Archive for December, 2010

Rising SUV sales could be cause for concern

December 30, 2010

News articles like this one — which explains how SUV sales are on the rise while smaller, more fuel-efficient car sales are on the decline — make me nervous. They make me nervous because they hint at the true reason that environmentalism has managed to gain mainstream attention from consumers in the past few years — consumers couldn’t afford not to listen. Now that the economy is showing signs of an upswing, I’m afraid people’s green inclinations will go out the window.

When it comes to cars, green is always a money-saver for the consumer — you get more bang for your buck with a fuel-efficient car, but the increase in SUV sales proves that, if gas prices are low enough, consumers don’t mind filling their gas tanks more often, as long as the price per refill is within their budget. It’s an interesting example of how people disassociate the specific trips to the pump with the bigger picture, e.g. more frequent trips to the gas station costing more money overall.

Though I’m thinking this trend will be momentary, as gas prices are expected to keep rising to nearly $5 within the next few years, so I’m thinking fuel efficiency will be on the forefront of consumers’ mind again relatively soon. I hope that money-saving green initiatives (e.g. energy-saving appliances, better home insulation) don’t get the boot from consumers as the economy recovers, simply because people can afford not to think about them anymore.

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Is extreme attachment/unattachment healthy in relationships?

December 30, 2010

This recent article in Scientific American discusses Attachment Theory and how it applies to relationships, and it’s pretty interesting. The authors take the categories of attachment used in child psychology — secure, anxious, and avoidant — and apply them to relationships, eventually reasoning that combining different attachment types generally leads to unhappy (and unhealthy) relationships. For me, the bigger question is this: Is an anxious or avoidant relationship healthy?

In the version of the article online (I can’t access the full article), the authors conclude with this statement:

The most important take-home message is that relationships should not be left to chance. Mismatched attachment styles can lead to a great deal of unhappiness in a relationship, even for people who love each other greatly. But even those with mismatched attachment styles can find more security in their relationships by tapping into the secure mind-set and finding secure role models.

Here, it seems the authors are simultaneously saying that (1) love cannot triumph over differences in how people approach relationships and (2) if people do want to try to make these mismatched relationships work, the best model is the secure attachment model. I agree with these two sentiments, but I’m curious if the article addresses the dynamics of how healthy two avoidant or anxious people in a relationship would be. It addressed the two parties being mismatched — what if they are matched but not of the “secure” type?

Take the anxious attachment approach — here, I think of people who are very dependent on their significant others, to the point where they push other people away and only want to be with the significant other. As the authors explain, people of the anxious attachment persuasion constantly are worried about their relationships, being abandoned, and not being loved by the significant other.

Would two people really be a “match” if they were both anxious attachment types? I’m sure they could better understand each other’s fears and worries when communicating their anxiety about abandonment, feelings not being reciprocated, and dependency, but my fear is that two anxious types would also enable each other without working on developing a more secure relationship.

From personal experience and the experience of friends, I agree with the authors that a dependent person and an independent person or a commitment-phobic simply can’t sustain any kind of healthy relationship because both parties will be left unsatisfied as one party will not be getting enough attention and reassurance and the other party will feel suffocated or inadequate because they can’t provide the appropriate level of security (more so for the avoidant-type person).

The authors point out that these polar opposites exacerbate the insecurities each feels in relationships, though again I’d say that those with the same — whether they be anxious or avoidant (unable to get close to others, trust people, or be as intimate as people would like; generally feel nervous when people get too close) — would be at risk of enabling them. What immediately comes to mind are couples that constantly want to be with each other, who lose friendships because of this — though I don’t hear as much of the double avoidant relationships, where seemingly both parties wouldn’t be very intimate with each other and would have a lot of difficulty developing trust.

I suppose defining what constitutes a “secure” relationship is pretty subjective, and people could make the argument that it’s unfair to characterize as “unhealthy” someone’s natural tendency to be distrusting or worrisome. I just see so many anxious-anxious pairings that it’s hard to believe that simply mismatched styles are to blame. Trust issues and commitment issues run deeper than just genetics or personality, and they need to be addressed — as the authors at one point suggest — through effective communication.

The main points here are that (1) love doesn’t conquer all, and subsequently “but we love each other” is not an excuse for staying in an unhealthy relationship; (2) the best model is the secure model, whereby you don’t worry or have issues with dependency or trust; and (3) the best way to get there is through effective communication, because attachment styles are developed and dynamic (not genetic or static), and more security will only be found by addressing and examining the reasons you feel anxious or avoidant in relationships.

I still think these extremes, even if both people in a couple have the same attachment style, are unhealthy, but my views are based more on anecdotal evidence than science. Also, I generally dislike strict categories, but I do like the online questionnaire for attachment type because it has several axes and gives a more multidimensional view of attachment.

MTV makes it tough for abortion special to reach viewers

December 30, 2010

If you haven’t seen the MTV half-hour documentary “No Easy Decision,” which follows 16 and Pregnant teen mom Markai through her decision to get an abortion, you’ll have to watch it online here — that’s because not only did MTV post the special at an 11:30 p.m. time slot on a Tuesday — well past the usual 16 and Pregnant 10 p.m. slot — but MTV won’t be airing the special again for at least another week, according to its own online TV schedule.

Initially I was going to write solely about the content of the special (read the live blog commentary here from Jessica Valenti, Shelby Knox, Jamia Wilson, Lynn Harris, and Steph Harold), but the lack of airtime caught my attention, and I think it sends a message about the extent of MTV’s progressiveness. This special is good. It’s important. It’s honest. It’s thought-provoking. And unfortunately, it’s only a half-hour long and runs not even one time again within the week of its premiere — because God knows we need to see a three-day marathon of Jersey Shore instead.

This documentary is not getting the airtime it deserves, and even though its being in existence is remarkable and a great step forward in furthering the abortion discussion, it can’t be ignored that MTV didn’t treat it equally in comparison with 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, which have never shown a teen mom getting an abortion and only have shown two of the three options when it comes to pregnancy — raising the baby or putting it up for adoption.

I think the lateness of its airing, the fact that it aired once on a channel where every new episode of any show is repeatedly played over and over again (16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom always aired again right after ending at 11 p.m. and always again the next day, usually around 8 or 9 p.m.), and the shortness of the episode itself only added to a stereotype that the special was trying to combat — that women who get abortions must think it’s just an in-and-out procedure and don’t even really think about all their options.

Obviously, getting an abortion is a time-sensitive decision, as 37 states have a restriction on abortions after a certain point in the pregnancy. But the special itself was only 20 minutes long, with about 10 minutes reserved for Dr. Drew interviewing Markai and her boyfriend, and then Dr. Drew interviewing Katie and Natalia, two women who also had abortions and who shared their experiences.

“There are just no easy decisions,” Dr. Drew concluded at the end of the special, which is a very true statement, but one that wasn’t conveyed as well as it could have been with a special that was an hour long and didn’t rush through the thought process, steps, and emotions that Markai (or Katie or Natalia) experienced in deciding to get an abortion.

I wish that the discussion that Dr. Drew was having with the three women after the special could have lasted longer, as those women had so many important things to say in respect to the discussion on abortion, and so many things that only a woman who has gotten an abortion can truly express.

“People assume that if you are having an abortion you are denying the fact that you’re a parent, but it’s not, it’s not at all,” Katie said. “Nobody wants to have an abortion,” Markai said. “In retrospect I’m not ashamed at all, I’m proud of what I did,” Natalia said. These are the statements that get drowned out — these are the honest, real accounts and thoughts that enrich a discourse on abortion, and that change the stereotypes people have about the “kind of person” who gets an abortion, or what goes through someone’s head when she decides to have an abortion.

So despite MTV choosing to air reruns of Jersey Shore for three days straight instead of showing even one more time this special, the half-hour documentary still crams in a lot of important dialogue and information. Markai weighed all her options, called a clinic to get information on all the types of abortions and how they would affect her physically and emotionally (the live bloggers pointed out how (1) the counselor was extremely helpful and nice and (2) the clinic was legit), and looked to her boyfriend James and her mom for support and advice.

I also found it important that Markai’s story be highlighted for two reasons. One, someone obviously was not providing her with complete information about birth control, a sentiment repeated by Katie in the after-interview. Markai had no idea that the birth control immediately left her system if she was not up-to-date on her shots. Katie also said she wasn’t aware the side effects from her birth control — she would get physically ill and throw up the pill — would make it ineffective.

“I should’ve looked my birth control up on the Internet or something, you know, it’s my job to keep up with it,” Markai said. I completely disagree — you shouldn’t have to search the Internet for information on your birth control. You should ask your doctor, and your doctor should be providing information about side effects without you having to ask, just like any other medication.

Two, Markai got an abortion for the sake of her daughter. “If I didn’t have Za’karia I couldn’t do it, but I gotta think about my baby,” Markai said. I think this is especially necessary to highlight because Markai described her abortion as something she was sacrificing for her daughter — so that her and James could provide for their daughter without having to put her through the poverty, hunger, and sometimes neglect that both Markai and James experienced growing up. Anti-abortion activists want to call abortion selfish, though Markai proves it is quite the opposite, while also proving how complicated of a decision it is.

This topic gets me heated because these are important pieces of information that aren’t prevalent in the mainstream media. You don’t see resources for information on abortion (like here, here, or here); you don’t hear women who have had abortions as prominent voices in the discussion; and you don’t get a glimpse into the life of someone deciding to get an abortion as the decision is being made. Statistics and facts and figures aside, women struggle with the choice. There a multitude of reasons for making such a choice. And it’s important to listen to these stories and see that it’s not as easy as black and white, yes or no, right or wrong.

And because abortion is so complex, so sensitive a subject, so full of emotion, I think MTV did a real disservice to Markai, as well as Katie and Natalia, and the subject of abortion itself, because though it is one of the three main choices a pregnant woman can make, MTV seemingly makes its own judgment call on abortion by limiting how long the special is, when it is aired, and how little it is aired.

Again, it’s great the special aired, but people actually have to watch it in order to gain something from it, and that would mean MTV would actually have to air it more than once. Luckily it’s online, so again, go watch it.

Survey sheds light on attitudes toward teen pregnancy

December 29, 2010

A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the teen birth rate declined by 6 percent, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy also recently released a survey (not to be confused with the NCHS study) regarding attitudes toward teen pregnancy. Instead of discussing the study, I’d like to address the teen responses to the survey.

The survey found that 82 percent of teens “think [16 and Pregnant] helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it,” which isn’t a surprise. It’s like the slides of sexually transmitted infections they show you in health class — that lesson about herpes has much more of an impact when you see it rather than just hearing about it.

I agree that 16 and Pregnant can definitely have a positive effect on teens, but some of the other survey results show that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to education about sex and pregnancy. Of those surveyed, 78 percent said they had all the information they needed to know to avoid an unplanned pregnancy — though 49 percent knew little or nothing about condoms and 34 percent agreed that birth control didn’t matter — pregnancy would just happen if “it is your time to get pregnant.”

These results indicate a serious lack of comprehensive sex education — if someone thinks that they know the only way to prevent pregnancy, and thinks the only way is abstinence, then yeah, they aren’t going to search for condoms or consider birth control. This is the danger of abstinence-only sex education — abstinence is undoubtedly the best way to prevent pregnancy, but it isn’t the only way. Teens need to know that it’s not divine will or fate that gets people pregnant — unprotected sex is what leads to pregnancy, and teens have the choice to use protection to prevent pregnancy.

Interestingly enough, 80 percent said it would be easier to delay having sex if they had a more open, honest relationship with their parents — with about two-thirds of both teens and adults agreeing that teens don’t use contraception primarily out of fear of parents finding out about it. And about the same number of parents said they’d be happy to find out their kids were using protection if they were having sex.

I find this statistic particularly interesting because this season on 16 and Pregnant, so many more of the teens had an open relationship with their parents regarding sex. The moms were constantly questioning their teenage kids, asking them why they had unprotected sex when they’d been taught about condoms and safe sex. One mom even put condoms under the bathroom sink for her daughter to use if necessary. I agree that open communication is definitely a good thing, but I don’t think it’s extremely far ahead of other reasons teens might not use protection, such as lack of sex education or pressure from a significant other.

The survey also addressed sexting, with 71 percent of teens and 81 percent of adults agreeing that “sharing nude or semi-nude images of themselves or other teens electronically (through cell phones, websites, and/or social media networks) leads to more sex in real life.” That is extremely concerning, considering how the “typical” age for people to get cell phones is getting younger and younger, and the expectation of sex adds pressure and danger to people who send pictures of themselves perhaps not with sex in mind (both teens and adults).

The survey results are very interesting, but they don’t lead to a definitive answer on what could be responsible for the drop in teen pregnancy. For adults the drop could definitely be related to the economy, but teens aren’t worrying about the economy when they are having sex. Both abstinence and comprehensive sex ed groups could try to claim victory. Regardless of MTV’s influence, the survey highlights that teens are still very under-educated about sex, and nearly three-quarters of adults said they’d want their kids to learn both about abstinence and contraception.

Bike lanes, not sidewalk banishment, will solve traffic woes

December 2, 2010

A letter to the editor this week in The Washington Post was both spot-on and completely off the mark in how it framed both the problems with an increase in bicycling in D.C. and the solutions for those problems. When it comes to enforcement, resident Charles Yulish is right that bicyclists need to follow traffic laws and should be cited by police if seen violating them. But when it comes to where they ride, Yulish’s solution that they “should be banned from all pedestrian sidewalks” is far too simplistic and misses the point of why so many people ride on the sidewalks — because they feel safer there.

This really highlights a lack of biking infrastructure in the city, which is often bustling with traffic and people who drive erraticly — bicyclists are caught in quite a bind because the city is just as driver-heavy as it is pedestrian-heavy. Drivers get frustrated with bicyclists who can’t match the speed of traffic, and pedestrians get frustrated with bicyclists who speed by and weave through them (I’ve even seen people riding their motor scooters on the sidewalks).

What bicyclists need is their own domain on the roads — bike lanes. Until there is space made for bicyclists on the road, they will forever have to choose between possibly getting run over or navigating pedestrian-filled sidewalks. Many people want to bike, but riding with traffic is daunting in a city where stories about pedestrians and bicyclists being hit by cars are common. (This isn’t saying that drivers are responsible for all these accidents — but an SUV packs a much bigger punch than a bicycle or a pedestrian.)

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 43 percent of people don’t have access to bike lanes or bike paths (which often run parallel to but are set off from the road) — add the 24.1 percent of people who only have access to bike paths — not bike lanes — and that means about two-thirds of people don’t have access to bike lanes. Bike paths are great, but they often are set back from the road and are so limited in where they reach that many people don’t find them to be efficient — bike lanes are much more convenient in this sense.

And for cities that do sport bike lanes, their placement is often sporadic and not especially cohesive. In D.C. they are routinely adding bike lanes to streets (I understand this is a time-consuming project if it means expanding the width of the street), but their placement is scattered. And for bicyclists who don’t feel comfortable in the road, it likely leads to them weaving on-and-off the sidewalks, which makes them less predictable and more likely to get into an accident.

Personally, my hometown’s bike lanes are pitiful. A few streets have them, and I think the ones that do run parallel to each other, and the bike lane itself doesn’t go very far distance-wise. So while some cities can claim to have bike lanes and on paper look good, the quality of those bike lanes also might have a lot of room for improvement. As bicycling increases, the infrastructure must increase with it — slapping a bike lane down a main street isn’t going to cut it anymore.

It sounds like Yulish is a pedestrian, so simply banishing the bicyclists from the sidewalk works for him as a pedestrian, but it doesn’t address the problem as it relates to all travelers. Quality bike lane infrastructure positively benefits all these travelers — it would draw more attention to bicyclists’ right to be on the road, leave sidewalks as a space for pedestrians, and overall leave drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists with a better attitude about their own safety when traveling.