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Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Important Numbers
Topic: Editorializing

Okay.  It irks me that the cover of the Guttmacher Institute's recent report on the impact of publicly funded family planning services depicts an apparently single, middle-class/white-collar woman while the bulk of the statistics talk about the dire state of reproductive health services for poor women and families in the US.  This irritation is slightly mitigated by the fact that the woman on the cover is very young, and young people are highly likely to be uninsured or underinsured in their early jobs and need access to publicly funded health services.  But it bugs me that the report cover doesn't depict the wide range of people who access publicly funded family planning services.

Regardless of any irritation, however, there are some numbers here that need serious consideration:

  • 60% of family planning center clients consider the center their primary source of medical care due to the package of services offered
  • 1 in 6 women who obtain a Pap smear do so at a family planning center
  • One third of women who receive HIV or other STI testing and counseling obtain it through a family planning center
  • Number of women needing publicly-supported contraceptive services: 17.5 million
  • Number of unintended pregnancies in the US each year: nearly 3 million
  • Number of unintended pregnancies prevented by publicly-funded family planning services: nearly 2 million
  • Savings to Medicaid of preventing unintended pregnancies: $4 for every $1 invested in publicly funded family planning services
With the president emphasizing healthcare reform, and the economy struggling, it seems to me that investing in family planning centers and making sure that they're safe spaces for women to access (maybe there's nothing to be done about protesters outside Planned Parenthood, but why should women going for a pelvic exam have to brave that gauntlet?) should be priorities for the government.  For an overview of the report findings and recommendations, see this press release

3:42 PM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 6 October 2008
Laugh or you might cry
Topic: Editorializing

I have to say this for Sarah Palin - her nomination has done a world of good for at least one woman.  Tina Fey's Palin impression should end up in SNL history alongside Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford and Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush.  And I'm pleased that in their send-up of the Vice-Presidential debate the writers went after both VP candidates for the absurdity of their statements about same-sex marriage during Thursday's debate (at about 8 minutes in to the video, which I'm sending you to Diary of an Anxious Black Woman to watch because that's where I saw it, and I can't figure out how to embed the video, and she's an awesome writer who should have more traffic, even if it's only the three people who still read here, what with my repeated month-long hiatuses.  Hiati?  Whatever.  I'm trying to get back to writing, really I am, but work is a bit nuts right now).  Not that the double-speak on same-sex marriage wasn't an easy target to hit, but I'm glad they took a shot at it.  It truly was surreal to hear Biden talking about how there should be no difference in the rights of straight and gay couples and then say 5 seconds later that he opposes same-sex marriage.  This is what makes me nuts about elections - moral courage and consistency apparently render candidates unelectable.  

1:59 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 October 2008 2:18 AM BST
Monday, 8 September 2008
The same level of scrutiny will not be forthcoming
Topic: Editorializing

In the interests of fairness, I figure that since Obama got dragged across the coals for his association with Pastor Wright, that Palin ought to come in for some critique based on her association with a church that actively seeks the conversion of Jewish people and holds conferences for the "pray away the gay" movement.  And I'm perfectly willing to bet that this never makes the mainstream media. After all, when it comes to what we look for in a leader, membership in a church rife with anti-Semitism and homophobia is nowhere near as outrageous as attending the church of a pastor who harshly critiques institutional racism in the United States </bitter sarcasm, on a very temporary basis>. 

I want this election to be over so that (hopefully) I can stop feeling sullied by everything associated with it.  

Thursday, 4 September 2008
Topic: Editorializing

Earlier, I quickly pointed to a recent post by Zuzu at Shakesville that I now want to return to a greater length, because she's looking downright prophetic today.

Zuzu made a really interesting case for how the choice of Palin could be a real asset to the McCain campaign if one takes a really Machiavellian perspective. What if McCain's purpose in choosing Palin was less to attract women's votes to his party, than to attempt to deny them to his opponent by waving a red flag in front of the misogynist blowhards (of both sexes) in the Democratic party?

what the Republicans will do that the Democrats will not is call out the misogyny against their candidate. I've said it before -- the Republicans would never, in a million years, stand by and let the media and the party rank-and-file treat one of their female candidates the way that Clinton got treated during the primary.

Thus, they turn a Democratic strength into a weakness. Or, rather, expose it as a weakness.

Now, as to why I don't think that McCain actually thinks that disaffected Democratic women will flock to him just because he picked a wingnut gun-nut creationist woman with some ethical problems as a running mate: because he doesn't have to get them to vote for him. He has to get them to stay home in swing states.

 And today, from the Associated Press (on Yahoo News):

McCain's campaign made a shrewd appeal to women by casting Palin as a victim of familiar circumstances.

"How do we balance our career, in her case a political career, with that of motherhood and continue to have a very fine family?" asked former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, one of dozens of women dispatched to media outlets by the McCain campaign.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani toted his feminist talking points around to no fewer than five morning TV interviews.

"The scrutiny you are giving her is so darn unfair. It is really indecent," he told MSNBC's morning crew. "She is being asked questions like, can you, as a mother ... be vice president? Whoever asked a man?"

And in the New York Post:

John McCain, Fred Thompson and former Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman galloped to the defense of embattled Sarah Palin yesterday, trying to shield her from attacks that she's not veep material, as well as from the firestorm over her pregnant teenage daughter.

"Some Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit," said Thompson, a former presidential hopeful, "Law & Order" star and Tennessee senator.

Clearly Zuzu's analysis was sharp.  Now we have to hope the GOP strategy doesn't have the desired effect on liberal women voters. 

4:27 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 4 September 2008 4:28 AM BST
Sunday, 31 August 2008
And so it begins
Topic: Editorializing

Well, the US has a historic race on it's hands.  Which ever team wins, we're going to have someone occupying an important national political office from a segment of our population who has never been represented in that office before.  It's going to be interesting - and by interesting, I mean disgusting - to watch the McCain/Palin campaign pander to women and attempt to counteract the sexism that's inevitably going to be thrown at Palin from both the left and right sides of the political spectrum. 

The Trentonian's (I'm not linking to the site because the image is gone and because the Trentonian is a vile rag) cover yesterday was an image of Palin with the headline "It's A Girl!"  Dear "Editor": you seem to have missed at least one crucial difference between an object and person and between a child and adult.  And it's a pretty important one, as related to this story: namely, that last time I checked, objects and children are not able to run for national office in this country.

Shakesville's Sarah Palin Sexism Watch ("defend[ing] Sarah Palin against misogynist smears not because we endorse her or her politics, but because that's how feminism works") is already up to part #4. And with the Michelle Obama Racism/Sexism Watch up to part #14 and the Obama Racism/Muslim/Unpatriotic/Scary Black Dude Watch up to part #74, I might have to opt out of media consumption entirely for next two months to preserve my sanity.      

Update: Zuzu's analysis of the Democratic Party's sexism problem and how McCain/Palin can capitalize on it is excellent:

Now, there was never a real risk that progressives would vote for McCain en masse; those Hillary supporters who show up in polls as planning to vote for McCain may very well be Republican and Independent women who were voting for Clinton, not for the Democrats.

There has been, however, a real risk that progressives who are sick of the misogyny and sick about the direction the party was taking would sit this one out. And the Republicans were counting on that continuing.

3:15 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 1 September 2008 3:15 AM BST
Sunday, 24 August 2008
The faithful vs the fans
Topic: Editorializing

I've been turning over a post of Paul Currion's for awhile now, in which he draws an intriguing parallel between sports and religion:

In this fascinating article, Ryan Maher is talking about American football rather than real football, but I think the principles are the same. In fact he’s talking about how to discuss faith in a meaningful way with those of other faiths, in the context of his work in Doha.

This template for discussing religion and faith is fundamentally flawed. It presumes that different groups of faithful people approach their religions in the same way football fans approach their favorite teams: I cheer passionately for mine, you cheer passionately for yours, and we all agree to play by the rules and exhibit good sportsmanship. For people of faith, religion isn’t like that.

Actually, football isn’t like that either. That’s a very strange view of sport - a matter of etiquette rather than passion.

... perhaps it would be more useful to see religion as exactly like sport - pursued by different people for different ends and in different ways, and occasionally with more agreement between people of different faiths than with those of their co-religionists?

My initial reaction was that while it's an interesting proposal, it's not quite right, somehow, but I'm not sure that my reaction is accurate.  

As I was growing up religion and sports underpinned family life.  We went to church every Sunday.  Mom and Dad said bedtime prayers with us every night.  There was no meat on Fridays during Lent.  There were sports on Fridays, though - if Dad was watching something on television, it was generally sports.  In fact, if it remotely qualified as a sport, he'd watch it (though he maintained that he only watched ice skating hoping to witness a spectacular fall).  Many of my childhood memories involve running around under the bleachers at high school football games, baseball games, basketball games and wrestling matches with the other coaches' kids, because if it was a sport, Dad would coach it.  And Mom would take us to games and matches as regularly as she took us to church.

I have seen how Maher missteps in his article when he argues that when it comes to supporting a favorite sports team "we all agree to play by the rules and exhibit good sportsmanship".  It rather makes me wonder if Maher has attended many sporting events.  There isn't much logic or rationality to my team allegiances, such as they are.  They spring largely from an accident of birth:  good = Philadelphia (although Philadelphia teams far too often ≠ "good") and bad = New York, for no other reason than that is the way it is, the way it has been, and the way it shall be, forever and ever, amen.  It's no more rational than love, which is what Maher compares religion to (although I would argue that there is no shortage of counterexamples where religious adherence is as much a matter of fear, particularly fear of the other and fear of the unknown). 

So I've learned enough about both sport and religion to be very intrigued by the question Paul poses: "perhaps it would be more useful to see religion as exactly like sport - pursued by different people for different ends and in different ways, and occasionally with more agreement between people of different faiths than with those of their co-religionists?"  And as I said, my initial reaction was that this was not inaccurate, but was perhaps a bit glib.  Then I started thinking about it some more.   

Community, identity, ritual, catharsis, rules - all of these are shared aspects of sport and religion.  But what I want to be cautious of in a way that I don't think Paul and Maher are, entirely, is conflating "religion" and "faith".  Where they are combined they gain great power from interacting, but one can adhere to religious rules and forms without believing in or exploring the mysteries of faith, and one can also have great faith in a divine power without tying that to the forms of religion.  I agree with Maher that an intellectual grasp of religions is not sufficient to fully understand what it means to live a life of faith. 

I thought that the heart of my argument would lie there.  That faith and religion are not the same, and while you can compare religion and sport without stretching too terribly, comparing sport and faith is not entirely tenable.  But then I realized that a workable analogy to the religion/faith separation would be to say that understanding the rules of a sport is not sufficient to understand why fully grown people will go half-naked in the dead of winter just so that they can paint themselves in their team's colors for a game.  I started to wonder whether Paul's not entirely right, and my initial reaction to his question is simply based in the fact that I'm not one of those people who has a deep devotion to a sports team.

However, knowing people of faith who live their faith - as expressed through religion - deeply and beautifully, there is something there that I just don't see captured in sport.  And that is the relationship between a person and the divinity that they engage with.  Although supporting a sports team can offer a sense of identity and community, I hope at least, that most fans understand that the team is not invested in their wellbeing.  And that, at least in the Christian traditions I grew up in, is exactly what I was taught about God - that God is concerned with each person's wellbeing, that God loves each individual and wants them to live a good life.  And harnessed to religion, this faith in God's love can be the source of incredible spiritual richness and reflection and growth, or equally incredible rigidity, intolerance and dogmatism, depending on both the individual and the particular strand of their religious tradition that they follow.   

I understand Maher's concern that the kind of people who pursue diplomatic careers in the US are not the kind of people who have received messages about religion that encompass the impact of "faith and its life-shaping power."  And I question what I perceive as Maher's belief that university education has the capacity to shape this.  Faith is incredibly difficult to analyse intellectually - there is much to discuss, and I would argue that faith absolutely can and should be subjected to intellectual examination, but at the core of it, there is a mystery that is not graspable by intellect alone.  So my question is, how would you teach that, in the US higher education system?  If Maher is arguing that Georgetown can't figure out how to do it, how would a secular university?  Because I don't think even Paul's reframing of the relationship between sport and religion, interesting as it is and helpful as it may be to explore, quite gives the one a solid entry point into examining the nature and impact of faith on people's lives. 

Update: Paul's response

12:01 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 1 October 2008 4:56 AM BST
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Life/Work Balance
Topic: Editorializing
Mine is all kinds of off these days, although it's slowly improving.  But I still don't have time to comment at length right now on this very interesting post at Feministe that focuses (not exclusively - there are lots of other interesting links) on the challenges continuing to face women who want to have a family life and professional career - particularly the challenge of achieving equitable domestic care arrangements with their partners.  I appreciate this a lot, in light of my own domestic care issues lately (you should've seen the state of my apartment before this past weekend), and I only have myself to look after.  There are some eye-opening observations right there at the top of the page.  Go have a look.

6:54 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 28 June 2008 2:49 AM BST
Friday, 14 December 2007
Topic: Editorializing

The morning news recently featured a local girl who had helped her father get assistance when he had a stroke.  Or maybe it was heart attack - I only caught the teaser, not the whole story.  I think they said the girl was nine.  For a nine-year-old to keep her head when something serious is happening to her dad is unquestionably brave, not to mention strong.  Her parents must be very proud of her. 

I wish the news had featured the story of Alexis Goggins, as well.  For a seven-year-old to jump in front of a gun to save her mother, as Alexis did, is so ferociously heroic it breaks my heart.  Her mother was hit, in the side of the head and arm, but Alexis took six of the bullets meant for her mother.  Despite being shot in the face and upper body, Alexis came out of surgery on Sunday still fighting.  She may need further surgeries.  I can't even begin to imagine what her mother must be feeling, having had her first-grade daughter put her own body and life on the line to protect her.  

A fund for Alexis's medical expenses and her family's living costs has been established.  Checks should be made out to the Alexis Goggins Hero Fund and sent to Campbell Elementary School in care of the Alexis Goggins Hero Fund, 2301 E Alexandrine St, Detroit, 48207. For information, call (313) 494-2052.

3:01 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 21 May 2007
More short-sighted policy
Topic: Editorializing

There was an interesting editorial column in the Baltimore Sun this weekend about the development consequences of the U.S. government policy prohibiting assistance to the Palestinian Authority:

Since Hamas won the January 2006 parliamentary elections, the United States and its allies have withheld millions in foreign aid that financed the workings of government. As a result, Palestinian workers have gone unpaid, the economy is devastated, nearly half of Palestinians don't have enough food to feed their families or are at risk of food shortages. The United Nations estimates that 68 percent of Palestinians live in poverty.

Food aid does reach Palestinians despite the Israeli security barricade, checkpoints and closures. But relief agencies that want to improve other aspects of Palestinian life find it difficult because of the American "no contact" policy with the PA.

How do you provide medical supplies to a community health clinic overseen by the PA's health ministry? Or repair a road, establish a PTA in a public school, maintain a village well?


The U.S.-led boycott may have accomplished one goal, crippling the Hamas government, but at the cost of another - stamping out terrorism. It has sustained Hamas' military wing, which last week claimed credit for more than 80 rocket attacks into southern Israel. And Gaza, among the most densely populated places in the world, resembled a war zone as factional fighting resumed, leaving dozens dead and drawing retaliatory fire by the Israeli military.

"Threading the Needle", Ann LoLardo, 19 May 2007

9:11 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Wednesday, 16 May 2007
Foreign policy, corruption and hypocrisy
Topic: Editorializing

It's a schadenfreude spree . . .

One of the things I learned about at the meeting I facilitated is the US government's "F Process," which is consolidating the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department.  This move is intended to bring greater coherence to US foreign policy.  (I wrote a bit about it here, when plans were announced last year.)  This process is changing the funding environment for international development.  (For an interesting perspective on the impact of internal changes, see this speech by the US Ambassador to Cambodia - I can't decide whether it's amusing or lame. I guess a lot depends how it was delivered.)

For example, the government wants to fund projects that intend to improve governance and democracy.  So a funding proposal from an education project that works to strengthen national curricula and school systems would probably be more favorably received by the government than one for a project that targets communities in a more limited area.   This is important information to know if you're creating proposals for government funding.  The discussion was somewhat overshadowed, however, by news that the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance, Randall Tobias, had suddenly resigned the week before, creating some question about how the details of the "F Process" might change under new leadership.

Why the sudden resignation?  This is where the hypocrisy gets awfully rich.  See, back in 2005 (even before the F Process began), the government decided that a coherent policy approach to human trafficking required organizations receiving US government funding for anti-trafficking or anti-HIV efforts to affirm, in writing, that they have an organizational commitment or policy stating that the organization does not promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution.  But the language is kind of fuzzy about what promoting, supporting and advocating entail.  It seems fairly obvious, for example, that an organization that supports the unionization of people working in prostitution need not apply for funding.  But what about an organization that works to increase HIV awareness and protection for people working in prostitution without condemning that work or actively trying to remove people from prostitution?  That's not so clear.  And in analyzing the policy, Susan Cohen saw a broad-based and coercive anti-prostitution campaign in the making:

NGOs must oppose prostitution and sex trafficking (but no other kind of trafficking) whether they promote condom use among sex workers or whether they work only in hospitals to prevent HIV transmission from pregnant women to newborns. In other words, in order to join the U.S. anti-HIV/AIDS effort, all NGOs must formally enlist in the U.S. government's antiprostitution campaign.

What does seem pretty clear, at least to me, is that patronizing a service that sells sex would at least be "supporting" prostitution, if not promoting or advocating it.  Right?  So it's pretty appalling that the person who is ultimately in charge of enforcing this policy - that would be the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance, Ambassador Randall Tobias - turned up on the list of clients of "D.C. Madam" Deborah Palfrey.  Tobias claims that no sex took place, only massages, and that he stopped using Palfrey's service in favor of one "with Central Americans."  (It makes me feel extra squeamish when I try to figure out why Tobias would highlight the regional origins of his masseuses, and what the media emphasizing this quote are trying to do - that's getting into a knot of sexual and racial politics that I don't have the space to unpick properly in this post.)  Anybody buying his story?

And in other notable resignations, Paul Wolfowitz has announced his resignation after his questionable actions in obtaining a job and pay raise for his partner, who had to leave active service at the World Bank when Wolfowitz was appointed to head it.  Wolfowitz's hobby horse during his leadership of the World Bank was an anti-corruption campaign in which he tried to stop Bank aid to some impoverished countries because he argued that their deeply corrupt governments, not poverty, were the countries' biggest obstacle to development.  Ironic that a conflict of interest case would bring down a staunch advocate of corruption. 

Of course, the World Bank, massive bureaucracy that it is, is hardly a model of perfect systems and highly effective governance - even the panel reviewing Wolfowitz's case acknowledged that the guidance he was given was less than perfectly clear.  And had Wolfowitz had a different agenda, and the United States a different foreign policy stance, it's possible that his claims that he was operating in good faith might have been accepted.  But, as the New York Times points out, "Mr. Wolfowitz created an impression that at critical moments he was putting American foreign policy interests first," an approach that did not sit well with the Bank's governing board.  And if you're going to pursue an unpopular approach with entrenched interests in a powerful institution, you'd best be sure your conduct is above reproach.

I find it grimly amusing that two Bush appointees have gone down within weeks of each other for shady behavior contradictory to the policies they espoused in their professional lives.  Beyond that, though, I think these resignations point to the difficulty of dealing with complex problems with narrowly-focused approaches.  Wolfowitz getting tripped up demonstrates just how easy it is to engage in corrupt behavior, particularly in the absence of strong systems and structures to provide guidance and accountability.  And Tobias's situation points up the difficulty in effecting the broad-based behavioral changes that would have to be behind any effort to end the sale of sexual services.  When the man who is ultimately responsible for enforcing a policy requiring organizations overseas to not support prostitution is purchasing sexual services himself, it seems clear to me that policy language alone is not going to get at the changes in attitudes and behaviors that would be needed to undermine all the various factors that support prostitution as a social institution.  I don't hold out a lot of hope for change at either the World Bank or USAID, really, but I do rather enjoy seeing policies I think are shortsighted contribute to the downfall of their proponents. 

2:09 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007 1:54 AM BST

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