Archive | December, 2006

Where’s a size 3T breastplate when you need one?

Kioww the wabbit, kioww the wabbit, etc.

Countless benefits accrue from having an opera singer around the house. So many occasions are embellished by the recitation of a few choice operatic lines. For instance, when your kid receives a Viking hat from her Norwegian American cousins, you can cue the opera singer mum to call out a battle cry or two from Wagner’s little dittie Die Valkyrie.

[Wanna hear a vintage recording of the whole damn “Ride of the Valkyries,” courtesy The Gutenberg Project? Unfortunately this clip doesn’t include the classic “Ho jo to ho!” exclamations from Brünhilde, et al. But it’ll get you in the mood.]

We’re already priming the little monkey for a haute culture future. The first night she ever stayed up late and watched her first lengthy stretch of television (late = past 8pm; lengthy stretch = anything over a random moment or two), was spent soaking up a fabulouslsy schmaltzy rendition of holiday classics by soprano Renee Flemming, fronting the teeming mass of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The lil’ monkey was transfixed, while her mum and her grampy (a voice teacher as well as an actor) spent most of the time debating about Renee’s vocal technique.

I don’t know about Miss Flemming’s vocal technique, but I do know that if she were to have worn a hat like this one during her performance, she might not have been able to resist zig-zagging back and forth across the stage, shaking her head around so’s to jingle up the bells, like the lil’ monkey did all over the house when she first parked this on her head. Might-a worried the choristers and the conductor a bit, but I bet the kids in the audience would have loved it.

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Sixth list of ten: Things I have in common with dads

one hundred stones
Original photo credit: The Windgrove Center, Tasmania, AU.

In celebration of the 100th post, part six in a ten-part series.

I’m a female parent who (a) didn’t give birth, but (b) is partner side-by-side with one who did, and (c) is in some ways nearly as mannish as I am womanish. As a result, more often than not it’s the dads I sidle up to and chat with at the playground, and I’ve made at least as deep a connection with my men friends who are fathers as I have with my women friends who are mothers. (This is apart from the obvious and intense connection I have with women who are, like me, lesbian parents.)

Given all this, I thought it’d be interesting to corral, in one of these lists, a good

Ten things I have in common with dads:

1. (with slacker dads) We both tend to want to avoid doing the dishes and the laundry as frequently as the sweetie would like.

2. (with handy dads) We both prefer to put the “some assembly required” toys together; this impulse also applies to installing child seats, building tree houses, and fabricating excuses to take a “quick trip” to the hardware store.

3. (with dads whose partners have carried and birthed the kids) We have seen our partners through the awe-inspiring Everest climb of pregnancy, witnesed them birth our kids, and therefore tend to see our partners in the kind of shimmering light that shines on them.

4. (with dads whose partners have carried and birthed the kids) Because it’s the other one who gave birth, and nursed, and smells like Home to the kids (rather than home), we’re chopped liver for years, and it hurts, man, it hurts.

5. (with donor-conceived / donor insemination / DI  and adoptive dads) Our parenthood has been made possible by the generosity of another man.

6. (with donor-conceived / donor insemination / DI and adoptive dads) We don’t look like our kids, they don’t look like us, and we are grateful for the powerful impact our nurture will have on them.

7. (with donor-conceived / donor insemination / DI and adoptive dads) We may worry about whether one day our kids will develop some strong desire to look past us, to the donor or biological father, for some biological kinship that we can’t provide. And of course we live with that, due to item #5 above. If we’re fortunate, we may even find ways to regard this in an expansive, positive light.

8. (with feminine dads in same-ish sex marriages) Kids are drawn to us in a distinct way, because while I can’t substantiate it with clinical proof, I know there’s just something wonderful about a person who has a rich mix of both masculine energy and feminine, all in the same body. And in my personal experience, kids pick up on this big time. They know they’ll get both the hoisting high and the soft cuddling, and it makes some visceral core part of them very happy.

9. (with gear fetishist dads) We wish that there were a baby shower for us, so we could receive stuff from this place. Or this place. Not that we’d want to admit that in public.

10. (with every dad with a wide-open heart) We consider this parenthood gig the toughest (most meaningful, rewarding) job we’ll ever love, and can’t imagine how we ever thought we could do without it.

[Seventh list of ten: Things to do whilst waiting for the birth]

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Infant car seat: vanquished!

The careful observer will note that this Aztec warrior is not bearing a fainted virgin in his arms, but instead an infant car seat, a far more precious and mysterious treasure. Actual original here.*

The other day, when all of Christendom was gathering around their various hearths, slogging back wassail and singing songs of joy and cheer, I was outside wrestling with the infant car seat. I had been e-dykelated once before, and it wasn’t going to happen again.

For the uninitiated, “e-dykelated” is a custom reworking on “emasculated,” and it can happen to any gal like me who is lacking in mastery of all the manly arts, but who still aspires to one or two of them. Proper assembly and installation of kid-related equipment (car seats, cribs, high chairs, etc.) rank toward the tippy-top of the manly arts, parental subsection. So quite naturally I am highly motivated to triumph over everything whose box bears those three most feared words in the English language, Someassemblyrequired.

Back when my sweetie was ready to burst with kid #1, I had done my best to install the infant carseat we’d inherited from her older brother, whom I lovingly refer to as my Know-It-All-Brother-In-Law or, for the Acronym Oriented, my KIABIL. I didn’t have benefit of the original installation instructions (hey, you don’t see me complaining, do you? it was gratis!), so I asked him to inspect the job I’d done. He gave it a looksee, and then — sweetly, not at all ham-handedly — suggested that I’d want to actually strap it in properly, lest we chuck the newborn into the front seat with a sudden stop. Wilting with mortification on the driveway, I watched him lean in, kneel on the seat, fiddle with the various adjustments, and actually do it right.

My KIABIL does know a lot, is the problem. He’s also 6’7″, a triathlete, a former carpenter, and an accomplished execu-dude. And he’s hirsute. Most places. So no one raised in this century or any other, on most contintents on this planet, would espy him and think anything other than that he must be accomplished in most all of the manly arts. Which he is. The fact that he’s also a great cook and a major league pro-feminist is simply icing on the manly cake.

You can imagine my exquisite torture, then, as a gentle-manly dyke who lives upstairs from him (our two families share housing). For 24 hours a day, there is always someone on the premises who actually can fix that. Whatever that is. Before, when my sweetie and I lived in obscure isolation in our own separate home, I could do whatever I pleased to anything, using duck tape and paper clips and rubber bands, and she’d exclaim over the masterful repair job I did. (Feast your eyes on Exhibit A.)

Now the standards are higher, and I’m feeling the pressure.

So the other day, the journey I took with the infant car seat was one I had to take alone. The installation dragged on five, maybe even ten times the amount of time it would have taken my KIABIL. But god love me it’s in there, and kid #2, when he emerges (yegods it could be ANY MINUTE!! why isn’t EVERYONE panicking?!!), will not be pitching anywhere. Not on this Baba’s watch, no sirreee.

*Filling the walls at my favorite taqueria during my high school years were beautiful black velvet paintings of Aztec warriors in various states of masculine accomplishment, usually atop mountains, often with freshly killed cougars underfoot. Ever since then I have aspired to some reasonable facsimile. Minus the dead cougars.

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Your children are not your children

Nine months and two weeks’ worth of our daughter, September 2004.

We had the great good fortune last night to attend a performance of Chanticleer, the men’s choral ensemble. Every December the San Francisco-based group finishes up a national holiday touring schedule with local performances. Thanks to the devotion of the Gramma and the GrandBaba, our extended family is making it a seasonal tradition to attend their performance at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

Listening to the perfection of their voices, both as soloists and as a seamless choral whole, it’s hard not to hear the divine. To me, though, this is not so much a theistic divine, but a spiritual connection to the ineffable for which some people can make themselves vehicles.

When I finally heard soprano Kiri Te Kanawa in recital, I heard the same thing: sonic perfection, for which the singer was not originator, but vehicle. For the first of several encores, she sang one of Strauss’ Four Last Songs (her recording of these made me fall in love with her voice twenty years earlier). At one point she was holding a note, and for the duration of that held note, the entire hall was transported. It felt like it was no longer Dame Kiri who was singing, but the note itself, and we all, for those moments, were experiencing the sound, A-flat, in its breathtaking perfection.

My beloved saw Baryshnikov dance in New York in the early 1990s, and thought the same thing. She — then at The Neighbhorhood Playhouse and an ardent student of artistic accomplishment — realized while watching him that he had polished his technique to such a brilliant sheen that he was capable of transcending his own individual genius, becoming instead a vehicle for something larger than himself. The dance. The human body. Neither one the sole posession of the dancer.

It’s hard to describe, but it makes sense to me.

I’ve never attempted the performing arts, as an adult singing for only a short time with a community-based women’s chorus. I know we never approached the burnished perfection of Chanticleer, but each time we sang at least I was transported. My favorite song was a version of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “On Children,” a treatment of the Khalil Gibran poem.

In a dozen short lines, this poem manages to convey something which is as close as my beloved and I have to a roadmap for our parenthood. It helps us immensely that our children could only come to us with the help of others. Our children are not only our children, even if we may manage this legally and socially. We know we do not posess them. They are — as are all of our children — each their own perfect song. Divine.

Here’s a link to the Sweet Honey recording courtesy (Music by Ysaye M. Barnwell, © 1980 Barnwell’s Notes Publishing; recorded by Sweet Honey In The Rock® on “Selections.” Used by permission of the composer.) The text below is Sweet Honey’s, imperceptibly tweaked from The Prophet.

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself
They come through you but they are not from you and though they are with you
They belong not to you
You can give them your love but not your thoughts
They have their own thoughts
You can house their bodies but not their souls
For their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow
Which you cannot visit not even in your dreams
You can strive to be like them
But you cannot make them just like you
Strive to be like them
But you cannot make them just like you

Happy Solstice, happy last night of Hanukkah, Merry Christmas. God bless us every one.

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Fifth list of ten: How to build a better weblog award competition

one hundred stones
Original photo credit: The Windgrove Center, Tasmania, AU.

In celebration of the 100th post, part five in a ten-part series.

[Warning A: Jumbo post alert! Warning B: Of little interest to anyone who didn’t ride the Weblog Awards roller coaster last week! If you didn’t, please check back in another day or two for actual content! content! content! If you did ride, and have an itch to scratch about it, read on!]

As a way to put the 2006 Weblog Awards rollercoaster ride in some perspective, I thought it might be useful to come up with some steps about how to build a better Weblog Awards system. Not that there aren’t enough bright ideas hopping about in the animated Weblog Awards Forum. But I got five more of these lists to get out, man. And I reckon I’m not the only one that suspects a different story would have unfolded, had this — and all the other finalist blogs in all the categories — had competed under a different set of rules.

Imagine my surprise, as I was rooting around the web for alternative examples, when I discovered rival weblog awards! Blogular rookie that I am, having begun in earnest only this past spring, I was utterly unaware of them. One existing award is international (the BOBs), another is older (the Bloggies). Another (The Webbys), includes a few blog categories in a survey of the web far, far beyond the blogosphere. Two split their awards into juried and “User Prize” winners (the BOBs), or juried and “People’s Voice” awards (The Webbys). The Bloggies employs a jury selection to get blogs to the finalist stage. All are designed to keep the mass voting hysteria in check by attempting, in one way or another, to limit the quantity of popular votes.

If it’s pure quality product you want to suss out, if you want some way to determine excellence in a blog, then a popular vote contest isn’t going to reveal anything more than (relative) popularity. If you’re looking for something else, I offer for your contemplation these

Ten steps to build a better weblog award competition:

1. Strive to reward excellence, while admitting from the outset that “excellence” is a fairly subjective thing and that no two people are going to be completely satisfied with a rubric by which to judge it.

2. Try to determine a rubric anyway, responsive to the features that define or characterize blogs as a distinct medium of communication. These might include such things as: quality and originality of content; value of content to intended community; quality and originality of graphic design; elegance of user interface/ readability; appropriateness of design interface to blog content; presence and liveliness of dialog with intended community.

The Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards, called the Best of the Blogs (or BOBs), use the following guidelines, published on their Criteria page:

Prose: Linguistic expertise, intelligibility, timeliness, transparency, authenticity.

Creativity: Originality of topic, humor, use of new style elements.

Design: Appropriate design, use of multimedia elements (animations, graphics, audio, video.

User Friendliness: Interactivity, usability, linking, commentary functions, other useful properties.

The aspects listed above are not a comprehensive list and should be used as general guidelines for the jury’s decision.

The Webby Awards reward excellence in content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. Here are their Criteria.

Most blog designs are turnkey, and most amateur bloggers work fairly modest variations on a standard template. This one is a typical example: I use WordPress’ K2 with almost no fancy customizations, except for the header bar; my contribution to its overall design is to attempt to keep some color consistency, and to break up text in the links column with the occasional image or graphic. (That is, to the extent I can figure out how to pry into the WordPress template without derailing it.)[Ed note: July 2008 I actually did spiff it up, with the help of others. So there.] Design judgment under these circumstances entails the splitting of hairs over how bloggers make use of existing templates. For this reason, original template design should be especially rewarded.

The Bloggies separate off these design templates and actually reward “Best Application for Weblogs” (2006 winner: Blogger; finalists: Flickr,, Site Meter, and WordPress).

3. Determine the most reliable means by which to measure a blog’s relative success in these various realms. This would be a very hard thing to do, since much of the design and content judgments would be so subjective. Some relatively objective measures of a blog’s impact and worth within its intended community may be measurable via tracking such things as its user comments, its incoming links and traffic. Another measure would be the amount and way in which a blog is referred to on other blogs. And while there’s no accounting for taste, many can agree on essential standards for sound design and usability. Jakob Neilson, usability guru, has provided some usability standards for blogs that could provide a basis. (Even if the aesthetics of his own sites fall far short of the ideal.)

4. Subject that rubric to a wide, democratic, wiki-like review and revision, by those who make up the community to whom this measure of blogular excellence matters.

5. So that step #4 doesn’t devolve into chaos, fix the period of public review to limited time, and delegate the final determinations on the judging rubric to those who would also serve as jury for the blog competition.

6. Recruit a varied, principled jury to judge the nominees. How many people, and how the judging process might be administered, would have a lot to do with the scope of the blogosphere that the award is attempting to represent. The jury ought to comprise a panel of distinguished contributors to and observers of the blogosphere, representing a range of specializations (design, content, community impact, significance of contribution, etc.).

The International BOBs use a jury of “independent journalists, media experts, and blog experts,” and each year’s jury is profiled on their Jury page.

The Webbys are overseen by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a 500+ member association characterized by excellence in contribution to life online:

Membership in The Academy is currently by invitation only and is limited to those individuals who have catalyzed great achievements on the Internet, demonstrated extraordinary talent in a traditional medium, or who possess in-depth knowledge of new media and comprehensive familiarity with a broad range of sites within a category.

Could be this is why the Webbys have been called “The Oscars of the internet” by The New York Times.

7. Make the judging process as transparent and as rigorous as possible. The Webbys’ “judging process” page provides a great example of this.

8. Acknowledge that a means of communication as wide-open and unregulated as the blogosphere is likely to foster many blogs which straddle multiple subject area categories, complicating the process of parsing them into discrete subject area categories. The Webbys, which aim to reward excellence in web site design including but also far beyond the blogosphere, provide more than 65 categories. Notably, no “generalized” category exists, minimizing the confounding experience of comparing blogs with dramatically different purposes and scope.

9. Find a way to live with the fact that apples will be compared to oranges which will be compared to camshafts. And that no matter how the process is conducted — no matter how transparent, how well-thought out, how wisely substantiated by professional consensus — many folks will feel cheated, rooked, had, screwed, and swindled. Because there are two kinds of people: good sports and poor sports. Both will want to play, and everyone will consider themselves good sports, and their competitors poor sports.

10. If a select panel of distinguished jurors seems inappropriate for a medium as garrulous as the blogosphere, here’s a concession. The Webbys provide a parallel competition, the “People’s Voice.” There, the general online community can vote on the finalists chosen from the nominees. But this stands parallel to the “winners” chosen by the panel of professionals.

It’s not clear to me how the Webbys’ “People’s Voice” vote is conducted. How to narrow things down to the good ole fashioned, one person, one vote? That has got to be the $64K question. No one is likely to provide their Social Security number or their driver’s license number, two of the few data points which could be uniquely verifiable. Yet every other data point even just slightly less private — email address, phone number — isn’t exclusive to just one person. That is, plenty of people use multiple email addresses and phone numbers.

For better and for worse, this is what the Bloggies do:

•  Only one nomination form and one finalist voting form may be submitted per person.
•  E-mail addresses are required to vote. You must use your own address.
•  If you attempt to submit a second ballot, your first one will be erased.

The BOBs do this:

While there’s no way to eliminate fraud from Internet voting, we’re trying to avoid it by making voters — the real human ones — enter text from a randomly generated image to confirm their votes.

So they, as do the Weblog Awards, surely field multiple votes from the hyper-motivated.

Whatever the case, if the “popular” part of the awards were to be determined by a one vote-per-computer, one vote-per-24hrs spree over the course of ten days, you can be guaranteed the following:

  • voters with access to multiple computers (e.g. at work and at home) will be privileged;
  • competitors will be at an advantage when they spread the word far and wide, and therefore active or activatable online networks will be at an advantage;
  • an important or dramatic issue perceived to be at stake can inspire such a network to emerge under pressure; and
  • feverish competitiveness will be built into the process, particularly if an issue is perceived to be at stake in any of the competitions.

If all that sounds like fun, then great! Cause that’s what I think just happened with the 2006 Weblog Awards! But the “winning” blogs are not necessarily standard-bearers for excellence in design, content, or even utility to intended audience. They represent those whose readership and/or community is either the largest, or the most motivated, or both. Maybe they’re motivated by quality product, maybe not. All’s we know is they’re motivated.

And so we roll to a stop back here at this particular assemblage of lesbo bon mots. I gave up trying to solve the abiding mystery surrounding how in the Sam Hill this blog made it as a finalist (I’ve run out of alternative readings on the blog title; perhaps someone read it right, and thought these were the sweet musings of Papa Ethridge, or Papa Lang, or Papa O’Donnell). But there it was, and there it stayed, and it netted a sizable community of voters with a sizable motivation to vote, which has been in turns surprising, humbling, and inspirational. To those of you erstwhile voters who stick around as readers: I’ll try to live up to your expectations, on behalf of my cute kid, and all sorts of other cute kids in LGBT families that I think she’s standing in for. But it’ll have to be back at my pre-Sweeps Week publishing output, though. Every other day, weekends and childbirths off.

[Sixth list of ten: Things I have in common with dads]

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