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Disturbing news comes from Ned Stuckey-French, an old friend who directs the program in publishing and editing at Florida State University: on May 24, new University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced he was shutting down the University's press and laying off its staff of ten. As Ned notes, the press, perhaps best known for publishing the collected works of Langston Hughes, cost the university $400,000 a year. The head football coach's salary? $2.7 million. Because you can always find the money for the things you really want.
Ned's book The American Essay in the American Century was published by the University of Missouri Press last year. Here's his take:
Wolfe, a former software company president with no experience in academics, was named president last December. He has acknowledged that he made his decision without visiting the press, talking to its employees, consulting with faculty, or looking for any new donors to help support it. Authors with books on the spring 2013 list have been told their contracts are being cancelled, never mind that this may include the tenure books of junior faculty, thereby derailing their careers.
In one interview, Wolfe compared the situation to an independent store going bankrupt and a Walmart moving in. The same products are sold, he explained, but Walmart has a better business model.
The press, which was founded 54 years ago, has published about 2,000 titles for both scholars and the general reader, everything from a biography of St. Louis Cardinals’s Hall of Famer Stan Musial to the Collected Works of Langston Hughes. It has also published the letters and autobiography of favorite son Harry Truman, and now Missourians and others have decided to “give ’em hell.”
Authors, teachers, librarians, Missouri alums, and readers from across the state of Missouri and the country have voiced their outrage. In the short time since Wolfe’s announcement, a “Save the University of Missouri Press” Facebook page has attracted over 1700 followers and over 2500 people have signed an online petition in support of the press. Articles about the massive reaction to the closing have appeared already in Chronicle of Higher Education, Publishers Weekly, Inside Higher Ed, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star and the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune.
Scores of supporters have shared the letters they’ve written to Wolfe and the University’s Board of Curators. The authors make it clear that when they are supporting the press they are supporting not just Missouri books and authors, but also debate, scholarship, and the preservation of a broader cultural past.
Letters of support have come in from scholars as far afield as Louisiana and Belgium praising the press’s publication of the collected work of German philosopher Eric Voegelin. Distinguished Mark Twain scholars Tom Quirk and John Bird wrote to bemoan the damage that the closing of the press’s Mark Twain and His Circle series will do to Twain scholarship. All ten of the editors of the Collected Works of Langston Hughes issued a statement explaining that such work “contributes to the larger, ongoing project among scholars of African American literature to recover texts by black American writers that have been historically marginalized from the American literary canon. This large-scale process of textual recovery and publication, begun on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement when students and scholars were advocating for representation of African American literature, history, and culture in American universities, is truly one of academe’s most important success stories. Without the work of scholars engaged in this project, African American literary studies in the academy simply would not exist.”
Many critics have questioned the priorities of a university that shuts down its press to save (according to the University’s press release) a $400,000 annual subsidy, while paying its head football coach $2.7 million each year. They point out that Missouri will now be the only university in the Southeastern Conference (its athletic conference) that does not have a university press.
President Wolfe’s spokesperson, Jennifer Hollingshead, said that comparing the press’s subsidy to the football coach’s salary makes no sense.
It’s like “comparing apples and bowling balls,” she said.
Of course, you can compare any two things—a university press and Walmart, for instance. And apples, we know, are natural, various, and the source of humanity’s knowledge, while bowling balls are uniform, unyielding and used to knock things over.
Bei Bei Shuai. (AP Photo/Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department)
Bad news came from Indiana on May 11. The state Supreme Court has refused to review charges of attempted feticide and murder against Bei Bei Shuai. Just before Christmas 2010, Shuai, who was thirty-three weeks pregnant, attempted to kill herself by consuming rat poison after her boyfriend, father of the baby, abruptly announced he was married and abandoned her to return to his family. Rushed to the hospital, she had a Caesarean section, but her newborn daughter died after a few days of life. (Here’s my column on the case.) Despite amicus briefs from eighty respected experts and relevant medical and social organizations—the state of Indiana, for reasons best known to itself, will do its best to send Shuai to prison. Potential sentence: forty-five to sixty-five years. The only good news is that after spending 435 days in jail, Shuai is now out on bail.
The message to women is clear: you are criminally liable to the state for your conduct during pregnancy, even if you are mentally ill, emotionally disturbed, or whatever you want to call the extreme psychological state in which people try to kill themselves after receiving a terrible life-upending blow. Isn’t that what the coroner used to say: someone took his own life “while the balance of his mind was disturbed”? Suicide by pregnant women is not rare; it is, in fact, the fifth leading cause of death for them.
To call what Shuai did murder seems to overlook the fact that she was trying to kill herself. But this prosecution is unfortunately in line with a national trend of criminalizing the behavior of pregnant women whether through drug use, self-abortion—even, as in one case, falling down the stairs.
The state law under which Shuai is charged was passed in 1979, as part of a post-Roe wave of “unborn victims of violence” laws that made the fetus a separate victim in crimes against pregnant women that caused her to miscarry or die—for example, attacks by muggers or abusive partners. Pushed by abortion opponents as part of their strategy of building up the legal “personhood” of the fetus, it nonetheless seemed like a good idea to a lot of well-meaning people: shouldn’t there be some acknowledgment that assaulting a woman and causing her to miscarry was a special kind of awful? According to Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which has taken on Shuai’s case, the legislative record clearly shows that lawmakers did not intend for the Indiana law to target pregnant women themselves. But that is what is happening.
Abortion opponents insist that nothing could be farther from their minds.
As Father Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, put it: “The pro-life movement is not out to punish women. Our goal, instead, is to stop child-killing. What would throwing women in jail do to accomplish that goal?”
Will the abortion opponents who claim to want only to protect women speak up for Bei Bei Shuai?
What you can do:
Sign the petition to Free Bei Bei Shuai.
Donate to National Advocates for Pregnant Women and help fund Shuai’s defense.
Watch a video of Bei Bei Shuai speaking about her case here.
Read my column about Bei Bei Shuai.
Earlier this spring, Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut” for arguing that contraception should be covered by health insurance. This week, Larry Flynt PhotoShopped a picture of conservative pundit S.E. Cupp to look like she had a penis in her mouth and published it in Hustler as “satire’—Cupp wants to defund Planned Parenthood, you see. No? I didn’t either. This degrading image has nothing to do with political satire and everything to do with wanting to put an outspoken woman in her place—on her knees with a dick in her mouth to shut her up. It’s a pornographic version of “Iron my shirt” and “Make me a sammich.”
Hustler may not be a beacon of the liberal media, as conservatives are gleefully claiming—but it’s all too maddeningly true that misogyny can be found all over the political spectrum, and needs to be denounced, by both men and women, wherever it appears. When it comes to women exercising their right to participate in public debate, we are all Sandra Fluke, and we are all S.E. Cupp as well.
What you can do:
Sign The Women’s Media Center statement of solidarity with Cupp, e-mail it to your friends, and post it on your Facebook page.
Tweet your support at #IStandWithSECupp.
Let the media—left, right, center—know that the crude sexualization of women who voice their opinions in public is not “satire.” It’s misogyny.
If you had any doubt that Republicans have an even bigger anti-woman agenda than their love of compulsory vaginal probes might suggest, consider Wisconsin’s Senate Bill 507.
Co-sponsored by two GOP state legislators, Senator Glenn Grothman and Representative Don Pridemore, it directs the state to prepare educational materials that blame “nonmarital parenthood” for child abuse and neglect and “emphasize the role of fathers in the primary prevention” of same. Don’t be fooled by that gender-neutral abstraction “parenthood.” This bill is clearly aimed at shaming and blaming single mothers. “Fathers” after all prevent harm to children, so logically the only parents left to cause it are... yes, those unmentionable women who have the babies without a wedding ring to show for it. You might think that even in Wisconsin it takes two to tango down the aisle, but not according to Senator Grothman, who says, "There's been a huge change over the last 30 years, and a lot of that change has been the choice of the women."
Maybe, but a lot of it isn’t. It’s not as if men are eager for shotgun weddings either.
Pridemore goes farther. Women lucky enough to have landed a husband should stay with them, even if those men are violent. What should battered wives do? Love their husbands more! "If they can re-find those reasons and get back to why they got married in the first place it might help,” Pridemore advises. Because nothing says “prevention of child abuse and neglect” like wife beating.
The best response I’ve seen to Pridemore’s marital counsel is this modest proposal, which was forwarded to a feminist list:
From: Caroline H.
Sent: Fri 3/23/2012 11:40 AM
To: Rep. Pridemore
Subject: In response to your comment about divorce in case of abuse
Mr. Pridemore -
I would like to make a deal with you. I propose we live together (I'll even relocate to Wisconsin!) for a year in an abusive relationship. I'll beat the shit out of you on a regular basis, verbally assault you, make you live in extreme fear, break down any shred of self-worth you might have, all that good stuff. After 12 months, we can both reevaluate our positions on the issue.
Granted, you don't know me well enough to "love me," thus giving you happy thoughts to call on when I'm beating you violently, but let's see what we can work out. What do you say? :)
In testimony she was barred from giving at Darrell Issa’s all-male hearing, Sandra Fluke told the story of a fellow student at Georgetown law, a lesbian who, because of Catholic strictures, was denied insurance coverage for birth control pills needed to control her ovarian cysts. Unable to afford the pill herself, the woman eventually had to have an ovary removed, with serious consequences to her health and fertility. Please note: this woman’s tragic story is not about nymphomaniacal “co-eds.” Nor were Fluke’s other examples: a woman with suspected endometriosis, a rape victim who assumed Georgetown wouldn’t pay for treatment and a married couple who couldn’t afford contraception. Fluke did mention the humiliating experience of one woman, who discovered at the pharmacy that her insurance wouldn’t pay for birth control and who had to leave empty-handed because she couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket. Maybe she was the hot babe. Fluke said nothing about her own contraceptive needs or her own sex life. No matter. By now you surely know how Rush Limbaugh played the story:
“What does it say about the college co-ed,” said Limbaugh, “who goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.” Limbaugh suggests the women who want the pill should have to make porn videos of themselves and post them online. “So Miss Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”
Limbaugh says disgusting hate-filled things about women all the time. His fans think it’s hilarious. The media insiders think it’s naïve and boring to complain: that’s just the way Rush rolls. Slate’s Dave Weigel, for example, points out helpfully that Rush is “a private citizen who hasn’t endorsed any presidential candidate,” so it’s unfair for the “Democratic media complex” to attack him for this bit of “classic Rush, sort of.” (Apparently it’s no big deal for Rush to smear his vile viciousness all over Sandra Fluke, a private citizen.) Maybe the Republican primary debates, in which candidates compete for the titles like Most Opposed to Plan B for Rape Victims, have woken people up, because Rush’s attack on Fluke has drawn fire—a wave of outrage from feminists, liberal columnists and bloggers, including petitions to his sponsors, several of whom have pulled their ads. Even President Obama got involved, with a phone call to Fluke expressing support. Rush issued a half-hearted self-serving apology: “In the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize.” Rick Santorum, last seen blaming birth control for rising rates of single motherhood, commented on CNN, “He’s being absurd but that’s you know, an entertainer can be absurd.” Mitt Romney was no knight in shining armor either: “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.”
Meanwhile, the wingnut media has doubled and tripled down. Bill O’Reilly: “You want me to give you my hard-earned money so you can have sex?” Pam Geller: By all accounts she is banging it five times a day. She sounds more like a prostitute to me. She must have an gyno bill to choke a horse (pun intended). Calling this whore a slut was a softball.“ Ace of Spades: “A shiftless rent-a-cooch from East Whoreville.” Jawa Report posted a photo supposedly of Fluke with a “Semen Demon” tattoo above her butt.
What do we learn from this story besides that Limbaugh apparently believes you have to take an additional pill every time you have sex, like, um, the Viagra pills he was found with when he returned from a Dominican vacation? (The Catholic church has no problem with covering boner pills, by the way, and they are routinely covered by insurance.) We learn that there is no point even bothering to point out that many women take the pill for non-contraceptive reasons—not only will the bishops will still do their best to keep women from it, misogynists like Limbaugh won’t even notice. They don’t know anything about ladyparts—Cysts? Endometriosis? —and they don’t care. They don’t care either that almost all women use some form of birth control at some point—wives, mothers, women who may not even like sex. Even lesbians! When the topic is anything remotely connected to female sexuality, every woman is a ho, a prostitute, a slutty-slut-slut, from a teenage virgin who needs to control her acne to a tired and put-upon 40-year-old mother of five. Even the feminazis! Those slutwalkers were really on to something.
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation must have been totally unprepared for the firestorm provoked by its announcement that it was severing its long relationship with Planned Parenthood, which for at least five years had been receiving grants to provide low-income women with breast exams and mammogram referrals. Komen showed itself to be both dishonest and ridiculous: there was its initial long silence over the decision, followed by a flurry of flimsy and inconsistent explanations—first it was that Planned Parenthood was being investigated by Representative Cliff Stearns; then it was a change in criteria for funding. And what PR genius advised it to childishly delete negative comments on its Facebook page? Result: Planned Parenthood was deluged with donations to keep its breast care services going, including a $250,000 matching grant from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; twenty-two senators signed a critical statement; there were resignations among staffers and open rebellion among volunteers. Andrea Mitchell’s interview with Nancy Brinker on MSNBC was as close to open distaste as that very polite journalist ever gets. Mitchell is herself a breast cancer survivor, and the expression on her face as she questioned Brinker was as if she were steeling herself to pick up a dead mouse.
The massive show of prochoice strength worked. Friday morning Komen released a statement apologizing for its decision and acknowledging the unfairness of cutting off PP because of the Stearns investigation: “We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.” (Forget for the moment that Brinker denied the investigation had anything to do with the ban on PP). This is excellent news: Komen has in essence admitted that the Stearns probe is politically motivated, which must sting recently hired senior VP for public policy Karen Handel, who publicly favored defunding PP when she ran as a Palin-endorsed candidate in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.
But the rest of the statement is less clear. It continues:
We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.
This has widely been taken to mean Komen has backed down completely, i.e., will return to making grants to PP. But look more closely: that is not what it says. Komen says only that it will fund “existing grants”—that means, it will fund grants it has already formally agreed to make. Well, it is legally required to do that, isn’t it? It can’t rescind a grant on the basis of a rule made after the grant was offered. The original banning always referred to the future, and as to that, Komen says only that PP can apply for funding, not that Komen will continue to make grants to it as it has for many years. Nothing prevents Komen from altering its criteria in ways designed to exclude PP—for example, as Brinker suggested to Mitchell, deciding against funding breast care outside of mammogram centers.
And what about the bit about allowing affiliates “to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities?” Does that mean affiliates will be free to refuse to support PP, setting the stage for state and local anti-choice takeover efforts? It’s all rather unclear, and much too soon to declare victory and go home. It could mean a lesson well learned—but it could be just spin. After all, Handel, whoever hired her and whoever approved the original ban on PP are still there.
Nonetheless, this is a real win for pro-choicers. We hear so much anti-choice propaganda, we may not always remember that, actually, Planned Parenthood is not sketchy and controversial out there in mainstream America. It is beloved. Beloved. Note the relief- and gratitude-saturated testimonies like the ones collected practically overnight by the social media activist Deanna Zandt at the Tumblr site Planned Parenthood Saved Me. And it is beloved most of all by women who care a lot about women’s health—among whom Komen volunteers figure prominently. Breast cancer activism began as a feminist cause, after all: the initial impetus, back when Komen was founded in 1982, was the silence and shame surrounding the disease, the lack of research funding and the general sexism pervading treatment. Those are all feminist issues, and were structured as such in public discourse at the time. It was like Our Bodies, Ourselves in action.
Komen miscalculated by thinking its base cares only about breast cancer: in fact, those women in pink t-shirts and sneakers, raising their thousands upon thousands of dollars a year for breast cancer research, understand quite well that women’s health means more than tumor-free breasts. If Komen understood that but thought—and maybe still thinks—it can deceive those activists, or gradually shed them and acquire a whole other, equally dedicated, base of anti-choicers, it will dwindle and die. Anti-choicers are not interested in breast cancer activism; they’re interested in stopping abortion. They proved that by their eagerness to deprive of breast care women for whom PP was the only available option.
How things now stand: by Friday afternoon, PP was reporting that it has raised $3,000,000 since the Komen story broke. Meanwhile, just in time for February, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Komen is partnering with Discount Gun Sales, a Seattle distributor, to market a pink handgun. Because nothing says “pro-life” like a Walther P-22 Hope Edition.
Remember when anti-choicers got LifeWay Christian Resources to pull its pink-covered Here’s Hope Breast Cancer Bibles from Walmart and other stores because one dollar of every sale went to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation? The antis were upset that the wealthy and influential breast-cancer charity made grants to Planned Parenthood for breast exams and mammograms for low-income women. And remember when Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, told his flock to stop raising money for Komen because someday in the future it might endorse stem cell research? Crazy, right?
The anti-choice movement can be so clumsy, and so weird, we forget that it is also smart and strategic and busy busy busy. Because while you were shaking your head over pink Bibles and stem-cell futurology, Komen was hiring Karen Handel as senior vice president for public policy. Handel is not your typical philanthropy administrator. She is a Republican pol, a former Georgia secretary of state, who ran in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, with endorsements from Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and anti-immigrant finger-pointing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. At that time she described herself as “staunchly and unequivocally pro-life,” opposed to stem cell research and a fan of crisis pregnancy centers—places that have repeatedly been shown to use scare tactics and misinformation to dissuade women from seeking abortions. She vowed to eliminate from the state budget pass-through grants to Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screenings. Interestingly, she had previously supported these grants, using the exact arguments defenders of Komen’s PP grants are making now: PP is the only organization capable of doing the work—reaching low-income women, for whom the PP clinic is often the only medical care the get—and the grant money does not fund abortions. Handel’s turnaround shows you how quickly the anti-choicers have claimed formerly neutral turf: in only a few years a relationship deemed normal and good—in Georgia!—and the only existing way of providing needed services was branded with the mark of the beast.
Planned Parenthood says Komen grants totaled around $680,000 in 2011 and $580,000 the year before, accounting for around 170,000 of the 4 million breast exams it has given in the last five years. It’s pretty shocking that Komen would deprive of services women it has itself admitted have no other way of getting them. As Jodi Jacobson reports on RH Reality Check, in 2011 Komen itself acknowledged PP’s essential role in breast care:
While Komen Affiliates provide funds to pay for screening, education and treatment programs in dozens of communities, in some areas, the only place that poor, uninsured or under-insured women can receive these services are through programs run by Planned Parenthood.”
The statement continued:
These facilities serve rural women, poor women, Native American women, women of color, and the un- and under-insured. As part of our financial arrangements, we monitor our grantees twice a year to be sure they are spending the money in line with our agreements, and we are assured that Planned Parenthood uses these funds only for breast health education, screening and treatment programs.
As long as there is a need for health care for these women, Komen Affiliates will continue to fund the facilities that meet that need.
Komen claims that the defunding is due to a new rule it has adopted that no funds be given to an organization under investigation by state, local or federal authorities. And why make such a rule just now? As it just so happens, Planned Parenthood is currently the subject of a trumped-up investigation by Representative Cliff Stearns (R-Fla) at the behest of Americans United for Life: Stearns has demanded over a decade’s worth of documents in an attempt to determine whether federal dollars were used for abortion services. The very thing that Komen, only two years ago, denied was the case—and that Karen Handel herself said was not an issue in the Georgia funds she approved.
Komen may not have bargained for the extraordinary storm of protest its decision has evoked. There is much misery among its affiliates: at least one, Komen Connecticut, has posted its unhappiness on its Facebook page. On Twitter and Facebook longtime supporters are vowing never to donate or volunteer. A Credo Action petition garnered more than 100,000 signatures within hours. And in a classic example of unintended consequences, Sarah Kliff reports in the Washington Post that Planned Parenthood has already received $400,000 in donations in just twenty-four hours.
How you can take action:
Donate to Planned Parenthood for breast care and cancer screenings. Even a small gift at this moment makes a powerful statement of solidarity and resistance.
Check out Nona Willis Aronowitz in GOOD magazine for ways to support women’s health that don’t involve buying pink items you don’t need.
Let Komen know how you feel online or call them at 972-701-2168.
Your reward? Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic essay, “Cancerland,” on Komen, pinkwashing and the “breast cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me” industry.
Christopher Hitchens outside his hotel in New York, June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Christopher Hitchens, my colleague for twenty years, was clever, hilarious, generous to his friends, combative, prodigiously energetic and fantastically productive. He could write with equal ease about Philip Larkin, capital punishment, Henry Kissinger and having his balls waxed. I used to wonder, enviously, how he could write so much, especially given his drinking, his travels, his public appearances and his demanding social life. He told me once that a writer should be able to write with no difficulty, anytime, anywhere—but actually, not many writers can do that. I think part of the reason why he was so prolific—and the reason he had such an outsize career and such an outsize effect on his readers—is that he was possibly the least troubled with self-doubt of all the writers on earth. For a man who started out as an International Socialist and ended up banging the drum for the war in Iraq and accusing Michelle Obama of fealty to African dictators on the basis of a stray remark in her undergraduate thesis, he seems to have spent little time wondering how he got from one place to another, much less if he’d lost anything on the way. After he left The Nation he said he had a “libertarian gene.” It’s a rum sort of libertarianism, and a rum sort of gene, that expresses itself first as membership in a Trotskyist sect, and then as support for the signal deed of an administration that stood for everything he had spent his life fighting, from economic inequality to government promotion of religion.
So many people have praised Christopher so effusively, I want to complicate the picture even at the risk of seeming churlish. His drinking was not something to admire, and it was not a charming foible. Maybe sometimes it made him warm and expansive, but I never saw that side of it. What I saw was that drinking made him angry and combative and bullying, often toward people who were way out of his league—elderly guests on the Nation cruise, interns (especially female interns). Drinking didn’t make him a better writer either—that’s another myth. Christopher was such a practiced hand, with a style that was so patented, so integrally an expression of his personality, he was so sure he was right about whatever the subject, he could meet his deadlines even when he was totally sozzled. But those passages of pointless linguistic pirouetting? The arguments that don’t track if you look beneath the bravura phrasing? Forgive the cliché: that was the booze talking. And so, I’m betting, were the cruder manifestations of his famously pugilistic nature: as F Scott Fitzgerald said of his own alcoholism: “When drunk I make them all pay and pay and pay.” It makes me sad to see young writers cherishing their drinking bouts with him, and even his alcohol-fuelled displays of contempt for them (see Dave Zirin’s fond reminiscence of having Christopher spit at him) as if drink is what makes a great writer, and what makes a great writer a real man.
So far, most of the eulogies of Christopher have come from men, and there’s a reason for that. He moved in a masculine world, and for someone who prided himself on his wide-ranging interests, he had virtually no interest in women’s writing or women’s lives or perspectives. I never got the impression from anything he wrote about women that he had bothered to do the most basic kinds of reading and thinking, let alone interviewing or reporting—the sort of workup he would do before writing about, say, G.K. Chesterton, or Scientology or Kurdistan. It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id. Women aren’t funny. Women shouldn’t need to/want to/get to have a job. The Dixie Chicks were “fucking fat slags” (not “sluts,” as he misremembered later). And then of course there was his 1989 column in which he attacked legal abortion and his cartoon version of feminism as “possessive individualism.” I don’t suppose I ever really forgave Christopher for that.
It wasn’t just the position itself, it was his lordly condescending assumption that he could sort this whole thing out for the ladies in 1,000 words that probably took him twenty minutes to write. “Anyone who has ever seen a sonogram or has spent even an hour with a textbook on embryology knows” that pro-life women are on to something when they recoil at the idea of the “disposable fetus.” Hmmmm… that must be why most OB-GYNs are pro-choice and why most women who have abortions are mothers. Those doctors just need to spend an hour with a medical textbook; those mothers must never have seen a sonogram. Interestingly, although he promised to address the counterarguments made by the many women who wrote in to the magazine, including those on the staff, he never did. For a man with a reputation for courage, it certainly failed him then. (Years later, when he took up the question of abortion again in Vanity Fair, he said basically the exact same things, using the same straw-women arguments. Time taught him nothing, because he didn’t want to learn.)
That was the bad side of Christopher—the moral bully and black-and-white thinker posing as daring truth-teller. It was the side that reveled in 9/11, because now everyone would see how evil the jihadis were, and that rejoiced in the thought that the Korans of Muslim fighters would not protect them from American bullets. Some eulogists have praised him for moral consistency, but I don’t see that: he wrote tens of thousands of words attacking Clinton for executing Ricky Ray Rector, but seemed untroubled about George W Bush’s execution of 152 people—at the time a historical record—as governor of Texas. He was so fuelled by his own certainty he claimed that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq only proved they were there.
I don’t know how long Christopher will be read. Posterity isn’t kind to columnists and essayists and book reviewers, even the best ones. I doubt we’d be reading much of Orwell’s nonfiction now had he not written the indelible novels 1984 and Animal Farm. But as a vivid presence Christopher will be long remembered. A lot of writers, especially political writers, are rather boring as people, and some of the best writers are the most boring of all—they’re saving themselves for the desk. Christopher was the opposite—an adventurer, a talker, a bon vivant, a tireless burner of both ends of the candle. He made a lot of enemies, but probably more friends. He made life more interesting for thousands and thousands of people and posed big questions for them—about justice, politics, religion, human folly. Of how many journalists can that be said?
Did you assume the politicization of science was gone with the Bush administration and the reality-based community was back in charge? Think again. In a surprise move that has outraged women’s rights activists, HHS head Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s proposal to make Plan B One-Step, a single-pill form of emergency contraception, available over the counter. According to the New York Times, this is the first time in our history that a health secretary has overruled the FDA.
Sebelius claims that her reason is that the FDA didn’t show that 11-year-old girls, some 10 percent of whom are fertile, understand how to follow the EC directions. Here are the instructions, courtesy of an alert commenter at www.nytimes.com:
“Plan B One-Step dosage consists of a single tablet taken once. A second tablet or dose is not required. The Plan B One-Step tablet should be taken as soon as possible and not more than 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure."
If a sixth grader can’t understand those elementary, crystal-clear instructions, we should just move back to the caves, because civilization is finished. As has been pointed out, we assume middle-schoolers can handle Tylenol, which is not only easy to overdose on but has been used in suicides. If Sebelius is really worried about what kids can purchase at Duane Reade, she should start with products that actually can be used dangerously.
Barack Obama says that as the father of two daughters, he wants the government to “apply common sense” to rules about over the counter medications. Well, I too have a daughter, and so many many pro-choice women. Who died and made Barack Obama daddy in charge of teenage girls? Would he really rather that Sasha and Malia get pregnant rather than buy Plan B One-Step at CVS? And excuse me, Mr. President, thanks to your HHS, acquiring Plan B is prescription-only not just for 11-year-olds but for the 30 percent of teenage girls between 15 and 17 who are sexually active, and is a cumbersome process for all women, who have to ask a pharmacist for it and, as many news stories have reported, be subjected to fundamentalist harangues and objections. Apparently, it’s okay with you if Michelle is treated like a sixth-grader. I’m trying to think if there are any laws or regulations affecting only men in which unfounded fears about middle-school boys deny all men normal adult privileges. Needless to say, no one suggests that underage boys get a prescription if they want to use condoms, or that grown men have to ask the pharmacist for them and maybe get a lecture about the evils of birth control and promiscuity.
This is politics. Pure politics. The Obama administration values the Catholic bishops, the Family Research Council, Rush Limbaugh and the swing voters of Ohio more than the pro-choice Democratic women who make up way more than their share of his base—women who campaigned for him, donated to him, knocked on doors for him, left Hillary Clinton for him. He must be assuming that we are captive voters—we have no place to go. That may be true, but there’s trudging to the polls and there’s passion. Obama is never going to get passion from anti-choicers and swing voters. And it looks increasingly likely that he won’t get it from pro-choice women either.
The prosecutors did what they had to do when they dropped the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. As they wrote in their motion to dismiss, Nafissatou Diallo had told too many untruths, and told them too persuasively. Supporters have put forward explanations for her shifting stories—rape trauma, mistranslation, distrust of the DA’s office, fear of job loss and even deportation—but what comes through the motion to dismiss is that the prosecutors just got fed up. It wasn’t just that they didn’t think they could get a conviction with such a flawed complainant. It was that they themselves had lost confidence in her: “The nature and number of the complainant’s falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter between the complainant and the defendant. If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so.”
I still think it is more likely that DSK attacked Diallo than that, as his lawyers claimed, they had consensual spur-of-the-moment sex after which, or even in the course of which, she instantly and brilliantly fabricated a rape. After all, DSK’s credibility in the coerced sex department is not very high either. But if I were on the jury, based on what we know so far, I would have voted to acquit. “More likely” just isn’t enough to send someone to prison.
Does dropping the charges mean rape victims can’t get justice? My editor reminded me that I said when this started that even though she was then reported to be a pious and upright Muslim widow, there would be things in her life and her past that would make her look bad: a shady boyfriend, a brush with crime, a legal fiddle. Nobody’s perfect, and no one is less likely to be found perfect than a female—even a child—who claims rape, especially when the alleged perpetrator is more socially powerful. In May, a New York City jury found it harder to believe that a cop raped a drunken half-clad woman in her apartment, leaving the door unlocked and returning three times while his partner played lookout, than that he made all those visits in order to counsel her about her drinking. Jury members seemed shocked at their own decision—but with no DNA, what could they do? It was just “he said, she said.”
The real credibility problems with Diallo shouldn’t make us forget how many women lose out in the justice system because behind them lurks the suspicion that they are lying, or crazy, or slutty or fair game, or a woman scorned, or out for money, fame or “attention.” The onus is always on her to disprove these powerful cultural myths, and it’s remarkable how hard it can be. Something. There’s usually something.