Stuff that I think about. Mostly books.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Slushlet: Ampersand from Alas, A Blog on Lowering Abortion Rates

Sometimes, I see things on the Internet that make me say "Yes! Yes! Yes!" And sometimes, those things are not porn.

If the primary purpose of the pro-life movement is to make sure women who have sex have to “face the consequences,” then the pro-life strategy we’ve seen in this country makes sense. But if the primary purpose is to make the US abortion rate as low as possible, then it would make a lot more sense to look instead at strategies that have actually produced low abortion rates in the real world. And pro-lifers, by and large, have shown no interest in that.

Go read the whole thing here. (I realize it's from a pretty old post, but the points made bear re-hashing.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bookinism at the Apocalypse: When the Four Horsemen Arrive, What Will You Be Reading?

I had an extremely pretentious dream last night.

Apparently, when you add NyQuil to the fact that I spend over half my waking hours thinking about books, you end up with nocturnal visions of futuristic dystopia in which the question on everyone's mind is "On my last day on Earth, what will I read?"

Explanation (and bear in mind, I'm not making a single part of this up): In my dream, we've all learned that the world is going to end on January 31, and that on that final day, we will all be struck with a frantic and uncontrollable desire to read a book. We will have no control over that desire; we will become book zombies and grab whatever book is closest to us and read the entire thing. (Seriously. Not making this up.) The news is therefore advising us to pick a very special book and to keep it close to us on January 31, so that, on our last day on Earth, we can all enjoy an excellent read before we are all blowed up or something (my subconscious was vague on the scientific details).

As a book nerd even in sleep, this was a very troubling scenario for me. Obviously, the choices are endless, but I had to start with a deceptively simple choice: Should I pick a book that I've always wanted to read but never got around to, or a book that I've loved since childhood and could read over and over?

In my dream, I opted for Joseph Boyden's Born with a Tooth. (Again, seriously. Not a single part.) I told others that this was because I really liked his two novels, and I didn't want to die without seeing what his short fiction was like, but I suspect I just wanted something pretty to think about before I died.

Wouldn't you?

Anyway, Chapters (DAMN THEIR CORPROATE HIDES) was out of the book, so I was back to square one. Unfortunately, I woke up before my dream self could make the final decision.

So it got me thinking. We've all thought about (or been forced to think about by way of desert island scenario questions) what book we would choose to read if we could only read one book over and over until we die. But what if you had one more day to read one more book? What would you choose? Would you finally read War and Peace, like you've been resolving to do every New Year since 2002? Would you pick up Shopaholic, again, just because if you're going to face the threat of impending doom, goddammit, you're going to laugh your way into the afterlife? Or would you pick up the beloved classic your mom used to read to you as a kid, because it's comforting, and also because you've got kind of an Oedipal thing going on?

Although my dream self was floundering, it didn't take my awake self long to decide. You'll find out what I picked...IN AN EXTRA SPECIAL GOOD BOOK O' THE WEEK FEATURE! Coming soon!!!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Slushlet: Catholic Church Lukewarm On Prospect of Killing People For Whom They Love

In case you needed more proof that Catholics are crazy:

On behalf of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Cyprian K. Lwanga of Kampala writes that they support the government in its effort to uphold the natural family and traditional values, but they oppose certain of the harsher provisions in the bill, and believe that the current law against homosexuality is adequate.

Just so we're clear, by "certain of the harsher provisions," they mean execution.

If you hear about a country that wants to kill people for being gay, and you have to preface your response with "Well, I see where they're coming from," you are officially out of touch.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why the Pro-Life Movement Is So Very, Very Full of Fail

I was recently involved in a Facebook debate (I believe that link will be viewable to anyone with Facebook, but let me know if not) with a young activist over the abortion/breast cancer link. Spurred by the whole "let's talk about my hot lingerie to raise awareness about breasts, I mean, breast cancer!" meme that swung around FB over the past few days, she had posted a website arguing that having an abortion raises the risk of breast cancer.

Let's just put this to rest immediately: the largest and most reliable studies ever conducted on this subject make it very clear that there is no reason to believe a link exists between abortion and breast cancer. As puts it: "The newer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk." (Store away that whole "spontaneous abortion" thing for future reference.) The evidence that there is a link, meanwhile, is pretty lame: Eight medical organizations (at least five of which are obviously and admittedly pro-life-slanted) recognize the link as part of their platforms. Eight, of course, is not that many, and it bears mentioning that most of those eight also believe that the world is 6,000 years old; so you'll forgive me if I don't take their scientific know-how too seriously.

There is no link between abortion and breast cancer. Should that have any bearing on the strength of the pro-life argument? No. Of course not. They already have one solid fact on their side - abortion ends a life - and that they consistently feel the need to supplement that fact with bullshit (PAS, breast cancer, the whole "God" thing) makes me wonder how seriously they even take themselves.

I pointed out to this young PLer that she was, in fact, full of grade A horseshit. Naturally, when presented with objective evidence that she is wrong, a pro-lifer's first reaction is to declare a conspiracy. The reason it's so easy to find large, reliable studies debunking the abortion/breast cancer link is that the medical system doesn't want you to know about it. So all those studies and doctors saying in no uncertain terms that abortion does not increase your risk of breast cancer? They're lying to us. Because abortion is a huge fucking cash cow.

It probably goes without saying that this is pure lunacy. Remember that episode of the Simpsons, where Homer saves Lenny's life by throwing his egg sandwich on the floor?

Homer: Saved your life! That egg sandwich would have killed you by cholesterol!
Lenny: Pfft, forget it, Homer. While it has been established that eggs contain cholesterol, it has not yet been proven conclusively that they actually raise the level of serum cholesterol in the human blood stream.
Homer: So one of those Egg Council creeps got to you too, huh?
Lenny: Aw, you've got it all wrong, Homer. It's not like that.
[a man in an egg costume creeps, then runs, away]
Homer: You'd better run, egg!

This is also the same tactic 9/11 conspirators use. It's easy for crazy people to ignore evidence, because to them, the whole world profits off of making them look crazy. This strategy, while insane, also has the advantage of making it impossible to win an argument with them.

Let's look at the facts here. No one is getting rich off of providing abortions. If anything, it's exactly the opposite: there are enormous industries supported entirely by pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. That a simple, safe, legal medical procedure that takes less than an hour and costs less than $600 could possibly make anyone more money than nine months of pregnancy and 18 years of raising a child makes no fucking sense. The PLer cited Planned Parenthood as bringing in $1 billion last year; while this may be true, only around 2% of that money came from abortion. PP provides tons of medical services in addition to abortion, as well as education and outreach to underprivileged members of the community.

Those monsters!

If the medical industry was heavily invested in women having abortions, you'd think they would be less dedicated to education about birth control. For reasons unrelated to abortion, I had to go to my local 'hood last week. You know what they have all over the damn place? Condoms. WTF? If they want people to keep having abortions, why do they give out free pregnancy prevention?

But instead, it's the pro-lifers who are discouraging people from using birth control, even though that's the only thing that's ever been empirically proven to reduce abortion rates. (Then again, empirical proof? Not their fave.)

The scientific theory behind the breast cancer/abortion link has something to do with cells; apparently when you get up the sprog, your breasts produce more cells, but they don't become cancer-resistant until the third trimester. So take the baby away, and all these cells are just waiting to become tumorous.

Makes a lot of sense, in theory. The problem, which becomes evident if you think about it for more than five minutes, is that if this theory is true, there should be no difference in risk between induced abortions and spontaneous abortions (aka miscarriages). But the medical establishment shouldn't have any reason to keep the risk of miscarriage under wraps; they're certainly not making any money off of it. What's the deal?

Finally, the theory here is that if women knew about this risk of abortion, they would have less abortions. That's a pretty shaky theory. Exposing the risks of cigarette smoking helped reduce smoking, but abortion isn't like smoking. There are no negative consequences to not smoking. There are lots of negative consequences to being pregnant, at least if you're a woman who doesn't want to be pregnant. And for a woman who doesn't want to be pregnant, I doubt the threat of a slightly increased risk of breast cancer is going to erase her concerns. Even if there is a link between abortion and breast cancer (which there isn't); and even if there are lots of people making lots of money from abortions (which there aren't); it still does not follow that there's any advantage in keeping this information quiet. For the conspiracy theory to make sense, you first have to prove that there'd be a significant decrease in abortions if people knew it might cause breast cancer. And you can't do that, because the only thing that's been shown to decrease abortion rates is birth control. Well, that, and legalized abortion.

I didn't really take the debate very seriously, as should be clear from my use of phrases like "all about the Benjamins" and my mockery of her website's font choice (I don't care what you believe, typography is IMPORTANT), but arguing from a losing position is a difficult thing to do, and the anti-choice movement is nothing if not losing. So my pro-life friend closed by advising me to have the human life inside me ripped violently away, while she would have a baby, and then we'd see who had health problems down the road.

This delicious diatribe is pretty much exactly why the pro-life movement is full of fail. It's being represented by people who just plain don't know how to argue. Conspiracy theorists who end debates by saying "GO KILL YOUR BABY THEN, FINE, I DON'T CARE" don't exactly help discourage the belief that conservatives are wackos.

And it's a damn shame, because the pro-life movement doesn't have to be wacky. The fact that abortion ends a life is a powerful one to use, and while God knows I'm more pro-choice than the average pro-choicer, even I get a bit stumped when presented with that argument. But relying on easily discredited bullshit and Big Brother conspiracies doesn't make the pro-life movement look like a threat. It just makes it really, really easy to make fun of them.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take the $50 I just earned from the National Association of Abortions Are Awesome (NAAAA) and put it in my Baby Killin' Jar. You never know when I might need it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year's Resolutions, the TTC, and Why My Feet Hurt

My only real New Year's resolution was to complain less. While my complaining is sometimes just -, for example, deserves nothing if not my ire - I complain way too much about things that don't really matter. One subject on which I was particularly resolved not to whine is the subway. The TTC combines two of my most hated phenomenons: a method of transportation I have no control over, and other people. Many were the mornings I would rail against the lady who leaned her entire body against a communal pole as though unaware that other people might choose to hold onto it rather than faceplant into a hostile stranger's crotch, or the college kid whose enormous backpack took up the space that ought to have been occupied by at least two tiny Asian women. But no more! The subway might not be perfect, I reasoned, but it at least gets me where I need to go, and usually more or less on time. Complaining about it would only waste my negative energy, which I need to save in case I ever meet Peter Singer.

The TTC, apparently, took this as a challenge.

Owing to the always nebulous "signal problems," the Yonge-University-Spadina line was shut down between Bloor and Osgoode. When I got into the Yonge & Bloor subway and saw the kind of crowd that I thought was usually reserved for the Pope, I decided I could wait a half hour and hightailed it out of there for a slice of vegan pizza. Half an hour and a crispy crust later, I tried my luck again, only to find that the Northbound platform had become something of a mosh pit. Even the buskers looked slightly fearful for their lives.

Fortuitously, today was the first day all year that I'd worn my enormous boots.

As you can see, those things are nothing if not f'real.

So I walked.

Now, I suppose I should be mad that, despite a 9% fare increase, the TTC still cannot be relied upon to create a public transit system that will actually get me anywhere. And yes, on my long ramble I found many things worth complaining about. For instance, Torontonian business owners have apparently not grasped the incredibly high-tech procedure of dumping some salt on their sidewalks, resulting in what would be called a winter Slip 'n' Slide if Slip 'n' Slides were dirty and dangerous and...ok, it basically was a Slip 'n' Slide. And although my boots are basically foot-shaped tanks, my coat was $30 at Urban Planet and offers about as much protection from the cold as a pair of crossed fingers.

But really, it wasn't that bad. The babushka I improvised out of my scarf kept the snow off my face, and I was warmed by Lady Gaga's ambiguously gendered loins via my iPod. I got to see a lot of Yonge Street, which is actually quite pretty once you get north of the Brass Rail, and while my monthly Metropass is not inexpensive, it's definitely cheaper than a Metropass combined with a gym membership.

I was born in Toronto and I therefore have a right, if not a duty, to complain a damn lot about everything in this city, and twice as much about everything outside of it. But my resolution stands. My feet hurt and I think I have pneumonia, but I still say that any day ending with a fizzy bath bomb and a glass of red wine can't be all bad.