Proud recipient of a Genesis Award

 The Christian Science Monitor Weekly's cover story from Dec. 8, 2014.I was gobsmacked to learn this week that my December cover article for the Christian Science Monitor’s weekly magazine was granted a Genesis Award by the Humane Society of the United States, for “outstanding reporting and creative portrayals of animal-protection issues.”  The story explores a slow shift away from the most extreme forms of animal confinement, on U.S. industrial-scale farms. An accompanying sidebar looks into the international dimensions of these changes.

After Sentient Cincinnati’s last post went up two years ago (to the day!), other reporting work has kept me busy and far from Ohio.  A few weeks after Cave Trout was published, I moved to Istanbul for a season, where I reported from the gassy front lines of the the Gezi Park Resistance Movement in a photo essay and a series of interviews.  When I left, I moved to Boston to write for the Monitor.  I continue to work there part-time, which has allowed me to join the happy ranks of dog walkers!

To make up for lost time, here’s a smattering of animal-related science and policy stories I enjoyed writing for the Monitor’s science desk last year:

Are gassy cattle a bigger problem than US government thought? 11-26-13
Meat-eaters versus carnivores: Is your diet killing wolves? 1-10-14
A quarter of the world’s sharks and rays now threatened with extinction, say scientists 1-23-14
Snakes on a higher plane: reptilian flight secrets revealed 1-31-14
Why don’t you look more like a hagfish? Scientists offer clues. 2-13-14
Oil spills can stop tuna hearts, say scientists 2-14-14
It’s International Polar Bear Day. Why are humans so wild about fur? 2-27-14
Long-struggling California condor may soar again 4-25-14
Deep-sea virus hijacks bacteria’s DNA  5-2-14
How the dance of predation upends ecology models  5-7-14
Everyday ‘electrosmog’ scrambles birds’ magnetic sense, say scientists  5-8-14
World’s No. 1 pesticide brings honeybees to their knees, say scientists  5-9-14
Do biologists really need dead animals? Article inflames debate.  5-23-14

Sittenfeld’s Journey from Journalism to City Hall

Photo by Cameron Knight

In preparing to interview newly elected Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, I was repeatedly visited by the temptation to ask him, “Are you as squeaky-clean as you seem?”

I listened to him, then 25 years old, deliver a bright-eyed, five-minute distillation of a book he was writing on happiness, onstage at the Know Theatre. Later that year he began to frequent a café where I worked.  He was impeccably warm, courteous and dapper as I served his business lunches and coffee, and I wondered what he was all about.

For one thing, I find, Sittenfeld is all about writing. If any hint of a dark side reveals itself, it’s while he scrambles to think of a character from literature that he identifies with.

“Oh, man … I think it’s one of those things where, you know, you fall in love with characters despite their imperfections sometimes,” he muses, giving a shout-out to John Milton’s imagining of a certain charismatic underworld figure in his 1667 epic poem, Paradise Lost. 

After more thought, he decides on someone less controversial: James of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.

Continue reading the full story in CityBeat »

What the Frack? ~ opposition to “fracking” surges after tremors

Illustration by Rebecca Sylvester for CityBeat

A series of 12 unusual earthquakes in northern Ohio reached a 4.0 magnitude on New Year’s Eve, shaking homes in Youngstown and intensifying nationwide opposition to fracking, a controversial natural gas extraction process.

John Armbruster, a Columbia University seismologist hired by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), located the quakes’ epicenters near the base of a wastewater injection well operated by D&L Energy. One of 177 injection wells in Ohio, this one was greasing the palms of a previously unknown fault line, by pumping gas industry wastewater right into it.

In response to the finding, Gov. John Kasich suspended injections at that well and at four inactive sites in the same area.

Those injection wells dispose of wastewater generated by fracking wells, whose job it is to extract natural gas by blasting pressurized slurries of water, chemicals and sand into ancient shale formations, thousands of feet below ground.

Although it hasn’t been known to cause earthquakes, fracking — or horizontal hydraulic fracturing — creates its own problems. Ask Thelma Payne.

Ms. Payne, now 88, and her husband Richard Payne, 91, were asleep in their bed one night in December 2007, when an explosion in their basement blew their Geauga County home straight off its foundations. The couple bounced up and landed safely back on their mattress; the house landed back on its foundation, but was damaged beyond repair.

Continue reading the full story in CityBeat »

Animal scholars occupy Europe! A Sent. Cint. exclusive

A retriever awaits his human, outside of a pharmacy in central Prague.

Beneath the sooty spires of Prague, dogs join men and women in restaurants, birds arrive to winter on the iceless Vlatva River, and a group of scholars is meeting to ask questions that I, too, would like answered:

Left to his own devices, what kind of life might a domestic dog choose for himself?

How do people protect their psyches, in jobs that demand violence against animals?

How relevant are the differences between humans and non-humans?

Across Europe this month, experts in animal law, zooethnography, and other areas of the young field known as human-animal studies (HAS), are convening to share and build ideas.  Having recently studied human-animal relations in my own grad program, I’ve decided to come along and mull through the most useful and interesting insights I hear, for a general audience.  The language of scholars can be flummoxingly high falutin, so I want to see if I can do for these ideas what Scientific American does for astrochemistry.

I plan to write a short article here, each day for the next three weeks; to stay tuned, you can subscribe to Sentient Cincinnati (by hitting the “follow” button at the top or bottom of this page), or keep your eye on my Twitter account.

My journey begins here in Prague with perhaps the most radical wing of HAS scholars, the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS).  Many of these scholars dedicate their work to the liberation of animals from human coercion, blurring lines between scholarship and activism.  Conference organizer Tereza Vandorovcová likens the activist bent of critical animal studies, to that of gender studies:

More after tomorrow’s 23 talks and one vigil–thanks for reading!

Duke Wants New Fee on Customers Who Opt Out

Smokestacks at Duke Energy's Miami Fort Plant in North Bend, Ohio

In a move almost as confusing as its monthly bills, Duke Energy has proposed a 10-year rate plan that would impose a new “capacity” fee on both its own customers and those who have switched to other electricity providers.

While the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) evaluates the proposal, Cincinnati residents are considering an unrelated ballot measure that would enable them, as a group, to take their business away from Duke and give it to a lower bidder.

Under Duke’s proposal, its customers would now find their energy charges “unbundled” into two components: The cost of generating energy, which only they would pay for; and also Duke’s more hypothetical “capacity” to generate energy, which everyone on the local grid would subsidize through the proposed fee.

Continue reading the full story in CityBeat »

Closing the (Political) Salon

Ellen Bierhorst presides over the final Lloyd House Salon at her Clifton home.

If Cincinnati were Paris, Ellen Bierhorst would be its Gertrude Stein.

In July the 71-year-old psychotherapist-poet ended her Lloyd House Salon, a gathering in Clifton where some of the city’s most engaged citizens grappled with local leaders and each other about politics, art, life and death. Open to anyone and any topic, the salon convened every week “come hell or high water” for 10 years.

Free from the confines of short soundbites, visitors to the salon such as mayors, City Council members and aspiring public servants often used the forum to stump and debate, and Lloyd House “salonistas” relished the chance to cross-examine them around a potluck dinner table.

Longtime salon-goer Steve Sunderland, 71, a professor of peace and educational studies at the University of Cincinnati, remembers a visit from Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper as emblematic of what made the salon unique.

“He stayed the whole evening, and people had an opportunity to talk to him about what his background was, what his dreams were,” Sunderland says.

Continue reading the full story in CityBeat »

Protest Greets Legislative Ghostwriters in Cincinnati; Enquirer Absent

Yesterday inside the Netherland Hotel, a discreet committee drafted America’s next season of conservative state legislation.  Outside, bucket drums, megaphones, and a hundred angry voices roared in protest.  And three blocks away, The Cincinnati Enquirer stayed home.

ALEC members convene privately; image from an organizational brochure.

Courageous members of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), peeked out of the hotel’s grand entrance during their recess, to survey the opposition.  Until now, their organization of 2000+ state legislators and corporate executives has stayed under the public radar, while crafting 1000+ items of legislation each election cycle since 1973.  *Numbers reported by ALEC.

Their goal: an economic climate friendlier to corporations.  This year’s anti-collective-bargaining bills in Ohio and Michigan were two recent triumphs. Continue reading

Relief and resentment fly, after latest veal standards decision

Video coverage transcript:

A tense crowd of nearly 200 people watched last week, as Ohio’s Livestock Care Standards Board granted future veal calves the space to turn around in a circle. The unanimous vote reversed a decision made just one month ago, which permitted farmers to house calves in narrow, solitary stalls. That first decision prompted over 4,700 Ohioans to email the board, most of them asking for the use of those stalls to end. Continue reading