Voting is for the Girls!

Lego Girls Vote – by Kay T. Holt


We raise our children to be the bosses of their own bodies. We teach them to dress and wash and feed themselves, and to keep their private parts private. But if our children happen to be daughters, there’s an oft-neglected aspect of self-care that we must impart: Voting. It may seem strange to count civic participation among the apparatus required for the care and protection of women’s bodies, but it may be the most important tool in our kit.

For those who’ve forgotten the suffragettes: The only reason women have the right to vote in this country — or in any country — is because women insisted and carried on insisting in creative, energetic, and above all incorrigible ways until they moved the law of the land. Which is why voting is “for the girls.”

Or else.

Left to their own devices, powerful men will relieve us of the right — but not the responsibility — of minding our own business. National and state legislatures have declared women’s health issues their top priority since 2010, making what happens between our legs more important than the economy, more important than war, and more important than climate change.

Maybe that’s as it should be; lady parts are pretty amazing, after all.

Self-Portrait by Del Dryden (used with permission)


The trouble is that lawmakers are doing it all wrong. Instead of proposing record numbers of laws to protect and improve women’s access to effective and affordable healthcare, the legislatures are doing everything they can to disenfranchise women short of repealing the 19th amendment.

From the Guttmacher Institute

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me, but they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.” —Hillary Clinton

In spite of the progress our country made in recent generations, some people still believe that family planning and our sexual healthcare should NOT be left up to women; that they should be controlled by men. Unfortunately, many men elected to office are either ill-informed about how reproduction and contraception work, or are committed to social agendas which are at odds with the welfare of women. Because ignorance and prejudice in politics are vulnerable against informed and active voters, lawmakers with these conflicts of interest are bound do everything in their power to ensure that more of their like-minded citizens are able to vote than those of us likely to oppose regressive legislation.

“The dumbest thing I ever did was let you learn to read.” –My conservative father to me

I Did Not Raise My Girl To Be A Voter (public domain)


Abortion and other women’s rights are under heavy fire right now because it’s an election year and dividing the voting populace has always been an effective strategy for garnering more votes along one side or another of an issue. Voter suppression, in its various forms, is another effective and equally ugly strategy to manipulate electoral outcomes. Under the guise of preventing election theft (an offense more often linked to bumbling election officials and glitchy vote-counting machines than with individual voters), lawmakers in many states are advancing bills designed to reduce the number of eligible citizens who are able to register and vote.

“Seventy percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win in 2012 will now come from states with new restrictive voting laws.” —Brennan Center For Justice

Men, who love the Freedom which your Fathers won for You, Pay your Debt by Winning Freedom for your Daughters (public domain)


Like the original Jim Crow laws, these new anti-voting rules disproportionately affect minority groups. They also often make it too costly, complicated, and inconvenient for poor, student, and elderly voters to participate in elections. Because women are more likely than men to be poor, more women than men are students, and more than twice as many women as men live past the age of 85, voter suppression efforts also disproportionately affect women.

In other words: Regardless of our individual opinions around abortion, other forms of birth control, and healthcare reform at large, women must vote. If we don’t exercise that right, it could very well be taken from us.

“I have a right to nothing which another has a right to take away…” —Thomas Jefferson

Citizens United helps corporate puppets and other power-hungry zealots get elected in the first place, but they can only stay in office by our leave. And the regressive laws they pass will stand only if we stop resisting them. Fortunately, recent events remind us that public pressure scares the pants off politicians:

“Female authority is still associated with childhood. The last time a lot of powerful guys saw a powerful woman, they were 8, and they feel regressed to childhood by a powerful woman in a way that they don’t feel with a man.” —Gloria Steinem

Activism has always been key to overcoming suppression. In this age of social media, it is easier than ever to organize against disenfranchisement and other social ills. We can signal-boost for women’s rights on Twitter with just a few clicks and inveigh directly to our representatives on Facebook. It takes a little more effort to expand those conversations on our blogs, but it’s worthwhile for women to speak our minds. And while it’s vital that we support and maintain online efforts to expose and counter attacks on our rights, nothing beats direct action In Real Life.

We simply cannot afford to be passive. Fortunately, the internet also makes it easier to form new partnerships, locate existing groups, and join each other offline for some good old-fashioned peaceful protest.

Unite Against The War On Women 04-28-2012


We’re not the weaker sex, only the disempowered sex. But we have strength of numbers — more than half of the US population is female — we just need to put that strength to good use.

The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution reads:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

In this era of the War on Women, perhaps we should interpret it to include the notion that our rights shall not be usurped on account of having sex.

It Doesn’t ‘Unsex’ Her… (public domain)

Further reading:

Further Viewing:

YouTube is the New Substitute Teacher

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard

School, like most of everyday life, is at times boring and occasionally a waste of time. We can place blame for that squarely upon the education system and teachers, or share it with parents if we’d like to keep diplomacy in the PTA. But although it’s true that the adults who shape and deliver education as we know it are largely responsible for what we learn and how well we learn it while we are children, we have nobody but ourselves to blame for allowing ignorance to persist after we grow up.

No matter how dreadful your education experience was as a child, if you reached adulthood literate enough to use the internet, then you should find developing a passing acquaintance with basic science concepts both convenient and entertaining. The idea that learning should be fun and easy is so compelling that YouTube is positively swarming with video bloggers enthusiastically sharing knowledge.

Because I am a science enthusiast and a lifetime devotee of independent study, I’ve compiled a video playlist of some of my recent favorites in that genre. To eliminate some common misconceptions, the playlist opens with the definition of science. From there, it builds from some interesting basics about water and carbon, covers some of the science frequently botched by Hollywood and in other fiction, and demonstrates that girls plus math equals win. Then follows a musical interlude, but it’s all science, so it’s all good. The last few are a sampler of videos posted by universities and science publishers for viewers who prefer productions with bigger budgets.

Now all you have to do is watch and learn.


(This post originally appeared at the Science in My Fiction blog.)

Don’t Make Hulk Wanna Smash The Internet

She-Hulk by kazamatsuro – Photo via Creative Commons

I hate New Year’s resolutions. Especially the part where the internet is flooded with copycat articles full of tips, tricks, top-ten lists, and celebrity declarations. The changing of the calendar doesn’t make the date special, and broadcasting their intent doesn’t necessarily help people achieve personal goals. Every year at this time, I compulsively dodge those posts and articles and vlogs because exposure to New Year’s resolutions tends to cause an Incredible Hulk-like transformation in me. And I don’t really want to be the person who leaves a path of ALL-CAPS destruction in the comments of every other new post on the internet during most of January.

There’s probably no hope of reversing the resolution trend, especially not with the entire weight of the weight-loss industry backing what I snarkily refer to as the season of shrinky self-destruction. However, resistance is not futile. This year, I’m encouraging people to break with the tradition, and if they won’t, to at least consider alternatives to the set of boring, doomed cure-alls that most people resolve to pursue.

Many of the common New Year’s resolutions focus on accomplishing more, acquiring more stuff, and doing everything faster. Those are exhausting, largely foolhardy endeavors, especially for anyone trying to become a healthier and happier person. For a fun, easy change of pace, try doing less, getting rid of stuff, and slowing down. That last one is the best, I think. Just imagine how much stress we could ditch simply by taking our time. Resolving to slow down will probably improve the quality – if not the quantity – of our work and our relationships, two goals that may not be on everyone’s list, but probably should be.

If oppositional resolutions aren’t your cuppa, but you can’t resist the impulse to make resolutions altogether, try just sticking with the good things you already do. And if you must share your resolutions with the world, the least you can do is resolve to work on something more important to the world than your weight. 2012 is the International Year of Cooperatives and the International Year of Sustainable Energy For All. If those causes don’t motivate you, try browsing the Project For Awesome for a charity that does, then put your back into supporting it. It’s probably as good for your heart as going to the gym, albeit in a different way, and selfless deeds are far more interesting for others to read about on your blog.

People who are happy in their New Year’s resolution ruts? I beg you, please, to attend the science about habit formation and will power’s limitations. Confine your resolutions to small, specific actions you can easily add to your existing routine. This should improve your likelihood of success, and hopefully diminish the flood of woeful posts about failed New Year’s resolutions that also make Hulk wanna smash the internet.

Music is the Meta-Game

Vast amounts of time and skill are invested in video game design annually. Everything you see and hear, and every move you make in a game was first drawn, composed and spelled-out in code by someone else for our enjoyment.

When gamers geek out about the games we play, there’s usually a lot of talk about the visuals and sometimes a bit of chatter about the story, but a game’s audio is often taken for granted during casual critique. It’s true that good sound direction tends to be subtle, but it adds such an important emotional dimension to gameplay that playing video games with the sound muted can be a very different experience.

Individual sound effects, like footfalls and jangling coin-sounds, are the straightforward stuff of game audio, but what about the music? In the movies, music crescendos before kisses and screams “WOO-HOO!” during car chases for a reason. Savvy game-makers perform the same sort of emotional manipulation to make gameplay more immersive, but there’s one element the makers can’t control: The players.

As it turns out, the internet is full of multi-talented people who play video games and musical instruments with equal zeal. What happens when one worthy pastime collides with another? Filk songs for gamers!

When you think about it, composing parodies, tributes, and covers of video game music is just another way for musical gamers to replay their favorite games. In other words, VG filk music is a type of meta-game.

Non-gamers may miss some of the inside jokes, but the songs in the following playlist are enjoyable even out of their original contexts. Listen, and get your meta-game on!

Black History Month is Living History Month

I love Black History Month. True, I grew up in Arizona, which was the last state in the union to observe a civil rights holiday by any name. And true, it ultimately took losing the 1993 Super Bowl (and all its associated economic benefits) to convince Arizona voters to enact Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the first place. But while I was growing up, those uncomfortable facts contributed to making February my favorite month of every school year. Being a socially aware person in Arizona during those events – child though I was – made history real for me. With few exceptions, the names and dates and places we were given to study in school were only approached in the past tense, but black history was alive and unfolding. It still is.

Now I’m grown and trying to raise another socially aware person – child though he is. I think I have it pretty easy: My son loves to ask hard questions, his school is very diverse, and he will never remember a time before America had a black president. However, because Black History Month is a month of living history, there’s always something new to learn and new ways to participate.

Last week, I took my son to the Museum of Science in Boston. Before we saw a planetarium show, we explored the MoS’s current exhibit on race. My son is still in preschool, so there were plenty of things he missed while we were there that will come up again in time. Looking at the broad relationship between geography and variations in skin color was much easier than navigating the cultural ties between race and income disparity, for example. He was excited to add a picture of the back of his hand to the interactive mosaic in the exhibit, but examining it closely led him to ask, “Why aren’t there more pictures of brown skin?”

Just like that, we were part of the exhibit. I asked him to look around at the other visitors in the room and tell me what he saw. “They’re all white like us.” We went out to the rail and looked around at the rest of the museum. “Where are the black people?” It was a good question, but before I could think of an age-appropriate way to connect his observation to the content of the exhibit, he asked one with an easy answer: “The next time we come here, can I bring a friend?”

Black History Month 2011 ends today, but don’t let that deter you from participation. If you don’t live near the MoS, don’t worry; the Race Exhibit travels and it may come to a museum near you. Even if it doesn’t, there are still some excellent resources online, including the Smithsonian website,, and my favorite: PBS. also has a great series of posts called ‘Celebrating Black History Month‘ – check often because there’s something new every day in February. Too, the National Education Association has many great links and ideas intended for classrooms, but I think the material really comes to life in our family rooms.

Plan A: Adopt A Geek

Genius-475x511When I was little, everyone I knew who had been adopted as a child had grown up to become successful entrepreneurs and musicians. It happened three times in my extended family, alone. This led my very young self to believe that all my childhood traumas would be resolved if only I could somehow trade-in my obviously malfunctioning parental units for more reliable models… Just imagine the look on my face when a dear aunt finally sat me down and explained how adoption really works and why it’s important. I decided then and there that, as soon as I was an adult, I would adopt a dozen kids, and they would all grow up to be geniuses.

Of course, even after my aunt’s explanation, I was still a little kid with a big imagination. It didn’t occur to me that my life would turn out any differently than I intended. Yet here I am, 30 years old, and the only child I have is the one I made from scratch. No, life doesn’t always go according to plan, but that’s why I still feel so strongly about my original Plan A: Adoption. Because every kid deserves to be cared for like they’re a genius in the making.

Recently, I interviewed Janice Halpern, the Director of PR & Fundraising for the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange:

Geek Mom: As a geek and a parent, it’s my humble opinion that geeks make great parents, but I also know that we tend to lead very full lives. We have a lot of hobbies – like gaming, knitting, parkour, and robotic soccer – in addition to maintaining our jobs and other social obligations. Do people with busy, interesting lives make good adoptive parents, or are they harder to match with waiting children?

Janice Halpern: I could turn the question around – do these geek adults make good loving friends and family in general? Children are in foster care because the families they were born into were not able to provide them the safe, stable home every child needs. They’ve been neglected, and maybe abused, by adults they should have been able to trust. They need adults they can rely on for love, trust, guidance, stability, dependability, and a high degree of stick-to-it-iveness to help them move beyond their past trauma. Busy, interesting people can be superb adoptive parents if they are willing to meet the needs of the child. If finishing the next level in Mass Effect is a higher priority than guiding an emotionally stressed child, then not so much.

Geek Mom: What about budding geeks? Are there many children in foster care actually looking for adoptive parents with eclectic tastes and interests?

Janice: Many of the children in foster care are fledgling geeks – when the adults around you disappoint you, the computer games (etc.) give you a level of control over your environment that human interactions don’t. I’ve seen many youngsters at our Adoption Parties who are more comfortable sitting alone at a table full of Legos than interacting with strangers.

Geek Mom: In spite of having full lives, some adult geeks still have a hard time finding a comfortable social niche. Some of us have disabilities, and some of us are just a bit withdrawn around other people. Should disability or social awkwardness pose a barrier to adoption?

Janice: Adults with disabilities and social awkwardness can be excellent parents, as long as they can meet the needs of the child. Being able to advocate for the child, with teachers, social workers, doctors, etc., is an important trait. And being able to recognize when you and/or the child need help or advice, and then reaching out for the resources you need, are also important. An adult who cannot be pro-active on the child’s behalf may not be able to meet the child’s needs. But it’s amazing how that “protect-the-family” instinct can kick in and inspire the shy and quiet types to speak up and get their needs met.

Geek Mom: Are there children in foster care wanting parents who are ‘the quiet-type’?

Janice: Yes, quiet can be soothing and comforting. Routines and dependability are important for any child. But fun is important, too.

Geek Mom: Might experience with managing disability be an advantage for some adoptive parents?

Janice: Absolutely – adults who have experienced disability and/or being “different” from their peers have a perspective that is very helpful to children who’ve been in foster care. Kids in state care feel different because their family experience is different from the majority of their classmates. Adults who’ve managed their own disabilities and differences can help teach a child how to do the same, while serving as a role model for successful coping techniques.

Geek Mom: What about geeks who already have other children? It seems logical that experienced parents would make better adoptive parents, but do blended biological-and-adoptive families generally have positive outcomes?

Janice: Many of our adoptive parents are experienced parents before they turn to adoption to expand their families. Some are empty nesters whose kids have moved out, but they’re not done parenting. Others have a few children and just want a bigger clan. Adoption is a family event – everyone in the family has to be committed to the adoption. There are a lot of resources to help with integrating siblings into the process; besides sibling rivalry is an issue no matter how a new child joins the family. But I don’t have statistics that could answer that question with any degree of certainty – just anecdotes. When the entire family is committed to making an adoption positive for everyone, it works; when they’re not, it’s a lot harder.

Geek Mom: About how many children are waiting for adoption?

Janice: There are roughly 600 children and teens in Massachusetts waiting for adoption; nationally, over 100,000 children are waiting.

Geek Mom: How long do kids in foster care typically have to wait before being adopted?

Janice: That’s a hard question to answer because it varies so much. Most children come into foster care with the goal of having the birth family fix the problem that caused the child to be removed. So 70% of the kids in foster care have the goal of being reunited with the birth family. But over time, if it becomes clear that the problem cannot be fixed, the goal changes to adoption into a stable, loving family. How long does that take? It varies. Last year, for the children on our caseload who were matched and placed with pre-adoptive families, the time from their being registered for MARE’s services by their social workers until they were placed with a family averaged 1.6 years. Then, once a child has been placed with a family, the child must live there for at least 6 months, but usually longer, before the family can get a court-date to legally finalize the adoption. That’s why we talk about “placement.”

Geek Mom: What’s the age range of most waiting children?

Janice: MARE’s caseload is made up of the “harder-to-place” children who need our extensive recruitment services. Of the 500 children MARE is serving, 80% are ages 6 – 18.

Geek Mom: What about waiting teenagers? What are they looking for in adoptive parents?

Janice: Oh my goodness, so many teens are waiting for adoption – they may have been in and out of foster care for a number of years while the birth family fixed the problem, then sank back into the problem, then fixed it, then failed again. The child may become a teen while that happens, when their goal finally becomes adoption.

Teens want what everyone wants in parents – love, stability, guidance, understanding, and someone they can trust will be there for them, no matter what.

Geek Mom: And what happens if they don’t find ‘forever families’ before they turn 18?

Janice: At 18, as legal adults, teens in foster care can sign themselves out of state care. And there are many services available to help young adults transition from foster care to independence. But teens are not the best decision-makers, and teens who’ve been in foster care can be sick of taking advice from social workers. Each year, over 600 Massachusetts teens “age out” of foster care into our communities. Already burdened by their experiences of abuse, neglect, and instability, these high risk young people leave the foster care system without the skills, habits or caring relationships to help them become productive and connected members of society. They are not only at high risk for themselves, but at high risk for creating the next generation of children who end up in foster care.

A 2008 Boston Foundation report* found that, of young adults who aged out of state foster care:

  • 43% had been pregnant or had gotten someone pregnant
  • 54% were unemployed
  • 25% had been arrested in the last 12 months; 8% had been incarcerated
  • 37% experienced homelessness

* Preparing Our Kids for Education, Work and Life: A Report of the Task Force on Youth Aging Out of DSS Care, June 2008

Many young adult former foster children do succeed and progress – and mentoring helps; but look at the young-adult homeless population and you’ll find a high percentage of people who had been in foster care. Fortunately, in Massachusetts, an “aged-out” young adult can sign himself back in to foster care (and the services available) up to age 23.

Geek Mom: How might the world be different if every waiting child found a waiting family?

Janice: For our communities, we’d see fewer children needing foster care, because they’d have the guidance from stable, loving homes that could help them become good parents to their own children. We’d see so many more productive and emotionally healthy young adults. We’d see lower homeless populations. Financially, we’d probably have healthier state budgets – with fewer kids in foster care, and no young adults aging out, we’d have fewer people needing those services. How many fewer beds would we need in homeless shelters? How many fewer people would be living in poverty?

But the difference adoption makes in the life of a child is incalculable – kids in foster care often can’t do the simplest things the rest of us take for granted because of the instability in their lives. When 11-year-old Jaron was adopted, he told us he was looking forward to playing Pop Warner football – until he was adopted, he never knew when he’d have to move to a new temporary foster home, so he never could join a local team because he didn’t know if he’d be in town long enough to last the season. Imagine that – a child able to play sports because of adoption. So simple, and so life-changing.

And I just got teary-eyed writing that.

About MARE:

Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange exists to find a permanent place to call home for children and teens in foster care in Massachusetts, including sibling groups and children who are traditionally harder to place. For more information and guidance on adopting a child from foster care, you can visit the website , attend an upcoming Adoption Party, or call 617-542-3678 (617-54ADOPT).

Geeking Out About Word Lens

I’m not an iPhone app junky. I only download apps I’m sure I’ll use, and I promptly delete any that disappoint me. And I certainly never pay for full versions of apps without first checking the reviews. What can I say? I’m a picky user.

Then one day, a new language translation app exploded onto the scene with an unbelievable YouTube demo video. So unbelievable that I actually doubted its veracity. But because my Twitter-friends wouldn’t stop retweeting about it, I decided to investigate. I may be picky, but my friends rarely steer me wrong.

According to the official video demo, Word Lens uses the iPhone’s camera to visually translate words and phrases from one language to another. Just open the app, point your iPhone at a sign or a label, and the words change before your eyes.

After I bought the app and tested it out in my multilingual neighborhood, I decided to bring it home and record a video demo of my own. The first thing to note is that, so far, the app only translates from Spanish to English and vice versa. The second most important thing to know is that the app really struggles to translate curved or distorted text, many serif fonts, and it’s completely useless with handwritten words. It also has a hard time with large blocks of text.

For my demonstration, I used Word Lens to translate passages from a few popular children’s books; first into English, and then into Spanish. Bilingual readers will easily spot artifacts of direct translation, but everyone should be able to see the app in action. As the demo progresses, the words become fewer and simpler, and the Word Lens translation becomes correspondingly clearer.

In spite of its problems, I’m still very impressed with Word Lens. It’s the first app of its kind, and I expect future updates will help mitigate some of its shortcomings. Obviously, it’s better suited to travel-related translation than it is to literary translation, but it may also be useful for language students working on their vocabularies. Like most apps, Word Lens doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Unlike many apps, however, it’s entirely worth the price.