Monday, October 31, 2005

Question of the Day

Should the State force men to tell their wives when they have been unfaithful?

Melancholy Monday: Masculinity is a Health Risk

While there is plenty to be melancholy about today on this day of bad, bad, dastardly SCOTUS appointments, I am going to write about something less obviously political.

I want to write about male depression. I happen to be around a lot of depressed men lately and what really saddens me about them is their inability to reach out for help. For example, the other day, I had a long conversation with a close male friend about why I thought he might value some therapy. He has serious stuff to deal with: what career route to take, how to meet child support obligations, how to deal with an ex-wife who is still really vindicative and willing to render him penniless as payback, and poor working conditions. He is in the shit. When I proposed he considered therapy, his response, rather hostile:

"No, no, no. Therapy is bullshit. I have been in therapy before and it didn't work."

I respond: "Well, you have been in relationships before that didn't work and you didn't give up on the possibility of a fulfilling partnership. You have had bad teachers, but you didn't give up on education did you?"

The conversation died just there. This is a man, mind you, who is perfectly willing to take medication. But, talk therapy, no. It won't do any good to talk about his problems. He doesn' t want to think about them.

What is his strategy for coping? Further isolation. He doesn't want to get too close to others because he thinks that he should devote all of his free time to his career. He told me once that if he is failing in his career, then he has nothing. His entire identity is bound up with his ability to succeed.

In his mind, this is how he can best be a parent to his children after a divorce. If he gives up at his career to move closer to them, and takes a less prestigious job, he thinks he is not a good role model for them. There are other reasons at work there (not wanting to further cave into a demanding and manipulative ex-wife), but the job thing is pretty huge. He also thinks that supporting his children financially is his most important responsibility as a father.

The fact is, he is missing out on their lives. He sees them 6 times a year and has intermittent conversations on the phone, that only reinforces his pain.

What do I think would be the value of therapy? Well, I don't think that therapy will cure the pain and resolve the regret of divorce. What I do think will be valuable is that he can talk to someone who is not mired in the stress and pain that he is in, can look at the decisions he has to make unburdened by that weight, and give him some helpful advice with prioritizing and solving problems.

Men are 4 to 6 times more likely (depending on the study you read) to commit suicide than women are. While women are far more likely to be diagnosed as depressed and treated in both talk therapy and with medication, men's depression ends far more tragically.

Men are not supposed to show weaknesses, be slowed down by their emotional lives in ways that affects work. Men are also not encouraged very often to talk to others (besides, their sisters or girlfriends) about what is weighing them down.

Women, however, are quite good at sharing their frustrations, stresses, hurts, anxieties and fears. Women friendships are often built around these sorts of discussions. In fact, it is likely that women have an easier time just living with their depression, accepting it, because they have support systems.

Men are in danger of isolating themselves to the point of no return. They spiral further and further into self-doubt, anger, violence, sometimes addiction until they look for some permanent (although rash) way out.

This is a real tragedy and a serious way in which men are penalized and made ill by the cultural expectations of masculinity.

When I fail in my efforts to encourage my depressed male friends and relatives to get help, I just feel hopeless. I know that some men will seek out help; some will realize when they need others to help them make better decisions and cope with stress. But, lately I am constantly reminded of the men who do not and it is rather sad.

Depression in men often looks a lot like aggression. It strains, or breaks their ties to the nurturing compassionate relationships they desperately need with others.

We do not function well outside of supportive relationships and when we break those ties we put ourselves at great risk.

I Knew There Were Gender Politics at Work!

Via Crooks and Liars, this SNL skit about Harriet Miers lack of qualifications is good relief for today's depressing news.

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.

From what is emerging from the blogosphere and news world, Judge Alito is in the mold of Antonin Scalia. Scott Lemieux predicted this, here he links to several informative blogs on this pick.

I will say that I appreciate a comment that Bush just made: "[Alito] understands that judges should interpret the laws, not impose their personal preferences . . ." (or something close to that).

Yes, the a SCOTUS justice needs to interpret, which is an intellectually rigorous activity, aided by a judicial philosophy. So, it begins again . . .

UPDATE: Yes, yes so he is fair, temperate, judicious . . .blah, blah, blah. Show me, don't tell me!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

What is Feminism? (Libby)

I pressed a student recently for a concept she wanted to explore for a paper in Freshman Comp. She blithly replied, "Maybe, um, feminism??" The resulting questioning revealed that she really had no idea what she meant when she proposed it other than it had something to do with women and, given her gender, she felt a connection with the topic. All of this begs the question that we are still on the same page when we use the term feminism. Nancy F. Cott documents the history of the term in one of her books, The Grounding of Modern Feminism. It's a remarkable book and does an amazing job tracing the evolution of the American women's movement. Even with a relatively long history, by the 70's, the women's movement remained so "white" that women on the margin, lesbians, women of color, had to fight their way to that table. Only a little later did the women's movement become this contemporary feminism which embraces so much. So when this student, just two weeks ago, threw out "feminism," I was left with a dozen thoughts running through my head: Where would she begin? What would be her way in? Which feminism? And how did we stray so far that a quiet 20 year old wouldn't even know what it (or she) meant?

Much ruckus has been made over the need for a third wave of feminism. The position, held by a good number of Second Wave feminists, is often that women of the younger generation don't know enough about their own history to appreciate the gains made by women before them. By not appreciating those gains, they'll be readily handed back. I confess to some disappointment that this young woman didn't know more before college. We talked a while, and she and I whittled "feminism" down significantly. She's already turned in her paper and moved on. I'm still thinking about the vague connection she made and what it means if her understanding is typical...

Being Fair Does Not Mean Being Balanced

I hadn't intended to write a post today because I am trying to finish grading a stack of papers. Eek. But, I need some interlude from the hundreds of pages I am reading. My blog is such a refuge at the moment.

I was unable to meet my Friday drinking buddies this week. I had a college award ceremony that required my attendence. I am sorry I missed it because I understand that the conversation was quite animated and partly inspired by my blog entries this past week.

Another rumor I heard, and therefore, cannot confirm, is that one of these present was bothered that when I linked to the Dickinsonian article in this entry, I didn't include the opening lines which discussed Clinton's sexual indiscretions (shall we say) which lead to his impeachment.

Ok, I am guilty of editing it out. But, I assure you, it was not because I was trying to make it seem like all Republicans/Christians are bad and all Democrats/Atheists are good. I simply do not look at the world through such a narrow and politicized framework.

I know, it's hard to believe (yes, I am speaking to many of my conservative readers here).

I am a liberal. I am, for the moment, a Democrat. But, I don't embrace either of those identities in a tribal way. That is, I don't root for my team in the sort of maniacal way that sports fans do. I see so much of American politics as dominated by this winner-take-all, Manichean perspective. How I wish we had a parlimentarian system where surprising alliances are made. But, alas, we do not have that system.

I do believe that above all I am a philosopher. Second to that aspect of my identity is feminist.

When I claim that I am a philosopher, that means I am beholden to truth and yet am eternally a skeptic. I do not accept an argument based on who made it. I accept an argument based on how well it was made. I tend to loathe almost all political speeches, from either "team," for their ornamental rhetoric and simplistic formulations. I long for real debate, with actual claims that can be supported, demonstrated through evidence, and clear avoidance of fallacies. You aren't going to see alot of that among politicians.

The second part of my identity, feminist, means that I challenge, whenever I can, clear examples of sexist assumptions, policies, actions, or statements that malign women. I don't think women are better than men. I think women, in fact, can act as basely and dishonorably as men. That is part of being a feminst. I challenge any idealizations of women, whether the culturally familiar icon of the mournful mother or the chaste and modest young woman. I don't think that women, as Victorian mythology would have it, are more naturally moral or empathetic than men are. I think women are humans, which means, they are as wonderful and as awful as men are.

I don't think that feminism should lapse into a party line or talking points. And, the philosopher in me works very hard to keep that tendency of mine in check. When I defend the political positions that I consider feminist, I offer reasons, consider thoughtful counterarguments, and above all, am willing to be convinced by further evidence that I am wrong.

When I teach Women's Studies (in my view, an unfortunate name for feminist inspired courses), I challenge my students not to lapse into any certainty about what feminism means, who counts as a feminist, whose experience gets to define feminism, and what political policies count as feminist. I don't let my students think that feminists are always right or even always better than non-feminists.

I point out, for example, the persistent passive racism of white feminists. When we discuss masculinity (the gender expectations of men) I try, with all my might, to not let students fall into the essentialism traps about men's behavior if they are going to challenge the cultural picture of what women are like. The most influential book that I have ever read is Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex. In the Introduction, de Beauvoir points out that essentialism is untenable by any modern notion of science or ontology. Darwin's theory of natural selection should have put to rest any residual notions of Aristotle's definition of essence. There is no eternal feminine as there is no eternal masculine. People are a product of their situation as much as their biological potentialities.

Let me try to pull this post together in a way that addresses, I hope in a meaningful way, my Friday friend's concern that my posts are just too partisan. He is worried that I don't present "both sides" of the foibles among politicians: I am not balanced in my sweeping criticisms of politicians.

My answer, however unsatisfying as it may be, is that I am not a critic of : W, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, Tom Delay, Public Choice economists, uber-conservative Christians or evangelicals, etc. because I am a liberal if what you mean by that is I am rooting for my team and categorically hate all conservatives or Republicans. I am not capriciously criticizing them. I do not think they are worse than any Democrat, or liberal.

I also don't think that I have to prove that statement by including a criticism of a Democrat or liberal everytime that I critize one of people from the category I outlined above. If Tom Delay is convicted or Scooter Libby is convicted, I don't have to remind myself of the countless corrupt Democrats. That is distracting from the point, isn't it?

I don't have to prove that I am a critical, thoughtful thinker by being "fair and balanced," if that means: match a criticism of a conservative with a criticism of a liberal. That is a very simplistic and arbitrary way to prove subtle thinking. I also think it usually devolves into a red herring strategy: let's take the focus of the current outrage, e.g. the indictments that Fitzgerald just handed down or abstinence-only education, by pointing out the other side does bad things too. When the "other side" does things that outrage me and offend my reason as much as the current powers that be, you'll see me criticizing them too.

Let me end by saying that I try, in all things I write, to never be a moralist. I will admit that I fail on that score at times. But, I hope that I never become the sort of person who condemns others rigidly, who holds others to narrow and impossible standards for any human to meet. I tend to distance myself, as often as possible, from any political approach that thinks they embody the true and proper path.

Hell, I am still searching, in earnest to find that path. I want sincerely to figure out what it means to be good, to be just, to treat people with dignity. And, when I think that policies or politicians are failing to do that, I will more often than not share that with the readers here who care to listen. When I turn out to be wrong or hasty in my judgments, I hope that I will be courageous enough to admit when I was wrong. Finally, when I can learn from others who are wiser and more thoughful that I am, I will eagerly pay attention and take seriously what you say.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Welcome to the Ownership Society: Enter at Your Own Risk

While Bush plays at Camp David this weekend, his presidency has never looked bleaker. Yesterday, the President gave a short speech outside the White House, asserting he was “saddened” by Libby’s indictment. I watched the speech in its short entirety, and saw a stressed President. Rhetorical strategy is usually this administration’s best quality. However, Bush’s rhetoric seemed more faded and worn than ever. Amidst the failures of social security privatization, Katrina, Iraq, Libby, and Miers, we are beginning to see that while Bush has been pushing his ownership society ala used car salesman, his audience of potential buyers is dwindling.

Each of the five blows to Bush’s presidency—Social Security reform, Katrina, Iraq, Libby, and Miers—show the pitfalls of Bush’s ownership society.

The futile attempts to privatize Social Security illustrated to the American people the importance of having a stable means of providing for retirement. Social Security is one of the cornerstones of FDR’s legacy. The American people saw that privatization would divert substantial resources that we do not have to Wall Street for setting up these accounts. If that money were invested in education or healthcare, we could better build an economy and a workforce that can contribute substantially to the Social Security fund. Bush was trying to place the future of retirement in Wall Street's hands. We don't elect Wall Street to represent us.

The federal response to Hurricane Katrina displayed the dangers of tearing down government. The most basic reason we pay taxes is so that our government can protect us. When the administration drops the ball in such an inexcusable way, Americans are reminded we need an accountable, prepared government. Indeed, we need a government that can take ownership for our safety.

The 2000th death in Iraq and growing American concerns about the lack of planning for the future of American involvement have each illustrated the pitfalls of heedless hyper-aggression. In our pursuit of a world with less terror, the United States should be committed to engaging with world actors to gain intelligence, and thus gain the upper hand against terrorists. Instead, our misguided efforts in Iraq have sent a shudder through the Middle East and the world, and have posed us as a superpower without concern.

The indictment of Lewis Libby, the Vice President’s chief of staff, and his subsequent resignation displays the downside of an administration that acts without transparency. Transparency in government is one of the defining attributes of a democracy. The accusation and indictment of covert White House action to vengefully put in the danger CIA agent Valerie Plame sheds light on the shady practices of this administration.

Harriet Miers’ forced resignation displays just how far “conservatives” will go to push their agenda of slashing civil rights and privacies in the courts. In so many ways, it was the right who defeated Miers in fear that her penchant for right-wing delicacies didn’t quite meet the standard at hand. Fears of a moderate, independent justice, whose thought wanders outside of the groupthink of the far right are the source of Miers’ downfall, and should be the source of our discontent.

The second term of the Bush Administration has been a disaster. Indeed, it is a disaster that enlightens the pitfalls of Bush's "ownership" society. We have seen attempts to strip away from the cornerstones of government and security, the effects of unprepared government, the effects of an expensive foray lacking planning, the dangers of a government without transparency, and the dedication of the right-wing to nominate a Justice who will see privacy as but an illusion whose presence is not found in the Constitution. Like in the days when Nixon fell, I think the American people are hungry for an honest, accountable, prepared government--the kind of government that is composed of a community of individuals gathered to effect change so as to make this country better.

Another Perspective on Why College Professors are Liberal

Something has been bugging me a lot this week. And, well, it's time to get it off my chest. Idealistic conservatives--this is your warning--continue reading only with extreme caution.

I was listening to Marketplace the other day on NPR and they interviewed an "economist" from a conservative think tank. I am not going to name names, but let me just say that I know this guy and I am annoyed that he can be called an "economist." (Hence, why I keep using scare quotes).

This fellow, put on national radio, to speak about this administrations' budget, has an Masters in Economics from George Mason University, the bastion of public choice/libertarian thought. GMU is by no stretch in the top 10 schools for Economics. When, let's call him Sam, met one of my best friends, who I will call Emma, he was immediately intimidated. He had been introducing himself all night as an economist and then asked her what she did. "I am an environmental economist," Emma says, slightly bored. I step in, always being the gadfly, and tell Sam, "yea, Emma got her Ph.D. from Northwestern University." Emma wouldn't have been so arrogant to let this fact drop. But, I was getting annoyed with Sam strutting his credentials.

Anyway, to Sam's credit, he said "oh, you're a real economist." What Sam means by that is his program trained him to do one thing well: espouse public choice economic talking points. This reminds me, btw, of a comment that one of my colleagues often makes about how good his libertarian econ students are (especially in micro), because they are so committed to the basic assumptions of those models. The difference, however, between libertarian economists and economists like my colleagues, is subtlety, nuance and mathematical skill. Libertarian models assume a perfect world. All of their assumptions about human choices and market forces are true only in some Platonic realm of the Forms. This is why real economists, like my friend Emma, study a great deal of mathematics. They need more sophisticated tools for modeling economic behavior. Because, the real world is a lot messier and a lot less likely to work out according to the predictions of public choice economists.

Now, let's go back to why I am irritated when I hear Sam spouting off stuff on Marketplace: it's such bad analysis. He couldn't hold a candle to most of my colleagues, but what can he do? He can stay on message. He can boil down rather complicated data to simplistic pablum. The whole public can speak in that sort of training-wheels-economics. Why don't they call up my colleagues? Well, because my colleagues often study really specific, complicated questions that would take longer to describe than a 15 second spot on Marketplace.

One more rant about this. LEON KASS. I am ashamed that he is in the same profession as I am. Scott did a great piece last week on his Kass's recent article, The End of Courtship. I won't dwell too long on this point, but let me say that whever I teach Kass's articles on the "wisdom of repugnance," that argues against biotechnologies by claiming that we find them "repugnant" on some deep level, my students generally reject the argument as weak. I am talking about students from all sides of the political spectrum, however, they are not yet politicized. Kass simply doesn't make arguments. It is simplistic, moralistic hackery. And, yet, he gets promoted to the President's Committee on Bioethics. Let me just give you a taste of what I mean about Kass's moralistic hackery:

The supreme virtue of the virtuous woman was modesty, a form of sexual self-control, manifested not only in chastity but in decorous dress and manner, speech and deed, and in reticence in the display of her well- banked affections. A virtue, as it were, made for courtship, it served simultaneously as a source of attraction and a spur to manly ardor, a guard against a woman's own desires, as well as a defense against unworthy suitors. A fine woman understood that giving her body (in earlier times, even her kiss) meant giving her heart, which was too precious to be bestowed on anyone who would not prove himself worthy, at the very least by pledging himself in marriage to be her defender and lover forever.

Once female modesty became a first casualty of the sexual revolution, even women eager for marriage lost their greatest power to hold and to discipline their prospective mates. For it is a woman's refusal of sexual importunings, coupled with hints or promises of later gratification, that is generally a necessary condition of transforming a man's lust into love. Women also lost the capacity to discover their own genuine longings and best interests. For only by holding herself in reserve does a woman gain the distance and self-command needed to discern what and whom she truly wants and to insist that the ardent suitor measure up. While there has always been sex without love, easy and early sexual satisfaction makes love and real intimacy less, not more, likely — for both men and women. Everyone's prospects for marriage were — are — sacrificed on the altar of pleasure now.

According to Kass, it is all women's fault that we no longer "court" or get married. They aren't playing their proper role in taming the male. And, hell, we can't expect men to be decent and noble without women playing their role.

How can anyone take this seriously? Shit, I can't believe he has an academic post. Any empirical data here?

Hence, I am starting to think that if you are a so-so thinker, really good at simplifying problems and delivering a message that is consistent with the party message, you are likely to land yourself a high profile and better paying job than any Ph.D. hanging out at the University. As my colleague often says, if you want to get famous for your ideas, become a conservative.

UPDATE: My bad, I guess Kass stepped down from the chairmanship of the President's Bioethics Council. I know nothing about this new head, from Georgetown and Catholic University.

Friday, October 28, 2005

OmiGAWD: I Made the NEWs

Who knew that little ole me could be important enough to be cited in a newstory about the indictments?

See story.

Indicted! Scooter Lewis Libby

Here is the story. Break out your champagne. Good cheer for all!

Notes From the Prozac Nation, Vol 1, No. 9

  • Life Interrupted: The Star Tribune (MN) has a thoughtful piece on Spalding Gray's tragic suicide and the unfinished work he left behind. Here is a bit from the review of his book:
    Reading his last bit of work is like seeing his depression in a faceted funhouse mirror. We're so used to this person letting us in on everything that it comes as a total shock when he decides to leave the stage at 62. Why didn't he warn us? Did he? Did we miss that part?

    "Life Interrupted" is full of dark omens, with his life-loving Irish host dropping dead, mad cow disease gripping the country and jolly, incompetent Irish doctors giving him half-attentive treatment. When his story is cut short, see if you don't find yourself re-reading bits in order to fill in the blanks. The other eerie and sad aspect of the way the book is organized is that it gives the impression that Spalding Gray is present for his own eulogy, listening in and gathering material.

  • A Depression Patch: Check this out. I am sort of surprised to hear that this new antidepressants exists. Although, I guess it has its kinks (it is a MAOI type of antidepresant), which means you have to watch out what you eat.

  • Shawn Colvin's Blues: Here's another article about a musician struggling with depression. I always feel conflicted by these sort of human interest stories. On the one hand, by admitting that she is battling with depression and has found successful treatment, she is giving lots of other lesser folks the courage to come forward. On the other hand, this "news story" reads like a covert advertisement for Wellbutrin. I wouldn't be surprised if she has or will start doing commercials for GlaxoSmithKline. I want to be excited about what Big Pharma does for us, but it always seems sneaky to me that they manipulate stories like this to sell their product. I wonder, in fact, if this story started as a press release from their offices.
  • What Is Delay Taking?: If anyone saw Jon Stewart's bit on Delay's mug shot and his sense of "joy and peace" about his indictment, you can't help but ask how that man can be so damn happy. What is he on? Good lord, whatever it is, it looks way better than Prozac.

Fitzmas News Trickles In

Well, hell, I was about to get some sleep. I have a big day tomorrow (have to give a speech to lots of undergraduates!), and my phone rings with a message from Yehudi. He lets me know, what I will alert any of my all night readers to now: the NYT has just published a story that Scooter Libby is likely to be indicted tomorrow and Karl Rove will continue to be under investigation. The rest of the story should come out tomorrow in a press conference. I can't wait! How can one sleep on the eve of Fitzmas? I feel like a young child again, awaiting the glorious gifts I will awake to in the morning.

UPDATE: Hunter at Daily Kos examines the major papers (who offer conflicting interpretations) to divine what is likely to come to pass at the press conference today.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Withdraws: Holy Cow

Yup, she withdrew her nomination. Boy, this week just keeps getting more and more interesting.

Fitzmas Gifts

Rox Populi has rounded up some fine posts to celebrate Fitzmas with. October is turning out to be chock full of holiday cheer.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

This is a Fortune?

I just cracked open my fortune cookie, which accompanied my much needed Hot n' Sour soup. So here is the fortune: "Trust him, but still keep your eyes open."

Goodness! Who the heck is writing fortunes these days? Cosmo "journalists" out of work?

Miers Mayhem: I Don't Get It

Ok, I am taking a few minutes to write this post in the hopes of getting real answers. I just had a debate with students and colleagues out in the lobby space of my department about Harriet Miers. I am sort of baffled why the Conservatives hate her so much. I guess that this shows how incapable I am of thinking like a conservative.

How is Miers not conservative enough for them? Why on earth are the Ring Wingnutters blitzing this nominee? I haven't yet heard an intelligent argument about this.

I Really Am Sick

Goddess O' Universe pushed me to go to the doctor this morning, which I did. And, I have found out that I have a sinus infection. Boo hoo. The good news, is I have antibiotics. The bad news is that the Thera-Flu that I have been living off of for the past three weeks was a waste of money. I also think that I have now developed a tolerance for Thera-flu.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My First Memes: Blog Lineage and Random Fatigue Meme

Scott at Lawyers, Guns and Money has alerted me to two different memes. I thought, since I am sick again with death cold, I will answer the memes rather than come up with my own clever entry.

Meme #1 from Pharyngula:

1. your blogfather, or blogmother, as the case may be. Just one please - the one blog that, more than any other, inspired you to start blogging. Please don’t name Instapundit, unless you are on his blogchildren list.

Bitch Ph.D.

2. Include your blog-birth-month, the month that you started blogging, if you can.

May 2005 (I am a toddler in the blogworld).

3. If you are reasonably certain that you have spawned any blog-children, mention them, too.

Moderate Guy. I think he was not so inspired by my blog, but by the idea of blogging which I introduced to him over beers.


Meme #2 is from Pandagon, entitled the "Random fatigue meme":

1. Of all the books that you have eventually finished after many starts & stops, which one took you the longest and how long did it eventually take?

My Life as a Man, Philip Roth, 1 month

2. What great band (or album or song) have you heard so often, you wouldn?t mind never hearing again even though you still think the band (or album or song) is great?

Creep, Radiohead

3. Which cliché or often cited quote needs to be placed in quarantine for a few decades?

It's all relative!

4. During the 1990s "Compassion Fatigue" received a lot of press, now the media is giddy with "Donation Fatigue". What will be the next trendy fatigue?

Bush Fatigue

5. What percentage of respondents will answer "meme fatigue" to question #4?

15% How did I come up with that answer? Who knows? Totally random.

Be a Good Girl, Put Your Lips on the Dildo, and I Will Love You More

After reading Aspazia's last post, I have some comments. Aspazia's post strikes the core of Christian men that promote feminine objectification and demoralization. I assume that my position in the undergraduate realm gives me a different perspective than some of the other individuals who post on this site. While I was completely disgusted by the young Christian guy pushing his girlfriend to use a dildo and perform oral sex on other men, I was even more appalledd by his assertion that he would love her more for doing so. This kid must be reading a different Bible. No Bible I have ever read says anything about making your girlfriend perform oral sex on six men in one night.

Last week, I had the pleasure of going to lunch with an amazing girl, May, and her mother, April. April and I were waiting for May who just got finished running at the track. As we were sitting on the bench conversing, we heard bagpipes in the distance. April decided we should check it out. April and I found bagpipers in front of the campus dining hall protesting the film to be released on the book The DaVinci Code.

"Why are you protesting the book and movie?" April asked.

"It's blasphemous. It alleges Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene," the young man replied.

"What if they did have sex?"

"Ma'am, that's blasphemy."

"Hey, I am a Catholic, and I know it's just fiction," she replied. "How do you feel about Opus Dei and corporal mortification?"

"I think it's fine," he replied.

"What about women as priests?"I interjected.

"It's not what the Lord wants," he stated simply. "It's not a woman's role."

Before we could continue our increasingly heated conversation, May came and swept April and me away for a wonderful lunch.

I was raised Catholic. But my religion often injects me with an unhealthy dose of cognitive dissonance. When the church doesn't even allow women to be priests, how can we expect a society that sees women as equals?

I must admit, my discomfort with the particularities of religious fundamentalism extends farther. A great deal of my formative years were spent in a South-Central Pennsylvania town that proudly labeled itself as part of the "Bible belt." The upside to the Bible Belt was a wonderful sense of community and connectedness. The downside was the all-too-present occurrence of dehumanizing, if not misogynistic views of and actions toward women. Women often found themselves confined in straightjackets--straightjackets with methaphorical modern scarlet letters that read you are lesser, you are here to serve, take comfort in my strength, obey my commands, and you will be protected. Sounds like religious doctrine, except these women are expected to serve men. Indeed, these letters are placed on women's bodies with promises of protection and strength, a female homage to men that mimics heavenly salvation. Except this salvation is manifested in human imperfection. As humans are expected to serve God, women are told to serve men.

I have seen this straightjacket become eerily attractive to young women. At a young age teens find themselves struggling with existential questions in a society that asks them to grow up and compete all too soon:

I am searching for my place in this world. Who am I? Where am I going?

The structure of religion makes simple answers all too accessible. Enter the hierarchy. Take comfort in God's grace. Suspend disbelief and jump into faith. These are, by my own admission, beautiful and brave concepts for the spirit of human uncertainty and fear to embrace.

Yet these concepts of divinity and faith are neatly tucked into dogmatic doctrines and human institutions. When the institution devalues women and dilutes their ability to stand as a representative of God, one can fault the institution and the constituents. This is the issue I take with Catholicism and priesthood. When the members of the institution use the doctrines of faith to mimic the supremacy of God in the veiled supremacy of man over woman, it is a societal problem. Serving God and serving other men are two very different things. How do we reconcile egalitarian beliefs with institutions and individuals who attempt to subject women to a "natural role" that defines them in simplicity, and limit their abilities to influence society as they so choose?

I often reflect sadly on the experiences of one of my closest friends. She fell in love with a mutual friend. He was an evangelical Christian, and she was a Cathloic. He decried her Catholicism, and that was something she could handle. But when she applied to college and had the good fortune of receiving admission to the University of Notre Dame pre-med, he attempted to put his foot down. She would not be going to college. She was supposed to be a mother. Fortunately, she took off in pursuit of her future and left him. However, I saw just how painful it was for her to find out the man she loved didn't love or appreciate her for who she was and what she aspired to become.

Another friend, also pre-med, was asked by her Christian boyfriend to drop the charade, drop out, and come live with him at his college ten hours away. Her aspirations were expected to take a back seat to his. He asked her to pray over it.

While these few stories may not reflect religious institutions as a whole, they do reflect saddening trends within the institutions.The power of religion is the power of belief. The power of religious institutions is the power of persuasion. We are seeing both formal and informal institutional methods of persuasion that fly in the face of human dignity and women's humanity.

The example of the dildo as anniversary gift in Aspazia's post is sickening. How can we reconcile the great respect Christian theology endows for each human and "Be a good girl, put your lips on the dildo, and I will love you some more?"

I wish I knew. I do know that the young man's requests are vile, and his girlfriend's submission is saddening. I do know that my friend's expectations that their girlfriends sacrifice their futures is also saddening. These young men obviously do not recognize the value and worth of these women. Even worse, the young woman in the Dickinson story doesn't recognize her own worth.

As Aspazia's post shows, teaching people to disconnect from sexuality is rarely effective. Aspazia has often commented on religous opposition to sexual education. In the pursuit of promoting abstinence, I wonder if some religious institutions have forgotten to teach about healthy relationships and boundaries. Perhaps the pitfall of some modern Christian institutions is that they ask their unmarried followers to set aside their human desires and abstain from sex, instead of teaching their followers about healthy, egalitarian relationships.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oral Sex: How to Have Fun and Still be a Virgin

A reader just read my piece on Abortion, Abstinence-Only, and the Debate Over "Need." and alerted me to this article published in the Dickinson College's school newspaper, The Dickinsonian (from Oct 6th).

Here is a bit of the article on Oral Sex, modesty and Christianity:

Liz is one of many who are struggling with the concept of oral sex.

During a recent interview, Liz confessed secrets about her oral sex life. She kept emphasizing, however, that she only engaged in oral sex - nothing else. "I'm still technically a virgin; no penetration," she repeated over and over again; "I'm saving myself for the right man. Only he will get to have real pleasure from me."

Some label Liz a church mouse; others, like her roommate, consider her a whore.

She says a daily prayer and calls her mother just to say she loves her. On her bookshelf sits a worn, leather-bound King James Bible, complete with pink note tabs highlighting Bible verses she reads and memorizes at night. Next to God's Holy Book are the past six issues of Cosmo, also with pink note tabs, highlighting sex tricks that she should keep in mind to please her man. She keeps a notebook listing the tricks she thinks she needs for weekend entertainment.

She has an off-campus boyfriend at a large northern university whom she has been dating for over a year. Whenever his name came up in conversation, her eyes took on a dreamy expression, and the corners of her mouth turned up in a smile. At the mere mention of him, her audacious voice would suddenly become subdued. She is in love.

Liz has several current oral sex partners other than her boyfriend. Most of them are off campus and attend large colleges and universities in Pennsylvania . Her boyfriend encourages these extra-curricular activities so she'll "be a better girlfriend."

According to Liz, pleasuring multiple men is not a form of cheating. "It's just an activity, like running cross country or playing tennis." She continued, "I don't feel anything emotionally when I go down on other guys. I only feel something when I perform for my guy. I perform for him." She has, in one night, given head to six different guys, three while they were playing poker at a non-Dickinson-affiliated party. No guys, including her boyfriend, reciprocate the kind of oral 'activity' she performs on them. (my emphasis)

She spoke with a mixture of pride and shame about her sexual activity. Her voice was nonchalant, yet confident; her eyes were bright and focused. It was as if she was challenging me to listen to her bold, sensual words. But with every detail of her private life she revealed, her face grew a shade pinker. The same bright eyes became downcast, looking at the floor in embarrassment.

She talked only of techniques, how she has improved on her oral performance, and how her boyfriend "loves her more now that I know what I'm doing." At one point she stopped and said, "Are you still confused about what I'm saying? Wait just a second." And before I could stop her, she went to her bookshelf, where her Bible and stack of Cosmos were, pulled down a box, and took out a neon-blue dildo, with a smiley face at its tip. She uses it to practice her oral techniques. Liz's face was blood-red; her eyes were looking intensely at her beige carpet. "My boyfriend gave it to me on our anniversary," she said shyly, "(In order) for me to improve."

I will never look at smiley faces the same way again.

Liz is trapped by a desire to please and her apparent modesty. She has to be a pure but experienced whore to keep her boyfriend. She never talks about any kind of pleasure she gets from what she does. She smiles whenever she talks of her boyfriend, but however whimsical-looking, her smile appears hollow. Liz is in conflict, and no one knows it.

When the interview was over, her roommate came running after me. A silver Christian cross adorned her neck and a braided "Jesus Loves Me" bracelet lay across her right wrist; a white cotton dress clung loosely to her torso and draped across her knees. The picture of maidenly innocence. In a quick, hushed tone she whispered, "We're not all like (Liz) you know, right? Good girls know that their mouths aren't meant to go, you know, down there. We know better than that. We don't taint ourselves."

Abortions, Abstinence-Only, and The Debate over "Need."

In conversation with my usual Friday crowd, justme noted that I write alot about abortion. His objection to the posts on abortions is that any of us would refer to abortion as a need. While he is willing to grant that some abortions are needs, I take his point to be that most abortions are wanted because to have a child would be inconvenient. I hear this sentiment quite a lot. And, I find it really hard to easily refute. To convince someone that his default view of abortion--that women get them because it is more convenient--when in reality the choice and then carrying out of that choice to get an abortion is unbelieveably difficult--is no fun. I am not sure that there is a similar or correlate experience that men have to go through (although, I am willing to entertain some ideas). To be able to understand why women will talk about abortions as needs, you need to more sympathetically listen to and understand their stories. You need to get the whole picture of what it is like to grow up, even in this small county, as female. You need to begin the discussion free of these preconceptions that women get abortions because being pregnant is an inconvenience.

A few months ago, I wrote about an early 2oth country doctor from Grove, OK who performed a great deal of abortions in his town during his 30 + years of providing medical care. I have been fortunate enough to get to read William Jennings Bryan Henrie's unpublished manuscript and some of his prision notebooks. What is compelling about his writings (which I am in the process of getting grants to make them public) is how moral, deeply moral was his practice to help these women. He writes his manuscripts to tell the stories of the women who had to suffer the moralistic, religious fanatical condemnation---none of those who condemned these women actually tried to hear their stories. So, Dr. Henrie sets out to tell the stories of the women whom others have tried to malign, judge, or "air their dirty laundry."

I just came across an excellent diary by moiv at Kos. I recommend you read her account of the countless women, now evacuees in Texas, who need to get abortions. She includes the stories of Tracy, Charlene, and Louise. I ask that those of you who still believe that abortion is fundamentally abused or misused try to read the stories of the women who seek out abortions. Hear what they have to say before making your mind up. Better yet, go volunteer for a day at the local Planned Parenthood and see who comes in and asks for an abortion. She how many of these women are smiling and jumping with glee because they can get on with their lives. See how many women are just callous.

You might see young women, like those I teach, who were irresponsible. They didn't bring contraception with them when they headed out for the party. Those same women, however, may not have known how to say no. They were worried that they guy would be mean to them or would never talk to them again. If the latter situation is going on, then what we have here is a shocking situation of low, low self-esteem. Young women think that by giving in and sleeping with guys (without birth control handy) that they are going to be loved or admired.

Of course, these women could've been given date rape drugs and men could've refused to use birth control too. It is so astounding to me that the entire issue of abortion becomes a judgment on irresponsible females. The man never has to face or endure that kind of scrutiny for his behavior. How regularly are men humiliated and have their lives ruined (either by reputation or by having to drop out of school etc.) for irresponsibly having unprotected sex?

Do you solve that problem--the irresponsible and low self-esteem girls--by shutting down all avenues for getting good, compassionate, and comprehensive care? NO. But this is what the local high school has chosen to do, thanks to the current administration's funding of Christian social service agencies.

Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to ride to Harrisburg with a teenager from the local High School. She told me that the young women are required to take abstinence only education classes from Real Commitment. My teenager friend told me that the 4 years of these courses have left her with an absolutely low self esteem and body image. Not to mention that she has no idea how to get access to birth control or a gynecological exam. But, this program uses tactics like singling out a young woman to chew a piece of gum throughout a brief presentation. After a few minutes, the Real Commitment facilitator says to the young girls that if they have sex they will be like this chewed up piece of gum. NICE!

I asked her if the boys are given these same degrading messages. She told me that the method with the boys is to convince them that they will have a more fulfilling partnership if they wait for one woman. The girls, on the other hand, are warned "why take the cow if you can get the milk for free"? What era are we in?

I should also add that the teenage pregnancy rate has not dropped as a result of Real Commitment. What has gone on the rise is women having very little self-esteem and poor body images (feeling themselves to be utterly vile and unholy if they have a normal sexuality). Being a women and having to fulfill these traditional biblical gender roles, btw, are among the risk factors for intimate partner violence (see this CDC report). Also, what is on the rise is "blow job" parties, wherein the women are giving all the pleasure to the men, since it is not "having sex." Anal sex is on the rise too. I find these "loopholes"("it's not real sex") to be utterly demeaning to the young girls.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the percentage of teens having anal sex because of abstinence groups has risen to 15 percent. Author Marty Beckerman who is publishing his second book Generation SLUT around Christmas, teens who subscribe to the True Love Waits philosophy and other abstinence groups have a warped view of sex.

"The percentage of teens having anal sex has gone into the stratosphere," Beckerman said. "Statistics show the average True Love Waits pledgee only waits six months longer than other teens.... This is a generation for which there are only one-night stands, nothing meaningful or lasting. I'm not advocating no sex, just better informed."

Maybe the real epidemic to be worried about is not kids having sex or getting pregnant or transferring STDs, but growing up ignorant. That's something that can be cured.

This moralizing and cruel behavior among the girls "ooh, she got birth control" or "so and so had sex with her boyfriend" makes me want to vomit. This witch hunt that so-called Christian groups set up in highschools is a breeding ground, if you ask me. Any young girl who maturely chooses to get birth control is ostracized and punished. While the holier-than-thou kids having anal and oral sex are spreading STDs and making most of their "girl" partners feel like crap. The responsible, mature girl who honors her sexuality is a slut or whore. Her entire self-worth becomes bound to these moralizing and downright mean-spirited descriptions of women who choose to have sex.

I want to know of some examples where men who have sex are treated in this same, degrading and moralistic way. When do men feel ashamed of their bodies and their whole identities if they have sex in this culture? Do the men getting tons of free blowjobs feel like a chewed up piece of gum?

Anyway, I want to end with a plea to my readers to donate to the Lillith Fund and Texas Equal Access to help these Katrina evacuees get their abortions. Getting an affordable abortion when you are poor is hard enough, but when you add a total criss like Katrina on top of that it is nearly impossible.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ordering a Pizza in the Near Future: Why Privacy Matters

Check out this link at AdCritic on ordering a Pizza. This will give you chills.

Saturday Morning With Uncle Ben: What's Wrong With Wal-Mart

Uncle Ben only buys clothes and products that are made in America. He refuses to shop at Walmart because the majority of its merchandise comes from China. When he told me this I was astounded. I never suspected that I would find in Ben an ally in my battle against Walmart.

From November 13-19th, an organization called Wal-Mart Watch is launching its Higher Expectations Week. In my own little town, my NOW chapter is teaming up with the Unitarian Church, the Green Party, and the Democracy for America chapter to screen Bob Greenwald's new film, Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices at our local UU church. We are doing our part for the Higher Expectations Week.

I hadn't yet (and still haven't) told Ben and my friday friends about this event. My fear was that most of these folks are sensitive to picking on Walmart. My town, like countless others, has witnessed Walmart come in and destroy local small business, create more traffic, offer low-paying jobs with little benefits, etc. But, where are you going to shop?: to boycott Walmart seems out of the question. Furthermore, Walmart is the biggest employer in town.

I really like Walmart Watch's campaign because it is not asking people to boycott Walmart, it is instead putting pressure on Walmart to actually do a better job.

So, back to Ben. When the conversation about the status of labor came up in this country I was really heartened to hear that Ben agreed with me that CEO's make way too much money. Their greed and the need to compete globally means that worker's wages go down. Ben asked, "where can a working class guy or gal get a job now that supports him or her?" Well, that is such an important question. And the answer is not good. If you are a strong back, hard worker, but not necessarily a scholar, you might end up at the Walmart or if you are lucky somewhere like Costco.

We learned this week that GM, which is the nation's largest health care provider is spending more for its employees health care plans than the steel in the cars. We have a real crisis on our hands.

I suggested to Ben that what this meant is we need a national health care plan because our businesses cannot compete unless we totally cut all benefits for workers. And, if we do that, then the you have the local, state and federal government pick up the tab. Ben didn't disagree with this proposal. Wow. We are finding common ground.

Ben and others at the table argued that the Unions are a real part of the problem because they are pricing American workers out of jobs. Here I part ways. But, before I disagree with this point, I will agree that many in the Unions got too powerful, corrupt and lost its mission to make labor strong. Who can disagree with that. There is and has been corruption in Unions. But, that does not signal to me that we should give up on a workers' movement. I think we need one now more than ever. I also think that more than the Union's demand for higher wages and benefits is to blame for workers getting priced out of a job. I would refer back to the issue of CEO salaries. Give me a break!

Anyway, I am happy to know that Ben and others at the table are as concerned about labor and as fed up with Walmart as I am. This gives me hope. Now, can I get them to show up to screening of Greenwald's movie?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Notes from the Prozac Nation, Vol. 1, No. 8

  • Melancholy and Melancholic: Some Notes Toward An Essay Toward Some Notes: Bleak Mouse writes with great philosophical flair about the relationship between chronic, atypical depression and identity. I am always struck by how those who are depressed can so often write about their depression in a meta way. Chronic depression tends to draw one in and reflect on larger questions about what makes me who I am? What this author suggests is that the depression does not give one an inner strength, but rather calls forth inner resources to fight depression. Here is a sample:

    One is of course scarred and shaped by depression. At very least, it is an experience among others; at most, it is an experience that distorts and obscures all others. But one is more than the sum of one's experiences. I should undoubtedly be a vastly different person were it not for depression; but I would also (I reach this counterfactual conclusion without proof) be very much the same, in ways that I can clearly delineate. There are of course shadowy borderlands where the self and the illness blur. If it were not for depression -- Would I be less kind and more selfish? Would I be less introspective and more outgoing? Would I be more certain of the central things -- have some abiding faith in the rightness of things? Would I love the same poems, the same music? Would I write the way I do? Would I speak as I do? Would I have been a greater or lesser sinner? Would I notice what I notice now -- the things that others miss? and would I know what they know, without knowing that they know them?

    I'm afraid I do not believe in what someone called "the inner strength of depression." I do believe that one can (must) call forth inner strength against depression. The fact that gains against it can often seem ephemeral argues defeat -- and argues it daily, incessantly, and with quite an arsenal of quasi-evidence, adduced with tireless repetition. But something else -- the innate, unclouded self -- argues this: At very least, stay where you are. Push ahead if you can, but don't lose ground. Stay, stay, stay.

    Some years back, I took a medication (one among many, before and since) that dispelled my depression for around a year. (For students of psychopharmacology, it was one of the earliest and most traditional antidepressants, an MAOI.) It did not make me happy, which was not among my expectations in any case, but it did make happiness possible. It alleviated my perpetual exhaustion, and cleared my mind wonderfully. It put me back in the world. It gave me a future (something that melancholia obliterates mercilessly.) But, what I remember most of all, is this: I no longer thought about depression. I had periods of normal depression, to be sure, but -- mirabile dictu -- they passed, or could be shaken off -- by playing music, or going out, or by utilizing that most tiresome of folk remedies, "getting some fresh air." Then it stopped working.

    Bleak Mouse also captures the "poop" out effect of antidepressants. Many depression memoirists describe a respite from depression when he/she first takes medication, and then, it stops working. What happens after that fact is generally more interesting.

  • Autumnal Melancholia: Nylon writes a heartwrenching entry on her descent depression and how it makes her reflect on all of her past failures. A horrific feature of depression is rumination and self-loathing. Depression feels bad enough, but then as feature of this illness, it makes you indict your entire life as a failure.

  • High Cost of Depression Care: This article from the Coloradon warns that many people who are diagnosed depressed do not seek out medical attention because they cannot afford it. Because depression is an illness that can spiral out, and get worse and worse, this is not a small problem.

  • Blood: A New Antidepressant: A police assistant in India�s central state of Chhattisgarh killed a fellow villager by slitting his throat with a sword and drank his blood, hoping to cure his own depression, police said on Monday. Sort of makes you grateful for our own version of "witchcraft," that is, we worship the often snake oil remedies put out by Big Pharma. Much less violent!

  • Brain Cell Death in Depression: Researchers are now arguing that cells die in a certain part of the brain in patients with severe depression. Last fall I took my seminar to the NIH and we spoke to the head of the Mood Disorders lab who made a similar argument. If cell death is the cause or related to depression, then new drugs will be made to regenerate those cells. Should be interesting. The researcher at NIH told us that he was able to encourage cell regeneration by keeping patients awake for over 24 hours (I could be getting that detail wrong).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Target Sucks!

Go to PPFA's website and contact Target now for not filling legitimate prescriptions for Birth Control. Target has joined the list of Talibanesque behavior towards women.

Why is it that when pharmacists and pharmacies refuse to fill birth control prescriptions, they don't also refuse to sell condoms or Viagra?

I think we should boycott all pharmacies that sell condoms, Viagra, or any other male enhancement pharmaceuticals. Crap, the ease with which men can access birth control is certainly leading to lasivious, unChristian behavior.

On a serious note, how can you take conservatives seriously on reducing poverty if they won't give women full control over their reproduction? No birth control=unwanted pregnancies=more poverty. DUH!

My Modest Counter Proposal for Fighting Poverty

In the spirit of all good totalitarian thinkers, I will propose a better way of regulating sexual relations such that poverty is unlikely.

Rather than encourage marriage between two people, who find themselves young, pregnant and unable to support their child or their marriage, I suggest that we create a disincentive program for men to get women pregnant in the first place. There are lots of routes to this:

I. StopSemen shots and GPS tags: We can court-order regular offenders to get a long term male birth control implant. When we discover that men are being "players," e.g. talking their unwilling girlfriends into having sex because it will make them close, and, these same men refuse a condom, since they want to have the same pleasurable experience as his willing vicitim, these "players" will be also electronically tagged, so that we can monitor, via GPS devices, when they try to sweet talk another young, unsuspecting teenage girl.

II. Automated Lifetime Cash Transfers: Since "players," or ex-husbands seeking younger, more "fulfilling" girlfriend, might stray from their responsibilities once they have impregnated their former conquests/wives, we can set up a tracking system that ensures that at least half of the income that these men earn over a lifetime will go to any women whom he impregnated. If his income is exhuasted,we can go after his kin as well (it takes a family!). To make this work, we will need to make use of the GPS device above, and other surveillance systems that can keep a close eye on male sexual behavior. If and when we catch a man "impregnating" a women (e.g. not using birth control), then our state banking systems will automatically redirect, via electronic transfers, all future income of the man to the pregnant woman.

III. Castration: In cases where a man is simply draining the resources of all their kin as well as draining the social welfare system because of his progeny, we will order castrations. Hey, it worked in the 12th Century, why tamper with tradition?

IV. Compel all Sex Offenders into the Priesthood: If castration isn't a strong enough deterrent, why not send these men into the priesthood. Perhaps their spiritual commitment to God will cure them of their horniness and they can finally aspire to the real riches of the soul.

V. Encourage Homosexuality for All Men Through Huge Tax Cuts: Hey, a sure way to cut down on unwanted pregnancies is to have men have sex with other men. Last time I checked, you cannot impregnate a man. Yes, I know. Some men may still have a lingering lust for women. But, the best way to tame a lust is to offer a better one. So, I propose offering huge tax cuts for all men willing to become gay and sign a pledge that they will not have sex with women.

Any other suggestions . . . ?

UPDATE: If only this were a joke! Scott at Lawyers, Guns and Money has this analysis of Leon Kass's latest anti-female arguments.

Teaching Carnival: What Else Do We Think About?

Scribblingwoman has a fantastic blog entry that rounds up the most interesting posts on teaching. I am heartened to know that countless others are writing about teaching as much as I am. And, it looks like some good posts on "how to" as well. Here is the link.

Via Bitch Ph.D. (my reliable source for all that is good!)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Word: Truthiness

Here is a welcome interlude from a busy day, thanks to Crooks and Liars.

Here is Colbert on the Word, telling us why he hates books because they are full of facts and elitist!

I cannot tell you how many times I have forbidden my students from writing that they feel an argument. Or discuss truth as what they feel. A-men to Colbert for nailing this.

Go watch it. Made my day!

Quotation of the Day

On the nature of what belief is:

"It seems, then, we have discovered that the many conventional notions of the mass of mankind about what is beautiful or honourable or just and so on are adrift in a sort of twilight between pure reality and pure unreality."

--Plato, Book V, The Republic

I think it is safe to assume that this is the way Karl Rove sees the mass of mankind, and why he has appointed himself the philosopher king. I simply reject what he takes to be knowledge (reality).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Remember that Fair Minded Piece on Miers: Nevermind

Harriet Miers thinks that if you have an abortion, you should be brought up on criminal charges. This is the only consequence of returning to the dark ages of Pre-Roe and banning Abortion. As most newspapers and media outlets are reporting now, Miers pledged her support in 1989 for a constitutional amendement that would ban abortion.

Scott McClellan's spin on this:

"What we take that to be is a candidate expressing her views during the course of a campaign," presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said of the questionnaire. "The role of a judge is very different from the role of a candidate or a political office holder."

McClellan added, "Harriet Miers, just like Chief Justice Roberts, recognizes that personal views and ideology and religion have no role to play when it comes to making decisions on the bench."

I hate that guy.

Take a look at Bitch Ph.d's blog on this.

Post-Katrina Anti-Poverty Program: Pleeeeze

I caught the first half of On Point this morning, which was a discussion on how to address the widespread poverty in this country. As predicted, the Heritage Foundation research fellow, Robert Rector, denounced the trillions of dollars already spent on poverty. The money spent to alleviate poverty, in his view, has been wholly unsuccessful. Wow, what a surprise! I have never heard this "talking point" before. It is so broad, general and rhetorically charged that it cannot fail to outrage the mindless ones listening. And yet, where's the evidence? Where is the nuance? Every single program to alleviate poverty is a failure and a waste of tax dollars?

The next point Rector makes really irritates me. He congratulates Bush's call for bold new programs to end poverty, especially if it is a result of past racism. What is this bold new program, according to Rector? Encouraging marriages. Don't let people get pregnant unless they are married.


That response is so simplistic and downright stupid that I want to vomit. But, I will save my elaboration of what is wrong about that policy for another blog. What I want to highlight here is the sort of portrait of marriage these neo-cons are selling: arranged marriages that serve as contracts. This is old style marriage. Love doesn't much enter into it I imagine. And, why are so many of these single mothers not married? Does anyone ask that question?

Monday, October 17, 2005

From Helicopters to Eagles

Piggybacking on the discussion about parenting and education, I have some thoughts:

My Mom married her high school sweetheart too late to realize the difference between love and lust. Her independent mind and strong spirit led her to leave the relationship which was inevitably failed for doom. My Mom was a nurse and a single mom. For a few years, her and my sister lived together in an apartment. My Mom was lucky enough to benefit from a supportive family that made single parenting less difficult.

My father left college right before his final semester to visit his father in the hospital. His father had his second heart attack. My grandfather was a self-employed businessman, so if he was in the hospital, the income wasn’t flowing, and my Dad’s tuition bills weren’t paid. To this day, my Dad is still three courses short of a college degree.

Soon, my parents met. My Dad, as I am sure he would tell you today, probably couldn’t decipher whether he loved my mother or my older sister more. My parents married after a couple years of dating. Their week long honeymoon to the Sheraton was cut short because they missed my eldest sister, whom my Dad adopted.

When my parents met, my father was working in the mailroom at Johnson & Johnson. Within a few years, my father climbed the corporate ladder enough to keep us comfortable. He chose quality time with his kids over pay raises and longer hours. I am the fourth of my parent’s children. I lived most of my life in a modest but warm suburban home that my parents strived to afford, so that we could enjoy quality schools and safe neighborhoods.

My parents seemed to know when and when not to apply the pressure. No “Cs” was the house rule. Otherwise, we were taught to be ourselves, to stand up for the under dog, and to find happiness above all in life. In stark contrast to the hovering helicopter parents Aspazia referred to, my parents were the “spread-winged eagle” parents: they encouraged us to lift ourselves from the nest, open our wings and fly. (Cliché, but fitting.)

There were times my parents did apply the pressure. When my Dad was offered a position in Milan, Italy for two years, they dragged us kicking and screaming. Two years later, we didn’t want to leave Italy.

There were, of course, drawbacks to my parent’s being anything-but-the-“helicopter” parents. My two middle siblings got into a good deal of trouble. They literally fought for the under dog, often got caught up with under dog, and of course, invested in individuals whose upbringing wasn’t as secure as ours was. They made mistakes, plenty of them—mistakes my father still harbors guilt over.

Today, I will be the first in my family of six to receive a bachelor’s degree. I often feel like my family sees at me in two ways that make me unnervingly uncomfortable: they see me with great pride and they see me as someone different. They are proud that I have accomplished so much and they see me as different—maybe even as someone better—for creating this life for myself. This saddens me. I don’t hold my achievements above any of theirs. They are all loving, caring, compassionate, dynamic people. Thinking of my family leaves my heart brimming with pride and excitement. As the youngest, I have benefited from watching them struggle on their journeys. I have learned which paths lead to an easier life. I benefit from perspective. I am in no way “better.”

My family provides a fascinating contrast to the helicopter families Aspazia describes. In one, you see pressure to succeed according to societal standards. In the other, you see encouragement to chart your own path.

Both scenarios are choc-full of tragedy: the burdened, pressured kids suffering under the hovering of fearful parents, or the idealistic, free-wandering kids under the fear-filled watch of their parents. There is tragedy in a life where pressures and expectations to succeed in a certain way quash the spirit of children. There is also tragedy in a life where parents proverbially ask their children to spread their wings and fly: they can crash.

In the end, these two groups do not fall into simply, contrasting extremes on a continuum of parenting scales. It may be easy to interpret these stories in such a simplistic light. However, in the day-in-day-out experiences of parenting, parents often alter their style and approach; they often swing back and forth between protection of safety and promotion of self-pursuit. I believe we are not best served not by judging and critiquing these parents as if they are manifestations of some natural propensity within human kind. I believe our efforts as concerned parents, future parents, and citizens are best channeled by asking why these parents are influenced to act in such fashions. If we find—as we likely will—that a significant source of the tragedy of these helicopters and spread-winged-eagles is the society we live in, then we have some serious questions to ask.

With this all on my mind, I can’t help but thinking of my junior year in high school. My brother got into some trouble and my parents spent their entire savings to help him. Shortly after, they filed for bankruptcy and the house and possessions were to be taken. In the midst of all of this, a friend of my sister was kicked out of her house for getting pregnant. Her helicopter parents were disgusted. During this trying time, my parents accepted her and her child into our home. They couldn’t pay their mortgage, but my parents found a way to help buy diapers and formula. In the end, the presence of a joyful baby may have been the best thing for my family at the time. Now, many years later, as my older sisters each bring a child into the world, I am sure they will struggle with the parameters of parenting. I assume it will be an experience of cognitive dissonance, of looking both critically and nostalgically upon the tradition that they come from and asking the question that plagues every parent, “What can I do to give my child the best life?”

Melancholy Monday: Don't Waste Your Resources on all the Wrong People

I have wasted hours and hours trying to persuade people that their impressions of me are the result of a misunderstanding. I particularly labored at transforming peoples' negative views of me while I was in graduate school. Other students considered me "moralistic" "cutthroat" "too ambitious" or "too straight laced." If ever I caught wind of these indictments of my character, I would be deflated and visibly shaken. I would often single out the source of a particular rumor about me and ask them to reconsider. In the process of trying to disabuse them of what I thought was a false view, I would show him or her how much I was impacted and affected by it. Anyone with a vicious streak, or just a highly developed self-interested streak, would suddently have the secret formula for derailing me, for taking the life out of me.

I foolishly thought I could change their opinions of me if they just got to know me better. I took a sick pleasure in this portrait of myself--the kind-hearted, self-sacrificing soul who is consistently misunderstood.

"People just don't see my kind heart."

"My German-American and Danish stock has trained me to be stoic, too uneasy showing warmth and affection."

"This witholding of obvious signs of warmth wrongly communicates to others that I am cold hearted," I consoled myself.

When I was in graduate school I discovered the film, Philadelphia Story. I identified so thoroughly with Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn's character). C.K. Dexter Haven (her ex-husband and "true love") tells her that she is like an ice queen. She is incapable of accepting human weakness and fraility, claims Haven. Boy, that was me.

My discomfort with physical affection and overly cognitive style is a means of self-protection. I had to develop this style to cope with a chaotic and tumultuous family. Perhaps, I thought, this mask is what leads people to misperceive me.

I wasted hours and hours analyzing this. The fact is that we accumulate a lot of enemies in our life, even when we try to be a kind-hearted and compassionate soul. Sometimes people resent us because we are trying to help them. Or, they resent us because we don't give enough, once we have given some indication that we can give to others. Others hate us because we too at ease with the world, too optimistic, too conscientious, too _________ (you fill in the blank).

The melancholy realization is that it's not that these rumor-spreading-others have misunderstood us, they simply reject us. You cannot make everyone love you. If you spend your life doing so, you have no life. You also waste your resources on all the wrong people.

Parenting by Fear

Last night, Za and I watched an old episode of The Sopranos. Anthony Jr. is pushing the limits of authority with Carmela and Tony is trying to both help Carmela parent, but also keep A.J.'s love. Anyway, halfway through the episode, Carmela and Tony are meeting with A.J.'s guidance counselor about college admissions. It comes out in the discussion that A.J. was diagnosed with ADD awhile ago. A.J. didn't know this and says "if I am learning disabled, I get unlimited time on my SATs."

I looked at Za and then said, "this is the generation and population of students I am teaching." Their well-too-do parents invest as many resources as possible to ensure they can get into a good college. They find loopholes to be able to score better on the SAT or get out of the 2 year language requirement. The pressure to get their children into a good college begins in kindergarten, or even earlier. Every one of their chidlren's co-curricular activities is chosen to improve their college application. If they have hours upon hours of community service, it is not necessarily reflective of their character; it reflects their desire to get an edge over other students.

The next scene, we discover that two students have just died on their way to school. Tony's reaction to this is to go out and buy for A.J. a brand new SUV, fully loaded with safety devices.

The impulse in both of these cases is good. Who can fault a parent's wish to make their children safe and successful.

Nonetheless, the effect of this style of parenting--what my colleague refers to as "helicopter parents" because they hover--is it produces students who often have the pure joy of learning (for the sake of learning) knocked out of them. They are motivated and parented by fear: fear they won't get into a good college, fear that they will not get a good job, fear that they will be harmed without a big steel framed car, fear that they will be socially awkward if they don't get involved in mainstream civic opportunities, fear that their brain chemistry might put them at a disadvantage in college admissions, ad nauseum.

I geniunely worry about many of my students who, like A.J., have been raised with this attitude toward education. Education is a ticket to further safety. Success is money. Money gives you the ability to build fortresses that keep out all the danger and threats of a increasingly hostile world.

It is really no surprise that this is not a generation of students who protest the war, nor building a new counter culture.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Academic Blogs: Bullshit Detectors?

Charles Norman Todd had an interesting blog entry last week, "When Academics Blog," in which he discusses U of C's denial of tenure to a poli sci professor. I don't know the details of this case, and sadly, I don't really have the time to research it further. But, I found the end of Todd's piece though provoking:

The question then, is precisely what role should an academic's blog play in evaluating their quality of scholarship and determining their value as a faculty member?

Although it is certainly too soon to tell, universities like Chicago need to realize that blogging will not go away (which is not to say that this was the actual reason Drezner did not get tenure - on that I will remain agnostic). So what should they do? If I were on a tenure committee, I would recognize that an enormous amount of time and effort goes into creating and maintaining a blog for whatever purpose and thus is bound to occupy a certain percentage of a junior faculty member's time. I would then begin to develop some kind of academic criteria by which to incorporate that individual's blog into the tenure review process.

I won't pretend that this is an easy thing to do, but I do think it is necessary. A faculty member cannot simply distribute written work in the public domain that pertains to her or his field of expertise and expect it to go unnoticed and unconsidered when their department and tenure committee evaluates her or his performance. I wouldn't get the opportunity to say "Oh, don't read such-and-such article in that journal because it wasn't one of my best." Sorry. Its there now and as such has just as much of a place in the review process as your best. As I already said, this does not mean that a blog should be weighted equally with work submitted for editorial review, but it must play some role. What departments and tenure committee's need to begin to develop are criteria for evaluating such work that does justice to the median it is and the purpose for which it was used.

It might not be much, but it would be a start.

The idea of incorporating individual's blogs into the tenure process is intriguing. I would add that only blogs wherein the author identifies him or herself are fair game. If untenured junior faculty maintain blogs anonymously or pseudonymously, then it seems wrong to consider this as academic work distributed to the public domain (even if someone else "outed" the prof).

But, if a blogger identifies him or herself, then it might be really interesting and worthwhile to consider the blog as part of the tenure dossier.

I think that blogs have a great deal of value for academics and the academy. Given how long we are likely to labor on publications, with little to no feedback before submitting it to a peer review journal, being able to put your inchoate ideas in the public via blogs is really helpful. In my own case, I have can honestly say that I have come to enjoy writing and working ideas out when I know that I might attract some thoughtful responses (or even unthoughtful responses).

Blogs also seem to be an excellent medium for combatting the ivory tower image of academia. When professors begin to blog, and they know their audience is wider than specialists, their writing is bound to be more comprehensible to the general public. As I understand it, if you want to be a tenured Harvard professor, you need to publish a "popular" work in addition to your scholary work in order to influence a community wider than fellow academics.

Academic bloggers have the opportunity to learn better how to translate the often abstruse and specialized vocabulary of micro-disciplines into "plain english." A successful academic blogger, who has attracted a wide audience, has done more than write a good blog. He/she has also demonstrated his/her mastery of subject matter.

All too often academic jargon allows the lesser minds of the academy appear to be saying something more profound than they actually are. Blogs can be bullshit detectors.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Notes from the Prozac Nation, Vol. 1, No. 7

  • Effexor Rox!: One of my all time favorite bloggers, Bitch Ph.D., offered up the following good news Effexor update. She also mentions Andrew Solomon’s book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. I agree with Dr. B that this book is exceptionally well written and chock full of thoughtful and subtle analyses of the relationship between depression, poverty, culture and trauma. I first read Solomon’s work in the New Yorker, where he published a shorter piece called the “Anatomy of Melancholy,” meant to allude to Robert Burton's 17th Century tome, Anatomy of Melancholy. Solomon’s essay became one of the pieces of inspiration for my dissertation on melancholia and gender. While I love Solomon’s work and writing, I continue to be bemused by the grandiosity of the titles of memoirs that men write about depression versus the women's titles. Men also tend to make part of their memoirs into Natural history, perhaps following in the tradition of Burton or Marsilio Ficino. Solomon calls his book An Atlas on Depression; biologist Lewis Wolpert calls his book Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression; and, therapist Jeffrey Smith titles his memoir Where the Roots Reach for Water: A Personal and Natural History of Melancholia. The famous female memoirs however have more prosaic, or shall we say, Prozac titles: Lauren Slater’s Prozac Diary, or Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America. The title differences mark more than superficial differences. If you pay close attention to the differences in content and authorial voice of the memoirs, the gender differences are striking. The men situate themselves in the pantheon of great men befallen by the noonday demon. The women write more about banal, domestic details, believing themselves to be irritating and draining to their loved ones.

  • Cosmetic Psychopharmacology: I have been attending a board meeting for an academic organization this weekend. The board is comprised of both philosophers and psychiatrists. One of my favorite parts of this fall meeting is the day dedicated to sharing our research with each other. I discussed my interest in the "cosmetic psychopharmacology" debate, which considers the ethical permissibility of prescribing SSRIs, such as Prozac, as enhancement drugs. My basic position on the debate is that the two sides: the psychopharmacological hedonists and the psychopharmacological calvinists talk about this enhancement/treatment question in far too abstract terms. They overlook the fact that the majority of SSRI scripts are written for women. Moreover, the majority of TV commercials are aimed at the stressed out, overworked professional mom. I was enthusiastic about how much discussion my research project generated. I was also fascinated by the response of the psychiatrists, all of whom I greatly respect. Three of them stated that they absolutely did not see any prescribing of SSRIs as enhancement. I was pressed to consider switching the focus of my argument to Ritalin or Provigil, a drug which, apparently many psychiatrists take. I am not yet persuaded to drop my interest in cosmetic psychopharmacology and ensuing ethical questions. I do think that many women seek out SSRIs as an often rational solution to coping with ridiculous demands on their time. I also think the criteria for depression are more likely to pick out pathological femininity rather than depression. Big Pharma capitalizes a lot on this latter feature of depression diagnoses, hence why I think the commercials are aimed at women. And, of course, another unfortunate result of the gendered nature of depression criteria is that men are underdiagnosed. For more on my position, read this, this, this, this, this, and this. (That should keep you busy for awhile!)

Coming Soon . . .

I just stole some time away from a board meeting I am attending to leave this quick post. I am about to post my belated Notes from the Prozac Nation. But, in the meantime, I am here. Just been really busy the past few days.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Making Peace with our Christian Heritage: And, a bit on Miers

With the campaign on to sell Harriet Mier's conservative credentials, by appealing to her conversion to evangelicalism, I have been thinking alot about religion. Mind you, I think about the effect of evangelicalism on contemporary politics a lot, but I don't tend to think more generally about what cultural contribution religion, particularly Christianity, has made.

No, I am not going to say "pot-lucks" (although the latent Lutheran in me is tempted to). Nor am I going to say "fellowship," which while important, is something we can certainly find in other communities.

Christianity, I think, is to be credited with the whole concept of justice as fairness or equality. If you think about the brutal conditions in which humans lived for centuries, wherein survival was where most of our energies and resources were devoted, justice was nothing more than a matter of power and might.

Plato takes on this notion of justice in the first book of the Republic. St. Augustine then melds together Christianity with Platonism, and we inherit the natural law tradition. This tradition teaches us that there are transcendent (or for Kant, transcendental) ideals toward which we ought to aim. (Nietzsche, of course, considers this the downfall of everything great about the Greeks. He prefers the raw power of the flesh to the bad conscience of Christianity).

I wanted to remind myself of this important contribution of Christianity, if only to temper my growing distemper over the self-assertion of "Christians" in politics. I often don't like the narrow, Manichean Christian perspective being shoved down our throats. I don't appreciate the pro-Capitalist, anti-poor Christians much either. But, I do value the belief that justice is an ideal worth striving for and not merely the will of the stronger.

I have been hesitant to write an entry on Harriet Miers. I am not sure what I think of this nominee. Several smart bloggers have already written stuff such as Jill at Feministe and Scott at Lawyers, Guns and Money. I am not convinced that she is qualified for the job, and yet, I am also not convinced that she will be hostile to women in the way that the eminently qualified John Roberts threatens to be. I think that most thoughtful feminists can appreciate and make a place for women who have broken barriers for other women and who genuinely support the advancement of women (even if we might disagree on the moral permissibility of abortion).

While it should be clear to anyone who reads my blog that I wholeheartedly support the legalization of abortion, I am not a single issue feminist.

What I want to be able to do is make peace with the evangelicals that are emboldened and flamboyant in all corners of my life. I want to believe that some of what they strive for is justice, wherein we treat all with equal value and we strive for fairness in our social institutions. I fear that many evangelicals are power hungry and fanatical, in the ways that the Catholic crusaders were in their attempt to seize Jerusalem or christianize/kill the heretics.

It is possible, however, to believe that an evangelical Christian takes seriously the work of making the world better.

I don't know if Miers is that sort of gal. When I discussed this with my colleague, we both remarked on how the NYTimes' account of her conversion and her split with the more glitzy wing of her church are ambigious. Her desire to be a good servant and seek a quiet and thoughtful place of worship reflects something quite admirable in her character.

If you read the print version of that Times' article, you see this hauntingly beautiful portrait of her younger self, a woman who seems alive, inviting, curious, and open. Very little of that young woman seems to come through in her current self. She seems harder. Perhaps she became one of the many who seek out evangelicalism as a healing balm to a sense of disorientation. Perhaps her admiration of black-and-white-thinking, inflexible men (e.g. W) is a hint that she strives for more certainty and less exploration at this stage in her life. Perhaps an open and thoughtful quest for what a better world, a heaven on earth--what I think is a fundamental Christian quest -- has been eclipsed by a need for order and raw, brutal strength?

I just don't know.