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Of Mothers & Morality

[ 21 ] October 23, 2007 |

Sui Generis has been following the case of Bobbijean P., the child taken away from her parents – two homeless people struggling with crack addictions. In the neglect proceeding regarding custody over the girl (initiated wholly on the basis of the child’s positive drug screen at birth), her mother was told by a New York family court judge that she must not become pregnant “until she has actually obtained custody and care of (her child) Bobbijean P. and every other child of hers who is in foster care or has not been adopted or institutionalized.” Two weeks ago, a mid-level appellate court unanimously threw out the judge’s order, holding that the family court judge had “no authority to impose the ‘no-pregnancy’ condition.”

Unfortunately, the appellate court did not address the constitutional issues at stake — most centrally, who gets to decide whether, when, and how a woman will bear a child? I’m willing to venture that the state should play no role in that decision — and most certainly should not impose a bar to it.

It seems to me that the U.S. has especially little to say about when and how women can become parents (this applies both to abortion rights and to the rights at stake in this case), when it does so little to support women who do choose to become parents and when it seems to care so little about their health and humanity. Not sure what I mean. Take this excerpt from Sarah Blustain’s recent TAP piece, “No Country for Mothers”:

According to new government numbers, the rate of Americans dying in 2004 (the most recent year to be calculated) hit a record low, while life expectancy — for blacks and whites, men and women — hit a record high. Men were closing their historic life-expectancy gap with women, and African Americans were closing their life-expectancy gap with whites. Even the babies were doing well: The infant mortality rate dropped, too.

Sadly, however, if you are a pregnant mortal living in the United States today, your chances of dying appear to be greater than ever. Yes, the total number of women who die in childbirth in America is low. But according to the Centers for Disease Control’s new “National Vital Statistics Report,” the number of women dying in or around childbirth has risen — putting the United States behind some unsurprising countries, like Switzerland and Sweden, and some surprising ones, like Serbia and Macedonia, Qatar and Kuwait, in its rate of maternal mortality. In rankings calculated on 2000 numbers, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the United States at No. 29 on the list, even though, according to the most recent statistics, there is only one country, Tuvalu, that spends more on health care as a percentage of gross domestic product than the United States.

Blustain identifies undertreatment as a central cause of this high mortality rate. Undertreatment because so many millions of pregnant women lack healthcare, especially poor women who most desperately need prenatal care to up the chances that they will give birth to healthy children. How much of a difference does care make? Well, a lot.

Perhaps the most notable fact in the CDC’s new report is that African American women are nearly four times as likely as white women to die in child-birth. That is, while 9.3 white women per 100,000 died in childbirth, 34.7 African American women died.

Admittedly, race is not necessarily a proxy for the level of care. But it’s undeniable that there remains in the US a correlation between race and poverty, and it’s equally uncontrovertible that poverty is linked to lack of access to prenatal care.

To me, the connections seem clear: women like Bobbijean’s mother are punished for being unable to simultaneously carry a pregnancy to term and kick a drug habit. And the state spends plenty of time meddling in her carrying out of her reproductive life. But when it comes to providing affirmative support to pregnant women (drug treatment, prenatal care, whatever), the state just can’t be bothered.

(Sui Generis via Michelle M.)

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Belated Thanks

[ 14 ] October 22, 2007 |

If I can be allowed a brief moment of sincerity, I’d like to thank everyone who e-mailed or commented on last week’s post about my father’s passing. I still can’t read the entire comment thread without losing my composure. The last eight months have been extremely difficult, but I must say that writing for and reading LGM each day has been one of the few things keeping me sane. My father didn’t really read blogs as far as I can tell — and I’m not sure if he even knew I posted here — but he would have liked all of you. Hell, he was such a nice guy that he might even have liked our trolls.

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Thank You For Smoking

[ 16 ] October 22, 2007 |

Is this a joke?

When it comes to the health of our children, two cigarettes may be better than one. Young smokers who begin their habit with nicotine-laden cigarettes need a cigarette that will not leave them to later fight the ravages of addiction.

Experts tell us that teenagers often begin smoking to copy their peers and others whom they see smoking. As adults, however, they continue smoking largely because of the addictive qualities of nicotine. (Ninety percent of smokers regret having begun smoking and most make efforts to stop.) This means that in the absence of addictive levels of nicotine in their cigarettes, most young smokers would ultimately quit.

A two-cigarette strategy would prohibit young smokers from buying addictive cigarettes. The tobacco industry is capable of producing cigarettes that are virtually free of nicotine, and regulators could develop clear standards for non-addictive cigarettes.

I suppose this makes me a garden-variety liberal fascist, but I have no trouble whatsoever endorsing burdensome “standards” to which the tobacco industry should conform; nor would I object to higher taxes on “addictive cigarettes” (which Adams also proposes) to dissuade kids from smoking them. That said, I can’t quite imagine what makes this proposal good for anything other than derision.

I’m sure teens “often” begin smoking because they’re imitating others, but as I quite clearly recall, they continue because of the head rush that only a bloodstream filled with multiple varieties of poison can offer. Social and cultural lures aside, there’s simply no other reason to smoke. So David Adams might be right that after a few nicotine-free cigarettes, the average neophyte — receiving utterly no benefit from it them — would throw the pack away. But unless I’m completely misremembering how teenagers work, that moment of disavowal will last only so long as it takes to bum an actual smoke from someone who has one to spare.

If you want to dissuade or prevent people from smoking, go ahead and do it. But pushing nicotine-free cigarettes to teenagers makes about as much sense as trying to market O’Douls for an after-prom party.

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Proving Too Much

[ 17 ] October 22, 2007 |

You may have heard about this embrace of utter crackpottery from new social conservative darling Mike Huckabee:

Speaking before a gathering of Christian conservative voters, GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said legalized abortion in the United States was a holocaust.

“Sometimes we talk about why we’re importing so many people in our workforce,” the former Arkansas governor said. “It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973.”

Leaving aside the rather problematic economic assumptions here, we have two classic pieces of stupidity and exploitation common to the rhetoric of the forced pregnancy lobby. First, if abortion is a “holocaust,” one wonders why most anti-choicers believe that the alleged primary perpetrators of this genocide should face fewer legal sanctions than if they spat on the sidewalk. And Huckabee would have signed the North Dakota law that also exempted women from punishment for contributing to the “holocaust.” Does Huckabee believe that Eichmann should have been exempt from punishment? Or maybe he should stop using this idiotic and spectacularly offensive analogy?

In addition to the bizarre causal logic, the “Oh no! Giving reproductive rights to women means more furriners undermining the values of Good White Americans by coming here to feed their families!” argument has perhaps broader implications than he intends. If the key problem with abortion is lower birthrates, forget abortion: we need to stop the production and distribution of contraception immediately! Passing arbitrary laws forcing poor women to obtain unsafe abortions will do nothing while Trojans are freely produced! Oh the humanity!

Again, there are few things as bizarre in American politics as “pro-lifers” who demand constant congratulation for having Unyielding Moral Principles as they advance positions that are a moral, legal, logical, and political shambles.

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Tawdry Gossip of the Day

[ 0 ] October 22, 2007 |

Richard Mellon Scaife or St. Derek of Pasta Diving? (The former via the Sultan of Shrill.)

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Son, You’ve Got A Bad Attitude About the Air Force

[ 35 ] October 22, 2007 |

I have an article in this month’s American Prospect about the United States Air Force. An excerpt:

But it’s time to revisit the 1947 decision to separate the Air Force from the Army. While everyone agrees that the United States military requires air capability, it’s less obvious that we need a bureaucratic entity called the United States Air Force. The independent Air Force privileges airpower to a degree unsupported by the historical record. This bureaucratic structure has proven to be a continual problem in war fighting, in procurement, and in estimates of the costs of armed conflict. Indeed, it would be wrong to say that the USAF is an idea whose time has passed. Rather, it’s a mistake that never should have been made.

Read the whole thing, buy the magazine, etc.

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[ 29 ] October 22, 2007 |

The problem:

The deputy mayor of the Indian capital Delhi has died a day after being attacked by a horde of wild monkeys. SS Bajwa suffered serious head injuries when he fell from the first-floor terrace of his home on Saturday morning trying to fight off the monkeys.

The city has long struggled to counter its plague of monkeys, which invade government complexes and temples, snatch food and scare passers-by.

And the solution:

One approach has been to train bands of larger, more ferocious langur monkeys to go after the smaller groups of Rhesus macaques.

I can’t see any problems at all with that plan.

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Care To Make It Interesting?

[ 0 ] October 22, 2007 |

Via Sam Boyd, I bring you this Kirchick Komedy Klassic:

Earlier this week, I speculated in a bloggingheads with Jon Keller, political reporter for the Boston CBS affiliate and author of The Bluest State: How Democrats Created the Massachusetts Blueprint for American Political Disaster (which I reviewed here) that Massachusetts might go red if Rudy Giuliani — and, possibly, John McCain — is the Republican presidential nominee.

First, you have the amusing asusmption any Democrat not currently cashing a paycheck from Marty Peretz is fooled by the “McCain is a Really A Closet Liberal” scam. Then you have the claim that the GOP is live in the Massachusetts electoral college. The evidence for this seems to be that 1)the Democrats won an off-year Congressional election by a slighter lesser margin than might have been expected, and 2)more than two decades ago a Republican incumbent carried the state that went for George McGovern as part of a massive Republican landslide. Well, I’m convinced! I do hope, however, that following the strategery of Karl Rove, Super Genius (TM), that they don’t neglect other likely GOP pickup candidates like California, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C.

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Right-wing Identity Politics, Crappy Cartoon Edition

[ 10 ] October 22, 2007 |

Even for Bruce Tinsley, this is incomprehensible. Does he really think that benching Hope Solo was some form of racism? Beats me. I think we need the Comics Curmudgeon to weigh in here…

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Game 7

[ 0 ] October 22, 2007 |

Finally, we’re getting one; hopefully, unlike most of the rest of the series, this will actually be a good game…

…If the first inning is an indication that pre-All-Star-Break Dice-K has shown up…that would be a problem. A pitcher’s duel would actually be appropriate, sort of the opposite of the first Beckett/Sabathia game…

…Ah, yes, another installment in the desultory return of “every play is a force play” umpiring…

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Captain Clutch!

[ 0 ] October 21, 2007 |

It’s good that the Red Sox have a player with the grit, determination, clutchitude, and leadershipiosity of J.D. Drew rather than a choker like Derek Jeter!

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Anne Applebaum, You Gotta Be Putting Me On

[ 57 ] October 20, 2007 |

In this week’s installment, she contributes to the Ridiculous Martyrdom of Larry Summers by backing up nonsense spoken by Christina Hoff Sommers :

How will we ever be able to talk about sex differences in an interesting way if we’re not allowed to study them? If the subject is an academic taboo, then the same old cliches will just live on for another generation. Or ten generations.

Of course, nobody criticized Summers for suggesting that academics should study sex differences. He was criticized for suggesting that the most likely reason that women were underrepresented in some academic fields was an innate lack of mental capacity although this is not supported by solid scientific evidence and Summers had no expertise in the field. As Brian Leiter put it:

Alas, it turns out that no one was objecting to research being done on the hypothesis. They objected, rather, to the chief administrator of a research university–a man with no scholarly expertise in the area (as in none)–floating an hypothesis potentially damaging to women for which there is, at present, no well-confirmed scientific support (as in none).

As I’ve said before, the context is also important. Summers was not a random academic reporting on his research (and, indeed, nobody is calling for Steven Pinker’s tenure to be revoked because of his male supremacist just-so stories.) He was the president of an elite university that, as it happens, had a poor record of attracting and retaining female faculty in the sciences under his tenure. Not alienating the remaining faculty by saying dumb things is part of his job. At any rate, the criticism of Summers’s remarks did not establish a taboo against conducting scientific research into sex differences. It may have reflected a taboo against university presidents justifying gender discrimination by engaging in the same kind of pseudo-scientific speculation that once caused women to be unfairly excluded from elite universities, the legal profession, etc. etc., but this is a different matter entirely (and a good thing.)

Relatedly, make sure to read this from Cosma Shalizi (via CT.)

..It’s not terribly important to my overall argument — what matters is that he considers it more important than discrimination — but in comments Ken C. is correct that Summers only placed a lack of aptitude as the second most important factor exonerating his horrible record with female faculty. First was the “high-powered job hypothesis,” his description of which was somewhat problematic in its own right for reasons I’ve discussed with respect to Supreme Court clerks; it’s bizarre to discuss the fact that women are expected to do far more of the domestic work as a category distinct from gender discrimination. (It’s also problematic given that gender discrimination remains durable at non-elite institutions where tenured professors don’t have to work 80 hour weeks.)

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