About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at katerauner.wordpress.com/ She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

Third and Final [?] Phase of America’s Civil War

Phase 1 of America’s Civil War was a horror – the number of soldiers who died from a combination of battle and illness was over 750,000, “far greater than the number of men who perished in all other U.S. wars put together.” Ecstatic Nation

Human beings are complex creatures and many things drove the war, but slavery was at its core – in the new states of the west as well as the old south.

After such a terrible war, the North was willing to turn towards commerce and away from black citizens. Today, we might call the Klu Klux Klan and Jim Crow an insurgency – it certainly was violent enough to qualify.

There was a huge riot in New Orleans, which really turned into a massacre against the black community in 1866, and then there were acts of mob violence against black voters. And in broader Louisiana, you had some of the worst political terror and mob violence committed in all the Reconstruction years, most famously the Colfax massacre of 1873, which was the largest mass killing in American history until 9/11. Isaac Chotiner slate.com

Gradually the violence decreased (though it never disappeared) and a new normalcy settled on the backs of black Americans. Many whites in the defeated South began to “write magnolia-scented history” where Lee was nobler than Grant and Confederates were finer men than Unionists. In an exception to the common view that the victors write history, the South was fairly successful in their efforts. Ecstatic Nation

Phase 2 launched a hundred years later with the Civil Rights Movement– there was more violence but also more progress towards a fair and democratic America. In the mid 1970s, society settled down again – another new normal.

Perhaps we are entering Phase 3 after only forty more years. Continue reading

Is There a Bee in Your Bonnet?

I heard this phrase on a recent cable news show and it struck me as rather old-fashioned for TV

Idioms says

The phrase has been around since the 1500’s… The Old_woman_in_sunbonnet_by_Doris_Ulmannliterary origin is seen in Alexander Douglas’s worked titled ‘Aeneis’ which was published in the year 1513 but it was not exact. In 1790, Reverend Philip Doddridge’s ‘Letters’ cited the phrase as it is used currently.

The post adds that the phrase once seemed specific to women and for men the variation was “bee in your head.” Apparently, as with “author” and “actor” modern English is losing some of its gender distinctions. That’s probably a good thing when it’s not awkward. I’m a volunteer firefighter (not fire woman or fire person!) and a foreman can be a crew leader. Hurray for a living language.

Society on a Crash Course Over Fetal Rights

Extreme prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity due to a combination of organ immaturity and iatrogenic injury. Until now, efforts to extend gestation using extracorporeal systems have achieved limited success.

Here we report the development of a system that incorporates a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus of a lamb via an umbilical cord interface that is maintained within a closed ‘amniotic fluid’ circuit that closely reproduces the environment of the womb. [my emphasis] Nature

There have been several articles about this study – I’ve quoted the abstract. Don’t you love science-y phrases? Extracorporeal systems – so specific. Take a look at the pictures on the link – both creepy and fascinating.

As the authors say, in the past “advances in neonatal intensive care have improved survival and pushed the limits of viability to 22 to 23 weeks of gestation,” but at the cost of complications and permanent disabilities.

This current achievement is amazing – using lamb fetuses, researchers got one to survive and grow with normal lung and brain development. Not all the fetuses did so well – there’s a lot of work to do before this device can be used on humans.

But that’s coming.

That’s the report from science – but what about public policy regarding contraception, women’s rights, and abortion?

This issue has been creeping up on us for decades. The once traditional notion that a fetus became a person when it quickened in the womb (an event that the mother needed no technology to discover) has long since been replaced by various measures of viability with various degrees of scientific support. Such hair-splitting will disappear when an artificial womb is developed – if not from the research quoted above, than from others. And soon.

Science may inform the debate, but it can’t solve our policy problems. Now is the time to discuss what we, as a society, should do. I don’t want to chase the threshold for abortion backwards through pregnancy. All that will do is entrench and enrage existing opinions.

There’s a lot to think about: Continue reading

Cut and Dried

This phrase, which means something is clear and beyond dispute or settled in advance, struck me as another hay farming phrase. After mowing/cutting hay, it is left to dry (moisture content is important, so this step takes skill) before it’s ready to bale.

Wiktionary has my guess in mind, saying the phrase comes from herbs being cut and dried for sale, rather than fresh. I suppose that implies the herbs are stable and not going to change – at least, that’s my guess on how the literal and figurative meanings connect.

The first citation of the expression, which must have already been in use or it wouldn’t make sense to use it this way,

is in a letter to a clergyman in 1710 in which the writer commented that a sermon was “ready cut and dried”, meaning it had been prepared in advance, so lacking freshness and spontaneity. worldwidewords

Many people mishear the standard expression as ‘cut and dry.’ Although this form is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, it is definitely less common in sophisticated writing. The dominant modern usage is “cut and dried.” public.wsu.edu

The Future of Work

gents-in-the-mornings-md

Idling at the coffee house

“At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs.” Description from The Sex Lives of Cannibals.

Troost has to be every parent’s nightmare of fail-to-launch offspring. After receiving a degree in a subject that could lead to a real job, he “chose not to pursue employment in the field for which I had spent many years acquiring knowledge because… it just didn’t seem the right thing to do” and was too much trouble. To fend off collection agencies he raised cash by subletting his apartment and moving in with his mother for a while, and later became a “minimum wage temp.”

Subsequently he moved to Tarawa, a “heat-blasted sliver of coral [at] the end of the world… for two years” for “no particularly good reason.”

The book ambles much as his life did, in a trendy but mocking tone that may drive you crazy. “I regard idling as a virtue,” he writes.

Does Troost point the way to our future? Troost does get to the Pacific island in his second chapter, but it was the first chapter that got me thinking. As automation replaces human labor, how many people will need to build a life from idling?

It’s not as crazy a concern as it may sound. We’ve heard about robots replacing workers in manufacturing for a long time. But one of the largest occupations in America is driving vehicles, and self-driving vehicles are coming, probably first to commercial use. Another big job category is retail sales, but I can check myself out at Walmart – one employee watching over six registers. Amazon is testing a store where you log in with a phone app as you enter, pick up your items, and walk out. The app keeps track and charges your credit card.

I’m old enough to remember when employees pumped gas, now in most states gas is self-serve, which doesn’t seem odd or sad anymore.

Many white collar jobs are endangered too. For example, algorithms and analytics are replacing well-paid legal professionals.

Continue reading

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

HAY Breviarium_Grimani_-_Juni_detailFor many years I owned a hay field, so I can relate to this phrase. If it rains while your “hay is down” the dampness reduces the forage value and even causes mildew and mold. I was lucky to live with dry summers and modern weather forecasts and still got rained on at times.

The origin and meaning come in one neat package:

This proverb is first recorded in John Heywood’s A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, 1546:

Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.

What About Healthcare?

I watched the Republican train wreck of “repeal and replace” while figuratively holding my breath. Full disclosure – I buy my health insurance on the “Obamacare” exchange, am relieved that the ACA will remain intact, and can only hope the Congress won’t commit too much sabotage in the coming months.

But I think we’re asking the wrong questions and having the wrong discussion. We shouldn’t be talking about insurance but about health care. There’s no way to agree on “how” or “to what extent” until we agree on “what.”

Do all Americans deserve health care? (I’ll leave aside the politically-laden word “entitlement.”)

  • I thought we’d reached a lasting consensus on health care for those over 65, but various proposals to replace Medicare with vouchers makes me wonder.
  • I thought we’d agreed children deserve health care, though not with methods as well settled as Medicare.
  • There’s less agreement on health care for the disabled since suspicion of fraud seems to be a big worry, and there’s a lot of downright skepticism on health care for addiction and other mental health illnesses – at least in part because we don’t seem to believe anyone knows how to treat these illnesses. (Many professionals will disagree with that last bit, but I think a lot of people feel that way.)
  • That leaves the rest of working age adults. There is some support for the idea that anyone who has a job should not have to live in poverty – and I’ve read that most Medicaid recipients in this category are working. But again the fear of fraud and anger at the notion that someone is getting away with something seems to overwhelm the issue.

Surely we’re all opposed to fraud, and there should be ways to guard against it. And evidence-based research should be able to prove which treatments work, even if they may run counter to some social tropes. May I assume those problems are solvable?

It leaves the core question: Do all Americans deserve health care?

Until we arrive at a generally accepted consensus, we’ll never figure out what to do about it.