Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Deaths Not Noticed

An article in the Editor&Publisher mentions the topic of suicides among the U.S. military in Iraq:

One of the least covered aspects of the fallout from the Iraq war is the rising toll of suicides, both near the battlefield and back home.

Latest official figures released by the Pentagon reveal at least 116 self-inflicted fatalities in Iraq. But this does not include several dozen still under investigation, nor any of the many cases back in the U.S.

A death is a death is a death, you might say. But surely some of these suicides were preventable? And surely their number prepares the administration for the onslaught of many more depressed returning veterans who might also be suicidal? Surely we will now see a large increase in the budget for mental health care services for the veterans? Surely, please!

The human costs of war are many. Some can be counted in immediate or near-immediate deaths. For some, the death takes a little longer to achieve. And then there are the costs of pain and suffering, limbs and eyesight lost, families torn apart. And even later, the children of damaged veterans will suffer.

For all these reasons those who decide that wars are the answer should be taught what it is that they are unleashing. The hounds of war don't go home when sated on the battle fields.

A New York Times Headline Today

New Heart Device Installed in Cheney

Let's hope it works this time.

Friday, July 27, 2007

On Cleavage

I didn't chime in when the question of Hillary Clinton's cleavage was analyzed, because I'm more interested in analyzing cleavage such as shown in the above photo.

Just kidding, though not quite. If you were lucky enough to miss the cleavage story, it was based on an article Robin Givhans wrote in the Washington Post. She tried to determine if Clinton was now choosing to show more cleavage and decided that it was a half-hearted attempt:

Not so long ago, Jacqui Smith, the new British home secretary, spoke before the House of Commons showing far more cleavage than Clinton. If Clinton's was a teasing display, then Smith's was a full-fledged come-on. But somehow it wasn't as unnerving. Perhaps that's because Smith's cleavage seemed to be presented so forthrightly. Smith's fitted jacket and her dramatic necklace combined to draw the eye directly to her bosom. There they were . . . all part of a bold, confident style package.

With Clinton, there was the sense that you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding -- being a voyeur. Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn't necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed.

You can see the cleavage picture at the link. I wouldn't call that cleavage, and neither did Ruth Marcus who said:

Might I suggest that sometimes a V-neck top is only a V-neck top? As a person of cleavage, I'd guess that Clinton's low-cut shirt simply reflected a few centimeters of sartorial miscalculation, not a deliberate fashion statement.

I didn't write about this topic earlier. Partly that was because I saw it as yet another way of singling women out in politics and of focusing on the fairly narrow feminist questions that singling out elicits, and I sensed a dangerous trend in all this.

The trends goes like this: First someone writes something silly on a female politician, something that would never be written about a male politician. Then the focus automatically turns to a thorough debate about women, not about politics. Then any female opinionator who dares to chime in will be seen as a silly one, because she is writing about boobs and not about the Iraq war. And if that female opinionator does not chime in she will be accused of ignoring the plight of her feminazi sisters. It's a lose-lose situation.

A more fertile approach might be to ask why women on television news nowadays must show both cleavage and "leggage." The Fox News is particularly bad in this respect. It's possible that having ample and visible cleavage is an important job requirement for some of the jobs in the very same field which criticizes Clinton's imaginary cleaveage: journalism. And journalism is not the only field where professional expectations on women's dress are somewhat confused these days. It doesn't really make sense to analyze Hillary Clinton's dress as if she just suddenly decided, for no reason at all, to show some cleavage, and now all thinking people must try to understand this odd behavior.

A Lack of Patience

There are days when I want to tear out my hair and scales reading about some of the debates going on in American politics. I truly don't care how many angels can dance on the head of the pin and I have no interest in learning the answer, either.

Likewise, I don't want to pretend that a partisan attack is not a partisan attack, and I don't want to write a piece which highlights only the good sides of some policy prescription or only its bad sides, just because that would be good for the side I'm mostly with. Don't. Want. To.

I'm also not interested in writing gossip about politicians and so much of what goes on under the label of "political punditry" is all about gossip and stuff like the hairstyles or clothing choices or avancularity of politicians. All that makes me gag.

In fact, the majority of political writing would be called gossip if it was largely us women who did it. It's all about celebrities, the politicians, and their doings and sayings. That is gossip.

The natural conclusion to draw is that I don't seem to like political writing, and that is probably somewhat true if the definitions are drawn tightly enough. But I see politics as a much wider thing, alive and teeming with both beautiful and ghastly things and ultimately of importance to the ordinary lives of ordinary people, and I think that there is some space for writing like that to be included in political writing.

Ok. I come across as an insufferable prig in this post. So be it.

A Rebel Without Cause

That would be Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania. His modus operandi is to make a rather big noise about something he doesn't like in the wingnut plans for this country, but he never ever follows up on the noise he makes. It's pretty funny to watch once you get the shtick. Senator Specter's role is to make it look like the Republicans aren't goose-stepping behind the president when in fact they are.

The most recent volley from Specter is this:

According to a pool report of the encounter, Mr. Specter expressed anew his criticism of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales but said he saw no signs that Mr. Gonzales would be forced to resign. Mr. Specter attributed Mr. Gonzales's job security to Mr. Bush's "personal loyalty" to him.

Mr. Specter spoke derisively of Mr. Gonzales's appearance Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he faced accusations that he misled Congress last year when he said there had been no disagreement within the administration over the National Security Administration's domestic surveillance program.

"Our hearing two days ago was devastating," Mr. Specter said. "But so was the hearing before that, and so was the hearing before that."

Mr. Specter also waded into another uncomfortable subject, the Congressional demands for testimony from Karl Rove, the presidential adviser, and Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, among others.

He said that while he hoped "to reach an accommodation" with the White House, "I don't see it now."

In the next stage of events like this nothing happens. Senator Specter quiets down until his plain-speaking is required once more. Instead, he quietly follows George Bush.

It's always possible that this time Specter really means to rebel. It's also possible that the lemmings have learned the U-turn from the brink. Nah.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wolf Whistles

This post by Mo Rocca is all about construction walkers no longer whistling at women in New York city, according to Rocca. The post asks whether women miss those wolf whistles.

Read the comments. Whenever people tell me that this culture is all feminized and that feminazis are in power I take a look at some place like those comments. What you might notice from them is that the discussion proceeds mostly on the terms the initial post set out, terms which specify the attention the construction workers give women as wholly innocent, admiring and complimentary. If women don't like this attention they are either hairy-legged feminazis who wouldn't get wolf whistles in the first place or past their sell-by-date.

I'm exaggerating slightly, because that's the only way to point out what the post does. For instance, Rocca sets the scene by defining construction worker attention as something deeply historic, as a lovely little aspect of our culture which is fast fading away and is it not a pity? There is no attempt to distinguish nice attention from not-so-nice attention, no attempt to ask who has the power of initiative in these little incidents, no questions about the times when a woman might not want the attention of men she doesn't even know. And naturally nothing about that idea that the men feel entitled to publicly comment on women's bodies, because that's how it is.

Well, as a woman who has experienced these historical customs, let me say that it can be fucking annoying. When I go out to get a tooth filled I don't really want to worry about the fact that the dentist's office is right next to a construction site, a site from which men yelled at my friend jogging: "Look at those tits bouncing!" Knowing this means either walking the long way around or bracing oneself for the unwelcome attention.

I walked by the site because I was late for the appointment. I got the attention I feared and then got aggressive attention because "I didn't smile." An "arrogant bitch" I was. So not only did the workers feel entitled to comment on my body, even my response to that comment was predefined.

That was an example of the kind of attention that is annoying and irritating. There is also attention that is quite nice, but that's usually just a pleasant smile or something similar. Then there is the "attention" which consists of walking past a group of men on an otherwise deserted street. Many women feel fear at that "attention".

I wish Rocca had paid a little more attention on the nuances of wolf whistles or even just the meaning of such whistles or their more common verbal alternatives. Is it that the construction workers admire the woman? Or is it that they are dissecting her body parts and expect to be applauded for it?

On David Palmer

He is president Bush's nominee to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It would be quite difficult to find a person less suited for that position, but that is the way things usually go with the Bush administration. Mr. Palmer's qualifications for the job are these:

President Bush's nominee to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was himself the subject of at least one complaint of employee abuse in his supervisory role at the Justice Department, eight former department civil rights employees charged Monday.

In a letter asking key senators to block the nomination, the former employees also charged that David Palmer's work in the department's employment litigation section was of poor quality and that he was reprimanded for one performance lapse.

The former employees, including three ex-deputy chiefs of the section, charged that Palmer's "work performance was well below the high standards expected of Department of Justice attorneys."

They said that, as section chief since 2002, Palmer undermined the unit's mission of securing the employment rights of women and minorities in the public sector, while defending employers' rights to discriminate based on religion.

Did you know that the EEOC panel has only one Democrat left?

All this is the old "fox to guard the chicken coop" strategy, but I think most Americans don't know the level of contempt this administration has for their rights.

On Impeachment

I don't think that I have written a post on the impeachment of George Bush yet. The reasons for that are not just my usual excuses. I'm also not sure if a Greek goddess should address the issue, and there are the practical difficulties of getting the needed numbers in the Congress. These practical difficulties might mean that an attempt to impeach would be a failed attempt to impeach, and the consequences of a failed attempt might not be pretty. On the other hand, what is going on right now isn't terribly pretty, either.

Josh Marshall has written a post about all this today. He begins by stating that he is still opposed to impeachment for practical reasons. But his feelings about the alternatives to impeachment have changed:

Without going into all the specifics, I think we are now moving into a situation where the White House, on various fronts, is openly ignoring the constitution, acting as though not just the law but the constitution itself, which is the fundamental law from which all the statutes gain their force and legitimacy, doesn't apply to them.

If that is allowed to continue, the defiance will congeal into precedent. And the whole structure of our system of government will be permanently changed.

Whether because of prudence and pragmatism or mere intellectual inertia, I still have the same opinion on the big question: impeachment. But I think we're moving on to dangerous ground right now, more so than some of us realize. And I'm less sure now under these circumstances that operating by rules of 'normal politics' is justifiable or acquits us of our duty to our country.

And what is the new system of government that this precedent would create? What would it be called?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Garden Story

Plant and People Advertising

The "Lonely Hearts" columns in magazines and newspapers always leave me wondering why all these gorgeous, professionally successful people, who also love walks on moonlit beaches and holding hands, could ever have survived so long without having been snapped up by the rest of us. It seems to me that if I were lonesome for good company, any of these awesome creatures would suffice. Or all of them!

Not being lonesome, I focus my acquisitive greed on plant catalogs instead. The plants they list are all also gorgeous, vivaceous and splendidly healthy, no work is involved in their cultivation, and each and every one of them blooms "all summer" and, if perennial, comes back "stronger and bloomier" every year.

Everybody knows, of course, that personal columns and plant catalogs are full of exaggerations, omissions and marketing conventions. Lies, in fact. It doesn't make them any less titillating, for the reader wants to know how large the lies might be, and, if she or he is an optimist, might even risk a closer contact.

I have done so repeatedly with plants, although I should know better. It helps to know the translations of some of the most common euphemisms. "Blooms nonstop until frost" does not mean that you can "cut armfuls of flowers for the house" from May to November. It may mean that after an initial (and often totally satisfying) spurt of flowering the plant puts out one or two small flowers the rest of the growing season, so that, strictly speaking, it is never flowerless although that's what it looks like. Or it may indeed "flower its head off", but only if you are up at dawn every day with your magnifying glass and tweezers to deadhead all those minute flower heads one by one. Also, plants which can be kept at the brink of an extended climax using such artificial means tend to die out over the next winter (from sexual frustration, presumably).

"Just plant, water and sit back to enjoy gorgeous midsummer blooms" in a delphinium ad is only true if you like to look at flower heads lying down in the mud. Some plants, like some people, never stand on their own feet, but need support, which you, of course, are to provide.

"No need to transplant" about a plant with no growing zone indication (in a catalog where it is the only plant without such an indication) means that as it can't take winters colder than zone eight, it will be dead by next summer in your zone four garden, and the only transplanting needed is to the compost tip.

"Vigorous" plants take over the whole garden, your house, and drive your car to hiphop concerts every night. Ditto for "energetic", "healthy" and "easy care".

I am not blaming the catalogs or the personal columns for using such half-truths. After all, their business is selling, not giving psychologically or horticulturally correct information. It is the prospective buyers who must stay on guard and informed. Still, I have wondered if a more honest approach wouldn't pay in the form of more repeat customers (for plant catalogs, at least!). There are some honest catalogs, and I like to order from them.

But I also order from the more hyperbolic ones, because however exaggerated their claims, it remains true that the plants they sell are mostly good plants, not just quite as wonderful as they lead us to expect. The same is likely to be true about the people advertising for someone to date. These "good enough" people and plants are more interesting anyway, for what could a preternaturally perfect person or plant want with my pretty mediocre life or garden?

Summer Rerun posted by olvlzl

Restoring Virility With Goat Glands Selling Nazis Air Time

“Dr.” John Brinkley A Father of Conservative Talk Radio

John Richard (nee Romulus) Brinkley (1885-1941) was a Kansas based quack with an operation to sell. For $750 he restored a man’s virility by surgically implanting goat "glands" in his scrotum. Though you might have your legs tightly crossed as you read this, many men who found that they couldn’t rise to the occasion eagerly opened themselves up to “Dr.” Brinkley’s helping hands. Selling the promise of sexual potency to our forefathers, he made a very large fortune. There seems to have been a lot of that wrong with Kansas.

Flush with the kind of respectability that much money buys, Dr. Brinkley took a trip to the west coast and received the praise of the LA Times . While there he got a look at the paper's radio operation and saw its potential for his sort of business, stupid he wasn’t. Back home in Kansas he set himself up with a transmitter. Soon Dr. Brinkley had a path breaking medicine show promoting his practice complete with gospel tinged country music* and helpful advice to listeners who wrote in. His advice came in the form of drugs identified by number and bought from a chain of mail order drug stores linked to Dr. Brinkley.

Hearing a recording of his voice on a Public Radio International program recently, it was entirely familiar. The phrasing, pitch, accent and content reminds you of most of the right-wing pitch men you’ve ever heard. Paul Harvey could have been his son.

Now, even if the authorities might cast a mild eye on someone with the sort of trade he engaged in, there was one thing that went beyond endurance in that more innocent age, he advertised. “Dr.” Brinkley ran afoul of the AMA in the form of Dr. Morris Fishbein who got his license to practice in Kansas revoked. The Federal Radio Commission revoking his broadcast license was probably even more of a blow. Not being willing to take it lying down, he ran an lost two campaigns for governor in an attempt to change the licensing board but fled for the more fertile opportunities that Texas promised.

Eventually even Texas was forced to discourage Dr. Brinkley’s stabile medicine show. But he was far from over. He saw that Mexico, furious with the transmission policies of the U.S. government, might allow him to set up an enormous broadcast facility pointed North. Have I mentioned that he wasn’t stupid? Unregulated, clear channel, boarder, radio was born in all its gaudy, dishonest and bizarre corruption. This is where he sold radio time to Nazis, forcing the U.S. government to finally negotiate better transmission agreements with the Mexican government to get them to shut down the Nazi loving radio Doctor.

Modern, unregulated cable TV, which will sell anything, not having been born yet, “Dr” Brinkley ended badly in lawsuits, other legal trouble, bankruptcy and death.

So, we have it. A huckster with dodgy credentials selling a bogus sex operation to ignorant people through pop music, attempting political manipulation to allow him to further swindle people and renting himself out for the promotion of Nazis. The model of conservative talk radio.

* A song played on the PRI program praising the sexual habits of buck goats apparently figured heavily in the repertoire of his house band. Being a farm boy myself and having once kept goats, including a breeding buck, I’ve got to tell you that while indeed sexually relentless, they are about the stupidest, smelliest and most obnoxious animals in the barnyard. If Dr. Brinkley’s customers were familiar with buck goats their willingness to have the operation says something far more than I care to think about in detail.

First posted last August

Meanwhile, in India

The newly elected president is a woman. What does this mean?

I'm very lucky in that I don't have to try to decipher its deeper meaning for India or Indian women. Instead, I can read someone who actually knows this stuff cold: Ammu Joseph. You can, too.

And if that post wetted your appetite for more of Joseph's trenchant comments, check out how the American primary coverage comes across to her.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Guest post by Kay Olson: Veterans sue U.S. government

On Monday, two veterans' organizations filed a nationwide class-action suit against the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) for failure to help thousands of post-9/11 war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
... Of the 1,400 VA hospitals and clinics scattered across the United States, only 27 have inpatient programmes for PTSD. This despite the fact that an estimated 38 percent of soldiers and 50 percent of National Guard who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan report mental health issues ranging from post-combat stress to brain injuries.

The VA also has a backlog of over 600,000 disability claims, and the average Iraq war veteran who files for disability must wait six months for an answer. If he or she files an appeal, it could take up to three years.
In the late '80s, I recall that homeless men in American cities were so often mentally ill Vietnam vets that it was practically an urban cliché. It seems we're heading down that same road again:
In their lawsuit, the veterans groups ask the federal courts to force the VA to clear the backlog of disability claims and make sure returning veterans receive immediate medical and psychological help. They also want the judge to force the VA to screen all vets returning from combat to identify those at greatest risk for PTSD and suicide.

An estimated 400,000 veterans sleep homeless on the streets of the United States. The VA estimates 1,000 former servicemembers under its care commit suicide every year.

Cross-posted at The Gimp Parade

For Grace Who Is Still Alive And Living On The Street

Posted by olvlzl.
In Sunday’s Boston Globe, Louise Kennedy wrote an important article about the difference between the dramatic and literary depiction of severe mental illness with the reality as experienced by the family and friends of severely mentally ill people.

Most of the article deals with the romantic view of mental illness in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Two of these tales are onstage now in the Berkshires: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" at the Berkshire Theatre Festival and "Blue/Orange" at Shakespeare & Company. Each production is strong and interesting in its own way. Seeing them on successive nights, however, left me repeating an old lament: If only mental illness were as fascinating, artful, and life-enhancing as it sometimes looks onstage.

Those of us who have endured the disability of a beloved relative know better. We know that while people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or severe depression may have flashes of creative genius and almost spooky moments of intellectual and emotional insight, the facts of their illness are scary, repetitive, and debilitating. In the long run, it doesn't lift you up to be crazy; it wears you down. And so, try as we might to surrender to the power of psychosis as a symbol, we just can't stop noticing the difference between reality and fantasy.

Kennedy talks about her experience with her severely ill mother and the effect that her illness had on her mother and those who loved her. For those of us who have experienced the loss of a close family member to severe mental illness the false picture presented by fiction and drama is quite often cruelly unrealistic.

I’ve often wondered if the popularity of the book and then the movie of Cuckoo’s Nest didn’t aid the cost-saving effort to dump even the most severely impaired people out of the hospitals and onto the street. The policy was presented as a civil rights issue, it was supposed to give them a better life than they would have in an institution. But it didn’t work that way. Treatment of severely mentally ill people is often just not provided, they are simply dumped on the street where they are particularly vulnerable to a large list of horrors.

Families that try to care for severely mentally ill people get little help in most states. If they aren’t wealthy they will find the situation almost impossible, in the case of the most severely ill, it is almost always impossible. The institutions of the past were certainly not worthy of replication but what we have now is worse. A member of my family who was schizophrenic gave us an enormous education in the buck passing, let’s pretend world of the mental health establishment we have today. The private clinic 28 day miracle treatment curiously coinciding with the length of time the insurance company would pay, the ineffective even dangerous administration of drugs coupled with inadequate counseling, the refusal to call a schizophrenic a schizophrenic because it might require the system to spend money, we saw it all. Not even the most obvious self-destructive behavior would move the system to require hospitalization. The one and only time her mother got her into the state hospital, before she reached the age of 18, she improved greatly. But as her pediatrician told us, once she reaches 18 you are not going to be able to do anything.

Our experience is that even as the self-destructive behavior leads to death, the system won’t do anything that would require them to hospitalize an entirely irrational person who is clearly unable to make rational decisions for themselves. We know this is true because after 16 years of dealing with the mental health system, years of deterioration and self-destruction the member of my family finally died. It wasn’t suicide, she wanted to live but she couldn’t stop destroying herself. The system we have doesn’t work, its only accomplishment is in coming up with words that excuse their inadequacies in a clear abuse of the language of civil rights. When someone is unable to think rationally, certainly their first civil right is to being protected.

I’d like to know how other people who have experienced the reality of trying to help or save a severely mentally ill person from their irrationality see Cuckoo’s Nest and other romanticized pictures of mental illness. I'd like to hear your experiences with the mental health establishment in your state.

Monday, July 23, 2007

On The Democratic Debate

Crooks&Liars has one clip at least. Could be that they get more as the night goes on.

And here is the transcript of the debate.

Guest post by Skylanda: A long story leading to a rat's ass

If you visit eBay on any given day, you can pay a couple grand and buy yourselves an ultrasound machine, the kind they use in hospitals to look at gallbladders and heart function and little babies in their respective uteri. Someone teaches you the basics of looking at a fetus through the snowfield of an ultrasound screen and you find out that wow, it's not that hard. After all, Tom Cruise could do it, so can you. And if you're slightly more web savvy that me, you can get yourself a website where you advertise your services. Pay rent at some storefront, set yourself up in business. List your name in the phone book. Maybe take out a slightly larger ad next to the one-liner, with a stylized icon of a woman and a heart. Something like that.

Unbiased pregnancy information, you can tout. You provide counseling and options. You give yourself a nice neutral name. You keep your affiliations and your agenda on the back page and the back burner. You're not an activist organization per se, you're just out there to lend a hand to pregnant women. You don't say you're a medical provider, but you don't say you're not. You just say: if you're pregnant, come to us, we can help.

So women open up the phone book, or type "pregnancy care + Any City, USA" in a browser and they find you. They can make an appointment...but you're real convenient too, you don't even require appointments and you can see women the very same day for a pregnancy test and an initial visit. Your place looks like a doctor's office, and wow, you even have an ultrasound machine. You slap that probe on a woman's belly, and see that fluttery little disc that means that baby's heart is beating. So early! You can see that already, even just a few weeks along? Wow! You smile at the woman and coo over the darling little baby in her belly, which to her still looks like a field of snow on a TV screen without an antenna, but even she can see that little fluttery beat.

She's not so sure she wants to see all that though; she's not sure she wants to be pregnant at all. In fact, maybe she's terrified of being pregnant. Maybe she's not eighteen yet, wants to graduate from high school first. Maybe her boyfriend is beating the hell out of her and her mom would never take her back home with a baby. Maybe she doesn't have a boyfriend, just had too much to drink at a party one night, never had sex before that night at all, has no memory of what happened, just knows she should have had a period by now. Maybe she's thirty and thought her birth control pills were enough to keep her from having a fourth because she and her husband are happy with three and really don't want and can't afford another, not right now, probably not ever. Maybe she even wants the baby and just found you by accident. But that's not important. Because your job is to make sure that she sees the little flutter and understands that this is not a field of snow on an ultrasound screen she is looking at, this is her baby. Her flesh, her child. A beating heart. A beating heart that will stop dead if she aborts the pregnancy.

You are, of course, a crisis pregnancy center, a pro-life outfit. Years ago you realized that plastering your rhetoric on your forehead did no good, so you've co-opted the rhetoric of the pro-choice crowd, and you use words like "unbiased" and "supportive" in your mission statement. You bury your affiliations three pages deep into your website where only the nosiest will think to look, under sub-headings like "Requirements for Volunteers." You don't mention one little fact:

That you are not a medical provider.

And this is the crux of the issue. Because we all know about the emotional manipulation - this is not news. We all know about the guilt trips and the pictures of aborted fetuses. Most of us on the pro-choice side have probably even heard stories about the false pregnancies tests - telling pregnant girls and women that they are not so that they do not seek care until it is too late to abort, and telling non-pregnant girls and women that they are so that they can be brought into the fold whereas there would be no reason for them to return to the clinic otherwise.

But there's more. All is not inevitably well when you stick a probe onto a pregnant belly. Sometimes there is major malformation - a missing limb, a missing skull. Sometimes there is not baby but tumor - tumor that secretes hormones that will make pregnancy tests turn positive. Sometimes there is baby but no heartbeat, an intrauterine fetal demise. Some of these things are very obvious to even a loosely trained ultrasound reader; some of them are not. What draws all of these scenarios frighteningly together is that by tacitly passing themselves off as medical providers without ever saying so or explicitly disclosing that they are not so, crisis pregnancy centers pose a double danger: providing comfort that a pregnancy is normal when it is not (by making women think they have undergone a standard dating and diagnostic ultrasound) on one hand; and on the other hand raising unnecessary fear and worry when a seemingly abnormal finding arises that is no more than the result of an untrained and inexpert hand at the helm of the machine. (This, incidentally, is the same criticism that has been leveled against mall-front ultrasound baby pic outlets - though to be fair, those places usually declaim their lack of diagnostic prowess up front; in the case of crisis pregnancy centers, it would belie the deception for them to freely advertise their total lack of medical training.)

Other times, women will come to you because they know that something is wrong. Bleeding, a cramping hurt that won't go away, a fever or vomiting that won't quit. They might pick you out of the phone book or off the internet because they have something that seems urgent, and these are likely to be the most vulnerable - the young, the uninsured, the scared - because they're the ones who don't have formal resources or the means to access them. They think you're a doctor because, really, who else would advertise pregnancy care? But you, you're not trained to know what a septic abortion looks like. You don't have a blood pressure cuff in the office because you're not a medical provider, so you won't see the frightening highs of pre-eclampsia or the ominous lows of a bleeding-out tubal pregnancy. You've never seen an eclamptic seizure - they're rare but not unheard of in first-world nations these days - and you don't have a stock of IV meds (or IVs) in a back closet to stop them if they occur, nor would you know one if it happened in front of you. No lab is on sight to check serial hematocrits, and you don't know the rule-of-thumb cutoff for how much blood is ok to pass during a miscarriage and how much needs to send a woman packing to the emergency room in a hurry. Because you aren't trained to know these things and you aren't required to be. You don't do the routine urinalyses that every prenatal provider performs to detect asympotmatic bacteria in the urine because it's been shown that this can lead to higher rates of first trimester pregnancy loss. Because you aren't a medical provider. You just conveniently forgot to advertise that. You just have the office, the equipment, the receptionist, the fancy name, the business cards, the works. All your missing is the training, the competence, the actual medicine.

There's a phrase for this. Some people like to call it "practicing medicine without a license." I have a different word for it. I like to call it "fraud." Because crisis pregnancy centers are not regulated by any practicing board, you do not have to have a physician present or even employed there. You don't have to disclose that fact to your clientele. You just get yourself one of those fancy machines and go to it. You just hope that you don't have ever have to answer hard questions, because that's the kind of people you are: starry-eyed, pragmatic in your one goal of stopping abortions. Nothing else matters.

I know, third-hand, of a young woman, some time ago (almost a year now), in another city far from my own. She was happily pregnant and luckily insured, but a little broke as twenty-somethings often are. Knew she needed prenatal care but wasn't sure how to get to an obstetrician covered by her insurer any time soon. She opened the phone book. She saw an ad, she called a number. They saw her that day. Her pregnancy test was predictably positive, she was roundly congratulated. An easy catch - she wanted the baby, too far along to abort anyhow. It was near the end of the office day and their usual ultrasound tech (and I use that term loosely, because US techs are highly trained technicians, and I do not vouch for that particular person's skills and certification) was already home, so another staff member agreed to a quick scan. She put the probe onto the swelling belly. She looked for a heartbeat. She looked some more. She scanned for some time and found nothing. She put away the machine and told the young woman to go to the emergency room, post-haste.

The story is open-ended. I never found out if her scare was real - and that this clinic just dumped her into the several-hour queue at the crowded ER with a dead baby in her belly and tears streaming down her face - or if it was merely a case of epically untrained reading on the part of the clinic staff, causing untold quantities of temporary (but happily resolved) heartbreak.

What I do know is that this behavior defies every tenet of professionalism ever committed to the human canon of such things. And that if it is not criminal in its encroachment on medical practice without training or licensure, it damn well should be. But most of all, it points yet again to what we all know about the pro-life drive: babies first. Women last. Babies first at the expense of women. Babies first even if it means lying to women. Babies first even if it means interfering with the sane and safe medical evaluation and treatment of pregnancies both normal and hazardous.

Babies first.


Who gives a rat's ass about them.

Kind of sums up the whole movement in one neat little package.

Cross-posted at my home blog, Loose Chicks Sink Ships.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Housekeeping Announcement

Not that I keep house very much. But I'm going to have visitors ('dite might turn up) until Wednesday evening and so the posting here will be slightly spotty from me. Or might be. I'm not sure yet how it will work out. I also hope that some of my beloved guest bloggers will send in a snippet or two. Or I guess I could put up open threads and old bad poetry and garden stories.

Harry Potter Day

Not here at the Snakepit Inc., though I will most likely read the last Potter book one day. I bought the others in 2005 and ended reading them all within two weeks or so. That made the experience a slightly indigestible lump, but I'm still going to say a few things about the appeal of the books in general.

The level of the Potter-mania today has to do with the odd sociological or psychological phenomenon of "fads". When people write about fads they usually explain why fads come and go but rarely explain WHY something becomes a fad. Or at least I don't find the explanations satisfactory. Once the marketing engines get clacking a fad is strengthened, naturally, and the more people know about it the more positive reinforcing one is likely to find. But the initial question of why certain ideas or products become fads and others do not is not well understood, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Back to Potter-mania. I wrote a post about this earlier where I suggested that there would have been no comparable mania if the books were about Harriet Potter. Boys don't want to read about girl heroines. Girls are fairly used to reading about boy heros and on the whole don't seem to mind it as much. I'm pretty sure that this difference is not an innate one but has to do with the fact that being a boy is still a better thing than being a girl. A tomboy girl is not really ridiculous, because she is seen as striving upwards in the society. A sissy boy is very ridiculous indeed, because he is going down on the ladder of esteem. But even a tomboy girl is not a good role model for boys who are already a rung or two higher on the ladder.

So much for some of the feminist thoughts the books evoked in me. There is much more grist for my psycho-babble mill in the books. For instance, Rowling understands the importance of getting rid of the good parents by making them dead at the beginning of the first book. That way parents won't censor the books and the children who read them can allow themselves to read about evil adults without any guilt. The boarding school links to that hidden desire of most children, too: to be free of that pesky family, to be found to be a changeling, a prince or a princess meant for better things. Note that I don't mean that children would just think evil thoughts about their families. Mostly they don't, but those angry thoughts are part of real life and here is a book which almost celebrates them.

The trick is an old one. Fairy tales use that by having evil stepmothers in place of the biological mother. If we remember that families are the strongest limits children experience, in most cases, it makes excellent sense to get rid of the good aspects of families at the very beginning. This lets freedom in and imagination needs that.

Getting rid of the parents is the first step. The second step is the Cinderella story. Harry Potter is a male Cinderella, with special talents and a great destiny, but he is held in contempt by his uncle, aunt and especially by his horrible cousin whom the uncle and aunt love best. Lots of children have suspicions that their siblings are more loved than they are, so this setup allows those feelings a safe outlet.

Just as the real Cinderella, Harry gets to his ball and it lasts for years. That would be the boarding school where the magically talented go.

That some people are magically talented and the rest are Muggles allows children to feel that in-group thing without the guilt that usually goes with it in reality. Yet the distinction is not that different from the British class structure or from the way some people think about other races or about women. Rowling later addresses this whole issue in a more nuanced and realistic way, but I'm pretty sure that a part of the attraction of the book is in that common human desire to be found to be "special", better than others, a little closer to gods.

Add to this the fun of magic and imaginary creatures and horrible battles where children are taken seriously, and it looks like a winner. Which the books are, of course. They are also fun and interesting to read, and I feel like a traitor to write any of what I wrote above. Still, I've read better fantasy books, and that is what makes me ask the questions about the success of the Potter series. I think that the real secret may be in Rowling's skill to weave the fantasy just close enough to reality to make the transitions credible.



TMZ obtained photos of presidential candidate Mitt Romney trying to win over grammatically challenged South Carolinians Thursday by holding a sign that said, "No to Obama, Osama and Chelsea's Moma."

You can see the photos at the link.