Friday, December 12, 2008

Huckabee, gay marriage and The Daily Show

I've been meaning to post this for a couple days now, but keep forgetting (because I have a brain like a sieve) even though, in the meantime, everyone else of note has already posted. I'm joining the party a little late.

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show "discusses" gay marriage with the oddly-charming-and-all-the-more-scary-because-of-it Mike Huckabee (who used to be everyone's favorite love-to-hate crazy conservative until Sarah Palin came along):

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A personal abortion narrative

I received an email yesterday from a fellow blogger (I'm not sure if she wants to be named or not, so I'll just call her B. for now) with a disturbing story forwarded from a close friend who had a harrowing abortion experience. Everyone reading this should know that I'm pro-choice and that this is in no way an anti-abortion narrative. However, just like any other medical procedure, abortions need to be handled in a respectful and caring manner, and the below experience seems very far from appropriate, thoughtful or attentive. While I personally have always had good feelings when it comes to Planned Parenthood--and I certainly support and appreciate their mission and goals for women's health--I think it's exceptionally important to showcase problems with the system when they arise. Just because I respect an organization doesn't mean they do everything perfectly or that there isn't room for significant improvement.

As an introduction to her friend's account, B. writes:
I am forwarding this story on behalf of my friend. I am trying to get the word out to as many people as possible, and encourage women that have had similar experiences to share them. She recently had an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic and the experience was so awful that she feels that it did more harm to her psyche than just the abortion itself would have. She said to me: "I'm seriously fucked up in the head now because of the experience. And I honestly believe it's not because I had an abortion but because I was apart of what went on that day. It was horrible. I was the ONLY woman there crying. There were women in the waiting room laughing, having a grand ol' time like it was nothing. I know people cope with situations differently, but this was crazy."

Here is the story she wrote. I don't know if you guys can post part or all of it, but I just want to share it, and she has given me permission to do so. I also want to encourage anyone that has had similar experiences to write to PP, to do anything they can to spread the word and hope to have this rectified. This is an organization that claims to care about woman, and no woman should have to experience what my friend went through.
Her friend's story, in full, is below the cut:

"I recently had an abortion at the Falls Church, VA Planned Parenthood. Having an abortion is delicate process, starting with the decision to terminate the pregnancy. Planned Parenthood has made that process the absolute WORST it could've been and I'd like to share my experience with you. Starting with the initial appointment I made at the D.C. Planned Parenthood for November 22nd. That appointment was scheduled for 11:30. When we showed up, there were a minimum of 20 protestors outside throwing rosary beads at me and trying to shove a bible in my face. After going through that, I was turned away (as was the couple in line before us) by the security guard behind the desk due to, "We ain't takin' no mo appointments today. You gotta reschedule." There was no apology offered and to be honest, she was very rude. When I called to reschedule the receptionist explained to me that they always over-book the appointments because a lot of people usually don't show up. Apparently that day everyone showed up and the building was at maximum capacity. No one called to inform me that I wouldn't be able to be seen. The time and gas money spent driving, the money spent on parking, and the harassment from protestors could've been avoided with a simple phone call.

"I decided that I'd rather have the procedure done at a different PP because I didn't want to have the same thing happen to me again. When I called the Falls Church, VA Planned Parenthood I explained to the receptionist what happened at the D.C. office and asked if that could happen there. She was appalled at what happened and asked if I would tell my story to one of the head people, to which I agreed. I went ahead and made the appointment at the Falls Church office. Later that day I received a phone call from a very nice lady who offered me a sincere apology and said that shouldn't have happened and she would get to the bottom of it.

"On Friday, December 5, 2008 my boyfriend and I arrived at the Falls Church office at approximately 8:30 a.m. I wasn't greeted with a smile, only a cold voice asking for my identification. I showed the receptionist my i.d. and she handed me paperwork. She then wrote a #4 next to my name on her list. After I filled out the papers, I was told to have a seat and I would be called back (for what, I didn't know) in a few minutes. A few minutes later the receptionist called my name and told me that it would be $425. We paid her then sat back down. After waiting just a little bit, I was called back and my boyfriend attempted to come back with me. The nurse quickly told him that he wasn't allowed back so he stayed in the waiting room. I was taken into a room and told to remove my clothes from the waist down, cover up with the provided paper blanket and have a seat on the table. I asked the lady what was going to happen and she informed me that I was going to have an ultrasound to see how far along I am. I'm not sure why my boyfriend wasn't able to be in the room for this because if I were keeping the baby, he would be able to be in the room for an ultrasound. The lady came back in the room, grabbed a long probe, covered it with lubricating gel, and said only, "Spread your legs." I was a little surprised because I was assuming that it was going to be an abdominal ultrasound, not a vaginal. Maybe I shouldn't have assumed, but it wasn't explained to me by any of the PP employees, so I didn't know. She then probed around and said, "Ten weeks and 2 days." That kind of surprised me because based on my calculations I wasn't that far along. I asked her to explain to me how she calculated that date. Her explanation was exactly how I calculated it, which didn't add up to 10 weeks. When I told her that, her only explanation was that "it's very confusing." She then told me to get dressed and go back in the waiting room, offering nothing to clean the gel from my vagina.

"Again I'm in the waiting room when I get called back again. This time my boyfriend was able to come back with me because it was for counseling. The counselor was very pleasant and informative and didn't mind answering any questions that either of us had. This part was the ONLY good experience I had at PP. After the session was over, she told us to go back into the waiting room.

"I was in the waiting room for less than a minute when I got called back again; this time to have my blood pressure taken and to have my blood drawn. Again, my boyfriend was not allowed to come back with me. The nurse asked me what my blood type was and I told her B positive. She said, "Well we still have to draw your blood to check if your Rh is negative." She did the bp check and drew my blood, never saying a word, then told me to go back into the waiting room.

"After waiting for a while again, a lady opened the door and called 4 names, including mine, to come back. It was now 10:00 a.m. and my boyfriend wasn't able to come back, again. She had us all sit in chairs while she called one of us at a time to talk about if we wanted Xanax, give us OTC pain meds, and ask us about our preference of birth control. I was able to hear the conversations she was having with the other 3 ladies (numbers 1-3), because as I said earlier, I was #4. One lady chose the nuva ring, one didn't want anything, and the other wanted pills. Is it a HIPAA violation that I know each of their names and what method of birth control they're on due to the fact that I could hear the conversations? The lady then informed me that the doctor doesn't arrive until noon so we could either wait on the 2nd floor or we could leave but we had to be back by 11:30 a.m. When I asked why I had to be there so early if the doctor didn't arrive until noon, she said, "Because we've got 35 women to process."

"After waiting for another two hours on the 2nd floor, the same 4 women were called to go upstairs. We all went upstairs, waited a few minutes, then we were all called to go back to finally have the procedure done. Again, my boyfriend was not able to come back with me. They put the first 2 women in exam rooms not far from where the other woman and I were sitting. The doctor walked into the first room, I could hear the woman yell in pain, and the faint sound of the machine. A few minutes later he walked out the first exam room, dropped the chart off with the nurse, and then walked into the second exam room. The first woman the doctor performed the procedure on came out of the room and sat down at one of the chairs that were lined up next to each other. They then called the woman who was waiting with me to go back. The doctor walked out of the second room, handed the chart to the nurse, and then went into the next room. The second woman came out after having her procedure and was sat next to the other woman in the row of chairs.

"The whole time this is happening, I am sitting there crying my eyes out. Of course there were many reasons for that. One being that it was a VERY difficult decision for me and my boyfriend and another being that I felt like this was a factory. The doctor was turnin' and burnin' 'em like we were products on an assembly line moving down a conveyor belt in batches of four. Several PP employees walked by me while I was crying and ignored me like I didn't even exist. Finally a nurse walked over with a box of tissues and told me that she's sorry I had to hear one of the women scream. She said that not everyone's experience is like that. Then it was my turn.

"I was called back into the room and told to remove my clothing from the waist down and cover up. Still crying, the nurse asked me if I wanted to change my mind, I told her no. She left the room and I removed my clothes. While I was sitting there waiting and crying profusely, I could hear people outside having a conversation and laughing. The doctor and nurse came in. The doctor saw me crying and said, "Oh ees Ok, ees OK." I asked them both why my boyfriend couldn't be in the room with me because he really wanted to be in the room and not let me go through it alone. I explained that if I were keeping the baby he could be in the room when I delivered it, and I didn't understand why he couldn't be there to support me. This was a decision that we BOTH made; yet I have to go through the procedure by myself. I wasn't given any explanation as to why he couldn't be there. The doctor did what he had to do and quickly left the room, as he did with all the other women. I was handed my clothes and told to go to the "recovery area".

"I felt so horrible, so insignificant that I didn't want to be there any longer. I refused to sit with the 3 other women who were sitting in the chairs because I didn't want to feel any more impersonal than I already had. The nurse tried to convince me to stay, but I declined. She made me sign a release form stating that I refused the medical advice to stay. I allowed her to take my blood pressure, she gave me my bag, and I left.

"The entire process took an unnecessary 5 hours, most of which was spent waiting. The people treat you like you're just another number on the list getting an abortion and not a PERSON with FEELINGS. I was not exaggerating when I said that it felt like an assembly line. Calling 4 women back in a row is completely inappropriate. That takes away from it being a PERSONAL decision and a PERSONAL experience. I should NEVER have been close enough to hear that woman yelling in pain during her procedure. Having the doctor arrive at noon to turn and burn 'em is the most unprofessional, impersonal experience I've EVER had in a doctor's office. And yes, any way you look at it, turn and burn is EXACTLY what he was doing. Had that doctor gotten there at 9:00 a.m. he could've spent the QUALITY time he should have with each woman, one at a time. Each woman should have her own recovery time, not in a room with a row of chairs, sitting next to another woman who has just gone through the same thing. And most importantly, if a woman is there with her significant other, mother, sister, best friend, or anyone who's there to support her, that person should most definitely be able to be in the room with her to support her every single step of the way. I understand that ultimately it's the woman's body and her choice, but a lot of times it's a joint decision made by both the man and woman in a loving relationship. As I mentioned before, if the couple chose to have the baby, the man could be there for every process. Yet to terminate the pregnancy, the only support he can offer is from the waiting room? Ridiculous. It's terrible that Planned Parenthood, being one of the biggest advocates for women, treat the men that love those women like they're insignificant in a situation like abortion.

"I have several friends who have had abortions at other independent clinics and their process was absolutely personal and professional. They paid the same, if not less than I did and their experience was much, much better than mine. They were treated like people with feelings, they had personal attention, and their doctor didn't just come in, do the job, then scurry out to go to the next room.

"Had I known that I was going to be treated the way I was at Planned Parenthood, I never would've gone. But the damage is done and I will forever have to remember the terribly devastating experience that I went through in addition to the natural feelings that women have after having an abortion. Hopefully whomever is reading this letter can see exactly how traumatic the process at Planned Parenthood is and will do something to change it so other women won't have to experience the same. If not, at least I've said my part and that's all that I can do."

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A mathematical solution to the door holding problem

It seems strange that such a simple custom as holding a door open for someone should cause as much trouble and confusion as it does. It started out as a highly gendered, benevolent sexist activity (men holding doors for women). Later, feminists began to reject the door holding custom along with many other benevolently sexist actions, leading many to refuse to allow a man to hold a door for them at all. More recently, door holding seems to be a relatively gender neutral activity, with women and men holding doors for each other, irrespective of gender. (Except in a dating context...)

So - common courtesy, or sexist holdover? To hold a door, or not to? I know almost nothing about etiquette, but the scientist part of me has come up with a rather different solution...


It seems to me, that the entire purpose of social courtesy is to work for the common good - to improve society a bit at your own expense, with the idea that the favor will be returned. So, correct door holding behavior must satisfy these criteria:

  1. It must contribute to the overall good of society - in this instance, it must decrease the collective walking time.

  2. It must not be biased or unfair toward any group.

Thus, that surprisingly large minority of men who still insist on holding doors for women immediately fail the second criteria - they can be dismissed offhand.

Some quick numbers: The distance in question is defined as the distance from the swing of the door, plus an equal area on the other side. It took me, walking at an average speed, around 2 seconds to traverse that difference on a typical door. It took twice as long (4 seconds) if I had to open the door toward me. It took almost no time longer if I had to open the door away from me - several trials averaged out to about .25 seconds.

Now, there are two different ways of holding a door:

  • Simply holding it after you, so that the other person does not have to open it, and

  • Holding the door while letting the other person pass through in front of you.

The latter option we can dismiss immediately. Even in the ideal case (the other person is exactly two seconds behind you), it takes 2 seconds to open the door, 2 seconds for the follower to pass through, and 2 seconds for you to pass through. 2+2+2=6. In the worst case, the other person might have to wait up to two seconds for you to get the door open and get out of their way, for a total of eight seconds. Of course, holding the door for someone farther away might take even more time. Thus, even those super-polite types who hold doors for everyone, are still not really helping society as a whole!

The former option, at best, only takes the same four seconds that one person would take. How long to hold the door open behind you? Maximum 2 seconds. Your total time comes to 4+2=6 seconds, and the other persons time is 2 seconds, bringing the total time to eight - the same time as two separate operations would take, with only half the effort.

Holding a door opening away from you is almost pointless - you could only hold it for 1/4 of a second!


The maximum benefit to walking time will come from holding a door open behind you for approximately two seconds. Just don't open a door, count "one, two", and let it shut in someone's face - people might not like that! Certainly, don't hold the door and let someone walk through unless they are disabled or carrying something - there is no overall benefit otherwise.

Following these guidelines, you can still be polite and help people without feeling like your actions are derived from sexist tradition.

(If you have actually managed to read this far, congratulations - you are almost as weird as I am! I do have an excuse - CS class was really, really boring, and I couldn't exactly leave, so I wrote this instead! Crossposted on Constant Thoughts)

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Simplify the Holidays

We can all use resources to help reduce stress around the Holidays—especially this year, when economic stresses are multiplying the stress factor.

Quoting from Dr. Suess’ Grinch ("And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!"), The Center for a New American Dream is offering a free download booklet called “Simplify the Holidays.”

It includes practical tips for having a holiday with more joy and less stuff. Specifically, the booklet contains guides to help you set a budget, relieve stress, come up with new gift ideas, and make your holiday season more meaningful.

I’ve always found that feminism’s greatest personal benefit was the way it adds new meaning to life and to life’s purpose. This time of year is when people think & talk a lot about life’s meaning... but the consumerist culture makes it hard to see the meaning in the meaning. That’s why I find tools like this one helpful.

Learn more about my pro-woman approach to fathering at

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Alison Balsom

The classical music world has never been inclusive of women. Classical music as we know it today begin as church music in a time when women weren't allowed to speak in church, let alone sing or play an instrument, and it took art music many, many years to even began to overcome this bias. (And it's hardly a thing of the distant past!) A slavish devotion to the 'great masters' of classical music has kept women composers from being widely played even today - fortunately, the situation is much better for performers!

So, for the sake of variety (and to annoy the inverse art snobs...), I'm going to occasionally feature some classical music here.

As a classically trained trumpet player myself, I've often felt that my instrument was a sort of 'last frontier' for female musicians. I can't count the times I've heard: "Girls can't be really good at trumpet! They don't have enough lung power!", or some other such silly reason. (There are technical reasons that this isn't true - and curiously enough, the one instrument that argument does hold water for... is the flute!).

Thus, when I recently discovered Alison Balsom, I was instantly taken with her:

Balsom specializes partly in transcriptions from Bach and other related composers, and in my opinion, takes them to a level never attained before by a trumpet player. She's one of only a few female classical trumpet soloists - but hopefully one of the first of many, many more.

At this point, I've pretty much run out of things to say, so...

Just listen.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Feminist Flashback #14

Your Sunday Feminist Flashback, brought to you by the letter F! From Sesame Street, circa 1974:

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