Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I'm With Shirley

(Image Credit: Ours came in the mail, but you can pick up something similar here. H/T: A well-mannered friend with two ambiguously gay dachshunds.)

We got nuttin for you today, kids, but love and the wisdom of Shirley. We're busy trying to figure out if the neighbors are Russian spies and how in the heck Roger Federer could have gotten so thoroughly whupped at Wimbledon. No, we are not watching the Kagan hearings, which so far appear to have proven that the nominee is an earnest smarty-pants and Jeff Sessions is a freeze-dried idiot, two things we already knew for sure.

Goose is re-arranging books on the shelves in her study. Moose is making plans for an upcoming trip to England and Wales (a mix of business, pleasure, and queer family adventure that will involve my sweet-as-pie brother Geoffrey). Meanwhile, out in the ridiculously large backyard, the six shyest fish in the universe are quietly circling the floor of my pond, trying to decide whether it's safe to come up for a bite of the food Moose keeps tossing their way. Yes, darlings, it's true -- the moms are pet owners again. You knew they would get back in the game of companion-species romance eventually, didn't you? Today it's six little fish, tomorrow -- Who knows?

That's life in Roxie's World on this last day of June, as a cool breeze finally blows through the strange, hot, oil-soaked summer of 2010. What's happening in your neck of the woods?

Listen to Shirley, beloveds, no matter where your travels take you. Girl knows how to have a good time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

News, of the Hot, Homolicious Variety

The mercury is pushing into triple-digit territory here in Roxie's World, kids. It's so hot my typist says she can't think straight, so I told her to try thinking gay. Here's what she came up with.

1. Splendor in the Grass: Martina Navratilova returns to Wimbledon to prove that she is recovering from the wrist she broke in January better than Moose is recovering from the one she broke in April:

(Photo Credit: Adam Stoltman, New York Times, 6/27/10)

The 9-time Wimbledon singles champ is also recovering from breast cancer and a nasty lawsuit filed by an unhappy ex, Toni Layton, so we're all pleased as punch to see her looking good and still planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in December. Still, Moose thought Martina's side plank pose was a little show-offy, but that could be because so far she can only manage a tentative downward-facing dog on her achy, inflexible left wrist. We are encouraging her to be inspired by Martina's gritty comeback, because bitterness, as you know, is not becoming. Fine, she said. Find me a mountain to climb. Your suggestions, as always, are welcome.

2. Splendor in the Post: WaPo continues to promote same-sex marriage as the greatest thing to hit the nation's capital since air-conditioning and Ben's Chili Bowl. Here's a photo from today's featured wedding in "On Love":

(Photo Credit: Katherine Frey, Washington Post, 6/27/10)

The two happy gents are 88-year-old Henry Schalizki, left, and 89-year-old Bob Davis, right, who first met in 1942 in Rhode Island and legally wed June 20, 2010 on the balcony of the presidential suite at the J.W. Marriott in Washington. They have been fixtures on the Washington theater scene for decades, but Schalizki only officially outed them in 2008, when, in accepting a Helen Hayes Governor's Award for their support of local theater companies, he remarked, while gazing at his partner, "I have been greatly loved, and I've loved greatly in return." Davis was upset with the disclosure at first, but he also got miffed at Schalizki recently for wearing white socks to a formal dinner party. When Schalizki claimed that Van Johnson wore red socks, Davis tells the Post that he retorted, "Well, you're no Van Johnson."

See, kids? True love means you fight about socks because you've figured out it's pointless to fight about other stuff. And, if you're lucky, it means there will always be someone around to tell you who you are and who you ain't. Go read the story, and props to the Post for the prominent play it is giving to same-sex couples legally tying the knot in DC. As we noted in a post earlier this month, such stories are a powerful means of altering the ways in which the public sees the institution of marriage, and that is to be applauded, regardless of where one stands on the queer politics of marriage.

3. Marriage in the Court: Queer legal-eagle Nan Hunter does a careful parsing of the closing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzennegger, the federal lawsuit filed against California's Prop 8, which made same-sex marriage illegal in the state. She feels confident that Judge Vaughn R. Walker is going to find for the plaintiffs, so her analysis focuses on trying to suss out what the basis for his reasoning is likely to be. It's a fun game of legal mind-reading, especially for those of you who get all hot and bothered over the difference between strict scrutiny and rational basis standards of review. And, really, who doesn't?

4. QTU in London: Follow along as an intrepid group of Queer the Turtle University students spends three weeks in merry old England on the first Study Abroad course offered through the happy little program in LGBT Studies that Moose directs. The course, "Queer London," is being taught by one of the loyalest of our loyal readers. Here's a paragraph from the course description:
London, among the world’s most vibrant queer metropolises, will be the destination for this study of LGBT history, literature, and culture. We will be participating in both the London Pride Festival and the London Literature Festival. We will read and discuss selections from historical and literary works to coincide with our class events. We will also meet with local scholars, gallery directors, writers, and queer community organizers/activists to understand more fully the state of queer culture in contemporary London. In the evenings, we will attend theatrical, musical, and literary events.
Gosh, kids, did you get to take courses like this when you were in school? Yeah, we didn't think so. The fabulous class blog, written mostly by the students, is here. Follow the Turtles as they go from museums to galleries to poetry slams to lunches with eminent queer scholars! It'll make you feel young and wild and adventurous again, or, you know, as old as the stolen marbles in the British Museum. Alas.

(Photo Credit: Queer London)

Take care, my overheated darlings. Here's hoping your World Cup runneth over with some cool and tasty beverage and that all your good news has a touch of the homolicious about it. Peace out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

(Not) So Far Away

Or, Just Another Wednesday Night with James and Carole -- and Nancy and Hillary

(Photo Credit: Moose, on her iPhone, Verizon Center, Washington, DC, 6/23/10)

Oh, we could pretend that strange silhouette effect was exactly what Moose was going for when she snapped the above photo of James Taylor and Carole King on stage at the Verizon Center the other night. We could wax all poetic and philosophical about how the whiteness at the center of the frame underscores the powerful sense of identification the aging hippie audience clearly felt with the aging hippie yet still going strong singer-songwriters who cruised impressively through a two-and-a-half hour show. We project ourselves into that space, just as, over the course of decades, we have projected ourselves into spare and simple lyrics that seemed to be telling the stories of our lives.

It would be so fine to see your face at my door . . . .

I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end . . . .

Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night . . . .

Can I believe the magic of your sighs
Will you still love me tomorrow . . . .

That's all true, more or less, but the truth about the photo is that it was the least crappy shot Moose was able to get on her (flashless, zoomless) iPhone non-4G. At least you can see what awesome seats she and Goose somehow managed to snag at the last minute. They were in the fourth row, directly opposite Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, who seem to be dating and ruling the world. Pelosi's smiling face was shown on the Jumbotron during the encore, but Hill had already left the building, no doubt to go back to spanking generals in the Sit Room. (Well, somebody should be spanking them, don't you think?)

Anyway, the show was great. Catch it if you can, sometime between now and its conclusion in Anaheim on July 20. (Ooh, Tanglewood on the 4th of July! Wouldn't that be nice? "I Feel the Earth Move," under the stars! with Roman candles!) The music has held up remarkably well, and so have Taylor and King, who manage to make an arena show feel as intimate as an impromptu singalong in somebody's living room. The intimacy is created in part by Taylor and King's obvious warmth and ease with one another, but it's enhanced by a round stage that slowly revolves to bring the performers closer to more members of the audience and by the old photos of both singers that are flashed on screens above the stage throughout the show. Cheesy? Perhaps. Guaranteed to crank up the waterworks in the overwhelmingly white, female, middle-aged audience? D'oh!

Well, so what? King is 68 and seems to be having the time of her life, boogieing around the stage on stiletto heels and braving the high notes, despite a bit of weakness in her upper range. Taylor is 62 and is genial, serene, as honey-voiced as ever. The show may traffic in nostalgia, but the bittersweet poetry of their lyrics reminds us over and over again that the good old days were full of pain, loss, and struggle. Moose was 12 years old when Tapestry came out in 1971, yet she totally resonated to the sense of romantic exhaustion animating "It's Too Late": "Something inside has died/And I can't hide and I just can't fake it." Who knows what youthful hurt felt expressed for her in those lines? Nearly 40 years later, the resonances are all different and the wisdom feels more hard-won. Because it hurts like hell when you wake up every morning and realize you truly won't get to see someone you always thought you'd see again. And yet, it also matters that 40 years later you know the answer to the all-important question, Ain't it good to know that you've got a friend? Oh, yes, it is, my darlings, oh, yes, it is. Call out my name, and I'll be there, wherever there may be. Cross my heart.

Now, go read this nice profile Anthony DeCurtis did on Taylor and King in the Times a few weeks back. Then close the door, get out your hankie, and click on this vid of a lovely 1971 performance of "You've Got a Friend." JT does the vocal, Carole is on piano, and Leland Sklar, who, along with his amazing beard, is part of the band currently touring with Taylor and King, is on bass. Peace out, aging children, and happy Friday.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

(Dis)Loyalty: Take Two

Or, Thanks, But I Don't Like Kool-Aid. I'll Have a Dry Martini Instead. A Double. Shaken, Not Stirred. Now, Let's Get This Meeting Started.

(Image Credit: Picked up here.)

My typist has continued to ponder the questions about institutional loyalty and disloyalty that she and other academic bloggers started discussing last week in connection with an unpleasant story about a (female) provost booted by a (male) president-for-life when she dared to allow herself to become a finalist for a similar position at another school. He relieved her from her duties as provost on the grounds that remaining in the search was evidence of disloyalty to her current employer. (Inside Higher Ed story is here. Our original post, with links to others on the subject, is here.)

In the case of the Fired Provost v. the Prez-for-Life, our sympathies, of course, are entirely with the provost, who was simply doing what high-level administrators with aspirations of moving higher have always done in the interest of bulking up their resumes, especially when the man at the top shows no sign of being in a hurry to step aside. (The prez in this case had held the top job since 1979.) Our first post spun off into generational differences that seemed to pop up in these conversations about institutional loyalty, with faculty under 40 (or so) coming out strongly against the idea that institutions of higher ed deserved any kind of loyalty at all, while aging geezer hippies (such as Moose and Goose) cling not so much to loyalty but to a sense of identification with the institution, to a belief that faculty still have the power to effect change on campus. We tied the generational difference to the shift in the academy from a decentralized administrative structure to the much more centralized, top-down model that has taken hold as universities have come to be run more like corporations in recent years. We deplore that shift in part because it encourages -- even, indeed, forces -- faculty to think of themselves as independent contractors rather than as members of a collective with a stake in the future of the institution.

We stand by the original post, particularly its call to invest (or reinvest) in the mechanisms of shared governance and other forms of collective action to try to save what's left of academic freedom and democracy on campus. (Yes, that is another plug for Cary Nelson's new book. Haven't you ordered it yet?) We revisit this topic, though, because we want to make it clear that loyalty might have been the wrong word for what we were actually talking about or that our definition of loyalty is what a lot of other folks might describe as, um, disloyalty.

In an exchange with Historiann in comments on the previous post, I suggested that critical engagement with the institution is probably a better way to describe what we were advocating and what the moms learned in the course of their training by a generation of feminist academics committed to transforming universities from the inside. In an off-blog conversation with Moose, my aunt Katie, an eminent feminist thinkosopher, suggested that what we are really seeking is a notion of empowered community, a space in which everyone has a say and a stake.

Within this (admittedly utopian, possibly nostalgic) framework, loyalty is not a matter of mindlessly drinking the Kool-Aid, of toeing the company line, of biting one's tongue in order to protect the brand. ("How did you like my piece in Inside Higher Ed?" Moose said to a high-ranking QTU administrator recently. "I didn't," came the terse reply. Moose was taken aback by the response but quickly ascertained what it meant. "I'm sorry to hear that," she countered, "but such things need to be said." By "such things," she meant: It is important to acknowledge that budget cuts have negative consequences. They hurt students. They undermine the quality of education. To refuse to acknowledge that is to live in a delusion or, worse, to collaborate in a lie.) Loyalty means speaking the truth, even if it makes the big wigs squirm in their ergonomically correct office chairs.

Loyalty means calling the powerful to account for their actions and decisions in this age of accountability in higher education. That's why we think our blog boyfriend Chris Newfield, of UC Santa Barbara and Remaking the University, is the loyalest guy in America, for the work he and his contributors do, week after week, documenting the cynical, systematic evisceration of the University of California system. Loyalty means mastering the arcana of budgeting and policy so that you can credibly talk back to the corporate hacks. Challenge them. Answer them. Prove that there is a better way. See, again and always, Chris Newfield.

Loyalty means that when times are hard you don't, like the useless poets in Springsteen's "Jungleland," "just stand back and let it all be." You stand up, like the courageous students this year from California to Puerto Rico who put their bodies on the line to protest budget cuts and the rising tide of privatization. You organize, like our faculty pals in Shampoo-Banana, who walked picket lines in solidarity with striking graduate student employees and organized a series of collective furlough days to call attention to the impact of the state's failure to meet its fiscal commitments to the university.

Loyalty means when the politician who's picked your pocket for the past two years has the audacity to ask for money to finance his reelection as he picks your pocket for a third year you politely say, "Sorry, sir, but I gave -- and gave -- at the office. I'm wondering when I'll be able to get, if you know what I mean."

Speak the truth, talk back, stand shoulder to shoulder with your allies, and refuse to collaborate with enemies who pretend to be friends: These are all forms of loyalty as critical engagement. Don't drink the Kool-Aid. Smash the pitcher and demand something better. I'll drink to that, comrades. Bottoms up!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Loyalty, Disloyalty, and Non-Reciprocity

Or, We Regret to Inform You There is No More Blood You Can Squeeze from This Turnip

Fascinating conversations are taking place on some of our favorite academic blogs in the wake of an Inside Higher Ed story earlier this week on a (female) provost fired by a (male) president in the Cal State system for refusing to withdraw from a search for a provostship at another Cal State school. The president of Cal State Los Angeles, James M. Rosser, told the provost, Desdemona Cardoza, that going forward as a finalist for the position at Cal State Long Beach would be evidence of disloyalty to the school where she had served as a faculty member and administrator for 22 years. Cardoza had hopes of becoming president at Cal State, LA, when Rosser -- president since 1979 -- stepped aside, but she thought a move to Long Beach would give her valuable experience in working under a different president and on a larger campus. True to his word, Rosser fired Cardoza when she refused to withdraw from the search. She subsequently did not get the Long Beach job. After a 6-month leave, she will return to CSULA as a faculty member. Won't that be fun?

NB: IHE's account of these events comes from Cardoza. Rosser refused to be interviewed about a personnel matter.

Historiann has done two posts on this sordid tale of female ambition punished. They are here and here. Read them both as well as the long, thoughtful comments by her smarty-pants readers. Dr. Crazy weighed in yesterday with an angry post about being hit up for a donation by her employing institution, which hasn't given her a raise in two years. Among other sources of low morale and indignation, she notes that she now has to pay $300 a year for the privilege of parking on her campus, which is really an occupational necessity, given the absence of nearby off-campus parking and the lack of public transportation. Both Historiann and Dr. Crazy reject the notion that faculty owe loyalty to their institutions, though Historiann is quick to declare strong loyalties to her profession, her colleagues, and her students. Dr. Crazy points out that loyalty has to be a two-way street and that institutions have done little recently to deserve it from their faculty members.

Dogs keep coming up in these conversations as exemplars of loyalty, so we figured it was time for us to get in on the action. Also, the English profs of Roxie's World are of a slightly older academic generation than Historiann, Dr. Crazy, and many of their commenters, which may give them a somewhat different experience of and relationship to the issue of institutional loyalty. Forgive us while we think out loud for a few minutes to see if we might open up a different angle of attention on the subject.

I first started musing on this topic in a comment I left yesterday over at Historiann's:
I wonder if there wasn’t a time, not so very long ago, when loyalty to an academic institution made more sense than it does now. The moms are a little older (both over 50) and feel the tug of loyalty to QTU, but perhaps that’s just because, all in all, the place has been pretty good to them. Or is it that they came of age professionally when traditions of shared governance and a less top-down model of administration really gave them a different sense of relationship to the institution?
The moms feel incredibly fortunate to be a dual-career academic couple with secure positions in an R1 school in a, to them, highly desirable location. That in itself earns QTU a certain amount of loyalty, though it's important to note that they weren't hired as a couple. Moose -- as the much, much younger partner in the relationship -- was hired six years after Goose and had to go through two national searches to get her position. Still, they've had opportunities to leave over the years and have chosen to stay. Do they stay because they are loyal, lazy, or on the whole satisfied with where they are? That is a hard question to answer. Can they imagine opportunities that would lure the happy turtles out of their shells? Yes.

More interesting than the cushiness of the moms' particular situation and its tendency to engender loyalty (or lethargy?) is the question of how structural and economic changes over the last few decades have made it far less likely that faculty will feel a strong sense of loyalty to the institutions that employ them. As we have noted before, the moms were trained by some of the original Tenured Radicals, brave souls who passionately believed that the university, however resistant it might be, could be a catalyst for social change. Their mentors invented and institutionalized new disciplines like women's studies and feminist criticism and in many cases set aside their own research agendas to take on administrative roles because they recognized opportunities to reform curricula and transform the academy -- and eventually the world.

For all their flaws, universities were, by and large, humane places to work, and faculty could feel a strong sense of agency in an enterprise that was often collective and collaborative and within a structure in which power was decentralized. The moms, too, were idealists and institution-builders. Part of their loyalty to QTU developed out of years of happy experience working with others to turn radical dreams into institutional realities. If you had a good idea and were persistent, you could probably find a way to make it happen. Administrators were generally allies, not obstacles, to the realization of those dreams.

Cary Nelson's new book, No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom, is an essential tool to understanding why that sense of loyalty and shared purpose seems so quaint, if not downright delusional, on most campuses these days. (There are many other books we could recommend on this subject -- for example, this one or this one -- but Nelson speaks directly to the generational differences that we think inform these conversations about loyalty.) We highly recommend the book, especially to academic professionals under, say, 40 who entered universities after the transition to the corporate, neoliberal model was largely complete. For that generation, tenure has been weakened because far fewer people have it, and shared governance seems like the practice of an ancient civilization that grows more remote with every memo ordering compliance on everything from book orders to learning outcomes.

The book is unabashedly polemical, and one of its goals is clearly to boost the membership rolls of the American Association of University Professors, of which Nelson is currently president. Nonetheless, Nelson offers a compelling case that the "three-legged stool" of academic freedom, shared governance, and tenure hasn't yet collapsed, though it's gotten awfully rickety under the many threats (he enumerates 16 in the book's second chapter) posed by the forces of corporatization on campus. He is clear-eyed about the nature and the scale of the challenge we face, but he remains confident that resistance is possible and that faculty "have the power they need to save higher education's key roles if they choose to exercise it collectively" (77). He has good, practical suggestions about what faculty can do, together, to make their campuses better workplaces and to revitalize the university's mission of "educating students to be critical participants in a democracy" (77).

Read this book, and then look around on your own campus for opportunities to participate in the sometimes thankless yet crucial work of shared governance. Is your campus senate an effective check on administrative power? If not, could you help make it stronger? Is there a faculty association that serves to communicate and advocate for faculty independently of the senate and the administration? If not, is it time to look into establishing one?

It's true that under the corporate model the interests of faculty and administration are often at odds, even if the relationship doesn't feel fully or even especially adversarial. One solution to such asymmetries and the many examples of non-reciprocity evident in the top-down world we now inhabit is to declare oneself, as GayProf does in a comment at Historiann's, an independent contractor seeking to "extract every ounce possible" from the university/employer and willing to move on if the compensation for services ceases to be adequate. Without denying that faculty should be free to pursue new opportunities -- and they should be able to do so without, like Desdemona Cardoza, being punished for "disloyalty" -- we think it's also worth considering Cary Nelson's group-based solution to the challenges we face. Especially as hiring slows to a trickle and competition for what few opportunities there are grows fiercer, we need to commit -- or recommit -- ourselves to activism and collectivism because the alternative is acquiescence to conditions we should refuse to tolerate.

Don't think of it as loyalty if that strikes you as naive or anachronistic. Think of it as a way to keep yourself from going quietly insane. You're not being true to your school. You are declaring yourself a soldier in the war on corporate power. You're not being a team player. You are being a subversive super hero, in the company of hundreds of other rebels.

Solidarity, comrades. It's our last, best hope. Yes, dogs are loyal, but they are also pack animals. PAWS UP to working together to improve the lot of everybody in the pack. Peace out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Noted, While Walking

Or, One More Reason We Totes Heart Our Neighborhood:

(Photo Credit: Moose, on her iPhone, 6/15/10)

Where else do you get a call to environmental conscience and collective action through a clever revision of a famous American poem -- on a home-made sign gone drippy in the rain?

Welcome to the People's Republic of Takoma Park, comrades. There's no place like home!

Peace to all living things, except for kudzu. Kudzu must die, even in Takoma Park. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Memo to WaPo's Dana Milbank

From the Department of Please Stop Beating Dead Horses:

Dear Mr. Milbank,

Depending on how you count the vote totals in the extremely close Democratic primary battle of 2008, Hillary Clinton either narrowly defeated Barack Obama (by 0.8%) or was barely beaten by him (by at most 0.4%), according to the popular-vote analysis of Real Clear Politics.

Which means that a headline, two years later, chortling that Clinton is finally ahead of Obama in popularity is of questionable accuracy, even if her favorability and approval ratings are well ahead of his at this point. Your claim that Obama "bested Clinton in the only poll that mattered" is true only if by "poll" you mean the total number of delegates awarded to each candidate through the Democrats' incredibly effed-up system of proportionally allocating delegates on the basis of the primary results. Obama did win that "poll," by gaming the system very effectively to rack up large numbers of delegates through wins in smaller states such as Iowa, Idaho, and Utah, while Clinton's wins in key larger states such as Michigan and Florida were muddied through intra-party battles over rules and dates. (Remember, kids? Oh, good times.)

Two years later, Barack Obama is president and Hillary Clinton is secretary of state. He's managing two wars, a ruined economy, and the unfolding of an unprecedented environmental catastrophe. She is traveling the planet trying to repair the damage done to the nation's reputation by a cowboy president and his evil, law-breaking sidekick.

And you think it's a productive use of your precious real estate in the Washington Post to assert that Secretary Clinton "is entitled to enjoy a measure of revenge" as she bests her boss in favorability ratings. Further, you think it's constructive to suppose that "among Hillary '08 fans there is some satisfaction that the woman Obama once cut down as 'likable enough' is now more liked than he is."

Two things, Mr. Milbank:

1. You are about eight months late to the story. Clinton has led Obama in Gallup favorability polling since October 2009.

And 2. The Democratic primary battle is ancient history. Clinton is over it. (We were there for the glorious ending. Where the heck were you?) Obama is over it. Her followers are over it. Stop fighting the last war or, more to the point, the last lunchroom debate over who's most popular. Glee is at least entertaining when it engages in that kind of vapid speculation. You, I am sorry to say, are not.

We realize, of course, that in your highly subjective business perception matters a good deal more than dull, boring, statistical reality. We can only assume that you must imagine that somebody somewhere who still bothers to read your consistently unilluminating drivel will feel informed or amused by the suggestion that Hillary Clinton and her former supporters waste their time dreaming of the day when she will stand on the steps of the Capitol, place her hand on the Bible, and swear, "You like me! You really like me!"

In fact, we spend most of our political time wishing Obama would simply prove to be a decent president, not the miracle maker of his former supporters' dreams, but merely a guy with the guts and the skill to lead the nation in a Democratic direction. Is that too much to ask?

Get a new idea, Mr. Milbank. This one is starting to draw flies.

Yours sincerely,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Monday Food Blogging

Yes, we've done this before, almost a year ago to this very day as a matter of fact. Good things are worth repeating, don't you agree? It's summertime, kids. The days are long, and the humidity here in the East is as thick as a wet wool sweater. Let's amuse ourselves with pretty pictures and ideas for delicious seasonal eating.

Par exemple, here's what Moose whipped up for brunch on Saturday morning:

The name is not especially sexy -- Open-Faced Sandwich with Ricotta, Arugula, and Fried Egg -- but the taste was delish. The recipe is from Moose's favorite source of food porn for the conscientious, Cooking Light. That perfectly fried egg is sitting on a piece of grilled bread covered by a spread of part-skim ricotta, parmesan, and fresh thyme and a bed of arugula lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. The lemon adds a nice little zing that tricks the mind into thinking it's getting a rich, decadent Hollandaise sauce. It was a yummy, summery, and satisfying way to start the day.

Last evening, the moms headed up to Rodgers Forge for five courses of food porn for the sybaritic produced by the beloved Candy Man, his sidekick the Cock-Eyed Optimist, and the world's most sophisticated 10-year-old. The feast started off with an answer to the question on the minds of every Gleek in America: What Would Sue Drink? The answer, of course, is The Sylvester:

Here is Candy Man's recipe for this refreshing, complex, and slightly dangerous beverage:

The first step is to make a berry syrup, which the Candy Man adopted from a recipe in The French Laundry Cookbook:

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
6 peppercorns (I used green), lightly crushed
1 pint raspberries
1 pint small strawberries
1 small sprig mint

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook 45 minutes, then strain out the solids. There will be 1 to 1.5 cups syrup; can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to a month.

For the Sylvester:

1 T of the above berry syrup
2 T lime juice
mint leaves, mottled in syrup
2 shots rum
1 shot ginger liquor
A little bit of seltzer

Serve with adorable dumplings filled with a single blackberry and a touch of goat cheese (see lower right corner of above photo), and your guests' bouches will be so amused that their cheeks will ache.

These drinks are so good that we bet Sue Sylvester would slip into her zoot suit to enjoy one. After two, she'd probably be able to embrace Will Schuester without feeling an urge to vomit down his back. After three, well, we can't even write what we might imagine on this family-friendly blog, but we can tell you it would involve a bullhorn and, you know, a bowl full of Cheerios.

(Photo Credit: Fox, via)

Peace out, darlings, and let us know what summer delights you are enjoying!

(With love and thanks to all the boys in Rodgers Forge.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Deer Who Came for Brunch

. . . and helped herself to a prodigious amount of hosta salad before Moose noticed she was out there and ran out into the yard in her nightgown shrieking, "Go away! Get out of my hosta!":

The deer was unperturbed by Moose's histrionics and went out to a remote, shady part of the yard for a postprandial nap, rousing herself only when Moose came back out to capture the moment on her iPhone.

Interestingly, as that last paragraph was being typed, Moose looked out and saw that the pretty yet unwelcome guest had returned for another go at the all-you-can-eat hosta bar. She has now officially become that crazy neighbor who shakes her fist and yells in order to protect the sanctity of her home. I will let you know if copies of American Rifleman start showing up on the doorstep.

Note to the Moms: You know, it's really OK with me if you start looking around for a new dog. Srsly, guys, it's been almost six months since I kicked the bucket. I'm doing fine up here in what we might for lack of a better word call heaven, but it's clear that things have gone straight to hell security-wise out in my ridiculously large backyard. Do it for the hostas and, you know, for what's left of your dignity. Just sayin'.

The moms have been inordinately preoccupied recently with matters domestic. In the last few weeks, they have been dealing with, let's see, well . . .
  • an upstairs shower that started leaking water through a light fixture in the kitchen;
  • an $800 car repair that required several follow-up conversations with our entirely trustworthy mechanic when Moose realized that the exact same repair had been done less than two years ago;
  • a consultation with Raymond, our eccentric yet masterful furniture guy, about how to repair the antique table that UPS smashed to smithereens when shipping it up from Texas;
  • appointments first with a trapping service and then with an exterminator to investigate the source of the scary tippy-tappy, scritchy-scratchy noises in the eaves of the moms' bedroom (upshot: bees, now deceased, but Brandon the Mighty but Kinda Dumb Trapper messed up the ceiling [in a futile effort to find nonexistent mice], which will have to be repaired by Orlando, the paint and drywall guy; see next bullet);
  • waiting on Orlando, whom we adore and have known for years, to come fix the damage done by the winter's ice dams, which is actually going to involve a fairly significant amount of painting and a little dry wall repair;
  • hanging out in the meantime with our beloved Joe, awesome carpenter and all-around fix-it guy, who figured out what caused the leak in the shower and the squeak in the dishwasher door and came up with a fix for a threshold in the basement that kept tripping Moose every time she came out of her study;
  • getting Cromcast to figure out what was going on with the suddenly glitchy Interweb connection, which was making my typist want to throw her laptop across the room rather than type for me or work on the Most Overdue Project in the History of American Publishing, which she is, actually, occasionally doing these days.
Wow. That's a long list!

Note to Dr. Crazy, who just bought her first house: I swear to dog, home ownership usually isn't this much of a pain in the a$$ or a drain on the wallet. Do not read this post and get scared. The moral of this tale of temporary woe is that everything can be fixed. It's just a matter of knowing who to call. As time goes on you, too, will develop a long list of reliable guys and gals to call in the event of emergencies or problems beyond your range of expertise. As for the money, well, some things (e.g., the ice dams) are covered by insurance, and some you just have to close your eyes and say, "I will get it all back at tax time, I will get it all back at tax time." Your home is an investment. Keep it in good shape in order to protect or enhance its value. Take it from a couple of fiscally conservative old broads who screwed up the nerve to cash out a decade's worth of equity and re-build the whole damn joint back in '03. You'll be glad you did.

While we are on the subject of housekeeping, Moose has racked up a long list of open tabs in her browser. We'll pass them along to you for your summer weekend reading pleasure:
  • The backstory on Charlie Riedel, the photographer who took those amazing photos of birds mired in the oil on the Louisiana coast that everyone, including us, has been talking about;
  • Melissa McEwan's eloquent and deeply perceptive take on the separation of Al and Tipper Gore, which we also weighed in on earlier this week;
  • Think outside the burqa! Here's a Time report on British research suggesting that Internet use makes people happier -- yes, HAPPIER! -- especially women and people in the developing world;
  • On the other hand, here's a WaPo story that raises questions about whether the millions of dollars schools are sinking into high-tech gadgetry actually improves student learning;
  • For Marylanders following the rematch between former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and current Gov. Martin "You, Sir, Are No Jack Kennedy" O'Malley, here's a WaPo piece that fact-checks the claims each candidate is making about the other's record on taxing and spending;
  • In the mood for a good cry? Eager to relive your own dead-pet experience? Well, then click on over to The Best-Ever Dog (H/T Kelly), for a well-written and heart-rending reflection on "how we repay unconditional love."
That's it, kids. A happy Friday to you and yours. Here's hoping the deer and the antelope are staying on the right side of your high fences.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

David Brooks and the Big Ruh Roh

Everybody on the Interwebs is trying to figure out what the heck David Brooks was talking about yesterday in a column he wrote defending study of the humanities during a period of shrinking labor markets. Now, of course, the official position of Roxie's World is that all dog's children ought to be English or history majors in order to assure a steady supply of scintillating cocktail party conversation in the next generation. We are, in other words, on board with the gist of his argument, which is that humanities disciplines teach skills in critical thinking and creativity that don't get taught elsewhere and shed light on aspects of human behavior that no scientific or technocratic account can adequately explain.

So far, so bueno. Halfway through the column, however, Brooks introduces readers to one of the weirdest analogies ever produced in the history of thinking -- which is funny, because one of the benefits Brooks claims for the humanities is that it will give students "a wealth of analogies." That's true, David, and if you stick around for the advanced course you will learn to distinguish a good analogy from one that will make your readers scratch their heads in befuddlement or wet their pants laughing at the ridiculous image you have conjured up for them.

Which brings me, of course, to The Big Shaggy. Yep, that is the big takeaway from Brooks' column, the cherry on top of the sundae he concocts in defense of the humanities -- Or, no, the final sandbag he throws onto the levee he builds to resist the tide of those who would insist that the humanities are a luxury we can't afford in hard times. (He uses the levee analogy early in the column, which we think has unfortunate Katrina-esque resonances, but we will overlook those in the interests of time and comic efficiency.)

"The Big Shaggy" is Brooks' way of describing what others have called the unconscious, the spaces "deep down" in people from whence arise "passions and drives," "yearnings and fears" that are largely irrational. The Big Shaggy is "an inner beast," a raw force that in its destructive aspects leads, according to Brooks, to such problematic behaviors as a fine Christian governor skipping off to Argentina to, um, shag his Argentinian mistress or people being mean to each other when they disagree politically rather than sitting around a table on The Newshour politely putting one another to sleep. In its constructive aspects, the Big Shaggy makes people really good athletes and artists -- but not bloggers or journalists, because, according to Brooks, their "fast, effortless prose . . . lacks the heft to get you deep below."

Fast? Effortless? Ha! My typist says that kind of slackitude might get you published in The New York Freakin' Times, but it sure won't pass muster at America's favorite dead dog blog! Who you callin' shallow, Brooksie? Huh?

In any case: Again, we take Brooks' point and generally agree with it. Indeed, we think his argument offers support for the kind of work that has transformed the humanities in the past couple of decades by critically examining the deep social and psychic forces that prop up a narrowly constructed notion of the normal by demonizing the shaggy beasts of desires and identities that don't fit the grid. Brooks likely didn't intend to ally himself with proponents of queer theory and critical race studies, but his logic is not dissimilar from those who have seen the queer as a negative, non-innocent force resistant to order and rationality. David Brooks, meet Lee Edelman!

We kid, kind of, but even as we wrap up the black turtleneck and sleek new specs that we will be sending Mr. Brooks as a way of welcoming him to the Cool Club, we can't resist joining in the broad-based Interweb effort to figure out who or what the Big Shaggy actually is. Chewbacca? Maybe. The Abominable Snowman? Possibly. The Heavy Bear imagined in a lovely poem by Delmore Schwartz? Pretty likely.

But in this here corner of the neither quickly nor effortlessly written blogosphere, there is one and only one candidate for the Big Shaggy, and I think you all know who it is:

(Rastafarian Roxie, c. 1995. Photo Credit: Moose)

The moral of this story? Analogies can make or break a piece of writing. Handle with care or unintentional guffawing may result.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Marriage: A Status Update

Heterosexual marriage suffered a devastating blow last week when it was announced that Al and Tipper Gore planned to separate after 40 years of being joined at the heart. The news sparked waves of panic in the nation’s breakfast nooks, as straight, middle-aged couples glanced up from their newspapers (or over their laptops) at their paunchy, unwashed spouses and thought, “Good lord, if Al and Tipper can’t make it, what hope is there for us?”

(Photo Credit: Luke Frazza, AFP/Getty Images, via)

Who knew the Gores were the central cog in the vast machinery of heteropatriarchal marriage? The locomotive pulling the train? The rock upon which the whole edifice was built? The wind beneath its wings? Who would have thought their incredibly civilized announcement, delivered via e-mail (oh, so that’s why he invented the Internets!), would have set off paroxysms of How Can It Be? and What Does It Mean? and Where Will It Lead? Apparently, the big fear among hets is that the Al/Tipper split proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that people are living too long to make that “till death do us part” business practicable. I mean, heck, once the kids are raised and the Nobel Prize has been won, what’s a couple with four houses and a cable TV channel to do? Yep, Al and Tipper are just like us, and if they can’t make it work, well, then, honey bun, I’d say our long-term prospects are bleak.

New York Times columnist Gail Collins got off the best line of the week when she declared that the split proves to an anxious nation that “no marriage is ever safe. And the fact that Hillary and Bill outlasted [Al and Tipper] means that we’ve been lied to by a generation’s worth of Lifetime movies.”

Meanwhile, of course, there is nothing but bliss out in the brave new world of non-heterosexual marriage – Well, I mean, assuming you overlook the recent split of rocker Melissa Etheridge and her wife Tammy, not to mention Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and her partner of 15 years, Lauren Azar. (Baldwin and Azar weren’t married but were registered domestic partners in Wisconsin.) Oddly, when Moose read those stories, she didn’t start fretting that she and Goose were soon to be herstory. She thought, Well, that’s unfortunate. I hope they all manage to be decent to one another, especially where kids are concerned, and that they find happiness in whatever form of relationship or non-relationship they pursue next.

As I have told you many times, Moose is weird. And not nearly as clever as Gail Collins. Which explains a lot.

Anyhoo, kids, you needn't worry that marriage is in any danger of being canceled due to lack of interest. While the Gores were packing their bags for Splitsville last week, actress Jane Lynch and her partner, psychologist Lara Embry, were tying the knot in Massachusetts.

(Lara Embry, Haden Collette Ryan-Embry, and Jane Lynch. Photo Credit:, via.)

Meanwhile, closer to home, WaPo ran a story yesterday on the nuptials of a local couple, Kevia Shepard and Shannette Matthews, who legally married in DC in April and then jumped the broom before friends and family at a May ceremony in Maryland.

(Kevia Shepard and Shannette Matthews in May, 2010. Photo Credit: Katherine Frey, Washington Post.)

The unwed moms of Roxie's World are emphatically pro-choice on the issue of marriage, though they maintain their queer feminist skepticism about the institution both as a means of organizing intimacy and as a path to secure benefits (such as health insurance) that all citizens should enjoy. Nonetheless, my typist gets a little lump in her throat every time she sees wedding stories featuring same-sex couples in the pages of the Times and the Post. That's only in part because she is a rank sentimentalist. It is also because she recognizes the power of these images and stories to alter our ways of seeing sex and gender variation and the institution of marriage itself. The several stories on African-American couples that the Post has done perform the additional work of heightening the visibility of queers of color and demonstrating that marriage is not, as is often claimed, a priority only for economically privileged white gays. The truth is more complicated, and we see something of that happy complication in the delighted eyes of Shepard and Matthews in the photo above.

To the new couples just setting out on their marital journeys, Roxie's World offers a hearty mazel tov and a few words of hilarious yet useful advice. To the Gores and others who have decided to step off the marry-go-round, we offer our sincere hope that you will move forward in love, wherever you go.

With or without marriage, my lovelies, partnership isn't always easy, because -- d'oh! -- life isn't always easy. It's full of bumps and bruises, disappointments and losses, moments of anger and days of sorrow. It takes an uncertain combination of dumb luck and hard work to make any relationship endure over the long haul, but the best advice we've seen recently suggests it will all go better if you treat your partner as you treat -- yep, you guessed it -- your pets!

We are not making this up, kids. Suzanne Phillips, a psychologist who works with couples, has noticed that even the angriest partners, who are locked in disagreement about most things, tend to "soften in manner and tone to agree that the dog, cat, bird or horse is great." Phillips thinks that many of the behaviors humans easily display in their relationships with pets would enhance their relationships with their human partners -- e.g., a positive greeting, no matter how crappy your day has been; lack of expectation; readiness to forgive trespasses and to accept what can't be changed; a tendency to assume the best rather than the worst about the pet. "Few pets live with the fear of being betrayed or with the implication that things are just not working out," Phillips wisely notes.

So there you have it. Wanna save marriage? Then let it go to the dogs! Desperate to please your partner? The next time you walk in the door, get down on your knees and give her a thorough tummy rub with a Nylabone chaser. PAWS UP to that, lovebirds, and to all your happily ever afters. Peace out.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Facing South

On Monday in this space, we looked west and showed you pretty pictures of bright sunshine, sparkling waters, and pristine beaches. Today, with heavy hearts, we turn our eyes to the south and show you some of the ghastly images coming out of coastal Louisiana. All three of these photos are by Charlie Riedel, Associated Press and are dated June 3. The top two are on the front page of this morning's Washington Post; the third is in an online photo gallery of images going all the way back to early May.

Had we the power, we'd award Mr. Riedel with a Pulitzer Prize this instant for so compellingly documenting the ecological horror unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. These are images that arrest the eye and perhaps the heart. One's first reaction is likely disbelief: This can't be real. I am looking at stills from some cheesy dinosaur flick. Slowly the truth sinks in: This is real, and the oil is still gushing, BP's optimism about last night's "Top Hat" maneuver notwithstanding . . . . The question, of course, is whether such images can stir the conscience of a nation that thinks "Drill, baby, drill" is a perfectly fine energy policy.

Our world, darlings -- Welcome to it. Or is it BP's world and we are just gas-guzzling guests? Surely that isn't the case. We can't permit ourselves to gaze at these pictures and become depressed, use them as an excuse to become further mired in the muck of our own lassitude: Oh, dear, what can I do? I'm just one little person. I can't save all those birds! Go read our pal Margaret Swedish over at Spirituality and Ecological Hope for some thoughtful analysis of the Deepwater crisis and its implications for our politics and our ways of life.

One little person can't save the world, but that doesn't mean you get to opt out of thinking or trying. Up and at it, ye righteous citizens of Petro Nation. We've got one helluva mess to clean up. Pass me the Dawn, and let's get started.