Birth control and the asymmetry

You know how I’ve been saying that the Republican party has moved way more to the right than Democrats have moved left.  Well, this isn’t nice numbers based on thousands of votes, but it’s damn illustrative (from a Post article on the new politics of birth control):

“We need to take sensationalism out of this topic so that it can no longer be used by militants who have no real knowledge of the voluntary nature of the program but, rather, are using it as a political stepping stone,” said George H.W. Bush. “If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter.”

Title X, the law he sponsored that still funds family planning for the poor, passed the House by a vote of 298 to 32. It passed the Senate unanimously. A Republican president, Richard Nixon, enthusiastically signed it.

That was 1970.

This is now: The issue of birth control has suddenly become an obsession of the 2012 presidential campaign. To many observers, it seems that the clock has indeed been turned back.

Using birth control to have sex without making a baby has been settled social behavior, not a taboo but an ordinary prescription that virtually all American women present at the drugstore counter at some point in their lives. For many, it seems the common-sense way to avoid the prospect of abortion, which has been the really divisive issue of sexual politics.

That is, unless, you are a modern-day Republican politician.

Rick Santorum, pre-natal testing, and the disabled

So, as the parent of a child with an intellectual disability resulting from a rare genetic disease I should be outraged by Rick Santorum’s latest.  I’m not.  Mostly I pity him as such a pathetic figure.  Both Harold Pollack who has a disabled brother-in-law and the child-less Kevin Drum are more than outraged enough more me, so I’ll stick with their outrage on my behalf:

Harold Pollack is no longer amused by Rick Santorum. Here is Santorum this weekend:

One of the things that you don’t know about ObamaCare in one of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing. Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society. That too is part of ObamaCare — another hidden message as to what president Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country.

Even for Santorum, this is just remarkably odious. Here’s Harold:

I’m writing these words with my smiling brother-in-law Vincent sitting next to me, admiring the green lunchbox that we just bought him. Vincent lives with intellectual disabilities caused by fragile X syndrome. I find the above comments indescribably insulting.

Santorum’s comments are only made uglier by their utter lack of foundation….I’ve never heard any liberal health policy wonk promote genetic technologies to “cull the ranks of the disabled” or as part of any cost-cutting plan. That ugly meme is completely made up…

As states get bluer, they spend proportionately more on intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) programs. As they get redder they spend less. And when the recession hit, the redder the state, the more they cut back on I/DD spending. You can draw whatever conclusion you want from this. If you’re as vile as Santorum, you might conclude that conservatives hate the disabled. If you’re not, you might conclude that redder states tend to be poorer than bluer states and simply can’t afford as much.

Vile and indescribably insulting.  That works.  We had some basic testing (nuchal translucency) done in the two children post-Alex, but certainly not as a prelude to an abortion in the case of unfortunate results. These are good things for parents to know and for Santorum to make his insinuations really is pretty disgusting.  For such a pious and religious fellow, Santorum sure is a sleazebag.

As a bonus, here’s Alex, intellectual disability and all, he’s pretty awesome.  Mostly.

Photo of the day


The Value of a Liberal Arts degree

Nice post by Yglesias this weekend on the value of a liberal arts degree– a subject I’ve really been thinking a lot about lately:

This seems mistaken to me. In order to do well in courses on 19th Century British Literature or Social Anthropology or Philosophy or American History in a properly running American college, what you need to do is get pretty good at reading and writing documents in the English language. These are very much real skills with wide-ranging practical applications. Clearly relatively few people are professional writers, but a huge amount of what goes on at the higher levels of a typical business is a steady stream of production and consumption of reports and memos. If you can compose an email that’s 10 percent clearer in 90 percent of the time as the other guy, you’re going to get ahead in a wide range of fields. Outside of office work, a big part of the difference between a hard-working individual who’s pretty good at his job and a person who’s able to leverage his skills and hardwork into an entrepreneurial or managerial role is precisely the ability to research things and write up plans. Everyone knows that a kid growing up in rural India is obtaining valuable skills if he gets better at English, but this is equally true for a kid growing up in Indiana.

Now of course perhaps not every liberal arts program is in fact imparting reading and writing skills to its graduates. But that’s a problem of execution not of concept.

Yep.  A number of years ago I recognized that the content I teach my students is almost meaningless– very few of them actually go on to work in politics– but that whatever skills I teach them should have a lasting impact.   Of course, from realization to actually changing has been more gradual than I wish.  I really should put more emphasis on helping them with their writing, but honestly, that’s probably the most time-consuming thing I can do as a professor.  That said, after reading Academically Adrift last semester, I have really made a push to increase opportunities for them to practice and improve their critical thinking skills.  I also think that social sciences are particularly useful among liberal arts, as success requires not just the research and writing skills Yglesias mentions, but also the ability to understand and interpret empirical and quantitative data in a way much beyond the humanities Yglesias mentions.  The ability to do this effectively  is hugely valuable across a variety of real-world occupations.

Like I said, I know I need to do more to help my students improve their writing, but hey, at least I’m making progress in critical thinking.  I’m pretty confident that these efforts will do nothing at all to raise the average scores on my teaching evaluations.  What I do best is entertain while educating and that certainly produces engagement which certainly helps learning (and results in generally high teaching evaluations), but that doesn’t mean I’m actually imparting to my students the most valuable skills they need.  I think to a degree, I’ve been insufficiently self-critical because of high evaluations (notable exceptions, aside).  But no more.  They’re going to get better at research, writing, and critical thinking whether they like it or not.

Gas prices and Obama

Do Republicans think voters are dumb enough to blame Obama for rising gas prices?  That’s a definitive yes:

White House officials are preparing for Republicans to use consumer angst about the cost of oil and gas to condemn his energy programs and buttress their argument that his economic policies are not working.

In a closed-door meeting last week, Speaker John A. Boehner instructed fellow Republicans to embrace the gas-pump anger they find among their constituents when they return to their districts for the Presidents’ Day recess.

“This debate is a debate we want to have,” Mr. Boehner told his conference on Wednesday, according to a Republican aide who was present. “It was reported this week that we’ll soon see $4-a-gallon gas prices. Maybe higher. Certainly, this summer will see the highest gas prices in years. Your constituents saw those reports, and they’ll be talking about it.”…

But Mr. Boehner’s message to his members echoes the aggressive talk coming from the Republican campaign trail, where the men vying for the right to challenge Mr. Obama are increasingly blaming Mr. Obama’s administration for rising gas prices. A gallon of gas had dropped to $1.89 when Mr. Obama took office in 2009, in large part because of the fall in oil demand caused by the financial crisis, and has almost doubled since.

“They want higher energy prices. They want to push their radical agenda on the public,” Rick Santorum said at a campaign event last week, accusing Democrats of pushing alternatives to oil. “We need a president who is on the side of affordable energy.”

Good God, this is just sheer idiocy!  Then again, you can go pretty far in politics by counting on voters to be (to put it politely) not all that smart.   The idea that Obama’s policies could be responsible for anything more than a cent or two a gallon is laughable not only to any economist, but any intelligent person who’s paid the least bit of attention to how oil prices work.  And one thing is for sure, even if we all of a sudden started drilling in every possible place oil is available in America– any environmental concerns be damned– this would still be but the tiniest drop in the bucket in global oil supply, which is what drives prices.

Here I am complaining about the American public being “not smart” but it’s surely not all their fault when you consider that you’ve got one political party that’s basically lying to them on a regular basis (and don’t even give me “both sides”– if you are so inclined, just search all my posts with the term “asymmetry.”)

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