oh. Ok. You should talk those over with your case manager who will give you a call in a couple of days.

Me: Um. OK.

[A couple of days later]

Susan: Hi! I’m your case manager! How can I help you with your questions or concerns?

Me (to myself): Susan is the one and only employee at Liberty Mutual and she’s a real pain in the ass about process.

* not her real name