Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Are Students A Captive Audience? Constructive Disagreement And Classroom Politics

The perfect teacher.
Recently I was reading a discussion of the relationship between campus speech codes, sexual harassment, and free speech doctrine.  Because I am not a legal scholar I won't dwell on the details, but the dilemma for educational institutions is this:  how might one seek to regulate classroom expression that creates a hostile environment for students in a protected class without infringing on freedom of speech? Such utterances by a teacher or another student might include:  "Students of color are only here because of affirmative action;" "Tammy sure is easy on the eyes;"  or "Learning disabled people get extra time for the test, but I don't believe that anyone deserves accommodation."  (I made all these up, but I once knew a male prof who was famous for saying to any female student who had a hyphenated last name:  "Your mother must be one of those feminists.")

The answer to the questions I began with is this.  While individual speech acts in a classroom might be found to violate the right to work or learn in an environment free from harassment, speech codes do violate the right to free speech, as well as academic freedom. Furthermore, speech acts are only taken seriously as discrimination when perpetrated by a faculty member against a student.  In 2008 a member of the Dartmouth faculty sued on the claim that her students had created a hostile environment, and was mocked by the national press as a result.

Faculty are, in fact, perceived as having an almost uniquely destructive power to harm their students intellectually by forcing their views on them.  One way of thinking about this is what is called in labor law "captive audience doctrine," by which employees are forced to listen to political, religious or discriminatory speech.  If said employees resist, or refuse to participate as part of an audience for such speech, and are threatened with reprisal as a result, the captive audience doctrine might be invoked. (Note:  since the National Labor Relations Board is a mere shadow of its former self, actually winning a discrimination case or a grievance under captive audience doctrine is very difficult.)

Sound familiar to you?  This is more or less the principle on which conservative groups like Students for Academic Freedom ("You can't get a good education if they're only telling you half the story") and Minding the Campus assert that so-called "liberal indoctrination" in the classroom establishes a hostile environment for conservative students.  As the Student Bill of Rights published by SAF states,

Professors are hired to teach all students, not just students who share their political, religious and philosophical beliefs. It is essential therefore, that professors and lecturers not force their opinions about philosophy, politics and other contestable issues on students in the classroom and in all academic environments. This is a cardinal principle of academic freedom laid down by the American Association of University Professors.

In an academic environment professors are in a unique position of authority vis-à-vis their students. The use of academic incentives and disincentives to advance a partisan or sectarian view creates an environment of indoctrination which is unprofessional and contrary to the educational mission. It is a violation of students' academic freedom. The creation of closed, political fiefdoms in colleges, programs or departments, is the opposite of academic freedom, and does not deserve public subsidy or private educational support.
Contained in this statement, which mirrors what might appear to be a worthy standard for professional pedagogy, is language that points to a growing source of resentment among students:  faculty often tell them things that don't support, and even contradict, the world view that they brought to college in the first place.  What many teachers see as factual information, such students perceive as "opinions" that they must pretend to replicate, even if they have another "opinion."  What faculty see as reasoned argument that is well supported in the literature, and requires equally reasoned and well-supported argument to rebut, students can perceive as "indoctrination."

The two paragraphs I quoted above set the stage quite neatly for an application of captive audience doctrine to the classroom.  In the second, the faculty member's "unique position of authority" is emphasized, a position that is buttressed by "academic incentives and disincentives" (grades) that can be used to reward students who accept indoctrination and punish those who don't.

But are students always a captive audience?  Do faculty always hold a position of unique authority?  Does the fact of grading itself mean that the faculty member's unique authority is always already abusive?  And what are the implications of all of this for a liberal arts education -- which ought to be about debate, disagreement and transformation?

These may not be important questions for teachers of math and science (I am sure commenters will inform me on this point), but they are for those of us in the social sciences and humanities.  They are particularly serious questions for teachers of feminism, race, colonialism, post-colonialism and queer studies, who are repeatedly harassed by students and conservative organizations, and risk having the institutional support for their work withdrawn, because their work challenges centrist and conservative (and perhaps even liberal) views about race, sex, gender and empire.  However, a central issue for all social sciences and humanities scholars, regardless of field,  is that our very work and identities are built around the idea of constructive disagreement as a path to knowledge.  Useful disagreement depends on the notion that truth is not always an absolute value, and accepting the possibility that those things that are obvious are not always true.  If students do not believe they are empowered to disagree with us, and if disagreement itself is viewed as destructive in a classroom context, in what context can students be transformed into scholarly thinkers?  Conversely, if all student views -- no matter how factually incorrect of interpretively flawed -- have to be deferred to for fear of being charged with "indoctrination," under what conditions might a class acquire a body of knowledge about a subject, or a set of intellectual tools that constitute a recognized approach to that body of knowledge, at all?

Want some recommended reading?  Try Robert I. Sutton,  The No Asshole Rule:  Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (2007)Reviewed here at Tenured Radical in July 2007.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Celebrating The Greatest Generation (Of Women)

In case you didn't know it, today is Rosie the Riveter's 68th birthday.  Berkeley Ph.D. candidate Samuel Redman is celebrating on The Berkeley Blog with a piece just published today,  "Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter and World War II in American Memory." Okay, Rosie's probably a bit older than 68, but why would you ask a girl her real age?

Redman's piece documents Rosie's national debut on May 29 1943 on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post with a feature announcing her contributions to the war effort.  Look at the muscles on that gal!  She needs them to control that phallic rivet gun that she used to knock out one prefabricated ship after another.  According to About.com's Kennedy Hickman, "US shipyards would produce 2,751 Liberty Ships. The majority (1,552) of these came from new yards built on the West Coast and operated by Henry J. Kaiser."
Operating four yards in Richmond, CA and three in the Northwest, Kaiser developed methods for prefabricating and mass producing Liberty Ships. Components were built all across the US and transported to shipyards where the vessels could be assembled in record time. During the war, a Liberty Ship could be built in a about two weeks at a Kaiser yard. In November 1942, one of Kaiser's Richmond yards built a Liberty Ship (Robert E. Peary) in 4 days, 15 hours, and 29 minutes as a publicity stunt. Nationally, the average construction time was 42 days and by 1943, three Liberty Ships were being completed each day.
Redman draws on one of the many fabulous projects being done at the Regional Oral History Office at the Bancroft Library, this one intended to document the WWII home front in the Bay area.  Giving a sample of a few real "Rosies" in the story, Redman notes that while our memories are shaped by triumphant images of this military turning point in the twentieth century, "Both men and women who lived through this time, as they advance in age, continue to wrestle with sometimes conflicting memories about the war."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Isn't It Time To Bring The State Back In? Thoughts On The Recent Pew Report On Higher Ed

If you have a Google alert on "college," as I do, you will know that the last week has been filled with pundits weighing in on the question of whether college is a worthwhile investment.  This is because, on May 16, the Pew Center released a new report called  "Is Higher Education Worth It?  College Presidents, Public Assess Value, Quality and Mission of Higher Education." Highlight: although every feature of the report addresses the wreckage that privatization and cutting public education budgets has created over the last two decades, the report never suggests that getting the government back into the business of funding higher education would be a good start to solving any of these problems.

Now, although I always find what the Pew Center has to say interesting, as a researcher my first question about the study is this.  Putting aside the fact that there could be no demographics more narrow than "college presidents," or as imprecise as "the public," why was neither group asked what seems to be the most pertinent questions, which are: "Why do you think that the government stopped subsidizing higher education? Stopped taxing the wealthy, and corporations? Why did the government decide to shove the costs of becoming an educated citizenry onto a public that is, itself, being shoved into lower paying jobs so that corporations can make even larger profits that they will not be taxed on?" Another, and perhaps more scientifically framed, question that neither group was asked was:  "Do you think a robust, excellent and inclusive system of higher education serves a greater social and economic good, the benefits of which extend beyond the individual earner?  Would you agree to higher taxes for the wealthy so that your children could gain access to a quality college education at a low cost?"

I find this absence fascinating, since everyone in higher education, particularly college presidents, knows that these are the relevant questions.  The failure to ask them has, therefore, provoked a storm of pertinent but pointless articles about whether higher ed is worth it at all, and if it is, should entering first-year students head straight for the B.A. that has the greatest net worth, immediately and over time.  What are those degrees?  If you guessed "anything engineering!" you win; if you guessed "Petroleum engineer!" give yourself a gold star.  (It doesn't look like we are going green anytime soon.) 

The report is also full of intriguing nuggets that someone should follow up on.  For example,
A majority of Americans (57%) say the higher education system in the United States fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend. An even larger majority—75%—says college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. At the same time, however, an overwhelming majority of college graduates—86%—say that college has been a good investment for them personally.
This same group believes that they make more money ($20K a year) because of their college degree and, conversely, that taking out the loans to pay for it has limited their life choices:
A record share of students are leaving college with a substantial debt burden, and among those who do, about half (48%) say that paying off that debt made it harder to pay other bills; a quarter say it has made it harder to buy a home (25%); and about a quarter say it has had an impact on their career choices (24%).
The landscape of higher education seems similar to Frederick Jackson Turner's 1893 lament about the closing of the American frontier.  People seem to believe in college, but it isn't within the grasp of those who actually might attend.
Nearly every parent surveyed (94%) says they expect their child to attend college, but even as college enrollments have reached record levels, most young adults in this country still do not attend a four-year college. The main barrier is financial. Among adults ages 18 to 34 who are not in school and do not have a bachelor’s degree, two-thirds say a major reason for not continuing their education is the need to support a family. Also, 57% say they would prefer to work and make money; and 48% say they can’t afford to go to college.
The college presidents were asked almost no questions about money, although their view of what a college education was "worth" expressed a whole set of values that you could predict (it's priceless!)  But the two parts of the survey simply don't mesh.  If students overwhelmingly say they don't go on to college because of finances, college presidents overwhelmingly say that college students are ill prepared to make use of college.  There is a complex study in there, in and of itself:  do part of that 48% actually know they are so ill-prepared for success in college that they don't consider it a worthwhile risk?  Conversely, are many of those students who appear to be ill-prepared simply working too much to attend to their studies?

This latter question strikes me as quite urgent, particularly since it is perceived as a phenomenon largely confined to public schools and community colleges.  This is where it has its largest impact.  But it is also the case that I have been aware, in my almost twenty years at Zenith, that a large number of students who are poor work several jobs, not just to pay their own bills but to send money home to their families.   Indeed, paychecks from college jobs that are often packaged in as part of financial aid often go straight to family members.  Many of these students eat less, sleep less, and have less time to study. 

Now, no one asked the college presidents why they thought students were less well-prepared, and what they would do about it if they could.  No one seems to have linked lack of preparation either to escalating poverty or the funneling of education dollars into the pockets of testing companies, constant drilling to the test, and talented teachers fleeing the profession because of how badly they are treated by school systems, much of which has happened as a result of No Child Left Behind (2001) and its subsequent iterations under the Obama administration.

This is the curious thing about this report is that it dances around policy questions, but doesn't ask a single one directly, or name a single policy that has shaped the higher education landscape.  "The public" is asked to confine its thoughts to individual success; "college presidents" are asked to ruminate on the mission of college.  But the two are never articulated as part of the same system, or as having a mutual set of interests that are social and organically intertwined.  And this, I would argue, is because neoliberal government policies, and right-wing political demagoguery, have sold the ideology of "low taxes" and "small government" so successfully that the moral commitment of the state to nurture an educated citizenry has entirely evaporated from the equation.

If "college presidents" and the Pew Foundation don't understand that, why wouldn't "the public" be confused about the present and future state of higher education?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Do Girls Rule The World? A Response To Beyonce Inspired By A Young Feminist

It's really amazing what you can find on the interwebz
A feminist vlogger who posts to YouTube under the the name NineteenPercent is responsible for an incisive critique of the new Beyonce song "Run The World (Girls)." This young intellectual, who could give any second waver from the 1970s a run for her money, points out that putting snappy tunes out there about how girls (or women) "run the world" is diss-information since equality for "Lady Humans" is not on the agenda nowadays.  Then she runs it down how bad things really are:  in one state a bill making cockfighting a felony crime was passed recently but a bill that would have made assaulting your wife a felony failed.

If women are making 78 cents to every dollar a man earns, NP points out, women do not run the world.  Not even close to it.  Furthermore, women are definitely not running the anti-violence agenda if, when we discuss crimes that are overwhelmingly committed against women, we have to footnote our remarks apologetically by acknowledging that women are not the only victims of that crime, and men are not the only perps, and so it can't really be a way of enforcing systemic gender discrimination, right? 

Take rape for example.  This is a crime that Beyonce and her girlfriends are able to prevent in the video by dancing skillfully in front of a gang of men who have apparently come to beat and rape them.  Much as Austin Powers defeated the fembots, Beyonce and her dancers terrify their assailants into submission by donning metal fingernails, shaking their scantily-clad hoo-hoos at them, and proving (DUH!) that girls run the world.  However, apparently this technique has not yet been deployed on college campuses, which is why the rape of women by men (78% of college rapes are by a known assailant) is a huge problem.  Perhaps because it is a well-known fact that girls run the world, should you be in a situation convened to discuss said rapes, you may be reproved by men and women alike if you do not adhere to the following rules for discussion:
a.  You have to constantly amend everything you say to include the (often pointless and unproven) "fact" that men are raped by women too, and women are raped by other women.  You have to stipulate this even though, according to Department of Justice Statistics, 91% of rape victims in the United States are women, 99% of rapists are men and you are probably in that room because of a recent and (too) horrible (to cover up) rape of a woman by a man.  Go here if you want to see a truly idiotic discussion on the topic of female rapists that nevertheless semi-accurately reflects every exchange I have heard the under reporting of these dastardly criminals who are using forced sex to maintain their rule of the world.  Only one commenter interrupts the thread by asking: "how can women rape men without a penis? like, with a strap-on?"  No one answered this incisive question, so eager were they to break the silence and report on the dozens of men they personally knew who had been raped by women taking time off from ruling the world.

b.  You have to refer to a woman who has been raped as a "survivor" as if she had suffered a near death experience, or was returning from a form of social death caused by the rape.

c.  You have to have long conversations about consent, as if unwanted sexual intercourse had occurred because of a failure to communicate rather than a WOMAN being physically overpowered by a MAN who wanted it, and wanted it now.  What now passes for anti-rape programming is often commonly called "consent training." It is a lot like dog training, in which women are taught to send very clear signals (andnotgetdrunkandnotgoplacesaloneandneverleaveyourfriendsatapartyandstayprettycoveredupbecausea guymightgetthewrongideaanddontputyourdrinkdownanywheresomeonemightputsomethinginitanddontgoupstairs atthefrathousewithanyoneandalwaysmeetaguyinapublicplaceforthefirsttimedontlethimknowwhereyoulive) and men are taught to keep their ears free of wax so they can hear a woman say no -- "which means no!"  The difference between consent training and dog training is that in the latter case dogs receive treats when they listen and respond to commands (here's an idea:  women could carry cans of beer, and when they say no to sex and men agree not to rape them, the guy gets a can of beer.) You would be surprised how confusing "consent training" is to college women who end up believing that the outcome of any given sexual encounter is a fifty-fifty proposition even when they said quite clearly that they did not want to have sex
OK sure, did we expect much of Beyonce anyway, given that she was the woman whose big hit a couple years ago informed the man she dumped that she had done so, not because she didn't dig him, but because he hadn't "put a ring on it?" I think we know from whence she thinks grrrrl power derives (should Hilary try this in the Middle East?)  So without further ado, let's hear from NineteenPercent.

Hat tip.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why Does The Sun Go On Shining? Why Does The Sea Rush to Shore?

The answer to these and other pressing questions can be found here, with a Big Hair Bonus.  (And yes, I would embed, but YouTube won't let me.  Buncha intellectual property pansies, if you ask me.)

For a brief history of Skeeter Davis, born Mary Penick, go here.  Here's hoping you survive the day, and if you don't, that we encounter each other in that Big Blogger Meetup in the Sky.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Love Is A Many Splendored Thing Department: This Week's Sexual News In Review

Happier Days?  Photo credit.
I want to start out by saying that there are more men than Arnold Schwarzenegger who have children that they know about but did not acknowledge to their wives and the children they live with until much, much later in the game.  I have met four in my lifetime, quite ordinary men who were not governor of anything, so it's not really that rare.  But I have the same question about all of them, large and small:  how do you hide a second family?  And more important, how many people have to be paid off not to reveal that you have a second family when you are governor of California?

Personal responsibility is definitely taking a hit this week, since it turns out that pedophile priests are not responsible for their actions, and the church was not responsible for supervising them.  No,  it's what you suspected all along: the collective power of queers and fornicators to ruin innocent lives is too powerful, even for God!  According to a five year study commissioned by the Catholic Church, the sexual abuse of children and teens by priests rose dramatically in the 1960's "because priests who were poorly prepared and monitored, and were under stress, landed amid the social and sexual turmoil of the 1960s and ’70s."  The report, commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and executed by a "research team" from John Jay College to the tune of $1.3 million, must be a great relief to the Universal Church.  "The bishops," so reporteth the New York Times, "have said they hope the report will advance the understanding and prevention of child sexual abuse in society at large." Probably not.  It probably won't advance the understanding of sexual abuse in the church either.

If it is true that it never occurred to priests to abuse children until they were put under such intense psychological pressure by other people having sex, that would mean it could never happen again.  How do I know this?  I'm a historian, of course.  My analysis of the data (done for free, just this morning, and I offer it to the Pope out of shame for how queer people hurt these poor priests) has revealed the 1960s are not only over, but will probably never happen again.  Only the law of circular time, which governed Aztec history prior to their conquest (and conversion to the One True Faith) by Spain in the early 16th century, would suggest otherwise, and everyone knows that in the United States we live in linear time. 

And the Church wants to know why people don't take it seriously anymore?  Mary, please.

In other news, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has resigned as head of the IMF following charges that he tried to rape a chambermaid.  Strauss-Kahn, whose nickname is "Hot Rabbit," according to the New York Daily News, is in Riker's Island, asserting his innocence.  57% of French citizens also think he has been set up by his political enemies.

I would take this even possibility even semi-seriously except for two things:  one is that French people think Americans are too hysterical for words about sex, which is true, but I doubt that the NYPD would have walked into this $hit $torm unless they believed the woman (and why would an immigrant woman and a single mother call attention to herself in this way unnecessarily? I ask you.)  More important in my calculus is the number of powerful American men who have firmly asserted their innocence and/or threatened to bury people for spreading rumors about them that turned out not only to be true, but part of a pattern of out of control and/or criminal sexual behavior.  For example, Ah-nohld and his campaign staff responded viciously to charges of sexual harassment:  in 2003, one woman sued then-governor Schwarzenegger, charging that he and his staff had spread false rumors that she was a convicted felon.  And do you recall that president who did not have sexual relations with that woman -- except that, actually, it turned out that he did?  And John Edwards, who first lied about, and then finally admitted, having had an affair with videographer Rielle Hunter, but denied being the father of her child -- except that it turns out he is?

There seems to be a certain kind of man -- and not surprisingly, he is usually a rich and powerful one (The Council of Bishops, The Leader of the Free World or Aspiring LOTFW, The Governor, The Banker Of The Planet) -- who thinks that if he just asserts something is so the rest of us are bound, by some strange compact, to believe him.  Surely this is a much more interesting topic for historical analysis than the strange theory that priests crumbled under the weight of birth control, gay liberation and abortion, and were forced to calm their nerves by diddling children.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Chaz Project: Gender, Celebrity And The Emergence Of An FTM Activist

Chaz Bono, with Billie Fitzpatrick, Transition:  The Story of How I Became A Man (New York:  Dutton, 2011).  244 pages.  Illustrations, index. $25.95.

Becoming Chaz (Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, 2010).  88 minutes.  Premiered at Sundance Festival and on the Oprah Winfrey Network (May 10 2011).

Famous people live in bubbles; the children of famous people also live in bubbles, and benefit much less from the experience.  Witness Chaz, the only child of Salvatore "Sonny" Bono and Cherilyn Sarkisian, otherwise known as Cher. One of the many criticisms that will doubtless emerge about Chaz Bono's revised history, one that centers his gender transition and his new life as an embodied man, will be some version of this: how can a person who has had access to every possible advantage represent himself as an average transman?  To this I have two answers:
Everyone's life is worth saving, no matter how rich his parents are, and;
One of the ways that rich people are different is that their books get published and distributed widely when other, equally good or better, books do not.  Get used to it.
Timed to come out together, Transition and Becoming Chaz, tell Chaz's story about his journey to a fully male identity.  They are part of an activist project, in which Chaz hopes to use his fame to reach out to other people who may be struggling with their own or a loved one's gender transition and promote tolerance towards queerly gendered people.  They are also a long-term public relations project, through which Chaz has struggled to represent himself rather than be represented by the tabloid press.  Together, for those of us who are more up to speed on trans politics and trans studies, these newly released accounts of Bono tell us less about the world of gender politics and gender transition technology than they tell us about the world of celebrity.

However, those who simply take celebrity for granted and know bupkis about transgender or transsexual lives may learn some things they need to know.  For example:
  • Kids who grow up into people who want to transition have very active inner lives that are gendered differently from the way their bodies present.
  • Puberty stinks even worse for trans people than it does for cisgendered people.
  • People who transition from female to male may initially come out as butch lesbians (but not all butch lesbians identify as trans.)
  • Parents often do not respond well to gender transition.
  • Girlfriends who appear to be on board with gender transition can still be self-centered and mean.  Sometimes they bail out.
  • Injectable testosterone works faster than Androgel.
  • Lots of psychotherapy is recommended. 
  • Having lots of gay friends doesn't necessarily make a person sophisticated when it comes to actually having a queer kid.  (Cher is an excellent example of this:  did I say that lots of psychotherapy is recommended?  And Sonny, who seemed not to care that he had a queer kid, then cosponsored the Defense of Marriage Act.)
  • Having lots of psychotherapy, a big book contract, and the admiration of thousands of transmen doesn't mean that when people call you fat, weird and ugly; or make sexist, homophobic and transphobic jokes at your expense, it doesn't hurt.  A lot. (Editorial clarification:  Chaz has always been attractive, but in his new incarnation has an inner confidence and a sunny smile that makes him about as good or better looking as any other middle-aged Italian American guy.)
OK, so for those of you who knew fewer than five of the things I listed above, you should go read the book. If you have limited time, are only interested in the FTM part of Chaz's life story, and are curious about the nature of celebrity, I would say watch the movie.  The first two-thirds of the book are a revision of Chaz's coming-out-as-a-lesbian story (which someone of my age might recall was pretty awful) that accounts for his male identity.  It also includes a survey of Chaz's descent into drug abuse, which is a cautionary tale worth reading.  Having known several people who became addicted to drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin, this actually can happen to anyone. Chaz was getting legal scrips for so much high-dosage Oxy that he had to go to a hospital pharmacy to get them filled, and even the pharmacists did not bat an eye, much less call the DEA or the California medical licensing board.

I am not sure whether it will matter to you, but:  there are better books about trans lives out there, and if you follow the links in this post, you will find them.  Chaz speaks only for himself but, in trying to reach a far broader audience (in what has to be a rudimentary general education project if it is to succeed in Omaha as well as in Los Angeles), the book tends not to be very aware of its own limitations.  Chief among these are the essentialist story it tells about gender, the book's main preoccupation; and its failure to address class, age and race.  Transitioning to a male body and a male social identity are quite different experiences for different people, as are the life histories that lead up to these transitions.  Although there are common themes, transmen have very different life stories, as do transwomen.  Generation matters: there are a significant number of people, particularly very young ones, for whom challenging gender as a system of power means living between or outside categories as a genderqueer person.  So Chaz's story is the 100-level course.  If you want the 200 level course, go to Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle, The Transgender Studies Reader (Routledge:  2006); if you want a better memoir, and one that tells the MTF story where our heroine gets to keep the girl and the kids, my favorite is Jennifer Finney Boylan, She's Not There:  A Life In Two Genders (Broadway Books, 2003).

Which brings us to class.  While having access to lots of money hasn't made Chaz's life a happy one (one might argue the opposite, in fact), the book has nothing to say about the vast number of trans kids who are entirely without resources, even to feed, clothe or house themselves.  It is a sad fact that most people in America are poor, whether they are gender normative or not.  It is a sadder fact that vast numbers of gender non-conforming youth are bullied at school, abused by their families, and end up on the streets fending for themselves.  Many of these kids, particular male-bodied trans kids, are sex workers, as their foremothers were.

It is also the case that Chaz appears to be choosing trans children as his issue, having been a neglected and abused child himself, and it may be that as an activist he begins to hone in on the cross-class dimensions of this issue as well as the surgical abuse of intersexed children. Childhood was a bad time for Chaz, and while his boyishness is the part of that story that is central to the book, he was alternately cherished and neglected.  He  suffered emotional abuse from one nanny in particular, who terrorized him when his mother was absent for large stretches of time. While we don't get details about his upbringing that stray far from the gender story, Chaz seems to go out of his way to understand and account for his parents' lapses, and being a victim of the press himself, is probably kinder to them than they deserve. 

One result of parental neglect was that Sonny and Cher failed to notice that their child went to any number of schools but didn't really learn to do anything except to be a public person:  everything else he has taught himself.  In a way this doesn't seem odd, given Sonny and Cher's route to success.  Cher was singing professionally at 16 when she teamed up with her 27 year-old partner, and my guess is that one or both were high school dropouts. Chaz was repeatedly pulled out of school by Cher to accommodate her career, and allowed to make his own decisions about whether and where he attended school (this meant living in New York with friends and attending the High School for Performing Arts) by the time he was fourteen.  While Chaz returned to college in mid-life, his only real work -- other than three years of trying to break into the music business -- has been to use his celebrity to do political advocacy, mostly for GLBT rights.

Don't imagine that Transition will give you many insights into the inner life of a transman the way lesser-known, but more complex, autobiographies like Jamison Green's Becoming a Visible Man (Vanderbilt,  2004) and Max Wolf Valerio's The Testosterone Files (Seal Press, 2006) will.  The story Chaz has to tell is a carefully crafted one that is intended to educate, but not to reveal much about who he really is or what he really feels. Because of this, the most affecting moments are not in the book, but in Becoming Chaz when we watch Bono watching his mother in the well-orchestrated television appearances and interviews that are designed to voice her support for him.  And yet, even then, she can't seem to bring herself to refer to Chaz with male pronouns.  Like, ever.  Which is a little strange given the fact that she is an actress.  The expression on Chaz's face as Cher "forgets" her lines, over and over, is unforgettable, as is his rush to forgive her for doing so.  Nothing in the book is so ambivalent or complex as these moments when gender is temporarily displaced by the drama of the celebrity child.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Studies In Sexism: Roseanne Barr Tells All In New York Magazine

Roseanne Barr, formerly the star of the hit TV sitcom Roseanne (1988-1997), now runs a macadamia nut farm in Hawai'i.  However, she hasn't lost her wit or her bite, particularly when it comes to sexism. She has an amazing article in this month's New York magazine (May 15 2011) where she rips off the lid about how she was treated by producers Marcey Carsey and Tom Werner.

It didn’t take long for me to get a taste of the staggering sexism and class bigotry that would make the first season of Roseanne god-awful. It was at the premiere party when I learned that my stories and ideas—and the ideas of my sister and my first husband, Bill—had been stolen. The pilot was screened, and I saw the opening credits for the first time, which included this: CREATED BY MATT WILLIAMS. I was devastated and felt so betrayed that I stood up and left the party. Not one person noticed.
As Roseanne fought for creative control of her show, and for ownership over the character she had created, she was bullied, undermined and derided as a crazy person by everyone except her fellow cast members.  This included numerous women on the set and on the production team who watched while men insulted her.  Barr describes one confrontation where she threatened the writers with a pair of shears in their own office, a place where she "rarely went...since it was disgusting." (Go here for Tina Fey's revelation in the March 14 New Yorker that male writers on Saturday Night Live piss in cups rather than leave their offices to walk down the hall to the bathroom.) She also tried not to go to the writer's room because it too was a sea of sexism. Invariably, as soon as she entered the room,
one of the writers would crack a stinky-pussy joke that would make me want to murder them. Male writers have zero interest in being nice to women, including their own assistants, few of whom are ever promoted to the rank of “writer,” even though they do all the work while the guys sit on their asses taking the credit.
 When the show hit number one in the ratings, instead of sending her the car that male stars receive, ABC sent her a humongous chocolate bar.  Read the whole article here.

Hat Tip.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Network Down! And Other Thoughts On Shifting Our Educational Practice To A Virtual World

Yesterday the Zenith network went down.  While the message that informed us that things were working again said something about a hardware upgrade, it is difficult to believe that they really intended to take the whole system down during finals week.  I suspect that, although tinkering may have been part of the issue, the network was also overwhelmed.

This happens periodically because of two institutional impulses, neither of which is inherently bad, but which together can create havoc:  putting as much of our work on-line as possible and cutting the university budget.  It is only a guess that these two things are related, but I can't recall a year during which we have lost our online services abruptly so very many times (the last occurrence was in the middle of uploading senior honors theses.)  Here's a lesson for you, if you are an aspiring administrator:  money saved by implementing technological innovations often requires spending the same money to maintain the system better, expand it and do ongoing maintenance so that it can handle the additional traffic. 

Of course, it isn't just budget cutting that has produced this massive shift to putting things on-line.  Some things are genuinely better and more convenient, as long as the system stays up.  Submitting grades, registering for courses, and the various approvals that go up the line from faculty member to chair to dean to the provost (or registrar) work much better without the many forms we used to sign, many of which were folded, spindled, mutilated and left to molder at the bottom of backpacks long after the deadline to hand them in had come and gone. 

Eliminating the forms is often articulated as a positive step, in and of itself.  Whipped up by eco-enthusiasms, the university has created many opportunities to do everything pedagogical and organizational through our computers.  Rumor had it that they were going to pick a couple courses to shift onto iPads, and that everyone would get a free iPad to experiment with this.  I was, like, "Pick me! Pick me!" They did not, so I had to buy my own iPad, but I can see how an iPad would enhance a course in all kinds of ways and I wouldn't mind trying it.  The only down side, as far as I can see, is that you can't use any book that doesn't already have an e-edition, and many university presses are not up to speed with this. The up side would be:  if you are teaching Jane Austen or any other text where the copyright has run out, every reading in the course is free.

This semester,  responding to the periodic exhortations to avoid the use of paper whenever possible, saving entire budget lines and forests of trees, I shifted one course entirely onto Moodle, an open source course management system (CMS) that made our work 100% paperless.  All in all, I would say this has been a real success, I have gained a great deal and I have not sacrificed a single thing that I value.  We do not yet teach on-line, mind you, although I fully expect that we will be invited to do so in the future to support the various graduate liberal studies degrees that Zenith offers, and I fully expect this will be greeted with hoots of derision and warnings about the coming Apocalypse.  But the more you fiddle with the various platforms available, and Moodle is the best one I have yet tinkered with, the clearer it becomes how one might easily teach on-line from the comfort of one's own boudoir. In fact, during the snow emergencies this semester I quelled my anxiety about missing too much face-time by putting entire classes up on-line so that they could review the material themselves, with some gentle guidance from me.  I was able to do this using simple applications available on my Mac and my iPhone, without any instruction from anyone, and to my great surprise and pleasure, it actually worked.  Some of the material from those classes has reappeared in subsequent assignments as texts that had, for many students, the greatest impact of any they read in the course.

Now you might say, "Isn't shifting so much of your teaching to the Internet alienating, Professor Radical?  Is encountering you as a virtual professor really what your students are really paying all that fancy-pants tuition for?"  Here is an important point:  they actually saw me twice a week, and they also had a teaching assistant who ran discussion groups outside of class and worked with them on their writing to great effect.  So I am not yet an expert on what you can accomplish without any human contact whatsoever.  That said, after a semester of Moodling, I find that -- other than the possibility of making all assigned texts and everything used in class available in one place -- the latter feature truly improves my relations with my students.  As you move through the course, they can add things that they think are important, and you can tailor future classes to the students who actually enrolled in the course  (as opposed to the fantasy students who might have enrolled, whose interests will exactly match yours, and who will hang on your every word regardless of what you say to them.)  Although I didn't use these functions as much as I might have, there are also numerous functions that permit/force student participation and create opportunities for students to share their ideas with each other.

I would also say that, overall, I found the business of the course (turning work in and returning it) far more straightforward.  Either the paper was, or was not, in the drop box when it is due, and it can be due at midnight if you want, making it more likely that students who work at the last minute will get it done.  There was no haggling about whether the administrative assistant was -- or was not -- in the office at the designated witching hour. There were no papers slid under the office door, and we had no hoo-hah about printers that mysteriously ceased to function at the unluckiest possible moment.  Importantly, exams taken on-line allowed those with accommodations for learning disability to take the extra time they are permitted with absolutely no effort or planning on my part:  this is actually a very big deal in a lecture course, where you can have as many as ten or twelve different diagnoses that require as many different accommodations.  Exams are clocked in by the Moodle, and there is no need for elaborate proctoring arrangements that also, not incidentally, reveal the identities of those with learning disabilities, invite stigma and, I am convinced, often cause students who would perform better with an accommodation to not reveal themselves..

Marking papers is also more fruitful, in my view.  Instead of scribbling graffitti all over their work, I enable the editing function and add comments, re-arrange their sentences so they are grammatical, explain errors of syntax and structure, and so on.  It took less time on my part, was far more legible (in the past, in order to make my point, I would find myself writing elaborate paragraphs at the bottom of the page, and connecting them to the offending passage with a long, curvy arrow.)  By comparing the original (which remains in the drop box) to the graded version (which you upload later) students who wanted to improve (which is nearly all of them) could actually see the differences between the two versions laid out in front of them, rather than trying to figure out from a hopeless sea of red, green what good writing really looks like.

Downsides?  I can't think of one for the pedagogical experience, except that I had to devise new techniques for learning names, something I normally did by handing back graded work and free writing exercises in class. A second issue that will affect some people more than others is simply spending too much time at the keyboard and risking ligament and tendon damage in the

Here's the catch, however. When the system goes down you can't work, unless you have had the foresight and the wit to download all the written work at once,.  Having the university server crash, or become unstable and need to be taken down for maintenance, in the portion of your day or week that you have set aside expressly to mark papers or do final grades does temporary havoc to your sense of control and order, something we faculty prize enormously.  When this happens, there is literally nothing that you can do but turn your computer off and catch up on the episodes of The Borgias that you have missed because of the intensity of the semester's end.

Why this forced work stoppage occurred yesterday at Zenith is anyone's guess, but it seems obvious that it is most likely to occur at exactly the time of year when we are all using the system most intensely -- finals week -- and during which a crash or downtime will also result  the greatest inconvenience.  Universities are going to have to take what they are saving on paper and administrative assistants and redeploy it to hiring more IT people, updating their systems more frequently, and having emergency crews on retainer to monitor the system during moments of abnormally high usage.

Here's my prediction:  ultimately, universities will no longer maintain their own servers, and IT staffs will exist mainly to  work on server space that is rented from Google, Apple or one of the megaliths.  This will make systems more reliable under normal and extraordinary usage.  But it will raise other challenges, one being a possible narrowing of the choices we have as institutions to decide what platforms and software we are using as those who own the servers have greater power over what kinds of innovation they will support.  Another challenge is that, while each of our universities is vulnerable on its own, by linking our fate to the One Big Server (OBS) we become highly vulnerable together:  a breach of security in one location can take us all down. This is something to anticipate and understand before that moment in which change is inevitable but the terms of change have already been decided entirely by corporations.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

And The Envelope, Please: Tenured Radical Inaugurates the Spammies

Doesn't this look so too much like Elliot Spitzer?
For reasons too mysterious to mention, I am in catch up mode and have no time to be clever or intelligent today.  However, with the help of my spam file, I can try to be funny.  I read in the Old Grey Lady a few months back that spammers have stopped kicking out routine messages by spambot, and instead have hired real people to roam through blogs leaving links to their wares.

Indeed, the quality of spam has changed in the past few months.  It is friendlier and more conversational. It tries to relate to the topic of the post, and -- despite the fact that it is authored by people names "Viagra Online," "Moscow Apartment" or "Cupcake,"it has the sweet quality of an entry level person in a non-Anglophone country who is practicing hir English in hopes of one day immigrating or upgrading to a better job doing online tech support for Dell.

So without further ado, I present to you my favorite comments for the month of May that are attempting to sell you stuff you would never buy (like apartments in Russia that don't really exist.)  The Spammies fpr the month of May go to:

Viagra Online, for:  "I remember that in high school that in the five years never missed a class, she even gave the class sick, that is what I call love to the work."

kamagra, for: "many was the action during her life, and the legacy she leave in this world, for that reason we have to remember her and honored all the time, thank you Del Martin."

Generic Viagra, for:  "I don't want to be unpolite, so I just gonna say something simple, the only thing that deserve a man who is violent against a women, is to be castrato, and in this way see if is so superior after this."

Star, for:  "Stanley Fish is just an idealist, his ideas to save the world is complete crap I prefer viagra online instead."

I couldn't have said it better myself.  (Follow that link for an old favorite that won't permit embedding.)

Saturday, May 07, 2011

American Studies Declares A Victory Over All Other Fields: Amy Farrell Hits The Big Time

So when folks tuned in to Stephen Colbert on May 4 to get his take on the Bin Laden thing, they also got American Studies celebrity Amy Farrell!  Apparently this is her second time on Colbert discussing the history of obesity.  Farrell's second shot at the big time was triggered by the publication of her new book, Fat Shame:  Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture.  See both appearances on the Dickinson College website.

How did your favorite Radical become alert to this, since ze has not time to watch TV until the third week in May, and can't stay up that late under the best conditions?  Facebook, of course.  A really good blog reporter always checks the main feed for news about the people who are "friends" -- you know those folks.  They are the people to whom you feel friend-LY -- who you don't really know, and/or who you wish you did know. 

Photo courtesy of Amy Farrell
Farrell plays a great straight woman to Colbert's wackadoodle interviewing style.  This week's episode also features Colbert running offstage screaming "I gotta pee!"

Friday, May 06, 2011

Have Radical, Will Travel: Or, Some People Do Go Both Ways

Tenured Radical is over at Cliopatria today, with an original about a conservative history flack, Texan David Barton, that will not be cross posted here.  In an attempt to remain a legitimate member of the Cliopatria team over at History News Network, I'm going to try to post original material in each place from here on out. We'll see how that works: going rogue seems to be more my strength.

In other Radical news, you can go here for an interview with moi written by Zenith cub reporter Abbey Francis, who made serious effort to make me sound less ungrammatical than I usually do.  Go here for a list of summer reading on Africa compiled by Swarthmore's Tim Burke (dude, the only book that you cannot leave off this list is Jonny Steinberg's Sizwe's Test:  A Young Man's Journey Through the South African AIDS Epidemic.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

What's In Your Pocket? A Graduation Guide For Living In The Age Of Debt

A few weeks ago, one of my friends was sorting a box of stuff that had gotten thrown into the garage prior to a kitchen renovation years ago.  She found an historical artifact that she swears she is going to send me for a future lecture on the recent economic meltdown.  It is a flier from one of those advertising mailers that usually has coupons for a few things you really want (like laundry soap), as well as ads for a few local gardening centers and siding contractors.  This particular ad was for Countrywide Financial, one of the lenders whose dishonest practices figured prominently in the home loan bubble.  Countrywide offered to refinance her home if she just filled out the coupon and sent it back, no credit check required.  "Imagine!" she said to me, as if she had found a poodle skirt in the closet. "Refinancing your home through an advertising mailer!"

But that was exactly how it happened in those days.  And despite everything, that's how it is still happening, except that the banks are shifting their lying ways away from a market they have already destroyed and towards consumers who have not yet had an opportunity to go into bankruptcy.  This market is working class and middle class college students from prestigious institutions who will actually become paid workers (as opposed to the people who take massive loans out for on-line degrees and for profits, who default at the highest rate and often don't get a degree either.) A graduating senior who went to a mandatory financial aid exit interview informed me that, as part of this counseling session, a representative from a major corporate bank was available to explain to them how important it would be to sign up for a couple credit cards to establish a good credit rating.  This would assume, of course, that these students had not already signed up for credit cards from the people who shill these instruments in the student center. 

Part of what amazes me (other than the fact that colleges allow these snake oil salespeople on campus) is how persuasive the banking industry can be in convincing us that what is good for them is good for us too.  Got debt?  Here's a great idea:  you need more! Because actually, paying back a college loan that is the equivalent of one or two down payments on a house, or four or five decent used cars, does not give you a credit rating at all.  This was what I discovered when, prior to buying a house and after having paid back a small but significant graduate student loan, I tried to get a car loan.  Oh sure:  they were willing to lend me the money, but not at a good rate of interest.  Why?  Because I had no credit history, even after having made payments of over $20,000 in principal, interest and fees.

It is this crazy glitch in the system that allows the credit card lady to encourage people who are already massively indebted to take out more loans and not be locked up for the liar that she is.  The only thing more un-American than having a bad credit history is having no credit history: hence, much of the information young people are being given as they exit college in debt is, in fact, aimed at helping them to take on more debt.  We have to remember that this counsel is coming from a business class that contributes gobs of money every year to politicians who howl about a national debt that they claim is out of control, not because of war, runaway medical costs and tax breaks for the wealthy, but because of education and services to the poor, elderly and disabled. This national context makes it particularly bizarre that there is advice all over the Internet (probably written by former English majors now working for Bank of America at $10 an hour) about how to raise your credit score by maintaining a "healthy" amount of debt all the time and paying it off over the full term ("small amounts every month" is the phrase that recurs constantly) so that the banks can haz maximum interest the borrower can demonstrate good consumer citizenship.

So here's the Radical financial aid exit interview for those of you coming out of college or graduate school who are looking down that financial shot-gun barrel:
  • Paying off your college loans early saves you lots of money in interest.  This may seem inconceivable to you, but making one extra payment a year will save you thousands of dollars in the end.  Figure out how much extra that is every month (if your loan payment is $500, that's less than $50, or one Saturday night bar hopping in lower Manhattan) and add it in.
  • Everyone needs one credit card to buy plane tickets, and to cover some kind of emergency. By emergency, I mean realizing that a new transmission is in the cards, and you need that vehicle to get to work.  A new couch on sale at Crate and Barrel is not an emergency.
  • If you are consistently carrying credit card debt you cannot afford to live the way you do.  It is one thing to use a credit card to buy a couple thousand dollars worth of clothes that you will need to start your job; another entirely to be buying your groceries and gas with a credit card while your paycheck dribbles away on other things.  Create a realistic budget, compare it to what you actually spend, and adjust accordingly.
  • You don't "need" to buy your home; hence, you do not "need" to build a solid credit rating in your first few years out of school.  You may never need to buy your home.  You may want to buy your home; it may fulfill a lifelong dream of domesticity to own your home; but it is actually not necessary.  In fact, owning your own home is far more expensive than any real estate agent or loan officer will tell you:  yes, the property taxes and the mortgage + the mortgage deduction will come out to less than renting in most places.  But, utilities and energy costs aside, what about the part where a tree falls on your roof, or the old drunk upstairs leaves the bath tub running?  So don't kid yourself that taking on all kinds of new debt following graduation is part of your long-term financial plan.
  • Consider getting a second job to pay off your student loans.  One or two shifts a week as a food server, with tips, would actually allow you to double your payments and -- get this -- pay off that debt in far less than half the time, because you are whacking away at principle at an astonishing rate.  The biggest lie about student loans is not the idea that the education you went into debt for is worth having, but that you should be able to graduate and just have a normal life like rich people do that has no pain in it.  Paying off debts often hurts, and requires sacrificing leisure if you are going to do it expeditiously.  But you might want to do that to become debt-free.
  • Debit cards are worth it if you pay attention.  If you don't pay attention, your bank will charge you all sorts of fees for using a debit card, but if you do pay attention, you don't have to worry about carrying wads of cash around and using your credit card just because you have neglected to go to the bank.  That said, having an unmeasurable access to your money makes it more likely that you will spend it in unplanned ways.  Cash is better.
  • When establishing a bank account after graduation, look closely at smaller banks and credit unions.  Any institution that has to work for your business is going to be more competitive in its services and fees, and credit unions are established for the benefit of the membership, not shareholders.  One thing to remember is that you can change banks if the one you are patronizing doesn't serve you well, although online banking practices makes this infinitely cumbersome.  I have been planning to leave Bank of America for years (the account that I originally opened was at a local bank that was eaten by larger banks in the go-go eighties, and eventually by BOA in 1995) and I have put it off because I would have to re-enter all the payment information for my monthly bills. Dumb, eh? But my point is this:  bank fees change all the time, and banks count on it that you are not paying attention to them.  That extra $35 you are being charged for this or that is a big chunk of that extra student loan payment you want to make every month.
  • Suze Orman is a highly grating personality but she is right about almost everything.  One of her, or someone else's,  money management books should be on your summer reading list.  Her basic message is a good one:  show yourself a little tough love, don't indulge yourself with a life you can't afford, free yourself from high interest debt, and you will liberate yourself to make the choices you want to be able to make in life.  You might not become rich -- but you will be dramatically less coercible.  You won't have to stay in a job you hate just to pay the bills; you can save money and support a life doing underpaid labor (like college teaching, for example); you can change careers; you can drop out of the workforce for a few years and raise your kid/travel/try to write a novel.
And while you are at it?  I know this is anathema, but go talk to your parents about money.  You would be surprised what they know, and if you are really lucky they will share their mistakes as well as the things they think they have done right.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Who Is On The Bus And Who Is Under It: Notes From Congress's Global War On Women

Deny men health care in a political deal and see what happens!
Because it is April, and everything in university life has to be done in April even as the teaching commitments get jacked up to DEFCON 1, I am perpetually behind in my reading. So I didn't get to Katha Pollitt's excellent piece, "Women:  The Bus Rolls On" (The Nation, April 14 2011) until this morning.  In it, Pollitt points out that:

It’s getting awfully crowded underneath that bus. You know, the metaphorical one women keep getting thrown under, along with their rights, their health and their money. Women lost much of their insurance coverage for abortion during the fight over the healthcare reform bill last fall, but at least they got some good things out of it: coverage for millions of uninsured women, preventive care including breast and cervical cancer screenings, and a bar on refusing coverage for such pre-existing conditions as having been a rape or domestic violence victim.

But in the budget deal that the White House just struck with the GOP, those wheels just keep a-rollin' over female bodied persons, specifically poor ones, who are of child-bearing age.  According to Pollitt's article, "to keep Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, Democrats agreed to bar Washington, DC, from using its own revenues" (emphasis mine) "to pay for abortion care for women on Medicaid. And in a tiny footnote, the final budget cuts Title X, the federal family-planning program, by $17 million."  Congress can do this, as the government elected by District citizens shares its political authority with the federal government.

So on the day after Barack Obama announced the successful assassination of Osama Bin Laden, can we give a big cheer for democracy and freedom, those things the United States claims we have spent trillions of dollars to promote with military force since 2001?  Can we give a big yell to the first black president, who has been the first president to sign off on completely gutting public funds for the reproductive care of poor women right outside his door who are largely black?  Oh, the times we live in.

It is worth pointing out that this is the logical outcome of the Hyde Amendment, signed by President Jimmy Carter in the summer of 1977, which began the long march to slice away federal dollars from women's reproductive care.  Feminists understood at the time that, while all of us were standing at that metaphoric bus stop, it was poor and minority women who would end up under the wheels.  As I argue in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Policy History,

Feminists rightly viewed Medicaid ineligibility as a partial retraction of Roe v. Wade (1973), since it would restrict access for poor women to safe termination of unwanted pregnancies. Practically speaking, restricting Medicaid would de-fund $600,000 worth of procedures in New York State
alone. In a memo to Carter, Karen Mulhauser, executive director of NARAL, accused him of believing that his religious and moral values were superior to those of “millions of Americans who support the right to choose.” Furthermore, since abortion was legal, Mulhauser argued, for a President who had pledged himself to supporting human rights around the globe to withdraw equal medical access for poor women in the United States was hypocrisy.*

Of course, the political terrain has changed dramatically since then.  We are now used to political strategies that shift the human rights burden to the private sector, not the least of which has been a decades-long war which has cost untold misery across several continents.  While I am not immune to a certain relief that Bin Laden is now unable to plan further mayhem, I find it difficult to celebrate, given what it has cost.  I'm not just talking about money and lives:  a chaotic and dangerous foreign policy has diverted much-needed attention to the fight for women's rights, which have themselves been cynically deployed over the last decade as part of the casus belli.  Indeed, as the United States was being ginned up for an illegal war in the aftermath of 9/11, one strategy was to keep women in the overdeveloped world fully informed about the oppression of women in selected states like Iraq and Afghanistan.

These human rights violations against women were, and are real:  they have not been resolved as a result of horrific wars that have themselves inflicted terrible burdens on women.  The next time you are all psyched up about NATO's intervention in Libya on behalf of freedom-loving rebels (and against a dictator who has been supported as a US ally since 9/11), ask yourself:  what is happening to women and children as boys and men rush off to the "front" with pocket knives, when they aren't firing US-manufactured bullets into the air?  Furthermore, recent scandals in the private human rights sector demonstrate that delivering women's rights into the hands of non-state actors, no matter how well intended, does not address fundamental inequities that are built into the law. 

What does this have to do with federal dollars for abortion and family planning in the United States?  Everything.  If the President and Congress can't see the rights of women in the war zones they sustain  as fundamentally affected by US policies, it all starts with the fact that they can't see the women in neighborhoods within a ten-mile radius of the halls of government either.

What can you do?  Yep, that's right:  give money to the private non-profits.  The irony is just too much, isn't it?  Go here to support the DC Abortion Fund; go here to make a gift to Planned Parenthood.
*Mulhauser to Carter, July 17, 1977, Abortion 1/77-12/77, Box 1, Midge Costanza Papers, Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.