Hot Air

Learnin’ — Who Needs It?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is back on the slicing and dicing trail. This time he wields his machete against the state’s university system that serves 180,000 students and employs 39,000..

Walker, of course, is an early, early, early front runner in the Republican beauty pageant for the 2016 presidential nomination. He came out on top in a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll of GOPers yesterday, edging out even Jeb Bush in popularity among likely Repub. voters. That’s the way things stand — this minute at least.

Walker

This Minute’s It Guy

Anyway, Walker’s big news of late has been his desire to slash the state’s financing of the University of Wisconsin by a cool one-third in his next budget. As of now, Wisconsin spends about $1 billion a year on its university system. Walker proposes cutting $300 million from that total.

Criss-crossing the state and even appearing on the nationally televised Sunday morning gasbag programs, Walker adds that professors and other U. teachers just might have to start thinking about teaching more classes and working longer hours. The Guv is falling back on the old Republican canard wherein teachers are sitting around smoking pipes, reading the Socialist Worker, and planning their next wife-swapping get-together.

Scads o’ Republicans these days think all a college teacher has to do is spout some facts and figures for 45 minutes and then go back to plotting the overthrow of god. In addition to the grueling hours major university instructors put in preparing classes, actually teaching, meeting with students, grading papers and trying to keep up with advances in educational theory, many also engage in research in whatever field they’re in. The U. of WI demands that its teachers do research. This is how our breadth of knowledge is expanded. Seems inarguable, right? Wrong. In fact, one of Walker’s coat-holders, speaker of the Wisconsin assembly Robin Voss says, “Of course I want research but I want to have research that focuses on a way of growing our economy, not on ancient mating habits of whatever.”

Cute, huh?

Reminds me of Sarah Palin’s old line — back when she was inexplicably relevant — about university researchers spending our good, hard-earned tax dollars on studying fruit flies. Fruit flies! Imagine that. How inane! Her GOP audiences ate that stuff up. Only the fruit fly studies she was talking about were agriculturally significant in terms of invasive species knowledge, but also were being done by genetics researchers. They use fruit flies because the little buggers’ life span is so short; scientists can learn about numerous generations of mutations within a few weeks. Gregor Mendel would be proud.

It’s one thing for a dingbat like Palin to spout nonsense but when a presidential contender’s loyal lieutenant starts talking like a baboon, things suddenly begin looking a little grim for this holy land.

The Bestseller That Nobody Has

One of the hottest books out right now is Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s recently released memoir, complete with annotations. Well, let me amend that: the book is out, but not out. Wait, what? Yeah, PG was released back in November and quickly sold out. Its publisher the South Dakota Historical Society Press isn’t used to dealing in blockbusters. Not when its catalog includes such page turners as County Capitals: The Courthouses of South Dakota and The Mystery of the Pheasants.

One of the big publishing houses would have rushed second, third, and fourth printings off before impatient book buyers could stomp their feet twice. As of this moment, SDHSP has issued no statements about when Pioneer Girl will be available again.

Book Cover

We had a couple of copies at the Book Corner back at the end of last year. They passed through our hands so quickly I didn’t even have a chance to thumb through them. So, if you’re a fan of the creator of the Little House on the Prairie series, you’ll just have to cool your heels.

Magic Pill

Let’s recognize the passing of the scientist who helped women achieve whatever modicum of equality they enjoy today.

The Pill — no other identifier is needed — was created in large part by one Carl Djerassi, chemist, novelist, and playwright. Back in 1951 he and two research partners (there’s that old bugaboo again, research) figured out how to make the synthetic steroid hormone, norethisterone, usable in a tablet taken orally. The hormone effectively prevented ovulation in women taking The Pill daily during their fertile weeks of the month. (The Pill regimen usually includes placebos to be taken during those days when the women is not fertile.)

The Pill

Good ol’ Doc Djerassi — who, coincidentally enough, earned his PhD form the University of Wisconsin — died Friday. He was 91. Like many scientists of his generation, Djerassi escaped from Nazi occupied territory back in the 1930s.

The Pill just may have been the single most important scientific or technological advancement aiding the cause of women’s rights. It allowed women to enjoy sex without worrying about conceiving. It was approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1960. Next thing anybody knew, women were agitating for things like equal pay, workplace advancement, progressive rape laws, and others. Because The Pill was the first birth control method that women exclusively control every day, their newfound self-dominion inspired a greater desire for autonomy in many other areas.

Djerassi

Dr. Carl Djerassi

Its benefit has extended well beyond women. I know for a fact that The Pill has aided me in my desire never to reproduce. For that alone, the world should give thanks to Carl Djerassi.

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