17 December 2003

Hope for EC

For those of you not in the know, EC is not the European Economic Community but rather Emergency Contraception. Women can currently take EC within 72 hours of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy in 89% of cases--but only with a prescription. The FDA is now poised to approve EC for over-the-counter use. You can read an article about this on CNN.

The CNN article makes reference to the group Concerned Women for America: We're disturbed by ... lack of concern on the medical safety," said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, a conservative public policy group. "Is this safe for women, when in fact there have been no studies done on the long-term effects on women who take the morning-after pill, and there are no studies that have been done on multiple use -- if a woman uses it more than once." Interestly, the CNN story did not initially label CWA as a conservative group--a later version of the article added the description. CWA has a tendency to cloak its anti-legal abortion and anti-woman stances with paternalistic concern for women's health, a tactic the anti-abortion movement seems to be leaning toward lately. CWA has even suggested that abortion be made illegal because of supposed post-abortion mental health concerns. There no evidence that women suffer mental disturbance after an abortion. I suppose if we were to use this "women's health" argument pregnancy ought to be outlawed since severe post-partum depression is such a risk.

EC ought to stop this "women's health" debate in its tracks. Why? OTC approval will eliminate a number of considerations. First, women will no longer have to find a public (read: non-Catholic) hospital or clinic to prescribe EC after unprotected sex or rape. Since all EC does is stimulate a menstrual period, there really is no health risk (unless groups like CWA also want to start arguing that periods are bad?). Second, according to Planned Parenthood, EC will eliminate the need for more than 50% of the medical and surgical abortions in this country. Um, how can anyone argue that this would be a bad thing? And third, OTC EC will make early prevention of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy no longer a discussion between a woman and a paternalistic public or a woman and her doctor. It will be a decision made by a woman for herself.

Glory be.

UPDATE! My excellent mother has just pointed out that EC is an important option not only for women who have had unprotected sex but also for those who tried to have protected sex and experienced something like condom failure. This is an important point: my very few readers should understand that EC isn't just for rape victims and women who don't attempt to use contraception.

16 December 2003

Overheard at Dinner with Academic-types

At dinner last night I heard the funniest story. One graduate student had heard that other grad students (you see, many layers of rumor here) who taught Clifford Geertz's kids in college were afraid to give them lower than a B, for fear that the elder Geertz would go "all Balinese Cockfight" on them. The table promptly erupted into laughter.

If you are laughing at this now, you are hereby inducted into the Society of Nerds.

15 December 2003

If I had to marry Henry VIII...

Which of Henry VIII's wives are you?

this quiz was made by the proper Victorian ladies at Spookbot

I think Katherine Parr might be my favorite wife anyway.

14 December 2003

So we've caught Saddam....

But what is really driving me crazy about the current media coverage of Saddam's capture is the way it is being characterized as achieved "without a shot fired."

Pardon me for saying so, but it seems to me that what's been happening in Iraq for the past several months is a whole lot of shots being fired--the result being Iraqi and American deaths. To say that this capture has been achieved without shots being fired whitewashes the many deaths since the American invasion of Iraq.

06 December 2003

So What's a Puritan, anyway?

I'm ending the long dry spell on my blog (due to personal and professional insanity now abating!) by, unsurprisingly, explaining why I have a problem with a conservative columnist. George Will wrote a column December 3 blaming the Puritans for today's materialist excess around the holidays. Now, I am prepared to admit that some portion of his argument (meaning, the portion purporting to be logical) was probably intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but this column really drove this early American historian NUTS. Why? The total misinterpretation of what the Puritans were about. Will often complains that today's youth are insufficiently educated about the history of this country, yet here he is, contributing to the misinformation.

First of all, comments on Oliver Cromwell. Will writes, A Puritan scold and a killjoy, he thought Christmas had become too much fun..... Will goes on to describe Puritans in America as fans of Cromwell. Our friend Oliver can be described creditably as a Puritan, in so far as he experienced a conversion experience and supported the purification of England's state church from popish rites. This hardly made him a "scold" or a "killjoy." Puritans came by their beliefs honestly through feelings of intense piety, not because they thought holidays were too much fun. One would expect a conservative to understand and even approve of such motivated faith. Moreover, Oliver, once he found himself Lord Protector, realized England's religious problems were more complicated than he had previously supposed. The result was a officially tolerated form of religious pluralism. This didn't extend to Catholics and Quakers, of course, but presaged religious toleration (and I mean toleration in the broadest sense of the term) among Protestants. Things didn't work out as OC planned, but who knows what might have happened had he lived longer. Mr. Will might like to read a short biography of Cromwell, maybe Barry Coward's 1991 Oliver Cromwell. Short, sweet, but definitely nuanced.

Second, comments on New England's Puritans. Will writes, Puritanism inculcated Scrooge-like asceticism, deferral of gratification, green-eyeshade parsimony and nose-to-the-grindstone industriousness. But those led to accumulation, investment of surplus capital and, in time, prodigious production and a subversive -- to Puritanism -- cornucopia of material delights. Puritans were hardly Scrooge-like; they were determined to build a godly community in which neighbors supported neighbors (isn't that what conservatives claim they wish to return to?), and they enjoyed the remarkable abundance of the New World so much that within two generations they had deforested eastern Massachusetts, driven away much of the wild game, and exhausted the soil. (I don't want to condemn them for this; naturally they had no understanding of how environments work, etc.) One can hardly call that delayed gratification. And, historian Edmund Morgan showed us in 1943 that the Puritans even enjoyed and encouraged sex, so long as it took place within marriage. One might point to the sumptuary laws of CT and MA as evidence of parsimony, but laws forbidding some women from wearing silks, for example, had much less to do with religion than with early modern ideas of dress being appropriate to status.

I suppose it's popular still to take the old Weberian line that Protestant industriousness led to surplus capital and the economies of the modern world. But it is hard for me to see the connection betweem the small, insular, agrarian communities of Puritans in New England and the modern shopping mall. We have only ourselves to blame for our materialism. Connecting our troubles to Puritans is one way of preaching false history. How sinful.