a bird and a bottle

Stephen Colbert Is a Genius
November 30, 2006, 6:39 pm
Filed under: news & views

Go watch this video. A really smart – and funny – take on wages, immigration, and prisons.

(Sorry the clip is not embedded. I’m still figuring wordpress out. This video is worth the couple clicks it takes to get there.)


Here we go again….
November 30, 2006, 7:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The President has designated today (11/30) as National Methamphetamine Awareness Day. So what are we to do to note this occassion? Get the facts straight, says Margaret Dooley of the Drug Policy Alliance.

In a smart piece on posted at AlterNet today, Dooley debunks a lot of the myths about meth in the U.S. – a necessary task since it was the hyping of myths that led to unnecessary national panic about crack cocaine and “crack babies” in the 1980s. Since then, the “crack baby” myth has been disproven, but we are still dealing with the fallout of the crack “crisis” in our criminal justice system. Yet in spite of all this, the media has already started fanning the flames of a “meth baby” scare, over the objections of scientific experts and medical doctors.

And a shot of truth is the best antidote to fear mongering.

As Dooley notes, methamphetamine is a problem in the U.S., but the numbers of people who use meth are lower than for most other illicit drugs. And there’s not evidence that meth use is growing – in fact, it has been on the decline for a while now (even Bush admits that in his proclamation linked above). Further, as with crack addiction, policing and incarcerating meth users has not and is not solving the puzzle of addiction. Instead, as the success of California’s recent Prop. 36, which funded drug treatment demonstrates, meth addiction is better cured through treatment than through incarceration.

So what are we to do about all this? Dooley has some effective and progressive proposals in her story for how we should push to change state laws, using California as a model but going even further.

Does anyone else find this image disturbing?
November 28, 2006, 9:52 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, news


Does this image from today’s New York Times article about pre-pregnancy make anyone else a little uncomfortable? Why are the egg-warmer, er, I mean women’s hands outstretched like that? Whom or what is she resisting? And why is the fetus an egg? Does that make the woman just an egg-warmer? The illustration seems to take the whole women as incubators thing a little too literally, no?

Maybe this image bugs me in part because of the article in which it was featured. The Times reports that a new Centers for Disease Control study says that all women of reproductive age should be treated as “pre-pregnant.” (In truth, the study has been kicking around since the summer, but I guess there was a hole to fill in today’s Science section.)

This treatment of women as always one sperm wiggle away from pregnancy is necessary, says the report, because several American health problems, including obesity, nicotine addiction, lack of proper nutrition, and a host of others contribute to the United States’s high mortality rate (as compared to other First World nations). It makes sense to me that couples hoping to become pregnant would want to provide the best possible environment (bodily and otherwise) for the fetus. But it strikes me that this study (and the articles reporting on it) miss the point: the reason that American infant mortality rates and low birthweight rates are so high is not because American women are taking enough care of themselves, but because the American healthcare system isn’t taking good enough care of women.

Here’s what I mean:

(this is my writing, just indented because I couldn’t get the bullet points to work)

As the Times article notes, half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Because of this, many women don’t prepare for pregnancy in the ways that the government believes they should (quitting smoking, losing weight, taking Folic Acid and other vitamins). But what I would like to know is: how many of these women who did not plan their pregnancies became pregnant because of trouble gaining access to birth control (whether because socio-cultural, literal physical access, or financial obstacles)? How many of these women would have liked to have been on the birth control pill but could not be because their insurance does not cover it and the local clinic that used to provide birth control through Title X funding can’t keep its doors open because Title X funding has been stagnant for many years?

    If the government thinks that women’s health is so important, why is prenatal care covered for indigent women only through child health insurance plans that treat the fetus as the patient? Why does the federal government fund crisis pregnancy centers that try to prevent women from securing the birth control and other reproductive healthcare that they want?

    Really, I could go on and on. Why doesn’t the study warn men that they should stop smoking and drinking, as their alcohol use has been proven to cause fetal harm? If maternal and fetal health are of primary concern, why doesn’t the report suggest spending less to prosecute and incarcerate pregnant women and mothers who use drugs and more on treatment that can ensure their health and that of their fetuses and children?

    There are so many questions, but the CDC doesn’t care to provide any satisfying answers.

    More on Discriminatory Drug Sentencing
    November 28, 2006, 10:39 am
    Filed under: law, news

    I feel like a bit of a broken record, but here we go…

    The push to get rid of disparate drug sentencing that punishes crack cocaine 100 times as harshly as powder cocaine is picking up momentum.
    At the recent Sentencing Commission hearing on the topic, even the man who proposed the sentencing scheme came out against it. While the Bush administration digs in its heels and refuses – once again – to acknowledge reality, Congress is engaging in a bipartisan effort to get rid of this racist and inhumane program.

    Jackie Jones reports on BlackAmericaWeb (via AlterNet) that even conservative Republican Jeff Session (R-AL) is getting involved, proposing (with Democrats Ken Salazar and Mark Pryor, and Republican John Cornyn) a bill that would lower crack sentences and increase powder cocaine sentences, and shift the law enforcement focus from low-level peddlers and users to real drug kingpins. The bill would also implement stricter penalties for drug traffickers who use women or children as couriers.

    While the bill, the Drug Sentencing Reform Act, is commendable and advocates should be excited at the prospect of bipartisan action on drug sentencing, we need to be sure to read the fine print. The bill does not equalize crack and cociane sentencing, but instead reduces the disparity from 100-to-1 to 20-to-1. Certainly this is a vast improvement, but it is not equality. The bill will also create problems of its own by instituting new harsh mandatory minimum sentences (10 years in some cases) for powder cocaine offenders, divertion attention from what would be a better and longer-term fix: drug treatment. Instead of accepting this part of the Sessions et al. bill, Congressional Democrats should push for an end to mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession.

    Here’s what the ACLU had to say in its recent testimony to the Sentencing Commission about Sen. Sessions’ bill and other sentencing reform bills that were introduced in the Congressional session now ending:

    Several members of 109th Congress introduced legislation addressing the 100 to 1 disparity between federal crack and powder cocaine sentences. Rep. Charles Rangel’s (D-NY) H.R. 2456, the Crack Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 2005, equalizes the drug quantity ratio at the current level of powder cocaine and eliminates the mandatory minimum for simple possession. S. 3725, the Drug Sentencing Reform Act of 2006, sponsored by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) would reduce the drug quantity ratio to a 20:1 disparity by increasing the trigger level for crack and decreasing the trigger quantity amount for powder cocaine as well as change the mandatory sentence for simple possession to one year. In addition, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) introduced legislation that would equalize trigger quantities of crack and powder cocaine at the current 5-gram level of crack.

    The ACLU strongly opposes any measures that would lower the amount of powder cocaine required to trigger a mandatory minimum. Powder cocaine sentences are already severe and increasing the number of people incarcerated for possessing small amounts of cocaine is not the answer to the problem. Additionally, any measures that decrease the amount of powder cocaine would disproportionately impact minority communities because of the disparate prosecution of powder cocaine offenses. In 2000, 17.8% of all powder cocaine defendants were white, 30.5% were black and 50.8% were Hispanics. The mandatory sentences for crack cocaine and the disparity with powder cocaine sentences have created a legacy that must come to an end.

    So what are we to make of all this? I think we should applaud the Sentencing Commissions’ decision to address disparate and discriminatory sentencing. But we can’t rest easy. Instead, we need to continue to put pressure on our elected representatives both through letters and with our votes to make sure that when the Sentencing Commission does take some positive action on drug sentencing, it goes all the way. The current policy is now almost universally admitted to be a failure. We shouldn’t take baby steps away from this bad law. That would only further institutionalize the problem. Instead, we’ve got to push for real, full reform that abandons the idea that it’s good to jail the little guy.

    (photo source)

    Rape Revisited
    November 27, 2006, 10:53 pm
    Filed under: feminism/s & gender, law, news

    Updated: I want to be clear about what I am addressing in this post. It’s not so much the facts of this case have gotten under my skin (as I note below and as the Post notes in its Editorial, the facts are ambiguous at best about whether or not a rape occurred). What I do think is absurd is the fact that the Maryland court held that once a woman gives consent, she cannot withdraw it. The man can continue to climax no matter how long it takes, with impunity. This case reinforces backwards ideas of women and sexuality, sanctioning a view of women who withdraw consent as fickle instead of considering the myriad valid reasons that cause women to consent to sex and to withdraw their consent.


    On Halloween, a Maryland Appellate Court held in Baby v. Maryland that once a woman consents to sex, she cannot withdraw that consent. Disingenuously claiming judicial deference to the legislature, the court said its hands were tied and that only the state supreme court or the legislature could change the outcome. As the Happy Feminist reported when the ruling first came down, a woman is not raped under Maryland law whether even if intercourse continues for a few seconds or a few many minutes after she withdraws her consent. Though in Baby, the man may have withdrawn within five seconds, this ruling would apply similarly in a case in which a man continued to have sex with a woman for ten minutes after she told him to stop. Ick.

    The Washington Post commented on the case today in a really spot-on Editorial. As the Post notes, there are several reasons why the case may have come out as at did, including a fairly weak case for the prosecution. But as the Editorial also notes, what’s really disturbing about this case is how backwards a view it takes of women. It wasn’t long ago (and it continues) that women who claimed they had been raped were called liars or were embarrassed on the witness stand. And things haven’t gotten all that much better — between 1992 and 2000, the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults were not reported to police. And though there are several factors that lead to this lopsided statistic, I would venture that the hostility rape victims face is a huge contributing factor.

    Yet according to the Maryland mid-level appellate court, women are sexual objects who are bound by their first impulses. Relying on what the Post rightly labels as “archaic stereotypes,” the Maryland court envisions women both disempowered and sexually devious.

    I can’t imagine that Maryland’s high court won’t overturn this crazy (and I would argue unconstitutional) decision. That court has made some good decisions recently. Let’s hope that streak continues.

    (photo source)

    Crime is Down in NYC, and so are Incarcerations
    November 27, 2006, 2:19 pm
    Filed under: law, news, politics

    (I’m back after my Berlin hiatus. Sorry for the sporadic posting. Hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings. Regular post follows below).

    The Washington Post reported the other day that crime is down precipitously in New York City, but it’s not because the city is doing a better job of locking people up. Instead, NYC has acheived lower crime rates by jailing fewer people.
    Yep. That’s right. Turns out mass incarceration is not only bad for the communities it destroys, but it may be making for a more dangerous general society too. While it’s not clear that the city’s decision to focus on mental health and drug treatment and to incarcerate fewer low-level drug offenders is the cause of the city’s drop in crime, it seems like a pretty safe bet, particularly when you compare NYC’s statistics to other cities and states in which the focus has been on building more cells instead of cutting the need for those cells.

    From 1992 to 2002, Idaho’s prison population grew by 174 percent. the largest percentage increase in the nation. Yet violent crime in that state rose by 14 percent. In West Virginia, the prison population increased by 171 percent, and violent crime rose 10 percent. In Texas, the prison population jumped by 168 percent, and crime dropped by 11 percent.

    New York’s numbers couldn’t be more different: homicide dropped 70 percent in the same period, and the number of people in city jails dropped about 33 percent.

    No one argues that the city made concerted and selfless effort to empty its jails. Similarly, it is almost universally acknowledged that it’s not a good idea to send violent felons back out onto the streets withou serving any time. But the cells that are now empty at New York’s Rikers Island would have housed mostly people arrested for offenses related to drug addiction. All at huge cost to the state.

    Instead of continuing down this inhumane and expensive road, New York (after too many years of Giuliani-era policing practices that led to hundreds of thousands of arrests for petty crimes) made a simple economic decision — jailing someone is much more expensive than providing drug treatment or mental health treatment. So providing drug abuse treatment or mental healthcare is less expensive for the state than incarcerating someone. It’s also less costly for communities, who usually bear the burdens (homelessness, joblessness, addiction, violence) of re-entry after completed prison sentences, which must often be completed with no state support.

    What does this all mean? I think it’s a pretty strong signal that if cities are really worried about lowering crime and dealing with the problem of commnity violence and recidivism, they should be seeking alternatives to incarceration, especially state-supported drug treatment programs. A shift to this type of enforcement would allow for a more effective allocation of police resources and for a more humane and sensical approach to drug abuse and related offenses. Not to mention the end of prisons as millionaire-making enterprises.

    via TalkLeft.

    Stuffing Success!
    November 24, 2006, 7:24 am
    Filed under: food, me

    As I have written before, I love stuffing. No Thanksgiving could be complete without it. I could take or leave the turkey, the cranberry sauce, even the mashed potatoes, so long as I have stuffing.

    Yesterday, SF and I made stuffing from scratch (e.g. not out of the box) for the first time. Ever. (This is dedication, by the way, as SF has no special love for stuffing, but indulged me by throwing a Thanksgiving dinner party at his Berlin pad in order to create a reason to make a whole big vegetarian Thanksgiving meal centered around stuffing.) We took a trip to the local greenmarket yesterday morning and picked up beautiful farm-fresh acorn squashes, which we packed full with our stuffing.We used this recipe, replacing the pecans with walnuts and omitting the celery (accidentally), and we were thrilled with the results. Using good dark German wheat bread helped make sure the stuffing was tasty enough even though it didn’t soak up the meaty flavor from a roasting bird.

    Our six German dinner guests seemed impressed. The rest of the meal was made up of sides: carrot ginger soup SF made from scratch (with a hand mixer, no less), two different arugula salads (one with Jerusalem artichokes and parmesan, and the other with apples and fennel), roasted mixed potatoes (beautiful sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, and gold potatoes), and brussels sprouts. This was all followed by a cheese course and the piece de resistance (I have no idea if that’s spelled correctly), homemade chocolate truffles from 100% cacao. Now that is dessert.

    It was a true fall feast, and SF and I were thrilled to have a festive meal on Thanksgiving even far away from home. We were sure to send our guests home with tired, tipsy, and, like our squash, stuffed. In true American Thanksgiving style.

    (PS: sorry about the lack of photos – I forgot to take them before we devoured the food.)