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The Tally Ho

Monday, January 30, 2006

Comments issues

Please look to Blogger from here on out, not to Haloscan... it will be leaving us very soon. I realize that I've scared all the trolls away with my last post, but I promise that if you leave me a note, I won't send you to jail.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Intent to Annoy

I understand that some of the trolls over at Bitch's and Twisty's are getting obnoxious, and that we all hate getting spam, but please, folks, don't help. CNET reports that early in January, Bush signed a law (the Violence against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act) which includes a prohibition against sending annoying material over the Internet without disclosing one's identity.

The FAQ offered is pretty comprehensive, including the the question of whether this should be the province of state or federal regulation. The law does state that one must intend to annoy the target, which means that a few of the people I'd really most like to shackle would be untouched. Sigh.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Blogging for Choice

NARAL has declared, on their Bush v. Choice blog, that this is "Blogging for Choice" month. That's well and good; we blog about choice over here quite a bit. Today is the 33rd anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision on Roe v. Wade, and so lots of people are amped up and putting in their two cents.

I am a little amused by the "Blogging for Choice" label. If all we're meant to talk about today is abortion rights, shouldn't we be declaring it "Blogging on Abortion" month? Perhaps that's too direct, or the choicers might feel that it appears they are pressuring folks to get abortions. That's laughable, but abortion-rights advocates and opponents accuse one another of some pretty insane things. I often ask my students what peer pressure is, and whether or not there's a kid in the lunchroom pointing his finger in everyone's face and saying, "Go buy sneakers just like mine. Then go have casual sex and spend your lunch money on pot." They laugh and say no, but then they usually give an intelligent description of all the subtle ways kids pressure one another in middle school. Similarly, I do believe that there's a lot of pressure on some women to get abortions, and we need to address that honestly before we can delve into the deeper moral and cultural implications of abortion. Everyone in this country can agree that it's wrong to force a woman to have an abortion when she doesn't want one--this means that we should look carefully at what cultural forces are coercing women into having abortions about which they feel deeply ambivalent. (Hint: it's not the abortion clinic workers.)

I work in several middle schools over the course of any given year, and I was in the teachers' lounge of a new school a while back when I met Mr. R. He didn't ask me anything about who I was or what classroom I was working in (I think he assumed that I was a substitute teacher), but we traded names and started to make some light conversation. I remarked that the students seemed to be getting rebellious with the warmer weather, and he jumped into a diatribe about how students today are so much worse than students of twenty years ago: disrespectful, irresponsible, no sense of community, etc. Then he leveled a finger at me and said, "You know why they're like this? It's because of abortion." He explained that millions of babies were being killed each year (actually, according to the CDC, the number of abortions is much less than he presumed) and that these kids instinctively knew that adults were "murdering" their siblings, that it was a war on children, and that his students were angry and getting revenge because of it. I raised my eyebrows and asked if any of his students had brought this up with him. He said, "They KNOW! They just know!" and continued to rant a little bit more. Then, abruptly, he looked at his watch and noticed it was time to pick up his class in the cafeteria. He stuck out his hand and told me how nice it was to have met me, and left. Another teacher had told me, just that morning, that she was having an abortion for medical reasons that week and that we'd have to change our schedule. She grieved deeply about it, and I was grateful that she was not in the room for Mr. R's pronouncement. I can hope that it's not a frequent topic of conversation with him, but I suspect it is.

But wait! We're blogging about choice, not abortion! (I got distracted, sorry.) As a post-Roe baby, I've never felt any suppressed rage towards adults my parents' age. I remember my mother telling about the friend who stayed on their couch for a few weeks during the first year of my parents' marriage, because she needed to get money to travel to New York for an abortion. It never occurred to me to be upset that she didn't have a baby who would then grow up to be my colleague. I never felt sad to think that there weren't more kids in my kindergarten class because some women the year before I was born had chosen to have an abortion. When I was nine or ten, I decided for a while that I wanted an older sibling, but I never quizzed my parents on their use of birth control or chastised them for not trying harder to first have a baby that wasn't me. (My desire for an older sibling didn't resurface until I was 23, and it still didn't occur to me to question any of those things.) When I force myself to consider that women were having abortions at the same time my mother was pregnant with me, I can't feel any grief for the loss of those pregnancies. Entirely the opposite: I feel comforted and reassured that my parents wanted me before I was even born. I've never asked how hard my particular parents wished or hoped for a baby when they made me, but I know that at the very least when my mother was pregnant she chose to bear me. I wasn't forced upon anyone, or cursed as a burden, or wished dead. That's a pretty good minimum standard to give our children, I think.

Many of my friends are just beginning their childbearing years. Some of their pregnancies are planned well in advance and devoutly wished for. Others arrived unexpectedly but by the time the baby was born, the woman was able to meet her child with joy and enthusiasm. I watch my friends raise their kids and I'm amazed when I see all the patience and love and time they are able to give. I'm privileged to spend time with these kids occasionally. And it gives me peace to know that all these parents made the choice to have this particular child. Sometimes reproductive endocrinologists and birth families played a role in making that choice. Sometimes birth control and abortion play a role, as well. Let me say this: It makes me thrilled to see a parent dote on his two kids, instead of trying to corral or ignore a pack of six. It makes me thrilled that the pregnant woman who feels angry, resentful and powerless is able to have an abortion instead of bearing children and directing that hate towards them every day. I also see some parents, and some women who have abortions, whom I suspect have made the wrong choice. I can't control that; it's not my choice to make. I hope and pray that every woman choosing abortion has made the decision in peace with her God or her own code of ethics, and that every woman bearing a child has been somewhat thoughtful about whether she's able to handle the responsibility of parenthood. I wish that every man impregnating a woman was committed enough to her that he could join her in these decisions. At the end of the day, every child deserves to have parents who say, "Welcome. We're so glad you're part of our family." I choose to live in a world like that. And even though it makes me tired occasionally, I choose to continue working for abortion rights and continue supporting parents until we get a world like that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lie to Me

First, please go check out Pandagon's coverage of Virginia Delegate David Englin's (D-45) speech on gay rights. The text of the speech is inspiring. Then go check out the man's political website. If this man can get elected in Virginia, what's our excuse in this big blue state?

Next, lookee! It's "Blogging for Choice" month. Of course, I'm blogging for choice every month over here, so I'm not sure what to make of this assignment. The recent NYTimes.com article "Some Abortion Foes Forgo Politics for Quiet Talk" is piquing my interest, both because of my personal experience and because the "Quiet Talk" the NYTimes purports to document is actually a loud and active political movement.

Like many crisis pregnancy centers, A Woman's Choice is designed to look and feel like a medical center, not a religion-based organization with an agenda. Becky Edmondson, the executive director, said the center chose the look and name to reach women who were bombarded with pressures to abort and might think they had no other choice.

If callers ask how much the center charges to perform an abortion, Lisa Arnold, a counselor and leader of the postabortion group, said: "I say, 'It changes, but why don't you come in for an ultrasound and we'll talk about it.' You don't want to deceive them, but you want a chance to talk to them." Once women come to the center, staff members - who oppose abortion even in cases involving rape and incest - encourage them to make further appointments, and refer them to doctors who share the center's views on abortion.

I've never seen "crisis pregnancy centers" admit in print to lying about the services they offer to women, but I do remember vividly a health fair I attended in the 'burbs one summer afternoon. I was in the basement of a church, next to a Latina woman from one of these anti-abortion pregnancy groups. We traded brochures and tried to network a little, but found we had a huge language barrier. She spoke halting English and I have less than 200 words of Spanish (my grammar is so abominable that I can usually speak only in nouns). However, she pointed carefully to the required baby-peeking-from-under-blanket pic on the front of her brochure, then explained slowly how women will call asking for abortion services and they will say, "Yes, we do that. Come in in two weeks for appointment." Then, they "show videos" and talk to the woman about her baby. The brochure also counseled abstinence for single women and natural family planning* after birth for married couples. This "colleague" of mine was smiling and very, very proud of the work that she did. The fact that she said it slowly, in such broken English that I ended up helping her with words, made it all the more excruciating.

Crisis pregnancy centers are dangerous to pregnant women because they will lie about how far along the pregnancy is, attempt to stall women until it's too late to obtain a legal abortion, and bait-and-switch women in regards to the care they can receive. (Earlier abortions are easier, cheaper, and medically safer. To stall a woman who has made up her mind is pretty idiotic on several counts.) But it's a small inconvenience compared to how they treat women after an abortion, even as they claim compassion towards her.

A Woman's Choice links the church [Southeast Christian Church: attendance 18,000/budget $25M)] to a national network of crisis pregnancy centers and postabortion groups that share marketing strategies, legal advice and literature emphasizing what they say are the harmful effects of abortion - including increased risk of breast cancer and a psychological condition called postabortion syndrome, which are considered scientifically unsupported by the National Cancer Institute and the American Psychological Association.

To "post-abortive" women, they claim that any negative psychological experiences are the result of the abortion they foolishly chose to have. They run support groups where women name their aborted pregnancies, read them poems and buy them baby clothes. This is the real political work of the center: to mainstream the idea that abortion is always damaging, whereas having a baby will always be fulfilling, and that "post-abortive" women can expect depression, anxiety disorders, and breast cancer as a result of their misguided choice. By getting "recovered" women to mobilize and tell their stories (over, and over, and over) they can shift the opinions of men and those 60% of American women who haven't had an abortion to believe that the procedure is damaging or dangerous. They can convince women who have had an abortion that they are mentally unstable and in need of ongoing care. And they don't require anti-choice laws, as they plan to shame and stigmatize pro-choice doctors, politicians, and women back into the cultural closet.

The title of the article is the most damning bit of this very biased piece. How does any of this equate with "forgoing politics"? Some workers in these crisis pregnancy centers are doing this work out of a genuine belief that abortion is immoral, whereas some might have a peculiar interest in raising the birth rate among certain populations or simply keeping women in their place by forcing them into their "natural calling". But in terms of cultural impact, their motives don't matter. CPC's like "A Woman's Choice" are engaging in widespread, nonstop social propaganda. They lie to their patients clients. They go against established science and threaten cancer. They victimize and pathologize women who choose abortion, instead of accepting them as moral agents. It must be politics, since it sure as hell ain't science.

further reading:
abortion clinic days (beware the comments, they've gotten vitriolic)
Exhale (nonpartisan talk line)
I'm Not Sorry (the opposite of "post abortion syndrome")
Feminists for Life (a very slick anti-choice website)

*I'm not against natural family planning in theory. However, it takes training by a medical professional and several months of charting before skipping the backup methods. Counseling this method to post-partum women without regular cycles is, to me, hideously irresponsible.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cut or uncut?

The Alito hearings are making me sick, so I'm looking for news that's closer to home, and have suddenly found that circumcision is the other big issue this month. Those of you who don't hang out with liberal chick bloggers may not know of the blogfight a few weeks ago between flea and frog over the issue of infant circumcision. Flea took her sons to a bris and blogged about it, frog is against any kind of child harm and considers circumcision to be such, frog de-linked flea and made a lot of noise about it, flea then removed her post (in contrition? spite? who knows?) and sadly ended a real-life friendship. I didn't think anyone paid attention to those blogrolls anyway.

My middle schoolers have various opinions when I explain circumcision, ranging from scorn for the procedure to fear of foreskin infection to total and noisy indifference. Dan Savage did the debate in his book "The Kid". Conversations with any male foolish enough to engage me in discussion about sex have not produced any strong opinions for or against the procedure. And despite Charlotte's shock in Sex and the City, the females I've spoken to seem pretty tolerant of either, um, model. That's why I was a little surprised to see frog and flea fall out so heavily. Now, I read that even Mayor Bloomberg is caught up in the fray.

The NY Health Department is trying to decide whether--or how--to restrict the metzitzah b'peh among Hasidic Jews. The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is claiming that the mayor let the issue die down before the election, then raised the issue again afterwards. The Health Department has solid reasons to restrict the practice--at least three infants have contracted herpes, one fatally, another suffering brain damage. However: "The mayor and his health commissioner said they would continue to study the matter but that they would not ban the practice, with Mr. Frieden saying that such a ban could be seen as interfering with religious freedom, and that a ban would be unenforceable anyway." The publicity these stories have generated seem to embarrass the Hasidic community, who heard phrases like "constitutional separation of church and state" to imply more support for--or less scrutiny of--the practice than what they actually received after the election. Lots of Gentiles are suddenly weighing in, with Christopher Hitchens from Slate saying, "I'll trade him his stupid prohibitionist ban if he states clearly that it is the government's business to protect children from religious fanatics." Eh, we're bartering laws now? He must be from Chicago.

Among my breeding friends, opinions are mixed; some have, some haven't circumcised their boys. (Please keep in mind that the risks of circumcision in a hospital setting are minimal, and since none of my friends are Orthodox Jews, rabbis did not hold any sharp instruments near their sons.) I'm wondering whether this debate has always simmered, or whether my generation has just got a little too much time on its hands presently.

Monday, January 09, 2006

"Mental defectives"

Don't veterans have enough to worry about already? scottscidmore points us to a recent article in CQ.com which discusses the Transportation Security Administration's desire to scour DoD and VA databases for names of "mental defectives". Weeks before Rigoberto Alpizar was shot down on the runway for claiming he had a bomb, the TSA was soliciting contractors to gather the names of veterans with mental health problems for a special watch list. It's unclear how they would gather the information and what flight restrictions would be placed on the list. Lest you assume that they're specifically targeting veterans, the TSA's notice says that they plan to add two new data sources each year; the DoD and VA records may just be the easiest to obtain. Under the TSA's plans, I'm not sure how long it would be before the mental health history of the general public would come under scrutiny, and what criteria would be used to determine whether someone is safe to fly. Would my past prescription for Zoloft disqualify me at some point? Airport food is terrible. I'd rather take the train anyway.

I've never heard any evidence (or even any urban legends) that combat-fatigued veterans are posing a risk to airplanes or their passengers. This database idea is ludicrous.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Free booze

Via Damien's Spot: The Canadian Medical Association Journal just published a study that suggests free alcohol makes homeless people healthier and safer. The tiny study gave 17 participants in Ottowa a "small amount" (up to 15 glasses of wine or sherry a day) of alcohol in return for the opportunity to provide them with basic health care.
After an average of 16 months, the number of times participants got in trouble with the law had fallen 51 per cent from the three years before they joined the program, and hospital emergency room visits were down 36 per cent.

...The report showed participants in the program drank less than they did before signing up, and their sleep, hygiene, nutrition and health levels all improved.

The per capita cost of around $C771 (US $665) a month was partially offset by monthly savings of $C96 (US $82) a month in emergency services, $C150 (US $129) in hospital care and $C201 (US $173) in police services per person.

The report was unclear on whether the per capita cost included the medical care participants received, or just the costs of booze and staffing. One of the study authors warns that he "agree[s] 100 per cent that abstinence is the most appropriate route," and so forth, but that for a subset of folks who will not stop drinking this may be an effective way to provide care. I don't think it will ever really happen, since the idea of giving alcoholics more alcohol is just too counterintuitive--and to a lot of folks, immoral. But from another direction, it makes sense: people who are homeless are almost always that way because they are in crisis and can't meet their basic needs. For an addicted person, that crisis is their addiction and their basic need is their drug. If you meet that need, it stands to reason that they would have a better chance of being successful in other parts of their life.

I'd be interested to see if a control group that was somehow persuaded to spend equal time at the research location fared just as well. For the drunks outside my office, one of the unmet needs is shelter; they don't have anyplace in the neighborhood that will allow them to linger, or even come in to use the bathroom. The result is that I will occasionally find steaming piles of human shit next to my car. I'm not interested in giving anyone free booze, but since they're in the neighborhood (the cheap liquor store is two doors down from my office) it would benefit EVERYONE to meet a few of their basic needs, and it's time we started getting creative again about how to do that.