Friday, December 22, 2006

Contraception Saves Money and Marriages

"Listen to the apocalyptic rhetoric of the religious right and you'll find an important theme emerge: The introduction of contraception, which permits people to have sex for fun, is bound up with all of society's ills, from the imagined breakdown of the family to an undocumented surge in crimes against children. It's a cornerstone of right-wing thinking. And, no doubt, it's also the reason that not one pro-life group in the U.S. supports the use of contraception even though it's the only proven way to prevent abortion.

Sadly, most Americans seem afflicted by some strain of this prejudice. If they credit the pro-choice, birth control movement for anything, it's for the dubious honor of protecting vice. Planned Parenthood has never been tagged as a pro-family values group. A greater oversight has never been made.

The religious right is right in this: Birth control is the source of seismic change. Family planning has led to a transformation of our society so rapid we've only recently had the occasion to take stock. For example, the past century has actually witnessed a steep decline in extramarital affairs as a result, it would seem, of the very changes that drive the pro-lifers wild: The more lengthy and thoughtful trying-out of marriage partners in combination with greater candor about sexual desires within marriage.

Studies conducted in 1948 and 1953, found that 26 percent of women and a whopping 50 percent of men had an extramarital sexual experience. But today, in our sex- and sin-saturated culture, the number of married people who have had an extramarital affair has plummeted to 6 percent of women and 10 percent of men, according to (conservative) Ben Wattenberg in his book The First Measured Century. (Editor's note: Statistics show a wide variation in the percentage of extramarital affairs, as high as 55 percent of women and 60 percent of men.)

Preaching about faithfulness didn't lead to this family value upgrade. Rather, the uptick in fidelity today is the result of a society that accepts our sexual urges as natural and couples that can look within marriage for fulfillment of desires once branded indecent. (It is also this belief system that supports gay marriage and the children that result from it. To us, family is so important we believe everyone has a right to make one.)

Another truth is that when the birth control revolution got underway, women waited to marry and start a family. In 1970, the average age of a new mother was 21 years old. By 2000, the average age was 28. Harvard researchers recently reported that legalization of contraception is directly linked to the spike in the number of women becoming more highly educated and entering the "career" professions. In 1970, 5 percent of all lawyers and judges were women; today there are six times that. In 1970, one in 10 physicians was female, today it's one in three. Similar patterns are true for women architects, dentists, veterinarians, economists and women in most of the engineering fields."

Read more on the AlterNet.

The Hidden Opportunity in Global Warming

"While the Baker-Hamilton report from the Iraq Study Group dominates the news in recent weeks with its rebuke of the colossal mess the United States has made in Iraq, there is another report released at the end of October -- even more vital in its import -- that has gone virtually unnoticed. I'm referring to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, released by the U.K. government, which has received far too little attention in the U.S. press. It too is about a colossal mess we've made, not in a single nation but in the atmosphere of the entire planet, with possible consequences for all life on earth.

If the news in the Stern Review is scary to think about, it's ultimately a message of hope: It's not too late to act on global warming -- provided we take strong, united global action, starting now and increasing over the next 10 years. Indeed, "delay would be dangerous and much more costly," the Review warns. What's powerful about the report is that it positions the issue in easy-to-grasp economic terms. It estimates that acting now to stabilize climate change could cost 1 percent of global GDP each year -- which is relatively manageable -- but not acting could create losses that dwarf that. Likely the losses from inaction, the Review estimates, would reach 5 percent to 20 percent of global GDP year after year, "now and forever."

For politicians who argue that taking action now to reduce global warming emissions is too costly in economic terms, the Stern Review offers a stern rebuke: The real economic damage will come not from action but inaction. And as a measure of the report's economic credibility, it was commissioned by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, was prepared by one of the world's leading economists, Sir Nicholas Stern, and has been endorsed by four Nobel Prize-winning economists plus the president of the World Bank.

The Stern Review offers powerful economic ammunition for the global warming debates that will play out in politics in coming months and years. But as useful as it is, it takes us only part of the way."

Read more on the AlterNet.

Cyborg Democrats wish you...

a Merry Winter Solstice and a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Facing up to the American Dream

"Politicians love to talk about "the American dream." However, the phrase wasn't coined by an elected official. That distinction belongs to writer and historian James Truslow Adams.

Adams penned it in his 1931 book "The Epic of America." Of course, he couldn't have known it would go on to define the type of life most Americans aspire to. In fact, in his book, the phrase seems to have an entirely different meaning.

This page from the Library of Congress contains the original quote:

It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

So, apparently Adams intended "the American dream" to be one of equality across class barriers. Over the years, the definition became more modest -- a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a manageable amount of credit card debt. Even so, the dream is just a dream to many."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Magazines Explore Transgender Culture Beyond Stereotypes

"There's the Oscar-nominated hit, TransAmerica. There's the new book Self-Made Man, in which author Norah Vincent tries on maleness for a year and a half. And even the often-less-than-risk-taking The L Word featured a transgender character this season. Trans issues have hit the big time. However, despite mainstream media's slowly increasing interest in -- and occasional thoughtful exploration of -- trans issues, many big-time portrayals don't get past stereotypes and jokes. (Take, for example, TBS's reality TV show, He's a Lady, in which super-macho guys dress in heels for a day to get the true "female experience.")

Fortunately, another rapidly growing sector of the media is stepping up to broaden and complicate the picture: print zines. A huge range of publications are devoted to trans issues, each of which may include editorials, poetry, art, fiction, interviews, even musical compositions. Trans-focused zines have been steadily multiplying in recent years.

Why? As public interest in gender variance increases, it's important to show that it's about people -- not simply newsworthy phenomena -- said Red Durkin, who produces four zine series and tours with the Tranny Roadshow, a traveling group of performers, artists, and writers.

"Zines are an almost perfect outlet for us," Durkin said. "Being trans is personal. There's no instruction manuals. I think the failing of any broad sweeping analysis is that it could never encompass all of us. The only way for all of us to be heard is for each of us to have our own voice, and that's what the zine world offers." Many zines are produced and distributed by a single author or artist. Others are collaborative efforts, but most zines are never shipped off to an outside publisher or distributor, so zine writers need not worry about misrepresentation.
The complete freedom of self-identification that a zine offers is especially important for trans populations, noted Jamez Terry, a co-founder of the Tranny Roadshow.

"Zines are the ultimate DIY [Do-It-Yourself] media, which means you're totally free to define yourself and no one can challenge your right to identify however you want within your own zine," said Terry, who has produced more than 50 zines, including Transcendence, a zine by and for trans youth. "No one else is going to edit you and get your pronouns wrong."

And while we're on the topic, no one can assign your zine any pronouns either. Since zinesters don't gear their products toward a particular section on a Barnes & Noble shelf, they don't need to grant them identities that fit into culturally predetermined categories. Trans zines are instead characterized by fragmentation, mixture, parody, and ambiguity. According to Doug Blandy, a University of Oregon professor and zine scholar, zines are the perfect example of postmodernism, throwing all the identities and definitions we thought we knew into question, including our definitions of gender -- and of magazines."

Read more on the AlterNet.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Person of the Year: YOU!

From Time: "The "Great Man" theory of history is usually attributed to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who wrote that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men." He believed that it is the few, the powerful and the famous who shape our collective destiny as a species. That theory took a serious beating this year.

To be sure, there are individuals we could blame for the many painful and disturbing things that happened in 2006. The conflict in Iraq only got bloodier and more entrenched. A vicious skirmish erupted between Israel and Lebanon. A war dragged on in Sudan. A tin-pot dictator in North Korea got the bomb, and the president of Iran wants to go nuclear too. Meanwhile nobody fixed global warming, and Sony didn't make enough PlayStation3s.

But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

The tool that makes this possible is the World Wide Web. Not the Web that Tim Berners-Lee hacked together (15 years ago, according to Wikipedia) as a way for scientists to share research. It's not even the overhyped dotcom Web of the late 1990s. The new Web is a very different thing. It's a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it's really a revolution.

And we are so ready for it. We're ready to balance our diet of predigested news with raw feeds from Baghdad and Boston and Beijing. You can learn more about how Americans live just by looking at the backgrounds of YouTube videos -- those rumpled bedrooms and toy-strewn basement rec rooms -- than you could from 1,000 hours of network television.

And we didn't just watch, we also worked. Like crazy. We made Facebook profiles and Second Life avatars and reviewed books at Amazon and recorded podcasts. We blogged about our candidates losing and wrote songs about getting dumped. We camcordered bombing runs and built open-source software.

America loves its solitary geniuses -- its Einsteins, its Edisons, its Jobses -- but those lonely dreamers may have to learn to play with others. Car companies are running open design contests. Reuters is carrying blog postings alongside its regular news feed. Microsoft is working overtime to fend off user-created Linux. We're looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it's just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get backhauled into the global intellectual economy.

Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I'm not going to watch Lost tonight. I'm going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I'm going to mash up 50 Cent's vocals with Queen's instrumentals? I'm going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

Sure, it's a mistake to romanticize all this any more than is strictly necessary. Web 2.0 harnesses the stupidity of crowds as well as its wisdom. Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.

But that's what makes all this interesting. Web 2.0 is a massive social experiment, and like any experiment worth trying, it could fail. There's no road map for how an organism that's not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 6 billion. But 2006 gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It's a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who's out there looking back at them. Go on. Tell us you're not just a little bit curious."