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.