Archive for August, 2010

It’s really cool to see a New York Times op-ed co-authored by Rebecca Traister and Anna Holmes. Women are still underrepresented on op-ed pages, and these two have the distinction of getting their start online (at Salon and Jezebel, respectively). Maybe this is the start of feminist bloggers storming the NYT?

Their piece – “A Palin of Our Own” – makes the incontrovertible point that progressives have done too little to celebrate high-flying female politicians. (Echidne lays out why Traister and Holmes are right about this.) They note that this has concrete policy implications that harm women, especially regarding abortion rights. If women weren’t considered marginal and disposable, Nancy Pelosi could have passed a health care bill that safeguarded access to abortion. So far, so good.

But do we lefties and feminists really want a Palin of our own?

It’s not the shooting-wolves-from-helicopters that puts me off. (Well, okay, that too.) Most of all, I’m disturbed by the idea that we should emulate Palin’s character and style. Palin’s distinguishing features are her willful ignorance, reckless disregard for truth, contempt for the reality-based world, and plain old playground-variety spite. Traister and Holmes write:

Imagine a Democrat willing to brag about breaking the glass ceiling at the explosive beginning, not the safe end, of her campaign. A liberal politician taking to Twitter to argue that big broods and a “culture of life” are completely compatible with reproductive freedom. A female candidate on the left who speaks as angrily and forcefully about her rivals’ shortcomings as Sarah Barracuda does about the Pelosis and Obamas of the world. A smart, unrelenting female, who, unlike Ms. Palin, wants to tear down, not reinforce, traditional ways of looking at women. But that will require a party that is eager to discover, groom, promote and then cheer on such a progressive Palin.

(Read the rest here.)

Anger has its place – you betcha! (Yes, I’m still pissed that I can’t employ Northdakotanisms any more without people thinking I’m aping Palin.) But unlike Palin, progressives aren’t trying to appeal to people’s basest nature. If we recruit and foster female politicians who speak “angrily and forcefully about [their] rivals’ shortcomings,” we’re just going to get into a mud wrestling match with Palin and her Mama Grizzlies. The end result? Everyone’s covered with mud.

I’m not convinced that Twitter offers much hope, either. Sure, lots of liberals and lefties use Twitter. Heck, I’m even on Twitter! The Ceiling Cat is on Twitter! The presence of all that goodness doesn’t change the bedrock fact that it’s easy to convey simplistic ideas in 140 characters. You need more space to develop an argument. And really: Would Palin’s tweets get so much media exposure if they weren’t so unrelentingly stupid?

That said, Palin has lobbed the F-word back into public discourse. Now it’s our job to catch it and reclaim it. “Feminism” has never been the property of any faction within it. As I argued back on September 4, 2008 – long before the feminist blogosphere ever discussed whether Palin deserves to be a feminist – she is a feminist, of a sort. The history of feminism includes activists who were also anti-abortion and anti-choice, as well as people who were deeply racist or homophobic. After all, the history of feminism is bound up with the history of the Western world, not a thing apart. There has always been a subset of feminists who reduced the movement to “equal opportunity to compete with men” and to hell with the collateral damage (poor women, lesbians, women of color, even mothers). Palin can definitely claim those feminists as her ancestors.

Palinofeminism is screamingly reductive. It’s all about claiming a woman’s right to compete in a man’s world – something liberal feminists have historically demanded – though in order to reap its benefits, you have to be, well, pretty much a clone of Palin. But the very narrowness of Palinofeminism offers an opportunity to redefine feminism, for those of us who are broader of mind and bigger of heart. Feminism can and must oppose poverty, racism, cissexism, homophobia ableism, ageism – the whole panoply of oppressions that make people less than they could be. Feminism needs to be about ending gender-based oppression, and yes, that includes practices and norms that harm men, too.

We need to seize the moment, now that Palin has dragged feminism back into public view, and put forth an inclusive, compassionate vision of a United States where everyone has equal access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

How we achieve that, I’m not quite sure. I’m just a marginal university instructor in Appalachia with a small (albeit smart and loyal) blog readership. But I suspect that publishing more feminist op-eds is a great place to start.

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Catnip Caturday

If Reno the leopard is Cheech, then Zabu the tiger must be Chong. Both of them remind me of Grey Kitty’s frenzy whenever she’d get her paws on a bag of nip.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip – or just drop in at Kittywampus, where we’re longtime supporters of legal catnip for all.)

(Via Cogitamus.)

Happy Caturday, even if you are nip-free, whether by choice or by circumstance.

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A whole bunch of feminist blogs commemorated the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment today – that’s 90 years of American women having the constitutional right to vote. Of course, Jim Crow laws kept a lot of black women from exercising that right, and well into my childhood it was common for wives to follow their husband’s lead in voting. Mad Men gets that right: Betty Draper’s response to the candidacy of JFK is that she doesn’t yet know how “we” (she and husband Don) are voting.

I suppose I could have done a nerdy post on the history of woman suffrage (though I couldn’t top Christine Stansell’s op-ed on it in the New York Times), or I could have posted on how women’s political participation has exploded just in my lifetime.

Instead I spent most of the day away from the computer – first at the eye doctor, then trying to refocus my dilated pupils, and finally volunteering for the re-election campaign of my state representative, Debbie Phillips, who also happens to be my friend and neighbor. I helped with collecting donations (and cleaning up after the event) at a dinner where Senator Sherrod Brown was the keynote speaker. He shook my hand afterward. How did Ohio ever deserve such a progressive senator?

My little stint as a volunteer turned out to be a pretty apt way to celebrate what Obama declared “Women’s Equality Day.” Debbie wouldn’t have been able to run for office 100 years ago. As she was speaking, I scanned the room and noticed that the attendees were at least half female. Ditto for her key aides. She’s a fabulous, smart, progressive candidate who’s done a great job as a freshman in the Statehouse.

All of this was unimaginable a century ago – except for a few visionaries who believed woman suffrage could be the first step towards true equal rights.

P.S. Not that we’re quite there yet! But slowly, incrementally, we’re moving along the long long path toward equality.

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Americans who oppose “big government” usually oppose “handouts” to the poor. But here’s the thing: You may be comfortable. You may think you have all you need. And yet, if there’s poverty anywhere in your vicinity, you will not be immune to its pernicious effects.

This came home to me again – twice –  in the past week. My adopted hometown, Athens, Ohio, is a lovely, liberal little college town tucked into the Appalachian foothills. The town itself looks reasonably prosperous, but it’s encircled the remains of a region that mined its coal and then hit an economic dead end. Some of the folks with no money and no future live right outside the edge of town in abject poverty, as I saw while canvassing for Obama in 2008. Within the city limits, the tax base isn’t so flush, either, since the 20,000 students and the university are essentially parasites on the permanent residents (whom they vastly outnumber). Just over half of Athens residents live below the poverty line, and not all of them are students.

Today’s instance of poverty splash-over: BOIL ORDER! Thanks to our weak tax base, the town’s infrastructure is crumbling. The water system is decrepit. Boil orders are issued as routinely as parking tickets. If you Google “boil order,” your second hit will be “City of Athens Boil Order Instructions.” Only the University of Missouri Extension Service outranks us. Sure, Boston had a boil order affecting 2 million people this spring, but Athens beats Boston on the Google! Boston! And its two million (2,000,000!!!!) water customers! If Boston can’t touch us, our title as the reigning champions of boil orders is virtually untouchable. (Yes, I realize most of the world should be under a boil order. Only my First-World privilege leads me to believe my family and I have a right to safe water from the tap. I’m not quite sure that Athens is located entirely in the First World.)

Today’s boil order alert went out via email at 3:30. (Email notification is still a novel service, implemented by our new-ish progressive city leadership.) I last checked my email at 3:25 before I picked up the kids. So I didn’t see it until 8:30, by which time we’d all swilled a glass or two of water and I’d washed our dinner veggies in it. Usually, boil orders affects other neighborhoods. Today, of all days, it hit my own.

So far no one is ill, and I think we’ll probably be fine. I suspect that the boil order is due to a hydrant that I saw spewing water this noon. (Hence the “splash-over” metaphor.) The likelihood of serious contamination is low. Still, I’m irked that we have to deal with the hassle until tomorrow evening. I’m uneasy as we wait and wonder if we’ll all come down with Athensitis indigestion.

Second case in point: the impact of poverty on local schools. I’ve written repeatedly about how often our kids miss school because there’s no money to clear the hilly county roads. (The city is rich in comparison to the county.) Now we’re seeing a decline in the elementary schools, which is having a ripple effect throughout the district.

At our back-to-school potluck, I learned that our little neighborhood school (let’s call it “International Elementary”) has 50% more kindergartners than in the past few years. At the last minute, they had to hire another teacher and carve out another classroom (which involved displacing disabled services to the poorest of our district’s five elementaries). There simply weren’t any open classrooms. Baby boom, you say? Unh-uh. They were all intradistrict transfers, most of them fleeing the second poorest elementary, whose test scores recently tanked. (You can see the data yourself at Greatschools.org under the listings for the “Athens, OH” district – and you can check out your own area schools as well.) I don’t know why their scores tumbled, though I’m loathe to blame the teachers. Much more likely, poor kids are suffering from hunger, which is rampant in our region, and can’t learn. Or their families are unable to be supportive because they received a crappy education, themselves. I’m guessing it’s the more affluent parents who are moving their kids, while the poorest children are staying put.

So the poverty in the county isn’t just hurting the two most vulnerable schools. It’s now spilling over into our excellent little school. I completely sympathize with the parents who are moving their sprouts; even it I didn’t, NCLB apparently gives them the legal right to switch out of a faltering school. In their place, I’d be attracted by International’s strong test scores and relatively diverse student body – which drew us to this neighborhood.

International Elementary will be fine for this year. But what about next year, when we’ll presumably need another first-grade room, too, and the years thereafter? What if we’ll permanently have three classrooms per grade instead of just two? The school is already in cramped quarters. The counselor and psychologist (who rotate through the district) share space with a skeleton in a closet. (Literally.) And you can’t extend the existing building. There’s just no space. I suppose you could just get rid of the playground … but even then, who’s going to fund the construction? The alternative – classes of 30 or more children – would just gut International’s strength, small classes with great teachers.

My point here isn’t just about “me me me,” though it sure feels good to vent. The larger point is that poverty can’t be contained. It spreads like a contagion – like a “miasma,” as nineteenth-century doctors would have said – and it ultimately affects us all.

So never mind altruism. It’s in everyone’s self-interest to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society have enough.

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By now, you may have heard that the source of the recent salmonella outbreak is a single egg baron in Iowa, Austin “Jack” DeCoster. What you might not have heard: He’s just as reckless with his human employees as with his hens.

At Grist, Tom Philpott reports that in 2002, five undocumented female migrant workers brought criminal charges alleging that they had been raped by supervisors while at work. In a subsequent EEOC lawsuit, DeCoster settled for $1.5 million dollars. He has also been fined for housing immigrant workers in deplorable rat-infested conditions , for having employees handle dead animals and manure with their bare hands, and for repeated water-safety violations (some stemming from his hog farms). Philpott concludes:

The outrage here is not that Wright County Eggs has released nearly half a billion tainted eggs into the market, exposing untold numbers of people to sickness. DeCoster’s record of abuse — of people and the environment — has taught anyone who’s paying attention to expect such things from his operations.

The outrage is that regulatory authorities at both the state and national levels have allowed him to continue hiring workers and producing food as violations piled up.

(Read the rest here.)

Yes. But the problem isn’t just Jack DeCoster, even if the current outbreak is traceable entirely to his operations. It also goes beyond our lax regulations and their even laxer enforcement. The issue goes to the core of how we eat: our dependence on large-scale farming.

As I noted when swine flu first emerged, factory farming is a public health threat on a number of levels, including the breeding of novel viruses and bacteria. In addition, such farms routinely use antibiotics to control the diseases that inevitably erupt when you concentrate thousands or hundreds of thousands (!!) of animals. This is creating a perfect chance for bacteria to mutate into drug-resistant forms. It’s undermining our ability to effectively treat human diseases. And while some industrial farming operations may treat their workers well, DeCoster is not alone in exploiting them.

The overall problem is that industrial agriculture is geared to making profits, first and foremost – and the quest for profit-maximization has eclipsed human values. This has happened in many industries, of course, but it can be deadly in agriculture because of its direct impact on our food supply and public health.

DeCoster exemplifies sheer callousness to the human and animal wreckage he and his ilk have fostered.

  • The hens crowded together, suffering from mutual aggression and sitting in their own feces.
  • Their chicks, sickened with salmonella, who brought the infection to another industrial egg operation.
  • The undocumented women whose bodily integrity was violated by supervisors who exploited a lawless atmosphere.
  • All the other workers living and working in filth.
  • And now the rest of us, who could be infected by a simple sunny-side up egg.

Thorough cooking kills salmonella, as Salon’s Francis Lam reminds us. From my own experience, I know that’s not quite enough. The cook who handled the raw eggs needs to wash her or his hands very thoroughly. The worst “tummy flu” I’ve had hit me after I’d boiled a bunch of eggs for dyeing at Easter and, distracted by a house full of company, hadn’t paid much heed to hand-washing. I was the only person who got sick, but I was down for a week, so immobilized that a girlfriend had to drop by to check on me and deliver ginger ale. I’m sure it was salmonella, caught from the shells. I can be glad I was young and healthy when it hit. And yes, those eggs came from factory farms (albeit in Germany, so they were subject to some regulation).

These days, I buy Kroger’s organic free-range eggs when I don’t have a local source. When my friends’ chickens are laying, I don’t have to buy eggs at all (and they just gave me three this evening – yippee!). There’s never a perfect guarantee of safe food, but our odds improve dramatically when we don’t rely on industrial mass production. And when we eat an egg from happy hens, we can be pretty confident that no humans have been treated cruelly, either.

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And yes, you likely are promiscuous, even though you may not think of yourself that way. At least, that’s the implication of a quiz that appeared at Big Think this week. Now, you know I’ve got a soft spot for internet quizzes, but it usually runs toward Hello Quizzy (aka OK Cupid) and similar silliness. This quiz purports to be serious! scientific! and will tell you about your “sociosexuality.” Blogger Marina Adshade at Big Think found it incumbent upon her to translate “sociosexuality” as “promiscuity.”

Whatever you call it, I found the results shocking – and not because the quiz branded me a slut. I am shocked at the shoddy methodology that’s trying to pass as “science.”

Go take the quiz and tell us how you came out, ‘kay? I will wait below the LOLcat.

(Shocked, shocked kitteh from ICHC?)

I’ll come clean: I landed in Finland, which according to Adshade is the #1 mecca for the promiscuous. Funny thing, though. I answered that I’ve been with just one partner over the past year and expect to stay with him, and only him, for the next 30 years, should we be so blessed to both live that long. I ‘fessed up to the one-night stand, though that’s a real definitional tangle. Does oral sex count? What does it mean when your “casual” partner is never a rank stranger, but always a friend or someone in your larger social network? What about friends with benefits, where the benefits were infrequent and very much subsidiary to the friendship? What about one-night stands that morph into several nights? What about “casual” sex that leads into a years-long relationship? (All of these questions hint at my classic MO until I met my husband.)

I like to see how quizzes spit out different assessments, so I varied my responses some – keeping my truthful answers to the first two questions, and also holding fast to my tolerant (but not really celebratory) answers toward casual sex. I also copped to some fantasies but not to daily ones, and held that answer constant, too. But I played with the number of “one-night stands,” and see here: I stayed in Finland until I claimed (okay, lied) never to have had one. That moved me down just one rank – to New Zealand.

I suspect study-abroad applications will spike for Finland and New Zealand, if this “research” gets out to the general public.

But seriously: what a way to view promiscuity! I don’t like the term anyway, because it almost always leads to slut-shaming. I’d prefer to stick with “sociosexuality.” Whatever you think of the terminology, it seems silly to brand a fortysomething, married, monogamous gal with a handful of youthful adventures “promiscuous” just because she refuses to condemn the pursuit of pleasure, youthful or not. Or because she fesses up to fantasies – which I suspect is what drove my score sky-high. I’d love to know how Jimmy Carter (he who famously “lusted in his heart) would stack up.

I enjoy silly quizzes, but sometimes the line between science and internet meme is very thin indeed. Not to mention, there are also some very good reasons for people to engage in “casual” sex, as Monica Shore reminds us at Alternet (originally at Carnal Nation). Shore’s article is buttressed by a few preliminary stats from Heather Corinna’s much more scientific survey on “casual” versus “committed” sex. I’m eager to hear about Heather’s results once they’re made public, because I think she asked the right questions here and here.

See y’all in Finland? If not, where will I find you?

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In my expert opinion, this is the best Simon’s Cat video yet. It’s the cattiest. Watch, and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no baseball bat, no shattering glass. Just classic cat behavior, exaggerated by a mere whisker. My kids forced me to watch it three times. We were still laughing on the third run.

There’s a moment (at 0:50) where SC does one of GK’s signature moves: after falling like a perfect dork, SC (or the ghost of GK?) takes a “spontaneous” bath to cover her embarrassment. Yes, cats can be embarrassed, and Grey Kitty (patron cat of this blog) would have spent a lot of time blushing, were she not so grey.

(If you can’t see it, go here. Or just click through to Kittywampus, where the catnip is always fresh and copious.)

Thanks to Intransigentia for getting the word out on this new clip. Yay, indeed!

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I am just old enough to recall a time, in the 1970s, when racism wasn’t yet endemic to the Republican Party and many of its leaders still stood for decency and dignity. Yes, Nixon had just exploited his Southern strategy, and his minions undermined fair campaining with their ratfucking. Racism as strategy and tactic was gaining a foothold among Republicans. And let’s be clear: Overt, blatant racism was still more hoffähig among all white Americans than it is today. But the Republican Party was still to some extent the party of Lincoln – and “Southern Democrat” was still synonymous with “racist,” which to some degree limited the Republicans’ ability to exploit prejudices.

Decent Republicans still exist, though you’d hardly know it from the hoohah raised over the Cordoba House. I just loved this remark (via the Daily Dish):

It may not make me popular with some people, but I think probably the President was right about this. I do believe that people of all religions have a right to build edifices or structures, places of religious worship or study where the community allows them to do it under zoning laws and that sort of thing. And that we don’t want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith. And I don’t think it should be a political issue. It shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat issue either. I believe Governor Christie from New Jersey said it as well, that this should not be in that political partisan marketplace.

That’s Ted Olson speaking. His wife, Barbara, was killed in the 9/11 attacks. So what was that again about “hallowed ground” and “the 9/11 families”? Is Olson not among their numbers?

Between this statement and Olson’s principled fight for marriage equality in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, I could just about bring myself to vote for him if he ever ran for office.

What would it take to encourage more Republicans of this stripe?

(And by the way, kudos to Governor Christie, too.)

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Wondering where I’ve been? Why, I just took a little trip to colonoscopyland. This is what I learned on my travels, presented for your edification and guidance:

My colon is free of all dread diseases. That’s a relief, because I’ve had weird digestion since I first got sick in January of 2009, and because my dad has lived with Crohn’s disease (which tends to run in families) for 50 years. So it seemed prudent to rule that out, even though I’m a bit younger than the average colonoscopy customer. Requests for pictures have already been pouring in. Sadly, I can’t oblige with the DVD. (Sorry, Hydraargyrum.) But I will say that I saw a few still photos while I was coming out of the sedation, and they looked much like the Caves of Altamira – minus the artwork.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

If you must travel in my footsteps: Expect a two-day journey. The prep will kill the better part of day one. At first, I was able to do a little computer work, but so intermittently that I think I may have wrecked one of my Blackboard classes for lack of focus. The second day is divided between final prep (if your appointment is in the afternoon, like mine) and then, once the deed is done, feeling stoned from the sedation.

I know a lot of people worry about colonoscopies because of their feeling toward The Butt. I am here to tell you: Forget about The Butt. Apart from having to don one of those flapping-in-the-wind gowns, I had no conscious interactions with anyone regarding The Butt. All Butt-related activities take place under heavy sedation.

The prep is the worst segment of the journey, partly because of the sheer volume, which I badly misunderestimated. A gallon is not 64 ounces as I’d thought; it’s 128! Oh why are we not on the metric system? The other nasty part was its fetid taste. I’m glad I didn’t come up with the descriptor “fetid” while in the fray, or I might have given up altogether. After really gagging on the first of the 16+ glasses, I figured out a good system: Make sure the liquid is very cold. Take a breath and hold it. Use a straw and suck as furiously as you can. By the time your tastebuds notice how gagworthy this stuff is, they’ll be half frozen and you’ll be able to get the rest down. Then, chase it with a little apple juice, which will also help you keep hydrated. Worked for me.

If you consume green jello – one of the approved “clear liquids” – during the prep, expect to see green the next morning. I woke up, finished my prep, then thought I’d suddenly developed a truly dire condition. It was worth the shock, though, because the jello wasn’t plain old boring American lime; it was German Waldmeister jello.

(You will spend a fair amount of time scrutinizing the contents of your toilet bowl. Get used to it.)

The objective at the end of the prep is to be emitting the sparkly excretions of a unicorn, or at least of My Little Pony.

Photo by Flickr user dreamcicle 19772003, used (and lighted cropped) under a Creative Commons license. She has a lot more like this one, all zany, creative, and great fun.

This objective will founder if you naively (but joyfully!) consumed a pound or two of tomatoes the day before your prep. Pay no heed to the allure of the Purple Calabash and the Brandywine!

Their seeds will continue to present themselves for inspection at the point where you really ought to be seeing nothing but rainbows, sparkles, butterflies, and violets. And as you stare into the bowl, you can only see the spectre of COLONOSCOPY FAIL – and facing a redo, after all this fuss and fiddling, just because some tomato seeds mistook your viscera for a nice place to live until germination.

Once you’re surrounded by kind helpers, ask for lots of hot blankets, and let the kindest-looking nurse know that you’d love a little something just to “take off the edge” while you wait. Hey, you’re not driving this train, you’re only the caboose! So why shouldn’t you party it up? Alternatively: Just be like me and get red blotches on your neck whenever you’re nervous or psyched up, and maybe the nurse will offer you some Versed. Worked for me. Next time, I’ll be sure to have some Grateful Dead cued up so I can fully savor the buzz.

The moment between the sedative entering your vein and bearing you off to colono-lalaland is absolutely fascinating. You can feel your consciousness bend. I wanted to freeze that brief moment – to have that experience in slow-mo, again with Jerry laying down the soundtrack. The drug in question is Propofol. It’s what killed Michael Jackson (in combo with Ativan). Now I know why Jackson died. I also know why I will never experience more than a fleeting second in that state. It is too dangerous. Too seductive.

Afterward, expect to remember nothing of The Butt. If you do, either someone screwed up, or you’re in the evil hands of Dr. de Sade. This is why you need to figure out the doc’s approach to sedation before you commit yourself into his hands.

In recovery, I drank a Diet Pepsi to mellow out my caffeine withdrawal; only too late did I hear that the dude next to me got a Mountain Dew. But he had a polyp and I did not. Also, in the competition to pass gas (required before discharge), he was trouncing me. That quenched my envy. I was still jonesing for some Jerry, because even though I was clearheaded, I was also still tripping.

Now, ten hours later, I’m still loopy enough to write a TMI post like this one (cleverly disguised as a PSA!). My legs are still a bit wobbly – a late effect of overdosing on Waldmeister jello? I’ve got a mild headache; a hangover, I presume, from the Propofol and general dehydration. But I’m told I should feel fine in the morning.

If anyone stumbles upon this post while gearing up for your own trip to colonoscopyland: Bon voyage! As y’all know, it’s not just a trip – it’s a pilgrimage for the over-fifty set, which calls you once a decade. Early diagnosis likely saved my mom from developing colon cancer. I strongly recommend you take the journey, too. Just remember to leave the tomatoes behind … lest they never leave your behind.

P.S. Feel free to share TMI, fears, and potty humor in comments … or if you’re just irredeemably squicked, you may sing “lalalalalal” and hold out for another cat post, which I promise is coming soon. (Just remember, though: Cats have butts, too! And they are quite inimical to sparkle ponies.)

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I’m not planning to convert my Ph.D. to an M.D. anytime soon, nor to start mainlining heroin. But I did purchase a hypodermic needle this weekend. I’m using it to doctor … my summer squash plants.

Yes, that’s right. I’ve been shooting up my squash. My old enemy, the squash vine borer, has taken up residence in my garden again. I recognized her because she comes around every year. I’d hoped in vain to avoid her this summer because I planted my squash seeds so late – June 22 – that the borers should no longer be flying. Or so say all the Internet sources I consulted (one of which claimed they’d be done by the Fourth of July).

I know, I know: never trust the Internet.

And so, I’m doing battle with the squash vine borer. The single adult I saw isn’t the issue, actually; it’s the offspring that are trying to kill my plants. They are grubs. I find them so repugnant that I’ll just say they are the stuff of bad sci fi (and no, they aren’t pictured anywhere in this post, so grub-o-phobes like me are safe to read on). They grow to well over an inch while tunneling through the vines, girdling them, and killing the plant from within. Their calling card is a small pile of yellow crud called “frass” that appears at the base of the plant. Think of them much like the red crosses daubed on the doors of plague sufferers: once the frass appears, you know the plant is doomed.

But this year, I decided to fight back. Yesterday afternoon, I bought a bottle of bacteria (bacillus thuringiensis, aka BT), which will infect and (I hope) kill the grubs before they’re able to do much damage. Using my new hypodermic needle, I squirted a solution of this into as many vines as possible. (Summer squash has hollow stems.) Then I poured the rest around the base of the plants. I’m planning to spray with it weekly. Or daily. I’m determined to win, this time.

However, I worried that the BT wouldn’t be too slow to kill the larvae already at work. So, again per the advice of the Intertubes, I took a sharp knife and slit the stems just above the frass. There, I discovered two evildoers and dispatched them immediately. (I was, after all, wielding a sharp knife.)

During all this carnage, I also spotted cucumber beetles feeding on the blossoms of the summer squash. They were also attacking my butternut vines (which are so vigorous that they, in turn, are menacing New York and Tokyo, much like last year). A massive thunderstorm was moving in on us, but just before it broke, I planted a couple of yellow sticky traps. Today, despite the storm, they looked like this.


Unfortunately the spotted cucumber beetles are more resistant than the striped variety. (Are they smarter? Or just stronger? At any rate, they are refudiating my traps.) After dinner tonight, I chased some of them with the Dust Buster. Hey, I may look ridiculous vacuuming my squash, but I’m determined to stick with organic methods

And this WILL be the year I prove I can grow zucchinis – or at least yellow summer squash. This little beauty is about 4” long.

If I can nurse my plants until this teensy baby squash matures, it’ll be a personal record for me.

And yes, I do realize that zucchini is the one veggie that everyone can grow by the bushel.

This evening, I talked on the phone with my mom and learned that shooting up cucurbits actually has a family history. Way back before I was born, my dad and their neighbor Fran took a hypodermic to some watermelon. They pumped it up with vodka instead of BT. And yes, I know some folks do this for parties, but these melons … were still on the vine. They died on the vine. Oops.

Measured against that history, one-and-a-half yellow summer squash may well be a family record. By my personal standards, it’s already a bountiful harvest. Most years, my yield of summer squash has been a big old ZERO. But oh, I dream of such excess that I’ll have to turn squash into baked goods.

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Zen Caturday

What is it about Japanese cats? They seem to span the most athletic (Maru, of course) to the most contented. The reigning Zen master of Japanese felinity is Shironeko. I love how he’s often smiling.

The commenters at I Can Has Cheezburger accused Shironeko and his humans of photoshopping, but I’m not so sure. Lots of cats like to squeeze into tight spaces. Not all cats appreciate having stuff placed on top of them (see: Stuff on My Cat). Shironeko is so relaxed you could probably park a twenty-pound turkey on his head. Fortunately, his humans have subjected him to nothing worse than eggplants and lettuce:

funny pictures of cats with captions

(Kitteh with stuff on his head from I Can Has Cheezburger.)

If you need more Shironeko, check out his blog. It’s all in Japanese, but when you’ve got a sunflower on your head, it really doesn’t matter. There’s also a nice selection at the Love Meow blog.

Just for the record: The photo showing a slug-like form on Shironeko actually depicts some sort of seedpod. I feel much better knowing that.

See also: Stuff on my Cat. Be forewarned, though, that most of these kittehs are pissed.

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Why let an ideology or worldview compete on its own merits when you can spread it as propaganda to tender young minds? Better yet, how ’bout paying to download it into young brains? That’s what’s happening with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, which – as best I understand it – is a mishmash of “reason,” capitalism, untrammeled competition, and unenlightened self-interest.

I first got wind of this earlier in the week, but feared things had gotten even further out of hand today, when Jill at Feministe quoted from this post by Eric Hague at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency:

I’d like to start by saying that I don’t get into belligerent shouting matches at the playground very often. The Tot Lot, by its very nature, can be an extremely volatile place—a veritable powder keg of different and sometimes contradictory parenting styles—and this fact alone is usually enough to keep everyone, parents and tots alike, acting as courteous and deferential as possible. The argument we had earlier today didn’t need to happen, and I want you to know, above all else, that I’m deeply sorry that things got so wildly, publicly out of hand.

Now let me explain why your son was wrong.

When little Aiden toddled up our daughter Johanna and asked to play with her Elmo ball, he was, admittedly, very sweet and polite. I think his exact words were, “Have a ball, peas [sic]?” And I’m sure you were very proud of him for using his manners.

To be sure, I was equally proud when Johanna yelled, “No! Looter!” right in his looter face, and then only marginally less proud when she sort of shoved him.

The thing is, in this family we take the philosophies of Ayn Rand seriously. We conspicuously reward ourselves for our own hard work, we never give to charity, and we only pay our taxes very, very begrudgingly.

Since the day Johanna was born, we’ve worked to indoctrinate her into the truth of Objectivism. Every night we read to her from the illustrated, unabridged edition of Atlas Shrugged—glossing over all the hardcore sex parts, mind you, but dwelling pretty thoroughly on the stuff about being proud of what you’ve earned and not letting James Taggart-types bring you down. For a long time we were convinced that our efforts to free her mind were for naught, but recently, as we’ve started socializing her a little bit, we’ve been delighted to find that she is completely antipathetic to the concept of sharing. As parents, we couldn’t have asked for a better daughter.

That’s why, when Johanna then began berating your son, accusing him of trying to coerce from her a moral sanction of his theft of the fruit of her labor, in as many words, I kind of egged her on. Even when Aiden started crying.

You see, that Elmo ball was Johanna’s reward for consistently using the potty this past week. She wasn’t given the ball simply because she’d demonstrated an exceptional need for it—she earned it. And from the way Aiden’s pants sagged as he tried in vain to run away from our daughter, it was clear that he wasn’t anywhere close to deserving that kind of remuneration. By so much as allowing Johanna to share her toy with him, we’d be undermining her appreciation of one of life’s most important lessons: You should never feel guilty about your abilities. Including your ability to repeatedly peg a fellow toddler with your Elmo ball as he sobs for mercy.

Look, imagine what would happen if we were to enact some sort of potty training Equalization of Opportunity Act in which we regularized the distribution all of Johanna’s and Aiden’s potty chart stickers. Suddenly it would seem as if Aiden had earned the right to wear big-boy underpants, and within minutes you’d have a Taggart Tunnel-esque catastrophe on your hands, if you follow me.

Johanna shouldn’t be burdened with supplying playthings for every bed-wetting moocher she happens to meet. If you saw Johanna, her knees buckling, her arms trembling but still trying to hold aloft the collective weight of an entire Tot Lot’s worth of Elmo balls with the last of her strength, what would you tell her to do?

To shrug. Just like we’ve instructed her to do if Child Protective Services or some other agent of the People’s State of America ever asks her about what we’re teaching her.

(Read the rest here.)

Unlike Jill, I quoted nearly the whole thing so that you’d have a fighting chance to realize that this is, indeed, satire. Myself, I first thought it was “by real,” as my Tiger says – maybe because the default framing of anything on a major feminist blog is “outrage” rather than “funny”? But this piece is, in fact, very, very funny. Anything that evokes Elmo in the same breath as Ayn Rand and throws in a poop joke or two has great comedic potential.

But now that we’ve had our LOLs, here’s true and rather sinister side of this story. The Ayn Rand Institute is indeed out to capture the minds of young ‘uns, starting with college students. And this is no spoof.

The latest issue of Academe (the journal published by the American Association of University Professors) includes two articles detailing how the Ayn Rand Institute is channeling funds through the charitable offshoot of a major bank, BB&T (which I confess I’d never heard of until now):

Stipulations range from the seemingly benign—funding for faculty and student research and support for a speaker series on capitalism, leadership retreats, and the establishment of Ayn Rand reading rooms—to the sharply contentious. At Western Carolina University, for example—as at UNC–Charlotte—in addition to the creation of new courses involving required reading of Rand, the original 2008 agreement included a condition that faculty members who teach the new course on capitalism “shall work closely with the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and have a reasonable understanding and positive attitude towards Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.” In this and other agreements, the BB&T Foundation’s close ties to the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Irvine, California, are evident. The institute’s stated mission is to work “to introduce young people to Ayn Rand’s novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights, and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience.”

(Read the whole article by Gary H. Jones here, plus a case study by Richie Zweigenhaft on how this all shook out at Guilford College in North Carolina.)

I find this absolutely chilling. Imagine if a donor said I had to teach David Irving, the infamous Holocaust denier, in my Nazi Germany course. Or if I were required to teach Phyllis Schlafly in my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies! I do mention them both – but certainly not with “a positive attitude.”

The corporatization of the university has advanced so far that this new incursion on academic freedom isn’t entirely surprising. It is, however, breaking new ground. And why am I not surprised that it’s spearheaded by precisely a movement whose “philosophy” (if it deserves to be dignified as such) meshes neatly with that of a corporatized university, where units are pitted against each other according to shady metrics, and where pillars of a liberal education such as Classics face possible extinction because they don’t generate enough revenue?

The irony, of course, is that if Ayn Rand’s acolytes really believed in the free market, and if her ideas were truly so stinkin’ brilliant, there’d be no need for such shenanigans. Rand’s ideas would succeed on the open market. Full stop. No donations required.

So, no, Rand’s not being taught in nursery school – yet. I have to wonder, though, if the ARI is only waiting on the release of a pop-up book version of Atlas Shrugged .

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The prospect of marriage equality raises basic questions of what marriage is, how it came to be that way, and how it’s evolving. Here’s how Judge Vaughn Walker addressed those questions in his smackdown of Proposition 8:

The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.

(From Perry v. Schwarzenegger, via Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish; the whole decision is here, in pdf format)

It’s a marvelous vision of marriage as degendered – one I’m happy to sign onto. But he harks back to a history of marriage that never existed. If we rely on a rosy view of the past, it’s gonna be harder to move into the future.

Once marriage equality is achieved as a constitutional right, then, yes, gender will no longer form “an essential part of marriage” – but we’re not there yet. We are still groaning under the yoke of history. And throughout history, at least since the dawn of agriculture and civilization, marriage has been saturated with gender inequality. Indeed, marriage was unthinkable outside of gender inequality, and one of its primary purposes was to preserve a gendered hierarchy. (I’ll leave aside racism, because “race” is a relatively modern invention; suffice it to say that membership in tribes, religions, nations, and various other in- and out-groups has never been irrelevant to marriage.)

From its outset, marriage was a thoroughly patriarchal institution. It raose along with civilization to assure men that their children were, in fact, their heirs – and not the progeny of another man. The only way to guarantee this was to control women’s sexuality. And that control spread into every facet of respectable women’s lives. (The disreputable could be prostitutes or concubines. They, too, remained subject to male power, just in a different key.)

Love, of course, was beside the point. Consider the good ole days in ancient Assyria. Men could sell their wives (and children) into slavery, or pawn them in cases of debt. Husbands could legally kill their wives under certain circumstances. A daughter’s virginity had considerable monetary worth. Men could have sex with concubines with impunity, while women who committed adultery faced the death penalty. The woman’s illicit partner risked the same fate, but don’t mistake this for gender equality; it just nailed down the principle that a respectable woman’s sexuality always belonged to a man, whether her husband or father. It also signals that not all men wielded equal power under early patriarchy. As in today’s fundamentalist Mormon sects, lower-status men could be excluded from power and possession. Patriarchy was a sweet deal for the patriarchs – the high-status, property-owning men. It sucked for everyone else.

Christianity and Islam both initially enhanced women’s status, but neither made marriage egalitarian. Christian women were allowed to choose sacred virginity over marriage, but the woman who chose to marry was still subject to her husband’s rule. Islam reduced the number of wives to four – which was an improvement over the massive harems that rich men held in the Prophet’s day. However, like Christianity, Islam proclaimed men the head of the household.

Even a century ago in the U.S., most women had little choice but to marry for economic survival. Legally and economically, most found it difficult to leave a bad marriage before the 1970s. The concept of rape within marriage was unrecognized forty years ago. Companionate marriage – the practice of marrying for love and friendship – only took firm hold in post-WWII America. The new ideal didn’t erase millennia of patriarchy, but love started to undermine the notion of the husband as head of the household. So did the nascent feminist movement of the 1960s. Both love and feminism required that a husband view his wife as his equal, not as an object.

So far, love and feminism haven’t been quite enough to revolutionize marriage. Some men – and not a few women – remain deeply invested in patriarchal arrangements. For instance, Sam Schulman at the Christian Science Monitor knows exactly what marriage is for: “protecting” women’s sexuality:

Among the many different versions of marriage in human history, very few of them have supplied the high-minded qualities [intimacy, inclusion, etc.] that the plaintiffs feel is their right. The vast majority of marriages in the past, perhaps a majority even now, were dictated by families, clans, holy men or magicians, and enforced on the bride and groom by social pressure, enforced if necessary with brutality and violence.

True, many marriages promote loving intimacy and enduring fidelity, but that’s an outcome of the relationship itself – not the raison d’etre for the institution. In primordial terms, marriage only exists at all – in all of its permutations, pleasant or barbaric – because of the nature of human heterosexuality. As a species, we need to protect female sexuality in order to assure ourselves of a future.

Marriage is a necessary defense of a woman’s sexuality and her human liberty from determined assault by men who would turn her into a slave, a concubine – something less than fully human. Human communities need to give women some additional degree of protection – through law, custom, religious decree, or sacrament – generally some combination of all three, neatly summarized by the plaintiffs, who demanded the sacred and the eternal from the state of California.

Of course, marriage’s power to protect women is far from perfect, but no human institution is. Parents, too, sometimes do awful things to their children. …

Heterosexual relationships need marriage because of inferiority: the physical inferiority of sexual defenders to sexual attackers and the moral inferiority of male sexual attackers

Marriage is not about couples or lovers – it’s about the physical and moral integrity of women. When a woman’s sexuality is involved, human communities must deal with a malign force that an individual woman and her family cannot control or protect.

Modern marriage is only the least worst version of marriage that has emerged from all this – but it is still necessary for women. What protects women, ultimately, is that marriage laws and customs confer upon her independence something extra – dignity, protection, sacredness – that others must respect. And if this quality can be bestowed upon anyone, even those not in intersexual relationships – it reduces, even dissolves its force.

(The rest of the trainwreck is here. Via Melissa McEwan of Shakesville.)

What’s another word for “protect”? Yup: C-O-N-T-R-O-L.

The rest of Schulman’s argument is simply incoherent. So women’s sexuality needs protection, and marriage will do the trick? Um … protection from what, exactly? Schulman never spells out the nature of the threat. Let’s assume it’s not mere slut-shaming but outright rape. How, precisely, can a husband protect his wife from being raped? Are husbands to accompany their wives everywhere, Uzi in hand? How do we explain rapists’ propensity for targeting both single and married women willy-nilly? Does my wedding ring function as kryptonite, cleverly disguised as bling?

As if he (and we) weren’t already hopelessly confused, Schulman also states that an individual family cannot adequately protect women from “a malign force.” How, then, is marriage supposed to protect women at all? It’s not as though the whole community encircles the houses of married ladies while throwing the single gals to the wolves.

Then there’s Schulman’s odd obsession with dignity. Why would marriage bestow dignity on women (but not men)? Could it just possibly have something to do with women being presumptively sluts if they’re not married? (That’s the point where I became pretty sure that Schulman wasn’t about to shield women from slut-shaming.) Why is my dignity as a married woman incompatible with the dignity of men and LGBT people? Aren’t they threatened by violence, too?

And sacredness, for pete’s sake! Why is this only accessible to heterosexual women? Why link sacredness to marriage, rather than that historically venerated state – motherhood – unless it’s assumed that all wives will automatically be mothers, too? (Note: I’m not arguing for motherhood as sacred. I’m just pointing out a likely elision in Schulman’s worldview.) And how do I get my chunk of sacredness, given that I only go to church on Christmas Eve?

Bizarrely, Schulman seems to be pining for old fashioned patriarchy, minus the polygamy, plus a little bit of feel-good “dignity.” That particular combination was born in the ashes of WWII and expired between 1963 and 1967. It’s not our world. As Amanda Marcotte points out at Pandagon, these days “we allow single women to live alone and they don’t slip into concubinage …”

Schulman can only picture (respectable) women as sexual victims or saints; he can’t imagine autonomous female sexuality. No word from him, either, on how patriarchal marriage has always co-existed like pigs in the mud with prostitution and/or concubinage. In fact, maintaining “respectable” women along with male sexual license logically requires prostitution.

Schulman got one thing right. Since the advent of civilization, marriage has been “enforced” by “brutality and violence.” The past forty years are a ginormous anomaly in the history of marriage. So we really can’t look for a usable history of marriage rooted in tradition. All we’ll find, instead, is a long trail of cautionary messages.

The only usable history is one that starts in the nineteenth century, tracing the evolution of marriage away from its patriarchal roots and toward equality of both partners. Linda McClain at Feminist Law Professors explains how the testimony of Nancy Cott – a renowned historian of marriage and gender roles – helped shape the Perry v. Schwarzenegger ruling:

Aided by expert testimony of historian Nancy Cott, Judge Walker carefully reviews how marriage laws used to mandate different roles for men and women and how California, like other states, has abolished all such restrictions EXCEPT the one requiring that civil marriage be the union of one man and one woman. This provides a powerful line of argument because the U.S. Supreme Court has previously struck down laws rooted in gender role stereotypes rather than ‘real’ differences between the sexes. And it has made clear (for example, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey) that coverture and other gendered rules of marriage do not reflect contemporary understandings of the federal constitution, the family, or of the rights of women and men.

Judge Walker further concludes that appeals to ‘tradition’ alone cannot justify the continued application of this different genders rule. This is a potentially powerful argument since, as his opinion points out, both bars on interracial marriage and fixed gender roles in marriage were defended at the time as central to marriage and yet were also repudiated as inconsistent with evolving understandings of marriage.

(Her whole post is here.)

Exactly. Coverture is dead; women now remain legal persons even after they marriage. (So take that, Sam Schulman!) We live in a world where gender roles are fluid in hetero marriage – where men change diapers and women frequently outearn their husbands.

Granting marriage equality indeed threatens traditional marriage. It undermines husbands’ patriarchal right to lord it over wives and children. It delegitimizes the control of women’s sexual and reproductive lives. Those changes won’t hurt my marriage one bit, but they sure pose a challenge to the guy who thinks he ought to be able to hit his wife as long as he’s the primary breadwinner.

We are not returning to some pure, unsullied history of gender equality. That history never existed. What we’re really doing is moving forward into a new era where marriage will cease to be a tool of oppression. This is a revolution.

No wonder some folks are nervous. To them, I would say: We are about to make history. Dare enough – trust enough – to relinquish control, embrace love, and see how much richer our lives will be when, as Judge Walker writes, “marriage under law is a union of equals.” Dare enough – trust enough – to help make history.

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Actually, this isn’t a truly new option, just one that has gotten no press up to now: using an IUD for emergency birth control:

A copper intrauterine device was 100 percent effective at emergency contraception in a study of almost 2000 Chinese women who had the device implanted up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

The device – called Copper T380A, or Copper T – continued to be effective at preventing pregnancy a year after it was inserted.

“It is by far the best emergency contraceptive option,” Dr. James Trussell, who studies birth control methods at Princeton University but was not involved with the current study, told Reuters Health of the device. “But many people just don’t know about it.”

Copper T, marketed as ParaGard in the United States, is a T-shaped piece of flexible plastic wrapped in a layer of copper that is inserted into the uterus. It works by stopping sperm from reaching the egg and by preventing an embryo from implanting in the wall of the uterus.

Led by Dr. Shangchun Wu at the National Research Institute for Family Planning in Beijing, China, the authors followed almost 2000 Chinese women who were implanted with the Copper T after coming into family planning clinics for emergency contraception. All of the women had engaged in unprotected sex in the previous 5 days.

(Read more at Reuters.)

Now, I have to admit I’m one of those women who remembers the publicity around the Dalkon Shield, including the subsequent lawsuits, and so I’ve never really warmed up to the idea of an IUD. But that’s just an emotional reaction. The safety record of the Copper T is very solid. Its effectiveness in the follow-up year of this study was similar to the overall track record of the IUD, with fewer than 1% of women becoming pregnant. (A few of them didn’t tolerate the IUD; either they expelled the IUD or had it removed due to side effects.)

The Reuters article also lays out the barriers to using an IUD as EC. You need to make an appointment with your gyno, and that may not be do-able within five days. The upfront cost ($500) is daunting if insurance won’t cover it.

One point that the otherwise thorough Reuters report missed: A few doctors still suffer under the misapprehension that inserting an IUD is too difficult in woman who’s never borne a child; it’s not, though it may sometimes be a bit trickier. This is a declining problem, but it’s still been an issue for some women (according to the commentariat at Feministe).

Despite these pitfalls, I can imagine the IUD being an excellent choice for many women who need EC. If you’re someone whose birth control is iffy because you have a hard time remembering to take the Pill, the IUD will solve that problem. If you only use condoms sporadically and therefore need EC, the IUD might be a good solution.

Especially for anyone who’s a repeat customer for EC, the IUD seems like a highly sensible choice. While IUD insertion can cause cramping (which can persist for a few days), Plan B can inflict pretty intense nausea. Having to chase down EC repeatedly is stressful for body and soul. Where 1 in 100 women will still get pregnant on Plan B, it’s fewer than 1 in 1000 with the IUD as EC. And in the long run, a woman who chooses the IUD is highly unlikely to face an unwanted pregnancy.

That’s not a panacea. But it’s a pretty excellent option.

Update 8/9/10, 10:30 p.m.: MomTFH, who (unlike your humble hostess) has actual medical training, added a whole ‘nother dimension to this in comments. Click here to read her whole contribution. A few highlights: “I was actually told by my ob/gyn that I wasn’t a good candidate, even though I had already had a baby, because I was divorced. (!!)

“According to a midwife who taught me about birth control, the reason why IUDs were not recommended for nulliarous women were because so many of them successfully sued over the Dalkon shield. The company had to pay a much higher settlement to women who never got to have children due to their injuries than they did to those who already had children. The indications for the newer IUDs, including the copper T, originally said the ideal candidates were parous women, but that is no longer the case. New recommendations say that pretty much any woman who does not have active pelvic inflammatory disease is a good candidate.”

She notes that the standard of care in the U.S. is to screen for STIs before insertion of an IUD, which would add to the difficulty of using an IUD for EC. I have to wonder if one reason for some practitioners’ coolness toward the IUD is that they worry women won’t take precautions against STIs, yet they also won’t need to come in for an annual exam (as they would if prescribed the Pill, patch, or shot) where an STI could be diagnosed and treated.

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Digby posted this quotation under the heading “Crazy Left Wing Hippie,” along with a challenge to guess who said it:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires,and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

I am feeling a bit smug because I guessed it correctly in one.

Also, I loved that last line: “Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” Too bad only the second assertion still holds true.

I’m curious what y’all come up with, so please drop your best (or worst!) guess in comments.

The correct answer is here (also via Digby).

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Here’s hoping for the day when we’ll all have an equal chance to marry …

(From ICHC?)

… and to love, in spite of the odds.

(From ICHC?)

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Via Andrew Sullivan: A new study finds that the crucial swing group who decided to vote for Prop 8 wasn’t African Americans; it was composed mainly of white parents of young children. Their fear, stoked by TV ads? That their kids would come home from school having learned that they could marry a person of the same sex.

And now Prop 8 has been struck down. The Bear (aged 10 1/2, with occasional excursions to toddlerhood and middle age) already regards marriage equality as a no-brainer. The Tiger, at 7, was less clear on the issue. We talked about it in the airport right as the news of Judge Walker’s verdict hit CNN. His main concern: could he have another piece of candy?

The Prop 8 legacy thus led directly to the Tiger learning that boys will be allowed to marry boys.

I would like to thank the Mormon Church, all the other major Prop 8 donors, Maggie Gallagher, and NOM for underwriting one of my better moments in parenting.

Update 2:30 p.m., 8/7/10: In case you were wondering what that fear campaign looked like, in fall 2008 I posted on an ad that warned about schools teaching kids that a princess can marry a princess.

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So I just flew back from Germany with my family, and what’s the first thing I see at the screens at JFK? Not my connecting flight – lordy, we’d missed that already, because JFK is still JFK, and it is dysfunction beyond any mere family dynamic. No, the tube is tuned to CNN, and Prop. 8 has just been relegated to the history books. Wahoo! I’ve been a loud cheerleader for the “equal-protection” argument all along, even before Olsen and Boies bet the house on it. From what I gleaned, it sounds as though “equality” carried the day. I’ll know more about the judge’s reasoning tomorrow, I guess, when I’m a bit less stunned from jet lag and oxygen deprivation.

We also got an impromptu lesson on how to drive an airport shuttle bus. Because Delta had mucked with our flight times without telling us, then parked us on the tarmac for a good half hour before finding a gate, then sliced more of our connection time by unloading baggage as if it were my grandma’s porcelain (one piece at a time, almost prissily), and then vetoed any chance of catching our original flight by sending us to wait for an inter-terminal train that was broken. It only went one way. The wrong way.

Hey, JFK has improved since our last sojourn there: the one with flood, tornadoes, and threats of arresting my darling husband.

So yeah, the shuttle. We rebooked for the last flight out of the day, and then got on this “shuttle,” where the driver needed to be instructed on how to put it into reverse, how to stay under 10 mph – no, really, UNDER 10 MPH! – and here’s where you have to make sure no plane is crossing your path, and here, and here – it was like watching an astronaut getting his first training, except you’re in the space capsule with him, and you’re positive you’re about to crash with the people you love best, plus their stuffed animals. None of the seats have belts. There are only four seats. I keep hectoring the Tiger to hang on (FER FUCK’S SAKE! …well, that part was conveyed by my tone). The newbie’s teacher said, at one point, “Just like driving in New York.” Fuck yeah. I’ve driven in New York. I wasn’t ready for primetime, but this gal wasn’t even in line for the late-late show. Also, she didn’t have my 16-year-old blonde sister to dangle out the window as a peace offering for a scary traffic move. This was the real thing, weaving in and out of 767s and more.

The shuttle adventure was awesome simply because we lived to tell the tale. Also, the other family riding it had two children who clearly intend to grow up to be Dora and Diego (from Nickelodeon, aka Dora the Explorer). The Tiger righteously complained about their decibels. Might he be inching toward his own genuine appreciation for an “indoor voice”?

More delays, this time presided over by an Asian-American flight attendant who keeps us down to three minutes tops outside the confines of our seatbelt. People turbo-pee, then wait out the end of the flight, wondering if said flight attendant might earn more money for less bother as a dominatrix. (Okay, I admit it: I am the wench wondering that.)

We finally land in Columbus at 10:30, just before our car rental agency is about to close. As I grab my gate-checked bag, I note that it has grown a new strap that seemingly sprouts from the top of it. I ponder whether this could be a trunk, and if so, might my carryon be morphing full-blown into an elephant? If so, how should I expect it to change in the days ahead? (Note that hallucinations have already seized center stage in my perception.) Then I notice the Emirates tags on the faux-Sungold luggage. Oops, someone grabbed the wrong red bag. My sweetheart husband sprinted toward the baggage carousel. By pure coincidence, I spotted and waylaid the lovely and apologetic perp as she left the ladies’ room. My computer cord was in there, so if it had scampered away, I wouldn’t be writing this now. But hey, full disclosure: A couple years ago, I was the woman who took off with someeone else’s crimson carryon, certain no one else had a matching color. I’m pretty sure I was less gracious, more doofus-y, and just plain panicked.

From Columbus, my beloved drove back from the airport in spires, gyres, and forks of lighting that backlit the night sky green-violet-grey. At times you didn’t need headlights at all. We found an all-Grateful-Dead, all-the-time station on Sirius radio. (Why do I not have this in my daily life?) It was the best Dead light show, ever. But then again, I didn’t have to drive. All that was missing was China Cat, Black Peter, and Terrapin Station. I love my husband a little extra for taking on the responsibility and letting me enjoy the storm – a pleasure that echoes back to my dad, and to his mother before him.

Oh, and we got a whiff of skunk as we inched through the Hocking Hills. Just to remind me that this is home. (I think the skunkish message for my husband is a whole lot more contradictory: home/not-home/fascinating-weird. But he likes it!)

And now I’m back in our beloved house, feeling melancholy about places and friends left behind in Berlin. I’ll reintegrate in the next day or two. Transitions like this are always beastly for me. But as the Dead remind me again and again, transitions – those unbounded, undefined spaces between the songs, even the very gaps between the notes (focus on Jerry and Phil to see what I mean) – are the wellspring of creativity and innovation and surprise and ineffable beauty. Coward that I am, I shouldn’t shrink from transitions just because they exact massive housework (like moving house, really) and overtired children (who were both champs).

In the meantime, until I can fully appreciate transitions and the Prop 8 victory, I drink a marbiggie (aka a slightly oversized martini), applaud the Prop 8 decision, and lay me down to rest.

(Go here if the clip doesn’t deliver Jerry to you.)

Update 8/6/2010: I fixed a few typos. I’m sure there are more. Writing on jetlag and lightning intoxication is a sure recipe for fingers running amok on the keyboard.

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I’ve been bowling. I didn’t really bowl. I just sort of dropped the ball.

I’ve played softball. Right field. I ran from those long pop flies. Ran away, just to be clear. If, by some odd twist of magnetism the ball landed in my glove anyway, I … just sort of dropped the ball.

But dropping a baby? Nope, I haven’t done that yet, though I birthed two of ‘em and hauled them from Germany to the U.S. and back, multiple times. The worse I ever did was to donk the two-year-old Bear’s head on the car as I tried to wrestle him into his carseat.

And so I find this just incomprehensible (via the Nation):

Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the father of SB 1070, has a new target in his cross hairs: “anchor babies,” the ugly epithet used to label children born of undocumented immigrants. The senator’s newest legislative provocation would allow Arizona “to refuse to accept or issue a birth certificate that recognizes citizenship to those born to illegal aliens, unless one parent is a citizen,” as he recently explained to his supporters. Crudely labeled “anchor baby bills” by the media, similar efforts are brewing in California, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Congress. On July 28, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham became the latest to join the assault on birthright citizenship, calling it a “mistake” and announcing that he may introduce a constitutional amendment to deny automatic citizenship to the children of immigrants who “come here to drop a child.”

(The rest is here.)

I am trying to picture where said immigrants are dropping a child. In the supermarket? In the middle of a busy intersection? In right field? Personally, I’d recommend that last option, as no one is likely to notice.

You know who’s really dropping the ball? Our media. Bless the Nation – but honestly who else is even reporting on this critically? And who (outside of a marginal cat-themed blogger) is criticizing this awful “dropping” metaphor?

It sounds like the Cabbage Patch Kids. We should be so lucky. No one’s talking about deporting a Cabbage Patch Baby.

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My time in Berlin is almost up. I’m excited to see my garden in a couple of days, but I have to admit it’s been pretty neglected this year. It got more love from my friend (and friend of this blog) Hydraargyrum in my absence than it did from me all spring. For the first time since I started gardening, I didn’t place a single order from the seed catalogs. I barely even browsed them, though Thompson and Morgan was parked in the bathroom for a while. If I had gotten my act together, I would have ordered their seeds for Gomphocarpus physocarpus, aka “Hairy Balls.”

Gives a new meaning to “garden porn,” doesn’t it?

And yes, that’s what they’re really called. Srsly. T&M says they’re easy to grow, so maybe next year. For now, they’re sold out. Guess I’ll have to plant a fall crop of lettuce and arugula instead.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user turtlemom4bacon, used under a Creative Commons license.

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