Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What can we do about a problem like kudzu?

When I was 17, I moved to Atlanta to attend university. I arrived on a hot, muggy afternoon, eager for my first glimpse of my new home. Driving north into the city from the airport, I noticed that the interstate had lush greenery on either side, which surprised me for such a large city. But as I looked closer, I noticed that it was also strangely uniform. I couldn't detect any individual trees or shrubs beneath a thick carpet of identical leaves. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was looking at kudzu, also known as the "vine that ate the South." My view out the window was a tragic example of the ecological devastation wreaked by an out of control invasive species.

According to Richard Blaustein, kudzu was first introduced to the United States in the late nineteenth century as an ornamental plant, prized for its wide, shady leaves. At the time, it was planted with trellis supports that helped to inhibit normal reproduction, but by the early twentieth century it was being planted as an inexpensive feed for livestock and to produce hay which was then transported on the railroad. However, the major culprit in the spread of kudzu was the United States government:
In the 1930s, massive soil erosion on Southern farmlands compounded the local impact of the Great Depression, seriously threatening the region's agricultural base. To bring the erosion under control, the federal government launched a massive promotional campaign for Kudzu. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Soil Erosion Service and its successor, the Soil Conservation Service, touted Kudzu as the remedy to the South's soil problems. In a little more than a decade, these agencies provided "about 84 million Kudzu southern landowners for erosion control and land revitalization..[and it] offered up to $20 per ha as an incentive for farmers to plant their land in Kudzu" (Miller, pers. comm.). The acreage planted in Kudzu rose from an estimated 4,000ha in 1934 to 1.2 million ha by 1946 (Blaustein, 57).

Farmers soon noticed that the plant was out of control, as it began to rapidly cover its surroundings with its verdant foliage. In its native climate, it is fairly non-threatening, but the warm and humid climatic conditions in the American Southeast cause it to grow much more quickly – at a rate of up to 30 cm a day. Its semi-woody vines are held in place by roots more than 18 cm in diameter and 180 cm in length, and it can easily regrow unless its crowns are completely destroyed. Telephone poles, abandoned buildings, and most importantly, other plants were soon completely covered. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) removed kudzu from its list of allowable cover plants in 1953, but it was not until 1997 that kudzu was finally listed as a "noxious weed" under the Federal Noxious Weed Law. By this time, kudzu covered millions of acres of land in the American Southeast (Blaustein, 56-57).

American states where kudzu has been reported invasive

Kudzu is a classic example of an invasive species - it is non-native to the local ecology and causes significant environmental and economic damage to the ecosystem (Study Guide, 69). Part of the pea family, it is a climbing perennial vine that is native to China and Japan that spreads through vine growth, rhizomes, and seeds.

The costs of kudzu are high - in many areas, it's extremely difficult to tell from looking at the foliage that anything else lives there. The local ecosystem has been completely altered. This ecological impact is particularly disheartening because the American south-east serves as the last bastion of many species displaced from northern latitudes by advancing glaciers during the last ice age. Kudzu inhibits natural processes of tree renewal by blocking its competitors' access to sunlight as it covers and slowly crushes them beneath its weight. By doing so, kudzu is able to eliminate its indigenous plant species competition as it spreads through forests, such as young hardwoods and other native plant life. Wildlife which depends on those plants for habitat are also affected, some of which were rare wetlands species which have now been completely eliminated (Blaustein, 56;Study Guide, 72). As a result, richly diverse forest wetlands ecosystems have been replaced by a deceptively lush yet ecologically barren monoculture of vines.

There are human costs as well, such as costly removal when kudzu grows over railroad tracks, power lines, and envelopes buildings. The vine has also been known to act as a host for soybean rust, which can have devastating economic consequences for farmers. There is even an historic cost - the Southern landscape is irrevocably different from what it looked like during the antebellum period, or before the Cherokee were forced to leave Georgia on the Trail of Tears. The first introduction of kudzu occurred soon after the Civil War, so it is difficult to know how many local species were destroyed before kudzu's deleterious effects were realized.

This isn't the landscape Mark Twain had in mind when he wrote about Huckleberry Finn's adventures on the river.

Since kudzu is so entrenched, eradication is now an impossibility, even at an astronomical cost. Attempts to remove kudzu with traditional herbicides have had little effect and also destroyed wildlife. Application temporarily kills the leaves of the vines, but the crowns remain untouched and the plant regrows quickly, resulting in a net growth of kudzu by the following year. The study I reviewed suggested that systematic spraying might be successful as part of a yearly campaign, but it would not result in eradication (Davis 62-63). Using goats for grazing is more environmentally friendly and has had better results. The nimble-footed goats are able to easily reach areas that humans can't, and are quite thorough when eating (Emery). This method seems most useful in removing kudzu from important areas like railroad tracks and tunnels, because the use of the goats has limitations. For instance, goats are an unrealistic solution in urbanized areas such as Atlanta, and they are likely to eat other plant species as well. They are also unable to reach the tops of trees.

There is general agreement on kudzu's harmfulness, but many people also believe that kudzu can be useful to humans. National Geographic reports that there are cottage industries that use the vine for everything from baskets to dye, but such uses put little dent in the overall volume of kudzu. It also appears to have medicinal uses. Preliminary studies show that it can be used to treat alcoholism and to alleviate menopausal side effects. The latter could prove to be very important, as the former treatment of choice, Hormone Replacement Therapy, has fallen out of favour since being linked to breast cancer. Kudzu, if proven safe and effective, could be a powerful alternative.

Biofuel is another potential application of kudzu, but I do not believe it to be a good idea. Kudzu as a fuel source is not very efficient - it has an energy yield roughly equivalent to corn, putting it on the low end of the spectrum. Secondly, kudzu is one of the plants that grows faster in increased CO2 conditions (Sasek, 23). Biofuel is more efficient than traditional oil, but it still produces some emissions and it would be a tragedy to harvest kudzu for a task that will cause more of it to grow. Lastly, if using kudzu for biofuel does become popular, it is likely that corporations will try to plant kudzu in areas that are more easily harvested than rocky hillsides, resulting in more environmental degradation.

Although capitalizing on kudzu's presence is a good idea, none of the ideas listed would come close to eliminating kudzu. They are merely an attempt to cope with its prevalence. We should make use of kudzu where we can, but our best strategy is to try to mitigate its spread and the damage it causes, because it continues to spread. This year, kudzu was spotted in southern Ontario, an area where it was assumed that kudzu could not live because of its preference for mild winters. Scientists are currently trying to determine how to remove the plant quickly before it spreads into other parts of Canada. Let's hope they're successful.


Belokrinicev, Brenda, Editor. Environmental Studies 243 Study Guide: Environmental Change in a Global Context. 2007: Athabasca University.

Blaustein, Richard J. “Kudzu’s invasion into Southern United states life and culture.” In: McNeeley, J. A. ed. The Great Reshuffling: Human Dimensions of Invasive Species. 2001. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. The World Conservation Union: 55-62.

Coblentz, Bonnie. "Soybean rust battle takes look at kudzu." Mississippi Agricultural News. Mississippi State University: Office of Agricultural Communication. 1 May 2008. 30 November 2009.

Davis, D.E. and H.H. Funderburk, Jr. “Eradication of Kudzu.” Weeds. 12: 1 (1964): 62-63. 30 November 2009.

Emery, Theo. "In Tennessee, Goats Eat the ‘Vine That Ate the South’." New York Times. 5 June 2007. 30 November 2009.

"Got a drinking problem? Try kudzu." Associated Press: MSNBC. 17 May 2005. 30 November 2009.

Marshall, Jessica. "Kudzu Gets Kudos as a Potential Biofuel." Discovery News. 16 June 2008. 30 November 2009.

National Park Service. Distribution map of kudzu infestation. 2006. 30 November 2009.

Roach, John. 'Kudzu Entrepreneurs Find Gold in Green "Menace"'. National Geographic News. 22 April 2005. 30 November 2009.

Sasek, Thomas W. and Boyd R. Strain. "Effects of Carbon Dioxide Enrichment on the Expansion and Size of Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) Leaves." Weed Science 37:1 (1989): 23-28. 30 November 2009.

"Grapes, Soy And Kudzu Blunt Some Menopausal Side Effects." Science Daily. 14 August 2007. 30 November 2009.

Smith, Galen Parks. Image: Kudzu covered field near Port Gibson, Mississippi, USA. 14 August 2006. 30 November 2009.

"Smothering vine that snaps hydro poles now in Canada." Canadian Press: CTV News. 23 September 2009. 30 November 2009.

Tenuta, Albert and Terry Anderson. Image: Kudzu alongside stream.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Questions of the Day

I'm doing research for a paper I'm writing, and the book I'm using right now is kind of vague and unhelpful.

Two questions that are either only tangentially related to my topic or completely unrelated:

1) Why didn't the Philippines seem to connect more with their fellow Spanish colonies in North and South America? The book I'm using doesn't seem to mention anything like that at all, and it seems weird to me. The residents of all those colonies would have the same experience of being put down by the peninsulares, and the Manila Galleon put Mexico and Manila in direct contact.

2) Why don't people make fun of Spain the way they make fun of France? People mock France all the time for constantly losing wars, but Spain seems to have lost just as many and probably had a far greater fall from their vaunted heights than the French.

Inquiring minds (well, just mine) would like to know.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I went to a private school while I lived in the United Arab Emirates. It wasn't just private, though. It was a corporate chain of private schools.

It's a difficult concept to wrap one's mind around, that schools could be chains in the same manner as a local Pizza Hut. But that's how it was. My school had four branches in the UAE, and many more around the world. The original branch, the flagship location, if you will, was located in Lebanon. For this reason, the school's primary language of instruction was English, but it also had rigorous French and Arabic components.

At least, that's what I assume about the Arabic classes. I was never able to take any Arabic there, because the class was limited to native speakers of Arabic. Conversely, only one native Arabic speaker was in our French class, and she told us that the school gave her mother a hard time every fall about enrolling her children in French instead of Arabic. From her mother's perspective, her kids already spoke Arabic fluently, so she wanted them to learn a new language. My friend was a strong pupil and did pretty well in French, so I assume the school's problem with this was that it violated their system of severe rigidity.

This rigidity came from the chain's underlying philosophy, the SABIS Educational System. SABIS came complete with propaganda in the main offices about how awesome it was, and how we were all going to be better students because of it. They would hang up the university admissions of various students to make their point in display cases.

The point of SABIS seemed to be giving us students lots of tests. Supposedly this would alleviate our test anxiety in the future, but I still have text anxiety, and the effect was that our teachers would teach for these multiple choice tests, and we never did any projects. We never wrote papers, or did research, or presentations. I'm not even sure if we could have, because our school library was so limited. It was just endless tests. There was the AMS, which was three times a week, and multiple choice. There were the weekly examinations, starting in Gr. 5. For younger students, there were monthly exam periods, which came as quite a shock when we first moved to the Middle East when I was starting Gr. 3. I still question the logic behind testing such young children. We spent so much time doing exams instead of learning.

In Gr. 3, I was firmly turned against this system by an English exam. The topic was Cinderella, which we'd been reading in class, and we were supposed to answer the crossword-style questions about it by filling in the crossword. In this version, Cinderella wore wooden shoes that the fairy godmother turned into the glass slippers. The clue was, "Material of Cinderella's shoes before the fairy godmother changed them." The spot on the crossword had six blank spots, but the answer was wood, right? Her wooden shoes were made of wood. But wood only had four letters.

I wrote wood, erased it, and then wrote it again. I stared at the question in confusion, not really knowing what to do. Eventually time ran out, and I'd gotten that question wrong when it was handed back.

My mother has always put undue academic pressure on my siblings and I, and she was very angry about my ostensible poor performance on this test. (I think I got 19/20. All our grades at that school were out of 20.) She complained, and she wasn't allowed to speak to the actual teacher, because that just wasn't done at our school. So the staff in the main office informed my mother that the correct answer was wooden, not wood.

My mother accepted it because English is her second language, and I'm sure that they were pretty condescending to her for reasons I will write about later, but I'm still annoyed about it. The text from the story referred to her wooden shoes, but how did it not follow that the shoes were made of wood? It now seems symbolic of their general rigidity that they wanted the students to directly quote the text at the expense of linguistic accuracy, instead of making the very simple mental leap from wooden to made of wood.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Granger Danger

As a lover of all things literary, I really enjoyed this piece on Jezebel. "Remember the Egg Fad!" is definitely noteworthy advice, and should be heeded at all times. (For those not in the know, in the book, bringing a hard-boiled egg for lunch and cracking it on your head is all the rage in Ramona's Gr. 3 class. Sadly, one day, her father packs her lunch and accidentally puts a raw egg in it, and poor Ramona ends up with literal egg on her face.)

"Pulling an Amelia Bedelia," however, should be a phrase that everyone understands and therefore requires no explanation. Anyone who does need it explained must repent by creating delicious baked goods for me, thus "pulling an Amelia Bedelia." See how that works?

The phrase that spoke to me most, though, was "Granger Danger," named after Hermione Granger. I am constantly guilty of being an insufferable know-it-all, and when I shared the phrase with friends, they loved having a way to describe how they feel about me when I do it. I can't really help it, though. When I'm processing things, my understanding is altered by the information I already have, and sometimes it doesn't follow a "normal" trajectory. My attempts to enable my friends to understand my thoughts results in repeated forays into the land of Granger Danger.

At least, that's what I tell myself. Just like how I'm now telling myself that instead of shaking their fists at me, my friends can now go, "Granger Danger! Granger Danger!" The rhyming should distract them from their annoyance long enough for me to explain how the Columbian Exchange enabled chocolate easter eggs. And then they'll be too busy thinking about Cadbury Creme Eggs to notice what I did.

It's foolproof. Unless they read my plan here, of course.

Friday, April 17, 2009

An Intro to Two of Seven Emirates

My brother posted this article on my Facebook wall, and it's definitely been some food for thought.

You can see Al Ain off in the middle of nowhere, right up on the Oman border.

We moved back from the UAE more than ten years ago now, and the Dubai described in the article is in many ways unfamiliar. Back in those days, there was no palm-shaped island. There was no Harvey Nichols. There was no Burj Al-Arab. The largest mall in Dubai was the newly opened (and not quite complete!) City Centre, with its Ikea and massive, amusement park-like food court.

Dubai was where everyone went to shop in those days. There was no mall in Al Ain, and it was difficult to come across the simple things that everyone in every small crap town in North America takes for granted in those pre-internet days... like the newest English CDs and books. Dubai had an English radio station that played Rick Dees' weekly top 40 show, and that was basically the only exposure you got to the occasional rock song. The more privileged among us had MTV Europe instead of MTV India, but that still involved less rock and more techno.

You could go to the beach there, and the water in those days wasn't filled with sewage, like the article claims. My youngest brother loved to stand near the water and let the tide wash over his feet, though, and after a day at the beach, his feet were always black with oil. The atlas that my father had brought back for me from a business trip to Canada showed me that the Gulf Sea was choked with oil pollution, so I assumed that it was the whole sea that was dirty.

I've been told that they've recently built a virtual wall of buildings along the beach in Dubai, effectively blocked off the rest of the city from the ocean breeze. In my mind, that makes Dubai much more like Abu Dhabi, which is an island of overgrown skyscrapers in a desert country. In Abu Dhabi, there was no breeze, and the light would reflect off the skyscrapers into the street, baking the asphalt. There were no trees because it was the desert, but it was painfully humid because it was an island. The heat clung to you like a living object, and the air was literally thick with the humidity - you could feel it. Stepping outside of a vehicle or building was like walking into a physical wall of heat. Your clothes and hair would stick to you, and the heat seemed unbearably inescapable.

Al Ain was better. It was out in the desert, away from the ocean, but it was also an oasis, so it was full of parks. The summer temperatures were actually higher than in the larger coastal cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but since the air was dry, it didn't stick to your body in the same fashion. I don't know if we really appreciated how lucky we were in that regard. We were tweens, busy being bitter that we were disconnected from the rest of the world because we had to go to Dubai to buy a fashion magazine. Because I was a nerd, I was also bitter that I couldn't go to Space Camp, and that I couldn't look things up whenever I wanted to, because there was no public library. It's kind of mundane, really. I didn't hate it there because it was fake, or because I felt like it was a con game. I hated it because it was intellectually limiting.

I did see some of the darker side of things, though. As a child, there wasn't really much that could be done about it, and I didn't personally know anyone who told me the kinds of stories of victimization that Hari writes about in his article. He also seems to leave out a whole class of people, drawing lines between the local Arabs, the migrant workers from the subcontinent, the Phillipines, and apparently Ethiopia now, and rich, white expats from Western countries.

There's no mention of the families from the subcontinent who have lived there for decades with no rights in terms of citizenship. There's no mention of Western expats of colour like my family, or like my classmate's family, a black American girl. There's only a passing mention of the residents from other Middle Eastern countries who have settled there... and nothing of the many Baha'i residents that fled Iran to settle there. There's just so many different facets to discuss.

I've tried to determine how many of the differences can be explained simply by my living in the emirate of Abu Dhabi as opposed to Dubai, but it's still the same country. So I thought I'd write it myself, and add some of my own analyses. I'm not the greatest writer, but in this case, I have plenty of source material.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Where my reputation for omniscience and I meet again

The Boy was working the other day in an old chemical factory they're turning into something else, tearing down a concrete wall. ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!") I didn't know that it was a chemical factory until I saw his concrete-dust-covered ass at the end of the day, and I mean that quite literally. Apparently his green cargo pants ripped just before lunch, and proceeded to get worse as the day went on. I didn't have my camera, so I couldn't take a picture, and he probably wouldn't have let me do it anyway, but the tearing started up near his crotch, and went horizontally almost all the way around his leg, as well as down the inseam almost to his knees.

It looked like he'd tried to turn one leg into cut-off short shorts and realized it was a stupid idea with about three inches of fabric left holding them together. It's a good thing that he wears his boxer-briefs like a good boy, or it would have been an indecent exposure charge waiting to happen.

"Apparently, jeans are the way to go at that place," he told me, trying to hold his pants up.

"Well, that's what they were originally designed for, right? I mean, technically it was for miners, and they were made out of canvas, but you get what I'm saying..."

He stared at me blankly.

"You know," I tried. "Levi... and the boat... and the canvas for the tents..."

"I really have no idea what you're talking about."

"You mean DON'T you know all about the history of denim?! Why not?" I teased.

"Because you haven't told me yet," he responded, shaking his head as if I should have known better.

Silly me. I forgot that I'm supposed to know everything.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Box of Her Own

I haven't gotten my period in a disturbingly long time, seeing as how I don't appear to be pregnant. So where did it go?

At first, I wondered if I just wasn't eating healthily, but I weigh a reasonable amount. It's not like last spring when I looked a little skeletal and felt a little faint like I was living in the olden times when corsets were mandated.

I suggested to a friend that perhaps my uterus had fallen out without me noticing, like while I was sleeping. A stealth uterus, if you will. She compared it to Dexter.

Imagine, if you will...

A uterus, with a mind of its own. It crawled out to attend to its box, where it stores samples of semen from previous conquests like Dexter stores samples of blood from its victims. A box, with a box of its own. Although I prefer "a box of her own," because it gives it that Virginia Woolf feel. Imagine what a uterus could do if given a room of her own! Works of art! Photography!

And, of course, a comedically named festival celebrating turtles:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesEconomic CrisisPolitical Humor

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China

I read Out of Mao's Shadow a couple of months ago, and I've been meaning to blog about it since.

Philip Pan was on The Daily Show promoting this book sometime last spring, and it sounded pretty interesting at the time. I'm pretty bad at actually reading the books I put on my book list, though. Fast forward to November, and I noticed it prominently on display in the library, so I picked it up. Then it sat in my room for a few weeks as I read a biography on Hillary Clinton. Eventually I got around to it, and am I ever glad that I did! I tore through it in about two days.

The book is organized into three parts, or eleven chapters. Each one discusses a separate story, focusing on a specific person and their experiences in dealing with the Chinese system. For instance, there's a chapter about a doctor who broke the story of SARS as the Chinese govt tried to keep the epidemic under wraps as it escaped China. There's another chapter about the editor of a newspaper that struggled to maintain its voice and duty to report honestly in a climate of censorship. One of the most fascinating was the chapter about Lin Zhao, a young revolutionary woman in the fifties who turned against Communism with the same fervour that she felt when she first ran away from home to support it. She was imprisoned and wrote hundreds of pages assailing the Party with her own blood before her execution.

I'm not very well-versed in Chinese history, but Pan's book provides a fascinating primer. He places all the stories in their historical context, giving a basic background to events like the Cultural Revolution, and the extreme violence that took place in cities like Chongqing, as well as the role the Communist Party played in trying to suppress the populace's memory of these events and the people who struggled to reveal the truth and seek justice. Part of Pan's analysis is that in many of the cases, the dissidents were able to get the Party to make small changes, such as finally being open about SARS, enabling the medical field to fight and contain it. However, this did not result in more openness and a path to democracy in China, but rather the opposite. By showing a small amount of flexibility, the Communist Party was, in fact, able to strengthen its hold on power. They were basically able to take credit for taking action rather than being vilified for hedging and taking not action for so long.

I highly recommend it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Obama's in Ottawa! (GOP serves pork tenderloin for dinner in his absence.)

I was just browsing Jezebel and came across this post. Of course, I had to read even more about Obama's visit to Ottawa, and squee about how I've appreciated the same bakery as Obama. I spent part of the morning reading about it in the National Post, even though I felt a little dirty even touching the Post. I couldn't help myself! There were so many pictures! He looked so cute with our esteemed Governor-General Michaƫlle Jean. Apparently, they discussed how awesome it is that they're both black. (That was not meant to be condescending. I'm totally sincere.)

There was also a press conference with Stephen Harper. He didn't look as cute with Obama. The whole relationship is still brand spanking new, so I don't feel like commenting on US-Canada relations at this time.

I read on and then clicked over to this blog post at Politico, where some of the commenters seem to be confused about why exactly it's hypocritical for Republicans to be lining up for stimulus money now, after delaying it for weeks with their incessant whiny brattiness. The argument seems to be that they have to pay for it, so they might as well partake in the pork chops.

First of all, let's get the snark out of the way by making fun of an idiotic comment.

wow the democrat who was whining about bush spending a trillion on the war in iraq your wrong it was 600 billion over seven years and Obama the great dictator spent that within 100 days !!!

Posted By: Garret | February 19, 2009 at 10:45 PM

Only 600 billion? Oh, ok then. I didn't realize that it was such a bargain! All criticisms withdrawn. Thank you for showing me the light, Garret. It's really too bad that I read this article in the New York Times right after reading your comment: Obama Bans Gimmicks, and Deficit Will Rise

For his first annual budget next week, President Obama has banned four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller. The price of more honest bookkeeping: A budget that is $2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear, according to administration officials.

It seems that the second Bush was even less honest than the first about the actual size of the budget shortfall. Lying about the state of the govt is kind of a dictator thing to do, though, isn't it? I don't want to block your righteous outrage with petty facts, though, so moving on.

As a public service, allow me to demonstrate why the Republicans are being hypocritical:

House Republican: "This stimulus package will not do anything to help and is a complete and utter waste of money! I must stand against it!"

The bill then passes, as House Republicans knew that it would.

House Republican: "So, can we get some of that stimulus money? It would totally help us out."

Simply put, the Republicans voted against this bill insisting that it was a waste of money and would not do anything useful. There were even suggestions that it might make things worse by breeding a population that depends on govt bailout money instead of working really hard to become Wall Street execs and make obscene amount of money bleeding society dry.

Now that it has passed, as they knew that it would despite their grand-standing, they're lining up to get that money because they KNEW ALL ALONG that the bill was not a waste of money, and in fact, was incredibly useful. I guess you could say that a lot of stuff in the bill was good, but not necessarily economically useful, and I would disagree and then concede the point. But that's not the tack that they're taking, as evidenced by this quote:

“This critical funding is vital to protecting our schools from budget cuts and teacher layoffs. Because Florida has been hit especially hard by a rise in foreclosures, unemployment, and recent natural disasters, we are experiencing a crippling budget crisis. Now more than ever, we must invest in our state’s future,” said the letter.

It's very clearly talking about economic disasters and the economic fallout of natural disasters. It is shameful that for the purposes of political partisanship they voted against a bill that was necessary for the economic well-being of their constituents.

That is why it is hypocritical.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blog for Choice Day

Today is the 36th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the landmark decision legalizing the right of American women to choose. In honour of today, I'm participating in Blog for Choice Day 2009, even though I'm not American.

This year's topic is our pro-choice hopes for Obama and the new Congress, and it's why I felt that it was important to blog today, despite not being American, and my belief that the many, many restrictions on choice in the United States, some of which are supported by ostensibly pro-choice people, infringe on the rights of women to exist as free human beings. (I'm a believer in the reasoning behind the Canadian Supreme Court's decision that any restrictions on abortion in essence force women to be pregnant against their will violates their very personhood.)

But I didn't really want to talk about my hard-line position on abortion today. I wanted to talk about the Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy. The policy bars any organization that receives US funds from having anything whatsoever to do with abortion, whether it is providing them, advocating for them, or counselling women on their very existence, whether or not abortion is legal in the country where the organization is located.

This is ideology trumping the actual health and well-being of the citizens of these countries, and using American aid as a tool to enforce this ideology on women who have very few other options. It puts health-care providers in the position where they are either prevented from giving women ALL the information they want, regardless of the risk to women's health and safety, or foregoing necessary funding and supplies. Essentially, they're playing with people's lives, because they can. Because they've decided they have that right.

Incidentally, abortion is now legal in Mexico City, although not in the rest of Mexico.

The Global Gag Rule was originally implemented by Reagan, thereby neatly fitting into my theory that Reagan was a scourge on humanity. It was reversed by Clinton at the beginning of his first term, until Bush reinstated it at the beginning of his presidency. Obviously, this means that it remained standing throughout Bush Senior's term, meaning that all three Republican presidents of the last thirty years deserve equal blame for this abominable policy.

So my hopes for Obama and the new Congress? Bye bye Global Gag Rule. And I don't know if it's possible, but it would be great if Congress could pass some legislation prohibiting future evil presidents from bringing it back once Obama's term has ended. The health and well-being of women and their families worldwide shouldn't depend on the whims of a president bowing to anti-choice interests.