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Archive for March, 2011

Even before he took office, John Kasich declared that Ohio didn’t need none of that high-speed rail funding from the feds, no sirree. Florida’s Governor Rick Scott has been just as short-sighted on rail, so Kasich is in great company. Both of them made Keith Balmer’s list (at Alternet) of the 8 Worst Governors – no small feat in such a fiercely competitive field.

Shame, shame. Even Mad Men’s Pete Campbell – best known for his tight society connections and his loose ethics – sees the future of high-speed rail. Well, he does mix it with a big dollop of casual sexism.

Harry Crane: “America always makes the best investment.” We believed that, back in 1965. Silly us. We had such pie-in-the-sky ideas for the future. We believed there’d be picture phones someday, and look what came of … why, actually, we were right about that one! Too bad we’ve missed every boat (and train) since, when it comes to smarter energy policy.

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Better enjoy this clip (courtesy of Funny or Die) because it’s as close as we’re likely to come to a new episode before 2012. I got my Season 4 DVDs this week. (My attempt to record it went sour due to some unknown mix of tech failure and manipulation by the kiddos.) I am hoping to savor the new episodes, as opposed to gobbling them in an orgy of Jon Hamm gluttony. Guess which outcome is more likely.

Just to cleanse your mind of the the Jon Kasich reference, here’s a picture of Jon Hamm with magic powers to calm and arouse all at once! At least, it works for me.

(Shamelessly swiped from Snarkerati.)

Since my spring flowers are a bit disappointing, you may see more Jon Hamm decorative elements around these parts in the days ahead.

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Oh, Ohio. The batshittery just never ends. As you may have heard, we’ve got pending legislation (House Bill 125, aka the Heartbeat Bill) that would make abortion illegal as soon as a heartbeat can be detected. That would be at six or seven weeks, when a woman might well not know she’s pregnant. (Keep in mind that spotting is fairly common during the first month of pregnancy when one’s period would usually be due, so even a woman tuned into her body could be fooled.)

This is the same bill for which Republican lawmakers called a fetus to testify. Actually, it was two fetuses, whose heartbeat was played for our esteemed legislators via ultrasound. (Quite sensibly, one of the fetuses refused to cooperate with the proceedings.)

Yesterday, the bill emerged from committee, but House Speaker William Batchelder won’t yet commit to a date for a vote. Batchelder is a Republican and a hardcore pro-lifer. Why would he waffle?

Turns out that this bill is splitting the anti-abortion camp. Ohio Right to Life – the biggest anti-abortion lobby in the state – is actually begging state legislators to back off of the Heartbeat Bill. They fear the bill couldn’t pass constitutional muster. Of course, this isn’t a principled objection. Ohio Right to Life remains committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. They just realize Anthony Kennedy is unlikely to vote to uphold a measure this extreme. (It doesn’t even include a rape/incest exception.)

I say, bring it on. Anything that divides the Republicans and anti-abortion lobbies is good by me. This direct challenge to Roe – which is what the Heartbeat Bill’s supporters actually crave – will go down in flames. If it passes the Senate and goes to the courts, the Supreme Court will surely refudiates it. This will strengthen Roe’s basic finding that the state cannot prohibit abortions prior to fetal viability. A successful court challenge might even take down Ohio’s 24-hour mandatory waiting period and “counseling” – or so fears Ohio Right to Life! My, this bill is sounding better all the time.

Here’s what really worries me. While we’re all distracted by chatter about vaginal sonograms in the Statehouse and the circus of fetuses “testifying,” another bill (H.B. 78/S.B. 72) has passed both chambers and is headed for the desk of Governor Kasich, who’s certain to sign it. That bill’s viability (so to speak) looks much stronger. It would ban abortion after 20 weeks (instead of Ohio’s current 22-week limit). In addition, H.B. 7 – which would place the burden of proof on abortion providers to show a fetus was not viable – is still lurking in the wings, along with other anti-choice legislation.

At least none of my representatives has threatened to criminalize miscarriages. Not yet.

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Long time no meow. Earlier today, longtime reader Euchalon Grandy commented on this blog’s unfortunate radio silence:

Oh No!  I’ve killed Kittywampus with my angry rant!  Please, Sungold, Oh Please come back!  I’ll never post after midnight again!  Nothing but kittens and pink, puffy unicorns from now on…

First: Euchalon, if you bring puffy unicorns onto this blog, they will be driven away by the fierce sound of hissing. (I am honored that you missed me, though!

Second: The blog went dormant because I went on spring break. Even as a student, I never did that! (Too broke.) Then, once I got a teaching job, either my husband or I had too much work (usually both of us). This year, I felt squeezed between winter-quarter duties and spring-quarter prep. I’m still not sure when I’ll get to filing my taxes. Yet I ever-so-maturely decided: SCREW THAT. And so, we were off to the beach. Hilton Head, South Carolina, to be precise, which turned out to be a delight.

The drive south was long indeed (and rains threatened to wash us clean off the mountainous West Virginia Turnpike), but it was also a curious compression of space-time. We left Ohio in sodden winter; by North Carolina, the redbuds were bursting forth; and as we plunged deeper into South Carolina, spring wrapped its green tendrils around us and refused to let loose. It was as though we’d driven three weeks into our future. (Well, the palm trees won’t come to SE Ohio anytime soon, I’m afraid, but the redbuds will soon catch up.)

If you want to view vacation instrumentally, there’s emerging scientific evidence that play is good for us, as Jonah Lehrer reports at Wired. Studies are showing that not just preschoolers benefit more from unstructured play than from direct instruction; even young adults learn better when they have time for play. I’m here to testify that it works for the, um, no-longer-quite-so-young adults, too. As Lehrer notes,

Nietzsche said it best: “The struggle of maturity is to recover the seriousness of the child at play.”

And so I finished my grading from last quarter on the beach, then launched into some reading and brainstorming for a new class that began yesterday already. It was all pretty painless with the salt breeze wafting in the window and the tides whispering and roaring. Nor was it all work. I read a novel for fun and started Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. (I’m not far enough into it to comment yet.) The kids dug such deep holes in the sand that they could practically disappear underground. They scampered after shells and flied kites with their dad. Most days, we were treated to weather in the upper 70s, balmy enough to sit and read a book (my favorite beachy activity) even with kite-brisk winds. One day I had a cocktail on the beach – a Funky Monkey – another experience completely novel to me. Evenings, we dined with other families who’d traveled with us and played board games next to the pool. When everyone was sunburned and avoiding the peak sun, we putt-putt golfed amid semi-tropical bougainvillea and palmettos.

Instrumental thinking? Oh, screw that too!

It was my first trip to the Deep South, apart from New Orleans, and a few things jarred. At the resort where we stayed, black men took care of security, while Latina/os cleaned. The guests were overwhelmingly white, with a few Spanish-speakers in the mix. More than one business establishment called itself a “plantation” of some sort. At the same time – perhaps because we’re steeped in white privilege – we met unfailingly warm, friendly people, from the (black) security guards who used humor to spice up their day, to the (white) elderly lady who informed my husband that she once lived in Ohio, but the good Lord brought her back to the South.

Now we’re back home. I was greeted by my unfinished syllabus and the tragic crayon-in-the-clothes-dryer incident that exploded 10 minutes before we were due to leave on break. I’ve thought more than once: Why are we not still at the beach? and our friends who went on the trip are querulously asking the same. But just this one thing: When we rolled into town again, weary from an 11-hour drive, we were saluted by a stand of daffodils welcoming us home in our front yard. Even the snow that frosted our yard the first night home couldn’t drag them low.

(The pictures below are all courtesy of my husband.)

Two crispy-burned kids in the surf.

The beach, backlit by sunset.

Sungold turning toward the wind.

A friend and I, casting long shadows framed by palmettos.

Just the beach. That is all. It is enough.

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I continue to be transfixed by the situation in Japan, where technology has shown its best and worst face in the past few days. “Best,” I say, because the terrible human losses would have been greater yet, had builders not prepared for violent earthquakes. There were certainly gaps in planning for the tsunami, in particular, but overall Japan’s construction technology saved untold lives – tens of thousands.

The nuclear plants partly had bad luck, but then again, the chain of power failures that’s now leading to overheated radioactive fuel rods was fairly predictable. I don’t know enough about the technology to give an explainer. Rachel Maddow continues to have good coverage. But essentially, you don’t have to be a nuclear engineer to know that highly radioactive spent fuel presents a problem for decades at a minimum, even under controlled circumstances. How many civilizations have survived for tens of thousands of years - long enough to keep ploutonium contained? And yes, some of the fuel rods (about 6%) at the Daiichi plant contain some plutonium.

Then again, with some technologies you really don’t need to be an expert in order to say: this is stupid. A case in point is the use of hormones to stunt girls’ growth lest they grow too tall to catch a husband. I knew that this was a fairly common practice in the 1950s. A recent study reports that the estrogen used to stop growth also mucked with these girls’ fertility, and as adults they have had trouble conceiving. Not all that surprising. What did shock me? The fact that this practice continues today.

This use for estrogen gained popularity about 50 years ago after researchers found it might limit the growth of girls who were much taller than their peers in adolescence. According to one estimate, up to 5,000 girls in the U.S. were treated with estrogen, and many more in Europe.

At that time, “women were basically supposed to get married and have children, and that would be harder if you were a very tall woman, everybody believed,” Christine Cosgrove, co-author of Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry’s Quest to Manipulate Height, told Reuters Health.

“There were so many parents, mostly mothers probably, who just feared that their daughters’ lives would be ruined if they ended up being six feet tall, because they’d never have a husband and a family,” she said.

Some tall girls are still treated with estrogen today — more in Europe than in the United States — and estrogen is currently given to these girls in about the same dose that is in a birth control pill, Cosgrove said. In the past, it might have been given at 100 times that dose before doctors realized the potential dangers, she said.

[Cosgrove is co-author of Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry's Quest to Manipulate Height, speaking here to Reuters.]

Two very different scenarios – one a matter of life-and-death, the other “merely” a matter of life foregone through infertility. Yet both reflect the foolhardiness of humans when it comes to technology. I’m no Luddite (my laptop is a cyborg extension of my brain), but could we just cut it out with the human experimentation? Because that’s what nuclear plants are, at bottom, too – an uncontrolled experiment with far too many uncontrollable variables. Also, perhaps friend-of-the-blog Hydraargyrum will chime in on this: humanity will never win against CORROSION, which is basically what I understand to be happening at lightning speed in those uncooled fuel rods.

Can’t we humans please learn for once, and put an end to the techno-hubris?

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We thought we had it bad in Ohio, where S.B. 5 is about to gut collective bargaining for public employees. But events in Michigan are making Ohio and Wisconsin look like paragons of moderation. Here’s the short version, via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:

Republican Michigan governor Rick Snyder, along with the state’s Republican house and senate, have passed a controversial bill that allows the governor to dissolve the elected governments of Michigan’s towns and cities, replacing them with unaccountable “emergency financial managers” who can eliminate services, merge or eliminate school boards, and lay off or renegotiate unionized public employees without recourse. Republican senator Jack Brandenburg — who supported the measure — calls it “financial martial law.”

While local governments are subject to electoral recall by residents, the “managers” the governor appoints will answer only to the state legislature. There are no limits to the salary “managers” may draw (an amendment that would have limited their compensation to $159,000, which is the governor’s own salary, was defeated).

“Managers” will be able to govern as they see fit. Practically speaking, this opens the door to the kind of “governance” we’ve seen in occupied Iraq, where high-paid appointees who don’t answer to the governed get to award no-bid contracts to their pals, with little or no oversight or control.

I guess that means Blackwater may be moving into Detroit? Halliburton could take over Ann Arbor? If this law weren’t about subverting democracy, the state could provide consultants, not mini-dictators, to those municipalities that really are hurting. While I do recognize Michigan is suffering economically, authoritarianism is not the answer – unless Governor Snyder hopes to transform Michigan into a satellite state of China.

This really would deserve a lengthy post about the “shock doctrine” and how far we’ve moved toward fascism in the United States. That’s a bigger job than I can handle on a Saturday evening. Let’s just say that at this week’s hearings on the EPIC “body-scanner” lawsuit against TSA abuses of privacy, government attorney Beth Brinkmann asserted that it was within the authority of the TSA to order body cavity searches without any public input (h/tLisa Simeone). Let’s just mention that efforts are being made to disenfranchise students in New Hampshire – so far, unsuccessfully.

But back to Michigan. I’m sort of embarrassed to post a Rachel Maddow clip twice in one day – honestly, you could just go straight to MSNBC and skip the Kitteh! – but she nails it once again. The Michigan law (which passed subsequent to this broadcast) is beyond draconian. It is, as Rachel says, dystopian. It undermines the most rudimentary requirements for democracy: the popular election of officials through a free and fair process. It shits upon the rule of law. (Rachel didn’t say that; she is classier than I.)

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Melting Down

Yesterday Rachel Maddow gave a fine explanation of the dangers posed by the out-of-control nuclear power plants damaged by Japan’s earthquake. She had to pause for a moment and remind her viewers that she was talking about a literal meltdown, not a metaphorical one. It’s one of the dangers of metaphor: that we become inured to the real thing. “Tsunami” gets used casually in the same way for that matter, as does earthquake.

In about six weeks, we will mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. Let us hope the world won’t be dealing with the fallout (also literal!) of an equally catastrophic event in Japan. In any event, my thoughts are with the people of Japan, who are suffering terribly already.

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Classical Caturday

The “Duetto buffo di due gatti,” falsely attributed to Rossini, evidently composed by early LOLcats.

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

This was performed by Les petits chanteurs a la croix de bois in Seoul, 1996. They are just adorable – and perfectly convincing as cats!

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Charlie Sheen is a serial abuser of women, as Anna Holmes argued persuasively in the New York Times earlier this week. As Holmes wrote, his current two live-in partners are “disposable,” not least because they are presumed golddiggers who tarnished their virtue in sex work. I don’t care if they’re only with Sheen for the money, fame, and drugs. We should be worried for these women’s lives. Sheen’s “goddesses” (his word) are living 24/7 with a control freak with a long record of domestic violence charges and no discernable ties to reality.

Despite his evident break-up with the reality-based world, Sheen appears to have his two partners in thrall. That gives even more cause for concern. A People Magazine story portrayed the women’s relationships with him as downright Stepford-ish.

“I’ve always felt that a man should be able to be with as many women as he likes,” says Rachel Oberlin, 24, one of Sheen’s two live-in girlfriends. “I’ve never had the opportunity to share that with any man before because, honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been with a man who was even deserving of that.”

Consenting adults can order their households however they like. But what’s good for the gander ought to be good for the goose – yet here, it only the gander has the privilege of multiple partners. My understanding of ethical polyamory is that it’s based on equality, not hierarchy and paternalism. That’s the exact opposite of how Sheen describes his relationships to People Magazine quotes:

“They don’t judge me,” Sheen repeated. “They don’t lead with opinion. They don’t lead with their own needs all the time. They’re honest enough to tell me, ‘Hey, look, you – you know, park your nonsense. You gotta help me solve this.’ And we solve it.”

When it comes to household decisions, he said, “Everybody’s vote has equal importance. But when we’re approaching crisis, I remind them, ‘Look, I’m 22 years further down the road … my plan is gonna be the best one in the room. So, just trust me on that and everybody will win. Everybody will win and everybody’s needs will be taken care of.”

This is creepy, coming from a guy with a history of physically hurting women. What happens if a goddess dares to express an opinion? The old brick in the face, a la ancient Mesopotamia?

Patriarchy isn’t dead. It has just moved to Hollywood and allegedly developed an epic coke habit. (“For the win!” as Sheen might say.)

Also, the idea of Charlie Sheen as a problem solver and crisis mananger (???!!!) would be hilarious, if he were living in a universe occupied solely by the body and ego of Charlie Sheen. As it is, someone stands to get hurt.

Nonetheless, it’s Caturday, so let’s not just soberly criticize Sheen’s behavior. Let’s mock him, too! (Yes, I know he needs help. He’s making too much money off of not seeking it that mockery is perfectly fair.)

There’s lots more Sheen-y cattiness at the blog Medium Large – check it out. (Thanks to Lisa Simeone for the tip!)

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