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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Peggy - Elisabeth Moss

Please please please tell us that Peggy will be back on Mad Men!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rodney King's death

Very sad to hear of his death at 47 - he's younger than I am. His plea ("can't we all get along!") has been often mocked, but I was always inspired by his forgiving attitude. R.I.P.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Chris Hayes smites heroes

I was rather upset when I heard about the hullabaloo over MSNBC host, Chris Hayes' comments on the Sunday prior to Memorial Day on a segment of his show, Up, about the disconnect between average Americans and the war effort:

"Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word 'hero'? I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that."

I had noted my objections on FB:

Of course there's tons of outrage out there about his comments, but bottom line, are we really upset because someone was contemplating the meaning of something? It's kind of disgusting that so many people's response is "How DARE he!" How dare he what? Think about something?  We're just not big in this country on thinking.  It's really sad. 

And Chris ended his comments with "maybe I'm wrong . . ." When have you ever heard, when will you ever hear, Rush Limbaugh, or people on the right, make that statement???

Then Peter Beinart said it so much better than I ever could:

I don’t share Hayes’s queasiness about the using the word “hero” to describe those Americans who died in Afghanistan and Iraq. In America today, where self-gratification is practically a national religion, there is something heroic about voluntarily placing your fate at your country’s service. But Hayes’s larger point—that in honoring the dead we should not surrender our critical faculties about war—is not only correct, it’s crucial. For more than 10 years now, the Coulters and Dick Cheneys of American politics have used the pain and pride of a nation at war to cow those who might have questioned our post-9/11 wars. In 2002 many congressional Democrats were too afraid of Karl Rove to vote against authorizing the invasion of Iraq. In 2009 Barack Obama acquiesced to an escalation in Afghanistan about which he had grave doubts, in part because of the political pressure he felt from the military brass and their allies in the congressional GOP. And even now, with most Americans convinced that the Afghan War is a waste of money and blood, it remains perilous for a television host to use Memorial Day to ask why our troops are still dying there.

. . . What good does it do a family that recently lost their son in Afghanistan to be told that he was a hero by a politician who can’t justify why he was there? It is telling that the presidential candidate who spoke about America’s wars in the least reverential terms—Ron Paul—received the most campaign donations from America’s war fighters.

. . . What do we owe my sister-in-law—and her husband and two small girls—for having made a sacrifice that most Americans of my demographic can’t even contemplate? We owe them our reverence, absolutely. But more that, we owe them our citizenship. Our deepest duty is to ask ourselves, relentlessly, whether the cause for which my sister-in-law sacrificed justifies the pain it has caused her family and the many American and Afghan families that have suffered far more. And if the answer is no, we owe them more than our sympathy and admiration. We owe them our rage.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mad Men

I cried. Seriously.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Genetic benefit of gay genes

Fascinating new research on male homosexuality.  I found myself thinking and talking about this for days after I read it~

Gay Men Have Evolutionary Benefit For Their Families, New Research Suggests

By: Natalie Wolchover on Huffington Post

While female sexuality appears to be more fluid, research suggests that male gayness is an inborn, unalterable, strongly genetically influenced trait. But considering that the trait discourages the type of sex that leads to procreation — that is, sex with women — and would therefore seem to thwart its own chances of being genetically passed on to the next generation, why are there gay men at all?
This longstanding question is finally being answered by new and ongoing research. For several years, studies led by Andrea Camperio Ciani at the University of Padova in Italy and others have found that mothers and maternal aunts of gay men tend to have significantly more offspring than the maternal relatives of straight men. The results show strong support for the "balancing selection hypothesis," which is fast becoming the accepted theory of the genetic basis of male homosexuality.
The theory holds that the same genetic factors that induce gayness in males also promote fecundity (high reproductive success) in those males' female maternal relatives. Through this trade-off, the maternal relatives' "gay man genes," though they aren't expressed as such, tend to get passed to future generations in spite of their tendency to make their male inheritors gay.
While no one knows which genes, exactly, these might be, at least one of them appears to be located on the X chromosome, according to genetic modeling by Camperio Ciani and his colleagues. Males inherit only one X chromosome — the one from their mother — and if it includes the gene that promotes gayness in males and fecundity in females, he is likely to be gay while his mom and her female relatives are likely to have lots of kids. If a daughter inherits that same X-linked gene, she herself may not be gay, but she can pass it on to her sons.
. . . "High fecundity, that means having more babies, is not about pleasure in sex, nor is it about promiscuity. The androphilic pattern that we found is about females who increase their reproductive value to attract the best males," Camperio Ciani told Life's Little Mysteries.
Turns out, the moms and aunts of gay men have an advantage over the moms and aunts of straight men for several reasons: They are more fertile, displaying fewer gynecological disorders or complications during pregnancy; they are more extroverted, as well as funnier, happier and more relaxed; and they have fewer family problems and social anxieties. "In other words, compared to the others, [they are] perfect for a male," Camperio Ciani said. Attracting and choosing from the best males enables these women to produce more offspring, he noted.
The new study will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Principles over people

There was a small crowd at the monthly Lunch and Learn meeting today, as there often is when the date is changed. We were supposed to be discussing the 10 commandments (it's Shavuot this weekend), but of course there was little enthusiasm for this. The conversation morphed into a discussion of saying "no" to requests that aren't "Jewish," and I got off on a minor rant, because this is a huge pet peeve of mine.  As I said to the group, we reject people who are trying to participate in the community by saying what they're doing isn't "Jewish" enough, but much more often than not, whatever they want to do becomes completely acceptable 5 years, or 5 months, later.  Because Judaism keeps evolving and changing and accommodating modernity, what is unacceptable one minute becomes standard practice the next. The example that arose early in the conversation was a family who wanted to bury their child in the family plot in the Jewish cemetery, but wasn't allowed because, actually I forgot why, but it doesn't matter.  When their request was denied, they got upset and left the synagogue.  What possible difference could it make in a whole cemetery to have one grave filled with a not-quite-totally Jewish child?  I made the point that we seem to always pick "principles" over people, but then the principle changes and the rejection those people received becomes moot.  But they've already been alienated, along with their children, and their children's children.  And I also pointed out that we cry and gnash our teeth about shrinking memberships, but at the same time, we keep rejecting people who want to belong to the community, often for reasons that matter to only a few people. I understand that each rabbi feels they must protect Judaism - as Rabbi Pepperstone said, "We want to open the door, but not too wide!"  But I still come back to wondering why we insult people who want to embrace Judaism, all because they're not doing it "right."  Maybe we could open that door as wide as possible and then try to educate and shape the experience of those who walk through it.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Oh yeah!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Brainiest cities

I'm a little embarrassed at how surprised I was to see Syracuse on this list~

America's Brainiest Cities

A new measure seeks to track the "brain performance" or cognitive capacity of metros in a different and potentially more direct way.  This metric, developed by Lumos Labs, is based on their cognitive training and tracking software, Lumosity. It covers some 20 million members (and 320 million individual game plays) who use the company's online games to assess and attempt to improve their cognitive performance. 
With the help of my colleague Charlotta Mellander, I correlated the Lumosity data on brain performance with conventional measures of educational attainment, knowledge workers and other factors. The Lumosity data were significantly associated with both the share of adults with a bachelor's degree or greater (.56) and the percent engaged in knowledge and creative work (.45).   Higher cognitive performance scores not surprisingly were also associated with higher rates of innovation, greater concentrations of high-tech industry and higher per capita incomes.
Here are America's 25 brainiest metros, according to Lumosity's metrics:
  1. Charlottesville, Virginia
  2. Lafayette, Indiana
  3. Anchorage Alaska
  4. Madison, Wisconsin
  5. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose 
  6. Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City & Dubuque, Iowa
  7. Honolulu
  8. Johnstown-Altoona, Pennsylvania
  9. Champaign & Springfield-Decatur, Illinois
  10. Minneapolis-St. Paul
  11. Boston-Manchester (Massachusetts/New Hampshire)
  12. Austin
  13. Rochester, New York
  14. Gainesville, Florida 
  15. Fargo-Valley City North Dakota
  16. Lansing, Michigan 
  17. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo
  18. Burlington-Plattsburgh (Vermont/New York) 
  19. Pittsburgh
  20. Syracuse, New York
  21. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  22. Columbia-Jefferson City, Missouri
  23. La Crosse-Eau Claire, Wisconsin
  24. Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York Pennsylvania
  25. Springfield-Holyoke, Massachusetts


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gay marriage essay

Laura asked me to write something about the latest developments on gay marriage for this year's Pride Guide, because it serves as a bit of a "time capsule" and it wouldn't be complete without it.  I thought I'd have trouble coming up with the minimum 800 words, but I ended up having to leave some stuff out and it was almost 1300 words. (She was thrilled with it, by the by.)

Gay marriage finally gets its due

It’s impossible not to feel that tingle of victory, after so many setbacks and insults, when President Obama said those 11 little words: “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Of course, no legislation has been passed, no regulations have been changed, but it feels momentous for the Leader of the Free World to offer such naked validation.  What does it really mean? Maybe very little, but maybe enough.

President Obama made his historic statement to Robin Roberts in an ABC News interview, after Joe Biden went “off script” during a May 6 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, saying he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage.  Biden’s unexpected assertion caused a firestorm among the political commetariat, and the next day, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, was asked during a press conference whether he supported gay marriage; he simply responded “Yes.”  I believe that Biden’s remarks were completely spontaneous – he’s positively famous for his lack of self-censorship.  But I’m cynical enough to wonder if Secretary Duncan’s response was a weather balloon sent up by the Obama administration to test the climate for negative reaction.  When it didn’t materialize, President Obama made his instantly resonant comments. 

It’s interesting to note that attitudes have altered faster on this topic than any social issue in the history of the United States.  In less than 2 decades, support for gay marriage has moved from about 25% to about 50%. A point or two each year doesn’t sound like much, but compared to other social issues, such as interracial marriage and women’s suffrage, which took many decades to become accepted, the attitude change regarding gay marriage has occurred at warp speed!

You can make the argument that President Obama is only responding to changing political winds – the tipping point has been reached: polls show that more people now support gay marriage rights than don’t.  Conservatives even accuse the president of pandering, which is positively delicious - who would have ever thought that supporting LGBTQ people would constitute that? But even if he is, even if this is a poll-tested position, we’ll take it.  Because, just like EF Hutton, when the president talks, people listen.

Some activists don’t even think that traditional marriage should be a focus (the focus?) of the LGBTQ community’s efforts. Why would our community want to limit itself to such an archaic institution? “Free to be” is our battle cry. But there it is - for some, what they want to be is married.  And as the issue has played out over the last decade, the outline has gotten larger and larger, encompassing a whole range of ideas, about dignity, and values, and perhaps most importantly, second-class citizenship and civil rights.

According to the Government Accounting Office, 1138 rights and protections are conferred to U.S. citizens by the federal government when they get married, including Social Security benefits, veterans' benefits, health insurance, Medicaid, hospital visitation, estate taxes, retirement savings, pensions, family leave, and various aspects of immigration laws.

The subject has been in the political atmosphere for decades, but it burst onto the scene in 2000 when Governor Howard Dean signed the first ever same sex partner bill into law in Vermont, and subsequently ran for president, thrusting the issue into the national spotlight.  At the time, polls consistently found that about 2/3 of people were against same sex unions.

The LGBTQ community has included recognition of our partnerships on the agenda since Stonewall, but the issue gained more prominence when a Hawaii trial court judge challenged the state’s same-sex ban in 1993 (noting that the state had no “compelling interest” in the limitation). Although marriage is clearly a state issue, Congress responded to events in Hawaii by passing DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, in 1996, stating that the only marriages that would be recognized by the federal government are those between one man and one woman. While deeply offensive to many, DOMA does not preclude states defining marriage in other ways.

A number of states passed civil union legislation in the years following Vermont’s law: Connecticut (2005), New Jersey (2007), New Hampshire (2007), Illinois (2010), Rhode Island (2011), Hawaii (2011), and Delaware (2011).  Marriage licenses are issued to same sex couples in 6 states, as a result of legislation or court rulings: Massachusetts (2004), Connecticut (2008), Vermont (2009), Iowa (2009), New Hampshire (2010), and New York (2011), as well as in the District of Columbia (2009).  Maryland and Washington were added to the list just this year, but both are facing voter referenda this fall.

During this same period, states started to put measures on election ballots, as voter referenda, outlawing the recognition of same sex partnerships and defining marriage as limited to “one man and one woman.” Of the 28 states which have put the issue to voters, all the measures have passed.

Prior to the North Carolina initiative this spring, where recognition of same sex relationships was banned by passing a constitutional amendment (by a sizable margin - 61% to 39%), the effort to garner the most attention was certainly the Proposition 8 fight in California in 2008, when loads of outside money, much of it from the Mormon Church, helped pass a same sex marriage ban in the nation’s most populous, and arguably most progressive, state.  Perceptions noticeably shifted – it’s one thing to insult and marginalize gays in the Bible Belt, but in California? Some who had not been paying attention previously started to notice just how cruel and offensive the arguments against marriage were. The Ninth District Court ruled the California law unconstitutional earlier this year, though it provided for a grace period, so the battle continues in that state, while the nation watches carefully.

While working on this essay, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the oldest civil rights organization in the US, passed a resolution supporting gay marriage, at a meeting of their board of directors, saying it opposed any policy or legislative initiative that “seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the constitutional rights of LGBT citizens.”  The black churches have often been uncomfortable with the issue, and the majority of African Americans oppose it, but the NAACP has been supportive of gay marriage initiatives at the state level. They apparently decided the time was right for the national organization to take a public stand, citing their unwavering commitment to the 14th Amendment (“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”)  Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, choked back tears during the announcement – his own parents had to cross state lines to get married in 1966 because his mother was black and his father was white, and interracial marriage was illegal at that time where they lived, in Maryland.

I can’t lie – the events this week feel like a balm (after being stabbed with 28 knives!)  Virtually all political analysts acknowledge that demographics are destiny with this issue (as with almost any issue). In this case, the vast majority of younger voters simply do not object to gay marriage. And while older voters do, their influence is by definition temporary.  The delightful and thrilling news is that the shift is happening so much more quickly than predicted.  We can hope that states will soon begin to reform their laws, and we can turn our attention to the many other pressing issues that concern us.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Imagine how stupid!

Another great graphic I saw on Facebook.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

My D'var

The final activity in the adult b'nai mitzvah class was an assignment to write a d'var, which is an interpretive commentary on (usually) the weekly Torah reading.  We were allowed to pick any passage we wanted, so of course I went directly to Leviticus, my favorite book of the bible.  Although most of the students did not take the opportunity to read their dvar aloud in class, I did, and surprised myself by getting a bit choked up in the middle.

Parsha: Acharei Mot ("after death," referring to the death of Aaron's two sons)
Leviticus 16:1 to 18:30
The Torah is full of instructions. Some of these are relatively easy to understand and interpret: thou shalt not kill, keep the Sabbath, protect widows and orphans.  Others are harder to understand and harder to interpret. Nothing in the Torah has been more challenging to me than Leviticus Chapter 18. Most people know this chapter because it includes the admonition “do not lie with a man as with a woman,” but that’s at the end of the chapter, verse 22.  The first 21 verses represent a fairly detailed list of other sexual restrictions, including relations with “your” daughter-in-law, “your” aunt, and “your” step-daughter.  However, the list does not include “your” daughter.  Nowhere in this section of Leviticus, or in Chapter 20, which also lists several forbidden sexual relationships (as well as their appropriate punishments), is sex with your daughter specifically mentioned, let alone specifically prohibited. The Talmud suggests that the prohibition against father-daughter incest is already understood to be forbidden, so there was no reason to include it.  Some commentators have even suggested that “daughter” was left off the list accidentally, and represents basically a printer’s error that was then carried forward until the present time.  Of course, it’s impossible to know if this omission is a mistake or deliberate. Either way, it causes me, causes all of us, to ponder the meaning of this passage.  And to ponder the value of instructions in the Torah.  Do they apply to us today?  Can we find ways to apply them, to find meaning in them, even if they offend our modern day sensibilities?  Can we simply overlook the passages that cause us concern, that make us upset or angry or shocked or afraid?  It’s troubling, and it’s confusing.  Of course, many passages of the Torah are vague, and have required extensive examination and contemplation.   But I would argue that this odd omission requires more reflection than rules about what we eat or what we wear.  What do we take from this? How do we come to terms with this, and find meaning in it?  How do we protect our daughters, and ourselves, when our book of rules overlooks such a fundamental danger?  It requires a level of engagement that may be intimidating or even uncomfortable.  But this is the privilege of Judaism, and the burden of it – to continue to wrestle with the meaning of our heritage.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fragile earth

This really struck me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Theocracy in Israel

Pretty disturbing assessment of the trend in Israel.

National-religious messianism is endangering Israel
By Carlo Strenger

Every month I drive to Bar-Ilan University to tape four or five discussions with national-Religious Rabbi Uri Sherki that are posted under the title “The Rabbi and the Professor” (unfortunately there are no English subtitles so far). I do this because I believe that there is desperate need for dialogue between Israel’s liberals and the national-religious. We have come to the point where we live in universes so different that it is becoming questionable how these groups can ever cooperate fruitfully for a common future.

Sherki is adamant that the West Bank is part of Israel on theological grounds, and he does not believe that the Palestinians living there should have political rights. He always insists that Jewish law has a solution for this: the category of Ger Toshav, a resident alien, makes sure, he says, that they will have full human rights, but no political rights.

These discussions have been going on for a year now; I have, time and again, told him that his long-term vision for the greater land of Israel is an elegant way of describing an apartheid system. His general reaction is that I am stereotyping him. If I tell him that the idea of an ethnic group that does not have political rights is pretty much the definition of apartheid, I generally receive no answer. This is particularly frightening because Rabbi Sherki is mild-mannered and cultivated; in addition to his Rabbinical training, he has a wide secular knowledge, so there is no way of attributing his position to ignorance or lack of culture.

Rabbi Sherki also has an utterly unrealistic view on Israel’s relation to the West: he argues that the West criticizes Israel because it does not take its role of being humanity’s moral beacon seriously. When I ask him what this means, he answers that Zionism has only fully come into its own after what he calls the liberation of Judea and Samaria; and that we need to stop apologizing for this, because the Jewish people will be able to fulfill its historic function: From Zion the teaching shall spread!

When I tell Rabbi Sherki that I happen to speak quite a bit to European politicians, diplomats, journalists and academics; that they in no way feel that Israel should have some special role in the world, but have a much more modest demand: that it adhere to international law, respect Palestinian rights and end the occupation, he tells me that I simply don’t understand the Christian unconscious. No facts will confuse his mind.

Sherki is by no means among the more extreme rabbis of the national-religious camp. And yet there are moments in which he expresses visceral hatred for Arabs, and a degree of disdain for secular Israelis that is breathtaking: a few months ago he said that women working in offices in secular Israel are required to dress like whores.

These are moments when I lose my temper: I told him that he must immediately apologize; that I find it unbelievable that he can offend the majority of Israel’s society with such impunity – and that this also betrays his total isolation from the outside world. I asked him when the last time he visited anything like a hospital or a law firm was, and told him that he obviously lives in a universe parallel to mine.

Beyond the outrage and the disbelief, Sherki’s views profoundly worry me. He has a large followership; many attend his courses throughout the country, and he plays a leading role in one of Jerusalem’s major Yeshivas. Men like him raise a generation of students to believe that the Jewish people indeed has the right to trample the rights of others; who think that the rest of the world should simply bow to the precepts of the Torah as they see it. They are also deeply convinced that their interpretation of Judaism has a monopoly: Sherki forcefully argued against the recent ruling that conservative and reform Rabbis should be paid by the state of Israel.

People like Rabbi Sherki must be taken deeply seriously: The national religious vision has decisively shaped Israel’s history. Their project of settling in the West Bank with the goal of annexing it to Israel has decisively shaped Israel’s history for more than forty years. Their unrelenting ideological and religious conviction that the Jewish people has an eternal right to the West Bank has made them utterly blind to the moral and political disaster that the occupation has become.

In my view the greatest tragedy of national-religious Zionism is its profound misunderstanding of its own nature: it believes that it is profoundly Jewish. But as I have argued together with Professor of Jewish Philosophy Menachem Lorberbaum national-religious Zionism has adopted the language of 19th century political romanticism with its idealization of peoplehood and its connection to the land. This political view has, as we know all too well, led to disastrous consequences in European history, particularly when it was combined with a messianic conception of redeeming a specific nation or humankind as a whole.

I often try to show Rabbi Sherki to what extent the national-religious vision is a rehash of the disaster of romantic political philosophy. But, like all those who believe that they have seen the one, great truth, he refuses to see that politics must never be romanticized, and that all messianic conceptions of politics end in catastrophe.

That Israel has succeeded in remaining a liberal democracy despite having lived under threat for most of its existence is one of this country’s most remarkable achievements. But since 1974 almost no Israeli politician has risked open conflict with the national religious movement that is doing everything to undermine this democracy. Yitzhak Rabin did so by initiating the Oslo process; he paid with his life for it – and polls have shown that more than sixty percent of national-religious Jews in Israel are in favor of pardoning Rabin’s murderer, Yigal Amir, whose brother was released from prison a month ago.

Now Israel’s democracy is facing possibly the greatest threat in its history: many leaders of the national-religious movement say explicitly that Israeli democracy is no longer necessary and that the country must become a theocracy. It is time for the majority of Israelis, secular or religious, who think otherwise to take action before it is too late.


Thursday, May 17, 2012



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Vermont first state to ban fracking

For the only reason that matters - clean water trumps everything else.

Vermont's governor has signed a bill making it the first U.S. state to ban fracking, the controversial practice to extract natural gas from the ground.
"This is a big deal," Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday. "This bill will ensure that we do not inject chemicals into groundwater in a desperate pursuit for energy."
Shumlin said fracking contaminates groundwater and the science behind it is "uncertain at best." He said he hopes other states will follow Vermont's lead in banning it.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Only Mommy War Worth Waging"

Fantastic Mother's Day essay on the Huffington Post:

The only Mommy War worth waging
by Kristen Howerton

If you watch the trends of media, whether it be print, internet, or TV, you've probably noticed that every couple of months there is a new version of the "mommy wars" being played out. Last month's battle du jour was surrounding moms who work vs. moms who stay at home. Now, a firestorm has ignited over a provocative photo and article in TIME magazine about extended breastfeeding and attachment parenting. These manufactured mommy wars are predictable because they tend to provoke strong reactions from mothers who feel judged, as well as mothers who want to feel superior for their choices. A litany of analysis, outrage and defensiveness usually follows. Women tear each other down, while the entity responsible for initiating the battle reaps the benefit (whether it be a hot debate on a talk show or a political playing card). The insecurities of women surrounding their parenting choices are frequently pawns in the ratings game, and I think the most recent TIME magazine article and photo of a preschooler breastfeeding are intended to incite such a reaction.
I don't much care if you breastfed your kid until they started kindergarten or if you fed them formula from day one. I don't really care if you turned your infant car seat forward-facing prior to age 2, or if you homeschool, or if you send your kids to daycare while you go to work. Do you cosleep? Did you circumcise your son? I DON'T CARE. Do you "babywear"? Push your kid around in a stroller? Use a leash for your kid at Disneyland? Whatever. Good for you.
When it comes to issues of motherhood, there is one issue I care about: some kids don't have one. All of these petty wars about the choices of capable, loving mothers is just a lot of white noise to me, Quite honestly, I'm often astonished at the non-essential parenting issues I see moms getting upset about. Particularly when there are so many kids in this world not being parented at all.
This is the only mommy war I'll wage. I'm confident that most mothers are doing the best that they can for their kids, even if their choices are different than mine. I think it's ridiculous that so much energy is spent on debating largely inconsequential parenting decisions when so very little attention is given to the children who DON'T HAVE PARENTS. Why isn't this causing outrage? Making magazine covers? Inciting ranty twitter posts?
This is the war I'll be involved in: We, as a society, are not doing enough to protect at-risk and motherless children, both in our country and globally.
(Because apparently we're too busy worrying about that kid whose mom gave him formula.)
The kind of war I'll get behind will advocate for kids with bigger issues than a mom who goes to work. Or doesn't.
I'll get upset about the fact that LA County's family court system is so atrocious that they recently allowed press into court hearings for minors, in the hopes that this might finally provide some accountability for social workers who aren't doing their job. Let me repeat that: social workers are so understaffed and/or screwing up so badly that reporters are allowed into confidential court proceedings in the hopes that it will shape them up.
I'll be disturbed by the 18-year-olds I regularly see on adoption photolistings who, despite being old enough to live independently, place themselves on national photolistings because they desperately want a mom and a dad in their adult life. Because, in one teen's words, he "wants to become a member of a permanent family".
I'll whine about how, when we called our Christian agency about a healthy African-American boy from LA county who was in need of a home, we were told that they had no prospective adoptive parents willing to accept a placement of a black child. NOT ONE.
I'll get upset about a system that requires foster children to be placed in an adoptive home for 6 months before terminating parental rights, regardless of an absence of reunification efforts by the birth parents. I'll be angry about how this scares away prospective adoptive parents, and hurts children by leaving them in a limbo even after years of no contact or even abandonment by their birth family. I'll rant about how children whose parents have failed them should be made legally freed for adoption AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, so that more people would be willing to step forward and adopt.
I'll get behind complaining about how the government renames orphans and calls them "wards of the state" and renames orphanages and calls them "group homes", and how we collectively turn a blind eye to the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of children waiting for families in the US.
I'll be appalled over how many children around the world will age out of orphanages due to lack of paperwork or other factors that make them ineligible for adoption.  I'll continue posting about the deplorable conditions of third world orphanages and the developmental challenges that neglected children will face.
I'll fight for the moms who don't have access to prenatal care, or for the moms who have to abandon their children because of poverty.  I'll be mad that such inequities exist, and I'll support organizations that help change it.
The only mommy war I support involves moms banding together to talk about the number of children in our world who are missing out on basic human needs. Security. Love. Affection. Let's wage a war about that.  Not everyone can adopt, but we can all do something. Even if it's just using our voices for something more productive than personal parenting choices.
Let's stop quibbling about what competent mothers are choosing for their kids, and step it up for the kids that don't have one.


Monday, May 14, 2012

"A crime against motherhood"

Yet another chapter of our history that has been hidden - sterilization without consent was rampant during much of the previous century.

A crime against motherhood

By Nilmini Gunaratne Rubin
LA Times

My mom's first day of motherhood was one of the happiest of her life. It was also one of the worst.

She had accompanied my dad from Sri Lanka to Washington State University in 1968, so he could complete his doctorate as a Fulbright Scholar. The school was in Pullman, a small town near the Idaho border. Fluent in English, she worked as a university librarian.

During her pregnancy, at age 30, she received care from one of Pullman's few obstetricians. She endured labor without drugs, and I was born healthy in 1972. Because fathers weren't allowed in the maternity ward overnight, my dad went back to their apartment when I was a few hours old.

As soon as he left, the doctor cut out my mom's uterus.

He didn't ask permission to perform the hysterectomy. In fact, he ignored her pleas. "There are too many colored babies already," he told her. Exhausted from labor, my mom was too weak to resist as she was wheeled into the operating room and put under anesthesia. On her medical record, the doctor wrote "exploratory" as the reason for the operation. The real reason, of course, was eugenics, the racist pseudoscience of human breeding.

My mom was not alone in her anguish. According to historian Mark Largent, more than 63,000 people were forcibly sterilized under eugenics-inspired official state programs in the U.S. between 1907 and 1980. Roughly one-third of them were sterilized in California. My mom was among the uncounted others who were coercively sterilized by overzealous private doctors acting on their own. Medical privacy laws make it hard to learn how many were victimized this way.

It was a horrifying exercise in genetic engineering. The intent was to strengthen the gene pool and reduce welfare rolls. The victims were usually women, including African Americans, Asians, Jews, Latinos, Native Americans, alcoholics, the disabled, epileptics, illiterates, the mentally ill, petty criminals, the poor, the promiscuous, rape victims and "anyone else who did not resemble the blond and blue-eyed Nordic ideal the eugenics movement glorified," as Edwin Black noted in his book "War Against the Weak."

When my dad returned to the hospital the next morning, my mom was irreversibly sterile. Growing up, I wondered why I was an only child. As I headed off to college, she finally told me what had happened. I found out later exactly how a racist doctor could do this to a woman in modern America.

The word "eugenics" was coined in 1883 by a British scientist, Francis Galton, who was Charles Darwin's half-cousin. In the U.S. the movement was championed by wealthy elites like John Harvey Kellogg, doctor, corn flakes magnate and creator of the Race Betterment Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich. The Nazis relied on eugenics research financed by the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The state of Washington, where my mom was victimized, enacted forced sterilization laws in 1909 and 1921. The 1909 law, which allows for involuntary sterilization of molesters, rapists and habitual criminals, remains on the books. The broader 1921 statute aimed to "prevent the procreation of feeble-minded, insane, epileptic, habitual criminals, moral degenerates and sexual perverts." It wasoverturned by the Washington State Supreme Court in 1942.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld forced sterilization in 1927, a decision that still stands. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in the majority decision, "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.... Three generations of imbeciles are enough." At the Nuremberg trials, Nazis quoted Holmes in their defense.

My parents never reported the crime against my mother. They never sued the physician. They worried about how the police would react and were scared of retaliation by the doctor. Since they were here on visas and not yet U.S. citizens, they also feared being deported. And I think my (late) dad was ashamed that such a thing had happened to his wife.

Five years later, we moved to Palo Alto, where two public schools are named after eugenicists: the first Stanford University president, David Starr Jordan, and Stanford professor (and co-inventor of the Stanford-Binet IQ test) Louis Madison Terman. They were both members of the Pasadena-based Human Betterment Foundation that promoted compulsory sterilization legislation across the United States.

The recognition that so many people were systematically wronged has been slow in coming. Law professor Paul A. Lombardo has found that just seven of the 32 states with official sterilization programs have apologized to their victims: Virginia (2001), Oregon (2002), North Carolina (2002), South Carolina (2003), California (2003), Georgia (2007) and Indiana (2007). (Two states do not appear to have officially sterilized people before their compulsory sterilization laws were removed: New Jersey and Nevada.)

Only North Carolina has gone further. Earlier this year, a task force recommended a lump-sum payment of $50,000 to each victim still living: 2,000 of 7,600. The state also set up a counseling service and a traveling exhibit on eugenics.

Much more must be done. The other 23 states that practiced eugenics — Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin — must apologize and offer compensation to their victims.

We must examine the role of private doctors in forced sterilization to ensure the practice has indeed stopped. Most important, we must outlaw forced sterilization in the United States.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Latest movies

Still watching TV shows On Demand, so I haven't watched any movies on video, but saw a couple in theaters:

The Avengers - I had no interest in this recycled pablum until I read a story about writer/director Joss Whedon (Firefly/Serenity) in Time magazine, which made it sound better than I had expected, and then I started to hear people my age saying that they enjoyed it, plus Larry wanted to see it, so I finally relented. It was entertaining, with some terrific humor well-delivered, but I found myself really rolling my eyes as the action ramped up along with the required level of disbelief suspension; for example, in the midst of the battle with overwhelming forces from space, several members of the Avenger team take time out to rescue some passengers stuck in a bus, apparently the alien soldiers took a little break from the assault during this; it just got sillier and sillier - the aliens would patiently wait to attack the Avengers one at a time, and every time an Avenger was about to be overwhelmed by the aliens, another team member just happened to swoop in and save them; it went on and on like this - the Avengers suffer nothing more than scratches despite plummeting from buildings and crashing airplanes.  Besides ignoring the laws of physics and logic, I thought they didn't use the potential of the feuding brothers (Loki and Thor) to any interesting degree, and there was minimal character development in general.  I also found it disturbing that the governing council Nick Fury meets with are treated with utter contempt (because the outcome is always better if all decisions are made by soldiers and the duly elected representatives are silenced). Plus there's not even a whiff of romance, which of course surprised and disappointed me. Not a bad movie, but it suffered from most of the ills that I expected, meaning that its target audience of fan boys were delighted, me, not so much.

The Five Year Engagement - I had the opposite reaction to this movie - I hadn't planned to see it because I heard some grumbling about it being anti-feminst and generally crude and not that funny; but I went with a couple of friends and was pleasantly surprised - they managed to avoid a few rom-com cliches, and the dialog was generally witty; the ending was actually a bit surprising as well. It didn't change my life, but it was an enjoyable movie experience.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

WCU commencement

The commencement speaker at Matt's graduation was named Michael Brune; he's the Executive Director of the Sierra Club and a West Chester alum. The motto of the Club is "Explore-Enjoy-Protect" and he used that to frame his speech - he did a great job of applying it to life in general. Turns out, it's good advice for people of any age. I wish I had a transcript of it!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Minority birth rate

I thought this was an interesting story, but it took on new significance when Bill Maher happened to discuss it on his show when Joel Stein was a guest (promoting his new book, Man Made). JS pointed out that the figure is misleading, because mixed race people are counted as non-whites - he suggests that "we" (whites) should get "half" the credit for them.  He played it for laughs, but it's basically true.

Minority Birth Rate Now Surpasses Whites In US, Census Shows

WASHINGTON — For the first time, according to 2011 census estimates, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half the children born in the U.S
. . . As a whole, the nation's minority population continues to rise, following a higher-than-expected Hispanic count in the 2010 census. Minorities increased 1.9 percent to 114.1 million, or 36.6 percent of the total U.S. population, lifted by prior waves of immigration that brought in young families and boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years.
But a recent slowdown in the growth of the Hispanic and Asian populations is shifting notions on when the tipping point in U.S. diversity will come – the time when non-Hispanic whites become a minority. After 2010 census results suggested a crossover as early as 2040, demographers now believe the pivotal moment may be pushed back several years when new projections are released in December.
The annual growth rates for Hispanics and Asians fell sharply last year to just over 2 percent, roughly half the rates in 2000 and the lowest in more than a decade. The black growth rate stayed flat at 1 percent.
. . . Of the 30 large metropolitan areas showing the fastest Hispanic growth in the previous decade, all showed slower growth in 2011 than in the peak Hispanic growth years of 2005-2006, when the construction boom attracted new migrants to low-wage work. 
Pointing to a longer-term decline in immigration, demographers believe the Hispanic population boom may have peaked.

. . . William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the census data, noted that government debates over immigration enforcement may now be less pressing, given slowing growth. "The current congressional and Supreme Court interest in reducing immigration – and the concerns especially about low-skilled and undocumented Hispanic immigration – represent issues that could well be behind us," he said.
Minorities made up roughly 2.02 million, or 50.4 percent of U.S. births in the 12-month period ending July 2011. That compares with 37 percent in 1990.
In all, 348 of the nation's 3,143 counties, or 1 in 9, have minority populations across all age groups that total more than 50 percent. In a sign of future U.S. race and ethnic change, the number of counties reaching the tipping point increases to more than 690, or nearly 1 in 4, when looking only at the under age 5 population.
According to the latest data, the percentage growth of Hispanics slowed from 4.2 percent in 2001 to 2.5 percent last year. Their population growth would have been even lower if it weren't for their relatively high fertility rates – seven births for every death. The median age of U.S. Hispanics is 27.6 years.
Births actually have been declining for both whites and minorities as many women postponed having children during the economic slump. But the drop since 2008 has been larger for whites, who have a median age of 42. The number of white births fell by 11.4 percent, compared with 3.2 percent for minorities, according to Kenneth Johnson, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire.
Asian population increases also slowed, from 4.5 percent in 2001 to about 2.2 percent. Hispanics and Asians still are the two fastest-growing minority groups, making up about 16.7 percent and 4.8 percent of the U.S. population, respectively.
Blacks, who comprise about 12.3 percent of the population, have increased at a rate of about 1 percent each year. Whites have increased very little in recent years.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Perfectly said


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Drugs and face eating zombies

This article made a big impression on me and I quoted it to several people in the following weeks.  Basically, there is no evidence that this guy's "cannibalism" was caused by drugs - as with most of these stories, the real issue is mental health, but the drug angle always gets the press coverage.

"The Dumb and Dangerous Anti-Drug Propaganda in the Miami Zombie Story"

By Kristen Gwynne, AlterNet
Rarely does a story excite the media as much as a scary drug story -- a person supposedly crazed and made violent by some mysterious concoction. The problem is these stories, often hugely hysterical, are rarely true, and spread dangerous misinformation about drugs, which is surely the case with the so-called "Miami Zombie."
Media outlets are reporting that Rudy Eugene, a.k.a. the "Miami Zombie," who chewed a man’s face off (and even ate his eyeballs) did so because he was "overdosing" on bath salts, "a new potent form of LSD," and maybe also cocaine. These reports are based entirely on speculation by police spokesmen and media excited to fan the flames of fear in Miami. No toxicology tests were performed, no drug paraphernalia found on the scene.

Bath salts are not “the new LSD,” and calling them the new LSD is propaganda for the media to gobble up. Bath salts and LSD have almost nothing in common chemically, and there is no hard evidence (outside of one police spokesman's speculation) that Rudy Eugene was high on anything. Not only are his statements not supported by science, they are at odds with common sense.

But the media love a good drug scare story, so they’re repeating the statements of one Miami cop, Armando Aguilar. Here are some of his statements:
ABC News: Armando Aguilar, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, who has been in contact with the officer who killed Eugene, says the similarities between this and other recent cases involving "bath salts" are striking. "The cases are similar minus a man eating another. People taking off their clothes. People suddenly have super human strength," says Aguilar. "They become violent and they are burning up for the inside. Their organs are reaching a level that most would die. By the time police approach them they are a walking dead person.”
WSVN-TV: Police said the attacker may have likely been overdosing on a new potent form of LSD. "What's happening is whenever we see that a person has taken all of his clothes off and has become violent, it's indicative of this excited delirium that's caused by overdose of drugs," said Armando Aguilar of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police.
CBS Miami: “I have a message for whoever is selling it out there,” said Aguilar. “You can be arrested for murder if you are selling this (new) LSD to people, unsuspecting people on the street and somebody ends up dying as a result you will be charged with murder.”
In addition to Aguilar, the media has added an emergency physician to the dialogue, someone whose medical knowledge does not include drug reactions. ABC News (and other media) quotes Dr. Paul Adams, a doctor at the Jackson Memorial Rider Trauma Center in Miami:
"You can call it the new LSD. It's a recreational drug. They [patients] seem to be unaware of their surroundings. They are not rational, very aggressive and are stronger than they usually are. In the emergency room it usually takes four to five people to control them, and we have had a couple of people breaking out of restraints."
To tackle the misinformation one step at a time:

To use the words bath salts and LSD interchangeably is completely inaccurate: A real drug expert, Nathan Messer of the drug information organization DanceSafe.org, explained to AlterNet the difference between bath salts (which typically contain new synthetic cathinones like MDPV) and LSD, a psychedelic tryptamine. 
“MDPV has almost none of of the same hallucinogenic/psychedelic properties, activates different receptors in the brain, and is more closely associated with amphetamines in terms of activity and effects,” said Messer. “It also has a very short duration of around an hour. They may be saying it's like LSD because in high doses or after long binges it can cause symptoms very similar to amphetamine psychosis, which include auditory and visual hallucinations. It should be noted, however, that these sorts of hallucinations are nothing like those reported by users of LSD or other tryptamines.”

LSD is a relatively benign substance that, while also occasionally linked to erratic behavior, also shows great therapeutic benefits. LSD has been proven to assist in curing alcoholism, depression and anxiety, debilitating cluster headaches, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other ailments. There is little or no evidence that LSD produces dramatic aberrant behavior. 

One problem in drug hysteria, or even in situations when there is medical harm taking drugs, is that unscrupulous dealers are often producing and selling drugs that are cut with other chemicals, and may have little in common with pure forms of drugs. This is especially true when one form of a drug is made illegal, and whomever is creating this stuff in labs makes up some new combination and throws it out on the street. In other rare cases people do have strong medical reactions to various drugs, not unlike when people are allergic to seemingly benign substances like peanuts. The use of the term "excited delirium" is noteworthy in the Miami case. Excited delirium can be a phrase police use to justify force. But the term is not a medically recognized condition.  

Bath salts-related calls to poison control centers have spiked over the past year, and the public needs to be concerned with some of the reported side effects; still it is unclear under what circumstances they arise. Synthesized in the late ‘60s and popularized in recent years, bath salts were legal until the Drug Enforcement Agency enacted a temporary ban on them last year.

To get around the ban, the illegal ingredients are being replaced by other chemicals so the stuff can be sold in stores. Basically, we don’t even know what’s in bath salts, which are not regulated even when branded because they are marked “not for human consumption” -- nor do we know very much about how they work. But the total ban, which will likely be broadened to encompass synthetic marijuana and other “new drugs,” will only make research that could provide crucial information more difficult. Of the thousands who have tried bath salts, there have been relatively few incidents remotely like this one.

Drug scare stories, however, keep us afraid. It's likely that Rudy Eugene was suffering from mental illness, even if he might also have been on drugs. Horrible situations we don’t understand are easiest to blame on drugs we don’t know much about. It makes the source of violence a substance that we can simply try to do away with and ban. It is not homelessness, poverty, mental illness, that causes the violent break, but rather bath salts, LSD, speed, and coke. As Jacob Sullum at Reasonpointed out, years ago, we would have blamed it all on weed.
Kristen Gwynne covers drugs at AlterNet. She graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism and psychology.


Sunday, May 06, 2012

Effing Mad Men