Too efficient birth control

For the “no shit” file:

In 2009, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation donated over $23 million to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a five-year experimental program that offered low-income teenage girls and young women in the state long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)—IUDs or hormonal implants—at no cost. These devices, which require no further action once inserted and remain effective for years, are by far the best method of birth control available, with less than a 1 percent failure rate. (The real-use failure rate for the Pill is 10 times higher.) One reason more women don’t use LARCs is cost: While they save the patient money over time, the up-front price can be as high as $1,200. (Even when insurance covers them, many teens fear the claim forms sent to their parents would reveal they are sexually active.) Another reason is that women simply don’t know about LARCs and assume the cheaper pills available at clinics are their only option…

A plan backed by the GOP and Democrats, no? Too good to be true? Well, yeah.

…But you would be wrong. When the program began, Colorado’s state government was in Democratic hands, and the initiative enjoyed some bipartisan support. This was one reason the foundation picked Colorado for its pilot program: Chances were good that if it showed positive results, the state would take it over. But last November, Republicans won control of the State Senate and are on a kind of victory lap. Optimists predicted that the bill would sail through the legislature; instead, after it passed the Democrat-controlled House, Senate Republicans maneuvered the bill into a budget committee, where GOP lawmakers killed it. So much for the party of fiscal responsibility. “It’s insane not to be supportive of high-quality family planning if you want to reduce spending on public health,” Dr. David Turok, a leading expert on the IUD, told me. But what’s money when a fertilized egg might be in danger?

“Fiscal responsibility” will fold before the anti-abortion racket. Always.

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Nihilism, with a little sex in it: The Trial

“In these matters there are so many conflicting opinions that the confusion is impenetrable,” the Advocate reminds Josef K. Although said late in the picture, Anthony Perkins plays K as if this remark were a lodestar. Orson Welles’ film version of The Trial lacks the recognition of Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil but it’s his loosest and zaniest picture, the one most worth revisiting on his centenary.

As much a riff on the definition of Kafkaesque as an adaptation of the novel, The Trial has a perverse streak that’s all Welles. And the movie wastes no time, paced like a Hecht-MacArthur comedy. The conceit is that K doesn’t know why cops in trench coats awaken him and search his apartment, and it doesn’t matter. Offering explanations when none are needed, acting guilty when the authorities have presented no evidence, K is the boy with perpetual nervousness. Both novel and film depict how in trying to understand his dilemma he ensnares himself further; his end is inevitable. Welles’ script includes riffs not in the novel. “That’s my pornograph — uh,” K stammers during the search; or: “I deny that there’s an ovular-shaped drawing under this rug!” The conclusion — I won’t spoil it, for it’s Welles’ idea of a grand joke — is an explosive departure, to which I’ll return.

Shot in Dubrovnik and Zagreb, among other cities, The Trial posits a universe askew and pitiless, ready to swallow K up. Welles and cinematographer Edmond Richard photograph K against shadow-drenched village squares as if he were trapped in a De Chirico painting, or, worse, a black ant scurrying beside the base of a dining room table. The emphasis on phantasmagoria isn’t as relentless as in Touch of Evil; Welles is smart enough to know the material is weird enough. The Trial has his best use of reflected light since The Magnificent Ambersons. While K is in custody chatting with a jailor (Welles dubbed his voice), Welles cuts to the euphoric faces of children ogling K behind bars. Consolidating his knack for devising novel solutions to budget shortfalls, Welles includes a sequence in which K plays against what looks like a woodcut background, as if he were a puppet. It isn’t all darkness and gargoyle faces, though. The Trial is Welles’ most sensual film. Romy Scheider can’t keep her hands off Perkins; she bites his chin as they lie on a bed of books. Jeanne Moreau and her insolent mouth glower in the first third. At the time Perkins’ casting, so soon after Psycho, seemed rather on the nose. What we know now gives his performance extra pathos; he’s the screen’s best fumbler, able to find exquisite variations on the fidget. Welles himself stars as the Advocate. His first appearance is grand: supine on a bed, mumbling through a hot towel wrapped around his face. The rest of the performance is distracted though.

Relentless in momentum, indifferent to provoking viewer sympathy, The Trial is not a pleasant experience. It’s a buggy movie that can get under your skin. Under no circumstances would it have been a hit in 1962 or 1972, perhaps even 1982. The Trial is an example of independent film before the taxonomy and sensibility existed (with its distancing techniques it wouldn’t surprise me to learn the Coens are fans). Welles told a baffled Peter Bogdanovich in the early seventies that The Trial was his happiest filming experience (“It’s my own picture, unspoiled in the cutting or in anything else”). It shows. However, because no copyright was filed on its behalf, The Trial has floated around in terrible prints for years. I saw a reel to reel transfer to VHS in 1994. The print I streamed on Netflix was not without problems, and we’re likely never to get a pristine one.

But I don’t watch Welles for pristine surfaces. A sense in which fate has trapped men into being nothing other than they are runs through all of his major films. Think of Charles Foster Kane and George Minafer, Macbeth and Othello. In Chime at Midnight, made (or assembled) not long after The Trial, the unfairness of it all breaks the heart of foolish, old, loving Falstaff. The Trial sees the hilarity. Its conclusion, that grand departure from Kafka mentioned earlier, looks better nearly fifty years after the rise and fall of totalitarianism and the creation of the national security state; we’re all potential suspects. Welles understood what he was doing with that ending. “I don’t think Kafka could have stood for that after the deaths of the six million Jews,” he told Bogdanovich. “That terrible fact occurred after the writing of The Trial and I think made Kafka’s ending impossible if you conceive of K as a Jew, as I did. I don’t mean as a Jewish Jew, but as a non-Christian.”
Even when K thinks he’s won he’s lost. The Trial‘s expression of glee — its nihilism has a sheen — is closer to a death’s head than a grin; it’s as if Jed Leland got script approval.

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‘This love has filled me up’

I have a passion for early nineties pop house. Remembered as the source of a Puff Daddy sample, Lisa Stansfield blew a lot of people away in 1989 with the swirling “All Around the World,” one of the first eighties hits unashamed of classic disco. I don’t like “World” as much as “This is the Right Time,” “What Did I Do to You,” and the other cuts on her debut Affection; it’s rather polite, as if Stansfield would rather sing a torch song. 1991’s Real Love is the better album but a stiff on the pop charts. The R&B chart was a different story. “All Woman,” a sympathetically arranged ballad about a woman realizing she’s lived years as an appendage to a man, hit #1 — it’s as good as Karyn White’s “Superwoman.” Because I live in Miami, though, “Change” got substantial airplay. Listening to it and “All Woman” side by side is dizzying though. To go from “‘Cos if I change my world into another place/I wouldn’t see your smiling face” to “From Monday to Sunday I work harder than you know.”

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‘The culmination of a 10-year campaign to change attitudes in this country’

Sixty-two percent of voters who participated in the Irish referendum voted for a gay marriage amendment to the country’s constitution. I wish people would drop the facile analogies. Our federal system means ensures fifty state governments must have their say. But we’re almost there. Grass roots efforts must never relax; they’re what broke the Catholic Church’s centuries-long choke hold. For many of us who grew to love literature and were Catholic, this was what we confronted (and this was the antidote). Back to the present day:

Ireland’s paradigm shift from a quasi theocracy to a leader on gay rights was the result of a sustained campaign by gay activists. They set up a network of support groups around the country and fused a grass-roots movement with aggressive social media outreach and a registration drive that brought in more than 100,000 new voters since last November. Tens of thousands of doors were knocked on, extensive leafleting campaigns took place and posters were ubiquitous.

“Commentators just don’t seem to have grasped that this has been the culmination of a 10-year campaign to change attitudes in this country,” said Colm O’Gorman, chief executive of Amnesty International (Ireland) and a leading gay rights campaigner.

Leaders on both sides tried to strike a conciliatory note, though they said some issues remain to be sorted out, from rules on surrogacy to the ability of religious groups to hew to their views.

“The personal stories of people’s own testimonies, as to their difficulties growing up being gay certainly struck a chord with people,” said Jim Walsh, an Irish senator who opposed the marriage referendum, during a television interview.

When the right is running this story in the United States yesterday, complaining about incivility, defeat smells like a dead antelope:

The health of a democratic polity depends in no small part on the generousness of its civic discourse — that is, opposing sides ought to give one another the benefit of the doubt. If same-sex marriage proponents allowed that same-sex marriage opponents might, just might, be motivated by something other than animal hatred, we might be able to reach solutions that balance the competing interests unavoidably present in any political body.

Read the comments, Ian Tuttle.

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Students are not customers, part 432

As state funds dissipate and administrators consider raising admission levels, some states like mine make monies contingent on graduation rates. Meanwhile students whose families have barely survived or still endure the results of the financial meltdown are more obsessed with the A than ever; their scholarships and financial aid depend on the GPA. These forces have resulted in a rank phenomenon: the student as a customer, with the faculty and staff as salespeople. This hasn’t been a problem — yet — at my university. Chatting with colleagues around the country, though, the student-as-customer is no longer a metaphor so much as an ethos. If a university needs a certain percentage of students graduating for state funds, then students will get the message that we as faculty and staff must do what we can to boot them in four years.

Responding to legislative efforts in Iowa and now the newly demented North Carolina to insert language that links “teaching effectiveness” to evaluations, Rebecca Schuman shakes her head:

When, for example, a diner at a restaurant pairs tilapia with zinfandel, and then raises a holy fit about how disgusting her tilapia tastes, the manager has little choice but to restrain the irate sommelier and comp the food, even though it is the customer’s fault the food was “bad.” The staff would not dare suggest the customer try a different wine, because that rude attitude would be yet more fodder for a scathing Yelp review; e.g., “If I could give this place negative stars, I would!”

Imagine how the Yelp template would work in college. Despite the “sommelier”—in this case the professor—strongly recommending that the “customer” purchase the Chem 101 textbook for Chem 101, the customer, being always right and in possession of the money, decides instead to purchase the textbook for Abnormal Psych 500 because it “looks better.” Then, when it’s time for midterms (our customer has not attended a single lecture—she’s paid her money, after all!), our customer notices that none of the exam questions match anything she’s read. Since she’s paid many thousands of dollars for this course, she is, as the customer, fully entitled to both an A and a full refund. And if her professor, TA, adviser, the registrar, and the provost don’t issue her a profuse apology, it’s zero stars. Fire everyone!

Flippant, sure, but she’s taking a point to its conclusion. Moreover, if legislators worry about salaries so much, I suggest they give athletic directors another look.

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‘I knew deep down that they would love me no matter what’

This is how to make a campaign: start with relatives, then sell your story:

Thirteen years ago Padraic Whyte did one of the hardest things he has ever had to do: He told his Roman Catholic parents living in rural Ireland that he was gay.

He had waited until he was completely comfortable with himself and his decision. “I knew deep down that they would love me no matter what,” he said.

And he was right. His parents not only embraced him and his decision, they went to church the next day to celebrate.

“They decided to see it as a blessing,” said Mr. Whyte, 36.

More than a decade later, Ireland held a referendum on Friday on same-sex marriage in the country. Mr. Whyte has been active in the campaign to pass the referendum, and he asked his parents, now in their 70s, to help.

“People of our generation who supported equal rights weren’t being heard,” said his mother, Brighid, 77, from her and her husband’s home in Dundalk, about a mile from the border with Northern Ireland.

The couple made a short video to encourage people to vote yes in the referendum. It is not sophisticated — Brighid and her husband, Paddy, 79, sit on a couch together, reading their lines back and forth. But the video, which was published in March and part of a video campaign called Vote With Us, has since appeared on multiple sites and has been viewed more than a million times. Brighid and Paddy went viral.

What’s amazing is how it’s happening in the most Catholic country in western Europe that doesn’t speak Spanish.

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Singles 5/22

How sad: Future’s new single doesn’t match its title. Neither does Billy Currington’s to some extent. A week of disappointments: after Disclosure’s Mary J. Blige collaborations, I expected more than a beat and a line about twerking. Kanye adds nothing to swill. “Old Thing Back” is a zombie revue that must be heard once to be believed.

The pluses: I liked former Nickelodeon star Coco Jones’ attempt at grown up R&B sizzle and Lianne La Havas’ sensuous way with the grown-up emotions that Jones wants to approximate; don’t count Paul Epworth against her. Katherine’s blurb for “Fight Song,” now starting to gain airplay down here, made me listen to it again, no closer to embracing it despite its intentions.

Click on links for full reviews.

Lianne La Havas – Unstoppable (7)
Zhala – Holy Bubbles (7)
EXID – Ah Yeah (7)
What So Not ft. George Maple – Gemini (6)
Juanes – Juntos (Together) (6)
Future – Fuck Up Some Commas (6)
Coco Jones – Let’Em In (6)
Wyvern Lingo – Used (6)
Billy Currington – Don’t It (6)
Nightwish – Élan (6)
Awolnation – Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf) (5)
Rachel Platten – Fight Song (5)
Disclosure – Bang That (5)
Vic Mensa ft. Kanye West – U Mad (4)
Matoma & The Notorious BIG ft. Ja Rule & Ralph Tresvant – Old Thing Back (2)

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