What I meant to say was…

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride

I try to be clear when I write prose – poetry is not as straightforward by design – but I am running into a problem. I tend to use words assuming readers will apply standard dictionary definitions, but I am finding myself increasingly having to explain at length what I mean by a certain term, so as not to be misinterpreted, as I did in my recent post My (Feminist) Story.

I do understand the difference between connotation and denotation, but it is a pity that many words that usefully describe philosophical or political views have become so skewed from their dictionary definition as to be unusable in practical terms. For example, the words “liberal” and “progressive” are heard more often as epithets than as accurate descriptors of actual policies. Past conservative presidents like Richard Nixon would now be considered liberal, given the positions of those who now describe themselves as conservative.

The word whose misuse most disturbs me is “science.” Science is about data, evidence, observation, reason, leading to conclusions consistent with facts and repeatable by other scientists. In order for papers to be published in scientific journals, they first must be reviewed by peers with knowledge of the field to ensure that the study’s procedures and conclusions meet research standards. Yes, there are studies that later need to be withdrawn when errors are found after publication, but that is rare.

I frequently write comments on news articles about unconventional fossil fuel extraction including “fracking,” renewable energy, and climate change. In my home state of New York, we are in a continuing battle over whether or not high volume hydraulic fracturing will be permitted. The governor has said that science will be the determining factor. The problem is that both sides say they have the science on their side.

The pro-fracking side has industry studies, which are almost never subject to peer review, bold pronouncements from the industry and their allies that fracking is safe, exemptions from key environmental provisions that apply to other industries, gag orders on court settlements of damage claims, and regulatory agencies that are a revolving door to the industry and that use subcontractors that also work with the industry to draft environmental review documents and regulations.

What we on the anti-fracking side have is – well – science. There was a trickle of studies at first, because scientific study takes time with additional time needed for peer review, but there have been more and more studies, especially in the last eighteen months, documenting environmental impacts on air, water, biosphere, climate, and public health. There is a new compendium of research on fracking here. (I can’t resist posting the link to the compendium at every available opportunity.)

Anyone who knows the definition of science should be able to tell which side is using science in their argument. I can understand that some people who are hoping to profit from fracking might delude themselves into believing the industry over the scientists. I don’t understand the press giving equivalency to the remarks of a peer-reviewed independent scientist and an industry spokesperson/propagandist.

The press should be clear with the definition of science. I know it has become common for politicians at all levels of government to say “I am not a scientist” as an excuse not to understand issues such as climate change. Frankly, people do not need to understand all the intricacies of scientific inquiry to believe a strong scientific consensus. They do need to understand the definition of science and to discern what meets the standards of science and what does not.


One-Liner Wednesday – Bernie Sanders

“A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much, while so many have so little.”
– United States Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent- Vermont)

Join in Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday: http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/one-liner-wednesday-writers-block/

My (Feminist) Story – Chapter 1

I was a feminist before I even knew the word. I grew up in a tiny New England (NE USA) town with two sisters in a house without nearby neighbors. Our school had four grades per room and it happened that my sisters’ grades and mine spent the bulk of our years there with only other girls as classmates. There were boys in the room, of course, but not in our grades. When we went to a high school of about 1200 students in a city twenty miles away, about 80% of the students graduating with honors were girls. I was used to the company of girls, especially academically  and artistically oriented ones, and I took it for granted that women of my generation were intelligent, capable, and would succeed in any field in which we had potential. Despite the lack of a federal Equal Rights Amendment, we were too isolated from the wider situation in the country to realize what we would encounter as adults.

I chose to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, one of the oldest liberal arts colleges for women in the country. I had first visited at the recommendation of my piano/organ teacher and had changed my application to early decision after attending a day on campus that included lunch with current students. The discussion at lunch was so lively and fascinating that I knew I wanted to live and learn in the company of such people. It wasn’t until later in my life that I understood the impact that those people being predominantly women would have on my decisions and worldview.

I was on campus from fall of 1978 through spring of 1982. The student body was reveling in finally having a woman president, Jill Ker Conway, after a century of male presidents. Two pivotal figures in the Second Wave of feminism are Smith alums, Betty Friedan ’42 and Gloria Steinem ’56. Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was based on a questionnaire to her Smith classmates at their 15th reunion. Steinem, at that time, was still an editor and contributor to Ms. Magazine, which she had co-founded. Feminism on campus was mainstream, not radicalized or shouting from the fringe. It was a surprise to all of us on campus when the Harper’s Bazaar article was published. (Sorry, but I couldn’t find the article archived.) Harper’s was somehow shocked to find out that there were lesbians on campus and asserted that they were very influential as a group. This puzzled those of us on campus because, while there was a student organization called the Lesbian Alliance, they chose to retain a degree of anonymity, even blurring their faces in their group’s yearbook photo. While I had friends who were of lesbian or bisexual orientation, it was not a major issue between us. Most women at Smith were then, and are now, heterosexual in orientation, although generally accepting of the full range of gender expression.

The field of women’s/gender studies was just beginning to coalesce during my years on campus. Because I wanted to participate in this emerging field of study at Smith, I chose to take a course called Women and Philosophy, which became one of the most influential and useful courses to me in later life. We studied some of the classic writings of feminist literature and thought- The Awakening by Kate Chopin, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the aforementioned Feminine Mystique, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex – along with more recent writings, which explored the differing perspectives and predominant issues among subgroups of women in the United States, such as rural women, Latina women, African-American women, lesbians, and women from lower socioeconomic levels.  Depending on the circumstances in which women found themselves, they expressed feminism in different ways, giving different issues greater or lesser emphasis.

There are core beliefs of feminism: that girls and women should have equal opportunities for education and jobs; that equal work deserves equal pay and benefits; that laws should be established which prohibit sex discrimination and that those laws should be enforced; that every person deserves to be respected as an individual and that each person should be free to make choices that work best for their own life; that there is no tolerance for sexual violence or any form of abuse; that society needs to be structured to support personal/family life so that children, elders, the sick, and the disabled have their needs met and so that people can have time for each other and for creative/leisure pursuits. Obviously, many men also hold these views. Some will call themselves feminist. Others won’t. Some people prefer to call themselves humanist because they find feminism to be a scary word or won’t use either feminist or humanist because, in the United States, just about any word ending in -ism is misconstrued as extreme.

That some are afraid to be called feminist because they feel it has a negative connotation is a problem. While I define feminism by the mainstream views in the preceding paragraph, too many people tie the word feminism to the most extreme fringes of the movement. Are there feminists who hate men and say society would be better off without them? Yes, but very, very few. The vast majority of feminists love men, as fathers, spouses, brothers, co-workers, neighbors, sons, etc. Some feminists are also lesbians; this does not mean that all feminists become lesbians. I find it laughable that some people think that going to a women’s college will “turn you into a lesbian.” Seriously, people, it does not work that way. Others think that feminism means that signs of respect are outlawed. If a man holds a door open for me, I will smile and thank him. I will also hold the door open for others, regardless of their gender. I will not, however, stand aside waiting for a man to come along and open the door for me when I can jolly well do it myself. The days of that kind of stifling social etiquette are gone.

Which leads me to my final point: at its base, feminism is about the freedom to live out who you are as an individual without being confined by a preconceived notion of who you are, what you can do, and what you should be doing. It’s about individual people, whatever their gender, following their own heart and mind, developing and using their own abilities without being held back by gender stereotypes. It’s realizing that old expectations/stereotypes don’t apply. Women AND men can be strong, nurturing, tech-savvy, caring, intelligent, intuitive, athletic, contemplative, etc. Aside from a few anatomically based things -sorry, guys, but no nursing of babies for you – it doesn’t make sense to make sweeping statements about how men are this way and women that way. We are all existing along a human continuum where different degrees of different qualities exist in unique combinations and change and develop over time. Unfortunately, in the United States, corporate profits have become such an overwhelmingly important goal, that work only counts as meaningful if it is paid and companies view workers as expenses rather than as assets, so are paying as little as possible, but that could be a whole other post, or series of posts. This situation does, though, highlight to me why we need feminism as much today as we did during the First Wave when women fought for many decades to achieve the right to vote. I don’t believe we can move forward as a civilization without recognizing the importance of and utilizing all the gifts and talents of each person, regardless of their race, spiritual beliefs, gender, ethnicity, or any other factor that has been used to divide or limit people’s potential in the past.

So, I am a feminist, for my own sake, for my mother and sisters and daughters, for my father and husband and nephews, for my friends, and for our society as a whole. I join with many others who believe in the definition of feminism I discuss, whether they call themselves feminist or not. I hope that people will think twice before making sweeping statements against feminism or any belief/philosophy. Don’t discount or vilify the mainstream because of shouting from the fringe.

About this post:  There has been a lot of posting/discussion about feminism on OM’s HarsH ReaLiTy blog and he had put out a call for related posts. The impetus to write this post started there, but I realized I couldn’t say everything I needed or wanted to in one post, so I called this Chapter One. Maybe, some day or other, I’ll write more about post-college life and current issues. After fiddling with this post for weeks, I’ve decided to publish it today, despite its imperfectly expressing everything I want to say.

Desk excavation – SoCS

Like many people, I set aside things in various places in my home, including desk drawers.

My daughter is about to head to grad school and, for the first time, will be moving into an unfurnished house. We had an old desk, which has been in our basement since we moved to this house in 1988. The drawers were hard to open, as it is a bit damp in the basement despite the dehumidifier, so we brought it upstairs yesterday and started going through its contents. Well, the contents we could reach.

Several drawers were able to be jiggled enough to take out of the desk totally. Others could be opened a bit so that some contents could be pulled out.

Here are some things we found:

Lots of stamps. A few blocks of four because my father-in-law, and by extension, my husband, used to collect stamps. There was also a huge envelope of cancelled stamps, with more scattered about. I am setting them aside for one of the members of my spirituality class who collects stamps. I’s sure she will be thrilled at a trove of older stamps.

Various  desk supplies. Some of the tape is dried out and unusable, but a lot of the other things will still be able to go with current stocks. Other than I don’t think I will ever use a whole box of thumb tacks.

Included in the desk supply category is lots of pens and pencils. Some of the pens had dried out, but others were still good. There were some that related to my dad’s company, New England Power, which doesn’t exist any more. Some commemorated how many hours they had gone without a lost time accident. Up into the millions. I think it got up to over four million before the string was broken. Fortunately, it was after my dad had retired, so not on his watch as superintendent.

Neat boxes of colored pencils, including one from my childhood that my mom had carefully covered with contact paper for strength and durability and which I had then decorated with my name, the letters scattered about on the contact paper flowers.

One of our wedding invitations from 1982, done the old-fashioned way, with my parents issuing the invitation and taking the replies. Double envelopes, tissue paper insert, the whole nine yards, aside from the engraving. We used thermography, which was acceptable etiquette-wise but a bit less expensive.

A letter I wrote to my husband when we were in college, which I did not read – yet. My husband’s high school yearbook photo in a frame, which I had had in my room when I was away at college.

A homemade Valentine, featuring tracings of our older daughter’s then-tiny hands.

Two small organ pipes and a piano hammer – a stack of programs from my senior organ recital – all remnants of my (former) musical life.

A folded, somewhat tattered drawing of a Viking ship that my husband had done in elementary school. I swear that I have no recollection of having ever seen this before.

An article about apple computers that my father-in-law sent to use from a magazine, back in the days when we were the proud owners of an apple 2c and no one thought we would ever need more than 128k.

Computer programming stuff. A book on Pascal with notebook papers inserted with my attempts at learning to program written out. Some notes of my husband’s, who actually can program, from his college days. Operating systems course. Some notes from courses he took at the Watson School of Engineering at SUNY-Binghamton early in his career, when he was at Link for 8 years before moving to IBM. A computer printout of code for a Star Trek game.

Visible but not yet able to be extracted from its drawer, my cassette player from childhood, which we could still use early in our marriage, when tapes were the main way to have music that travelled with you.

A viewer for slides, so that you could look at them without having to haul out the projector and screen.

The desk itself was in the first house we bought. It had only had one owner. The husband had died and the wife was sinking into dementia when the house was sold to help pay for her care. We could buy some of the furniture and needed a desk, so we bought this one. Wood veneer with drawers on each side, including a deep file drawer on each bank. Very sturdily made with dovetailed drawers, decorative metal drawer pulls, and some decorative details around the edges of the desk top. Dark finish.

We used it for the six years we lived in that little two bedroom house, as a desk, as storage space, and as a home for the aforementioned apple 2c. When we moved to our current house, it moved into the basement/family room, which has over time morphed into just a basement. I used things from it for a while, but it hadn’t been opened in many years when we started dealing with it yesterday. We think we can sand the drawers to make it usable in our daughter’s new place.

For now, it is an inadvertent time capsule.

Part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday with the prompt “side” which became set a”side” for this post.  http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-1914/


There is too much death and sadness today. The Malaysian airliner shot down in Ukraine. The collapse of the ceasefire in Gaza and the rockets and groundforce invasion following.  Even my writing activities have been difficult. Submitting this poem for possible inclusion in an anthology whose purpose is to raise money for cancer research. A writing prompt in poetry workshop set in a pediatric hospital unit and the sad poems that poets wrote and shared in response.

I am too numb to have any insight to share. All I can do is pray for those who have died or been injured and their families and pray for healing and for peace.

“The Fault in Our Stars”

While I usually try to read a book before seeing a film adaptation, I did not read “The Fault in Our Stars” before seeing the film earlier this week. The book was written after my daughters were of an age to have read it, so it wasn’t on my radar.

Within the first few minutes, I correctly guessed the final outcome, but that didn’t really matter. The film resonated with me because it re-inforced ideas that I know to be true.

1. Young love is real love. Even without the maturing influence of battling cancer at a young age, young people can be very deeply in love. My husband and I met in our early teen years and have been married for 32 years and friends for 40 years. Obviously, our story is not that common nowadays, but it is a testament to young people being capable of both love and good judgement.

2. Words are powerful. There are many instances in the film where words – spoken, written, emailed, texted – are what drives the plot. A book and its author are a central plot device.

3. Reality trumps fiction. I knew before I saw the film that there was a scene in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam that some people found gratuitous. My reaction was different. The preceding scene dealt with the main characters’ interaction with the author of a work of fiction that was important to them. The viewer expects this to be a breakthrough moment for the two young friends; instead, it is incredibly disappointing. It is a taxing trip through the Anne Frank House, with Anne’s words of hope appearing in writing and speech and the realization that only Anne’s father survived the concentration camps, that leads Hazel to accept Augustus’s desire to be more than platonic friends. I also felt using the Anne Frank story as a plot device made sense, given that the intended audience for the book was young adults, because most US schoolchildren read either Anne’s diary or a play based on it as an early teen, so they would immediately be able to make connections with it.

4. It’s really difficult to be the parent of a sick child. I thank God that I have been spared having a child with cancer. I have had to deal with difficult, long-standing medical issues, though, and could empathize with parents desperately wanting to do everything they can to help, even when they intrude too much on their child in their efforts.

5. Funerals are for the living. A character in the movie says this and it is true. As a music minister, I’ve been to more than the usual number of funerals. While a funeral often reflect the person who has died, its function is more to comfort the living, even when that means avoiding some of the truth about their final days.

6. Don’t wait to be kind, loving, authentic, and open. None of us have a guarantee as to how long we have here.