Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thoughts on Daschle

While President-elect Barack Obama's transition team is busy announcing his appointments to State, Defense, and OMB, in my column at RH Reality Check this week I take a closer look at the choice of Tom Daschle as Health and Human Services Secretary. Some are pleased, others aren't:

Gloria Feldt, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood from 1994-2005, was less than excited to hear the news of Daschle's appointment. "Tom Daschle's strengths are that he is well-connected in Washington, he is well-connected in the health care industry, although some may say that there are conflicts there, he fully understands and knows the congressional process of making legislation, of policy creation, and he I think enjoys a great deal of respect from members of Congress. That said, many of those very strengths are his weaknesses as well," Feldt said. She notes that Dashle wasn't particularly known for a strong leadership style, but came to the debate as a compromiser, especially following the Democrats' electoral defeat of 2000.

In particular Feldt pointed to meetings she had with Daschle in the early days of the Bush administration about anti-choice judicial nominees. "Tom Daschle's response was to essentially roll over and play dead," she said. "His first answer was, ‘These guys are going to get confirmed anyway. Why are you asking us to fight?'"
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eating Testicles on Jezebel

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I participated in this experiment, but let me just reiterate: testicles do not taste good.

A Very Feminist Thanksgiving Feast from Megan Carpentier on Vimeo.

It Ain’t No Culture War

Ann Friedman is right in her column over at The American Prospect: The battle over LGBT rights isn’t a culture war. By calling it such, we’re losing ground in the debate. The debate over LGBT is a matter of civil rights, not culture, and until the left can succeed in framing it as such, we well always be victim of those that prefer to remain on the sidelines, waiting to see who wins the fight.

In the aftermath of the election, many progressive pundits were eager to call the culture wars done and over, their influence no longer as strong. And yet, there are thousands in California whose marriages over the last several months hang in jeopardy. Single parents, including gay parents, have been stripped of the right to adopt children from Arkansas, and a judge in Miami just today ruled that gay adoption should be illegal. Thousands more aren’t able to stay with their partners in the hospital or share in employer health insurance benefits because the state refuses to recognize the union of two people of the same sex. This isn’t culture we’re talking about. These are people’s lives. Until we get Americans to recognize these battles as a civil rights issue, we’ll always be on the losing side.

Correction: This post originally said that a judge in Florida ruled that gay adoption was illegal. The judge actually ruled against a gay adoption ban, thereby making gay adoption legal in the state of Florida.

Cross posted on Pushback.

Can Human Taste Ever Be Predictable? Netflix Is Betting On It

Over the weekend I read this fascinating article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine about the predictor algorithm that Netflix has been working on for years. The online movie rental giant has put forth a contest challenging people to improve its recommendation system. Anyone who can increase its accuracy by 10 percent will receive $1 million.

If you have a Netflix subscription, you’ve probably noticed that the company harasses you about rating every movie. The reasoning goes that if you keep rating movies, Netflix might be able to recommend new ones that you like. It’s similar to the technology that Amazon and iTunes use to recommend books and music you might like.

The major obstacle to improving Netflix, it turns out, is quirky fare like Napolean Dynamite:

Worse, close friends who normally share similar film aesthetics often heatedly disagree about whether “Napoleon Dynamite” is a masterpiece or an annoying bit of hipster self-indulgence. When [51-year-old “semiretired” computer scientist Len] Bertoni saw the movie himself with a group of friends, they argued for hours over it. “Half of them loved it, and half of them hated it,” he told me. “And they couldn’t really say why. It’s just a difficult movie.”

Mathematically speaking, “Napoleon Dynamite” is a very significant problem for the Netflix Prize. Amazingly, Bertoni has deduced that this single movie is causing 15 percent of his remaining error rate; or to put it another way, if Bertoni could anticipate whether you’d like “Napoleon Dynamite” as accurately as he can for other movies, this feat alone would bring him 15 percent of the way to winning the $1 million prize. And while “Napoleon Dynamite” is the worst culprit, it isn’t the only troublemaker. A small subset of other titles have caused almost as much bedevilment among the Netflix Prize competitors. When Bertoni showed me a list of his 25 most-difficult-to-predict movies, I noticed they were all similar in some way to “Napoleon Dynamite” — culturally or politically polarizing and hard to classify, including “I Heart Huckabees,” “Lost in Translation,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” “Kill Bill: Volume 1” and “Sideways.”

In other words, the programmers tackling the Neflix problem are attempting to tackle whether human taste can ever be totally predictable based on past behaviors. Quirky comedies and outrageously political commentaries seem to be hard to predic –the more controversial the film, the harder it is to say if someone will like it or hate it.

The interesting thing about these programs it it sets it up as a computer versus human scenario. But the programmers are examining very human questions. For instance, Bertoni realized the difficulties posed to Netflix by widely panned films that fit into a user’s preferred genre. As long as humans are addressing those questions on the programming end, it will be a combination of computer and human prediction.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Student Moms

Inside Higher Ed has a profile of a program that provides special housing to single mothers who are attending an undergraduate Roman Catholic institution, the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska. These women are required to find their own childcare, but by putting single mothers in one place, it has fostered a cooperative living environment where the women can watch one another’s children while at class. Furthermore, the living situation addresses some diversity problems that the college seems to have:

This housing option for single mothers began in fall 2000, when it attracted nine mothers and their ten children. Tara Knudson Carl, Saint Mary senior vice president, said the idea of the program arose in administrative conversations as way to serve this traditionally underserved population. She added that the program was started on a trial basis. Participation reached its peak in fall 2007, when 39 women with 46 children lived in Walsh Hall.

This year’s cohort living in the Mothers Living and Learning program is more racially diverse than the overall Saint Mary student population – which is 78 percent white. Fifty-six percent of the mothers are white, 38 percent are black and 6 percent are Hispanic. Additionally, students enrolled in the single mothers’ program have a higher graduation rate than the overall student population. The recent six-year graduation rate for mothers in the program was 53 percent, compared to 51 percent for the entire student body. Citing the relative youth of the program, Carl said she expects this graduation rate to increase significantly.

This program addresses is an age-old problem for women who want to have children. Having children and attaining professional success are often seen as being at odds with one another, mostly because there aren’t mechanisms in place to help women that want both. This program is one way to address the idea that women with children can succeed.

This program is only one of eight nationwide, but it seems to me that more colleges should consider implementing programs like this. College dormitories aren’t designed to house children, and a small building bought up by the university could help foster a cooperative living environment and give opportunities to those that might not otherwise get the chance to succeed. Although these women could live in off-campus housing, they really are on their own. Commute times and a lack of helpful neighbors make the burden of attending classes too much sometimes. More colleges and universities should consider implementing such programs.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Madam Chef

Via Sadie at Jezebel, The Independent has an essay on how women are “everyday cooks” while men earn the title of “chefs.” I already wrote a post here on the IFA about my own personal aversion to the kitchen and attention to the gender stereotypes, but I think that Sophie Radice seems to hit on a fear that many women have: although men may be taking on more cooking responsibilities, there’s still a hierarchy there. Women are supposed to prepare the daily dinners while men take the stage and show off for the dinner parties.

The only time I ever suggested cooking for anyone other than the children he laughed. For he believes that only men can be truly great cooks. And though he is not a misogynist in real life, he certainly is in the kitchen.

The thing is, the kitchen is real life. It’s a perpetual problem that women allow their partners to imply that their role in the home is one of maintenance. Women need to ask that men take an equal share in the everyday cooking, and take the stage if they want to. The point of all this gender discussion isn’t just to make sure we have more Stephanies on Top Chef, it’s also about making home responsibilities more equitable.

Radice makes a lot of good points about the general feeling about skill levels of men and women in the kitchen, but she also seemed to imply that complicated recipes are overrated (and her piece is loaded with some gender stereotypes of her own). There’s no shame in taking on a complex dish — but they shouldn’t be expected for everyday. One thing I’ve discovered with my own cooking experiences is that a lot of it is about confidence. While I found a lot of joy in trying this asparagus souffle from Simply Recipes with Kate at home, I would’ve been terrified to serve something so complicated to guests. But if you have the confidence required, you don’t mind making complicated things, even if they fail.

The ego that goes with many Top Chef contestants (and other major chefs) is one that is broadly encouraged in men and discouraged in women. The kind of negative commentary Radice gets from her husband only furthers her lack of confidence in her cooking skills. So remember to compliment the chef — especially if that chef is a she.

Cross posted at IFA.

Congresswoman Pregnant! (Psst. She's Not Married)

This is annoying. Rep. Linda Sanchez, who I think is an amazing and awesome feminist speaker is pregnant! Congrats! Good for her! Except all the Washington Post can focus on is that she's not married. *gasp*

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) is pregnant with her first child, the Los Angeles Times reports this morning. Which is hardly unusual -- several other congresswomen have given birth in office -- except for the fact that Sanchez isn't married . . . yet.

The dad is Sanchez's serious beau of more than a year, Connecticut consultant Jim Sullivan, and she tells LAT op-ed columnist Patt Morrison that they're "unofficially engaged." But since she's 39, they didn't want to wait any longer to start making a family.

So, no wedding date set yet. Their baby is due May 21, the Times reports.

What is this? Do we still live in 1961? People who aren't married have babies all the time. I think it's time for us to get over it.

James Dobson: WWJF?

This is a pretty funny video making fun of the fact that Focus on the Family is laying off 200 employees after sinking $500,000 into passing the ban on same-sex marriage in California.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Obama: Gym Rat

President-elect Barack Obama may be our healthiest president ever (well, except for that whole smoking thing), since, as Mike Scherer stalks reports in a post on Obama’s workout habits during the transition period, Obama averaged about 90 minutes a day at the gym this week.

Sunday: President-elect Barack Obama’s motorcade left his home in hyde park at 8:37 am sunday morning, arriving at Regents Park Apartments for his morning workout at 8:41 central time. He wore a light khaki-ish baseball cap, couldn’t tell the rest of his outfit. At 10:15 am his motorcade left Regents Park and returned to his house. [94 minutes.]

Monday: Motorcade rolled at 7:33 a.m. from Hyde Park residence en route Regents Park apartment building for the President-elect’s morning workout. He arrived about four minutes later. PEOTUS worked out for more than an hour and then returned home at 9:08 a.m. to shower and change. Your pool is holding steady outside the residence. [91 minutes.]

Tuesday: Workout. No news. The motorcade - six black SUVs, led by two Chicago police cars - pulled away from Obama’s home at 8.11 a.m., arrivng five minutes later at the Regents Park apartments. We rolled back at out at 9.35, arriving home five minutes later. [79 minutes.]

Wednesday: At 7.39 am. The motorcade headed to. Regents park for Obamas daily work
out. A man on the sidewalk held up his young bundled up a child to wave. The morning is cold and gray with whipping wind. 9.06 AM With the sun now shining Obama heads out from regents park gym. People walking dogs amidst swirling fall leaves in the park adjacent to
the regents park complex pay no mind to the motorcade. Agents use binoculars to look at nearby high rise roofs. [87 minutes.]

Thursday: Uneventful morning, as far as your pool could tell. President-elect Obama left his house at 8:24 am CT and arrived at Regents Park apartment building for work-out at 8:29 am CT. He departed at 10:04 am CT and we were back at his house at 10:12 am CT. [103 minutes.]

Man, this makes me think that somehow I’d be more disiplined at working out if I ran for president and could have a motorcade force escort me to the gym.

Cross posted at Pushback.

The RIAA Is Evil

Jesse notes that Tennessee’s universities are forced to spend millions on anti-pirating software even though they’re expecting to increase tuition and lay off teachers. As the article Jesse links to says, this is part of a national effort spearheaded by the RIAA to keep the record industry alive. In fact, as I wrote about before, the RIAA managed to sneak some of this stuff into the Higher Education Act reauthorization earlier this year.

Universities are going to end up spending anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars on equipment and software to combat file sharing–to subsidize an industry that may not serve a clear purpose anymore.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Is Culinary School Worth It?

It’s Top Chef season again. I’ll be making my friends some yummy food tonight while we watch the second episode. This season my favorite chef is Eugene, who worked his way up from his position as a dishwasher. The rest of the contestants went to fancy shmancy culinary schools.

Over at one of my other blog projects, The Internet Food Association, New America Foundation education policy wonk Ben Miller takes a look at whether culinary schools are actually worth their rather sizable price tag:

For those who don’t spend all day obsessed with higher education trade publications, cohort default rates measure how many student loan borrowers from a graduating class default on their debt within two years of graduation. The national average cohort default rate is right around 5 percent. A high cohort default rate generally indicates that students are having trouble finding jobs that helps them cover their debt. I say generally because the measure is far from perfect. For one, it only looks at what occurs two years out and not farther down the road, and two it is not perfectly correlated with school quality. (Those wanting to know more about the problems with cohort default rates can click here.)

The one good thing about cohort default rates is that the Department of Education publishes schools’ cohort default data right on its website. I pulled out every school with the word “culinary” in its name (none have chef or food), plus Baltimore International College and Johnson & Wales University, which also have culinary schools.

The results varied widely. The CIA was far and away the best of the large schools, recording a cohort default rate of around 2 percent each year in 2006, 2005, and 2004 (the most recent data due to the two-year measurement window). At the other end of the spectrum was Johnson & Wales and the JNA Institute of Culinary Arts. The former had over 7 percent of its 5,000-plus borrowers default, while the latter had 10 percent of its borrowers default in 2006 and 13 percent(!) default in 2005.

So the answer to the question is no, culinary school is probably not worth it. I see in the comments section that some are advocating for community colleges to step in for people who aren’t going to be top-tier chefs. The tuition at a community college is usually somewhere under $5,000 a year and gets you all the basic skills you might get at a more expensive for-profit institution.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Wealthy Elite

Jen Sorensen, one of my favorite cartoonists, posted this info from an alumni flyer (she went to UVA):
Estimated price: $64,950 per person

Highlights include Machu Picchu, Easter Island, Samoa, the Great Barrier Reef, Angkor Wat, Tibet, the Taj Mahal, the Serengeti Plain, Luxor, the pyramids and the Sphinx, Petra, and the Moroccan city of Fez. All in slightly under a month.
Trips sponsored by alumni associations are pretty common, but, as Jen says, this one takes the cake.

Focus on the Family Lays Off Employees

It seems that James Dobson’s organization, Focus on the Family, is laying off more than 200 people–about 20 percent of the organization–after the organization sank more than half a million dollars into the “Yes on 8″ campaign in California. This is the second round of layoffs in two months, and just one of many rounds of layoffs in the last few years.

Apparently the hard times in the economy affect the radical Christian right as much as the workers at General Motors. Right now the right is taking a hit; they’ve lost on almost every front–except passing anti-gay measures in three states–but they probably won’t be down for long. While FOTF has laid off hundreds in the last few years, their efforts may be rekindled after a couple of years of an unfriendly presidential administration. Much as the Bush administration lent itself to the growth of lefty organizations and lefty media, the opposition to the Obama’s administration will be slowly building in the next few years, and will resurface later on.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rule on Women and Health Care Access to be Finalized

The really awful proposed rule that Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Levitt is trying to push through in his last few weeks of public service is expected to be finalized this week. The rule not only “protects” doctors and nurses who receive federal money from administering health care to women due to their “religious beliefs”–something that is already covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964–but also seeks to redefine birth control as abortion. That way, the rule protects a doctor if he or she refuses to administer an abortion or birth control.

Obama opposes the rule and is expected to reverse it once in office, but that process could take three to six months. What’s also interesting is that the rule was proposed after the deadline of June 1 was waived by the White House for reasons that still haven’t been specified. It seems that this is just a last-minute “fuck you” to women’s rights groups.

Cross posted at Pushback.

This Is a Surprising Revelation

We think is written by a man (79%). [Gender Analyzer]

Race-blind Admissions Aren’t Real

Inside Higher Ed has a great piece today summarizing Timothy Groseclose’s study on the illusion of race-blind admissions. Oftentimes students make references to things in their persona essay that may tip off an admissions officer to a student’s race or ethnicity: mention of a unique holiday, travel outside of the country to visit relatives, or even the student’s hometown or high school. Additionally, high school activities, like involvement in the school’s Black Student Union, may tip off an officer to the student’s race. Even names can identify someone as a race or ethnicity. These indicators would probably be considered illegal under California’s anti-affirmative action measure, but they are impossible to exclude.

It may not be “fair” that a student can reveal his or her race simply through her name or student activities, but the admissions officer, as long as they aren’t giving preferential treatment solely for race reasons, is doing his or her job: admitting students who will create a positive learning environment for other students.

Conversely, the article points to other factors that make admissions unfair:

Is it fair that a student with C’s gets into an Ivy League school because his father is a trustee? How about the lacrosse player with SAT scores 300 points below the institution’s average? The daughter of a politician? The Republican at a liberal arts institution?

The dean of admissions at Tufts University called such factors another form of “affirmative action.” At it’s root, affirmative action’s goal isn’t to simply give preferential treatment to students of color–it’s designed to level the playing field for the students, like the ones above, who get into colleges simply because they have some other asset working for them.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Wanted: Geekettes

There’s an interesting piece in The New York Times today about the lack of women in computer science. While women are actually starting to approach parity in other hard science fields like math, and engineering, there are fewer women in computer engineering classes at places like MIT than there were 25 years ago. In other words, the number of women in the field is actually dropping. The article concludes that the reasons are varied and rather intangible, but one contributing factor could be stereotypes about men and women set at an early age:

Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Technology & Social Behavior, has written about the efforts in the 1990s to create computer games that would appeal to girls and, ultimately, increase the representation of women in computer science. In commenting as a co-contributor in a new book, “Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming,” Ms. Cassell writes of the failure of these efforts, “The girls game movement failed to dislodge the sense among both boys and girls that computers were ‘boys’ toys’ and that true girls didn’t play with computers.”

She said last week that some people in the field still believed that the answer to reversing declining enrollment was building the right game. Another school of thought is what she calls the “we won” claim because women have entered computer-related fields like Web site design that are not traditional computer science. Ms. Cassell points out that it’s not much of a victory, however. The pay is considerably less than in software engineering and the work has less influence on how computers are used, and whether this actually accounts for the diminishing numbers of female computer science majors remains unproved.

Ms. Cassell identifies another explanation for the drop in interest, which is linked to the pejorative figure of the “nerd” or “geek.” She said that this school of thought was: “Girls and young women don’t want to be that person.”

Cassell believes it has a lot to do with stereotypes. I definitely think that’s part of it. Interest in these fields develops at a young age, and if young girls are taught that computers are for boys, then they probably won’t engage with them. But there’s more to it than just stereotypes.

As I wrote in one of my three articles on women in academia last spring for Campus Progress, part of the problem with getting women to go into science, especially academic science, has a lot to do with mentorship. There’s a lot of reason to believe that women simply don’t get the support that’s needed to be competitive in academic sciences. There are few women to serve as role models and mentors. One way that a group of women in academic sciences approached this was to be peer mentors to one another, gathering every other week to talk about academic and career goals. This kind of mentorship becomes especially important in fields that are so heavily dominated by men.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Anti-Choicers and Obama

Jessica over at Jezebel has a good summary of a Washington Post article on pro-choice groups that are figuring out what to do now that they've lost on, well, almost every front this election. Some are outraged, others are more reasonable. But the article talks about the conflict between the Pope and Obama's plans to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, something that lifts many restrictions on abortion. The Pope sees this as an affront, and is threatening to drag his feet on other issues where he and Obama agree, like foreign policy and the environment. Apparently everyone sees the fact that the Pope might be less willing to work with Obama as a problem, but that seems weird to me. The Pope doesn't make public policy in America. Obama does.

I recall a documentary I saw on JFK's primary race once. People were concerned that JFK, the first and only Catholic president, might be secretly working for the Pope from Washington. Additionally, Catholics are increasingly distancing their politics from the Vatican, so perhaps Obama should just focus on working with Catholics themselves instead of the Pope.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Obama on the Supreme Court

The LA Times had a speculative piece this weekend on who President-elect Barack Obama would choose to nominate for the Supreme Court if a vacancy opened up (the article does point out that John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg haven’t indicated they’re retiring in the next four years).

The first part of the article notes that many liberals are clamoring for Obama to choose a liberal lion in the mold of former Justices like Earl Warren, Thurgood Marshall, or William Brennan from the Supreme Court’s civil rights heyday. The article then mention those who have already been pushed by various groups as obvious candidates (there is a big push for a woman): Judges Diane Wood, from the U.S. appeals court in Chicago, Sonia Sotomayor, from the U.S. appeals court in New York, and Elena Kagan, who is dean of Harvard Law School.

But the article is quick to note that while liberals might be hungering for a social justice advocate on the Supreme Court, evidence suggests that Obama may go the route of Bill Clinton and choose a more moderate justice if a position were to open up:

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press editorial board in October, he described Warren, Brennan and Marshall as “heroes of mine. . . . But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I think their judicial philosophy is appropriate for today.”

Obama, because he has a heavy background in law already, may do little consulting for a Supreme Court justice appointment, so it’s hard to tell where his sympathies might lie until the situation presents itself. I fear that this is yet another avenue by which liberals may end up finding themselves disappointed.

While Bush took his re-election as a signal to push a conservative agenda on the Supreme Court, there’s evidence that Obama will not take the opportunity to push a liberal agenda on the Supreme Court. The problem, of course, is that the Supreme Court has already tipped so far in the balance of conservatives that appointing more moderates to the Court won’t be doing anyone’s civil liberties much of a favor.

Cross posted at Pushback.

In Mexico, Bodyguards Are In Fashion

I so rarely see mainstream American media address Mexico's violent situation, but yesterday the New York Times ran this story about how wealthy families in Mexico are hiring bodyguards, dressing them in designer clothes, and having them escort their children to school.

Unfortunately, the story mostly reads like a style section piece that seems to claim "bodyguards are the new black" which doesn't at all seem the best way to go about reporting the terrifying situation in Mexico today, where loved ones can be kidnapped at any moment. The situation is so bad that many upper class Mexicans are simply leaving the country. But the problem is really those that aren't from the upper crust:
Some security consultants and academics point out that at least the upper crust has options, while other Mexicans must rely on law enforcement agencies, known for their corruption and ineffectiveness, to protect them from the violence. Many families who struggle to make ends meet find their loved ones grabbed for ransom. And shootouts between traffickers and the police and soldiers pursuing them erupt with no regard for the income level of bystanders.
It's hard to imagine living in a world like this, yet it's a reality for many Mexicans today, and it's sort of amazing that it garners so little attention from the American press, since it all happens in America's back yard.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Update: Clinton as Secretary of State

Unsurprisingly, Barack Obama does not read this blog and appears to have offered Sen. Hillary Clinton the Secretary of State job anyway.

Madam First Lady

Emily Brazelon has some feedback on the Rebecca Traister piece on Michelle Obama's "momification" I wrote about earlier this week. Brazelon seems to be giving feminist props to Michelle Obama for her role as mom-in-chief, that the media (and the Obama campaign/administration itself) has recently been promoting. I agree with Brazelon's main point that just blaming the media for this is a little too easy. I also agree that Michelle's role as wife and mom isn't exactly new and it's one that she's been promoting throughout the campaign. I think the answer is much deeper, it's about the illusion of choice many women have. We're seeing though that illusion with Michelle Obama.

What we're talking about here at the root of this is the the debate that's been happening since the second wave of feminism. Woman who didn't want to be attacked for staying at home to raise children accuse feminists of going back on their "choice" rhetoric. The reasoning goes that feminists should support the "choices" of women, even if that means a woman "chooses" to stay at home to raise children instead of pursuing a career. And I agree, when a woman (or man, for that matter) decides that raising children is that important, then more power to her (or him!).

The tricky part, though, is that "choices" aren't as open or easy as we like to think they are. Women tend to be at a disadvantage when making these choices thanks to the fact that they are often out-earned by their husbands and the pressure of societal norms that call on women to be caretakers.

Take the pressures on Michelle Obama. Michelle can't really "choose" to be a working First Lady in the White House. That would be weird, right? No other First Lady has done that, and Michelle probably isn't really into breaking. It also seems clear that everyone, Michelle included, is seeking to avoid "repeating Hillary Clinton's rocky first lady performance," as Brazelon said. Clinton flexed her muscles as First Lady, and the result was that she became one of the most polarizing figures in America. The backlash on Hillary's role as First Lady will last for a long time.

So Michelle has been left with extremely limited choices. She probably doesn't want to be as passive as many other First Ladies, but she certainly can't be like Hillary. She may have made her peace with the decision to make career sacrifices for Barack a long time ago, as Brazelon said, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's easy for her. Barack even acknowledges Michelle's resentment of his lack of domestic help in his second book, The Audacity of Hope. In many ways, Michelle's situation is like many other women who are part of powerful couples today and are more or less forced into making hard decisions when their husbands get promotions that are too good to turn down.*

But while I agree with most of what Brazelon says, I thought this line seemed off, "in the meantime, yes, [Michelle] is the one honcho-ing their physical move, or at least whom to delegate it to. I hope so! Because I want my president-elect working on other pressing matters like our economic crisis." It may be true for the Obama's that Barack's job is too important for him to be an equal partner in household affairs, but I think such justifications are liberally applied to other men with "important" jobs. Are the cultural expectations really so different when the man is president of a company or running his own business? The conventional wisdom is that we can't expect men to share in household work because their jobs are too important. Women's jobs, on the other hand, are almost never considered more important than family responsibilities. I have a hard time believing that people would be so generous to Michelle if the Obamas' roles were reversed, and it was she that was too busy to pay cursory attention to finding the right schools for her daughters because she was dealing with the country's economic crisis.

In the end this debate is just a redux of the "mommy wars" that resurface every few years. I never found these screaming matches very useful. But the one good thing to come out of them, as shrill and awful as they were, is that men need to be expected to help with the responsibilities of home and children equally, no matter how busy they are. In the Obama's case, it may not be possible, but it's probably the only exception I can think of. We also need to stop assuming that just because women have children they must want to give up a career. Unfortunately, Michelle's situation has sparked this debate once again.

*For the vast majority of women today, working isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. Most women must work because they have to. It isn't a choice for them.

Single Mothers Drop in College Attendance

Well, here’s yet another complication to Bill Clinton’s welfare reform. Changes in welfare policy during the 1990s put the incentive on welfare recipients to work, by means of kicking them off after a certain, rather arbitrary, period of time. The changes received a mixed reaction from liberals: first an urge to veto the legislation, then warming up to the reforms but calling for alterations to them.

A new study shows (via Inside Higher Ed) that single mothers are dropping in college attendance in an era of welfare reform because education doesn’t count as work. In single mothers aged 24 to 49 with only a high school education, college attendance reduced by 20 to 25 percent compared with pre-welfare reform statistics. The researchers behind the study say there is strong evidence to think this might be linked to the changes in distribution of welfare.

This policy doesn’t make a lot of sense. The best way for many people, especially women, to increase their income is to attend school. By placing the emphasis of welfare reform only on work and not including education in that formula, we’re reinforcing economic stratification and discouraging economic mobility. Without knowing much about the nitty gritty of welfare policy, it seems to me we should fix this policy to encourage higher education, not discourage it.

Cross posted at Pushback.

College Is Expensive

Some of the best high school students don't attend for college. More don't even take the SAT, and a greater number don't take necessary steps like touring campuses. Why is that? Inside Higher Ed points to what seems like an obvious solution: it's too expensive (about 80 percent cited cost as a major factor in deciding not to attend post-secondary school). This is especially a problem because it's a disproportionate amount of minorities -- about 48 percent -- many of whom came from low-income families. In other words, part of the problems universities are having with increasing their racial diversity may have to do with college cost.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?

I for one think it would be a really, really bad idea to have Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Some feminists are in favor of this, presumably because they think it's good to have as many women in high-level administration jobs as possible. But the reason Hillary Clinton is bad on foreign policy is because she's known to be pretty hawkish, voting for the war in Iraq and never apologizing for it. It's a position I can understand as senator, but not in such a key diplomatic position as SoS. In fact, during the primary season, Clinton made a big deal out of the fact that she wouldn't meet with foreign leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. Since the main job of the SoS to meet with foreign leaders, I think this seems like a bad fit.

Besides, Clinton has been a key leader on feminist issues in the Senate and with her experience on health care she seems like a key person to work to pass legislative change on her pet issues. I agree that it's important for the SoS to be someone who is pro-choice and with a good understanding of human rights issues (that's why I have reluctance to favor someone like Chuck Hagel, who has a good background in liberal internationalism and diplomacy), but I still think that Clinton isn't quite the right choice.

Image by Flickr user Llima.

HHS Update

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean won't be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. This is probably a good thing, not because I don't like Dean, but because his largest qualification seemed to be that he was, um, a doctor. Practicing medicine and knowing health policy are not the same, people. Not the same at all.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Introducing the Internet Food Association

Some friends of mine and I have started a food blog, called the Internet Food Association. We were cooking, having dinner parties, and sharing recipes so much that these bloggers decided to start a site of their own. Predictably, my first post is on the gender politics of home cooking.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Still Fighting Old Civil Rights Battles

Femocracy points to an LA Times article that reveals for many of those gays and lesbians of color, marriage isn't necessarily at the forefront of their civil rights concerns. It's not because they don't feel marriage is important, it's just that it falls far down on the list of addressing other highly offensive things that happen to people of color every day:
At a time when blacks are still more likely than whites to be pulled over for no reason, more likely to be unemployed than whites, more likely to live at or below the poverty line, I was too busy trying to get black people registered to vote, period; I wasn't about to focus my attention on what couldn't help but feel like a secondary issue.
It's a fair point in this contentious post-Prop 8 mania. Many gays and lesbians of color still have a lot of civil rights to work through, and may not consider marriage at the top of their priority list.

Scalia Finds Domestic Violence "Not That Serious An Offense"

I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that Justice Antonin Scalia doesn't think much of women, but here's more proof of that. Dahlia Lithwick on XX Factor notes that Scalia was quoted saying, "So it's not that serious an offense. That's why we call it a misdemeanor," in response to allegations that a woman's domestic partner was carrying a gun.

Apparently Scalia seems to think that because domestic violence is sometimes categorized as a misdemeanor, it's not that serious of a crime. Granted, that's the definition of misdemeanor versus felony, but he should have realized that saying that would make him come off sounding like he doesn't care if women get hurt in instances of domestic violence. Ugh, this kind of makes me sick to my stomach.


Rebecca Traister has a good look in Salon at the public’s perception of Michelle Obama as First Lady. The media is already eager to paint her as “the mother of young children” whose primary responsibility is to settle her family into their new role as the First Family. But Traister deftly notes the tension that’s hiding under the surface.

When he launched his congressional run, Barack writes, “Michelle put up no pretense of being happy with the decision. My failure to clean up the kitchen suddenly became less endearing. Leaning down to kiss Michelle good-bye in the morning, all I would get was a peck on the cheek. By the time Sasha was born … my wife’s anger toward me seemed barely contained.”

Barack continues, “No matter how liberated I liked to see myself as — no matter how much I told myself that Michelle and I were equal partners, and that her dreams and ambitions were as important as my own — the fact was that when children showed up, it was Michelle and not I who was expected to make the necessary adjustments. Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold.”

To me this signals the struggle that working women with families eventually have to face. When career women’s husbands are also ambitious, someone has to take the back seat and women are the ones that often end up doing so. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that Michelle, who until Barack’s presidential run out-earned her husband, isn’t a little sad that her public persona is expected by most to be domestic, demure, and polite. The First Lady’s primary occupation is wife by definition.

Aside from the First-Lady-ain’t-no-office argument that Matt Zeitlin put forth, people are more than uncomfortable with the notion of a First Lady flexing her muscles. I would actually disagree with Matt, Laura Bush is only slightly less passive than her mother-in-law. Granted, Hillary Clinton probably took the push for public policy farther than most are comfortable with, but there’s always room for negotiation in this role that hasn’t been defined as active except by Eleanor Roosevelt and Clinton.

There’s no question that presidents have always called on non-elected officials for advice and help. JFK’s relationship with Bobby is a great example. It’s unseemly for wives of presidents to have an official capacity the way Bobby did, so instead they’re expected to plan outfits for inaugural balls. As long as we view couples as a balance–one’s ambitions must take the back seat while the other is enjoying success–we will continue to see the underlying tension that Michelle is living with today.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Image courtesy Flickr user AlexJohnson.

Veterans' Groups File Lawsuit Against VA

Via Annabel at Pushback. Two veterans groups, Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans of Modern Warfare, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs for delays in making decisions on disability claims. The VA is required to deliver decisions on claims within 90 days and address appeals within 180 days. If the VA can't get to the claim in time, they're supposed to administer an interim fee, something else the groups are saying the VA is failing to do.

I think the frustration here is on both sides. The VA has become inundated with claims over the last few years, without enough staff capacity to get through them all. The veterans are frustrated because they can't work at an able bodied pace, and need the disability certification for insurance claims and work benefits. The VA's delay is frustrating and affects their lives severely. The reality is that part of the problem is that Congress needs to sink more money into the VA for administrative support. With more people on staff to process claims, the faster they can be addressed.

Teaching Young Men About Rape

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a really fantastic story from this weekend about universities that are making efforts to reduce sexual assault by changing male culture. The programs address everything from how women might say no (body tension is a clear signal) to popular culture and even have some measure of success:
First-year fraternity men who saw a specific rape prevention program were nearly half as likely to commit a sexually coercive act as those who didn't, according to a 2007 study co-authored by John Foubert, a professor who developed the nonprofit One in Four, a group aimed at changing male behavior.
The idea here is right. Instead of placing the burden on women to be "careful" and council them on how to avoid rape (as if there's a surefire way to do that), these programs are telling men that they need to be accountable for the actions they take. It's reassuring that these programs are getting implemented at the collegiate level, the time in women's life when they are most likely to be victim to a date or acquaintance rape. But there are programs that address men at a younger age.

Men Can Stop Rape is a D.C.-based program that works with high school students to make them more aware of what rape is, to back of when women reject advances, and how to open the discussion up about rape with friends. The program is unique because it focuses on a male mentoring program. Unfortunately the best way to teach these young men is to hear about showing respect for women from other men.

The best way to change men's misconceptions about rape is to start early. I'd almost argue that high school is even too late, and that when public schools teach the "birds and the bees" they should also be taught some hard lessons about how rape seeps into our culture. It's important to challenge it, not meet it with indifference.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama Plans to Overturn the Global Gag Rule

In one of the most significant changes on sexual and reproductive health from the Bush administration, advisers to President-elect Barack Obama said yesterday he plans to reverse what is known as the Global Gag Rule. This regulation forbid non-govermental organizations (NGOs) from promoting family planning options like contraception (including condoms) and abortion.

This is especially problematic because this rule forbid promotion of condoms in parts of Africa where HIV infection rates are reaching alarming proportions. Instead the Bush administration pushed the promotion of abstinience except in cases of marriage. The Wonk Room has a good rundown of why this is an ineffective policy for preventing HIV infection:

The rise of HIV infections in girls is attributed not to women’s individual choices and behavior, but to gender inequalities and sexual violence , including the widespread practice and acceptance of child marriage of young girls to older men, forced marriage and polygamy, male promiscuity, “marital rape, domestic violence, wife inheritance, widow cleansing, and female genital mutilation.”

This is significant because it could affect the lives of millions of women who need comprehensive and accurate information about their sexual health.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Veterans Day: Looking at Veterans' Needs

This election season, the moniker of “Support the Troops” warring with “Support the Troops: Bring Them Home” fell off the national scene. Instead, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are quietly getting shipped home. As reporting in the Washington Post after the election showed, troops don’t necessarily have a ton of time to ponder election returns. On seeing the election results, one soldier even quipped, “We're all going home! … What time does the plane leave?”

In other words, solving some of the problems we have is nowhere near that simple, especially as we address the needs of our largest war veteran population since Vietnam. Following is an examination of the upcoming battles in veterans’ issues.

The Montgomery G.I. Bill

This year Congress passed an expanded version of the Montgomery G.I. Bill this summer, initially proposed by Sen. Jim Webb, addresses some of the key problems that a highly mobilized military presented. The bill expanded benefits to those that served on or after September 11, 2001 and increased funding of the G.I. Bill to total up to the cost of in-state tuition at a public university (including some housing benefits).

But the problem here isn't with the legislation; it's with the execution. The changes to the G.I. Bill are supposed to go into effect on August 1, 2009. But the Veterans Administration may not be ready by then to handle the high volume of paperwork that they are expecting to receive. Another problem is that many veterans may already be finishing school (or nearly finished) by the time the benefits go into effect, and the benefits aren't retroactive.

Veterans’ Health Care

Believe it or not, veterans tend to enjoy some of the best, most "socialized" medical care in this country today. Veterans receive free care at any VA facility, and the government picks up the bill. VA hospitals also tend to have the most advanced prosthetic technology available. There has also been a push to convert to electronic medical records to increase speed and accuracy of treatment. It's something that many have called for to be replicated in the private health care sector.

But the VA system isn't perfect. With an increased population of war veterans and only marginal increases in the VA budgets until 2006, the VA hospitals often don't have enough doctors or appointment times, with waits of up to 18 months for some patients, to meet the demand of patients. An audit [pdf ] conducted last year by the VA's inspector general found that only three-fourths of patients had wait times of less than 30 days , far fewer than the 95 percent the VA had originally claimed. Additionally about 1.8 million veterans are "uninsured" because they don't live near enough to a VA facility for that treatment to be accessible.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Of the roughly 1.7 million soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 300,000 of them -- 1 in 5 -- are estimated to be suffering from some form of PTSD or severe depression, according to a RAND report released earlier this year. The costs for treating these veterans can cost upwards of $6.2 billion. As recently as this May, a PTSD program director in Texas urged her facility to cut back on the number of PTSD diagnoses so that

Since there's no one way to treat a person for PTSD, the problem of treating all of these veterans becomes a very difficult one. Some propose interviewing all soldiers upon their return from a war deployment to get a baseline and flag those who may be susceptible to PTSD. More recently, the Army is trying a program where soldiers are treated in the field almost immediately after a traumatic event. There needs to be more research into the best and most effective ways to treat soldiers and veterans with PTSD.

What is especially problematic is that women who are sexually assaulted while deployed in a war zone can get a "double wammy" of PTSD. The VA has opened a few treatment facilities exclusively for women that can allow them to address their PTSD in an environment they perceive to be more safe.

Image by Flickr user eggman, used with a Creative Commons license.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Monday, November 10, 2008

D.C. Tuition Grant Shortfall

Via DCist, the Examiner has a report that many students who are expecting tuition reimbursement checks will just have to wait. The Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership is a program designed to allow high school graduates in the District of Columbia to get in-state tuition prices on colleges in other states (since D.C. has limited options). Thanks to either confusion or incompetence, though, about 2,500 students are going to be waiting a while for their checks. It sounds like this program has a history of poor management, and might be targeted for one of those line-by-line program cuts in the future.

I have mixed feelings about this program. Certainly kids who attend D.C. certainly encounter a ton of disadvantages, and the lack of quality public universities and affordable private universities in the District is just another one, and with more than 8,000 applicants last year, there’s clearly a demonstrated need for this program. On the other hand, some of those who do well in D.C. public high schools are the kinds of students that would do well anywhere, perhaps because they’re from above a certain income bracket. These students might not need the assistance provided by the LEAP program, but would accept it anyway because the grant is basically free money.

I think ultimately I would support a close evaluation and possible overhaul of the program without cutting it entirely. After all, many of the problems with D.C. high school students has a lot to do with larger problems in K-12 education and inequality.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Election Postmortems

It’s never too soon (or too late) to run through exit polls and try to determine who “won” the election for Barack Obama. Ruth Rosen published a controversial take that attributes Obama’s victory to women; Kevin Drum disagrees, and thinks it’s more about men.

The weird thing about the constant parsing of the general electoral vote into different groups based on gender or race is that as soon as a group of people starts voting consistently, they seem to stop mattering. Any “Intro to Poli-Sci” class will tell you that one of the most remarkably consistent voting blocs is African Americans, a group tends to vote for Democrats by above 90 percent. As a result, how African Americans were voting became more or less irrelevant (until they “passed” Prop. 8 in California) in the general election. It’s the same with unmarried women and women of color. Young people may begin to fall into that category as well given their performance in this election.

What I find useless about this kind of analysis — only looking at the “swing voters” who tend to be white and middle class — is that a lot of really relevant issues get left out of the debate, and those that are loyal to progressive causes get pushed aside in favor of claiming victory for a sub-group. I understand that this is the nature of the best when it comes to election postmortems, but let’s avoid pinning an award on the category of the electorate that made the biggest “swing” in the election.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Religion and Same-Sex Marriage

I largely agree with Emily’s post about same-sex marriage. As frustrated as GLBT activists might be, there are two important things to think about: First, attitudes about same-sex marriage are changing with younger generations. As those generations grow older and take more control, there is a great deal of hope that they will simply overturn the parochial notion of defining marriage as “one man and one woman.”

Second, it’s a good time for the LGBT community to take a long, hard look at its own movement. It needs to adopt some new, more inclusive and grassroots strategies. It’s a problem that the feminist movement continues to struggle with, so I’m not surprised that the LGBT has some problems with it as well. What will hopefully emerge is a better, stronger, more diverse movement.

But one thing I’d like to note is that Emily calls the institution of marriage a largely religious one, and one that the LGBT community shouldn’t bother to mess with. (Note: See my earlier post on how marriage historically hasn’t been much of a religious institution so much as means of making contracts and alliances between clans.) It’s understandable that many in the LGBT community have rejected religion in whole or in part, since many religions have more or less demonized gay people. But there are plenty of people out there that identify as both religious and gay or queer. Some religions have recognized same-sex marriage as a moral choice, and welcome those who choose to commit to one another openly in their parishes.

Furthermore, by rejecting all religion because some of it doesn’t accept same-sex marriage, LGBT communities risk alienating those who could be some of their strongest allies. Rejecting marriage because it has religious overtones lets those with the most conservative versions of the institution define it. Marriage is simply the legal joining of two individuals. Some people also attach a religious definition to it, but many others don’t. So long as we let the conservatives on the Family Research Council define it, the LGBT movement will have trouble growing.

Cross posted at Pushback.

A Pro-Choice Cabinet?

Now that everyone is turning their attention to Obama's cabinet, I have a piece over at RH Reality Check today that talks about who his picks for departments that affect women might be (as well as why it's important for those positions to be pro-choice):
For the sexual and reproductive health community, the past eight years has made it clear that we have to worry about much than just who fills the secretary position at the Health and Human Services.

First, it's important to remember exactly how bad the Bush years were for the sexual and reproductive health community. Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services during Bush's first term, advocated including "unborn children" in the state health insurance program. After Thompson departed, Bush appointed anti-choice Michael Leavitt to replace him, who recently proposed regulations that would "protect" doctors and nurses from providing abortion services and prescribing hormonal contraception. Let's not forget that Bush also temporarily appointed Susan Orr, of anti-birth control Family Research Council fame, to head up administering the nation's family planning program and before her Eric Keroack, someone with a history of opposing birth control, to be Deputy Assistant Secretary of Population Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Keroack resigned a few months later after Medicaid filed a lawsuit against him. Andrew von Eschenbach, Bush's pick for commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, opposed the over-the-sale approval of emergency contraception.

Bush's shredding of women's health and rights extended beyond HHS.
That's just the beginning, so you should go and read the whole thing here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Women's Groups, Some of Many

Over at the New York Times' Caucus blog, Sarah Wheaton makes the case that Democrats could not have won this election without the help of the women's groups. She points to the fact that women went for Obama by a higher margin than men (note that this is almost always true except when you look at the subset of married white women) and that groups like Emily's List are to thank for congressional pickups like Jeanne Shaheen*.

And I think that Wheaton is right to make sure we thank the work of groups like Emily's List. After all, women's groups (and there are a lot of them) have been around a long time. They've tapped into fundraising and organizing in ways that lots of other groups are still trying to work out. But this election wasn't thanks to just women's groups. Part of the success of this election is thanks to a lot of different pieces of infrastructure that have been building from the beginning of the Bush administration. It's not just women's groups, but youth groups, environmental groups, groups of people of color, and a new coalition of liberal media and blogs that have been pushing the agenda to the left in this country. It's hard work, but it's starting to pay off.

Wheaton's point is a valid one, but I don't think she should stop short of demanding that Democrats just "thank" women's groups. Instead, she should ask that Democrats be accountable to the interests of women: protecting the right of abortion and birth control, ensuring heath care reform and health care for children, and pursuing legislation that hopes to close the pay gap. All of these groups, including women's organizations, worked hard to elect a progressive president. Now they should go about the work of holding them accountable.

*Wow, I called her Cindy. What's wrong with me today?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pay Gap Persists at UT-Austin

The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports today that a new study shows female professors at the University of Texas-Austin earn about $9,000 less on average per year than their male colleagues.
The study also found that women were leaving the university more often then men before reaching tenure. Unfortunately, none of this is particularly revelatory. Men have consistently outearned men for years at the university level (and in other sectors as well) and have a much harder time reaching tenure (it's something I've written about more in detail here).

The information about how much men and women are making becomes much easier to determine, monitor, and combat when pay information is public. This makes a lot of people squeamish, but most public universities already have pay information public. It's just stuck in the basement of the university's library somewhere. Public information usually prevents discrimination.

More Photos from the Obama Party

One thing about this Obama victory party is that you could see that people were clearly hungering for this win. This guy had clearly put a lot of work into painting this car.

This guy stood proudly in the streets showing that all that debate over if Latinos could get over their dislike for blacks to voter for Obama was silly.

Obama Victory on U Street

I, like Jesse and Ezra, found last night's celebration on U Street something of a remarkable occurrence. It made me feel lucky to be experiencing this election at this time of my life, in this city, with these people. U Street, once the site of divisive race riots in 1968, became a scene of celebration, with blacks, whites, Latinos, children, twentysomethings, the elderly, and so many other groups gathered to come together for this shared celebration.

Of course, this one victory doesn't mean that social justice is a reality. Even as we took to the streets dancing, shouting, and crying, thousands of marriages between gay couples disappeared in California. Sen. Ted Stevens quietly won his re-election campaign. It's a reminder that progressives need to continue fighting for causes they believe in. But for now, let's remember this moment.

Cross posted on Pushback.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Live Blogging Tonight

Tonight I'll be live blogging election returns for RH Reality Check and Jezebel. Happy election night!

Why I Voted Today

Today is Election Day. It's the first time I've ever voted in a non-incumbent presidential election and the first time I've voted in a District of Columbia general election. I waited in line for about an hour and 45 minutes at my polling station in the U Street neighborhood of D.C. The District obviously doesn't have a congressional delegation (that votes) so the real things on the ballot are the presidential election and some council and school board stuff.

I have a pretty snarky comment about the election here, but the real reason I vote is because I believe really strongly in having a pro-choice America. The right has done a lot over the past several years to chip away at the rights of women, and it's really important to me that women have access to contraception and, if they need it, abortion. It's also important that we pass comprehensive health care reform, return to a liberal internationalist foreign policy, look at giving D.C. congressional representation, invest in clean energy (not clean coal), make sure college is affordable, and young Americans get the high-quality k-12 education they deserve. Those all sound pretty broad but they're all good reasons to vote.

The truth is that when we're voting we're looking at making life better for the poorest Americans. The rich folks will be fine. Even if they're worrying about their stock portfolios, the real people we need to worry about is people who have lost their jobs, can't afford health care, and have to cut back because they can't afford groceries or to fill up at the pump. Those are the people we need to worry about.

Image courtesy Flickr user Mr. T in DC, used with a Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Let’s Talk About (Realistic) Sex, Baby

Today the Washington Post wrote about a study released that shows a correlation between unintended pregnancies and watching television shows that portray “flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes,” which Matt blogged about earlier. The study concludes that there isn’t necessarily a causal relationship between the two, but of course abstinence-only advocates are using this as an excuse to push their programs, which have been proven ineffective.

But what we really need to see is some more realistic scenarios involving sex, and by realistic I mean realistic. When was the last time you saw a teen pregnancy discussed on a television show? I bet it’s been even longer (or never) since you heard talk about birth control, Plan B, and other forms of contraception. It’s as if sex just magically happens and these scenes aren’t ever contextualized by conversations with parents about going on birth control or using condoms. Instead, we’re presented with Fairy Tale Sex where people just magically have sex without talking about the practical side.

It would be nice to instead see teenagers have honest conversations with one another about their options for birth control and protecting themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. Many shows shy away from this because it makes the shows “too controversial,” but what shows like Gossip Girl pride themselves on is being edgy. Wouldn’t it be just as edgy to include some realistic conversations about sex? Teenagers aren’t just going to stop having sex, no matter what goes on TV, but at least we can get the message out about sex with contraception.

Higher Ed is Expensive

Today Inside Higher Ed looks at a paper put forth by Mark S. Schneider, who complains that the dropout rate in higher education is more dismal than high school (something we hear a lot about by comparison). The article debates whether this is overblown or not.

But what it fails to mention is that higher education, unlike high school education, costs money. Although the exact number of students that drop out of some kind of higher education is unknown, it is true that more and more students are cutting back or deferring their education in times of economic crunch. It'd be nice if every once in a while people talking about college students would acknowledge how hard it is for some of them to put themselves through school.
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