Not Funny: Stop Joking About the Cuyahoga River Fire

I hate when people make fun of Cleveland, and I really hate when journalists are too lazy to come up with an original lede. So this summer’s coverage of the Republican National Convention, which never failed to use the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire as a laugh line, had me in a near-constant state of rage. I wrote something about it for Climate Desk.

Firefighters attempt to extinguish the flames of the 1952 Cuyahoga River fire. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections via Cleveland Historical.


Half Wollstonecraft, Half LOLcats: Talking with Caitlin Moran

In 2011, the London Times columnist Caitlin Moran published “How to Be a Woman,” a book that combined personal essays with an outline of the state of—and need for—feminism today. The book was a best-seller in England, and, by the summer of 2012, in America as well, thanks in large part to Moran’s brutally funny approach to a serious topic. “What do you think feminism IS, ladies?” she writes, after stating that only twenty-nine per cent of American women describe themselves as feminists. “What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue,’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY?”

Moran’s latest book, “Moranthology,” a collection of her columns for the Times, has just been published. She recently answered some questions on feminism, writers who have influenced her, celebrities, and sex; an edited version of the exchange appears at

Pancakes in Ohio

I was going to write something last week about the New York Times “This Land” series on Elyria, Ohio, a city just east of where I grew up. It was going to be a brilliant essay about Americana porn, and East Coast condescension, and an eagerness to see poverty and struggle as a somehow noble experience, rather than a degrading and terrifying one. Also, it was going to be about sentences like this:

Bridgette the waitress glides through morning at Donna’s Diner with an easy, familiar air, as though she were born somewhere between the cash register and the coffee maker. She is a constant, like pancakes on the menu.

She’s constant like a pancake, eh?

Anyway. You can tell how I felt about the whole thing. So I scrapped the essay and made a pot of chili instead. It was a far more rewarding experience.

Illness and Fireflies

In November of 2008, three days after she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, Susan Gubar underwent a debulking operation. The procedure entails the removal of part of the cancer—and often several of the organs that are in contact with it—and, as Gubar writes in her new book, “Memoir of a Debulked Woman,” it’s the standard initial response to the disease. “Have you ever heard of a debulked woman? Have you ever seen one?” she writes. “I am one such living, breathing, debulked woman, though no one ever explained to me how such a being comes about, what such a condition means, or how it would feel.”

Gubar’s memoir attempts these explanations with graphic honesty, scholarship, and an intelligent grace. After an early acceptance of her disease and its seemingly inevitable end—ovarian cancer is the most deadly of gynecological cancers—Gubar, a co-author of “The Madwoman in the Attic,” an early work of feminist literary criticism, and a professor of English and women’s studies at Indiana University, was “slowly … sucked into procedure after procedure,” undergoing not only a debulking operation but also successive rounds of chemotherapy. Gubar graciously took the time to answer questions on ovarian cancer, its treatments, and the nature of illness in women and in society; an edited version of the exchange appears at

(Photograph: Donald Gray)

April Flowers?

Early in the spring, I was admiring the flowers on one particularly beautiful Carroll Gardens block when I realized: this is weird. These flowers shouldn’t be here yet; the trees shouldn’t be so green and full. And my husband, cursed with seasonal allergies, shouldn’t be sneezing this much already.

So what was going on? Mild winters and warm springs cause plants to bloom early, but why? And if they bloom early, do they die early? I turned to the experts at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden—Dr. Susan Pell, the garden’s director of science, and Sarah Owens, the garden’s rosarian—for some clarification. Read more at