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How Not To Write About A Woman Astronaut

I had heard that a US woman astronaut, Karen Nyberg, was docking at the International Space Station (ISS) last night for a 167-day mission and decided I wanted to know a bit more about her.

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West, Texas

On Wednesday, I published a piece at The Guardian about why the media and the US public at large hasn’t paid much attention to the tragedy that happened in West, Texas four weeks ago.

I was waiting to link to the piece here at my main blog until I had the time to put together a giant list of the 70 or 80 links I read in preparation of writing The Guardian piece but I just haven’t had time. Maybe next week!

Here’s an excerpt from my Guardian piece: Why has America lost interest in the West, Texas fertiliser explosion?

Another reason the national media may not be paying much attention to West is that a lot of it is a Texas story. Conservative politicians have responded as many expected – that there is no reason to increase regulation or oversight – thus feeding an idea that this tragedy could only happen there (or in states with similar permissive laws).

There are no state laws in Texas that regulate how close buildings, including residences and schools, can be constructed around a potentially dangerous site like the one in West. Local governments make those decisions.

The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), Steve McCraw, testified before the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety on 1 May and told them that it is not his agency’s job to alert residents of those possible dangers. That is up to local officials. When pushed on existing oversight, McCraw told the committee, “too many threats and too little time”. Within the state of Texas, 112 facilites house ammonium nitrate or ammonium nitrate-based chemicals, 44 have significant amounts of the former (at least 10,000 pounds), and 2 sites have as much ammonium nitrate on site as the plant in West did (over 500,000 pounds). On top of it all, a significant amount of plants at risk for explosion have never been inspected by state or federal agencies for emergency preparedness.

I also wrote a piece on West this week for the Austinist. On Thursday, investigators who have been working the scene since the explosion occurred gave a press conference to update the public on what they know. And while they know a lot, the one thing they do not know is what actually sparked the explosion:

Officials determined that two explosions, milliseconds apart, occurred on April 17 around 7:50 p.m. in a room they called “the seed room.” They do know that the fire before the explosion caused the temperature of a small amount of ammonium nitrate to rise, increasing the pressure around the chemicals, and changing the state of the ammonium nitrate. When that small amount exploded, it caused a much larger amount to then explode. In total, they believe 28 to 34 tons (56,000 to 68,000 pounds) of ammonium nitrate exploded. There was another 20 tons in building that did not react and another 100 in a nearby railcar that was sparred.

In total, the site had 150 tons (300,000 pounds) of ammonium nitrate on site, not 270 tons as much of the media was reporting. At the least, 18 percent of the ammonium nitrate on site exploded. It is good that it was not a bigger disaster but it is also worrying that a much smaller than expected amount was what caused the 10-foot deep crater that stretches 93-feet wide.

Power Forward Now Has A Podcast!

ACC Basketball Tournament - Boston College vs DukeThe original impetus for starting my sports and culture blog – Power Forward – was to be a companion to a podcast. And I had asked my very good friend, T. F. Charlton, to be first guest weeks ago when I thought that I was just going to ease into this podcasting thing. Turns out I had a steep learning curve to overcome with the software I used to record the different segments of the show and then edit them together, I needed a good quality microphone, and I just needed some time.

Well, I got that time over the last two days. And I’m really proud of the result.

For now, the first episode is available at Power Forward. I am working on getting it on iTunes and Stitcher.

I want to give a HUGE thank you to my friend Brandon de la Cruz (whom I’ve known since 7th grade!) who composed the music for the podcast. The music is so excellent and really sets the tone for the entire podcast.

On the first episode of the Power Forward podcast, I talked with writer and editor T. F. Charlton about Jason Collins, Brittney Griner, and Tim Tebow. We’ll tackle the subjects of race, gender, religion, and sexuality in sports. And I discuss these five sports stories that piqued my interest this week:

  • Rutgers has hired a new athletic director
  • The Patriots fired a player for having diabetes
  • Andy Murray is out of the French Open due to injury
  • Donovan McNabb retires
  • Brittney Griner works out with a legend

Listen or download here (scroll to the bottom of the linked page)!

On Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, and the Ethics of Telling Someone Else’s Abortion Story: My latest at The Atlantic

[cross-posted from Power Forward, my blog on sports and culture]

My latest at The Atlantic is about all the press that Jimmy Connors has gotten in the last week or so after word came out that he tells Chris Evert’s abortion story from 1974 in his new biography, a story he did NOT have permission to tell.

I talk about ethical storysharing with abortion: who can tell someone else’s abortion story and when.

Jimmy Connors Shouldn’t Be Talking About Chris Evert’s Abortion (it’s a long piece so this is just a small sliver of it):

For Exhale Pro-Voice, the entire reason for practicing “ethical storysharing” when it comes to telling another’s abortion story is to “make sure that the person [who had the abortion is in] the center of the storytelling process and ensures that her rights, needs, and leadership are supported and respected throughout the process.” Sherman says that anyone who tells someone else’s abortion story as Connors has done can make the person who had the abortion “feel violated and adds to the shame that folks who have had abortions may already feeling.” Beyond that, it can have real-life consequences. “When someone shares your experience for you,” Sherman says, “especially without your permission, they put you and your story out into the world in a way that could have grave consequences—family shaming, intimate partner violence, mental health stress, loss of a job, etc.”

It is Evert who will face the heat for Connors’s decision, especially the way that he told it. By saying that he was willing accept responsibility and that she excluded him from helping her make the decision, it implies that Evert was not responsible in her choice and that she is the only party that should face scrutiny for what happened. In the interviews since she released her statement condemning Connors’ decision to tell her story without her permission, he has modified the way he tells the story to make it more about them as a couple. But it is his words on the page that will be preserved for posterity and that will follow Evert around in the future.

The media’s attention to Evert’s abortion story may be a boost for sales of his biography. It has certainly made the release of the book front-page news outside of just the tennis community, though Connors hasn’t even had much of a presence there in the last few years. Connors has not coached a high-profile athlete since his relationship with Andy Roddick ended in 2008 and he has no regular commentating job (while he was hired by the Tennis Channel in 2009, he is no longer listed on their site listing on-screen talent). He wrote the book last year while recovering from two hip replacement surgeries.

Evert is regularly on TV, though. ESPN owns the rights to all four of the tennis grand slam championships and so for eight weeks of the year Evert appears on the screens of U.S. tennis fans’ TVs as an ESPN commentator. And she will be back in public soon. The French Open begins in two weeks and only two weeks after it ends, Wimbledon begins.

Obama Came To Austin And I Was Behind The Scenes As A Member Of The Press

When I heard that Obama was coming to Austin this week, I immediately contacted my editor at Austinist and told her I wanted to cover it. She said, “Great!” Then I had to figure out HOW to do that. Luckily, I know a lot of smart, connected people. My friend Katherine, who knows things about politics,  told me to literally call the White House switchboard and ask to get credentials to cover the president’s visit. AND IT WORKED.

The switchboard put me through to the White House Press Office and they added me to their press email list. When the emails went out asking journalists to RSVP for his two main stops (at a local high school and a local high tech manufacturing company), I did. And my credentials were approved.

So, yesterday at 9:30am, I showed up at Manor New Technology High School, four hours before he was scheduled to talk. Bomb-sniffing dogs checked out our bags and the Secret Service actually went through them very thoroughly. We had to be swiped with a metal-detecting wand before we could get in. And, of course, we had to get our credentials. I will keep mine forever.

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AUSTIN: Screening of “El Albergue” and discussion with Alejandro Solalinde, WED, May 8, 7-9pm

Screen shot 2013-05-06 at 11.22.25 PM

El Albergue is a documentary about Hermanos en el Camino, a shelter for migrants in Oaxaca, Mexico, run by Father Alejandro Solalinde, the winner of Mexico’s 2012 National Human Rights Award. Solalinde is leading an “Interfaith Caravan of Hope for Immigration Reform Beyond Borders” to address the violence and injustices that migrants face on their trek from Latin America into the United States.

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On Professional Cheerleading And Alienating Female Fans: My Debut At The Frisky

[cross-posted from Power Forward, my blog on sports and culture]

Screen shot of my piece at the Frisky, which includes an image of the cheerleader, Kelsey Williams.

I’m excited to say that I am at The Frisky today writing about the semi-controversy around a woman blogger in Houston being fired for an inflammatory blog post about an Oklahoma Thunder Girl’s weight.

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QUOTE: From Progress Texas’ Press Release on Today’s Hearing at Texas Legislature on West, Texas Explosion

Today’s hearing made Texas’ severe lack of regulation of industrial plants and dangerous chemicals abundantly clear. State agency after state agency repeatedly answered questions by saying, ‘We’re not required to do that.’

– Phillip Martin, Political Director of Progress Texas

The entire press release is available at Progress Texas’ site.