Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Eli and I saw the Dreamworks animated film Rio Friday night and loved it. Well, four-year-old Eli is still a little restless in movies, but the parents and the kids who were 5-years-old and up in our group enjoyed it.

The animation was Pixar quality, the actors were superb — Jesse Eisenberg (Social Network), Anne Hathaway, George Lopez,, Jamie Foxx and Tracy Morgan — the plot was adorable and the music memorable. The movie largely takes place in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival so you will leave the theater humming the tunes or wanting to dance. For me, the movie was perfect in every way. Bravo Dreamworks! Have you seen anything worthwhile lately?

Here are two movies I am dying to see: Water for Elephants — one of my all-time favorite books, by the way! — and Circo, a documentary with a 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes that my sister and a friend told me I’d love. Both movies have to do with the circus. Have you seen them?

In case you missed it, “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua made Time magazine’s “most influential” list. What do you all think?

I got a little teary-eyed reading Carolyn Hax’s response to a man who just adopted his 9-year-old niece after her mother unexpectedly died. He and his wife never wanted children so he asked Hax how to be a “good parent.” Read on:

The most important, most relentless truth about parenthood is that It’s Not About You Anymore. And why did you decide to adopt your niece? Because you realized this girl needs you more than you need to stick to your plans. That’s thinking like a dad.

Also — unless you and your wife were planning to circumnavigate the continent on a bicycle built for two, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to incorporate significant portions of your 10-year plan into your new family life. Kids don’t sentence you to house arrest. This little girl might expand your world in ways you can’t yet imagine.

But that’s for later. Now, just carry on by thinking small: Get through the process, get through the shock, get through the days. When faced with unwieldy decisions, choose what’s right for, in this order of priority: your niece, your family, your wife, you.

And keep this image in mind: When people are learning to skate, they mostly look down at their feet. As they get confident, they look ahead. As veterans, they look around freely. You’ve just stepped out there; the other phases will come.

I love her skating metaphor.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Who Owns a Childhood?

Hilary Levey, a sociologist and post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, raised some poignant questions in an op-end piece for USA Today. In light of cases like “Balloon Boy,” the sailing Abby Sunderland, the Gosselins and others, she wondered if children used in reality shows should be protected by current labor laws.

I have spent the past decade studying children’s competitive activities — from child beauty pageants to chess to soccer — and children’s work, so I know that concerns about parental exploitation are nothing new. After making child labor, like factory work, illegal early in the 20th century, reformers tackled the problem of child performers. In 1939 California passed the Coogan law (named for famed child actor Jackie Coogan) to protect the earnings of young actors; today 15% of child performers’ earnings must be placed in trust accounts. But only four states have Coogan laws — California and New York, where most child performers work, along with Louisiana and New Mexico. New Mexico passed their laws after controversy in 2007 when the CBS reality show Kid Nation, which featured 40 children and no adults, filmed near Sante Fe.

So what’s different when it comes to kids and reality television? These kids are not classified as performers, denying them the protection of Coogan laws. In fact, the children are not even classified as workers, also denying them the protection of child labor laws. Kid reality stars fall through the cracks of the protections crafted by early 20th-century reformers, who likely never imagined that someone would consent to potty-training their children on camera (Season Three, Episode 4 of Jon & Kate Plus Ei8ht).

Additionally, children’s roles on shows that change their parents’ lifestyles raise the question of whether parents should be the ones to consent to have their children filmed. These parents are famous for simply being parents in unusual families, a role they could not publicly play without the participation of their kids. They have a vested interest in making sure that five-figure per episode paychecks continue to arrive.

Here’s the kicker:

Also of concern are children’s identities. Unlike, say, Miley Cyrus, who played the role of Hannah Montana, reality TV parents essentially consent for their children to “play” themselves. Children’s personalities are dissected by viewers, and any embarrassing activities, like that potty training, are preserved on the Internet — or in syndication. The consequences of having to perform their identity for millions are simply unknown.

So, who “owns” a childhood, the child or the parents? At what age should a child’s consent be required to have their lives edited and broadcast to millions? You can’t have a Facebook account until you are 13, but 6-year-olds can be the “stars” of reality shows?

Good questions. What say you?


Harvard’s Endowment Collapses

Considering all the glowing news stories on how it is practically giving away educations to middle class families, I was shocked to learn in Vanity Fair that Harvard expanded so quickly that its $36.9 billion endowment has collapsed.

‘There are going to be a hell of a lot of layoffs. Courses will be cut. Class sizes will get bigger,“ conceded a Harvard insider, who, like every other administrator on campus, was not permitted to speak openly to me on the classified subject of alignments and resizements and belt-tightenings.

Radical change is coming to Harvard. Fewer professors, for one thing. Fewer teaching assistants, janitors, and support staff. Shuttered libraries. Less money for research and travel and books. Cafés replaced by vending machines. Junior-varsity sports teams downgraded to clubs. No raises. No bonuses. No fresh coats of paint or new carpets. Overflowing trash cans.

The recession has been hard on most Americans. We know that. At Harvard, however, adjusting to the end of the gilded age, the champagne age, is proving especially wrenching: the university’s endowment has collapsed, donations are down, budgets are overstretched. With so many enormous fixed costs—and with much of its endowment restricted by the narrowly defined wishes of donors—there’s almost no room left to maneuver.

What’s more, the university is facing the onerous financial consequences of over-building. Consider this: Over the 20-year period from 1980 to 2000, Harvard University added nearly 3.2 million square feet of new space to its campus. But that’s nothing compared with the extravagance that followed. So far this decade, from 2000 through 2008, Harvard has added another 6.2 million square feet of new space, roughly equal to the total number of square feet occupied by the Pentagon. All across campus, one after another, new academic buildings have shot up. The price of these optimistic new projects: a breathtaking $4.3 billion.

I love the headlines at Vanity Fair, by the way. While I hope Harvard’s predicament does not extend to slashing financial aid, I did get a chuckle from this headline: “I.V. League: If Harvard is so smart, how come its record $36.9 billion endowment has collapsed?”

Oh snap!


University of Illinois Rocked by Scandal

In one of the biggest non-news stories in that this has been going on for so long it is embarrassing the press is just catching on, the Chicago Tribune ran an expose of the corrupt University of Illinois system that accepts less qualified students just because of who they know — like Tony Rezko. I mean, who knew?

From the Associated Press:

But the truth is, many universities — public and private alike — give special treatment to some degree to the sons and daughters of big donors, politicians, trustees and others with control over the school’s purse strings or other clout, admissions experts say.

“The admissions offices are essentially being held over a barrel,” said David Hawkins of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “How can they really say no when the directives come from the very top of the institution?”

Whether formalized or not, “virtually every selective college, public or private, has some kind of list” like the one maintained by the University of Illinois, said Daniel Golden, whose 2006 book “The Price of Admission” exposed admissions practices that favored well-connected applicants.

Golden’s reporting focused mostly on elite private universities like Duke, Stanford, Brown and Harvard. But the Illinois story shows how far “the problem goes of colleges essentially trading admissions slots for favors,” he said. “Here you have a flagship state institution essentially making a lot of slots available to candidates who aren’t as strong as some they reject.”

What bugs me is back in the late ’90s, much hoopla was made over less qualified minorities and low-income students thanks to a series of high-profile lawsuits by more affluent and caucasian families. The University of Michigan law school and both California and Texas university systems had to reverse their affirmative action policies. But nothing was made of legacy systems or that pesky question asked in most college applications over the “optional” race category, “Who do you know has gone to this institution?” Or, letters of recommendation written by high-profile people.

Finally, it isn’t the poor students who are being picked on by the media.


Most of Incoming Harvard Class on Financial Aid

In spite of the thousands of applicants who scored 100 percent on their SATs and ranked first in their class, Harvard will accept only 7 percent of the students who applied to the school this year, according to the Boston Globe.

Last year, 7.9 percent of Harvard applicants were admitted. The stiffer competition is not surprising, given the record 29,112 applications this year for the Class of 2013, a 5.6 percent increase from last year that Harvard officials attributed in part to its financial aid initiative. The university announced it has admitted 2,046 students for the 1,655 spots in next year’s freshmen class.

The applicant pool reached an unprecedented level of achievement, university officials said. More than 2,900 scored a perfect 800 on their SAT critical reading test, and 3,500 scored perfectly on the SAT math test. Nearly 3,700 were ranked first in their senior class.

The good news is due to the school’s aggressive financial aid program, many of the applicants are minorities, including a record-breaking number of Latinos.

’’We had never had so many good choices,’’ said William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. ‘‘Our new financial aid program encouraged so many people who might not have ever thought about applying to get into the pool.’’

Members of the incoming freshman class come from diverse backgrounds. A record 10.9 percent are Latino, Fitzsimmons said; 10.8 percent as African-American; 17.6 percent are Asian-American; and 1.3 percent are Native American. Another 8.9 percent are international students.

About a quarter of the admitted students come from families earning less than $80,000, making them eligible for a nearly free ride at the university.

Two years ago, Harvard instituted one of the most generous financial aid initiatives in the country waiving tuition, room, and board for students whose parents earn less than $60,000 and capping tuition, room and board at 10 percent of income for those whose families earn up to $180,000.

Nearly 60 percent of the incoming class will receive aid, Fitzsimmons said.

Good on ya, Harvard. If only all these rich institutions would follow suit.

In somewhat related news, private universities, in general, are accepting more students than in previous years to compete with more affordable state colleges, according to a story in the Washington Post.


Former Harvard Doc: Water Births Are Dangerous

A self-described obstetrician-gynecologist who used to teach at Harvard Medical School recently wrote a scathing diary at Salon against water births. (Not surprisingly, this chick has generated a lot of angry responses in the thread.)

But she listed all kinds of statistics I think are worth mentioning for discussion:

Perinatal mortality and morbidity among babies delivered in water: surveillance study and postal survey was published in the BMJ in 1999. Out of 4,030 deliveries in water, 35 babies suffered serious problems and 3 subsequently died. It is unclear if any of the deaths can be attributed to delivery in water. However, of the 32 survivors who were admitted to the NICU, 13 had significant respiratory problems including pneumonia, meconium aspiration, water aspiration, and drowning. Other complications attributable to water birth include 5 babies who had significant hemorrhage due to snapped umbilical cord. In all, 18 babies had serious complications directly attributable to waterbirth. The risk of serious complications necessitating prolonged NICU admissions was 4.5/1000.

Hospitals in Ireland recently suspended the practice of waterbirth after a baby died from freshwater drowning after delivery in a waterbirth pool.

The most nonsensical aspect of waterbirth is that it puts the baby at risk for freshwater drowning. The second nonsensical aspect is that the baby is born into what is essentially toilet water, because the water in the pool is fecally contaminated. In Water birth and the risk of infection; Experience after 1500 water births, Thoeni et al. analyzed the water found in waterbirth pools both before and after birth. The water in a birth pool, conveniently heated to body temperature, the optimum temperature for bacterial growth, is a microbial paradise.

The doctor in question, Amy Tuteur, fervently argued that there is nothing “natural” about a water birth as “no primates give birth in water, because primates initiate breathing almost immediately after birth.”

The discussion at Salon is worth a read. Readers have called for more studies to rule out other causes of death like lapsed cords or incompetent staff. (Good point.) Also, babies do swallow water in the womb. Tuteur’s response seemed pissy more so than informative.

Discuss away!  


Weekend Open Thread

In case you missed it, Newsweek ran a cover story on children with bipolar disorder.

Toxins in Car Seats: MomsRising is passing around a petition to manufacturer Graco asking it to stop making car seats with toxic flame retardants. To be fair, the Friends of the Earth environmental group found that 44 percent of car seats on the market contain the chemicals. Ugh.

Old School Profs: Some professors at Harvard, Yale and Columbia are prohibiting students from using laptop computers to get them to pay attention to lectures, according to Newsweek.  

I am off to chaperone a field trip at Ari’s school. What’s up with you? Have a good weekend all!


Chastity On Campus

I was just about to blog this! It is a good story. Thank you, Katherine! -Elisa

This past Sunday’s New York Times magazine had a profile of a pro-virginity group at Harvard University called True Love Revolution.  Their website states:

TLR is a new, non-sectarian student-run organization at Harvard College dedicated to the promotion of premarital sexual abstinence. We strive to present another option to our peers regarding sex-related issues, endorsing ideas of abstinence and chastity as a positive alternative for ethical and health reasons.

The website suggests that premarital sexual activity can result in a wealth of negative outcomes.

Saving sex for marriage, we believe, can contribute positively to your physical and emotional health and improve the quality of your current and future relationships.

Early sexual activity and having multiple sexual partners is strongly associated with increased depression, greater likelihood of maternal poverty, and higher rates of marital infidelity and divorce in future marriages.

TLR is co-run by a male and female student.  The NYT magazine article portrayed the male student as something of a tortured soul; i.e. he finds his commitment to chastity a difficult path, and describes his difficulty rather vividly.  The female student, Janie Fredell, doesn’t report having much of a problem with it.  She just goes for a long run if she’s having urges.

Princeton also has a similar group, the Anscombe Society.  

Robert George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton, is one of the Anscombe Society’s informal faculty advisers. Himself a Catholic thinker, George says that society members employ “philosophical-ethical arguments“ to support their belief that promiscuity “deeply compromises human dignity,“ and psychological and sociological rationale to justify the claim that casual sex leads to “personal unhappiness and social harm.“ The students are some of Princeton’s most gifted, George says, and “even people who don’t accept their conclusions recognize that the arguments being advanced by the Anscombe students are serious and cannot be easily dismissed.“

The Anscombe Society at Princeton went on to embrace positions not just against premarital sex but also against homosexual sex and marriage. Founders have tried to spread its method to other schools, and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were the first to follow with another Anscombe Society.

Some disagree with the claims of these groups and suggest that they are providing misleading information to other students.

Martha Kempner, a spokeswoman for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which promotes sex education, agrees that True Love Revolution performs a service in providing abstinent students a place to gather for support. “What is disturbing,“ she says, “is that this club is using inaccurate information and distorted data to sell that message.“ She strongly rejects suggestions that premarital sex leads to poverty, an inability to bond or to increased likelihood of divorce. “There’s no legitimate research that says premarital sex has all of these harmful consequences,“ she says. “They’re completely baseless claims.“

In addition, the group’s approach began mainly as an appeal to female students rather than to men and women equally.

True Love Revolution was denounced, however, after its first big outreach effort, on Valentine’s Day 2007. Members had sent out cards to the women of the freshmen class that read: “Why wait? Because you’re worth it.“ Some interpreted the card to mean that those who didn’t wait until marriage to have sex would somehow be worth less. One writer for The Crimson concluded that “by targeting women with their cards and didactic message, they perpetuate an age-old values system in which the worth of a young woman is measured by her virginity.“

This year they sent identical cards on Valentine’s Day to both the male and the female freshmen.

I don’t recall abstinence having much of a foothold when I was in college.  In fact, I distinctly remember having a calendar fall off the wall onto my face in the middle of the night in my dorm room when the next door neighbor’s loft was rockin’ (don’t come knockin’).  I guess this is an unsurprising outcome, though, for students who likely came up receiving abstinence education as promoted by the Bush administration.


Reverse Discrimination?

Here is an interesting dilemma: Some men at Harvard are irked because the university has shut them out of a gym for select hours to let Muslim women work out, according to an Associated Press report.

No men are allowed in the gym between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Mondays, and between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even the staff during those times is all women.

The special hours allow the Muslim women, who adhere to traditional dress codes by covering their hair and most of their skin while in public, to dress more appropriately for exercising, said Susan Marine, director of the women’s center.

At least one female student blasted the policy in the student newspaper for discriminating against men. Other men found the policy an inconvenience.

Nick Wells, a junior who wrote an opinion piece in the Crimson criticizing the policy, suggested setting aside one room for women.

“It’s not that I am opposed to the idea of helping people in religious groups or women in general, but I just think Harvard is not being fair to people like me who live (near the gym),” Wells said in an interview.

The policy only applies to one gym, a facility mainly used for intramurals. Because of its location at the edge of campus, it is the university’s least used gym, (Harvard spokesman Robert) Mitchell said.

The women-only hours are of minimal inconvenience because they are just six out of the 70 hours a week the gym is open, Marine said.

Unless those happen to be the six hours you do not have class.

I remember a similar story coming up — I believe it was in Boston — some years back about women-only gyms. People complained that they discriminated against men. But, at the time, I did not feel that women’s preference to work out with other women was any different than attending an all-girls’ school or requesting a female doctor.

In this case, we are talking about a limited number of hours in a minor gym. Also, I don’t see how this case is any different than the previous Boston gym cases, except for the Muslim angle, which not surprisingly, has raised the ire of wingnuts. Apparently, only Christians are entitled to freely practice their religion.

What do you think of Harvard’s policy, MotherTalkers? How do you think the university should balance the needs of its male students with those of its Muslims?