Monday, March 30, 2009

'Modern Love' But Same Old Perspective

Via Jezebel, this Modern Love column in the New York Times really shows how unequal we really view children and pregnancy. The woman writing the column describes and experience she had with her partner years ago:
I chose to end the pregnancy for what I thought were good reasons, chief among them being my boyfriend’s emphatic unwillingness to be a father. Although his initial reaction to the news was muted, he came out strongly against it once I announced my desire to keep the baby.

Months earlier he’d referred to me as his love, “ma femme,” he called me. But lately things had been dicey.

I argued weakly with him that we could make it work. Without him, I didn’t see a way forward. I had no savings, and no family around to support or encourage me. I was terrified, and not just about being a single parent. I was afraid that with a baby I’d be off the market for good. And I wanted a husband as much as I wanted a baby, if not more. Maybe I knew instinctively that I wasn’t cut out for single parenthood. And I wanted what I wanted: husband, home, baby, in that order.

Even before the pregnancy test I’d been hinting at commitment, and he’d been making evasive noises. We were in “turnaround,” as they say in show business. From the moment I told him I was pregnant, it became my “problem,” as in “What are you going to do about the problem?”
In this scenario, the man simply is unwilling to take on any of the burden of sexual activity. His partner became pregnant, and he asked her what she was going to do about the "problem."

It's true that men are still broadly financially responsible for child support, whether they plan the pregnancy or not, but it's often a long uphill legal battle that can destroy any amicable post-relationship feelings. Becoming a single mother is scary, and not every woman feels like she can do it. That puts women like the author of this Modern Love column in the difficult position of trying to persuade her partner into fatherhood.

It's not an easy battle, but if we can start thinking about the burden of birth control, pregnancy, and abortion as not just issues for women to deal with but also for men to consider when they have sex with their partners, fewer women would be put in difficult positions like this. It's a difficult culture to change, since such things have always been considered the burden of women. Perhaps once male birth control becomes more mainstream, men will begin to think about this differently.

Don't Blame Mom

I really liked reading Thin Is the New Happy last year. It was funny, well written, and honest about Valerie Frankel's struggle with dieting. But there was one thing that bothered me about it. The book opened with a passage describing her mother marching her to a scale and shaming her for gaining weight. The whole blame-the-mother's behavior a bit Freudian for the legitimate and pervasive problems that are presented by eating disorders. And today, Kate Harding presents a new study that hopes to put the motherhood blame for eating disorders to rest, once and for all.

It seems that a new study from the UK shows that eating disorders, like many other mental illnesses, are tied to genetics. They even allude to a potential screening process that can be put into place for parents and teachers to watch those prone to eating disorders more carefully, and to counteract dangerous behaviors before they become an ingrained part of a girl's behavior.

The study's authors say that eating disorders are something a child can be predisposed to, much like ADHD, dyslexia, or depression. So rather than blaming mothers for being too hard on their children, we can note that these behaviors likely happen because the mothers are genetically predisposed to the disorders themselves. It just goes to show that the more we learn about how these things work, the easier it can be to identify the causes and start the path to prevention.

Is There Such a Thing as a Pro-Life Feminist?

I didn't realize how intense the debate over whether pro-life women are allowed to call themselves feminists was until I went to WAM! this weekend. Lisa Stone, founder of BlogHer, a pro-women blogging coalition, put forth the argument that feminists need to be less restrictive about how they apply the label and asked if there was a "check box" for calling oneself a feminist.

Today, Jessica Valenti posted this video from Feminists for Life, saying that a fairly common question she's gotten when speaking at college campuses lately is if pro-life women are allowed to call themselves feminists. The debate, it seems, is peaking up all over the place.

What I find so interesting about this argument is that it doesn't ask if women can call themselves feminists if they don't support work/life balance policies, or if they don't support equality in the workplace. It seems obvious if these women don't support such things that they aren't feminists. But this debate reveals that everything is ultimately about the reproductive rights debate. The question about who is allowed to call herself a feminist is ultimately about choice.

The video that Jessica posted is a speech given by Karen Shablin, member of Feminists for Life, talks about her conversion. But some of the key parts of her speech are the most subtle ones. She says that she believes life begins at conception, something put forth by the personhood movement. It is also something that, if codified into law, would prevent women from accessing not just abortion but also birth control, Plan B, and subject miscarriages to investigation. These are the details that pro-life groups leave out when they advocate for their version of "feminism."

I tend to agree with Jessica -- what this is about is actually a legal question. Once groups decide that they want to legally restrict the rights of other women to have an abortion, the result is not just that they don't necessarily deserve to call themselves feminists, but it becomes much more serious. They're attempting to co-opt the word feminism.

This shows how powerful the feminist movement is becoming. Despite the fact that NOW members are bemoaning the fact that young women today "won't use the word" but if the word feminism were declining in popularity, it's unlikely that pro-lifers wouldn't even bother with it. It is precicely because feminism is gaining so much popularity and momentum that anti-choice women want to co-opt the word to make it mean something different. The tactics of groups like Feminists for Life might be different than those used in the past, but it's the same old stragegy of trying to deminish the work of legitimate feminists out there.

Must-Read Feminist Books this Spring

These are the three awesome books by feminists that have been released this spring that you should get your hands on and read, cover to cover:

Georgia's 'Birth Crisis'

Today Tyler Cowen linked to this article about how Georgia is seeing a slight spike in Caucasian fertility rates after "the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II" promised to personally baptize the child of two parents, naturally, born in Georgia.

There are all kinds of problems with this scenario. First, it's a little unsettling that they're making a concerted effort to out-birth the non-Caucasian segment of the population in Georgia. I also find it extremely interesting that the head of the church has the outright title of patriarch. It's also extremely typical of socially conservative religions to only "count" the children of married parents, excluding those children born to single mothers.

That aside, it's all well and good for churches to try to encourage their membership, except that they're going about it in completely the wrong way. Georgia might be seeing a slight birth boom now, but demanding that the faithful increase the number of children they produce, with a celebrity reward, isn't sustainable. The notion that women stay at home to take care of children is becoming increasingly the way of the past, even in foreign countries. Expecting women to continue to pop out children while they need to help support their families (and having more children requires more money) isn't a good solution to the fertility problem.

What Michelle Goldberg found in her new book, The Means of Reproduction, is that countries that actually have the best birth rates among those with the great decline, are countries with the most social program support for families: state-sponsored child care, lengthy maternity leave, paternity leave, paid family leave, and state-sponsored medical care. Countries like Sweden and France are actually doing the best to replace their populations of all the those that are suffering from the so-called great birthrate decline.

So while it might seem that a surge in the population of a small, extremely religious group of people are the solution to a perceived birth crisis, what really does the best to encourage birth rates for everyone is a set of social policies that support families, no matter if they have two parents or not.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Flooding Along the Red River

Melissa's post at Kitchen Table brings back some memories for me. You see, I grew up in northwestern Minnesota, about an hour east of Grand Forks, North Dakota and about an hour and a half north and east of Fargo. Flooding happens sometimes along the Red River sometimes, and it was just as bad in 1997. That year, the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minnesota (the two cities on either side of the Red River) were almost wiped out by the flooding that year. Students from my local high school took time off of school to volunteer filling and stacking sandbags to hold back the rising river. In the end, many people lost their homes, destroyed by flood damage. Some, like my aunt and cousins that lived there, left for good. Others stayed to rebuild. Thanks to a combination of support and public funding, the cities were able to rebuild, bigger than before.

It's hard to say what might happen in Fargo this year. Fargo is a bigger city than Grand Forks. I remember that in 1997, holding back the river seemed a nearly impossible task. I, like Melissa, have my heart with those in Fargo.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Supreme Court Watch

Via Alyssa Rosenberg, Elena Kagen has been confirmed as the first female solicitor general. There has been some speculation that this could clear the way for her to become a nominee to the Supreme Court, should an opening arise.

Domestic Violence, For Girls

I think Melissa is onto something here. The subtle, very subtle message behind this article in the New York Times about teenage girls siding with Chris in the debate over domestic abuse is that the onus is on the female sex to do something about this issue. Women are the disproportionately larger percentage of domestic violence victims. So the article in the Times seems to ask why young girls don't seem to identify with the victim in this case.

The answer is simple. Girls and women don't want to be the victims of domestic violence, but sometimes the end up being them. By staring in shock as girls line up to support Chris in this debate it really illuminates the underlying problem: we tend to think of domestic violence as a problem for women to solve, not for everyone to solve. Take this passage of the Times article:
This reaction has alarmed parents and professionals who work with teenagers, and Oprah Winfrey was prompted to address violence in teenage relationships on her show. Boys who condone Mr. Brown’s behavior disappoint, but don’t shock Marcyliena Morgan, executive director of Harvard’s hip-hop archive. “But it’s the girls!” she said. “Where have we gone wrong here?”
Morgan's attitude is common, the thought is that it is women should be at the forefront of fighting this fight against domestic violence, not men. Her quote, and I have no idea what the original context of the conversation was, suggests that we would almost understand if and when men line up on Chris' side, but we don't understand when women do. We're starting to ignore how complex and entrenched these problems actually are. It's not going to be women that stop domestic violence. It has to be all of us.

Sarah Haskins Should Add Another Blog to Her RSS Feeder

The latest Target Women is all about Lifetime movies.

But I have to wonder, has Sarah Haskins been introduced to the brilliance of LifetimeWow? She should definitely read it.

UPDATE: I'm having trouble embedding the video. Just follow the link above.

Health Care Still on the Agenda

To be honest, I was relieved to see this column from Tom Daschle in the Washington Post today. A lot of people seem to be really worried that without Daschle in the seat at HHS or in the position at the White House, health care reform just won't happen. The impression I got, after seeing him withdraw from the nomination process, was that Daschle was The Guy and now we're screwed. It was a logic I didn't quite follow. If that were the case, and Daschle were the only person availible to make health care reform happen, then that would have said a lot about the lack of commitment to such an issue.

But that's not what the situation is (or at least I hope not). Daschle himself says:
The pundits were wrong because of the president's unwavering commitment to this issue. "Health-care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year," he said last month.

They were wrong because of the broad support for health reform in Congress. "Republicans are coming to the understanding that their opposition to universal coverage is misplaced," Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) recently admitted. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has promised: "We will not fail."

The pundits were wrong because reformers have some new and unlikely allies. "This is a great start," former Republican congressman Billy Tauzin, now president of the leading pharmaceutical lobbying group, said at the recent White House Forum on Health Reform. "You have our commitment to play, to contribute and to help pass health-care reform this year," said Karen Ignagni, chief executive of the major insurance industry lobby.

But the biggest error those pundits made was in thinking that the debate over health-care reform would be decided by who occupies certain positions in Washington. It won't. It will be decided by the American people. And at the Forum on Health Reform, those voices were finally heard.

In other words, there are a lot of people that are working on this issue. And it's getting to the point where all of the arguments that businesses and the insurance lobby used in the 1990s to stall health care reform just aren't relevant or strong anymore. People want this. And it won't just be Daschle that makes it happen.

Meghan McCain Didn't Watch the Whole Interview

So Meghan McCain Twittered this after Obama's appearance on Leno last night:

But, if Meghan McCain had actually watched the interview (I mean, I know it's 27 minutes, so it's a long one) she would have noticed that Obama did deal substantively with AIG bonuses. Now, it's up for debate whether you agree with Obama's take on the bonuses, but ultimately you can't accuse him of shying away from the issue.

Take this excerpt from the transcript:

Q Let me ask you about this. I know you are angry –- because, you know, doing what I do, you kind of study body language a little bit. And you looked very angry about these bonuses. Actually, stunned.

THE PRESIDENT: Stunned. "Stunned" is the word.

Q Tell people what happened. I know people have been over it, just –-

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, here's what happened. You've got a company, AIG, which used to be just a regular, old insurance company. Then they insured a whole bunch of stuff and they were very profitable and it was a good, solid company.

Then they decided –- some smart person decided, let's put a hedge fund on top of the insurance company and let's sell these derivative products to banks all around the world –- which are basically guarantees or insurance policies on all these sub-prime mortgages.

And this smart person said, you know, none of these things are going to go bust; this sub-prime thing, it's a great deal, you can make a lot of profit. So they sold a whole bunch of them –- billions and billions of dollars. And what happened is, is that when people started going bust on sub-prime mortgages you had $30 worth of debt on every dollar worth of mortgage –- and the whole house of cards just started falling down.

So the problem with AIG was that it owed so much and was tangled up with so many banks and institutions that if you had allowed it to just liquidate, to go into bankruptcy, it could have brought the whole financial system down. So it was the right thing to do to intervene in AIG.

Now, the question is, who in their right mind, when your company is going bust, decides we're going to be paying a whole bunch of bonuses to people? And that, I think, speaks to a broader culture that existed on Wall Street, where I think people just had this general attitude of entitlement, where, we must be the best and the brightest, we deserve $10 million or $50 million or $100 million dollar payouts –-

Q Right.

THE PRESIDENT: And, you know, the immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem. But the larger problem is we've got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough, and people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody. And if we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we're going to be okay. (Applause.)

Q Well, you know, it’s interesting, when you said -– it's, like, I had to laugh the other day when the CEO of AIG said, okay, I've asked them to give half the bonuses back. Now, if you rob a bank and you go into court –- (laughter) –- and you go, Your Honor, I'm going to give you half the money back. (Laughter.) And they seem stunned that we’re not jumping at this wonderful offer.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, the only place I think that might work is in Hollywood. (Laughter.)

If that's avoiding talking about the bailout bonuses, then I'd like to see what Meghan was looking for. The interview, despite the joke about "Special Olympics," was one of the most substantive things I've seen on late night TV in a while.

Judith Warner on Mommy Wars

Finally, consensus around the so-called "mommy wars" is starting to be more and more reasonable. Judith Warner last night on her blog for the New York Times, noted:

Now, I’m just as jealous of the yoga-pants-at-9-a.m.-on-Monday-morning crowd as the next frazzled working mom. But, I’m sorry to say, however delicious charting the downfall of the wealthy at-home mom may be, we do have to stop for a little reality check. While the rich, bathed in our attention, are turning necessity into a hand-wringing sociological event, most women in this country are just going about their business, much as they always have.

We — journalists and readers both — simply must, for once, resist the temptation to let what may or may not be happening to the top 5 percent (or 1 percent) of our country’s families set the story line for what women’s lives are becoming in this recession.

Because, the fact is, the story’s not about them.

“This is a classic blue collar recession,” says Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress. Fully half the jobs that have been lost so far have been in construction and manufacturing. Only 5.1 percent of job losses have been in finance and insurance — the kinds of careers that support the opt-out lifestyle.
Exactly. While endless television shows love to debate whether women "should" work, the simple fact of the matter is that women do work. They have for decades; they can't afford not to. We need to focus on the way families really are.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Few Women Can Change America, Sez Rolling Stone

Okay, I know it's silly to attack Rolling Stone's totally arbitrary list of 100 people who are changing America. But really, people. Although there are some really awesome picks on here (including some of my coworkers and coalition partners) the list is dismal in terms of gender balance. Only eleven women qualify as "changers" and one of them is Kate Winslet. The message, apparently, is that women don't change America.

Illinoise on Reproductive Justice

The Illinois state legislature has a really good bill on reproductive justice in the Illinois State Assembly. But I hear that now that the bill has passed out of committee, the anti-choice committee is coming out in full force, and state legislators are overwhelmingly lining up on their side. The bill proposed is the kind of thing we should be seeing more of -- ensuring basic reproductive rights for all women -- but just aren't. Veronica Arreola outlined what the bill would do really well for RH Reality Check:
  • Ensure that each individual has as many options as possible when it comes to making decisions about their own reproductive heath care.
  • Reduce unintended pregnancies through comprehensive sex education rather than abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
  • Protect and expand access to birth control (including emergency contraception) for all individuals in Illinois.
  • Ensure that the government cannot interfere with an individual's right to have a child or to terminate a pregnancy.
Ultimately this bill is about giving women the power to make their own choices about their reproductive health care.

Even if the bill doesn't pass, what is good about these debates that have been repeatedly been popping up in state legislatures all around the country, is that people are beginning to talk -- really talk -- about what they want public policy around reproductive health to be.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Agreeing to Disagree

Future New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says this of the List That Shall Not Be Named:
When I first heard about it, a while back, it seemed like it might be an example of the movement-ification of American liberalism, in which left-of-center types (especially people in the press) who once would have airily dismissed the idea that they belonged to a partisan "team" began attempting to imitate the conservative movement out of horror at its successes. But then again maybe the email list is just a wonderfully high-minded attempt to "illuminate standard political reporting with expert policy commentary," with no partisan purpose whatsoever.
Ah, if only liberals could do something as disciplined as all get on message. When I first moved to D.C. a lot of liberals whistfully talked about trying to be as "on message" as the Bush administration. But if there's anything I've learned in the last two years of blogging (oh my god, it's been two years) it's that if there's anything liberals love more than, say, Barack Obama, it's disagreeing with one another. And not just polite disagreement. Liberals can be mean to each other, really mean.

And I think that's probably a good thing. After all, sometimes when people you might broadly disagree with find holes in your argument it makes it better. It makes your thoughts stronger. Sometimes, it even changes your mind. I don't know if that's what conservatives would do if they were all on a secret email list together, but I think we can pretty much guess that a list of centrists, left-of-centrists, and outright flaming liberals will never be able to get on message. I just don't think it'd ever be possible.


This opinion column in Inside Higher Ed today is pretty interesting. Scott McLemee is responding to an essay by Washington Post fiction critic Ron Charles. Said fiction critic is attacking college readers for choosing the popular vampire Twilight books over more intellectual reading endeavors.

Charles, I fear, is making the mistake that McLemee says he is. It might be true that juvenile fiction like the Gossip Girl books are popular and low-brow, but that is no different from other forms of popular culture at any point in history. Intellectuals have always been a small and elite segment of society. It may be that popular fiction produces low-brow things like vampire romances, but is that really any different from the yellow journalism or other popular music of the past? If you took a look at everything, and not just the classics that survived time, I think you'd end up with roughly the same proportions of high-brow to low-brow that we have today.

If anything, access to high-brow literature, music, and other forms of entertainment has become easier over time. There are fewer barriers to entry for becoming an intellectual than there were in the past, although intellectuals still tend to be a fairly homogenous group. Rather than criticizing the masses for their love of vampire fiction (some of which intellectuals read as a "guilty pleasure") I think we ought to spend our time thinking about how to increase access to the so-called intellectual society.

More Divisive Women's Poltics

Megan Carpentier does an excellent job of breaking down (and taking down) Deborah Dickerson's quasi-defense of her accusation of "feminists under 30" of as "Pole-dancing" sluts that don't fight hard enough for feminist causes.

As I once outlined, older feminists have a sense of entitlement. They somehow "earn" their right to lord criticism over us young feminists and pretty much whine when we target criticism back at them, as Dickerson's post so aptly illustrates. She actually tells us to "Grow up, girlies."

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate all the accomplishments that second-wave feminists have made. Today, thankfully, sexual harassment is shamed in the workplace instead of being celebrated, even if it hasn't disappeared. Women can legally claim maternity leave, even if it's often unpaid. And the sexual revolution, something second wavers worked extremely hard for, has allowed women to be able to be sexual as well as serious, even if the stereotypes about sluts (ahem, Ms. Dickerson) haven't gone away.

But now, what young feminists want -- and it's important, as Megan pointed out, to acknowledge that few women actually identify as such and that has always been the case -- to be treated as equals in the movement. Just because we are young doesn't mean we somehow care less about pay equity, contraception and abortion access, representation of women in the media, domestic violence, or any number of issues that feminists should care about. But by marginalizing us off the bat, Dickerson is sending a strong message that older feminists don't think much of us and simply aren't interested in hearing what we have to say. And they can't deny that there are a lot of problems with the way her generation of feminists have done things.

By delving into personal attacks, Dickerson isn't helping things. What we need is not to accuse different generations of feminists of slacking -- what we need is to work together to make things better. That means actually listening to each other on substantive issues and staying away from this silly mud-slinging.

Let's Fight Over Breastfeeding

I get tired of The Atlantic trying to start fights among women. That seems to be most of the motivation behind publishing "The Case Against Breastfeeding" by Hannah Rosin. She writes that she's tired of breastfeeding and her research shows that the benefits of the laborious process are inconclusive. (Of course, there's a response from an editor of an upcoming anthology about breastfeeding on Salon's Broadsheet, where she accuses Rosin of "cherry picking" data.)

Look, I can see both points of view here. Breastfeeding is supposed to be really good for babies, especially in their really formative first months of life. It helps with brain development, nutrition, and building a relationship with the mother. But I've also seen mothers get exhausted of always being "on call" to feed their child -- or pump in advance. It's tiring and I'll even side with Rosin in saying that it's a little unfair because fathers can't provide breast milk. (If you've ever wondered how difficult it can be, I suggest you read this New Yorker article from a while back by Jill Lepore. She notes that most breast pumps -- a necessity for working mothers who want to breast feed -- run around $300.) And Rosin is also a little right that even if breastfeeding is for the best, in a developed Western country the differences between feeding a baby breast milk and feeding a baby formula probably aren't going to be incredibly significant.

So why bother getting into this divisive argument? Some women want to breast feed. Some don't. Some can't. What's important isn't arguing over the minutia of difference between studies but rather to stop making women feel like bad mothers because of how they choose to raise their children. Rosin says other mothers make her feel guilty, so she turns the pointed finger back on them. It's not surprising women might get defensive at her article if they've chosen to devote a great deal of time to breast feeding.

What I found most interesting about Rosin's article was a point she mostly glossed over:
In the U.S., breast-feeding is on the rise—69 percent of mothers initiate the practice at the hospital, and 17 percent nurse exclusively for at least six months. But the numbers are much higher among women who are white, older, and educated; a woman who attended college, for instance, is roughly twice as likely to nurse for six months.
In other words, whether or not you believe breast feeding is best for the child, it is ultimately a luxury for mothers today, one best afforded to women of a certain socioeconomic class with flexible jobs. The point should not be that we are pressuring upper-middle-class women like Rosin into breast feeding their children, the point should be that women who might want to breast feed simply can't because they don't have the luxury to do so. We should instead be working for ways to ensure the option of breast feeding for all mothers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Health Insurance and 'Choice'

I agree with Scott Lemieux, and thought this column by Eugene Robinson today was kind of weird. Although it seems to strengthen Robinson's resolve for some kind of health care reform, as Scott says, there's a weird moment at the beginning where he talks more about choice. It was heavily hinged on his personal experience with a bacterial infection and right before he went into surgery, his doctor said to him:
"You know, if you and Obama had your way with health care, it wouldn't be me doing this operation. It would just be some guy."
At the end of the column, Robinson says this:
What's changed is that I also feel more strongly about the ability to make my own choices. I decided where I would be treated and, ultimately, what would or wouldn't be done. I'm willing to pay for that, too.
This reasoning always baffles me. In an attempt to tap into libertarian sensiblities (or whatever it is) people who promote "individual choice" in health care seem to completely ignore the fact that most people don't get to choose their doctors already. Most health care plans have something called "in network" doctors and "out of network" doctors. You certainly can "choose" to go to an out of network doctor, but that would be crazy. You would end up paying hundreds -- or, more likely thousands -- of dollars for your "choice." So you go to the doctor outlined on your insurance providor's website. We should just stop pretending that now everyone can choose whatever doctor they want.

Obligatory St. Paddy's Day Post

I learned to pour my perfect pint of Guinness while in Ireland. You should too. Also, the Irish are so excited they're dancing in the streets. Literally.

Travel Writing

After just coming back from my trip to Ireland (pre-St. Patrick's Day, thanks to some strategic blackout dates from Aer Lingus) I was interested to find out that the travel book market tanked last year. This is interesting to me because I had always thought of travel writing as having an inverse relationship to actual travel, but as we've seen from recent reporting, that's not the case.

Of course, it's silly of me to think about travel writing this way because a great deal of travel writing is of the "how to" variety: Where should I go? What should I see? Where, most importantly, should I eat? But all too often these types of travel writing aren't particularly interesting to me. Instead I tend to be more interested in the more long-form, narrative kinds of travel writing. These are the kinds, I would think, that would become more popular as the ability to travel cheaply diminishes.

Still, airlines and hotels are offering deep discounts and "recession specials" to encourage people to travel, so perhaps people are going to continue to travel without buying the useless books that only point you to one helpful thing. I'd think that the real damage to travel books isn't the loss of travel -- it's more that more interesting and more useful information can be found online or through friends than through an inane travel book that tries to cater to everyone. After all, there are different kinds of travelers that are interested in doing different kinds of things. Catering to all of them is nearly impossible. Instead, we can rely on local coverage and the blogs of those who have happened on a cool place while they were there. The internet. It's changing everything.

Getting REAL

Today, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a bill called the REAL Act. It's a bill that would require comprehensive and medically accurate sex education to be taught in schools.

I went to look at recent polling data on support for teaching comprehensive sex ed in schools -- the most recent I could find was this Pew study from 2005 (if someone has a more recent study, please post in comments). It shows that roughly three-quarters of people support the teaching of condoms AND the teaching of abstinence in sex education. While this might seem to be a contradiction, it's actually the definition of comprehensive sex education.

It's why many people who specialize in sex ed have begun calling this "abstinence plus" to illustrate the fact that comprehensive sex education includes a component of teaching that abstinence is the best way not to get pregnant, but there are other things you can do to mitigate your risks if you decide to become sexually active. And let's face it, most people at some point do.

UPDATE: Added the link to the Pew study.

Pope Says Condoms 'Increase' HIV Infection

It's not really surprising that the Pope would say something as dumb as this, but still. I continue to be amazed that the religious spend their time demonizing condoms. As if condoms somehow are the root of evil in this world, rather than a prudent precaution for those that are sexually active and want to minimize their risk of exposure to infection. It's true that condoms aren't a total guarantee against infection of HIV -- after all, condoms can break -- but it's still really important to promote the use of them. I really hope people stop listening to the Pope when it comes to sexuality.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More on the Family Research Council

I have a profile of Tony Perkins, Family Research Council president, up on Campus Progress today. Check it out.

Messing with VA Care

There is a story that the VA, with the support of the Obama administration, is considering a plan to change VA care to be provided via private insurers -- the plan has been met with a lot of resistance. Senators described the plan as DOA: "dead on arrival."

Veterans in this country, despite all of the problems that have been reported in recent years -- experience health care in a way that no other American can hope for. A veteran makes an appointment for medical care (and there have been some reported long wait times, although to be fair, I often have to wait several weeks to see a doctor on my employer's insurance) and arrive on the day to see the doctor. When they are done, they walk out the door. No payment necessary. No insurance checks, no waiting to see if procedures are covered by their insurance.

In the end, veterans in this country, despite the problems, have health care that any American would love to have. I'm not sure if this is a plan to work everyone into this public/private hybrid that Obama envisioned during the election, but to mess with VA care by switching to private insurers is political suicide. Veterans like their care. They deserve it. It's been around for decades. The only thing they want is for it to be better, and they definitely don't want to change it.

A Photo of Rihanna -- An Uncomfortable Reminder of Domestic Violence

James Rainey in the LA Times today says something that Renee from Womanist Musings said last week: the debate over whether to show Rihanna's photo in the media isn't about privacy -- it's about domestic violence. All too often the argument given to ignore domestic violence is that it's "none of our business," but as Rainey says today, that's just one more way of not dealing with the problems of domestic violence:
It's been argued that by posting the puffy-faced, strikingly painful image, TMZ and others embarrassed and stigmatized the pop star. I don't underestimate how difficult this must be for a 21-year-old woman. But I think the media have paid almost no attention to another pressing threat: that domestic violence will be hidden away and suffered silently by victims, alone.

"Actually, it is not embarrassing for Rihanna. It is, however, shameful for the perpetrator," wrote Wendy Murphy, a onetime Massachusetts prosecutor, in a column supporting publication of the photo. "And it isn't a violation of anyone's 'privacy' because crime is not a 'private' matter."
The truth is that victims of domestic violence are experiencing something that is anything but private. The physical wounds they suffer are often visible and they must go through their everyday lives lying about how they obtained the injuries. We use the veil of privacy to avoid talking about the issue. It is often painful for victims of domestic violence to talk about their injuries, but it is also painful to be in a situation that comes to physical blows. As we've seen people have been all too willing to excuse Chris Brown because he is young, or suggest it might have been Rihanna's fault, even suggesting that she "deserved it."

Let me be clear about one thing. No one ever "deserves" to be hit by his or her partner. By ignoring or hiding evidence that this is happening, we're allowing the problem to persist.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I'll be on vacation for the next few days, traipsing through Ireland.

Palin Appoints Pro-Choicer to State Surpeme Court

So Sarah Palin surprised everyone again by appointing a former Planned Parenthood board member to Alaska's Supreme Court. From the Anchorage Daily News:

Last week, without explaining why, Palin took the unusual step of asking the Judicial Council to send her all information it had on the two finalists, Christen and Palmer Superior Court Judge Eric Smith.

The council nominated them from a slate of six applicants. It takes four council votes for a candidate to be sent to the governor. None of the other candidates received any votes.

The head of the Alaska Family Council -- a Christian pro-family, anti-abortion group -- on Wednesday sent an e-mail to thousands of people asking them to urge Palin to pick Smith, not Christen.

Perhaps I'm being far too cynical, but I tend to think that Palin selected this woman, only the second to ever sit on Alaska's Supreme Court, to reinforce her "mavrickyness" and paint herself as more moderate for a potential 2012 run.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sexist Jokes, an Outlet for Sexist Behavior

Not to side with those cheesy human resources videos they make you watch on your first day in the office, but it seems a new study shows that sexist jokes can actually create an outlet for sexist behavior. The study itself is a little weird -- researchers had participants read jokes, some of which were sexist and some of which were not, then asked them to donate to a women's organization. I'm not sure I agree with that method, since it equates women's organizations with women themselves. There are plenty of reasons to be critical of women's organizations that aren't sexist per se. But it does illustrate an important point. Sexist jokes go a long way in diminishing the importance of feminism. If you're willing to laugh about how women are inferior, you're probably less likely to think that what women are trying to accomplish is important.

Who Takes Over for Sebelius?

Yesterday I wrote about Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for HHS Secretary. Today I just wanted to take a look at what might happen in the state if Sebelius is confirmed. The Kansas governorship is term-limited, so Sebelius would have been out after the next election anyway. But the lieutenant governor, Mark Parkinson, has a history with the Kansas Republican Party. Although he's a Democrat now and has always been pro-choice, Parkinson's history of jumping ship on the party might prove difficult for him as he becomes governor.

Former Sen. Sam Brownback, the state's most outspoken national politician on abortion issues, has pledged to run for the seat.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Politico guesses that the notion of repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" will do the same thing it did for Clintion, "knocked him off message, sapped him of auathority, damaged his popularity ratings and left him with a reputation for being wishy-washy that stuck." This was brought about by Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher declaring today at CAP (my generous employer) that she is introducing legislation that would repeal DADT. But as usual, Politico gets it wrong again.

Sure, Obama may not have been looking forward to dealing with DADT this early in his administration, but Congress has already been thinking about repealing this bizarre policy for a few months now. It's not surprising they might start the ball rolling on this one. Furthermore, public opinion has swung in favor -- about 55 percent at last measure -- in favor of gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

It's also important to remember that DADT is a policy that was enacted by Clinton and one that created a great deal of problems. Before, there just wasn't a policy about gays in the military. Now, although military officials aren't required to report it, if they are "outed" they must resign. By repealing this policy, it would allow the military to leave their private lives exactly where it should be -- in private.

Sebelius for HHS

The Kansas City Star is psyched that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is going to be (assuming she can get though congressional confirmation) the Health and Human Services secretary. Here's from the editorial:

The job is a good fit for Sebelius, a wonkish (and we mean this as a compliment) Democrat who has enjoyed political success in an overwhelmingly Republican state.

She relishes an executive role and believes in finding efficiencies and in streamlining bureaucracies — traits that should help with running the mammoth Health and Human Services apparatus. Though an outsider to Washington, Sebelius is good at enlisting expert advice and will reach across party lines to get something done. She should be able to work with a White House “health czar,” if Obama chooses to appoint such a person.

The overall sense I get is that people are mostly satisfied with a Sebelius pick -- or at least relived that this Phil Bredeson nonsense has been put to bed. Since I only have a cursory knowledge of what health care reform might entail, I'm not a bona fide expert. But I'd say that Sebelius seems like the appropriate pick. She has lots of regulatory experience since she came from insurance regulation in her state -- and that's a good thing to me. HHS is the kind of position that is primarily about regulation.

What this means for health care reform, I'm not sure. I'll leave that to other health care wonks. What I can tell you is that Sebelius has a history of being on the right side of choice -- she's worked with Planned Parenthood in her state and she was at an inauguration event sponsored by the group this January. She's already been endorsed by a pro-choice Catholic group, Catholics United. After years of having an anti-choice HHS person in charge, it'll make a world of difference to have a pro-choice HHS secretary.
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