Friday, October 31, 2008

Throwback Political Ad

And, since there's been so much Edwards content today:

Putting Same-Sex Marriage in Historical Perspective

As voters in California consider a ballot initiative that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, I would advise everyone to read this article from Stephanie Coontz. Coontz, who wrote the most definitive history of marriage as an institution to date, which accurately points out that the whole notion of a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is a historically new phenomenon.

Historically, marriage has tended toward polygamy, and the emphasis hinged more on reproduction so that families could ensure the retention of property more than anything else. A man could take a new wife or concubine if his first wife proved to be infertile. Additionally, she notes that the church’s involvement in marriage is also fairly new, “For the first 16 centuries of its existence, Christianity held that the validity of a match was determined by a couple’s stated intention to be married, rather than by any formal ceremony or licensing process,” Coontz writes.

Recently, the government and religious institutions have increased involvement in what has traditionally been considered a family or private affair, Coontz notes. After freeing individuals from needing parental approval to get married, the courts also struck down regulations that banned marriage with someone of another race, a “drunk,” or someone with a venereal disease. All of those have been systematically struck down by the courts.

Coontz astutely points out:

These two innovations—channeling more benefits through marriage than in the past while also repealing the denial of individual choice to most groups—have given gays and lesbians a strong socioeconomic incentive to demand access to marriage and a strong moral argument to press their case on the basis of equal justice. And contrary to “Conventional Wisdom,” their case is also supported by the Western legal and religious tradition, which has never made ability to procreate a precondition for marriage and which traditionally accorded legal rights to many unions that religious leaders considered illicit or immoral.

In other words, Coontz finds it something of a historical paradox that even as laws have tended to increase the autonomy of the individual when it comes to marriage, there are simultaneous attempts to rob certain groups of that automony. Overall, people tend to be happier with a more or less monogamous relationships and increased autonomy. But it’s important not to be selective about that autonomy and understandable that groups would resent that exclusion.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Dear Gossip Blogs: Elizabeth Edwards Knows Things About Health Care!

Well this is annoying. Campus Progress, our sister organization, sponsored an event with Elizabeth Edwards and Ezra Klein to talk about health care on Monday. Since then, the story that has come out of the event was that– gasp!–Edwards wasn’t wearing her wedding ring (presumably fallout from her husband’s messy and publicly exposed affair).

Megan said it first, but I’ll second it: Edwards is a smart, wonky person who knows her stuff when it comes to health care. As a victim of breast cancer, she’s had some invaluable up-close-and-personal encounters with the health care system. She’s critical of both the health care plans proposed by the major party candidates and is a committed advocate of comprehensive health care reform. How obnoxious, then, that after an hour-and-a-half discussion about the intricacies of the health care system all anyone can talk about is her personal life.

I’ve said it before, but quite frankly John Edwards’ affair and the fallout from it is none of the public’s business. It’s clearly a very private issue, and it’s a shame that the gossip blogs have seized on this. And if we’re really honest and take a long hard look at this, affairs aren’t all that uncommon. They happen to people every day, and have for centuries. To single one family out for public judgment is unfair and unwarranted.

Yes, I know that this is what gossip blogs do, but come on, people. Rather than pegging her as a victim, we should allow her to do her public work. Edwards is an intelligent human being with a lot to say about one of the most important issues today. Can we at least acknowledge that she deserves credit for that?

Cross posted at Pushback.

A Long Way to Go

As always, via Megan, I read this insightful piece by Rebecca Traister in Salon. The piece takes a moment to acknowledge that this election season has seen some breakout female television news anchors and interviewers: Katie Couric, Campbell Brown, and Rachel Maddow. It's important to give these women their due, especially since just last election season the commentary was pretty much all old white dudes.

But even though it's important to acknowledge the achievements of the women at the top, it's also really important to look at the representation of women at all levels of media. It's a similar argument that Ann Friedman made in an issue of The American Prospect earlier this year: just because we have few token women at the top doesn't mean the work of gender equity is done.

Still women have barely broken into the upper ranks of journalism and women on the op-ed pages remain dismally around 30 percent of the bylines. Most of the features written in "serious" publications are written by men, and even though journalism schools train a lot of women that rarely translates into more female journalists. So while I respect the achievements of Couric, Brown, and Maddow, we shouldn't take this as a signal to be complacent. Women still have a long way to go to gain equity with their peers in media.


I love Halloween. It's definitely one of my favorite holidays, if not my favorite holiday. I've loved it ever since I was a kid, and I just never grew out of it. This year, I'm going as Poison Ivy, one of the villains from the Batman comics.

What's interesting about Poison Ivy is that she's an eco-terrorist. She harks back to a day of a different kind of protesting. Now everyone's into "greening" and the environmental movement has become popular. But characters like Poison Ivy remind us that the environmental movement came from a pretty radical past. It wasn't that long ago that Greenpeace was attempting to forcibly shut down oil rigs, or that some animal rights activists sought to "free" animals from captivity.

Today the movement has mellowed out a lot. But it's also a lot more effective than it used to be. By making themselves less radical, the environmental activists were allowed to sit at the table and negotiate for favorable legislation. Granted, it seems like sometimes against an anti-environmentalist president it's all for naught, but there is real optimism within the environmental movement that they will get their message across soon.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Women and the Individual Health Insurance Market

Via Megan at Jezebel. So the New York Times reports something that I wrote about last week: The individual health insurance market is much more expensive for women than it is for men. Thanks to a report by the National Women’s Law Center, people are discovering that insurance companies are charging higher premiums–and often skipping out on key pieces of coverage like maternity care–for women that buy their insurance on the individual market. This graphic that the Times produced shows how women pay more across the board even if they live in different locations or are in different age groups.

There are some states that have already legislated regulation that bans gender bias, but many states don’t. Even fewer require maternity coverage on the individual market. And perhaps the most shocking part of the NWLC report is that in nine states and the District of Columbia, it is still legal to deny coverage for a victim of domestic violence–on the grounds that it is a pre-existing condition.

The reason that you won’t find such biases in employer-based coverage is because the courts have determined that many of the non-discrimination workplace laws (including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978) also apply to employer-sponsored insurance coverage. So it seems that those same protections need to exist on the individual market, even though only about 7 percent of women get insured that way. Far more women–about 18 percent–are uninsured, perhaps because it’s so expensive to buy coverage on the individual market.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ugly Betty's Cast: No on Prop 8

Via Feminocracy. Not only is Ugly Betty one of my favorite shows on television today, but the cast also made this great ad opposing Proposition 8 in California, which would eliminate the right of gays to marry.

The reason this strikes me as important is because it addresses the Latino community -- a heavily Catholic contingent. While research shows that Catholics are breaking away from the Church's political stances more and more, it's important to have Latino celebrities leading this progressive cause.

What's especially interesting about this commercial is that they directly point to the moral obligation to allow gays to marry and say that it destroys family. This directly assaults the language put forth by the pro-Prop 8 people.

Scary Voting Technology

One thing that experts have worried about it is faulty electronic voting technology. This video reveals that some machines have dangerously flawed programming:

As precincts move away from paper ballots, which can be time-consuming for election workers, it’s important for voting machines to be tested and calibrated to be in proper working order. Although most of the fears about voter disenfranchisement tend to be overblown, it is worrisome to see machines that are making such large errors. The problem won’t be solved just by switching back to paper ballots — plenty of errors happen there too. The real solution is meticulous election board practices. Machines should be tested and in good working order long before election day.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Pell Grant Use Up

Today George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, released a statement about a study that shows Pell Grant use is higher than ever. It’s important to remember that Pell Grants go to the lowest-income students, so it’s a good sign that more students are using them.

But there has been some concern of late that while the Pell grant has been designated by The College Opportunity and Affordability Act to increase marginally over time, this won’t actually happen. The bad news is that because so many more people are using the Pell Grant, there’s fear that that the money allocated to the grants will be stretched too thin to amount to an increase for individuals.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Case to Watch

Via Emily at RH Reality Check, the Fourth Circuit Court has agreed to re-hear a Virginia ban on late-term abortions, something prompted by the Supreme Court's ruling on Gonzales v. Carhart, the case that upheld the federal partial-birth abortion ban. Originally the court determined that Virginia's ban was "substantially broader" than the federal abortion ban. Virginia's Republican attorney general, Bob McDonnell, asked the court to re-hear the entire case. Now we'll have to wait and see if the court will uphold its previous decision or if it will change the ruling.

Debating Kennedy's Position

I wrote a follow up to my previous piece on the Supreme Court for my column this week over at RH Reality Check. Some legal scholars are debating the position of Justice Anthony Kennedy -- someone most find far more to the right than to the center despite his "swing vote" status.

[Ann] Bartow's theory, then, is that the Supreme Court is simply waiting for Bush to leave office to overturn Roe and throw a wrench into the plans of a new administration, one that looks likely to be Democratic. "They have the votes to take a case now, [what] they're waiting for is a Democratic president and Congress," Bartow told me over the phone. "It would really stall any work they want to do." The Court did just decline to hear three abortion-related cases this session, but has time to accept a direct challenge to Roe later in its term – which either the South Dakota abortion ban or the Colorado personhood amendment, both on the ballot this November, could supply later this year.

Bartow's argument sparked a heated debate in the pro-choice blogosphere. Scott Lemieux, an assistant professor of political science at Hunter College in New York and contributor to the blog Lawyers, Guns and Money, disagrees with Bartow that the Court is "that crudely political," even though he acknowledges that "to some degree, the Supreme Court follows the election returns and it's not a completely apolitical body." Lemieux says that the Court elected to hear Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 just before another high-stakes presidential election. The ruling on Casey upheld the right to an abortion, but established that regulations and restrictions could be placed on that right, as long as it didn't place an "undue burden" on the woman. Kathryn Kolbert, the ACLU attorney who argued the case, specifically tailored her argument to force the justices to address the central holdings of Roe before the 1992 presidential election.

Read the whole piece here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kids Think It's Illegal for Women, Minorities to be President

Well this is depressing. A new study out of UT-Austin shows that children are award of voter discrimination in elections. The most depressing part of the study was that:
One in four participants told researchers they thought it was "illegal for women and minorities to hold the office of president."
That is nothing short of horrifying.

Health Care Wonkery

Yesterday I saw a pretty wonkarific health care event with Ezra and Elizabeth Edwards. Here's a crappy little video I filmed with my digital camera and edited with iMovie, but the full professional video can be seen here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekend DVD Review: 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

This weekend I watched an incredible movie. It was a foreign film called 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days about two college-aged women in Romania who seek an illegal abortion for one of them in the last days of communism there (spoilers to follow). The movie was chilling and very emotional. Not only did the plot lend itself to such a riveting plot, but the film was crafted beautifully -- shot composition and cinematography was incredible.

The abortion scene was cringe-inducing, especially considering that the abortionist negotiated sex with both the woman having the abortion and her college roommate as part of the payment. To me this became a huge message for why abortion shouldn't carry legal consequences. It's not as if abortion would just cease to exist if it were illegal -- instead abortions would turn to the black market and all that goes with it. Suddenly women are subject to terrible conditions when they are desperate to get an abortion. They were expensive, risky, and terrifying. It's not something I'd be eager to see return here in America.

Interestingly enough, I wondered why a communist state would outlaw abortion, since presumably it wouldn't do so for religious reasons. A quick search into the New York Times archives points to the fact that Nicolae Ceausescu, communist leader of Romania for nearly two decades, strictly outlawed abortion and contraception as means of population promotion. This is the ugly side of anti-abortion laws -- ones that promoted population growth at any means. Although the Times article from the 1990s says that Romania still had an alarmingly high abortion rate, especially when compared with other European countries, an updated statistic from the United Nations Population fund shows that the rate has been dropping dramatically in the last several years (from 7,185 cases in 1999 to 2,892 in 2004). Romania does this by promoting the use of contraception through it's public health system.

An interesting aspect of the film was that it told the story not through the woman seeking the abortion or the abortion provider, but rather through centering on the woman's companion. By doing this, the film showed that the woman was fearful about needing an abortion of her own one day, even getting in a terrible fight with her boyfriend (who seemed to care for her, but was unable to understand the risks). It also focused on the struggles of the role of a caretaker for someone who is going through such a risky and terrifying illegal abortion.

Ultimately, abortion isn't going anywhere, even if it should become illegal. Instead it becomes more about the barriers the law places on a woman who is desperate to obtain one. It will be the marginalized women that will suffer the most.

South Dakota Measure 11

Via Feministe, the South Dakota abortion ban is up two points -- that's still a narrow enough margin to be a statistical tie.

Anti-Choice Democrats

Via Matt Yglesias, this New York Times article on anti-choice Democrats shows that while Democrats seem to be making gains in a lot of traditionally conservative places (the article's key example is Bob Casey as an anti-choice Democrat from Pennsylvania), they tend to be electing very socially conservative people to those positions.

The article noted that the nation is "divided" on the issue of abortion, showing Americans roughly split between identifying as "pro-life" and "pro-choice." The piece I wrote recently on pro-choice Republicans shows that this ultimately comes down to branding. The pro-life movement has a done a good job of promoting "a culture of life" and "choosing life," but their framework fundamentally hinges on a pro-choice stance -- that women can make a choice not to have an abortion. Many people might identify as "pro-life" because they don't like abortions. They're icky. They wouldn't have one. But the answer to the question of whether or not abortion should be legal changes those proportions slightly. Responses also slant a lot more pro-choice when you ask whether or not the government should have a say over someone's right to abortion.

When you get down to the specifics, it seems that there are a lot of Americans that are uncomfortable with the idea of abortion, but they don't exactly want it to be illegal. The very fact that exceptions like rape and incest (conditions that are very difficult to "prove" to have a timely abortion). The very label "pro-life" could very well mean that you don't think people should have abortions, but they're not really willing to make such a private choice subject to the law.

Now, I'm not exactly sure how the Democrats the Times profiled fall into that paradigm, but what this does say to me about party politics that while Democrats have been willing to take on a strong pro-choice platform, when it comes down to getting more seats in Congress, pro-choice is still negotiable. Obviously both parties want to be "big tents" with differing views on various issues, including choice. But when women's health and autonomy is still considered negotiable that's very disheartening to a lot of pro-choice activists.

Bankers Are Like Cheap Boyfriends with Expensive Guitars.

Jessica Pressler has a great analogy for the bankers that are in dire financial straights -- but still manage to have a few billion leftover for bonuses:
Have you ever dated one of those guys who never has any money? Like you go out to the movies or whatever, and you have to pay because he's like, "I spent my entire paycheck on weed"? He never brings you flowers or anything like that because of his lack of funds, but also because, you figure, he is a burgeoning alternative rock star, and beyond engaging in such corny behavior. Then one day he suddenly shows up with a bright, shiny multi-thousand-dollar guitar. "Check out this riff!" he says, as you clench your teeth and silently seethe.

Friday, October 24, 2008

“Personhood” Wouldn’t Make Abortion Illegal … Yet

Dana Goldstein over at TAPPED points to some ads being run about the Amendment 48 ballot initiative in Colorado–most commonly referred to as the “personhood amendment.” The amendment seeks to define a fertilized egg as an individual with full constitutional rights. There’s been a lot reported on this (including some research I’ve done), namely that it would make things like not only abortion but also Plan B and contraception illegal. But while researching a forthcoming piece on the Supreme Court, I found that there’s one important thing to keep in mind about ballot initiatives like this and the abortion ban proposed in South Dakota: the right to abortion is still protected under the Constitution.

Such initiatives are, of course, designed to directly challenge Roe v. Wade, but if and until the Supreme Court hears such a case, a federal or state judge would be obligated to immediately place an injunction on such a law. That means that even if it passes, it would be immediately frozen. Now it’s hard to say if the Supreme Court is interested in overturning Roe or not (this is actually under great dispute among pro-choice bloggers), but even if Colorado managed to pass a law restricting such rights, abortion still wouldn’t be illegal in Colorado until the Supreme Court declares that it is.

It’s understandable to be worried about the Supreme Court, especially since it made a pretty sweeping restriction on abortion recently in upholding the legality of the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. (Note that “partial-birth abortion” isn’t anything close to a medical term.) While pro-choice activists worry about the implications of the Colorado and South Dakota amendments, the result won’t be instant–the bans will only go into place if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Dating Locally

I, like Miriam, thought this dating locally thing on Slate was pretty good and clever. It's just another case against long-distance relationships. Now I'm not totally anti. I know that a lot of people are strongly committed to someone and may need to go through periods where they aren't located in the same city, state, or country. But I would dispense this advice to anyone who's considering such a long-distance endeavor: If there's not a defined end point to the long-distance part of the relationship, don't bother.

I know it's not that simple, but I've seen too many people carry on long-distance relationships with an indefinite end point end end badly. It may seem weird, but there's a lot of commonality about living in the same place and seeing one another often. So as Miriam pointed out, not only is dating locally good for your emotional health, it seems to be good* for the environment.

*I know all relationships aren't the same an you should in no way interpret this to mean that if this situation applies to you I think you are dumb or your relationship is doomed. There are exceptions to every piece of relationship advice.

WaPo Says: Feminists Go Home Already

Argh! I'm really tired of reading articles about how the very presence of Sarah Palin on a national presidential ticket invalidates everything that feminists fight for: access to birth control and abortion, equal pay, and protecting women from domestic violence. But there you go, the Washington Post went ahead and declared this the year of the woman.

This quote I thought was especially odd, from a Planned Parenthood division:
"It's going to take us a while to find our bearings," said Sarah Stoesz, who runs the Planned Parenthood office that oversees Minnesota and the Dakotas. "As feminists, we've always thought that a core aspect of women's equality is about being in control of our reproductive lives. But Sarah Palin is throwing the calculus out the window and demonstrating a view that some people would call feminism: I can be governor, I can have five children, I can shoot and field-dress a moose, and I don't need access to abortion."
Wait, what? So because Sarah Palin, the first Republican vice presidential nominee doesn't need access to abortion no one else does either? That just doesn't even make any sense. The whole idea behind the pro-choice movement is that women are welcome to make their own choices about whether or not they want to have an abortion. Sure, Sarah Palin didn't want one, but that doesn't mean other women don't. Many women out there need access to abortion and are having a very hard time obtaining one.

The article also quotes Geraldine Ferraro, who has turned out to be something of an embarrassment for feminists thanks to her racist remarks about Obama. Ferraro falls into the Camille Paglia category of counterintuitive non-feminists.

The article also seems to argue that because Palin calls herself a feminist, that automatically makes her one -- they do the same thing with Independent Women's Forum and Feminists for Life. Lately the right has been co-opting the word feminist but actively work against everything feminists work for. They seem to forget that just because some women make achievements doesn't mean the work of feminists is over, it means simply that some women have made achievements. Ultimately what we need to measure feminism by is not the class of women who live in privilege, but by the quality of life for the women at the bottom who are the most marginalized.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Health Care Reform and Women

Today I'm going a bit off topic to talk about how the proposed health care reforms might help or hurt women in the next administration in my column over at RH Reality Check. It gets pretty wonkariffic, but it really gets into the nuts and bolts of how women -- who tend to use health care very differently than men -- may see changes in their heath care if there are future reforms:

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain's plan promotes the individual health care market. Currently, Americans pay for employer-sponsored health care premiums with pre-tax income. McCain's plan would require workers to pay for insurance out of post-tax income; his plan would offset this by extending a tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families. This tax credit can either be applied to a person's employer-sponsored plan or to one on the individual market. Additionally, McCain calls for opening up options by allowing people to purchase health care plans from providers in other states.

But this push to the individual market isn't optimal for women. According to a report recently released by the National Women's Law Center, women have a hard time finding equitable coverage on the individual market, often paying more and getting less. Right now about two-thirds of women get coverage though an employer, 16 percent of women get coverage through public programs like Medicaid, and just 7 percent of women currently get coverage through the individual market.

Of women who bought insurance on the individual market, the NWLC report found that they pay more in monthly premiums at almost every age than men--6 to 45 percent more for women aged 25 and 4 to 48 percent more at age 40. How can this be legal in the individual market and not in employer-sponsored coverage? Courts have ruled that Title VII of Civil Rights Act applies to employer insurance coverage. Only ten states prohibit such discrepancies in individual market premiums, and two states limit it.

Read the whole thing here.

Crunching Private Student Loans

A new study, Inside Higher Ed reports, shows that while “few [students] were deterred in any real way from pursuing their education” this fall, “the student loan credit crunch has had an unexpectedly significant impact on the educational plans of students at private colleges.” Half of the 500 or so schools surveyed had more than 10 students who were unable to secure private loans. Some are dropping to part time or stopping their higher education altogether.

The problem here is with private lending. Since the current economic crisis was caused by lending to people who ended up not being able to pay back their loans, private lenders aren’t as willing to put up for private loans. Students can still get federally guaranteed loans, but sometime those aren’t enough to cover the tuition bill, especially if your parents aren’t willing to take out a loan for you (known as a PLUS loan).

Ultimately the impact of the credit crisis on students isn’t as bad as some were predicting since there are lots of regulations in place to keep federal loans flowing to students. The problem is the private student loan market, which is much harder on students in the long run anyway.

The problem ultimately with this is that to compensate for the increased demand of student aid, many schools are dipping into endowments and thinking about how to raise revenue– including hiking tuition yet again. That might be counterproductive, given that students are already struggling to pay for school.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Re: Overblown Fears of Disenfranchisement?

I disagree with Jamelle’s assertion that surely whistleblowers would say something if a voter disenfranchisement scheme were afoot. Granted, Robert Kennedy’s conspiracy theory about Ohio in 2004 has largely been debunked (with a response from him). But voting isn’t really an exact science. Some voters will be disenfranchised this election season. The question is how many.

We’re basically talking about a lot of new information that has to be entered very quickly. (Ultimately, I agree with Brian Beutler that we should have some kind of automatic registration rather than a voluntary system.) The people that do this are paid a low hourly wage or are even volunteers in many voting precincts. With all the new voters registered this year, there are bound to be some mistakes. Whether or not this is a concerted, systematic effort or just some sloppy incompetence is hard to say, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on whistleblowers to sound the alarm, since so many potential whistleblowers are ad hoc volunteers and temporary employees on the lowest levels.

Part of the problem is the state-level Secretary of State, responsible for each state’s entire voting operation, is always a partisan position. The person in each of those offices has been endorsed by one party or another, but ultimately can impact who gets into an office. Even though it’s possible to conduct your job in a non-partisan manner even if you have larger political ambitions, it doesn’t really seem that the Secretary of State should be a partisan position.

To me, this is a highly bureaucratic position that should be reserved for, well, bureaucrats. Instead of electing people to this position every four years we should make sure we keep people in these positions who are experts on the complicated nature of voting machines, paper ballots, coordinating thousands of one-day volunteers, and keeping voter rolls updated. It’s a complex, logistical job that only gets one shot–Election Day. It’s understandable that people are worried that this job might be conducted improperly.

Cross posted at Pushback.

More on Immigrants and Gardasil

The LA Times has probably the best and most balanced coverage (except for that part about the bogus side effects) of the proposed mandatory administration of Gardasil, an HPV vaccine that can help prevent cervical cancer, to immigrant women. Feministe did a pretty definitive takedown of this policy, but something in the Times article stuck out to me:
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly recommended the vaccine for 11- and 12-year-old girls, with catch-up shots up to age 26. (The vaccine works best if given before a young woman is sexually active and may have already contracted the virus.)

A 1996 immigration law directs the Citizenship and Immigration Services to require that new immigrants receive inoculations that the CDC's immunization committee recommends for U.S. residents.

"It's not really a decision of ours," said immigration service spokeswoman Sharon Rummery. "We can't cherry-pick the recommendations."

Foreigners applying for permanent residency must get medical exams and vaccines against such highly contagious diseases as measles, meningitis and polio.

CDC spokesman Curtis Allen said that his agency's immunization committee, an advisory panel of physicians, did not consider the immigration implications of its decision.

"They made the recommendation based on the effectiveness and importance of the vaccine," he said. "That's their charge, and not immigration."
To me this makes a lot of sense. The CDC recommended the vaccine as mandatory for young women, something feminists disagree about, and because the CDC recommends it for American women, the immigration officials are obligated to categorize it as mandatory for immigrants.

But here's the tricky part. Feminists work really hard at making sure women have autonomy over their bodies. Because Gardasil is a vaccine for a sexual transmitted infection, something that can lead to cervical cancer, it becomes strange to tell women what to do with their bodies. It makes sense that vaccines are most effective when widely used, but the part about giving women direction over their sexual lives brings up all kinds of icky memories from when women didn't have autonomy over their bodies (many still don't today).

So I'm not sure where that leaves me. I'm generally in favor of girls getting the vaccine at a young age, preferably before they become sexually active (and they will at some point), but why do I have an impulse to reject the same standard for immigrant women? Possibly because the hypocrisy on the right of requiring it for the "other" women but simultaneously trying to shield their daughters from such a scary vaccine (and the scary thought of sex). Perhaps this is why so many feminists have taken an across-the-board anti-Gardasil stance until we know more about the vaccine. But somehow I still think it's a good idea to do everything you can to prevent cervical cancer.

Scrabble About Sex

Weirdly enough, I woke up this morning with Salt-N-Peppa's "Let's Talk About Sex" stuck in my head. While it mostly made me nostalgic for the '90s, with big pants and neon colors, it also reminded me how controversial that song was when it first came out. It was a song that had three women rapping about sex -- how awesome it is and how dangerous it can be. If you click on the link above it shows the video that even has a skeleton with the word AIDS written across it.

Ultimately it's a good reminder that sex is, at its core, about communication. Having honest discussions about sex is a lot less scary than not having them. Many women are afraid to have the conversation about birth control, orgasms, or condoms. By making it more acceptable to talk about it, we're doing everyone a favor. Too bad we're still promoting abstinence-only programming.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Voting For Students

This story from Inside Higher Ed about students asking for university-wide holidays from classes on Election Day is interesting. I agree with the professors that student's shouldn't necessarily get special privileges that other working adults don't -- often students have far more flexible schedules than hourly employees do -- but why shouldn't election day be on a weekend or why shouldn't Congress make it a national holiday? Rather than encouraging voting, we're actually discouraging people by not giving flexibility to those that need it to exercise voting rights. It almost seems silly that someone can get fired for exercising the right to vote -- especially given the long lines we might be seeing on Election Day.

G.I. Bill: Too Late?

I’ve written before about the potential problems with enacting the new G.I. Bill legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, but The Washington Post has a good explanation of all of the obstacles that veterans face in obtaining the bill’s benefits. The big one is that because the Veterans Administration needs time to implement the legislation, veterans will not be able to start claiming their benefits until next fall–if the VA can get ready for the incoming changes by then.

Right now, it’s doubtful that the VA will be ready to process the predicted flood of requests that will be submitted. The other problem is that the new benefits aren’t retroactive, so even if you’ve served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), you won’t be able to redeem benefits until next fall, regardless of whether you’re already enrolled in a college or university. You will simply be out of luck for claiming the full benefits outlined in the new G.I. Bill–which calls for picking up the entire cost of attending a public university.

It’s a nice benefit, but many, like the George Washington University student quoted in the Post’s article, will only be able to get the extra benefits during their last semester. For him, it may end up being too late. In the end it seems that while this is pretty good legislation, the speed at which it can be implemented is hampering its effectiveness.

Cross posted at Pushback.

LAPD Fails to Test Rape Kits

The fact that LAPD could not get it together (of course, their excuse is funding) to test more than 200 rape kits for DNA evidence within the 10-year limitation is pretty horrible. So few cases of rape are reported, let alone prosecuted. It's really depressing to know that if you live in Los Angeles and you get raped, the most likely course of action on the part of the authorities is nothing.

The Disney Princess

Sarah Haskins, my girl crush over at Current TV, has a great take on the Disney princess phenomenon. Recently Jezebel debated whether little girls could really handle the princess phenomenon or whether it was just part of culture. Generally my advice is the same as most feminists: Sure, kids can handle Disney as long as they other, stronger role models to compare them to. Role models like Sarah Haskins, for instance.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Brian Williams is Objective

This is from the Yale Daily News, where the student newspaper interviews MSNBC's Brian Williams -- MSM diva. Williams seems to think that the answer to journalism's problems is for it to become more objective, and Romenesko pulls the quote that he has learned to see things "down the middle" instead of taking sides.

But Williams is mistaken. People aren't frustrated with the lack of objectivity. The growth of the more partisan media outlets like Fox and Huffington Post show that if anything, people have been hungering for news with a point of view. What people are angry about is that the media hasn't done a good job of calling people on their BS and reporting what they've said without checking it as "balance." People are pissed about the WMD screw up. They're pissed that we're just now finding out about the shady stuff that's gone down in the Department of Justice. The people that have broken those stories weren't the "trusted" MSM, and so people are starting to turn to sources that can think critically.

Minnesota's 3rd

Today the Washington Post has a rundown of Minnesota's congressional 3rd district. It's significant because it's an open seat, one of the top races to watch, in the wake of moderate Republican Jim Ramstad's retirement. Iraq war veteran Ashwin Madia is running on his student government experience at the University of Minnesota, my alma matter, against a fiscal conservative Erik Paulson that tries to paint himself as the next Ramstad -- except he has a high rating from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

If Madia manages to win, he's slightly ahead of Paulson in the most recent poll, this would signify a major shift for the district that's dominated by one of Minneapolis' most wealth suburbs, Edina. The suburb is home to many of the wealthiest Minnesotans, so someone like Ramstad, who built himself as a socially liberal but fiscally conservative Republican, represented the district well. Some of the national momentum, and the fact that the DCCC can sink more money into downticket races thanks to Obama's ability to raise money on his own, means that weirdly enough, this district may end up going blue this election season.

Steal This Blog Post

Randall Munroe, author of xkcd, said it best when he railed against the music industry’s effort to stem illegal downloading.

A new study conducted by Campus Computing Project, an organization that studies students’ use of Internet technology, shows that the mandates put on colleges and universities to stem illegal downloading (like those recently folded into the Higher Education Act reauthorization) are costing the institutions tens of thousands of dollars on average. Congress isn’t setting aside special subsidies for enforcement, so the old “unfunded mandate” adage comes to mind.

Why are we forcing universities to sink thousands of tuition dollars into protecting an industry that isn’t ready to admit it has an outdated model?

Some sellers, like iTunes and eMusic, have gone to great lengths to create a popular model that people are willing to buy into. But the problem is, as the comic above shows, they’re also going to great lengths to sell a protected format that is actually an inferior product. Many consumers reason that even though it is illegal, the product they can get for free is far superior to the one they pay to download. Rather than enforcing all this ridiculous legislation in an attempt to keep the record industry alive, we should just cut the lines and let them figure it out. Seriously, it’s sink or swim time for them.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sarah Palin, Only Funny When Made Fun Of

After watching the Saturday Night Live skits featuring Sarah Palin (the real one, not the Tina Fey one) I realized, she's mostly just sitting or standing there. In other words, Palin plays the same role on SNL that she does in real life, that of an accessory.

Here she is on the opener to the show. All the (what passes for) funny lines are those of Alec Balwin's.

And here she is on the Weekend Update segment, where she sits and dances to a rap that Amy Poehler performs.

I have to say, though, kudos to the Arctic Cat shoutout with the snowmobile gear. I'm from the home of the Arctic Cat snowmobile.

Colin Powell Endorses Obama

Only in America could a man who lied to the U.N. about the reasons for going to war with Iraq lend foreign policy credibility to a Democrat.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

NYTimes Profiles Cindy McCain

This morning's New York Times lead story on Cindy McCain just sort of, well, made me feel sorry for her. Although they didn't manage to interview Cindy herself for the story, they talk of how she was largely rejected by the Washington social scene after John divorced his better-liked first wife Carol. After that, the article steadily chronicles the couple's largely separate lives -- hers in in Arizona and his in Washington. But it seems that Cindy really missed her husband:
Mrs. McCain expanded her childhood home, turning it into a 10,000-square-foot mansion that struck more than one visitor as a shrine to her husband. On the walls, she hung photos of the storied McCain military clan and her husband clasping hands with Republican presidents. Elephants adorned the wallpaper in one bathroom and a pot rack in the kitchen. In the master suite, she installed a fireplace carved with “MC,” for McCain.
The article also talks about Cindy's trouble coping with the negative press during the Keating Five, which she afterward acknowledged was when she became addicted to painkillers. Several close friends also reveal that she wants to model herself after Princess Diana if she becomes First Lady and even once joined the same anti-landmine organization, a cause that Diana was famously known for taking up. Cindy's op-ed in the recent U.S. News and World Report shows that she's invested in making herself a philanthropic First Lady, a model of the old Junior Leagues and other wifely volunteerism found in the upper classes of America.

I don't really know what to say about this except that Cindy doesn't seem to be the kind of person that deals particularly well with the harsh reality of political public life. This profile the Times did was far and away better than the one the Washington Post did earlier this year (in fact, it was so bad the Post seemed to have a do over a few months later), but both revealed that she's somewhat awkward in the press, desiring to be liked more than anything.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Baylor SAT Update

Following up on my earlier post on this, Baylor has decided to no longer award bookstore credit or tuition rewards to admitted freshman who retake the SAT in hopes of increasing the class’ average score.

From The Chronicle of Higher Ed:

“We shouldn’t have offered the incentives,” said Lori W. Fogleman, director of media relations. Baylor’s “motives were pure,” she said, but “we’ve heard the criticism and take that to heart.”

This is once instance where student newspaper reporting really made a difference.

Cross posted on Pushback.

Ohio Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Sec. of State Brunner on Voting Rights

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner about the status of newly registered voters in Ohio. The state has more than half a million newly registered or updated voter registration records on file. The Ohio Republican party filed a suit that requested newly registered voters, some of whom the party suspects of being ineligible to vote, to request that the new voters fill out provisional ballots rather than regular ones. When the circuit court ruled in the Republican Party’s favor, Brunner took it to the Supreme Court, and it ruled in her favor.

What this means is that the thousands of newly registered voters, many of whom are young voters or members of traditionally disenfranchised (urban poor and new citizens), will be treated just like every other voter. Rather than questioning the vote first, it seems that voters should be assumed innocent until proven otherwise. Allowing them to fill out regular ballots like everyone else seems to be a step in the right direction.

Cross posted at Pushback.

If Other Countries Could Vote (In U.S. Elections) ...

McCain's approval ratings are pretty dismal in other countries.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Crumbling Infrastructure

McClatchy has a report today that calls attention to the "ticking time bomb" of our nation's infrastructure. The collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis last year should have been a wake-up call to the crumbling bridges, highways, and transit systems in many cities around the country. Instead, an interview with someone from the American Society of Civil Engineers says we have "a patch-and-pray approach, not a strategic, more thoughtful approach."

This seems like a good time for the country to take a step back and really evaluate. What do we want the cities of our future to look like? What infrastructure do we need to get ourselves there? What do we do with the old infrastructure? It seems clear that the model laid out in the 1950s, that's now starting to deteriorate, was dependent on cars and isn't sustainable in the future. We need more public transit, city-to-city rail, and bridges that are pedestrian-friendly.

Another point that comes out of this article is pork is useful for rebuilding infrastructure. While John McCain and Sarah Palin rail against useless spending and talk about the "bridge to nowhere," they seem to forget that most of our countries roads, bridges and public transit systems were built with the help of federal funds. This is another part of what never made sense to me about Palin's "bridge to nowhere" line in her speech. She talked about how if Alaskans wanted a bridge, they would build it themselves. Given that bridges are expensive and that there aren't very many Alaskans, such a statement would result in the highest tax burden in the country, simply to build a bridge.

While it's a popular talking point, it certainly doesn't make any sense when you're talking about building infrastructure to discount federal dollars.

Baylor Tries to Cheat on the SAT

Kudos to some student reporting at Baylor University’s Lariat Online that broke a story about the school trying to buy its way to better SAT scores among their admitted freshman class. The scandal made its way into today’s Inside Higher Ed and New York Times.

Baylor offered a $300 bookstore credit and a $1,000 merit aid reward to accepted students who would agree to re-take the SAT for a better score. By doing this, the school managed to raise its average score for incoming freshman from 1200 to 1210. As I’ve written before, many schools are actually considering moving away from using the SAT as a primary factor for admittance, mostly because it skews classes toward the white and well off.

It seems weird that while many schools are trending away from this rigid test, Baylor’s administrators are not only embracing it, but trying to cheat their way to a 10-point higher average score. It just goes to show what lengths schools will go to to keep their spots in those terrible annual rankings printed by U.S. News and World Report.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Project Runway Finale v. Presidential Debate Finale

Via @aterkel, I have a DVR, but otherwise I'd be doing this tonight:

When Kenley laughs, switch to the debate.

When Obama says “four more years of George Bush,” switch to “Project Runway.”

When “Project Runway” goes to commercials, switch to the debate.

When McCain says “my friends,” switch to “Project Runway.”

When the designers accompany their models into the branded styling areas, switch to the debate.

When Bob Schieffer scolds the candidates for exceeding their time limits, switch to “Project Runway.”

When “Project Runway” goes to more commercials, switch to the debate.

When you hear the words “Bill Ayers,” switch to “Project Runway.”

When the designers’ collections are being modeled and critiqued, stick with “Project Runway.” Really, you could skip everything else, but you gotta see those outfits. When the show returns to commercials, switch to the debate.

When you hear the phrase “both sides of the aisle,” switch to “Project Runway.”

When “Project Runway” announces a winner, switch to the debate for the final uninterrupted half hour.

The International Black Conspiracy

This is possibly the funniest thing I've seen today:
FACT! Barack Obama spent twenty years in the same church as radically black pastor Jeremiah Wright, who has been known to make such incendiary claims as "white people enslaved black people" and "white people killed Native Americans." Is Barack Obama part of the international black conspiracy to trick white people into thinking about racism? Answer: maybe.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Rumor Mill

My co-worker Jesse Singal had an interesting article in this Sunday's Boston Globe's Ideas section. He talks about rumors and how they spread. It turns out that rumors are a lot like news and other things that could be facts. People trade them not with vicious intent, but rather tell people to try to figure out if they're true. Of course, Jesse places his story in the context of the election, but probably the best example is John Edwards' affair, which was rumored to be true for months but Edwards was finally forced to admit it was true. One of the really interesting things I thought was this:
Other than denying a rumor that's true, perhaps the biggest mistake one can make, DiFonzo and other researchers say, is to adopt a "no comment" policy: Numerous studies have shown that rumors thrive in environments of uncertainty. Considering that rumors often represent a real attempt to get at the truth, the best way to fight them is to address them in as comprehensive a manner as possible.
This makes sense to me. The answer "no comment" doesn't make any sense and whoever asked the question will just ask more people to see if he or she can get a better and more sensical answer. The whole Norm Colman press agent answer "The Senator has reported every gift he's ever received" line seems to fall along the lines of "no comment."

I Must Be Hungry Today

I stumbled upon this today, which I found highly useful.

Learning to Cook

Okay, so it took me a couple days, but I just finished Michael Pollan's long essay in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine about food policy. Matt and Ezra have good points, but there is one I want to add. This particular passage about schools seems significant:

Changing the food culture must begin with our children, and it must begin in the schools. Nearly a half-century ago, President Kennedy announced a national initiative to improve the physical fitness of American children. He did it by elevating the importance of physical education, pressing states to make it a requirement in public schools. We need to bring the same commitment to “edible education” — in Alice Waters’s phrase — by making lunch, in all its dimensions, a mandatory part of the curriculum. On the premise that eating well is a critically important life skill, we need to teach all primary-school students the basics of growing and cooking food and then enjoying it at shared meals.

To change our children’s food culture, we’ll need to plant gardens in every primary school, build fully equipped kitchens, train a new generation of lunchroom ladies (and gentlemen) who can once again cook and teach cooking to children. We should introduce a School Lunch Corps program that forgives federal student loans to culinary-school graduates in exchange for two years of service in the public-school lunch program. And we should immediately increase school-lunch spending per pupil by $1 a day — the minimum amount food-service experts believe it will take to underwrite a shift from fast food in the cafeteria to real food freshly prepared.
The components to this proposal are twofold. First, that we are going to extra lengths to feed our children crap instead of delicious, nutritious food. As Eliza Krigman pointed out in her review of School Lunch Politics, what passes for nutritional standards for school-sponsored lunches is a joke. We all remember the scene in Super Size Me where Morgan Spurlock looked at the low-grade quality of meat served in schools. Rather than viewing schools as a dumping ground for bad food, children should be served some of their best in the formative years where they spend the majority of their waking hours.

The second part of that is proposing a shift to including valuable life skills in part of a standard public education. Rather than taking a home ec class where students are asked to make a pan of brownies in one week of a six-week class, why not take a life skill like cooking seriously as part of a comprehensive education? After all, the default has be come that people need to opt in to learning how to cook rather than opting out.

I'd actually like to see schools take on other life skills as part of a required education: learning basic financial skills about how to use a credit card, comprehensive sex education, and learning how to buy for and cook healthy, balanced meals on a budget. After all, these are skills that everyone can use. Rather than assuming everyone pick them up outside of the education system, why don't we make them part of a required education along with math, English, and physical education?

Image courtesy Flickr user Joshua Davis ( used with a CC license.

Txt Me L8R

Sometimes The New Yorker makes itself just sound old. At least, that’s what I thought when I read this article on text messaging by Louis Menand. The article makes a lot of good points about how linguists find the unique misspellings in text messaging fascinating, but Ezra points out a lot of the flaws.

I have one more to add.

This passage is just weird:

Usually, if you can text a person you can much more quickly and efficiently call that person. But people sometimes text when they are close enough to talk face to face. People like to text. Why is that?

Crystal’s answer is that texting is, partly, a game. It’s like writing a sonnet (well, sort of): the requirement is to adapt the message to immutable formal constraints. A sonnet can’t have more than fourteen lines, and a mobile-phone message can’t have more than a hundred and forty bytes, which is usually enough for a hundred and sixty characters. This is a challenge to ingenuity, not an invitation to anarchy.

Okay, sure. Text messaging is like writing a sonnet. But Menand also seems to forget that a lot of times text messaging serves a practical purpose. Probably the reason people are texting each other while standing next to one another is because it’s a way to send a private message to someone even if you’re in a big group. It’s also really useful when you’re in a loud club or bar to locate a friend. Rather than attempting to scream into your cell phone louder than the background noise, you simply send a written text message to your friend sitting in the back booth. It eliminates the need to waste time searching for your friends and reduces the annoying nature of public cell phone use.

Perhaps next time The New Yorker should commission an article about text messaging from someone who actually uses it well instead of getting 56-year-old Menand, excellent writer though he may be, to cover a new technology he clearly isn’t all that familiar with.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Compatibility Issues

Megan over at Jezebel has a post on dating in different age brackets. She challenges the assumption that women should always date older men. The assumption is that women mature more quickly than men, so women are attracted to men that are more "mature" than the boys their age. But Megan has a litany of personal examples why this doesn't work:

From the 43-year-old guy that used his terminally-ill brother as an excuse to regularly stand me up (but instead went out on dates with women he met online) to the 45-year-old guy who tried to pressure me into anal sex by claiming he couldn't orgasm any other way, to the 46-year-old guy who spent the entire time we dated apologizing for not being cool enough, I didn't get maturity, stability or self-confidence. And let's not forget my 50-year-old married stalker or the 60-year-old Congressman that I couldn't shake off my trail — I can't say any married guy who's ever hit on me was my age or younger. My last relationship ended after 4 years (when he was rounding the bend of 35) because he just wasn't in a place in his life to commit, and the guy I dated for 3 years before that went online when he hit 30 (I was 25) because he wasn't sure he'd slept with enough women to commit to a lifetime together. Each of these guys dumped enough of their emotional baggage on me from years of dating the wrong people and fucking up other relationships and getting dicked over by other women that I started to feel like I was not only having to be the normal variety of thoughtful and kind that I think dating (and general human interaction) entails, but as though I was having to atone for what life and women had supposedly done to them.

I have to agree with Megan here. There's no reason to assume that with age comes emotional maturity. This just becomes something that women say after dating a series of assholes and then finding an older man who happens to not be. I've dated older guys (ok, one older guy) and younger guys, both successfully, but the common thread here is that they weren't jerks. Age does not necessarily correspond directly to emotional maturity, and it's not just for men. Women can be pretty goddamn immature too.

Let's call a spade a spade here. I've heard a lot of women say that guys just aren't "mature" enough for a relationship yet or that they aren't "ready for a commitment." What this really is is people who just aren't right for one another, most of the time because one of them doesn't treat the other one very well, and they break up because of that. Rather than looking for reasons of "maturity" we should just say, that guy was a jerk or he wasn't right for you. End of story.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Report: Our Generation is Less Educated

A disturbing report released today and written about in Inside Higher Ed points out that our generation might be falling behind when it comes to education. Although white and Asian American students are doing as well as the generation that’s now in its 30s, blacks, Latinos, and especially American Indian youth are falling behind the previous generation in the rates at which they complete even two-year college degree. Because our generation has diminishing numbers of whites and Asians when compared with the other ethnic groups, the aggregate result is “evidence of some progress [that] alternates with evidence of stagnation.”

Although the report, released by the American Council on Education in full later this month, notes that overall minority enrollment in higher education is up, “Among students who began at two-year institutions in 1995 and 2003, 55 percent of the 2003 freshmen were still enrolled or had attained a certificate or degree anywhere in higher education three years later, compared with 60 percent for the 1995 cohort. For Hispanics, this rate dropped sharply from 62 percent to 54 percent.”

It shows that for all the talk about making college affordable and accessible, there is still a lot of work to do in making sure everyone benefits from the expansion of higher education. Also, this survey seemed to look only at race, so I would be interested to see a similar study that also analyzed socioeconomic status.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Daytime TV Delves into Politics

The fabulous Rebecca Traister has a great article in Salon about how the election is playing out on more than just the cable news networks. Political discourse has found an unlikely home: daytime talk shows. Outlets like The View, Ellen DeGeneres’s show, and the forum of cook-turned-talk-show-host Rachael Ray have become a place to speak one-on-one with the candidates and discuss the news of the day.

What’s interesting about Traister’s analysis is that it demonstrates that daytime talk shows, like other shows from a female point of view, were always thought to be distinct from discourse about politics and policy. Surely the women who watch these shows are more interested in learning about how to do crafts with their kids or celebrity gossip, the reasoning went. But something has shifted. Now the assumption is that women who watch these shows are interested in politics and policy because they affect their everyday lives.

Women, polls show, are worried about the economy. They stress about the cost of gas, retirement, and how to pay for health insurance. The way policy plays out has real implications for all of these things, so it should be no surprise that the shows are finally waking up to the fact that people want to hear and talk about political issues. The old assumptions about the viewers of these shows are falling away, and hopefully they will bring more to male-dominated political discourse.

Cross posted at Pushback.

A Real Story About Abortion from South Dakota

Feministing has a great guest post from South Dakota's Tiffany Campbell, a spokeswoman for the state's Healthy Families initiative that is fighting the abortion ban on the ballot this fall. Campbell's story about being overjoyed at learning she was pregnant with twins, then devastated when they discovered their twins suffered from a rare and severe condition.
But then we learned that our sons were suffering from a severe case of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. That's a condition where twins unequally share blood circulation. It meant that one boy was receiving too much blood resulting in a strained heart and acute risk of heart failure. Meanwhile, his brother was clinging to life, but his blood supply was insufficient to sustain normal development. This is an affliction where if one twin dies, the other faces significant risk of death.

So we were faced with an awful situation that forced us to examine our most fundamental moral and spiritual beliefs. At first we just didn't want to believe the doctors' prognosis. We wanted so badly for our boys to win the fight. But we couldn't stay on the sidelines forever: against all of our hopes and prayers, our twins' conditions continued to deteriorate quickly.

This was the most difficult decision of our lives. We could let nature run its course and pray that by the grace of God our boys would miraculously survive, or we could abort the sicker of the two, giving his brother a legitimate shot at life.

We decided to abort one of our sons. Our decision was predicated on consultation with experts in the field of fetal medicine, our personal beliefs, prayer, and a mother's intuition.

But Campbell's story is not uncommon. She is one of many women that face complications during pregnancy. Another common instance where women are faced with aborting one or more fetuses is often if they use fertility drugs or in vitro fertilization. Not everyone can be Jon and Kate Plus 8. The toll of multiple births and illnesses that some may not survive is too great for some families. The important thing is that families are allowed to make these decisions for themselves.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Obama’s Health Care Plan

Today Kaiser Network had a webcast with David Cutler, health care adviser to Barack Obama and a professor of economics at Harvard. (Kaiser will broadcast a similar discussion with McCain’s adviser Jay Khosla next week.) Cutler talked about some of the details of Obama’s plan to reform health care.

  • The plan puts a big emphasis on revamping information technology in health care. The idea is to subsidize smaller provider’s switch to digital record keeping so that records are more holistic and transferred more easily. The goal is to reduce mistakes in treatment due to incomplete medical information.
  • The plan doesn’t include a mandate, meaning each individual wouldn’t be required by law to carry insurance coverage, but the goal is to reduce costs so that individuals have options to buy into an affordable plan.
  • Although the plan calls for an investment of $50-65 billion a year at the outset, ultimately part of rising national debt is related to skyrocketing medical costs, so the hope is to reduce costs in the long run and actually save money. Obama’s plan hopes to save those with private insurance about 8 percent per year.
  • The plan wants to put a greater emphasis on preventative care. Cutler noted that roughly three-quarters of medical costs are spent on treating preventable illnesses. Changing the system to emphasize preventative medicine would require incentives for doctors to make follow up calls to patients, create comprehensive treatment, or invest in electronic medical records.
  • Cutler insists that Obama’s plan isn’t rigid because he wants to bring many groups to the table to discuss priorities and care and ways to alter the current health care system.

Many feared that health care would fall back on the candidates’ list of priorities because of the expensive bailout plan. But given that both campaigns are willing to sit down and discuss their health care plans in greater detail, it appears this may not be the case.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Gender Roles at Fancy Schmancy Restaurants

The New York Times had an article yesterday about gender roles in upscale dining. This article is interesting to me, as someone who’s relatively new to upscale restaurants. Until recently it never really occurred to me to go out to fancy restaurants, partially because I could never afford them, and partially because I grew up in a small town where there just weren’t upscale restaurants available.

So it wasn’t until last weekend, when I was out to dinner with a group of mixed gender and age at an upscale restaurant, that I really noticed the hierarchy in service at such establishments.

Because the way we sat down had the women sitting roughly in the middle of a long table with some men on either side, it became very awkward when the server took orders from women first, then went around each end of the table to take the men’s orders, especially creating problems when some of us weren’t ready to order.

The problem with some very traditional upscale restaurant manners is that they assume things about men and women that may not be true. Another example the article gave is that waiters tend to always consult men on ordering wine, when the woman may be more knowledgeable about the selection. There is, of course, no way for the waiter to know the internal workings of any social group, so it seems to me to pull the emphasis off of assumptions about gender, and ask the entire table about a wine selection and see who might be interested in taking charge. What if a group of colleagues was out with their female boss? Wouldn’t it be insulting to consult a man on a wine selection instead of his superior?

In addition, it seems that the wait staffs add some stereotypes of their own. The article noted that, “A table composed entirely of women may receive the most unequal treatment of all, because some servers may see it as a less profitable opportunity.” Apparently because women tend to order less, the total and therefore the tip also ends up being less. They also note that women “stick around” longer than men do and hold tables. I doubt that this is always true and find it infuriating that wait staff assume women are less worthy customers based on a few observations they’ve made.

Isn’t the point of paying top dollar at a fancy restaurant to have an excellent experience? Creating elaborate stereotypes about women and men that result in women getting treated as “second-class citizens” isn’t worth the price to me. I hope to see these gender stereotypes fall out of fashion soon (as the Times article notes, some restaurants in the Village are starting to buck them). In the meantime I might enjoy some downscale restaurants where you order when you’re ready, the food comes when it’s hot, and the prices are friendlier to my nonprofit salary.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Protecting the Women who Run for Office in Iraq

As Iraq begins to draw toward its long-delayed elections, many women running for office say they feel unsafe when listing their name on the ballot. So what to do to protect these women? Apparently the answer might be as simple as keeping their names secret on a ballot. This seems weird to many Americans -- much of campaigns are based on a candidate's personality, but in Iraq the revelation of a woman's name on a ballot can be deadly:
"I feel that I am unprotected," said the teacher, speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity because of her fears. "I am not going to run in the elections because I fear for the safety of members of my family who might be targeted."
In other countries that elect representatives on a proportional representation system, voters select a political party they feel best represents them, then however many seats the party wins determines how many people on the party's list will serve in office. This is the case in Iraq, with 25 percent of seats designated to women.

But the women in Iraq are fearful of running for office. They fear not only for their own lives, but for the lives of their families. In the instance of protecting women's right to run for office, it may be prudent to allow them to remain anonymous on the ballot. But my question becomes, what happens after these women are elected? They may be just as threatened after election as they are during the electoral process.

E-Textbooks of the Future at U of Texas

Inside Higher Ed reports today that the University of Texas-Austin has announced that it will be converting entirely to e-textbooks in an attempt to circumvent the racket of the publishing industry’s paper books. Each semester, the college negotiates fees with publishers based on how many students are in each class. Then the college passes that fee on to the students–except this time the fee is somewhere between $20 and $40 per text instead of $150 to $400.

The switch to e-books is an attempt to both cut costs for the students and to stay up-to-date with current texts. These days, students can pay up to $900 per semester for their books, especially for hardcover science textbooks, which need to be updated often and have high production values. The problem is that the e-book market is still a really small portion of the publishing industry. The technology is still developing.

But I always thought that e-books would break in to the textbook industry first. After all, the huge amount of waste that goes into producing millions of textbooks each semester is astonishing. Electronic books would also make it much easier for students to search through texts and find the passages they previously read. It would make studying more efficient and less wasteful environmentally. Furthermore, it could increase profits for the book authors because the publishing industry doesn’t have to spend so much of the book cost on buying expensive paper and shipping. I’m optimistic about the future of e-textbooks, but I think it will take several years for them to work out all the bugs.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Challenging the Supreme Court on Choice

Ballot initiatives around the country this fall -- a parental notification measure in California, a "personhood" measure in Colorado, and an outright abortion ban in South Dakota -- threaten choice at various levels, but if passed, the implications can be even greater. I have a post up over at RH Reality Check about the division of opinion within the anti-choice movement about where the Supreme Court stands on whether Justice Anthony Kennedy is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Ultimately, the division among anti-choice conservatives centers on how they interpret the positions of the current Supreme Court justices. To more closely examine this division within the anti-choice movement, one need only look at a memo (PDF) written last year by James Bopp, Jr. and Richard E. Coleson, two socially conservative lawyers specializing in constitutional law in response to Colorado's proposed amendment.

Bopp and Coleson noted that the "equal protection" analysis that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put forth in the Gonzalez v. Carhart dissent in 2006, in which she wrote that "legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature," has a potentially damaging impact on the anti-choice movement. They fear that other justices will begin to agree with Ginsburg, and that once abortion access is inextricably linked with a woman's ability to be an autonomous citizen (as it should be!), the anti-choice movement would lose all political momentum.

Here's where the strategy gets tricky. Bopp and Coleson argue that even if a direct abortion ban, like the one that is on the ballot in South Dakota, passes and reaches the Supreme Court, the "swing" vote on the Supreme Court these days -- Justice Anthony Kennedy -- would not be ready to overturn Roe. If that were the case, Ginsburg would be the justice writing the majority opinion rejecting an abortion ban and outlining in greater detail what "equal citizenship" means. Bopp and Coleson write that they fear this "new legal justification for the right to abortion would be a powerful weapon" and they even think it might lead to the Supreme Court, if they were to rule on a case that directly challenges Roe, overturning "parental involvement for minors, waiting periods, specific informed consent information, and so on."

Read the rest of the article here.

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