Archive for March 14th, 2006

Since my initial three posts about abortion (Intro, “It’s all about the sex,” and “The woman thing”) I found a number of breaking news items and links that only underscore the tendencies and philosophy of the radical religious fundamentalism that drives the issue.

In this week's New Yorker, Michael Specter has written an article about the Bush administration’s hostility towards science. In this Q&A, Specter notes that Bush’s religious views conflict with scientific findings. There’s nothing really new or surprising in the interview, but it does bear reminding how hostile to science Bush is, especially when scientific findings cross religious belief. Here are a few nuggets:

The Administration simply doesn’t seem to rely on the advice of scientists on a wide range of issues: climate change, pollution, and biomedical research, for example. Previous Administrations have taken science as an area that is above the political fray—this one does not seem to operate that way.


…the Administration—and many of its allies among conservatives and the religious right—places far more emphasis on abstinence than on teaching children other methods of birth control and protection against sexually transmitted diseases.


It’s not so easy to disentangle the Administration and the Christian right. The President is an evangelical Christian and so are many people in his Administration.

In another note, many conservatives frame feminism in terms different than what it actually means (via “belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” Feminism has come to mean different things to the right: a movement to undermine family, neuter men, and impose a rigid dictatorial thought on debate. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Women simply want to be treated seriously and have as much control over their lives as men.

But now the biggest threat to women’s rights is a belief on the extreme right that feminists seek to “degrade” women by allowing them sexual freedom. Sexual freedom is necessarily part of women's liberation because traditional female roles center on the sexual dichotomy of slut/mother. To break that dichotomy, women need to redefine sex as it relates to gender.

And that's exactly what radical conservatives dislike. Take Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield in a 2005 speech:

According to Mansfield, this change in traditional society has grown out of women’s desire to achieve success in the workplace and at home. In his lecture, entitled, “Feminism and The Autonomy of Women”, the professor identified this problem as one arising from “radical feminism” which sought to “lower women to the level of men” in terms of sexual behavior.

Regarding that behavior, Mansfield wondered if “hook ups,” which he initially referred to as “polymorphous promiscuity” are good for women.


“By the age of 30, you see men,” he cautioned, “who are used to getting free samples” and will not enter into loyal, reliable relationships. Citing evolutionary biology research, Mansfield said that “men are interested in quantity, and women are interested in quality.”

“Women play the men’s game, which they are bound to lose. Without modesty, there is no romance—it isn’t so attractive or so erotic,” said the professor.

Tracing the roots of “radical feminism” to the writings of the 20th-century French writer Simon De Beauvoir, Mansfield argued that the questions and confusion facing feminists arise from their attempt at achieving “autonomy” and asserting that “men and women have no distinct nature.”

Of course, what’s really happening is that self-reliant and sexually liberated women defy Mansfield’s fantasies where women are passive vessels of a man’s aggressive sexuality. Sexual women refuse to be the passive, controlled sexual objects of men. Mansfield underscored this in a recent interview with the New York Times Magazine:

We need roles. Roles give us mutual expectations of what is either correct or good behavior. Women are neater than men, they make nests, and all these other stereotypes are mostly true. Wives and mothers correct you; they hold you to a standard; they want to make you better.

This statement so startled the interviewer, Deborah Solomon, she replied, “I am beginning to wonder if you have ever spoken to a woman. Your ideas are so Victorian.” Quite.

The final bit comes via the Missouri legislature, where conservative lawmakers are planning on “a wide range of social legislation designed to rein in sex and unshackle the Bible.”

From new limits on sex education classes to penalties for living in sin, the proposed laws would remake Missouri’s public life in myriad ways. They would sanction prayer in public schools, subsidize religious schools and allow the Bible to be taught in school.

One bill purports to help women make “the transition from work to home.” Another wants the legislature to recognize “a Christian God” as the deity for most Missourians.
Rep. Cynthia Davis, an O’Fallon Republican and sponsor of several bills, said conservatives are tired of an overly permissive society in which high school students are taught how to use condoms.


Other bills would:

■ Deny alimony to ex-spouses who live with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
■ Ban all abortions.

■ Provide tax credits for contributions that help kids in lousy school districts to attend private schools.

■ Propose a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to pray in schools and on other public property.

■ Allow pharmacists, insurance companies, doctors and hospitals to deny treatment if the procedure or medication offends their moral values.

■ Propose a constitutional amendment to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed on public property.

Missouri jackass does a much better job of trashing the bill than I ever could, but it’s important to note that the punishments doled out by the bill affect women disproportionately. The bills seek to push women back into the home, re-establish their role as homemaker and mother, and punish them for engaging in sexual activity or divorce.

I admit I was surprised to see a Bush appointee advocate a cutting-edge plan that would actually help the chronically homeless.

The solution Mangano has been recommending is giving the chronically homeless a place to live, and providing them with a full-time case manager who makes sure that clients are eating right, staying on medications, looking for work and so on.

Spending so much on the chronically homeless is actually cost-effective. Without a place to live and constant supervision, these homeless tend to rack up medical bills in excess of a million dollars over the course of a lifetime. While the plan doesn't rehability the homeless, giving them an apartment and personal case worker keeps the visits to the emergency room to a minimum.

Does this argument look familiar? It should. It was the same homeless plan advocated by Malcolm Gladwell in a February issue of The New Yorker, "Million-Dollar Murray." According to Gladwell:

Homelessness doesn’t have a normal distribution, it turned out. It has a power-law distribution. “We found that eighty per cent of the homeless were in and out really quickly,” [researcher Dennis Culhane] said. “In Philadelphia, the most common length of time that someone is homeless is one day. And the second most common length is two days. And they never come back. Anyone who ever has to stay in a shelter involuntarily knows that all you think about is how to make sure you never come back.”

The next ten per cent were what Culhane calls episodic users. They would come for three weeks at a time, and return periodically, particularly in the winter. They were quite young, and they were often heavy drug users.

It was the last ten per cent—the group at the farthest edge of the curve—that interested Culhane the most. They were the chronically homeless, who lived in the shelters, sometimes for years at a time. They were older. Many were mentally ill or physically disabled, and when we think about homelessness as a social problem—the people sleeping on the sidewalk, aggressively panhandling, lying drunk in doorways, huddled on subway grates and under bridges—it’s this group that we have in mind. In the early nineteen-nineties, Culhane’s database suggested that New York City had a quarter of a million people who were homeless at some point in the previous half decade —which was a surprisingly high number. But only about twenty-five hundred were chronically homeless.

Furthermore, Culhane tracked these 2,500 chronically homeless and discovered they cost the city of New York $62 million a year to shelter. In Boston, a group tracked the medical expenses of 119 chronically homeless.

In the course of five years, thirty-three people died and seven more were sent to nursing homes, and the group still accounted for 18,834 emergency-room visits—at a minimum cost of a thousand dollars a visit.

In pilot programs, cities gave these chronically homeless an apartment and case worker. There were problems. (One Denver man invited his friends home to regularly trash his apartment.) But the biggest problem with the program is its guiding priciple: unlike current homeless care, "power-law" homeless policy creates dependency on the system. And not only that, it's not fair.

There isn’t enough money to go around, and to try to help everyone a little bit—to observe the principle of universality—isn’t as cost-effective as helping a few people a lot. Being fair, in this case, means providing shelters and soup kitchens, and shelters and soup kitchens don’t solve the problem of homelessness. Our usual moral intuitions are little use, then, when it comes to a few hard cases. Power-law problems leave us with an unpleasant choice. We can be true to our principles or we can fix the problem. We cannot do both.

Ultimately the plan may never work. Not because it's not based on sound policy, but because both ends of the political spectrum find it distasteful:

Power-law solutions have little appeal to the right, because they involve special treatment for people who do not deserve special treatment; and they have little appeal to the left, because their emphasis on efficiency over fairness suggests the cold number-crunching of Chicago-school cost-benefit analysis.

In the end I agree with Gladwell that this may be a chance to end homelessness as we know it. While I agree that it doesn't solve poverty, the homeless families living out of cars, the too-low wages for working-class people, it will solve up a problem and free monies for other programs.


Uh oh. Looks like the UAE and other Middle Eastern governments have us over a barrel. And I don’t mean oil.

The pitch that will change baseball, the mysterious “gyroball”.

I’m not the only one who thinks Democrats are missing an opportunity by remaining silent on abortion.

Missouri Jackass on the “See what happens when you elect radical conservatives?” bill.

Feingold: Senate Democrats “cowering.” Right as rain, Russ.

Annie Proulx on the Oscars. She wasn’t too happy to see Crash win…

Washington Republican becomes Democrat: “I realize the far right has complete control of my party…”

A conservative Pennsylvanian pens a racist editorial – Jesus’ General responds.

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