Thursday, May 31, 2012

DOMA repealed

I am doing a little dance in my office chair right now.

An appeals court in Massachusetts has ruled that the Federal government has no interest in denying marriage to same sex couples. This is frankly awesome.

The judges stayed their order, anticipating an appeal to the Supreme Court. From the ruling:
The judgment of the district court is affirmed for the reasons and the extent stated above. Anticipating that certiorari will be sought and that Supreme Court review of DOMA is highly likely, the mandate is stayed, maintaining the district court's stay of its injunctive judgment, pending further order of this court. The parties will bear their own costs on these appeals.
So this does not mandate the US government allow a Tunisian man, who has married his male partner in Massachusetts, to file for citizenship on the basis of marriage. However, as I understand things, in the strange world of judicial review, it is now the "status quo" that the Federal government should allow such claims, and therefore it will take a little more effort on the Supreme Court's part to overturn such a ruling.

DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, was enacted about a year after I came out publicly. It was one of the first concrete issues I really remember caring a lot about. In case you are not so passionate about this lovely piece of legislation, the key components of it are (according to Wikipedia)
Section 2. Powers reserved to the states
No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.
Section 3. Definition of marriage
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
This appeals only addresses Section 3. It does not force states to recognize same sex marriages conducted in other states, as the constitution requires states to recognize opposite sex marriages made in other states under the full faith and credit clause of the constitution (Article 4, section 1 in case you are curious), which says that states that give
Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.
 There are legal battles to be won by constitutional scholars over the forthcoming years. But now that Congress has been prevented from "Prescribing" the definition of marriage, it would seem that it is a relatively small step to demand "Full Faith and Credit."

I live in interesting times.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An appeal from a friend.

I found the following in my inbox this morning. It is an appeal from a friend to support US catholic nuns against a an reprimand by the Vatican for spending too much time on humanitarian aid, and not enough on issues like contraception and outcasting gays.

The issues the nuns are being reprimanded for are close to my heart, as regular readers know. However, I am ambivalent, at best about any branch of the Catholic church (and most other religious organization.) I put this forward for your contemplation.

I put this forward for your contemplation.
The Vatican thinks US Catholic nuns (LCWR) spend too much time
on the poor and not enough time condemning the gays and taking birth control rights away. They therefore wants to stage a hostile takeover of nuns. I don't ever ask you all to donate but I think this is
incredibly important because the nuns represent the very few sane
voices left in the cultural war of the religious right vs others.
I've just donated ... and I still feel guilty because its not enough to express how I feel. I want the nuns to know that we care that they are standing with poor women and children, even when Vatican is threatening them. I want to donate so they have the emotional and material resources  to fight this hostile takeover and not be forced to condemn people and give an example of what its truly means to be spiritual.

Or, if you rather just sign a petition:
Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Eggmus: Ratings Agencies

This is not so much a "cute lovable thing Epsilon did" as it is a "stupid lovable thing Epsilon's parents did." But it may still deserve the Eggmus rating.

Chez Barefoot is still reeling from a set of flues that are washing over us from daycare. We gave up last night, picked Epsilon up from daycare, along with some sushi and chocolate cake, and put a movie on the computer screen.

We chose "Neverending Story," without noticing that it was PG, not G. Epsilon loved it: flying with Falcor, riding the horses, the "steam roller" riding rock biter. When Benjamin couldn't figure out that it was he who needed to save Fantasia, Epsilon started jumping up and down yelling "I help! I help!"

"Wow" I think. "He's actually followed most of this story. At the age of 2. I'm impressed."

And then it's bedtime. He won't be left alone. "Eyes. Light. BOOM!" Shit, the first of the southern oracle gates. "Naughty boys. Dumpster." Yeesh! the bullies.

Finally, my partner has to curl up with him, with one arm free to block any lasers from the southern oracle sphinxes from getting to the sleeping Epsilon. And if the bullies come by? Father and son will call the police, and make sure Epsilon does not end up in a dumpster.

We are still sick today. Maybe we'll try Shrek tonight. That's rated G, right?


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My father's visit

My father came to visit over Mother's Day weekend. We leave in a month, and it was a chance for him to see the family before we do. My father moved to this country to start a new life when he was 24. He still has strong ties to his home country, but he's lived here for almost 2/3 of his life. Yet, in spite of that experience, this move is making him feel like we are leaving him somehow. No amount of reminding him that I was about a 2 hour flight away from him in grad school, a 4 hour flight away from him now, and will only be a 6 hour flight away from him in September seems to help. We are emigrating, and something about having to pass through customs between getting off the plane and picking up one's luggage has an air of finality about it.

So my father came to visit, to see me, but especially to see his grandson. "Who knows when I'll see him next," he muses. It was sweet to see him with Epsilon. The generational divide between my father and I has always seemed to be an unbridgeable abyss. As of last weekend, it didn't seem to exists with Epsilon. The fact that his grandfather didn't really hide during our games of hide and go seek only made finding him easier and therefore more fun; and my father loves to read. Whenever I lost track of Epsilon, I'd find him curled up on my father's lap in the rocking chair with a book.

On the adult end, we all managed to keep matters civil, which was very nice. Though at one point he asked me about the classes I'm teaching. My father is a professor: he's also a medical doctor.
"Are the lectures you give chalk talks or power point?"
"They are on the board?"
"Is everything you teach on computers and in books? Or do your students have to memorize everything like I did when I was a student."

And I just don't know how to respond. Would he have been able to find the material for my undergraduate class in a textbook if he were to take its equivalent in the 1960's? Almost definitely. Do my students memorize facts in the same way that he did to get through college? I certainly hope not. And I won't even begin to explain a graduate level topics class. But it leaves me wondering. How do I bridge the gap between a theoretician who fled from medicine in part because of my parents stories of the rote memorization involved to a man who values engineers over their theoretician colleagues, and does not understand the point of my science, since it will never help solve problems that he faces and understands in life.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Not hearin' it

A friend from Grad School City got in touch with us. He started out in the same field as me, and left with a terminal masters. He now works in industry, and has lived in the same metro area for the past 6 years. He has been one of those lucky people who have managed to live within a few hundred miles of his parents his entire life. Far enough to establish some boundaries, but close enough to visit frequently.

He has decided he wants to leave his industry job, and find another industry job. He has a candidate employers in mind. However, this employer is nearly an order of magnitude further from his current community than he has ever been. This distance is making him hesitate in his decision.

Under any normal human circumstances, I would be very sympathetic to his distress. But right now, all I can think is
  1. At least you have some control over when you leave your job, with some certainty of being hired in the same field.
  2. Picking the one job you would like to transfer is not considered an act of sheer bravado by your colleagues, because we all know how tight the market it this year.
  3. Poor you, leaving friends and family behind. Your wife will probably find a job in your new city, and you don't have to expatriate yourself to keep your family employed.
In short, I don't want to hear it. Needless to say, we didn't raise any of the points with our friend. It gives me pause to think though: when did I become so bitter?

All the same, I could just as easily leave what I am doing here to follow a similar industry path as he has. It's not like the option is closed off to me. But I am CHOOSING not to. At some point, I really need to consider why I'm making that choice.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Somedays, there's news I can't help myself from commenting on.

For instance: Given how grumpy I've been of late, I'd decided not to talk about North Carolina's Proposition 1 passing last night, extra banning gay marriage, but in addition possibly reducing domestic violence protection for people who are not yet married. Stupidity upon stupidity. There's nothing to say. So I didn't.

Until President Obama said this a bit ago on ABC.
I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
 Not perfect. I could ask for more. But I could always ask for more. However, this statement along with his refusal to defend DOMA, and getting rid of "Don't ask don't tell" shows promise.

My partner just asked me.

"Does this mean that same sex corporations in North Carolina can't marry for tax reason's either?"

I had to share. And then he dug up this about when public aproval for mixed race marriages passed 50% in this country. I weep in shame.


I remember as an undergrad, most terms would have a point in them when things started to slide; I'd taken one more class (again) than I could realistically handle; the post teenage drama that filled my social life exploded; my depression flared out of control; I came down with pneumonia during midterms; I signed up for one too many extra curricular activity that I didn't realize far enough in advance that I needed to cancel. It was always something or another. As an undergrad, I had not realized that part of good study and self care habits was working with a buffer for all the things the inevitably go wrong in life.

Grad school was different, and I was a much happier and successful academic there. Somehow, it feels like all those lessons were unlearned with Epsilon. No, unlearned is too harsh. Neither of us realized how much went into being a parent. And we can't exactly punt Epsilon the same way we would pull out of organizing a big social even in college.

So here I am. Two days of grading until after midnight followed by getting up at 6:30 with Epsilon, while he is sick has me in bed with a flu bad enough that I spend Saturday in bed, Sunday asleep, and practically voiceless on Tuesday. One of my classes takes approximately 0 prep time. The other takes 12+ hours/week. I cancelled Monday's lecture of the latter. Today, I think I am well enough that I can stand in front of the board for 2 hours, but nowhere in my fog have I had the coherence to learn and prepare lectures for this class. It is being cancelled again. My 20 year old self is dismayed that it is that time of term again.

This time, however, I seem to have the flexibility and wisdom to take care of myself during it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Commitment device

There are many good reasons to have a child. A commitment device to force you and your partner to make decisions to keep the family together is not one of them. After all, if my partner and I can't decide to take jobs in the same city after a decade of being together for our own sakes, is that really going to change, without someone feeling some sort of resentment, once there is a third person involved? Yet, this was one of the reasons we listed to ourselves when we started trying to have a child.

The existence of this blog is proof that Epsilon did little to keep us to the promise of keeping the family in one physical city. Little, but not zero. When I find myself despairing at our inability to put family before career, it may be worth while to think of what has changed in a concrete manner.

The last two job searches have focused much more on universities where the other person would have a hope of a happy career than the previous two searches. There are fewer applications to universities without other universities near by, and more in large cities with lots of universities in the metro area. Would we have done this anyway? Unfortunately I'd have to say no. I still have a very hard time asking my partner to not take positions he is excited by, even if I fear the effect on the relationship. In the past, we adopted the attitude "Ehn, we'll suffer through this as well." We still do this to an extent, though the difficulties of single parenting for large chunks of time is significant enough to keep us from taking it on lightly.

To our credit, I do not think we have let Epsilon feel the folly of our thinking regarding his potential role as familial glue. We quickly realized that it wasn't going to happen, and moved on with our lives.

I think we have been more willing to talk about the fact that we have a family situation now that we have a child. Since we are not married, it makes us (me at least) more hesitant to ask about possible solutions to our 2 body problem. However, with a child, our lack of marriage no longer feels like a barrier.

I think we (I?) need to look at this lack of ability to put family before career in a different light. It is frustrating that we cannot seem to sacrifice enough to live in one place. We do not enjoy the fiscal, emotional and physical toll of weekly flights and two households. However, if I look at this from the correct angle, this is not a symptom of my partner and I being insufficiently committed to each other. Rather, it is a symptom of two ambitious people being very committed to each other. My partner keeps reminding me that I (and thus the family) would be miserable if I were a housewife. Part of what keeps my partner and I together is a mutual respect for our ambition and curiosity about each other's science. If I put that behind me "for the sake of the family," do I really have the best interest of the family in mind?

This analysis does not erase my doubts of whether or not what we are putting ourselves and Epsilon through currently and for the next few years is at all the right thing to do. I can hope that upon rereading these arguments, they settle down in the background for a while.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Eggmus: Organic

Epsilon is snacking on a carrot in the playground. He drops it in the sand box, picks it up, makes an effort to brush it off before sticking it in his mouth again and running off to the wood chipped area.

"It's a good thing we don't really care about feeding him only organic food," my partner says.

A few minutes later, the inevitable happens, and the carrot falls in the woodchips.

"That's better," my partner says.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Emmigration fears II: Taking a pay cut

This post has a happy ending.

As we move up along the academic ladder we expect to earn more money. Not an earth shattering statement to open a blog post with but relevant. When my partner got his offer for a TT position at University E, after currency conversions, we found that he'd be earning as much as I am now as a post doc. He's in a field with average salaries lower than my field, and it was a significant raise from his post doc, so we only had a few misgivings. Then we were told by many that the tax rates in that country are very high. Normally, I don't pay a lot of heed to "they'll take all your money in taxes" talk, because we will be purchasing more services with those tax dollars than we do in the US. However, given my already strong reluctance to emigrate, I let this become a concern.

On my end, I don't know how much I'll be earning at my new postdoc. Apparently the calculation of that amount depends on a lot of paperwork, some of which I've been slow to supply. But, from the estimates I've been given, I'll probably take a cut in my gross pay as well. Again not a reason to turn down a job, but enough for my ego to grumble.

We spent a good chunk of yesterday dealing with financial and immigration minutiae: dull, dreary, stressful work. At one point, I looked over my partner's shoulder to see what his monthly take home pay was. I was surprised. He is taking home significantly more than I am each month. After he qualifies as a single parent for purposes of taxes, he'd be bringing home more.

We get the same net pay. I pay less in taxes, but then I also pay for healthcare for Epsilon and myself. My partner pays for universal healthcare in taxes. I contribute to an employee matched defined contribution retirement fund. He contributes (less) to a defined benefit pension. If I were to stay in this job until retirement, unless I managed to retire in the midst of another phenomenal stock market bubble, at my current contribution rates, the benefits I will receive due to my accumulated contributions will be less than what he will receive from his pension.

By the end of my career if I stay in the States will I likely be bringing more home after taxes and other necessary incidentals? Probably. On the other hand, if I wanted a job for the money, I'd do something else. The lesson I'm taking away from this is that sometimes a pay cut isn't.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

To Do

Visa arrangements for Epsilon to live with his father.

Work visa for me.

Notarize letters to make sure Epsilon can travel internationally with only one of his parents.
Find housing for myself (apparently this can't be done when I arrive.)

Figure out where all the money my current university owes us is, so we get reimbursed before closing out accounts.

Fill out paperwork to get the rest of the money.

Find 3 movers, and get quotes. (Why don't they call us back?)

Find cleaners to come in and clean the house after the movers have packed it up.  (Again, why don't they call back?)

Figure out when parents/in laws are coming into town so we can give notice to day care provider.

Travel visas for Epsilon for our complicated summer conference/ vacation travel plans.

Fill in legs of tickets between conferences.

There's 6 weeks left before we move. Its starting to feel overwhelming. The relative ease with which moves are conducted in the US has spoiled me. If I'm going to be country hopping for the next few years to try to get all three of us in the same university, I'd better get used to this.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sidewalk Chalk

Before the buttercups and wisteria
have brought forth their color,
before my border hedge fills in
to block  the view of my neighbor's son
                             playing basketball,
a burst of pastel brightens my day--
calcium carbonate on concrete.

It bloomed yesterday afternoon,
amidst the laughter of toddlers--
not quite a promise of new life,
but potential all the same:
for their bright future,
for the hope of spring,
for the good day
that starts with a smile on my face.