a bird and a bottle

More on the Dems and Ab Only

The fabulous Ms. Lindsay Beyerstein has taken a new job as a reporter for In These Times. Her first piece, up today, takes on the Democrats and their recent support for abstinence only funding. What do the Dems have to give up, she wonders, in order to secure the success of some of their other priorities? Here’s a snippet:

Even opponents of abstinence-only education might concede that a few extra million for abstinence education is a small price to pay for easing the passage of a very important domestic spending bill that contains a lot of spending that’s important to Democrats.

Yet, principle is at stake here. Few people realize that the CBAE program promulgates out-and-out quackery and barely disguised religious dogma. These programs don’t just encourage students to remain abstinent as teenagers. By law, they are required to teach “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity,” among many other stipulations. In other words, the program must teach that all sexual activity outside of marriage, even between consenting adults, violates some nebulous “expected standard.”

Go check out the whole thing here.


Violence Against Abortion Clinics Up; Media Attention Still Nonexistent
April 27, 2007, 9:40 am
Filed under: civil rights, education, media, news, politics, reproductive justice, wingnuttery

Via WIMN’s Voices:

Yesterday, an explosive device was found at an Austin, TX women’s health clinic. A clinic that performs abortions, of course. The place was shut down, people evacuated, and even a portion of the highway roped off.

Oh, didn’t hear about it? Yeah, didn’t think so.

There’s a reason for that — the nonexistent (or trifling) media coverage of violence against women, particularly when such violence brushes up against politically touchy subjects like abortion.

With the exception of this short AP article (mainstream national media did cover the spree of abortion provider shootings in Buffalo, NY and bombings around the country in the 1990s. But that was ten years ago. One would particularly expect the news antennae to go up over this violence and attempted violence today, with the fear level ratcheted up and the 24-hr coverage of terrorism, war, and anything else violent or salacious.

So why is it that stories about violence against women and women’s health is being ignored? Is it the politics? Or just a sense that because we don’t make a big deal out of it, the news machine doesn’t have to?

WIMN’s Keely Savoie suggests that the lack of news media attention is harming all feminist causes, and making feminists who do make a stink seem like chicken littles (or worse, like the stereotypical shrill women’s libber). Zuzu posits that there’s a real, actual, danger in the MSM non-reaction to such violence, and that it was also reflected in the lack of action after the first shooting at Virginia.

I’m not sure that I buy these theories. But I am disturbed by the lack of national concern about such violence.

Chisum is at it Again

Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum is at it again. Yes, that Warren Chisum. The one who wanted to pass a law banning the teaching of evolution in Texas schools. The one lambasted by the late great Molly Ivins in her Dildo Diaries video.

This time, the man who wants to fight for a Christian Texas is doing it pretty overtly. The LA Times reported yesterday that he has proposed a bill that would require all public high schools to offer an elective course on the Bible. The course would teach the “history and literature of the Old and New Testaments eras.”

There’s so much wrong with this bill it’s hard to figure out where to start. Here’s the obvious. In many many (many) places in Texas, a class that teaches the Bible will not be teaching it as literature, but rather as a holy document and the word of God. Though Chisum says that won’t be so (he said the course would not treat the Bible as a “worship document” but would promote religious and cultural literacy by “educating our students academically and not devotionally.”), I’m not quite so sure.

Think about it. Especially given the funding structure of the bill. Who would be the teachers?

The bill, which says the class is to be taught in “an objective and nondevotional manner,” does not provide funding or training for school districts and teachers. […]

“The fear is that teachers with limited training and no guidance will be called upon to teach a course for which their experience draws largely from Sunday school,” Miller said. “It would be difficult for them to keep their own religious perspective out of the classroom. You can almost hear the lawyers lining up.”

That fear is well-founded. There are already studies proving that religion has a tendency to creep in in situations like the one this bill would create:

A study conducted for her group by Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University, found that of Texas’ 25 public school districts with a Bible course, 22 districts’ offerings had a Christian slant.

“When teachers don’t have solid training in biblical studies and 1st Amendment issues, then they fall back on what they know from prior knowledge,” Chancey told state legislators last week. “Courses end up being sectarian, often despite their best intentions.”

He said one teacher showed students a PowerPoint presentation titled “God’s Road Map for Your Life.” Included was a slide called “Jesus Christ Is the One and Only Way.” Another teacher taught students that NASA had found a missing day and time that corresponded to a biblical story of the sun standing still. One school showed “VeggieTales” videos, which feature computer-animated Christian vegetables that talk.

That’s right, folks. Talking Christian vegetables. Of course, the bill also raises serious First Amendment concerns. While Chisum promises that it will not teach religious doctrine (and I am all for teaching the Bible as Literature), it’s hard to see how the bill would not require state funding for religious (as opposed to literary) education. Especially given the empirical studies quoted above.

And it’s not hard to see that that’s exactly the situation Chisum wants:

Chisum’s legislation says the Bible would be the primary textbook for the class. It allows but doesn’t require the classes to include secular books or those from other religions.

Seems to me that teaching the Bible as history and literature, you might want to bring in, oh, i don’t know, a history text. Or perhaps novels or memoirs that illustrate how authors have used or criticized the bible in their writing.

There are other problems with the bill, including the fact that in many Texas schools there isn’t even funding for music education or gym. Is Bible studies the thing that should get the precious few education dollars?

Warren Chisum would say yes. Because to him, religious ideology trumps all. As I said in my post the other day about states turning down abstinence-only funding, to guys like Chisum, school is for preaching, not for teaching.

(also at LG&M)

From the Times: Make Re-Entry Real
March 27, 2007, 9:38 am
Filed under: civil rights, criminal justice, education, law, news, news & views

Is someone on the NYT editorial board reading this blog? (i wish.)

Only yesterday I complained that the media elites don’t give enough space and energy to talking about prison reform and criminal justice.

And lo and behold, today there’s an editorial in the times praising Washington’s new legislation that provides each incarcerated person a personal re-entry plan, and calling on other states to give the same amount of attention and money to this important issue.

This month, the Washington State Senate passed a farsighted bill that could be a model for the nation. It would require the state Corrections Department to fashion individual re-entry plans — detailing job training, drug treatment and educational goals — for every inmate. The bill, which is expected to pass the House as well, would provide a tax incentive for companies that hire previously incarcerated people, and would prompt a review of state laws that may bar felons from state-licensed occupations that are in no way related to their offenses.

Pretty damn good, eh? While the Washington plan doesn’t solve all the problems — like the fact that a lot of the men and women incarcerated shouldn’t even be there in the first place, but have fallen victim to ridiculous and punitive drug laws that target low level offenders — but it’s a commendable and huge step in the right direction.

The Times rightly notes that there are other important aspects of prisoner re-entry that must be addressed. The most important (by my lights): education programs.

Researchers have shown over and over again that inmates who earn colleges degrees are far less likely to end up back behind bars. But like most states, Washington backed away from prison college education programs during the 1990s. That’s also when Congress barred inmates from receiving federal Pell grants. Washington State’s proposed new program would partly reverse that policy by allowing inmates to take college classes that would be paid for by the inmates, third parties or perhaps through loans. It would also require the state to pay the full costs for inmates seeking high school diplomas or high school equivalency degrees.

While the Times notes that the costs are uncertain (and I bet they are), I’m damn sure that the costs of re-entry programs like Washington’s are a whole lot less than the cost of incarcerating people. Oh, and then RE-incarcerating them when they reoffend in large because they can’t get a job when they are released, have no place to live, and find themselves grasping at straws again. That recidivistic cycle is hugely expensive, both in actual dollars and in the other costs to our communities.

Hook-Ups and Harm? Or Hook-ups and Health?

I’ve been wanting to blog about this all week, but haven’t had the chance. I don’t have the time now either, but I’m sick of working. So here goes.

Earlier this week, a friend sent me a column from the Arizona Republic called “Misery U: Hookup Culture Leaves Casualties.” The author, Dr. Miriam Grossman, takes college health providers to task for creating a culture in which it’s ok for kids to experiment with their sexuality in a relatively protected environment.

If you can get past how badly written the piece is, you’ll see that she is particularly huffy about Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University’s amazing and respected sexual health Q&A website (there’s also a book). Grossman is mad — shocked even — that the Alice website answers college kids’ (and other people’s — anyone can ask a question through the Alice website) questions about sexuality, whether it’s a decision about having sex for the first time, a worry about an STD, a question about masturbation, or a concern about an emotional health issue. Alice is non-judgmental and respects the worries and vulnerabilities of people who pose questions.

And Grossman just can’t stand it. She writes:

OK, hold on a minute. As a health expert, Alice, aren’t you forgetting a few things?

Let’s start with this: These young women who have turned to you are adolescents, and that likely means their cervix is immature and more vulnerable to infection. Surely you’ve studied basic gynecology and know about the transformation zone, where human papillomavirus (HPV) has infected about half of sexually active college women, usually from one of their first encounters. Did you forget that this area shrinks with time, making infection less likely? This fact alone behooves you to urge these women to wait.

Sounds innocuous enough, right? She’s a healthcare provider and she’s worried about high HPV infection rates. Except she wants to treat college-age women, who are somewhere between adolescent and adult, as if they are infants. Oh, and she fails to mention the new vaccine that prevents HPV.

Dr. Grossman goes on like this for several ever more exasperating paragraphs. And then she gets to her main point. Which isn’t really about women’s health at all, or about education women how to prevent STDs. Nope. It’s about the fact that Dr. Grossman actually kinda likes the patriarchal social structures that sex education and the use of contraception can help fight against. Think I’m exaggerating? Take it from the doctor herself:

One freshman whose first “real” boyfriend had just dumped her wanted to know, “Why, Dr. Grossman, do they warn you about STDs and pregnancy, but they don’t tell you what it does to your heart?”

What could I tell her? In my profession, common sense has vanished. It has been replaced by social agendas. The ideology of “anything goes,” “women are just like men,” “abortion is benign,” “sex is a recreational activity” is alive and well in much of campus health and counseling.

Still not sure? Well how about this: just a few paragraphs later, Dr. Grossman further hones her argument. It’s just the women you see who have to wait. Because, as she noted above, she doesn’t think women are like men. It’s ok for boys to explore their sexuality in college, but girls, you better keep your legs crossed.

But wait! There’s more!

A mountain of research highlights the differences between male and female. We once had a few STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), easily treated with antibiotics. Now, we have over a dozen, including some deadly viruses that have no cure. And even research cited by Planned Parenthood, supporting the notion that most women have no long-term emotional consequences from abortions, indicates that two years later, 20 percent felt that termination of their pregnancy had done more harm than good.

I’m so sick of this tactic, which starts with something that sounds fairly commonsense: STDs are bad, we don’t want college kids to get them. From there, there’s the requisite attack on today’s social norms which allow girls to be slutty, er, I mean explore their sexuality before settling down and popping out babies. And the fin de siecle? No good at all can come from healthy sexuality. Only bad. And bad is abortion.

Because, folks, these days the attacks on contraception, comprehensive sex education, and abortion are all tied together. It’s not about being pro-fetal-life. It’s about being pro-women-in-the-kitchen. The false concern for women’s emotional well being Dr. Grossman exhibits here (much like that of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute) is just a pretext for judging and coercing women.

Dr. Grossman shakes her finger in her column at bloggers who will call her anti-female or right wing. But she doesn’t deny it. Because, let’s face it, she’s sorta proud of it.