Saturday, September 30, 2006

Thune back to the ban

Talk about first thought was that Thune must have had an angry call from the Unruhs. Then I read the article and found out I was right.

Does this remind anyone else of Dan Quayle's famous abortion interview? The one where the reporter asked "pro-life" Dan what he'd do if his daughter became pregnant, and Dan responded, "I would counsel her and talk to her, and support her on whatever decision she made." Marilyn had to intervene because Dan forgot he was anti-choice. And Dan then had to make a statement about how he was still pro-life, blah blah blah. Sound familiar?

Friday, September 29, 2006

What a newspaper should be

So WTF is up with the Argus Leader's new format? Compare this to The Times' format. On which site can you actually find the news?

This is just the latest in what has been an unpleasant, six-year relationship between me and the Argus Leader.

It began when I moved here and read a headline that was something to the effect of "What those Jewish people do in their temple." OK, I'm embellishing just a bit. But it was clear from the tone of the piece that the Jews in town - people who subscribe to the paper and who are part of its regular readership - were "other."

And it didn't help that in the past, on more than one occasion, I had unpleasant dealings with the subscription department (which I suspect is one woman who is really, really bad at her job). She didn't know the rates, she didn't know the different deals (when I tried to get the Friday-Saturday-Sunday delivery at the special reduced rate, she didn't know what I was talking about, said so, and said she'd charge me more for it), and clearly wasn't interested in working with customers. I wasn't exactly impressed.

I thought our relationship had hit its lowest point when the paper, in the face of everything that resembled common sense, endorsed Bush for president in the last election. Even for South Dakota, that made little sense. And it was clear (to us on the outside, but I actually heard it from someone on the inside) that this endorsement was not the true sentiment of the editorial board, but rather a decision that was made so as not to alienate the people with the money.

But that's nothing. The Argus Leader is also the paper that refused to take a stand on the abortion ban. The ONLY newspaper of note in the region. The one that does indeed publish editorials on a regular basis. Apparently, the folks at the Argus Leader decided that it would just be too risky to take a stand because either way, that stand would cost them. And this is just not acceptable. If you are going to run a newspaper and publish editorials, then you have a professional obligation to comment on the important issues of the day.

This caving in under political pressure is evident, not just to South Dakotans, but to people across the country. As Katha Pollitt wrote about the Argus Leader in her column for The Nation, "Showing the strength of antichoice sentiment...The state's largest newspaper, the Argus Leader, announced in an awkward editorial statement that it would take no position on the ban. Given that this was probably the only chance editorial board members will ever have to stand in the national spotlight, you know that had to hurt."

And now, the Argus Leader is failing to report stories that one would think journalists would be lining up to cover. When Dr. Maria Bell spoke about threats to women's health under the abortion ban - certainly an issue of interest to readers and just as certainly an issue that has been underreported - the Argus Leader didn't even bother to run a story.

And the last straw: the Argus Leader ran a story yesterday on Sen. Tim Johnson's automated calls to SD voters asking them to oppose the abortion ban. This isn't news; we've known since forever that he didn't support the ban. What IS news, but is nevertheless buried in the story, is that JOHN THUNE opposes the ban. The Argus Leader headline for this story was "Johnson adds voice to debate on abortion law." Nothing at all about Thune. If you didn't read the story carefully all the way through, you'd miss it.

But in contrast, let's look at how station KTIV in Sioux City, IA, covered this same story: Thune Favors Abortion-Ban Exceptions. See? They're focusing on the part of the story that is actually NEWS.

While I was writing this, I got a phone call from my father-in-law, who thinks I'm being too hard on a paper that is most certainly worried about its survival if it appears to be too liberal. And I'm sympathetic to this concern - I really am. Perhaps the problem is that I think journalism is - or should be - a noble profession. It's supposed to be about reporting the truth, about telling the people what is going on. We, the people, depend on our news media to do this, and instead of real reporting from the Argus Leader we are getting a confusing website with few actual news stories, pulled punches, and a refusal to cover unpopular issues. This is not what a newspaper ought to be. People have died for the right to print the truth. If journalists can walk, literally, into the line of fire in Iraq and elsewhere to cover a story, can't the Argus Leader take a stand at home?

Links: Minority Report, Pro-Choice Ads, and More

(I've been sick this week, so instead of writing, I'm linking.)

Read the Task Force to Study Abortion minority report here.

Watch the first SD Campaign for Healthy Families ad here.

Watch the second ad here.

Doctor says ban threatens women's health (click below for full story):
"One of Buehner's patients told of her experience being pregnant while dealing with diabetes. Despite some complications, her pregnancy ended with the birth of a healthy daughter who is now 6 years old.

The woman said if she became pregnant again, her health would be at risk, and she could go blind or suffer kidney failure.

She said that although her life may not be threatened, her quality of life and ability to care for her daughter would be threatened if abortion was not an option."

Herseth, Johnson, and THUNE oppose abortion ban. (Thanks to Coat Hangers at Dawn for these two stories!)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Be honest.

You know you would so totally go back to college if you could.

I don't think I ever went to a surrealist party, but I did go to a semi-formal in a garbage bag, which is almost the same thing.

Choice reading

Thanks to Todd Epp at S.D. Watch/The Epp Law Report Home for this link to a great pro-choice piece with links to many more...
Praising South Dakota. Confessions of an Ex-Abortion Provider. Enjoy!

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Phone Call

Just a few thoughts on the anti-choice conference call.

First, it really is a fundraiser. They never stop asking for money, though they also keep reassuring listeners that the ban is a done deal (but send a check just in case!). They also mention several times that they have not yet finished their commercial.

Second - if you've ever listened to right-wing religious radio, this is exactly what that sounds like - lots of repetition, lots of attitude, lots of "we're right, we will win, they're wrong," etc.

Third - I really should be used to it, but I'm tremendously bothered by lies from people who consider themselves to be such good Christians, who claim that they have -literally - the "blue phone of Jesus Christ" (I think that's supposed to mean a direct line to God). I mean, if you want to lie, lie. But don't tell me while you're lying what a great Christian you are. (The one that's pissing me off right now is the guy who is saying that pro-choice groups are having a terrible time getting college students to speak out on campus. Really? How come I can't walk through the campus center without seeing tons of people crowding around the pro-choice table??) (I clarify before someone suggests that they're protesting - they're not protesting. They're registering to vote and slapping on "Vote No on 6" stickers.)

But third - and this is really a doozy - here's a quote that came at about 43 minutes into the call, from one of the speakers:

"I have never regretted being a mother. I have always regretted the fact that it was legal for me to kill my children. I would have never done it if it had not been legal."

Uh....What?! (blinks a few times in disbelief)

It's not that I don't feel sorry for women who regret having had an abortion. I'm sure that's very painful. It just so happens that I know a lot of women who have had abortions, and only one ever expressed regret: she went on about how awful Planned Parenthood was and how she instantly regretted her abortion, and I was listening with my mouth practically hanging open - and then she went on to talk about the two other abortions she had afterward, also Planned Parenthood's fault, of course. Nothing like having your choice and blaming it on someone else while trying to prevent anyone else from having a choice...or something like that.

I guess if you make a decision that you regret, it helps to have someone to blame. But blaming someone else for your bad decision means avoiding responsibility. And while I feel for this woman on the conference call who regrets her abortions, if the only thing that made her choose an abortion over giving birth was the mere fact that abortion was legal, I submit that there are a *host* of other problems there.

(To download and listen for yourself, click the link on the sidebar.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pro-birth terrorists (a rant)

First, head on over to Coat Hangers At Dawn for The Scoop on the Very Desperate Anti-Choice Activist Conference Call.

Read it? OK, good.

So what this means, folks, is that we can now look forward to more bloody-supposed-fetus pictures. (They're fakes, by the way. They're using the same pictures they've been trotting out for years, and they were fakes back then.)

But let's suppose, just for a moment, that they aren't fakes. Let's suppose they're the real thing.

So if they're real? You know what? I have no problem with the anti-choice/pro-birth movement wanting people to know what an abortion looks like. I think we should know. We should also know how to use condoms and birth control pills and emergency contraception. And if I had ovarian cancer and was pregnant and was refusing treatment, someone should show me what OVARIAN CANCER LOOKS LIKE.

But I do have a problem with the anti-choice/pro-birth movement forcing my four year old to look at them. This has nothing to do with what I personally believe about when life begins or any such things. It has to do with what is appropriate to show a young child. A four year old cannot vote. S/he can't read, most of the time. S/he doesn't know where babies come from (at least, mine doesn't - we're just getting to that discussion). S/he won't be getting pregnant or getting anyone else pregnant anytime soon. In short, s/he has nothing to say about this issue.

And a four year old does not have the emotional or cognitive ability to see those pictures as anything beyond horrific and traumatic. "Good," say the pro-birth terrorists. "That's what they are."

And your purpose, then, is to get across to pro-choice adults the "evil" of abortion by traumatizing KIDS?! Tell me, what do you gain by exposing my child to these pictures? Are you, in some sick and twisted way, hoping my now-traumatized child will be savvy enough to convince me to go to the polls and support the abortion ban? What's next - will you be targeting pre-schools and daycares?

Let me echo a friend, who had a beautiful response to a pro-birth terrorist:

"What evil is in your heart that you would subject my small child to such hate and violence?"

Before you rant and rave, think about it. What Would Jesus Do? Somehow, I don't see him hanging out on the corner exposing children to bloody pictures. (Jesus loves the little children, remember? He doen't love them BUT think it's just fine to traumatize them in order to upset their parents. That's a passive-aggressive trick, and it's also child abuse. (You wanna argue that abortion is child abuse? Go ahead. That still doesn't make you innocent of abusing my child.))

You have nothing to gain by traumatizing children with ghastly pictures. You have everything to lose. If you truly cared as much about children as you claim to, you would put them away.

This is not an abortion post.

Remember when you were a kid and people had those crazy VW vans in orange or green? And everyone wanted to ride in one, so the friend whose parents had one became the cool friend? And then, years later, when you were in high school or college and you'd still see them occasionally, and you'd kind of thing, "God, that thing is really OLD and out of style," but you'd also remember how cool it used to be?

We have a 1988 Toyota Corolla. When we got it, it was the coolest thing going. First of all, Toyatas are awesome. Toyotas will go for 200,000 miles, and then they'll go a little more to make sure you get home, and I'm not entirely sure but I think they will then fold up into a handy little carryall with a special pocket for an MP3 player.

The Toyota I'd had before my then-boyfriend got this one was a cute little blue wagon, into which we had once piled 13 people (picture a clown car without the makeup). And it was almost twenty years old when I had it, so when boyfriend got the three-year-old one, we were like, "Whoa...a NEW CAR." It was clean, shiny, absent of rust, and it smelled good.

So it was pretty nifty, even if living where we were living meant that it kept getting dinged in the parking lot and broken into on the street in front of our house.

But, shiny newness aside, it's always had issues. Right from the start it had some sort of leak above the windshield that we've never been able to completely fix, though it's never gotten as bad as it was in '98, when the passenger seat was unsittable due to all the water that was collecting there. There's also a big rust hole on the front passenger door - SD cars don't really rust, so it makes the car look, not only old, but super classy.

But the worst problem with this car is the radio.

If you look hard, you can probably tell that the on/off button is not original to the car. It's something our former neighbor, Doug (who, if he is reading this, should call me - I miss you), had sitting around when the other one fell off.

What you can't tell, though, is that the radio is all but broken. I say "all but" because it occasionally turns on. Lately, though, if you've passed me in traffic, you've seen me pounding with one hand on the dashboard, which sometimes helps. I suspect that there is a loose connection somewhere - one that would be very expensive to repair - and that all of my pounding sometimes jiggles things back into place. It probably also does more serious damage, like weakening the dashboard's connective tissue so that, one of these days, the steering column will fall off into my lap.

So I've developed a little radio fix-it dance. It involves alernating between banging on the dashboard, as I've said, and cranking up the music. The force of this last sometimes helps the speakers to come to uncomfortably loud life, and for a while, there is sound. If I happen to turn down the volume, however, or to go over a bump, the sound disappears again.

I haven't heard both speakers operating at full capacity since about 1999, before we drove the car 1,000 miles to move here. At that point, the radio was operating pretty much like it is now - very rarely. However, it must have liked the South Dakota climate because once we got here, at least one speaker has always worked at least a little, allowing me to listen to the radio in the car (though I've long since become immune to static and problems with the delicate bass-treble balance).

Given that the radio and speakers have continued to work, somewhat, almost eight years after threatening to conk out completely, I'm not too worried. Eventually, I think, they'll start working again.

Because this is a Toyota. And they keep going until they rust out from under you.

(Hey, no joke. I looked up the value of my car on Blue Book - $200.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Jerry Falwell getting his grubby little hands on SD uteruses

I got this email this morning. Before you read it, I just want to point out one line: "Dr. Unruh...tells me [Planned Parenthood's media campaign] is a major propaganda campaign to demonize and distort the language on the ban on abortion in South Dakota."

I have been wondering for the last two days what the ban supporters would have to say in response to overwhelming evidence that women's health and lives would be at serious risk under the ban (see previous two entries). Now I know. They refuse to engage in serious discussion. They just rely on what their leaders tell them: they really do not believe that pregnant women with cancer will be unable to get radiation treatment (for example).

Or do they?

Here's a story from LifeSite:

Mother of Nine Refuses Cancer Treatment to Save Her Unborn Child’s Life
"No situation, no matter how difficult, justifies taking the life of the baby" in the womb

By Gudrun Schultz

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, July 31, 2006 ( – A woman who refused chemotherapy treatment to save the life of her ninth child is now dying of terminal cancer, reported the Catholic News Agency Friday.

For the full story, click here.

The placement of this story on this site suggests to me that, to the "pro-life" folks, it really doesn't matter whether or not women will die as a result of the ban. It suggests that the "pro-life" movement believes that women should always choose the fetus' life over their own, if ever it comes to that. It's just more of that mother self-sacrifice we've heard so much about.

Which suggests that Unruh and Co. know exactly what the risks are of this ban. They know, and they do not care because fetal lives are worth more than women's lives. (The pro-choice movement has said this for decades, of course, but here we see the evidence in stark relief.)

And now, the email...


Insider weekly newsletter to The Moral Majority Coalition and The Liberty Alliance

From: Jerry Falwell

Date: September 14, 2006

South Dakota Pro-Lifers Face Off Against Planned Parenthood

The pro-life movement in South Dakota needs your help. In a moment, I'll tell you how you can help, but first, please allow me to explain the situation in the state.

Abortion-rights advocates have gotten a measure on the November ballot that, if passed, would repeal the state law (HB 1215) forbidding all abortions, except those that would save the life of a mother. The ban, which hasn't yet taken effect, will be activated if it passes the ballot initiative (even though it would likely would be challenged in the courts). The law states that individuals performing abortions would be fined $5,000 and be jailed for five years.

Here's the key problem: Planned Parenthood is now pouring money into the state, in hopes of killing this legislation without having to go to court.

Dr. Allen Unruh, of the South Dakota pro-life organization Vote Yes for Life (, tells me that Planned Parenthood panicked after HB 1215 was passed in both state houses and Gov. Mike Rounds signed it into law. The state house voted 50 to 18 in favor of the bill, while the state senate passed it 23 to 12.

Dr. Unruh says the organization is mounting an $8 million media blitz over the next two months. He tells me this is a major propaganda campaign to demonize and distort the language on the ban on abortion in South Dakota.

Pro-life leaders in the state are now trying to raise funds to counter Planned Parenthood's campaign to defeat the law. They are now attempting to raise $4 million to offset Planned Parenthood's campaign to radical political agenda.

That's where I hope you will step in. I have told Dr. Unruh and his team that I will do my best to deliver thousands of people who will financially help to win this historic battle. We have to raise $4 million dollars -- very quickly -- in South Dakota to counter the propaganda Planned Parenthood will be putting on the airwaves prior to the November election.

Dr. Unruh and I believe that if there were ever a time when Christians need to invest in a pro-life effort, the time is now and the place is South Dakota. If the state wins this battle, other states could follow South Dakota's lead in the future, also determining to outlaw abortion.

I am urging my friends across the country to give generously to this vital campaign.

What happens in South Dakota will literally affect the future of America.

If you feel nauseous, look to the right of the page and click on one of the pro-choice links, where you can donate to protect SD women - and the future of America.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

...and here's the response from reproductive rights opponents: oncologists don't know SHIT about cancer.

Supporters of the abortion ban issued a press release in response to Dr. Maria Bell's talk last night. Let's go over a few of these points, shall we?

Bell, in error, stated that women would be denied medical options to treat illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Dr. Jane Gaetz, a Sioux Falls obstetrician-gynecologist, disagrees. She says: “Referred Law 6 enables me to recommend full treatment to women with serious medical conditions, even if doing so results in the miscarriage of pregnancy. I am in full compliance with the law so long as I don’t intentionally abort the child.”

Here's the problem - which Gaetz, NOT an oncologist, might not understand: Radiation kills fetuses. There is no way that a doctor can prescribe radiation treatment to a pregnant woman without knowing that the treatment will result in the death of the fetus. And that knowledge would make prescribing such treatment intentional abortion.

According to Bell, 1 in every 1,000 to 1,500 women who gives birth is affected by cancer during pregnancy. Gaetz says that the figure takes into account all cancers, even non-invasive types. “Every cancer is not a death sentence,” she adds.

Bell did not claim that every cancer was invasive. She simply stated that these births were "complicated by cancer" (a direct quote, from my notes).

Bell stated that five to ten percent of abortions are performed in response to extreme medical circumstances. However, South Dakota Department of Health figures show that only 2.3 percent of in-state abortions were performed in 2004 for such reasons.

The question - which was asked by a member of the group issuing this misleading press release - was what percentage of ALL abortions would be for such reasons. The questioner did not ask about in-state abortions.

Dr. Bell falsely stated that South Dakota doctors who referred women to out-of-state abortionists could be convicted. Referred Law 6 would only penalize doctors who intentionally perform abortions within the state.

Well, here's the relevant section of the ban:
Section 2. That chapter 22-17 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

No person may knowingly administer to, prescribe for, or procure for, or sell to any pregnant woman any medicine, drug, or other substance with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being. No person may knowingly use or employ any instrument or procedure upon a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being.

Any violation of this section is a Class 5 felony.

Referring a pregnant woman to a doctor for cancer treatment that would cause the death of the fetus falls into the above categories, in my opinion. That would be prescribing or procuring a substance that would cause termination of the pregnancy.

And, finally, here's my favorite quote from the Vote Yes for Life press release:

“In 33 years of practice I’ve never come across a case in which the woman needed an abortion,” Gaetz said.

Well, right. Because when a pregnant woman is diagnosed with cancer, she quite naturally would go to someone who is NOT an oncologist for treatment. (I think specialists in cancers and other potentially fatal diseases of women in pregnancy would be just a bit more able to judge, don't you?)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why The Abortion Ban Endangers Women: A Doctor Speaks

Ever wonder what all the fuss is about no exceptions for the health of the mother? Dr. Maria Bell, SD gynecologic oncologist, gave a presentation tonight on the ramification of the ban for women with cancer and other dangerous conditions/diseases.

Highlights of her talk:
* Under the ban, a pregnant woman with cancer will not be able to get the full range of medical options available to treat her cancer. This is because cancer treatments such as radiation will kill the fetus. Thus, a pregnant woman with cancer would not be allowed to have the treatment her doctor feels is most likely to save her life.

* Under the ban, this pregnant woman's doctor would not be allowed to refer her out of state for her cancer treatment. Since one's doctor is normally instrumental in planning referral care, this leaves the cancer patient in dire straits and on her own.

* Under the ban, the woman could treat her cancer aggressively after she gave birth. But oncologists do not recommend waiting nine months (or seven, or five) to treat aggressive cancers (such as ovarian cancer). Go figure.

* Under the ban, treatment that could cause an abortion, or an abortion that would be necessary to continue treatment, could only be performed if the woman is at risk of death during the pregnancy. But cancer doesn't work that way. The risk during pregnancy is that the cancer would metastasize so that after birth, the treatment would not work.

* Under the ban, the mortality risk that would have to be present in order for doctors to be allowed to perform abortions is undefined. For example, how likely would death have to be for a doctor to be able to perform an abortion without risk of being charged with a felony? Dr. Bell noted that the only situation under the ban in which she would feel comfortable performing an abortion to save a woman's life would be if the patient were hemorrhaging.

* Under the ban, pregnant women's health would not only be at grave risk due to cancer (breast, cervical, and ovarian cancers, leukemia, lymphomas, melanomas, gynecologic cancers, and bone tumors being the most common) but also from other common problems women are faced with during pregnancy: heart disease, kidney disease, strokes, diabetes, and premature rupture of membranes. Between one in a thousand and one in fifteen hundred women's pregnancies are complicated by cancer in SD every year (that's about 10-11 South Dakotan women every year). About 5-10% of all abortions are performed due to the types of situations listed above.

Supporters of the ban will argue, as they did in response to the outcry against the ban's lack of a rape/incest exemption, that this affects such few women that it shouldn't overturn the ban.

This gives us an indication of how much (little) they value women and children. We are mothers, daughters, wives, sisters. ALL of our lives are valuable. And our kids need us around. And when Jane Doe is faced with the agonizing decision of whether to terminate her wanted pregnancy in order to undergo treatment to save her life, or to refuse the treatment and risk leaving her seven-year-old without a mom, it is a matter for her to decide for herself.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Outta Touch

I know that, due to the way karma operates, as soon as I post this, I will learn about some heretofore unknown way in which I am out of the loop. (Some people already think I'm out of the loop, just because I'm older than they are. Like those whippersnappers in the cafe last week who thought I was just saying that Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, and some random band on the satellite feed sounded alike because I was old and didn't know any better. "I'm really into Fall Out Boy," said Whippersnapper #1. "That doesn't sound like them at all." Snap!

Actually, it did, and I could hear the similarity not just because I'm older and recognize that once any band gets any attention, there are immediately 27 other bands who try to adopt the exact same sound, but also because I took a couple of music classes in college. So there.)

But anyway - I'm consistently shocked at how out of touch so many faculty are with their students. For instance, take this paragraph from "Facing the Facebook," an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Michael Tracey, a journalism professor at the University of Colorado, recounts a class discussion during which he asked how many people had seen the previous night's NewsHour on PBS or read that day's New York Times. "A couple of hands went up out of about 140 students who were present," he recalls. "One student chirped: 'Ask them how many use Facebook.' I did. Every hand in the room went up. She then said: 'Ask them how many used it today.' I did. Every hand in the room went up. I was amazed."

Um...truth be told, I'm a little amazed. I mean, why is this a surprise? How is it possible that a professor could teach students, face to face in a classroom, and not know that they are spending all their available time on Facebook - and that they are not following the news? Don't these things come up in general conversation? Especially in a Journalism class?!

During my recent travels, I picked up My Freshman Year: What A Professor Learned by Becoming A Student, by Rebecca Nathan (really Cathy Small) in the airport bookstore. Small went "undercover" as a student at her own university to find out what it's really like to be a student in this day and age. After reading for a little while, I realized that the author was a generation older than me: old enough - and out of touch enough - to be surprised by loft beds in the dorms, something that was a staple when I was in college *twenty years ago* (and probably for many years prior to that).

Not that there haven't been changes. (The internet, for example. I don't think we had one when I was coming up.) But what's with all the "oh my gosh, I never dreamed students today were so different"? Where does this shocked and uncomprehending voice come from, as though the students are some sneaky, odd breed who can't be predicted? It isn't that the students are different, folks. It's that we, their teachers, have stopped paying attention.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

They're called "manners."

I sent this email to nine people on Sept 6:
I wanted to invite you all to an evening out for a belated birthday celebration. If you're free on Friday, September 15, how's about dinner at [local restaurant], followed by...? Drinks? Dancing? Whatever. (Or just talking for a long time at the table. That's cool, too.)

7:30? RSVP so I can make the reservation.

It's good to be 38!!!

I immediately heard back from One, Two, and Three, who could not make it and who were very apologetic. It was clear to me that they wanted to come and felt badly about missing it. And they were careful to let me know that they couldn't make it early on, so that I could make the reservation.

Four, Five, and Six replied that they would be there.

Seven, who regularly hosts a Friday night get-together at her home, asked if she could bring some of her regulars. (I said, sure.)

Eight said she'd see.

Nine never replied.

I called the restaurant and made a reservation for eight: me, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and one extra (I didn't know how many people Seven would be bringing).

Yesterday, THE DAY OF, I received the following emails:

1) An email from Nine, to tell me she couldn't make it.

2) An email from Seven, to tell me that her friends couldn't afford to go out to dinner, and so she would not be coming but would be at her house with them.

3) An email from Four, to tell me that she had to do some political work for a family member and couldn't make it.

If you've lost count, that means I was down to myself and three people.

I called Eight:
"You're coming tonight, right?"



"Why are you calling?" [This was not said in a hostile tone. She sounded genuinely confused.]


"For the reservation?"


"Oh. No, I thought I could swing by, but it didn't work out."

So I called the restaurant and changed the reservation to three people.

I'm perplexed as to why Four, Seven, Eight, and Nine treated this so casually. Perhaps if I'd invited them to a home-cooked meal at my house the invitation would have seemed more formal. Still, I specified that I was making reservations and that I needed to know what people were doing.

I was taught to honor a commitment, short of extenuating circumstances (which, in my opinion, none of these were). I've even known people to make a point of swinging by a gathering for 20-30 minutes, just to put in an appearance, when something has come up that's prevented them from honoring that commitment. (I have even known people who have done this when they've already said they can't be there - they'd just pop their heads in, hand the host a bottle of wine and a hug, and then go to their kid's graduation, or whatever. In my opinion, this is entirely unnecessary, but it's a thoughtful gesture.)

I think what bothers me most is that these friends of mine seem to have assumed that it wouldn't matter to me whether they came or not.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Composition Teacher, Write Thyself.

We are reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life in my Composition class. Today I borrowed one of her assignments and asked my students to write for a while about what they remembered of school lunches. I wrote, too. Here's a little piece of what I ended up with:

When I was in first or second grade, there was a girl in my class who would give me her potato chips at lunch every day. Unlike many of my peers, we never had potato chips at my house and so I never had them in my lunch. Her chips were in a plastic sandwich baggie that was slick with grease from the chips. They were delicious.

She often smelled awful, mostly of stale urine. We told her this. And on the days when the smell was strong, I wouldn't play with her. I have to wonder, now, if this gift of the chips was an effort to secure a friendship. Her smell lurked around her like a living thing, and I was afraid that if she touched me, it would slither onto me and I would smell, too. The smell made her seem dirty, though in actuality, she was not.

Her smell seemed even to contaminate the chips, so that if I thought about it too much I'd have to imagine them to be covered in some kind of invisible filth. I ate them anyway.

The memory of her smell is so strong that whenever I hear her first name, I think of the rotten tang of subways and airport bathrooms.

South Dakotans, standing UP.

I'm the kind of person who worries excessively about about provoking wacko crazies. Therefore, my car has no bumper stickers on it. And I get very nervous when I have to do things like knock on doors and urge people to vote against the abortion ban.

This may surprise some of you.

The truth is, I worry a lot about what people think of me, and it causes me great anxiety and indigestion if I learn that someone is angry with me or doesn't like me. I also worry that rabid anti-choice activists might shoot me, or worse, not want to be my friend.

So I'm always a bit apprehensive when I go out into the wilds of South Dakota sporting my pro-choice t-shirts.

Last week, I got a new Planned Parenthood shirt that says "Stand UP for South Dakota!" on the front. I wore it to the bowling alley (birthday partyfor one of my son's friends), and one of the other moms asked me what it meant. I responded, "It's a Planned Parenthood shirt," and braced myself for what I was sure would be a cool response.

"Thank God SOMEONE around here still has some common sense," she replied.

Tonight, I wore the same shirt out to dinner at Granite City. When I walked in the door of the restaurant, one of the hostesses came rushing up to ask me where I'd gotten it so that she, too, could get one.

I think I might branch out into bumper stickers next since the t-shirt is working so well for me...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'm all about abortion. That's just how I roll.

I heard someone say today, "I'm not about abortion." Meaning, I guess, that abortion is way uncool. (I'm probably dating myself here, but that's how we say it in my family. "Son," I say to my four-year-old, "you may come out of your room if you're ready to be chill. Because hitting Mommy is way uncool." (I really do say this.))

So anyway, that's the meaning of the title of this post.

I don't know what I was doing in July that caused me to miss the news that Rep. Henry Waxman, AKA my pretend boyfriend (on account of he's so cool), released a new report: "False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers."

I mean, it's not like we didn't know this already, but still - it's nice to have proof. And since I had a little trouble finding it, here's a link so you can print it out and read it yourself (it's only 18 pages).

And if you like that, you should also check out the 2004 Waxman Report on "The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs", which, again, doesn't tell us anything we don't already know, but sure makes for good reading. Especially if you have low blood pressure. For example:

The report finds that over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two-thirds of SPRANS grantees in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health. Specifically, the report finds:

· Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain False Information about the Effectiveness of Contraceptives. Many of the curricula misrepresent the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. One curriculum says that “the popular claim that ‘condoms help prevent the spread of STDs,’ is not supported by the data”; another states that “[i]n heterosexual sex, condoms fail to prevent HIV approximately 31% of the time”; and another teaches that a pregnancy occurs one out of every seven times that couples use condoms. These erroneous statements are presented as proven scientific facts.

· Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain False Information about the Risks of Abortion. One curriculum states that 5% to 10% of women who have legal abortions will become sterile; that “[p]remature birth, a major cause of mental retardation, is increased following the abortion of a first pregnancy”; and that “[t]ubal and cervical pregnancies are increased following abortions.” In fact, these risks do not rise after the procedure used in most abortions in the United States.

· Abstinence-Only Curricula Blur Religion and Science. Many of the curricula present as scientific fact the religious view that life begins at conception. For example, one lesson states: “Conception, also known as fertilization, occurs when one sperm unites with one egg in the upper third of the fallopian tube. This is when life begins.” Another curriculum calls a 43-day-old fetus a “thinking person.”

· Abstinence-Only Curricula Treat Stereotypes about Girls and Boys as Scientific Fact. One curriculum teaches that women need “financial support,” while men need “admiration.” Another instructs: “Women gauge their happiness and judge their success on their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.”

· Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain Scientific Errors. In numerous instances, the abstinence-only curricula teach erroneous scientific information. One curriculum incorrectly lists exposure to sweat and tears as risk factors for HIV transmission. Another curriculum states that “twenty-four chromosomes from the mother and twenty-four chromosomes from the father join to create this new individual”; the correct number is 23.

The report finds numerous examples of these errors. Serious and pervasive problems with the accuracy of abstinence-only curricula may help explain why these programs have not been shown to protect adolescents from sexually transmitted diseases and why youth who pledge abstinence are significantly less likely to make informed choices about precautions when they do have sex.

See what I mean? Rep. Waxman: You the man.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Reflections, Five Years After

It's seemed to me, lately, that life is just very...tenuous. Steve Irwin, of all people, brought that home last week by dying in such a freakish way, even for a man who spent his life taking risks. My good friend from graduate school, Darcy Wakefield, shocked and saddened us all when she died last winter, a few years after having been diagnosed with ALS.

These were young people. Darcy was in her thirties. Steve Irwin was 44.

In another example of just how fragile life is, a very close friend of mine is reeling from the shock and anguish of her mother's recent diagnosis (ALS, again).

And just yesterday, we got word that the wife of a friend had been killed in a car accident and their young son - just a couple of weeks older than my own son - had sustained a brain injury and is in critical condition.

I think those of us who are lucky enough to have long periods of time in our lives that go by without significant misfortune forget that, all around us, there is loss and suffering. And then, it seems to hit all at once, and we realize that life is not the pleasant and beautiful thing we thought it was; it is hard and cruel and brutal and painful and unforgiving and fleeting.

When the planes hit the towers, I was one of those who obsessively watched the news coverage, sleepless and shaking. I could not imagine the suffering, and I could not comprehend that so many others were in constant pain while I went about my daily life, shopping, doing my laundry, writing my dissertation. I would forget for a moment and laugh at something silly, and then immediately catch myself and feel guilty.

When I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 and witnessed those injured and killed in the war - especially the children - it was the same. I was haunted by these images from the screen and by others I imagined. I felt as if those were my children, and I wept in the theater.

It is like that when people close to you are grieving. My heart breaks along with theirs. Yet, I can escape. I can forget for a moment. I can hug my family and feel safe.

We have all heard about the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). What's missing there is panic. When I think about what my friend who lost his wife must be going through, my throat closes up, my stomach clenches, and I want to tear out my hair. The overwhelming loss is incomprehensible and our bodies cannot absorb the shock all at once.

What I am learning from being on the edges of these sorrows is that it is the escaping, periodically, that allows me to function. I can reach out and allow myself to feel pain with those who are suffering only ecause I can also step back to regroup. And when I am the one suffering, it is those around me who are able to move back and forth from my pain to their moments of rest that allow them to comfort me.

There is no reason in tragedy. I don't believe in a God who takes a mother away from a four-year-old child or who traps someone's daughter/father/brother/lover in a burning building - and I wouldn't *want* to believe in such a God, anyway. But I do believe that the kind of love that we sometimes show each other in the face of such tragedies is holy.

And that's it. Five years later, this is what resonates with me - not why "they" hate "us," or what it means to feel safe, or who is to blame, but that we have to comfort each other by sharing our suffering, by loving each other enough to feel each other's pain.

That is where I see God in all of this. And while that's not enough right now, it's not a small thing.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Daycare Demons At It Again

Some of you who know me in real life know that last year we were rather unceremoniously - and quite unprofessionally - asked to leave the daycare where my son had been - and had done well, and was well-liked by all - for three years. In the interest of time, let's just say that my letter in response to the sequence of events up to and including the manner in which my son was told he could not come back, which I addressed to the director's boss, was about 8 typed pages, single-spaced.

I haven't written publicly about this at all and hadn't intended to, but I just found out that the daycare is up to its old tricks again. I'm so upset and bothered and aching on behalf of the parent who is going through what we went through that I can't write much about it right now. I will say, however, that it seems that the daycare's stock response to any kind of behavior it doesn't like is to suggest that the mother is not spending enough time at home with her child.

Any parent reading this knows that what such a statement really means is this:
"If you weren't such a rotten mother, and if you cared about your child at all, you'd quit your job and be less selfish and stay home and raise your child properly, so that we wouldn't have to deal with your ill-behaved child, who, by the way, we don't like very much."

Overreaction? Well, maybe. But keep in mind that suggesting mothers spend more time at home is indeed their stock response. That's gotta mean something about what they think is the root cause of children's behavior. And they are supposed to be trained in child development.

Funny that none of the books about children's development that I have sitting here on my shelf have that same stock response.

So what's really going on? I think it's a way for the daycare to avoid blame. It's far easier to say, "your child is acting this way and therefore s/he should leave" than it is to say, "we share the responsibility for teaching your child to behave properly, and so we want to work with you to come up with a solution."

This will most definitely be continued.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tipping, Cleaning, and Being a Good Hotel Guest

This is such a huge pet peeve of mine that I can't believe I haven't already written about it. I just did a quick search of the blog to be sure - nope, not there. So I'll begin.

I typically travel to about 4 conferences a year, and I generally share my room with one to three roommates in order to keep my costs down. I have no institutional funding for conference travel, which means that the money for this comes directly out of my pocket.

When staying at a hotel for more than one night, I was taught (by my mom: if anyone has different information, please share it!), the rules are a little different. For one night, I assume that I will have a clean room and that my bed will be made. I also know that the room will have to be made up again for the next guest, and so I do not tip housekeeping for this as there is no extra service being provided. (I am beginning to rethink this as more and more service jobs seem to be dependent on tips for keeping wages out of the toilet. Also, housekeeping is hard physical labor and certainly deserving of extra consideration.)

When I stay more than one night, I tip $5 per night to housekeeping, which generally adds up to about $20 over the course of the conference. At Jack of All Trades, Matthew Ryan points out that one could have a different housekeeper every day, so it is important to tip daily. (He also notes that, depending on the work the housekeepers do, he may tip up to $10 per day. To this I would add that if you are a slovenly and/or disgusting hotel guest - and you know who you are, so I don't need to go into graphic detail - you should tip at least twice that.)

In the past, however, I've had the privilege of staying with roommates who have not only never before heard of tipping housekeeping, but who, when faced with this new idea, are entirely resistant to it. And so, while this has only happened once or twice and not, thankfully, in recent years, there are times when I've been left to cough up everything save $2. Usually, though, there is no protest about the tipping, though these experiences have made me awkward and uncomfortable and anxious to ensure that a decent tip is left and that I am not screwed in the process.

But this is not the only source of roommate anxiety for me at conferences. The other is that my roommates are generally slobs. By "slobs," I mean that they leave their towels, wet or dry, on the floor, on the bed, or - and this is my personal favorite - wadded up and thrust far, far under the sink counter, so that the housekeeping staff will have to bend down and reach all the way down to pick it up. I suspect that this last is in an effort to keep the dirty towels in an out-of-the-way place. However, if you were cleaning 120 rooms in a day, how many times would you want to crawl underneath the counter to pick up the towels off the floor? And after how many times would your back begin to ache? Yeah, that's what I thought.

So, after my roommates leave for breakfast or a session or whatever, I run around the room, cursing them under my breath and picking up their sodden towels from wherever they have been thoughtlessly strewn. I usually leave them on the edge of the tub, where no one will have to stoop too far to reach them. And then I pick up all my crap off the bed - books, clothes, etc. - so that when housekeeping comes to make my bed, they won't have to deal with it.

(It is of considerable interest to me that these things happen so routinely, even though my roommates are different from conference to conference, in feminist academic circles in which we talk all the time about class issues, entitlement, and elitism.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

When Moms Leave

Recently, someone I know told me that a couple she knows is splitting up. It seems the female half of the couple doesn't want to do the marriage and kids thing any longer, and she is contemplating leaving.

When I heard this, my first reaction was, "oh, I know how she feels." Because really, I think everyone goes through that at some point. (A year ago, my partner and I were both secretly - or not so secretly, on temper tantrum days - wishing we could move out. If you've ever had a three year old, you'll know what I mean.)

"Yes," I hear you saying, "we all do feel that way from time to time, but it's one thing to think it and quite another to do it. I can't understand how a mother could leave."

This seems to be the crux of it. We all probably know enough divorced or otherwise split-up couples to understand how it works when romantic relationships end. But divorcing your child?

I do know women who left their families and who, today, have good relationships with their grown children. That said, I would hate for my mom to have done that. I have no doubt that it is traumatic and devastating. But then again, I have to ask myself, what are the other options? Reader, just imagine, if you will: what would the circumstances have to be to force you to a place where you would feel that the best decision would be to leave your child? When I think about this, I suspect that in most cases, it's not a decision most people make because they want more time to golf. It's not a decision that comes without guilt and pain.

I also can't help but to notice that it's the moms who leave that especially horrify us as a society. We tend not to get so upset at the dads, who we sort of half expect to leave, anyway. And we get more angry at the moms who are maybe middle-class, white, educated, who want careers or to climb mountains or to write books. Society doesn't care so much about keeping the poor, under-educated moms, especially those of color, with their kids. In fact, not that long ago, Newt Gingrich proposed taking kids away from welfare moms (who were painted as women of color even though statistics show that white women make up a greater percentage of welfare recipients).

So here's my (condensed) conclusion about all of this. It's not that we as a society have a fundamental problem with parents leaving their children. Now, don't get me wrong - my heart goes out to the children whose parents leave, as, I'm sure, does yours. But when we look at the larger picture, at which stories get particular national attention and which do not, and at which images tug harder than others at the heartstrings, we can't help but notice something else going on: as a society, we don't want moms of a certain social status to decide they can leave of their own free will.

This doesn't mean it's "ok" for moms (or dads) to leave. But it does mean that we're having a much more complicated discussion.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Nerd Alert: Office Supplies

Seriously, I have some reservations about even posting this. If ever there was a doubt about my status as a nerd - not even a geek, which would be cool (think: geek chic) but a nerd! - this will certainly give me place in the Nerd Hall of Fame.

I wrote here about my office supply fetish, the intensity of which can be summed up by the fact that I went to Office Max today in search of a planner and spent an hour there. (Came back with some nifty cd holders, too.)

I love the idea of being organized, alphabetized, color-coordinated - all of it. My office, I mean. (My closet is filled with black clothes. I like to think I'm cool, but I suspect that most people see me and wonder why I'm wearing the same clothes all the time. (I'm really not - I have a few of the same pieces of clothing, always black, and I wear them a lot.))

Anyway, so I'm all about different kinds of file folders, expandable folders and file pockets being my favorites. But expandable folders, which open out to a couple of inches, don't hold up too well: they tend to fray and tear around the edges by the end of the semester, dumping my precious papers all over the place. And file pockets don't hold as much crap as I need them to hold. So today, when I was looking for some of both so that I could start organizing all of my stuff for class and not walk in on the first day shuffling piles of everything, I was excited to find these:

I'm not sure how well you can tell from the picture, but what this is is basically a folder with a pocket in one side. What it looked like on the package was a file pocket that expanded more than the average file pocket but not so much as an expandable folder. Perfect, right? Except that these turned out to be totally dorky and poorly made. Why would I need a folder with a separate pocket, especially when that pocket is so tight that even two pieces of paper won't slide down in all the way?! This totally messes up my filing system because the sticky-out pieces of paper obscure my labels.

I am VERY disappointed in Office Max. I can see I'm going to have to get my fix somewhere else from now on.

(By the way, I have 24 of these things in different colors. Let me know if you want them.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Can You Get Worker's Comp for This?

On Sunday, we went to the mall for back-to-school shopping for the whole family.

On Sunday night, I noticed a vague but annoying pain in my right wrist. When I woke up Monday morning, the pain was much more severe: both arms ached from the elbows all the way to the fingertips. Last night, I lay on the couch and rubbed my arms and fingers, trying to massage the pain away. I wondered about arthritis and chronic fatique syndrome and carpal tunnel, and whether, in any of those cases, the pain just came on all of a sudden, in full force, as it had with me. I woke up this morning, still in pain.

I spent the last two days trying to think what I could have done to myself that would account for such pain. I hadn't been typing or knitting, but it felt like some kind of repetitive stress injury.

Perhaps more telling was a red mark on my right forefinger, on the left side, between the first and second knuckle. At first, I thought I had somehow cut myself, but then I realized that the "blood" wouldn't wash off.

Finally, this morning, I got it. While shopping at Penney's this weekend, I had carried around, at any one time, about fourteen articles of clothing on hangers, frequently bending my wrists and arms into weird positions and clenching my fingers in an effort to keep hold of everything. Then, after purchasing a heavy bag of clothes, I carried it all over the mall.

And the red mark on my finger was where the weight of the hangers had broken blood vessels.

How pathetic is that? I hurt myself shopping.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Eating in Class

I promise I will eventually get to a blog about my semi-reunion, for those who are interested. But what I want to talk about now is this issue of students and eating in class, which came up during the reunion as several of us are teachers.

One of my friends was shocked - shocked, I say - at the audacity of students who would dare eat in her classroom. And she is not alone - many, if not most, of my colleagues tell me that they find it rude and disrespectful when their students eat in class.

What I can't for the life of me figure out is why.

bell hooks has written eloquently about the disconnect between education as a practice of the mind and education as an endeavor that involves the body (see, in particular, her brilliant discussion of pedagogy, Teaching to Transgress).* As she points out, both our bodies and our minds are present in the classroom, and we need to recognize both.

In my view, if a body in the classroom is hungry, uncomfortable, or needs to pee, the mind attached to it won't be paying attention to whatever else is going on in the classroom.

"But what about crunchy, bag-rustly potato chips?!" someone reading this now is thinking. "How can you say noisy food isn't distracting?! And how can students who are eating possibly be paying attention?!"

Well - first, I hate to say it, but if you're distracted by potato chips, it can't be a very interesting class. Not that I haven't had classes like that myself, but seriously, if the chip bag is distracting, then it's welcome distraction. You should be grateful. It means that your students may still be awake.

And second, not only does eating during class mean that students are not distracted by their hunger, it also means that students are giving their bodies the necessary fuel to stay awake.

Trust me. I used to be one of those students who would routinely have to struggle mightily not to fall asleep in class, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the topic. Unless it was a lively discussion class in which I had to contribute, I would face the risk of falling asleep. It got so bad that I would have to get up once or twice during class and leave the room just to walk around. I brought Altoids to suck on in the hopes that they'd keep me awake. I drank coffee and diet Coke. I brought chocolate. Only eating and drinking helped. (To this day, I have great difficulty sitting still and listening. You do not want me in your lecture class.)

But finally, when it comes right down to it, I don't want my classroom to be a sterile, formal environment. I want it to be a little bit messy, so that smells and tastes and traces of the real world drift into our conversations. I would rather have a student bring her lunch and eat it in class than have to skip lunch because she's got two classes back-to-back. Sometimes that lunch become the focus of our discussion. My comp class this fall will be reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.* There's a whole chapter in there about school lunches. At some point, I'll probably ask them to write a page about school lunches. If on that day someone has brought lunch to eat in class, I can predict that the lunch will aid classroom discussion of the disgusting mayonnaise on the sandwiches that one girl in fifth grade used to bring. Or maybe a student's lunch becomes part of the discussion because she is talking about how she is working so hard just to pay for college that between her two jobs and classes, she never has time to eat.

A professor of mine once likened the classroom to an intellectual feast and urged the class to nourish our bodies as well as our minds by not only bringing in food if we were hungry, but by bringing in extra food to offer to others. That is the kind of environment to which I aspire for my own classroom. But for now, I'm satisfied with students eating crunchy potato chips - and rustling the bags - in class.

* You might notice that I didn't provide links to Amazon dot com for these books. I've been thinking that I'd prefer to send you all to the *real* Amazon bookstore (independent and woman-owned), but I'm having trouble getting direct links on the site. However, you can search the site very easily, and both of these books are available through Amazon Bookstore.

O. M. G.

I just got back from a birthday party for a seven-year old. It involved six little boys between the ages of 4 and 7 and three adults. I don't know about the others, but I am WIPED. Maybe it's because I only have one kid, but being around SIX running-around-screaming kids exhausted me in less than ten minutes. I don't know how parents of more than one do it.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Another Fashion Post

I went shopping yesterday in search of clothes that would be appropriate for teaching, yet not matronly, stodgy, or dull. Flattering clothes. Style-conscious clothes. Clothes that would not reveal my butt crack nor my cleavage. Clothes that would not make me look like I was being slowly squeezed out of a tube of toothpaste (yes, I'm talking to you, tapered pants). Clothes that did not look as if they had been torn apart and then sewn back together. Clothes that hit the edge of goth without having a cute l'il skull and crossbones sewn on the front where everyone would see it and think, "cool, she bought that at Torrid." ('Cause *real* goths aren't mainstream.) Clothes that did not make me look older or younger than I am.

Here is what I found: one black faux-velvet vest at Old Navy and one ginormous pair of pants at Torrid. (By "ginormous," I mean that each leg is wide enough for my son to hide in, should I ever be wearing them and need for some reason to hide him.) Neither of which are appropriate for teaching.

Also available to me in our mall are cute little smock dresses and overalls with cartoon characters on them, or Madonna-type bustiers and lace-up pants.

I have a mental image of myself come next Thursday, standing in front of the class wearing a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. I am heading out to TJ Maxx and Chico's now and I'm loaded for bear.