Thursday Reads: Sophia Loren, the Zombie Brain, the War on Women, and Much MorePosted: February 16, 2012
The news has been so depressing lately that I thought I’d at least start out with something nonpolitical. Last night I read a fascinating interview with Sophia Loren from the new Vanity Fair. Loren talked about her painful childhood:
Raised in Pozzuoli, a small town of fishermen and munitions workers outside of Naples, Sophia experienced some of the worst privations of the Second World War—terror, bombing, starvation. Born in a charity ward for unwed mothers in Rome on September 20, 1934, Sofia Scicolone was taunted throughout her childhood for being illegitimate. Her mother, Romilda Villani, was a proud beauty who returned to her family home in Pozzuoli to live down her shame; in Catholic Italy then, being an unwed mother was not just a scandal, but a sin. They moved in with Romilda’s parents, an aunt, and two uncles; Romilda soon had another child with Riccardo Scicolone, who still refused to marry her and who would not even give Sophia’s younger sister, Maria, his name. Now eight people shared their apartment. Until she left Pozzuoli, Sophia never slept in a bed with fewer than three family members.
By 1942 they were starving, living on rationed bread, hiding from the air raids at night in a dark, rat-infested train tunnel, full of “sickness, laughter, drunkenness, death, and childbirth,” as she described it in A. E. Hotchner’s 1979 authorized biography of her, Sophia, Living and Loving: Her Own Story. Romilda foraged for food for herself and her two daughters, but Sophia was so skinny her school-mates called her “Sofia Stuzzicadenti”—toothpick.
Romilda was so beautiful that people mistook her on the street for Greta Garbo. She was once offered a screen test in Hollywood, but her mother wouldn’t allow her to go to Hollywood. So she became a stage mother.
At 14, Sophia blossomed. “It was as if I had burst from an egg and was born,” she often likes to say. Suddenly, she started hearing wolf whistles when she walked down the street. Romilda entered Sophia in a beauty contest—Queen of the Sea and Her Twelve Princesses. They had no gown for her to wear, so Sophia’s grandmother pulled down one of the pink curtains in the living room—like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind—and made an evening gown. Romilda took Sophia’s scuffed black shoes and applied two coats of white paint to them. When they showed up, Sophia was intimidated by the more than 200 contestants in their real gowns, jewels, and flowers, but when it came time to parade in front of the judges, she comported herself with serene dignity. She was chosen as one of the 12 princesses, winning $35, a ticket to Rome, and several rolls of wallpaper, which the family happily used to cover the cracks in the plaster of their apartment caused by the wartime bombing.
And the rest is history. Go read the article. It might make you feel more cheerful than the political news. I’ll leave it to you to read the part about Sophia and Cary Grant and why she turned down his marriage proposal to stay with her much older, shorter lover Carlo Ponti.
Next up is an article from last October that I just happened upon a couple of days ago. If you have a somewhat warped sense of human like I do, you’ll get a kick out of it: How to Survive a Zombie Attack
A fight-or-flight primer to outliving the urban undead. Hey, it might even help us deal with the Republican presidential candidates. My favorite part is the explanation of the zombie brain by two neuroscientists.
“Zombies have attention-locking problems. When they see something, they fixate. It resembles damage to the parietal lobe (1)—a condition called Bálint’s syndrome. So a zombie will fixate on you, but if you can distract it, it might lose track of you entirely. Zombies are stiff and have balance problems because of damage to the cerebellum (2). It’s the same way you feel when you’re really drunk—you’re suppressing the cerebellum too.” —Timothy Verstynen, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition
“In a human, the brain stem, at the top of the spinal cord, is responsible for the core functions of life—respiration, heartbeat. But since zombies don’t breathe or have heartbeats, the core function of the zombie’s existence is controlled by the part of the brain that controls appetite: the hypothalamus (3). If you hit a zombie right between the eyes with enough force, you can go straight back horizontally into the hypothalamus.” —Bradley Voytek
Getting back to true life horror, Dakinikat sent me this article from The American Prospect by Sally Kohn. It’s about Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York who is going be made a Cardinal soon–undoubtedly a reward for leading the war on American women. On the occasion of his promotion Dolan plans to give a speech about the need to attract lapsed Catholics back into the fold.
Kohn wonders why Dolan and other church leaders are determined to “go to the mat” over contraception. She writes:
As an organization, the Catholic Church is in decline. And there’s nothing like feeling (or creating a feeling of being) under attack to revive the bonds of association….a majority of Catholics believe that a woman can have an abortion and still remain a good Catholic. And as other studies have shown, 98 percent of Catholic women of reproductive age have used contraception, directly going against Church teachings. And now, by large margins—including a two-to-one margin among women—Catholics support the president’s “accommodation” with religious groups. Through the eyes of the Church, this is not just a threat to the sanctity of life. This is a threat to the authority of the Catholic Church in America.
Maybe instead of preparing a speech lecturing lapsed Catholics about their spiritual infidelity, Archbishop Dolan should examine his faith’s lack of fidelity to the modern needs of its followers. A religion that seems more interested in protecting abstract beliefs about conception than the very real health and well-being of women, that seems far more faithful to doctrine than science, that protects abusive priests while preaching against the sexual freedom of others, might feel marginalized not by any presidential administration but rather by its own narrow theology. The Catholic Church attempting to reassert its authority by hammering on the very sort of antiquated, anti-contraception dogma that has alienated so many people of faith is about as strategic as trying to win an election by alienating women voters.
I was out for much of the day yesterday, and when I returned home the first thing I read was Minx’s evening reads. In the post she mentioned “transvaginal ultrasound,” without further elaboration. I figured it must be a reference to some horrible news story, so I googled it. It seems that the state of Virgina (along with Texas and Iowa) has decided to use this medical procedure to torture women who dare to consider getting abortions. Andy Kopsa at RH Reality Check calls it “state sanctioned rape.” In the article Kopsa reproduces a facebook discussion of the Texas law she had with some men on Facebook awhile back:
This is the relevant passage from a my piece written for The Frisky on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:
Last week I got into a heated exchange with a group of men on Facebook about abortion. It was regarding the Texas law requiring a woman view an ultrasound prior to getting an abortion. The man starting the thread praised the Texas Supreme Court for upholding the ultrasound law.
This opinion piece from The Houston Chronicle (via AlterNet) gives you an idea of what a the government mandated ultrasound law in Texas could mean:
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 88 percent of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Because the fetus is so small at this stage, traditional ultrasounds performed through the abdominal wall, “jelly on the belly,” often cannot produce a clear image. Therefore, a transvaginal probe is most often necessary, especially up to 10 weeks to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The probe is inserted into the vagina, sending sound waves to reflect off body structures to produce an image of the fetus. Under this new law, a woman’s vagina will be penetrated without an opportunity for her to refuse due to coercion from the so-called “public servants” who passed and signed this bill into law.
Under the Texas penal code penetration of a woman’s vagina without her consent is sexual assault. In other words, it is rape — which is punishable by imprisonment.
In my bizarre Facebook exchange mentioned above, a man brazenly told me rape by the state was analogous to paying taxes, “If you want to talk about government rape, let’s talk about paying taxes to the IRS!”
You will lie down on a table with your knees bent and feet in holders called stirrups. The health care provider will place a probe, called a transducer, into the vagina. The probe is covered with a condom and a gel. The probe sends out sound waves, which reflect off body structures. A computer receives these waves and uses them to create a picture. The doctor can immediately see the picture on a nearby TV monitor.
The health care provider will move the probe within the area to see the pelvic organs. This test can be used during pregnancy.
Does the legislation specify how the woman is to be forced to put her feet in the stirrups and hold still while her vagina is penetrated against her will? Will women be tied to the examination table with their feet chained to the stirrups? Or is the plan to give the woman some kind of drug to keep her from resisting? I really think these questions need to be answered.
Charlie Pierce has some more good questions:
Where in the hell are the doctors? Where in hell is the AMA?
Women are being required to undergo a medically unnecessary, personally violative procedure without their consent. (An amendment to require consent unsurprisingly failed in the legislature.) Doctors simply should refuse to conduct this procedure as a violation of their duties as physicians. The AMA should back them legally all the way up to the five wise souls in the big marble building. It should also sue the Commonwealth of Virginia, and McDonnell, until their eyeballs bleed. Doctors should speak out boldly, and without fear, about being used as middlemen in the relentless war on women being waged on several fronts by the anti-choice communities. It’s time for being a physician to mean more than the fact that you get a new Lexus every year. Any doctors in the peanut gallery who think I’m wrong about this should chime in down in the comments.
Hey, I have a notion. Demand a “conscience exemption” from the requirements of this act of medical barbarism. Those seem to be all the rage these days.
There’s an article at The Daily Beast on why the Mormon Church won’t stop baptizing Holocaust survivors and other people who never wanted to be Mormons.
An unwieldy genealogical database operated by the LDS church called Family Search is at once a public registry for ancestry research, calling itself the “largest genealogy organization in the world,” and a receptacle for church members to nominate deceased individuals to receive baptism rights. The lack of policing of its users and content may be partially to blame for some continued posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victims and perhaps for the mistaken request for a baptism of the very-much-alive writer, Elie Wiesel.
Regular checks of Family Search by a researcher who has been called the “Erin Brockovich of posthumous genealogy,” Helen Radkey, revealed the baptisms of the Wiesenthals and the alleged targeting of Wiesel. Also a disaffected Mormon, Radkey is sure the church does not want the secular public meddling in the “junkyard of records,” which contains millions of names of living and dead….
Mormons must “perform vicarious temple ordinances for their own deceased family members,” through entering them on Family Search. Since there is no monitoring of entries, Radkey says, they can include anybody, alive, dead, or imagined, despite church rules against entering non-family people. However, Family Search does instruct specifically that LDS church members do not submit for posthumous baptism “celebrities or Jewish Holocaust victims.” Still, Radkey said she has found in her scouring of the registry everyone from Jesus Christ to 9/11 plane hijackers to Mickey Mouse. She says sometimes baptisms occur of names that are misspelled or changed purposely to game the system, say, Jeus Christ without the first “s.”
Someone needs to ask Romney about this at the next debate. Calling Rick the Dick….
In international news, riots continue in Greece as the government forces “austerity” on the people who didn’t cause the financial crisis in order to save the hides of those who did cause it.
Greek lawmakers on Monday approved harsh new austerity measures demanded by bailout creditors to save the debt-crippled nation from bankruptcy, after rioters in central Athens torched buildings, looted shops and clashed with riot police.
The historic vote paves the way for Greece’s European partners and the International Monetary Fund to release $170 billion (€130 billion) in new rescue loans, without which Greece would default on its mountain of debt next month and likely leave the eurozone — a scenario that would further roil global markets.
Lawmakers voted 199-74 in favor of the cutbacks, despite strong dissent among the two main coalition members. A total of 37 lawmakers from the majority Socialists and conservative New Democracy party either voted against the party line, abstained or voted present.
Some journalists are wondering if it could happen here. You’re damned right it could!
I wish we had some members of Congress who would speak out like that!
What are you reading and blogging about today?