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Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Quilted Caturday

I am not a quilter, though I often wish I were. These feline quilt blocks make me yearn for the skllz and the time. They come from a blog with the enviably goofy name Katinka Brusselsprouts. It’s a beautiful blog worth a visit even if you can’t thread a needle. Katinka will lead you to the original source for these patterns, Regina Grewe, whose site is also an Augenschmaus (treat for the eyes – yes, she’s German).

This one looks like a little imp – equal parts charmer and stinker. Such an adorable face!

This little guy looks like he’s sleeping in perfect repose in a perfectly alert posture – the ultimate Zen practitioner (after Shironeko, that is).

Little Miss Daisy (my nickname for her)  looks like the picture of pure innocence. But she’s a cat, so you know she’s got to be cooking up something.

And finally, the Cat before Christmas, who has his very own quilt. To be honest, I love the first three best, because their focus is so intently on the cat, without any distraction from the background. But this little guy is still sweet and seasonal. Merry Catmas to all! (Or should that be “Merry Quiltmas”?)

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We planned to celebrate 14 juillet by attending the German-French friendship fest. All began well: bumper cars! bungee jumping! mini-airplanes! roasted, sugared almonds! the Tiger feeling horrid on one of those “Himalaya”-style rides (or so they were called in my childhood) that consist of speed, minor up-and-down bumps, and a disco-ball plus smoke machine.  (He loved it last year. I take some pride in still enjoying it at 47. I could hardly toss him overboard, could I?)

At 10 p.m. sharp, all the rides, games, and drink stands started to roll down their blinds, much to our puzzlement. Why, we hadn’t even ridden the giant ferris wheel, the one point of consensus in my little family of four! (Evidently some pickle-hearted neighbor – unbothered by the noise of the adjacent airport?!? – had complained after some forty years.) The gal at the whisky stands gave us a generous pour, and then the fireworks began. First the Tiger objected that we were going to miss them. Then he wailed that they were too close. It is not easy to be a small tiger.

And so, since I have no footage of our fireworks, and since any such hypothetical video would be marred by heartrending cries of  “make it stop, Mama, this is SKEERY,” I offer instead the happy patriotic kitten that David Futrelle posted a couple of weeks ago:

By the way, if the images in the clip come from Uzu, as seems to be the case, this program has also been cheap entertainment for my own kittens this summer. Sometimes a light show is best at a safe remove. Ditto for cat claws. I’ll hold my tongue on the complex relation between state power military might, and liberty, since this day is supposed to be one of celebration, after all.

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Just for the record: I would not care to samba with Julian Assange. Anything more intimate that square dancing, and I’d wonder what tricky step he might try … bareback, of course. Hmm, maybe “dosido your partner” means something different to Australian men of mystery?

Anyway, Gayle Force posted this irresistible clip. (Don’t see it? Go here.)

My favorite lyric?

Don’t corner Merkel, she’ll become tenacious

She’s risk-averse and rarely creative.

When I still lived in Germany, we regarded her as the Spawn of Helmut Kohl for her tenacity, risk aversion, and political acumen. Rather immaturely but accurately, we called her the Pillsbury Dough Girl. Back in the mid-1990s she honestly looked like she would end her career as a puff pastry; since then, she’s discovered tanning beds. I generally disapprove of tanning beds, but Merkel truthfully looks a whole lot less dowdy – unlike her mentor Kohl, who grew ever more dumpling-esque over time.

Here’s Merkel and mentor Kohl circa 1992:

(via the Editrix’ Roncesvalles)

And today? Why, it’s Merkel Barbie! (Or do the other dolls just call her Angie?)

(Image from Mattel. Don’t miss the flag on the left, or Angie’s pink accessories. Yeah, I know – I’m just spiteful because I want a Sungold Barbie!)

Had I been in the State Department, Wikicables would be a lot more embarrassing. Just imagine if diplomats and snarky bloggers magically traded places for a day! Oh, the places we’d go! The scandals we’d sow! Mmmmm, I feel some Seuss coming on: The Cat in the Hat Comes to the U.N.! The North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax meet on that disputed Korean island! The Star-Bellied Sneetches Rock Paris! The Butter Battle and the Big Boy Boomeroo – coming soon to a dictatorial Middle Eastern nation near you!

On second thought, maybe we bloggers ought to stay home and start poring through those cables ourselves. We might yet uncover a Big Boy Boomeroo. I hear Iran is building one.

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My seven-year-old Tiger would put Kackel Dackel at the top of his Christmas list, if only it were available in the U.S.! (Amazon.de has it but the shipping times were too long.) This toy has got everything: animal cuteness, extruder action, and scat!

(Click here if you don’t see the clip. Via Andrew Sullivan, who got it from Warming Glow.)

See, this is why I spent all those years learning German! I knew it would come in handy someday. My rough translation:

Oh no! Poopy Dachsund is pooping again! Quick, into your doghouse! Naughty Poopy Dachshund!

Fix his food – feed him – roll the dice – and one, two – what’s that noise? [Cue excretory sounds.] Collect the most [poop] piles, and you’re the winner!

Poopy Dachsund! From Goliath Toys.

Whoever said the Germans were anal-retentive? This pooch is just the opposite. In fact, Berlin alone must have 50,000 live-action Kackel Dackel, all of whose piles are left on the sidewalk for pedestrians to tread in, forming a sort of obstacle-course game of their own.

In any case, given the popularity of the Captain Underpants books, I’m positive there’s a U.S. market for Kackel Dackel. Maybe next year?

Just for good measure, here’s Kackel Dackel in action, speaking a completely international language.

(I found this clip at Toytown, a site for expats in Germany. The comments there are worth a visit. “BDSM Bear,” anyone?)

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A couple of weeks ago, while trying to understand why body scanners are ineffectual, I found this great clip. Trouble is, it’s in German. Now, I could fix this, because I’ve done a fair amount of professional translating, German to English. But more trouble ahead: We were heading into final exams, and I know how much time it would take to insert the subtitles, having done it once before. I figured I might tackle it after I finished grading, even though the main expert’s Bavarian accent is atrocious.

Now that my grades are in, I found the same clip via Clarissa’s Blog – this time with English subtitles. They contain more infelicities than if a pro had done the job, but the translation is perfectly serviceable. (When they say “plaster,” they mean “band-aid,” in American English.) I’m pretty confident the translation isn’t Clarissa’s, but we owe a debt of thanks to this person (I suspect a native German speaker) who took the time to do a conscientious job.

In any event, you will understand more than enough to be alarmed.

This, folks, is why we could double our national debt investing in these scanners and not be appreciably safer.

(Go here if you cannot see the clip.)

If any of my chemist readers is itching to pen a guest post on thermite, I will gladly publish it. (I know there’s at least one of you out there!)

The scanners are, of course, only part of the problem. Another loophole could allow a bad guy to sneak through 24 ounces of Evildoer’s Goo (thermite specifically? I dunno).  Jeff Goldberg recounts this three-way rendezvous between himself, security über-guru Bruce Schneier, and a TSO in Minnepoo:

We took our shoes off and placed our laptops in bins. Schneier took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled “saline solution.”

“It’s allowed,” he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don’t fall under the TSA’s three-ounce rule.

“What’s allowed?” I asked. “Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?”

“Bottles labeled saline solution. They won’t check what’s in it, trust me.”

They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schneier held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, “This is okay, right?” “Yep,” the officer said. “Just have to put it in the tray.”

“Maybe if you lit it on fire, he’d pay attention,” I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schneier would carry two bottles labeled saline solution—24 ounces in total—through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. “Two eyes,” he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)

(Read the rest here; it’s hysterical, precious, and horrifying, all at once.)

See? If it says saline, it must be saline! And not thermite!

Wherever the new scanners are coming online, they actually intensify an existing threat: that of a bomb aimed at passengers being shepherded toward the security checkpoint. Even if only 20% of flyers are directed to the scanners, without any opt-outs or false alarms – well, that’s enough to slow the lines noticeably. In busy airports, the waiting times will balloon, as will the crowds, once the new scanners become more routinely used. They’re simply slower than the old magnetometer.

Schneier makes this point in the Goldberg piece just cited: we’re creating sitting ducks. In the Thanksgiving edition of the New York Times, Roger Cohen channels Osama bin Laden in a busy U.S. airport and observes:

bin Laden might also wonder at just how stupid it is to assemble huge crowds at the Transportation Security Administration’s airport checkpoints, as if hundreds of people on planes were the only hundreds of people who make plausible targets for terrorists.

Feeling safer yet?

So far Germany, at least, isn’t squandering its money on naked body scanners. But then, its watchdog media (ZDF is a publicly supported TV network) are actually doing their job right.

And really … if the intent of the grope-down was to save us from the underpants bomber, why weren’t “enhanced patdowns” implemented way back in early January 2010, when our memory of him (and our gullibility) had just hit another local maximum? After all, that’s when Chertoff traversed the airwaves to sing the praises of Rapiscan technology. “Enhanced patdowns” are a better bet than the scanner for actually catching the next underpants bombers (though I’m positive there won’t be a clone; next up will be the booty-bomb.)

Of course, I’m not defending the grope-downs. Not at all! I’m just pointing out that the timing of their introduction had nothing to do with “homeland security,” as it has been sold to us. It had everything to do with the first major rollout of the naked body scanners, however. They were a punitive means of guaranteeing compliance and organizational efficiency from the flying herds of American sheeple. Otherwise, we would have gotten the grope back in January, for sure.

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The controversy about the term “birth rape” has ebbed in the blogosphere (which has a shorter attention span than my seven-year-old son). But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about it. Nor, it appears, have other people. A reader named Ann took the time today to disagree with me vehemently:

To me there is not the slightest smidgeren of doubt that the women who state that they were raped, indeed were raped. Rape is NOT, absolutely definitely NOT only about sexuality. It is mainly about power and dominance. You will find very few among the BDSM community who are not aware of this.

Rape can – also – occur in the total absence of a feeling of guilt of the perpetrator. Whether a nurse, midwife or doctor think their deeds are justified because they have a right to go home early, or that woman birthing is too dumb or distraught to know what she wants, or whether a pedophile reasons that the 5 year old boy “wants it” because he happened to leave his knickers off, or whether the husband holds his wife down, thinking she’ll eventually come around, it all does not matter. It still is rape.

(Read the whole comment here.)

I fully agree that rape is not just about sex but about power. However, by its very definition, rape is about sexualized power. The abuse of medical power has to do with power too, but it has little or nothing to do with sexuality. (An exception would be a doctor who subjects patients to sexual touching – which most definitely belongs on the continuum of sexual assault, and which happens with distressing frequency.)

A doctor who violates consent is not acting from the same motivations as the pedophile. He or she is supported by our cultural values in ways that a pedophile is not. Yes, we live in a rape culture, but you would find very few defenders of a pedophile. By contrast, medicine enjoys partial immunity from criticism because of assumptions that lay people cannot understand it, that medical personnel always hold humanitarian values, and that they will always act in the best interests of the patient.

Of course, this isn’t true. Consider another truly vile category of gynecological violation: forced sterilizations. Doctors in Nazi Germany sterilized about 400,000 women and men, the vast majority of them against their will. About half of the victims were women. The Nazi program was inspired by smaller-scale compulsory sterilization programs in the United States, whose legality the Supreme Court affirmed in its 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell. Compulsory sterilization declined after 1942 in the U.S., but poor women of color have still been subjected to it in the post-war era, most notably in Puerto Rico and on Indian reservations.

There seems to be a common conception that if declining to recognize a phenomenon as rape is the same as trivializing it. And yet, we don’t call forced sterilization “rape,” nor should we. Doing so would obscure its specific nature. It would draw attention to the particular values that legitimated it: the pseudoscience of eugenics, contempt for disabled people, and society’s exaggerated deference to medical authority.

In short: something can still be an atrocity if it’s not called rape.

Insisting on accurate naming is not “language policing,” contrary to what Cara argued at The Curvature:

I also thought that a big part of anti-rape activism was about broadening our definition of rape, not narrowing it — throwing out the stranger jumping from the bushes with a knife as the only model of rape, and recreating a model that encompasses a wide variety violent experiences and promotes affirmative, enthusiastic, meaningful consent as minimum standard of decency rather than a nice bonus if you can get it. I thought that anti-rape activism was about acknowledging that rape is not just one thing, that there is more than one way to violate a person and to be violated, and that whether consent was given was more important than how much force was used. Especially in this context, the posts in question come off as nothing more than language policing, against particularly marginalized populations, no less.

(The rest of the post is here.)

First, I think we should be able to discuss the applicability of “rape” to specific phenomena without shaming other feminists as rape apologists, or saying that they are acting as oppressors, or blaming their words for harming victims. That happened in both Cara’s post and the comments to it. Critique is good; disagreement is healthy. But shaming only leads to groupthink, as the comment thread to that post shows. Only one commenter deviated even slightly from Cara’s position.

I actually don’t think that anti-rape activism is “about broadening our definition of rape” – not if this means extending the term into entirely different realms of violence that are not basically sexual. Of course I strongly support recognizing acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and other instances of sexual violence as just as real, traumatizing, and illegal as the “stranger in the bushes.” But “rape” is not an infinitely elastic term, nor should it be.

Specific names for specific violations are politically and analytically important because they push us to understand the roots of different forms of violence. In cases of medicalized violence, we need to consider the values that enable a scenario like this one, described at the blog Forever in Hell:

The problem isn’t that women in labor are uniquely in a position to be victimized by medical professionals. The victims of such medical professionals are not uniquely women in labor. In other words, you don’t have to be a woman in labor to be victimized by a medical professional. You simply have to be in a room with certain medical professionals.

Case in point: a friend of mine needed a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) in order to tell if he had Multiple Sclerosis or Lyme Disease. These two diseases can cause similar symptoms and similar MRI results, but have vastly different treatments, so distinguishing between the two is necessary. My friend is a large man, so he needed to have the lumbar puncture done at the hospital by a doctor.

Before the procedure began, the nurse told the doctor that the needle they had was too large, they needed to get another. “Too bad,” snapped the doctor. He had a schedule to keep, he had a golf game to get to. Waiting for someone to get the correct needle would take too long, so, before my friend could object, doctor forced the needle into my friend’s spine. When I say “forced”, I mean forced.

I could hear him scream from down the hall.

Then, to add insult to injury, the doctor refused to draw enough cerebral spinal fluid to allow for two tests. “We’ve got enough to test for MS, what more do we need?” he said.

That’s right. This doctor tortured a man so as not delay a golf game and didn’t even get the damn test done.

(The whole post is here.)

I don’t agree that doctors are the only offenders (as this post goes on to argue). The potential for abuse is greater among those who are more powerful, but other medical personnel aren’t outside the value system that enables medical battery.

But this example does show that the problem really is primarily with the values that underlie medicine. Yes, we’ve come a long way from the days when a white coat commanded automatic obedience. We have the patients’ rights movement to thank for that, which was driven in large part by feminist critics of medicine. However, as long as medical personnel remain unaccountable for violations of consent, some practitioners will abuse their power.

If we want to stop battery of women in childbirth, we’re not going to make much headway by combating rape culture. We need to call for more humane and democratic medicine. We need to demand medical education that would weed out arrogant abusers and reinforce respect for the patient. We need to insist that doctors hold each other and their subordinates responsible – and if they can’t, or won’t, the law needs to intervene, with civil or criminal remedies as appropriate.

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(TMI alert, especially for the medically squeamish, and trigger alert for medical violence.)

The story of how I birthed my first child is a far cry from the dimly-lit, romantic scenarios pictured in hospital brochures and natural birth guides alike.

The Bear got stuck before his head was even properly engaged. I was in Germany, so you can’t blame what happened next on medicalized childbirth, American-style. I did have an epidural (at my own request, nay, demand!) and enough Pitocin to deliver a small elephant. My midwife tried acupuncture. We tried every possible position: all fours, squatting, draped over an elevated bed with my head hanging down. I even swallowed some homeopathic remedy. This was Germany, after all.

Still, he was stuck. After seven hours (!) of being fully dilated – which is four or five hours longer than a U.S. ob/gyn would tolerate without a c-section – my midwife had to turn me over to a doctor. Even then, he didn’t go straight for the knife. He proposed trying vacuum extraction, with a c-section as backup. Three tugs, three giant pushes, and three mighty shoves on the top of my uterus – out came the Bear.

I was grateful my son was healthy, and glad I’d avoided a cesarean. I thought I’d gotten off easy. The recovery proved me wrong. I’d lost a lot of blood and my healing was difficult and incomplete. In the long run, I probably would have been far better off with a c-section. The pushing on my uterus (“fundal pressure”) did a lot of damage to my pelvic floor, which persists a decade later. I was given a lengthy consent form that explained the risks of a potential c-section, but it said nothing about the risks of fundal pressure and vacuum extraction, particularly an extraction from so high in the pelvis.

In other words, I had no crack at informed consent for what was actually done to me. And I don’t want to hear that none of it matters since my baby was healthy. The violence of my delivery severely affected my ability to be an effective mother. Try hauling around a 13-pound infant six weeks postpartum, feeling as though your viscera are about to fall out. Then try it again with a 19-pounder at four months. The Bear was not a sleepy, contented baby. He was irked at the world. He needed to be walked around. I couldn’t do it. Not on the scale he demanded. For optimal healing, I shouldn’t have been lifting anything heavier than ten pounds. I felt utterly trapped.

Many women have traumatic childbirth stories. Many are uglier than mine and revolve around disrespect by medical personnel, which sometimes edges into outright violation. Over the past few years, some birth activists and feminists have started to label such stories “birth rape.” The term struck me as wrong when I first saw it (which I’m pretty sure was this post at the F Word). So I was glad to see a flurry of criticism ripple through the feminist blogosphere over the past few days, starting with Irin Carmon at Jezebel and then spreading to Amanda Marcotte at XX, Tracy Clark-Flory at Broadsheet, and Lindsay Beyerstein at Big Think. Even my friend figleaf has weighed in against using “rape” to characterize traumatic birth experiences.

In discussions of sexual violence, it’s not unusual for women who’ve actually experienced the trauma in question to use their experience as a trump card against anyone who disagrees with them. Ditto for childbirth experiences. In actuality, experiences vary, as do our interpretations of them. One woman may feel violated by a c-section, while another might feel relief.

So far, none of the feminist bloggers who’ve criticized “birth rape” have actually experienced childbirth in their own flesh. Their opponents may well say that this disqualifies them. I’m weighing in to support them, partly as a mother (and partly as a professional historian of childbirth and critic of medicalizaiton) who has in fact experienced a failure of informed consent and a traumatic birth (and who has studied some truly egregious instances of it in the past). Of course, my labor experiences don’t give me the right to trivialize other women’s feelings of violations, and I would never want to do that. At the same time, the trauma women experience doesn’t justify the inflationary and misleading use of “rape” to describe violations of medical consent.

It’s important that we can talk about birth trauma. We need a language of childbirth that will help us protect women’s autonomy. But it’s hyperbolic to call incidents of unwanted vaginal exams or artificial rupture of the membranes “rape.” It does an injustice to victims of actual rape by conflating two different phenomena, thus watering down the meaning of “rape.” It’s not as bad as the trivialization that goes along with saying, “Man, that test really raped me,” but both uses are on a continuum, because they’re both metaphorical, not literal.

I realize that proponents of the term say that a speculum is no different than a penis. Here’s how Amity Reed expressed it at the F Word:

A woman who is raped while giving birth does not experience the assault in a way that fits neatly within the typical definitions we hold true in civilised society. A penis is usually nowhere to be found in the story and the perpetrator may not even possess one. But fingers, hands, suction cups, forceps, needles and scissors… these are the tools of birth rape and they are wielded with as much force and as little consent as if a stranger grabbed a passer-by off the street and tied her up before having his way with her. Women are slapped, told to shut up, stop making noise and a nuisance of themselves, that they deserve this, that they shouldn’t have opened their legs nine months ago if they didn’t want to open them now. They are threatened, intimidated and bullied into submitting to procedures they do not need and interventions they do not want. Some are physically restrained from moving, their legs held open or their stomachs pushed on.

These things happened commonly in the past, and they still occur today. A commenter at Salon wrote:

Once, while still a nursing student, I heard a nursing supervisor inform a screaming patient in labor – “maybe you should have yelled like that 9 months ago and you wouldnt be here”. Later, during my own labors, I remembered her remark and it made me smile.

She smiled? Boy, I’m glad she didn’t attend one of my births. And it gets worse. A self-identified midwife commented at Salon:

The quickest example I can come up with is the time a doula friend of mine heard the OB say while a VBAC mom was pushing (pretty much under his breath, I don’t even think the mom heard this): “It’s the LEAST you can do for your VBAC” and he put one end of the scissors in her vagina and one in her anus and cut her a 4th degree episiotomy. No fetal distress, no reason beyond what I guess was his irritation at not just doing a repeat cesarean?

(Her whole comment was terrific, if you can stand to wade through the morass of misogyny that is Salon’s comment section.)

Stories like these are appalling. I feel sick and angry when I read them.

And yet, this is not rape. There’s nothing sexual about it, even though the assault is perpetrated on a woman’s genitals.

Let’s take a look at the legal definition of “rape.” It requires, as Amanda Marcotte points out, intent to violate someone sexually against her will. This is what the law calls “mens rea,” or awareness that one is committing a crime. If a prosecutor fails to demonstrate mens rea in a rape case, it’s still possible to convict on a lesser count of sexual assault (e.g., gross sexual imposition). “Rape,” however, is off the table.

The intent of this OB was to hurry the birth along. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he was also high on his own power, getting off on his dominance. But he wasn’t getting off sexually. Nor was he intending to commit a sexual act. What he perpetrated was neither rape nor a lesser form of sexual assault.

“Birth rape” is not just an exaggeration, though. It also does not say enough. It fails to specify what makes such violations of autonomy in labor reprehensible in their own awful way. First, doctors and nurses enjoy a high degree of trust. The minority of them who break our trust deserve contempt. Similarly, the discourse on medical ethics has been hammering on the importance of informed consent for the past few decades. We rightly expect medical professionals to have internalized this. Most of all, a woman in labor is extremely vulnerable. I don’t know of any situation where I’ve felt comparably exposed, defenseless, and liminal. To receive abuse from the very person charged with expecting you and your child has got to leave emotional scars.

What should we call these violations, then, if not “rape”? Well, “medical battery” works for me. (“Medical assault” would be more satisfying because of the parallel to “sexual assault,” but legally the correct category, as far as I understand, is battery, not assault.) I would also distinguish between situations where real bodily harm is perpetrated, as opposed to assholish behavior such as slut-shaming women in labor, and also as opposed to neglect of informed consent, such as I experienced. (I’m not speaking here of outright malpractice, though some cases of abuse may also constitute malpractice too.)

Medical battery in childbirth ought to be treated as a criminal offense. That’s not a stretch, legally. For instance, except in an emergency, a physician who performs surgery against the patient’s will is guilty of battery, and is subject to both criminal and civil law. Even failure to obtain informed consent is already subject to criminal penalties. In cases of assholish behavior or flawed consent (as in my own experience), medical professionals should be sanctioned by their peers. In those cases where professionals protect their own and refuse to discipline offenders, patients should go public with their stories.

The law already supports a woman’s right to autonomy in labor, just like it does for any other patient. Actually enforcing that right in court is tricky. Doctors may argue that they were forced to act due to an emergency. Proving otherwise may be difficult. But just the awareness that medical battery carries penalties could work as a deterrent to battery and lesser forms of abuse. In addition, it might serve as a counterweight to the pressure OBs often feel to take action – any action, even if it’s not supported by evidence – to avoid a later malpractice suit.

To avoid failures of informed consent, obstetrical doctors and nurses could do much more to enlighten expectant mothers on possible interventions, their justifications, and their risks. I would have been better off if I’d been provided any information on the risks of vacuum extraction. I knew a lot about forceps because they were used in the period of history I study. Vacuum extractors are newer, and so I was flying blind, even though I was an exceptionally well-educated parturient. I didn’t even know that vacuum extraction carries a significant risk of damage to the baby’s brachial nerves. Most women would’ve known less. This is just not necessary in childbirth, where there’s usually nine months to prepare and become truly informed. And yet, neither doctors nor nurses nor midwives nor childbirth educators are really preparing the women whose bodies and children are at stake.

I don’t imagine that these potential solutions would be a panacea. I do think, though, that they’re closer to the mark than the tactics that a notion of “birth rape” would suggest.

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The worst plane flight of my life was a transatlantic hop in which a baby cried pretty much uninterrupted from takeoff to landing. To make it worse, the child was really too old to be a baby anymore. He was a chunky twenty-month-0ld! His parents appeared to have no strategy able to calm him! Things got so bad, a nun offered advice at great length to the obviously hapless parents.

Yes, that was a long flight. Numerous passengers would have happily pushed the eject button on that child, even if it had landed him in the Arctic Ocean.

Did I mention the “baby” in question was my own beloved Tiger?

And short of a direct appeal to the Ceiling Cat, we tried everything to calm him. He was just pissed. To keep his ears from clogging, we’d given him a sippy cup during takeoff (one piece of advice that the well-meaning but ostentatiously helpful nun shared with us, after the fact). We’d packed a few toys. We tried walking the aisles with him. We tried rocking and singing him to sleep. Nothing worked.

At twenty months, the Tiger had no stable words. None. Not even “no”! We had no way of knowing why he was so upset. We couldn’t reason with him. Short of wrapping a gag around his mouth, we couldn’t “control” him. We were seasoned travelers with kids by then. My husband had just completed a grueling round of chemotherapy in Germany, and we weren’t traveling on a whim. We were just trying to get home after an eight-month unplanned stay in Germany that began as a brief vacation and reached its zenith months later in the ICU. We were lucky my mate survived. And now we were doing our darndest to comfort the Tiger and let everyone sleep.

So when discussions of “childfree spaces” on a feminist blog (Feministe) quickly jump to saying that sharing a plane with kids is tantamount to a “hostage situation, I’d like to know exactly who’s the hostage here? I’m fairly sure only two people suffered worse than I on that flat: the Tiger and his dad. Well, maybe the nun, too.

We’re in the midst of another shitstorm in the feminist blogosphere, this time about parents’ rights to take their kids anywhere, anytime. The post that touched if off (by guestblogger Mai’a at Feministe) framed it in absolutist terms: We parents should be able to take our kids to bars where the patrons are inebriated and watch the sun come up. Obviously, this is risible. What kid will benefit from spending the whole night out with a parent, sidestepping being trod upon by drunks? Karmithia at Alas sagely pointed out the obvious: late nights at bars are good for neither parent nor child.

It’s unfortunate that Mai’a chose such an extreme example, because I can’t recall seeing a child at a bar – ever – as opposed to a relatively family-friendly bar-restaurant. Had she chosen a less silly example, her post would have still attracted the virulently childfree, but her main argument – that excluding children also marginalizes their mothers – would have been much more defensible. The central question she raised – are children an oppressed class? – also deserved more nuanced discussion. What happened instead was the far more predictable volley of accusations against “entitled” parents. (Much of the incivility came from people who’ve raised kids themselves, so this wasn’t merely a debate between mothers and non-mothers).

Most of the gripes raised in that comment thread addressed strawmen (or strawkids?): the presence of kids in adult-only bars, the ubiquity (?) of kids in upscale restaurants, and the notion that most (maybe all) parents just let their kids run wild 24/7. I have sometimes seen the last problem in family-friendly restaurants, and I’m not here to defend the fairly small minority of parents who seem unconcerned about their child tripping up a server laden with drinks and burning-hot food. I’ve rarely seen kids in pricier places, but I’ll be honest: I prefer to stick to family-friendly restaurants for everyone’s peace of mind. (Or, rarely, go out for a nice meal while a sitter watches our kids.) And bars? Seriously, I don’t get around much anymore, but I have yet to see swarms of kids at cocktail bars or at any grow-mutt party.

There’s just one area where I’ve seen systematic parenting fail: dragging wee ones to PG-13 and R-rated movies. I first noticed this a decade ago, pre-parenthood, when my husband and I took in a matinee of the first X-Files movie. The theater was full of tots who really, really didn’t belong there. Sure, they were loud, and that was annoying, but the real failure impacted the kids. Maybe they weren’t overtly disturbed. I don’t care! I have deep qualms about desensitizing small children to violence, which is what happens when they’re fed a steady diet of violence as preteens and even preschoolers. Yeah, a babysitter costs money. So do cinema tickets. Prevail upon your friends and relatives if you must keep up with Scully and Mulder.

But even the bad judgment of a few parents at the movies is red herring. Judging from the Feministe discussion and perennial nasty Internet comments about kids, the real issue is not R-rated movies, upscale restaurants, grown-up bars, or parties where you can gleefully drop the F-bomb.

Here’s the real problem: Some folks aren’t willing to accept kids in public, period. People really hate sharing airplanes with kids. Too many resent kids in downscale restaurants. Feministe commenters complained about kids on the subway – and oh boy, you need to keep your kids close on the subway as a safety measure, but I have never seen kids run wild on any form of public transit in Berlin. Sometimes, like my Tiger, they like to twist around and kneel on the seats to peer out windows, but they are not posing a public danger. Yet, even when they perch on their seats like little Victorian dolls, they’ve still gotten the evil eye. I thought this was just a Berlin issue, but perhaps U.S. coastal cities are even worse? Feministe commenters pissed and moaned about kids making noise in Target and supermarkets. I mean, really – supermarkets? Who has the cash to hire a babysitter while we buy the food we need to survive??! And does this mean Target’s now off bounds for me, but Wal-Mart is okay?

Basically, anytime people feel they can’t quickly escape, a few of them insist that children better not make a peep. At the same time, these same folks systematically ignore the drunken passengers lurching through the subway car, or the couple on the transatlantic flight who carry on loud conversations in the aisles from Halifax to Ireland. (Actually, I suspect some of them are the drunken and chatty passengers.)

I understand their irritation. I remember feeling similarly at times before I had kids, but if I could see their parents hadn’t fully checked out, I got over myself. I recall only one time when the parents were obviously slacking: yet another transatlantic stretch with a Gameboy turned up to 11 and no headphones in sight. (The parents read and slept while the Gameboy beeped cheerfully all across the ocean.) Nowadays, when a child starts to wail in the plane or grocery store, I feel a nanosecond of irritation, followed by a massive wave of relief: Hey, that’s not my child anymore! And then I feel empathy with the parent and child. If we pass each other, I’ll flash a smile, unless the situation seems too far gone.

I do agree that there are a few places where kids categorically don’t belong: nightclubs, sex clubs, extremely upscale restaurants, and yes, bars while the sun is rising. Heck, parents need a few kid-free spaces, too, for those times when we get to escape! Kids shouldn’t stay any longer in a university library than their desperate parent needs to pick up a few books and leave again. (My little town has a great city library that’s welcoming to them.) Concerts, theater, and hospitals may be perfectly appropriate places, depending on the kids and the circumstances. (I will note that once my mate escaped the ICU but was still in the hospital, the Tiger behaved like a little angel, confined to his stroller and fed continuously with Butterkeks, the German equivalent of graham crackers.)

Parents are responsible for discerning how well their sprouts are able to behave. And yes, I do think kids need to learn to be civil, unlike a few Feministe commenters at the other extreme, who decried that as authoritarian. Civilization happens by gradually stretching the limits of what kids can gracefully handle, and by giving them clear boundaries that gradually expand.

But geez, we shouldn’t have to lock ourselves inside Chuck. E. Cheese until all our children have left for college. I’ve read extremists who say parents should just avoid all air travel until their kids are young adults. Parents remain people, too (often with family four times zones away). And kids are people. I really like how Sierra put this at Strollerderby:

I’m a mom who believes that the well-being of our children is a shared responsibility of everyone. My kids are not an exotic hobby, or a bizarre lifestyle choice. They are little people with all the rights and privileges people are entitled to. Their emotional and physical well-being is in your interest as well as mine.

One of the most important points to be made here about kids being people is that their parents, particularly their mothers, are not their puppetmasters. If my kid starts wailing and throwing boxes of cereal in Aisle 7, I can’t just apologize and turn the volume off the way I can if my cell phone goes off in a crowded theater.

I can do my best to help her behave well; keep her well-rested and fed and entertained. But if she’s losing it, she’s just like any other person with a problem. What she needs is help. You’d never go up to a 25-year-old sobbing two tables away from you at a restaurant and tell them to be quiet; you’d either stay out of it or offer help. Kids deserve to be treated the same way.

Similarly, if a kid crosses a line with you, the thing to do is to gently hold the kid accountable. Politely ask her to quiet down, return your toy or get off your foot.

Generating a culture of fear around moms in public, that they’d better get those kids to shut up and act sweet or else, only serves to make us more fearful as parents. Frightened moms are stricter, less flexible and ultimately less able to handle stressful situations that crop up with their kids. Ease up a little, and the kids will have fewer meltdowns to begin with. Everyone wins.

(Read the whole post here.)

Also: They will pay for our Social Security someday. Now might be a propitious time to start treating them kindly. If we do that, they might actually grow up to be nicer than the commentariat at Feministe (or heaven forbid, the even nastier trainwreck on Jezebel).

In my own life, I’ve been nothing but lucky to have friends and family who’ve embraced my kids, even whey they’re stinkers, and even when said friends have chosen not to spawn. I honor their choices, and they honor mine. My boys are surrounded by love. It’s really just a few strangers who’ve made it hard at times. Hmmm … is that what they mean by “stranger danger”?

By now, the Tiger is a pretty good flyer. We had one more horrid flight (Minneapolis to Columbus, just me with the two boys) where he howled for most of it. My husband met us at the airport. He’d already heard that the Tiger had been a terror. One of his colleagues had been sitting in one row ahead of us. I didn’t spot her, though I knew her casually. She sure didn’t identify herself; it was far more fun to report on my child’s misbehavior, with great relish, after the flight. I’m sure my husband was the first to know, but certainly not the last.

I’d like to credit my parenting – or even the global village – for the fact that on every flight since, people have complemented us on our kids. But when I’m out with kids among strangers, that global village scarcely, except to meddle and gossip. As for our parenting – well, it’s been eclipsed by the invention of the portable DVD player.

(From ICHC?)

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I came upon a banner ad for a very NSFW enterprise in the Berlin subway yesterday. What’s not work-safe in the U.S. is evidently subway-safe here. I’d have snapped a photo but didn’t have the gumption to explain to my kids why it was funny and disconcerting. (Oh, kids, we’re not in Ohio anymore!) At seven and ten, they seem to tune out the soft-porn mags prominently displayed at newsstands, but this ad would’ve required a lot more explaining. So instead I grabbed an image from their website  …

… and yeah, it’s really not work-safe, so do look over your shoulder before scrolling down.

The subway ad included only the company name, plus the charming red-and-gold logo. It was much more subtle. No Crisco, either. (Since when do Germans use Crisco? It’s not organic enough! Oh, never mind. If you explore their website, the answer very quickly, um, slips into sight. Or slips somewhere, anyway.)

Seriously, I’m all in favor of sexual openness, but faced with a triple cock, I’ve got nuthin’ to say.

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Most likely, you’ve already heard that an Israeli court last week convicted a Palestinian man, Sabbar Kashur, of “rape by deception.” He met a Jewish woman on the street outside a Jerusalem grocery store. They struck up a conversation. She assumed he was Jewish due to his nickname, “Dudu,” which apparently is common among Jewish men. Within 15 minutes, the two adjourned to a nearby building and had sex. Afterward, he took off before she even was dressed. She believed he was a Jewish bachelor who was seeking a long-term relationship.

The woman then filed forcible rape charges. Later, she stated that the sex had been consensual but on false premises, and the charge was downgraded to “rape by deception.”

I’d prefer to table the fundamental problems with “rape by deception” to another post. Here, I just want to say that the notion of purity expressed by the presiding judges in this case is deeply troubling. As Haaretz reported:

In the verdict, deputy president of the Jerusalem district court Tzvi Segal, along with fellow judges Moshe Drori and Yoram Noam, wrote that although this wasn’t “a classical rape by force,” and the sex was consensual, the consent itself was obtained through deception and under false pretenses.

“If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” the judges wrote. …

“The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls,” Segal wrote.

“When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims … otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price,” he wrote.

The parallel that pops into my mind is one that I realize may be offensive to some folks: the charge of “race defilement” in Nazi Germany. No, I’m not equating these judges (much less all of Israel) with the Nazis. But there’s a notion of racial purity behind this verdict that is reminiscent of Nazi ideas about racial purity as expressed in the Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor (the Blood Protection Law, for short).

Under the Blood Protection Law, only men could be charged. That went for both “Aryan” and Jewish men, though the primary targets were of course Jewish. Women were interrogated and their privacy and reputations destroyed, but “Aryan” women were also viewed as victims. This legal practice followed Hitler’s bilious depiction of male Jewish sexuality in Mein Kampf:

The black-haired Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspicious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood and removing her from the bosom of her own people.

(p. 270 in the James Murphy translation of Mein Kampf that’s freely available on the Web)

Compare this with the language in Segal’s opinion:

The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls.

In both instances, men in the out-group are envisioned as predatory and deceptive; they’re sexual beasts, but they’re also terribly clever. In both instances, women belonging to the in-group are portrayed as passive, innocent, and unsuspecting. In neither case are women conceived – or even conceivable – as sexual agents. In both cases, women will be despoiled if the state fails to protect them. In both cases, community, honor, and racial purity are at stake.

You see the assertion and protection of honor, too, in Segal’s insistence that the woman would not have consented to sex with Kashur if she had not imagined him to be 1) Jewish, 2) a bachelor, and 3) interested in a long-term relationship. While it’s crucial not to slut-shame women (and that includes the woman in this case), let’s not forget that insisting on protecting purity enables slut-shaming in the first place. And when it comes to protection, the racial element in Segal’s reasoning is clear: He didn’t object to Kashur’s failure to disclose that he was married. He only emphasizes that the women was deceived into thinking Kashur was Jewish. (Never mind that Kashur apparently never made such a claim.)

Just for the record, I’m not defending Kashur’s actions as ethical. Not at all. He behaved like a complete cad toward the woman who brought charges, and he was an even bigger asshole toward his wife. I’m just trying to tease out the racial implications of his conviction.

Israel was born out of deep historical oppression and trauma. It’s not surprising that some Israelis overcompensate for this. It’s sad and disturbing, though, that any Israeli would support a rape conviction that rests on notions of race defilement similar to those used historically to oppress Jews.

Fortunately, some Jewish jurists are voicing their dissent (again via Haaretz):

Elkana Laist of the Public Defender’s Office yesterday said the Jerusalem District Court had gone too far in its application of the approach of the High Court, “opening the door to a rape conviction every time a person lies regarding details of his identity. Every time the court thinks a reasonable woman would not have had sex with a man based on that representation, the man will be charged with rape. That approach is not accepted around the world either.”

Laist needs to go further and condemn the racist aspects of the verdict (and perhaps she did but Haaretz didn’t quote it). Here in the U.S., Michelle Goldberg says all that needs to be said:

If such a verdict is allowed to stand, it will be evidence of the deep and corrosive racism menacing Israel. Earlier this year, Haaretz reported on a poll showing that 56 percent of Israeli high school students would ban the country’s Arab citizens from election to the Knesset. “Around half the respondents say Israeli Arabs should not receive the same rights as Israeli Jews,” the story said. We’ll soon see to what degree they get their wish.

(Her whole post is terrific – read it here.)

Like Goldberg, I too support Israel’s right to exist. But as she says, “It’s getting harder and harder to be a liberal Zionist.” If Israel is to continue to exist as a democracy, its leaders, judges, and citizens need to repudiate racist notions of blood and honor and reaffirm the humanity of everyone living within its borders.

Note to anyone who’s not a regular reader: My Ph.D. is in modern German history. While most of my teaching is in women’s and gender studies, I just taught a college course on the history of Nazi Germany. That’s why I happen to be acquainted with Mein Kampf - I’m not a neo-Nazi in disguise!

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My “cleverest” parenting ideas are like radioactive compounds. They start out relatively stable, but shortly they begin to decompose. Soon, their positive effects can be measured in nanoseconds, while their toxic fallout is guaranteed to outlive me.

Such was my clever idea of challenging the kids to a “quiet contest” in the stairwell of our Berlin apartment building. We’re there for six weeks this summer, and we expect to return next summer, too. I don’t want to be an asshole to the neighbors who will hear most of our kid chaos. The stairwell has the kind of acoustics you’d expect in a medieval castle. Everything is amplified to eleven and beyond.  Drop your keys, and they crash like a freeway pileup. Normal kid tromping, stomping, and shouting echoes until you imagine someone must be bleeding, though it’s only your own eardrums.

The first few “contests” went well, with the boys tying for first place and Mama (that’s me) losing decisively. But now the kids have begun to bicker about which of them “won.” They won’t drop the contest, even though they’ve proven to me, and to themselves, that they can be wonderfully considerate. They want to stick with it until it ends in a howling match that sets a new decibel record for the building.

It could be worse, though. Until last winter, kids were legally forbidden to make noise in Berlin. In other words, kids were forbidden to be kids! By law! Then Berlin became the first of Germany’s 16 states to allow children to make noise. (Berlin is a state in its own right, as well as a city.) Here’s how the BBC reported it last February:

Until now, only church bells, emergency sirens, snow ploughs and tractors have fallen outside the stringent rules on excessive noise in Germany.

In Berlin alone, hundreds of complaints are made each year about noise levels in kindergartens and children’s playgrounds.

Some day-care facilities have even been forced to close after local residents have gone to court in search of a quiet life.

Here’s how a BBC reporter, Joanna Robertson, experienced the harassment in her own family:

In the beginning, it was the telephone.

“Frau Robertson?” “Yes?”

“I know your daughter’s up there. She’s playing, isn’t she?”

Then came the doorbell.

Neglecting, for once, to peep through the spy-hole I opened the door, all unawares.

There she stood, square in the hallway, the neighbour from the third floor.

A successful detective novelist with a penchant for Parisian murders, she muscled her way in and could not be muscled-out again for quite some time.

The problem? My three-year-old daughter, Miranda – weight: under three stone; footwear: soft bedroom slippers – was allegedly making a noise. Only she was not. …

“Excessive child noise,” warranted a police call-out to our building for the crying of a newborn baby and, one Saturday afternoon, a group of cheerful 12-year-olds playing a game of Monopoly.

Berlin leaves me baffled. True to the spirit of the Brothers Grimm, childhood here is filled with wonders, but is unexpectedly grim.

(Read the whole thing here.)

We never had any formal complaints filed, though last week a woman in the subway was shooting poison darts out of her eyes at my two boys, who were the very picture of quiet civility. (At that moment, anyway.) But neighbors living upstairs from us had to contend with constant harassment and even a lawsuit from a hostile neighbor who simply hated kids.

Even with the new law, I’m not gonna get too smug. Childhood is officially authorized between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. At all other times – including all of Sunday – they are not to be heard. Maybe the kids’ next contest will involve putting their noise on a schedule?

Meanwhile, the garbage trucks make as much noise as they like, even at 7 a.m. Oh, and jackhammers seem to enjoy similar rights. No word on the legality of vuvuzelas.

(Intolerant kitteh from ICHC?)

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The heat spell grinds on. The German Rail company now blames global warming for its massive breakdown of high-speed trains. They were built to a “Norm” (standard) of functioning that went all the way up to 32 C (90 F), so all must be well! In the early 90s, no one could imagine such high temps (although I experienced the mid-90s and beyond in those years). So everything and everyone followed the rules!

This is the sort of head-in-sand reasoning that also ensures you can’t buy a simple fan when the mercury rises. Germany never gets really hot. Therefore stores don’t carry fans. The few fans in stock sell out immediately. An email list I run for scholars in Berlin is bubbling with desperate queries on how to locate a fan without having to mail order it. My family and I own three, which seems positively immoral – as though we’re hoarders in wartime.

If it weren’t so darned uncomfortable, I’d feel gleeful about the U.S. not being the only country that struggles with being “reality based.”

By now, though, I’m begging for mercy. The city smells nastier by the day. The collection of municipal compost – so laudable under ordinary conditions – creates walls of stench that sucker-punch passers-by. Things die, and their remains grow ever more pungent. My sweet children stink unless washed thoroughly each day. As for myself? Be grateful this blog has no scratch-n-sniff function.

The heat wave is supposed to break today, with rain and thunderstorms and more rain. Otherwise, expect me to resemble this kitteh (from ICHC, as usual).

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Evidently, one ill-fated night soccer and American football got together in a drunken hookup. The fruit of their conception was last night’s World Cup final, a monstrosity of a match between Spain and the Netherlands. It was probably the most foul game I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve watched quite a lot of soccer.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that Spain won, 1-0, on an elegant goal scored in the 117th minute (that is, nearly at the end of overtime). But the rest of the game was just plain ugly. In the 2006 finale, France’s Zinedine Zidane was sent off after he head-butted an Italian player. His red card was nothing compared to the worst foul of last night’s game, where the Netherlands’ Nigel de Jong intentionally kicked Xabi Alonso in the chest. He only got a yellow card, where red would have been deserved – and frankly, I would like to see de Jong barred from international play for a while. This was more than a foul; it was battery.

(Video of the foul is here, but I expect it’ll disappear soon at FIFA’s behest.)

When Germany’s not playing, I tend to root for the underdog, so I was initially pulling for the Netherlands, but that foul lost my sympathy. Spain played quite foul, too, but at least they weren’t vicious.

In the end, I was glad for Spain. Despite their flailing in the group stage, in the end they lived up to the hype (see: the Germany-Spain match). They also gave me one great reason to root for them: their goalkeeper, Iker Casillas. He did a couple of fantastic saves that spoiled apparently sure-fire chances for the Netherlands. He got emotional when Andres Iniesta finally scored for Spain. And he’s nice to look at, too.

(Photo from the blog Girls Like Soccer Too – which has more yumminess here, too.)

(Photo borrowed from Sky Sports.)

The game for third place was far more exciting than the final, as it was in 2006. Okay, so Germany won third place then, too, but I don’t think I’m just biased. Uruguay and Germany both played fair and the game actually flowed – which can’t happen when a foul interrupts the action every 15 seconds or so. I would have been just about as pleased for Uruguay to win.

Happily, one of my absolute favorite players, Uruguay’s Diego Forlan, won the award for best overall player (the Golden Ball). Yay!! Casillas won the Golden Glove (for best goalkeeper). Germany’s Thomas Müller won both Best Young Player and the Golden Boot (for most goals – he won with five, plus the most assists). (The full list of awards is here.) Müller – who’s only 20 – is still so unassuming, he makes me think of a North Dakota farm boy.

I am perfectly satisfied.

My only gripe is that the World Cup is over. Now whatever shall I blog about?

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Scene 1: I spend most of the year freezing. I’m usually the first person to complain about air conditioning running too cold. I can hardly function in an office that’s cooled to 60 F, as our university consistently does to the Women’s and Gender Studies offices. I don’t think well when I’m cold, and (rather inconveniently), thinking is in my job description. We’ve taken to running space heaters when it gets really bad, since the university seems incapable of fixing its HVAC system.

At the same time, the university regularly sends out emails exhorting us to save energy.

Scene 2: The university also has trouble keeping its AC system working, period. Way back in April, we had our first heat wave, which provoked one of my students to complain to the school newspaper:

I began my day in Porter Hall at 9 a.m., measuring a comfortable 72 degrees. I had class from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Clippinger measuring 83 degrees, and immediately following a different room in Clip from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. measuring 85 degrees. Thinking that the worst of my overly warm classes were over and that the last would surely be comfortable, I entered Bentley and climbed to the second floor to find a room that was 98 degrees.

As our professor teased that class would end if she passed out, and I watched the sweat of my neighbor form a puddle on our desk, I found that what little focus I had for history was quickly diminishing in the unbearable heat. I began to wonder instead how, even in light of necessary budget cuts, Ohio University could think that students could actively learn in such an uncomfortable environment. Having soaked through my shirt I found myself racing outside to “cool down” in the 80 degree weather outside after class (well cool down in the sense that at least there was moving air).

(Read the rest here.)

Yep, I was that professor in the 98-degree room. And no, I didn’t pass out, but my students weren’t the only ones who struggled to stay focused.

Scene 3: The temperature in Berlin is 99F, as I write this. No one has AC in their homes. Not even all movie theaters have it. Lots of people don’t even own fans, and in fact, many Germans believe that any moving air constitutes a draft. When the city gets this hot, the apartment houses stay cool for a day or two, but then the cement and stone start to heat up, and they retain the heat instead. We’ve been opening windows whenever it’s cooler outside, closing them when it’s not, pulling drapes, and running fans. It’s not enough to live with any comfort. Last night the low was in the upper ’70s. Tonight we’ll be sleeping in a sauna. Or not sleeping, more likely.

All of which made me keenly interested in Salon’s interview with Stan Cox, who urges us to radically shut off our AC. (Amanda Marcotte has some very reasonable commentary on it at Pandagon.) I agree that we overdo it like crazy – do restaurants really need to be cooled to 65 or below? – but he underestimates the health impact where there’s no AC in a heat wave:

But I think we need to look at it is as a fail-safe mechanism and recognize that a lot of the health problems that we need A.C. to solve, it may have contributed to in the first place. We need to look at the conditions under which people die in heat waves, the harsh life conditions that they’re enduring more generally. That’s the real root of the problem.

(The rest is here.)

No. It’s not just a matter of harsh life conditions, though poverty, old age, and isolation are huge risk factors for dying in a heat wave. There’s no mystery to it. But if there’s nowhere cool to escape, people will die. In Europe’s 2006 heat wave, at least 20 died in Germany and at least 40 in France, even though both are wealthy countries with excellent social welfare safety nets. These are preventable deaths.

Basically, our systems are poorly designed, with too much cooling delivered to lots of places, and none to others. My university offers some prime examples of this. Here’s another. My sister- and brother-in-law traveled from Frankfurt to Berlin on Friday in a train where the AC failed. The windows are hermetically sealed because it’s a high-speed train whose name, ironically, is abbreviated “ICE.” Yesterday, three similar trains had to be evacuated after their AC failed. (Sorry, the linked article is in German.) It seems the system is not designed to function in high temperatures! On one of the ICE trains, 27 teenagers on a school trip collapsed from the heat, and some required IV infusions right on the platform once they were evacuated. The desperate mother of a young boy tried to break a window with an emergency hammer. Temperatures topped 120 F.

So yes, by all means, let’s talk about AC. But I agree with Amanda that urging people to go cold turkey – as Cox does – vastly oversimplifies the matter. Complex societies cannot simply ditch AC, unless we abandon any notion of productivity and give up travel by mass conveyance. (I’ve recently been on an airplane and a city bus whose temperatures rivaled those of the ICE trains.) In other words, late capitalism depends on AC, and unless you think we can topple capitalism, we’re not likely to abolish AC. Nor should we, because it really does save people’s lives in a heat wave. But we can and should discuss where it’s used profligately and stupidly. We should think about where we really need it, and where it’s optional. We can adopt other strategies, like using a whole-house fan at night, running ceiling fans, or (in dry climates) installing a swamp cooler. We can drop dress codes that require pants and ties in July. Why not wear shorts to the office?

Oh, and when it’s really hot, we might be wise not to cuddle up to our laptops. I’m off to grab a cold drink and a good old-fashioned, paper-based book.

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You know you shouldn’t do it. You know your heart will be broken. Your beloved is unsteady, fickle, transient. He’s bound to let you down. When he does, you’ll be crushed. And your friends will either be equally crushed by the same unreliable cad – or they’ll mock you for being such a trite stereotype. Now you feel bereft and stupid. Worse, they’re right … unless reversing genders is enough to undo the stereotype?

This is what happens when you fall for a soccer team. Similar heartbreak transpired in 2006 after Germany’s semifinal loss to eventual world champion Italy. But in 2006, we (that is, my family and I) were buoyed by the spirit of the whole German nation celebrating a World Cup in their collective backyard. Games were being played a few miles from our apartment. Strangers were smiling foolishly at strangers, and that in too-cool, too-busy, too-insular Berlin! We also had the lovely distraction of Jürgen Klinsmann as coach.

This year, the tournament is on a distant (though very deserving) continent. German flags still fly from people’s cars and dangle from balconies. But with last night’s 1-0 loss to Spain, the “air is out” of it, as they say here. I picture this as our hearts hanging empty, like deflated balloons, though I supposed only a foreigner would come up with this image. Walhalla (where we watched the game) was the Saloon of Despond; the Spanish team was an Armada that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Today my husband decreed it was time to take the German flags off the back of the kids’ bikes. (All three of us – Bear, Tiger, and I – screeched NO, it is not time!)

So just what happened yesterday? Well, Spain delivered its best game of the tournament. They showed the Germans how a passing game is really done. The German’s version of passing and counter-attacking got no traction until the Spanish side scored on a set piece with just 15 minutes to go. Carlos Puyol was utterly undefended by a team known for decades as punctilious, whatever its other faults. No one marked up. Puyol headed it into the net. Germany rallied, but they were too late. Given the number of chances Spain had woven out of its passing game, the German defense actually did just fine with last-minute saves – except for that one fatal moment.

To quote the excellent “Mike’s Best Guess” at Open Salon:

Die Mannschaft were finally eliminated because they forgot to be, well, German during decisive moment of Wednesday’s semifinal against Spain.

That decisive moment came in the 73rd minute when Carles “Rambo” Puyol barreled unmarked through the box like a crazed Spanish kamikaze fighter and headed the winning goal past the towering German Luftwaffe.

It was shocking. It was the little, skillful, artistic Spaniards beating the Germans by being better at, well, being German. …

… Instead of scoring from open play (the way they probably would have preferred), the Spaniards out-Germaned the Germans by converting on a header by a center back from a corner kick — and by grinding out a result despite often failing to play beautiful soccer.

To put it more bluntly, the Spanish were well worth their win, but the goal probably should have never happened. Rambo Puyol, for all his grit and determination, is 5-foot-10: not short for a soccer player by any means, but not tall by German standards. But even with their sizable height advantage, the Germans failed to do what they’ve done better than anyone for decades: Mark up. Indeed, if Puyol hadn’t gotten a head to the cross, his partner in crime, the fantastically facial-haired central defender Gerard Piqué, would have.

(More here – and I agree with all but the Blitzkrieg analogy **shudder**)

Piqué, by the way, amuses Mike with his facial hair, which my son the Tiger would surely call “nifty whiskers.” Personally, I think Piqué has got some hedgehog ancestry, judging from his bristly brace of head-hair.

(This photo was shamelessly swiped from here to illustrate Piqué’s hedgehog hair and not his injuries. The Germany-Spain match was one of the least foul that I’ve seen.)

O, for another 30 minutes plus penalties! That might have won the game for Germany. We certainly weren’t going to win it through standard means. Spain were (gulp) better. Spain won verdient.

But the Spanish virtues are only half the tale. On the German side, I think two factors intensely demoralized “our Jungs” and kept them from unfurling their creativity, their passing game, and their coolly hot counterattacks:

1) The utterly unearned yellow card for a “handball” that was actually Lionel Messi’s work in the previous match against Argentina. Thomas Müller paid for Messi’s sins in a game marked by shitty officiating. Müller had to sit the game out last night, with paralysis on the right side the logical result. But Spain also managed to largely shut down Özil and Podolski as well, freezing up our entire offensive midfield.

2) The embarrassing and divisive debate in the German press on who will lead the team as captain after the World Cup. Will it be the injured star midfielder Michael Ballack, whose absence must sting terribly? (He’s old enough that this would have been his World Cup.) Or will it be the calm, even-tempered, modest defender Philip Lahm, whose leadership has been exemplary? I favor Lahm, myself, not least because I agree with my friend who thinks the team plays better without its anointed star. But allowing this debate to seep into the tabloids was just foolish. It can’t have helped the number one asset of the team, its esprit de corps. Worse yet, the gossip about the captain’s position may well have split the team. Perhaps its apearance in the boulevard press signals a disintegration within the team, in which case the leaks to the press are only a symptom of a deeper problem. At any rate, a team that can’t talk to each other probably isn’t gonna pass to each other, either.

Oh, my lovely young men, too soon departed! Why, oh why, did I let me self fall? Why so besotted, when we never had a chance?

So today I mope. I eat Nutella on Ritz crackers. I sneak licorice snails while the kids aren’t looking. I nurse my bruised feelings. I’ll be my sober self again soon. Really, I will. For now, I’m still pining for the Weltmeister title. Looks like I’ll have to settle for Waldmeister jello. With vanilla sauce. Lucky me, I’ve got some in the fridge. It’s just not quite solidified. Much like the German team.

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When I was in college, I played in a certain notorious “marching band.” Sadly, my original instrument, French horn, doesn’t translate well to the football field – it points backwards, which is a distinct advantage in a stadium – and so I played a mellophone instead. The better ones look like this:

(photo source)

The worse ones we called turkey horns. They looked like this, if you can mentally add a few dents and scrapes:

(photo source)

Yes, this is a pretty specimen, and the term “turkey horn” might seem harsh. But here’s the problem. This horn is good and loud – a plus on the field – but chronically out of tune. Even the best of us couldn’t stop it from sucking. (At least a couple of you readers know just how epically it sucked.)

So I can’t resist comparing the vuvuzela to the mellophone: the main purpose of each is to produce a lot of woefully uncontrollable noise. Both are apt to frighten small children. As my husband observed, “The vuvuzela is a mellophone without valves.”

Here’s proof positive that he’s right. The musicians in this clip are performers at the Konzerthaus Berlin, the exact place where I met my husband nearly 19 years ago. They don’t identify what they play in “real life,” but I’m assuming they’re all brass players, because they coax a pretty nice sound from the humble vuvuzela. (The room’s acoustics don’t hurt, either.) If you don’t get the German, they’re discussing how to make the correct sound to produce a beautiful round tone on the vuvuzela. They then perform a Bach Chorale and the little-known vuvuzela solo that Ravel, as they dead-pan, “couldn’t resist” including in his “Bolero.”

Via Opera Chic and Big Think; originally at Die Zeit.

Just try doing better on a turkey horn!

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But first things first: Germany continues to play a fun, effective, thrilling, indeed beautiful game. Berlin is buzzing with vuvuzelas, fast cars a-flutter with black-red-gold flags, and young Turkish men cheering the German team. Now I remember why I’m here and not in Ohio. All I can do is gloat. 4-0! Against Argentina!

That said, I’m still very partial to the Uruguayan soccer team. They’ve played wonderful ball and they have the handsomest players. (I know, I know – I’ve promised a post on that latter point! It’s still coming!) Uruguay is the sole survivor of the four South American teams who entered the quarterfinals. Yes, they won yesterday on penalties after an egregious “hand of God” incident, and yes, it’s awfully sad for Ghana and all of Africa. I wish that match had ended fairly. Still, selfishly, I’m glad we’ll see Diego Forlan play two more games.

Here’s Uruguay’s moment of shame and victory:

(Apologies if that clip disappears – it claims not to violate copyright. Translation: it’s probably in violation, and YouTube will axe it. Also, if you’re not seeing this clip on a reader, there are more to come, so you might as well come on over to the original post.)

Paraguay? They have an iron defense and embarrassed much-overrated Spain. In the end, though, they couldn’t take advantage of their few offensive opportunities. We cheered for them anyway.

Brazil? They deserved to lose against a scrappier Dutch team that wasn’t hobbled by overconfidence. So much for the favorite. It’s a pity because we won’t get to see any more Brazilian football for the rest of the World Cup. But then again, this team wasn’t playing Brazilian football.

Argentina? I would have put money on them beating my German team (and so would other expert analysts), but oh! We didn’t just dominate the game: except for a few scenes before the 2-0 fell, we made it look like the most natural thing in the world. Of course, a super-early goal doesn’t hurt. The view from Walhalla was so rosy, I thought the stranger at the next table was about to give me a hug. Did I mention the score was 4-0? That said, I have a soft spot for Lionel Messi. He’s an incredible player and he has “lion” right in his name. Rather than going home scoreless, I would have liked to see him sink a goal … in the 92nd minute. I still think Argentina were the best team in the tournament – that is, were, before Germany beat them today – and I’ll miss Argentina, unlike Brazil. They had great style and talent and they gave their all. Today’s match should have been the final.

Proof positive that this game was the bee’s knees? Even my little Tiger wasn’t bored. He stopped begging for me to play cards with him, and started cheering for a 5-0.

Along with the Argentine players, their coach, Diego Maradona, now has a one-way ticket home. That, too, is a pity. After France’s coach Raymond Domenech flunked out in the group stage  while substituting astrology for strategy (!!?? WTF helped this guy’s team win second place in 2006?), Maradona set the benchmark for batshittery. He relied on his dreams to pick players; told his players they could have sex as long as their women did all the work; ran over cameramen;and  trotted out his 31-year-old girlfriend to “prove” his heterosexuality. He also promised to run through Buenos Aires naked if his team won the cup. That, at least, we shall be spared. And yet, we at Kittywampus will miss him dearly.

Maradona was (of course) responsibile for the original “hand of God” moment in World Cup soccer, which you must watch now, especially if you’ve never seen it:

Right after the match, Maradona insisted that it wasn’t his hand that hit the ball into the goal. The Almighty himself had intervened. Later, perhaps fearing for his immortal soul, Maradona backpedaled a bit:

But hey, it’s Caturday, right? I don’t have any great feline soccer moments for you. Instead, in honor of the Spanish-speaking teams that have provided some awesome soccer (and let us not forget, the Brazilian speak Portuguese!), I offer up a purrito – even if it’s unlikely to be recognized south of the Texas border.

(Purrito via ICHC?)

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I’m glad that South Africa is hosting the World Cup. I’ve read a few posts (most notably this one by Melissa at Shakesville) criticizing South Africa’s selection on the basis of its record on human rights and women’s rights (which are human rights, after all!). I’m all for calling out misogyny. Overall, though, I think it’s important to decenter Europe as the imagined home of the cup, and so I was pleased that South Africa was chosen. (After all, Western countries don’t have a spotless record on women’s rights, either.)

But. This blog is overseen by the spirit of Grey Kitty, who has made a few brief appearances in our Berlin apartment lately. She objects STRENUOUSLY!!! to one element of South Africa’s hosting: the infernal vuvuzela.

Kittywampus officially endorses the following message:

(from ICHC?)

and this one too:

(from ICHC?)

(To be fair, the same must be said of the pirate flag that my friend was waving in lieu of a German banner at the England-Germany match. Her young daughter confiscated it before anyone lost an eye.)

Obviously, a cat who sees the vacuum cleaner as demon spawn will not tolerate vuvuzelas. She will lose what’s left of her mind.

The same, it seems, can be said for humans. A dipshit American living in Bavaria snapped last weekend after days of constant vuvuzela buzz from his neighbors. Note that this was in Bavaria (not South Africa) and these folks were tooting while watching the games on TV. He marched over to his neighbors, wielding an axe, and threatened to kill them if they didn’t pipe down. The police are considering whether to bring charges for the threat and – in a very German twist – for insulting his neighbors. (“Beleidigung” – or insulting someone – is a crime here, and it need not rise to the standard of slander.)

Kittywampus in no way endorses his methods. Can we understand his distress? Well … MEOOOOOOW.

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I watched the Germany-England match at the corner pub, which is called – I kid you not – Walhalla. It’s not a hotspot for German nationalists, nor do Wagner enthusiasts hang out there. I don’t even think there’s anyone named Siegfried or Brunhilde on the staff (though I couldn’t swear it).

Anyway, it was an excellent place to watch the game, which I thought showed the strengths of the German team very nicely: teamwork and some excellent passing. (The New York Times has a nice slideshow and a good overview of the game.) With Michael Ballack injured, there are no real stars, only a bunch of mostly young guys who have to rely on each other. Thomas Müller, who scored twice, stands out for having played really selflessly up to now, and so I was glad he got to enjoy a dose of glory. Unlike the team from, say, 2000, this is not an arrogant bunch. If they stand a chance against Argentina – and I think they do, albeit as underdogs – it’ll be through strong teamwork that can slip past Argentina’s vulnerable defense.

Did the Germans deserve to win? I think so, despite the miscarriage of justice against England’s second goal. Even I – the world’s worst judge of distances – saw that it was half a meter behind the line (official measurements showed 40 cm). The call was one of the worst I’ve seen. Even so, England came back strong and determined; they had some of their best moments early in the second half, after the denied goal. I don’t discount the psychological impact of the referee’s egregious mistake, but the English team was still in the game until Germany scored its third and fourth goals in quick succession.

Some folks here see karma at work. They see the unfairness visited upon England as just desserts for the goal awarded England in Wembley Stadium in the 1966 World Cup final. In that match, England beat Germany in overtime, 4-2. Their third goal – the infamous “Wembley Tor” – was controversially awarded to Geoff Hurst despite bouncing off the crossbar and landing in front of the line – or did it? You be the judge:

For good measure, the fourth goal was scored while spectators began to flood the field.

By contrast, the “Wembley Goal of 2010″ wasn’t even a close call:

It’s just unbelievable that FIFA won’t even consider using modern technology for controversial calls. Instead, they’re calling for an end to replays on the stadium screens!

A rule modeled on field hockey – which allows each team to challenge one call per half – would be a sensible way to make use of video technology without interrupting the flow of the game. Maybe you’d need to allow for two appeals per half in soccer, given the number of game-changing mistakes the refs have made in this World Cup. That, plus the use of smart chips in balls, could only improve the game. After all, egregious officiating creates interruptions of its own.

This time, my team benefited from the mistake. Next time, it may not. In any event, if the German team had won only narrowly, the victory would’ve been soured. It’s only fun to win when you win fairly. Even my kids know that.

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How do you know when you’ve arrived in a land that’s passionate about soccer? Unfortunately, when you see it used as a projection screen for people’s prejudices.

Exhibit A: Already in the jetway at Tegel Airport, we’re greeted by posters featuring a wistful little boy and the caption: “A trip to South Africa – every little boy’s dream.” For good measure, the poster exists in both English and German. There’s no poster depicting every little girl’s dream, although the German women’s soccer team is the reigning world champion!

Exhibit B: A tabloid headline trumpeting today’s Germany-England match that proclaims, “We’ll beat the little Englishwomen [die kleine Engländerinnen].” No, it didn’t call the English players pussies, but only because Germany has these handy feminized endings that can be tacked onto nouns.

So there’s something to be said for a soccer culture in which boys and girls play together through sixth grade and there’s no official scorekeeping, like in our little league in Athens.

On the other hand, the flip side of America’s relaxed relationship to soccer is this: 300 million residents, and apparently not a single young man with a killer instinct for the goal! At least that’s the impression I got from yesterday’s game. In the second half, the American guys worked out one magical chance after another … and the ball magically ended in the Ghanaian goalkeeper’s tender embrace, every single time. The Germans have a word for this – abschlußschwach – meaning you just can’t drive the goal home. Soooo frustrating.

(Soccer kitteh from ICHC?)

German soccer commentary also spends a lot of time discussing whether a win was verdient or unverdient – deserved or not. Sometimes, a team can play brilliantly and still lose. I don’t know how much “deservingness” is a cultural peculiarity, but I don’t recall hearing the mostly-British announcers on ESPN spend much breath on questions of soccer justice. In the US-Ghana match, a tie would have been a just outcome for two teams who both played a dazzling, captivating game; that would have been “verdient” for both sides. Only the single-elimination format precluded it.

I’m still psyched for the US-American team. We might not be a Great Power in soccer – not yet – but we also weren’t a Great Embarrassment. Yesterday’s match was so much more fun to watch than that snoozer between Brazil and Portugal. That’s something to celebrate.

Now, on to Germany-England. I’m happy to still have one of “my” teams in the tournament. Also: Yay Uruguay! They play entertaining soccer, plus they are really good looking. (But that would be a topic for another post, wouldn’t it?)

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