August

She’s gone.


My Love has always spent August at her parents’ ranch. She helps with the August work: cutting, raking and putting up hay; riding fence; chasing strays; doctoring cattle; working on trucks and tractors and implements.

She rides her horse back into the wilderness. She honky-tonks with her high school friends.


Her whole family – parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins – gets together for a big cookout. Steak for the adults, burgers and dogs for the kids, potato salad, green beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumber slices, berry pies with home-made ice cream, home-baked bread.

In years past, the main sport at the cookout was teasing my Love about her lack of a love life. At last year’s cookout, she came out to her siblings. The next day, her sister outed her to the minister of her church – the minister who had been counseling me. The minister set us up a few days later.


My Love left for home on Friday.

I’ll join her out there this coming Friday – the first anniversary of the night we met. We’re having dinner at the same restaurant.

Her family cookout will be Saturday.

Everybody will be there this year: brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandparents, uncles, aunts, great uncles, great aunts, cousins, second cousins, even some third cousins. They are coming from three states.

Everybody wants to meet the girlfriend. (That would be me.) My family is coming, too.

My Love’s family is unusually close-knit, even out to second and third cousins. They are also hilariously boisterous. Should be a lot of fun.


After the cookout (and Sunday services at my old church), we’ll spend a few days at a “luxury guest ranch” in the mountains and the weekend with my parents. I don’t know what the sleeping arrangements will be. I’m not going to push it.

I’m less than 6 months into my new job; I can’t take off more than a week. My Love will come back with me and play Suzie Homemaker for the rest of the month.

It’s not the heat …

Now I understand the line,

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.

The last few days, the heat in New York City has been brutal. Yesterday, the high was 96 F (36 C). It’s much hotter on the subway platform. The subway cars are air conditioned, but that just means pumping the heat out of the car and into the stations and tunnels.


Back home, it gets hot in the summer. 90 F (32 C) to 100 (38 C) – or hotter – during the day.

The air is thin. Cloud cover is normally, at most, lovely little puffs that march in a lattice across the impossibly blue sky. The shadows race across the valleys.

It doesn’t rain much. The summer rain tends to be in thunderstorms, which can be violent.


I don’t mind that heat back home.

It’s hot, but it’s dry. Sweat evaporates quickly, leaving me feeling clean and cool. Here, sweat is just sticky.


Even on the hottest days back home, it gets cool in the evening. On a 90 F (32 C) day, it will usually be 50 F (10 C) or cooler in the evening.

I love to sleep with the windows open, with the breeze just tickling the curtains. When I was a little girl, I loved to wake up just as the sun was coming in the window, the cicadas starting to make noise, the curtains rustling, the warmth on my back, the smell of the clean air.


I hate air conditioning. I hate the processed taste of the air. I hate the noise of the compressor and fan.

The only times I used air conditioning back home were in job site trailers, to keep the dust down.

I don’t have air conditioning in my apartment. My Love has a couple of window units, which were inadequate to cool even a single room the last few nights.

We’d both rather turn them off and open the windows, even on the hottest nights. Her bedroom has a big ceiling fan, which is wonderful.


The heat is an incentive to work late – Stay in the office air conditioning; avoid the crush on the subway platform.

It’s also an incentive to go to the beach house. It’s normally 10 F (5 C) to 20 F (11 C) cooler, with a nice breeze and (surprising to me) less humidity.

My Love has been working from our rental house on Fridays and Mondays. She goes up Friday morning and picks me up at the train on Friday afternoon. She drops me at the train early Monday morning and drives down on the afternoon.

I didn’t want to do that – I thought it would send the wrong message to the senior guys in my firm. But they all work from their weekend houses on Fridays (and some of them on Mondays, too). They told me I’m crazy to be in the office on Fridays. I’m going to take them at their word.

So we’re both going up tonight and coming back on Monday night.

Vulgar language

[This is not the password-protected post.
The password-protected post is here.
I apologize for the confusion.]


I don’t like vulgar language.

I’m not prissy. I’m no prig.

I’ve spent my working life on construction sites. Vulgar language is as common as dust, mud and pickup trucks. Put a woman in charge – a woman who’s proud to be a woman and leans toward the feminine – and it gets even louder and more common.

I’ve heard every vulgar word and phrase you have ever heard, and a lot more. I’ve heard them combined in ways you can’t imagine. I’ve had them used to belittle, describe or taunt me. I’m a big girl. I can deal with it. I get respect in the end.

Please pardon me if catcalling and wolf-whistling don’t give me the vapors. Yes, it’s immoral. No, it’s not rape.

I don’t even hear it any more. There’s a filter between my auditory nerves and my conscious brain.


I avoid using vulgar language. It doesn’t add anything, and a good engineer seeks economy.

Still, I would win any profanity-slinging contest.


My Love is even more fastidious than I am.

Her firm is the cleanest-mouthed organization I’ve ever been around.

She’s no prig, either.

She grew up on a cow-calf ranch. She’s castrated more bulls than you have seen, even in the movies. If she judges that a male is treating her with insufficient respect, she will describe the method for him. In detail.


Whenever she hears anything off-color, she has a Pavlovian reaction: “Do you eat with that mouth?”

The first time I heard her say that on the subway, I thought the punk would murder us, right there. Instead, he looked sheepish and apologized.

My Love is not a woman to be trifled with.

 

 

We aren’t in Kansas anymore

Nor, indeed, in my home state.

Everyone I knew growing up was white, other than a few Hispanic and American Indian families. Everyone was a Christian. Everyone worked on a farm or ranch or in a business that supported farmers and ranchers.

I first met an African-American at the University. I had a Jewish roommate, but everyone she knew was Christian.

Most of my home county is uninhabited. Even in the valleys, ranch houses are miles apart. The largest town in my county has a population of just over 1,000.

My Love’s county is even emptier, whiter and more agricultural. The towns (all three of them) are even smaller. Much smaller.

Our home counties are poor. The per capita and median incomes are only a few thousand dollars above the poverty line. Over 20% of the population is under the poverty line. The median income is less than two-thirds the national median income. The distribution of incomes is flat. My family was comparatively well off – certainly in the top quintile – but I would have gotten a full scholarship at any decent college.

More concretely, the table of census data below hints at some of the differences between home (figures for my Love’s and my home counties, combined) and Manhattan (New York County).

A few things to note in particular:

  • Our two counties together are about 200 times the size of Manhattan. Yet Manhattan has over 100 times the population. The population density of Manhattan is 20,000 times that of our home counties (almost 70,000/sq mi vs 3.6/sq mi).
  • Home is overwhelmingly (93%) White.
    • There are maybe 25 African-American families, in an area larger than Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut or New Jersey.
    • The largest minorities are American Indian and Hispanic, and their numbers are negligible.
    • Almost everyone was born in the United States and speaks English at home.
  • Manhattan, on the other hand is ridiculously diverse:
    • A quarter Hispanic.
    • Almost a fifth African-American.
    • An eighth Asian.
    • Over a quarter are foreign-born
    • Almost half speak a language other than English at home.
  • Almost everyone at home lives in a single family home. Almost no one in Manhattan does.
  • Per capita income in Manhattan is 3 times that of home.
  • The entire economy of our home counties is agricultural.
  • People at home are more than 5 times as likely to have served in the military.
  • Although the percentages of high school graduates are about the same, the percentage of college graduates in Manhattan is about three times what it is at home.
Home Manhattan
Population 14,573 1,636,268
under 18 17.6% 14.7%
65 and over 26.1% 14.2%
White 93.1% 65.0%
African American 0.3% 18.4%
American Indian 3.5% 1.2%
Asian 0.4% 12.1%
Hispanic 2.5% 25.8%
Foreign born 2.1% 28.5%
Language other than English at home 3.4% 40.4%
High school graduate (age 25+) 87.4% 86.0%
Bachelors degree (age 25+) 18.9% 58.9%
Veterans 13.3% 2.6%
Housing units in multi-unit structures 5.2% 98.5%
Per capita income 20,749 62,498
Median household income 35,602 69,659
Persons below poverty line 20.5% 17.7%
Private nonfarm employment, 2013 2,544 2,116,201
Manufacturers shipments, 2007 ($1000) 8,315,093
Building permits, 2013 4,856
Land area in square miles, 2010 4,488 22.83
Persons per square mile, 2010 3.6 69,467.5

 

The Supreme Court and us: A personal note

My Love was out of the country in meetings last fall.

I called her repeatedly over the course of half an hour, interspersed with texts, asking her to call me.

Finally, she returned my call.

My Love (extremely exasperated): This better be important. I’m in the middle of a critical meeting here.

Me: A federal court just threw out the same-sex marriage ban in [our state].

[silence]

Me: Did you hear me? We can get married at home.

Voice in the background: Is everything all right?

My Love: I’m just going to go over here in the corner and dance and cry for a few minutes, OK?


I’m just going to go over here in the corner and dance and cry for a few minutes, OK?

Dad

I should have posted this yesterday, of course. Dad will never see it (I hope!), so I’m not sure that matters.


In my memory, Dad lives in my Mother’s shadow. Mother is a force of nature. Dad is quiet, quietly amused at the passing parade.

But the older I get, and the more I look back at my life, the more I see of Dad, the more he becomes a main character.


Dad’s response to almost everything my Mother says is a slightly ironic, slightly exasperated, “Yes, my dear.”


Dad started me in Engineering. When I was little, we built things with wood blocks. He got end scraps from the lumberyard, mostly 2x4s, but lots of oddities, too. We built bridges, railroads, skyscrapers. He taught me about thrusts and vectors, corbelling and arching, catenary and centering, friction and balance.

He’s not an engineer. He’s got a college degree, but not in a scientific or quantitative discipline. Our discovery of engineering was purely experimental and empirical.

He gave me my favorite toys – wooden Brio trains. The Brio box has been in every place I’ve ever lived. I currently have a track set up in my Love’s apartment. I learned lattices and graphs and curves and grades.


Dad taught me the most important thing about Engineering and life:

When I was very young – maybe 5 years old – I was upset about something that had gone wrong. (A common experience in my life. If I start to wonder about what would happen if I did X, I normally try to find out. Experimentally. One of the nice things about having learned Physics, Math and Engineering is that I can get a first approximation before risking life and limb.)

Dad showed me a video tape of Galloping Gertie: The Tacoma Narrows bridge shook itself apart under a wind load. It’s studied by every engineer and physicist in the world. (Really: Please watch the video: It’s amazing. Think of how that would impress a curious 5 year old.)

Dad explained to me that we all make mistakes. Not all of them have results as spectacular as Galloping Gertie. Blame and guilt and fault are irrelevant. They are about the past, and the past can’t be changed. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes and use them for a better future. And engineers and physicists have learned a lot from Galloping Gertie.

I learned the most important lesson in Engineering before I started kindergarten.


When I was in kindergarten, the principal called my parents. I was engaging in some experimental activity. (I may have conscripted some other children as experimental subjects. My memory is hazy on specifics.) The teacher told me to stop, I would get hurt. I told her that the best way to learn was from your mistakes and she was stupid if she didn’t let me make mistakes.

I had to sit in the principal’s office while he explained this to my parents. On the drive home, Mother told me off. Dad just grinned. Mother chewed him out for encouraging bad behavior.

Dad: “Yes, my dear.”


Lindsay at Solo Mama reminded me of another event with Dad.

In catechism and confirmation class, I was a trial to our priest. The priest told my parents that I was refractory and that he would tell that to the bishop.

I said (to my parents) that the priest was an ignorant fool and, if the bishop backed him, the bishop was a stupid jackass.

Mother called me “Young Lady” (the highest level of censorious address, worse than being called by my full name) for only the second time in my life, then sent me to my room to consider how I should confess and apologize.

The last thing I heard before I closed the door to my room:

Dad: Well, he is a stupid jackass.


Dad was raised Catholic. My Mother was raised Protestant, but converted to marry Dad. The old saying, “Converts tend to be zealots”? That’s my Mother.

Dad has always been an indifferent Catholic. Mass every Sunday. Kids through catechism, first communion, confirmation. But it has always been a bemused (and, I think, amused) detachment at my Mother’s heartfelt Catholicism.

I knew how my Mother would react if I came out of the closet. (In the event, I was wrong, thank goodness.)

I didn’t know about Dad. I assumed he would not be happy. I assumed that he would back Mother. And he did.


I didn’t come out to Dad. Mother outed me to him before I got the chance. After my Love outed us to Mother, Mother took me back in the living room.

Mother: Your daughter is a lesbian. That was her girlfriend.

Dad: Yes, my dear.

Mother: Don’t “Yes, my dear” me. Your daughter is a lesbian.

Dad: Yes, my dear. I knew it the minute they walked in the door. Anyone could tell those two girls are in love. I’ve spent the last six hours trying to guess what you were going to do when you figured it out. If you don’t give her your unconditional love, I’m filing for divorce.

Mother: I gave her my blessing, and I don’t want anyone giving her any trouble about it.

Dad: Yes, my dear.

The Supreme Court and not-so-conflicted me

I showed my post from yesterday to my Love’s lawyer. He reminded me that there are two issues before the Supreme Court in the gay marriage cases:

  1. Can a state limit marriage to a straight couples?
  2. If it can, must it nevertheless recognize gay marriages from another state?

My thumb-sucker missed an important distinction:

  1. The first issue is about individual rights.
  2. The second issue is about the federal system in the United States.

I addressed my hesitations about the first issue yesterday. My lawyer friend points out that I should have no such qualms about the second issue.

We have a federal system. Most of the law that governs our everyday life is state law. Contracts, property, responsibility for injury, criminal law, … all are governed primarily or exclusively by state law.

State law governs marriage.

Except for one important aspect: A federal system requires rules for recognition of legal status created by other states. Does Massachusetts have to recognize an adoption from Texas? Does Oklahoma have to enforce a contract signed in Kansas? Can a citizen of Minnesota own a retirement home in Arizona? Does Mississippi have to recognize a marriage from New York?

This doesn’t involve the things that were bothering me yesterday. This isn’t philosopher kings trampling democracy. It’s about the respect states owe each other, owe the federal system and owe each other’s citizens. It’s about the ability of an individual to freely move about the country without fear of losing legal status.

I’m not so conflicted about that. In fact, I’m not at all conflicted about it. If my Love and I marry, we’re married, right?

We dream of a wedding in our home state. I’ll happily settle for a legal wedding here in New York and a religious ceremony at my Love’s family ranch. And, someday to move back and raise a houseful of riotous kids, secure that our home will be our home and that our kids will be our kids.

The Supreme Court and conflicted me

This was a hard, painful post to write.


I have a selfish interest in the Supreme Court cases on gay marriage.

I have a conflicting philosophical interest.


I don’t believe in natural rights (aka “fundamental human rights”). Natural rights are a matter of faith, not a matter of fact or logic. There’s nothing natural about natural rights.

I believe we have moral obligations to each other. Fear of damnation didn’t guide my conscience. I needed analytic moral philosophy to inform my moral compass. It’s the only thing besides Engineering that I studied systematically. (I have a half-drafted post on the topic.)

I also believe that our political organizations have moral obligations to us. As Machiavelli observed, political moral obligations – the obligation to do justice – are different from individual moral obligations.

Perhaps I’m just playing with words, making a semantic distinction. But I don’t think so. “Rights” are an invitation to argument by assertion, to sloppy thinking, to wishful thinking, to confirmation bias. Natural rights theory doesn’t tell me that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao were evil. Moral philosophy and philosophy of justice, does.

Rights (other than those granted in law) are just assertions. Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite and a fool. But in the most famous statement of natural rights, he baldly admits that they are nothing but assertion: “We hold these truths to be self-evident …” Self-evident. The Mommy Defense (“Because I’m your mommy”) is fine for infants, but it’s not a coherent political philosophy.

Much as I want to believe that I have a fundamental natural right to marry someone of my sex, it’s only personal preference. It has no more intrinsic validity than a belief that I have a right to a pony.


Natural rights – natural law – is particularly abhorrent to me as a lesbian.

Natural law is one of the pillars of Roman Catholic theology. And Roman Catholic natural law results in this:

[T]radition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Start with the self-evident sexual complementarity: A man has a penis, a woman has a vagina, a penis fits in a vagina and it makes babies. Natural law leads ineluctably to homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.

Protestantism explicitly rejects natural law as an authoritative basis for theology. The quoted sentences, have no authority to a Protestant. But clearly many Protestants – as well as Moslems, Hindus, Jews and atheists – believe them anyway.

Of course, the argument is only valid if one accepts the premise of sexual complementarity and each of the intermediate premises.

There’s no point in disputing natural law, just as there’s no point in disputing religious faith. One either believes it – on faith – or one doesn’t. It’s not logical or empirical. It’s a belief system, not a moral or logical system. Any discussion is proselytizing, not persuasion.

Whether sexual complementarity is a valid premise for a natural law argument is beside the point. People believe it. As belief – not logic or empirical observation – it is impervious to logic and empiricism.

Similarly, arguing that we have a natural right to marry someone of the same sex – or even a natural right to love or make love to someone of the same sex – is just proselytizing. It has no more intrinsic truth than sexual complementarity or homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.


Even if I believed in natural rights, I don’t believe that nine old lawyers in Washington have any special ability to recognize their self-evidence. At least, they have no better ability than my fellow citizens.

If a right is fundamental, why isn’t it universally recognized? If it’s self-evident, it should be self-evident to everyone, no? Adopted by acclamation, no?

It’s no argument to say that people are blinded by bigotry or religious belief. It’s either self-evident, or it’s not.


I believe very strongly in democracy, as strongly as I believe in God.

What heartens me most about the Irish gay marriage referendum? It was adopted by popular vote. My Irish brothers and sisters made their case to their fellow-citizens.

I don’t want to be ruled by philosopher kings.

I want to be ruled by representatives elected by we, the people. I want to be able to throw the bastards out.

I don’t care how wise, how benevolent, how tolerant philosopher kings are. I want to be able to throw the bastards out.

The history of philosopher kings does not inspire confidence. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao – all philosopher kings. Each wanted to create a more perfect society.

I don’t want nine (five, really) old lawyers we can’t throw out dictating to bastards we can throw out.

Yes, some of our bastards are corrupt. Yes, some are stupid. Yes, they may sometimes  – often, perhaps – produce stupid, corrupt, bigoted results. Sometimes they are just bastards.

But they’re our bastards.


There are limits to my preference of bastards over lawyers.

We, the people, adopted a Constitution with rules guarantying that we, the people, can throw the bastards out – guarantying civil rights to African-Americans, guarantying the franchise to women and the poor; guarantying free speech and free conscience; guarantying due process before loss of liberty.

I’m happy with having the courts enforce those rules, where they are clear and have the purpose of guarantying a broad franchise and robust debate.

I’m also happy with having the courts enforce rules guarantying civil rights for African-Americans. Slavery, lynching, intimidation, serfdom, segregation, racism and discrimination are so frankly appalling that everyone must be charged to change it. And again, we, the people – our great-great-grandfathers – fought and died and changed the Constitution to keep the bastards in line.

Leaving aside the simple justice of those rights, the people of the United States explicitly and democratically enshrined them in the Constitution, and fought a Civil War to secure them.

The history of African-American civil rights since the Civil War should surely give pause to those who want to trust nine old lawyers in Washington. Within a few years of the Civil War, the Supreme Court turned the civil rights amendments and laws into a dead letter. A few years after that, the Court blessed comprehensive racial segregation. It was almost a century before the Court repented.


But I can’t applaud a court cutting off a democratic solution to other political issues, even for a cause that I love and personally want.

To be blunt, if we can’t convince enough of our fellow citizens to throw enough of the bastards out and establish a right, we don’t deserve to have five old lawyers do it for us.

Frankly, it’s infantile. We want agency, but we have to get our nanny to protect us from the meanies?

The history of abortion in this country should caution us that cutting off democracy perpetuates and entrenches division.


For 20 years, I’ve watched from deep inside a closet as the Jubilee approached.

We are moving rapidly toward acceptance not only of gay marriage but of a man loving a man or a woman loving a woman. I see it every day that I am at home, in a place where gays do not exist. In a state that voted by two to one, and in a county that voted three to one, to prohibit gay marriage.

This isn’t happening by some gay agenda, but by the shocking realization that we gays are, by and large, OK people. As a rule, we’re no better nor worse than straight people. Maybe what we do is icky, but that doesn’t make us icky – let alone evil.

The most important lesson of the Irish referendum is the power of an appeal to our common humanity. I staunchly believe that, while two-thirds of the citizens of my state may be ignorant about gays, no more than a handful hate gays.

I believe that unity can overcome estrangement. All I want is the ability to have the same hopes and fears and aspirations as a straight woman. I just want to marry the person I love, have children with her and see those children have a better life.

Is it irksome that I have to convince my fellow-citizens to let me have those hopes? Yes.

Not as irksome as having to convince five old lawyers in Washington.


Selfishly, I will celebrate if the Supreme Court finds a right to same-sex marriage.

But I will die, a little, inside.

The movement for acceptance and equality will die a little.

And democracy will die a little.

Is Jello a dessert?

Baroness Buttercup has nominated me for The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. I will do a proper post (amalgamating it with the other nominations I’ve received). But her first question, viz.,

Should Jello ever be considered a dessert? Why, or why not?

requires immediate response.


With respect, Your Ladyship, it is plain that, in your youth on the baronial estate, you were isolated from rural Scandinavian Lutherans.

Jello is the canonical Lutheran Church basement pot-luck dessert. It is served at all weddings, funerals, Bible School graduations, Sunday School awards, Tuesday Clubs, Men’s Bible Study … . It would be served at the Gay-Straight Alliance meetings, if there were any gays.

But not just any Jello:

Lime Jello with mandarin orange slices topped with Miracle Whip!

Out at the West Jerkwater Evangelical Lutheran Church, they still talk about how daring Mrs Larson was to use red Jello! Of course, that was back in the 60s, and Mrs Larson had some radical tendencies. She even voted Democrat once. She claims that felt sorry for that nice Mr Truman, who was going to lose so badly to Mr Dewey.

It is rumored that the Methodists mix in marshmallows, and substitute Cool Whip for Miracle Whip. Just another indication that the Methodists are heretics, if not outright blasphemers.


But not all Jello is dessert.

Make Jello in a cake tin. Cut it into rectangles about three inches long by one inch wide. These make the most amazing toys.

They wiggle and shimmer.

If you put one on the table and push at one end, it will crawl along the table like an inchworm.

When it breaks, you have to eat it.

I don’t know if my family was exceedingly inventive, or exceedingly easy to amuse or just exceedingly goofy, but a tray of jello rectangles could keep me amused for hours. Even when I was a sullen teenager. Even though I hate Jello.

Which just goes to show you how exciting life can be out in West Jerkwater.


Jell-O and Miracle Whip are trademarks of Kraft Foods. No Lutherans or Methodists were harmed in the production of this post.