Archive for May, 2008


Have you seen the do-it-yourself for women website,  Here’s the description:

About Be Jane

If you’re like many of us, the idea of taking on home improvement projects might seem beyond your realm. You may have convinced yourself that you don’t have the skills, you’re not physically able, or that home improvement is just too scary. Well, we’re here to let you know that you can change your home on your own. You can take on any home improvement task, and you can turn the house you live in into a home you’ll love. 

Ladies, you don’t have to be a Jack to be a Jack of all trades.  You can Be Jane.

And once you tackle home improvement, then life improvement and even world improvement are just around the corner.

That’s right.  At Be Jane, we believe that when women gain the confidence to enhance their homes, they also become inspired to remodel their lives.  And from there, they become empowered to make a difference in the world at large. 

That’s why Be Jane is more than just the women’s home improvement community.  We’re the women’s home power portal!


A bit condescending, but an admirable effort overall.  Let’s empower women by teaching them how to tackle home improvement projects by themselves. believes that that if women learn to fix a leaky sink, it will compel women to improve their entire lives and indeed the world.  Building confidence through caulking.  Rock on, oh drywall diva.  Hardwood heroine.  Masonry momma.  Ventilation venus.

Hey – f you really dig painting, plastering and puttying – knock yourself out.  Need a creative outlet and want to mosaic your bathroom cabinet?  Go for it.  Who’s stopping you.  But I find it hard to believe that home improvement jobs hold the key to self-reliance or satisfaction.  I spent several years killing myself with home improvement projects, spending nights and weekends knocking out and rebuilding walls, drywalling, spackling, sanding and painting.  And what do I have to show for it?  Nada.  Bubkus.  I don’t even live in that house anymore, and I’m sure all the people who lived there since have changed it again and again to meet their own needs.

By all means, women should learn to take care of themselves — in all matters.  Physically, sexually and especially financially.  But since when does menial labor spell independence?  Explain to me how spending your weekend up to your ears in dust and paint liberates you?  Why don’t you just go back to grinding grain to make bread or sewing your own clothes?  What are we – Amish? 

Here’s my idea of independence: make enough money to hire someone who knows what she or he is doing to do your home improvement jobs for you.  Don’t DIY, hire someone to Do It For You (DIFY).  They’ll do a better job, they’ll get it finished in a quarter of the time and it only costs a little more than doing it yourself.  Now THAT is emancipation.




In the news: Turning 50 prompts 75-pound weight loss

OK – so I’m not 50 and I don’t have weight issues, but I liked this story and I’ll tell you why.  First, it’s another example of someone using a big birthday as their own personal kick-in-the-ass that she needed.  You shouldn’t have to wait for a special occasion to do something this important, but hey — whatever works for you, right?

And second, check out what she says.  “Whatever I wanted to do for myself that year, I did it.”  Don’t wait until you’re 50 to figure that one out.  Don’t wait for prince charming or that winning lottery ticket.  Be independent and BE SELFISH.  As long as you’re not hurting others or being wasteful or destroying the planet, do it.   

By Jackie Adams

PORT CHARLOTTE, Florida (CNN) — Barbara Aldrich can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t a little overweight.

“I’m a big girl,” said Aldrich, who is 5 feet 11 inches tall. “I have big bones, always have.”

After giving birth to two sons and going through a nasty divorce in 1988, she stopped exercising regularly and taking care of herself. Ten years later, she weighed 198 pounds.

“I’ve always had a good mind-set; I’ve always been a happy, bubbly person. I’ve never been depressed or ate because I was depressed. I just loved to eat!”

Eating out — and her love of pasta, breads, hamburgers and snacking throughout the day — eventually caught up with her. As her 50th birthday approached, Aldrich was wearing a size 22 and was shocked to discover she had reached her heaviest weight of 255 pounds.

The weight also began to take a physical toll on Aldrich, who says she had no energy and her knees and legs frequently bothered her.

But she reached a tipping point when her doctor told her she was borderline diabetic.

“That’s when I decided, I don’t want to give myself injections for the rest of my life,” said Aldrich, whose mother died of heart disease. “I don’t want to be in my 70s and 80s and not be able to get around.”

Determined not to be a burden on her family, Aldrich sprang into action.

“I made the decision that I [was] going to find a program that worked for me, which I did and stuck to it,” recalls Aldrich.

In September 2006, she decided to join a weight loss clinic near her home in southwest Florida. She consulted first with her doctor, who encouraged her to try a program that was supervised by a registered dietitian.

The clinic designed a well-balanced diet and an exercise regimen, and required Aldrich to check in weekly. She traded in high-calorie, carbohydrate-laden meals and junk food for a diet of lean meats, vegetables, fruits and healthier snacks. She also took a daily multivitamin and started walking — at least one mile every morning, seven days a week.

“It seemed to come off just eating right,” Aldrich said. “I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t starving myself, and it was all store-bought food.”

Aldrich immediately started to see results. She lost about 4 to 5 pounds a week, and within four months, she had lost 75 pounds and dropped six dress sizes. A safe, healthy weight loss of about 1 to 2 pounds a week is recommended, according to

With her slimmer figure, Aldrich decided to make the year of her 50th birthday her “me year.” She treated herself to indulgences such as manicures, took trips, and did things she was often ashamed to do because of her weight.

“Whatever I wanted to do that year for myself — I did it,” she said. “All through your life, you do everything for everyone else — and I wanted to reward myself.”

Besides looking and feeling 10 years younger, Aldrich’s health has improved dramatically — she’s no longer borderline diabetic, and her knees and legs don’t hurt anymore. Her weight loss success has also motivated her daughter-in-law and a cousin to start eating healthier and exercising.

What advice does she have for people who haven’t put themselves first?

“Make the changes now, while you’re still young,” advised Aldrich. “If you want to live a long, full life, you have to make those changes now before you get too old and you can’t enjoy your life.”

Now 51 and engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Aldrich has maintained her weight loss for two years by eating healthy and exercising daily. Instead of eating a cheeseburger when dining out, Aldrich says she’ll order a big salad and grilled chicken, or she’ll order low-fat or reduced-calorie foods.

It’s become such a part of her routine that the customer service representative recently started a new job and requested a later shift so she has time to walk every morning before work.

“I love myself, I love how I look now,” Aldrich said. “I feel better, younger … just a complete 360.”


What Condoms Have to Do with Climate Change

What condoms have to do with climate changeMonday, May. 12, 2008

By Bryan Walsh

As the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Hayden should have some insight on the biggest threats facing the U.S. But when Hayden recently described what he saw as the most troublesome trend over the next several decades, it wasn’t terrorism or climate change. It was overpopulation in the poorest parts of the world. “By mid-century, the best estimates point to a world population of more than 9 billion,” Hayden said in a speech at Kansas State University. “Most of that growth will occur in countries least able to sustain it.” The sheer increase in population, Hayden argued, could fuel instability and extremism, not to mention worsening climate change and making food and fuel all the more scarce. Population is the essential multiplier for any number of human ills.

Back in the 1970s, Hayden’s argument wouldn’t have been surprising. That era, which saw the birth of the modern environmental movement (the first Earth Day was observed in 1970), was obsessed with the idea of global limits, that without drastic intervention, we were doomed to overpopulation. Books like Paul Erhlich’s The Population Bomb warned that the Earth was reaching the end of its carrying capacity, and that within decades, hundreds of millions of people would starve to death. The only way to avoid this Malthusian fate was rigid population control, which many environmentalists were in favor of.

Fast-forward 30 years, however, and the situation has changed. The mass famines that Erhlich and others prophesized never happened, and while population growth has continued — an estimated 6.8 billion people now live on Earth — and on the whole, the world is better off today than it has ever been. A Green Revolution helped a growing planet feed itself, while the forces of globalization helped lift hundreds of millions in the developing world out of poverty, even as population continued to rise. As the years passed, overpopulation has dropped from the vocabulary of most environmentalists, partially due to the controversies that surrounded state-mandated birth control in countries like China, with its one-child policy. Though simple arithmetic will tell you that the bigger the global population becomes, the harder it will be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, you rarely see the population connection made explicit in major environmental reports. “Environmentalists came to realize how complicated and sensitive this issue was,” says Robert Engleman, vice-president for programs at the Worldwatch Institute, and the author of the new book More: Population, Nature and What Women Want. “People didn’t want to tell their neighbors and friends how to have kids.”

But now, the pendulum is shifting back. The sudden spike in both food and fuel prices is raising concerns that we may not be able to grow forever, that even with the best technological innovation, the planet may have limits. It’s becoming increasingly clear that if we can’t curb carbon emissions in a world of 6.8 billion, it may be impossible to do when there are 9 billion of us. And while population growth has slowed drastically in many countries in Western Europe and in Japan, where women are having fewer and fewer babies, it’s still rising in much of the developed world — and for that matter, in the United States. “You really can’t talk about the supply and demand imbalance that is sending energy and food prices up without acknowledging that we are adding 78 million people each year, the equivalent of a new Idaho every week,” says Engleman.

The question remains though: what can we do about population? State-mandated birth control is essentially unfair — and a policy no American government would ever support. But in his new book, Engleman makes the argument that the government doesn’t need to get involved. The key to limiting population growth, he says, is to give control over procreation to women. In society after society, even in countries where large families have always been the norm, when women take control over family size, birth rates shrink. “They don’t have to be coerced,” says Engleman. “This will happen as long as women are in charge.”

I’ve seen this transition happen myself. In Japan, where I spent a year as a foreign correspondent, large families were once the norm, and women rarely worked. That’s changed — and Japan’s birth rate has plummeted — as women seek professional and personal fulfillment beyond having children. But that change has yet to occur in those parts of the developing world that are growing fastest, such as Uganda, where population is rising at 3.6%, the highest rate in the world. That’s what Gen. Hayden is worried about — that bursting population will turn struggling nations like Uganda into basket cases, with political and environmental consequences for the rest of the world. For the U.S., the best option is vigorous foreign aid that helps make contraception safe, reliable and accessible in every country — too often women in the developing world who want to use contraception, can’t get it. “The funding for contraception aid has been stagnant for decades,” says Engleman. “Americans need to influence their government to get behind this.” If we don’t, we may find out very soon just what the limits of the Earth are. It’s not just feminism to support population control — it’s environmentalism.

Find this article at:,8599,1739253,00.html



Letting her freak flag fly at 10 years old.

Let your freak-flag fly, and if someone doesn’t get you, move on. 

Drew Barrymore’s fundamental rule of dating 






Essay: The Case Against Babies

Gray Babies in Bulk Bin By zoomar on Flickrby Joy Williams

From ILL NATURE: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals

Babies, babies, babies. There’s a plague of babies. Too many rabbits or elephants or mustangs or swans brings out the myxomatosis, the culling guns, the sterility drugs, the scientific brigade of egg smashers. Other species can ‘strain their environments’ or ‘overrun their range’ or clash with their human ‘neighbours’, but human babies are always welcome at life’s banquet. Welcome, Welcome, Welcome–Live Long and Consume! You can’t draw the line when it comes to babies because . . . where are you going to draw the line? Consider having none or one and be sure to stop after two the organization Zero Population Growth suggests politely. Can barely hear them what with all the babies squalling. Hundreds of them popping out every minute. Ninety-seven million of them each year. While legions of other biological life forms go extinct (or, in the creepy phrase of ecologists, ‘wink out’), human life bustles self-importantly on. Those babies just keep coming! They’ve gone way beyond being ‘God’s gift’; they’ve become entitlements. Everyone’s having babies, even women who can’t have babies, particularly women who can’t have babies–they’re the ones who sweep fashionably along the corridors of consumerism with their double-wide strollers, stuffed with twins and triplets. (Women push those things with the effrontery of someone piloting a bulldozer, which strollers uncannily bring to mind.) When you see twins or triplets do you think awahhh or owhoo or that’s sort of cool, that’s unusual, or do you think that woman dropped a wad on in vitro fertilization, twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars at least . . . ?

The human race hardly needs to be more fertile, but fertility clinics are booming. The new millionaires are the hot-shot fertility doctors who serve anxious gottahavababy women, techno-shamans who have become the most important aspect of the baby process, giving women what they want: BABIES. (It used to be a mystery what women wanted, but no more . . . Nietzsche was right . . . ) Ironically–though it is far from being the only irony in this baby craze–women think of themselves as being successful, personally fulfilled when they have a baby, even if it takes a battery of men in white smocks and lots of hormones and drugs and needles and dishes and mixing and inserting and implanting to make it so. Having a baby means individual completion for a woman. What do boys have to do to be men? Sleep with a woman. Kill something. Yes, killing something, some luckless deer, duck, bear, pretty much anything large-ish in the animal kingdom, or even another man, appropriate in times of war, has ushered many a lad into manhood. But what’s a woman to do? She gets to want to have a baby.

While much effort has been expended in Third World countries educating women into a range of options which does not limit their role merely to bearing children, well-off, educated and indulged American women are clamouring for babies, babies, BABIES to complete their status. They’ve had it all and now they want a baby. And women over thirty-five want them NOW. They’re the ones who opt for the aggressive fertility route, they’re impatient, they’re sick of being laissez-faire about this. Sex seems such a laborious way to go about it. At this point they don’t want to endure all that intercourse over and over and maybe get no baby. What a waste of time! And time’s awasting. A life with no child would be a life perfecting hedonism a forty-something infertile woman said, now the proud owner of pricey twins. Even women who have the grace to submit to fate can sound wistful. It’s not so much that I wish that I had children now, a travel writer said, but that I wish I had had them. I hate to fail at anything. Women are supposed to wish and want and not fail. (Lesbians want to have babies too and when lesbians have babies watch out! They lay names on them like Wolf.)

The eighties were a decade when it was kind of unusual to have a baby. Oh, the lower classes still had them with more or less gusto, but professionals did not. Having a baby was indeed so quaintly rebellious and remarkable that a publishing niche was developed for men writing about babies, their baby, their baby’s first year in which every single day was recorded (he slept through the night . . . he didn’t sleep through the night . . . ). The writers would marvel over the size of their infant’s scrotum; give advice on how to tip the obstetrician (not a case of booze, a clock from Tiffany’s is nicer); and bemusedly admit that their baby exhibited intelligent behaviour like rolling over, laughing and showing fascination with the TV screen far earlier than normal children. Aside from the talk about the poopie and the rashes and the cat’s psychological decline, these books frequently contained a passage, an overheard bit of Mommy-to-Baby monologue along these lines: I love you so much I don’t ever want you to have teeth or stand up or walk or go on dates or get married. I want you to stay right here with me and be my baby . . . Babies are one thing. Human beings are another. We have way too many human beings. Almost everyone knows this.

Adoption was an eighties thing. People flying to Chile, all over the globe, God knows where, returning triumphantly with their BABY. It was difficult, adventurous, expensive and generous. It was trendy then. People were into adopting bunches of babies in all different flavours and colours (Korean, Chinese, part-Indian–part-Indian was very popular; Guatemalan–Guatemalan babies are way cute). Adoption was a fad, just like the Cabbage Patch dolls which fed the fad to tens of thousands of pre-pubescent girl consumers.

Now it is absolutely necessary to digress for a moment and provide an account of this marketing phenomenon. These fatuous-faced soft-sculpture dolls were immensely popular in the eighties. The gimmick was that these dolls were ‘born’; you couldn’t just buy the damn things–if you wanted one you had to ‘adopt’ it. Today they are still being born and adopted, although at a slower rate, in Babyland General Hospital, a former medical clinic right on the fast-food and car-dealership strip in the otherwise unexceptional north Georgia town of Cleveland. There are several rooms at Babyland General. One of them is devoted to the premies (all snug in their little gowns, each in its own spiffy incubator) and another is devoted to the cabbage patch itself, a suggestive mound with a fake tree on it from which several times a day comes the announcement CABBAGE IN LABOUR! A few demented moments later, a woman in full nurse regalia appears from a door in the tree holding a brand-new Cabbage Patch Kid by the feet and giving it a little whack on the bottom. All around her in the fertile patch are happy little soft heads among the cabbages. Each one of these things costs $175, and you have to sign papers promising to care for it and treasure it forever. There are some cheesy dolls in boxes that you wouldn’t have to adopt, but children don’t want those–they want to sign on the line, want the documentation, the papers. The dolls are all supposed to be different but they certainly look identical. They’ve got tiny ears, big eyes, a pinched rictus of a mouth and lumpy little arms and legs. The colours of the cloth vary for racial verisimilitude, but their expressions are the same. They’re glad to be here and they expect everything.

But these are just dolls, of course. The real adopted babies who rode the wave of fashion into many hiply caring homes are children now, an entirely different kettle of fish, and though they may be providing (just as they were supposed to) great joy, they are not darling babies anymore. A baby is not really a child; a baby is a BABY, a cuddleball, representative of virility, wombrismo and humankind’s unquenchable wish to outfox Death.

Adoptive parents must feel a little out of it these days, so dreadfully dated in the nineties. Adoption–how foolishly sweet. It’s so Benetton, so kind of naive. With adopted babies, you just don’t know, it’s too much of a crap shoot. Oh, they told you that the father was an English major at Yale and that the mother was a brilliant mathematician and harpsichordist who was just not quite ready to juggle career and child, but what are you going to think when the baby turns into a kid who rather than showing any talent whatsoever is trying to drown the dog and set national parks on fire? Adoptive parents do their best, of course, at least as far as their liberal genes allow; they look into the baby’s background, they don’t want just any old baby (even going to the dog and cat pound you’d want to pick and choose, right?); they want a pleasant, healthy one, someone who will appreciate the benefits of a nice environment and respond to a nurturing and attentive home. They steer away (I mean, one has to be realistic, one can’t save the world) from the crack and smack babies, the physically and mentally handicapped babies, the HIV and foetal-alcoholic syndrome babies.

Genes matter, more and more, and adoption is just too . . . where’s the connection? Not a single DNA strand to call your own. Adoption signifies you didn’t do everything you could; you were too cheap or shy or lacked the imagination to go the energetic fertility route which, when successful, would come with the assurance that some part of the Baby or Babies would be a continuation of you, or at the very least your companion, loved one, partner, whatever.

I once prevented a waitress from taking away my martini glass which had a tiny bit of martini remaining in it, and she snarled, Oh, the precious liquid, before slamming it back down on the table. It’s true that I probably imagined that there was more martini in the glass than there actually was (what on earth could have happened to it all?) but the precious liquid remark brings unpleasantly to mind the reverent regard in which so many people hold themselves. Those eggs, that sperm, oh precious, precious stuff! There was a terrible fright among humankind recently when some scientists suggested that an abundance of synthetic chemicals was causing lower sperm counts in human males–awful, awful, awful–but this proves not to be the case; sperm counts are holding steady and are even on the rise in New York. Los Angeles males don’t fare as well (do they drink more water than beer?), nor do the Chinese who, to add insult to insult, are further found to have smaller testicles, a finding which will undoubtedly result in even more wildlife mutilation in the quest for aphrodisiacs. Synthetic chemicals do ‘adversely affect’ the reproductive capabilities of non-human animals (fish, birds), but this is considered relatively unimportant. It’s human sperm that’s held in high regard and in this overpopulated age it’s become more valuable–good sperm that is, from intelligent, athletic men who don’t smoke, drink, do drugs, have Aids or a history of homicide–because this overpopulated age is also the donor age. Donor sperm, donor womb, donor eggs. Think of all the eggs that are lost to menstruation every month. The mind boggles. Those precious, precious eggs, lost. (Many egg donors say they got into the business because they didn’t like the idea of their eggs ‘going to waste’.) They can be harvested instead and frozen for a rainy day or sold nice and fresh. One woman interviewed in the New York Times early this year has made it something of a career. I’m not going to just sit home and bake cookies for my kids, I can accomplish things, she says. No dreary nine-to-five desk job for her. She was a surrogate mother for one couple, dishing up a single baby; then she donated some eggs to another couple who had a baby; now she’s pregnant with twins for yet another couple. I feel like a good soldier, as if God said to me, ‘Hey girl, I’ve done a lot for you and now I want you to do something for Me,’ this entrepreneurial breeder says. (It’s sort of cute to hear God invoked, sort of for luck, or out of a lingering folksy superstition.) Egg donors are regular Jenny Appleseeds, spreading joy, doing the Lord’s work and earning a few bucks all at once as well as attaining an odd sense of empowerment (I’ve got a bunch of kids out there, damned if I know who they all are . . . ).

One of the most successful calendars of 1996 was Anne Geddes’s BABIES. Each month shows the darling little things on cabbage leaves, cupped in a tulip, as little bees in a honeycomb and so on–solemn, bright-eyed babies. They look a little bewildered though, and why shouldn’t they? How did they get here? They were probably mixed up in a dish. Donor eggs (vacuumed up carefully through long needles); Daddy’s sperm (maybe . . . or maybe just some high-powered NY dude’s); gestational carrier; the ‘real’ mommy waiting anxiously, restlessly on the sidelines (want to get those babies home, start buying them stuff!). Baby’s lineage can be a little complicated in this one big worldwebby family. With the help of drugs like Clomid and Perganol there are an awful lot of eggs out there these days-all being harvested by those rich and clever, clever doctors in a ‘simple procedure’ and nailed with bull’s-eye accuracy by a spermatozoon. One then gets to ‘choose’ among the resulting cell clumps (or the doctor gets to choose, he’s the one who knows about these things), and a number of them (for optimum success) are inserted into the womb, sometimes the mother’s womb and sometimes not. These fertilized eggs, unsurprisingly, often result in multiple possibilities, which can be decreased by ‘selective reduction’. They’re not calendar babies yet, they’re embryos, and it is at this point, the multiple possibility point, that the mother-to-be often gets a little overly ecstatic, even greedy, thinking ahead perhaps to the day when they’re not babies any longer, the day when they’ll be able to amuse themselves by themselves like a litter of kittens or something–if there’s a bunch of them all at once there’ll be no need to go through that harrowing process of finding appropriate playmates for them. She starts to think Nannies probably don’t charge that much more for three than for two or heaven knows we’ve got enough money or we wouldn’t have gotten into all this in the first place. And many women at the multiple-possibility point, after having gone through pretty much all the meddling and hubris that biomedical technology has come up with, say demurely, I don’t want to play God (I DON’T WANT TO PLAY GOD?) or It would be grotesque to snuff one out to improve the odds for the others or Whatever will be will be.

So triplets happen, and even quads and quints (network television is still interested in quints). And as soon as the multiples, or even the less prestigious single baby, are old enough to toddle into daycare, they’re responsibly taught the importance of their one and only Earth, taught the 3Rs–Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Too many people (which is frequently considered undesirable–gimme my space!) is caused by too many people (it’s only logical) but it’s mean to blame the babies, you can’t blame the babies, they’re innocent. Those poor bean counters at the United Nations Population Fund say that at current growth rates, the world will double its population in forty years. Overpopulation poses the greatest threat to all life on earth, but most organizations concerned with this problem don’t like to limit their suggestions to the most obvious one–DON’T HAVE A BABY!–because it sounds so negative. Instead, they provide additional, more positive tips for easing the pressures on our reeling environment such as car pooling or tree planting. (A portion of the proceeds from that adorable bestselling BABIES calendar goes to the Arbor Day Foundation for the planting of trees.)

Some would have it that not having a baby is disallowing a human life, horribly inappropriate in this world of rights. Everyone has rights; the unborn have rights; it follows that the unconceived have rights. (Think of all those babies pissed off at the fact that they haven’t even been thought of yet.) Women have the right to have babies (we’ve fought so hard for this), and women who can’t have babies have an even bigger right to have them. These rights should be independent of marital or economic status, or age. (Fifty- and sixty-something moms tend to name their babies after the gynaecologist.) The reproduction industry wants fertility treatments to be available to anyone and says that it wouldn’t all be so expensive if those recalcitrant insurance companies and government agencies like Medicare and Medicaid weren’t so cost-conscious and discriminatory and would just cough up the money. It’s not as though you have to take out a permit to have a baby, be licensed or anything. What about the rights of a poor, elderly, feminist cancer patient who is handicapped in some way (her car has one of those stickers . . . ) who wants to assert her right to independent motherhood and feels entitled to both artificial insemination into a gestational ‘hostess’ and the right to sex selection as a basis for abortion should the foetus turn out to be male when she wants a female? Huh? What about her? Or what about the fifteen-year-old of the near future who kind of wants to have her baby even though it means she’ll be stuck with a kid all through high school and won’t be able to go out with her friends any more who discovers through the wonders of amniocentesis and DNA analysis that the baby is going to turn out fat, and the fifteen-year-old just can’t deal with fat and shouldn’t have to . . . ? Out goes the baby with the bathwater.

But these scenarios are involved merely with messy political or ethical issues, the problematical, somewhat gross by-products of technological and marketing advances. Let the philosophers and professional ethicists drone on and let the baby business boom. Let the courts figure it out. Each day brings another more pressing problem. Implanted with their weak-cervixed daughter’s eggs and their son-in-law’s sperm, women become pregnant with their own grandchildren; frozen embryos are inadvertently thawed; eggs are pirated; eggs are harvested from aborted foetuses; divorced couples battle over the fate of cryopreserved material. ‘We have to have better regulation of the genetic product–eggs, sperm and embryos–so we can legally determine who owns what,’ a professor of law and medicine at a California university says plaintively. (Physicians tend to oppose more regulation however, claiming that it would ‘impede research’.)

While high-tech nations are refining their options eugenically and quibbling litigiously, the inhabitants of low-tech countries are just having babies. The fastest growth in human numbers in all history is going to take place in a single generation, an increase of almost five billion people (all of whom started out as babies). Ninety-seven per cent of the surge is going to take place in developing countries, with Africa alone accounting for thirty-five per cent of it (the poorer the country, the higher the birth rate, that’s just the way it is). These babies are begotten in more ‘traditional’, doubtless less desperate ways, and although they are not considered as fashion statements, they’re probably loved just as much as upper-class western babies (or that singular one-per-family Chinese boy baby) and are even considered productive assets when they get a little older and can labour for the common good of their large families by exploiting more and more, scarcer and scarcer resources.

The argument that western countries with their wealth and relatively low birth rate do not fuel the population crisis is, of course, fallacious. France, as national policy, urges its citizens to procreate, giving lots of subsidies and perks to those French who make more French. The US population is growing faster than that of eighteen other industrialized nations and, in terms of energy consumption, when an American couple stops spawning at two babies, it’s the same as an average East Indian couple stopping at sixty-six, or an Ethiopian couple drawing the line at one thousand.

Yet we burble along, procreating, and in the process suffocating thousands of other species with our selfishness. We’re in a baby glut, yet it’s as if we’ve just discovered babies, or invented them. Reproduction is sexy. Assisted reproduction is cool. The announcement that a movie star is going to have a baby is met with breathless wonder. A BABY! Old men on their third marriage regard their new babies with ‘awe’ and crow about the ‘ultimate experience’ of parenting. Bruce Springsteen found ‘salvation’ with the birth of his son. When in doubt, have a baby. When you’ve tried it all, champagne, cocaine, try a baby. Pop icons who trudged through a decade of adulation and high living confess upon motherhood, This Baby Saved My Life. Bill Gates, zillionaire founder of Microsoft, is going to have (this is so wonderful) a BABY. News commentators are already speculating: will fatherhood take away his edge, his drive; will it diminish his will to succeed, to succeed, to succeed? National Public Radio recently interviewed other high-powered CEO dads as to that ghastly possibility.

It’s as though, all together, in the waning years of this dying century, we collectively opened the Door of our Home and instead of seeing a friend standing there in some sweet spring twilight, someone we had invited over for drinks and dinner and a lovely civilized chat, there was Death, with those creepy little black seeds of his for planting in the garden. And along with Death we got a glimpse of ecological collapse and the coming anarchy of an over-peopled planet. And we all, in denial of this unwelcome vision, decided to slam the door and retreat to our toys and make babies–those heirs, those hopes, those products of our species’ selfishness, sentimentality and global death wish.




Book: ILL NATURE: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals by Joy Williams



Most of us watch with mild concern the fast-disappearing wild spaces or the recurrence of pollution-related crises such as oil spills, toxic blooms in fertilizer-enriched forests, and violence both home and abroad. Joy Williams does more than watch. In this collection of condemnations and love letters, revelations and cries for help, she brings to light the price of complacency with scathing wit and unexpected humor. Sounding the alarm over the disconnection from the natural world that our consumer culture has created, she takes on subjects as varied as the culling of elephants, electron-probed chimpanzees, vanishing wetlands, and the determination of American women to reproduce at any cost. Controversial, opinionated, at times exceptionally moving, Ill Nature is a clarion call for us to step out of our cars and cubicles, and do something to save our natural legacy.

From Publishers Weekly
Sharp, sarcastic and uncompromising, Williams tackles a host of controversial subjects in this collection of 19 impassioned essays dealing mostly with humans’ abuses of the natural world. Two of the collection’s strongest essays deal with animal rights: “The Killing Game,” an antihunting essay first published, to great furor, in Esquire, and “The Animal People,” which casts a harsh eye on the agricultural, medical and environmental establishments for their treatment of animals. Other pieces note the diminished state of African wildlife (“Safariland”), the increasing number of babies born in the United States despite the threat of overpopulation (“The Case Against Babies”) and the impact of consumer culture on the natural world (“Save the Whales, Screw the Shrimp”). An acclaimed novelist (The Quick and the Dead) and Guggenheim fellow, Williams writes that her essays, unlike her stories, are “meant to annoy and trouble and polarize”; she terms her own nonfiction style “unelusive and strident and brashly one-sided.” Readers will likely find all this true. At times, the collection falters under the weight of Williams’s anger and moral indignation, and a few essays that are only loosely nature-related (“Sharks and Suicide,” “The Electric Chair” and “Why I Write”) undermine its momentum. However, her forceful writing and vivid depictions of habitat destruction and animal abuse (“Neverglades,” “Wildebeest”) make for compelling reading. Williams believes that the “ecological crisis” facing us is essentially a “moral issue,” one caused by “culture and character, and a deep change in personal consciousness is needed.” While it is unlikely that her combative rants will win new converts, some environmentalists may find this book a powerful call to action.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals
by Joy Williams
The Lyons Press

After reading Joy Williams’ essay “The Case Against Babies,” an indignant freshman at the University of Massachusetts asked: “Who does this woman think she is?”

Many people may have such a reaction when they read “Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals,” Williams’ first book of essays. Such reactions are amusing, though, because they underline a lack of understanding of the author’s style and intention.

“The Case Against Babies” is a fine example of both her writing style and her intention, which are inextricably linked throughout “Ill Nature.” In the essay, Williams writes such things as: “When you see twins or triplets, do you think, aw or ooh or that’s sort of cool, that’s unusual, or do you think, That woman dropped a wad on in-vitro fertilization, twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars, at least.

This mocking, sarcastic tone pervades “Ill Nature.” It will turn some readers off. But mockery and irony are key to Williams’ message. These essays are brave, uncompromising and angry takes on contemporary American culture. She skewers hunters, developers, fishers, consumerists, tourists, yuppies, omnivores, animal researchers — in short, just about everyone who lives in America, including the Makah Indian Tribe, which won the legal right to kill whales off the coast of Washington.

While Williams, who is best known for her fiction, chooses to write about some of the same subject matter as essayists such as Annie Dillard, John McPhee, David Quammen and Edward Hoagland, it is her in-your-face, scathing style that sets her apart.

“You like grass — that is, lawns,” she writes in “Save the Whales, Screw the Shrimp.” “The ultimate lawn is the golf course, which you’ve been told has ‘some ecological value.’ You believe this! Not that it really matters — you just like to play golf.”

Yes, Williams is talking directly to you, and she’s holding you responsible for the slow, steady destruction of Earth. Through our consumerist economy, Williams is saying, we have lost our connection with nature, and the further we move away from this connection, the more shallow we become as a society, and the more superficial we become the more ruinous we are. Her essay “Neverglades” on the follies we have made trying to restore the Florida Everglades is at once fascinating and frightening.

Williams’ second-person attacks may lend her a hardcore “holier-than-thou” attitude, but she brilliantly undercuts this perception with a deeply moving personal essay about her dog. After her German shepherd, Hawk, suddenly attacks her and mauls her left hand, Williams is forced to put the dog to sleep. This essay immediately follows “The Animal People,” in which she makes a scorching argument for animal rights. The decision to kill her dog comes as a complete surprise, which makes the essay all the more powerful, and turns her into a person rather than some eco-intellectual robot.

If there is anything critics could accuse Williams of, it may be her tendency to make statements as fact without backing them up. Do we believe her when she says a disposable diaper will take four centuries to degrade? And where did she get such information? One could argue, however, that such statements are part of her system. These are personal essays, after all. And it is their brutally opinionated nature that makes them so fun to read.

Not all of the essays in “Ill Nature” are eco-rants, though. One of the best pieces, “Sharks and Suicides,” concerns the life and death of Wendy O. Williams, lead singer of the punk-metal band the Plasmatics. The final essay, “Why I Write,” is a quaint, lyrical reflection on the writing life.

Even if you do not care for Joy Williams well-wrought opinions, though, “Ill Nature” is still a series of superbly written commentaries on contemporary American culture, commentaries that the average reader will find funny at least. Williams’ mockery of self-righteous hunters in “The Killing Game” is downright hilarious. Except, perhaps, if you are a self-righteous hunter. In that case, you may want to stick to shooting harlequin ducks with your .22. Just don’t let Joy Williams see you doing it.

Ben Welch (

ISBN: 9780375713637



Birthday letter from my big sister

Dear Trisha,


Well, I thought and thought and thought about what to get for you for your fortieth birthday. I considered buying a bunch of goofy stuff like reading glasses and Depends and a large print book with a cute little diddy about what a pleasure it is to have you join the ranks of the “Over-the-hill-gang” but that just didn’t seem right because there is nothing over-the-hill about you. So instead I thought I would skip the card and the attempt to figure out something to get for you that would be meaningful when I know you either don’t have room for it or it would just be something else for you to dust or figure out how to “store” just in case I ever visit and you don’t want to hurt my feelings.


So, I took a walk down memory lane and jotted a few things down figuring that if I sent you a letter and told you all that you mean to me and have meant to me in the past forty years maybe you would shed a tear, laugh a little, remember something that you had forgotten (that happens when you’re 40), or just know how much I love you.


I want to thank you for probably the only happy memories I have from my childhood. I remember, vaguely, when Mom was pregnant with you and all of the silly things she told us about “the baby”. I also remember the first time I looked into your bassinet. You were the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. Of course, I hadn’t seen too many babies at that point in my life, but I have seen a few since, had a few too, you still were the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. I remember watching you grow and thinking there weren’t enough hours in the day for me to do all of the things I had to do and spend the time I wanted to spend with you. Sometimes I just watched you. Sometimes I held you and rocked you and made you those chocolate milk bottles or the hot tea bottles. It’s kind of odd when you think about giving a baby hot tea with milk and sugar in a bottle, but you loved them.  I read to you for hours and hours. I know you were smart but that didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was that you wanted to be with me. You never tired of the time we spent sitting rocking and reading.


I probably was jealous of you when I was a little girl but I don’t remember that. I only remember good things about when you were little. I remember all of the time you got to go flying with Daddy and Mom. I remember that you got to spend a lot of time with Grandma and Grandpa by yourself. Somewhere Mom has cassette recordings of you and Grandpa talking, more like jabbering when you were about 4, which would have been right before he died. Mom probably could still listen to them and tell you what you were saying. I remember hearing them when I was about 25 and couldn’t understand a word you were saying. I do know this though, you were using words way beyond that of a 4-year old.


Something you probably don’t know is I have always suspected that you are the reason “Uncle” George stopped the little “games” he played with me. It wasn’t long after you were born that he and “Aunt” Benita moved away. I think she knew all along and when you came along she just couldn’t stand to think he would have another “victim” so she gave him an out and shortly after they moved away they were divorced. She moved back down south and he, well I don’t know what happened to him. Last I knew he was in some old hippie wanna-be rock-and-roll band that didn’t go anywhere.


I missed you so much when I was away at college and you were busy going from being a little girl to being a teenager. I feel like I missed a lot in those years but Mom did keep me somewhat up-to-date on what was happening in your life as far as school was concerned and 4-H.


I look back at your school pictures and see the amazing difference between when you were 13 and 16 and WOW! It scares me to think how much my Trisha is going to change in the next few years. I can’t keep up with her, she pushes and pushes all the time.


Anyway, I can reminisce on dates, your high school graduation day. Remember how cute Dunne’ was dressed? Karen had made her cute little dress and bonnet. You, stunning, as usual. People that are as smart as you are aren’t supposed to be equally beautiful. It just isn’t fair to ordinary people.


Then came your Army days. I will never forget the night I got that phone call telling me that you and Rich had gotten married. I think it was about 3 a.m. North Carolina time. First of all I was jealous that you were in the Army because I was told by our parents that if I joined the military I would be disowned. Believe me, there have been days that I truly believe it would have been worth it.


How many visits? How many phone calls? How many sister-to-sister talks have we had to work out or just vent marital issues?


I think about the heartbreak you suffered when you and Rich split up and am so glad that I could be there for you. I hope you will find happiness again some day, you deserve to happy and feel fulfilled (in that way).


As I have watched you grow I have felt so many things: I have been jealous of your freedom to be what you want to be and do what you want to do. You don’t have anyone “needing” you all of the time.  I have loved you immensely, if it were possible for a 7-year old to think of a little sister as her own baby, I guess I did you. You were mine, and I wanted to be with you whenever I could (except of course if we were playing baseball).  I have been proud of you more times than I can remember. I have been embarrassed by you, like the time I came to visit you at Ft. Bragg and went to have a glass of O.J. to find out that it wasn’t orange juice at all, but a pitcher of Fuzzy Navels. You have given me more than I can ever thank you for and I know that you have made a positive impact in this world in ways that I will never know. I remember your stuffed cow and your Michael Jackson glove. I remember you coming home drunk one night when you were 16 and I was 23. I got scolded by Mom because I came in at 12:05 a.m., you rolled in after 3- she didn’t say a thing to you because she figured you were going to pay enough for what you had been doing. That was the first time it dawned on me that you were always going to be treated differently at home and the rules at home were not the same.


Our lives are very different. We have certainly gone in a variety of different ways. I love you, I miss you, I wish I was more like you. I hope that before this life is over for you a moment in time will open your heart to let you see that all of the gifts you have received are from a God who created you and loves you. Because I don’t want to spend my eternity without you because if you could mean this much to me on this miserable spinning globe I cannot image you wouldn’t be missed.


Have a super birthday!