Archive for November, 2009

And why not? It’s the last ragged remnant of my harvest. The tomatoes visible behind the chard are actually riddled with fungus. They wouldn’t taste like summer anymore, anyway. After taking months to recover from our pair of hungry bunnies, the chard is still bitterly delicious. It apparently enjoys a light flirtation with frost. I hope it’ll still stand tall in ten days, when I return from California.

For now, I’m grateful to have time with my family. Everyone is (reasonably) healthy. None of the various cancers in my family has made an encore appearance. I’m still recovering from last winter’s mystery illness, and as long as I notice continued improvement, my spirits are (mostly) good. My father is clearer-headed than I’d expected. There’s hope that his memory lapses may be at least partly due to a vitamin B12 deficiency, and thus treatable. My niece is recovering well from back-to-back swine flu and a complex bone break that required surgery. My own kids are masquerading as angels, so thrilled are they to be with their cousins and grandparents. My mom still makes the world’s most delicious caramel rolls.

Everything dear to me is as fragile and transient – as tough and resilient – as my garden. My task is to be in the moment, savor the last leaves of the harvest, taste their solid transience, and know that planting time is only weeks away.

Happy Thanksgiving, kind readers. May your blessings taste as sweet as mine.

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Since I’ve been home for the holidays, I’ve availed myself of my mom’s People magazine collection. Actually, she doesn’t buy People very often. She mostly likes the year-end roundups – and, as I noticed this week, the “World’s Hottest Men” issue.

I guess I’m my mother’s daughter, because I like hot men, too. But darn it – of People’s 110 picks, there were just two men older than me who rated individual features: George Clooney (48) and Alec Baldwin (51). Then there were two pages of miniscule pictures devoted to the theme of “hot at any age,” which included one man for every age, up through Gabriel Byrne at 59. So that added another 10 “older”men who were in their fifties. They were quite evidently only included to make the politically correct point that men over 50 can be handsome, provided you only look at tiny headshots that don’t cross the dangerous threshold of 59, after which all hotness apparently plunges off a cliff. It’s a pity, because the aged-59 slot was occupied by Gabriel Byrne, whom I rather like and would prefer not to see fall off a precipice.

Now, I’m not actively averse to People’s number 1 hottie,  Johnny Depp, who’s just my age (46). I positively adore Robert Downey, Jr. (44 but perpetually endangered), and I plan to enjoy him for as long as he can stay alive and out of rehab. Harry Connick (42) is charming and a pretty decent musician. George Clooney (48) is sexy, smart, and classy. Any list that includes him can’t be all wrong.

Otherwise, though, I wasn’t taken by the list so much as taken aback. Suddenly, it seems as though men, too, have to be young to be hot. Or maybe it wasn’t so sudden, and I just wasn’t paying attention? And what’s with all the hair product, fer goodness’ sake? Since when did plastic become sexy? Dudes who wear more hair gloop than I should just go ahead and get themselves laminated.

I’m still all in favor of women enjoying men’s visual charms, but if boy toys now must be actual boys, we’re all going to miss out on a lot of fun and beauty. And yet, that appears to be the trend. A few months ago, I groused about how the young blokes featured in Filament magazine were, well, very young. I’m now starting to grasp where they fit in the overall pantheon of contemporary male beauty. They rock more of an alt-aesthetic, but their general youthfulness is actually perfectly mainstream. (Suraya of Filament pointed out in comments to a later post that they plan to include more older models in future issues. I think that’s a wonderful plan, and I also admire the thoughtfulness Suraya’s investing in Filament’s development.)

Of course the tyranny of youth is nothing new for women. But while turnaround may be fair play, it’s not fun play. It’s limiting for heterosexual women and men, alike. In my mid-forties, I really dig men a few years older (as well as a few years younger). But with the fifty-plus men already mostly disqualified from hotness, what will I do when I’m a randy old gal in my seventies? My mother (who’s north of 70, herself) agrees with me that George Clooney is the bee’s knees. It’d be lovely if he could inspire a new appreciation not only for older men’s charms – as, in fact, I thought Paul Newman had already done – and for older women’s sexiness, too. And yes, at least some men appreciate women over forty and fifty. Just to pick one data point, my husband digs Sandra Bullock and Madonna as much as ever.

So what would it take to turn the trend around, and celebrate our potential for sexiness at every age, for every gender? Short of a revolution in which we seize control of the media, that is?

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From the better-late-than-never department: I’ve been getting questions in real life about how I view the new mammogram guidelines, so I might as well weigh in on them here, too.

The new guidelines are only the culmination of years of research that has demolished the belief that routine mammograms for women in their forties will save lives. I’ve been following the medical debates on early detection of breast cancer ever since a Danish metastudy challenged the efficacy of routine screening mammography back in 2001; Gina Kolata reported on this study for the New York Times, and she’s done a fabulous job of following the controversy ever since. Feminist advocacy groups, such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition, have long questioned the advisability of regular mammograms for women under 50. Basically, mammograms pick up a lot of false positives and miss a lot of actual tumors. They also result in treatment of cancers that may never become dangerous. For breast cancer (unlike, say, colon cancer), early detection is no panacea because cancer cells often metastasize very early on. The scientific evidence really is pretty compelling. I’m not going to dissect it here, but see Our Bodies, Our Blogs and Echidne as well as the excellent and very thorough analysis by the NBCC.)

Instead, I’m going to tease apart some myths and misconceptions that have muddied the debate. Most are coming from those who’ve criticized the new guidelines. (And no, I’m not even going to bother with Rushbo’s revival of the death panel canard; Echidne snarked it into oblivion already.)

First, the new guidelines have been accused of being racist, as in this post at Feministing. Note, though, that the guidelines in no way discourage routine screening of women who are at higher than average risk; instead, they propose evaluating each woman’s particular risk. Compared to other ethnic groups, black women are indeed at higher risk of developing breast cancer in their forties. The new guidelines are thus simply inapplicable to black women, since they only address women who are at low risk. Black women should definitely get routine screening earlier than white women. By now physicians should be aware that breast cancer discriminates by race; to the extent that they’re still clueless, what’s needed is better awareness through continuing medical education. The new guidelines call for individualized risk assessment, not cookie-cutter methods. If this doesn’t work for women of color – and I agree there’s a chance that it won’t – then the problem isn’t the new guidelines, it’s that racism, ignorance, and profit-based medicine are interfering with individualized care.

Second, the media is teeming with heart-rending stories about women who find a lump and who wouldn’t have gotten diagnosed under the new guidelines. While stories about the human costs of cancer are really important, these stories are completely irrelevant to the debate. If you find a lump, your doctor will send you for a diagnostic mammogram. The new guidelines only address screening mammograms, which are done at regular intervals without any reason to suspect cancer. The new guidelines say nothing about diagnostic mammograms, which have never been controversial.

Third, the new guidelines don’t have any binding power. I do think it’s reasonable to worry that insurers will refuse to cover mammograms for women under 50, just because insurers are always looking for ways to cut costs. That would be a gross misapplication of the guidelines, which call for women and their doctors to decide whether screening mammograms are right for them. I’m fairly sanguine about this, though, because the breast cancer lobby is strong enough – and the public outcry loud enough – that insurers are far more likely to cut corners elsewhere.

Fourth, there’s no evidence that the revised guidelines are motivated by sexism. Routine PSA screening for men has recently been challenged on very similar grounds. While prostate cancer survivors have been just as skeptical as breast cancer survivors when it comes to decreasing early detection efforts, they haven’t enjoyed a similar bully pulpit. Nor have men in general risen up in protest. Perhaps Sir Charles of Cogitamus is right in linking this apparent apathy to more basic tenets of masculinity:

Not to engage in gender essentialism, but I think this may have to do with the fact that men are always comfortable with a recommendation that reinforces our tendency toward denial in these kinds of matters — oh the test is no good — great, I’ll skip it. (Or maybe I’m just projecting.)

At any rate, men and women face similar issues here, not fundamentally different ones. The conversation about what we gain and lose through massive screening campaigns is one that both men and women ought to be having.

Proponents of the new guidelines (including Echidne, whom I otherwise agree with) are also making one wobbly assumption: that funds not spent on screening mammograms will be redirected to areas where we’ll get more health for the buck. I’m skeptical. Insurance coverage of mammograms has been mandated by law. If those laws should change (and I’d be surprised if they did), insurance companies would more likely divert the funding for mammograms straight to their bottom line (see point three above). They’re looking to cut corners wherever they can. Sober policy analysis of costs and benefits needs to take good old fashioned greed into account, too.

So by all means, let’s have a debate about the limits and possibilities of early detection and huge screening campaigns. But let’s have it on the basis of facts, rather than using the new guidelines as a Rorschach blot for our hopes and fears. (I have more to say about those fears, but that’ll have to wait for another day.)

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California Dreamin’

Posting may be irregular over the next couple of weeks. I’m visiting family in California, and WordPress mixes with dial-up like cats mix with dogs. They’re not wholly incompatible; there’s just a lot of hissing involved.

I’ll try to post when I get a chance, but in the meantime, know that I’m having fun reconnecting with family, eating my mom’s famous caramel rolls, and watching my kids play with their only cousins – my sister’s kids, who are the same age as mine. I’ll also be digging my way out of end-of-quarter grading, but the caramel rolls will make the work a smidge more tolerable.

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Wigged Out Caturday

From the annals of things you never imagined you needed: a wig for your cat.


This lovely model – a pink version of the wig Flip Wilson wore as his female alter-ego, Geraldine – is unfortunately sold out. And what a pity! To quote the Kitty Wigs! website: “Pink makes your kitty feel elegant, modern and quintessentially feline.”


Maybe your cat has more of a Pippi Longstocking personality?


Then there’s the rainbow look, purrfect for those kitties who like the Grateful Dead.

Of course, your average cat will look at the wig and think: fabulous new toy! Sadly, sadly, it’s not to be:

Please remember, Kitty Wigs should only be used with human supervision, and introduced slowly. When not in use, the wig should always be stored in its pawproof case.

If you need inspiration for your feline fashions, there’s a book, too.

Happy Caturday!

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Yippee! I am always tickled to hear that yet another ostensibly bad-for-you food has been Officially Declared Healthy. Today, it’s chocolate milk, according to the New York Times.

Move over, red wine. Make room for chocolate milk. A new study suggests that regular consumption of skim milk with flavonoid-rich cocoa may reduce inflammation, potentially slowing or preventing development of atherosclerosis. Researchers noted, however, that the effect was not as pronounced as that seen with red wine.

Contrary to my usual practice, I am not going to even try to hunt down the original study. The NYT reports that it was done in Barcelona on people aged 55 and up, and that it also found cocoa elevated levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL). Also, my time is limited; while I was reading this article, the Bear popped downstairs (it was only 10:45, why on earth would he be asleep?) and extracted a promise that he and his little brother would get regular doses of chocolate milk, since they aren’t exactly eligible for red wine.

Instead, I am going to develop a personal action plan. I don’t have a personal trainer. This is as good as it’s gonna get.

1) Keep riding my bike to work, as this is my only defense against complete slothitude.

2) Stop parceling out my homemade mochas as if they were a special treat, and start considering them a staple food. Skim milk from happy cows with vitamin D + Hershey’s special dark syrup + Trader Joe’s Five-Country Fair Trade espresso brimming with antioxidants = live to be 112!

(My breskit of champions, photographed by me, Sungold)

3) Drink more red wine and less white. And no, adding food color to the white will not do the trick.

4) Await the day when the health benefits of martinis are announced. I don’t drink them often. I don’t expect the good news imminently. But I am a patient woman.

What about you, dear reader? What supposed vice would you love to see declared healthy?

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So now that a sex tape – or eight of ‘em – have torpedoed Carrie Prejean’s career as the pretty face of the anti-marriage equality movement, I have a suggestion for what she might do next.

What if Prejean were to become the pretty face – no, the pretty Christian face! – of a pro-masturbation campaign? No snarking here, folks; I’m dead serious.

Remember how, way back in 1994, Bill Clinton fired Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders after she advocated teaching kids to masturbate? Elders was onto a perfectly good idea. She regarded self-loving as a safe alternative to a lot of the other things teenagers get up to. And even though Clinton was a perfect hypocrite for firing her, she was right, doggone it. Here’s how Elders reflected on her experience in 1997:

In this so-called “communications age,” it remains a sexual taboo of monumental proportions to discuss the safe and universal sexual practice of self-pleasure. No doubt, future generations will be amused at our peculiar taboo, laughing in sociology classes at our backwardness, yet also puzzled by it given our high rates of disease and premature pregnancy. We will look foolish in the light of history.

(More of Elders’ righteous goodness at Nerve.com)

Maybe it’s time for us to catch up with history. Here’s where Prejean could play a pivotal role. She could go on Larry King and say, “I’m not here to talk about that tape, which my asshole ex had no right to release. But I will say this: What I did on that tape was perfectly normal. Self-pleasure is perfectly compatible with my Christian beliefs. It’s a great way to get to know your body before you’re ready for partnered sex. It’s a wonderful way to extend your pleasure with a partner. If you’re waiting for marriage to have intercourse, masturbation can help you wait, and you’ll be a better lover when you do say yes.”

I’m still not snarking. If we could just get all those “good Christians” to admit they do it, all of us might be able to have open conversations about it without anyone getting fired or censored. Myself, I have no patience for abstinence vows, which I see as a way to police female sexuality, but all those girls wearing purity rings are the audience most in need of permission to explore and love their own bodies.

And for the record, “asshole” is a mild word for Prejean’s ex. “Sexual assailant” is more like it. I’ve been arguing since last spring that disseminating someone’s naked pictures without their consent ought to be punished as a form of sexual assault. It’s heartening to see that other bloggers are coming to similar conclusions (see these posts by Amanda Marcotte and Jeff Fecke). Now we just need a few legislators to pick up the ball and run with it.

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A Happy Lego Birthday

We celebrated the Bear’s tenth birthday today (only six days late) with a few of his friends and lots of Legos. The cake was a giant yellow Lego surrounded by Duplo people.


It’s made from a 9 x 13 rectangular sheet cake with eight cupcakes. (Since two mixes are required for this, you end up with 16 bonus cupcakes.) I sawed off the tops of the cupcakes, then frosted their sides and planted them upside-down in the already frosted sheet cake. Then I frosted the tops (or rather, the upended bottoms) of the cupcakes. My frosting was a little too thick for optimal spreading, but it was very buttery homemade buttercream with a dash of almond flavoring, the cake was chocolate, and no one complained. Also, in case you’re foolish enough to try this at home, you should know that getting a good Lego yellow required possibly toxic doses of food coloring (oodles of yellow plus a single drop of red).

The kids played outside for the first half of the party. I thanks the goddesses of parties for finally giving us warm weather for the Bear’s birthday – the first time ever! (One year we did a scavenger hunt as snow fell all around us.)

After the cake, the kids split up into two teams and built elaborate Duplo creations.


One team built a fancy farm. The tall figures are scarecrows.


The other team built a kitty spy city. But that was already obvious, right?


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This week, the local rape trial that I wrote about here and here reached its end. The defendant was found not guilty. Though I wasn’t in the courtroom, the media reports on the trial make me seriously wonder if justice was served. The defense relied heavily on rape myths. Apparently the jury was convinced. For me, those rape myths raise a host of red flags. (They can also be triggering; a survivor I know felt retraumatized, seeing this case in the paper every day for two weeks.)

Rape myth #1: Consent, given once, is valid until the end of time. The defendant and accuser had had a friends-with-benefits relationship before the night in question. This relationship was dragged through the media prior to trial and then rehashed in the courtroom. Somehow the defense attorney, Robert Toy, managed to introduce their sexual history despite rape shield laws. This started in the pre-trial filings:

After meeting in Fall Quarter 2007, the pair’s friendship “culminated in a sexual relationship” in March 2008. The sexual relationship continued through the summer while the woman took classes and stayed with family near Kulchar’s home, Toy wrote.

Though prosecutors intend to show the sex was violent, Toy has said he will use the woman’s sexual history with Kulchar to prove the encounter was an intimate, consensual part of their relationship.

After meeting in Fall Quarter 2007, the pair’s friendship “culminated in a sexual relationship” in March 2008. The sexual relationship continued through the summer while the woman took classes and stayed with family near Kulchar’s home, Toy wrote.

“Biting and scratching were part of the numerous sexual acts,” Toy wrote.

(Source: The Post)

Attorney Toy continued to harp on their prior relationship in his oral arguments:

The two had a prior sexual relationship that included rough sex, he said, adding that Kulchar couldn’t have overpowered the woman because she outweighs him by 30 pounds.

(Source: The Post)

The presumption here is that once you’ve said yes, you’ve consented in perpetuity. Under this view, consent can never be revoked. This was, of course, the basis for marital rape remaining legal until feminists began to challenge the marital rape exemption in the 1970s. It was also the reasoning behind a Maryland court case in which the defendant was originally acquitted because his accuser said no only after intercourse had begun; upon appeal, Maryland’s highest court ruled that a woman could say no at any point during sex, and if her partner refused to stop, he was guilty of rape. So courts have affirmed the right to revoke consent at any time (though to my knowledge, the Supreme Court has never ruled on this, so different jurisdictions may rule differently.) In any case, there’s still a gap between the law and the beliefs of jurors, some of whom may understand consent to be irrevocable – even if it was given months ago.

Rape myth #2: You can’t rape a slut, because a slut is always panting for it. This is related to the idea that sex workers are unrapeable; a slut is basically regarded as a prostitute who’s happy to give it away for free. The defense made a point of portraying the accuser as sexually voracious:

Testimony will show, Toy told the jury, that the woman pursued Kulchar sexually, and that on a prior occasion in March 2008, the two had engaged in sex that involved scratching and biting – which left Kulchar with deep scratch marks down his back, and prompted a friend to ask him if he had been “mauled by a cougar.”

“This was rough sex that she initiated, and that she enjoyed,” Toy claimed.

(Source: The Athens News)

Here, the defense isn’t just establishing a prior sexual relationship. It’s also mobilizing cultural tropes from porn and other media. Though the accuser isn’t old enough to fit the popular definition of a “cougar” as a middle-aged woman preying on young man, the comparison to an actual feline cougar still evokes a desperate, predatory woman. And while some women actually do enjoy rough sex, porn has promoted the idea that any woman who likes sex is a slut, and that a slut loves rough sex, even or especially when she says no. Twenty years ago, before this constant messaging from porn, a defense lawyer would have a hard time making a “rough sex” argument. I worry that the ubiquity of rough sex in porn will make it increasingly hard to prosecute sexual assault cases if the defense can argue “she wanted it, and she wanted it rough,” and expect juries to find this plausible.

Rape myth #3: If the accuser knows the defendant, she’s probably just out for revenge. The defense really loved this theme:

Kulchar apologized to the woman several times on the phone because she sounded upset, he said. He had left that morning without giving the woman a hug or kiss goodbye, or inviting her to dinner with his family for his birthday, he said.

Kulchar said he wanted to set up a time to talk to her in person and he kept apologizing so he could get off the phone to study for a chemistry exam.

(Source: The Post)

And again:

Though Toy said he does not know why the woman concocted the tale, he added that it could be because Kulchar didn’t invite her to a family party later that day even though they were close friends.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” he said.

(Source: The Post)

So there you have it. The accuser was pissed at being left out of the defendant’s birthday party, so she retaliated by bringing rape charges. Exactly! Women do this all the time! Why, I started flinging around rape charges in third grade, when I was constantly the last kid picked for the softball team! Crying rape is such a nifty, easy way to teach guys a lesson!

Isn’t it amazing how clichés and stereotypes – the “woman scorned” – can win over a jury when you don’t have an actual argument?

Rape myth #4: Acquaintance rape is really “gray rape,” which in turn is just an expression of a woman’s next-day regrets.

Kulchar’s attorney, Robert Toy, told the jury that the woman had conjured the whole story because Kulchar didn’t treat her with respect and left her alone after their night of consensual sex.

(Source: The Post)

Here the defense is playing off the idea that women only pursue sex as a way to extract emotional commitment and intimacy. This idea resonates with widely held stereotypes of women’s sexuality: that we don’t want sex for its own sake; that we use sex only as a means to an end, be it jewelry, a baby, or love. These stereotypes merge neatly with “gray rape,” the insinuations that a woman is likely to regret casual sex the morning after – and cry rape. As a term, gray rape is relatively new, but the idea goes back to Katie Roiphe’s The Morning After (1993).

Never mind that there’s a gaping hole in the gray-rape narrative: the social and emotional costs of bringing rape charges are immense. Never mind that in countless conversations with students (many of them one-on-one) the stories I hear aren’t of casual sex regretted. They are accounts of being physically beaten by an ex-boyfriend, overpowered by a trusted friend who promised to walk her home, given a drink that was drugged, or saying no and not being heard or respected.

Rape myth #5: Acquaintance rape is unprovable because it always comes down to he-said, she-said. The defense tried to boil the case down to two conflicting accounts.

He [Toy] added that the jurors have been asked to rule on a “he-said, she-said” case, where the state relied heavily on the woman’s story, which he called inconsistent and lacking corroboration.

(Source: The Post)

In fact, the case wasn’t a he-said, she-said scenario. There was the phone call (mentioned under point 3) in which the defendant repeatedly apologized to the accuser for hurting her. That call was recorded by the police with permission from the accuser.

And there was physical evidence in the form of bruises and a tear. The woman reported the assault promptly and underwent an examination by a SANE nurse, who testified that her injuries were consistent with an assault. The defense tried to undermine the significance of her injuries.

Karen Robinson, the nurse who performed the sexual assault examination, said the one-centimeter-long tear in the woman’s vaginal wall is indicative of nonconsensual sex. A tear like the woman’s is four times more common in nonconsensual sex than consensual sex, Robinson said.

But an expert for the defense, Jane Broecker, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, said that similar tears are found on women who have consensual sex at about the same frequency as in women who have had nonconsensual sex. Bruises and abrasions are more common in nonconsensual sex, she said.

Broecker cited a 2006 study from the Journal of Forensic Nursing that compared women who had engaged in consensual and nonconsensual sex.

“This study debunks the theory that has been used,” Broecker said, adding the study was the best example she had found on genital trauma during nonconsensual sex.

Robert Driscoll, chief assistant county prosecutor, asked Broecker if she had read a 1997 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which showed that it was much more common for women to have vaginal injuries after non-consensual sex than consensual sex. Broecker responded that she had requested the study from Alden Library’s annex, but had not yet received it.

Robinson said she noted discoloration on the women’s neck and right breast, but found nothing on her arms or legs.

The medical report and photos did not indicate that the discolorations were bite marks, and the discolorations could have been from a hickey,” Broecker said.

(Source: The Post)

Quick aside: I am perplexed and appalled by Dr. Broecker’s role in this case. She’s one of the partners in my gynecologists’ practice, and though I’ve never seen her, she has a reputation as a good doctor. However, as far as I know, she doesn’t have the experience in examining assault victims that a SANE nurse would have, and I cannot fathom why she’d agree to testify for the defense.

Anyway, I looked up the two studies mentioned, and while I could only access the abstract for the second one, it is clearly better powered than the one Dr. Broecker cited. The study cited by the prosecution examined 311 rape victims and 75 women who’d had consensual intercourse, while the one cited by the defense looked at only 56 and 46 in each group. (The linked abstract for the defense’s study provides almost no information; I drew these numbers from the full article, which isn’t freely available on the Web.) There may still be scientific reasons for preferring the study Dr. Broeker cited, but since she couldn’t compare the two, it’s hard to escape the impression that her testimony was slanted.

In short, Dr. Broeker’s testimony was on shaky grounds. Clinically, only the SANE nurse had examined the accuser; Dr. Broeker played no role in the exam. Scientifically, there are real disputes about how to interpret injuries. However, the gist of the literature – including the literature review in the study Dr. Broeker cited – is that while not every injury is the result of nonconsensual sex, vaginal injury plus bruising correlates quite strongly with sexual assault. In this particular case, the physical evidence appears pretty solid. The science – not so much. No wonder the defense sought to explain away the physical evidence by dredging up the accuser’s sexual history and alleging a pattern of consensual rough sex.

Rape myth #6: If a gal drinks or drugs, she had it coming to her. The defense made sure to mention that both parties smoked dope earlier in the evening before the assault.

The woman told police that she knew Kulchar when she filed the report. Toy wrote that she smoked marijuana with Kulchar before they had sex, and they “voluntarily slept together for a number of hours, quietly, in her dorm room” afterward.

(Source: The Post)

Why would the defense even bring this up, unless they were sure that it would hurt her more than him? After all, they both smoked. The defense must have been confident that only her credibility would be harmed.

Here’s how the woman told her story. Unlike the defense, it’s remarkably free of myths and stereotypes.

The woman said she invited Kulchar to her room to celebrate his birthday, adding that she agreed to kiss him at first. The woman said she asked Kulchar to leave when he made further sexual advances.

But Kulchar ignored her pleas and the two began to struggle. At one point, the woman crawled under her roommate’s desk to get away, but Kulchar overpowered her and pulled her from beneath the desk by her ankles, she said.

“I said ‘Matt, I know that you are very drunk and I know that we have slept together in the past, but I am saying ‘no’ right now,'” the woman said. “I was just trying to be the voice of reason and say, ‘It’s not too far yet … I know that I’m crying, but you haven’t done anything yet.'”

(Source: The Post)

Now, I can’t say I know enough to pronounce the verdict wrong, although the victim’s story rings true to me, especially the part where she tries to talk sense into him. It contrasts with the defense strategy, which cobbled together standard, almost boilerplate victim-blaming narratives and rape myths. This was abundantly clear in closing arguments:

Pressure from her friends, family and prosecutors compelled her to keep up the case, Toy said.

“Does that make a lot more sense than a rape and kidnapping? That things got out of hand, that maybe we as a society make women victims too often when sometimes responsibility should be had by all people?” Toy said.

Driscoll responded during his second closing that the woman’s stories did not match because she did not need to recite every single detail in different interviews with police.

He added that his job is to “do justice” and that the jury should find Kulchar guilty.

“If no doesn’t mean no, (Kulchar) gets away with whatever he wants,” Driscoll said. “If no doesn’t mean no, we live in a lawless society.”

(Source: The Post)

I’ll leave it for you to judge, dear reader. Do we, indeed, live in a lawless society?

(More coverage on the defense’s allegations is here. Further testimony from the victim is here.)

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How Many Fingers Add up to a Recall?


My Tiger’s fingers, age three.

It’s been a few years since my kids fit into a stroller, but I still reacted viscerally at the news that Maclaren is recalling about a million strollers due to a faulty hinge. Since 1999, twelve children have had a fingertip amputated due to this design flaw. (Follow that link if you need info on the recall.) Does anyone else wonder why it took twelve significant injuries to provoke a recall? Shouldn’t one amputation provoke suspicion and the second trigger a recall? It’s hard to know who was asleep at the wheel, Maclaren or the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC reports:

The firm has received 15 reports of children placing their finger in the stroller’s hinge mechanism, resulting in 12 reports of fingertip amputations in the United States.

Maclaren, for its part, blames parents for not keeping their kids’ fingers away from the hinge while folding the umbrella-style strollers:

“We warn our consumers to keep children away from the product when it’s being unfolded and folded,” said [Maclaren USA Chairman Bahman] Kia, who likened this to warnings about car doors.

Um, the difference between a stroller and a car door? It’s easy to design strollers that don’t slice off the tip of anyone’s finger. The fix costs $2 per stroller, as Kia himself stated. Also, we parents tend to assume that safety equipment will keep our babies safe, not further imperil them. Silly, silly us!

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Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall was breached. Günter Schabowski, an East German Politburo member, announced that East Germans were free to travel. Now an old man, Schabowski claimed on the BBC this morning that he didn’t make a basic mistake, that he just jumped the gun by a few hours, but the record is more ambiguous on that. Anyway, the people of East Berlin seized the moment, drove their cute but stinky Trabants into West Berlin, and shredded the Iron Curtain forevermore. As a young grad student in German history, I watched the Wall fall on my 13-inch TV in my little apartment in Ithaca, New York,

Ten years ago today, I was living in Berlin. Fireworks were exploding. Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush were speechifying. I was begging my midwife to top off my epidural, which was only working on one side, and running through my little arsenal of breathing techniques. Shortly after three in the afternoon, my first child, the Bear, was born. I was dimly aware that the rest of the city was celebrating. My own world had radically contracted, both literally and figuratively. The small part of me that was still sentient thought it was cool that my child arrived on an auspicious day. I liked to think the fireworks were exploding for him. The rest of me, the greatest part of me, was only animal. I’d lost a lot of blood. I could hardly walk. Truth told, by the end of the day the Bear was far more alert than I.

Hardly anyone predicted that the end of the Cold War would usher in a new era of terror, instability, and fundamentalist hatred. On November 9, 1989, people danced on the Wall. A decade later, the fissures in the new, united Germany were apparent: high unemployment in the East, increased xenophobia throughout Germany, and mutual resentments and recriminations. Two years later, the Twin Towers fell. Those of us who’d comfortably embraced that creature called the “New World Order” realized it had fangs. Nothing in history is as simple as it initially seems.

So, too, in our personal histories, in our transitions to parenting, we can’t imagine what will come next. I think much of this is true for involved fathers, too; I’d love to hear from some of you, since I can only speak for myself as a mother. In all the propaganda about the joys of motherhood, no one ever mentions how sleep deprivation can render a person virtually psychotic. No one explains that you may feel, for awhile, as if your former self is not so much transformed as dead. Hardly anyone offers a road map for finding your way back to full personhood. Pundits expound on “work-life balance,” but the process of redefining one’s self runs immeasurably deeper than questions of career and time management. Nothing in mothering is as simple as it initially seems.

Then again, no one would have predicted that the Bear would grow into the deeply empathetic, intelligent, charming person that he is today. Well, okay, my mother saw it coming, even when he was throwing hour-long tantrums as a preschooler. (He never did stop being intense and alert.) He still has lots of moments where he’s bossy and ornery. But our Bear is a pretty wonderful kid.

I still don’t know what will come next, but this I do know. Freedom is better than oppression. Loving is better than refusing to risk one’s heart. Commitments to principles and people trump opportunism any day. And if we don’t embrace change and vulnerability, we might as well give ourselves up for dead. We might just as well erect our own, personal Walls.

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A couple of months ago, I wasted a half-hour of my life listening in on a town hall conference call with my congresscritter, Charlie Wilson. Amid all of his reassurances to reactionary constituents that he wouldn’t sign off on death panels, he kept repeating: “I am a Blue Dog Democrat. I am pro-life.” This weekend, he delivered on that promise by becoming one of the 64 Democrats who sold out women’s health by voting for the Stupak amendment to the House healthcare bill.

In case you didn’t hear, the Stupak amendment will prevent all private insurers who participate in the new insurance exchanges from covering abortion as part of their basic benefits package. As a result, millions of women who currently have abortion coverage will lose it, unless the Stupak amendment is removed during the process of reconciling the House and Senate bills.

I thought about posting on this yesterday but I wasn’t up for writing anything because I was dealing with pain. I have suffered from this particular pain since I delivered my first baby. For the first couple of years, it was my constant companion. After I had a second baby, it receded to a day or two every month. It is not the normal pain that women get with their period. It is the direct result of structural damage done by childbirth.

So instead of blogging yesterday, I took half a Vicodin, cranked up my heating pad, and waited for the day to end.

I am lucky in that I don’t suffer from stress incontinence. You know all those boxes of Poise and Depends in the supermarket? That market is much, much larger than the elderly. Plenty of young women use them, too, thanks to damage incurred during pregnancy and childbirth. Incontinence is a serious risk factor in elderly women for landing in a nursing home. Just over 11 percent of all women will have surgery to repair damage to their pelvic floor at some time during their lives. About 12 percent of these women will undergo repeat surgeries after the first one fails.

These days, American women count on surviving pregnancy. But that doesn’t mean childbirth has become risk-free. Just in my acquaintance, I have one friend who acquired a serious postpartum infection, another who suffered a stroke after giving birth, and a college classmate who died of eclampsia.

It’s one thing to undergo the health risks of pregnancy when you deeply want a child. It’s quite another to be forced to bear a child – and the attendant risks -against your will.

This is why any healthcare package that reduces women’s access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion isn’t reform. It’s a blow to women’s health. It should not be negotiable – especially by congresscritters like my own who will never, ever have to put their health on the line in an unwanted pregnancy.

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PeddelNotGoVetFrom ICHC?

Via Effect Measure, I learned that it’s possible for cats to catch swine flu from humans – something scientists didn’t know, either, until just this week. Tara Parker-Pope wrote in the New York Times about a 13-year-old cat in Ames, Iowa, who caught the virus:

The cat, a 16-pound orange tabby, began acting lethargic and lost his appetite on Oct. 27. He is the only pet in the house and never goes outside. The cat, described as “large framed but not chubby,” stopped eating and drinking and stopped cleaning himself. He also rested by hunching on all four feet, rather than sprawling out on his side as usual, a sign of respiratory discomfort. A few days earlier, two out of three family members in the home had developed flu-like symptoms, with fever and body aches. …

The next day, the cat arrived at the veterinary school, where he was seen by Dr. Jergens, a small animal specialist and immunologist. Upon examination, it appeared the cat had a respiratory condition, so Dr. Jergens performed a bronchial lavage, injecting fluid in and out of the lungs to collect cells to determine what was making the animal sick.

“It didn’t reveal anything that was consistent with what we typically see with pneumonia in a cat,” Dr. Sponseller said.

Although cats can contract flu from birds, this cat never left the house and was never exposed to any other pet. At that point, it occurred to the veterinarians that since the family members had been recently ill, they might be seeing a case of flu transmitted from human to cat. The school is the site of a major diagnostic lab, so the veterinarians were able to test the cat and quickly confirm he had H1N1, a finding that was later confirmed by additional testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. …

Dr. Sponseller says the cat is about 85 percent recovered. He was given fluids for dehydration and put on antibiotics to prevent a secondary bacterial infection. “He’s eating well, moving around well, and he’s back in his window watching the squirrels outside,” he said. …

It’s not clear how the cat contracted the virus, but given how easily flu is transmitted between family members, it’s not particularly surprising that a friendly cat would come into contact with the virus as well.

“He’s a very social cat,” Dr. Sponseller said. “He would visit with them in their laps when they were watching television or reading. He was known to climb up on the bed. He’s a very charming cat with a lot of personality.”

(The whole article is here.)

Just to be clear: No one is saying the cat gave the virus to his people. Cats tend not to sneeze much, plus the cat only had contact with humans. I’m glad that this furry fellow – who sounds adorable – is going to be fine.

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On the phone, during a short break from comforting her daughter who was suffering from swine flu, my sister tells me: “I am so angry at our government!” Now, this is not a woman who routinely turns to the government for help. She votes Republican, largely on fiscal grounds. But my sis has been trying for weeks to track down some vaccine, to no avail. She’s pissed. And like me, she sees that the government promised far more vaccine than it’s been able to deliver.

We here in Athens, Ohio, may yet get ours. My husband “got shotted,” as the Tiger says, last weekend, but only after passing through a strict triage protocol. Both the Tiger and the Bear are slated to get the intranasal spray on Monday at school. Originally I’d promised to accompany them – they’re both scared of needles – but they know how to “sniffle it up,” for which I’m grateful, since their immunization clinic overlaps with teaching times for both my husband and me.

And yes, since both kids are still slated for immunization, this means that we “have swine,” in the terms of my worried post two days ago, and we do not actually have swine flu. (Did I just bury the lede?) The Tiger spiked a vigorous fever at the start of a very mild cold. He stayed home yesterday out of an excess of caution. Today he went back to school his usual energetic, ornery self.

Judging from the hurried exchanges I had with other parents at tonight’s school carnival, many of us have been worried, and most of us are grateful that our kids are in line for the vaccine.

But my sister is right. These delays are unconscionable. Worse, they’re not even necessary. In Alternet, Barbara Ehrenreich writes:

In July, the federal government promised to have 160 million doses of H1N1 vaccine ready for distribution by the end of October. Instead, only 28 million doses are now ready to go, and optimism is the obvious culprit.

“Road to Flu Vaccine Shortfall, Paved With Undue Optimism,” was the headline of a front page article in the October 26th New York Times. In the conventional spin, the vaccine shortage is now “threatening to undermine public confidence in government.” If the federal government couldn’t get this right, the pundits are already asking, how can we trust it with health reform?

But let’s stop a minute and also ask: Who really screwed up here — the government or private pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and three others that had agreed to manufacture and deliver the vaccine by late fall? Last spring and summer, those companies gleefully gobbled up $2 billion worth of government contracts for vaccine production, promising to have every American, or at least every American child and pregnant woman, supplied with vaccine before trick-or-treating season began.

According to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the government was misled by these companies, which failed to report manufacturing delays as they arose. Her department, she says, was “relying on the manufacturers to give us their numbers, and as soon as we got numbers we put them out to the public. It does appear now that those numbers were overly rosy.”

If, in fact, there’s a political parable here, it’s about Big Government’s sweetly trusting reliance on Big Business to safeguard the public health: Let the private insurance companies manage health financing; let profit-making hospital chains deliver health care; let Big Pharma provide safe and affordable medications. As it happens, though, all these entities have a priority that regularly overrides the public’s health, and that is, of course, profit — which has led insurance companies to function as “death panels,” excluding those who might ever need care, and for-profit hospitals to turn away the indigent, the pregnant, and the uninsured.

(Read the rest here. She takes a couple of cheap swipes at drugs for ED and restless legs, but the rest is worthwhile.)

Exactly! We cannot expect a for-profit system to maintain massive facilities for producing vaccines that are needed only irregularly. So much of our economy relies on just-in-time deliveries. The pharmaceutical industry is no different – except that its “just-in-time” model for vaccines assumes several months’ lead time while moving from one seasonal flu virus into the next most likely mutation. The current system has no capacity for faster responses when a pandemic strikes.

You don’t have to adopt Ehrenreich’s basically socialist convictions to see that when vaccines mix with free enterprise, the results are bound to be deadly. On the one hand, delays are inevitable because profit-making enterprises cannot justify to their shareholder the massive “excess” capacity required to produce vaccines in a fast-moving and potentially highly virulent pandemic. This is capacity that must otherwise lie idle. On the other hand, as long as vaccine production is privatized, the pharma companies will beg for immunity from lawsuits in cases where rare side effects may have caused lasting harm. Even if these companies are fully indemnified, they’ll still have a strong disincentive to publicize such adverse effects, which can only bring bad PR.

Imagine, now, that instead of this swinish H1N1 we were instead facing a highly communicable mutation of the already horribly virulent H5N1 (bird flu). Even assuming the virus lost some virulence in exchange for better transmissibility, millions and tens of millions would be dead before any vaccine were available. And suddenly, the same pharma companies who’ve found vaccines to be unprofitable would be able to demand, essentially, menace money. They could charge whatever the market would bear. And the market could bear a hell of a lot. Seriously, how much would you be willing to spend on a vaccine that gave you any hope of escaping the near-lethal consequences of bird flu? How do you value the preservation of an individual loved ones’ life? What price would you put on your own life?

In short, a free market is bound to fail every whichway when it comes to vaccine production. The government needs to get involved, either by establishing strict regulatory standards, or – more likely, since regulation will push manufacturers to withdraw from an already risky market with low profits – by taking over production itself.

Infuriatingly, the technology for producing more vaccine faster already exists – just not in this country on the grand scale we’d need. Ehrenreich links to ex-Senator Bob Graham on this point, who notes that speedier technologies already exist; the U.S.  just hasn’t pursued them aggressively enough:

Part of the slowness is due to the fact that all six US manufacturers of flu vaccine use chicken eggs. A modern and faster method to make a safe flu vaccine uses a process called “cell culture.” Cell culture does not require eggs. Vaccines for polio and the modern smallpox vaccine have been produced for decades using this technology.

Abandoning chicken eggs for cell culture has several advantages:

  • Rapid scale-up in production would be possible.
  • Egg-specific steps in the production process would be removed, saving time.
  • Vaccine can be given to people who are allergic to eggs.
  • Chickens are susceptible to avian influenza infections, which could disrupt the supply chain of eggs and cripple vaccine production.

The U.S. has invested in cell culture technologies, but none are yet available.

(More here.)

We could also be taking advantage of adjuvants, which are essentially biochemical accelerators for vaccines. Revere at Effect Measure has been advocating for exactly this. He writes:

Europe’s adjuvanted flu vaccines don’t appear to be any less safe than non-adjuvanted ones and are far more effective and efficient in the use of the scarce active ingredient, the viral antigen. It is availability of viral antigen that is limiting vaccine production. Unadjuvanted vaccines require much more viral antigen than those with adjuvants.

(Do read the rest! I promise it’s highly accessible to non-specialists.)

Adjuvants aren’t new or untested. They’ve been used for years in Europe. Their safety profile is good. They could help us stretch our supply of vaccine not only in the U.S. but also in poor countries that will otherwise likely be last in line.

All of this wisdom comes too late for the current pandemic – though it’s worth noting that voices in the wilderness, like Revere’s, have been calling for adjuvants and more efficient vaccine production for years.

If we’re smart, we’ll learn from this pandemic and be sufficiently prepared for the next one, which could be a helluva lot worse. (But are we that smart?) We need more than just vaccines, anyway; we need more critical care beds, more capacity to ramp up ERs, and additional public education on the usefulness of social distancing. We further need research on drugs that disrupt viral replication more efficiently than Tamiflu and its cousins, and on statin drugs (such as Lipitor) that might damp down the out-of-control immune reactions (aka cytokine storm) implicated in the deaths of vigorous young people when the pandemic virus is especially virulent. Revere suggested back in 2005 that the threat of highly virulent bird flu ought to spur research on statins. We’re still waiting for that research.

Just as we’re waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. My niece’s father out in California is now down with a fever and probable swine flu. (We worried about him once before, but this time he’s the daddy of a known “vector,” also known as my sweet niece.)

And as for me? Well, I’m the only person in my little family who’s not clearly in a risk group. I’m uneasy, because I don’t know if my Mystery Disease would put me at risk. I know I’ve got some wacky autoimmune stuff going on, along with some obvious neurological and metabolic misfiring – not to mention a long rap sheet for broichitis. But you can’t really march into a high-risk immunization clinic and announce, “Hey! I’ve got Mystery Disease! And my students all cough and sneeze on me! My young children wipe snot on me!” Um, no. That won’t get me very far. But it also won’t quell my qualms.

Wish me luck. I’ll be wishing the same for you, dear readers.

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Apparently it’s poetry week here at Kittywampus. Following up on Rumsfeldian penis-spam poetry, we’ve now got the next literary contender from Wasilla. If you didn’t hear William Shatner’s dramatic reading of Sarh Palin’s tweets, you’ve got some catching up to do.

All caught up? Then you’re ready for Shatner performing Levi Johnston’s twitterpoems – if indeed you can ever truly be prepared. Just be sure you’ve swallowed that mouthful of coffee before you hit play. (Shatner comes onstage at about the midpoint of the clip.)

posted with vodpod

(click here if you can’t see the clip from your blog reader)

I guess we now know why Palin tried to ban a bunch of books from the Wasilla library. She was just making space on the shelves for the local literary output.

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German has this wacky way of expressing good luck: “Schwein haben,” or having swine/pig. It’s clashing with the nomenclature of swine flu, which ain’t such great luck if you get it.

My sister tells me my niece is coming along well – she’s stopped puking, at least – but 19 out of 24 kids were absent from my niece’s first-grade class on Monday. Apparently one child went to school with a fever (we’ll reserve judgment on those parents – maybe they didn’t notice) and one case flowered into 19.

Today, I was that parent, and the Tiger was that child. The phone rang at 11:50, just as I finished reading an email from the school nurse, announcing further delays in obtaining swine flu vaccine. I was still home, about to swing on my bike for my 12:10 class. (Yes, my commute is the awesomest.) It was the principal. He said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. I’ve got [the Tiger]  here in my office. He’s got a fever. Just measured it at 100.8.”

I said: “Oh damn shit fuck fuck fuck!” Well, actually I didn’t, because if my kids ever got busted for cussing on the playground, I’d be on the hook. So instead, I hung up the phone and emitted a short primal scream. In a total panic, I momentarily considered taking the Tiger to class with me, but realized my students would hate me forever, after I’d inflicted first Judith Butler and now H1N1 on them. I got back on the phone, and Dr. Hydraargyrum and his dear wife, Dr. Hydraargyra, kindly agreed to move their romantic lunch date to the germ-infested petri dish that I call home. Then I ran to the Tiger’s school. Those who know me in real life know how rare a sight it is to see me run, and how very ridiculous.

I got to my class ten minutes late. My students were waiting patiently (the math department secretary had posted a note that I’d be late). They performed brilliantly, and the two hours flew past. My husband had taken over for our friends at 1 p.m., missing a critical meeting on our bloody budget cuts. I relieved him at 2. Somehow, it worked.

I’m still bemused by the “good news” that our principal promised but didn’t deliver. Was it simply that the Tiger wasn’t puking? Was it just that I’m lucky to be his mother? (Well, I am – most days!) Was it insider knowledge that the Tiger is often at his sweetest when sick?

The principle’s mysterious message remains, well, a mystery – as does the Tiger’s condition. His fever stayed lower for the rest of the day. He has a history of unexplained fevers from his toddler years, and even now he’ll run a higher temp than other kids with just a cold. He also isn’t really coughing and has no evident GI symptoms.

So do we have swine flu? Or do we just “have swine”? Worst case, the entire family gets sick but we don’t get diagnosed, and then the kids have to “get shotted” with the vaccine anyway.

I surely “had swine” today when it came to support. Most of my time is pretty flexible, but those two-hour teaching blocks are sacrosanct. As instructor, you’re allowed to stay home if your current residence is a casket; otherwise, you’re probably slacking. My husband and I usually stagger our teaching so one parent will always be available for emergencies, but we couldn’t quite swing it this quarter. I felt lucky to have friends (and probable survivors, already, of H1N1 2009) who were willing to drop everything and cover me.

Before this pandemic burns itself out, a lot of parents will face choices much more harrowing than mine today. Unlike me, they may have no flexibility. Unlike me, they may lose their job for any unscheduled absence. It’s workplaces that need to respond to this dilemma with greater flexibility; families can’t resolve it by having a Plan A, B, and C for childcare. It’s virtually impossible to find childcare when a child is sick, unless you’ve got close family nearby. It’s well-nigh unethical to inflict your sick child on someone else when the disease can be quite serious in some individuals – and we don’t know who those individuals are. And yet, millions of parents in America cannot count on a single hour off to cope with a sick child. (See Joan Williams’ excellent report, “One Sick Child away from Being Fired” – note: this is a pdf file).

Meanwhile, I noticed a scratchy throat this afternoon, then a sensation like a baby elephant sitting on my chest. I’m feeling somewhat better again by now – enough so to hope that the Tiger and all of us will “have swine” in the German sense.

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The one semi-redeeming quality in Donald Rumsfeld was his poetic streak. Who can forget this classic?

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

(From Hart Seely’s collection at Slate, “The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld”)

We’ve heard a lot from Dick Cheney since he crawled out of his bunker and left office, but what has Rumsfeld been doing with himself? Well, based on the deluge of penis email that is swamping me lately, I think he’s found a second career – as a spamwriter.

Consider these little gems, which are taken verbatim from the emails except for deleting the link in the middle of each one; I’ve only arranged them as I think an editor might do for Rumsfeld:

blithe spirit behind ocean
clodhoppers somewhat

overwhelmingly haunch inside pork chop

around cough syrup
starlets often

shadows lazily
tenor toward photon

and hypnotic
abstraction inside related to host

stalactites inexorably
waif behind globule

because brides
assimilate for dust bunny

guardian angel inside philosopher
necromancers slyly

operate a small fruit stand with
beyond abstraction goes to sleep

The fruit stand is a recurring motif, by the way. I suppose it’s significant that it’s a small one.

Some of the subject lines have also been outstanding, if a bit less poetic:

  • SexualAndEroticAnaesthetizeForMirths
  • BelieveInViagraSlangDopeForFortitude
  • ProfessionalDownerForGladnesssWillCareAboutSex
  • StandardTestedViagraSuperActiveOpiateForMerriments

Here’s watching y’all lots of mirths and merriments without too much erotic anesthesia.

And on this Election Day, may we all be spared the poetry of Rumsfeld in our new officeholders.

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I don’t typically endorse candidates here, because I like to be an equal-opportunity critic, and because honestly Kittywampus is hardly the New York Times or even the Athens News. However, we’ve got a contested election in my ward, and a friend of mine is ably defending her seat on city council. For once, I’ve got only praise.

Chris Fahl has stood for wise development, sustainability, and foresightful planning. She is working to improve traffic safety in the neighborhoods and was the key council member in winning a grant for this purpose. She has a background in both environmental science and planning, so she brings real skills to the table. As she has demonstrated in her first term in office, she plays well with others and has won over a lot of folks who were initially skeptical.

Chris has been at the center of the grassroots movement to have Athens city government reflect the progressive ideals of its citizens. If I may go mildly negative for a moment, her Republican opponent has yet to put forth a real platform beyond beefing up the city police with money that would have to be siphoned away from other vital services. A vote for him is essentially a vote for the old regime in which the landlords call the shots and to heck with the future or keeping Athens a lovely place to live.

Chris is honest, politically savvy, and principled. She’s also a good friend; she has saved my ass innumerable times when I needed help picking up my kids from school, and she went with me to that awful doctor appointment last winter where I was given a diagnosis of possible MS. That’s the kind of person she is. (She’s also a friend of this blog, but don’t let that stop you!)

So if you’re eligible to vote in Athens’ Fourth Ward (much of the East side of town) and you care about the quality of life in our town, please be sure to cast your ballot for Chris Fahl. Since it’s a contested seat, every vote will count.

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No, I’m not sick, nor are my kids – and my husband got the swine flu shot this morning, as one of those “lucky” people who are likely more vulnerable than average. But as I was stirring the dinner pots this evening, my sister called to tell me that her daughter (my six-year-old niece) has got swine flu. It struck with the GI symptoms are a hallmark of swine flu. By now, though, my sister suspects that Tamiflu may be making things worse, as my niece puked just once before taking the first dose and six times since. (She also has the other classic symptoms: a cough, high fever just short of 103, chills.)

I’m assuming – hoping – that my niece will recover quickly, as most kids have. But even “mild” flu is pretty wretched. I suspect there’s a lot of misconceptions afloat about what “true” flu is like. People think it’s just a little tougher than a cold, or they confuse it with “tummy flu,” which is not flu at all. By now, a couple of my local friends have nursed kids and spouses through what must have been swine flu, even though they didn’t go to the doctor. None of them suffered serious consequences. Even so, the flu hit them hard.

And that’s why I really don’t understand the suspicion people harbor about being vaccinated. Two-thirds of Ohioans say they don’t plan on getting the shot. That number may be inflated due to fatalism as vaccine deliveries take even longer than expected; people figure they will have been exposed anyway before they can even get the shot. Way back in June, Knitting Clio commented here that parents’ unfounded fears of autism might deter them from vaccinating their kids. I’m sure that’s part of the picture, too. Lots of folks seem to believe that the vaccine is “new and untested.” In fact, it’s produced in the same, depressingly slow process used for regular flu vaccine. (If you’re a fence-sitter, yourself, and you need data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, go on over to Effect Measure and read their recent archives.)

More disturbingly, health care workers – including those serving the high-risk group of pregnant women! – are highly skeptical about the vaccine. Consider this abstract for a study just published by D.E. Broughton et al. in the November 2009 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology:

OBJECTIVE: To explore obstetric health care workers’ attitudes and beliefs regarding influenza vaccination in pregnancy.

METHODS: A survey consisting of 16 multiple-choice questions was administered to nurses, medical and nursing assistants, receptionists, and clinical administrators in obstetric settings. Survey questions addressed general knowledge of influenza and recommendations for vaccination during pregnancy, as well as personal beliefs about the acceptability of the vaccine in the pregnant population. The study was conducted at two sites, Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, RI, and Magee-Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. Variables were compared by Fisher exact test.

RESULTS: Two hundred sixty-seven completed surveys were available for analysis, with a completion rate of 85%. Almost one third of health care workers surveyed do not believe that vaccines are a safe and effective way to decrease infections (31%) and a minority believe that vaccines are safe in pregnancy (36%). Just over half of health care workers know that pregnant women are at increased risk of complications from the flu (56.6%). Only 46% were able to correctly identify influenza symptoms, and only 65% would recommend influenza vaccination to a pregnant woman if indicated. A small percentage would be willing to give an avian influenza vaccine to pregnant women during a pandemic if it had not been tested in pregnancy (12.3%).

CONCLUSION: Many obstetric health care workers lack knowledge regarding the safety and importance of influenza vaccination during pregnancy. Misinformed or inadequately informed health care workers may represent a barrier to influenza vaccine coverage of pregnant women. This lack of knowledge among the health care workforce takes on added importance in the setting of the H1N1 2009 swine-origin influenza pandemic.

(Source: Abstract for D.E. Broughton et al., “Obstetric Health Care Worker’s Attitudes and Beliefs Regarding Influenza Vaccination in Pregnancy,Obstetrics & Gynecology: November 2009, Volume 114, Issue 5, pp. 981-987; my emphasis)

Got that? Precisely the people who are gatekeepers in caring for a vulnerable group, pregnant women, are appallingly ignorant about the risks of flu in pregnancy and the safety of any vaccines in pregnancy, not just the one for swine flu. And yet less than half of them can even correctly identify flu symptoms. (Please note that the study did not look at doctors.)

It’s not alarmist to say that as a result of people’s ignorance, hundreds or thousands will die unnecessarily. A three-year-old in my town died in late October after testing positive for inluenza A. While definitive testing will take weeks, virtually all of the flu currently in circulation is swine flu. It’s reasonable to assume that swine flu is what killed this little person. It’s also reasonable to assume that many of us will know someone, sooner or later, who suffers the loss of a family member.

As usual, Jon Stewart got it right: It’s only us wimpy pasteurized milk drinkers who are sure we want to be vaccinated. Otherwise, we’d know the shot was only a government plot! Glenn Beck said it, so it must be so!

If you can’t view the video, please click here. Via Effect Measure, which is such an awesome blog I’d probably read it even if I weren’t worried about the flu.

Note: I intentionally refer to this illness as “swine flu” and not H1N1 because H1N1 is a broader subtype of flu, and because I don’t mind keeping the spotlight on reckless agribusiness practices that may foster the genetic reshuffling of the virus.

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Proud of My Students

One of my former students, who’s now graduated and out in the world, wrote a letter to the campus paper that just made me so proud of her. A rape case that I wrote about last spring was first tried in the local media, and now the defendant’s lawyers are pulling the same shenanigans in the courtroom. Here’s how my former student analyzed it:

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex with someone once, twice or 1,000 times – a sexual past does not make a sexual future mandatory. The current rape trial that has been reported in The Post (“Rape trial commences for former OU student” in the Tuesday issue; “Rape trial defense prompts questions” in the Wednesday issue; and”Victim details relationship with accused rapist” in the Thursday issue) highlights the misconception that if someone consents to sex once, it is etched in stone that consent is guaranteed at all times in the future, regardless of the circumstances.

I am not criticizing this case specifically, nor am I claiming to know the specific details of the case. Rather, I think this case follows the format of many sexual assault cases in perpetuating an attitude and obstacle that sexual assault survivors often face – that women can’t say both “yes” and “no” to sex with the same person. …

Lawyers often use someone’s sexual history against her, and it’s appalling. Constantly in court – and in society – people candidly tell women that, basically, they asked to get raped because on a completely different occasion they consented to sex. This notion is disgusting, and it is shameful to see women – who publicly take criticism in rape cases and get stereotyped as “promiscuous” or “asking for it” – get torn down, after already dealing with emotional and physical trauma and still having the strength to face their attacker (and possibly friend, boyfriend or husband) in court.

I don’t want other survivors of sexual assault and rape to read articles like this, see the tactics that go on in the courtroom and refrain from taking legal action because the decisions they made before they were aware their friend, boyfriend or husband was capable of sexual violence are going to be used against them after the fact.

(The whole letter is here.)

I can’t claim credit for forming her political consciousness as a student; she came to me as a senior, already clued in and extremely smart. Nonetheless, I feel really proud of her! I also know she’s not my only former student who’s doing wonderful things; she’s just left a public record of it. (For instance, a week ago I heard from another former student who’s working for Senator Sherrod Brown. She says he’s as cool as he seems.)

I only wish there were no cause for anyone to have written such a letter in the first place. The accuser in this case has lots of physical evidence and corroborating statements on her side. The defendant claims “rough sex.” I obviously haven’t been privy to all of the testimony, but I hope the jury will understand that when someone says “yes” it’s not a free pass in perpetuity.

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