Saturday, February 12, 2011

Time to Celebrate in Egypt

Whatever might come later. Have a look at this picture of the Tahir Square. Notice the organization and the care with which the needs of the protesters were taken care of. Click on the pictures of the "martyrs' wall" if nothing else.

And as president Obama points out in this video, finding that one is "worth something" is extremely important for the down-trodden.

Finally, the peacefulness of the whole process is to be lauded. People took responsibility for their behavior in a way which Gandhi would have applauded.

So it is time to celebrate before finding out what the next stage might bring. That, of course, is as hard a stage as this one, because democracy does not mean the rule of the majority alone.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Assange needs the Supernanny (by Suzie)

Julian's main criterion for a woman was simple: She had to be young. Preferably younger than twenty-two. And it went without saying that she couldn't question him. "She has to be aware of her role as a woman," he used to say. She was also allowed to be intelligent -- Julian liked that.

Often I sat in larger groups and listened to Julian boast about how many children he had fathered in various parts of the world. He seemed to enjoy the idea of lots and lots of little Julians, one on every continent. Whether he took care of any of these alleged children, or whether they existed at all, was another question.
This comes from Cryptome, which got pages from an advance copy of Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website," due to be released Tuesday in the U.S.

Gawker claims to have counted four children, including the oldest, Daniel, the only one that Assange has acknowledged publicly. He hasn't seen Daniel since 2007. As Gawker notes, this bit of gossip lends more credence to the accusations that Assange used force and trickery to have unprotected sex with two Swedish women.

Wired has more from Domscheit-Berg’s book:
Assange has a secret “nanny” (Domscheit-Berg’s term for her) who flies in to help deal with problems Assange doesn’t want to handle. She’s described as an old friend of Assange, who is around 40 and lives in a timezone “far apart” from the U.S. She sometimes arrives just before conferences to write Assange’s speeches. “After other people and I left WL she was also the one who ended up traveling the world mediating between Julian and us and asking us not to damage the project by publicly criticizing it,” Domscheit-Berg writes. “For personal reasons I don’t want to go into here, she would never want to talk about her contact with WL.”
Assange already has a mother who thinks he can do no wrong. The last thing this misogynist needs is another woman to prop him up. He needs the Supernanny to kick his narcissistic ass.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This photo of a chinchilla on a friend's Facebook page brought back memories of one of the best corrections, at least in my career.

It was made in the coverage of an important trial in the early 1980s in Little Rock. I think the trial was on creationism. A reporter "called in" the story, i.e., called the newsroom and dictated the story to a clerk. The reporter quoted state Attorney General Steve Clark saying there wasn't a scintilla of evidence of something. The clerk, who wasn't familiar with that word, typed "chinchilla" instead. The next day, the Arkansas Democrat had to run a correction that Clark had made no reference to the small, furry beast.

Another great correction came in 1989, when the St. Petersburg Times wrote:
A drawing of the lunar eclipse in Wednesday's Times may have given the impression that the sun revolves around Earth, right. Earth, of course, revolves around the sun and the moon revolves around Earth.
With good humor, the Times mentions this occasionally when rounding up other hilarious mistakes. May we all correct our mistakes as quickly and as fully as possible.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On HIV , Race and Gender. Questions.

I wanted to write something on this topic for the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day but learned far too late that I don't know enough about the topic and that I couldn't study enough in the amount of time I had available. Besides, people with far more expertise were writing on the topic. So I set what I had collected aside.

But the topic keeps bothering me and wants to come out because of some questions it provoked, especially on the gender ratios of new infections among African-Americans, Hispanics and whites. Here is the relevant picture, on estimated rates of NEW HIV infections in 2006, per 100 000:

The picture is not that different when we look at the total number of people who have been diagnosed with HIV, not just new cases:
By race/ethnicity, African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV in the United States (US). At the end of 2007, blacks accounted for almost half (46%) of people living with a diagnosis of HIV infection in the 37 states and 5 US dependent areas with long-term, confidential, name-based HIV reporting. In 2006, blacks accounted for nearly half (45%) of new infections in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Even though new HIV infections among blacks overall have been roughly stable since the early 1990s, compared with members of other races and ethnicities they continue to account for a higher proportion of cases at all stages of HIV—from new infections to deaths.

The data show both a gender difference and a difference between racial and ethnic groups in both new cases and overall cases. Men are more likely to have HIV than women and minorities are more likely to have HIV than whites (when analyzed within a gender).

The reasons for some of these differences are fairly well understood. The race/ethnicity differences have much to do with the income gradient. Individuals with low incomes are both more likely to get infected and less likely to be diagnosed and treated early, and minorities have a higher percentage of low-income people than whites do.

The gender differences are partly related to the ease with which HIV is transmitted in different types of sexual activities as these quotes about African-American men and women suggest:
New HIV Infections
In 2006, black men accounted for two-thirds of new infections (65%) among all blacks. The rate of new HIV infection for black men was 6 times as high as that of white men, nearly 3 times that of Hispanic/Latino men, and twice that of black women.
In 2006, black men who have sex with men (MSM)2 represented 63% of new infections among all black men, and 35% among all MSM. HIV infection rates are higher among black MSM compared to other MSM. More new HIV infections occurred among young black MSM (aged 13–29) than among any other age and racial group of MSM.
Today, women account for more than 1 in 4 new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States. Of these newly infected women, about 2 out of 3 are African-American. Most of these women got HIV from having unprotected sex with a man.
In 2006, the rate of new HIV infection for black women was nearly 15 times as high as that of white women and nearly four times that of Latinas. And, HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death of African-American women in many age groups.

But none of this really explains why, say, the rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections differs between men and women of different ethnicity/race the way it does. Take the data on the table I posted above. If we calculate the female/male new infection ratios for each race/ethnicity, we get the following numbers: 0.19 for whites, 0.33 for Hispanics and 0.48 for African-Americans. What explains these differences?

I don't think it has to do with access to services because these comparisons control for the correlation between that and race/ethnicity. Neither do I think that it has to do with the basic risk differences women and men face in various types of sexual activities. Something more must be going on to make those ratios differ the way they do. I have no idea what it is but I bet there are more expert people who could educate me.

And my apologies for writing such a dry and emotionless article on a topic which is both painful and neglected, these days.

The New Republican Breed of Politicians and Health Insurance

Some interesting points about health care coverage in the Congress:
Ask any House Republican about repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law, and you’ll get the same fiery, self-assured talking points about tearing down what Speaker John Boehner has called a “monstrosity.”

But talk to some of the 16 freshman lawmakers who have declined their government health benefits, and you’ll hear a different side of the story — about tough out-of-pocket expenses, pre-existing conditions and support for health reforms that would help those who struggle with their coverage. As they venture into the free market for health insurance, these lawmakers — many of whom swept into office fueled by tea party anger over the health care law — are facing monthly premiums of $1,200 and fears of double-digit rate hikes.

The experience has caused some of them to think harder about the “replace” part of the “repeal and replace” mantra the GOP has adopted regarding the health care law.

“I have a niece who has pre-existing conditions, and I worry about her if she was ever to lose her job,” said Florida Rep. Richard Nugent, one of the freshman lawmakers who declined federal health insurance benefits.

Every single House Republican voted to repeal the health care law last month.

“I can simply, honestly say that this is going to impact my wife and I to a fairly serious degree, like it would any average American out there,” said first-time Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois.
No, Rep. Walsh. You are not any average American. You are in the House of Representatives so stop pretending. The guy is a tea-partier, by the way.

All this smells of that old idea that politicking is easy-peasy! You just think about it over a mug of beer and presto! Let's get rid of that monster health care law! Freedom for all! And no health insurance for many.

Yes, I know that there are more important points to address here but the one that sticks in my craw is the idea that one really does not need to understand the pros and cons of all policies, that one can go on one's merry way until -- oops! -- one's own family is hurt by that way.

This is a common view. Just remember the idea of Bush as sorta an average guy, someone we could all have a beer with! I bet he didn't worry his pretty head over the complexities of running the world much.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Always the Whip, Never the Carrot: On Mothers, Teachers and Going Galt

My earlier deep-questions post refers to the nastiness of public advice-giving when it comes to motherhood and the processes which build up maternal guilt to humongous levels in this culture, and I ask in that context why nobody appears to have wondered if this has any effect on women's willingness to become mothers.

Because it should have some effect, when analyzed logically. I understand that the desire to have a child is not something one can erase via social conditioning. Still, how very odd that the sport of mother-bashing (and mummy wars) is never considered as possibly one of the reasons why someone might not wish to become a mother.

Another example of the nothing-but-the-whip culture is the recent treatment of teachers by various conservative state congresses and by the Republican politicians. I keep reading proposals to subject teachers to stricter tests, more restrictions, longer working days and so on. A recent proposal would have abolished teacher tenure in Wyoming (though it failed to pass). It's all whip, all the time.

Now compare that to the conservative reaction when there was a threat for higher taxation of the rich. Various right-wing blogs immediately called for the solution of "going Galt", essentially a refusal to play if the rules are changed to a more "punitive" direction:
The use of John Galt as a symbol in the context of political or social protest has taken root in some places. The phrase "going John Galt" or simply "going Galt" has been used[15] to refer to productive members of society cutting back on work in response to the projected increase in U.S. marginal tax rates, increased limits on tax deductions, and the use of tax revenues for causes they regard as immoral.[16] Some people who are "going John Galt" discussed their reasons on a PJTV program in March 2009.[17] "Who is John Galt?" signs were seen at Tea Party protests held in the United States and at banking protests in London in April 2009.[18]

Here's the essential difference in those cases: We expect no negative reaction to the whipping from mothers or teachers. For instance, we expect the same number of people to decide to become teachers, even though the job is being made more unpleasant! Even if the pay is cut or made dependent on risky factors the teacher cannot control or even if the fringe benefits are decreased!

This is weird given the free-markets framework of many conservatives. They should realize that whenever the monetary and non-monetary benefits of a particular occupation are decreased fewer applicants will be interested in that job. But that realization is absent when it comes to teachers and mothers. Of course teachers are predominantly female, too.

In Case You Didn't Believe I Was A Goddess

I wrote this post last November:
My First Thought 

After hearing of the Republican victory in the House was that we are gonna hear a lot about baby killing again. The House will spend days and days and days on discussing various incremental ways of cutting back on abortion.

Sure, people voted on the economy, we are told. But what we got is lots more pro-forced-birthers in the House and in state governments.
Today's New York Times:
All but invisible during the midterm elections, the abortion debate has returned to Congress.
Invoking the mantra of fiscal restraint that has dominated House action since lawmakers reconvened last month, Republicans began committee work this week on two bills that would greatly expand restrictions on financing for and access to abortions. Another bill, one that would cut off federal dollars to women’s health care clinics that offer abortions, is expected to surface later this year.
“This House is more pro-life than it’s ever been,” said Representative Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania and the author of one of the bills to limit money for abortions.
I can see into the future, sigh.

Watch The Republicans in Wyoming

This is a most fascinating video on the Rachel Maddow Show. It's about the "culture wars," but with a twist.

Deep (and Not-So Deep) Questions of the Day

1. Is Twitter killing the blogs?

I read this somewhere, possibly on Twitter. So are we all going to tweet about our tweets once the blogs are dead and buried? Not that I would necessarily mind it. Just think of how many tweets my archives could produce!

2. What is the impact of misogynistic surveys of mothering on women's willingness to have children?

This is something I have wondered about. Most every single study that is reported anywhere on the question of mothers is Bad News For Mothers. So imagine, if you can, a girl born completely aware and rational. Imagine that girl growing up and finding that everything is the mother's fault. Everything! There is really no way of not getting at least suspected of bad mothering in this society.

The usual argument I read on the topic of women who decide not to have children is that such women are selfish, cold, uppity bitches. So even not being a mother is the woman's fault!

But at least a woman without children isn't blamed for the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or the obesity of children or not breast-feeding children long enough or of toilet-training them too early or too late. And a woman without children but with a paid job isn't accused of abandoning her children or of turning them into aggressive bullies or of not watching over them 24/7. Besides, she has time to work long enough to earn a better income for old age security.

Come to think of it, the society does very little to make motherhood an attractive proposition. Maybe that's the reason for the forced-birthers' campaign against birth control?

Whatever. It's always the whip and never the carrot.

Taliban Dan's Teacher

Sarah Posner has written an interesting article about an evangelist called Bill Gothard. Remember this political ad about Daniel Webster?
In the ad, run last fall by congressional candidate Daniel Webster's Democratic opponent, the Florida Republican is shown speaking at an Advanced Training Institute conference, part of Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles, the $95 million nonprofit the evangelist founded in 1965 — and which today boasts it has educated millions, included public officials, around the world at its own conferences, in homeschool curricula, and in prisons. Webster is shown saying, “wives submit yourselves to your own husband” and “she should submit to me, that’s in the Bible.”
After the ad ran, Webster countered—and watchdogs and the media largely accepted—that Grayson had taken his words out of context and distorted their meaning. Still, though, Webster never denied that he believed wives should submit to the spiritual authority of their husbands. That there is a “chain of command” that families must obey has been at the core of Gothard’s teachings for decades.
It's not only Daniel Webster who lurves Bill Gothard:
Webster isn’t the only member of Congress with deep connections to Gothard. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), who just became chair of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, is the chair of the board of directors of the IBLP. Other politicians, like Texas Governor Rick Perry, have spoken at IBLP conferences, and Mike Huckabee is fan. And many others, such as Sarah Palin, as mayor of Wasilla, have attended his ostensibly secular—but not—International Association of Character Cities (IACC) conferences, based on his 49 character traits, and declared their municipalities “Cities of Character.” The supposedly secularized version of Gothard’s “character traits” have been taught in public schools.
So you should read what Posner has unearthed about Gothard. Her piece covers issues about the Duggars and stories from women who have "escaped" this particular religious world.

But I cannot help finishing with this:
Gothard insisted to me—in direct contradiction to materials on his own website—that he does not teach submission. When I asked Gothard whether he teaches that wives should submit to their husbands’ authority, he laughed, answering, “no, no,” adding, that Jesus taught “he who is the greatest among you be the servant of all. That makes the woman the greatest of all because she has served every single person in the world by being in her womb.”
Every single person in the world! And I thought it was just indigestion.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

How It Is Done: Working Mothers, Guilt and Childhood Obesity

So I see this:
Are your kids chunky? It could be your fault, mom.
A new study published in the journal Child Development suggests that working mothers are partly to blame for their children’s weight problems.
The study, conducted by researchers at American University, Cornell and the University of Chicago, found a small positive correlation between mothers’ long workdays and their children’s body mass index (BMI).

We find that maternal employment has a cumulative influence on children’s BMI that, over time, could lead to an increase in the likelihood that a child is overweight or obese,” write the study’s authors. Nonstandard employment – that is, work schedules that include nights and weekends – was particularly associated with obesity.
The article then goes on summarizing another study about food in infancy and concludes with this:
So, moms, if you’re going to bottle-feed your child, don’t be too eager to crack open the baby food jars. And try not to work long hours, especially when your kid is in sixth grade.
Did all you working mothers go and rend your clothes and scatter ashes on your head? Did you atone in any other way? Did you get so angry that the breath out of your noses steams now?

Well, not quite so fast. Another popularization of the same study explains a very central problem with the study:
But dietician, Kary Woodruff, from Intermountain’s Orthopedic Specialty Hospital says don't heap on the guilt quiet so fast. “There are some points in there that are important to address, but it’s more multi-factorial than it presents."

For example, she says the study failed to take in to account the socio-economic background of the children.
Woodruff then goes on discussing something which really does not matter in view of this omission. Because of statistical reasons, ultimately.

To see why that is the case, notice that the study didn't control for the incomes of the families. This means that any correlation between poverty and obesity was just lurking somewhere in the background, hiding behind the variables which the study did look at.

What might be correlated with low incomes in a study like that? Hmm. Perhaps long working hours? Working weekends and nights to make more money than one otherwise might? Here is an example:
On a recent visit to Children's Hospital, 38-year-old Rachel (who, like many parents at this and other weight-loss clinics, prefers to use first names only with outsiders in order to protect her child's identity) listened to the changes she'd have to make in her 4-year-old son's diet and seemed a little daunted. "I'm still trying to process it all," she said a few days later. But Rachel's child is more fortunate than many of Ludwig's patients. The family lives in Brookline--in fact, right next to a Whole Foods store--so buying the healthy staples of a new and better diet wouldn't be that difficult. (Weaning her son off the snack food Pirate's Booty, she admitted, might be another story.) But not everyone is so fortunate, like a patient who visits soon after, an 11-year-old African-American girl. Her father works days, and her mother works nights; trying to find the time and budget to search out and prepare healthier food was clearly going to be harder for this family. "It's not impossible, but it's absolutely tougher for the family from the inner city where the parents are working two jobs," says Ludwig. "These are the trenches in the war against obesity."

I recommend reading that piece right after the first one I linked to, just to notice how different the flavors are.

To return to the topic, the work variable probably picks up some of the correlation between poverty and childhood obesity. It will do this even if the mother's working hours have nothing to do with childhood obesity as such, because that variable correlates with an absent variable which is known to be strongly correlated with early obesity.

Whether those working hours have a more direct impact or not cannot be analyzed when income levels are not controlled for. Ideally, one would like to compare identical situations except for changes in the one variable of interest, such as two genetically identical families with equal incomes, equal cultures, equal access to food in stores, with the only difference being in the working hours of the mother. When that cannot be done (which is always), the next best alternative is to try to take into account all other variables known to be linked to obesity. Given that poverty is one of the most important ones of those, the failure to control for incomes in this study makes the results meaningless.

I'm not sure if I have made the point clearly enough yet. A study which does not control for income in looking at obesity is like a study which looks at the correlation between warm clothing and winter sports without controlling for the local weather, and then attributes the prevalence of warm clothing to the practice of winter sports.

But whatever the demerits of the study, that popularization really is utterly loathsome. Loathsome! Note that working fathers are not mentioned. Fathers are not mentioned. And the recommendations for women, or rather the scolding: Try not to work so much!

I write about these kinds of crappy studies because they are worms which drill through the skins of women and fester deep inside us. We are not worthy! We are responsible! Nobody else is to blame! We must walk on our hands through life and not fall! I don't write about them because I somehow think that women are perfect, for example, but to show how this thing is done. It is non-stop, really.

And in this case it is probably attacking women who are already under stress because of poverty, because of having to work two jobs and because of living in an area without stores which stock nutritional food.

Feminists Make Better Lovers

That is what a new study tells us! What fun for me to do the kind of popularization I usually tear apart here! This is GOOD study, my feminist friends. It must be, because these are its results:
The general perception of the society focuses on a direct conflict between feminism and romance.

Therefore, Laurie Rudman and Julie Phelan, from Rutgers University in the US, carried out a study to challenge this perception.

They conducted a laboratory survey of 242 American undergraduates and an online survey including 289 older adults who were more likely to have had longer relationships and greater life experience.

They looked at the perception of men and women of their own feminism and its link to relationship health, measured by a combination of overall relationship quality, agreement about gender equality, relationship stability and sexual satisfaction.

The findings of the survey showed that having a feminist partner was associated with healthier heterosexual relationships for women. Men with feminist partners also reported both more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction.
I haven't seen the study so I can't tell you whether it covers gay and lesbian relationships, too. In fact, I know nothing about the study except this popularization. Which is, of course, the usual case with amateur readership of all study popularizations. Therefore, I'm gonna believe its findings or argue over them based on what I might personally think! That's also par for the route.

But note one sentence in the above summary:
Therefore, Laurie Rudman and Julie Phelan, from Rutgers University in the US, carried out a study to challenge this perception.
Academics never say things like that. No academic researcher states that she or he is going to challenge a perception but to study the perception and its validity. My guess is that the popularizer made that change.

None of the above gentle snark is intended to make an assessment of the study. I would think that feminists might indeed make better lovers, mostly because we are fantastically beautiful and handsome people who see other people not as pointy or indented sex objects but as people. That makes a long-term relationship go a lot better.

On that beautiful external shell of feminists:
The study also shows that unflattering feminist stereotypes, that tend to stigmatise feminists as unattractive and sexually unappealing, are unsupported.
But we knew that already!

Here's the slightly nasty bit in the popularization:
The researchers also examined the validity of feminist stereotypical beliefs amongst their two samples, based on the hypothesis that if feminist stereotypes are accurate, then feminist women should be more likely to report themselves as being single, lesbian, or sexually unattractive, compared with non-feminist women.
The authors found no support for this hypothesis amongst their study participants.  In fact, feminist women were more likely to be in a heterosexual romantic relationship than non-feminist women.
Bolds are mine. The summary may not have intended to lump single women, lesbians and sexually unattractive women together the way it did. I suspect that it wanted to discuss two different stereotypes about feminists: a) that women become feminists because they are lesbians who don't really care about romantic relationships with men and b) the stereotype that only ugly heterosexual women become feminists and that ugly women cannot find men so they won't be in a romantic heterosexual relationship.

Neither of those stereotypes makes much logical sense to begin with. The first one suggests that heterosexual men don't want anything to do with women on equal terms and the second one is just the usual feminists-need-to-get-laid argument.

I wonder if this study will be all over the newspapers and television? Heh.
Link courtesy of Jennifer Armstrong.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Robust Debate About Covering Birth Control in Health Insurance Policies. Part II.

The first post on this topic (with the cumbersome title, intended to keep trollies away) was about the reasons why conservatives tend to oppose birth control as fully covered health care benefit. This post discusses how those forces actually explain their opposition. The underlying reasons and the explanations are not the same, believe it or not!

I am still waiting for the cost argument (from the stay-out-of-my-wallet people). It will come, I'm certain, but I haven't found a good example of it yet. I so hope it will remember the large savings from bulk purchases and price negotiations!

I'm even more interested in cost-benefit arguments, because just discussing the cost of something is pretty meaningless without addressing the benefits which the expenditure might create. Some of those benefits will be in the form of illness averted, others will accrue to the society on the whole. Planned pregnancies may cause less chaos, poverty or the need for social workers than unplanned ones. Abortions are likely to be reduced with cheaper birth control, too. Some of these benefits accrue to women and their families but others are diffuse benefits which arise in the society in general. Those might be hard to estimate although I hope someone makes the effort.

So we have to wait for the cost arguments. What we already have, however, is an argument that looks pretty brilliant on its surface. Here is one example, though several Catholic mouthpieces have stated the very same sentences:
But Ms. McQuade of the Catholic bishops’ conference said any requirement for coverage of contraception could violate the “rights of conscience” of religious employers and others who had moral or religious objections to it. This concern is amplified, she said, by the fact that some emergency contraceptives can act like abortion-inducing drugs.
Jeanne Monahan, the director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, said: “The government should focus on services that prevent disease. Fertility and babies are not diseases. Fertility occurs in healthy women.”
We get a twofer from "god-was-a-guy-so-shut-up" people! First, requiring birth control to be covered upsets the "rights of conscience" of some! This sounds familiar. As usual, my "rights of conscience" have zero impact on what is covered, just as my "rights of conscience" have zero impact on what the government chooses to subsidize. Some people have more "rights of conscience" than others! What a great country this is. I want Ms. McQuade to stop eating animals, to be tested for whether she is actually doing that and then I want her coverage removed if it turns out that she has meatballs in her belly.

Though the obvious problem beneath the uneven conscience clause interpretations in this case is the unholy marriage between work and health insurance. That way the employers can poke their noses into something which should be none of their business.

Second, and this is the really interesting point, the Jeanna Monahan (and many others) argue that pregnancy is not an illness and neither are babies. Fertility occurs in healthy women!

She has a point, you know, though she forgets that fertility occurs in men, too, at least on our planet. Still, there's no way around the fact that most people would not argue that women who are pregnant are ill.

But let's take Ms. Monahan's point a bit further: If pregnancy is not an illness, then neither is giving birth. Therefore, we shouldn't cover routine deliveries either. All that is part of a normal healthy life, after all.

What would Ms. Monahan or other Catholic spokespeople say to that? Perhaps that medical presence at birth is necessary in order to prevent something going wrong? But the same argument can be applied to the proper spacing and planning of pregnancies.

If that's not the answer, the Catholic church probably wants medical care to cover only sick people or cases where prevention clearly works in terms of illness avoidance. I'm sorry to say that evidence on the effectiveness of prevention varies wildly, and that we currently fund many kinds of prevention and screening (sometimes called secondary prevention) which might be pretty inefficient, depending on the outcome measure we adopt.

Then there's the whole definition of "illness." Is erectile dysfunction in old age an illness or simply a natural part of aging? How you answer that question would then determine whether Viagra would be covered by insurance or not. Or to return to the current example, is it natural or healthy for a woman to have a child a year for three decades, say? Even if it wears out her body? Mr. Monahan's definition does not help us in answering that question because she defines any amount of fertility as part of being healthy.

Mmm. Two long posts on these comprehensive guidelines which will not be posted until August 1, 2011. I lead such a misspent life, I do.

The Robust Debate About Covering Birth Control in Health Insurance Policies. Part I.

This post talks about the opposition to the idea that the new health care law might offer birth control as a fully covered medical service. It discusses the motivations of those who are opposed to such an idea. The second post in this series addresses their more concrete arguments.

My starting point is this article in the New York Times (via a good take on Balloon Juice):
The Obama administration is examining whether the new health care law can be used to require insurance plans to offer contraceptives and other family planning services to women free of charge.
Such a requirement could remove cost as a barrier to birth control, a longtime goal of advocates for women’s rights and experts on women’s health. But it is likely to reignite debate over the federal role in health care, especially reproductive health, at a time when Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal the law or dismantle it piece by piece. It is also raising objections from the Roman Catholic Church and is expected to generate a robust debate about privacy.
Don't you love that adjective "robust"? What on earth does it mean here? "Rancorous" is a better term for the quality of that debate, methinks, and it should not be about privacy, as I have mentioned earlier. It should be about equality of opportunity in this society, and on all levels. The cost of contraception is a bigger hurdle for poor women (and men) than for the rest of us. But so are the economic and other costs of an unplanned pregnancy and its long-term poverty-inducing effects. To get contraceptives without extra payments would mean a lot for low-income women and for students, to give two examples only.

The conservatives are very much opposed to contraception, at least in women's hands. Different groups in the conservative base have different reasons for opposing full coverage of contraceptives. The traditional "stay-out-of-my-wallet" people don't want to pay for anything which might benefit some "other" group.

Sometimes that is taken to extremes, as was the case with the Republican politician who couldn't understand why he would have to pay higher insurance premia so that pregnancy care could be covered. He can't, after all, get pregnant himself! And was presumably born through some sort of amoebic cell division himself.

That covering contraceptives fully might actually save tax-payers money in the long-run is the possible counter-argument to all this. Or I guess we could argue that prostate care shouldn't be covered by women's premia, that those of us who don't drive should not have our insurance premia raised by the care of drivers who got into car accidents, that those of us who don't ski should not be expected to cover the cost of downhill skiing accidents and so on. The whole insurance system unravels if go thataway.

Then there are the race-war people and the more-bodies-in-the-pews people. Those groups include all the conservatives who fear that darker hues of skin are going to take over the world and wish to launch a birth war to maintain white numbers, as well as the Catholic boyz who wish to see lots and lots of baby Catholics born. Power is in the numbers, after all, and that power should not be in the hands of women. Rather, women are the weaponry in these wars.

The traditional anti-abortion groups are also, paradoxically, very much opposed to birth control, despite the fact that lack of birth control will raise abortions. This has lots to do with the strong desire to control fertility in general (it is a crucial resource), and women's fertility in particular, and it is entangled with the misogynistic treatment of women in the major Abrahamic religions. The most conservative factions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism all aim for the largest possible number of children out of each woman. She certainly should not have access to birth control!

The last two groups, in particular, have lots of overlap. But I still see the race-war people as not quite the same as the "god-was-a-guy-so-shut-up" people. The former wouldn't mind free birth control (or abortions) for women of the wrong race, ethnicity or religion whereas the latter would extend their rigid rules to all women.

What about the abortion-is-murder lot? Well, birth control is not abortion, however hard some forced-birthers try to convince us otherwise, and even if one views women as those Russian dolls as always containing another real or potential doll, a prevented conception is not an abortion. Whenever an abortion opponent also comes out as opposing birth control I move that person to one of the other groups I have listed here. And also to the I-despise-wimminz-in-general group.

A Grumpy Post About Capitalism And Cakes

If my beloved alien (Al from outer space) was here to watch American politics she/he/it/they would certainly think that something called "small business" is one of the largest groups on this planet. Politicians of all stripes (from Sarah Palin to Barack Obama) keep talking about the importance of small business! Every proposal must be screened for its impact on those fragile shoots of business.

It is such a common thing that we seldom wonder about the other kinds of business: the big one. When politicians protect the small businesses by, for instance, trying to eliminate inheritance taxes, what are they doing about big businesses or about wealthy individuals?

It's not that I have anything against small businesses. But that term is used to disguise something quite different when it is used to defend or protest proposals which would either benefit or not benefit all corporations, whatever their size. "Small business" has become a euphemism for corporations in general, a more digestible way for politicians to take the side of the owning classes and not the side of the classes who own much less.

But do this thought experiment: Figure out how many Americans get their living from paid labor for someone else and how many get their living from entrepreneurship. Then compare those percentages to the political soundbite percentages arguing for each group. There is no comparison, my friends. Terms such as "workers" or "the working class" seem to be viewed as almost obscene in this country.

These grumpy thoughts were caused by this:
For Bruce Josten, the feisty top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it got personal last fall on a Sunday talk show when President Obama’s spokesman invoked his name.

“They called me out” during a White House attack on the chamber’s midterm campaign efforts, Mr. Josten recalled. Mr. Obama had his own reason to take things personally; his policies were on the receiving end of a $50 million “voter education” barrage by the chamber, the signature lobby for American business.

For the moment, both sides have sheathed their weapons. Mr. Obama will address the chamber on Monday as part of a postelection effort to improve relations with business and, he hopes, accelerate economic recovery.

Mr. Josten sees positive signs. The chamber cheered the bipartisan tax cut compromise that Mr. Obama reached with Republicans in the lame-duck session of Congress, the completion of a United States-South Korea trade deal and the recent appointment of William M. Daley, a former business executive, as White House chief of staff.

“The White House does deserve credit,” Mr. Josten acknowledged. But he is not yet convinced that such steps will tame what he called the “regulatory tsunami,” among other problems, enough to stir the investment and the new hiring the administration seeks.

“That’s all up in the air,” Mr. Josten concluded. “You’ve got to walk the talk.”
So the president will address the US Chamber of Commerce, and the members of the latter will see if he's going to behave better now! Perhaps he will even get rid of all cumbersome regulation so that, say, the stock markets can try to destroy the economy again and then get bailed out by the tax-payers! Or at least we can once again enjoy Chinese melamine and not just in the kitchen counter-tops!

Such arrogance. Such utter arrogance, and nobody seems to notice. Perhaps that is not unexpected in a country where people call Barack Obama a communist and nobody laughs. Or where someone like me (judged as right-of-center in Europe) has been called a Stalinist.

But the piece I linked to does, in fact, state the underlying problem:
Relations between corporate leaders and any Democratic president are necessarily fraught. They have different constituencies and worldviews — on the role of government, the distribution of tax burdens and the proper balance between business and labor.
Indeed*. Or put into simpler terms: They have different ideas about who should eat how much of the overall cake (the Gross Domestic Product). The corporate leaders already have huge slices on their plates but they'd prefer to have more. Those who are really just workers (whatever the propaganda may have made them think) would also prefer to have larger slices than the tiny ones they now have or any crumbs at all! Yet all this can be described as "different constituencies and worldviews." Even when the actual numbers of workers far exceed those of entrepreneurs of any stripe.

How did we come to a point where the two sides can be viewed as somehow equal in size and in need? It has to do with the fact that the corporate side owns the cake-making facilities and thus the power to hire or not to hire the workers. Without one of those jobs a worker gets no cake slice at all, and any attempt by a Democratic administration to protect the bakery workers from fires or from flour-lung or inhumanely long working hours is seen as interference with the best way to Make The Cake Bigger! The bakery owners don't want interference from the government. That, they argue, would make the cake smaller and surely a small slice out of a large cake is better than a large size from a tiny cake.

It's as if there is no way to bake a cake while taking care of the workers' safety and health and while paying them fair wages for it.

Enough with the baking metaphors. My wider point really is that the so-called class wars are going on all the time, only we have been brainwashed not to notice it except in those cases where someone complains about them. So it's really this post which is an example of class war...
*That "indeed" must be qualified in the case of Obama and the current Democrats in the Congress. It's not that clear who their constituency might be.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sunday Dog Blogging

This is Kirra, DWD's rescued Siberian husky. She is also the ruler of her snowy realm, preferring a position high up on a snow mountain.

Pictures by DWD.