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Archive for the ‘weirdness’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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With my partner a whole ocean away from me, I’m not in a very lovey-dovey mood for Valentine’s Day. That leaves plenty of time to think about what allowed Love to sneak out of courtly ballads and Shakespearean plays and into the hearts of average Americans. And no, it’s not chick lit or rom-coms.

The long answer would involve reading Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage – the story of how marriage made the historical shift from an economic arrangement to a partnership from which we expect love and companionship..

Oh, and by now we also expect hot sex for more years than humans used to live, period, from birth to death. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther set us down this road when he rejected the Catholic insistence on procreative sex, and instead embraced pleasure in marriage. Luther liked marriage. He termed it a “hospital for lust.” Bear in mind that in those days, hospitals weren’t in the business of curing; they took the poor and the insane and the unwed-but-pregnant off the streets. They were a way of containing social problems. Bear in mind, too, that Luther thought women’s lot was to be wives and mothers, undoing some of Eve’s screw-up in the garden. Still, there’s a solid though wavy line from Luther to Susie Bright.

The short answer: If we feel free to love today – or to lust outside of of the old “hospital” – we can thank two things: 1) the right to say no to sex, the key prerequisite for sighing a breathy, enthusiastic YES, and 2) reliable birth control with legal abortion as a safe backup. From the Ohio Statehouse to the House of Representatives, these rights are under more ferocious fire than I can recall in the post-Roe era.

But it’s a holiday, and so instead of gloom, let there be satire! It’s the more festive response – and maybe more effective , too. Here’s Kristen Schaal of the Daily Show, mocking the piss out of the “No Taxpayer Money for Abortions” crowd.

I used this in class last week to illuminate rape myths, and students got it like never before. (Does this mean college administrators will one day replace me with a semi-random mix off the tubes?)

And I knew I liked Felicity Huffman anyway (Lynnette is my favorite housewife, of course) but now I’m besotted:

(Via Rachel at Women’s Health NewsIf you can’t see either clip from your blog reader, click on through and say hey while you’re here.)

Take that to your next Tea Party, and sip it!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, especially to those of you who are celebrating it alone with chocolate, champagne, or blogging. (I’ve only got two out of three but am wondering why I am too cheap to open the champagne sans partner. Wandering off to the kitchen now to rectify what I can …)

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Henceforth, Kittywampus is banning all dudely commenters. Exceptions will be made if you bathe regularly, did not serve in the Boer War, have never called me a twat, and have never insulted the patron cat of this blog, Grey Kitty. Oh, and if you’re that dude who created Hufu, you got banned months ago. (That asshole – one of the AutoAdmit crowed – broke all the above: he abused my dear departed cat, reviled me as “dozy bint,” and called me a cunt. Given his predilection for war zones, he no doubt regrets missing the Boer War and bathes infrequently. He was a gleeful racist too. He has not been missed.)

All joking aside, Twisty Faster really has banned male commenters from her blog, I Blame the Patriarchy. Unless they’re already trusted dudes; then they’re grandfathered in. Or unless they don’t actually identify themselves as dudes; then they can try to sneak in. Reaction in feminist blogdonia has been partly supportive (Jill at Feministe and figleaf) and partly scathing (Clarissa).

I get that Twisty has every right to restrict commenting as much as she’d like on her blog. She already does anyway. I don’t regularly read Twisty because even though her writing is often amusing, her actual ideas are usually predictable once you’ve read a couple dozen of her posts. Also, the comments tend to be an echo chamber. I am quickly bored by any discussion where the first commandment is to police oneself. But hey – her blog, her rules. And while I don’t want to stray into all the pros and cons of same-sex spaces, there are times when a rather homogenous group can make headway on shared issues, and when a same-sex grouping can be productive as a temporary, tactical measure (with the caveat that each person gets to identify his/her/hir sex and gender, rather than having it imposed by fiat).

But it’s not just Twisty who nurtures some hope of creating a safe space – on the Internet? First, that’s just incoherent, because, well, it’s the fucking Internet! This is like expecting privacy while standing in front of the White House, naked except for a feather boa. The Internet just doesn’t do “safe.” (Ask any parent who’s installed NannyNet.)

Best case, the blog owner corralls hateful comments out of the comments section. But believe me, the blog owner will see the bile, and comments will never be a safe space for her or him! Contrary to Sady Doyle’s view, anti-feminist vitriol is not a special treat reserved for the “popular” feminist blogs. We little blogs get it, too, and while it may be less copious, it’s still ugly. It’s enough to be blogging while feminist. Perhaps on a private blog, you could create some sense of safety. But even then, you’d be wise to keep in mind that “safety” is not synonymous with self-censorship.

A “safe space” has some kinship what I try to foster in the classroom (though there’s always a power differential, always the knowledge that students’ work will be graded, which limits how “safe” they can – or should – feel.) There, “safety” has to do with the basic regard for the humanity of the other discussants. You can embrace norms in a small, defined group that actually facilitate conversation because people feel relatively safe and free. This works better when people can look into each others’ eyes, not so well when the community is wholly virtual and can more easily ignore the humanity of their counterpart. It cracks and crashes as soon as a participant expresses a hateful -ism, uses PC-ness to shame rather than educate, or gossips cruelly about a personal revelation. In my experience, “safety” is relative, often fragile and transient, sometimes deceptive, and generally not dependent on group homogeneity.

Which raises a crucial question: safe for whom? The comments on Twisty’s original dude-banning post troll the waters of transphobia and transmisogyny; on the follow-up, where Twisty affirms that trans folk are welcome (at least until the revolution, after which they’ll fade away), the comments jump right into the deep end of the pool. I am not going to sully my own space with direct quotes, but here’s the gist: commenters compare transness to pedophilia, call “cisprivilege” BS, declare all trans people “nuts,” and deny trans people’s experience – all in the name of radical feminism. At one point Twisty tells people to cut it out, but then Delphyne shows up and the party really gets started, with slams at the third wave, funfems, and sex workers.

By the time the fun’s over, the thread looks like the verbal equivalent of a frat party the morning after, complete with broken bottles and barf in the corner. Commenter yttik sums it up succinctly:

I kid you not, some of the worst patriarchal crap always winds up on this blog, just dripping it’s woman hatred all over the place. This is how women apparently define other women. No wonder we’re screwed.

just a bunch of cum-guzzling pole dancers
nothing but walking uteri and tits
third wave moron bandwagon
fucking dumb
a bunch of old, white, rich, racist women
a fuckhole
a party to human rights violations
white ass (American) women
backstabbing dykes
profoundly stupid and ignorant
step over the cold dead bodies of fucking white ass women-born-women feminists

Yttik is quoting from the other comments; those weren’t terms she personally used, and significantly, some were phrases commenters used to characterize their rhetorical opponents (sometimes fairly, sometimes not). The bile came from all directions, not just the anti-trans faction. But notice a pattern? The shouting match moved from transmisogyny to plain old-fashioned misogyny without skipping a beat.

And it managed all that without a single unauthorized dude in the house!

Twisty does have an actual dude problem, but it’s of a different order than the crap I got from Mr. Hufu. (Which I’m sure she sees by the buckets in her comment moderation queue and deletes on sight.) Twisty attracts men who want to please her, and so they engage in this fascinating yet repellent dance of “I’m so enlightened that I must verbally self-flagellate before your royal Twistyness so that I can become even more enlightened.” At a minimum, they ape her writing mannerisms. They may self-identify as a Nigel – Twisty’s one-size-fits-all name for dudes – and they decry douchiness even as they smarmily demonstrate it. Oh, just go read her example. It really is pretty funny. These guys aren’t standard-issue anti-feminist trolls. They’re not concern trolls. They’re … well, Twisty trolls, her own troll species. They are mutants. And I could see why she’d show them the door.

While she’s at it, maybe she could usher out a few transphobic self-described “radical” feminists, too?

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Just after 10 this morning I got an email from the campus police, reporting that a gunshot had been heard in or around one of the dorms at 6:15 this morning. One student – who had been videotaping himself – had caught it on tape, and the police confirmed that it was indeed a gunshot. A second person also reported the sound.

It’s now nearly 3 p.m., and though I’ve been checking the university’s emergency page, there’s been no further information from the police. Probably everything will be just fine. But it’s disquieting that the initial safety alert came nearly four hours after the incident, and that updates are so slow in coming. I don’t live on campus and I spent the day working at home, but my neighborhood is a five-minute walk from the area where the gunshot was reported.

More to the point, I worry that someone obviously has a gun on campus, despite their being banned in all campus buildings. I worry even more that this person has ammo and chose to use it. I can’t think of any benign explanation.

I also worry that Residence Life staff were going door to door, checking on dorm residents. What on earth is an unarmed R.A. supposed to do if she or he actually finds a student with a gun?

Update, 2/10/11, 4:30 p.m.: I spoke with a police officer at the OU men’s basketball game last night. (There were two officers posted very prominently – which I hadn’t noticed at past games.) He told me that while they had no further information, whoever created the noise wasn’t likely to do it again just for kicks. He further said it was still possible the sound came from some source other than a gun. All very reassuring – but then he casually mentioned having taken guns away from people on Court Street, where students go bar-hopping, on numerous occasions. So much for feeling safe again!

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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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So every time I’ve logged into Facebook recently, this ad keeps popping up:

I do like handsome men! I do like men a few years older than me! (Emphasis on: a FEW.)

It’s just that … I’m 47. Only 47. I’m still years from qualifying for the senior meal at Denny’s or Bob Evans. And yet, I’m being hit up on behalf of “Mature American Men,” aka dudes old enough to be my dad.

This is all academic since I’m not on the market. But if I were, and if I went for guys younger than me, I’d instantly be branded a cougar. Evidently, the men my age are supposed to pair off with women 15 years younger. What’s left is the contingent at the Senior Citizen Center. Should I be suddenly single, I’d better spiff up my pinochle skills.

I would love to know if men in my general age group are targeted similarly. “Meet sexy senior women – hot grannies!” Sure, that’s a niche market. I doubt it’s advertised on Facebook. I think you have to go looking for it.

What say you, men between 37 and 57?

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I happen to have a truly wonderful boss, who’s been supportive in ways I can’t even catalogue here. Suffice it to say I’m lucky, and I know it. Thanks to her efforts, it even looks like I’ll be employed next year (though if Governor Kasich decides to drive his famous “bus” over the university, all bets are off).

But not all bosses are so exemplary, as my last post reminds us. That’s why a former professor of mine, Bob Sutton, created a diagnostic test to sort the gems from the jerks. Actually, he wrote a whole book about it, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.

His online test is the Asshole Rating Self-Exam (ARSE). It’s actually meant as a self-assessment, but you could take on behalf of a co-worker or boss – or ex.

I scored in the low range: “You don’t sound like a certified asshole, unless you are fooling yourself.” I’d like to think that’s right, but I’m guessing most people score themselves lower than other people would rate them. (Cue Zappa.)

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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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It’s tempting to imagine that if we lefties and liberals ignored the likes of Ross Douthat and Will Saletan and Caitlan Flanigan, their influence would wither. Aren’t we the core audience for their publishers: the New York Times, Slate, the Atlantic? True, they provoke smart takedowns – I’m thinking of Jill Filipovic’s response to Saletan framing abortion as an abstract moral problem, or the way Amanda Marcotte decimated Douthat’s willingness to view women as mere incubators – but we end up making the same arguments again and again. It starts to feel like deja vu on Groundhog Day all over again.

How much more tempting to think we could wish Sarah Palin away! Via Skippy, we hear that Dana Milbank is calling on the rest of the media to break the Palin addiction. He’s pledging to not mention her for the entire month of February. (Ironically, Milbank is taking a cue from Douthat, of all people.) And the movement is spreading:

(via Leslie Savan at The Nation)

Skippy says he’s on board. Granted, I haven’t said much about Palin recently, but her name appears in 68 of my posts, which is about 7% of the total. Way back on September 7, 2008, I wrote a post called “Palin, the Object of Our Obsession.” Might I be due for Palin detox, myself? Besides, Skippy’s graphic is irresistible.

All bets are off, though, if Levi drops a bombshell or Todd runs off to Vegas with a showgirl dressed up as a sled dog.

Also, just for the record, even though I’ve got six more days before the pledge kicks in: I am positive Palin had no fucking clue about the origins of the phrase “blood libel.” She’s not bright or curious enough to even know what she doesn’t know. She thus wouldn’t have bothered to look it up. And once she knew (assuming she even knows, now!) she didn’t care.

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Maybe it’s just the lighting on the State of the Union podium. Maybe it’s too much tan-in-a-tube.

Whatever the cause – John Boehner’s skin appears several hues darker than Obama’s tonight.

(Photo of my TV doesn’t quite do justice.)

I keep thinking that with a tan like that, there must be pictures of Boehner in a bikini somewhere on the internet. So far, the google is failing me. If he were a female politician or a Kardashian, I’m sure I’d hit the jackpot.

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Why, the same place you can find anything in our consumer culture: they’re on Amazon! (Unless, of course, you find that Kittywampus already offers all the white supremacy you’ll ever need.)

Some weeks ago, Gen. JC Christian, patriot (the brilliant satirist at Jesus’ General) posted a spoof review of a dreadful white supremacist novel, White Apocalypse, which went up on his blog as well as at Amazon. The premise of the book is that Norwegians were actually the first Americans but were wiped out by the Indians. Here’s a choice snippet of the good (and oh-so-manly) General’s review:

This is the book that will make [author] Kyle Bristol as famous and as revered as Dr. William Pierce, author of the Turner Diaries. …

That’s not to say the book is perfect. It isn’t. Bristow fails to fully explore the scope of Norwegian Exceptionalism. There is no mention of Father Abrahamson, whom God first blessed with the gift of lutefisk and an assurance that his descendants would be God’s chosen people. Nor is there any mention of Schlomo Noahson, who was the first Norwegian to step off the Ark onto Vinland’s soil after the Great Flood. Worst of all, he fails to tell the story of the greatest Norwegian, Jesus Letsjustcallthepoorfatherlessbastardjosephson, who redeemed our sins by being crucified on a giant herring (the proof of which can be seen stuck on the back of any Christian’s car).

(Read the rest at his blog.)

Amazon left the General’s review up on its page, where it’s nestled among real praise from real white supremacists. One didn’t care for the writing, but loved the premise:

[T]he subject matter is of great interest and significance in the struggle of white people to survive the 21st century in the ongoing war against the enemies who have targeted us for extinction. The theme of the story involves the argument that whites were the first human inhabitants of the New World and were the victims of genocide by the later Mongoloid arrivals. Naturally, the Amerindians and leftists don’t like this idea at all and are prepared to kill to prevent it from being broadcast.

“Wotan” writes:

With the “brainwashing” our children receive at school, in the media, both print and visual, parents should give a copy of “White Apocalypse” to their children by at least Junior High School. Truth about your White race and pride in your race does not make you a racist!

“Thor Odinson” gushes:

Through the medium of fiction, Bristow enlightens the reader about matters of philosophy, history, and evidentiary-supported conspiracy theories to support the “fictional” thesis of the novel: that white people are persecuted by non-whites today just as they have been throughout world history.

Amazon leaves this hate speech on its website, yet it claims to have done the right thing by cutting off services to Wikileaks??!! That’s some code of business ethics.

Uff da.

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I’ve been reading a lot more than writing the past few days. One of the themes that has popped up repeatedly in the discussion of the Arizona shootings is whether college officials should have been far more proactive in seeking help for Jared Lee Loughner. The New York Times today ran no less than three pieces on this topic:

Couldn’t a caring teacher have intervened? It’s an appealing what-if, isn’t it?

Take for instance the piece that appeared yesterday in Salon, where Sarah Hepola interviews a psychiatrist, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, on the probability that Loughner has untreated paranoid schizophrenia:

Hepola: … What do you do when you see someone like this?

That’s the $64 million question. Among his classmates, if you took all the information known about him and looked at it together, you’d say this guy is potentially dangerous. But one classmate saw one thing, another classmate saw another. The college apparently had enough information to know this guy should be off the campus if he didn’t get mental help. They knew people were purposefully sitting by the door so they could run fast in case this guy did something. This guy clearly struck people as dangerous.

In Arizona the laws are fairly liberal compared to other states. In lots of states the only way you could act on this is if he had demonstrated dangerousness to self or others. But in Arizona, it would have been legal to involuntarily take him to the clinic and have him evaluated. People don’t do this much, because we’re very concerned about people’s civil rights. How do you weigh the fears of a college atmosphere against the civil rights of the individual — an individual who will go in and say, “Look, I might be a little strange, but there’s nothing really wrong with me”?

That’s a key question. Did the college behave properly? Should the school have mandated some sort of mental health treatment for him, rather than kicking him out?

Legally, they could have. Whether they should have or not depends on who had what information and what it looked like at the time. The retrospect-o-scope is a hundred percent.

Exactly. The people around Loughner had only piecemeal information, the impact of which is “obvious” only now that we know how the story ends.

But that’s not the only problem colleges face. For one thing, the actual contact hours a professor has with students are pretty limited. I typically see a student four hours per week (unless they’re taking more than one class with me, the poor dears!). Loughner gave off enough scary vibes that the instructor reported him and the college ejected him until he got treatment. That didn’t happen at Virginia Tech, where as far as I know just one instructor was alarmed enough by Seung-Hui Cho to advise him to seek counseling.

In my eight years of teaching, I’ve had a handful of students who were disruptive of classroom dynamics. There was one guy I considered my “mini-MRA,” who belligerently challenged every idea I presented, but also seemed to think he could kiss up to me by calling me repeatedly at home. Another apparently aspired to become Jonah Goldberg’s clone. But I’ve only had one who gave me an intensely uncomfortable vibe. He talked about how people thought ill of him because he liked to wear a trenchcoat, just like the Columbine shooters. I spotted him again on campus about five years after I’d taught him, and I wondered if he’d had to stop out for mental health reasons. As a new instructor back in 2002, I just thought he was creepy and eccentric. Today, in the post-Virginia Tech era, I’d probably consult with a campus counselor.

But actually reporting someone isn’t a simple matter. Will the student retaliate once he’s put under a microscope? One of my graduate advisers was stalked for many months by a former student, and she had only given him the low grade he’s earned. Loughner, too, acted out when he didn’t get the grade he wanted:

Even in his gym classes, there were problems. In May, the police were called by Mr. Loughner’s Pilates instructor, Patricia Curry, who said she felt intimidated after a confrontation over the B grade she wanted to give him. She said he had become “very hostile” upon learning about her intention. “She spoke with him outside the classroom and felt it might become physical,” the police report said.

Ms. Curry told the police she would not feel comfortable teaching Mr. Loughner without an officer in the area, and the officers stayed to keep watch over the Pilates class until the class ended.

Ms. Curry must have been alarmed indeed to call the police. In her place, I’d be even more frightened about retaliation after class.

The danger of retaliation would be great if the student weren’t treated or didn’t adhere to his treatment. My university does offer psychological services, but they’re woefully understaffed. Severely depressed students are routinely told to wait a month until they can see a therapist qualified to prescribe medications. This has occurred even when the student was suicidal, and said so. Multiple students have told me that they sought help and endured a long wait to get in, only to find they had no rapport with their assigned counselor. One rape survivor told me her sessions were downright counterproductive. Much of the counseling is provided by graduate students. The experienced therapists are quite good, I think, but they’re far too few in number.

Pima College, where Loughner took classes, provides no mental health services. It has over 68,000 students. Much of Loughner’s behavior was bizarre rather than threatening – for example, insisting that the number 6 was actually 18. I can understand why they Pima expelled him but didn’t petition to have him involuntarily committed.

One of the New York Times articles makes the argument that colleges can keep a closer eye on troubled students if they remain enrolled. That’s true as long as students are in dorms. (Incidentally, the same holds true for substance abuse problems.) But when a student lives off campus, we cannot expect an instructor – who in community colleges may teach four or more classes – to keep tabs on a student she sees only four or five contact hours per week. Pima is not a residential school. Did I mention it has 68,000+ students?

It’s striking that no one is asking why Loughner’s former restaurant employers didn’t call in the state. Or why the dog shelter where he volunteered didn’t so the same. Or the Army! All of these entities recognized that Loughner had serious issues. The Army rejected him for having a drug arrest. Quiznos fired him for bizarrely refusing to respond to a customer, and his manage recognized a “personality change.” At the shelter, he exposed puppies to parvovirus after being clearly told to keep them out of a contaminated area. But the New York Times is not asking why these entities didn’t intervene.

I think the difference is that Americans still expect colleges to operate in loco parentis. Even residential colleges haven’t really borne that responsibility – or wielded that power – since the 1960s. We no longer have housemothers and curfews. Young people 18 and older aren’t legally children. Universities can’t act like their parents. Especially when the student is still living at home with his parents.

I don’t want to indulge in blaming Loughner’s parents. His father is reportedly an unpleasant fellow. They still deserve pity and compassion. They have lost their only son forever.

But we surely cannot expect an underfunded, overgrown community college to stand in for his parents, either.

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Trickle, trickle, dribble, drip. One day in October, I was talking with a student after class when we heard the unmistakeable sounds of water. A few steps down the hall, we heard the gush that could only be a broken pipe. Our admin argued successfully with the facilities folks who wanted to put in a work order (!!) but even with their prompt response, the torrent took out a bunch of ceiling tiles while my student and I watched in horrified fascination. It took a month for those tiles to be replaced. The whole ceiling still looks stained and provisional.

Meanwhile, administrators prioritize student retention and recruitment over all other goals. The result? Money is found for lavish student activity centers and gyms while faculty are laid off and classroom facilities turn into scenes from Brazil (the movie, not the country).

The corporatization of the university is so far advanced that it’s probably unstoppable, but that doesn’t mean I have to shut up about it. Two little examples from beyond my campus:

Exhibit 1: I just went to check the links in my winter syllabus. I always include a couple of links to guides on nonsexist language usage. When I clicked on the one from the University of Minnesota, the old link redirected me – to a page on how to present a unified brand image for the university! It looks like this:

Lovely, but where are the women? Previously, there were university-wide guidelines for avoiding sexist expressions. Now, the university merely refers us to the Chicago Manual for guidance in all matters of style unrelated to its brand. Nowhere could I find the old guidelines (though a few individual departments offer brief tips on nonsexist usage in student papers). It’s all about the brand. None of this has any bearing on the university’s Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, which is outstanding; I’m betting no one consulted them.

At least Keene State College still maintains an excellent guide to nonsexist language.

Exhibit 2: Clarissa’s Blog reports that upper-level administrators at Clarissa’s public university in Illinois are drafting a dress code for its employees. Here’s the proposed language:

32.7 DRESS AND PERSONAL APPEARANCE. All University employees are expected to portray a professional image to students, parents, and the community at large. An employee’s dress and appearance shall be neat and clean. At a minimum, the standard office dress code shall be defined as business casual. Apparel needs to be free of slogans or advertisements. In addition, apparel shall not be of an indecent, suggestive, provocative, obscene, or defamatory nature. If applicable, employees are encouraged to wear their university logo shirts. The University may direct an employee to leave work and/or change clothes if he/she is are found in violation of this provision.

Clarissa dishes out the snark that this proposal so richly deserves:

Will I be required to bring dry-cleaning receipts to prove that I clean my clothes on a regular basis? Do I need witnesses to testify that I do my laundry often enough to satisfy these losers? And who will teach my classes if I’m ordered to leave for “violating the provision”? The administrators? That, surely, be fun to observe. Maybe now, whenever I’m too lazy to prepare a class, I should just show up dressed “obscenely” and be sent home to rest.

Oh, and she says it reminds her of the bad old days back in the USSR.

The very idea of a dress code is to turn professors from idiosyncratic, original – if slightly frumpy – people into corporate drones. Clothes may not make the man (or the woman), but I sure think more clearly in comfortable shoes. It’s an interesting contradiction too, to say “apparel needs to be free of slogans or advertisements” but also “employees are encouraged to wear their university logo shirts.” University branding, anyone? If my uni comes up with a dunderheaded policy like this, I think I’ll need to buy some of those sweatpants with the university’s initials appliqued onto each butt cheek, just to test whether “indecency” or “suggestiveness” trumps the tomcat-like urge to mark everything with the university’s branding.

I have to wonder if the broader intent of such silly proposals is to be a diversionary tactic: Keep the professoriate busy with idiotic dress-code proposals and perhaps they won’t notice that their compensation is being slashed while their workloads balloon. Certainly my institution’s top honchos are very adept at forming unwieldly committees that either 1) lack meaningful faculty representation (if its task is important), or 2) keep scores of instructors tied up in busy work, often for a year or two, only to discard or disregard the committee’s product or recommendations.

These diversionary tactics are one way to suppress dissent against the advancing corporatization of higher ed, in which students are seen as customers and instructors are inconvenient expenses, useful only in generating “weighted student credit hours,” which is a measure of tuition income. It’s also a means of distracting professors from the way in which the casualization of academic labor – its delegation to people like me with no possibility of tenure, significantly lower wages, and a high chance of being unemployed next year – is undermining the ability of the entire professoriate to do its best work. Instructors who are busy fighting silly battles over basic dignity in working conditions have less time to refine their teaching and pursue their research. And those who are squeezed for time are more likely to seek individual, dog-eat-dog solutions to their own precarious situation, rather than investing in solidarity with other instructors and staff.

I’m off to a meeting now, myself, but this one is for union rabble-rousing. Professors do not have collective bargaining at my school. Now that incoming Governor Kasich is threatening to run over us with his “bus,” we’re going to need it.

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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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I kvetch a lot about snow days on this blog, because the North Dakotan girl in me is annoyed and appalled at how my little town in southeast Ohio shuts down as soon as a dozen snowflakes stick to the ground.

But this North Dakotan girl also knows the difference between a snow flurry and a blizzard. When the weather forecasters tell you that a foot and a half of snow is about to whomp your town, you locate your flashlights, make sure you’ve got food in the house, and then you hunker down.

“Hunkering down” ≠ getting in your car and driving.

And so I am amazed and appalled at how New Yorkers compounded their quandary by putting their cars on the streets where snowbanks could form all around them and block the plows. People! When Minneapolis got an equal dump of snow earlier this month, did you see the Minnesotans turning their city streets into impromptu parking lots?

I feel for the folks who are camping out at the airports and train stations. Their predicament was a stroke of rotten luck. But the motorists? Except for those few who were responding to an emergency, they were captured by hubris and willful stupidity, which they then inflicted on the whole city. It makes me think of this very cool puzzle/one-person game my kids got for Christmas, where you try to unsnarl gridlocked traffic …

… except that in real life, there’s negative fun and everyone loses.

Oh, and staying home in a blizzard isn’t a sign of the “wussification of America,” no matter what Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s thinks. Real men are smart enough to hunker down during the storm (again: not in their cars!!). They’ll have plenty of chances to prove their mettle when the digging out begins.

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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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Gratuitous flowers for a sex post: Cascading morning glories captured by me, Sungold, in October, back before the frost bit ‘em.

The Denver Post ran an article today asking why an arousal-booster for women called Zestra can’t find TV stations willing to run their ads, even as Viagra ads are literally driving in circles around us. Historiann took the article to task for its casual disavowal of feminism, and I’ve got nothin’ to add to her critique except a vigorous nod of approval. Figleaf chimed in to say that the stations’ ad policies spotlight the illegitimacy of autonomous female desire.

What most struck me about the article, though, was its conflation of libido and arousal, which is endemic in “science writing” that reports on “pink viagra.” Here’s how reporter Mary Winter framed it:

Now, you would not know it from the $300-million annual ad campaign for erection-enhancing ads for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, but women suffer more sexual dysfunction than men do — 43 percent to 31 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In other words, the potential market for flagging female libidos is huge. But here’s the irony: When the makers of Zestra went to 100 television networks and stations to buy ads, the vast majority refused them. The few stations that did take their money would run the ads only after midnight or during the daytime.

The stations “told us they were not comfortable airing the ads,” Zestra co-founder Mary Jaensch told “Nightline.” The double-standard here — men, you deserve sexual pleasure, and women, what’s wrong with you hussies? — is breathtaking.

So how about this ad: a Camaro, a woman, and a vibrating driver’s seat?

(This is just the end of the article; read the whole thing here. Winter is very sharp and witty on the Viagra ads!)

In a way, it’s unfair to pick on Winter, because most writing about female sexual dysfunction fails to draw basic distinctions between arousal, orgasm, desire, and libido. It also tends to ignore the reality of the physical pain some women experience (which K has explored eloquently at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction.) In practice, women can of course have issues with any or all of the above, and problems in one area can easily spill into another. A woman  suffering from vulvodynia, for instance, might be able to orgasm, but if sexual activity hurts, that’s likely to dampen her libido. Another woman might have a generally low libido (meaning she doesn’t crave sex very often) but develop desire responsively to her partner, at least in certain situations. There are probably as many variations as there are women.

Now, getting back to Zestra and the Denver Post: Winter’s article refers mainly to libido. She’s partly on the right track, insofar as that “42 percent” figure refers mainly to women who complain about low libido. (Some feminists have criticized that figure as too high, but let’s set that debate aside for today.) Winter does hint at the primary issue here – arousal – in that apparent throwaway line about a vibrating driver seat in the Camaro. Why yes, I think quite a few of us gals might enjoy such a ride! But if we got a good buzz per gallon, that wouldn’t mean our libido was revving – only that our engine was purring smoothly.

Libido is not the primary target for Zestra, though Zestra’s website refers to a whole host of potential benefits: stronger libido, greater satisfaction, more earth-shaking orgasms, and a more harmonious relationship with one’s partner. (That last point comes up only in testimonials; the overall tone of the website is “try this for yourself,” not “use this to please your long-suffering husband.”) It’s being marketed to women who suffer from sexual problems of any sort due to illness (including cancer), postpartum changes, menopause, antidepressants, stress, and even widowhood. But what does it really do?

Zestra’s primary mechanism, as far as I understand it, is to enhance arousal and response during sexual activity. As far as I can see without having tried it myself, it looks like it might increase engorgement and/or creaste prickling sensations in a nice way. In the best case, yummy sensations start a cascade of increasing desire during lovemaking. As a topical agent applied directly to one’s ladyparts, Zestra doesn’t act directly on libido, which is regulated by the brain and a complex dance of different hormones and neurotransmitters (including estrogen and testosterone, but also thyroid hormone, stress hormones, dopamine and lots of other nifty “messenger” chemicals). A topical gel won’t directly influence that chemical brew. It’s only logical, though, that if sex is more pleasurable, some women might want it more. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher has written about how hot sex with a new partner gives us a dopamine high akin to cocaine (quick summary of her ideas here). Maybe hot sex with in a newly reinvigorated relationship can give us the same buzz?

Also, the testing for Zestra relied on women who committed to have sex eight times in a month, so it’s unlikely many of them had a super low libido. (For more details on the testing, check out the clinical study.) These women were already open to regular sex. As a group they sound to me more like women who basically like sex but were frustrated by difficulty getting aroused. They don’t sound like the subset of women who’ve given up on sex – a group that constitutes about 15% of American marriages, by the way. (This according to Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times, where “sexless” was defined as no sex at all with one’s spouse during the previous six to twelve months.)

In other words, the mechanism behind Zestra appears to be entirely different than flibanserin, an orally-administered drug recently rejected by the FDA for ineffectiveness. Flibanserin was supposed to increase libido directly by changing one’s brain chemistry. It too was compared to Viagra, and quite wrongly so: Viagra targets a mans plumbing, so to speak. It produces an erection (though it almost always requires mental and/or physical stimulation to be effective). Flibanserin left physical arousal untouched while aiming to increase psychological arousal and desire.

Calling flib a “pink viagra” was just misleading. In the case of Zestra, the comparison appears more apples-to-apples, since both Viagra and Zestra appear to work by increasing engorgement.

I still think it’s too bad that flib flopped. Yes, the drug was intended to be a Big Pharma Bonanza. I don’t really give a shit. If it had really helped women live better, I’d be all for it. I trust women to make decisions about their bodies (though I also insist on our responsibility to understand our bodies. At any rate, flib failed to gain FDA approval because it didnt work.

As far as I know, there’s still nothing  on the market that specifically helps women who only desire sex once in a blue moon. For some women, hormone therapy (sometimes including testosterone as well as estrogen) delivers a libido boost. But hormones carry some risk. Women fear breast cancer if they take estrogen and they fear growing a beard and unibrow if they take T. But these are the choices, because there’s no drug that specifically targets libido.

Zestra interests me because it seems to be quite safe (worst side effect: transient burning sensations in some rather precious real estate). I’m skeptical to the extent that their studies are pretty small. Unavoidably, the very fact of running a study is an intervention in itself. This can have real effects on its findings. How many of the couples studied would have had sex at least eight times in a month? If most would’ve had less, that means Zestra wasn’t the only independent variable. Perhaps the twice-weekly commitment, combined with a new toy or just wall-to-wall pictures of George Clooney and Jon Hamm would fire their engines just as well. I’m pretty sure I’d be off and roaring on that program! (Where do I sign up?)

Seriously, I have been meaning to try Zestra just for the fun of it, since it sounds like its potential benefits might not be limited to people suffering from difficulty with arousal … and, y’know, anything for science! I’ve got a packet of it in a drawer but I’m not so sure what my lab partner would think.

As always, I’m very curious if any of you out there in bloglandia have given Zestra a whirl? And if so – are you willing to dish? Pretty please?

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