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Remember when proponents of Ohio’s proposed “Heartbeat Bill” tried to get a fetus to testify in favor of the legislation, which would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat becomes detectable? (That’s usually between the 6th and 8th weeks, when many women still don’t know they’re pregnant.)

Well, apparently pre-born witnesses aren’t awfully reliable. One of the two pre-born tykes invited to testify last spring flat-out refused to make a statement. No galloping hearttones were entered into the legislative record for her (or him).

The lastest trick, now, is to bring in post-born children. This age group is bound to afflict our legislators with a new level of chaos. The messes! (I still have one prone to wreaking EVIL with crayons.) The backtalk! (Ditto for both of my beloved boys, though vastly improved.) The irreligiosity! (At our annual Christmas Eve foray to church, my Tiger kept asking loudly what “Amen” meant. Meanwhile, his older brother the Bear managed to set his church bulletin aflame during “Silent Night,” the candlelit portion of the service.)

But not all post-born children are like the hoydenish heathens I’m raising.** Those who testified were surely obedient, docile Christian children. They know when to say Amen. Granted, they’re no longer imbued with the perfect innocent of the pre-born, but at least their heartbeat is reliable.

This is how the testimony of post-born children played out last week (thanks, Daily Record, for covering it):

Christian Harrington didn’t mince words during his moment at the Statehouse Tuesday.

The 8-year-old wants the Ohio Senate to take action on the Heartbeat Bill, legislation that would ban abortions within weeks of conception.

“I’m here to save babies with beating hearts,” Christian, barely tall enough to peer over a podium, told a packed committee hearing room. “And I want to tell the senators to pass the Heartbeat Bill right now. And when I mean right now, I mean right now.”

The youngster was one of more than 50 children who were in Columbus Tuesday as part of the latest attempt by backers of the Heartbeat Bill to convince lawmakers to pass the legislation.

They had a press conference with reporters, held a faux committee hearing showing lawmakers how to vote in favor of the bill and delivered Teddy bears, complete with real heartbeat sound chip, to all 33 Ohio senators.

“Do not believe the stuff the people tell you at the abortion clinic,” said 11-year-old Sydney McCauley. “The just say it’s a blob of tissue, and that is not the truth. That blob of tissue is actually forming into a baby.”

She added, “Think if someone aborted you. That would be a whole generation of people who (would not) be able to live their lives.”

Fifty kids? That’s a veritable Children’s Crusade. These children are being brainwashed into a key tenet of movement pro-life belief: that their existence was predestined. No one is telling these kids, “Well, you wouldn’t exist had the condom stayed put.” “You were only possible because Mama lost her first pregnancy after four months, and you came along 12 months later.” “The only reason you came into this world is that my ex was just too damn hot, and oh, I know I shouldn’t have – I know it! – but I just could stop loving him. A week later he punched me in the jaw. Never seen him since.” Or even: “You can be glad your Mom and I got drunk and horny on New Year’s. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here today.” (This last one came to me via my own father, though I’m pretty sure he didn’t quite say “horny.” I was, in any event, a September baby – and fortunate to have been wanted and well-loved.)

The “Heartbeat” movement has no truck with chance. Its obsessions with the pivot point of abortion as the arbiter of live and death effaces all the other contingencies and serendipities – every crazy chance of fate – leading up to the conception and birth of  a particular baby. It constructs a teleology in which every baby was always and forever meant to be, and thus their (potential) mothers are obligated to carry every pregnancy to term.

Catch me if I’m wrong, but are there Christian religions other than Mormonism that envision a pre-heavenly waiting room of souls? Otherwise, it’s just silly luck that you were born as opposed to another combo of gametes in your parent’s DNA deck of cards.

But this seemingly philosophical question – “what if you’d never been born?” – is a standard cudgel in the hardcore anti-abortion toolbag. It’s as simple as it is existentially threatening. No wonder it resonates with the tween crowd.

The kids hauled into Columbus to testify can’t begin to gauge the depth of dishonesty and muddy thinking in the slough of despond (first their churches, then the Ohio Legislature) to which their parents have led them. And so it feel abusive to me to use children to try to score a few cheap emotional points. All kids can do until their early to mid teens is to parrot their parents’ opinions. I mean, my Tiger has political ideas at 8, but danged if I’m gonna force him to the mat to defend them. I’d much rather test and challenge my kids’ ideals –  in hopes that they will eventually understand what is truly their own.

Let us hope to all the gods – their God, my Buddha-Jesus, and the Ceiling Cat – that these kids urged to perform for the legislature will someday find enough distance from their manipulative parents that they can later make their own wise, considered sexual decisions.

And let us hope that the Heartbeat Bill, which was left to languish last month, won’t be revived by this small horde of child crusaders.

Further, we can only hope that the vicious overreach of the Heartbeat Bill – its overly broad provisions, sloppy thinking, contempt for women, prima facie unconstitutionality, and far-ranging interference with the rights of both doctor and patient – will doom it, no matter how many post-born children mount testimony, church pageants, or lemonade stands in its favor.

But given that the latest  Quinnipiac Poll found public support for the Heartbeat Bill at a dead heat (45% favoring, 46% against), I’m skeptical that Ohio has any chance of electing pro-choice legislators (the theme for this week’s Blog for Choice day).

Instead, we need to start pointing out how the self-styled champions of children are using other children as a political ramrod. We need to question their leaky teleology of sex –> pregnancy –> birth –> earthly arrival of souls from heaven. And we need to howl to the moon about the lunacy of the Heartbeat Bill, which – like a zombie, a vampire – isn’t dead yet, but poses a mortal threat to women’s autonomy.

** My kids are actually quite wonderful, in my wholly unbiased opinion. But the incident with the church bulletin aflame really did happen.

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I leave my adopted state, Ohio, for my annual summer sojourn in Germany, and this is what happens! Nothing but lunacy!

Ohio’s Governor Kasich just signed a bill allowing bars to allow people to carry concealed firearms into bars. As Slate puts it: “Because nothing goes better than guns and crowded places …”

Ha! I know an even better combo: guns + crowds + booze + students + beer pong + flashpoints of overt racism. That’ll be the new scene on Court Street, the main drag where my students congregate to imbibe, socialize, and – all too often – get into fights.

Last fall, 0ne of my former students was racially targeted and physically assaulted on Court Street. His tormenters managed to frame him on assault and menacing charges. This Athens News article ably describes the beginning of his saga and hints at the weakness of the case against my student. All charges were ultimately dropped as evidence mounted that he’d been the victim, not the perp. Ultimately he was exonerated. While I avoided writing about his case because I didn’t want to disqualify myself as a character witness, I posted a thinly fictionalized account of how the local jail radically isolates inmates, especially newbies, from the outside world. My student was in that hellhole for a week before he even saw a lawyer (the hardcore folks of course have their attorney’s number memorized), facing racism from fellow inmates, fearing for his freedom.

I now try to re-imagine the whole ugly story with a gun in play. The likely outcome? My student bleeds out on Court Street. An alternative scenario: My student seizes the gun from his tormenter and finds he’s up against high-grade felony charges, even after allowing for self-defense.

Another student, recently returned from Iraq in 2006, was gravely injured (on his head, I believe) by a bouncer at a Court Street establishment. He had to be airlifted to Columbus for treatment. I don’t know yet how his story ends. While writing this post, I did my best to locate him in the Facebookgoogleplex, and I think I might have found him. I’m now so hopeful that he might be living a good life. (I’ll be sure to update if I learn more.)

But again, what if that bouncer had had a gun? What if my thoroughly traumatized student had been carrying, his wits sharp but his nerves frayed from facing down death in Iraq? Two men could have died that night.

What about the goofy, good-natured football player who showed up with his arm in a cast? “Training injury?” I asked brightly. “Um, no, a bar fight.” Gotta admire these students’ honestly. His athletic career continued – in no small part because he hadn’t been riddled with gunshot wounds.

What about a female student (way back in 2003) who took a certain pride in holding her own in “girl fights”? Will her successors all morph into clones of Bree Vanderkar (or Sarah Palin)? Hey, chicks can shoot as straight as any dude! Their flesh can absorb just about as much lead as a man’s can, too.

I realize why this bill passed. The NRA has legislators at the point of, well, a gun. My Democratic and generally progressive rep in the State House said she had to respect her consituents’ overwhelming support for the guns ‘n’ bars bill. Even an abstention (for me, the least-bad path) might have allowed the Repubs to vote her out in the next cycle. And it’s true that bar owners can post “no guns” signs on their doors, which are just as valid there as in any other public space.

But as for myself, I’ll be avoiding the Court Street bar scene, especially past 7 or so in the evening, until it becomes clear whether full body-armor has become the new trend, replacing the standard-issue shorty-short skirts and towering heels.

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So tell me, if you’ve ever fantasized about sex in public, did you have a solo effort in mind? And if so, did you imagine just how mind-blowingly sexy it’d be to whack off in your local Walmart? That’s a scenario I’ve never seen in Cosmo. In fact, I think it might even invalidate Rule 34: “If it exists, there is porn of it.” (I went searching for porn set in Walmart. Maybe I’m just having a bad google day, but I came up empty.) Clearly, this is a cutting-edge sex act.

And yet, a local man (not of my acquaintance) dared to live out his pole-polishing fantasies at my local Walmart!

Details in the university’s paper of record, The Post, are tantalizingly brief and slippery:

OMG, did the paper have to juxtapose the crime report with a picture of – what’s that – an erect baseball bat? Hitting it out of the park for – a home run? Oh, Walmart dude: you should have gone to sporting goods. There, you might have started a pick-up game and at least tried to get to second base. (To be clear: the athlete pictured is not the accused Walmart wanker.)

Now, at this juncture I should take a feminist stand. I know this is my duty. I should mention that men who expose themselves in public are engaged in an act of predation and intimidation. I could regale you with my Carl’s Junior bathroom encounter with a peeping tom. And I could concede that women commit similar acts on occasion (Girls Gone Wild, anyone?), but it’s absurd to call nonconsensual exhibitionism and voyeurism a sport protected under Title IX. Instead, these are intrusive manifestations of male sexual entitlement that remind women not to step out of line or consider their sexuality their own. As always, the bedrock principle is self-determination and consent. And I’m quite certain that in this case, his fellow shoppers had not consented to a free peep show.

But I can’t sustain that argument (correct though it be). I just keep bumping into WALMART – and giggling. I mean, a guy actually decided to buff his bishop under those glaring fluorescent lights, in constant danger of ramming carts, and under the watchful eyes of store detectives (or, as the piece preciously puts it, “loss prevention officers”). This just floors me. I’m still trying to parse what it means to be “near” automotive. Was he actually in the nearby toy section, a fact that – if true – trigger a moral panic about local pedophiles? Or was he actually in automotive, turned on by the manly-man smells of grease and rubber tires? Perhaps he had just misunderstood the meaning of “lube job”?

Seeking to understand, I undertook some research, which revealed that our local miscreant was not the first to get a Walmart woody. He’s probably not even the most abject, if you consider a case reported last year in the Frisky:

In case you folks were thinking about masturbating in public anytime soon, let William Tyler Black be an example of what not to do. The 28-year-old substitute teacher (yes … teacher) was arrested in Florida (yes … Florida) yesterday for spreading his baby batter all over a local Walmart (yes … Walmart).

William apparently became aroused by the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, featuring Brooklyn Decker, while browsing at his local Walmart in Sarasota. He decided to pleasure himself right then and there, splooging all over the floor and wiping some of it onto a “Star Wars” light saber in the toy section. When confronted by the staff about his masturbation session, he said he was buying a toy for his daughter. (Oh no! He’s a father?) He was charged with battery and exposure of sexual organs. Just so we’re clear, this is not something you should ever do. I don’t care how hot Brooklyn Decker is.

At least no light sabers were involved here in Athens, though I should add that there’s one wacky connection between the two incidents: Ohio and Florida are now tied for having the least popular governors! If you’re saddled with a Governor Jerk-off, why not join him?

But geez, Walmart? Rly? This is precisely why the Ceiling Cat created almost-private rooms for us.

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You wouldn’t think I’d be angry, would you, given that I’ve just been declared part of management? In less than three years, I’ve gone from a lowly adjunct teaching position to a “managerial” function. The real magic? I might have been a management employee all along! Next year: world domination!

This great gift comes via Ohio’s Senate Bill 5. As you’ve might have heard, S.B. 5 – which will drastically curtail collective bargaining rights for Ohio’s public employees – was signed into law by Governor John Kasich yesterday. S.B. 5 will outlaw strikes by public employees, upon penalty of fines and jail time. It severely curtails the collective bargaining rights of teachers, police, and firefighters. And with language that echoes the Supreme Court’s Yeshiva decision (1980), which smothered faculty unionization at private colleges, it prohibits collective bargaining entirely for the most faculty at public universities. Here’s how the Chronicle of Higher Education summarizes the ban:

The classification provision defines as “management-level employees” those faculty members who, individually or through faculty senates or similar organizations, engage in any of a long list of activities generally thought of as simply part of the jobs of tenured and tenure-track professors. Those activities include participating in institutional governance or personnel decisions, selecting or reviewing administrators, preparing budgets, determining how physical resources are used, and setting educational policies “related to admissions, curriculum, subject matter, and methods of instruction and research.”

As “managers,” faculty won’t be able to organize. And the bar is set very low indeed for faculty to be classified as managers; it’s not just department chairs or faculty senators who will be swept up in this. Virtually all tenure-eligible faculty sit on hiring committees, so the “Yeshiva language” would instantly bar them from collective bargaining. But those of us off the tenure track also have influence on curriculum and instructional methods. Even as an adjunct, I served (gladly) on a curriculum committee. Voilà! I’m a “manager.”

Now, the faculty on my campus aren’t unionized, though some of us have been involved in a sustained drive to organize under the auspices of the American Association of University Professors. I sunk a bunch of time into this drive during fall and winter, trying to rally volunteers and launching our local AAUP blog. I take S.B. 5 personally.

Organizing against the attack on unions in Ohio has been harder than in Wisconsin because our capital is not a stronghold of liberal and left-wing politics. If Madison can be likened to Berkeley, Columbus is more like … Sacramento, complete with the sprawling suburbs and strip malls. Still, faculty and students have been hauling up to Columbus to demonstrate, and we’ve had a few demos here in Athens, too. It’s hard to know where to go next – sink more of our scant resources into the union drive, hoping S.B. 5 will be overturned by referendum? Work on the referendum instead? Sit in a corner and whimper?

But now that I’m a manager, I guess I need to buck up and start demanding some of the perks of the job. Our university president has access to a private plane. Upper-level administrators have enjoyed free country club memberships. And then there’s our football coach, who earns more than any of the top administrative bananas. I’m willing to forgo the plane and country club once I start getting the six-figure salary that’s now my due.

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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.

————–

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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First things first: If you’re local to SE Ohio and already know why you should contact Jimmy Stewart today and give him an earload on why SB 5 is bad for Ohio, why here’s his phone number! (614) 466-8076 – and email! SD20@senate.state.oh.us – I’m sure he’ll delight in hearing from you. [Update, 2/21/11, 9:50 a.m.: Stewart's office is closed for President's Day - gah! My plan is to leave a voicemail and send an email today, then follow up with a call early tomorrow.]

If you don’t know why SB 5 is evil, or why you should mix a call to Jimmy with your morning Joe, or what sort of earload you might deliver … well, read on, preferably with said Joe in hand.

We here in Ohio do not have a governor who has been parodied as a Mike Myers character – yet.

We don’t have 70,000 protesters as Madison did on Saturday – yet.

But we do have a fugly bill, S.B. 5, that makes Wisconsin’s anti-union agitators look like they’re playing bumper cars while we’re up against John Kasich’s Monster Bus Madness. Where Wisconsin’s legislation (as far as I understand) preserves the facade of collective bargaining, Kasich is going to kill collective bargaining dead for state employees. Be alert for the speeding gubernatorial bus at the end of this otherwise turgid passage! (It’s underlined, so you’ve got no excuse to miss it.)

Here’s the relevant legalese:

Sec. 4117.03. (A) Public employees have the right to:

(1) Form, join, assist, or participate in, or refrain from forming, joining, assisting, or participating in, except as otherwise provided in Chapter 4117. of the Revised Code, any employee organization of their own choosing;

(2) Engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection;

(3) Representation by an employee organization;

(4) Bargain collectively with their public employers to determine wages, hours, terms and other conditions of employment and the continuation, modification, or deletion of an existing provision of a collective bargaining agreement, and enter into collective bargaining agreements;

(5) Present grievances and have them adjusted, without the intervention of the bargaining representative, as long as the adjustment is not inconsistent with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement then in effect and as long as the bargaining representatives have the opportunity to be present at the adjustment.

(B) Persons on active duty or acting in any capacity as members of the organized militia do not have collective bargaining rights. Employees of the state, of any agency, authority, commission, or board of the state, or of any state institution of higher education do not have collective bargaining rights. The state, any agency, authority, commission, or board of the state, or a state institution of higher education shall not bargain collectively with its employees.

At first glance this passage seems incoherent. There’s a lot of lahdeedah about procedures for collective bargaining, only to have it become red asphalt in the final scene! (Eerrrrrrrg. That’s me. Run over. Damn, that bus was big.) The apparent contradiction melts away when one realizes that local public employees are in a different category from those of us who work for the state. The local folks – including teachers – won’t be sitting pretty, either, but in principle they retain access to collective bargaining; it just won’t help them much, thanks to a set of arcane new rules in the spirit of Wisconsin’s. (Progress Ohio lists local public employees’ proposed tribulations.)

Unlike Wisconsin, Ohio is not exempting police and firefighters, and this may cost the Repubs dearly. Several Republican senators have already balked at this, realizing who lines their pockets. Other State Senators, such as Jimmy Stewart from my neck of the woods, realize that anti-union votes won’t go down well in dying coal country, where unions once secured not just a decent living but also self-respect and community. (See Friday’s Dispatch article for a list of wafflers, and contact them if you can! Or better yet, check out Plunderbund, which dishes up the list of fence-sitters with verve, style, and snark.)

The Ohio bill also tries to out-badass its neighbor to the north by hiking health insurance premiums more steeply. Again, the legalese from SB 5:

Sec. 124.82.

(F) A state employee who receives insurance under this section shall pay at least twenty per cent of the cost of the premium assessed for any insurance policy issued pursuant to this section that covers health, medical, hospital, or surgical benefits.

Wisconsin public employees, by contrast, will be forced to pay at minimum 12.6% of their healthcare coverage. We already pay around 10% – not counting deductibles and other tricks for evading the current cap.

I realize that there’s enormous populist anger at the thought that any public employee would receive benefits while many private employees are completely shorn of them. The solution, though, isn’t to hollow out state employees’ benefits. By that logic, we’d all soon be earning minimum wage. The strategy has got to be expanding collective bargaining and revitalizing unions to ensure that all employees receive decent pay and benefits. (A single-payer healthcare system would, of course, solve half of these problems. A girl can dream.)

There’s also populist resentment of public employees getting paid more generously than those in the private sector. Professor Rudy Fichtenbaum, labor economist at Wright State, just decimated this preconception in his testimony before the Ohio Senate, opposing SB 5. Basically, Fichtenbaum notes that state employees have amassed a whole lot more education and training than their private-sector counterparts. Controlling for education, studies find that public employees actually earn less than those counterparts. Seriously, if you have even a passing interest, read Dr. Fichtenbaum’s testimony, which is lucid and very, very persuasive.

It is those “coddled” public sector employees who teach our children, or our neighbor’s children. It is they who determine whether Ohio will nurture innovators and informed, critical citizens, or whether we will have to try to compete with Sri Lanka – on their terms. (I’m still trying to figure out who’s coddled, by the way: those who stay up emailing students from 9:30 to 11:30 and then write about politics until after midnight, perhaps?)

What’s at stake here is nothing less than my adopted state’s economic future. As long as the marginal tax rates for rich Ohioans remain unchanged, we have no moral right to fatally undermine unions, pull the plug on the middle classes, and sell our children’s education to the lowest bidder.

Which brings us full circle. If you’re moved to contact Jimmy Stewart, please do it today (Monday) as the vote will likely take place on  Tuesday. He’s no doubt waiting for your calls. (614) 466-8076 or SD20@senate.state.oh.us. Sen. Stewart is also Majority Floor Leader, the #3 position in the Senate, so folks outside of his home base (the 20th district) might feel free to contact him, as well.

Oh, and if you can make it to Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 22), there will be a massive rally starting at 1. Word is that SB 5 will come up for a vote that day. I’ll be in my classroom, preparing the rising generation to compete with Sri Lanka, but I am thrilled to hear that some students and  colleagues will make the trip. Wish I could join them!

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My deepest apologies to any turnips who feel slighted by the previous post’s title.

In so many, many way, turnips have far more to offer than John Kasich. For one, turnips are strikingly prettier than Kasich, as evidenced by the photo in my last post. For good measure, here is more documentary evidence of their comeliness:

(Photo by Flickr user wikioticslan, used under a Creative Commons license.)

I shall refrain from posting a photo of Kasich here because I like my blog to be visually pretty even when I write about doom and gloom. (Srsly. This has been Kittywampus policy from the get-go.) Besides, his mug was all over the banner ads on Alternet (!!) throughout the fall, and I’d be just as happy if I never saw it again.

Another way turnips are unlike Kasich: They have never once threatened to run their bus over anyone, having no bus at their command and also being rather timorous vegetables. Quoth Kasich:

“If you think you’re going to stop us, you’re crazy. You will not stop us. We will beat you … This is our chance. Please leave the cynicism and political maneuvering at the door … If you’re not on the bus, we’ll run over you with the bus. And I’m not kidding.”

John Kasich, Republican and governor-elect of Ohio, said at a luncheon for state lobbyists.

By comparison, turnips are more likely to roll with you. They’ll never roll over you – nor roll you over. They are political naïfs: earnest and unassuming, with their feet planted firmly in the earth, their convictions deeply-rooted.

That hasn’t stopped Margaret Atwood from proposing a turnip for Prime Minister of Canada. Atwood declared: “I’d vote for a turnip if it was accountable, transparent, a parliamentary democrat, and listened to people.”

Sounds about right.

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(Image from Flickr user Ali Graney, used under a Creative Commons license.)

Less than a month in office, Ohio’s new governor, John Kasich, has given us plenty of reason to doubt his integrity. He tried – and failed – to keep media away from his inauguration. That was a silly little thing, really, but it portends a new era of secrecy in governance. The legislature took a cue from Kasich and imposed onerous requirements on recording committee hearings. I expect that any day now, we’ll hear that Kasich is governing the state from a secure undisclosed location.

Then Kasich started driving his bus over state employees. He appointed a raft of (all-white) cronies to help him run the state and gave them pay raises. He fired attorneys who were life-long state employees, not political appointees, simply because they had voted Democratic. (No link on that one; I heard it from the niece of one of the purge’s victims.) At the same time, Kasich cut mailroom staffers’ salaries by 21%. Such is the new era of fiscal responsibility in Ohio.

Secrecy paired with cronyism and contempt for the little guy … where have we seen that combo before? Um, yeah … George W. Bush. Good times. Brownie, Brownie, where are ye when we need ye?

But what I’ve really come here to talk about today is The Stupid. The wonderful blog Plunderbund (which I gleefully plundered for the links above) has revealed that along with all his other sterling qualities, Kasich ain’t none too smart, neither. As Modernesquire reported, Kasich officially proclaimed Martin Luther King Day to be March 17.

(Image via Plunderbund – and no, it’s not photoshopped.)

I suppose we can toast racial equality with a glass of green beer? And route a St. Paddy’s Day parade from Selma to Montgomery? Yes, I realize some poor sodding staffer made the error. Kasich signed off on it. The buck stops … oh, right, the buck may never reach Kasich, because he’s gutted the state mailroom. Good planning, dude.

In another shining moment, Kasich advised Ohioans last week on how to weather the storm. The worst of the weather hit north of my house, but had I been less lucky, I would have been prepared, thanks to my governor’s memorable words:

So, if you need to go somewhere, to a neighbor or whatever, you’re going to need to prepare – extra blankets, some candles – I’m not a big fan of candles, but uh, make sure you can control them and blow them out.

(Plunderbund has it all. Oh, do they ever!)

I get that candles can be a safety hazard, especially if you trip over them as, er, ummmm, some governors fall over their words while trying to sound authoritative. But did I miss some super-secret lesson on blowing them out (maybe the boys got it while we girls got the Menstruation Talk)? Is there a special blowing technique? Does it help if you sing “Happy Birthday” first? And what if I want to blow out all but a couple of candles, so that I can have a couple of boyfriends?

Fortunately, Stephen Colbert picked up on Kasich’s turnip-esque intellect and pilloried it – and his racism, to boot:

(Click here if you don’t see the video in a blog reader.)

(Via Plunderbund, of course. Have I mentioned their awesomeness yet?)

Here’s hoping Colbert has bookmarked Plunderbund. For all the horror the Kasich Administration threatens to deliver, it also promises to be an endless seam of comedic gold. God knows we’re are going to need some laughs.

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Yesterday, the student newspaper on my campus, The Post, told an amazing story that reveals once again how upper-level administrators are shielded from the consequences of wrongdoing, while whistleblowers are punished. It’s an old story, but the details are freshly repellent with each retelling.

Howard Lipman was VP for University Advancement (aka fundraising) before he left earlier this school year, returning to his old employer, Florida International University. (This and subsequent facts come from the The Post’s account.) But evidently he thought one of the job’s perks was the chance to act abusively toward at least one of his subordinates, Molly Taylor-Elkins, who is now filing suit with the EEOC. The Post reports:

Molly Taylor-Elkins spent almost two years as Lipman’s executive assistant. She says she felt harassed and bullied by Lipman and that on multiple occasions he made inappropriate sexual comments to her and other female employees.

A university investigation conducted last year agreed Lipman created a hostile work environment but couldn’t find enough evidence to substantiate the sexual harassment claims.

The investigators didn’t find that Taylor-Elkins had fabricated the sexual harassment claims, only that there was not evidence of them being “pervasive” enough to rise to the standard of creating a hostile environment. The investigators determined that Lipman’s bullying behavior violated university policy on workplace violence. He is accused of shouting at employees and belittling them. The Post provides detail on an encounter after Lipman’s yelling reduced Taylor-Elkins to tears:

Elkins says Lipman approached her desk and said: “Some people make up by having sex and since we can’t do that let me buy you lunch.”

She says she denied the offer.

In his interview with the OIE investigator, Lipman acknowledged that he was frustrated after having worked an 18-hour day. He said he was disappointed Elkins defied his orders not to schedule or cancel meetings without his approval.

But Lipman insisted he never made the comment about make-up sex.

At FIU, Lipman makes more money than he’d earned here at OU. His old salary here was a measly $232,000. He was never suspended or put on leave while the investigation was underway. He never faced any substantive consequences before he left for FIU.

Taylor-Elkins was first put on administrative leave, but then moved onto sick leave, which – if I understand The Post’s article correctly – has been unpaid. This switch was made directly after Taylor-Elkins took her case to the EEOC last July.

Her son, who had been admitted to a grad program at OU, had his admission revoked after his mother filed her original, internal complaint. Taylor-Elkins has letters to substantiate this, according to The Post.

This is absolutely stunning. I have never heard of admission being revoked unless there were a proven charge of fraud or cheating in the application. You really have to wonder who brought pressure to bear on the faculty who’d admitted Taylor-Elkins’ son, and what form the pressure took. No faculty would be willing pawns in a game of revenge.

The whole thing stinks. I do not know if Lipman is guilty of everything as charged. I do not know him or any of the other principals in this personally; the chief investigator is an acquaintance, and I know enough about her that I would not impugn her integrity.

At the very least, Lipman was a first-class bully at a top-flight salary. He came in for a soft landing. Meanwhile, a vulnerable female employee who blew the whistle on his bad behavior has suffered. There aren’t many other employers in this town, apart from Wal-Mart and a couple of wonderful tech start-ups that mostly require tech skills.

I know rotten things like this happen all the time. It’s how Wall Street works. Our universities are supposed to stand for loftier ideals. Instead, they are aping the corporate structure, giving sweet deals and institutional protection to a small and not necessarily deserving elite, while janitors, secretaries, and adjunct faculty are losing their jobs. Blatant mistreatment like Taylor-Elkins alleges is just the whipped cream on top of this sundae of inequality.

(Actually, if we’re going to wander into food metaphors, “pigs at the trough” might be more fitting, but the next thing you know, we’ll be talking about making sausage, and I feel grody enough already after writing this post.)

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Most of the students I teach, I never hear from after the final exam. The exceptions are almost always utter delights – the folks who sincerely took interest, who liked to learn, who were kind and thoughtful and real. Every once in a while one will re-emerge from the ghostly wisps of the past, reminding us that our work isn’t ephemeral, even if it usually feels that way.

Two former students resurfaced this weekend. One, whom I taught in 2007, wrote me for a reference – no, not a recommendation letter, but the title of an essay! A piece she’d remembered and wanted to reread! Turns out she’s well on her way to a Ph.D. in psychology. She tells me my class made a lasting difference in how she views the world. Judging from her request, she’s got an abiding interest in sexual assault. I hope she’ll be able to marry that with her psych skills. She says she’s developed an abiding “passion” for women’s issues. Words like “powerful” and “inspirational” were bandied about. Let’s just say I’m the one who felt most energized and inspired.

The other ex-student was more of a monster rising up from the deep. [Edit: That comes across as unduly harsh: The ideas she espouses are the monster, not the ex-student herself.] Technically I’d never taught her; I’d only read her column in the school paper, marveling at its wingnuttery. I also listened to the venting of colleagues who had the dubious pleasure of teaching her in WGS and journalism. There, she was intermittently hostile to her feminist teachers and consistently too cool for school. I always thought her ambition was to become the next Ann Coulter.

Surprise! She’s publishing cheek-by-jowl next to Coulter at Town Hall! (Via Renee at Womanist Musings who braved the ooze of the far right – a far more intrepid gal than I.). Now that our young alumna is halfway to her goal, it’s fair to name names: Meet Ashley Herzog, recent Ohio University grad, proud denizen of wingnuttia, author of Feminists against Women. Oh, and she’s also making those lists of “top conservative women who are HAWT!!” (to which we owe the following photo).

In her latest post at Town Hall, Herzog takes aim at my university’s new gender-neutral housing option:

The idea that college life is so tough for gay and transgendered students that they need separate housing is preposterous. Far from being uniquely oppressed, the LGBT contingent is often the most catered-to of any group on campus. Administrators go to great lengths to satisfy these students while simultaneously nurturing a victimhood complex.

(Read the rest if you think it could possibly get better. I promise it won’t.)

Hahahaha! You’d think gender-neutral digs would feature jacuzzis, wall art by Robert Mapplethorpe and Judy Chicago, and surroundsound cycling through Liberace and Elton John, Holly Near and Bikini Kill.

No. Dude. It’s just a dorm room. In fact, said rooms won’t have any extra features. It will merely lack one simple furnishing that used to come standard: a roommate harboring homophobia and transphobia.

As for a “victimhood complex,” Herzog’s been nurturing her own for at least half a decade, spurred on by silly instructors who insisted she work for a grade. By now, her wounded victimhood is festering quite nicely. I’m sure she’s finding that what failed in the classroom will stand her in good stead at Town Hall. Ann Coulter, prepare to move over.

Me? I reserve the right to snark at Herzog in the future when she deserves it. (And she will, she will.) In the long run, I’m far more interested in what becomes of my smart, altruistic former students who don’t see self-promotion as their best quality.

Update 1-27-11, 4:30 p.m.: I want to make it crystal clear that I will never, ever mock students for statements they make in class. That is a zone of privacy, a safe place for exploring ideas, even (or especially!) half-baked ones. I will occasionally blog about interesting things they teach me, but I won’t publish their names. If a student places themselves in the public sphere by publishing views that are reprehensible, criticism is fair play. I still wouldn’t call him or her out for anything that happened in class. By the same token, I’ll link to any student who publishes something interesting, and I’ll do so with great pleasure. All of this goes for former students as well as current ones.

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I’m not talking about duck versus pheasant versus deer. No. For the past few days, hunters just outside my town have been trying to track a human. He wasn’t their prey, though. Denzle Stanley is a small, slight, 84-year-old man who wandered off into the frozen rural hills two mornings ago. After three days of searching, officials called off the search.

Those of us who didn’t know Mr. Stanley learned of the search’s end the same way as we heard he’d gone missing: through the county’s 911 alert system. (Which, I might add, I’m happy to see put to intelligent use.) The second 911 call ended on an odd note, though. While the sherriff continues to investigate, citizens are positively warned off of further searching.

I realize that hopes dim after three days. The county threw all its resources into the search, ranging from dogs to helicopters to infrared. Meanwhile, nights have dropped below freezing, with a few inches of snowfall since yesterday. It would take a miracle to find him alive.

But that’s not why the search was called. Instead, as NBC 4 (Columbus) reports:

Authorities said the public should not search in the wooded areas and fields surrounding Albany because of the start of muzzleloader deer season Saturday.

“We do not want anyone getting hurt with all the hunters in the woods next week,” Albany Fire Chief Roger Deardorff said.

What would it take to call off the deer hunters, instead of the trackers of a human being? Local officials report that the family has agreed to suspending the search, and volunteers are exhausted. And yet, at least a few members of the public evidently want to keep searching; if they’d all gone home, there’d be no need for a 911 warning. Couldn’t the deer hunters wait a few more days? Maybe Mr. Stanley still wouldn’t be found, but his loved ones might suffer fewer “what-ifs.”

I don’t know if Mr. Stanley suffers from dementia, though at his age, it wouldn’t be surprising. Caretakers for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias worry about exactly this scenario. My father is not yet so confused that I worry about him wandering off, but that day will surely come. I feel for Mr. Stanley’s family. (If any of them were to arrive here via Google, I would say this: You did the best you could. You tried to strike a balance between protection on the one hand, and allowing him some freedom and dignity on the other. That is all any of us can do when age befuddles our elders.)

This week we also got an alert for a local teenager who’d gone missing. By the end of the day she’d been located, safe, in Missouri, after the police tracked her cell, and every parent in the district rejoiced a little, whether we’d known her or not.

Her rescue makes me think that we should equip our elders with cell phones. They may never learn to text, but hey, I don’t text either. I’m betting you could buy a lot of cheap cell phones for the price of a single manhunt.

In the meantime, though: Couldn’t we just delay muzzleloader deer season a few more days?

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(Dazed kitteh from ICHC? captioned by me, Sungold)

Despite having foolishly booked my return flight to Ohio through Chicago, I managed to avoid getting stuck there in last weekend’s blizzard – only to be snowbound with the kids all this week. We’ve had three full snow days and two mornings with two-hour delays. The high school kids didn’t get to take their final exams today; my fifth-grader and his friends have to postpone their geography fair until January; and neither of my kids had math even once this week, since that’s scheduled first thing every morning.

A walloping half-foot of snow has fallen over the course of the week, maybe a tad more.

We here in Athens, Ohio, are not like Seattle or Atlanta, where snow takes everyone by surprise. We get it every darn winter. Here in southeast Ohio, we actually get less snow than, say, Cleveland, but my students from Cleveland laugh at our inability to carry on with school once a snowflake sticks to the ground.

The problem, this year and every year, is that we don’t have the equipment to clear the snow quickly. We don’t have the manpower. The city does pretty well at clearing the main streets, but the county roads remain impassible. It’s all a function of money. You could just as well call many of our snow days “poverty days.”

It’s not even the first day of winter, and we’ve already blown through all our snow days. In fact, thanks to our “tornado day” back in September, we’re one in the hole. Our inestimably wise legislators reduced our allotment of calamity days from five to three, starting this fall. I guess they thought our kids would get more edumacated this way. Instead, we’re likely to have a few dozen more two-hour delays between now and March. To make up the snow days that we’re sure to have in the new year, we’ll lose every holiday except MLK and Memorial Day. The school year will extend into the summer, like it does every year. And our kids will miss a month or so of math.

(From ICHC? captioned by me, Sungold)

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(Nauseated kitteh from ICHC?)

The AP is reporting that John Kasich has bumped Ted Strickland from the governor’s seat in Ohio.

That’s the only race that hung in the balance for me, semi-locally. From here on out, given Kasich’s record on higher ed, it may well be my own job that’s hanging by a thread.

Perhaps ironically, my husband passed his citizenship interview earlier today. He hasn’t taken the oath of citizenship yet. It’s not too late for him to back out. (Not that I expect he will, but hey, he’s still got the option. Envious, anyone?)

Also in Ohio politics: Boehner, our new Speaker-in-waiting. Isn’t it a bit of a pity that his name can be misread as “boner”? I mean, a friendly boner is generally rather nice. Boehner? Well, he’s just a dick.

(Sorry for the cheap shots, but I haven’t been this bummed since 2004. And 2000. And 1994. And 1988 and 1984.)

As for the country as a whole? Well, the kitteh above says it all.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what it really said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the inside of the concession stand.

That’s its exterior.

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

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

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

The scoreboard is whacked.

The football goals stand at jaunty new angles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from the highway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by me and my husband except as noted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Provoked by the discussion here, I’ve been thinking about how “evenhandedness” and “mediation” can become their opposites – how invoking these highminded concepts can inadvertently or deliberately undermine fairness.

I’m reminded of four instances where precisely that has happened.

1. Journalism: When science journalists give equal time to evolutionists and creationists, they are enhancing the credibility of creationists. They are not engaging in responsible, ethical journalism. There are not two valid sides to that dispute. Ditto for global warming scientists and the denialists. Ditto for opposition researchers who manage to slime their agenda into the mainstream media.

2. Academic integrity: Some years ago, my university’s Judiciaries recommended “mediation” instead of a university judicial hearing for a plagiarism case. A brand-new, untenured professor had caught a grad student who submitted a paper that was 90% copied directly from a book. The student’s well-connected, very senior advisor lobbied for him. The young professor started getting not-so-subtle pressure from his superior, who ironically taught an ethics course! This was not a situation where mediation was remotely applicable: One party had behaved ethically, while the other had blatantly broken the rules. (The untenured professor prevailed, a hearing was held, and the student was unanimously found to have plagiarized. Disclosure: I was not the prof in question, but I did say, “Wow, that student’s writing sure sounds like a book’s jacket blurb !” Lo and behold, it was.) “Mediation” in this case was a form of professional blackmail.

3. Workplace bullying: University officials are similarly pressing for “mediation” in a current situation where one faculty member has already been found by an internal investigation to have intimidated, bullied, and threatened three of his colleagues. I’m reluctant to link to the coverage of this case (I’m cowed too, and I don’t even work with him!), but I’ll do it anyway: this article at Inside Higher Education tells his side of the story, while trivializing the experience of his colleagues who were threatened. “Mediation” in this instance is a fig leaf for a university administration that’s unwilling to penalize the offender for fear he’ll sue.

4. Marriage and divorce: A couple I know are splitting up. The have a young child. He initially pushed hard for mediation to arrange for civilized, shared parenting. She refused. Her subsequent tactics have not been civilized. They’ve been dirty. “Scorched earth” points toward the general neighborhood. Now she is publicly complaining to the court that he is unwilling to enter into mediation. Here, “mediation” is a cudgel being used to make him look like he’s the intransigent party.

We all want to be reasonable people. (At least you all do, or you’d be reading a much more fiery blog!) I’m just deeply dismayed when “reasonable” and “fair” are warped into Social Darwinian weapons.

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There’s a newish blog at my university that’s gotten attention in the local press – all negative – and even got a mention from Courtney Martin at Feministing, though for all the wrong reasons. Courtney didn’t link to it, no doubt due to its nasty content, but I’m local, so I will, because I’m not likely to give it the national exposure it so dearly hasn’t earned. It’s called what’d yOU expect? and it’s run by a couple of local students. (One of the bloggers, “Pooch,” is clearly identifiable through the blog’s Facebook fan page as a female senior; I won’t print her name, but just want to note that this is not the work of douchey dudes. Whether women can be douche-tastic is a subject for another day. Or maybe for comments.)

The premise of the site is to expose the side of the university that’s at odds with the carefully groomed “Bobcat” identity that our leadership is promoting. Of course, anyone who walks uptown on a weekend night (which might come as early as Wednesday) will see that this school remains more about partying than about intercollegiate athletics, even if it was fun to see the team upset Georgetown in the first round of March Madness. What really needs to be exposed here are the many thoughtful, intelligent students who take their studies seriously (whatever their attitude toward drinking). We don’t need more discussion of Beer Pong, unless perhaps through an anthropological lens.

So I actually don’t mind the site’s mission of disrupting Ohio University’s spin machine. The attempt to craft an identity out of a trip to the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl was always doomed, anyway.

What I do mind is the rampant misogyny of the site. Take this post about the perils of hooking up:

This is a true story that has not ever before been told in its entirety. I was a freshman here at OU and wanted to take advantage of what every freshman boy wants to take advantage of their first semester of college… party sluts. I have this theory that freshmen girls are ready to fuck anything that walks their first semester of college because they are new to the environment and have the idea that it is okay to sleep around because everyone does it(not actually the case but it worked out well for me my first year). New to the college environment myself, I raised hell my first couple of weeks on campus. Getting shitfaced every night, fucking all kinds of girls, basically doing everything you are supposed to do during your college years. I was loving life for a good amount of time until one particular night when I met this grizzly bear of a girl.

I’m sure that all of this dude’s former partners would love to know he saw them as “party sluts.” I personally am delighted – just charmed! – to hear that “fucking all kinds of girls” appears to be a graduation requirement. Women’s and gender studies – I’m doin it rong! We should be facilitating hookups, so these dudes can graduate on time!

Oh, and yeah, we’ve never, ever heard a story like this one before. ‘Specially not one that’s true!

Our hero continues:

My good friend got shutout at the last minute by this tease of a girl he was with. (What a bitch right?) So just as I am ready to head home with my depressed and sexually frustrated friend, the fore mentioned grizzly bear grabbed me and pulled me into the dorm. Alright, I know if I had any kind of decency I would have left immediately and walked home with my friend, but fuck it right? I was drunk and gonna get laid, how can anyone be expected to turn that down? So I went in. I went into this “grizzly bear’s” quad and fucked her in front of all three of her either sleeping or pretending to be sleeping roommates. For reasons you can imagine the rest of the night is forgettable. It probably ended with me passed out, sweaty, and naked. Same for the grizzly bear. I woke up, still naked, being smothered by the bear. I think she was dreaming that I was the last cupcake on earth and she was guarding me from a pack of starving Africans.

Oooh, now we’re adding racism to the mix, along with fat-shaming and slut-shaming. Let’s throw in some public humiliation and double down on it – first have sex with a girl in front of the roommates, just like in one of those public-humiliation pornos, and then tell the tale on the intertubes. I guess we can be glad no one took any pictures, but geez! Is that all that’s stopping this encounter from appearing on Youporn? Oh, and the girl was ugly and fat (in case you missed that), but at least she wasn’t a cock-tease like his buddy’s intended target!

This would be a good time for us all to go wash our hands, gargle, and take a long hot shower, preferably with a loofah to scrub away the nastiness of this creep.

So can we extract any meaning from the existence of this blog? I agree with Courtney that there’s a need to talk about what’s going on with casual sex:

We are so hungry to talk out loud about hook up culture–both the sexually empowering parts and the totally sexist parts. We need a space where feminists can really delve into the complexity of this issue, without being labeled, writ large, traitors or female chauvinist pigs. The blog world serves some of that, but it seems like we’re still searching for a more nuanced conversation.

I doubt these juicy campus type blogs are the place to do it, but is there a way to structure such a space that would lead to a real conversation about hook-up culture?

Well, my classrooms often allow for that kind of space. Those conversations are a heck of a lot more nuanced than what I typically see on blogs, but I realize it’s a luxury to have ten weeks with forty people who are willing to explore new ideas in a sheltered space. Obviously there’s a need for more public discussions, too. Online? Hmm. I think feminist blogs can do this, but we only reach a small fraction of young women and an even smaller group of men.

Campus gossip blogs and websites are completely unsuited for this. I don’t think they even support Courtney’s contention that there’s a need for serious conversation on hookups, casual sex, and students’ desires. While I think such a need exists, this and similar blogs deny that need. They make absolutely no attempt to analyze or criticize people’s actions. They make no attempt at basic human decency. They’re all about letting one group of students feel superior to others. They use classic junior-high aggression tactics, being mean to someone who was unlucky enough to trust the post’s author. I enjoy a good snark or rant as much as any blogger, but where mockery and cruelty rule supreme, there’s no space for civil discourse.

In other words, blogs like this one are a symptom of the problems in hookup culture. It encapsulates the misogyny and disrespect for basic humanity that bothers most of my serious students. What’d yOU expect might serve as a cautionary tale, or as a place to start analyzing what’s fucked up about this scene. It’s certainly not going to be part of the solution. We can start conversations about this on feminist blogs, but real change will ultimately have to come through discussions and interactions in the meatworld (so to speak).

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Earlier this week, my university’s venerable police force sent around the following email through the campus safety alert system:

SUSPECT DESCRIPTION :

Suspect #1: White male, early 20s
Shoulder length, bushy brown hair
Wearing a dark green “Ohio” hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans

Suspect #2: White male, early 20s
Wearing a ball cap with a Buckeyes mascot, grey hooded sweatshirt, and blue jeans
Also wearing a metal, link style bracelet

NARRATIVE:
At approximately 9:30 a.m. on Monday, March 1, 2010, a female student reported to police that the suspects described above sexually assaulted her in the parking lot of Riverpark Towers, across from Pickering Hall, at approximately 10 p.m. the night before.  The victim stated she was walking through the parking lot when the males approached her and forced her into the back of a black, 4 door sedan.  The victim stated she was sexually assaulted by each male, inside the vehicle.  After being assaulted, the victim stated, she was pushed from the vehicle and the males drove off in an unknown direction.  The victim was treated and released from the hospital; Athens City police are investigating the incident.

If you have information pertinent to this investigation, please contact the Athens City Police Department (740) 592-3313.  Anonymous tips can be made to Crime Solvers Anonymous at (740) 594-3331.

Personal Safety Reminders:
- Remain alert to what’s going on around you
- Report suspicious people to police by calling 911

Now, the crime itself is just horrific. The woman must have been terrified, and my heart goes out to her. It occurred on the fringe of campus in an area that’s quite heavily populated but notoriously dark once the sun goes down. Whenever I ask my beginning students how we should combat sexual violence, they propose more lighting (well, any lighting) for that area of campus. Lighting is only the tiniest part of the solution. And yet, nothing has changed over the past four years. That area remains creepy dark.

I’m glad to see that the campus alert system is functioning. Okay, so I only got the email 40+ hours after the crime occurred. The perps had ample time to escape. One might also reasonably ask how to determine “suspicious people” to report to 911. Ohio U. and Buckeye paraphernalia aren’t exactly rare around this joint. But I get that the cops are at least trying to use technology to help do their jobs. Let’s give ‘em an A for effort, a C- for performance.

Funny how we never hear about acquaintance rape through this alert system. Imagine how we’d view things differently if all rapes were reported via the campus alert system. Imagine if campus police sent out an email like this:

A sexual assault was reported last night at 1:30 a.m. in the DUDE fraternity.

Suspect is a white male, approx. 20, blond hair in a buzz cut.

Wearing a dark green Ohio U. hoodie and blue jeans.

Also wearing a metal, link style bracelet.

Suspect is deemed an ongoing danger. Women are advised to avoid the DUDE house, and also the adjoining DUD house.

I realize this is pure fantasy. And yet … we might just move past the myth that the only “real” rapist is the one who leaps out of the bushes.

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