Friday, December 28, 2007

Learning from Jamie Lynn and Juno

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post tries to sort out her confused feelings about the recent revelation that Briteney Spears' younger, cleaner sister Jamie Lynn is pregnant at age 16. I don't think Ms. Marcus realizes quite how much she reveals about herself and her own confusion in this article. Her younger daughter, aged 10 is a candidate for the next installment of Wendy Shalit's Girls Gone Mild Wendy Shalit (see my earlier post here) reports that many younger women are rejecting the sexual excesses of their Baby Boomer Mothers (BBM's) who are trying (too) desperately to appear hip. Listen to Ruth Marcus' report of her conversation with her daughters and you'll see Shalit's theory in action.
Okay, Teachable Moment Alert. But what, exactly, to teach?

Mom: So, what do you think the lesson is here?

Ten-year-old Julia, brightly: Don't have sex until you get married!

Uh, um, is that the lesson? Did I hear Daddy's car in the driveway? Anybody want more peas?

No, Ms. Marcus does not want her daughter to draw that particular lesson, even though her daughter is only 10 and has plenty of time to change her mind. She doesn't seem to see that her daughter wants her to set limits. Little Julia is receptive to the romantic idea of saving sex for marriage. She illustrates that again in this exchange:
A few weeks ago, the girls and I were watching "Gossip Girl," the odious television series about overprivileged Upper East Side teenagers. (In a bad parental bet, I okayed this show at the start of the season, thinking it might offer some cautionary tales about wretched excess. Turns out the kids consider it more of a roadmap. But that's another column.)

In this episode, one high school girl was about to have sex with her boyfriend.

Insert maternal throat-clearing:

Mom: I'd like to point out, for the record, that I don't approve of this behavior.

Emma, 12, with an air of worldly sophistication: Oh, Mom, don't be ridiculous! How old were you when you had sex?

OMG, as the kids say. Is there a parental equivalent of the Fifth Amendment?

I am saved by Julia, who announces that I am so irredeemably dweeby -- Emma, she was in the chess club, for goodness sake-- it is inconceivable that I had sex with anyone before Daddy.

Julia wants to believe that her mother and father were virgins to each other. What is so wrong with a 10 year old holding that belief, even if it is a fantasy? The child wants more purity than the mother can stand.
But even the conversation with the "sophisticated" 12 year old could have taken a different turn. I'm prepared to believe that Ruth Marcus started her sex life in high school, like the Gossip Girls character. I find it hard to believe she was sexually active at her daughter's age of 12. What would be so wrong with pointing out that fact? Baby Boomer Mom could say: "I certainly didn't have sex at age 12, young lady, so forget it."
The sad truth is that Baby Boomer mothers get stressed over anything that points to problems with the sexual revolution that we did so much to institutionalize in this society.
This is the conundrum that modern parents, boomers and beyond, confront when matters of sex arise. The bright-line rules that our parents laid down, with varying degrees of conviction and rather low rates of success, aren't – for most of us, anyway – either relevant or plausible. When mommy and daddy didn't get married until they were 35, abstinence until marriage isn't an especially tenable claim.

But wouldn't you like to see them wait until the end of high school? By they way, they don't have to postpone marriage until age 35. You were one of the lucky ones, who waited until 35 and still was able to have two children. Not everybody is so lucky. There is something seriously squirrely with a society in which adults can't bring themselves to tell kids to postpone sex until the end of high school but they want kids to postpone marriage until they are nearly menopausal.
Nor is it one I'd care to make. Would I prefer – as if my preference much matters – that my daughters abstain until marriage? No; in fact, I think that would be a mistake. But I'm not especially comfortable saying that, quite so directly, to my children, partly because that conversation gets so complicated, so quickly.

Actually, Baby Boomer Mom (BBM) your preferences DO matter. Studies here and here, to list just a few, show that parental expectations and discussions of good behavior are a protective factor against early sexual activity.
Be brave BBM's! Tell your kids to wait for sex. There is plenty of time. Steer them toward other activities, and away from Pop culture like Gossip Girls. Some of your daughters want you to set these limits for them.

Coach impregnates student: covers up with abortion

Yet another case has surfaced of a public school coach/teacher sexually abusing a minor, getting her pregnant, and covering up the crime with an abortion.
(27 year old track coach Kenneth Craig) worked as a substitute teacher in the Clark County School District and was a track coach at Las Vegas High School for several months last year. AP indicates he told authorities he had sex with the student in question after she graduated.

However, officials report that his former girlfriend said the relationship began when the teenager was 17 and still in school and authorities have been given copies of email and phone text messages supposedly proving that.

The student became pregnant and Clark is alleged to have assisted her in obtaining an abortion. It the second case in recent weeks involving a coach who has tried to use abortion to over up sexual abuse.

Abortion Clinic Violence in New Mexico

According to the NYT
Two attacks occurred early Tuesday at two buildings belonging to Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, according to Albuquerque police and fire officials. An arson fire damaged a surgery center the organization uses for abortions, and the windows of a Planned Parenthood family planning clinic 12 blocks away were smashed, the officials said.

All violent attacks against abortion clinics are abhorent and absolutely counter to everything the pro-life movement stands for. The NYT was decent enough to report that pro-life leaders in New Mexico condemned the violence:
The Planned Parenthood of New Mexico spokeswoman, Martha Edmands, condemned the recent attacks, as did Dauneen Dolce, executive director of the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico.

Lifesite reports other pro-life leaders who condemned the attacks:
Betty Eicheneser, the president of the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, talked with the Albuquerque Tribune about the arsons and said her organization says the actions are not appropriate as a means of responding to legalized abortion.

"Our mission is to educate. We never, ever condone violent behavior. That is not pro-life activity," Eicheneser said.

Eicheneser said the actions hurt the pro-life cause because they turn the public off to the pro-life message and don't stop abortions -- both Planned Parenthood centers reopened on Wednesday, just one day after the attacks there.

"That is not going to change anyone's mind," Eicheneser told the Tribune. "In fact, it does more harm to our goal, because for those in the middle, perhaps it is going to swing them in the opposite direction, and anyone who is on that side, all it does is affirm their beliefs."

Rev. Stephen Imbarrato, with the Catholic Project Defending Life told the Albuquerque newspaper he disagrees with the use of violence as well.

"I was very dismayed, because, unfortunately, pro-lifers get blamed for these things. It makes our lives more difficult, and it detracts from our credibility," he said.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sex, Contraception and Woman's body Image

Here is a very interesting post on the connection between our current sexual culture and women's body image. My husband and I have often commented to each other about how strange is our culture's attitude toward physical attractiveness, sexuality and reproduction. The biological point of sex is reproduction. Female attractiveness is nature's way of drawing men and women toward each other, so they can reproduce and keep the species going. Yet in modern times, we separate sex from reproduction so thoroughly that this deep biological purpose is suppressed. We've often speculated about whether the urgency and intensity of women's sexual "displays" (read: lack of modesty) is related to some pent-up, frustrated sub-concious urge to reproduce.
Anyhow, this post from an ex-atheist, now practicing Catholic lent some credence to our speculations:
On the rare occasions that I used to think about the prospect of having a large family before my conversion, one of the first things that would come to mind is, "Just think of what my abs would look like! And years and years of nursing babies wouldn't exactly leave me looking like a Victoria's Secret model!" and with a shudder I'd perish the thought. There were other reasons that the prospect of having many children didn't appeal to me. But the issue of what my body would start to look like somewhere around baby number five or six was actually a pretty large factor.

Was I just shallow? I'm not so sure....This sort of thing also came up back in college when my pro-choice friends and I would rage about these awful pro-lifers who tried to tell women that they should carry an unexpected pregnancy to term. The horror! Didn't these people know what pregnancy does to a woman's body?! This assumed, of course, that there would be circumstances upon which a pregnancy would be totally unexpected (a la the contraceptive mentality), and that any physical trauma to a woman's body would be so terrible as to be a justifying factor in terminating a pregnancy.

Thinking back to those discussions, we so abhorred the idea of what a pregnancy does to a woman's body because this was our value. What we looked like physically was so intertwined with our value as human beings that to tell us we should have to carry a pregnancy to term -- with all the weight gain and stretch marks and physical changes that would entail -- was to say that we should make our very selves less valuable as women.

Irony of Ironies.

Bad (or just weird) advice from Carolyn Hax

The subject is single mothers: how do their families react to the news of single-motherhood-to-be?
Here is the letter:
I have to see some very conservative, judge-y relatives who have just learned that I'm pregnant (not married, and not planning on getting married). Is there a limit to how many times I can respond to them just by saying, “Wow”? Should I keep a tally?

Maybe we should have some kind of prize for whoever manages to use it most at family gatherings this year.

This letter is weird. (I was trying to find the original on Carolyn Hax's chat room, but have come up short so far.) Is this woman expecting the relatives to say nasty things, or to say "WOW" or is she planning to say "WOW" herself when they say nasty jugdmental things? Can't tell.
Anyhow, here is CH's response:
Who knows, maybe they'll surprise you. I mean, what are they going to suggest, that you have an abortion? Aside from adoption, anything else they could be thinking is a ship that has clearly already sailed.

I can actually think of a number of things they might say, like, "you're an idiot," or "thank god you aren't marrying the idiot boyfriend."
Or, they might say "WOW" to suppress the urge to say "I feel sorry for your kid," or, "don't ask me to babysit."
Some of the comments on CH's column actually have better sense:
LW3 (Letter Writer #3) might remember that her conservative, judgmental family members are likely to be the only ones she has to turn to when her sperm donor disappears for greener pastures. Being a single motherhood is not a bed of roses even under the best of circumstances. Single mothers and their children need help from relatives. Becoming defensive and alienating potential sources of support will not help.

Carolyn's comment that "The ship has already sailed" strikes me as weird, because the ship is barely out of the harbor. This poor woman has no idea what she is getting herself into. (If she did, I doubt she would be taking this attitude toward her relatives.) The problems associated with single motherhood are legion. See for instance, here and here. This letter-writer sounds just a tad judgemental and self-righteous herself, for somebody who is embarking on such a high-risk life plan as single-motherhood.
I suggest bungee-jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. More thrills, and nobody gets hurt except the thrill-seeker herself.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Free to Die in Iowa

The WSJ had a moving account of a schizophrenic man who froze to death under a bridge in Iowa.
It's the time of year when the Frank Capra classic "It's a Wonderful Life" is aired on cable channels at all hours. You know the story: How George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, arrives on a bridge in a fit of despair, ready to take his own life. How the angel Clarence steps in and gives him a glimpse of what Bedford Falls would be like if he had never existed. How in the end the town comes together to save George from financial ruin, and the angel Clarence gets his wings.
Well, after the death of Sonny Anthony Iovino, a 55-year-old, mentally ill Vietnam veteran who froze to death here last month under the Benton St. Bridge, I don't think I'll ever see "It's a Wonderful Life" in quite the same way. There was no kindly angel to rescue this man, who suffered from chronic schizophrenia. He wasn't standing on a bridge thinking of ending his life; he was huddled beneath one trying to stay alive.
His community, my community, didn't come together to save him from ruin. Instead it refused him shelter, refused him even the most basic of medical care when he needed it most.
On Nov. 7, at 3:57 p.m., police responded to a report of a body under the Benton St. Bridge. Upon arrival they found Iovino, nearly naked, dead. The Johnson County Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be hypothermia. Local police officers had tried to get Iovino the care he needed just 48 hours before his death. But he was refused a bed at the local homeless shelter and then turned away from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center here because he was "uncooperative."

According to Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, author of "Surviving Schizophrenia" and president of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating barriers to the treatment of mental illnesses,
"As many states, Iowa included, shut down beds for mentally ill patients then there's two places they can go: the streets and jails. Our nation's jail keepers are tired of being their communities' primary mental-health facility."

But that's precisely what they are. According to a study by the Justice Department last year, 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of local jail inmates suffer from mental illnesses. There are now more mentally ill Americans behind bars than in hospitals.

Nevertheless, civil libertarians seem more concerned with a patient's civil rights than his very survival. For example, despite a study released in 2005 by the New York State Office of Mental Health showing a marked decline in arrests, hospitalizations, incarcerations, homelessness, and threats of violence and suicide for patients under that state's "Kendra's Law," the New York Civil Liberties Union lobbied against the law's renewal that same year.

In my view, the problem is that the modern world is so deeply committed to rationality and autonomy that we can not accept the reality of individuals who are not capable of rational thought or of using their autonomy. I wrote about it briefly on National Review in response to the Virginia Tech murders, and at some length in my essay, "Making Room in the Inn: Why the Modern World Needs the Needy," in Wealth, Poverty and Human Destiny

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Missing Headline

Here is my article on unmarried childbearing.
the increase in unmarried childbearing must be laid directly at the doorstep of the weird ideological cocktail that is the modern American sexual ethos: feminism, consumerism and sexual liberation. Women don’t need men. Women are entitled to have a baby if they want, when they want, on any terms they want. Sex is a private recreational activity that is no big deal.

Some adherents of this ideology believe that unmarried childbearing is actually a good thing. Modern single mothers are striking a blow for women’s independence. We can’t possibly expect the media establishment, which is really the mouthpiece for the sexual revolution, to pass judgment on the choice to become an unmarried mother, even though the data tell us that it is a really dumb choice.

Increase in Unmarried Childbearing

Maggie Gallagher has an article on this hidden nugget within the report on the increase in teen births. I expect to have something on the same topic soon....

Domestic Violence in Same Sex Relationships

The headline of this story in the Birmingham (AL) News does not do justice to the article. Among the more interesting points:
1. Sexual orientation is not a permanent feature of everyone's personality.
Rita Hinkle felt betrayed when her partner ended their relationship to reunite with her former husband.
Hinkle made the deadly decision: If she couldn't have Deana Page, no one would. ...
Hinkle and Page had known each other for years before they became a couple. Their boys played ball together.
Page ended her 16-year marriage in 1997, leaving behind a husband and three children. In 2002, the two women briefly moved into a home in north Jefferson County, then to a trailer in Cullman County. ...But as Page recovered from knee surgery in the summer of 2006, the two began arguing,...
Hinkle moved to Morris with her mother that September, but kept hoping the separation would be temporary.
In early October, things had deteriorated enough that Hinkle drove with family and a friend to the trailer near Hanceville to pick up her furniture. It was piled outside the trailer.
A witness quoted Hinkle as threatening that day to kill Page if she became involved with any man - especially her ex-husband - or another woman.
By mid-month, Daniel Page had moved into his ex-wife's trailer, hoping they would reconcile. ...
According to Hinkle, Deana Page in the parking lot admitted she had resumed sexual relations with Daniel Page. Hinkle told jurors that made her feel betrayed, and she realized the relationship was over.

2. Domestic Violence is not all about men abusing women, as this throw-away comment illustrates:
In 44 percent of all domestic violence cases statewide in 2006, the victim was the girlfriend or ex-girlfriend of the offender, according to state statistics. The data does not break out how many of those offenders were women.

Who were ther other 56% of domestic violence cases? I checked the AL stats, here. They must be referring to the table on Page 5 of the report, which is a general "domestic violence" chart. I do the math to get this result: 44% of DV victims were either girlfriend or ex-girlfriend. 32% were either wives, ex-wives or common-law wives (which might be counted as cohabiting women in some data sets.)
That leaves 24% of DV victims in AL in 2006 who were men.
DV Homicides, shown on page 7 of the report, reveal even more male victims: 10% were husbands, 23% were boyfriends/ex-boyfriends.
Why don't we have a federal Violence Against Men Act? Hummmm.
The tilt toward unmarried violence is even more pronounced than in the general DV category: husbands and wives constituted only 39% of all DV homicides. All the rest of the 61% of DV homicides were some form dating/cohabiting relationships.
Why do we lump all "parnter violence" together, when it is plain that married and non-married sexual partners behave so differently?

Increasing Fertility in US

US fertility is increasing. That was implied in the story a couple of weeks ago about the rise in teen pregnancy: birth rates were rising in all age groups.
The prize for the dumbest comment goes to this UN population official:
What matters is that the U.S. is probably one of very few industrialized countries that have a fertility rate close to or at replacement level," says José Antonio Ortega, head of the fertility section at the United Nations' Population Division.... countries in Europe and Asia have launched several government initiatives to encourage more births, from financial bonuses and extended family leaves to subsidized child care.

The wide availability of birth control options and more career opportunities for women have caused fertility rates to hit low levels in Japan, South Korea, Italy, Germany and Russia. France, renowned for its family friendly policies, remains the exception with a fertility rate of 2.

"What is paradoxical is that the U.S. doesn't have those (family friendly) policies and it has higher fertility," Ortega says.

I consider this a dumb comment because it is so obvious to anyone even slightly acquainted with the data. Those "family friendly" policies are not about helping women have more babies. The policies are about keeping women at work and getting more work out of them. These policies do not increase the birth rate. Even France's replacement level fertility would probably evaporate, if you factored out the higher fertility rates of Muslim/African families in France. In other words, the (very expensive) policies designed to allow professional women to have babies almost certainly do not raise the fertility rate among their target population.

Girls Gone Mild- Censored!

Wendy Shallit, author of Girls Gone Mild, recounts her story of being censored by Dr. Phil. Her book is about the generational disconnect between Sexually Liberated Baby Boomer parents and their more reticent daughters.
On several occasions in recent years, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has found that twice as many adults as teens answered "yes" to this question: "Do you think it is embarrassing for teens to admit they are virgins?" I now have a whole email folder filled with tales of this generational disconnect. A 19-year-old wrote to me after her mother pressured her to go to bars during the workweek. When mom packed her off with 12 condoms on a trip to India, the girl wondered: "Am I really going to have so much sex in the Third World?" I heard from a 16-year-old whose parents think she is "Victorian" because "excuse me if sex is not my favorite dinner topic."
And then there's my favorite email, received in October: "When I was about 12," reports a 23-year-old woman, "my baby boomer mother came up to me one day after school, and appraising my typical baggy t-shirt and jeans said, 'you really ought to start wearing smaller shirts. That's what the boys want.' I of course just blushed and mumbled something like 'OK, mom.' Now that I'm older I realize that instead of just being embarrassed, I could have said, 'what about what I want?' "

Dr. Phil had originally invited Wendy to come on his show and talk about her book. Ultimately, he stood her up, with a lame excuse. But Dr. Phil's recasting of the program actually proves Wendy's major point: the young are not necessarily demanding recreational sex. Their parents are foisting it on them, talking them into it, enabling it, all for reasons of their own. Here is Wendy's account of Dr. Phil's show.
Recently, the episode "Mild vs. Wild" finally aired. As it turned out, all the teenage role models that I had recommended were nowhere to be seen. The show was instead presented as a war between "wild" young'uns who wanted to look provocative and their "out of touch" parents.
I lost count of the number of times that the children portrayed their parents as clueless, frumpy or "just old." It's "just two different generations," the viewer was told again and again. One young woman suggested that her elders were "jealous" because their wrinkly bodies were no longer attractive. Finally, stepping into this catfight of his own making, Dr. Phil mused that the kids feel that the grown-ups "need to get with the times." He compared Megan, one 11-year-old girl who favored microminis, to his own college-age son, who sports a mohawk--and even instructed Megan's parents to "lighten up" and give "her more leeway" since "she is a straight-A student."

But by omitting all the younger, more wholesome role models from his show, Dr. Phil unwittingly revealed how much distortion is required to prop up this media-stoked controversy. The dichotomy between prudish elders and wild young'uns turns out to be, on closer examination, largely adult dogma. Yes, many young people are rebelling--but today they rebel, increasingly, by upholding high standards in the face of the low ones promoted around them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Next Sexual Revolution: mothers over 50

On the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Ronald W. Dworkin, (an MD, no relation to philosopher Ronald without a W Dworkin) argues that the ability of women to freeze their eggs will be the next dramatic change in the social landscape.
Freezing unfertilized eggs gives women a way out of a complicated cultural maze. Decades ago, the lives of men and women diverged at adolescence. Men prepared for careers while women prepared for domestic life. Today, many young men and women go through high school, college and professional school often mistakenly assuming no differences in their respective trajectories.

Our culture encourages women to pursue high-powered careers. Many women must pursue at least some kind of career: With the divorce rate over 50%, women can no longer rely on the integrity of the family unit to support them. The culture paints a rosy image about career and family. Then biological truth breaks through, by which time these women have lost a decade of their best childbearing years.

Women who opt to freeze their unfertilized eggs will gain those years back -- and more -- giving them the freedom to leisurely follow the male career trajectory. No more late night panicking. No more marrying a man you don't love "just to have the baby." No more lurching from Harvard to the mommy track.

True, if these women still decide not to have children when they hit their 40s or 50s, having grown accustomed to freedom, then the population in Western countries will not rise but plummet further. Yet most middle-aged people know that many careers can be pretty dull, without much chance to create. Following rules and procedures until midnight in a law firm may seem acceptable when you're 25, but not when you're 50. Armed with this insight, money and perfect eggs -- and with an expected life span of 86 years -- many women will likely choose to create a family.

But what kind of family? Women in their 30s are reluctant to use banked sperm to get pregnant, in part because they still hope to meet someone, because they can't support themselves as single mothers, or because they fear being judged by their peers.

A woman in her 50s probably has less hope of finding a man who wants to start a family than a woman in her 30s. And so a 50-year-old woman, without serious marital options, loaded with money and eggs, and far too wizened to worry about what other people say, might just go ahead and call that sperm bank if she wants a family. Or maybe she'll marry a 70-year-old man, who thinks that if women can be mothers into their 50s and 60s, why can't he be a father too?

He is completely correct that society encourages women to pursue high-powered careers, on the same terms as men. He is also correct that the "divergence" of life paths for men and women in their twenties is something we have rebelled against and have taken dramatic, some might even say, draconian steps, to eliminate.
Completely absent from this rosy picture are considerations for men and for the children themselves. The solution he proposes is for women to continue to act like men during their fertile years, so they can be independent of men financially and ultimately even as parents. This represents a retreat from intimate human relationships.
The considerations for the children? They will be deprived of a relationship with their fathers. Everything we know about children tells us that they thrive with their own married parents. Instead of having both parents married to each other, children will have one old, and let's face it, less energetic mother. We can laugh all we want about how 60 is the new 40. But kids will run you ragged, under the best of circumstances. Are we really going to play catch with our kids, when we've got sore shoulders? Who is going to get down on the floor and play Candyland after they've had knee replacements? This is not very realistic.
We are currently taking the economic system as given and demanding that women adapt their bodies to the marketplace. Our bargain is this: we are allowed to join the workforce and have meaningful jobs, as long as we agree to chemically neuter ourselves during our fertile years. Then after we are economically established, we can torture our bodies further, over-stimulate our ovaries, possibly thaw out frozen eggs and hope we can reproduce artificially.
There is another solution. Instead of taking the economy as given and adapting our bodies around the workplace, I propose that we take women's fertility as given, and organize the economy around women's bodies.
BTW, I talked about this issue at some length in my speech in Denver, posted here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fighting Aids with African Common Sense

My article reviewing Helen Epstein's book has been posted on the Acton site. It is also up on my own website.
The occasion for my writing about this book was the UN admission that they had been inflating the numbers of new HIV infections for years. This chart gives an idea of how great the overstatement has been:

U.N. scientists have overestimated the size of the epidemic:

33 million: Revised estimate for HIV cases worldwide

40 million: Previous worldwide estimate

2.5 million: Number of annual new HIV infections

40 percent: The drop from last year's HIV infection estimate

SOURCE: United Nations documents

Helen Epstein was one of the experts cited:
Some researchers, however, contend that persistent overestimates in the widely quoted U.N. reports have long skewed funding decisions and obscured potential lessons about how to slow the spread of HIV. Critics have also said that U.N. officials overstated the extent of the epidemic to help gather political and financial support for combating AIDS.

“There was a tendency toward alarmism, and that fit perhaps a certain fundraising agenda,” said Helen Epstein, author of The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS.” "I hope these new numbers will help refocus the response in a more pragmatic way,” Epstein said.

Here are the opening paragraphs of my review of her book. I absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in sexual politics.
Amid reports that the United Nations has been grossly overestimating the scope of the global AIDS pandemic, a new book points to what may be an even greater miscalculation: AIDS relief efforts have failed to understand the crucial role of family and community networks in controlling the disease.

International aid agencies assumed that reducing the spread of AIDS was primarily a matter of hygiene and health care. UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, estimates that total spending on AIDS programs will increase 12 percent this year to $10 billion. Yet, relief organizations have overlooked actual social behavior and sexual practices.

This is the message of Helen Epstein’s important new book, The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West and the Fight Against Aids. Her book is one long testimony to the necessity of at least some social structures operating on a human scale. Although Epstein doesn’t cite the principle of subsidiarity from Catholic social teaching, or the corresponding principle of sphere sovereignty from the Dutch Reformed tradition, the importance of intensely local communities as “first responders” is clearly highlighted. Her book shows that the few noteworthy successes in slowing the spread of AIDS and comforting the sick have not come from sophisticated international organizations, but from local communities.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bad Advice from Carolyn Hax

Every once in a while an advice columnist misses the point so badly, I can't stand it. Carolyn Hax (Tell me about it) really missed it last week when she told an expectant woman to force the chore issue with her husband. Carolyn's bottom line, after suggesting quite direct requests and a chore strike:
But yours is a common problem, and it makes optimists pay dearly. He's going out of his way to show you that he refuses to be considerate. Resistance this stiff would be about more than chores, and so would get worse when the baby comes. Once you have tried every appeal to his conscience, you have no choice but to save yourself and your child. Please don't see continuing to serve him while your spirit dies as a legitimate choice.

There is more here than meets the eye. First, the woman's letter screams passive-aggressive: in fact, it is all written in the passive voice:
Any thoughts on how to get through to a guy that he really needs to grow up, now that his wife is expecting? Is it too much to ask that he put dirty laundry in the hamper and dishes in the sink? She's not even asking him to do laundry or dishes -- just not leave them on the floor, making her bend over when she doesn't feel well! He's become even more high-maintenance now than he was before. He simply ignores her requests.

She signs the letter, not with a description of herself, but with a perjorative description of her husband: "30-Plus Child, or Father-to-Be."

I see a very different "common problem" than Carolyn sees. A couple of them actually. I see:
1. A woman who won't speak directly about herself, her wants and needs, but hides behind describing herself in the third person.
2. A pregnant woman with a sense of entitlement.
3. Thirty year old parents trying to make the transistion from a sterile sex life that is all about them and how they feel, to a fruitful sex life, that is about something larger than themselves. Their lives, including their sex lives, are now about their child(ren) and their marriage.
These issues lead to the most immediate, very common problem.
4.The man feels he is losing his relationship with his wife. He is used to having her attention all to himself. She is now shifting her attention to her child. The husband is not entirely mistaken that he is losing his wife's attention.
The reason this is so difficult is that both of them are used to being focused on themselves. (See #3 above.) The woman appears to be focused on something outside herself because she is paying attention to the baby. But for many 30-something women, the baby is HER project, and therefore an extension of herself. She can be self-righteous about being non-selfish, while attacking her husband for being selfish. This leads to problem #2 above.
The reality is that they both have a big transition to make here, but they are focused on him as the person-in-the-wrong. The woman potentially has a head-start because the baby naturally draws a woman out of herself and into concern for others, if she allows it to do so. But there are other important values at stake here, including the marriage itself and the child's relationship with his father. Not to mention the obvious fact that if she kicks her husband out of the house over chores she won't get ANY help from him. And she'll be depriving her child of a relationship with his father. It is much too early to pull the plug on a marriage because the husband won't pick up his socks.
Here is my advice:
Take care of yourself. You don't mention whether you are working outside the home. Do less of whatever it takes for you to get the rest you need. Less work, less housework, less hobby time, whatever. When you take care of yourself, you don't need to hang on your spouse to build you up.
Assure your husband that you love him, value him and want him in your life, especially now that you are creating a new baby together. Ask him simply: what would make you feel loved? Then give him that, to the best of your ability. Most guys couldn't give a rat's behind over the condition of the house. But men certainly need attention, touching and affirmation.
Ask him for help directly, not in some kind of code. (See #1 above.) Don't appeal to his conscience or sense of fairness: marriage is not a political debating society. Marriage is a friendship. Say something like: "Would you be willing to help me with this? I would really appreciate it." Find things to thank him for. You'll be surprised how many more flies you catch with honey than with vinegar.
Once you've dealt with your real needs and his real needs, you can deal with the chores as a secondary consideration, which they are. Ignore some of them. Laugh over the mess.
I speak with some authority on this matter, for I made this mistake myself. It took me a long time to understand what my husband needed from me, and how I was contributing to the problems between us.
You have the potential here to move into the realm of pure gift with each other. You can take the lead in moving from a relationship that is based on tit-for-tat, you do for me, I'll do for you, to a relationship that is based on doing all you can for each other. Don't sell your husband short. The odds are that he is capable of making this transition from a relationship based on contract to a relationship based on love.
He just doesn't know it yet. Help him.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The New York Times Endorses Vouchers!

Ok, not exactly. What they did do was point out a major problem with the way special education is provided in this country.
The city of New York hired expensive consultants to find ways to save money in the education budget. One of their suggestions was to fight parents of special needs children more aggressively.
The problem is this: school districts are required to provide special education students with free and appropriate public education. If the district does not offer appropriate services, they are required to pay for private services. According to the consultants, it may be cost effective for the city to spend money litigating with parents, rather than paying for private school tuition.
The consultants said it “was forced to pay millions of dollars in private school tuition for students that could have been adequately served by our public school system,” not because of the cases’ merits but “due to staffing level deficiencies.”

The city, the consultants wrote, has already acted on their advice, more than doubling the size of its special education legal team by adding five lawyers and a dozen paralegals. The effort, they estimated, will save the city $25 million a year in private school tuition.

Advocates of special education criticized the move. “I don’t think they are paying private school tuition because they don’t have good lawyers,” said Kim Sweet, the executive director of Advocates for Children. “I think they lose these hearings because they don’t have good programs.”

Ms. Sweet added, “I would rather see them pour resources into special education services than lawyers.”

So, the incentives are all wrong for the school district. They would rather fight with parents than provide schooling for children. This incentive-mismatch could be corrected if parents of special needs children were simply given a voucher: a flat sum of money that they could spend on their child's needs, however they saw fit. Then the school district would have no incentive to withhold information from parents in order to low-ball them into accepting the services they provide.

I wrote about this problem here, a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Boyfriend Problem, Update

Evidently, the link to the AP story on what I called the Boyfriend Problem, is no longer active. Here is an msnbc link to the same story.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Another Lesbian Mother Changes Her Mind...

This case from the UK has a slightly different fact pattern from the US case I posted last week. Still troubling.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Are Fathers Necessary?

Evidently, not in the UK. The Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill, under consideration in Parliament, will remove existing requirements that IVF clinics consider a child's need for a father, in deciding whether to permit a given client from using IVF treatments.

"Saved in Hope"

Saved in Hope is the title of Benedict's new enclyclical. I haven't read it yet. You can read it here.

Responses to Taken Into Custody

Readers of my National Catholic Register article on the book Taken Into Custody have responded on both sides of the issue. Here is a reader who thought I gave too little attention to the woman's side:
Your statement,"These women want me to throw their husbands out of the house, make him pay child support, while she keeps the kids to herself to raise without interference from him" prompted me to contact you. I have been married for 23 years to an abusive husband and tried desperately to hold my family together. As his temper temper got worse our home became characterized by a climate of fear. Despite the fact that he promised that if I dropped out of college to pay for his graduate school, he has resisted any attempt on my part to return to finish my education. At the women's shelter where I stayed there were stories that would curl your hair of cruelty and degradation. Is it any wonder that mothers would not want men like these to influence their children? My husband has two degrees and a successful business while I have been a housewife. Is it unreasonable to expect support during my transistion to working life? No fault divorce is terrible for kids who are only regarded as spoils to be evenly divided instead of vulnerable dependants who should be protected. I agree that the whole business stinks, but I don't believe you understand what some women have lived with that has driven many to flee a violent tyrant.

I understand very well what goes on. It is just that this story is not the only story out there. Most divorces are initiated by women, and most of them do not involve any form of domestic violence.

This case is not a “no-fault” case. She have a clear case of fault. No-fault rules in many states prohibit the court from taking fault into account in property settlements or custody. It would be more fair to everyone concerned if the court would consider fault. That would provide much better protection for women in situations like this one, as well as protect against abuses by the kind of women I described in my article.
I sincerely hope this woman is not still married to this man.

From the other side of the aisle, a reader sent this note to the editor at the Register:
I am a subscriber to NCR, but just read the article by Jennifer Morse (Taken Into Custody by Divorce, 25 Nov) on-line. Her article pretty much summarizes the feelings I have gathered from men who have been through the divorce process in the last 20 years. In fact I am amazed at the close parallels I experienced in my own divorce (which I did not want). My wife filed for divorce, which completely caught me by surprise. There were no warning signs that anything was wrong; I was extremely happy with my family as they also appeared to be with me, my wife included. Her RELATIVES commented on how she was always so positive about our relationship. We went to a marriage counselor who could find no problems, in spite of my wife's claims, in the marriage. I suddenly found myself accused of mental, physical and emotional abuse against both my wife and children. Whoa! Mental professional experts involved in both sides of the situation felt something was very wrong with my wife's thinking. I lost my house, my lovely children (plus inordinate child support for 3.5 years), and all our friends. She evidently did a real "number" on me with my daughters and our friends behind my back. She lost two-thirds of her income. No one won anything here, and all was lost. I felt I was on a run-away train once the money started being spent to set things in motion legally.
Jennifer wrote an insightful article that strongly shows a feminist but self-defeating side to no-fault divorce.
I would appreciate it if you would forward this on to her with my kindest regards. I have not read the book. I don't need to - I could write it. Abortion, the Pill and no-fault (unilateral) divorce are forces that have torn the fabric of our society apart irreparably. All people should perk up, read the writing on the wall, and listen to the lessons of Church teachings.

I actually hope this reader will pick up Taken Into Custody and read it. He will know he is not alone.
And by the way, one of the reasons I think this book is important enough to review: many people do not realize what they are getting themselves into when they file for divorce. Many decent and well-meaning people have an image that divorce will solve their problems and end the conflict between themselves and their spouse. In extreme cases, such as the first lady who wrote in, that may be true. But for many people, divorce doesn't end the conflict: it just transfers it to a new arena, where there are the equivalent of loaded legal weapons lying around. I want people to have a realistic assessment of the invasions of their personal privacy and autonomy that they may face once they bring the family courts into their lives.
I hope that people who are considering divorce from a low-conflict marriage will realize that it may be much more costly than they think.

Women Exploiting Men

That is all I could think of when I read this story over at Leonard Link.
A lesbian couple is suing their sperm donor for child support, for a child who is now 18 years old. As much as I believe that fathers should be involved in their children's lives, and that fathers should be held accountable to support their children, the facts of this case bother me:
Nassau County Family Court Judge Ellen R. Greenberg has ruled that a married male doctor who allegedly donated sperm more than 18 years ago to a lesbian medical resident at the hospital where he worked who wanted to have a child with her same-sex partner, who is also a doctor, may not deny paternity in a recently filed child support proceeding, even though he claims that he was assured that he would have no support obligations when he agreed to donate the sperm. P.D. v. S.K., Docket No. U-2725-07 (Nassau County, N.Y, Family Court, Nov. 16, 2007) (to be published in NY Law Journal on Nov. 29)....
The mother is identified in court papers as P.D., the alleged father as S.K., and the child, a boy now 18 years old, as K.K.

... S.K. stated that he had agreed to be a sperm donor at P.D.’s request. "He submits that while he was married at the time, he agreed, based upon numerous promises that he would have no rights or benefits in raising the child, nor any financial responsibilities," wrote Judge Greenberg. S.K. provided the sperm to P.D.’s partner, who performed the insemination. The child was born in 1989.

S.K. indicated that he allowed his name to appear as father on the birth certificate, because he "felt it was in K.K.’s best interests that he would have an identity when he grew older." S.K. acknowledged that from K.K.’s birth until 1993 he had contact with the child, but in that year the lesbian couple and child moved to Oregon, and S.K.’s contact dropped off to occasional phone calls and one meeting for a few hours three years ago. S.K. did send gifts, cards and letters to the child on special occasions, signed "Dad" or "Daddy," and also made some monetary contributions to P.D....
Judge Greenberg ... noted that "the child has never known anyone other than the respondent as his father, and that the respondent has sent him money, gifts and cards which are signed either ‘Dad’ or ‘Daddy.’ Therefore, the burden shifts to the respondent (the father)..."

"Here, the respondent concedes that he has sent cards, money and gifts over the last fifteen years and that he allowed his name to be listed on the child’s birth certificate as the father because he ‘felt it was in the child’s best interests that he would have an identity.’ Further, the respondent has held himself out as the child’s father. Allowing the respondent to deny paternity after eighteen years where the child has believed the respondent to be his father would have a traumatic effect upon the child and would be contrary to his best interests."...
The court sent the case back to the Support Magistrate for fact finding on child support "based on the mother’s earning capacity, the reported income of her live-in partner as appropriate, and the current income of the respondent." Since the "child" is already 18, one speculates that perhaps the reason the support order was filed now was in order to enlist the father’s financial contribution to his college education. (Addendum: This speculation was confirmed in the NY Law Journal's November 29 article about the case.)

The problem with this case is the on-again, off-again nature of the mother's inclusion of the father in the child's life. The initial claim was that the mother would never ask for child support. The mother moved away, making a relationship with the father nearly impossible for the child. The mother is asking for the father's financial involvement because she needs it for the child's college tuition.
This seems to me to be the woman exploiting the man. She got what she wanted: the opportunity to raise a child with little interference from the child's father. She used him as a sperm bank. Now she is trying to use him as a wallet.
Let me be clear: the problem with this case is NOT the fact that the mother has a lesbian partner. I would dislike this behavior just as much, if the mother were a single mother without a partner of either sex. Come to think of it, it might even be worse if she had acquired an opposite sex partner, and had come back after all these years to ask for child support....

How Many Women who have abortions have had Previous Abortions?

According to the CDC, about 46% of women who had abortions in 2004, had had at least one prior abortion. Find it in the CDC's MMWR report for November 23, 2007, Table 13. Look at the bottom of the first column, where is shows that 53.7% of all American women who had abortions in 2004, had zero previous abortions. Subtract that from 100% and get approximately 46% of women who have had at least one prior abortion.
Hat Tip: Chris Gacek, of the Family REsearch Council.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Taken Into Custody

I reviewed Taken Into Custody for my column in the National Catholic Register. I have already been getting responses from the on-line version of the column. Here is my brief summary of the book's argument:
no-fault divorce frequently means unilateral divorce: One party wants a divorce against the wishes of the other, who wants to stay married. This fact means that the divorce has to be enforced. The coercive machinery of the state is wheeled into action to separate the reluctantly divorced party from the joint assets of the marriage, typically the home and the children. Involving the family court in the minutiae of family life amounts to an unprecedented blurring of the boundaries between public and private life.

People under the jurisdiction of the family courts can have virtually all of their private lives subject to its scrutiny. If the courts are influenced by feminist ideology, that ideology can extend its reach into every bedroom and kitchen in America.

Thus, the social experiment of no-fault divorce, which was supposed to increase personal liberty has had the unintended consequence of empowering the state.

Taken Into Custodyis well worth reading, for anyone who wants to understand just how much the government has done to undermine marriage.

I have already begun getting responses from readers about my article. I'll be posting them, once I have their permission.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Family Friendly Cities

Joel Kotkin explains that the fastest growing cities are not the ones that cater to singles, but those that cater to families. Read it all here.
cross-posted at the Acton blog.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More on Malachi: A Child Advocate Attorney Speaks

From an attorney who has represented both children and parents in the Child Protective System. He was initially not too happy with me for blaming the attorneys and social workers and the whole "due process" process.
I represented one father about 6 years ago, who was on his way to prison, and whose nine children (yes, nine) were in the child-protective system as a result. He was very bitter and wanted to fight the system. I met with him the night before the court hearing, and I asked him to consider whether fighting for his kids was in the best interest of his children, or whether he just wanted to fight for fighting’s sake. When he paused, I told him that I would meet with him the next morning before court, and if he could look me in the eye and give me one reason why fighting was in the best interest of his children, then I would fight all the way. But if he couldn’t, then I asked him to consider voluntarily relinquishing his parental rights. The next day, he did so.

I believe that attorneys should discuss relinquishing rights with their clients, and should not always assume that fighting is the correct approach. Perhaps that is one small area where the system could improve, through training for those involved. Many of the attorneys in the system are inexperienced or barely competent attorneys who either don’t understand the system, or don’t care about the cases very much. And there is a cultural problem among attorneys, where most assume that you must accept your client’s goals without question in order to fulfill your duty of representation. Law schools and bar associations should encourage attorneys to “counsel” with their clients to help them choose the most appropriate goal, rather than simply accept the client’s goal unhesitatingly.

But aside from better training for the participants in the system (including much needed training for social workers regarding the constitution and the integrity of the family unit), I’m not sure what the solution is on a system-wide level. In Michigan, under reform legislation in the 1990s (that I believe many states adopted), the parent has one year from the date a child was removed to get their act together, before the state will file a petition to terminate parental rights. And where there are serious allegations of abuse, the state may petition to terminate parental rights at the first dispositional hearing (after the court takes jurisdiction). Perhaps in the case you wrote about, given the history of that mother, the state should have sought termination sooner. But the laws already allow for that option in some circumstances. Is there some reform to the system or the legal framework that you are advocating? I am interested in considering any possible solutions (or improvements). I sometimes find these court hearings so depressing that I skip the rest of the day and go home to enjoy my wonderfully intact family and young kids!

I think I agree with you more than I first thought. Your article was strongly worded, and I still think blaming the attorney for the mother (and others) for the murder perpetrated by the foster family is incorrect. Balancing the needs for permanency and protection of children with preserving the integrity of parent-child relationships is very difficult. I’m not ready to say that we should abandon the procedural requirements before terminating parental rights. But I think that your comments about the broader cultural issues (i.e., on adoption) are dead on.

More on Malachi

Here is another comment, similar to the one above:
Over the years many young women have crossed my path who have had children out of wedlock. More often than not, these young women would have their own parents care for the child so that the young woman could go out and party, do the hook-up scene, and "still have a life." Only one actually gave her daughter up for adoption, and I commended her for it. As for the others, whenever I would ask these young women why they did not choose adoption for their children, they'd say, "Because I don't want my baby having another mother." If the women were actually taking responsibility for their children instead of going out every night, I would understand. But this kind of selfishness is a sad commentary on our times.

Who Killed Malachi?

Way back when.... I wrote about the sad case of a child killed in foster care, by his foster mother. His birth mother was 15 when he was born, and had been and still was, in foster care herself. My question was: why was that little boy not placed for adoption right away, so he could have had a chance for a normal life?
I got a lot of mail in my in-box, rather than through this blog. So I am just now getting around to posting it all here.
I must say, I feel somewhat uncomfortable with your comments in "Who Killed Malachi". As a crisis pregnancy counselor, I have to tell you how extremely difficult it is to get our clients to be open to the thought of adoption. Just today I tried and tried to get the point of how adoption would benefit their child to a couple that will most certainly lose their child to CYS and the foster care system once the baby is born. Adoption is not something they will even try to consider. Generally, these are lowly educated people who are not responsible and take no accountability for their actions,- all reasons that helped lead them to the crisis they are facing. They generally rebel against authority and truly believe that their children are better off with them. Your article made it sound like if only someone had encouraged adoption, the mother would have suddenly taken responsbility and accountability as a parent. While I am not at all familiar with this case, I can tell you that biological parents will rarely admit their children are better off elsewhere, much less be responsible enough to actually go through with placing their child for adoption. I went through a lengthy training from the National Adoption Council, yet in my 4 years at a crisis pregnancy center, I have yet to see a client 'do the right thing' by placing her child for adoption.

Thanks to everyone who wrote about this. Sorry it took so long to get this posted. The original article is here.

Fighting AIDS with African Common Sense

That's the title the Acton Institute gave to my review of Helen Epstein's fine new book: The Invisible Cure: Africa, The West and the Fight Against AIDS
This book is good and interesting on multiple levels. The most striking thing about the book is that it makes it clear that the international aid organizations charged with fighting AIDS had their own agendas, particularly a view of human sexuality. I hope to write another review, highlighting that aspect of the book. The review over at the Acton site focuses on the good sense of the local people in comparison with the distant and out of touch approach of the international agencies. This is a fine example of the Catholic Social Teaching principle of Subsidiarity. Although Epstein is probably not aware of it and never mentions it, I think she would agree that social functions need to be performed by the lowest level of society that is capable of doing the job. The lower levels of organization have knowledge and information that are not avaialable to the higher levels. And the lower levels can interatct with individuals in a more humane way. This book is worth reading in any case.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Boyfriend Problem

Even the mainstream media is starting to connect the dots between cohabiting boyfriends and child abuse. This AP story reported on includes horrific incidents, as well as interviews with experts like my friend Prof. Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia sociology department.
The bottom line: the most dangerous person in a child's life, the person most likely to abuse a child, is his mother's cohabiting boyfriend. Not the biological father. The feminists and their political allies have driven biological married fathers out of the home. Feminists have convinced women that marriage is dangerous to them. The opponents of marriage never seem to take responsibility for the fact that the main alternative to marriage, cohabitation, is much more dangerous to women and their children.
Notice this paragraph from the very bottom of the AP story:
Oscar Jimenez Jr., the San Jose, Calif., boy found buried under cement and fertilizer, did have a biological father who was devoted to him. But the father, Oscar Sr., separated from Oscar Jr.'s mother in 2002 and was prevented from seeing his son in the weeks before the boy's death in February, allegedly from a beating by live-in boyfriend and ex-convict Samuel Corona.

I'd be interested to know who prevented the father from seeing his child, and how they prevented him.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Corrections to Gender Jumble

Two different attorneys wrote to me to point out an error in my NRO article, Gender Jumble. They both called attention to the fact that I had quoted the language from an early version of the bill. The difference is between "reflects adversely" upon anyone based on sexual orientation and "promotes a discriminatory bias."
My first message was from Matt McReynolds, Associate Counsel for the Pacific Justice Institute:
As a matter of accuracy, please note that the original versions of SB 777 and its predecessors containing the "reflects adversely" language were amended before it was adopted. In place of "reflects adversely," which caught a lot of flak last year when it was proposed as SB 1437, the statute as enacted now prohibits instruction or activity that "promotes a discriminatory bias." The substantive effect will likely be the same, but I thought I should alert you to the distinction before someone from the left tries to use that point to discredit your piece.

As I understand it, Pacific Justice Institute was involved in tracking SB777 and commenting on its potentially disastrous consequences.
My second missive came from another attorney:
Dear Jennifer: I enjoyed your article about SB 777. However, you quoted the OLD statute rather than the NEW one. The old law was bad enough, but the new version is much worse. Whereas the old language barred any instruction that "reflected adversely on any person" in the protected groups, the new language leaves out "any person" and bars any statement that "promotes a discriminatory bias." This phrase is nowhere defined in California law. It does not require a showing that any specific person has been adversely affected. It simply focuses on the potential that a sentence uttered by a teacher, or by a student at a school activity, might make it more likely that any person in their audience subjectively might become more rather than less biased toward a member of the protected groups. It is clear from statements by the author of the legislation that ANYTHING that criticizes the LGBT agenda, such as opposition to gay marriage, or even quoting a news story in which such opposition is voiced, would be punished as a violation of the new law. In other words, gay rights groups now have the power under California law to completely censor any statement that disagrees with their political views. Indeed, any statement critical of SB 777 itself is now a violation of law and can result in punishment of teachers and students and lawsuits by LGBT groups against the schools. Schools must take the political position of the LGBT groups or be punished. It is a violation of the First Amendment, both in its free speech and freedom of religion clauses. Indeed, it amounts to an "establishment" of a religious philosophy that sees all kinds of sex outside of marriage as moral.

He offers a more complete analysis of his argument here. I am not qualified to evaluate his claims, as I am not an attorney. Does anyone else have any analysis of this issue? As I said in my original article, any bill that can not be easily interpretted is worth defeating on that grounds alone. But this bill not only passed through the legislature, but it was signed by the Governator.
Readers might be interested to know that the Capitol Resource Institute is sponsoring a petition drive to overturn the law.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gender Jumble on National Review

The powerful California gay rights lobby has passed a bill regulating the content of public school curriculum, requiring that it not "reflect adversely" on persons based on sexual orientation or sexual identity. I illustrate how this will amount to a huge power grab by the state in my latest article.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sexual Misconduct, (but not by priests)

The AP did an investigation of sexual misconduct by educators. Guess what? Many, many public schools have sexually abusive teachers. According to one investigator,
From my own experience — this could get me in trouble — I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one," says Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating abuse and misconduct in schools. "It doesn't matter if it's urban or rural or suburban.

Some school districts have histories of of shuffling perpetrators around.
Too often, problem teachers are allowed to leave quietly. That can mean future abuse for another student and another school district.
"They might deal with it internally, suspending the person or having the person move on. So their license is never investigated," says Charol Shakeshaft, a leading expert in teacher sex abuse who heads the educational leadership department at Virginia Commonwealth University.
It's a dynamic so common it has its own nicknames — "passing the trash" or the "mobile molester."
Laws in several states require that even an allegation of sexual misconduct be reported to the state departments that oversee teacher licenses. But there's no consistent enforcement, so such laws are easy to ignore.
School officials fear public embarrassment as much as the perpetrators do, Shakeshaft says. They want to avoid the fallout from going up against a popular teacher. They also don't want to get sued by teachers or victims, and they don't want to face a challenge from a strong union.

I'm glad somebody is finally looking at this. But I have to be a little suspicious about the timing. The Catholic Church has been raked over the coals for the last 5 years, at least. Justifiably. It is good that the Church is being held accountable, and is now holding itself accountable for agressive prevention programs. But why are we only now asking about sexual abuse in public schools?
Some of us in California have been cynical about this subject because the state legislature revoked the statute of limitations, specifically so that civil suits against old clergy abuse cases could go forward. But that law exempted public institutions. People were suspicious that the reason for the exemption is that the state of California did not want to make its own public schools liable for similar claims and similar awards.
That suspicion looks all the more justified now that this AP report is coming out, just as the largest of the CA clergy abuse cases has been settled in San Diego and Los Angeles.
If public school districts shuffled abusive teachers, they should be held accountable every bit as much as the Catholic schools have been.
One report mandated by Congress estimated that as many as 4.5 million students, out of roughly 50 million in American schools, are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade. That figure includes verbal harassment that's sexual in nature.

About 10%? 9%, to be exact. That's alot, though I can't tell how many cases are verbal harrassment.
By contrast:
The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church. A review by America's Catholic bishops found that about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002.

That amounts to 4% of priests were identified as perpetrators. Now, one statistic is the percentage of children abused by teachers and the other is the percentage of priests who perpetrated. But even allowing for the possibility that each perpetrator may have multiple victims, it still looks like the problem is at least as serious in the public schools as among the Catholic clergy.
Where's the outrage? It is ok for public school teachers to molest children, but not ok for priests? It is ok to bankrupt the Catholic church, but it is not ok to bankrupt public school districts to pay settlements and give justice to victims?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ask Dr J

Dear Dr J

I’m looking for information on dating women with children from a previous marriage or who are widowed. I’m a single, never-married 46 year old and not sure it would be smart to have children of my own at this point. I want to educate myself on the issues when children have step-fathers. I think Dr. Laura advises women not to marry again until their children are grown. Are you of this opinion? Any info you could point me to would be appreciated.
V from Boston

Dear V,

The best I can tell you is this: there are a distinct set of problems that children face in step-father families. Most of those problems can be overcome if the husband and wife collaborate well, and if the stepfather spends sufficient time and energy on the kids. The main source of problems in my opinion: the mother doesn’t allow her new husband to be involved appropriately. The mother tries to shield the children from discipline, on the theory that “they aren’t your kids; you don’t know them.” She fails to realize that biological mothers and fathers often have conflict over discipline on exactly this issue. The mother wants to children to feel good. The father wants them to behave. Hence, moms often have the impulse to shield children from fathers, even non-abusive fathers.

This is an area where our feminist theory that men and women are identical and interchangeable has caused enormous mischief. Mothers and fathers should not be freaked out over the perfectly normal fact that they tend to parent differently. The conflict may have nothing to do with the fact that the father is a stepfather instead of a bio-dad.

So, my advice is this: if you have a particular woman in mind, and you trust each other, you have a good shot at being successful. But if she will not allow you to parent, for whatever reason, the blended family will be headed for trouble.
All the best!
Dr J

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Barriers to Fertility

I've been concerned for some time about how difficult it is for young couples to start families, and then take care of them properly. I got an e-mail today on this very topic.

Much of what you cover resonates with me, especially as a young mom and a social worker who has worked with many emotionally disturbed children. One of the areas I'm passionate about is reactive attachment disorder, and both treatment and prevention/education in this area.

One of the issues my husband and I have struggled with is making ends meet while spending as much time as possible with our daughter. I believe in the importance of advocating for systems change, which is part of what you seem to be doing in your article on moms in the workplace. At this point in my career, I have left the social work field and luckily have some journalism skills to fall back on and use. I would love to return to the social work field at some point and feel it is very much a part of my vocation. At this time, however, the position I had was simply not conducive to being a mom and taking care of my child - so I went elsewhere....
I would love to stay home with my daughter full-time and recognize both intrinsically, through experience and research the value in doing so. At the same time, my husband teaches in a Catholic school and it just is not feasible for us to live on his income alone. We have cut corners which has allowed me to take a part-time position, and one that allows me to do some of my work at home, taking less time away from our family....
I have a hard time reading articles that carry the implication I'm not fulfilling my obligation as a mom since I'm not at home with my children, even though in some ways I believe it to be true. Falling back on my husband's income and "allowing him to take care of me" just isn't an option for my family, and I'm sure we are not the only ones.

OK. She's right. This is, unfortunately, one of the legacies of feminism. the message to women is: Motherhood is for ninnies. Get back to work. The message to employers is: treat men and women the same, at every point in their lives, no matter what their family situations and responsibilities might be.
The corollaries to this are: we can't take into account the special needs that mothers have for flexibility, although some people are grudgingly beginning to do so. What we really can't do, is to take into account the special needs that fathers have for supporting their families, including their wives, who are trying to take the best care possible of their kids. We can barely even allow ourselves to formulate the thought "Family Wage." We have made the two-earner family a social norm, much to the detriment of many women and children.
Among the difficulties:
The high cost of housing. The demand for housing is highly sensitive to income. High-earning, DINKS push up the price of housing for everyone. Why isn't there more housing for people of modest means?
The high cost of taxes: the median income family pays almost 40% of their income in taxes. That means the secondary earner is working to pay the taxes.
Student loans: many young people graduate with $80,000 or more of college debt. They are reluctant to start families with this kind of debt hanging over their heads.
I would love to see these issues adressed as part of the problem of the collapse of fertility. There is something slightly bizarre about people in the richest countries the world has ever known, feeling that "they can't afford children." These people are not just whining. Something is seriously not right in the balance in the economy between the needs of families with small children, and everybody els.

Broken Heart Risk Management

My latest is up on Mercator Net.
Feminism has never been a coherent ideology but it has broadly come to mean that men and women are identical, except that women are better. This was the starting point for a speech I gave recently at the Case Western Reserve Law School in Cleveland, as the guest of the Federalist Society. Under the heading, "Humane Alternatives to Feminism", I argued that we would be better off embracing the reality of gender differences, rather than a) denying them, b) suppressing them and c) feigning surprise when they emerge anyhow.
One of my questioners asked the fairly standard feminist question of whether these gender differences I cited weren't simply all products of cultural conditioning. I asked her what she would be willing to accept as evidence that some gender differences are not cultural artifacts, but actual differences. She didn't have an answer.
I got to thinking afterwards: answers based on evidence never seem to be convincing to someone who is already committed to radical androgyny.

Read it all here.

Contraceptive Fraud

This article was recently published in the Legatus magazine, an exclusively print magazine. I am reprinting it here, as many of my newsletter subscribers have expressed an interest in being able to link to an on-line version. Readers may also be interested in a similar article I did last summer on townhall.
That article caused near hysteria on the part of the left-wing nut-roots. This article actually deals with some of the common questions that the previous article raised. So, if you read the two articles together, you should have a pretty clear picture of my interpretation of this important set of data.
Contraception Fraud
Americans now believe that care-free sex is an entitlement. Contraception can prevent unwanted pregnancies. In the unlikely event of contraceptive failure, abortion can end a pregnancy. The belief that pregnancy is unlikely induces women to have sex in relationships that can not possibly support a pregnancy.
But is contraceptive failure all that unlikely? The most recently available statistics suggest that the young, the unmarried and the poor are more apt to get pregnant than they supposed.
Contraception advocates frequently offer statistics like those in Table 1, to convince young women that they can safely engage in sex. This Table shows the percentage of women who experience a pregnancy after a year of using birth control. The overall failure rate is 12.9%, meaning that 13 out of a hundred sexually active, contracepting women will be pregnant within 12 months. The “reversible” methods have failure rates ranging from 8% for the pill and 27% for withdrawal. Women look at charts like this, and conclude that pills or condoms protect them.
Advocates of contraception seldom provide information like that contained in Table 2. This table shows the contraceptive failure rates, broken down by relationship type, age and broad income categories. This study, published by the research arm of Planned Parenthood, allows a woman to see the failure rate most applicable to her own situation.
If a poor cohabiting teenager, for instance, looked at this data, she would find that for her, the Pill has a failure rate of 48.4%. You read that correctly: nearly half of poor cohabiting teenagers get pregnant during their first year using the Pill. If she kicked her boyfriend out of the house, or if she married him, her probability of pregnancy drops to 12.9%. At the other extreme, a middle-aged, middle-class married woman has a 3% chance of getting pregnant after a year on the Pill.
The results for the condom are even more dramatic. Over 70% of poor, cohabiting teenagers using the male condom will be pregnant within a year. By contrast, the middle-aged, middle-class married woman has a 6% chance of pregnancy after a year of condom use.
What is going on here? You wouldn’t think that the hormones in the pill could “know” whether a woman is married or not. Several factors are driving the differences in failure rates: fertility, maturity, commitment and amount of sexual activity.
Young women are more fertile than older women. Therefore, young women are more likely to get pregnant from any given act of intercourse, no matter what contraceptive method they use. The less mature, and possibly less stable individuals may not be using their contraception correctly or regularly. The commitment of married couples to each other makes it easier for married women to negotiate regular condom use. Finally, cohabiting women have sex more frequently than single women, so they have a greater chance of getting pregnant.
The government promotes contraception most heavily among the poor, the young, and the single, because their children are the most likely to become dependent on state support. Yet these targeted groups are the ones most likely to experience contraceptive failure. The commonly quoted failure rates of 8% for the Pill and 15% for the condom are inflated by the highly successful use by middle-aged, middle-class married couples. The “overall failure rates” are simply not relevant to this target population.
The false sense of security created by these inflated success rates of contraception may very well be seducing women to be sexually active in situations that can’t sustain the care of a child. These women would be far better off postponing sexual activity, or developing healthy relationship, or finishing high school. Yet the federal government spends approximately $12 on contraceptive education for every dollar it spends on abstinence education.
The government should insist that their programs provide demographically relevant information.
Otherwise, the rest of us should insist that the government get out of the sex ed business altogether.

“Contraceptive Failure Rates: New Estimates From the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth,” Haisahn Fu, Jacqueline E. Darroch, Taylor Haas, and Nalini Ranjit, Family Planning Perspectives, Vol 31, No. 2. March/April 1999, pp. 56-63.

Male Biological Clock

We are all familiar with teh fact that women's fertility declines with age. We are now discovering that male fertility does as well. And worse, the damage to male sperm may do more than reduce the likelihood of conception. Advanced paternal age has been implicated in a number of birth defects. From an article in Psychology Today:
Nonetheless, a virtual tidal wave of recent research has made it irrefutable: Not only does male fertility decrease decade by decade, especially after age 35, but aging sperm can be a significant and sometimes the only cause of severe health and developmental problems in offspring, including autism, schizophrenia, and cancer. The older the father, the higher the risk. But what's truly noteworthy is not that infertility increases with age—to some degree, we've known that all along—but rather that older men who can still conceive may have such damaged sperm that they put their offspring at risk for many types of disorders and disabilities.

The mechanism seems to be that as men age, their DNA does not replicate as accurately as at earlier ages. Therefore, small abnormalities in the genetic struction which are not large enough to be fatal, can cause a wide array of damage to the child:
These mutations could reflect the differences in male and female reproduction, notes Jabs (Ethylin Wang Jabs, professor of pediatric genetics at Johns Hopkins University). By the time females reach their teen years, their eggs have already been formed—just one new egg matures each month. Men, on the other hand, produce millions of sperm cells every time they ejaculate. After each ejaculation, they must literally replicate those cells, and each replication multiplies the chance for a DNA "copy error"—a genetic chink in the sperm DNA. The more ejaculations a man produces, the greater the chance for chinks to arise, leading to increased point mutation and thus increased infertility and birth defects. While a woman's reproductive capacity halts more or less abruptly after all her eggs have been used up somewhere in their forties or fifties, men experience a longer, more gradual winnowing and disintegration. "We believe that something in men's DNA replication machinery keeps becoming less efficient and less accurate with age, and the problems accumulate," says Jabs.

This is yet another unintended consequence of delaying childbirth, a delay made possible by conctraception. We are increasingly organizing society around the premise that sex is essentially a sterile activity, with childbearing thrown in as an after-thought, if you happen to like that sort of thing. Widespread access to contraception has made indefinite postponement of childbearing the norm, not the exception among the educated classes.
It is time to rethink this.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Same Sex Marriage and the San Diego Union Tribune

I'm so disgusted with my local paper, the San Diego Union Tribune. I spent an entire day on Tuesday at the City Council meeting, for the vote on the resolution for the city to file an amicus brief with the CA Supreme Court supporting same sex marriage. Here is what I wrote to the Union Trib:

To the editor,

I was one of the many people present at the City Council meeting who oppose same sex marriage. Your reportage on this issue has consistently overlooked and marginalized us. Your readers would never know, for instance, that there were twice as many people speaking in opposition to same sex marriage as in favor of it. Your readers would never know that the “opponents who were angered by comparing same sex marriage to the civil rights struggle,” included three African-American pastors. These opponents also included the president of a teen chastity program, Angela King, a mixed-race woman who spoke movingly of her parents own experience with racism, but who has the sense to see the distinction between race, which is irrelevant to marriage, and gender, which is profoundly relevant to marriage.

You continue your bias with the fawning coverage of Mayor Saunders voting with his heart instead of his head. There are plenty of sound arguments against legally recognizing same sex marriage. For instance, it will destabilize the determination of parentage. In both Canada and Pennsylvania, courts have recognized three adults as legal parents. In the Pennsylvania case, Jacob v. Schulz-Jacob, the two members of the estranged lesbian couple as well as the biological father, all dispute one another’s rights and responsibilities. The children have all the trauma of divorce, multiplied. They have visitation with three adults, none of whom live together, none of whom are cooperating with each other.

We have all seen children of divorced parents shuttling from one household to another. If same sex marriage comes to California, we will be seeing children going among three or even more parents. Picture a little girl, going from her mom’s house to her mom’s former partner’s house, to her dad’s, to her dad’s former partner’s. Those little children, with their backpacks and their sleeping bags, are on your head, Mr. Mayor.


Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ask Dr J: Campus Sleepovers

Dear Dr J

You have discussed cohabitation in your writings, but not "sleepovers". In our college culture, it is common for dating couples to routinely spend the night at each other's house. In our campus ministry community, I have several friends that say that while they do share a bed they do not have sex.

I want to believe them, however, even without having sex, I do not think that this makes for a healthy relationship. It is also difficult as I live with several girls from my campus ministry that routinely sleepover with their significant other. I am torn between how I should respond to this; I do not feel like it is right but I realize we all have different moral compasses. I was wondering what your take was on this overlooked issue.
Katie in Kentucky

Dear Katie,
Thanks for your question. I have never heard this particular question. I think your instincts are sound. It is hard to believe that they aren't "having sex" when they are sharing a bed routinely. (In the Catholic tradition, we call this putting oneself in the near occasion of sin. We are responsible to keep ourselves out of occasions of sin!) Also, the evidence about the hormonal bonding suggests that sleeping together, even touching, can trigger some of the hormonal response. That means that your friends are bonding with each other and getting some of the "involuntary chemical commitment" that can cloud a person's judgment about whether the relationship is really right for them.
All in all, I suspect your friends are kidding themselves if they have convinced themselves that this is ok. It would be a better use of their time to spend time "doing stuff" that is not sexual, and that would allow them to get a realistic picture of whether this person is really right for them. If this is the right person for them, then, think about getting married. For most people, getting married right out of college is not too young. If you've really got a good match, you might as well get on with the business of building a life together.
Dr J

Friday, July 27, 2007

HIV: the Invisible Cure

A new book by Helen Epstein uncovers the Invisible Cure for HIV: behavioral changes. She documents the impressive decline in HIV in Uganda during the 1990's. She discovered the seminal paper by Maxine Ankrah that showed that reductions in the numbers of sexual partners were crucial in containing the spread of the disease. This paper was downplayed or overlooked completely in UN reports. This book sounds like an important breakthrough in the discussion about AIDS prevention, when even the NYT is willing to read it objectively.
While I'm glad that she has done this, I must say that I remember reading about the success of the Ugandan program well before this. The Weekly Standard did an article on the subject, back in 2005, by Edward Green, also an AIDS researcher. He wrotes:
Our secret was that the country that had best succeeded in curbing the spread of HIV--Uganda--had achieved this result without following the formula the experts had been pushing for over 20 years, namely, condoms, drugs, and testing. Instead, Uganda had achieved its unparalleled decline in the prevalence of HIV with a home-grown, low-cost program built around something offensive to conventional experts: promotion of sexual abstinence and fidelity, with condoms promoted only quietly, to high-risk groups and those already infected.
Not surprisingly, information about what was actually working in Uganda was unpopular. Condoms have been regarded as the first line of defense for everyone, everywhere, and anyone who disagrees with this orthodoxy has been dismissed as a religious fanatic with "an agenda." Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on condom social marketing (a field I myself worked in for several years) and on related medical-pharmaceutical solutions. How infuriating that an approach not funded by the big donors and scoffed at by foreign experts should prove to
be the very thing that worked best.

This "follow the money" logic only partially explains the reluctance of the AIDS establishment to give full credit to the Ugandan model. They don't really beleive that "partner reduction" is a realistic stratgey. Green tells this story:
CONSIDER THIS VIGNETTE, from the global AIDS conference in Bangkok in July 2004. When Simon Onaba, a 22-year-old Ugandan university student, told an audience of AIDS experts that he had abstained from sex for three years and intended to continue doing so until his wedding night, he was loudly jeered. "Oh, how nice for you!" went one reaction. "You may be able to abstain, but what about a 13-year-old Somali girl forced into marriage and subjected to genital mutilation? She doesn't have the luxury to abstain!" (As if, by choosing abstinence, Simon were somehow failing to take a stand against genital mutilation.) The experts also hurled hostile questions at Simon: How often do you masturbate, and with whom? What's your real agenda for trying to make people believe you are abstaining?
These critics seem to believe that since abstinence and fidelity may not be workable options for 5 percent of the population, they should be rejected altogether, even if they are the best option for 95 percent of the population. These numbers are not arbitrary: By 1995, only 5 percent of Ugandan males and females were reporting casual sex.

As that last figure suggests, reality is very different from the Western experts' perception. Surveys today suggest that more than half of African males and females between the ages of 15 and 19 are abstaining from premarital sex, and increasing proportions of adults are having sex with only one partner. Yet few who work in AIDS prevention have called attention to these important trends, perhaps because they contradict the image of the hypersexed African that Western AIDS experts have been selling since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic. They depict Africans as "polygamous by nature," and supposedly so driven by hormones and poverty that commercial and transactional sex, and the inability to make responsible decisions about sex, are simply part of what it means to be African. If you accept this condescending view, condoms seem to be the only realistic solution to AIDS.

The trouble with the image of the hypersexed African is that it was never true for most Africans. Meanwhile, sexual behavior in Africa has changed. Not only in Uganda, but also perhaps in Senegal, Kenya, and elsewhere, abstinence and faithfulness have worked better than condoms. I document the evidence for Uganda and Senegal
in detail in my 2003 book Rethinking AIDS Prevention. I also show that in about 1999, Kenya switched to a Uganda-style approach. In the past four to five years, casual sex on the part of Kenyan men and women has declined by about 50 percent, and HIV infection rates have fallen.

I wish Helen Epstein every success with her book.