Thursday, April 27, 2006

Take My Agenda, Please

Approximately a-millionth in an occasional series on why the pro-choice, pro-contraception mainstream sucks so hard. Or rather, on how they do; I couldn't presume to guess at why.

Today's example comes from, bet you didn't see this coming, Glamour magazine. What? I read it religiously every week while I'm having my face botoxed! OK fine, somebody sent it around to one of my listservs. But I could read it...you don't know.

Ahem. The article, which is actually pretty decent, is about the sad state of sexual/personal freedom for American women, with special regard for how government agencies and programs have been hijacked by ultraright agendas, resulting in all those abstinence-only sex-ed classes, the FDA's shenanigans over Plan B approval, gutting of foreign HIV/AIDS prevention assistance, &c. It contains the following quote, from someone theoretically on our side:
"Abstinence is a laudable goal," says Deborah Arrindell, vice president of health policy for the nonpartisan American Social Health Association, an STD-awareness group. "But it is not how young women live their lives—the reality is that most women have premarital sex. Our government is focusing not on women's health but on a moral agenda."
What is a WHAT??! WHY please? Explain to me in 50 words or less why on earth abstinence is a 'laudable goal'. The only possible reason, absent a whole barrel of case-specific modifiers I don't see her providing, could be that sex is Bad. In fact, Arrindell's whole argument is framed around that notion: we tacitly acknowledge that sex is Bad and ideally to be avoided, but what can we do? Young women will do the bad thing, so we must take pragmatic action to pick up the pieces when they inevitably succumb to the not-laudable.

This is a horrifically patronizing argument, which like so many of the crypto-moralist 'necessary evil' arguments of the pro-choice mainstream (see especially the purulent patriarchalist William Saletan), accepts and expands on anti-choice's infantilization and moral de-agentification of women.

Look. I can't believe I have to spell this out, especially to our own damn side. Sex is not bad, nor is avoiding it in any way inherently admirable. Sex in 2006 is women's right, and what we as a society owe both young women and young men (but especially women, on whose bodies is visited so vastly much more of the consequences of ignorance) is the information and material tools necessary to exercise that right in a way that doesn't do harm to themselves or others.

If we cede the moral terrain once again to the forces of reaction, we're reduced to a position of shamefaced special pleading: we know it's wrong, but it happens so we have to deal with it. This is not only undignified and unnecessary, it's actively wrong. No fucking quarter for those who seek to infantilize and stigmatize women for having sex. By trying to shy away from taking a moral stand, we simply abdicate the moral position to those who are unafraid to prosecute their own repugnant one with vigor. We have the right, nay even the obligation to a moral stand. We who support sex education, contraception and emergency contraceptive measures for women of all ages have nothing to apologize for. We are young women's champions, not their corruptors.

And another thing. I admire Susan Wood for stepping down from the FDA over Plan B, I really do. She put her career where her mouth is, and good on her. But I confess I grow impatient with all the decent liberals who are only now finding themselves shocked--shocked!--to discover that politics plays a role in 'scientific' decision-making. 'Scientists do not normally engage in what is going on in Washington, D.C., or politics,' says Wood. The New England Journal of Medicine ran an editorial on the Plan B brouhaha entitled 'A Sad Day for Science at the FDA,' commenting that the decision 'appeared to reflect political meddling in the drug-approval process.'

No! Can it be that the sterile, impregnable fastnesses of scientific evaluation have suddenly and inexplicably been breached by the creeping contagion of political influence? How fucking tiresome and thick. If these people honestly believe that 'pure science', not to mention science concerned with product consumption like drug approvals, has not been thick-woven with political and economic influence from the Enlightenment on, they're--well, they're exactly as analysis-challenged as you'd have thought they were.

How do they think NIH grant allocations are awarded? By divine impartial fiat from the God of Meritorious Research? Do they think we're not all cruising around now gently farting water vapor from our hydrogen-cell vehicles into a clear blue ozone-rich sky because alternative-fuels research is a dead end and undeserving of funding? Do they think we have no specific data on healthy blood-cholesterol levels in women because women are physiologically identical to men and therefore don't require gender-specific research trials?

Science is always already lousy with politics, you lazy fucking ninnies. Read fucking Steven Rose, people. Read Levins & Lewontin. Even at the level of the individual investigator, there is no such thing as conducting scientific research without political/material bias. The best you can do is be aware of your bias, and how it interacts with the biases around you, and if possible use it to triangulate with the biases outside your control. But that requires acknowledgement that the bias is there, is everywhere. By perpetuating the bankrupt notion of 'pure' research unsmudged by the grubby pawmarks of politics and commerce, these people (often with, I fully allow, genuine good intentions) do as much as the Hagers and Winkenwerders to perpetuate the unchecked control and exploitation of scientific institutions by the wielders of capitalist political power.

Addition: Great Counterpunch piece here by Sherry Wolf saying, basically, exactly what I've been saying for a year: the Dems are profoundly not our friends in the pro-choice movement, and neither are NARAL, Planned Parenthood, NOW. Only she says it better, with more research, and in Counterpunch.

Budget Allocation's A Bitch (Like Certain Unnamed Senators)

The latest beauty to sashay down the runway in America's Spring 2006 'Xenophobia: Mexicans Are The New Arabs' Collection: a $1.9-billion reallocation for 'border security' just approved by the Senate. Where's that paltry sum coming from? Among other things, post-Katrina rebuilding 'efforts'.

And honestly, who can blame them? Katrina is so Fall '05. And it's not like over 50% of New Orleans' former residents have yet to return to the sodden, mold-contaminated piles of toxic debris they once called home. Or like Mayor Ray 'Chocolate City' Nagin has set up a Bring New Orleans Back Commission apparently for the purpose of directly panhandling random web surfers.

Maybe Katrina victims should just accept that their 15 minutes are over, and gracefully cede the spotlight to the plight of border-patrol agents who need their vehicles replaced so they can achieve smooth acceleration and better gas mileage running down Mexican women in the desert. Who speaks for their pain?

Oh but wait, guess who's had the cojones to stand up and protest this amendment? She, that's who. She speaks for the displaced and disenfranchised of New Orleans! She campaigns for government to take responsibility for its failure to protect its citizens! Mm, not so much. Not at all, actually. La Clintonessa in fact squawks against money being taken away from the (coincidentally also $1.9-billion) Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Fund.

Catchy name, that. First I'd heard of it. This is informative. Also some interesting stats on procurement. It appears, inter alia, that while feeling that the Navy had requested 1/3 too much money for Weapons Procurement, the Senate Committee concluded that Navy Aircraft Appropriations was simply not thinking big enough and handed it an extra $140 mil. Because what does a Navy need more than airplanes, really? How else will they stick it to the, oh, Air Force?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Dept. of Unrefusable Offers

OK, thought experiment time.

Say you go to war against a country, as one will do, and as part of your invasion plan, you occupy one of its islands (killing say a third of the civilian population) and you cover it with military bases. OK. War's over, you win, you get to keep the island as part of your package of valuable prizes.

OK, so then 27 years later, you officially give back the island, yet interestingly all your military bases are still there and operational (are belong to us, if you will [and if you are as ancient as I am]). Your troops occupy some 20% of the populated land area of the island, with all the innocent fun'n'games, civilian assault and general mayhem that entails.

Fast forward another couple decades (how time does fly!) and finally, in response not to years of massive local protests but to the rising toll of your military adventures in other lucky parts of the world, you decide to remove a paltry eight thousand of the 26,000 or so troops stationed on the island. Do you:

a) Throw them a rockin farewell party that keeps the neighbors awake till all hours and carpets their lawns with PBR cans and toilet paper?

b) Apologize for any inconvenience caused over the last 60 years, vacuum the corners and make a quiet, dignified exit?

c) 'Suggest' that your hosts pay 3/4 of the $10-billion cost of redeploying your own troops back to your own territory, or else nobody's going anywhere?

If you picked c), you have a bright future with United States Forces Japan.

Hey, what do they call that thing where you muscle around someone else's property making their life really difficult and maybe roughing them up a bit for emphasis, and then make them pay you to go away? Oh yeah! Protection.

Bonus Activity: Kids, try this at home! Go to this handy government info site and click on any of the links. Hmm?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

One Lucky Winner Becomes An Apostle!

Fine, I get it. I've been really lax on the blogging. So lax that the universe (inexplicably having noticed) has decided to just go all out and present me with my own special, personally customized Post-On-A-Plate. If you can't be fucked to blog this, the universe is clearly notifying me, you just really need to pack it in and stop swanning around, flaunting and preening with all the airs and graces that so naturally adhere to the status of Lefty Blogger in contemporary polite society.

So what am I gonna do, not post the contest the NYT is sponsoring to win an all-expenses-paid trip to Somewhere Dirty TBD with none other than Nicholas White Christ of Cambodia Kristof, the good lord's gift to copygenically-suffering women everywhere? Please. I may be a completely fucking crap blogger, sirrah, but withal I am a blogger still.

Without further ado then, I'll step aside and let 'Nick' describe it himself, as only he can:
Over the next month, I’ll be holding a contest to find a university student or two to accompany me on a reporting trip to the developing world. I’m not sure where yet, and that will depend partly on what’s in the news at the time. But to give you a sense of the kind of travel I’m thinking of, the possibilities include a jaunt through rural Burundi and Rwanda in central Africa, or an odyssey from the coast of Cameroon inland to the heart of the Central African Republic.

Don’t expect comfort so much as diarrhea. We’ll be on the go from dawn to late at night every day, interviewing anybody from peasants to presidents (usually the peasants are more interesting). We might visit a clinic, an AIDS program, a school, a factory.
Isn't he wild, like some kind of amazing Free Spirit? Isn't the whole thing just outrageously, titillatingly devil-may-care? You could go anywhere, so long as it's adequately sufferingful. You could wake up not knowing whether come evening you'll be dining with dull diplomats or fasting with far-more-interesting farmhands. Yeah. Are ya scared? You could get exotic parasites! Don't be so squeamy-square, man, with your western notions of hygiene!

You could meet unforgettable yet apparently interchangeable Real People from Somewherepooristan! But most of all, young one, you could be changed. Yes. Truly changed.

And all of it, all the joy, the ache, the laughter and tears and heartical lesson-learning, the wisdom will be immortalized in a multi-media webstravaganza for the vicarious changetastic edification of Times readers.

What you won't get to do, nIck assures us for legal reasons, is buy any Cambodian prostitutes (I note he doesn't, however, rule out sex slaves of any other nationality). So that's lost 3/4 of you right off the bat. As for the rest:

- you must be 18 or over

- you must be enrolled in an American university

- it doesn't say actually this out loud, but I'm betting it helps a lot if you're a nubile co-ed. Although to tweak WCoC's particular brand of cryptoneopatriarchal compensatory kink you'd most likely need to be the kind with long dark hair, a white buttoned blouse and studious spectacles who talks so impassionedly about global injustice, development theory and the work of Paul Farmer that one could almost fail to notice her boomin body and firm ripe young nectarine of an ass. Almost.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Do You Think

she wakes up in the morning already looking like the banshee of eternal shrieking damnation, or is it something she has to work at? Maybe it's Maybelline™?

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