Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Concerns about Facts and Infant Mortality

Re: " 'Safety net' can be a trap for poor women" (My View, Dec. 5).
Published: December 08. 2010 in the Tallahassee Democrat

Public health issues, such as infant mortality rates (IMR), cannot be explained away with personal anecdotes. The health of a community cannot be reduced to the hundreds of separate decisions an individual makes in a lifetime. Numerous factors — policies and trends often beyond the control of the individual — contribute to racial health disparities in America.

It's hard to imagine how abuse of Medicaid by poor black mothers could be one of them. Less than a year's worth of free insurance seems an unlikely motivation for pregnancy. The Office of Minority Health reports that even when IMR is stratified by income and education of the mother, race is still a risk factor. This means that black women with the same salary and years of education as white women in their peer group are still at greater risk of having their babies die before they reach the age of 1. Even the Centers for Disease Control cannot explain this, but a history of racism surely plays a role.

For this reason it is unhelpful when respected professionals perpetuate myths about welfare abuse within the African-American community during a dialogue about IMR.


Related Posts:

Florida's F grade hardly a surprise
Safety net a trap for poor women

Ellen Hamilton: 'Safety net' can be a trap for poor women

Re: "Florida's F grade is hardly a surprise" (My View, Nov. 28).
Published: December 05. 2010 in the Tallahassee Democrat

It was the shards of glass on the ground that kept getting my attention. I was standing on the playground of a housing project, spending time with a young African-American girl whose social/emotional/psychological needs I was there to assess. As I observed this child, described as belligerent by her teacher and hard to manage by her mother, I was distracted by the dangers in the grass.

Why didn't someone pick up that glass, so the children could be safe? Were residents of the project waiting for the management to do it? The playground itself looked shabby, with much of the equipment broken, missing or unusable.

I stood there, wondering what could be done to truly improve the circumstances of people of the projects, people who are our neighbors.

Better brains than mine have attempted to unravel this rough, tightly woven fabric of racial, social, economic, political and psychological threads we call poverty. How do we alter the cycles in which poor people find themselves?

Dr. Edward Holifield made an impassioned plea that more attention be given to the issue of black babies and the appalling number born prematurely and those who die as infants. He notes social and political causes, citing "contempt for poor children in general and black children in particular." He reports that the "dysfunctionality" of Medicaid is "considered by some to be a risk factor for infant mortality." "In 2008, 42 percent of the births in Leon County were covered by Medicaid, which means that Medicaid must share the blame for such terrible birth outcomes, especially in regard to black infant mortality," he wrote.

This last statement is poisoned by a stark contradiction. The large number of Medicaid-paid-for births indicates that many women, without adequate income and insurance, are having babies. Whether Tea Partiers, conservatives, moderates or liberals, many people bristle, and some bleed, at this reality. Surely, the medical services paid for by Medicaid can do only so much to ensure the safe arrival and survival of black babies.

They represent hope for families, and I have heard many young, black mothers, no matter how dire their circumstances, refer to their babies as joys, blessings, the inspiration that keeps them going.

We all need hope. However, as long as young women and men have no cause for hope, other than having a baby, we have no chance of stopping the generational cycles of poverty.

The absence of black fathers has been noted as a factor in the health of black babies. Drug and alcohol addiction, incarcerations and poor education are rampant in the poorer families of our society. Self-esteem is compromised for many young people of all races, and depression lurks as an unrecognized, undiagnosed condition that is both cause and effect in the cycle of poverty.

It is illogical and dangerous to blame Medicaid, cracked and flawed though it is, for the terrible sadness of black infant mortality, without also looking at other issues. The binding and blinding truth is that the availability of Medicaid, intended to be a safety net for girls, women and infants — a critical, compassionate net we should be proud to have — is also a potential trap. Teenagers and young women often trade in their youth, sacrifice their educations and have multiple babies they can ill afford for reasons we must come to understand.

The hard-to-speak truth is that the contempt Dr. Holifield and others witness toward poor, black children is a contempt for the circumstances of individuals perceived to be using a system designed as a safety net, which has become the ground on which their lives and their children's lives are based.

While Aid to Families with Dependent Children is no longer available, young mothers can still receive housing subsidies, food stamps and other services. Extremely alarming is the trend of some parents invested in having their children labeled with a disability in order to receive disability benefits. For some families, this is the new welfare.

As long as young, black men leave, literally, their pants on the ground, and young, black women do not see for themselves a role, a life, a dream that takes them into young adulthood before they become pregnant, babies will continue to carry the burden of a community of people that is hurting and wants hope and a society and political system that are ambivalent, at best, about providing support to people seen as irresponsible.

The playground on which I stood a couple of years ago is no longer littered with glass, and new equipment is in place. At least, this has changed.

When I last contacted the young mother of the child mentioned above, she reported that her daughter's behavior had become less problematic. She no longer needed my services, and she was happy. She was pregnant, again.

As we lobby for better services for babies, we must also examine the effects of those services on the people who brought the babies into being, and be aware that, as we hold the net, we may also be setting the trap, as subtle and dangerous as those shards of glass on the playground.

As a society grappling with painful and knotty issues — fear, ignorance, racism and the legacies of the sin that was slavery — we must recognize, with heart and mind, the legitimate concerns of all segments of our society.

Related Posts:

Florida's F grade hardly a surprise
Concerns about facts and infant mortality

Edward Holifield: Florida's F grade on babies is hardly a surprise

Re: "Fla. gets an 'F' for premature birth rates" (news article, Nov. 17)
Published: November 28. 2010 in the Tallahassee Democrat

None of us familiar with Florida's abysmal record regarding maternal and children's health were surprised by this article in the Tallahassee Democrat. This record documents a history of contempt for poor children in general and black children in particular.

It places Florida in the company of other states with an F rating that typically have neglected their poor, such as Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Even West Virginia was ranked ahead of Florida in the annual report compiled by the March of Dimes.

Reality is even worse than the Democrat article suggested. For example, the article reported that 13.8 percent of Florida's babies were born too soon in 2008. This was a "provisional" statistic. The actual statistic was worse, at 14.2 percent. Further, 19.4 percent of black babies were born preterm in Florida in 2008, compared with 12.8 percent for white babies.

Thus black babies in Florida have a preterm birth rate more than 2.5 times the national government's objective of 7.6 percent. The black preterm birth rate in Florida is the same as the overall preterm birth rate for Puerto Rico.

The racial disparities regarding maternal and child health issues are extraordinary. A preterm rate of 13.0 percent was reported for Leon County. This obscures the black preterm rate of 16.8 percent, compared with the much lower white preterm rate of 10.4 percent.

The Democrat article reported that the preterm birth rate in Leon County has "decreased over the past three years." However, that rate decreased only modestly, from 14.3 percent in 2006.

Meanwhile, there has been no statistically significant improvement in infant mortality in Leon County during the past 20 years, according to state epidemiologist Bill Sappenfield. Black infant mortality in Leon County at 11.3 per thousand live births remains embarrassingly high when compared with white infant mortality at 4.3 per thousand.

These dismal results were predictable. Medicaid is so dysfunctional that it is considered by some to be a risk factor for infant mortality. Medicaid "reform" has turned into Medicaid repeal.

A pregnant woman in Florida is banished from the Medicaid rolls only 60 days after she delivers her baby. Thus, a sick mother is expected to be able to care for her infant child.

In 2008, 42 percent of the births in Leon County were covered by Medicaid, which means that Medicaid must share the blame for such terrible birth outcomes, especially in regard to black infant mortality.

During years 2006 through 2008, one out of five black women in Leon County received no prenatal care during their first trimester of pregnancy. By comparison, 91 percent of white women in Leon County received prenatal care during their first trimester of pregnancy.

Only 68.5 percent of black women in Leon County initiated breast feeding following delivery, compared with 85.8 percent of white women.

The black maternal mortality in Florida is 33.8 per 100,000, which is more than three times the maternal mortality rate for white women at 10.7.

These problems exist largely because the political power structure does not care. Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge in 2007 used the racially pejorative term "million dollar crack babies" when speaking of black infant mortality. Mayor John Marks and the city of Tallahassee spent more money in 2007 on the St. Francis Animal Hospital than on the Bond Community Health Center.

Florida in 2005 left unused $20 million in federal money that could have been spent on KidCare.

The problem is not money. Rather, it is a lack of political will, coupled with babies who cannot vote.

See responses to this article:

Safety net can be a trap for poor women
Concerns about facts and infant mortality

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Five Pitfalls of Gift Cards

You are going to get a few gift cards this holiday season. Chances are you are going to give a few too. This is a difficult post to write, knowing that many of my family and friends have given me such gift cards - so my point isn't to make anyone feel bad. My point is only to illuminate the pitfalls of gift cards, as there are many.

Why do I care? When I got married we received over $200 worth of gift cards to Home Depot and Lowes. They were even special wedding gift cards when a cute bride and groom on the plastic. The problem: we were moving into a second-story apartment in the metro New Orleans area. We had no reason to go to Home Depot - we wouldn't even have a yard. Our parents ended up buying the gift cards from us to be nice. Over the course of two years in New Orleans, we received around $50 worth of movie tickets to Regal Entertainment Cinemas from our family in Tallahassee. The problem: there isn't a Regal Cinema in the entire state of Louisiana. We could only use the tickets in Florida. In other words, we were given hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards that were worthless to us.

Here's a list of the pitfalls of gift cards that may make you think twice about giving plastic as a present. Alternatives: this Christmas give home-made gifts, make a donation to charity in your loved-one's name or just give cash.

Pitfall #1. What can you buy for exactly $20?

Nothing. You almost always have to purchase more than the value of the card to redeem every penny. Otherwise you are stuck with a card with 33 cents on it. Either way, you lose money. What kind of gift requires you to spend your own money?

Pitfall #2. What if that store doesn't exist in your town?

Well, you can always try to order something online. But when it's something like movie tickets....there's not much you can do. You can re-gift it to someone in another town, or the money is lost.

Pitfall #3. What if that store doesn't have anything you want?

Then you're REALLY out of luck. Very few cards are redeemable for cash. If you don't buy anything, the company gets to keep the gift-giver's money without selling any merchandise!

Pitfall #4. What if that store goes out of business before you use the card?

When Circuit City went out of business a few years ago, millions of dollars in gift cards went unredeemed, lost forever to the card holder. What a waste!

Pitfall #5. You should absolutely never buy a gift card with a credit card logo!

Above all, never give a gift card with a credit card logo. These often come with expiration dates or even activation fees. Why should anyone have to spend money only to spend more money?

Again, why not just give cash?

*The only thing positive I can say about gift cards is that I have been given cards to stores and restaurants that I never would have tried otherwise and in the end really enjoyed. Sometimes cards do encourage you to be adventurous and try new things. But in the big picture, gift cards benefit companies far more than they do consumers.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Office of Majority Health

I typically find Glen Beck to be unwatchable. I don't think he's usually worth the effort to be offended. But I found this clip to be so overtly racist that I couldn't help but wonder how he gets away with what he does.

Mostly I was interested because he specifically calls out the Office of Minority Health(OMH) for committing all sorts of evil against white people. And he seems to really have a problem with Doritos, as seen around 3:10.

After an initial rant about Obama and reparations, Beck introduces his guest, Linda Chavez, and the conversation turns to talk of Obama settling "old racial scores" and racial "preferences" within the administration's policies.

The two talk about OMH's supposed conspiracy to prove that minorities receive inferior health care than whites. Beck throws up air quotes when saying OMH wants to "nudge the system into a more 'fair' system of health care." Does he not believe that is what OMH is meant to do? Or does he not believe that a fair system would be one in which all Americans receive equal health care?

Chavez really gets me around 3:30 when she says: "A lot of our unequal health outcomes have to do with not just income but behavior... they're going to try to turn this into a race issue." During which Beck is also complaining simultaneously that "There is no Office of Majority Health."

Chavez is not a nurse, doctor, public health professional, epidemiologist. She's not even a dental hygienist. For what reason would she be invited to talk about health disparities, the causes of obesity and medical school admissions on the Glen Beck variety show? Because she knows how to spread racial angst to white people almost better than Beck himself.

Let's look at OMH's explanation for its own existence:

Why we were established

Poor health outcomes for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are apparent when comparing their health indicators against those of the rest of the U.S. population. These populations experience higher rates of illness and death from health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, specific cancers, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, asthma, hepatitis B, and overweight and obesity. OMH's primary responsibility is to improve health and health care outcomes for racial and ethnic minority communities by developing or advancing policies, programs, and practices that address health, social, economic, environmental and other factors which impact health.

Let's think about the Beck/Chavez explanation of obesity among minorities. Beck says it's that they must eat more Doritos than everyone else and that they should just stop. Chavez says it's really about individual behaviors or "what people do to themselves" and that OMH is making it a race issue.

If only health were as simple as the individual decisions we make for ourselves. As with all public health issues, obesity is extremely complex and related to factors that reach far beyond an individual's decision to eat Doritos instead of an apple. While it may seem intuitive that human adults should have the ultimate control over what we put into our mouths, you cannot ignore that environmental conditions and policy makers often have much more control over which foods find their way to our tables. Processed food is cheaper than fresh food. Major supermarkets do not open stores in low-income neighborhoods. Schools cut back physical education programs as they also down-grade the quality of food they feed our children. Beck and Chavez are happy to ignore these truths and blame poor health on the individual instead of the system that is proven to influence health outcomes.

Beck complains that there is no Office of Majority Health. This, of course, is not true. If the US Department of Health and Human Services had always had the best interest of all Americans in mind, the US would not have the embarrassing health statistics it has now. But, as an arm of a government with a racist past, how could this organization have been anything but an Office of Majority Health? All government institutions were once run by and for the exclusive benefit of white men.

Maybe one day the OMH will no longer be necessary. But currently African American infants die at a rate twice that of white infants. Would Linda Chavez blame this horrifying statistic purely on the behavior of African American mothers? I have a feeling she would.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reproductive Life Planning

50% of all pregancies in America are unplanned. In an age with so many contraceptive choices, how is this happening? Here is one example of what a reproductive life plan might look like. Produced by the Office of Minority Health, it is meant to get people of reproductive age to stop and think about what their goals for parenthood really are.

Do You Want Children?
Yes, then When? How many? What conditions need to be right?
No, then how are you avoiding pregnancy?

On the back, it asks you to put in writing what your plans are. Of course the plan can change at any moment. Both women and men should be aware of their partner's plan - though no one can force the other to change their own. For example, a man should not force his female partner to take oral contraceptive, but if he doesn't want to become a father and she doesn't want to be on the pill, he should use a condom or abstain from sex. Men shouldn't just leave decisions about contraception to women. They should play an active role in their own sexual health.

It may seem obvious to prepare yourself for parenthood, but clearly not enough couples are following through. This is a great preconception activity, especially for young people.

* In my presentation on STIs and Pregnancy, I emphasized that plans for avoiding STIs and Pregnancy can overlap sometimes but not always. When refering to the A,B,C method of prevention, A(bstinence) and C(ondoms) can work to avoid both STIs and Pregnancy. But the B is more tricky. (B)eing Faithful to your partner can work to avoid STIs, but not pregnancy. And (B)irth Control including oral contraceptives, IUDs and spermicidal jellies will help against pregnancy, but not against STIs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Autumn in New York

I was invited by OMH to give my PPE STIs and Pregnancy presentation at a training at Hunter College. Tyree and I made the most of the trip and went to the Met, the Guggenheim, Central Park and saw some friends. The weather was beautiful. I liked the city more this time than at any other time in my life. (There are more pictures of me than of Tyree, because he won't let me take pictures of him.)

Me, in front of Hunter College, where I gave my presentation.

Our cute hotel room.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mulemba Xangola

In just a few weeks, Tyree and I are moving to Angola. We expect to be there around two years. We are very excited.

I'm posting these maps first so that everyone is clear on where we're going. Just to be especially clear, we are going to Angola the country, not Angola the prison in Louisiana. (There was some confusion about this as we were leaving New Orleans!) We will be living primarily in Luanda, the capital.

Some brief details: The national language in Angola is Portuguese and there are about 30 different African languages spoken, corresponding with the 30 or so different ethnics groups. Angola was a Portuguese colony from the 1500's until 1975. Angolans, like Mozambicans, had to fight for their independence. After independence there was a civil war between the MPLA on the left and UNITA on the right. Actually, the civil war was much more complicated than that, but that's all I can explain for now.

The war ended in 2002 and Angola is now going through a period of reconstruction. It is oil and diamond country, which has the strange affect of making Luanda the most expensive cities in the world, in a country with one of the worst infant mortality rates among all nations.

We are very excited about our move. I will be posting all Angola-related posts on my other blog: Sem Conteção, which I started several years ago with the hope that I might return to Africa one day.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Interpretation Files: The Language Line

Since I began interpreting in New Orleans, I have been very interested in the use of the language line at hospitals and clinics. I had never seen it in action until today. I have always wondered how it compares to the use of on-site interpreters. My experience today is too small a sample size to draw any conclusions about the service, but it is a good example of how badly an interpretation session can go.

When the nurse first walked into the consultation room, I introduced myself as the patient's interpreter. The nurse said I wouldn't be necessary as the clinic uses the language line. I explained this option to the patient, who then said she still wanted me to interpret. When I told the nurse what the patient preferred, I was told that it was the clinic's policy to use only the language line. She specifically said "That is the only we can be sure the patient understands what is being said."

Now, I see how such a policy could be a good thing. It would prevent children, family members and friends who may not actually be fluent in both languages from serving as interpreters. This can potentially ensure accuracy and prevent a conflict of interest. The problem with the nurse's understanding of the policy was that even when a trained interpreter was available in-the-flesh, she chose to use the language line over the patient's request not to use the telephone service.

I explained that I am actually a trained interpreter but the nurse wasn't having it. I asked the patient if she still wanted me to stay in the room and she said yes. So I sat in the corner of the room, deciding to remain quiet and observe just how the language line really works. It didn't go very well. We waited quietly for ten minutes for the nurse to secure an interpreter on the other end of the phone. And I was right there, doing nothing!

The interpreter on the phone did almost every thing right; he spoke in the first person, even speaking in the third person when he had to request repetition. He was accurate most of the time. It was clear that he had received training similar to mine, which was interesting for me to see.

But he did not lay down any ground rules and this actually resulted in some major mistakes. He should have - from the very beginning - told both the nurse and the patient to speak only in short phrases. He let the nurse talk too long, giving him complicated directions, mixing questions with instructions. Clearly, she had no idea how difficult it would be for him to remember and interpret everything she was saying.

At one point she asked the interpreter - directly, as she wasn't even looking at the patient - to ask the patient if she was allergic to any medications, if she had been to the doctor recently and to list all the medications she was currently taking - all without giving the interpreter any time to ask the individual questions or giving the patient time to respond. The nurse wrote down that the patient had no allergies and then announced that the patient must not be taking any medication - as the interpreter hadn't listed any - and began to move on to the next set of questions.

This was the only time I interfered and I only did so because I knew the patient was taking medications and I also knew that the interpreter had never asked her that question - he had forgotten in the midst of all the other questions the nurse was asking. I interrupted to tell the nurse that the patient did take medications.

Here is the absurd part. The nurse looked at me and said "You see? The language line is the only way we know if the patient is understanding or not. If she can't even understand him, and he's a professional..." she shook her head. I took two things from this: One, she did not believe that I was a professional interpreter and two, she thought the patient was so stupid that she could not even understand another Spanish-speaker. The nurse had no idea that not everything she was saying was being interpreted because she herself wasn't giving enough time to the interpreter to do so. She had actually caused more inaccuracies because of the way she was handling the consultation. She was giving too much information at once, she was being confusing and she was treating the patient as if she wasn't in the room at all.

The interpreter is partly to blame as well. If he had simply set up the rules at the beginning, by insisting the nurse speak only in phrases short enough for him to remember, such mistakes could have been avoided.

I was impressed that the clinic has any language policy at all, but clearly it had been implemented without any staff training. The nurse's inflexibility was all a power trip anyway. When the doctor entered the room, I again introduced myself. I asked the doctor what she wanted to do, use the language line or me. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well, since you're already here. Why not?"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Prison is Nothing Like in the Movies

I keep seeing the trailer for Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps. In the trailer, there is this moment where Michael Douglas' character gets out of prison - having been there since the '80's for (I suppose) some white collar crimes involving money - and they give him his phone back. His ridiculously large, obsolete mobile phone. It's meant to be funny. It's meant to imply that he's been in prison a really long time.

Except, in my experience with people released from prison, this never happens. In my work I have met numerous people recently released who left with nothing, not even their i.d. The i.d. is actually the worst thing to lose. But why would they come out of prison or jail with no i.d.? Isn't there some safe box where you can leave all the things you enter with, so they can give it to you when you leave? Not exactly.

You may get your clothes back, but for some reason I have seen many clients who report having their i.d. lost/stolen while they were in prison. Just so you know, you can't do anything without an i.d. Replacement? At least thirteen dollars, if not more if it's expired. No money? Too bad. You can't even get into a homeless shelter without one.

I recently had a homeless man in my office. He had been released from prison some time ago, yet still didn't have a new i.d. He had recently been released from the ER and still had an i.d. bracelet around his wrist. I asked him if he wanted me to cut it off. No, he said, that's how they know who I am. The shelter needed an i.d., the only one he had was a plastic bracelet from the hospital.

So, who are they kidding? Who would get a phone back, twenty years later? Maybe that's something that happens, not when you steal a hundred dollars, but when you steal millions, on Wall Street.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mad Men: The Fashion Just Isn't Enough

I've tried so hard to understand why all the praise for Mad Men. I know I have friends who watch it, I read reviews and critiques, I hear it get called the best show on television. I've listened to Fresh Air's Terri Gross just gush all over interviews with John Hamm - more than once. But, in the same way I feel about football, I just can't bring myself to like it, even when it means missing out on (what seems like) an important piece of popular culture.

Unlike football, however, I actually do watch Mad Men. I watched all of the first season and part of the second expecting it to get better so that I could finally understand. And I still watch it, even now that I know Mad Men will never be the show it wants itself to be.

I hear about all the great acting and I don't doubt that with better lines, most of the actors on the show could be great. But there are too many spaces, gaps and pauses in the delivery for me to understand how John Hamm has won any sort of award for his portrayal of Don Draper.

I know a lot of people love the show for the fashion and interior design. But I have to wonder about this. We all know that women of this era wore clothes that were much more restricting and symbolic than the clothes we wear today. My grandmother was expected to wear hose every single day of her life, along with a garter belt, girdle, camisole, slip and heels. If we partner the fashion expectations with gender and marital expectations, we have a metaphor. Is Betty Draper sound tightly wound because her girdle is too tight or because her husband is too controlling? To have nostalgia for these kind of silhouettes, is to also have nostalgia for a time when women were treated like - well, like Betty Draper.

Which brings me to my main points. I don't really care that much about the bad acting and the fashion. It's the presence and absence of misogyny and the racism in the story lines.

The show certainly attempts to address the changing nature of sexuality in America. But I feel it does so without any heart or any direction. Let's start with Betty, the unhappy housewife whose husband cheats on her and calls her therapist after every session to find out what she said. We are given every reason to hate her. She's boring, she's shrill, and the only time she does anything interesting is when she's being an awful mother. So you end up feeling like Don has good reason to look for other women. So, what kind of feminist critique can we make of that? That Sally Draper is going to turn into one messed up teenage girl because of her mother? (And not because of her father?) By making us hate Betty, the writers let us ignore or diminish the problems she has as a woman.

Then there's the Joan/Peggy dichotomy. I actually find them interesting characters, but so much more could be done with the changing nature of women in the workplace. I'll admit, the last episode, in which Joan gets more aggressively harassed than ever before, did bring up some interesting points. For example, why did this incident of harassment bother Joan so much more? She's used her sexuality to gain respect and power in the office from the very first episode. And she has also dealt with stares, comments, innuendos and open flirtation all along. But suddenly she is faced with a younger man, who doesn't actually want to sleep with her, just to insult her. He uses her sexuality to put her in her place. To make her feel low. It was an interesting scene, but there are too few of such scenes. And the acting and writing was bad. The way in which Joan gets upset makes her seems like a school mistress who has lost control of her classroom. And then her rant in which she wishes they would all die in Vietnam seemed both cruel and immature.

What seemed like a great Feminist moment, was no such thing.

And I feel the whole show is this way. It presents itself as a drama that addresses the changing social issues of this important time in America. And yet, it doesn't thoroughly address anything at all. I have never seen another show in which a womanizing misogynist such as Don Draper meets so few consequences. Even Christian Troy from Nip/Tuck has consequences. He was presented as a sexual sociopath, he was punished for his actions. Don Draper gets a divorce from a women no one really cares about anyway. Oh, he doesn't get to live with his kids anymore? All the more freedom to continue being a man-whore. He drinks a lot post-divorce? He drank a lot pre-divorce. His womanizing isn't presented as a character flaw any more than his tobacco habit.

What other social issue was just emerging in this era? Oh right, the Civil Rights movement. Why does Mad Men refuse to address race? We know most of the characters (except maybe Peggy) are racists. Even the likable Joan is a racist. There is exactly one named black character, Carla, the maid (of course). I would think that people in advertising would have taken a little more notice back then. It was their job to be on top of social trends. Wouldn't they have at least been talking about it over drinks? Weren't they scared for themselves? I'm not sure why the show is holding out. This is a common criticism. Where are all the black people? Where are the conversations? What did white people back then say to each other about the coming changes? If we're supposed to believe that Don Draper and Roger Sterling don't think there will be any changes, then let's see that dialogue on the show. Let's watch them be foolish and ignore what we all know is coming.

Here's my principle complaint: The show needs to be more over-the-top. The moments I've liked the best are the times when something crazy happens. Like, someone's foot is run over by a lawnmower inside an office building, or when Don manipulates Roger into throwing up by making him walk up 20 flights of stairs after eating oysters and drinking too much at lunch just for flirting with his wife. In my opinion, every moment of every episode should be that crazy.

There should be more commentary, more critiquing of the time and less story line. Why should we be made to care about Don Draper? Why did the writers think that was a good route to take? I don't want to feel sorry for Don because he cheated himself out of his family. I do want to see the consequences of misogyny in action. I don't want to know if their ad firm is successful. I do want to see the white businessmen lose ground when they fail to change with the times. Stop with the melodrama. We don't need to be voyeurs into our grandparents' bedrooms. If we wanted to know what brand of cereal was popular then, we could ask our parents. I want to see an exaggerated vision of the Mad Men's world - just before it collapsed.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some Things to Be Understood about New Orleans and Katrina

A few years ago, I ran into the father of a friend of mine in Tallahassee. He was with her uncle, who I was meeting for the first time. We talked a little, the father asked how I was liking New Orleans, and I told him how much I loved it. Suddenly, the uncle busts out with this rant:

"I don't know why they're rebuilding that city. It's all under sea level, and it's raising my insurance premiums. It's ridiculous!" Or, something along those lines.

Now, I don't know why this Florida resident thought that rebuilding New Orleans would increase his insurance premiums anymore than a beach house in Panama City. And I don't know why all the rancor. But it shed a little light on the feelings not a few Americans have about New Orleans.

Not everyone loves this city. It's hard to believe, because so many people do. People have their hearts buried here. But some people have no love for New Orleans. Maybe they have a bad memory of puking their guts out on Bourbon Street in their fraternity days. Maybe they are just not moved by a brass band marching down St. Charles Avenue at Mardi Gras.

When it comes to Katrina, some people have opinions that, really, if they don't live here, why do they even bother? For people who don't love the city, Katrina gives them this reason to say the city shouldn't even exist. It's below sea level, people shouldn't live there, they don't want their taxes payin' for it.

Here are a few things those people need to understand. They are not righteous in their opinions. And they are wrong about the facts.

While Katrina damaged many buildings, it was the flooding that killed people and created most of the property damage. The flooding actually occurred hours after the worst of the storm had past.

The Industrial Canal that flooded the Ninth Ward is a man-made body of water. People were living in the Ninth Ward before the canal and levees were built in the 1920's. It is and always has been the Army Corps of Engineer's responsibility to maintain the levees that protect this neighborhood. The levees broke because they were poorly maintained.

The flooding was not inevitable and does not have to happen again. It was not purely a natural disaster. If the Army Corps of Engineers maintains the levees the way it should, this disaster does not have to be repeated. So, why shouldn't people live here?

Not all of New Orleans is under sea level, but most of New Orleans was flooded. Is it reasonable to think that the entire city should have gone without rebuilding?

Tax dollars. I hear people complain that tax money shouldn't go into rebuilding New Orleans. One, Louisiana pays taxes like any other state. Two, it was the government's responsibility to maintain the levees and it failed. Why shouldn't it foot the bill?

That being said, how much money has really gone into rebuilding when there are so many people who have yet received money to come home?

Now for some City Oppression Olympics: Do people really talk about Los Angeles, with it's earthquakes, wild fires, mudslides and droughts, with the same venom? Do people hold the same belief that Las Vegas shouldn't exist because it is so unsustainable? Miami and Galveston have been hit with monstrous hurricanes, and will be again. Does anyone question why we rebuild them? The entire country of Bangladesh is under sea level, prone to horrible natural disasters. Should we withhold aid from Bangladeshis until they live where we want them to? Home is home. What right does anyone have to say the Ninth Ward shouldn't be rebuilt when the people who lived there want to come home?

Perhaps because Katrina was such a dramatic disaster, everyone has an opinion about the city's existence. It is one of the oldest cities in America, of extreme importance to America's history and present. From Louisiana, the rest of the country takes oil, seafood, music - and New Orleans is the center of industry, a major port, the entrance to the Mississippi River. It's not worth rebuilding? It's not worth protecting?

It angers me to hear people ask why the city should be rebuilt. One, it has already been rebuilt. The Ninth Ward is coming back, with or without the support of everyone else in America. So, it's a little late to say it shouldn't happen. It doesn't seem to matter how many times Anderson Cooper comes down here and reports from some revitalized neighborhood - some people still envision the city under water. Some people will always see New Orleans as suffering. And that's their problem, not ours.

Americans should question their own neighborhoods. Do they have the same culture, history and heart as New Orleans? What makes your home worth protecting? If you dare to question the validity of this community, are you really ready to defend yours against such questioning?

Related sites:
Gulf Restoration Network

Harry Shearer: Five Myths about Katrina

Drugs are a Human Rights Violation: Part II

Seventy-two migrants were found near the U.S.-Mexico Border, murdered by members of a drug cartel on August 26th. Two days later, Paris Hilton was arrested for cocaine possession in Las Vegas.
And all people can say is that she looks pretty, even in her mug shot.

No one in the media draws a connection between drug use and the violence playing out in Mexico today. People blame the war on drugs, drug policies, prohibition, the governments of the U.S. and Mexico - and all of these play their part - yet no one ever places the responsibility on the people who actually purchase these drugs for recreation.

I'm not saying that Paris Hilton has killed seventy-two Latin Americans herself. But I am saying that instead of focusing on the superficial aspects of the story - like her beauty, her irreverence, her foolishness for getting caught - we should ask her if she knows where her drugs come from. Does she know how they got to Las Vegas? Did they come from a fair trade coca farm in Southern California? Did they come wrapped in condoms swallowed by a drug mule?

When Lindsay Lohan was photographed in Paris with a cocaine-powdered credit card in the corner, people laughed. They said she was stupid for letting herself be photographed with cocaine when she was supposed to be in court in California. But no one drew a connection between Lindsay Lohan snorting cocaine in France and the countries in West Africa that have become violent stopping points for drugs on their way from Latin America to Europe. When celebrities are caught with drugs, the media worries about the end of a career, the affect on beauty, the dimming of a star. No one thinks about the people in the developing world who suffered in the production process. Why is that? Why doesn't anyone make drug use a human rights issue?

Some people argue that legalization of cocaine and heroin might somehow solve all the problems of the drug trade. Some people say drug use should be decriminalized and users should be treated for addiction instead of placed in prison. And those ideas may have their merits. But I see nothing wrong with making the connection between purchasing cocaine, heroin and meth and financially supporting the violent drug cartels that are currently murdering people at will. When you pay for cocaine, you are putting money in the pockets of some messed-up people. When you snort cocaine, you are snorting blood.

Related posts:

Drugs are a Human Rights Violation: Part I
Ms. Hilton in Africa
Ms. Lohan in India

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dirty Linen Night: August 14, 2010

My favorite artist who shows locally: Alex Beard

George Rodrigue is probably the most famous local artist, and he's famous mostly for his blue dogs. I like his older work, scenes of Cajun life and Louisiana landscape. I did like this one portrait of his wife, because it recalls the first blue dog, who was painted over a tomb like this one.

Chris Roberts-Antieau

Friday, August 20, 2010

Interpretation Files: PSA from Texas

In this PSA, an English-speaking rushes her sick baby to a hospital where no one speaks English. I'm not sure what they are speaking (any ideas)? The idea, I believe, is to show what it would be like to be unable to communicate with anyone in an emergency. I like the guy who speaks two words of English and throws them out there as if they could help.

I think it's interesting that - in a PSA aiming to improve language access in America - they chose to make an English-speaker the subject of our sympathy. I believe this is because those people most against language access would not be moved by watching a Spanish-speaking mother in this situation. They would probably mutter something about how she needed to learn English anyway. Watching a White mother try to find someone who speaks English in a hospital full of other White people makes it less about race and more about the linguistic problem of being unable to speak the language of those in charge.

Sunday, August 15, 2010