Monday, December 31, 2007

I Will Not Be Doing Anything On New Year's

Except watching my new favorite obsession: Rifftrax. It's the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang but commenting on current movies. I can't think of anything recently that has made me actually laugh out loud as much as these have. So far I've made my way through Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Transformers, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

I realized, in its own way, its actually much better than the original MST3K because the movies themselves are generally more interesting to watch (and more familiar) than films MST3K riffed on. (Let's face it, some of them were boring to watch, even with Mike and the 'bots riffing on them.)

But what I also realized that was missing from my decades-old tapes and DVDs of MST3K was relevancy. Most of their references were, well, old. (I mean they were current in the 80s and 90s...) Its awesome to hear references to Steve Spielberg's Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Ron Paul. I didn't even realize I was missing that contemporariness in the old tapes.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: The Lovers

Sorry with the delayed Friday Cat Blogging folks, although it technically still is Friday.

Although I called this one "the Lovers" the reality of what you're seeing is Al (the one on top) is dominating his sister. Al does this quite a bit. First it starts off with licking and then biting. Mostly this is done to move Lena off her spot.

Anyway I know I've been short with the blogging as of late. As I told a friend once, "Sure, blogging is all fun and games until you realize it's been two weeks since you've posted anything." Rest assured my readers I never intend to fully abandon this blog. But sometimes the daily self-induced mental admonition to "post, damnit, just post SOMETHING" does get a bit worrisome.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

J. Edgar Hoover and The Aborted Mass Arrests

Over the holidays there was a little noticed story published about recently declassified papers showing that in July 1950, only a few days after the beginning of the Korean War, J. Edgar Hoover wanted President Truman to round up and detain 12,000 American citizens.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about that period of American history. What J. Edgar Hoover’s relative power vis-a-vie Truman’s at the time. FYI, while Hoover submitted this plan to the White House in July, it was only on February 9 of that year that Joseph McCarthy made his famous Lincoln Day speech in Wheeling, West Virginia that began his Communist witch-hunts.

I’m curious what is the story behind that order and why, exactly, wasn’t it put into play. There must be a story there.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.
Years...Hoover had been collecting those names for years. I’m curious who some of the names were. Koreans Americans? Your typical line-up of '40s lefties? Were there any “famous” names? (It’s an interesting question because if the quality of the targets was perhaps too famous it could be a reason that arrests never happened.)

I’m wondering if Truman balked because, unlike the Japanese internments, the majority were citizens. (A significant percentage of the Japanese-Americans who were interned happened to be citizens, but I’m certain the backlash was lessened because of outright racism. White Americans probably simply didn’t think that Japanese-Americans were or could be “citizens.”)

Perhaps though, the memory of the internment though kept Hoover’s plans at bay? Or maybe there was no way Truman was going to follow Hoover’s plan.

I’m curious because I feel like there’s a story here that begs to be told.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Changing Minds About Abortion and Other Issues

RH Reality Check has a very personal essay by Anna Clark about her switch from calling herself pro-life to pro-choice.

What if I told you that I used to call myself pro-life?

What if I said that I once believed abortion was murder, or that I suspected women used the procedure to bypass the consequences of sex?

If I told you, would I lose your respect? Would you be suspicious when I say that today I'm committed to the right to reproductive health, access, and choice?

If so, you wouldn't be the first.

I'm a person who changed her mind. And no, it didn't happen with cymbal-crashing drama -- no unexpected pregnancy of my own or anyone I'm close to (that I know of). It didn't happen with abrupt college-age fervor; though I entered the University of Michigan as a progressive, I held onto my belief that abortion was wrong (though I got quieter about it).
Although it's a personal story in a way I wish it was a bit more personal. I wish she had described a bit more of the kinds of incidents that changed her thinking about the issue.

I'm always fascinated by stories of how people flipped on issues and even entire identities. There's typically not "one moment" of realization. It's a series of moments of having mental discordance between your stated beliefs (ie "I am pro-life/Republican/Mormon/straight/for the Iraq War") and your niggling doubt about your actual beliefs.

I went to grad school specifically to learn how to do you move people's beliefs. I'm no longer convinced that it's about adding to their knowledge. In some cases, perhaps. But if someone feels they are reasonably well-informed about a subject, "new" information that does not mesh with their beliefs will often be rejected.

But I will add a caveat. While initial "rejections" might happen I do think that over time "new" information can sink in. The best example I have is my own change of mind about Israel.

Being an American Jew (and one who was kicked out of Hebrew School at age 11) I had a very typical uninformed "position" about Israel. And the position was something like Israelis are the good guys and Palestinians are always unreasonable and any news that I heard about Israel was filtered through that viewpoint. I didn't have any particular basis for this other than some early Hebrew schooling that taught me how the Jews were the Chosen people and Israel was given to us by God. (How many American Jews, even agnostics, still somehow think that Israel "belongs" to Jews. And I mean not that it belongs specifically to Israelis, but to Jews. Like somehow their American-born asses have some kind of ancestral claim on the land even if they outwardly reject the religion in all other cases?)

In all of the stories I heard from my rabbi and my Jewish summer camp growing up, Jews are victims and righteous. It's not a little unlike how a child learns American history thinking that all of our history shows that we're some kind of unique country of perfect values, the best of the best of the best that ever existed.

Then, about a year ago, I started working in a small office with an American-raised, half-Israeli coworker. He was younger than me, but sometime in his teens he went to Israel, in his words, "looking for answers." Instead he said he came back having more doubts. He eventually went to Cairo to learn Arabic, partially to understand more of what he experienced in Israel from the Palestinians’ viewpoint.

Since I worked for an organization that dealt in politics, it wasn't long before we started having heated discussions about Israel. And very quickly I was in my fallback position which was something along the lines of "sure Israelis sometimes aren't perfect but the Palestinians are even worse." (Meaning I guess it justifies all of Israel's actions.) But the problem was that I didn't know shit about Israel. And it took me a while to figure out that I actually didn't know what I was talking about.

Now part of the reason that my coworker's arguments sunk in over time was that I had a lot of respect for him personally. I might have thought he was mistaken about his interpretation, but I trusted his "facts" in the sense that I believed he saw what he saw and experienced what he experienced. It was when I realized that I had no equally compelling "facts" to counter him (because I was not an expert about Israel) that I started to realize that my understanding of the situation might be wrong.

It didn't happen after our first argument. Or after our third. And the reality is I can't remember when I had my moment of clarity. But I do recall us debating some other issue and I abruptly told him he's "won" over the issue of Israel. That I had come to see things more his way than mine. I remember how shocked he was.

The thing is, had I been locked up with another person, even his own brother (who had radically different beliefs) maybe this would have been a story about how working with someone firmed up beliefs I was primed to accept. But I did realize that despite the fact that I initially rejected the "new" information I was presented with, by constantly having my beliefs "tested" it helped me realize the weaknesses I had with them.

So, to that end, maybe dialogues are helpful, even if on the surface they seem to come to an impass. In this situation, I was willing to accept a new understanding because I acknowledged my original understanding was based on limited information.

But on more esoteric issues (such as abortion) I'm not sure that "information" is what changes mind so much as experience. That's why I wish Anna Clark has talked more about her experiences that made her reconsider her position. Because it wasn't necessarily someone telling her something she didn't know that changed her mind. It was experiencing realities that clashed with her beliefs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joe Francis In Jail Still Warms My Heart

The New York Times has a profile of Girls Gone Wild Creator Joe Francis and all his legal troubles. It’s basically a portrait of a person who did everything he could to turn charges into major feuds. But even if there are some prosecutors who are trying to build careers on prosecutions (even if they are valid), its not worth weeping for Joe.

If you play in mud, you get dirty. He is reaping a lot of what he is sowing. And if you have thoughts that he’s someone that doesn’t belong in a jail cell for something, here’s an except of the infamous LA Times magazine story. (Amanda at Pandagon also had a very astute analysis of Joe.)

Footage from that night shows a close-up of Szyszka's driver's license, proving she's not a minor. The camera then captures Szyszka lying on the bed. Her nails are chipped, her eyes coated with makeup. Following a cameraman’s instructions, she shows her breasts and says, "Girls Gone Wild." She seems shy but willing. She smiles. The unseen cameraman asks her to take off her shirt, her skirt, then her underwear. She sprawls on the bed, her legs open. At his suggestion, she masturbates with a dildo, saying repeatedly that it hurts but also feels good. Francis enters the room at certain points and you hear his voice, low and flirtatious, telling her, "You are so adorable." When she says she's a virgin, he responds: "Great. You won't be after my cameraman gets done with you."

When I talk to Szyszka seven days later, she says she "didn't quite realize" she was being filmed. "But I didn't care because I was drunk and who cares?" Then she adds: "It didn't feel good to me at all, but I was totally faking it because I was on 'Girls Gone Wild.'"

Eventually, Szyszka says, Francis told the cameraman to leave and pushed her back on the bed, undid his jeans and climbed on top of her. "I told him it hurt, and he kept doing it. And I keep telling him it hurts. I said, 'No' twice in the beginning, and during I started saying, 'Oh, my god, it hurts.' I kept telling him it hurt, but he kept going, and he said he was sorry but kissed me so I wouldn't keep talking."

Afterward, she says, Francis cleaned them both off with a paper towel and told her to get dressed. Then, she says, he opened the door and told the cameraman to come back, saying, "She's not a virgin anymore."

Szyszka says Francis told her that what happened had to stay between them. She says she agreed, and they walked to the front of the bus. Szyszka remembers that one of the crew returned her driver's license. Another asked if she wanted to hang out on the bus. She declined, she says, but asked for three pairs of "booty short" underwear that Francis had promised her for appearing on camera. "They gave me a weird look like that was too much," Szyszka recalls. "They were, like, 'Three of them?' and I was, like, 'Yeah, three.'"

Within days, Szyszka says, she told her father, who was angry about what she said had happened but kept quiet at her request. A month after the incident, she says, she told her sister and mother.

She's confused, she admits, about what happened. She feels guilty, she says, for getting herself into the situation in the first place. She says she never would have undressed for the cameras if she hadn't been completely drunk. And she is adamant that she said "no" to Francis. She says she's haunted by that night.

"I feel like it was planned," she says. "Sometimes I'm driving along, and I think about it and all of a sudden feel weird."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: Light Chasing Cat

I've seen videos of other cats doing this, but until a few months ago I never suspect Al was one of those cats you could spin into a fuzzy fury chasing a bead of light.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

NewsCat is Helping Women At the Moment

Sorry about the lack of updates. My office is putting on a training conference this week to help women break into the opinion-based media and this is taking all of my attention at the moment.

Cat blogging Friday however will return so stay turned!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Diets Around The World: Pictures Say A Thousand Words

Via Pandagon, I found this link to a fascinating project where families pose with one week’s worth of food. I think Amanda pretty much hit the nail on the head about comparing world-wide diets and getting beyond individualized guilt-based solutions to why Americans are so fat. (Also see Sara Robinson’s comments)

Beyond the healthy-unhealthy comparisons, the compositions of the photos are simply beautiful. What also interested me is how the numbers of the families were different in different regions. In the Western/industrialized countries the photos were mostly nuclear families, between 4-6 people. But the less developed regions the families seem to encompass between 8-12 people. The two photos I posted are from America and Bhutan. It’s a striking visual account of both the differences of diet, circumstance and family life all laid out in a photo essay.

Romney To Muslims, There Aren't Enough Of You To Matter To Me

One would think someone being scrunitized, perhaps unfairly, for his religion wouldn't want to pitch some stones too close to his nice glass house.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall has some updates on this issue.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Crack Myths Die Hard II

I’m really glad that The Washington Post’s editorial board is supportive of changing the crack cocaine sentencing guidelines to match those of powdered cocaine. But do the wise men of the Post still not know that part of the justification for the change is the amount of medical evidence that says crack cocaine is not inherently more addictive than powdered cocaine.

There are good arguments for why crack should carry tougher sentences than powder cocaine, including the fact that crack is ferociously addictive and destructive. But a 100-to-1 disparity is irrational. Lawmakers should act quickly on one of the several bills pending in Congress that would narrow that gap.
I love how new information in policy debates never seems to trickle upward. We just keep recycling the old assumptions.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day Cat Blogging

Taking the moment to post an early Friday Cat Blogging. And might I recommend substituting cat for your usual cooked turkey? (Btw, that was Keeper of the Cats doing that. Not me.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Adoption: Not Enough (White) Orphans To Go Around

Bitch Ph. D has a post talking about the book, The Girls Who Went Away, which is about the (mostly white) women from the 40s-60s who got pregnant and then gave up their children for adoption.

There is an interesting point to be made about the drop in newborns available for adoption that corresponds to the increasing acceptability of single-parenthood and female sex outside of marriage. (Which I suspect some people will read as "Oh well that means we need to make single parenthood LESS acceptable. Shame the sluts!"

The reason I call this "Not Enough Orphans" is because not only the post, but the comments, really make it clear that adoption is can be absolutely fucking painful because in a lot of cases these children are absolutely wanted by their birth mothers. These are not little adorable cast-off orphans.

I'm particularly struck by comment by madmama.

I placed a child for adoption 13 years ago. Open adoption. I would never have considered closed adoption. In the paralyzing years following, I have lived in poverty (partly because I was so overcome with grief I could hardly get up each day, face the only work I could find after the birth, when, still bleeding from giving birth, I was hired at 7/11), dealt daily with a grief and loss and wondered why these people I chose to care for my child were so eager to take my baby but offered me no help. (Legally they couldn't, I know the reasons why, but it was a thought process. Also there was a governmental process to provide easy access to adoption, no such easy process to help me keep my child. In fact a woman at the pregnancy crisis centre said to me at the time, "Wouldn't it feel good to give a couple the gift of a baby?" Even then I thought she was full of shit, I thought, my baby is nobody's present. I never returned. But I had no other help.)
It's an interesting dimension to the "family values" discussion is that many groups are eager to push the line that adoption is an option, but why aren't these same groups willing to offer significant governmental assistant (the way France or Finland does) to supporting motherhood in this country?

The number of women in American who a) accidentally get pregnant and b)genuinely do not wish to become a parent and c) would not choose to have an abortion, may bit just a tiny fraction of all adoptions.

It's an interesting question that if an accidentally pregnant American woman were suddenly whisked away to, say, Sweden, would her decision about whether to keep the child or whether to consider either adoption or abortion change? Does anyone know the rate of Swedish children available for non-relative adoption in Sweden? And what percentage of those children are newborns?

Monday, November 19, 2007

I Need A Favor From Jack Bauer

Kiefer, can I call you Kief?

I know you and I have had our disagreements, mostly about the fact that I think your show, 24, is hurting America. But I have a favor to ask and if you do this all will be forgiven.

I need you to endorse, as Jack Bauer, any democratic candidate. Seriously, pick any of them, even Dennis Kucinich.

Because if Huckabee doesn't look ridiculous with this ad then I think we need to get Jack Bauer's endorsement. I mean, he's been cited so much by Republicans I think it means they think Bauer votes Republican.

But I think you know better. I think you know that Bauer was actually a Democrat. After all, wasn't President David Palmer basically a dem in disguise?

So Kief, think about it. I know you probably figure America doesn't need to know what some actor thinks about president politics. But clearly that's not the case.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Crack Myths Die Hard

It’s one sentence in the Washington Post story on the potential change in federal sentencing guidelines for possession of crack cocaine.

The commission is taking up one of the most racially sensitive issues of the two-decades-old war on drugs. Jurists and civil rights organizations have long complained that the commission's guidelines mandate more stringent federal penalties for crack cocaine offenses, which usually involve African Americans, than for crimes involving powder cocaine, which generally involve white people. The chemical properties of the drugs are the same, though crack is potentially more addictive.
It seems that even as the public starts to realize that crack cocaine wasn’t some super-drug that demanded we lock up nearly a third of all black men in the country for mere possession, the myth that crack was somehow worse than powder cocaine dies very hard.

It was only a month ago in fact that the Washington Post ran an op-ed titled “Five Myths About That Demon Crack.” And the Journal of American Medical Association also released a study that disputed the notion that crack cocaine was more chemically addictive than the powder version.

I understand that myths die hard. That’s why the one sentence in the Washington Post story is conflicted. It’s saying that crack is both chemically the same as cocaine but also potentially more addictive. Of course this is contrarian. If the substances are chemically the same they should then logically have the same pharmacological effects. It almost feels like the writer, Darryl Fears, sort of vaguely understood that crack wasn’t quite as bad as had been touted but decided to hedge just in case.

Again, bad information almost can’t be erased from our brains. I have no doubt that movies from the late 80s, early 90s like New Jack City and Colors that hyped crack cocaine drug wars probably left a huge impact in white middle class Americans psyche that “crack” was somehow way worse than cocaine and it takes more than a heap of medical studies to dislodge the myth.

It’s interesting that the same day that the U.S. Sentencing Commission is scheduled to consider a proposal to make the new crack cocaine sentencing guidelines retroactive (which would release many people from prison who are serving long sentences) there is a story about a package of three reports that show that African Americans have experienced downward mobility in the last generation.
Forty-five percent of black children whose parents were solidly middle class in 1968 -- a stratum with a median income of $55,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars -- grew up to be among the lowest fifth of the nation's earners, with a median family income of $23,100. Only 16 percent of whites experienced similar downward mobility. At the same time, 48 percent of black children whose parents were in an economic bracket with a median family income of $41,700 sank into the lowest income group.
The researchers at Pew Charitable Trusts don’t have an explanation for why African Americans might have experienced downward mobility but I would like to posit that at least part of the reason was drug sentencing laws in the 80s.

I understand that drugs and drug addiction is a problem and no one wants to be living next to junkies. But how our culture response to such problems will show whether we mitigate the issue or simply creates new problems by creating classes of laws that, by design or by accident, end up targeting only one class of people.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: Everyone Loves Al

Al the deaf cat had some visitors today and, as usual, everyone loves him. Let me assure my readers he's not simply submitting to all the love, he is relishing it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

How Do You Define Your Feminism?

To any of my friends who've asked me about feminism lately I give you this bit of awesomeness (hat tip Feministing).

My only quibble is that it should have also said "Feminists sometimes have cats but not always."

Oh yeah, and I also love this quote because I feel it gets at the heart of what most people mean when they refuse to call themselves feminists.

“(Because) someone somewhere once said something in the name of feminism I disagree with, so I’ll call that Feminism, and distance myself from it rather than acknowledging that there are huge disagreements within feminism and re-envisioning my own place within that.”

Ask for Shallowness Assessments and You’ll Get Them

Slate has a cutesy article, “An Economist Goes to a Bar…And solves the mysteries of dating” which the basis is that the author, Ray Fisman, along with another economist and two psychologists performed a field experiment watching speed daters over a two year period and observed the results.

After two years of serving as academic love brokers, we had data on thousands of decisions made by more than 400 daters from Columbia University's various graduate and professional schools. By combining all of our choice and ratings data with separately collected background information on the daters, we could figure out what made someone desirable by comparing the attributes of daters that attracted a lot of interest for future dates with those that were less popular.
They found the obvious finding that men “put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner's beauty, when choosing, than women did.”

But that’s not the only finding the article reports. They found that women prefer their own race but men are not as choosey. (Slate’s teaser on the article is “The Myth of the Asian Fetish.”)

The author also states that of the men they observed, most didn’t like women who were smarter or more ambitious than themselves.
In a survey we did before the speed dating began, participants rated their own intelligence levels, and it turns out that men avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition—a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date.
I’d like to point out some problems with the article which I think is more from how the experiment is written up than how it was performed. Part of the problem is that the author is explaining his findings as if they apply to the population as a whole. But considering they were only observing Columbia University students -- that is people from a highly elite, expensive university in New York City -- I think it's difficult to say that the behaviors they observed would be found in equal measure in all men or women in America. Perhaps men in Mississippi or North Dakota, or Washington State wouldn't be turned off by discovering their date is either smarter or more ambitious than they are.

The answer could be that American men are the same coast-to-coast, but you can’t simply survey some preppy college students in New York and think you’ve discovered the key to every person’s psyche. The results might be applicable to a larger population but you won’t know unless you’ve tested the experience in different “fields.”

Fortunately not all dating resembles speed dating or Craiglists. We might be ruthlessly shallow when only given a shallow venue to evaluate someone but both men and women tend to consider a potential’s mate desirability on shifting factors, which might include more familiarity. Sometimes you don’t find someone attractive or even interesting until the 10th or 25th or even 50th time you’ve hung out with them.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Dialogue About Abortion: A Final Statement

I’m formally closing the dialogues with Jim in Cleveland partially because the action has moved back to the comments in the adoption thread and partially because my friend Spub (who I’m outing as a friend) has taken up the debate with Jim.

While I didn’t think that the discussion would solve the division between us, I am a bit disappointed that we never could get beyond “think of the women!” “think of the children!” dynamic that always ends up happening.

But because it’s my blog I’m going to give myself the last word. This is the account from an abortion counselor at Abortion Clinic Days. I think it speaks for all the reasons why one should be pro-choice. “Choice” as in you have to let individual women figure their answers out for themselves on this issue.

This past week I counseled a woman whom I'll call LaTisha, aged 37. Her description of what "lost" meant to her had more to do with denial of her husband's drug addiction, lying, stealing. They had just had a baby this summer and that, combined with what she described as constant personal chaos as well as chaos in the home, having to go back to work almost immediately after the baby was born to cover her husband's car crashes, money thefts had left her in a state of just mopping up one disaster after another. Becoming pregnant again so soon made her realize that she was ruining her life and possibly her child's too by trying to make it work. In the process, LaTisha said, she had lost herself and was losing sight of her goals.

Life, she said, was "happening to her" rather than being under her control. Her time and energy were usurped by trying to find out the truth (was he using or not using drugs, did he or did he not steal the money, the jewelry). Between that and caring for her newborn and working, she said that she herself barely existed. Because she was not paying attention to herself, she said, she sometimes missed her birth control pills, made mistakes at work and was generally not taking care of herself. But suddenly, when she found herself pregnant again so soon after delivery, she had to stop and think about where she was, where she wanted to be, and what needed to be done. She said that once she sat and thought about all she had been through and how caught up she was in trying to deny to herself the severity of their problems, she realized that all that she had worked for could come crashing down on her. She could lose her home, her job, or the support of her family who had been telling her what they heard on the street about her husband. Eventually she decided to have the abortion on Saturday and tell him to leave on Sunday.

I commented on how calm, how at peace, she seemed as she was telling me this story. Ah, she said, that's because I am no longer lost. I have found myself again.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: Laundry Cats

This week's Friday Cat Blogging is sponsored by Tide, because if you are going to spend your friday night doing laundry its good to have a fluffy kitty to get a fresh batch of cat hair all over your clothes.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More On Adoption Issue

I’m taking this out of comments because I think it’s interesting to explore on its own. The problem with relying on adoption to “solve” the abortion issue is that too few women are willing to give up their newborns and you can't force them to.

I think many women who are against having an abortion (or can't get one for a variety of reasons) think they can “just make it work” when they find themselves pregnant at a time when they can’t handle a baby either due to a lack of resources or maturity or both. So you get stories like this one where the 22-year-old woman, clearly becoming increasingly distraught over parenting, left her baby in a hot, stuffy car for seven hours while she worked as a waitress. (The fact that she worked at Hooters is immaterial. It could have just as easily been an Applebee’s).

What I found particularly revealing was this passage:

Court records show Clayton Gallagher [the baby’s father] had spoken on the phone with [the mother] for 1 1/2 hours the day before Ryan's death. She told him that she "couldn't do it anymore" and she didn't want Ryan around because he cried so much. She also couldn't stand not seeing him every day and rebuffed Gallagher's offer to take him.
I don’t know what was going on in that woman’s mind when she left her kid in the car but I think the thought of “giving up” her son forever was something that in a way drove her to kill him.

Giving up your son (to adoption, to the father) might make you feel as if you failed as a mother. You gave your child away. And what happens if the kid comes back to you years later and demands to know why you gave them away? I know I would think like that if contemplating giving up my child, even if it was the best thing for them.

Of course it’s a truly loving thing to sacrifice your desires to make sure your children have a better life, even if that means a life without you. But how many people in the world are that selfless? Probably not as many as become pregnant when they don’t wish to be.

Instead you get situations where women try to make it work as a parent. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes though, it doesn’t. And sometimes you end up with parents that aren’t fatal but simply poor quality.

Until the state can mandate that children be taken away from people before they have a chance to show they are bad parents (maybe if baby Ryan Gallagher had lived through that day it would have been his last in his mother’s care, but maybe not) I don’t think we’ll see the adoption rate of newborns increase significantly. There may simply be a ceiling of the people a year who are willing to put their children’s needs ahead of their own desires.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Adoption Option

Entirely aside from my abortion dialogues, there is an interesting oped in the L.A. Times, "The Adoption Vs. Abortion Myth: Why politicians are wrong to trumpet the former as a solution to the latter."

But I found this nugget very interesting.

Meanwhile, we know that very few women actually place their infants for adoption. In the United States, fewer than 14,000 newborns were voluntarily relinquished in 2003 (the latest year for which an estimate is available), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That proportion -- just under 1% of all the children born to never-married women -- has remained constant for almost two decades. It's down considerably from the early 1970s, but even in those days, more than nine in 10 unmarried women who gave birth kept their babies.
I never really thought about what is the actual number of newborn adoptions (not just older children adopted out of foster care). The fact that only 14,000 women a year voluntarily give up their newborn children to be adopted makes me understand why there is such a competition amongst couples who want to adopt.

But it's such a hard thing to give up your baby, especially if you do want children and the problem is money and ability to take care of it, not a lack of desire to be a parent. Even on Loveline there were SO many callers where it was a young woman in a shakey relationship with the biological father -- someone who didn't sound all that put together with no money and no finances -- who clearly had a highly idealistic sense of what life was going to be like once the baby was born.

Adam Corolla used to say in those circumstances the kid would be better off if the mother would launch the baby from a giant slingshot than be raised by its bio-mom. Most of the time I had to agree.

A Dialogue About Abortion: Part IV

(This is a dialogue between myself and a long-time poster regarding abortion. Read Part I here, Part II and Part III)

From: NewsCat
To: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Friday, October 26, 10:32 AM

So is the dynamic between us about abortion always going to be me saying "think of the women!" and you responding "think of the children!" How do we get past that then? I keep asking "what are we before we are born?" It is a religious question. I know evangelicals who, as a matter of proselytizing say things like "Well why not convert just in case (we're right)." I feel like you make the same argument in a sense. Don't allow abortions just in case....but just in case what? What happens to them if they are aborted? They don't become people but what do they become? They become nothing. But what were they before? You say they can't object (which is a reason not to abort) but even adults can't remember what life was like in the womb. Most of us can't remember anything before our second birthdays. We seem to develop consciousness slowly. Many things are alive and can react to stimulus but aren't conscious.

If you feel that someone is a "person" mere moments after conception or three months into a pregnancy or not until viability, then that seems like ultimately it always comes down to where to YOU believe life begins. I know were you, Jim in Cleveland, thinks, but why should I, Rachel, have to follow your *beliefs* about it? Why can't I follow my own and go to hell or heaven or nothingness based on the moral choices I make. Why can't I decide where life begins if I'm the one who's pregnant and not you? At least up until the point of birth or at minimum, when the fetus I'm carrying can survive outside my womb? When it can exist separate from me?

From: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Friday, October 26, 4:36 PM

I do not think it is fully a religious question, but a moral one, to be sure. I believe adultery is wrong, but I do not propose that we make it illegal. I think you would agree that a Christian view of God would not approve of stealing--yet it is not purely a religious issue to make it illegal.

You point out that we, as humans, do not remember our pre-natal life. Fine. So it is okay to end the life PRIOR to that point in which memory begins? In other words, if the life can be taken at a certain point in the womb, why not up to two years after? Further, if I am stuck taking care of my elderly granny, and she is starting to forget what she had for breakfast, why would it be wrong to free up myself for school or a better financial picture by dropping some strychnine into her oatmeal? She won't know the difference, and I will not have to continue my unfair burden of having to care for her. Freedom of choice.

As for the relativist argument that what we individually believe is what makes something right or wrong: Let me borrow from pro-life philosopher Peter Kreeft.

Let us say you are driving a car on a dark rainy night and see a coat lying in the street. The coat is bunched up to the point it looks like a person is under there. Does it matter if the person believes or does not believe it is a person? If the driver is sure there is a person under there (maybe seeing an arm), and runs over the coat, it is murder, plain and simple. In terms of abortion, this is rare. Society tells us (incorrectly, I would argue) that we don't know if it is or isn't a person.

But doesn't the driver have a responsibility to avoid the coat? Does it matter if he believes there is or isn't a person under there? If the driver thinks there is no person under the coat, but still drives over it, and there was a person, then that is manslaughter.

Does it matter to the person under the coat whether the driver believed he was there or not, if in fact he was there?

I would say the only way you can say the driver runs over that coat, and is innocent, is if he KNOWS there is no person under that coat. You may argue you know that a zygote is not a person, that at some arbitrary point -- perhaps the magical end to the first trimester, perhaps viability outside the womb, perhaps birth, perhaps even independence after birth--it becomes a person, the way you and I are persons, the way Granny who can't remember her own name is a person. But I have never heard a persuasive pro-abortion position that defines when that arbitrary point is. I have never heard the NARAL side prove there is no person under the coat.

Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Friday, October 26, 5:36 PM

Well I think I've been telling you that I think that point where someone becomes a person is viability. When you can exist as a separate entity from your mother. If you are asking me for a bright line, between fetus and personhood, that's where I would put it. But I don't think it's immoral to have an abortion any more than I think all adultery is immoral. It may be a crappy thing to cheat on someone but is it immoral? I wouldn't go as far as to call it immoral. (So do you also believe all sex outside of wedlock is immoral? Then the issue is we define morals entirely differently).

One thing I can never understand is the argument that "abortion cheapens life?" Cheapens more than it is currently is held? How does a woman making an individual decision to have an abortion cheapen life for everyone else in the world? In fact doesn't the decision not to bring in unwanted children actually improve the state of the world?

The world cheapens human life and frankly I feel like conservatives cheapen human life. Every day people die in Iraq. Every day the federal government deports poor people. Every day there are American policies written so the rich get richer and less poor children get health insurance. I feel like we've clashed on things like immigration and maybe issues like social policies like welfare. (And if I'm wrong I apologize). But if you can't treat adult poor Mexican immigrants like human beings why should we treat American fetuses?

From: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 9:06 AM

As Keanu Reeves might argue: Whoa! You sure opened several cans of worms there. I deduce from your latest missive that abortion is right because one, adultery is morally right, and two, because conservatives oppose expanding the S-CHIP.

First, I must point out that I never used the term "cheapens life," the straw man you attempt to knock down by citing what you deem to be evil conservative viewpoints. I think you are trying to change the subject a little when you cite immigration, health insurance, and Iraq. A neat trick, to be sure, but not one I am going to fall for. We can go toe to toe on those topics some other time. Suffice it to say that I think arguments can be made to support conservative views on those topics that affirm life.

But to address your concerns: Is abortion immoral?

Morality is absolute. You and I can disagree on what that absolute is, but because you are a woman and I am a man doesn't make something more right or wrong. Racial slurs are wrong uttered by a white man or a black woman. There is or is not a God. It doesn't matter if you are an evangelical Christian or an atheist -- the fact is the fact.

Second, where is the line between personhood and tissue? You say, "When you can exist as a separate entity from your mother." First, that would preclude late-term abortions, or you would at least have to concede that late-term abortions are of persons, not just tissue. But beyond that, I am not certain of the reasoning. Certainly science has made a baby viable without the womb much earlier than 10, 20, 100 years ago. As science progresses, there will come a day when, by your definition, all abortions will be of persons, not tissue.

But why that arbitrary bright line? Is a baby able to live without care? Of course not--a parent who ignores her baby's basic needs would be charged with murder. Doesn't a zygote contain all the necessary DNA of a human being? I would submit that your bright line is a very fuzzy one.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Facebook Employees Snoop?

If you run a multi-billion dollar company should you really be allowing your staff to screw with your customers?

(I'm now waiting for them to screw with my Scrabulous stats in retailation).

Racist Researcher Charles Murray Says Jews Are Genetically Smart

I’m not really quite sure what to make of this Dana Milbank column. It’s about a forum sponsored by American Enterprise Institute which purported to debate the question, why are Jews so smart, genetics or nurturing? First of all I had no idea that the AEI had decided to be so openly racist. Secondly I couldn’t believe it when I read that the notorious Charles Murray was an AEI fellow? Murray is best known for being the co-author of one of the most famously racist books in modern history, The Bell Curve. It was a book that was entirely unpacked from front to end by scientists who do the work that Murray reports to do and they found all of his science shoddy. It was a Potemkin Village of a scientific book. Any organization that associates with Murray might as well just put David Duke on staff as well.

For two hours yesterday, two AEI scholars and a visiting bioethicist kibbitzed about a pressing cause: Why Jews are so doggone smart.

Entine, author of the new book "Abraham's Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People," argued that genetic mutations gave Jews very high IQs. "If you had one of these mutations" -- such as those that cause Tay-Sachs disease -- "it probably could cause high intelligence," he asserted.

"The book is not only good for the Jews, it's good for all of us," moderator Sally Satel said as she introduced Entine.
If this was a forum to discuss “why are blacks so dumb” I wonder if Milbank would have taken such a playful tone that takes for this article? (Its sort of on-par with a Daily Show segment, only problem is that Milbank’s version of mockery doesn’t translate to the page.) Does he think it's not racist to make race-based assertions as long as you think they are positive? By the way, want to bet that Entine probably feels that other races are therefore genetically inferior?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stop Calling Us Sluts At Halloween

I know Halloween is almost over, and most of the big parties happened over the weekend, but I want to get an early start on next year when I want newspaper editors to declare a moratorium on using Halloween as an excuse to call women sluts. Excuse me, I mean to say they “dress like sluts.”

It’s just like the movie Mean Girls said, Halloween is the one time of year you can dress like slut and no one can say anything. Except it’s the one time of year when columnists feel free to brand every Halloween-celebrating woman a slut and no one calls them on it. (Oh wait, that’s what it’s like every day).

Look we get it. You saw Mean Girls five years ago and now, in a pique of moralizing, you’ve decided that its something new to comment “hey those Halloween outfits are a little trashy.” I’m so tired of reading the same “joke” over and over again of the type Joel Stein makes: “It makes sense that once a year I get to peek into your psyche and find out whether you think of yourself as a whore nurse, a whore pirate, a whore angel or a whore whore.”

You are oh-so-clever that you just noticed the plethora of costumes that use the modifier “sexy” in front of non-sexy occupations. Good job noticing things. By the way have you also recently come to the realization that Christmas has become way too commercialized and that St. Patrick’s Day is just an excuse to drink?

And I know that blows people’s mind that a holiday can be fun for kids and adults, and parents and non-parents alike. What a holiday with something for everyone? What a concept!

And even if adult women (and men) just happen to enjoy costume parties there is also a huge marketing industry that pushes the “sexy” costumes, which, by the way, not every woman wears. Do women dress up for Halloween and sometimes down? Sure, but I also think the stamp of “slutty” is painted over practically every woman who wears a costume. You’re now practically a slut if you decide to dress as anything other than yourself.

For the record, its neither feminist nor not-feminist to dress provocatively on Halloween. But its completely sexist to preemptively call women who dress provocatively “sluts” and “whores.” Columnists want to use a patronizing tone -- “ladies, cover yourself, have some dignity please!” -- to judge adult women about how they want to act. As if the future of suffrage is hanging in the balance of every single woman in America’s Halloween costume choice. Better not dress as a Sexy Nurse ladies or they may take away our right to vote. Sorry, ladies! We lost the right to sue for pay discrimination last year because Mary Sue of Topeka dressed like a sexy pirate.

I know it’s so much fun to judge women on how they dress. It’s easy and its fun. It makes you feel better about yourself (especially if you’re a guy). But its not actually a sin to put on a costume. Nor does dressing a little provocatively actually make you a slut. But calling someone a slut because of how they dress on Halloween does make you a judgmental asshole.

(hat tip to Ann at Feministing for Stein's column)

Friday, October 26, 2007

NPR Reports Tortured Confessions

If you are a reporter and you are shown three tortured people – and it was entirely obvious they were tortured with broken limbs and blood on them -- who spout confessions, how do you report what they said? Do you give it any credibility at all? Or do you report it and simply say “well if these confessions were true it means that ….”

Well if you're NPR and "Morning Edition" you’ll repeat the confessions practically verbatim and then ask what it means.

Today’s "Morning Edition" on NPR, there was a story by reporter Ann Garrels “Iraqi Group Accuses Iran of Fueling Violence” which was ostensibly about Moqtada Al Sadr is claiming that Iran is shaping Iraq’s violence. Of course his movement is really fractured he’s lost control and he has a motivation for turning the blame on Iran.

Here is part of the story which I transcribed:

Ann Garrels: The head of Sadr’s militia in the Western side of Baghdad invited NPR to an interrogation session of three of these reengage Sadr militiamen apparently to show us how the movement was cleaning up its ranks. We were not allowed to tape it.

In the Sadr safehouse three detainees had clearly tortured…and the story they told was they were trained in roadside bombs, and car bombings in Iran. They say they worked for money and that their orders were to attack Americans and so sow suspicion and violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

Steve Inskeep: How were they tortured?

Anne Garrels: There was blood all over their clothes, they were in such bad shape they couldn’t walk. They had to be dragged onto the chairs. And one of them was just sobbing.

Steve Inskeep: If the story that these tortured prisoners told was true, if it’s true, how were they sowing suspicion between Shiites and Sunnis?

Anne Garrels: Well In one case they said they went into a contested area of Bagdad, pretended they were Sunnis, raped a Shiite girl they then went to the Sadr organization and said “look what Sunnis did to an innocent Shiite girl” and the result were stepped up attacks on Sunnis.

These young men also said they killed local Sadr militia leaders in order to gain control of certain areas. And they also say they use American troops to further their ends by calling in with tips about so-called “bad Sadrists” so the Americans will take them out. Now once again they said they’re doing this for money on orders of Iranian agents working on the Iran-Iraq border. They said their mission was to create an unstable Iraq.
I understand that the focus of the story was not on the allegations but, considering the political content of the confessions, airing them without more skepticism (listening to the report Inskeep is hardly treating them as what they are, worthless confessions), is irresponsible. Fact is I think Garrels could have made more of a story about witnessing the interrogation rather than on Sadr’s loss of control.

UPDATE: 11/1/07 Morning Editon has followed up on the issue to addressed the question of reporting on tortured confession. Garrels misses some of the point a little when she says, repeatedly, that she and other NPR staff did not actually witness the torture. I don't think the problem I had with the story is that Garrels was there and that she did not do anything to stop the militia men from torturing their prisoners. My concern is how the allegations were reported, and in her follow up she said she did follow the information to see if it checked and says some of it did. (Of course it's unknown if those men did it, or performed those actions for the given motivations they stated, etc).

I understand fully that Garrels and the NPR staff in the room were in a tough situation -- my issue isn't how they handled the situation it how they chose to report it. I think it's a very good ethical question how does a reporter handle information that is obtained via torture. Perhaps they shouldn't "follow" the leads precisely because it validates the methods and more importantly they might miss out on a different story because they are following the leads provided by the torturers.

Friday Cat Blogging: Halloween NewsCat

Who is that Masked NewsCat? Happy Halloween Weekend everyone.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Dialogue About Abortion: Part III

(This is a dialogue between myself and a long-time poster regarding abortion. Read Part I here, and Part II.)

From: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Monday, October 22, 9:30 PM


You throw out factual arguments about Post Abortion Syndrome. Fine. Maybe you are right in saying we could both cite studies and neither side will concede to the veracity of the others’ citations. For me, medical reasons, and even psychological reasons, are tertiary when it comes to arguing against abortion. I do, though, find it difficult to believe that anyone can argue that women who have abortions do not, in general, suffer any negative effects as a result, especially psychological effects.

Instead, I will focus on your paragraph about my theoretical daughter.

A number of years ago, I wrote a short piece that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News that compared arguments for abortion to arguments for slavery in the ante-bellum South. After that article appeared, I had a female co-worker come up to me and angrily tell me that when I had a daughter, I would understand. That I knew nothing, and how dare I argue about something I know nothing about.

Well, I will point out two things. One, if that logic holds, that one must personally experience something to have a legitimate opinion, then I would say to you that if and when you have a child yourself, you may feel differently about the life growing inside you. I do not know if you have kids or if you ever have had an abortion, but I do know women who were pro-choice, and still are, but when the time came for their decision, said, “I could never do that.” In other words, personal experience works both ways. Holding that baby after he or she is born is an emotional experience just as strong, if not stronger, as wishing the easiest life for your own child.

Two, now I do have a daughter. One of the most important things I have tried to pass onto my kids, as flawed a parent as I am, is to accept responsibility for your actions. This may be the part when you roll your eyes, but it is something I feel strongly about. If my son were to get a girl pregnant, I would be devastated if he told me his choice was to avoid responsibility by paying for an abortion. Similarly, if my daughter told me that she would be terminating a life so that she could go to college on time, I would be gravely disappointed.

You object to women being seen only as “birth-givers,” as if all pro-lifers care about is the baby. But the baby is there, isn’t it? How can it anger you for pro-lifers, who believe that baby is a person and not just tissue, to argue that the person has a right not to be killed? Might doesn’t make right. Going to a doctor might mean you won’t have to put off college, but it disregards the rights of at least one human being, and that doesn’t count the rights of the father, who may want the baby to be born as well.

What it boils down to is your belief that the unborn baby is a “theoretical” person. But when exactly is it no longer theoretical? Seconds before “it” goes through the birth canal? Minutes? Hours? Days? Months? When a pro-abortion advocate can show me when that moment transpires, I will agree abortion is right before it.

From: NewsCat
To: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Tuesday, October 23, 11:44 AM

I guess I should explain to our readers that when I proposed this dialogue I did suggest, in the interests of keeping it readable, that we limit our responses to roughly 500 words each. I did go over that limit last time and I said you were free to go over it yourself. But now, in keeping with my own editorial structures I’m going to try to only respond to a few points.

The reason I used the “imagine you have a daughter” scenario, which admittedly has its flaws, is that I was hoping to get you to actually place yourself in a woman’s position who finds herself pregnant and does not wish to be. I don’t know if you have ever followed the link on my blogroll to Abortion Clinic Days but it’s a blog by two abortion providers about the women and situations they encounter every day. I wonder if you read their descriptions of their patients would you feel like you have easy answers to give (just always carry the pregnancy to term!) if you were actually talking to them in person.

As a man, you will never find yourself faced with their choices or situations. I think the closest approximation I might be able to summon is how, is picture a friend telling you about a devastatingly callous relationship he/she has. You know this relationship is no good and you give them advice – “just break it off” “forget about him/her.” Which might be all well and good. But the truth is that its easy to be dispassionate when handing out relationship advice if its not your emotions involved. You, as the outside person, knows exactly what is the “logical” course of action to follow. But you aren’t the person who has to follow the advice either.

That’s how I often see anti-abortion types who talk about abortion. They may provide lip-service to the idea that the answers aren’t easy but then by advocating always carrying pregnancies to term they imply it is. But they’re also not the people who are ultimately invested in the decisions being made.

So they can offer dispassionate rules for behavior (do not have an abortion, must give birth) but such talk does not require any further action on their behalf. Someone who advocates banning abortion is not offering to help out every woman who will then give birth because of such laws. It’s merely a mental exercise on their behalf. And I guess I would rather anti-abortion types have the mental exercise of being vaguely troubled by abortion then pushing for a change in laws that will make others have to change their behavior but not create any new responsibilities for those who push for banning abortion.

So I guess that’s my response to your part about “responsibility.” Who’s responsibility are we talking about here? Who do you have to be responsible to? God? Your own conscious? The child you might not believe exists? If you advocate for a war that then goes badly do you have a “responsibility” to give a lot of your own money and time to helping the victims of the war? Or do you get to just shrug your shoulders and think “well I thought it was the best thing to do at the time” and go about your life.

I was going to ask if you use the word “responsibility” as a way to convey the sense that sex has “consequences.” You don’t seem like you are saying you believe pregnancy is a “punishment” for sluts who have sex, but you must be aware that such an attitude exists.

From: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Wednesday, October 24, 4:06 PM

Sympathy for women who have unwanted pregnancies is appropriate. This is especially so in cases involving rape. I support any agency that provides women assistance, including adoption agencies and the Family Resource Center. However, appeals to pity, or argumentum ad misericordiam, lead to incorrect conclusions. Specifically, two wrongs do not make aright. Because a woman is in an often terrible situation, it does not justify an abortion.

If a man commits embezzlement, and is convicted, it is a shame for his family that the father will be lost for a time. The difficulty that family will go through will be great. That should not preclude him from his just punishment. In the case of an unwanted pregnancy, a new life should not be viewed as "punishment," but it often is by the couple who had sex, and thus are responsible for that life. That is what I mean by responsibility, by the way. If the baby is born, it is the responsibility of the parents to raise that kid. Responsibility should not magically begin at birth, but at the time that human being is created. Thus, it is not about a slut facing her just punishment, but about understanding that the life that has been created may very well bring unexpected joy, and that that person has a right to not be treated as a piece of trash to be thrown away(or have his or her brains sucked out, for that matter).

It is irrefutable that, as you assert, because I am not a female it is impossible for me to fully understand what it must feel like to be a woman faced with such a difficult situation. However, in using that line of thinking, I would submit that you would not and could not know what it would be like to be a fetus whose life is extinguished by pre-term abortion. Those persons cannot tell their stories on blogs.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is Photographing Fat Women Art?

"Any time there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it’s political. Add physical movement, then dance, then sexuality and you have a revolutionary act.”
--Heather MacAllister
UPDATED: I added some more thoughts and a link to the New York Times article.

Olvlzl at Echidne of the Snakes has a post asking what people thought about Leonard Nimoy’s The Full Body Project, which is photographing large, mostly nude (the one above is tame) women. Nimoy worked with Heather MacAllister of the Big Burlesque before she died and inspired this work.

Echidne has a follow-up post that is a response to many of the comments, which are basically “why are you defending these women and their unhealthiness?” She has a good response to it, but I think there are other angles to consider.

After witnessing a burlesque show I had real questions about what the message is of women posing nude, whether fat or thin. There is no question that if Nimoy’s models were thin his “art” would have an entirely different take. Not necessarily a porn vibe, as there is plenty of nude photography that has a purpose beyond mere titillation, but it’s hard not to realize that titillation is also part of the process of most nude photography, including Nimoy’s.

I remember hearing a story about a burlesque show at college that was supposed to celebrate women’s bodies but the reality was all the college co-eds worked for weeks to starve themselves to be “thin” enough for the show. And it wasn’t lost on me that at the burlesque show I watched the heaviest girl had the most clothing on at the end of her set.

The problem with being female is that our “fuckability” becomes an inherent assessment of our character. (Just look at the sophomoric “Democratic Women Are Ugly” image Ann from Feministing found on Facebook). So anything that invites more scrutiny to our bodies seems to be playing on the pitched battlefield. It’s accepting the rules of the game (women should be beautiful) its just trying to change the perception of beauty (Oh but fat can be beautiful).

But, I’m torn because as I say that, I can’t disagree that the photographs are fascinating to look at. But to they make me think the women are beautiful? Do they make me think of their humanity? No, I think I’m staring at their shapes. I’m looking at them as objects to be evaluated, and judged as some do (but it’s UNHEALTHY).

I’m not sure that the way to challenge the concept of beauty is to take nude photographs or strip nude. Because I can’t help but feel the titillation factor will be the dominant take-away from the project.

UPDATE: I went back and read the original New York Times article about the project that was written last May. And I remember a couple of quotes from the article that were quoted in some of the blogs.

Its interesting that, according to the article, it was his wife's idea to shoot the first woman nude, a confident woman who approached Nimoy and basically offered herself to be photographed. But I can't quite tell from the article whether it was Nimoy himself that felt the need to distance the sexuality of the women from their "beauty" or if the article's author, Abby Ellin, who pushed that idea that Nimoy's lack of sexual desire for the women was something that needed to be spelled out.
“We do overhear some reductive ‘Is Nimoy into fat chicks’ comments when the gallery room is first entered,” he continued, “but in fact the fun nature of the work and the quality seem to shut people up by the time they leave. I’ve had a few crank e-mails with snide remarks, but not a one from gallery visitors.”


And what of his own attitude toward fat women?

“I do think they’re beautiful,” he said. “They’re full-bodied, full-blooded human beings.”

He doesn’t necessarily find them sexually attractive. “But I do think they’re beautiful.”
This gets a bit at the heart of what I wonder what women who do this desire from the audience? My theory is non-professional women who do burlesque or this kind of arty nude photography, it's about a desire to be seen as a sexual object when you do not feel as if you are normally thought of as sexually attractive.

But if the reaction you get is "wow she's confident and beautiful (as an abstraction) but I still don't find her sexually attractive," is that enough?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: Rally Cats...Err Caps

This week's Friday Cat Blogging is to rally my favorite team, The Cleveland Indians, even though they lost last night forcing there to be a game six. If you are wondering who has signed my hat, it's Omar Vizquel, Richie Sexson (almost illegible) and Wayne Kirby.

No Al! Don't eat the Rally Cap!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Dialogue About Abortion: Part II

(This is a dialogue between myself and a long-time poster regarding abortion. Read Part I here)

From: NewsCat
To: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Tuesday, October 16, 4:33 PM


I don't actually disagree with you about more females being aborted than males, but that seems to me a cultural issue rather than a fight for the gender wars. It's akin to decreasing sexism everywhere, rather than stopping gendercide. (A word I just made up). I wish women were on par with men everywhere, but I also kind of want to point that that in places where abortion is legal is in countries is where, legally speaking, women are treated equal to men. (mostly).

So I gather you think abortion is physically and mentally harmful to women? But why do you think that? I mean, pregnancy is also *dangerous* in the sense it’s more dangerous than abortion. Safety-wise it’s safer not to be pregnant than to be pregnant for the body at least.

But why do you also think it's mentally harmful? Can you elaborate?

Obviously though, as you say, even if abortion was safer than pregnancy and not harmful to women's psyches, you still want to consider the unborn person's welfare. On some level this is the path I never understand. Because there is so much pain and suffering right now amongst the living why cry about those that aren't yet born? Wars, homeless, abused foster kids, there's plenty of living breathing, conscious kids who need help right now that aren't getting it. The unborn always seem to be in theoretical pain. It's like speculating on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Maybe they are souls, but even if they are, there are a lot of other souls in pain right now that should be in the front of the line. It reminds me a little of how some people argue that they'd never buy a purebred pet because there are so many unwanted cats and dogs out there.

Don't get me wrong, I can understand feeling "I wish I lived in a world where there was no abortion" in a theoretical way. But I can't imagine getting so worked up about the status of all those unborn beings being aborted that it puts them on par with all the current living people.

From: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Wednesday, October 17, 2:30 PM

You pose a couple of questions. One, you ask what harm is there to the woman in an abortion, especially since there is potential harm in a pregnancy. Two, you ask why get worked up over the death of a fetus when there is so much misery for those already born. Two fair questions.

First one first. I dispute your assertion that pregnancy is more dangerous than abortion. It may indeed be "safer" for a woman to not be pregnant at all (though there are studies that refute that assumption), but having an abortion includes a number of physical risks. The controversial issue is, of course, the supposed link between breast cancer and abortion, which the pro-abort side disputes. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of that issue, there is ample evidence for me to believe there is a link. For every study that comes out and says there is none (e.g., the recent Harvard study), there appears to be one that refutes it (e.g., the work of Joel Brind).

I believe the ABC link controversy to be beside the point, though I think there is also ample evidence of physical issues as a result of abortion, such as increased likelihood of ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages. The real issue is the false choice given to women. One study showed that over 80% of women who had an abortion reported feeling victimized by the process, and forced into the decision of having an abortion. Women who have had abortions report feelings of guilt, anxiety, regret, and other symptoms of what is called Post Abortion Syndrome.

Further, I think abortion degrades what motherhood is. Women were treated as property at one time, and those who choose to support abortion rights now argue that the child they carry is also only property, to be disposed of, if that is what the "mother" wants. Women, who were always equal to men, have legally and culturally become perceived as equal to men because our society has decided that might does not make right.

Abortion advocates hold the opposite, and to me, that degrades women.

As for the second question--what about all the born kids nobody wants? I have been an advocate for increased adoption in this country. I believe adoption law reform is imperative. There are millions of women who are on adoption lists waiting for a child, some choosing to go to China rather than wait the years it takes to go through the red tape. That is ridiculous, and needs to be changed.

You asked me why get worked up about saving fetuses lives when there are living born children experiencing pain and poverty. That is a false choice. First, abortion devalues life, presents a quick fix to a "problem" in which there are no quick fixes. A society that sees violence as a solution to a problem will not place value on fixing the lives of those already born. A society that holds that the size of a person is what determines his or her rights is one that runs counter to feminist principles.

From: NewsCat
Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Wednesday, October 17 5:35 PM

It’s highly coincidental while I was reading your e-mail about how abortion is unsafe (both mentally and physically) I was just editing a piece that talks about how abortion is “the safest medical procedures available – less risky than penicillin, and 30 times less dangerous than carrying a pregnancy to term.”

But the things you mentioned, like the breast cancer controversy or the so-called Post Abortion Syndrome, I don’t believe. I mean, I don’t believe in them the same way I know there’s not a tooth fairy or the Easter Bunny. I could spend a lot of time justifying why I don’t believe in them, but the problem with these types of discussions is that I can cite my facts and you can cite yours, but facts don’t move arguments like these. In fact when confronted with information that conflicts with deeply held beliefs people just hang on more stubbornly to their beliefs, which clearly applies to both you and me.

But to get to a place where we can discuss, I totally agree with you that women were ALWAYS equal to men, but I do think the history of civilization was not just about treating women like property, but controlling their reproduction. The fact that adultery or multiple sexual partners for women was pretty much verboten in Westerns (and many Eastern) societies until the modern age is hard to dispute right? Women still get killed in Afghanistan for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, whether from rape or consensual sex. I’m always reminded that even in the 1960s there were “the girls who went away.” And it’s funny because sometimes I feel like old codgers feel like that was perfectly fine. Those women were out of sight and out of (their) minds so no one got hurt. Sorry I feel there’s a lot of people in their 50-70s who talk fondly about how girls who got into trouble just disappeared, and therefore, to their way of thinking, it was never a problem.

But its not just the concept of women having the right to have sex with whomever they want. It’s really about not living in fear of becoming pregnant which for the first 10,000 years of civilization every woman did.

You admit you’re a settled married guy with kids, and I’m neither talking about my own past nor asking you to talk about yours. But do you think you can understand the issues a woman who finds herself pregnant and really can’t carry it to term? Not just to “not condemn her” but understand why a woman would want to have an abortion and maybe not even feel bad about it?

Like, and I don’t know if you have a daughter, but what if your (theoretical over 18 years old) daughter became pregnant. But she doesn’t want to become a mother and she certain doesn’t want to raise the child of the guy she had sex with. But she doesn’t want to tell you, her dad, because she knows your pro-life and will insist on her (or you) keeping the baby. So in the end, she’s not only going to have to have this baby when maybe she had other plans (college, not bearing the guy’s kid) and her whole life is now changed just because she had sex.

And, if I was that person, and I knew abortion existed, it would be hard for me not to justify thinking “wait so you mean I don’t have to give birth right now? I can go on with my life as I planned, and maybe become a mother later, when I’m financially and emotionally ready for it?” It’s a little hard for women who don’t want to be pregnant to think about what a baby wants. Especially when we imagine a baby wants a birth mother who wants her and can afford to take care of her. And it hurts a little when people tell us we have to put the theoretical wants of what’s in our wombs ahead of our own lives. Like we’re nothing but bits of skin around our all-precious wombs. I think that's where the anger comes from. It comes from the sense that people only assign you value as a "birth-giver" but not the person who is living and feeling with desires of their own. Your life doesn’t matter, only the "new" life you can possibly carry.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Dialogue About Abortion: Part I

I’m trying something a little different at NewsCat this week. Almost as long as I’ve been blogging about abortion, one commenter “Jim in Cleveland,” who has seemed to be a pretty die-hard anti-abortion opponent, has been responding to my posts. After my last post I suggested to Jim that, instead of merely responding in comments, why don’t we have an e-mail dialogue about our positions and understanding of the abortion issue.

I wasn’t thinking of this as a debate, because we’re unlikely to change each other’s minds, but I do think with dialogue there can be a better understanding of the other person’s position and what attitudes inform it. My goal was to model this experiment after’s Dialogues discussions, and the plan is cover this discussion over the course of a week.

I think the readers of my blog get a pretty decent sense of where I stand on the abortion position, I would support all abortion and no restrictions, up to and including the third-trimester. But beyond what I think about abortion, I’ve also marched to in support of pro-choice policies, given money to groups that provide poor women who cannot afford an abortion the ability to obtain one, and support political candidates on a sliding scale based (to some extent) how pro-choice their politics are. I’m also someone who writes about abortion and reproductive rights in general as part of my career outside of this blog.

So with that let’s let Jim in Cleveland introduce himself:

I am a 41 year-old Clevelander (go Indians!), am married with three kids, and work in the area of civil rights for the federal government. I am a cradle Catholic conservative, work with mostly liberals, live in a liberal city, and yes, some of my best friends are liberal. I have been pro-life for as long as I can remember, though like Rachel, I don't think there was one moment that crystalized my position. I think given the way I was raised, given my religious and moral beliefs, and given who I am in general, I could never have been anything but pro-life.

I don't think I could tell an interesting story, or quote any inspiring person, that would enlighten you as to why my position on abortion is what it is. I would have to add that I am a lot like most of the pro-life people I know--not some stereotype religious nut whose only answer to pro-choice positions is Bible quotes and pictures of ultrasounds, though I think Bible quotes and pictures of ultrasounds should not be discounted. I come to the pro-life position by logic, faith, and a sincere sympathy for the women whom I think abortion harms. I would never judge a woman who has had an abortion--instead, I judge the act itself.

In short, I hold and defend my pro-life position not just for the unborn, but for the women who have abortions, and for the culture that is harmed by abortion.
From NewsCat
Jim in Cleveland
Posted: Monday, October 15 at 8:32 AM

So Jim, thanks for agreeing to do this. I know you wrote to me that you had some definite thoughts about my last post about the study regarding the ratio of abortions worldwide, and I want to get to that. But first I wanted to ask you when did you first come to a definite understanding of what your position on abortion was? I’m 31, and I don’t have an exactly date or time that I knew I was pro-choice, but I recall that by high school I was definitely in the pro-choice camp. Certainly I remember getting angry at some things that the first President Bush did even when I was in junior high.

But my clearest early memory is when I was watching the news with my father and I recall asking him why he was pro-choice. His answer was “because I don’t want any politician telling my daughters what they can do with their body.”

I bring up this only to show that I definitely grew up in a pro-choice household and it’s clear that’s where my thinking on this issue originated from. But if anything I got even more liberal on this issue as I got older, if only because I started seeing it more and more as a personal affront to me (as someone who actually can get pregnant) every time there was an anti-choice piece of news.

So, Jim its interesting you talk about abortion harming women [from your intro, where I had asked you how your views were shaped on this issue and at what age], but the recent study that I wrote about is pretty explicit that abortion harms women a lot more when its illegal. In what sense do you think it harms them? Physically? I'm not trying to pick a fight early on, but it ends up sounding somewhat paternalistic. I think adults, both men and women, hate to hear someone else say to them "I know what'sbest for you."

From Jim in Cleveland
Posted: Tuesday, October 16 at 11:08 AM

Hmmm. I know this is your blog, so you make the rules. But I also don't buy your dad's statement about politicians telling my daughters what can be done to their bodies, and could question you on that. In other words, I think you could likely point out you don't agree with just about everything I say, and vice versa, so it may be more productive to stick to the issues at hand. To answer your question, though, I don't view it as paternalistic. I believe abortion harms women psychologically and physically, legal or not, and individually and as a group. To say it is paternalistic implies that being concerned about people for making the wrong choice is a bad thing. I don't want drug users to use because I think it harms them--is that paternalistic? I don't want people to drive drunk because I think it could harm the driver--again, paternalistic? Arguing that an action harms someone and not wanting them to do it is not paternalism.

And my statement was that abortion harms women, not the legality of abortion harms women. I make comparisons to make a point, not to say abortion is the same as drug use or drunken driving. Similarly, I think that prostitution is wrong and harmful to women, but I would bet where it is legal it is more safe.

One more thing, and I am not being facetious. I would suspect that half the fetuses destroyed are female. In that way, abortion sure as hell harms a bunch of women. I get that adults don't like to be told what is best for them. But that assumes the woman is the only victim in an abortion, and I did not say that. I only assert that abortion ALSO hurts the women involved, in order to discount the argument some pro-aborts have that men don't care about the women having the abortion, just the baby.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Proof Outlawing Abortion Doesn’t Make Them Stop Happening

A researcher from the Guttmacher Institute, along with researchers from the World Health Organization, just had a study published in The Lancet which showed, safe or unsafe, "women are just as likely to get an abortion in countries where it is outlawed as where it is legal."

The study looked at abortion trends from 1995 to 2003.

Significantly, the abortion rate for 2003 was roughly equal in developed and developing regions—26 and 29, respectively—despite abortion being largely illegal in developing regions. Health consequences, however, vary greatly between the two regions, since abortion is generally safe where it is broadly legal and mostly unsafe where restricted.
Now I know some people will look at the other headline: “Abortions Declines Worldwide; Falls Most Where Abortion Is Broadly Legal.” Logically for an abortion rate to fall either there has to be less sex (does anyone think that really happens?) an increase in births, or option “c”—less unintended pregnancies through an increased use of contraceptives.

And that’s pretty much what you’d expect happened where the ratio dropped. Where it declined significant the study attributes not to increased birth rates (which are dropping in Eastern Europe) but to “a trend that corresponds with substantially increased contraceptive use in the region.”

It seems clear to me then that if anti-choice forces wanted there to be less abortions in the U.S. therefore they should be dedicated to keeping it legal. After all Western Europe has a ratio of 12 abortions per 1,000 women whereas in North America (which includes Canada) the ratio is 21 per 1,000. Twelve is less than 21 is it not?

Meanwhile in places where one would think the ratio should be zero due to illegality of the procedure its actually 39 unsafe abortions per 1,000 women in Eastern Africa and 33 per 1,000 in South America.

Some anti-choice people will say “well I think there should be increased contraception, but no choice of abortion.” But that’s not the bargain being offered in America. Name me one anti-abortion group that spends a significant amount of time lobbying for an increase in contraception and sex education. There isn’t any.

The groups like Concerned Women For America and the Family Research Council aren’t suggesting we outlaw abortion but follow the Western European model of sex education and readily available birth control (which is covered under national health insurance...but shhhh...don’t mention that). They don’t want contraception covered by insurance. They don’t want Plan B to be available over the counter. They don’t want comprehensive sex education taught in school.

But I really wish I could understand what they think when they read this study because it’s clear that what lowers the abortion rate isn’t whether its legal or not. After all it’s downright dangerous in places where it is illegal. Doesn’t it say something to the anti-choice types that women are willing to risk death in order to obtain an abortion in those countries?

But unfortunately for them (and women) what reduces abortions is a trade off they aren’t willing to make, increased contraception. They are like a group looking at a war zone and declaring they aren’t going to do anything to mitigate any of the violence in the area—such peace negotiations, or moving women and children to safer areas—until first everyone agrees to end the war. Better the war should go on then less people be hurt through any sort of compromise.

Basically the anti-choice groups must think it doesn't matter when there are more abortions rather than less. They don't care what the number is, as long as its greater than zero. Unfortunately what this study should prove to them is that its NEVER going to be zero. Even when abortions are outlawed and women are killed for having them. The needle never drops to zero.

UPDATE: There's a slightly modified version of this post at Rh Reality Check.