Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two Weeks to Voting Day!

And I'm sure all of you are going to vote. If you live in Michigan, you might want to check out this helpful League of Women Voters Voter Guide. You can download and print out the whole thing as a pdf file (32 pages) to read at your leisure, or just look at the answers different candidates provided by going to a particular race or proposal (in either text form online or as a pdf file). The LWV Voter Guide doesn't endorse particular candidates, but strives to provide information so you can make your own informed choice. It even includes a little "clip and take to the polls" section, so you don't accidentally vote differently than you intended.

And unless you've been really busy and have read all about the different candidates for the State Board of Education, the various university governing boards, and county court of appeals judges - in addition to the statements by the governor and her opponent, and the US & state senate & house representatives and their opponents - well, you should look at this. Unless you just plan to vote on how the candidates names appear to you, or on what kind of pretty pattern the filled-in circles make on your ballot.

The Voter Guide also includes information and discussion on the five ballot proposals on the slate this year. Have you made up your mind about DNR funding, affirmative action, dove hunting, eminent domain, and school funding? I thought I knew how I was going to vote on most of these proposals, but the more I read, the more I realized how utterly misleading some of the campaign literature on these issues was. Which shouldn't have surprised me.

And if you don't live in Michigan (but are still in the US)? Go here to find a voter guide for your state (you'll have to find the state group, then find a voter guide on their web site). Or just google your state's name and "League of Women Voters" - even if you're not a woman. They really do provide useful non-partisan guides to the candidates and the issues.

Hmmm....tasty appetizer or symbol of peace?
(see Proposal 06-3)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It's Been a Year

...since the first Carnival of Feminists, so I think it is fitting that the 25th Carnival is up at Philobiblon, the host of the first Carnival and its organizer.

I've learned a huge amount from reading the diverse blogs that the Carnival brings together - and I'm looking forward to hosting it myself in December. This edition has topics ranging from women in the French revolution, the most recent winner of the Nobel Peace prize, feminism and fashionistas, the amazing bra dryer, modern witch killings in India, to the work done by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Categorizing, Labels, and Indexing

I spent way too much time over the weekend looking at my old blog posts and labelling them into different categories. I also fixed a bunch of broken links. I think I like the new beta Blogger. I've been wanting categories for a long time, as you might guess from my cobbled together "Index of Books Reviewed Here" and "Feminist Ponderings" at the top of the right column of my blog. I'm not ready to get rid of those links yet, but the more encompassing organization of labelling posts was a lot more satisfying and thorough.

Is it weird that I really like indexing things? When I helped edit a book a few years ago, I was one of the people that poured over the annotated bibliography and thought of all the different key words that a reader would use to find each entry. And I loved doing it, just as I still love researching different topics.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Pissenlit and Dandelions

I was reading the names of crayon colors to my almost-five-year-old daughter the other night. Since starting the "early 5's" Kindergarten program (her birthday is two days before our state's K deadline), she has embraced coloring in a way my son never did. She even likes staying within the lines. But this time, she also wanted to know all of the names of the colors in Spanish and French, which Crayola thoughtfully puts on their crayons.

I was a little surprised to find that Dandelion was a crayon color apart from Yellow. It's a very pretty color, more golden and not as brash as yellow (and quite unlike the brilliant color of actual dandelions). The French name for Dandelion really surprised me, though: Pissenlit. How do you pronounce that? And how weird is it that the French word for dandelion sounds like "piss"?

Well, it's not so weird after all, since piss in French actually means pretty much the same as it does in English, and the whole word translates as "piss in bed". Turns out that an old English name for the dandelion was also "piss-a-bed." Both piss names come from its use as an herbal diuretic. Other more poetic old common names include blowball, peasant's clock, tell-time, lion's tooth, and swine's snout.

There's a lot of interesting folklore about dandelions (linked to many of the common names above). I haven't been able to convince my kids to eat the young leaves in a salad yet, but maybe next spring.

Meanwhile, if you ever want to know the word origins of pissant, piss elm (Chinese elm), and why it was ok for them to say "pisspot" but not "take a piss" on the Waltons, I recommend a search through the archives of the American Dialect Society's mailing list here. It's kind of cool that it is administered by the Linguist List of EMU and Wayne State. I had no idea such a thing existed.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Another Feminist Carnival...

...this one is the 24th, and it's up at f-words, which has the intriguing subtitle "Feminism, Food, Fact and Fiction".

There are lots of interesting posts on American feminism and Muslim women, "choice feminism", make up, and access to Plan B. Go read and learn something. Debate. It's fun. A "fun feminist"* thing to do.

*You might also be interested in reading Confessions of a Fun Feminist and Why My Brand of Feminism is No Fun at All for some debate about some of the traditional (and not so traditional more recent) trappings of femininity.

Edited to add further responses to this - Fuck You and Your Feminist Beauty Standards from Feministing.com, Who I Am by Jill at Feministe, and My Feminism, by Shakespeare's Sister.

Monday, October 09, 2006

1491: Book Review

I started 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann, over a year ago. Because I read it so slowly and critically, I had to return it to my library with a couple of chapters unread. Finally - and fittingly, I thought - I came back to 1491 (my own copy, this time), and finished it just before Columbus Day.

Part of the reason it took me so long to read Mann's book is because I know so much about its subject. Prehistoric ecology was my daily fare for fifteen years of work (in both academia and "cultural resource management") in North American archaeology. So I felt compelled to check pretty much every endnote (and there are forty pages of them), along with many of the bibliographic references (another forty-five pages) in 1491. I have to say that I am extremely impressed with how well Mann balances current scientific and historical research and the often arcane jargon of anthropological archaeology* with the remarkably readable popular history (and prehistory) presented in his book. Balancing the nuances and complexities of this research with stories that can keep general readers not only awake, but thoroughly engaged, is pretty damn hard. Mann makes it look effortless.

His well-researched book is basically an overview of several American Indian societies (and some of the archaeological and historic research regarding them in the last few decades), mostly in the period before Columbus's arrival 515 years ago. Of course, this is a huge span of both space and time, and a monstrous amount of research. There is simply too much North and South American prehistory and ethnohistory to fit into any book, even one the size of the Oxford English Dictionary.

So Mann picked some of the stories that he found most interesting to relate. He jumps from an account of John Billington's sons** and their adventures after they disembarked from the Mayflower, to Squanto (aka Tisquantum) and his political machinations, down to Lake Titicaca and the Inka empire before Pizarro, up to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, lingers a bit on the origins and importance of maize and cotton, then returns to the remarkable Mississippian chiefdom of Cahokia (near present day East St. Louis) from 800-1200 AD, then jumps down to the Amazon basin a thousand years ago, visiting Olmec, Oaxacan, and Mayan cultures along the way, and then finally comes back again to historic times and the Iroquois Nation. It is quite the whirlwind tour, but Mann ties it all together admirably.

Readers who think of prehistoric Native Americans as timeless inhabitants of a sylvan paradise who "lived lightly on the land" will find much of Mann's book eye-opening. Those who assume that these cultures were not very populous, don't appreciate their diversity, and have never heard of the devastating diseases that followed the "Columbian exchange" or encounter may find the historic accounts of epidemic death in the New World more shocking than those imagined by Stephen King in The Stand.

Since I am familiar with the literature and research behind the book, I was also more than a little dismayed by how many reviewers said they were just blown away by it. They were shocked not because the book is so well-done (although it is), but because that they had absolutely no idea how radically some Native societies altered their natural environment, or because they'd never heard of Cahokia, or they didn't know how egalitarian the Five Nations were, etc. This unfortunately shows just how poorly my former colleagues manage to share their work with the general public. Which is not good for either archaeologists (most of whom depend on government funding at some level), or for people who are reading ideas about American history and prehistory that were out-of-date a generation or two ago.

So - Mann's book is definitely long overdue. But there is still a lot of room left for popular yet not overly simplified works that could help fill the huge chasm between college archaeology textbooks, American Antiquity articles, and reworked dissertations (which leave a lot to be desired in terms of "readability"), and the brief, often inaccurate snippets on archaeology that appear in newspaper and magazine articles. A few years back, I did read and enjoy Sharman Apt Russell's When the Land Was Young: Reflections on American Archaeology, which presents some of the controversies and the colorful people engaged in archaeology (though in a highly "edited for prime time" fashion), and I recommend her book, too. But there's still so much interesting research being done out there -- there's room for a lot more books like 1491. Maybe someday I'll try my hand.

PS Mann's book has an excellent index. I thought I should mention that, since I've ranted here about a lot of recent books that don't include indices.

*Readers who would like an introduction to modern approaches to anthropological archaeology (and some of the language you need to understand the academic literature) may want to check out Adrian Praetzillis's Death by Theory: A Tale of Mystery and Archaeological Theory.

**Like Charles Mann, I'm also descended from Mayflower passenger John Billington, who was executed for murder in 1630 (the first person hung in the Plymouth colonies). I found Mann's endnotes on Billington particularly interesting, as I had previously heard the story that this non-religious "Pilgrim" was framed, but hadn't heard the arguments behind the Puritan conspiracy theory.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Check Out Nature Class at The GreenHouse

If you're interested in kids and nature education, I blogged about it over at The GreenHouse today - click over and check it out. And while you're there, read the previous posts by Jennifer and Andrea. But be careful if you head over to their personal sites - Under the Ponderosas and Beanie Baby. You may find that you've been sitting at your computer clicking away for hours and that the better part of the evening is totally gone.

Meanwhile, here's a picture of a sunset over the field behind my house last week. I'm actually facing east, but it was so spectacular that it reflected all over the sky. My digital camera really can't do it justice.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Don't Send Twisty a Picture of Your Breasts...

when you go to I Blame the Patriarchy and read I Got Yer Boobython Right Here...and she'll send a dollar to Breast Cancer Action.

Ann Bartow of Feminist Law Professors is doing a matching Anti-Boobie-Thon, too. So check it out. It's a lot easier than rinsing all those pink Yoplait yogurt lids and mailing them to Minnesota. Not that there's anything wrong with that.