Saturday, December 15, 2012

Women and Heart Disease

My grandmother was in the hospital two weeks ago due to a variety of health concerns that had left her on the verge of collapse.  She’s okay now (thanks to everyone who has been supportive through this!), but my family learned from her doctors that she has likely suffered a minor heart attack sometime in the past weeks.

We were shocked to hear this.  Heart attack?  There had been no signs-- no chest tightening, no irregular heartbeat, no arm pain, nothing.  

That is when the doctor informed us that women actually experience different heart attack symptoms than men.  A heart attack in a man presents itself in the ways enumerated above.  Women, however, are more likely to experience shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness as symptoms of their heart attacks.  My grandma had experienced several of these symptoms recently, but had no idea of their deeper significance.  And she's not alone-- heart attacks in women are often misdiagnosed and it is not unusual for a woman to be sent home when presenting her symptoms.  The symptoms we are taught to look for often do not appear in women at all.  In fact, 43% of women do not ever experience the primary tell-tale sign, chest pains, during a heart attack, even though many emergency room doctors still consider this the primary symptom.

This has huge implications for women's health.  Without knowing something is wrong (assuming she survives an initital undiagnosed heart attack), a woman will delay crucial treatment and lifestyle changes necessary to prevent her heart disease from progressing.  As heart disease is the number one killer of women, the importance of this cannot be underestimated.

For many years, the medical establishment didn’t believe women could even experience heart disease, because cases and symptoms were never observed or recorded.   Even after this realization, research continued to be conducted only on male subjects and women's treatment was systemically delivered less aggressively than treatment for male patients.  Unsurprisingly, women showed a much higher incidence of mortality from heart disease.  It is only within the last 10 years that the scientific community finally acknowledged and began steps to remedy the gender bias in heart disease research and treatment.

Yet, women still have a higher mortality rate from heart disease due to the lingering effects of this gender bias.  While enormous steps have been taken to close the disparity, our culture still assumes a male patient and perspective on this issue.  We need to escape this mindset if we are going to fix this problem.  It's common sense: we must research and acknowledge the unique needs, lifestyles, and biochemistry of women if we are to provide the best life outcomes for women.  

An important first step is simply to spread awareness.  I was not aware of the ways that heart attack symptoms present differently in women, and I'm sure that I am not alone.  This needs to be common knowledge, so please spread this information to the women (and men) in your life!  Let's start talking.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Can We Still Have Fair Reporting in an Age Without Twinkies?

To the dismay of snack-lovers and pre-diabetics everywhere, Hostess will be shutting its doors for good.  The maker of such treasured staples as the Twinkie and Snowball announced on Friday that it will close its 33 bakeries and 565 distribution centers, laying off over 18,000 employees in the process.  

The company has gone through rough patches in the past years, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy twice and shuffling through 7 different management teams over the past 10 years.  Despite these facts, the company has placed sole blame for the closings on a strike by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.  Hostess CEO, Gregory Rayborn, released a statement declaring "We deeply regret the necessity of today's decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike."

Trumpeting the headline, “Hostess to close, lay off 18,500 after 'crippling' union fight,” Fox News has readily endorsed this version of events.  Throughout their article, which appeared on Friday soon after the announcement, Fox intentionally created a heavily one-sided narrative that pits the beloved, well-intentioned folks at Hostess at the mercy of cut-throat, greedy unions.  

If you don't believe this is a biased account of events, take a closer look:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Is Time Really Money: Work Time, Motivation, and Productivity

While conversations over the domestic economy tend to focus on the macro-level (tax cuts, outsourcing, policies that impact small business), we often neglect to look at the equally critical goings-on within the workplace.  We forget that the unique relationships among employers, employees, culture, and structure occurring daily in the office directly impacts the amount and quality of work being done there.  Therefore, on par with any macro-economic policy touted by our presidential hopefuls, these micro-level dynamics are fundamentally indicative of the nation’s economic productivity.

So the question is: what creates the most productive workplace?  

Harvard Business School lecturer, Robert C. Pozen, argues that for too long the answer has been time.  It is an antiquated and specious notion that equates longer working hours with greater effort and success.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Update... I'm alive

Just wanted to say that I will be up and posting again in the near future.  I've spent the last month starting a new job, studying for the GREs, and applying to graduate school.  But have no fear, readers, it's all over!  Return soon for new content!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sex as Civil Resistance

In Togo this week, the women's faction of a civil rights coalition is encouraging women to stage a week-long sex strike in order to demand political reforms.  According to leadership of the group, Let's Save Togo, the strike, which began yesterday, will place pressure on Togolese men to demand the resignation of President Gnassingbe and put an end to a political system which allows unlimited electoral terms.

​This campaign leaves me somewhat conflicted.

On the one hand, in an era which glorifies electoral politics at the expense of the wide spectrum of political activity, this example of civil disobedience is truly exciting.  It is made more remarkable by the fact that women are organizing as a political force on the basis of their sex, following in a grand tradition which spans from the March on Versailles during the French Revolution to the Chilean March of the Empty Pots in 1971 to the reproductive-rights protests currently occurring outside the Republican National Convention in Florida.

On the other hand, the sex strike is problematic for several reasons:

First, it assumes that in order for their concerns to be heard, women must pressure their men to pressure the government-- women's voices, in and of themselves, hold no value.  And the only way for women to exert such pressure on the men-folk is through their bodies, as opposed to intellect, reason, moral suasion, etc.  Even as they engage in serious political activity, women are once again reduced to their sexual and biological functions.

Secondly, any type of coercion, including sexual coercion, dilutes the moral force of the issue, itself.  Using gimmicks and tricks to gain support is ineffective and generally weakens the cause in the long run.  

Finally, using sex as a weapon is damaging to all individuals in society.   Withholding sex to gain something, commodifies sex, itself.  It engages all participants in a type of prostitution.  Furthermore, this type of action reinforces the antedeluvian notion that sex is some "gift" that women exclusively hold--- perpetuating damaging myths about girls, virginity, purity, and the mother-whore dichotomy--rather than a mutually-enjoyable activity between two (or three or four) individuals.

​For once, I don't intend to resolve this ambivalence.  But I do wonder what the consequences of this kind of political activity are, and am left pondering that age-old question, "Do the ends justify the means?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Legitimate" Abortion: What We Should Be Talking About in the Akin Fiasco

Everyone is talking about the insensitive and ignorant remarks made last week by Missouri House Representative Todd Akin, who, when asked to defend his stance against abortion even in the case of rape, claimed that pregnancy as result of rape was practically impossible.  Supported by the latest research from Pseudoscience CrazyNutJob Weekly, Akin stated that "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

I'm not going to delve into what a bonehead this guy is-- the 24 hours news circuit is covering that pretty well.  I do want to use this conversation to take a step back and examine the way we talk about abortion in this country.

​A very long-standing pro-choice response to anti-abortion arguments is "Well, what about abortion in cases of rape or incest?"  (This is where Akin got himself into hot water).  It's an easy talking point to invoke, because pretty much anyone with a heart will admit that a pregnancy under such horrifying instances, in which a woman had no choice to have sex in the first place, and therefore is in no way responsible for her pregnancy, is an exception to the "no abortions ever" rule.
I understand that the intention of asking  "What about cases of rape?"  may have initially been to expose a logical inconsistency* in the pro-life argument (which has been futile given how comfortable people are living with cognitive dissonance).   But this is not the way it's being used: pro-choice politicians regularly frame any argument for abortion rights in terms of victims of rape and incest.  It's a cheap way to draw sympathy to the cause, and it's insensitive to actual rape and incest survivors.

​Furthermore, the tactic is truly dangerous and disempowering for women, because the implication is that abortion needs to be available just in case.  All other reasons for abortion rights are considered secondary and illegitimate.  The voices of all women who choose abortion outside of rape or health concerns, or support the right to one, are silenced.  The discussion leaves out the myriad of reasons why abortion rights are essential: so that women can control their lives and bodies, so women can choose the number and spacing of their children, so that families can make responsible decisions, so that women for whom contraception and education are not readily available have some protection. 

Abortion is a sensitive issue, for sure, but until we start acknowledging the real needs of women regarding their reproductive health choices, women will never be able to lead free and self-fulfilled lives.  It starts when we agree on the basic principle, with no equivocation or euphemism, that women should be able to do whatever the hell they want with their bodies.  Period.

*If you truly believe in the personhood of a fetus, as many pro-lifers do, it really would not matter how the pregnancy was derived.  That pregnancy would still be perceived as a human child and to abort it would be murder.  I don't agree with this, obviously, but this is the logic of the argument.   If pro-lifers are willing to equivocate in the instances of rape, I believe, then their reason for being against abortion cannot be because they believe human life starts at conception, as is commonly argued.  Consequently, one can assume, that anti-abortion regulation is really intended to control women's behavior.  In other words, if you don't choose to have sex (in the case of rape), you can have an abortion, but if you did choose to have sex, that option is off limits because... how dare you be such a hussy!  Akin is actually one of the few who is logically consistent in his views.  He went onto say in his notorious interview that, for cases of pregnancy resulting from rape, " I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Breast Regards: The "I (heart) Boobies" Bracelet Ban

In 2010, Eastern Area Middle School in Pennsylvania suspended several middle school students for wearing the "I (heart) boobies" breast-cancer fundraising bracelets.  The students then did what any self-respecting tween with money will do-- took the school district to court, claiming the ban on the trendy wrist-wear violated their freedom of speech.  While the federal judge ruled in their favor last year, the school district appealed to the federal circuit court, which recently determined it will hear the case in front of the full 14-judge court.  

As a former teacher of young teens (which Science has proven to be the most annoying age EVER), I empathize with the teachers and administrators at this school.  There is nothing like delivering a beautifully poetic and painstakingly-rehearsed lesson on the pythagorean theorem, only to be interrupted by a cacophony of giggles and snorts of "haha BOOBS!"  Yet, at the same time, it is difficult to tell a teenager who is supporting their mother, sister, aunt, etc. who has battled cancer that their particular form of support may be inappropriate for the classroom.  

Regardless of this quandary, which will soon be settled in the federal courts, the situation gives us an opportunity to examine a very problematic media campaign.

The Keep A Breast Foundation, a breast cancer awareness nonprofit in California, introduced the "I (heart) boobies" rubber bracelets in 2004 as part of a strategy to involve younger generations in the fight against breast cancer.  With their bright colors and semi-risque phraseology, the bracelets made breast cancer fun and sexy (because what's sexier than a debilitating disease?). Since then, the bracelets have become a fashion craze among teens and tweens across the country.  

But at what cost?

While the campaign has successfully reached a previously untapped demographic, it is popular only because it sexualizes a very serious disease and objectifies women’s bodies.

Think of it this way: the bracelets do not say “I (heart) women.”  The message is not that women are awesome, that we should concern ourselves with saving women's lives.  No, the message is that boobs are awesome, that we should worry about saving boobs.   It reduces women's complex lives down to a highly sexualized body part.  Consequently, the breast-cancer-battleground shifts from promoting women's health to protecting men's desire to look at, play with, and otherwise enjoy breasts.

If the end goal of breast cancer awareness, education, and research is to improve the health and well-being of women, then this type of outreach is counterintuitive.  Sex may sell, but the cost-- reinforcing a system of male gaze and privilege-- is simply too high.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Does Ryan Bring Substance to the 2012 Election?

The country is abuzz about Romney's choice of Wisconsin Congressman, Paul Ryan, as the vice presidential nominee.

Many have criticized the so-called "risky" choice, arguing that Ryan fails the simple two-pronged criterion for nominees: (1) Does the candidate enlarge the political base, and (2) does (s)he do nothing to alienate the existing political base?

​Regarding the first issue, presidential nominees often choose a running mate who is from a swing-state or has slightly different political viewpoints, with the hope that they will garner new votes.  Ryan offers neither of these benefits.  It is uncertain, at best, that he would carry his home-state of Wisconsin-- a state which, although "moderate,"  swung Blue for the last six elections.  Furthermore, as Ryan and Romney belong to the same ideological camp on most major issues, Ryan offers no advantage in capturing votes that would not have already been cast for Romney.

​Not only is Ryan not likely to bring in new Republican votes, his policies have alienated certain members of the national Republican constituency.  Recipients of entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, for which Ryan has notoriously attempted to cut and privatize, are especially likely to view Ryan disfavorably.  This could be disastrous for Romney in Retirement Mecca, otherwise known as the Great (Swing) State of Florida.

​So that leaves us to wonder: Why Ryan?  Aside from a charming smile and genuinely nice attitude (yeah, that's how we do in Wisconsin), Ryan is most known for his federal budget proposals, which emphasize slashing federal entitlement programs to offset huge tax cuts.  While Ryan has been lambasted as an ideologue (it is well-known that Ryan made everyone on his staff read Ayn Rand) and an extremist, one cannot deny that he is consistent, articulate, and well-informed about his particular vision for the economy, however much you might disagree with it.

​By choosing Ryan as the VP nominee, then, Romney explicitly makes this election about the economy.  Each party now represents very different, and, yes, very thoroughly reasoned approaches to the economy and the federal deficit.  This will, as it stands now, not be an election about personalities, flip-flopping, bridges to nowhere, and other red herrings, but actual (economic) policies.  Every political scientist in the country should be falling over dead from shock right about now.

​Of course, things may change.  Scandals may arise, gaffaws may be made (I'm looking at you, Vice President Biden).  Or maybe someone will remember that there is still a war in Afghanistan, a raging domestic battle over women's reproductive health, and an educational crisis that also could use some attention.  Regardless, as it stands now, the election is shaping up to be a contest of substance over spectacle. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gross Domestic Happiness?

In a speech to Cambridge economists and statisticians on Monday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that we radically alter the way we evaluate economic recovery.  Instead of focusing on traditional indicators like the unemployment rate, consumer spending, and inflation, Bernanke argued that we need to expand our definitions and measure people's happiness.

Bernanke stated that by looking only to financial and other traditional metrics, we take a myopic view on “economy,” which really should be a measure of well-being amongst a society.  Money, especially on an aggregate level, does not accurately reflect people’s satisfaction in life.  And a decreasing unemployment rate does not automatically correspond with an increase in quality-of-life.  

Consequently, Bernanke insisted, policy-makers need to expand their scope and make decisions with the end goal of increasing people’s happiness, rather than just their pocketbooks.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Framing the Issue: The Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Domestic Violence Discourse and Services

Finally acknowledging the causal links between lack of preventative care, poor health outcomes, and soaring healthcare costs, the Women’s Preventative Care Amendment of the Affordable Care Act went into effect last week.  As of August 1st, 2012 insurance companies must provide for several essential women’s services free of charge, including annual woman-care visits, gestational diabetes screenings, STI and HIV counseling, breastfeeding support, HPV DNA testing, and, that holy grail, contraception.  

As we joyously bid adieu to copays, we cannot underestimate the revolutionary significance of these provisions.  For the first time in this country, women’s mental, reproductive, and sexual health are being recognized as essential components of the overall health and well-being of women and their families.  

One among the mandated services has especially caught my attention for this reason: screening and counseling for domestic violence.

Monday, July 9, 2012

On Doing "Good Work": Take-Aways from Feminist Brunch

Last weekend, my friends, Lucy and Carolyn, organized a small "feminist brunch" for a few of us politically minded women in our mid-twenties.  The agenda of the morning was clear: eat delicious assorted breakfast foods, drink mimosas, and talk social justice shop.  

We arrived early on Saturday morning, passions and appetites ablaze.  Over the next 3 hours, the four of us talked about everything from national news to trashy literature to community development.   If I had to summarize our unwieldy conversation--- which, oddly enough, never really landed on anything explicitly feminist-- I would say it revolved around what it takes to do "good work" in the world, and the specific personal and organizational challenges to pursuing this work {NOTE: I broadly define “good work,” as any related to social services, non-profits, research used for social benefit, urban planning, socially progressive policy/politics, etc.}

Before I begin, I must note that my friends and I are blessed to have options that are not available to everyone, and certainly were not available to women of previous generations.  However, we do face obstacles to doing the work for which we are passionate and must develop specific responses to address them.  This is what I write about today.

With that said, I want to present some take-aways from the morning:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can Women Have it All: Bridging the Public and Private Spheres

Former State Department official, Anne-Marie Slaughter has swept headlines and conversations with her recent piece in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  Reactions have been published in, The New York Times, Forbes and feminist blogs across the country.  I find the piece particularly fascinating for the way it challenges our traditional definitions of "equality" and progress for women.

In the piece, Slaughter destroys the popular myth that women today can “have it all”-- meaning, simultaneously successful careers and families-- without significant changes in our social and economic structure that would allow a healthy work-life balance for women and their families.  Yet, often women, themselves, are responsible for perpetuating the “myth” that this work-life balance is achievable.

It is easy to understand why women would continue this fiction.  We constantly urge that women can do everything as well as men-- that, given the opportunity, women have every ability to be as successful as their male counterparts.  

What is ignored, however, is that the cost of achieving this is often one’s personal and family life.  Our current society is structured so that there is a tradeoff-- you are either a good professional or a good parent.  As Slaughter states,

Male leaders are routinely praised for having sacrificed their personal life on the altar of public or corporate service. That sacrifice, of course, typically involves their family....It is clear which set of choices society values more today. Workers who put their careers first are typically rewarded; workers who choose their families are overlooked, disbelieved, or accused of unprofessionalism.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Father's Day Weekend!!

One of my favorite essays is Lisa Bloom's "How to Talk to Little Girls."  In it, she describes the propensity for people to speak to little girls only about physical beauty (You're so pretty!  Isn't that a cute dress?) at the expense of encouraging their intellectual development.   She articulates the problem:

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

Women have made enormous progress over the last century.  Yet, many women still do not perceive themselves as worthy enough to take the opportunities presented to them.  This is a cultural problem that begins not only with how we talk to girls, but how we raise girls altogether.

When I think about this subject, I invariably reflect upon the way that I was brought up.  I am blessed to have been raised with a healthy level of self-worth, and much of that is due to my father (who, incidentally, is my #1 blog reader).  

In honor of Father’s Day, therefore, I want to reveal the AWESOME things my dad did to make me an independent, kick-ass-take-names-kind-of-woman:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Where-Oh-Where Did the Working Class Go?

Regarding the gubernatorial re-call election last week, many expressed shock that Wisconsin's working class did not overwhelmingly oppose Governor Scott "Unions-Are-the-Plague-of-the-Earth" Walker.  The man who once described collective bargaining as an "expensive entitlement" walked away last Tuesday with 38% of the working class vote, and 61% of the white working-class vote.  To me, these numbers do not demonstrate that the labor movement has drastically changed its agenda, but rather signify the decline of the working class as a unified political identity, altogether.

There are several explanations for this trend.  Psychology professor, Jonathan Haidt, proposes that economic interest is not the unifying force in electoral decision-making that people assume.  In his research into political decision-making, Haidt found that “When working-class people vote conservative, as most do in the US, they are not voting against their self-interest; they are voting for their moral interest.” Contrary to popular opinion, he explained, people vote in accordance with their moral value-systems rather than  economic interest.  While liberals are more concerned with “care,” as a moral value (thus often advancing policy related to social welfare), conservatives tend to value more respect for authority, group loyalty, and sanctity.  Haidt suggests that in the wake of the financial crisis and looming uncertainty, American citizens are more likely to vote for the order and national cohesion that conservative values and candidates offer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

(S)He Works Hard for the Money

Men are increasingly entering traditionally female-dominated professions, according to recent analysis. Shaila Dewan and Robert Gebeloff reveal that

An analysis of census data by The New York Times shows that from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade.

Dewan and Gebeloff offer a variety of plausible explanations for this trend, including “financial concerns, quality-of-life issues, and a gradual erosion of stereotypes.” They hypothesize that the stigma of entering female-dominated professions is lessoning, while, at the same time, the stability of female dominated professions compared to male-dominated professions is increasingly attractive in the current economy.

Whatever the reason, I believe this trend has interesting implications for not only the gender segregation of labor, but the value of such labor.

Since the rise of wage-labor during the Industrial Revolution, women's labor has consistently been devalued relative to men's labor.* This was the subject of my first blog post, in which I argued that the “caring professions,” including nursing, teaching, and social work, are specifically devalued due to being female-dominated professions.

The introduction of men into the “pink collar” professions may change all this. With more men entering these professions, it is possible that the segregation of labor may slowly begin to erode. Consequently, as both men and women are represented proportionally in various professions, the formerly-female-dominated jobs will no longer be stigmatized as “female,” and will presumably demand a more equitable salary based on merit, rather than gender.

This is a promising idea, but it also troubles me for several reasons:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Is Class Size a Big Deal? Depends on who you ask...

As part of a broader plan to discuss his education policy with the nation (and to shore up the African-American vote, no doubt), Mitt Romney toured a West Philadelphia charter school and spoke at a round table with teachers and educational leaders last week. Our Republican presidential nominee took the opportunity to tout his educational reform mantra of parental choice, introducing plans for voucher program that would use federal money to allow students to attend various well-performing public, charter, and private schools.

Expounding upon his platform, Romney revealed that he does not consider class size to be a determining factor in student performance. Rather, in line with his anti-teacher-union strategy, Romney argued that the push to decrease class size is merely a wasteful union ploy to hire more teachers.

While urban teachers everywhere, whose intuition screams that this is false, pick their jaws off the floor, I will concede two things that lend credence to the Republican nominee: First, Romney's argument is logical, though fundamentally incorrect. Secondly, Romney does cite specific scientific studies that support his conclusion that class size has minimal effect on student achievement.

On a personal level, even this is is hard to admit. In my own experience as a teacher, I found classroom size to be critical to classroom success. This principle was eloquently articulated by Erin Thesing, who teaches at another West Philadelphia charter school, on the Obama-Biden blog this week. Thesing reasoned that “at the end of the day, smaller class sizes mean that there is more time for small groups or individualized instruction, and that is game changing for learning.”

However, putting this “anecdotal” evidence aside, numerous studies, including that which Romney cited, conclude the exact opposite: that class size does not play an important part in student achievement. Plenty of classrooms across the globe have classroom sizes that rival those of the U.S., yet show academic progress at a much higher rate.

What is not recognized in these studies, however, is that the influence of class-size as a variable impacting student performance, is context-dependent. Whether or not class size plays a critical role is dependent upon the particular classroom, in a particular community, etc., etc.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seeing the Forrest: Population, Development, and Women’s Self-Determination

In a recent New York Times article, Elisabeth Rosenthal addresses the population crisis occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa, where population in many areas far exceeds resources. This rampant population growth has predictably disastrous consequences: substandard living conditions, congestion, rampant unemployment, drains on infrastructure and natural resources (including food and water supply), and, in some areas, immigration concerns.

Rosenthal specifically cites the case of Nigeria, which has seen its population balloon in the last quarter-century to 300 million people despite the spatial and economic limitations of the country. Nigeria contributes to a trend of overall population increase in sub-Saharan Africa, where, in many countries, women often average more than 5 children. Experts state that it growth within this region that is largely accountable for the world population recently exceeding 7 billion.

This is in stark contrast to “developing” countries* in Asia and Latin America, which have seen birth rates stabilize at the expert-sanctioned 2 children per family after years of intensive policy prescriptions aimed at lowering fertility. What is note-worthy, is that most of these interventions are directed at improving women's opportunities and choices.  As the world has learned, when women are educated, afforded some degree of self-determination, and have access to contraceptives and reproductive healthcare, the birth rate drastically decreases and standard of living increases.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

When Privacy Controls Aren't Enough...

Those of us maturing in the Facebook Age have undergone a quick schooling on internet privacy. By now, most of us know to carefully control access to our social media profiles for fear of what acquaintances, employers, and even family members might see (don't get me started on the year that Aunt Cindy found a picture of me smoking--- not a pleasant Christmas conversation).  However, employers are now trying to circumvent these attempts at privacy by demanding new employees release their social media passwords during interviews.

This situation raises some interesting questions about citizenship and public space in the digital age. Those who oppose these measures claim that demanding access to an employee's social media presence is a profound violation of privacy, and legislation is already being drafted in Maryland and Illinois to make the practice illegal.  Facebook, itself, has threatened to sue employers who demand passwords.

Personally, I see both sides to the argument of whether or not this level of employer-snooping should be illegal. On the one hand, if we consider our virtual selves as an extension of our human selves (as I have argued here before), then it makes sense that we have some degree of privacy based on our historic conceptions of liberal citizenship and the public/private sphere distinction. In other words, what you do in the privacy of your home, or on your homepage, is your own business. There would also be a strong legal argument against the practice among public sector employers by invoking the right to privacy read into the 14th Amendment.

On the other hand, if we consider the internet, itself, as an extension of the public sphere, privacy is no longer the issue. Privacy remains in the home, away from the computer, and what we freely choose to reveal to the world-wide-web is a matter of public speculation.

Beyond these philosophical questions, the situation sheds light onto current labor relations in this country. If Facebook had been around 15 years ago, when the job market was far less grim, would this occur? If unemployment and under-employment were lower--- if people were less desperate for jobs and employers did not have such a wide pool of applicants--- would employees stand for this level of invasiveness?

Unfortunately, we are living in times when employees do not have the luxury of refusing demands. So, if you're in the job market, be prepared to defend that rant against Corporate America and those pictures from Spring Break 2007. Until then, readers, set your privacy settings-- like your aspirations for a better tomorrow-- very high.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Learning is Struggle

In this recent blog post, psychology professor Nate Kornell explores a fascinating aspect of learning: challenge. He argues that clarity can actually be an impediment to learning, as it is only through challenges that people correct their misconceptions and reach true understanding.

As a former teacher and life-long student, I find this to be very true. As much as we are wont to believe that students miraculously learn through a teacher-dictated-top-down approach, learning is really a self-directed process.  As Kornell states, “According to growing mountain of research, understanding isn’t enough. It’s the struggle that makes us learn.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

What Are You Reading?

I'm deviating from the blogger path right now, but I'm very curious what online news sources/journalism you all read.  I've included my list below.  I'll include a blog list in another post.  I'd like to say that I get the time to regularly read all these, know... Netflix... shit....

Al Jazeera English ** This is where I read most of my news, actually.
The Hill
Freakonomics Blog ok, I know I said no blogs, but I consider this a pretty useful source of info
Mother Jones love/hate, but they've been on point lately
Miller McCune -- just found this; it's AWESOME
Daily Kos
Real Clear Politics ok, they mostly consolidate news, but they do a damn fine job of it
The Nation

Of course, there's the usual suspects, too: WSJ, WashPo, NYTimes, etc.

So now it's your turn? What are you reading? What's good?


ps I know this post sounds like a pretentious "omg, guess how much *I* read?" thing. Eh, get over it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Putting the Electric Car on the Back-Burner

Last week, GM announced that it was temporarily suspending manufacture of its Volt hybrid electric car, claiming that there was not enough market demand at the moment to justify production. Sales of the electric car have fallen short of projections, recently, despite several government interventions at the local and federal level to boost sales. These interventions included a $105.9 million grant to help produce battery packs and $151.4 million grant to produce battery cells,* a tax credit to buyers of electric cars, and the ability to drive in High Occupancy Vehicle lanes in the state of California.

The decision relieved many Congressional Republicans, who opposed the heavy hand of the government in this particular branch of the automotive industry and, needless to say, the President's ringing endorsement of it. They claim that, as Pennsylvania Representative Mike Kelly said in a recent House hearing, “When the market is ready...[the car] won't have to be subsidized.” Without delving into whose interests these Republican leaders serve (hint: it rhymes with Shmig Boil), their claim overlooks several key points that expose the most insidious myths of “free market” in this country.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Political Experience: Too Much of a Good Thing?

What makes a good president?

Leadership. Confidence. Eloquent communication. Organizational skill. Clear Vision.  Ability to compromise. Commitment to Integrity. Political experience...

Hold the phone there...

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, experience may actually be a liability to a presidential candidate. A recent New York Times article exposes how this is exemplified in Rick Santorum's campaign for the Republican nomination. Michael Shear reports that while Santorum has attempted to run on the basis of his 16-year Congressional career, his congressional track-record is now being used to portray him as an inconsistent “a creature of insider politics” who does not really uphold conservative values.

Shear neatly points out that this sort of mudslinging is very common when congresspersons run for office. While it would seem logical that legislators would want to run on their congressional record, proving their experience and know-how, it also opens them up to an intense amount of criticism. As Shear notes:

For every vote that becomes an effective campaign talking point, there is another that threatens to lead a candidate into explanations requiring awkward, process-laden Senate-speak. And those votes often cast a spotlight on the messy compromises and partisan accommodations that are a regular but despised part of the legislative process in Washington.

One sees, then, that there is a catch-22 to running for presidential office. One needs experience, of course, to run for such an essential position. However, the more experience one has in the spotlight of our nation's Congress, the more likely one is to have exposed oneself to liability. That liability could be a compromise on health care, supporting an issue which earned political enemies, or voting for a bill that contained a substance-less earmark (remember that Bridge to Nowhere?), but, regardless, it could cost just enough votes to lose the election.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What's 'Freedom of Conscience' Got To Do With It?

There is heated controversy surrounding the Obama mandate for employers to provide no-copay birth control under the Affordable Care Act. Unsurprisingly, the mandate has caused an uproar among religious conservatives, who insist that forcing all employers, especially those of religious organizations, to provide contraception is a violation of “freedom of conscience.” Despite a compromise to address the issue, wherein the burden of conscience would shift to insurance companies rather than employers, conservatives remain firm in their opposition.  They've even gone so far as to organize a House forum entitled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” (I couldn't make this up, if I tried).  

Sadly, resistance to contraception access is part of a long historical trend.  While this remains constant, I am continually fascinated by the changes in argumentation for and against reproductive justice in this country.  Mostly, I have studied these rhetorical shifts in terms of abortion (if you would like a copy of my widely-read BA thesis, address inquiries at the bottom), but there is distinct overlap with the discourse around birth control, as well.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Can Social Media be a Vehicle for Social Change?

By now, many of you are familiar with the uproar surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  While many terrible things were discovered this week, there were also a few positive take-aways.  Among them, is the proof that, under the right circumstances, social media can be effectively utilized for social change.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, I’ll summarize: On January 31, the Komen Foundation decided to exclude Planned Parenthood from its list of grantee recipients, stating that it does not   award money to any organization under federal investigation (for an excellent refutation of this premise, see here).  However, as quickly acknowledged by the public, the ostensible reason served as a thin veil for the pro-life pandering of the Foundation’s leadership.

The public reaction was swift and clear:  there would be no support for a foundation which claims to support women’s health, yet hypocritically refused to assist an organization that provides routine checkups, cancer screenings, counseling, birth control, and STD testing for uninsured women.  News about the decision quickly flooded Facebook status updates, twitter feeds, and emails.  Thanks to Planned Parenthood and social media savvy, internet petitions against the Komen Foundation soon circulated.  Former advocates pledged to remove their support, or transfer it directly to Planned Parenthood.  Several high-level employees of the Komen Foundation resigned.  

The American public also spoke with its pocketbook.  Last year, Planned Parenthood was the recipient of over $680,000 from the Komen Foundation, which was earmarked for breast cancer screenings and treatment.  This amount of money was quickly surpassed by an outraged populace.  Within days, $3 milion was generated for Planned Parenthood, including a $250,000 matching grant from Mayor Bloomberg and a $100,000 donation from LIVESTRONG.

On February 3, the Komen Foundation bowed to the massive pressure and re-instated funding to Planned Parenthood.  In all, this was a huge victory women’s health proponents (although complicated by the fact that, as a country, we depend on private donors, in the first place, to ensure basic human rights).  However, beyond this, what I find fascinating is the instrumental role that social media played in affecting this outcome-- which leads me to the title of this post:

Can the internet, specifically social media sites, be a vehicle for social change?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex...Education

As many of you know, my side gig when I'm not being a professional blogger is teaching high school English (well, maybe it's the other way around, but let’s pretend).  The other day, as a reward for finishing their state tests, I was letting my students talk quietly in groups and do word games.  I sat next to three of my 9th graders (3 girls and a boy) and quickly joined in on their discussion.

They were talking about teenage pregnancy, noticing the high number of girls in the high school who were currently pregnant.  The tone of the conversation started playful, but the students were asking some very serious questions.  The sole male student in our group directed the following question to me:

“Yo, Miss-- who do you think is more responsible for getting pregnant-- the boy or the girl?”