Posts filed under Experts

Data-less Trend Story of the Year

I know, it’s early, but I feel like this one is going to be hard to top. Last week, in the pages of the New York Times, we learn, from a completely impressionistic, completely dataless smattering of interviews that some vaguely-defined mass of hipsters from Brooklyn are starting to ponder the unthinkable: a move to the suburbs, and beginning an as-yet completely undocumented mass exodus from Brooklyn Now if you read through the story you will find that this reporting is based on a series of interviews with a handful of married couples, several of them with young children and almost all of them in their late thirties, punctuated in the middle by an interview with a professional realtor who has a direct financial and self-promotional interest in talking up the trend. Now of course neighborhoods and boroughs are constantly changing and it’s perfectly possible that something interesting is really systematically going on[1] — actually there are a few different interesting things that might be systematically going on. Or it might be nothing.[2] In either case this would certainly be an interesting topic to get some systematic data on.

However, what we get from the New York Times is, instead, a colorfully illustrated discussion of the stunning news that when a subcultural demographic was partly identified and defined by the fact that they are young, then eventually they will get old. And when they get older — especially once they get into their mid- to late-30s, and especially if they get married and have kids — then many of them will move out of the big city and into the suburbs. And when people of a particular age reach the particular age where some of them start moving to the suburbs, it turns out that those who do take their fashions and their market niches with them.

Also, this reporter has discovered that people who are now in their late 30s and raising children find the city they’re living in no longer feels as carefree as it did when they were young, unattached, and had fewer responsibilities.

I am sure that the bakery with the bird silhouettes is really quite cute.

  1. [1] The theory of the article is that gentrifying hipsters and artistes are now being driven out of Brooklyn by the real-estate prices they helped to drive up. Maybe. Or maybe not. This is the sort of thing you’d want to collect data on.
  2. [2] In the absence of any data, of course, we have no idea how many people are moving out, and no idea how many people, with what sorts of backgrounds, are or are not moving in to replace them.

Roe v. Wade Day (#40)

To-day is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, repealing abortion laws in the United States. Like all anniversaries, it’s a good day for remembering, and for honoring.

Here’s libertarian feminist Lucinda Cisler’s brilliant and chillingly prescient article on Abortion Law Repeal (Sort Of): A Warning to Women. From Ramparts (August 1970), on the importance of radicalism to the pro-choice movement and the danger of TRAP laws and state control.

The most important thing feminists have done and have to keep doing is to insist that the basic reason for repealing the laws and making abortions available is JUSTICE: women’s right to abortion. Everyone recognizes the cruder forms of opposition to abortion traditionally used by the forces of sexism and religious reaction. But a feminist philosophy must be able to deal with all the stumbling blocks that keep us from reaching our goal, and must develop a consciousness about the far more subtle dangers we face from many who honestly believe they are our friends. In our disgust with the extreme oppression women experience under the present abortion laws, many of us are understandably tempted to accept insulting token changes that we would angrily shout down if they were offered to us in any other field of the struggle for women’s liberation. We’ve waited so long for anything to happen that when we see our demands having any effect at all we’re sorely tempted to convince ourselves that everything that sounds good in the short run will turn out to be good for women in the long run. And a lot of us are so fed up with the system that we don’t even bother to find out what it’s doing so we can fight it and demand what we want. This is the measure of our present oppression: a chain of aluminum does feel lighter around our necks than one made of iron, but it’s still a chain, and our task is still to burst entirely free… .

. . . But the new reform legislation now being proposed all over the country is not in our interest either: it looks pretty good, and the improvements it seems to promise (at least for middle-class women) are almost irresistible to those who haven’t informed themselves about the complexities of the abortion situation or developed a feminist critique of abortion that goes beyond it’s our right. And the courts are now handing down decisions that look good at a glance but that contain the same restrictions as the legislation.

All of the restrictions are of the kind that would be extremely difficult to get judges and legislators to throw out later (unlike the obvious grotesqueries in the old reform laws, which are already being challenged successfully in some courts and legislatures). A lot of people are being seriously misled because the legislation and the court decisions that incorporate these insidious limitations are being called abortion law repeal by the media.

. . . There are many reasons why a woman might seek a late abortion, and she should be able to find one legally if she wants it. She may suddenly discover that she had German measles in early pregnancy and that her fetus is deformed; she may have had a sudden mental breakdown; or some calamity may have changed the circumstances of her life: whatever her reasons, she belongs to herself and not to the state.

— Lucinda Cisler (1970), Abortion Law Repeal (Sort Of): A Warning to Women, in Ramparts (August 1970).

And here is how a group of women in Chicago took matters into their own hands, years before Roe, without the blessing of the male experts and in defiance of the man-made Law, in order to make justice for their sisters a reality.

Radical women in Chicago poured their energy into Jane, an abortion referral service initiated by Heather Booth, who had been a one-woman grapevine for her college classmates. In 1971, after Booth’s departure, some of the women took matters into their own hands and secretly began to perform the abortions themselves. Safe, compassionate terminations for a modest fee became their high calling—a model, as they saw it, for women’s empowerment after the revolution.

Leaflets appeared in the Hyde Park neighborhood of the University of Chicago bearing a simple message: Pregnant? Don’t want to be? Call Jane at 643-3844. The number rang at the home of one of the activists who volunteered to be Jane. As word spread and the volume of calls increased, the service acquired its own phone line and an answering machine, a cumbersome reel-to-reel device that was one of the first on the market. Volunteers, known inside the service as call-back Janes, visited the abortion seekers to elicit crucial medical details (most important was lmp, the number of weeks since the last menstrual period), then another level of volunteers scheduled an appointment with one of the abortionists on the group’s list.

At first the service relied on Mike in Cicero, who was fast, efficient, and willing to lower his price to five hundred dollars as the volume increased. Mike gradually let down his guard with Jody Parsons, his principal Jane contact, an artisan who sold her beaded jewelry and ceramics at street fairs and was a survivor of Hodgkin’s disease. The clandestine abortionist and the hippy artisan struck up a bond. When Mike confessed that he was not in fact a real doctor but merely a trained technician, she cajoled him into teaching her his skills. Jody’s rapid success in learning to maneuver the dilating clamps, curettes, and forceps demystified the forbidden procedures for another half dozen women in Jane. If he can do it, then we can do it became their motto.

Madeline Schwenk, a banker’s daughter who had married at twenty, six months pregnant with no clue whatsoever about how to get an abortion, moved from counseling to vacuum aspiration after Harvey Karman, the controversial director of a California clinic, came to Chicago to demonstrate his technique. Madeline was one of the few women in Jane who was active in NOW, and who stayed affiliated with the Chicago chapter during the year she wielded her cannula and curette for the service. I’d get up in the morning, make breakfast for my three kids, go off to do the abortions, then go home to make dinner, she reminisces. Pretty ourageous behavior when you think about it. But exciting.

Jane’s abortion practitioners and their assistants were able to handle a total of thirty cases a day at affordable fees—under one hundred dollars. A doctor and a pharmacist among the women’s contacts kept them supplied with antibiotics.

Fear of police surveillance in radical circles had its match among clandestine abortionists who relied on a complicated rigamarole of blindfolds and middlemen. Jane straddled both worlds. Abortion seekers gathered every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at a front apartment, usually the home of a Jane member or friend, and were escorted by Jane drivers to the Place, a rented apartment where the abortions were performed. The fronts and the Place changed on a regular basis. New volunteers, brought into the group by counselors and drivers, went through a probation period before they were told that women in Jane were doing the abortions. The news did not sit well with everyone. Turnover was high, from fear and from burnout, although the service usually maintained its regular complement of thirty members.

Jane lost most of its middle-class clientele after the New York law [repealing the state’s abortion ban] went into effect. Increasingly it began to service South Side women, poor and black, who did not have the money to travel out of state, and whose health problems, from high blood pressure to obesity, were daunting. Pressure on the providers intensified. Audaciously they added second-trimester abortionsby induced miscarriage to their skills.

On May 3, 1972, near the conclusion of a busy work day in an eleventh-floor apartment on South Shore Drive overlooking Lake Michigan, Jane got busted. Seven women, including Madeline Schwenk, were arrested and bailed out the following day. The Chicago Daily News blared Women Seized in Cut-Rate Clinic in a front-page banner. The Tribune buried Lib Groups Linked to Abortions on an inside page. Six weeks later the service was back in buinsess. Wisely, the women facing criminal charges selected a defense attorney who was clued in to and optimistic about the national picture. She advised them to hang tight—some interesting developments were taking place in Washington that could help their case. (After the January 1973 Roe decision, all outstanding charges against the seven were dropped.)

The activists of Jane believe they performed more than ten thousand abortions. It’s a ballpark figure based on the number of procedures they remember doing in a given week. For security reasons they did not keep records.

— Susan Brownmiller, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, pp. 123—125

Here’s Roe v. Wade Day (#36), which I wrote a few years back. I would now just emphasize that I wrote this article at the beginning of the Obama administration; halfway through that administration, I can only say that the ongoing legal assault on reproductive rights under Obama’s administration — an assault which, depending on the case, he has either been directly complicit in, or simply could do nothing effectual to prevent — has been far more extensive, and far worse, than I would have pessimistically predicted in January 2009. I actually do have a great deal of hope about the future and about the prospects for reproductive rights. And to-day is as good a day as any for remembering the reasons why. But none of these reasons have to do with any hope I have left for electoral campaigns or pro-choice politicians.

To-day, as part of Blog for Choice Day, NARAL would like bloggers to write about your top pro-choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress. But, as much as I might like for the now-ruling Democrats to roll back the past 8 years of new restrictions on abortion rights, I think the most important lesson to remember on this day is not to put your hope in the politicians and their power-plays. As noxious as Bush Jr.’s regime may have been, we can’t afford to forget that it was not George W. Bush, but pro-choice Bill Clinton who spent eight years presiding over the most intense and coordinated legal assaults on abortion rights in the post-Roe era — the emergence and proliferation of TRAP laws and procedure bans from 1992 to 2000. Politicians make political decisions, and even the most principled are subject to political forces beyond their personal control, and when we put our hope for social change in their hands, whatever convictions they confess and whatever parties they swear to, they will throw it away as soon as it suits them, again, and again, and again.

If not politicians, then who should we put our hopes in? But the answer should be obvious: we must put our hope in ourselves . . . The repeal of the abortion laws in the United States wasn’t a gift handed down out of benevolence by a gang of old men in robes. It was struggled for, and won, by women in our own times. It didn’t take ballot boxes; it didn’t take political parties; it didn’t take clever legal briefs. It took radical women who stood up for themselves, who challenged the authority of self-appointed male experts and law-makers, who spoke truth to power, who took things into their own hands and helped their sisters, in defiance of the law, because they knew that they had a right to do it, and to hell with any law and any government that said otherwise. Radical feminists who built a movement for their own freedom over a matter of months and decisively changed the world in less than five years. . It’s not just that we owe the Redstockings, Cindy Cisler, Heather Booth, Jody Parsons, Madeline Schwenk, and so many others our praise. They do deserve our cheers, but they also deserve our study and our emulation. They did amazing things, and we — feminists, leftists, anti-statists — owe it not only to them, but to ourselves, to honor them by trying to learn from their example.

— GT 2009-01-22: Roe v. Wade Day (#36)

View articles tagged “Something we’ve all been wondering about, I suppose…”

A real headline and byline from a Sunday Review in last month’s New York Times:

Op-Ed Columnist: How Did the Robot End Up With My Job? — By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN.

For once, Thomas L. Friedman’s automated Thoroughly Conventional Opinion Generator actually spits out a question we’ve all been asking, from time to time.

(Via @notjessewalker, who actually is Jesse Walker.)

i-Give Up

(Via Cerpn @ Google Reader.)

Kids around the country are getting high on the internet, thanks to MP3s that induce a state of ecstasy. And it could be a gateway drug leading teens to real-world narcotics.

At least, that’s what Kansas News 9 is reporting about a phenomenon called “i-dosing,” which involves finding an online dealer who can hook you up with “digital drugs” that get you high through your headphones.

And officials are taking it seriously.

Kids are going to flock to these sites just to see what it is about and it can lead them to other places, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs spokesman Mark Woodward told News 9.

I-dosing involves donning headphones and listening to “music” — largely a droning noise — which the sites peddling the sounds promise will get you high. Teens are listening to such tracks as “Gates of Hades,” which is available on YouTube gratis (yes, the first one is always free).

Those who want to get addicted to the drugs can purchase tracks that will purportedly bring about the same effects of marijuana, cocaine, opium and peyote. While street drugs rarely come with instruction manuals, potential digital drug users are advised to buy a 40-page guide so that they learn how to properly get high on MP3s.

Oklahoma’s Mustang Public School district isn’t taking the threat lightly, and sent out a letter to parents warning them of the new craze. The educators have gone so far as to ban iPods at school, in hopes of preventing honor students from becoming cyber-drug fiends, News 9 reports.

— Ryan Singel, Threat Level (2010-07-14): Report: Teens Using Digital Drugs to Get High

So no, in case you were wondering, there is no bottom to this cognitive barrel: absolutely no drug panic so flimsily contrived that narcocratic Officials won’t use it as an opportunity to issue breathless press statements pleading for greater social control, or so obviously manufactured and transparently idiotic that the responsible gatekeepers of the newsmedia won’t gravely report about the Alarming New Trend, the worried reactions of Concerned Parents & Teachers, and the pressing need for Officials and Concerned Parents to be even more proactive in freaking the hell out, obsessively spying on their sons’ and daughters’ pastimes, taking away teenagers’ possessions, and controlling teenagers’ behavior. It’s not just that you don’t need to demonstrate that anybody is suffering, or even could possibly suffer, any kind of physical harm. The drug scare doesn’t need to involve any actual drugs; apparently it doesn’t even need to involve a physical substance. Or anything but the most tangential connection to basic facts of human physiology. A drug scare story without any drugs nicely distils the one really important feature of every drug scare story: all that you need to work up an adult panic is to find enough teenagers in one place (one or two on YouTube will do) who are trying to convince themselves that they’re having a good time without an adult’s prior approval — if some teenager somewhere is experiencing pleasure, never mind the cause, that alone is reason enough to call the narcs and issue yet another story leading off As if parents of teenagers don’t have enough to worry about…

So here, we find a whole gang of Responsible Adults holding positions of community authority — professional narcs, journalists, teachers and parents — all of them freaking the hell out because some teenagers somewhere might be trying to convince themselves that they’re having a good time listening to MP3s of binaural beat meditation music. A new craze? Sure, evidently there is a craze going on here. But who is it that’s acting crazed?

The politics of fear are the most dangerous mind-altering substance on the market.

Friendship en masse

From a recent Duelling Experts Trend Story in the New York Times:

Today, Ms. Shreeves, of suburban Philadelphia, is the mother of two boys. Her 10-year-old has a best friend. In fact, he is the son of Ms. Shreeves’s own friend, Penny. But Ms. Shreeves’s younger son, 8, does not. His favorite playmate is a boy who was in his preschool class, but Ms. Shreeves says that the two don’t get together very often because scheduling play dates can be complicated; they usually have to be planned a week or more in advance. He’ll say, I wish I had someone I can always call, Ms. Shreeves said.

One might be tempted to feel some sympathy for the younger son. After all, from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, the childhood “best friend” has long been romanticized in literature and pop culture — not to mention in the sentimental memories of countless adults.

But increasingly, some educators and other professionals who work with children are asking a question that might surprise their parents: Should a child really have a best friend?

Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that, said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.

Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend, she continued. We say he doesn’t need a best friend.

— Hilary Stout, The New York Times (2010-06-16): A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding>

Later in the article, we call up another set of experts — in this case some psychologists (or, perhaps, many psychologists) who worry about this, and think that children ought to be raised so that they get the strong emotional support and security that comes with intimate friendships.

Meanwhile, nobody stops to ask a child what she wants or needs by way of friendship, or to consider what children might think or feel or want while caught in the crossfire of these duelling Experts. (The only time we hear from any children at all are when two hand-picked twins are pulled aside in the midst of a crowded, noisy, hyperathletic, parentally-supervised suburban mass play-date — the sort of thing I would have considered utter hell if I had been subjected to it at age 12 — and given the chance to utter a couple of brief sentences about whether or not they currently have best friends.) Or stops to consider whether different children might need different things, and that, since a given youngun knows something about her own daily social and emotional life, and the credentialed Professional Who Work With Children knows somewhere between little and nothing about it, she might actually have a better idea of who she likes, what she enjoys, what she needs, and what she benefits from better than an actual or effective stranger holding a degree or some bureaucratic power does.

Once again, a putative attempt to deal with very real social problems — the prison-yard social atmosphere in many government schools; the pervasiveness and cruelty of repeated bullying — is promptly run aground, because the real causes of the problem (the legal imprisonment of children in government schools, through compulsory attendance laws; the cultivation of violent masculinity; the refusal of educrats to give children any effective say over something as basic as who they are sitting next to from day to day, which classes they spend their time in, etc.) are all things that you can’t challenge without challenging institutional schooling itself or other, equally fundamental organizing principles of the system of power that we live under. So, instead, an alleged effort to deal with bullying becomes an institutional campaign to eradicate any form of social division or exclusivity — thus, any form of emotional intimacy — whatever, in favor of a well-regulated mass relationship. Of course, those who are the most likely to picked out and victimized by freelance bullying — introverted kids, who don’t open up easily to people they hardly know, and who prefer intense connections with a very small circle of close friends — rather than big, noisy social events sharing casual activities with dozens of acquaintances — are exactly those who are most likely to be targeted and treated as pathological, in need of getting adjusted good and hard, through the blandly smiling institutional bullying inflicted on them by entitled know-it-alls acting As adults — teachers and counselors.

Bullying is an awful thing, and I’m glad that lots of people associated with schools are finally coming around to recognizing that they have to do something about it. But trying to deal with it by shoving kids around to try and make them adopt friendship en masse — whether they want it or not — is going to turn out to be little more than punishing the victims, and extending government schooling’s war against introverts, making kids’ lives miserable in the name of their notion of Emotional Health.