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Archive for September, 2010

Today was crap. I caught a student plagiarizing (off Conservapedia, no less!) and that’s the least of my concerns. I’m wound up, worried, and sad about a bunch of things I can’t write about here.

But this? It warmed even my shriveled soul.

(Click to enlarge.)

In case you’re having trouble diciphering:

Dere MaMa

I love you mama you are the best mama

in the howl younavers

you ar betr than the howl werld.

His signature follows (I blanked it here), along with maps of the werld (I am doing a backfloat on it – which sounds about accurate for today) and a diagram of the younavers, which consists of pointy houses that look like mountains – and me.

Of course, I cried when he gave this to me. Who wouldn’t?

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Caturday: Pallas Kittens

I thought that these kitties were adorable when I first saw them last summer (I think on ICHC?). Coming off a week that hit the skids – sick children, sick husband, sick me, and a few glitches at work – I can really empathize with how hard it is for the babies to do, well, anything at all. Only, their bumbling is much cuter than mine.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

Aren’t they gorgeous? My kids want to bring them home. I do, too!

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And she knows where your other hand is, of course.

I’m a little late to the snarkfest. I’ve been toying with – oh, playing with! – a post on how hard it must be for a politician like O’Donnell to glad-hand a crowd, knowing where their hands have been. I’ve been flashing back to the precious scene in The Education of Shelby Knox where the youth pastor earnestly tells the very young Shelby that you can catch HPV from just a handshake. But I just can’t find the right way to approach that post without sounding like, well, a wanker.

Worse yet, I nowthink the snark might be a bit premature. Andrew Sullivan explains how O’Donnell’s anti-masturbation campaign isn’t an outlier, but integral to a much larger theoconservative project.

O’Donnell’s stance against masturbation is related to the new natural law that is central to the theoconservative project that Douthat endorses and believes in (and that is at the core of the Republican party base). It is rooted in the notion that any sex that is not self-giving in a lifelong marital bond between a man and a woman is destructive of the human soul and also of the community at large. (See “The Theoconservative Project” chapter in The Conservative Soul for a longer treatment of this.) And theocons are not classical liberals – they see all this as interwoven with society at large and central to what the Pope sees as modernity’s core sexual and spiritual problems.

They do not believe that masturbation can be a truly private act, no more than gay sex or homosexual relationships can be. The way in which jerking off divorces sex from procreation and marriage is as repugnant to them as is same-sex marriage and for the same reasons. O’Donnell, in other words, believes that masturbating has social ramifications, because it reduces sexuality to what used to be called self-abuse, and this itself corrupts society as a whole and weakens the family. This is exactly and explicitly the same rationale for the thoecon refusal to acknowledge gay relationships, their opposition to contraception and pornography, and, in part, to abortion.

(Read the rest here.)

Now the good side of this is that when the theocon agenda is exposed, most Americans recoil from it. My mom (who’s a sort of mushy liberal and a devout Presbyterian) says that O’Donnell is a nut and she’s doomed to fail. Mom hangs out with a lot of nice older ladies who are probably a pretty accurate political barometer. If she’s right, then the Dems get to keep Joe Biden’s seat. Sure, Mom’s just one data point, but Nate Silver agrees.

So let’s say O’Donnell goes down in flames. The theocon agenda won’t spontaneously combust along with her. It has leaders who are less obvious than O’Donnell or Sharon Angle. They may not be what I’d call nuanced, but at least they haven’t been blathering out loud about the evils of self-abuse. Some of them will win. Gradually, they’re becoming part of the “normal” U.S. political scene. Every theocon who wins a primary emboldens the Tea Party and lends new legitimacy to the fundamentalist oppression of women and LGBT people. (Yes, I realize that not every Tea Partier is a theocon, but there’s a substantial electoral overlap.)

I’m afraid that after November 2, we won’t be clapping at all. Okay, that frees up our hands for other things. Cold comfort, indeed.

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Addressing a proposal in Australia to make baby formula a prescription-only product, Spilt Milk strikes the perfect balance between breastfeeding advocacy and respect for women’s individual situations, experiences, and autonomy.

As a lactivist I obviously have a problem with the marketing of infant formula and any implication that it is as good as, or better than, breast milk. But as a human being I also know that people are hurt, seriously hurt, when they feel judged and shamed and when they are exhaustedly holding a hungry, crying, baby at 2:30 am and it feels like no one can help them.

Removing systemic barriers to breastfeeding certainly may require improved measures to reduce the popularity of formula – popularity which can be attributed to decades of marketing not only to the public but to health professionals. A big part of that marketing is about convenience: huge displays in chemist shops and regular sales at the supermarket of products in familiar-looking tins add to the impression of ease of use and the normalisation of artificial feeding. But whether we like it or not, formula and its ready availability is important to many families. Removing that now feels like a stick where a carrot should be.

Give parents the tools to make sound decisions that benefit them and their babies. Give parents not only choices, but supported, realistic choices. Don’t tell a woman who has to go out of the home to work, or who has other children to look after and little support, that the choice to dedicate perhaps days to increasing her milk supply through frequent feeding and skin-skin contact to avoid supplementing with formula is an easy one: it clearly is not. Education and information are hugely important but they are only part of the picture when practical barriers still so often interfere with breastfeeding relationships.

Adding practical barriers to formula use, as I think this proposal would, isn’t a particularly kind way to help parents. Being caught between a rock and a hard place doesn’t make the rock seem any easier to budge: it just makes it hurt more to be stuck there.

(There’s lots more where this came from.)

I want to zero in on the problem of shaming. It’s illuminating to shift the focus away from infants and toward the choices that we adults make about our own bodies.

For instance: I had a super healthy dinner tonight: baked tofu, locally-grown Carola potatoes, locally-grown watermelon, and sliced golden tomatoes that I grew from seed. (I had been trying to grow these ‘maters, Aunt Gertie’s Gold, since I read rave reviews about them on Garden Web, but managed to kill them on the first attempt by mixing in too much organic fertilizer when I planted them out. Another year, they failed to germinate. This year – success!) I added a dab of butter to the potatoes and marinated the tofu in teriyaki sauce. I was in late-summer heaven.

But last night? Late after the kids were in bed? I ate a strawberry Pop-Tart. And damn, was that good too.

What if someone had decided to shame me about that Pop-Tart? Would that have caused me to ascertain that those potatoes were also organically grown, instead of just sustainably? Might I have foregone the butter? (Admittedly, if I’d been feeling well instead of ushering out a nasty GI infection, that pat of butter would have blossomed.)

Hell No!

I would have had a Pop-Tart for dessert.

Now, luckily people have not often shamed me for my Pop-Tart weakness. We don’t eat them regularly. My kids love them precisely because a Pop-Tart is a pink unicorn in their world, and a yummy one, at that. Most crucially, though: I am NOT FAT. And therefore I can only shamed along the “bad mommy” axis for keeping Pop-Tarts in stock; I’m pretty impervious to fat-shaming. (Fat-shaming would surely be worth a whole ‘nother post, and this post would be a whole lot different if not for my thin privilege.)

Of course, “bad mommy” shaming is the main tactic used against women who don’t conform to the loftiest ideals of breastfeeding practice. They’re told in no uncertain terms that their child’s survival depends on what they feed him or her. And they’d better feed mother’s milk, but then the true shaming begins. The new mother is eating all wrong! At least, this must be true, or the baby would settle better, sleep longer, give up his eight-hour crying jags. And so they’d better watch out for garlic! Peanuts! Soy! Cow’s milk! Eggs! That dejected bottle of prune juice, purchased solely in the hope of warding off postpartum constipation? Might as well dump it, dear; no one else in your family will go near it.

Through all this, the mother is trying to suss out her child’s new and changing needs. If she’s poor and/or not white, the “well-meant” advice may well come wrapped in a thick wrapping of paternalism. How’s she supposed to develop her sense of mastery and competency in this hullaboo of “Yer doin’ it rong!”

Really, what new mothers need is respect for the fact that they still are humans, and that their body remains their own. The baby has a moral claim on breastmilk, sure; the mother has a moral claim on being an autonomous person. In most cases, she also is willing to make very significant sacrifices for her baby – her sleep, bodily fluids, her illusion of invulnerability,  the very minerals from her bones. Shame her, though, and you’ve shortcircuited her chance to figure out what combination of sacrifices (because there will be sacrifices) could help her child thrive without eviscerating her as a woman – as a person.

And darn it – sometimes every mother needs a Pop-Tart. Mine was strawberry. Toasted. And I haven’t breastfed since spring 2003, so how much more do new mothers need a Tart? I don’t believe food should have to be earned through moral machinations, but I do tend to think that I’ve got a lifetime entitlement to Pop-Tarts. I’m certain that there’s still one box of brown sugar/cinnamon in the basement. I will eat it with utter lack of shame. Next morning, with nothing but a Tart headache, I will help my kids get their reasonably healthy breakfasts and lunches. They are growing. I’m pretty sure we’re doing something right. Quite possibly something that deserves a Pop-Tart and champagne celebration.

I’d be interested in your metaphorical Pop-Tarts – and that goes for non-parents, too. What small self-indulgences keep you afloat? How do you gird yourself against scolds?

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Longtime readers of Kittywampus may recall that there are just a few things that viscerally scare me:

Almost all of these things enter into the story from Thursday night, through I don’t believe any wasps were involved. But honestly? I wouldn’t know; I was holed up with my kids. As I was cleaning up the dinner mess, I heard the scream of an emergency siren. I knew that the university was planning to test its emergency system – on Friday. So I flew out to my front porch, straining to hear the announcement through its bullhorn-distortions. All I picked up was “take shelter,” along with the oppressive air on my porch, and that was good enough for this North Dakotan-bred gal. I yelled upstairs, “Tornado warning!” The Tiger yelled, “Tornado warning!”

He and his brother, the Bear, tore down the stairs. I followed them into the basement, laptop and phone in hand. (Why, oh why, didn’t a flashlight even occur to me?) Minutes later, I chanced the upstairs again just long enough to rescue a few treasured stuffed animals and the cord for my laptop. I was alone with the kids. Mmy husband was at a meeting in the country, out of cell range, which was a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because he holds the theory that tornadoes never strike Athens, and that warning aren’t worth heeding. A curse, because I couldn’t be sure he was in safety.

For a good half hour, the biggest challenge was keeping the Tiger’s whine of “I’m bored!” from driving the rest of us around the bend. I let them watch a couple of silly YouTube clips (this one cracked them up again). I was hoping we could go back up once the warning expired at 7:15. The Bear would be about to go to his music practice, and we could try to track down their dad.

But then we heard the emergency siren again. And again. Soon sirens were wailing every minute or two. I still couldn’t catch the message, but I was certain it wasn’t “all clear.” I’d have guessed, oh, “prepare to die.” The next day, a friend said he’d heard “Tornadoes are surrounding Athens!” which I’m sure was close to the truth.

Here’s what it really said:

Looking around our basement hideaway, I started toting up the hazards. The small window. The bookshelves. My French horn (hey, that would be deadly if it went airborne.) I gave each kid an oversized pillow to shield their noggins and necks. At that, the Tiger’s boredom tipped over into terror. He would not be consoled by how silly it was to have a lumpy Winnie-the-Pooh chair over his head. I nixed YouTube so I could hear, and the LOLcats just weren’t cutting it as a distraction. Even the Bear was fighting tears. Heck, I was working hard to act brave. It didn’t help that the National Weather Service was starting to report multiple sightings of a twister touching down. Or that I was frantically hitting refresh on their page.

When we finally emerged from our secure underground location after an hour and a half (without ever sighting Cheney, I might add), we were all rattled. So were our neighbors and friends. We’d kept our power while most of the town and county had lost it. An acquaintance had actually seen the funnel cloud moving merrily down his road. Afterward, he had to take his chain saw to the large trees that had fallen across the road, trapping him and his family.

News filtered in only slowly. It seemed clear that Athens and its environs had been struck by at least one tornado. Rumors started to spread that the high school had been hit. One of the first reports noted that Pine-Aire Village had suffered damage and had to be evacuated due to a gas leak. The tornado had duked it out with the achingly poor mobile home park where I went canvassing in 2008. As usual, the tornado won. As usual, Pine-Aire Village lost. People who are trying their damnedest just to eke by now have new worries.

I haven’t taken a look at Pine-Aire because frankly, I’m still scared of the meth dealer and the vicious, unleashed dogs. But I did see how similar trailers were flipped and squished nearby in The Plains, the closest thing Athens has to a bedroom community. These mobile homes were located right next to Athens High School, which for bizarre reasons relating to government pork funds is located in the Plains.

This picture (and the next) was taken by my husband the next evening, as dusk was closing in. The woman next to the trailer is a Fox News local reporter. (They just lapped this up.)

Note how someone has scribbled “NOT SAFE” in big red letters. I’m not gonna argue.

The rumors about the high school turned out to be true. It was full with soccer and volleyball players and their families. The morning after the storm, a good friend of mine – the mother of the Bear’s best friend – responded to my worried email. She’d been working in the concession stand when some prescient soul yelled that a funnel cloud was approaching. She sprinted up the long steep hill to the high school and took shelter in the bunker-like locker rooms. Other adults, perhaps thinking they’d be safer sheltering in place (the hill is pretty daunting), remained in the concession stand. At least two of them were injured, though not seriously. One was taken to the hospital, the other treated on the scene.

That’s the inside of the concession stand.

That’s its exterior.

Meanwhile, the students on the field had sought shelter from the rain in the press box. Someone ushered them down to a locker room that’s located right on the edge of the field. Good thing. The press box blew clean off the top of the bleachers.

Cars were crushed as the press box collapsed behind the stands.

My friend had a bad half hour before she was reunited with her son. The fear of another strike hadn’t quite abated enough for everyone to be released. My friend was in cell contact with her son, but the wait was hard, especially as the smell of gas indicated leaks. When they were finally permitted to leave, they found a moonscape: mature trees snapped like sticks, debris everywhere, and a stadium that won’t host games anytime soon.

The scoreboard is whacked.

The football goals stand at jaunty new angles.

The wreckage in the foreground used to be a stadium light. (Those to the right and left remain standing, but their lamps have been turned 90 degrees.) The wreckage in the back – well, that was the visitors’ bleachers.

Structures to the right and left of the locker room were decimated. And yet, the kids sheltering there stayed safe.

School is called off until further notice. The high school suffered damage to some classrooms.

It also lost its two 1000-pound AC units, which blew off the roof.

It is a miracle that no one was killed. I heard one chopper take off Thursday night, and the next day a colleague confirmed that one person was injured badly enough to require transfer to Columbus. On the whole, though, injuries appear to be few and minor. Property damage is much more significant.

The tornado also touched down in Athens proper, leaving its main mark on Autotech, an automotive servicing and towing company at the edge of town. The only two buildings farther out along that road are the Super 8 Motel and the clinic where I had my colonoscopy. Those facilities survived with only minor damage (mostly missing shingles). Just a few yards away, Autotech was damaged beyond redemption.

The view from the highway.

Note the Coke machine encircled by corrugated metal. (I took this photo yesterday morning, and the machine was liberated by evening.) Note, too the wads of insulation. We saw them everywhere. All those years growing up in North Dakota, and I never imagined that the hallmark of a tornado could be oodles of rogue insulation.

Of course the impaired Coke dispenser adds credibility to the conspiracy theory …

… that this tornado was brought to us by Pepsi. (Photo from the high school.) Yes, I’m being flip. Black humor is one of the ways I deal with the world’s horrors.

I’m grateful that my family didn’t suffer any harm beyond the shock and fright. Today the Tiger has been playing with Lincoln Logs. Every once in a while a tornado comes and knocks them down. It’s spookily reminiscent of boys I knew who were 10 after the Twin Towers collapsed. They built mega-towers out of legos, which were level by terrorist flying planes. I shudder. Yet our kids seem to need these reenactments in order to come to grips with destruction that none of us can really fathom.

I’m grateful that all of the neighborhoods in Athens proper were spared, and that the elementary schools (except the Plains?) seem to be fine. (I still expect them to stay closed on Monday, given the track record of my boyfriend, the superintendent. We’ve now burned through a full third of our three calamity days.)

Ohio University got very lucky. It appears undamaged. Nor will the Darwin Award go to any of those students who went outdoors to watch the storm “cause I’ve never seen a tornado!”

Tonight, my thoughts are with the people of The Plains, the families of AHS students, and (further afield) the people who did succumb to the storm: a man in West Virginia as well as those killed in Queens in a separate, even freakier storm.

And I’m grateful for the rescuers, pictured here in an extraordinary photo by Spencer Heaps, taken the same evening as the storm:

Spencer Heaps has several other stunning photos at his blog. Please do pay him a visit.

The Athens News also has info on Athens County being declared a disaster area and on the confusing scene at the high school. They offer a photo gallery, too.

There’s no really good footage of the tornado itself, thankfully. (I don’t want people putting themselves in harm’s way!) The next closest thing is this clip, taken by college students living on a hill on the south side of town, which to my knowledge was not damaged.

Photos by me and my husband except as noted.

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Clarissa posted this on her blog a few days ago, and I just loved it. I don’t quite think I can use it in my religion and sexuality class (it’s a bit too flippant) but I may yet change my mind.

In the meantime, enjoy some theologically accurate apostasy! Oh, wouldn’t NOM just love to teleport us all back to the Old Testament?

(Click here if you can’t see the video.)

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Seen on a roadside sign – y’know, one of those with moveable block letters? – next to a gas station in Athens, Ohio:

Remember 9/11

Soft drinks 99¢

(Sorry no photo; I’m a Luddite regarding my cell phone.)

Even my 10-year-old Bear understood how tacky this was.

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