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Actively Praising

Last night, I managed to watch about half an hour of Aaron Swartz’s memorial service before I could not take it any more, and had to shut it off.

In an article about online harassment of women, the brilliant Laurie Penny said,

As I write, there is a real fight going on to keep the internet as free as possible from government interference, a fight to free speech and information from the tyranny of state and corporate control. Without going into it too much here, the internet is full of people who have spent their lives, risked their lives and even lost their lives in that fight. To claim that there’s some sort of equivalence between the coordinated attack on net neutrality and digital freedom going on across the world and the uninterrupted misogyny of comment-thread mouth-breathers doesn’t just take the biscuit, it pinches the whole packet and dribbles ugly bile-flecked crumbs into the keyboard.

That’s Aaron. He was a leader in the fight for all that’s right and good and spectacular about human potential for thought, innovation, creativity, and deep humanity that is able to be realized because of the internet. And the powers took him out.

I know he was loved; you can’t see the posts and read the comments and listen to the talks without knowing how much he meant to all the people he touched through his work.  But somehow, the voices of evil and the threat they represented got louder than the voices of love and support and whatever else he needed to help him through. And considering the level of evil he was up against, that’s not really surprising. I know I never reached out to him; it never occurred to me to. I’m just a tech groupie down here, not really worthy of saying, “wow, the things you created, and the thoughts you wrote about, changed some of my fundamental thinking about the world, and hey, thanks.”

So today, I was online when someone near and dear to me, who is a mentor and a pillar and a giant in the land of birth advocacy, Carla Hartley, was feeling really worn down. I happened to have a few minutes, and I pinged her on chat. We talked about throwing in the towel (because, yeah, it’s really Cassandra out lately… always… whatever…), like we do, and then I reminded her of how much she’s done for me, to inspire and support and promote. She gave my my first conference speaking gig, which netted me another one at the Breech Birth Conference, and then when I got to do the online presence for that conference the next time it happened, just on Twitter alone, I was able to connect with ten different women who didn’t know that they had a choice, that vaginal breech birth was an option. So, by extension, goes my reasoning, Carla helped those ten women and she didn’t even know it.

It’s so like It’s A Wonderful Life. You have no idea of the lives you touch, but every good thing you do has ripples that reach out and touch shores you will never see. You have to just operate on faith that that’s true.

…unless the people on the other shores were a little more proactive about putting notes in bottles (to continue the metaphor).

I wonder what life would be like, for the fighters for truth and justice and freedom and all those other big amorphous ideals, if all of us, told all of them, how much they’d done for us? Why *didn’t* I ever reach out to any of my idols? Shyness, maybe, a little bit of awe and hero worship and other things happen in a day and there’s dishes to wash and questions to answer and jobs to hold down and fires to put out and we just… never… do.

But if I’m reading the signs right, the fight is getting bigger, not smaller, and we are all going to be depending on people to stand up for our best interests, to fight the fights they’re best suited to, while we face whatever we are capable of. We’re going to have a lot of tired warriors, and they will be sad, and they will be overwhelmed, sometimes overmatched, often beaten down.

I’d like to ask you all to find someone, anyone, who’s stood up for something you believe in, and I’d like to encourage you to drop them a quick line and thank them. Be less afraid of sounding stupid and star-struck, and be more afraid that our warriors will succumb to the darkness without knowing what hearts were behind them. Tim DeChristopher for standing up and facing down. Bradley Manning for thinking we can handle the truth. Sandor Katz for rephrasing the entire concept of bacteria. Joel Salatin for daring to stand up for actual food. Bill McKibben for screaming in the face of climate change denial. Theresa Spence for demanding that power speak to her. Lynn Paltrow for insisting that women are people. Tim Berners-Lee for the internet. There are so many heroes, on so many fronts. And I bet they get tired and overwhelmed and could use a little active praise.

Melt-Proofing Wax Wings

I am heartsick about Aaron Swartz.

I didn’t know him personally. I became aware of him when editing articles about RSS back in my Sun days. Brilliant. Really young. And… unschooled. One of the first people I never met who strongly influenced my decision to unschool. Because he was brilliant and idealistic and no one had ever crushed that kid’s dreams, or got in the way of his intellect. He thought big, he did big. Every obituary I have read of him mentions that he accomplished more in his 26 years than most people do in their whole lives.

Swartz was significant and primary in the fight against SOPA. This, from Wikipedia:

Swartz said SOPA was defeated by “the people themselves… We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom.”[33] He was referring to a series of protests against the bill by numerous websites which were described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation as the biggest in Internet history, with over 115 thousand sites altering their webpages.[34]

In his speech Swartz also described how close the Bill came to passing as a “bad dream”. He added:

And it will happen again; sure, it will have another name, and maybe a different excuse, and probably do its damage in a different way, but make no mistake, the enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared. The fire in those politician’s eyes has not been put out. There are a lot of people, a lot of powerful people, who wanna clamp down on the Internet.[33]

And now he is gone, because those forces decided to clamp down on him, instead of on the Internet. Here’s the statement from his parents and partner:

Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you can keep your kids from experiencing the daily attacks on their souls that the lesser launch against them. The theory being, kids don’t need to be exposed to that; that a solid, nurturing home life will give them all the strength they need to face the world.

I’m quite sure that Daedalus didn’t think it through either.

We parents of small children think of playground-level bullies, not world-class, “I will destroy your life in my inflexible, wrong-headed pursuit of you, because I can, and because it’s too much work to prosecute really big criminals who can fight back.” We think of recess tormenting, and the stealing of lunch money. We don’t think we have to prepare our children to face down the brute-thug enforcement arm of the US Government whose nose was bent out of shape because our kid… stole some journal articles from an inadequately secured location? Because our kid’s ideals were so very much higher than those of the monsters that pursued him to death? This is a problem of scale that the parents of kids who reach higher, farther, and piss off those who would control us all, need to address head-on.

Those who do great things draw fire from bigger bullies than we parents have imagined for them. And if we are going to encourage the kind of wall-busting, paradigm-changing greatness that Aaron exemplified, in our kids, we have got to prepare them for the potential that some very real villains are going to go after them. Schooled kids are used to bullying from their peers, and obtuseness from their teachers and school “leadership”, and so they’re already prepared for a certain level of institutionalized stupid to be directed at them.

Not so, our sheltered ones.

I mourn Aaron. I mourn for his parents, and for his partner. I mourn for the world I live in, that my kids are growing up in. I mourn for the fact that on January 10th, I knew I could encourage them to take on the world, and on January 11th, I had to rethink everything I wanted them to be able to do. I know of no way to melt-proof wax wings, and I know of no other material to build their wings out of, just yet. But you can bet that that has now become my primary parenting priority. In tribute to Aaron and his family.

2013 — The Year of Italian Culture in America

This just in, from the brilliant and wonderful Dianne Hales:

Cari amici,

This is the year to discover Italy—without even leaving the United States.

The government of Italy, under the auspices of its President Giorgio Napolitano, has declared 2013 the “anno della cultura italiana negli stati uniti” (the year of Italian culture in the United States), designed to “reveal today’s Italy, its brilliance, and its excellence, anchored in the present and driven by an unparalleled past.”

Few cultures have contributed as much to the United States and to the world. Italians gave the name “America” (a tribute to the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci) to Americans; created the first universities, law and medical schools, banks, and public libraries; taught diplomacy and manners to Europe; split the atom; produced the first modern histories, satires, sonnets, and travelogues; invented the battery, barometer, radio, and thermometer; and bestowed on the world the eternal gift of music.

To me Italian—la bella lingua—is no less a part of Italy’s rich cultural heritage than Petrarch’s poetry, Michelangelo’s sculptures, Puccini’s operas, Fellini’s movies, or Valentino’s dresses. This year I will expand the focus of my blog to include various aspects of la cultura italiana.

Planned highlights include commemorations of the 700th anniversary of Boccaccio’s birth, the 500th of Machiavelli’s writing of The Prince, and the 200th of Verdi’s birth. Masterpieces of Italian art by Michelangelo, Veronese, Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi will be on display at museums around the country. Many orchestras, including the Boston Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Metropolitan Opera of New York, Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, and Chicago Opera Theater, will be performing Verdi works.

Other events range from a reading of his translation of verses from Dante’s Inferno by the former poet laureate Robert Pinsky at New York University, to conferences on Italian writers such as Italo Calvino, Primo Levi and Giacomo Leopardi at various colleges, to an exhibit of Italian yachts and luxury vessels in Fort Lauderdale. Italian wine-makers and chefs also will be showcasing the tastes of Italy at dozens of sites around the country.

Click here for detailed information on programs, places, and dates.

I hope you enjoy this special Italian-flavored year in the United States—and I wish all of you “Buon Anno“!

Con affetto,

Dianne

How spiffy is this? The year we’ve decided is the year to focus on Italian language and culture, hopefully as prelude to Rome approving my application, happens to be the year that Rome has decided to trumpet Italian culture! Score! We’ll keep you posted on our particular Italian adventures here…

Across Time and Space

“Oh, they’re just internet friends”

I hear that a lot. And it’s utterly ridiculous.

This weekend, I got to spend time with three remarkable women; all internet friends.

Lilia is someone I met here in Texas, through a local mama’s Facebook group that another fabulous woman online friend (Cidnie) hooked me up with. We hit it off, and here we are, having an IRL friendship based on internet interaction. Would I have ever known she was even there but for the internet? Not likely. Although we have a great deal in common in fact, our circles don’t overlap, nor does our geography entirely.

Mitzi, I met back in Emeryville. She and her husband Eduardo were interested in the boat life, and found our other blog, so we offered them a day aboard, sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge, so they could get a taste for everything. Mitzi was raised not far from here, and was just passing through to visit family after returning from a year in Okinawa, visiting family there and doing research for her dissertation. I could have sat and talked with her, her husband, and her two gorgeous children, for *days*. I’ve been saving up questions for her about her year in Japan…

Totally coincidentally, Melissa was also passing through. I’ve been friends with her through ICAN advocacy work for years, and every so often her travels take her past where I am. She also was raised around here, passing through to visit family, and was able to honor me and mine with a few hours of her time.

You know that thing about how real friends have conversations, don’t speak for years, and then start right back up like it was just yesterday? Yeah. Triply-blessed over here, with that. Maybe it’s just that I find all three of them utterly fascinating besides the fact that I happen to seriously enjoy their company; perhaps it’s that my kids are enamored of all of their kids. Part if it is what these relationships model to my kids; hanging around Lilia and her kids is introducing them gently to tidbits of Russian/Belarus culture and language, hanging around Mitzi and Eduardo brought the beauty of Japanese and Spanish to our boat, Melissa brings a glorious tapestry of Americana.

Paths may cross the globe, but always, there is joy at the rare and happymaking intersections. Thanks, guys.

 

 

My Generation’s Parents

A while back, my friend Angela showed me this.  I laughed, recognizing myself, but also wondering a bit at the source of my generation’s nearly ubiquitous fatigue.

I got a piece of the puzzle handed to me when meeting a friend’s parents for the first time.

I’ve known this friend for around 20 years. If you’re a thinking person, you recognize that if your child has friends of such long standing, it’s because they are good people, good friends, worth knowing. And if your child’s friends go way way way out of their way to be with your child on that day, and bother to take the time to meet you, it’s probably because their relationship to your child is important to them.

So maybe, just maybe, repeatedly implying that your child is not a success, or isn’t trying hard enough, or is some kind of disappointment, is not only utterly uncalled-for, but really just five shades of fucked up.

Here’s the deal, old man. This is my friend. I don’t appreciate you attempting to harpoon my friend, and I really REALLY don’t appreciate you trying to pretend like you don’t understand what I’m saying to you in pushback to your not-nearly-as-subtle-or-clever-as-you-think jibes. The appropriate response to an honest (and therefore wholly supportive and complimentary) recitation of your child’s skills is pride, you stupid bastard.

Here’s what you aren’t seeing. You aren’t seeing that I have his back, and always will, against you and another six like you. Just because you’re incapable of recognizing the success your child is doesn’t mean you get to be rude to him and to me both, for daring to stand up to your hot and cold running derision

I have a sneaking suspicion, in fact, that the reason my friend wanted me to meet you was so that I could better help support him in breaking further away from you. You might have spent our time together building him up, and earning both his loyalty and mine. Instead, you assumed that your relationship of blood allows you greater liberty with him than my relationship based on mutual respect does.

You are wrong.

My generation are slowly strengthening the bonds of friendship and chosen family, and we’re done letting you commit the torture of a thousand papercuts upon our souls in imagined solitude, isolation, and shame. We’re tired of waiting for you to figure out how spectacular we truly are, and the cold fact is that we will outlive you, and our friendships with people who are truly appreciative and supportive of us will last longer than the time you were given to be with us, that you squandered in your vanity, arrogance, and self-absorption.

Your loss, Boomer Generation. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

Blog Action Day — The Power of We

I love blog action day. Gazillions of people all blogging about the same thing at the same time in different ways. It’s yummy.

This year, it’s “The Power of We.” and what better to blog about than breech birth?

No, seriously.

See, OBs have tried to make change in the birth climate, and they’ve failed. Midwives, medwives, friends of mid- and -medwives have tried to make change. Failed, failed, failed again. And I feel comfortable saying that because the cesarean rate is still climbing, women are still dying, Amnesty International thinks childbirth in the US is a human rights violation.

Change has got to come from us. From the Power of We.

My favorite example of that comes in the person of Robin Guy. Robin, at the helm of the Coalition for Breech Birth, is a powerhouse. With the help of her friends, her organization, and a formidable network, she’s organized two Breech Birth conferences, the last one of which got the SOGC to change its guidelines on breech birth, to recommend vaginal over cesarean.

Doctors publishing about this? Couldn’t get it changed. Midwives educating people about it? Couldn’t get it changed. We the Consumer of Health Services, got it changed, at least for Canada. This November 9-11, the Third International Breech Birth Conference will be being held in Washington, DC. Will ACOG show? Will they listen like the amazing Andre Lalonde of the SOGC did? Time will tell. But in the meantime, invite your careprovider, or anyone else who you think needs to know. Find a way to get there. Talk about it. Print out posters. Agitate. Because the Power of We can change anything we put our minds to. Count on it.

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Open Letter to a Young Friend

Last night, you spent the night in jail, because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you had cocaine in your pocket.

I want to talk to you about what you did.

I’m not interested in “the drug talk.” That’s silly. Most adults you meet have experimented with non-regulation pharmaceuticals, and the vast majority of people (children and adults both) in America today are on some kind of socially-acceptable mind-altering pharmaceutical. I do not blame you one whit for being curious. Most of the art and music in your world was created by an artist under the influence. And yet we live in this whacked-out dichotomous puritanical culture that condemns drugs that “the bad guys” profit from, and encourages the drugs that Big Pharma profits from. It’s hypocrisy at worst, disingenuous at best.

I’m not interested in shaming you. I don’t think you did anything worthy of shame. Had you shown up with Oxycontin in your pocket, *then* I’d be really upset at you. Although cocaine, IMO, is an asshole’s drug. It makes you feel on top of the world, sure, but it also makes you arrogant, bombastic, and unpleasant to be around. It also was responsible for much bad hair and bad behavior in the ’80s. I’d take a pass, were I you.

What I really want to do, though, is talk to you about something you probably are not aware of, and that’s the supply chain behind getting the cocaine from leaves on harmless bushes in South America, to the white powder you purchased in your insular, protected, and pretty much self-absorbed curiosity. Your parents haven’t been able to take you out of the country, so you haven’t really been exposed to the sort of poverty and need that exists out of your happy and protected social enclave. You haven’t seen what South and Central America are like, and so you don’t have a visceral understanding for what grinding poverty is like. Because you see, the people down there involved in the creation phase of the drug trade are ruthless in their need to get out of that poverty, and they’ve become the sort of people who casually destroy lives.

It’s like drowning. A drowning person will climb their rescuers, sometimes resulting in dual fatalities. And that’s what the drug trade does. People who live in the areas where drugs are grown or made get hurt. People who are involved in the processing get hurt. People who get the drugs from point A to point B get hurt. Dealers get hurt, the dealers’ loved ones get hurt. Cops die. Innocent bystanders die. People in border towns get poorer and poorer because tourists shy away from going there, for fear of what the people involved in the drug trade might do to them, intentionally or accidentally.

It’s a matter of supply and demand. American kids, who don’t know any better, have no idea of the blood price and the psychic stink of their chemical recreation, and because of that, today a Mexican has been shot, and a Colombian has been tortured, and a black American man sits in prison, and a law enforcer’s spouse sits at home worrying themselves into an ulcer. The downstream costs of you choosing that drug to purchase are unbelievable. The human cost of your recreation of choice is astronomical. Think of it like factory farming; are chicken mcnuggets worth the pain and ugly brutal deaths of thousands of chickens? Not really. Neither is your four-hour rush worth the number of demolished lives it takes to get that powder to your pocket.

I’m not disappointed in you for your desire to experiment. I’m disappointed in you for not looking at the world around you with a wider frame of reference.

You’re not going to read this, although I imagine both of your parents are. I know your parents are pretty ripped up about it. My love to them; parenting is a full-contact sport, and it’s hard to navigate your way through it without getting bruised and occasionally broken. It’s important to remember, though, that at the bottom, it’s about sportsmanship, and that even though you feel, sometimes, like fully bodytackling your kids, sometimes all you can do is throw down the yellow card and hope the ref does the right thing.

I’m hoping, young friend, that what you get from this is not feeling oppressed; I’m hoping that what you do is you figure out how to look at the big picture a little more clearly, and that you ask not what the high is like, but you ask what the world is like that the high exists in. And then you go out and be part of that world.

Aurora’s First Haircut

My daughter had long, gorgeous, blonde locks. They curled sweetly, and bounced, and I was totally sure that most of the wonderful things that happened to us in Central American offices of Bureaucracy happened because of Aurora’s adorability.

I have always said that hair is just hair, and that I would not fight my kids about their hair. It grows back, and considering my own adventures in hair craziness, I hardly have a leg to stand on. But when Aurora wanted a mohawk like Kestrel’s… I just couldn’t do it. I fought her on it. Bought her pretty hair accessories. Told her how pretty her hair was.

But my daughter? Is. My daughter. She kept at it, for months (which, when you’re 4 years old, is a long attention span). And finally, day before yesterday, she very seriously said to me, “Mama, cut my hair, or I will do it myself.”

There’s really nothing to be done with an ultimatum like that. I went and found the sharp scissors, and got to work.

 

“How do you want it, baby?”

“I want it like yours, Mama.”

Keep in mind, I have never cut hair before. I’ve shaved boy-heads before, and I keep Kestrel’s mohawk trimmed, but this is really new territory for me. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that it grows back, and started clipping. Aurora sat mostly still, and mostly didn’t move, and I only really screwed it up twice. But it turned out pretty much OK.

She’s happy with it, and that’s what matters. She can go swimming without it in her eyes, I don’t have to brush it for her all the time, she’s feeling quite independent about it. With great ceremony, she presented her hairbands and ponytails and clips to Rowan, “who still needs them.”

 

Engaging with Texas

Part of the process of being in a new place is finding out what’s out there.

For unschoolers, this can look like chaos and flailing. In fact, it feels pretty much like chaos and flailing too. But with really neat discoveries thrown in.

For Rowan’s birthday, we went to the Museum of Natural Science, where they’ve just opened up a Hall of Paleontology that is beyond breathtaking. Instead of cruising through the whole museum in a day, like we usually do, we were stuck in the one hall, wandering around and staring at dinosaur bones and dioramas and reading and… it was fantastic. We went ahead and justified a membership just on the strength of doing the math, that paying to come back and see the rest of the place was going to cost more than the membership would.

That led to looking around online and finding the other museums in the area. Houston has more free museum days than any city I’ve ever researched before. Free Museum days are awesome for checking out places before you commit to membership, if you’re on a budget. We made great use of these in San Diego, and it’s a great strategy especially for unschoolers, whose interests can jump around an awful lot. My calendar is now a technicolor matrix of cool free go-see-this-now days.

Which brings me to google calendars. Cannot live without. I have a separate calendar for our activities; museum days, farmer’s markets, other random activities that the local homeschooling lists alert me to.

Ah yes, the lists. The one thing that homeschooling is, is eclectic. You get book sales and fire station viewings and farm visits and every other thing you can imagine. And since, as a parent, you never ever know what a kid will be interested in, you throw it out there. “Do you want to …?” and rearrange the schedule accordingly.

Now that we’re in Texas, the opportunities are utterly different. Driving to our storage unit yesterday, the kids were thrilled to see horses in a field. HORSES!!!!! came the cry from the back seat. So that naturally led to horseback riding, which led to wanting lessons, which led to another item on the calendar, did I mention the calendar?

We’ve been here a month, and I’m already totally overwhelmed by the possibilities. And that is a beautiful thing.

Rowan and Kestrel at the Butterfly exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

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