Thursday, February 14, 2008

Suze Orman's "Women & Money" (review)

Author: Suze Orman.
Title: Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny.
Publication: 2007: Spiegel & Grau, 254 pages, hardcover. ISBN 0385519311.

The author is often called upon to intervene in family crises for the Oprah show, in those “kinder and gentler” versions of Dr. Phil confrontations. When I’ve seen her, it’s usually to respond to abused women, who may be abandoned by husbands or overwhelmed by needs of other family members.

This book is aimed at women (her first chapter is titled “For Women Only”), and especially those “stay at home moms” and women socialized through the “family wage” notion. Yes, many people believe that their entire adult lives are justified by their marriages and families, including the effect that their marriages have in stabilizing other (usually unmarried) family members besides their own kids. So much of her advice (“Save Yourself Plan”) seems at first to be aimed at women in those circumstances, but the last two-thirds of the book comprises pretty good financial information for everybody. She goes through all the basics of everything (credit cards, FICO scores, mortgages, insurance – she recommends that life insurance be term only).

The early part of the book seems a bit like a spiritual pep talk. She has chapter titles like “No Shame, No Blame” and “You Are Not For Sale.” (I remember, when vacationing in Montana in 1981, hearing about a “feeling good about yourself talk” in Helena on the car radio, and making a turn on a country road to reach it.) She talks about "cleanliness" and the pack-rat syndrome. Later, in summarizing her financial advice, she prefixes her dot-point lists with “I would be thrilled if you would ….” She talks about women owning their own "name" and "reputation." (She doesn't go into the Internet "reputation defender" problem with respect to married (or divorced) women, but that could be a logical topic for an updated version or a paperback.) She talks about the fact that women volunteer more than men do, and she believes that giving to others is a good and necessary thing at points in a life. When another family member is in real need, she believes that a gift is more appropriate than a “loan.” She mentions that fact that people live longer – and that underscores the need to plan much more thoroughly for one’s own retirement and possibly long term care, and raises the likelihood that one will have to help out one’s parents, both financially and in terms of personal care. She doesn’t take that into legal areas, but she could have gotten into filial responsibility laws in effect in many states; perhaps some day Oprah or Dr. Phil will cover this topic.

Suze appeared on the Oprah show Wed. Feb. 13 with a particularly troubling case. (Link) ) For twenty-four hours afterward, the book was offered as a PDF download for free. Now there is a book excerpt on the Oprah link, given in my link.

Men often need to "own the power to control personal destiny," too. That's particularly true of gay men, when others feel that they can make demands and liens on them for "family responsibility" and "solidarity." Writing and maybe filmmaking would be my way to keep destiny in view.

Update: March 6, 2008

Suze Orman was on NBC's Today show this morning warning Americans that we are indeed in both inflation and recession, and urging Americans to save and not spend their IRS rebates this spring.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

OAR / Danya have major booklets on Autism, Asperger's

At the recent health fair in Washington DC Jan. 12-13 (entry Jan. 13). I found a booth on autism, and much of the available literature had to be requested free by mail. I had reviewed a book on Asperger syndrome by John Elder Robinson on this blog in October, here.

I received two large paperbacks from the ("OAR") Organization for Autism Research in Arlington VA and Danya International in Silver Spring, MD. Neither booklet had an ISBN.

The first was titled “Life Journey Through Autism: An Educator’s Guide,” 48 pages, paper, 9 x 11, by Kristen D. Holtz, Amanda K. Ziegert, Cynthia D. Baker.

The second was more specific. It is titled, “Life Journey Through Autism: An Educator’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome,” 88 pages, large paperback. The authors are Brenda Smith Myles, Diane Andreon, Kristin Hagen, Jeanne Holverstott, Anastasia Hubbard, Sheila M. Smith (all of these from the University of Kansas) and Melissa Trautman from the public school system in Overland Park, KS.

The booklets are very much directed at teachers as the audience. These would include both regular classroom teachers and special education teachers. The presumption is those who join the teaching profession will encounter children or students with needs related to these syndromes, and that many students can make considerable emotional demands on the attention of teachers. The occurrence of autism is reported regular in the media, and there is increasing evidence of genetic causes. A few days ago, there was a story of a family with six children with autism or Asperger’s. (The ABC “Good Morning America” story is here.) On Jan. 29, CNN ran a story to the effect that ABC would be asked to cancel a particular show because it perpetuated the idea that vaccines cause autism.

The Asperger booklet publishes a “Six-Step Plan.” It provides many lists and diagrams explaining the syndrome. It seems to present the syndrome as more severe than do other sources. Asperger is still considered a “pervasive developmental disorder”. For example, the booklet reports that academic difficulties (particularly with abstract concepts) are commonly encountered with Asperger’s syndrome. Some behaviors by children with the Syndrome may seem indulgent or self-serving (the “little professor syndrome”), but they are not willful and they have a biological, neurological basis. However, many media reports characterize a large portion of the Asperger population as academically proficient, sometimes gifted, often inclined to pursuits with computers, music and art. The converse of such an assertion is definitely not true, however. Many artists and intellectuals (despite popular myths coming from “Silicon Valley”) exhibit no developmental symptoms.

NBC Today Show reported today (Feb. 7, 2008, the 10 AM segment in DC) that 1 / 150 children are autistic (at least to the point of Asperger's -- that is, have a "pervasive developmental disorder"), but that 1 / 100 have schizophrenia, and 1 /10 have some sort of mental illness.

Update: Feb. 19, 2008

ABC World News Tonight has a report by John McKenzie, "Autism Breakthrough: Girl's Writings Explain Her Behavior and Feelings; Doctors Amazed by Carly Fleishman's Ability to Describe the Disorder From the Inside," link here. The story concerns a 13-year-old who can communicate quite articulately by computer but cannot speak. The story has an embedded link to ask her questions.

The link for the coverage on Larry King Live 2/27/2008 is here (go to Dec. 19 2007).

Update: April 10, 2008

WNBC in New York today has a major story "Gene Changes Could Dramatically Increase Autism Risk," link here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Review: "academic" study on "ex-gay" conversions

Authors: Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse.
Title: Ex-Gays: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation.
Publication: Chicago: IVP InterVarsity Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8308-2846-3. 414 pages, paper. 10 Chapters, heavily indexed, many detailed charts and tables.

I composed a personal introduction to this topic, and then I decided to put it on another blog, with the link here. But I add that I’ve heard plenty of sermons in MCC churches on “debunking the ex-gay myth” over the years.

The authors remind us (almost apologetically) of their awareness of the sensitivity and controversy of the subject matter. They are constantly restating the methodology they used to address the topic of changing sexual orientation. They do give a complete account of the various ex-gay groups that purport to do this, and review all of the Biblical references. The authors do make an intellectually cogent case that various passages in both Testaments do (literally, and by implication) condemn homosexual activity per se, but admit that others are free to interpret these passages differently. The authors review the history of the psychiatric and psychological professions approach to the definition of mental illness (there is a lot of discussion of DSM categories), the question of immutability, and whether change is “harmful.” They challenge some widely accepted results of identical twin studies that supposedly support concordance and the likelihood of genetic causes. They sidestep the moral questions about how to play the immutability card, because using immutability arguments is not useful when dealing with behaviors (alcohol, drugs, etc) believed by society now to be objectively harmful.

Most of the book is academic and technical. The authors constantly review their methodology, as with a discussion of “reliability” v. “validity.” There are many tables and charts (no doubt produced by powerful software like SAS, as often used in academic social sciences research, as well as in political lobbying).

The overall conclusion is, of course, that in some focused programs with a religious or faith-based purpose, some homosexuals do “change.” The authors are careful about their semantics. There are many contexts of sexual orientation, and many outcomes (ranging from full marriage with children, to chastity or abstinence, to no change at all). No wonder they need so many charts and tables! One surprise is that the “Truly Gay” seem to have more “success” in “changing” than others. Although the writing in the book seems as benign and reassuring as possible, there is no question that the book would suit the agenda of the religious right. Even other reviews of the book reflect this.

Now, we come to the real question. Who cares? So what? Why? Well, for one thing, homosexuals are pursued for their “private lives” or for what others perceive their lives to mean. It’s much better today, maybe, but we still have “don’t ask don’t tell” and troubling questions in our culture as to who will make the sacrifices when things get tough. Homosexuality has been perceived as a fundamental moral evil, but if so the “wrong” is qualitatively very different from other behavior sets that we view as wrongful today. Homosexuality does not invoke aggression, it does not steal wives or beget unwanted children, etc. It seems related, with a certain amount of paradox, in the propagation of ego, but then so do most male heterosexual behaviors. So, a pastor especially must ask, what’s the big deal?

The authors, as noted, discuss the religious arguments, and write the book as if religious motivation were all that mattered in deciding to “change.” Christian faith, in their view, regards sexuality as designed carefully by God and fixed in purpose (procreation and taking the responsibility, along with some uncertain risks, of providing and raising the next generation), rather than expressive of individual aesthetic values, as if often seems in modern liberal western society. That presents a problem in designing a study because, even as the authors point out, the very notion that there are “homosexual people” as such (an idea generally supported by modern biology) or whether there exist only some sets of homosexual conduct and personal values, is itself controversial, especially in faith contexts.

Homosexuality, especially in men, does seem connected to profound questions about how we share the risks and reap the rewards of living in our free society. It seems to relate to how we share each other’s burdens, and how we give the lives of others meaning when they cannot take care of themselves (whether as children, or later in life some of the elderly and disabled). Homosexuality is connected to that complicated issue of “shared sacrifices” and overlaps it in a “set theory” sense, but it is not the same issue. I can relate to this with personal history, having started out as a “sissy boy” who perhaps did not share the risks of other men in sharing the duties of protecting others; and I know that not all gay men had the same experience, and the current debate about gays in the military today then provides a certain irony. I had my own talents (like music), and came away with the impression that “doing my chores,” pampering women and being available for the draft were all the obligations to meet in order to live with relative freedom in a dangerous world. I resented this, and so did many other young men (as is so easy to find on the Internet today).

Anti-homosexual attitudes, in a practical sense, must reflect “real need.” Parents, especially those who do stay married and faithful, really do need a lot of support from society, and they need the loyalty and solidarity of their children. The "Fifth Commandment" does sound like a "key" to necessary intergenerational responsibility and connectedness. Sometimes, in a world that offers uneven opportunity, that gets expressed as a need for biological loyalty – grandchildren. Sometimes it leads to an attitude that heterosexual marriage needs to monopolize all sexuality in order to work at all as a socializing institution that raises children and binds generations together. (That belief seems to account for Vatican pronouncements on homosexuality, whatever the theology.) Gay men, especially, often report being treated as “second class citizens,” in a way partially comparable to what was experienced by African Americans (the analogy cannot be complete). They will report being challenged by retorts like, “if you want us to respect you, why don’t you respect yourself enough to want your own children?” But that kind of thinking leads to its own dead ends. I think one remaining area concerns the question of “fantasy” and “upward affiliation,” which is seen as intended to marginalize others rather than respond to and meet their real needs; more debate on both gay marriage and adoption, and filial responsibility (in the same debate) could help address this and reduce the social and political polarization that gay issues cause. Nevertheless, many people see institutionalized heterosexual marriage as essentially responsible for and needing to have authority over adults within the family who do not by themselves marry and reproduce. The social management of complementary sexuality through marriage is sometimes seen as giving married couples the responsibility of transcending the differences of ability among family members.

It’s the difficulty of coming up with a principled philosophy that both protects individual rights, shares burdens and protects the needy within the family, that leads many people back to monolithic ideas in religion. At some point, they say, God just had to lay down the rules: the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and maybe human societies. Faith presents a paradox: acceptance of certain "truths" without question is supposed to lead to some kind of emotional release. Maybe this makes "change" possible for some people. They become willing to "let go" and "feel" emotion and "empathy" that they previously resented and resisted.

Update: Feb. 12

Please see the comment. Some have questioned the "peer review" for this book. Visitors can go to Amazon's link and look at the comments there. One reviewer (Dr. Rekers) claims to have done an "academic peer review." Other reviewers point out the connections of the authors, the publishers, and other commentators to the "Christian right," and particularly the Family Research Council. The Amazon sales ranks does show some significant sales activity.

One of the most challenging ideas seems to be the notion that God, or others, or one's "family" can make a "pre-existing claim" on one's own sexuality, for the good of the group as a whole or as part of some kind of "bargain" to give one a good life in a dangerous world. That seems to challenge the way we characterize individual rights and freedom today.

Update: Feb. 23, 2008

Chris Johnson has a story in The Washington Blade (Feb.22, 2008), "‘Ex-gay’ group claims success in ‘changing’ gay men; Gay Experts denounce methodology as ‘bizarre,’ unscientific", about a Virginia-based group called "People Can Change" with its "Journey into Manhood" retreats. The link for the story is here.

I suspect that "ex-gay" therapy tries, often in religious terms, to convince the patient of his family "life affirming" duty to procreate, and to claim that no outside party has the right, even with cultural expression, to distract him from being able to do that in a "competitive" sense. I have a review of the monologue play by Peterson Toscano "Doin' Time in the No Mo Homo Halfway House" (2004) here. Subjects are often not allowed to be by themselves.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Dr. Phil's "Family First" (review)

Author: Dr. Phil McGraw.
Title: Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family.
Publication: New York: Free Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7432-6493-2. 286 pages, paper. 13 Chapters, 2 Parts. No index.

Dr. Phil, of course, is very well known for his guest-oriented television show weekdays, where he often invites guests with serious behavioral problems and then chastises them with his own moral ideas about personal responsibility. (He is particularly hard on moochers, whom he chastises to take any job they can get and then move up like everyone else has to – but in practically every case, the moochers he has presented have already had their own children, often outside of marriage. The problem is bigger than that.) Recently, as we know, his visit to Britney Spears generated controversy, particularly because he talked about it publicly.

This book is a typical “how-to” book and it is bit of a “feel-good” primer. It is addressed to a particular universe: married couples with children. It presumes that parents have to turn much of their personal attention and consciousness toward raising the next generation – their own children. It contains many survey results in gray boxes, and the first result is that, given another chance, many adults say they would not have had families.

That brings up an auxiliary concern, that Dr. Phil does not go into here, and I have not seen him delve into it much in his show. What about the responsibilities of those who have not had children? What about connections between them and their aging parents, or siblings? Must they put "family first" or will they? What about this, Dr. Phil?

Of course, within the typical family, parents are right in “socializing” their children to fit in to meeting the needs of others, even when others present kids with goals or demands that they would not have chosen to meet. After all, children are minors, parents are responsible for them, and children need a grounding of society’s give-and-take expectations before they will know how to take full responsibility for their choices as adults. (Dr. Phil points that out – your child is an adult in the making.) But it’s natural to extend the same question to adults on the periphery of the family. Dr. Phil does suggest that kids do volunteer work and even work on political campaigns to learn the responsibilities of democracy.

I didn’t see any discussion of gay teens, or of how parents should handle them. Of course, teens should not have sex, etc., but that doesn’t deny the fact that heterosexual teens date, so the question of "what with gay teens" logically would come up. In fact, in my own senior year in high school, I didn’t go to the prom because I wasn’t interested; instead I went on a Science Honor Society field trip to the top of Mount Washington, New Hampshire (certainly appropriate for high school), meeting the same psychological need.

Dr. Phil is reported to have said that gays are born wired the way they are, and here is a reference.  There is a particularly disturbing attack on Dr. Phil on this in a review of an interview that Tim Russert gave him, here.

The February 2008 issue of Good Housekeeping has a picture of Dr. Phil and Robin on the cover, with the article “5 Secrets of Happy Couples.”

The January 25 issue of Time has an “Annual Mind & Body Special Issue”: “The Science of Romance: why we need love to survive.” The article, by Jeffrey Kluger, admits that in particular societies, adults seek adults of the opposite sex who will give them the “best” children, by smell, and looks (yes, even in today’s buff-oriented media culture some women like hairy chests, as well as height and deep voices), parameters which can change in fashion with the environment and times. There is an article by Lori Gliwenstein, “Marry Me,” that explains how married men live longer than single men, even if some men put on weight and pot bellies when getting married (everybody said that when I was in the Army). The one place where one sees little adult obesity is a gay disco floor. There is also an article by John Cloud, “Are Gay Relationships Different?”  Yes!