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The Tally Ho

Thursday, August 25, 2005

News From Home

The Kaiser Daily RH Report posts today that there's another abortion records request, this time in Central Ohio. From Kaiser: "The health department requested the records of every patient who visited the center in May and June as part of an investigation about an unidentified complaint." According to PPCO's release, the Ohio Department of Health hasn't identified the complaint to the Central Ohio Women's Center, hasn't been willing to accept records scrubbed of identifying info, and declined COWC's offer to call patients to obtain their permission to release medical info. It sounds like a "HIPAA no-no" to me, but the spokesperson for ODH claims their request is "not unusual". To me, it sounds like a fishing expedition--heaven only knows what or who they're looking for. Recent patients, obviously, should be frightened, but clinics and hospitals store patient records for years. If you've ever had a medical problem that you don't want to discuss with your local politician, you should be concerned.

This issue is close to my heart (I lived in Columbus for several years), and I want people in every part of the country to stay aware of it. Live in Ohio? Make some noise. Thanks.

(cross-posted to Caveat Lector)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

That Perilous Journey

Some days all the news feels rehashed. Blah blah politics, blah blah sex, blah blah urban crime and housing bubble and blog echo chamber. But then comes Elise over at Bitch. Ph. D with a NYTimes article that even I haven't read!

Behold, women, the hidden dangers of giving birth. The (cough) esteemed Dr. Ablow, in "The Perilous Journey From Delivery Room to Bedroom," writes that for some men, childbirth is very scary. So very scary, in fact, that some of them might get PTSD and not ever recover. (really! go read it! I'll wait!) Ablow is a psychologist (probably, he doesn't say) who has spoken to "dozens" of men finding their wives unattractive in the short term after they give birth--not because of her weight gain, or post-partum depression, or the fact that it's tough to take a shower while she's doing all the feeding and diapering, but because of... the cunt.* Yes, they find it so (cough) bloody unnatural to see another human emerge from their lover's body that they cannot see their wives sexually. Poor men.

*I tried to use a clinical term, I really did, they just didn't fit. Ablow might understand; he never once manages to write the terms "vagina" or "vulva" in the course of his article. He can say "togetherness", "sexual", "retraumatized", "placenta", "meconium", and yes, "post-traumatic stress disorder". But vulva, vagina, cooch, or cunt? Nowhere to be found. The closest he comes is an insipid "birth canal". Doctor, heal thyself.

BEFORE WE START bashing the men, Ablow reminds us that
"I do not believe that most men suffer these symptoms. But some do. And predicting which men will be vulnerable to them is nearly impossible in a social climate in which men who admit reticence about being present in the delivery room risk being labeled throwbacks."

The phrase about "predicting which men will be vulnerable... is nearly impossible" is a scare tactic which recalls Homeland Security investigators and opponents of childhood vaccines. Ablow says that "[s]everal men have confessed to me that they never regained the same romantic view of their wives that they had before seeing them deliver children." I say: These several men have hit a tough patch. It's not easy to control what we find attractive, and sometimes our bodies or subconscious minds teach themselves to like or not like things we'd rather they didn't. So you consider where you are, you learn, maybe you talk to somebody, you gradually shift your focus and work back to where you want to be. If Ablow had written about how he helped these men gain a more holistic view of their wives' sexuality, that would be groundbreaking. However, Ablow says: "Women may want to consider the risks as they invite their partners to watch them bring new life into the world." Ladies, what were you thinking by wanting your husband in the room? He'll never want to sleep with you again! Don't show him the blood, the crying, the gnashing of teeth. Help him forget that your vulva is functional and not just for his adolescent panderings. Don't let him see you breastfeed, either, or he'll never want to play with your tits again.

I'm sorry, it's difficult for me to write this without slipping into sarcasm.

First, this article tells me that we are failing some men: as health educators, we're not reminding them early enough or often enough that women's bodies are functional, and that every woman does this, unless she takes major steps to avoid it. As a culture, we allow such objectification of women that some men can't stomach any kind of female sexual agency. (I giggle as I imagine the wife of one of these "several" men asking him to give her head. "Ew, honey, ick, gross! There was a baby down there!" Hee. Sorry. Back now.) If some of these men never do manage to see their wives as sexual beings again, I imagine they were attracted only to her (cough) feminine ideal and probably didn't have real fulfilling sex lives to start with.

Second, there's a pernicious medical paternalism at work in Ablow's arguments. Ablow himself "recall[s] feeling as if the clinical focus on childbirth during prenatal classes, including the detailed descriptions of the placenta and the meconium, took away from the wonder of the process, rather than adding to it." He implicitly questions whether men need to be so involved in prenatal care: "I don't know what is gained by showing the cross-sectional anatomy of a woman's torso to her lover." He shakes his head, however, over this loss of communication: "The fact that the subject is taboo also means that a man who is traumatized by the experience may be retraumatized again and again, with each child born to him." To the man, he implies: Let the doctor handle this. To the woman? Lie back, and shut up.

Ablow gives men short shrift in this article, implying that they will not be able to handle the rigors of childbirth or somehow aren't able to grasp the many layers of female sexuality. He demeans women, implying that we might be unreasonable to want our partner in the birthing room or expect him as a source of support. He undermines relationships by refusing to suggest that couples talk this issue out with each other. Is there anyone who can read this article and not walk away without feeling insulted?

"A Perilous Journey From Delivery Room to Bedroom," indeed. After signing his name to this article, I can bet that his will be.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Blog depression

Feeling blue about your blog? Read this. And remember, there is help available.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

So true

From the NYTimes.com article about Mike Wagers, the cabbie who picked up the Hyattes and drove them to Columbus, Ohio after Mrs. Hyatte allegedly shot and killed a guard while helping him escape:

...the only time he wondered about the pair was when they told him they were headed to an Amway convention.

"Amway people are all about Amway, and when they didn't try any conversation further about it, that's when I pretty much thought, 'Well, they're not with Amway; they're doing something else,' " said Mr. Wagers, 33.

The next day he realized who the pair were and called authorities, who surrounded the motel Wagers drove them to and brought them in peacefully. I laughed out loud when I read that paragraph; I've had friends involved with Amway, and it's so, so true.

First thought: I'm glad that these two were apprehended and can be tried in a court of law. It's horrifying to think that anyone would shoot and kill a bystander, or some poor shmoe doing his job, just to break a guilty man out of prison and then take him on the run with you. I love my spouse dearly, and think that El is certainly kinder, smarter, and more interesting than George Hyatte, but I just couldn't kill anyone so that my spouse could avoid paying his due. Second: smart citizens are way better than security cameras. Third: most criminals are just not that smart. Three days in the same motel? You didn't think you'd be spotted? Come on. Also, you should work on your cover story. I don't think anyone outside of Amway could successfully fake that bizarre enthusiasm.

I love it when news stories have satisfying endings.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A good use for those damn camera phones?

I am unwillingly drawn in by Thomas Friedman's editorial, "Calling All Luddites" calling for the creation of a tech party. Or at least asking the parties we've got to acknowledge advancing technology and the minimal standard we need to maintain. He seems to have gotten many of his ideas from Andrew Rasiej, a Democrat running for public advocate in New York City. Some of the issues he raises should be blindingly obvious:

At the City Hall subway stop this morning, Mr. Rasiej plans to show how one makes a 911 call from the subway. He will have one aide with a tin can in the subway send a message to another aide holding a tin can connected by a string. Then the message will be passed by tin can and string up to Mr. Rasiej on the street, who will call 911 with his cellphone.

"That is how you say something if you see something today in a New York subway - tin cans connected to someone with a cellphone on the street," said Mr. Rasiej, a 47-year-old entrepreneur who founded an educational-technology nonprofit.

Some of the changes he's proposing are less political and more cultural. "Mr. Rasiej is also promoting civic photo-blogging - having people use their cellphones to take pictures of potholes or crime, and then, using Google maps, e-mailing the pictures and precise locations to City Hall." How would this help? How would it hurt? Foreigners may have been a little shocked after London's 7/7 bombing to realize that the city had the whole incident on videotape--they combined footage from CCTV in subway stations and tapes from local businesses to figure out exactly when the men with the bombs showed up and what they looked like, and using that were able to discover who they were. In this case, the miles of tape were fortuitous. However, I'm against the blue-light police cameras that Daley has put up all over Chicago, because I'm in some of those neighborhoods and I don't like the idea that some cop in an office somewhere is picking his nose and watching me drive down the street. (Chicago PD uses these cameras to intervene in drug sales, respond to traffic accidents, and all manner of surprising stuff.) So, it seems like "civic photo-blogging" or total video coverage is a great idea--for someone else.

Friedman ultimately makes the wrong case: we do need to be aware of technological advances as we engage politically, but we need to be debating and scrutinizing these advances, not chasing them blindly. Civic photo-blogging in the public arena might make for a great neighborhood, or an empowered populace. (I've already seen motorists snapping photo evidence to support their disputes on ridiculous parking tickets.) Without limit or caution, it could also move us into a police state with stunning speed--think of The Matrix, where every citizen is a potential government agent. My organization bans cell phones altogether now, because patients were snapping covert photos of each other and trying to violate their privacy. But if the house next door falls on mine? I'd love to email the developer a picture before the dust had settled.

I'd love to hear more (especially those of you in NYC) about Rasiej, or your experiences with the techno-state. I agree with Friedman that we must follow these advances, but we need to do it cautiously.

you can't stop the signal

I'm not a big fan of the Wall Street Journal, especially it's editorial page, but I've been following the work of their man in Basra, Stephen Vincent, for several months. I found his perspective very informative, he seemed to be somewhat of a conservative who would like to be a war supporter, but also very honest in his depiction of what has been going on in Basra, supposedly a bright spot on the dreary Iraqi horizon. He was quite disturbed by what he saw and in the past couple months I've read some very intersting pieces by Vincent, which were trying to draw attention to what he was seeing there.

On Sunday, he had an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times depicting the overarching, repressive power wielded by Iranian-backed Shi'ite fundamentalist religious parties and militias in Basra. Yesterday, he was murdered. He was not a journalist caught in the crossfire of some clash between soldiers and insurgents, he was assassinated because of something he'd written. Since his recent work has focused on the penetration of the Basra police force, militiamen riding along with police and "disappearing" political opponents of the regime, it is likely that his murder was committed or ordered by Basra police.

The New York Times piece will go to archive in a few days, so I'm taking the unusual step of reprinting the whole damn thing here. He can't get royalties for it anyway, he's dead, and I figure if someone's going to kill him to shut him up, I want to make sure everyone hears him loud and clear. Also, here's a link to his blog, In The Red Zone. Check it out while it's still up.
Switched Off in Basra


Published: July 31, 2005

Basra, Iraq

THE British call it being "switched on" - a state of high morale and readiness, similar to what Americans think of as "gung ho" attitude. During the 10 days I recently spent embedded with the British-led multinational force in this southern Iraqi city, I met many switched-on soldiers involved in what the British call "security sector reform." An effort to maintain peace while training Iraqis to handle their own policing and security, security sector reform is fundamental to the British-American exit strategy. As one British officer put it, "The sooner the locals assume their own security, the sooner we go home."

From this perspective, the strategy appears successful. Particularly in terms of the city police officers, who are proving adept at the close-order drills, marksmanship and proper arrest techniques being drilled into them by their foreign instructors. In addition, police salaries are up, the officers have shiny new patrol cars, and many sport snazzy new uniforms. Better yet, many of these new Iraqi officers seem switched-on themselves. "We want to serve our country" is a repeated refrain.

From another view, however, security sector reform is failing the very people it is intended to serve: average Iraqis who simply want to go about their lives. As has been widely reported of late, Basran politics (and everyday life) is increasingly coming under the control of Shiite religious groups, from the relatively mainstream Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Recruited from the same population of undereducated, underemployed men who swell these organizations' ranks, many of Basra's rank-and-file police officers maintain dual loyalties to mosque and state.

In May, the city's police chief told a British newspaper that half of his 7,000-man force was affiliated with religious parties. This may have been an optimistic estimate: one young Iraqi officer told me that "75 percent of the policemen I know are with Moktada al-Sadr - he is a great man." And unfortunately, the British seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

The fact that the British are in effect strengthening the hand of Shiite organizations is not lost on Basra's residents.

"No one trusts the police," one Iraqi journalist told me. "If our new ayatollahs snap their fingers, thousands of police will jump." Mufeed al-Mushashaee, the leader of a liberal political organization called the Shabanea Rebellion, told me that he felt that "the entire force should be dissolved and replaced with people educated in human rights and democracy."

Unfortunately, this is precisely what the British aren't doing. Fearing to appear like colonial occupiers, they avoid any hint of ideological indoctrination: in my time with them, not once did I see an instructor explain such basics of democracy as the politically neutral role of the police in a civil society. Nor did I see anyone question the alarming number of religious posters on the walls of Basran police stations. When I asked British troops if the security sector reform strategy included measures to encourage cadets to identify with the national government rather than their neighborhood mosque, I received polite shrugs: not our job, mate.

The results are apparent. At the city's university, for example, self-appointed monitors patrol the campuses, ensuring that women's attire and makeup are properly Islamic. "I'd like to throw them off the grounds, but who will do it?" a university administrator asked me. "Most of our police belong to the same religious parties as the monitors."

Similarly, the director of Basra's maternity hospital, Mohammad Nasir, told me that he frequently catches staff members pilfering equipment to sell to private hospitals, but hesitates to call the police: "How do I know what religious party they are affiliated with, and what their political connection is to the thieves?"

It is particularly troubling that sectarian tensions are increasing in Basra, which has long been held up as the brightest spot of the liberated Iraq. "Are the police being used for political purposes?" asked Jamal Khazal Makki, the head of the Basra branch of the Sunni-dominated Islamic Party. "They arrest people and hold them in custody, even though the courts order them released. Meanwhile, the police rarely detain anyone who belongs to a Shiite religious party."

An Iraqi police lieutenant, who for obvious reasons asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to me the widespread rumors that a few police officers are perpetrating many of the hundreds of assassinations - mostly of former Baath Party members - that take place in Basra each month. He told me that there is even a sort of "death car": a white Toyota Mark II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment.

Meanwhile, the British stand above the growing turmoil, refusing to challenge the Islamists' claim on the hearts and minds of police officers. This detachment angers many Basrans. "The British know what's happening but they are asleep, pretending they can simply establish security and leave behind democracy," said the police lieutenant who had told me of the assassinations. "Before such a government takes root here, we must experience a transformation of our minds."

In other words, real security reform requires psychological as well as physical training. Unless the British include in their security sector reform strategy some basic lessons in democratic principles, Basra risks falling further under the sway of Islamic extremists and their Western-trained police enforcers.

Steven Vincent, the author of "In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq," is writing a book about Basra.

Stephen Vincent was the 49th journalist to be killed in the Iraq conflict. He was murdered by police officers loyal to a fundamentalist religious regime installed in power by you government, a regime which intimidates, tortures and kills its political and religious opponents, a regime which your soldiers are being asked to risk their lives, every day, to protect. Hypocrisy is on the march!

. . . but the truth will out. Pass it on.