Fire at a black church in Charlotte, NC is ruled arson

Posted by Sappho on June 24th, 2015 filed in Race

Crap. Just crap.

On another note, Southern born and raised conservative blogger Rod Dreher has joined the opposition to the Confederate battle flag.

Liberal Yankees didn’t do this to the Confederate battle flag. Dylann Roof did. Look at that picture if you want to know who finally drove this flag from public life. That young man revered the Confederate flag and invested it with his devotion to white supremacy. He murdered nine black men and women in a Bible study, out of loyalty to what that flag represented to him. Maybe the flag represents something more noble to you. It is impossible for many of us to see the nobility through the blood stains on the floor of the Mother Emanuel AME, and through the curtain of strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Like Josh Marshall, I’m surprised at how quickly the tide seems to be turning in Southern Republican attitudes toward the Confederate flag. On the one hand, the arson at the church in Charlotte makes me fear Dylann Roof copycats. On the other hand, as Josh Marshall points out,

As a distinct but obviously related point, purely as a matter of incentives, can we get the message out to nutball racists and similar monsters that no, your horrific race massacre will not trigger a race war. We hear this line again and again and I know at some level it’s more a statement than an actual prediction. But no, your mass murder will not trigger a race war. We now sadly have enough examples to have statistically significant data to confirm that your race massacre will not trigger your race war. In fact, I think that Dylann Roof’s attack will likely be remembered, for better or worse, as much for this watershed as for the deaths of the innocents he killed.

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Charleston thoughts

Posted by Sappho on June 24th, 2015 filed in Race

I have waited a week to post about this topic, not so much because I’m still not fully recovered from the cough from hell (though I do still need my inhaler), as because I felt the need to have my first conversations on Facebook, among friends. And I’m still going to turn comments off on this post (people who want to respond can post on their own blogs and send trackbacks if they want).

We’ve seen a horrific terrorist hate crime. And it’s not possible for me to separate this act from the whole #BlackLivesMatter conversation that has been going on ever since Trayvon Martin’s death. Still less so now that we have Dylan Roof’s manifesto saying that he was radicalized precisely by Trayvon Martin’s death.

There’s a certain messiness to the #BlackLivesMatter discussion, as we move from one report to another of an unarmed black man (or sometimes a lightly armed black man, like the mentally ill man in Ferguson who ambled toward police with a knife and got shot, or sometimes an unarmed black woman) who gets killed by police, or killed by some civilian who is either taking on a quasi-police role (George Zimmerman taking his neighborhood watch duties to the point of pursuing Trayvon Martin with a gun), or who claims to be acting in self-defense, either at home (someone bangs on the wrong door after a car accident or some other mishap), or in public (Michael Dunn, who insisted that in the midst of his argument about loud music, he totally saw a gun). There’s a larger pattern here, but not all the cases individually fitted to the pattern are alike.
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Round up on anti-vax sentiment, the Eurasian steppe, pink, and other things

Posted by Sappho on June 18th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch

On a personal note, I’m an aunt again! No details, to preserve the privacy of the family and especially the child involved (and remember, I’m one of nine children, who live all over the place). Also, I’m still recovering from that nagging bronchitis, but am back to being able to sing again, do my morning exercises again at reduced reps, and climb the stairs to the fifth floor again (though I still need the inhaler several times a day). That said, I’m going to give you a link post today (you’ll have to wait for a thinking post).

Statistician Emma Pierson, at Obsession with Regression, on So Maybe I Am (Partly) An Affirmative Action Admit.

Colin, at Violent Metaphors, on No, Seriously, Don’t Politicize Anti-Vax Sentiment.

DNA Explained on a DNA Testing Strategy for Adoptees and People with Uncertain Parentage.

Dienekes Pontikos on new data from ancient Eurasians showing evidence of migration from the Eurasian steppe to Europe.

Jamelle Bouie writes that Hillary Clinton Should Go Full Nerd and show voters “her authentic, geeky self.”

In fairness, there are reasons people may not like works in which all the fictional characters are awful, besides a desire for simple morality plays. And I haven’t seen Goodfellas myself, and so have no opinion on it. But, whether you agree with Scott Lemieux’s taste in movies or not, he’s amusing in Good Art is Not a Self-Help Manual.

So Berlatsky concedes that GoodFellas is not presenting us with role models, even if Scorsese assumes that the audience can draw the conclusion that robbing and killing people for a living is immoral on its own. He even seems to concede that Scorsese sees this conception of masculinity and the horrible behavior of the characters as being linked. But where is the constructive alternative? Why can’t this movie about Brooklyn mobsters tell us how to live?

The post is more than a month old, but as I never linked it at the time, I’ll link it now. My college friend Andrew Shields explains why “The more specific you are, the more general it’ll be.”

Echidne of the Snakes on Pink Thoughts. Or The Weak Version of the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis.

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Ideas Whose Time Has Come?

Posted by WiredSisters on June 14th, 2015 filed in Bipolar Disorder, Economics, Health and Medicine, Iraq War, Peace Testimony

My mother, of blessed memory, had a way of formulating problems that I have always liked:

What do we need?
What do we have too much of?
How do we turn what we have too much of into what we need?

Which is probably how the ancient alchemists got their start, having too much lead and not enough gold. Today, of course, we have a much better grasp of chemistry and physics, and can actually come up with ways to transmute dog excrement into power tools, should we choose to do so. Unfortunately, many of the things we now have too much of, and a lot of the things we need, are immaterial in nature, and thus not susceptible to chemical solutions. But it’s still a useful approach.

For instance, take drug dealers. Please. We definitely have too many of them, and merely taking the current cohort of them off the street and locking them up doesn’t help much. A new cohort is likely to replace them almost instantaneously, and the ones we lock up will merely move their operations into their new habitation, where (informed consumers tell me) drugs are as readily available as they ever were on the street.

So instead of locking the drug dealers up, how about finding them a new, socially useful line of work, utilizing many of the same skills they have already perfected? Which requires looking at the other side of the equation: what do we need? Among the things we need is some way to make mental patients (and also people with highly contagious physical diseases such as TB) take their medications. Who is better qualified to market pharmaceuticals than these street corner entrepreneurs? And (even better) who is better qualified to tinker with the official versions to make them fun to take? A version of Haldol that makes the patient happy and energetic, for instance—who could ask for more?

There are several problems with the current crop of psychoactive drugs.
Unlike the standard pharmaceutical model, in which the patient feels bad, takes a med, and feels better, the average mental patient (especially but not exclusively people on the upswing of bipolar disorder) may feel absolutely terrific, or at least reasonably okay, and is then required to take a med which will make him feel, at best, blah, and at worst, really awful.
Most psychoactive meds work on only some of the people with a particular diagnosis. There is no med that is universally effective in treating a particular mental health problem.
There are some patients (regardless of diagnosis) on whom none of the standard meds works at all.
Some medications work for a while, on some patients, and then stop working.
It’s really hard to calculate an appropriate dosage of any particular med for any particular patient, and this calculation may have to be repeated when, for whatever reason, the patient’s needs change (among the reasons for this are hormonal fluctuations such as those caused by puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, other medical problems, and just mysterious stuff out of the blue.)

Under the circumstances, it’s amazing that ANY patients comply with their medication regimen, and that any prescriber gets the medication and the dosage right for any length of time at all. So I’m not implying that this is entirely a marketing problem. But making psychoactive meds that create a mild euphoria, and having them marketed by people who have spent their most productive years having customers beat a path to their door, would certainly help a lot. In addition, of course, it gives a criminal population a socially useful way to earn a living.

So let’s look at another social problem: guns. More specifically, the NRA. The first thing we need to find out is the limits of their advocacy. Is there any kind of weapon they believe should not be available from willing sellers to willing buyers, anywhere in the world? Do they, for instance, have any problem with urban street gangs in the US having WMDs? Tactical nukes? How about street gangs in the rest of the world, like El Salvador or Syria, for instance? Why only street gangs—why not more official purchasers, such as militias? If, as I suspect, their aspirations have no limit, then why do we bother having (and, more to the point, why are we as taxpayers, supporting) a governmental defense complex, when the private sector is willing and eager to take on the job, and can, of course, do it much more efficiently? This has the added advantage that those taxpayers, like me and, I suspect, many of the readers of this post, who object to paying for weapons with their tax money, will be taken out of the process.

On the other hand, let us suppose that the NRA’s aspirations are relatively modest, and that they are looking purely at the domestic and individual market. Can their skills be directed to a socially useful purpose? At least in large cities, I suspect they can. Here in Chicago, for instance, we have between ten and twenty shootings a week, with varying degrees of fatality. And many of the victims are utterly unconnected to whatever conflict generates the shooting, except for the purely geographical connection of being in the wrong place (which may even be behind the four walls of their own unfortunately located home) at the wrong time. Why does this happen? Because many of the people doing the shooting can’t hit what they think they’re aiming at. Here’s where the NRA comes in—they regularly teach classes in gun use and gun safety for various community groups all over the country. Why not on the South Side of Chicago, and equivalent places in other cities? Gun safety (which many anti-gun activists consider an oxymoron anyway) would not be a major part of the curriculum. But accuracy—hitting what you think you’re aiming at—would be the major point of the classes. Presumably, this wouldn’t reduce the total number of shootings. It might even increase the number of fatalities. But it would significantly reduce the toll of cheerleaders, three-year-olds, and real estate agents getting shot by accident. Probably most of the people getting shot would, from the point of view of society in general, deserve it. And, as many criminal justice studies indicate, many of the shooters would eventually encounter their own karmic reward.

And if you like this approach to solving social problems, I’ve got a great proposal for dealing with famine in Ireland…

Red Emma

PS Sorry about your cough, Sappho.  I’ve got one too, plan to have it looked at (listened to, more appropriately) sometime this week. Probably got wished on us by the Chinese.

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Update on the cough from hell

Posted by Sappho on June 11th, 2015 filed in Daily Life

I saw the doctor last Friday, and got an antibiotic and an inhaler. I didn’t really want the antibiotic, but she said I did still have a bit of a fever after a week, so, maybe I needed it. The inhaler has been a great boon. It makes the difference between impossible coughing fits and just a low grade cough and fatigue. But the cough is still dragging on, so I haven’t been able to do a lot besides work. Plus the dog is sick. He needed a precancerous growth removed, and now is wearing the Cone of Shame, and needs to be carried up and down stairs. (At least, Joel says the dog needs to be carried up and down stairs. The dog says he doesn’t. This makes for a bit of a conflict around walk time, as we are on the second floor.)

I did, despite all of this, manage to finish reading The Three-Body Problem, a work of Chinese science fiction that connects the Cultural Revolution and an alien invasion, and various oddities of physics. Now I’m reading The Goblin Emperor. (I tentatively voted my Hugo ballot already based on reading the beginning of everything, but plan to adjust my votes after reading more, before the end of July.)

Also, on Tuesday Joel and I went to the Meeting of the Minds. I’m not, right now, writing up everything I heard there, but I’ll note that at one session, where I heard about a program in which mental health professionals ride with the police and help the cops work better with calls that involve mental illness, the questions were divided between the “we could use cops better trained in mental illness” questions and the “could you cops please move homeless people along from places where we don’t want them” questions. Even at a mental health conference, some people’s reaction to homeless mentally ill people is frustration that they aren’t somehow helping themselves better.

On a positive note, that session had some good stories about getting people back to their families and the help they needed.

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The cough from hell, and more Duggar thoughts

Posted by Sappho on June 5th, 2015 filed in Daily Life, News and Commentary

For the past week, I have had what started out as a normal, if very tiring, cold or flu, but for days now has been the dry, unproductive cough from hell. I have to spend all day constantly supplying my throat with a soothing supply of water, soup, broth, honey, cough drops, and hard candies, to ward off coughing attacks, which, if they start, will bring up nothing, but proceed with greater intensity until I feel as if I am going to vomit. This makes it a bit hard to do anything beyond work, go home, and rest (I’m still able to work, since I can keep the cough at bay with constant effort). I think I am probably going to call the doctor today.

With this going on, I’ve been impaired in my regular exercise (exertion brings on the cough, and I’m not even doing my usual climb up and down four flights of stairs twice a day at work, though I do still walk the dog), and Wolof practice (talking also brings on the cough). I did, though, manage to go to Toastmasters, getting the special speaking free accommodation of being Timekeeper, and communicating only with cards and gestures.

That personal note aside, I’ve still been reading and thinking about the Duggars. First, thanks to Irene for pointing out this comment suggesting that the statute of limitations in Arkansas might not be the barrier that many think it is. I’d have thanked you sooner, Irene, had I not been preoccupied with the cough from hell.
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State of Fear

Posted by WiredSisters on May 29th, 2015 filed in California Wildfires, Climate Change and Desertification, Environment

I’m in the process of reading Michael Crichton’s State of Fear¸ but I find it so unpleasant I can’t swallow it at one sitting, but have to consume it in small pieces throughout the week. Crichton made his literary reputation, such as it is, with Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, and most of his stuff is pretty good techno-thriller, interesting and not quite mindless. But in State of Fear, he is taking himself too seriously as a public intellectual, filling up the plot with cardboard characters straight out of Pilgrim’s Progress and the morality plays, and worse still, tacking on to the novel itself a couple of essays on the questionable validity of techno-journalistic conjecture and the politics of environmental doomsaying. Read the rest of this entry »

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Josh Duggar

Posted by Sappho on May 24th, 2015 filed in News and Commentary

Way back when, I actually started this blog to talk about the crisis in the Catholic Church concerning priests being found to have sexually abused minors, and bishops being found to have covered the matter up and recycled the priests. (One of the most notorious of those priests, as it happened, got recycled to the church my mother-in-law attended, where my husband had gone when he was younger.) Time passed, and I wandered on to other blog topics, but, given my original focus, I can’t completely ignore the scandal about the Duggar family. So, here are a couple of the links that I’ve found most thoughtful and useful:

What You Need to Know about the Josh Duggar Police Report:

I’ve gone back and forth about whether I should blog about this. This is not a gossip blog. I blog about weighty issues, and when I do blog about scandals like this I try to do so in a way that makes larger points, rather than just scoring cheap shots. That said, I’ve decided to go ahead and blog about this for several reasons. For one thing, I want you to have a reliable place to get good information (there’s still incorrect information circling out there). For another thing, I do think there are larger points to be made here. I’ll start by summarizing the police report….

And Libby Anne proceeds to give a good summary of the police report and make good points about how families and churches should handle cases of sexual abuse by minor teenagers.

Josh Duggar Thoughts: QuadCityPat, a professional child abuse investigator, Storifies his thoughts on the case.

I started to write about some of the less thoughtful reactions I have seen to this news, but I decided the post was turning into Someone Is Wrong on the Internet, and that it was better to highlight the thoughtful and informative responses than the ones that suck. Suffice to say, there has been a lot of suckage to be found.

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A squirrel round up

Posted by Sappho on May 20th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, Whimsies

Here is a post by John Scalzi that includes a photoshopped image of a squirrel riding a Pomeranian.

Squirrels and birds can talk to each other. Evidently, Felix Salten’s novel about the squirrel Perri is actually a documentary.

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What actually happened, as best I can determine, with Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2015 filed in Genealogy

Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook shared a story reporting that AncestryDNA had turned over customer DNA to the police without a warrant. This story turns out to be false. But, for reasons that I’ll make clear when I tell you what actually did happen, I found it tricky to figure out just what AncestryDNA had or hadn’t done. Here, as best I can tell (with links) is the truth of the story.

First, a bit of background.
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Links, the “it’s not so easy staying 100% positive 100% of the time when you have freaking cancer” edition

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, Health and Medicine

I see that it has been a week since I posted here. That’s because I gave my fourth Toastmasters speech yesterday, and spent my free, non-work time practicing the speech instead of blogging. I do have some ideas for posts, but more ideas than time to write them at the moment, so I’ll give you a few links, instead, so you know that I’m not dead yet.

I’m not dead yet, in part, because, more than three years out from my cancer diagnosis, I am still in remission. Some others are not so lucky. One of those others, Kevin Drum, is currently under treatment for multiple myeloma (the illness that killed my father), and, in his honor, Jim Henley, who went through cancer treatment more recently than I did, is doing some cancer blogging. Here is Jim Henley’s Quora post on how to support someone with cancer, which I warmly second. Among other things from that post:

3. Offer to do specific, time-consuming things that will ease the lives of patients and caregivers. Then do them. Babysitting. Dog-walking. Cat-feeding. Transportation. Oh yes transportation. A lot of people don’t realize that a typical radiation patient has to go to the facility at least once a day for 2 to 6 weeks. That’s 10-30 trips someone has to make, and it shouldn’t be the patient, and the patient’s primary caregiver – if she’s lucky enough to have one – can use a break.

Yes, yes, yes! Transportation is really useful when you’re going through treatment for cancer. Radiation is an every day event, and chemotherapy, though less frequent, is absolutely exhausting.

Just as a lot of people don’t realize that a typical radiation patient has to go to a facility once a day for 2 to 6 weeks, a lot of people may not know that the American Cancer Society offers rides to treatment for those who can’t drive themselves. So, if you know someone with cancer, offering transportation can be one of the best ways to help (and I’m also forever grateful to the friends who offered pet care and freed my husband to be with me), and if you don’t currently know anyone going through treatment for cancer, but are looking for volunteer work that will make a difference, the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program is a worthy place to volunteer.

How does the program work?

Volunteer drivers donate their time and the use of their cars so that patients can receive the life-saving treatments they need. If you or your loved one needs a ride to treatment, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to be matched with a volunteer, or enter your zip code below to check for programs in your area.

I also second Jim Henley’s thoughts on

OK, that’s actually more writing than I thought I was going to do, when I started this post. Non-cancer related links are below the fold.
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Support Your Local Police State

Posted by WiredSisters on May 7th, 2015 filed in Daily Life, Democracy, History, Law, Moral Philosophy, Race, Torture

You might want to google “police history” before reading the rest of this post. There are a bunch of good books and articles on the subject out there, and what they mainly tell you is that the wild-eyed Marxist radicals who usually get dismissed as overwrought ideologues are, if anything, pulling their punches in characterizing the police as lackeys of the ruling classes. The whole idea of having a police force was invented by a ruling class to keep the lower orders in their place. At the time, in 18th-century Britain, there was no racial element to it, unless you count anti-Irish prejudice. But there were lots of poor people who could not possibly survive within the limits set for them by employers, landlords, church, and state. For them, as for poor people and especially homeless people today, survival required lawbreaking, because the law made their lives illegal. Read the rest of this entry »


Noah Millman on Africa

Posted by Sappho on May 7th, 2015 filed in Africa news and blogwatch

And, because today’s my day for linking Noah Millman, here’s another of his posts, on why Africa Matters.

Africa is the largest place on earth that it is possible, most of the time, to ignore. It won’t be forever. The journalistic cliché is that, as the 20th was the American century, the 21st will be the Chinese. But there is a plausible case to be made that, within a few short decades, we’ll be talking instead about the African century.

The reason is simple arithmetic. Demographically, Africa is expanding at a rate unmatched by any other remotely comparable region. Of the 25 countries with the highest total fertility rates, all but two (Afghanistan and East Timor) are African—and included in that list are some of Africa’s largest and most populous countries, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo….

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I’m not in love. So don’t forget it …

Posted by Sappho on May 7th, 2015 filed in Sexuality

Noah Millman writes, in Tell Him, Tell Him, Tell Him, Tell Him Right Now, about the Modern-Love-contest-winning essay

… about a woman who is so terrified of losing what little she has, romantically-speaking, that she dare not tell the truth about her feelings.

I’ve sometimes toyed with the idea of making the Big Master Post (or series of posts), that will tell you all exactly what I think about sexual ethics and advice, and what the good life really is, where sexual and romantic relationships are concerned. I never do, because every time I sit down to do it, it all becomes complicated. What’s defensible in secular terms isn’t the same, in important ways, as what’s defensible in faith-based terms. What should be legal isn’t the same as what’s right. What I can easily, in secular terms and without any appeal to Bible or any faith tradition, say is flat out wrong isn’t the same as what may sometimes work, but often doesn’t, and may on the whole not be prudent or wise.

But I’m fairly sure that, if I did write that post, or that series of posts, a big part of it would be two rules: Don’t do what predictably makes yourself unhappy. And don’t do what predictably makes other people unhappy. Think of it as a version of Hillel’s famous questions: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I?”

What I love about Noah Millman’s reflections on sexual and romantic relationships, when he does write about them (mostly he’s more of a literary blogger these days), is the fact that he seems to write with a grasp of the value of both those questions. So many people don’t. And so we get, either “war of the sexes” arguments in which it’s each person’s business to look out for herself, and it’s unreasonable for her to ask any regard for her feelings and perspective, because each person’s just out for what she wants, any way she can get it, or else arguments that suppose she can expect the other person to be a mind reader, and know that of course a person’s going to feel led on in such-and-such a situation. Millman hangs onto both points, sometimes drawing out one, and sometimes another, as the case requires. Here it’s “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

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The flames of the Tigers are lighting the road to Berlin

Posted by Sappho on May 5th, 2015 filed in Books, Music

This year’s Hugo Awards have proved more controversial than usual, with the sweep of several categories of Hugo Award nominations by two slates known as Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies.

I don’t mean this to be a post about Puppies. If you want to know more about puppies, you can check out the blog of, well, almost any science fiction author right now, or Google “Hugo Awards 2015″ and look at all the Puppy posts and articles. But the debate about Puppies raised a meta-Puppies point that interests me: the relationship between politics and art.

You see, two things are true, at the same time. The first thing: Art has always been, and always will be, political, and in the sense in which “politics” is being discussed here, politics can’t be extracted from art. The second thing: What Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns, and Money likes to call aesthetic Stalinism – preachy message fiction where the message overwhelms the story, and preachy reviews that evaluate books, movies, music, or other art solely on their political implications – is really, really annoying.

I have been trying to think of how to write about this, and finding that the post in my head kept growing way too long, as I ran through all of the examples and qualifiers that I wanted. Then I ran across three other people’s posts that said different aspects of what I wanted to say, so I’m going to link them, and make my post much shorter.
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Oh, the fox went out on a chilly night …

Posted by Sappho on April 29th, 2015 filed in News and Commentary

Here is a fox, in the vicinity of Chernobyl, making a bacon sandwich.

On a more serious note, Cheryl Rofer, at Nuclear Diner, explains why the forest fire near Chernobyl is a threat only to those in the path of the fire.

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Ebola NOT still going strong in Liberia

Posted by Sappho on April 27th, 2015 filed in Health and Medicine

The last confirmed case of Ebola in Liberia died on 27 March and was buried on 28 March. You wouldn’t know this fact, though, to look at“>this post at the American Thinker. In the post, Sierra Rayne makes a simple mistake. She links a graph of Ebola cases at the CDC web site, but misinterprets the graph. The graph is real. And it really does show a continuing linear increase, in Liberia, after the last confirmed case died. But go look at the actual CDC page to see what the graph is tracking. It is not tracking total cases of Ebola. It is tracking total suspected, probable, and confirmed cases of Ebola. Liberia, as well it should, is still actively looking for cases of Ebola. After all, it has only been one month since the last case was buried, so two full incubation periods haven’t passed yet. And, given that Sierra Leone and Guinea border on Liberia and still have Ebola cases, and given, further, that there is the possibility of sexual transmission beyond the normal incubation period, Liberia may still want to continue more than usual monitoring even if and when it reaches that 42 day mark. Now, given that other illnesses cause diarrhea and vomiting, it’s expected that, during this period, there will continue to be suspected cases of Ebola in Liberia. It would be irresponsible of the doctors in Liberia not to have checked out some people, during this time period, for possible Ebola. But, unless and until we see a new confirmed case of Ebola in Liberia, Ebola is still going strong in Guinea, and still going (but waning) in Sierra Leone, but we are not currently seeing new Ebola cases in Liberia, and haven’t seen any for about a month. Here is the latest WHO situation report, with the full details. There will be another report in two days.

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Looking at mtDNA and Y DNA lines in my genealogy

Posted by Sappho on April 24th, 2015 filed in DNA, Genealogy

Autosomal DNA tells much more about your ancestry than mtDNA or Y DNA, since you inherit autosomal DNA from all your grandparents. But that same limitation of mtDNA and Y DNA, of course, is their main area of interest: they can tell you something about where your ancestors on one particular line came from (even if it’s just where they came from thousands of years ago). And it turns out that, through looking at the results of close cousins, you can sometimes get mtDNA or Y DNA lines of people other than your parents. Here is what I’ve been able to learn about mine:
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Posted by WiredSisters on April 21st, 2015 filed in Family, History, Law, Marriage, Sexuality

Marriage has been evolving for a long time, as Stephanie Coonts (“The Way We Never Were”) points out in her thorough analysis. In my lifetime, it seems to have been doing it at top speed. My mother (born in the middle of a string of 8 children, in 1915) was the only one of her mother’s 4 daughters who never got divorced. Her oldest sister (“the flapper,” my mother called her) did it while it still had the makings of scandal. That is, she dropped out of high school to get married, had a child, and then got divorced under cloudy circumstances that involved her husband’s family getting custody of the child. She then decided to finish high school where she had started—a fairly progressive public high school in a Boston suburb, or they never would have let her come back at all. But they allowed it only if she promised never to have any social or personal contact with any of her fellow students—just go to class, turn in her work, and go home. I’m not quite sure whether that was because she had been married (and therefore knew what marriage was all about, which of course her virginal classmates should not know from) or because she had been divorced under some kind of scandalous circumstances. That was, presumably, in the 1920s or maybe early 1930s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Conversations on Race

Posted by WiredSisters on April 15th, 2015 filed in Democracy, Dreams, Guest Blogger, Moral Philosophy, News and Commentary

I’m a liberal. If there were a bumper sticker saying “It’s Not That Simple,” and if I still had a bumper, or a car to attach it to, I would get one. I consider any other proposition short enough to fit on a standard-sized bumper sticker oversimplified. I’m the person at parties off in a corner with the local maverick, trying to out-maverick him (it’s almost always a him.)

So okay, do we need, as so many smart, well-intentioned, and influential people are saying these days, a “national conversation about race”? And if so, how complex does it need to be? And who-all needs to be involved in it? Me, for instance? In a way, I’m a two-fer, because I still have Mr. Wired, and his positions on race issues, in my head, and will enunciate them on request or sometimes even spontaneously. I spent the forty-plus years of our marriage arguing with him about it.

[Given the context of most of people’s racial conversations these days, it might make more sense to have a national conversation about cops. But let’s save that for my next post.] I grew up in the still-segregated South–South Florida, to be exact, which wasn’t quite as segregated as the rest of the state, but still had separate restrooms and drinking fountains and bus station waiting rooms. I’ve spent most of my adult life living in Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in the US. Mr. Wired, on the other hand, used to eat lunch with Martin Luther King, back when he (Mr. Wired, I mean) was a college kid stuffing envelopes for the NAACP in Boston. He hired the first Black salesman for the company he worked for in the middle 1960s. When our foster daughter was considering marriage, Mr. Wired and I agreed that, of the two possible candidates for her hand, we preferred the one with the heavier dose of melanin, because he was also Jewish. (She ended up marrying the other one, who wasn’t, but we get along okay.) His best friend’s wife is biracial. So are our favorite surrogate nephews. Two of my favorite clients are African-American. So was one of the people in my law school study group (for those unacquainted with the structure and mores of the law school study group, that’s a pretty close relationship—as close as many relatives, anyway. And, by the way, I almost certainly have a bunch of Afro-Caribean relatives, from my father’s family’s sojourn in Jamaica.) As a matter of principle, when we moved to Chicago, we moved into one of its few integrated neighborhoods, where I still live today. So okay, our hearts were/are in the right place.

But Mr. Wired believed very strongly that the only way to overcome the evils of racism was to become color-blind. He liked to point to the fact that, back in the day (the days of medieval England, specifically) blond hair and blue eyes were the mark of the Saxon underlings, and now blonds tend to be privileged in all sorts of ways. Somehow or other, in the intervening four hundred years, that particular prejudice just somehow disappeared. His theory was that it disappeared because people stopped talking or thinking about it. So he wanted to “ban the box”—not the box indicating a felony conviction in one’s past, but the box indicating one’s race or ethnicity. On principle, he refused to check that box on any form he filled out. But then again, he was a computer programmer, accustomed to dealing with entities that paid attention only to what the user told them to attend to. If something isn’t on the paper, it isn’t a problem. As a lawyer, I believe the only way to deal with a problem is to put it down on paper and then tackle it, and specifically that the only way to overcome discrimination is to document it. (This means, of course, that once we recognize something as a Problem, the statistical incidence of it will appear to rise, from better documentation, for quite a while before it goes down from better behavior.) That was our eternal argument.

But getting back to the “national conversation” conversation, maybe the real issue is who should do the talking—the well-intentioned white folks who want to be let off the hook for lynching and Jim Crow and cop misconduct, or the people who have actually had to live with the downside of race for the last several centuries. As a Jew, I fervently deny that any of my ancestors had anything to do with crucifying Jesus (see my last post.) But as a descendant of rednecks on my paternal grandmother’s side, I almost certainly have some ancestors who took part in lynchings. I know I had ancestors on both sides in the Civil War. Am I looking for a certificate of “non-racist whiteness”? Not hardly.

Once again I enunciate Mr. Wired’s point of view. This one, I really like—prejudice is something we’re all born with. We are uncomfortable with and often hostile to people who aren’t like us, whatever that means. It’s as close as I get to believing in original sin. But that doesn’t mean we’re bad people—just that we’re people. What’s immoral is acting on one’s prejudice. That’s discrimination, and it needs to be overcome. So okay, we’re all racist to one degree or another, no big deal. (No, I’m not going to get into the ancient argument over whether people of color can be racist. Let’s just say “prejudiced”, okay?) Do I discriminate? I don’t think so, but I’m open to being proved wrong, and to learning how better to avoid it. And that’s not because I want to be absolved from some kind of guilt, but because that’s how a decent person behaves.

Sometimes the argument gets more complicated. Back when I had no health insurance, I got most of my medical care at Cook County Hospital, most of whose clientele was African-American and Hispanic. Was I condescending by mingling with people of color? Or using resources they needed more than I did? By living in an integrated neighborhood, am I using housing resources they need more than I do, while I could perfectly well move to a whiter and more expensive neighborhood they couldn’t get into?

This all reminds me of the Augustinian and Calvinist moral calculus, which I had occasion to study in college and divinity school—do I try to behave like a decent person so I won’t go to hell when I die, or so my neighbors will think I’m a good person, or is it just possible that I’m doing it because I am at least on good days a decent person?

I think, in fact, that the American ethos is a kind of pop-Calvinism, and that many liberals and ex-liberals worry about being crypto-racists precisely because of that ethos. Paul Samuelson, of whom I generally expect better, once said that “do-gooders” are as selfish as anybody else—they just want to “feel good about themselves” rather than, say, feel good about their bank balances. The novel “Magnificent Obsession,” which was a best-seller in the 1950s or thereabouts, had as its axiom that one should try to do good as covertly as possible, but be as open as possible about one’s faults and misdeeds. I think that’s all pop-Calvinism.

The Jewish ethos works differently, and, I think, better. We don’t care that much why somebody does the right thing, as long as it gets done. And we want those right things to be as public as possible, because they set an example and shape a culture for other people to emulate. In a culture in which everybody flaunts their faults and conceals their virtues, the ordinary person just trying to get along is likely to be led into despair. Who wants to be the only person on the block who gives to the Salvation Army or doesn’t use the n-word in casual conversation? Not only that, without examples to follow, that ordinary person may be utterly clueless about how to do the right thing. The juvenile literature of the Victorian and Edwardian eras is full of Good Examples, sometimes to the point of tedium. But that’s a criticism of style, not content. Judy Blume, Martin Berman-Gorvine, and the other Y.A. writers I like best present lots of Good Examples too, they’re just more subtle about it. We need them. Y.A.s (Young Adults) especially need them. So, getting back to Paul Samuelson, even if he’s right, all he’s really saying is that good people enjoy doing good things and bad people enjoy doing bad things. Duh. Whose world would we rather live in?

And getting back to the issues of race, even if white liberals are mainly trying to be absolved for being the descendants of lynch-mob members, or having used “whites-only” facilities in the past, or even living in all-white suburbs now, if that search for absolution leads them to behave in a less-prejudiced manner, what’s the problem? Sure, they/we could maybe do better. It’s important to be open to learning how to do better. So that’s what the “conversation” should probably cover, on the side of us colorless people. And, even more important, what we maybe need most is to listen to people of color about their experiences and what we could do to improve them.

“The Talk”, for instance—the talk that every parent of a child of color has as soon as the kid is old enough to be viewed as any kind of threat to the larger community—we need to think about that. Parents of girls, regardless of race, may have an easier time doing that, because we have our own version of The Talk, for our daughters. Not about How to Avoid Getting Shot By the Cops, thank heaven, but about How to Avoid Being Raped. In a just world, neither of those Talks would ever have to be given. But in this world, they’re inescapable, and people who have never given (or been given) those Talks need to hear how it feels, and start thinking about what we can do to reduce the necessity for them. If there is to be a national conversation, that’s what it needs to cover.

Red Emma


Wanderer [fiction]

Posted by WiredSisters on April 6th, 2015 filed in Bible study, Historical Jesus, Torture, Yizkor

It was my usual Sunday afternoon visit to my grandfather. He sat by the window of the cluttered, faded West Rogers Park apartment, looking out over the park as a cloud of dust and noise blew toward us from the softball game. I picked up my glass of iced tea from the stack of Yiddish magazines between us, and crunched an ice cube as he said, “Malkeleh, how would you like a free trip to New Jersey next month?” Read the rest of this entry »

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