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The Tally Ho

Monday, September 25, 2006

"Birth control or abortion: which one do you support?"

--one of my colleagues put it that way today, and I thought it was a fairly succinct way to put the current challenge in our culture. (For those of you playing along on the LJ blog, this was the Nemesis. She's actually pretty smart, when she's not fussing over her wardrobe.)

But not everyone has gotten her memo yet. Just this weekend, in the 'burbs of my fair city, we had a fairly major anti-contraception conference. The Chicago Tribune covered it on the front page of the Sunday paper. Please read the article, as it makes the main points pretty accurately. (Bonus points: find the dig against sex education!) It also points out, correctly, that a full-scale assault on contraception isn't feasible at this point, but that activists might begin by stripping government funding for contraceptive services (in progress) or expanding "conscience" clauses to allow pharmacists and doctors to refuse contraceptives to patients (also in progress). The article's only weakness is that it presents both those strategies as hypothetical, when they're actually going on as we speak.

I was really pleased to read lots of quotes from the anti-contraception activists, which seem to make a sturdy case against their own arguments. Let's recap...

* Contraception devalues children? No, but having kids that you don't want and can't feed would definitely do so.
* Contraception harms relationships between men and women and causes divorce? No, the patriarchy and consumer culture do that just fine.
* Contraception promotes sexual promiscuity? If promiscuity wasn't a problem before reliable contraceptives existed, then how did sexually transmitted diseases ever get spread? They're actually speaking here of female promiscuity, since boys will be boys, you know. And saying women should be responsible for curbing men's promiscuity is pretty ludicrous.
* Contraception leads to falling birth rates? Check. But since I'm all about responsible population growth, I fail to see that as a social ill. Again, this argument is somewhat in code; it's not that there are not enough people in the world, but some groups tend to feel that there aren't enough white people in the world.

While "a stunning 98 percent of women 15 to 44 who have had sex report using at least one method of contraception," affluent women are more likely to use birth control successfully. Not surprisingly, we have fewer kids. We're more likely to have the free time to rail against the patriarchy and blog about it. Something really must be done. (/snark)

By the way? When I ask students about birth control without artificial means, I'm hoping to elicit the responses "abstinence" and "natural family planning". However, they generally come up with "oral sex" and "gay relationships" in the same conversation. Contraception foes should be warned: even if they do get their way, middle schoolers can come up with contraception hacks without batting an eye.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Selective product availability at Wal-Mart

Yesterday, while still in the bucolic confines of Smalltown, I was compelled to go to Wal-Mart to buy cat food. And a flea collar. And some guppies. (Why guppies? What injured person rises from their bed and says, "Some fish, that's what we need!"? My mother, that's who. She rocks.) I asked around about the Smalltown pet store, and there was none. I could have gone to a real pet store in the bizarre suburbs of Columbus, which was only fifteen or so miles down the road. Or I could go to Wally World, which was only two miles away. I'm weak, I admit it.

But there was an up side; Battlestar Galactica 2.5 was released yesterday, and while I was ambivalent about giving more money to Wal-Mart, I figured I could at least go over to the media section and look at the pretty cover. Except that Wal-Mart wasn't stocking it, on the day of its release. (They carry a big poster with the dates that different titles drop, the better for their flock to plan their consumerist impulses. I'm not mocking; I was all about the consumerist impulse yesterday.)

I even asked, and the "associates" looked a little confused and said, "Battlestar what? You mean that old series from the seventies?" One worker had heard there was a new series, but he didn't know that there were new DVDs coming out. I looked around and found season 2 of Desperate Housewives. I found a random set of Charmed discs. (Damn you, Charmed, for living on after Angel got cancelled!) I found Saw II. So why weren't they carrying BSG? From their selection, it looks like it's not the sex, not the violence, not the polytheistic/pagan overtones that Wal-Mart objects to.

Is it, perhaps, the political commentary? The fact that in BSG, the side that talks about "God" also engages in suicide bombings and sneak attacks?

Or perhaps I'm just a niche market, and BSG can't command the wide audience that Saw II does. That network presentation of "The Story So Far" must have been some kind of fluke.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Quick! spot the church-run country

In this week's news,
Chile has decided to provide contraception--including EC--free of charge to women over 14.
Meanwhile, a Maryland school board has recently forced revisions to its schools' sex education curriculum, to make a video of a condom demonstration "more clinical". From the Kaiser article: "You don't have a cute little blonde and a cucumber," Michelle Turner, president of CRC [Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum], said, adding, "It's not MTV. It's very factual and clinical. There are no frills or fluff." The new version involves a wooden penis model, two hands, and an offscreen narrator. Because heaven knows we wouldn't want the students to PAY ATTENTION to the health video or anything. I know that students are always racing out the door to put on condoms after I've covered that segment of our curriculum. Or not.

In a sad moment, I realize I probably won't be able to show my favorite condom demonstration video for quite some time. Injoy Video makes a Sex Smart for Teens series (one of the few health education videos that's worth the money), and their contraception video includes a clip called "The Condom Hunter", which is a takeoff on Steve Irwin's "Crocodile Hunter" persona. It's accurate and complete, it's hilarious, and it will probably cause lots of classroom tangents about stingrays and the sudden and unfortunate death of Steve Irwin if I try to show it any time in the next six months. And then in a few years, the clip will be meaningless to anyone who watches. I hate noticing one more cultural moment separating me from the students. Perhaps it's time to go do some research.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

mother's maiden name

I'm reading a report on how to assess and evaluate, and it talks about creating a unique identifier: "often some combination of birth date and mother's maiden name or social security number." It's a small note, but it got me thinking about my unique identifiers and how I use them or allow them to get used. All through my youth, my mother used her mother's maiden name as an identifier to financial institutions and the like, and used my father's social security number when working with the government (he was in the Navy, so they didn't care much about her SSN.) Neither are ideal as identifiers; we all know at this point how easy it is to steal an identity with a SSN and a few other pieces of information, so we've gotten much more cautious about who we give it out to. In a large city, your mother's maiden name would be relatively difficult to track down, but in a small town it would be common knowledge. And in a small town bank, stealing someone's identity with their mother's maiden name would be ludicrous, since you would walk and everyone would know that you're not Betty Smith's daughter. But over the internet, or even over the phone, everything changes, and losing control of that information makes it easy for someone else to use it to gain access to your life.

That got me thinking about research in rural areas--if you went to the same high school that your mother did, and people know it, wouldn't that make you more casual about giving out your mother's maiden name in general? Wouldn't it make you suspicious of people who did research under the assumption that that information was private? Wouldn't you be concerned enough about your privacy to decline the study (or worse, lie) because you assumed that the data gatherer was somehow connected to your neighbor, your church, your employer? Many folks are wary of information gatherers anyway; I'm one of them, and do everything I can to thwart those obnoxious grocery-store "value" cards. But asking for a "private" passcode that you know is actually pretty public just undermines your credibility as a researcher.

Us academic types do so much data collection that we lose track of the idea that this information is sometimes quite valuable or damaging, financially or otherwise. And of course, we know all about confidentiality and keeping information private, but we often forget that the participant loses control of the information whether it stays safely stored inside the locked filing cabinet or published on the internet for all to see. It's a scary thing to give away information. We should all be more grateful when we are given the opportunity to collect and use it.

(crossposted to LJ blog)

UPDATE: What about families who retain or hyphenate mother's names? Is the "mother's maiden name" question becoming outdated because of that phenomenon? I haven't set up any accounts that ask for that info in a while, but I mostly use the computer and numeric passcodes to get at my information nowadays. Perhaps I should call my bank.

Monday, September 11, 2006

And lest we wish to get back to the good old days

Folks in my line of work often bemoan the adoption rate nowadays; I believe (though I have no stats in front of me currently) that the number of mothers in the US choosing to place their child for adoption is hovering somewhere around 1% of the total. Meanwhile, we see lots of women, young and old, holding (or not) children that they obviously are not prepared to deal with and we think, "Honey, since you felt so strongly about having the baby, couldn't you find a good parent to raise him?" before we catch ourselves (or each other) with the reminder that it is NOT our decision to make.

So here comes the Happy Feminist to remind us: YES, we HAVE made progress, at least in one arena. She briefly describes an adoption in 1968 from the birth mother's account. (I'll cite Happy because not because she's the original source, but because it's not entirely clear which article she pulled the quote from.) I can't know whether this woman was prepared in 1968 to raise a child, or whether he would have been better off with her or with his adoptive family, since there was no mechanism to provide for both. However, I can guarantee that today's low adoption rate is a direct consequence of all those many years of forced adoption. We should be outraged on these women's behalf. Those folks who would like the adoption rate to rise need to be loud about reminding families that once again, there are open adoptions, so it doesn't have to work like that anymore. And for those of you reading who do wish we could force women into adoption instead of letting them make the choice, I'm glad that we don't live in your world anymore. I'm one of the bad girls who was totally rooting for the baby nappers.

Disaster in Chicago?

Not really. There was an evacuation drill last Thursday in the Loop, the same day Bush made a speech --AGAIN-- about how prepared our nation is and how we're ready for whatever threat may come, yadda yadda. Our Girl Reporter, who talked to a man on the scene, said it was all fairly tame; there were only three buildings being evacuated, not the entire Loop, and the workers set up comfort areas right outside the evacuation zone, instead of marching the volunteer "incident victims" two miles west from the scene. Conscripted office workers got the job done and still had plenty of time to snark, snack, and slack. But from my office three miles away, the whole thing looked pretty damn impressive: five or six helicopters were hovering amongst the skyscrapers, traffic patterns were bizarre. Yes sir, my city government knows how to cause a stir! I was more impressed several weeks ago by the Blue Line derailment and subsequent evacuation of lots of cranky train riders, which was a slow, painful, and haphazard process, but very safe. Lots of people missed work or missed their planes. No one died of smoke inhalation. All up and down my Blue Line there are service delays and rail improvements now, to avoid such a circumstance happening again. But we didn't get handy blue "ready.gov" backpacks when there was a real evacuation, so what do I know?

In the LA Times, Leo Braudy is asking whether Jack Bauer is replacing James Bond in our national consciousness. Gosh, I hope not. Usually the LA Times is fairly good at calling the government and the media on their shit, but the opinion writer is mostly on board with Jack: "Bauer ... is constantly on the brink of being destroyed, only to rise like a phoenix, coming back from one seeming deadly catastrophe after another, bruised, battered but still going. If he has any pop-cultural predecessors, they are the heroes of 1930s serials, when the hero was always in dire straits at the end of every episode but lived to be heroic again." I don't buy it; I see Jack Bauer as an advertisement for fascism. He's fighting the bad guys! We just have to trust him! because there's no time to hold an election and civilians are gullible sheep anyway! The show is meant to get a viewer's adrenaline up with all its guns and ticking bombs, then while we're still wired they sit us down for the moral lesson that we just have to trust the G-men, and they're just like us only smarter. I'm a product of the Cold War; I'll take a womanizing vodka-swilling bad boy in an Aston Martin any day of the week. If the citizens want to form opinions about reality, they should read the news instead of watching commercial television drama.

That's it; I'm tempted to sit here and watch the RSS feed bloom with everyone's five-year posts (aren't you planning to write one?) but I must get back to that other reality.