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.


Gay Conjugal Visits (not a punchline)
June 4, 2007, 9:34 am
Filed under: criminal justice, feminism/s & gender, guests, news, news & views, sexuality

(Guest post by SF; no connection to San Francisco)

As the NYTimes recently reported:

Gay and lesbian prisoners in California will be allowed overnight visits with their partners under a new prison policy, believed to be the first time a state has allowed same-sex conjugal stays.

The change arrived over two years after a 2003 California law provided equal rights for registered domestic partners in California, both same sex and non-married heterosexual couples. The delay, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, was due to considerations of whether allowing the visits would expose gay inmates to danger inside the prison, where they are sometimes singled out for attack. The policy shift – finally enacted under the threat of an ACLU lawsuit – is a double victory: for gay rights and prisoner rights. But the sum of the victories is greater than their individual parts.

As a rule, groups that are doubly (or triply) discriminated against (black poor women, for example) are redressed only in one capacity or, in the best case scenario, in each of their individual discriminated capacities. What remains unaddressed is the harm inflicted by multiple, simultaneous discriminations. The situation is even worse in the case of prisons. Scholars and activists like Angela Davis have convincingly demonstrated that racism lies at the heart of the American penitentiary system; in sum: if the people being locked up weren’t black, America would be much less willing to lock ’em up under such harsh conditions and for so long. (Slavery’s long lasting legacy.) We lock up the Other much sooner that we’d lock up our Selves. Viewing the prisoner as Other allows us to deny their basic humanity.

Many states don’t even offer conjugal visits. The fact that California – which now spends more money on its notorious prisons than it does on its vaunted universities – allows conjugal visits in the first place is a recognition (small as it may be) of the humanity and basic human needs and desires of prisoners. That this recognition would be extended to a group whose basic human needs and desires have only rarely been recognized in America is all the more impressive.

It is sad, of course, that gay prisoners in California – deprived of so many freedoms taken for granted outside the prison walls – now have basic human needs and desires recognized in a manner that much of the rest of the country (the current Supreme Court included) likely would reject even for gay female and male American citizens walking freely.

Scratch the Surface of the UVVA

The UVVA. Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Laci & Conner’s Law. Sounds nice enough, right? We want to be able to punish people who commit violence against pregnant women, because we are concerned both about the heightened risks of violence against pregnant women and about doing as much as we can to ensure a healthy birth outcome.

If only it were that simple…UVVA’s, as many of you probably know, were imagined and implemented with a much more political and much more suspect purpose — to establish fetal personhood and support anti repro justice crusaders.

Want more evidence? Well, around the country, prosecutors have attempted to rely on UVVA’s to prosecute pregnant women for not ensuring a perfect birth outcome.

Last week, RH Reality Check’s Amie Newman took on the issue, in the context of Kansas’s new UVVA, which was signed into law by the state’s “pro-choice” governor, Kathleen Sebelius. And what’s funny about Kansas, and what makes the UVVA’s political purposes so blindingly clear, is that the state already had a law protecting pregnant women. Newman has more:

In fact, in Kansas, this law repeals statutes already on the books that criminalize injury inflicted upon a pregnant woman. Twelve years ago, Kansas enacted “Motherhood Protection” laws (K.S.A. 21-3440 and K.S.A. 21-3441) that, according to the reproductive justice advocacy organization ProKanDo, “recognize the particularly heinous nature of crimes against pregnant women by providing separate criminal charges for those who interrupt a pregnancy in the commission of a crime.” These laws were put into place over a decade ago as the result of anti-choice advocates who, at the time, desperately wanted a UVVA in Kansas. What they got instead were laws that heightened the consequences of intentionally harming pregnant women, recognizing the atrocious nature of this type of crime, without defining fetuses as full people.

Fast forward to 2007 when anti-choice advocates in Kansas were finally able to pass the full UVVA that mirrored their ideology while serving their political purposes. Kansas’ law, according to Julie Burkhardt, executive director of ProKanDo, “contains extreme language when talking about life beginning at fertilization or conception — similar to about fifteen other states’ UVV laws.” So what reason can there be for repealing legislation already in place that ensures that perpetrators of violence against pregnant women will be prosecuted uniquely for their crimes? And why did the law pass now — with a pro-choice Governor and five failed attempts in previous years? There may be many reasons; though none have anything to do with justice, protection or concern for the victims of violent crimes.

Some evidence that the UVVA is neither meant to really address violence against women nor effective at preventing such violence: as Newman notes, in none of the 30 states that have state UVVA laws has violence against pregnant women declined. Not only do the laws not help women, but they put women’s reproductive lives in to jeopardy:

Perhaps what is most disturbing about the steady stream of laws like these around the country is their insidiousness. Julie [Burkhardt, director of ProKanDo, a pro-choice political action committee in Kansas] says, “With this type of bill, anti-choice advocates are hitting the spectrum of women’s reproduction.” While many reproductive justice advocates have wondered for years how anti-choice activists could scream so loudly for the punishment of abortion providers while somehow absolving women who access the abortions, it is no longer a puzzle.

“There is a real disconnect — when people think of reproductive health we think about abortion because that’s the hot button issue. It drives voters. But it’s also good for everybody to look at laws like Kansas’ law – it doesn’t just hurt women who need abortions but hurts women who want to continue their pregnancies and be mothers,” Julie says. Women who get abortions are women who chose to become or are already mothers at different points in their lives. Laws like these punish women across the entire reproductive continuum.

So what next? When supposedly pro-choice governors are signing UVVAs into effect, can we really have hope that we can stop their passage? Well, I don’t know. And I’m not particularly optomistic, particularly since these laws appear to protect both women and fetuses, at least on their face. What will it take to get the message across about the perils of the UVVA? How many women will have to end up in jail and how many others will have to end up injured or worse?

What Does a Giant Q-Tip have to do With Your Privacy?
May 15, 2007, 8:47 am
Filed under: civil rights, criminal justice, law, news & views, NYC, politics

Actually, quite a lot.

N.Y. Governor Spitzer announced recently his proposal to greatly expand the use of DNA testing in the New York criminal justice system. Under the current system, DNA is collected from people convicted of only the most serious crimes — rape, murder, burglary. Spitzer’s proposal, which has been kicking around the state legislature for some time now, would require that DNA be collected from ALL people convicted of ANY crime, including misdemeanors. Get convicted of pot possession? The state’ll have your DNA. Get arrested and convicted for protesting against a political convention? Yep, your DNA gets sampled too. The plan would also require the collection of samples from everyone currently incarcerated, on probation, and on parole.

The upshot to Spitzer’s proposal, and what makes it different from the old proposals, is that criminal defendants would have access to the state DNA database too, and could use it to prove their innocence. It would also require that prosecutors notify the court if they find out that there might be DNA that would exonerate the accused.

The upshots sound pretty good. DNA evidence has been used to exonerate over 200 people who were wrongly convicted and who have spent up to 30 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. DNA can be as powerful a tool for defendants as it is for prosecutors. But NY’s plan – for all the talk of equanimity – goes too far.

First of all, prosecutors are already under a duty to report evidence that exonerates the accused. The NY plan just codifies that. Second, DNA is not like fingerprints, which can only be used for a specific purpose. DNA evidence, once collected, provides a wealth of information to the government. Information that may have nothing to do with whether or not the person from whom the DNA is collected committed a specific crime. I don’t know about you, but I am not too keen on turning people’s most sensitive information over to the government at a time when it’s clear that the government does not respect its citizens’ privacy. Third, DNA evidence is not foolproof — but juries often think it is. The New York Civil Liberties Union, which opposed a similar program proposed by NYC Mayor Bloomberg last year, reports on the perils of relying too heavily on DNA:

In the past five years the use of DNA by law enforcement has come under increasing scrutiny by critics who have documented cases in which the use of DNA has been subject to gross negligence and intentional abuse. The Houston Police Department closed its DNA lab in 2003 after it released from prison two men who had been falsely incriminated by faulty lab work. In 2004, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer report documented 23 errors that the Washington State Patrol laboratory had made in the investigations of serious crimes.

So what are we to do? We want to protect people from wrongful convictions while also ensuring that convicted rapists can be easily caught should they rape again. I’m not saying DNA should never be collected. But there’s a balance that can be struck. The governor’s proposal ignores the possibility of a more evenhanded approach and puts a heavy hand on the justice scale.

May 13, 2007, 9:03 pm
Filed under: news & views, politics, war

I don’t often post on the Iraq war around these parts. Mostly, that’s because there are many many many other bloggers saying what I would say already. And also because those bloggers, on the whole, know much more than I do.

But I did think this was worth pointing out: via C&L, check out this slide show the Boston Globe put together. The question the show tries to answer is this: What does $456 billion buy? Why that number? Because that’s how much has been spent on the war in Iraq.

Here’s the part I found most moving/shocking/eye-opening:

According to World Bank estimates, $54 billion a year would eliminate starvation and malnutrition globally by 2015, while $30 billion would provide a year of primary education for every child on earth.

At the upper range of those estimates, the $456 billion cost of the war could have fed and educated the world’s poor for five and a half years.

Go see the rest.

Is Frank Bruni Sexist?
May 9, 2007, 11:11 pm
Filed under: food, frivolity, news & views, NYC

So, A Bird and a Bottle is a feminist, progressive, foodie blog. At least nominally, though lately the food writing has been lacking. Part of that is due to the mass amounts of studying i have had to do, leaving little time for cooking or eating out (thank you, frozen lasagna). And part of that is due to the fact that there’s been so much action on the feminist and criminal justice fronts recently that the food blogging has fallen by the wayside.

But today, I get to take on food and feminism in a single post.

And here’s why: A few weeks ago, Frank Bruni, the NY Times’ chief restaurant critic, panned restauranteur Keith McNally’s new place in Manhattan, Morandi. The pan (1 star but the review sounded like no stars). McNally, who also owns Balthazar – a Spring Street haunt of the Soho elites – was understandably disappointed. His chef, rising star Jody Williams,must have shared his dismay. Though at that point, with the bad reviews piling up, they couldn’t have been surprised.

But yesterday, McNally bit back, accusing Frank Bruni not of poor taste, but of sexism. According to McNally’s research, Bruni has never given anything more than one star to a restaurant whose kitchen is headed by a woman chef, as Morandi is. In a letter planted with food blog eater, McNally wrote:

One can only wonder whether Bruni would still have his job at The Times if he himself was a woman. Based on the unremittingly sexist slant of his reviews one has to say no. The surprise is that The New York Times continues to condone it. But until it refuses to, its message, through Frank Bruni, is loud and clear: If you’re a woman and talented, the one place you’d better get out of – and fast – is the kitchen.

Ouch. And way to turn that old stereotype on its head, Keith.

NY Mag’s food blog, Grub Street, fought back, defending King Bruni:

The complaint goes on for a long time and seems unlike McNally, who has almost always stayed above the fray. What’s especially unseemly is the way the letter dwells on Bruni’s attitude toward gender (“…when the chef is a man Bruni often makes quite a song and dance about it.”). Given the amount of food-world speculation about Bruni’s sexual orientation, this seems like a low blow, especially since the Times’ review echoed a near-universal critical consensus about Morandi

I have to say, I’m not surprised at McNally’s complaint. This is not the first time Bruni has exhibited a sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge boys club kind of attitude. What I am surprised about is NY Mag’s retort: He may be gay so he can’t be sexist?

I have no idea if Morandi deserves more than one star (though in fairness, McNally does not assert that it does). But I do have to say that it’d be interesting if McNally’s research is proven true. I’m willing to wager that it’s not that there aren’t any two or three or even four star female chefs in our fair city. Lord knows, it wouldn’t be the first time the NY Times’s sexist underbelly were exposed.

More Stories from Men/Dads

update: via Jill, here’s a woman’s story of abortion. It’s sad and moving and also joyful and energizing.

The Supreme Court’s shift in abortion jurisprudence with its decision a few weeks ago in Gonzales v. Carhart has gotten a lot of press both in traditional MSM and on blogs (including this one). That’s to be expected given the politically explosive nature of the abortion debate and the love of the media for all things inflammatory.

What’s interesting, though, is how many of the stories and posts to follow the decision have been about men’s experiences as fathers, fathers-to-be, and would-be dads.

Take, for example, today’s LA Times opinion piece by Dan Neil — a touching and, at this point, familiar story.

Neil writes about his and his wife’s desire to have children; she underwent IVF to conceive, and ended up with too many fetuses (four when they could only have or handle two). So they reduced her pregnancy — a euphemistic term for selective abortion when a woman carries too many fetuses as a result of IVF or other fertility treatments. Neil writes well – he’s totally unapologetic (rightly unapologetic) and is concerned about the world his two female daughters-to-be will face once they’re born in light of the Supreme Court’s rightward shift and the fact that 9 of the 10 GOP presidential candidates profess to want to see Roe overturned.

I read the story, and felt for Neil and his wife; both their sadness and their relief at reducing the pregnancy. But I couldn’t help but wonder if men are the new face of abortion rights. Is it men whom we must ask to defend abortion rights now against a court and a rightwing political movement led mostly by men?

And if so, isn’t it a sad state of affairs that there is such contempt for women in this society that we need men to be the public faces of the fight for our reproductive autonomy?