Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's Halloween

And I need to settle down to a day of reading Hamlet & preparing for my section tomorrow.

But first... I give you... my sister on Halloween:

Fred Meyer has moved its remaining Halloween Candy stores to the front discount section. Replacing the several aisles of All Hallow's Eve decor and treats? Christmas. Yep. This the day before Halloween. Think how Thanksgiving must feel! Oh, you got skipped!

The problem with population

The UN has issued a final warning on the dire problem poised by overpopulation. This is an issue that seems particularly important to U.S. politics (in my opinion), as conservatives *still* don't seem to get the problem of how we impact the earth with our choices, and why "growth rates" in the economy (more people = more buying!) aren't an endlessly good thing. Instead of continually adding population and profits, can't we just hit a sustainable equilibrium? And population is *especially* on my mind after Huckabee's truly heinous comment that by banning abortion, we could "solve the illegal immigration problem." [As a side note: he's wrong on both counts. 1st, empirically, women forced to give birth before they would otherwise choose to will in most cases simply *not* have the later children they planned on having. Or those with the means to do so will have an abortion somewhere else, rather than in the U.S. 2ndly, at a moral level, is he seriously arguing that we should subject more women to unwanted pregnancies/labors/children in order to solve an economic problem?? seriously?!]

So, anyways, I'll let the International Herald Tribune explain:

The human population is living far beyond its means and inflicting damage on the environment that could pass points of no return, according to a major report issued Thursday by the United Nations.

Climate change, the rate of extinction of species and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the threats putting humanity at risk, the UN Environment Program said in its fourth Global Environmental Outlook since 1997.

"The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns," Achim Steiner, the executive director of the program, said in a telephone interview. Efficient use of resources and reducing waste now are "among the greatest challenges at the beginning of 21st century," he said.

The program described its report, which is prepared by 388 experts and scientists, as the broadest and deepest of those that the UN issues on the environment and called it "the final wake-up call to the international community."

Over the past two decades the world population has increased by almost 34 percent to 6.7 billion from 5 billion; similarly, the financial wealth of the planet has soared by about a third. But the land available to each person on earth had shrunk by 2005 to 2.02 hectares, or 5 acres, from 7.91 hectares in 1900 and was projected to drop to 1.63 hectares for each person by 2050, the report said.

As someone who loves open spaces and country, this seriously frightens me. Some of my happiest (most nostalgic) memories of growing up in Oregon are of running around in the woods and never thinking about who might own that land.

The result of that population growth combined with unsustainable consumption has resulted in an increasingly stressed planet where natural disasters and environmental degradation endanger millions of humans, as well as plant and animal species, the report said.

Sorry to keep interrupting, IHT, but this just reminded me of our (minor) earthquake this evening. My first earthquake! (Or at least, the first I was conscious for.)

Persistent problems identified by the report include a rapid rise of so-called dead zones, where marine life no longer can be supported because of depletion of oxygen caused by pollutants like fertilizers. Also included is the resurgence of diseases linked with environmental degradation.

Would the lakes around Madison qualify? They're too toxic to *wade* in, for heaven's sake.

He said West European governments had taken effective measures to reduce air pollutants, and he praised efforts in parts of Brazil to roll back deforestation in the Amazon. He said an international treaty to tackle the hole in the earth's ozone layer had led to the phasing-out of release of 95 percent of ozone-damaging chemicals.

Good news! And I'm sure the U.S. has done something notable. Western Europe...Brazil... oh. Well, I guess we were among the signers of the international treaty? (Can't we be leaders in anything but war?)

Steiner said more intelligent management of scarce resources including fishing grounds, land and water was needed to sustain a still larger global population, which he said was expected to stabilize at between 8 billion and 10 billion people.

Jesus Christ. We have to grow to another 2-4 billion before the madness stops? Can't we go replacement rate before *that*?!

"Life would be easier if we didn't have the kind of population growth rates that we have at the moment," Steiner said. "But to force people to stop having children would be a simplistic answer. The more realistic, ethical and practical issue is to accelerate human well-being and make more rational use of the resources we have on this planet."

Hey, hey! I have an idea. What if we like, supported family planning programs? And helped communities grow sustainably, and lower child mortality rates (through sanitation, clean water, medicine, etc.), so that people would choose to have fewer children? And what if we made it *easier* to use/obtain contraception, rather than shaming people out of using it, or making it *more* difficult to get? (And what if we started right here in the U.S., by having rational approaches to sexual health education instead of telling ourselves fantasy stories about abstinence programs that don't work? And making sure that women could afford and obtain the birth control that works for them? And that they have ready access to Plan B if accidents happen?)

Steiner said environmental tipping points, at which degradation can lead to abrupt, accelerating or potentially irreversible changes, would increasingly occur in locations like particular rivers or forests, where populations would lack the ability to repair damage because the gravity of a problem would be far beyond their physical or economic means.

Looking ahead, Steiner said parts of Africa could reach environmental tipping points if changing rainfall patterns stemming from climate change turned semi-arid zones into arid zones, and made agriculture that sustained millions of people much harder.

Steiner said other tipping points triggered by climate change could occur in areas like India and China if Himalayan glaciers shrank so much that they no longer supplied adequate amounts of water to populations in those countries.

Or is it another case of NIMBY? As long as it's not in my backyard, who cares?

He also warned of a global collapse of all species being fished by 2050, if fishing around the world continued at its present pace.

The report said 250 percent more fish are being caught than the oceans can produce in a sustainable manner, and that the number of fish stocks classed as collapsed had roughly doubled to 30 percent globally over the past 20 years.

Reports like these make me wonder how our country could seriously elect another president who thinks our biggest problem is terrorism, and that environmental issues are something to be ignored by the industry-cronies who somehow become the head of the EPA.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Summery week

As my young Shakespeareans have their midterm this week (which means I have neither response papers to read, nor sections to plan), I've had more independent time. I relaxed with Steve & Sarah on Friday, made a huge batch of chili & cornbread, went dress-hunting on Saturday, then into the city with friends for a house-warmer-ing party, biked to the farmers' market on Sunday, and (of course) did some reading.

Yesterday I unraveled the mystery of this loan disclosure statement I got in the mail. I called the loan company, which told me that the National Student Clearinghouse hadn't sent them my enrollment information. So I called this NSC, asking why this was -- and learned that our registrar had reported me as not enrolled full time. Which was news to me -- here I am, studying for orals, TA-ing a Shakespeare course, taking reading French, and auditing a course. So I called the registrar, which *cleverly* doesn't actually have an incoming phone number, just lots and lots of recorded messages about how you can order transcripts, listen to the office's hours, use the website, or send an email. *Really* helpful for me, as you can imagine. So I opened the form I'd gotten way back at the beginning of the year, wondering if I'd missed some sort of official third year enrollment business. And called Judy. And yes, I * was* supposed to sign up for research credits. Mystery solved, problem begun. I think I've now done what I can, and with any luck, won't have fees to pay...

But today was still a good day. It was in the 80's, summery, beautiful. And when I woke up this morning and checked my email, I found out that my 9 am class was canceled, so I could read in bed, lounge, and leisurely make my way onto campus for the 11 am course. Had lunch with Stephen, turned in my credit petition form, read out on the terrace, and had class... And now I get to read Mary Barton & watch SVU. Ahh!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

What "pro-life" looks like on the ground

This is a heartbreaking article (The Guardian) on the situation in Nicaragua, which now has a complete blanket ban on all abortions. You know, the ones without exceptions for rape, incest, health, or the mother's life. And that blather from anti-choicers about pregnancy being so "safe," and there never being a risk to women's lives? Still not true.

María de Jesús González was a practical woman. A very poor single mother, the 28-year-old's home was a shack on a mountain near the town of Ocotal in Nicaragua. She made the best of it. The shack was spotless, the children scrubbed. She earned money by washing clothes in the river and making and selling tortillas.

That nowast quite enough to feed her four young children and her elderly mother, so every few months González caught a bus to Managua, the capital, and slaved for a week washing and ironing clothes. The pay was three times better, about £2.60 a day, and by staying with two aunts she cut her costs. She would return to her hamlet with a little nest-egg in her purse. She bought herself one treat - a pair of red shoes - but she would leave them with her family in Managua, as they were no good on the mountain trails she had to go up to get home.

During a visit to Managua in February she felt unwell and visited a hospital. The news was devastating. She was pregnant - and it was ectopic, meaning the foetus was growing outside the womb and not viable. The longer González remained pregnant, the greater the risk of rupture, haemorrhaging and death.

What González did next was - when you understand what life in Nicaragua is like these days - utterly rational. She walked out of the hospital, past the obstetrics and gynaecological ward, past the clinics and pharmacies lining the avenues, packed her bag, kissed her aunts goodbye, and caught a bus back to her village. She summoned two neighbouring women - traditional healers - and requested that they terminate the pregnancy in her shack. Without anaesthetic or proper instruments it was more akin to mutilation than surgery, but González insisted. The haemhorraging was intense, and the agony can only be imagined. It was in vain. Maria died. "We heard there was a lot of blood, a lot of pain," says Esperanza Zeledon, 52, one of the Managua aunts.

González was not stupid and did not want to die. She knew her chance of surviving the butchery was small. But being a practical woman, she recognised it was her only chance, and took it. The story of why it was her only chance is an unfolding drama of religion, politics and power that has made Nicaragua a crucible in the global battle over abortion rights. This central American country has become the third country in the world, after Chile and El Salvador, to criminalise all abortions. It is a blanket ban. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or life- or health-threatening pregnancies.

Which isn't all that far away from the bills that some fanatical right wing politicians have drafted here in the States.

González was told at the hospital that any doctor who terminated her pregnancy would face two to three years in jail and she, for consenting, would face one to two years. "Nicaraguan doctors are now afraid of going to trial or jail and losing their licence," says Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine. "Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die."

Better to let a woman die -- because when you're pro-life, that "pro" stops as soon as you're born.

For the Nicaraguan rich, a problematic pregnancy need not be a death sentence. You can fly to Miami or bribe a discreet private clinic in Managua. But in this wretchedly poor country most young women do not have money. Their choice is to go through with a pregnancy that may kill them, or attempt a DIY termination that may kill them.

Always good to remember -- if we go state by state with abortion laws, in the case of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, then well-off women won't see much of a difference in their access to abortion. It will simply make it even more difficult for poor women. And if right wingers continue to attack Planned Parenthood, those poor women won't even have reliable access to affordable contraception. (By the by, how did PP get labeled as an "abortion factory" by the right? Have they seen what for-profit corporations look like? (Haliburton, Black Water?) And word to the wise: there's a helluva lot more money in carrying pregnancies to term (regular OB/GYN visits, lactation/delivery classes, delivery costs, etc.) than in terminating them.)

As a result of the blanket ban enacted last November at least 82 women have died, according to advocacy groups. "This new law intentionally denies women access to health services essential to saving their lives, and is thus inconsistent with Nicaragua's obligations under international human rights law," says Human Rights Watch.

The anti-abortion camp, in contrast, is euphoric. The new law, it says, is a beacon in the fight to protect the unborn. It is time to celebrate. "Now it is all penalised. And Catholics agree that is should be this way," says Roberto González, 50, a Franciscan priest in Managua. "The population sees the church as behind the law - behind the pressure that succeeded in getting the government to change the law."

Also good to remember: this ideology is *not* in touch with reality. Euphoric in the face of women bleeding to death, going into shock from septic pregnancies, or giving birth at 11 years old? And this is the Catholic church behind the law -- the folks that have elected Jesus as their hero. I'm sure Jesus would also be "euphoric." Or something.

Nicaragua provides no answer to the debate about when, between conception and birth, life begins. But in the case of González it is clear when it ended: at 28 years.

Women's rights organisations say their 82 documented deaths are the tip of the iceberg. The Pan-American Health Organisation estimates one woman per day suffers from an ectopic pregnancy, and that every two days a woman suffers a miscarriage from a molar pregnancy. That adds up to hundreds of obstetric emergencies per year.

Human Rights Watch, in a recent report titled Over Their Dead Bodies, cited one woman who urgently needed medical help, but was left untreated at a public hospital for two days because the foetus was still alive and so a therapeutic abortion would be illegal. Eventually she expelled the foetus on her own. "By then she was already in septic shock and died five days later," said the doctor.

Anti-choicers in the states will deny that this is the sort of result that they want to see. But this is exactly what would happen if we had laws in place that don't have health exceptions. Women will be left untreated due to technicalities, as doctors are afraid of legal charges. Doctors will refuse service to avoid walking a thin line between legality and illegality:

Doctors say they have been put in an impossible position. "We face extremely grave ethical conflicts, all because of politics," says Carla Serrato, a gynaecologist from Nicaragua's state-run Alemán Nicaragüense Hospital. Ligia Altamirano Gómez, an obstetrician, says they fear being overruled by the law. "We are pushed toward illegality."

In an attempt to clarify matters, the health ministry issued protocols last December that said doctors should respond to most obstetric emergencies, including ectopic pregnancies and post-abortion care. To terminate an ectopic pregnancy is legal, it turns out, because since the foetus is not in the womb the procedure would not be an abortion. But such is the climate of fear and confusion that the protocols are widely ignored and misunderstood. The doctors who turned González away from the hospital in Managua thought it was illegal, as did medical staff the Guardian interviewed in Ocotal, González's home town.

Those "clarifications" certainly didn't help María de Jesús González.

Ortega, who did not respond to interview requests for this article, has stayed pious in power. Last month he whipped Sandinista assembly deputies into voting with rightwing parties 66-3 to uphold the ban. Many former officials are disgusted with a leader and party they no longer recognise. "It's cynical and it's sad, especially when you consider our high rate of sexual violence and very young mothers," says Moisés Arana, a former mayor of Bluefields. "Here there is a lot of religiosity but only a little Christianity."

Christianity that also doesn't extend to children:

At the other end of the country, in Bluefields, Inspector Martylee Ingram has the same, almost apologetic tone. She is discussing the harrowing case of an 11-year-old girl, Vera, who has been raped and is now 27 weeks pregnant. Asked if Vera should have the baby, she hesitates. The law says yes and her job is to enforce the law. The inspector shakes her head. "But me, as a woman and policewoman, I'd say no. I feel like she shouldn't have it. It's a baby having a baby. She might not survive."

The world has gone *mad.*

Feministe has great commentary on the article -- as Jill notes:

Pro-lifers love cute little babies. Until they’re born.

In the meantime, they continue to oppose tried-and-true methods of decreasing the abortion rate and they promote policies that make abortion more common. They also agitate for outlawing abortion, which only makes it more dangerous — it doesn’t impact the abortion rate at all.

In the ideal “pro-life” world, laws across the globe would look exactly like Nicaragua’s, contraception would be unavailable, and sexual health education wouldn’t go beyond, “Keep your knees together til you’re married.” And there is absolutely no question that a lot of women would die.

But I suppose our lives aren’t all that important in the whole “pro-life” scheme of things. And if we’re collateral damage in the Culture Wars, well, we shouldn’t have gotten so uppity as to think we had that silly right to life in the first place.

And all this on the heels of the Guttmacher Institute's latest study, indicating that abortion rates remain the same regardless of laws. What does change, of course, is how many women die:

A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.

Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, and there are 31 abortions for every 100 live births, the study said.

The results of the study, a collaboration between scientists from the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Guttmacher Institute in New York, a reproductive rights group, are being published Friday in the journal Lancet.

The only transition that actually saves lives, then, is when a country goes from anti-choice to pro-choice:

Some countries, like South Africa, have undergone substantial transitions in abortion laws in that time. The procedure was made legal in South Africa in 1996, leading to a 90 percent decrease in mortality among women who had abortions, some studies have found.

Abortion is illegal in most of Africa, though. It is the second-leading cause of death among women admitted to hospitals in Ethiopia, its Health Ministry has said. It is the cause of 13 percent of maternal deaths at hospitals in Nigeria, recent studies have found.

So can pro-choicers now have the label "pro-life"?

Colbert writes for Dowd

This is *hilarious.* I hope Dowd lets Stephen write more often.

Surprised to see my byline here, aren’t you? I would be too, if I read The New York Times. But I don’t. So I’ll just have to take your word that this was published. Frankly, I prefer emoticons to the written word, and if you disagree :(

I’d like to thank Maureen Dowd for permitting/begging me to write her column today. As I type this, she’s watching from an overstuffed divan, petting her prize Abyssinian and sipping a Dirty Cosmotinijito. Which reminds me: Before I get started, I have to take care of one other bit of business:

Bad things are happening in countries you shouldn’t have to think about. It’s all George Bush’s fault, the vice president is Satan, and God is gay.

There. Now I’ve written Frank Rich’s column too.

Well, suddenly an option is looming on the horizon. And I don’t mean Al Gore (though he’s a world-class loomer). First of all, I don’t think Nobel Prizes should go to people I was seated next to at the Emmys. Second, winning the Nobel Prize does not automatically qualify you to be commander in chief. I think George Bush has proved definitively that to be president, you don’t need to care about science, literature or peace.


Look at the moral guidance I offer. On faith: “After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up.” On gender: “The sooner we accept the basic differences between men and women, the sooner we can stop arguing about it and start having sex.” On race: “While skin and race are often synonymous, skin cleansing is good, race cleansing is bad.” On the elderly: “They look like lizards.”

Our nation is at a Fork in the Road. Some say we should go Left; some say go Right. I say, “Doesn’t this thing have a reverse gear?” Let’s back this country up to a time before there were forks in the road — or even roads. Or forks, for that matter. I want to return to a simpler America where we ate our meat off the end of a sharpened stick.


Nevertheless, I am not ready to announce yet — even though it’s clear that the voters are desperate for a white, male, middle-aged, Jesus-trumpeting alternative.

What do I offer? Hope for the common man. Because I am not the Anointed or the Inevitable. I am just an Average Joe like you — if you have a TV show.

Shakespeare's basset hound?

I'm convinced that this passage from A Midsummer Night's Dream is describing basset hounds, whether Shakespeare knew it or not:

My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind:
So flewed, so sanded, and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew;
Crook-kneed, and dewlapped like Thessalian bulls;
Slow in pursuit, but matched in mouth like bells,
Each under each. A cry more tuneable
Was never holloed to nor cheered with horn
In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly.

The third year

I'm still figuring out what I'm doing this year. I have a strange combination of complete freedom (composing my orals list, reading through it on my own schedule) and competing time commitments (TA-ing, auditing a class, taking French, participating in a reading group). Some days are crazy. Thursdays, for example: 9 am French, 11 am Shakespeare, 2 pm office hours, 4:15 TA-ing section. And then going home to read 15 student response papers. About once a week, I have the urge to bake something. Last week it was yellow cake & chocolate buttercream frosting from scratch. Today it was naan with dinner. It was definitely my own take on it -- partly because I used about half whole wheat flour, partly because I wasn't sure how to actually bake it. I experimented with baking both at high heat in the oven, and in my skillet. Hard to go wrong though. I enjoying making breads -- kneading bread is strangely satisfying (and doughy, warm, fresh bread is the best).

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Another reason to love Krugman

And another reason to love "close reading," or paying attention to the words coming out of their mouths...

But Ronald Reagan thought the issue of hunger in the world’s richest nation was nothing but a big joke. Here’s what Reagan said in his famous 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing,” which made him a national political figure: “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.”

Today’s leading conservatives are Reagan’s heirs. If you’re poor, if you don’t have health insurance, if you’re sick — well, they don’t think it’s a serious issue. In fact, they think it’s funny.

On Wednesday, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded S-chip, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health insurance to an estimated 3.8 million children who would otherwise lack coverage.

In anticipation of the veto, William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, had this to say: “First of all, whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it’s a good idea. I’m happy that the president’s willing to do something bad for the kids.” Heh-heh-heh.

Most conservatives are more careful than Mr. Kristol. They try to preserve the appearance that they really do care about those less fortunate than themselves. But the truth is that they aren’t bothered by the fact that almost nine million children in America lack health insurance. They don’t think it’s a problem.

“I mean, people have access to health care in America,” said Mr. Bush in July. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

Another oldie but goodie: when Jon Stewart recognized that Bush's problem is that he not only sees emergency rooms as the answer to being uninsured, but also is so stuck in his own bubble of privilege that he thinks "poor people *have* family doctors."

And on the day of the veto, Mr. Bush dismissed the whole issue of uninsured children as a media myth. Referring to Medicaid spending — which fails to reach many children — he declared that “when they say, well, poor children aren’t being covered in America, if that’s what you’re hearing on your TV screens, I’m telling you there’s $35.5 billion worth of reasons not to believe that.”


Of course, minimizing and mocking the suffering of others is a natural strategy for political figures who advocate lower taxes on the rich and less help for the poor and unlucky. But I believe that the lack of empathy shown by Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Kristol, and, yes, Mr. Bush is genuine, not feigned.

Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.

By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even grammatical when he talks about punishing people; that’s when he’s speaking from the heart. The only animation Mr. Bush showed during the flooding of New Orleans was when he declared “zero tolerance of people breaking the law,” even those breaking into abandoned stores in search of the food and water they weren’t getting from his administration.

What’s happening, presumably, is that modern movement conservatism attracts a certain personality type. If you identify with the downtrodden, even a little, you don’t belong. If you think ridicule is an appropriate response to other peoples’ woes, you fit right in.

And Republican disillusionment with Mr. Bush does not appear to signal any change in that regard. On the contrary, the leading candidates for the Republican nomination have gone out of their way to condemn “socialism,” which is G.O.P.-speak for any attempt to help the less fortunate.

So once again, if you’re poor or you’re sick or you don’t have health insurance, remember this: these people think your problems are funny.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I heart Jon Stewart

I love it -- "this has already been written -- it's called The Prince."