Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Diets Around The World: Pictures Say A Thousand Words

Via Pandagon, I found this link to a fascinating project where families pose with one week’s worth of food. I think Amanda pretty much hit the nail on the head about comparing world-wide diets and getting beyond individualized guilt-based solutions to why Americans are so fat. (Also see Sara Robinson’s comments)

Beyond the healthy-unhealthy comparisons, the compositions of the photos are simply beautiful. What also interested me is how the numbers of the families were different in different regions. In the Western/industrialized countries the photos were mostly nuclear families, between 4-6 people. But the less developed regions the families seem to encompass between 8-12 people. The two photos I posted are from America and Bhutan. It’s a striking visual account of both the differences of diet, circumstance and family life all laid out in a photo essay.

Romney To Muslims, There Aren't Enough Of You To Matter To Me

One would think someone being scrunitized, perhaps unfairly, for his religion wouldn't want to pitch some stones too close to his nice glass house.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall has some updates on this issue.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Crack Myths Die Hard II

I’m really glad that The Washington Post’s editorial board is supportive of changing the crack cocaine sentencing guidelines to match those of powdered cocaine. But do the wise men of the Post still not know that part of the justification for the change is the amount of medical evidence that says crack cocaine is not inherently more addictive than powdered cocaine.

There are good arguments for why crack should carry tougher sentences than powder cocaine, including the fact that crack is ferociously addictive and destructive. But a 100-to-1 disparity is irrational. Lawmakers should act quickly on one of the several bills pending in Congress that would narrow that gap.
I love how new information in policy debates never seems to trickle upward. We just keep recycling the old assumptions.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day Cat Blogging

Taking the moment to post an early Friday Cat Blogging. And might I recommend substituting cat for your usual cooked turkey? (Btw, that was Keeper of the Cats doing that. Not me.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Adoption: Not Enough (White) Orphans To Go Around

Bitch Ph. D has a post talking about the book, The Girls Who Went Away, which is about the (mostly white) women from the 40s-60s who got pregnant and then gave up their children for adoption.

There is an interesting point to be made about the drop in newborns available for adoption that corresponds to the increasing acceptability of single-parenthood and female sex outside of marriage. (Which I suspect some people will read as "Oh well that means we need to make single parenthood LESS acceptable. Shame the sluts!"

The reason I call this "Not Enough Orphans" is because not only the post, but the comments, really make it clear that adoption is can be absolutely fucking painful because in a lot of cases these children are absolutely wanted by their birth mothers. These are not little adorable cast-off orphans.

I'm particularly struck by comment by madmama.

I placed a child for adoption 13 years ago. Open adoption. I would never have considered closed adoption. In the paralyzing years following, I have lived in poverty (partly because I was so overcome with grief I could hardly get up each day, face the only work I could find after the birth, when, still bleeding from giving birth, I was hired at 7/11), dealt daily with a grief and loss and wondered why these people I chose to care for my child were so eager to take my baby but offered me no help. (Legally they couldn't, I know the reasons why, but it was a thought process. Also there was a governmental process to provide easy access to adoption, no such easy process to help me keep my child. In fact a woman at the pregnancy crisis centre said to me at the time, "Wouldn't it feel good to give a couple the gift of a baby?" Even then I thought she was full of shit, I thought, my baby is nobody's present. I never returned. But I had no other help.)
It's an interesting dimension to the "family values" discussion is that many groups are eager to push the line that adoption is an option, but why aren't these same groups willing to offer significant governmental assistant (the way France or Finland does) to supporting motherhood in this country?

The number of women in American who a) accidentally get pregnant and b)genuinely do not wish to become a parent and c) would not choose to have an abortion, may bit just a tiny fraction of all adoptions.

It's an interesting question that if an accidentally pregnant American woman were suddenly whisked away to, say, Sweden, would her decision about whether to keep the child or whether to consider either adoption or abortion change? Does anyone know the rate of Swedish children available for non-relative adoption in Sweden? And what percentage of those children are newborns?

Monday, November 19, 2007

I Need A Favor From Jack Bauer

Kiefer, can I call you Kief?

I know you and I have had our disagreements, mostly about the fact that I think your show, 24, is hurting America. But I have a favor to ask and if you do this all will be forgiven.

I need you to endorse, as Jack Bauer, any democratic candidate. Seriously, pick any of them, even Dennis Kucinich.

Because if Huckabee doesn't look ridiculous with this ad then I think we need to get Jack Bauer's endorsement. I mean, he's been cited so much by Republicans I think it means they think Bauer votes Republican.

But I think you know better. I think you know that Bauer was actually a Democrat. After all, wasn't President David Palmer basically a dem in disguise?

So Kief, think about it. I know you probably figure America doesn't need to know what some actor thinks about president politics. But clearly that's not the case.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Crack Myths Die Hard

It’s one sentence in the Washington Post story on the potential change in federal sentencing guidelines for possession of crack cocaine.

The commission is taking up one of the most racially sensitive issues of the two-decades-old war on drugs. Jurists and civil rights organizations have long complained that the commission's guidelines mandate more stringent federal penalties for crack cocaine offenses, which usually involve African Americans, than for crimes involving powder cocaine, which generally involve white people. The chemical properties of the drugs are the same, though crack is potentially more addictive.
It seems that even as the public starts to realize that crack cocaine wasn’t some super-drug that demanded we lock up nearly a third of all black men in the country for mere possession, the myth that crack was somehow worse than powder cocaine dies very hard.

It was only a month ago in fact that the Washington Post ran an op-ed titled “Five Myths About That Demon Crack.” And the Journal of American Medical Association also released a study that disputed the notion that crack cocaine was more chemically addictive than the powder version.

I understand that myths die hard. That’s why the one sentence in the Washington Post story is conflicted. It’s saying that crack is both chemically the same as cocaine but also potentially more addictive. Of course this is contrarian. If the substances are chemically the same they should then logically have the same pharmacological effects. It almost feels like the writer, Darryl Fears, sort of vaguely understood that crack wasn’t quite as bad as had been touted but decided to hedge just in case.

Again, bad information almost can’t be erased from our brains. I have no doubt that movies from the late 80s, early 90s like New Jack City and Colors that hyped crack cocaine drug wars probably left a huge impact in white middle class Americans psyche that “crack” was somehow way worse than cocaine and it takes more than a heap of medical studies to dislodge the myth.

It’s interesting that the same day that the U.S. Sentencing Commission is scheduled to consider a proposal to make the new crack cocaine sentencing guidelines retroactive (which would release many people from prison who are serving long sentences) there is a story about a package of three reports that show that African Americans have experienced downward mobility in the last generation.
Forty-five percent of black children whose parents were solidly middle class in 1968 -- a stratum with a median income of $55,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars -- grew up to be among the lowest fifth of the nation's earners, with a median family income of $23,100. Only 16 percent of whites experienced similar downward mobility. At the same time, 48 percent of black children whose parents were in an economic bracket with a median family income of $41,700 sank into the lowest income group.
The researchers at Pew Charitable Trusts don’t have an explanation for why African Americans might have experienced downward mobility but I would like to posit that at least part of the reason was drug sentencing laws in the 80s.

I understand that drugs and drug addiction is a problem and no one wants to be living next to junkies. But how our culture response to such problems will show whether we mitigate the issue or simply creates new problems by creating classes of laws that, by design or by accident, end up targeting only one class of people.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: Everyone Loves Al

Al the deaf cat had some visitors today and, as usual, everyone loves him. Let me assure my readers he's not simply submitting to all the love, he is relishing it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

How Do You Define Your Feminism?

To any of my friends who've asked me about feminism lately I give you this bit of awesomeness (hat tip Feministing).

My only quibble is that it should have also said "Feminists sometimes have cats but not always."

Oh yeah, and I also love this quote because I feel it gets at the heart of what most people mean when they refuse to call themselves feminists.

“(Because) someone somewhere once said something in the name of feminism I disagree with, so I’ll call that Feminism, and distance myself from it rather than acknowledging that there are huge disagreements within feminism and re-envisioning my own place within that.”

Ask for Shallowness Assessments and You’ll Get Them

Slate has a cutesy article, “An Economist Goes to a Bar…And solves the mysteries of dating” which the basis is that the author, Ray Fisman, along with another economist and two psychologists performed a field experiment watching speed daters over a two year period and observed the results.

After two years of serving as academic love brokers, we had data on thousands of decisions made by more than 400 daters from Columbia University's various graduate and professional schools. By combining all of our choice and ratings data with separately collected background information on the daters, we could figure out what made someone desirable by comparing the attributes of daters that attracted a lot of interest for future dates with those that were less popular.
They found the obvious finding that men “put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner's beauty, when choosing, than women did.”

But that’s not the only finding the article reports. They found that women prefer their own race but men are not as choosey. (Slate’s teaser on the article is “The Myth of the Asian Fetish.”)

The author also states that of the men they observed, most didn’t like women who were smarter or more ambitious than themselves.
In a survey we did before the speed dating began, participants rated their own intelligence levels, and it turns out that men avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition—a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date.
I’d like to point out some problems with the article which I think is more from how the experiment is written up than how it was performed. Part of the problem is that the author is explaining his findings as if they apply to the population as a whole. But considering they were only observing Columbia University students -- that is people from a highly elite, expensive university in New York City -- I think it's difficult to say that the behaviors they observed would be found in equal measure in all men or women in America. Perhaps men in Mississippi or North Dakota, or Washington State wouldn't be turned off by discovering their date is either smarter or more ambitious than they are.

The answer could be that American men are the same coast-to-coast, but you can’t simply survey some preppy college students in New York and think you’ve discovered the key to every person’s psyche. The results might be applicable to a larger population but you won’t know unless you’ve tested the experience in different “fields.”

Fortunately not all dating resembles speed dating or Craiglists. We might be ruthlessly shallow when only given a shallow venue to evaluate someone but both men and women tend to consider a potential’s mate desirability on shifting factors, which might include more familiarity. Sometimes you don’t find someone attractive or even interesting until the 10th or 25th or even 50th time you’ve hung out with them.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Dialogue About Abortion: A Final Statement

I’m formally closing the dialogues with Jim in Cleveland partially because the action has moved back to the comments in the adoption thread and partially because my friend Spub (who I’m outing as a friend) has taken up the debate with Jim.

While I didn’t think that the discussion would solve the division between us, I am a bit disappointed that we never could get beyond “think of the women!” “think of the children!” dynamic that always ends up happening.

But because it’s my blog I’m going to give myself the last word. This is the account from an abortion counselor at Abortion Clinic Days. I think it speaks for all the reasons why one should be pro-choice. “Choice” as in you have to let individual women figure their answers out for themselves on this issue.

This past week I counseled a woman whom I'll call LaTisha, aged 37. Her description of what "lost" meant to her had more to do with denial of her husband's drug addiction, lying, stealing. They had just had a baby this summer and that, combined with what she described as constant personal chaos as well as chaos in the home, having to go back to work almost immediately after the baby was born to cover her husband's car crashes, money thefts had left her in a state of just mopping up one disaster after another. Becoming pregnant again so soon made her realize that she was ruining her life and possibly her child's too by trying to make it work. In the process, LaTisha said, she had lost herself and was losing sight of her goals.

Life, she said, was "happening to her" rather than being under her control. Her time and energy were usurped by trying to find out the truth (was he using or not using drugs, did he or did he not steal the money, the jewelry). Between that and caring for her newborn and working, she said that she herself barely existed. Because she was not paying attention to herself, she said, she sometimes missed her birth control pills, made mistakes at work and was generally not taking care of herself. But suddenly, when she found herself pregnant again so soon after delivery, she had to stop and think about where she was, where she wanted to be, and what needed to be done. She said that once she sat and thought about all she had been through and how caught up she was in trying to deny to herself the severity of their problems, she realized that all that she had worked for could come crashing down on her. She could lose her home, her job, or the support of her family who had been telling her what they heard on the street about her husband. Eventually she decided to have the abortion on Saturday and tell him to leave on Sunday.

I commented on how calm, how at peace, she seemed as she was telling me this story. Ah, she said, that's because I am no longer lost. I have found myself again.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: Laundry Cats

This week's Friday Cat Blogging is sponsored by Tide, because if you are going to spend your friday night doing laundry its good to have a fluffy kitty to get a fresh batch of cat hair all over your clothes.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More On Adoption Issue

I’m taking this out of comments because I think it’s interesting to explore on its own. The problem with relying on adoption to “solve” the abortion issue is that too few women are willing to give up their newborns and you can't force them to.

I think many women who are against having an abortion (or can't get one for a variety of reasons) think they can “just make it work” when they find themselves pregnant at a time when they can’t handle a baby either due to a lack of resources or maturity or both. So you get stories like this one where the 22-year-old woman, clearly becoming increasingly distraught over parenting, left her baby in a hot, stuffy car for seven hours while she worked as a waitress. (The fact that she worked at Hooters is immaterial. It could have just as easily been an Applebee’s).

What I found particularly revealing was this passage:

Court records show Clayton Gallagher [the baby’s father] had spoken on the phone with [the mother] for 1 1/2 hours the day before Ryan's death. She told him that she "couldn't do it anymore" and she didn't want Ryan around because he cried so much. She also couldn't stand not seeing him every day and rebuffed Gallagher's offer to take him.
I don’t know what was going on in that woman’s mind when she left her kid in the car but I think the thought of “giving up” her son forever was something that in a way drove her to kill him.

Giving up your son (to adoption, to the father) might make you feel as if you failed as a mother. You gave your child away. And what happens if the kid comes back to you years later and demands to know why you gave them away? I know I would think like that if contemplating giving up my child, even if it was the best thing for them.

Of course it’s a truly loving thing to sacrifice your desires to make sure your children have a better life, even if that means a life without you. But how many people in the world are that selfless? Probably not as many as become pregnant when they don’t wish to be.

Instead you get situations where women try to make it work as a parent. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes though, it doesn’t. And sometimes you end up with parents that aren’t fatal but simply poor quality.

Until the state can mandate that children be taken away from people before they have a chance to show they are bad parents (maybe if baby Ryan Gallagher had lived through that day it would have been his last in his mother’s care, but maybe not) I don’t think we’ll see the adoption rate of newborns increase significantly. There may simply be a ceiling of the people a year who are willing to put their children’s needs ahead of their own desires.