a bird and a bottle

From the Department of Not Surprising But Still Disgusting
February 28, 2007, 10:27 pm
Filed under: criminal justice, news

It shouldn’t be surprising at this point: Mandatory minimum drug sentences, particularly those for crack cocaine, disproportionately harm the Black community.

In Maryland, 9 of 10 people incarcerated in Maryland prisons because of drug mandatory minimums are African American. Yet study after study shows that drug use is as common among White people; they just get arrested much less often.

Maryland, like the federal government, is considering changing its drug sentencing laws. But Maryland is not just evening out crack and cocaine sentence disparities; instead it is considering repealing the mandatory minimums and implementing a policy that would allow judges discretion when sentencing drug offenders. Though this makes me a little nervous about the “law and order” judges who will continue to sentence overly harshly, the proposal is much more good than bad. Drug addiction is a public health problem that has for too long been treated as a crime.

Maryland is ahead of the curve in the U.S. in its acknowledgment that drug addiction should be addressed through treatment. But it’s more than that — the treatment must be community-based, must be available to pregnant and parenting women, and must accept Medicaid as payment. Otherwise the promise of treatment is empty — or at least only half full.

via Crim Prof Blog.


Continuing the Connections
February 28, 2007, 10:02 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, NYC, reproductive justice

The other night at MilbyDaniel’s fabulous feminist feast (my title) I met Radical Doula Miriam Zoila Perez. She pretty much rocks, and I was thrilled to see today that she has started her own blog.

Check out Miriam and her badass radical doula self here.

Oh Frank Bruni, You’re So Witty
February 28, 2007, 7:27 am
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, food, frivolity, media, news, NYC

Every Wednesday, Frank Bruni, the NY Times’ chief food critic, publishes his review. Usually it’s of one of the most eagerly awaited or most-talked about new restaurants in the city. Usually foodies are salivating to hear what he has to say. And then there are days like today, when Bruni reviews….Robert’s Steakhouse at the Penthouse Executive Club. I’m not so much bothered by the fact of the review itself — or that he likes their steaks (1 star) — but the double entendres throughout the review about cow flesh and women’s flesh are unappetizing.

Exhibit A, this photo:

bruni meat

The caption?

PROPERLY HOT The meat at Robert’s Steakhouse at the Penthouse Executive Club on the Far West Side is aged and carefully broiled.

Another caption, to a photo featuring the same headless woman, reads: “The portions at Robert’s are pretty generous — as they need to be, given how topless some of the prices seem.” Yuck yuck. Your wit slays me, NYT editors.

Not sure in either caption whether they’re talking about the filet mignon or the beheaded half naked woman? Yeah. me neither.

The times “balances” out its food coverage with a nod to the only current female 3-star Michelin chef.

Law and Order, Coming Soon to a Placenta Near You
February 27, 2007, 10:14 pm
Filed under: criminal justice, feminism/s & gender, law, news, NYC, reproductive justice

From Broadsheet:

In 1999, a pregnant schoolteacher [Esther Portalatin-Leighton] was injured when a toilet at a Brooklyn public school collapsed. The placenta of her then 14-week-old fetus was ruptured, and her daughter was born prematurely, less than four months after the accident. Today, the seven-year-old has learning disabilities and asthmatic symptoms, which her parents attribute to her premature birth. Should the girl have the right to sue the city for her injuries?

Yes, according to an appeals panel that just overturned a 2005 decision by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Martin Solomon. The appeals panel said that if the injuries occurred after the child was conceived and if she were born alive, she had the right to sue — thus denying the city’s lawyers’ claim that the child would have had to be able to survive outside of the womb at the time of the injury in order to qualify for damages.

Here we have a girl whose disabilities may or may not have been caused by the premature birth which may or may not have been caused by the toilet collapse. Pregnancy and childbirth are uncertain biological processes rife with moments at which something could go wrong. Causation in cases like this will be beyond difficult to prove. But that’s not really what concerns me here (though it does sound so very law school). The rub of this news item is this nugget, tucked into the end of the NY Daily News’s story:

“Abortion cases are genuinely distinguishable from the [Leighton] case since fetuses which are aborted are not born alive,” Brooklyn Appeals Court Justice Gloria Goldstein wrote.

I’m sure that upon reading that, many people breathed a sigh of relief. “Phew,” you might be thinking, “this is great for a family that must be buried in medical costs. This is not another attack on abortion rights. It’s just like the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.” And while it would appear from the language of the decision (and of the UVVA which explicitly exempts a pregnant woman’s own actions) to be the case, it’s not. Just do a google search for UVVA. The first hit: The National Right to Life Committee, one of the country’s loudest anti abortion rights organizations.

What are we to conclude from this? Cases like the one this New York Court has just authorized may not be about eroding abortion rights on an individual level, but on sum, they are. They are about awarding personhood and rights to a fetus. And though those rights may be contingent upon the fetus’s live birth, the harm has occurred to that “person” before birth.

The NY Court tried to insulate abortion rights from the fallout of its decision, but what about women who carry a child to term despite a drug problem? These women often give birth to perfectly healthy — and wanted — children. In many states, they have nevertheless been prosecuted for child abuse and even drug trafficking. Women who are pregnant and unable to kick addictions are often thrown in jail to protect their fetuses, which, as I have posted about before, often leads to childbirth in unsanitary conditions or to finding drugs even more widely available in prison than they were on the street. Still, today’s decision could open the door to more prosecutions, by signaling that a fetus, though not endowed with the full rights of a born person, has some rights from the beginning of pregnancy.

I am not unsympathetic to the extra burdens the Leightons have had to bear. But their victory sets a dangerous precedent. And going back to that law school mumbo jumbo about causation, since it’s so difficult to prove given the millions of potential variables that could affect a pregnancy, every move a woman makes (or doesn’t make) could open her up to legal liability. Women’s behavior during pregnancy is already under a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Decisions like the one today tell women they must guarantee a perfect birth outcome — or else.

February 27, 2007, 8:39 pm
Filed under: frivolity, video

I often wonder how other bloggers find such offbeat/interesting/funny videos on YouTube. I still don’t know, but I did find this tonight. David Bowie performs with the Arcade Fire. A must-watch/listen for fans of good rock music.

And with that, I return to reading Judith Butler. Yes, it’s quite a contrast.

An Honest Debate
February 27, 2007, 8:28 pm
Filed under: law, news, NYC, politics, Uncategorized

Contract via Abolish the N-Word.

The New York City Council is considering a ban on the N-word. A symbolic ban. But a ban on the use of a word nonetheless.

The ban was introduced by city councilman Leroy Comrie, and the black community has been both vigorously supportive and strongly opposed.

I’m not sure what to make of it. Since the ban is only symbolic, the ACLU has remained neutral. But it’s still a speech restriction, which in itself gives me pause. That said, the N-word has a violent and hate-filled history and deserves to scrubbed from speech and seen/heard/read in history classes alone. But as I say, I don’t have an opinion on this one. Which is a rare thing indeed.

So I am curious. What do you think?

Tickin’ Like This (with thanks to Marisa Tomei)
February 27, 2007, 8:21 am
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, media, news, reproductive justice

After all these years of pressure on women to get pregnant — and now! — it seems that men too have a biological clock. The NY Times reports that as men get older, their risk of fathering children with abnormalities, including autism and schizophrenia, increases.

At long (long) last, perhaps, this news can take some of the heat and the pressure off of women. For too long, everything related to pregnancy has been on women’s heads. Any complication, any hiccup was thought to be related to the woman’s health and how she comported herself during pregnancy. Biologically, of course, that’s ridiculous.

“Until now, the dominant view has been, ‘Blame it on the mother,’ ” said Dr. Avi Reichenberg, the lead author of the study, published in September in The Archives of General Psychiatry. “But we found a dose-response relationship: the older the father, the higher the risk. We think there is a biological mechanism that is linked to aging fathers.”

This article is not the first time that the question of a man’s impact on reproductive outcomes has come up. Cynthia Daniels, a scholar at Rutgers, has written a whole book about it. While women around the country have been prosecuted because they were unable to kick drug addictions during pregnancy and social workers, prosecutors, and courts feared for the health of their fetuses (and wrongly assumed that a jail stay would protect fetal health), Daniels reports in Exposing Men: The Science and Politics of Male Reproduction that paternal alcoholism, cigarette smoking, and illicit drug use has been correlated with abnormal sperm, low birth weight, and birth defects, including spina bifida and anencephalus. Yet the press ignores the impact of men’s behavior on birth outcomes. Daniels reports:

From 1985 to 2000, the nine U.S. national daily newspapers published fewer than a dozen stories on associations between men’s drug use, alcohol use, or cigarette smoking and fetal health problem. By contrast, during the same period these papers ran 197 stories on pregnant women and cocaine addiction alone. (p.143)

So now that this issue has finally hit the pages of the paper of record, maybe we can start blaming women less and understanding reproductive biology better. Pamela Madsen, of the American Fertility Association, whom the Times article quotes, put it well:

“It takes two to make a baby,” she said, “and men who one day want to become fathers need to wake up, read what’s out there and take responsibility.

“I don’t see why everyone is so surprised,” Ms. Madsen added. “Everyone ages. Why would sperm cells be the only cells not to age as men get older?”