Octomom Update

Some followup to a recent post on the Freeway:

"MONTEBELLO, Calif. — Pictures of children, his trophies, decorate Dr. Tien C. Chiu’s office.

"Three smiling siblings, he says, were the first Japanese-American triplets conceived in a laboratory, while the robust-looking quadruplets were born after sperm was injected into their mother’s eggs with a needle.

"To the couples who turned to Dr. Chiu to have families, the babies were special gifts. To the government and fertility industry, though, such large multiple births have begun to look like breakdowns in the system. The issue has taken on renewed scrutiny since a California woman, Nadya Suleman, who already had six children conceived through in vitro procedures, gave birth to octuplets near here last month.

"Nearly a third of in vitro births involve twins or more. The government, along with professional associations, have been pushing fertility doctors to reduce that number, citing the disastrous health consequences that sometimes come with multiple births — infant mortality, low birth weights, long-term disabilities and thousands of dollars’ worth of medical care.

"The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the association of fertility doctors, even adopted guidelines in 2008 encouraging the transfer of only one embryo for women under 35, and no more than two, except in extraordinary circumstances. The guidelines allow more for older women, up to a maximum of five.

"But unlike some other countries, the United States has no laws to enforce those guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a surveillance system that collects data on fertility clinics, but reporting is voluntary and there are no government sanctions for not reporting."

Single Mother Of 14

I'll bet at least one of the networks that thrives on "Reality" programming is pursuing this sick and deluded woman to "star" in a new show.

I remember reading about the Dionne quintuplets and all of the publicity they generated at that time, but this story is a freakshow -- an out-of-control train heading for a major wreck, and at a staggering cost in both financial and human terms.

Somehow, it's just not the same as "Jon and Kate Plus Eight."

Virginity Auction Now At $3.8 Million

Click here for an update to the following post from September

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 22-year-old woman in the United States is publicly auctioning her virginity to pay for her college education, sparking a heated online debate about sex and morality.

The student from San Diego, California, who is using the pseudonym Natalie Dylan for "safety reasons," said she had no moral dilemma with her decision and found it "empowering".

"I don't think auctioning my virginity will solve all my problems," she told celebrity television show The Insider on Wednesday. "But it will create some financial stability. I'm ready for the controversy, I know it will come along. I'm ready to do this. We live in a capitalist society. Why shouldn't I be allowed to capitalize on my virginity?" she added.

The woman, who has earned a bachelor degree in women's studies and now wants to start a master's degree in marriage and family therapy, is hoping the bidding will hit $1 million. The online auction site eBay turned her down so the auction will take place at a Nevada brothel, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, where her sister is working to pay off her college debts. The date for the auction was not immediately available.

In a flurry of media interviews and appearances, she admitted that her mother, a fourth grade teacher, does not agree with her decision.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)
© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

Wombs For Rent

Here's an update to a Freeway post about women lining up to sell their eggs:

In a recent Wall Street Journal, Thomas Frank responds to New York Times reporter Alex Kuczynski’s personal account of hiring a surrogate mother.

Actually, “responds to” is probably not the right phrase -- it’s more like “rips apart.”

Thomas Frank writes:

"Surrogate motherhood has been the subject of much philosophical and political dispute over the years.

"To summarize briefly, it is a class-and-gender minefield. When money is exchanged for pregnancy, some believe, surrogacy comes close to organ-selling, or even baby-selling.

"It threatens to commodify not only babies, but women as well, putting their biological functions up for sale like so many Jimmy Choos.

"If surrogacy ever becomes a widely practiced market transaction, it will probably make pregnancy into just another dirty task for the working class, with wages driven down and wealthy couples hiring the work out because it's such a hassle to be pregnant."

You Know The Economy Is In Trouble When...

...women line up to sell their eggs.

"The going rate for a surrogate is about $25,000. Egg donors generally receive $3,000to $8,000. But a few agencies advertise that they'll pay much more for specific characteristics. One ad running in campus newspapers promises $25,000 for a donor who is "100% Jewish with ... High SAT Scores... Attractive, at Healthy Body Weight and Free of Genetic Diseases."

"Whenever the employment rate is down, we get more calls," says Robin von Halle, president of Alternative Reproductive Resources, an agency in Chicago where inquiries from would-be egg donors are up 30% in recent weeks -- to about 60 calls a day. "We're even getting men offering up their wives. It's pretty scary."

"Now that we have more donors, it's become a buyer's market," Ms. von Halle says. "Some people are looking for a 6-foot Swedish volleyball player with 39 ACTs, and they'll take their time."

Reporting From Desolation Row...

Watching “Mad Men” reminds me that divorce carried such a powerful stigma until the late 1960s that it could disqualify someone from being elected President (see Nelson Rockefeller). And the negative social consequences of divorce on women were almost impossible to overcome.

Adultery was not far behind, although (as Mad Men demonstrates so well) it was probably no less common (at least among men) than it is now, because back then it was privately tolerated (or suffered if you were a woman).

I mention this because I recently heard some national bloviator go on about how hypocritical it was of what he called “The Right” to rail against abortion, and not against divorce and adultery.

But values really got scrambled in the 1970s – so much so that now we read about young women across all social strata thinking they need to incorporate aspects of the porn world into the way they present themselves. This is because guys, they think, spend all their free time (when not watching sports, or gaming online) watching porn, and they perceive this as the competition.

While marriage may still be their objective, there is a tacit assumption that divorce and adultery are always options for them in the “futures” market.

“The Rules” have certainly changed.

So it wasn’t surprising to read this morning that ashleymadison.com, which appears to be an eHarmony for adulterers, has begun advertising its services on mainsteam media outlets, with little or no objection.

"'The agency was drawn to advertise here [Boston]," Biderman said, because many Bay Staters were seeking out his Web site, and because Boston is “a heck of a sports town” and "male fans are a target demographic.'"

"Biderman said his agency has more than 2.7 million members - 70 percent men and 30 percent women. The average male member is in his mid- to late-30s or early 40s and has been married five to 10 years."

While the membership numbers may be suspect, and how different this may be from an "Escort Service" is certainly debatable, and the advertising rollout may still catch a lot of flack, it would appear that a mainstream market may in fact exist for this kind of service.

You don't need to lean your head out too far from Desolation Row to know which way the wind blows (sorry, Bob).

Is Ugly The New Beautiful?

"When a woman once told Winston Churchill he was drunk, he is said to have replied: “And you, madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober tomorrow, whereas you will still be ugly.”

There’s a lot of hopeful media lately about how ugly is now the new beautiful.

The hit television series “Ugly Betty” is frequently cited as proof that it’s now okay for girls to be ugly in America.

But as an article in the New York Times points out, “…the show’s star, America Ferrara, is universally considered attractive. She makes a Cinderella transformation from a frizzy-haired character with braces and too-tight clothing into a conventional Hollywood beauty whenever she appears on a red carpet or magazine cover.”

“Shrek” is coming to Broadway and no doubt will be hugely successful; ads for the Broadway production are being marketed behind a “Be Ugly” theme.

But, “some critics have labeled the “Be Ugly” campaign as a marketing ploy, and they argue that the show [Ugly Betty] has done little to increase acceptance of the homely."

"On the contrary, American society continues to move aggressively in the opposite direction, critics say, placing an ever-higher importance on beauty.”

Remember $400 Haircuts?

If you've been worried about a major for your college-age kid, maybe he or she should seriously consider becoming a makeup artist or hair stylist -- so long as after graduation, they can network into the world of Cindy McCain and the senior advisers to her husband's presidential campaign.

Today's New York Times highlights (sorry) the $22,800 paid to Sarah Palin's makeup artist (who was recommended to her by Mrs McCain) for two week's worth of services. There was a separate payment of $10,000 to another person for two weeks of hair styling services.

It seems like it wasn't so long ago that John Edwards was severely criticized for the cost of his haircut.

I guess the cost of everything has just gone way up.

Too Pretty To Do Math?

“The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts, and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued.”

"The idea that the U.S. won’t even properly develop the skills of young people who could perform at the highest intellectual levels is breathtaking — breathtakingly stupid, that is.

The authors of the study, published in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, concluded that American culture does not value talent in math very highly. I suppose we’re busy with other things, like text-messaging while jay-walking. The math thing is seen as something for Asians and nerds."

As Bob Herbert, Bill Gates, and others have been saying for some time now, we had damn well better reverse this trend of ignoring practical education in math and the sciences, because while Americans have been focused on being pretty, the rest of the world has been eating our lunch (and dinner).

Teens Adjust To New Economic Realities

“Kaitlyn Postle is having a bumpy adjustment (to the financial crisis). She has a weekend baby-sitting job and can’t wait to turn 16, so she can find work at a mall.

“I used to ask for things and my parents would say, ‘We can’t do that,’ ” she said in a phone interview. “So I would throw a tantrum and get an attitude. They used to give in a lot. But that doesn’t work now.”

The good news, she said, is that when she shops at thrift stores, she can buy more for her money. But now that she has a temporary license — freedom! — how will she pay for gas?

She assumes she will have to attend a local college and live at home. “I don’t have a problem with that,” she said. “Whatever. That way, I won’t have to pay for everything.”

In the background, a half-shout of protest could be heard. “Of course,” Kaitlyn added, “my parents aren’t too happy about that.”

Examining the financial crisis as it ripples out into the real world.

As if it wasn’t already a challenge to teach kids how to manage (and earn) their own money…

Bailing Out The Kids

(Illustration by Mark Matcho for Newsweek)

"A Pennsylvania mother says that after her 23-year-old daughter took on $20,000 in loans to help finance a $160,000 undergraduate degree, the best job she could get last year paid less than $40,000, failing to cover rent, expenses and loan payments. In hopes of helping her gain entry to a higher-paying career, her parents picked up her loan payments, paid off $2,000 in credit-card debt and persuaded her to move back home, where she's preparing to apply for law school."

A lemming-like push to get your kid into college, without regard for the return on your (and their) investment, is resulting in helicopter parents being grounded by boomerang kids.

They're Baaack!

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight…you and I are about to hire many of the same people who made huge amounts of money (think “Trophy Houses”) getting us into this financial mess, and pay them large hourly fees to help get us out of it:

“Treasury officials do not plan to manage the mortgage assets on their own. Instead, they will outsource nearly all of the work to professionals, who will oversee huge portfolios of bonds and other securities for a management fee.

The government will hire only a bare-bones internal staff of about two dozen people with expertise in asset management, accounting and legal issues, according to administration officials, and will outsource the bulk of the program to 5 to 10 asset management firms.

The selected asset management firms will receive a chunk of the $250 billion that Congress is allowing the Treasury to spend in the first phase of the bailout. Those firms will receive fees that are likely to be lower than the industry standard of 1 percent of assets, or $1 for every $100 under management.

Administration officials said they would try to drive down fees with a competitive bidding process. But with $700 billion to disburse, the plan could still generate tens of billions of dollars in fees if the firms negotiate anywhere close to their standard fees.”

I guess we have to hire them, since they’re the only ones who know how to untangle the mortgage-backed securities they created in the first place.

Fashion Update: Accessorize

"At hospitals, as at Tiffany’s, ruby-colored bracelets are far preferable to amethyst.

New York’s 11 public hospitals are at the forefront of a national movement to standardize color coding of hospital wristbands to designate patient conditions, in which purple — the color of amethyst — means “Do Not Resuscitate.”

Red, or ruby, indicates allergies, while yellow — call it amber — marks someone at risk for falling."

I will be shocked if this movement does not spawn a fashion trend, given the current ubiquity of colored bracelets commemorating everything from surviving cancer to preserving Social Security. I know that yellow is for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, but I couldn’t tell you anything about any other color.

I'm going to have to get one of the purple “DNR” ones to wear around the Office.

Robber Barons

As I've followed the latest news about the world economic situation, I have been struggling to understand what impact it will have on my own personal economic situation.

I recently read about Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers, whose salary and bonus added up to tens of millions of dollars last year. While I'm sure Mr. Fuld's Board of Directors felt that he was creating value for Lehman Brothers and its customers, it sure didn't trickle down to me. But I'm beginning to feel something starting to trickle down over me.

I've also been reading and thinking about all of the "Trophy Houses" (aka "McMansions") I've spotted over the past few years. Most of what I've read is "not in my back yard" stuff, although some of it has to do with public access and environmental concerns.The size and scope of some of these homes remind me of mansions built around the turn of the twentieth century by men like Andrew Carnegie and J. D. Rockefeller, who had amassed tremendous wealth during the Industrial Revolution, and created tangible evidence of that wealth in the form of houses and “cottages” that are visited and admired more than one hundred years later.

While history still characterizes these nineteenth century industrialist millionaires as “Robber Barons” for their exploitation of the working classes, today we love to visit their homes and estates, and we benefit from the work of the foundations their wealth created.

What about the modern Robber Barons – the brokers, bond traders and others who have benefitted so handsomely from the lack of regulation in the marketplace over the last several years, and in the process have done so much harm to the fabric of American life? What will their long-term legacy be, in addition to having the biggest, baddest houses in the neighborhood?

Don't Crush That Dwarf...

For eight years, I’ve been hearing “Where’s the Outrage?” in regard to current events, and recalling all the outrage forty years ago over current events of that time.

Now, finally, we have some outrage. Travelocity has been charged with abuse in the treatment of its iconic garden gnome.

As you may have noticed, Travelocity’s television commercials have repeatedly placed the gnome in harm’s way at various travel destinations around the world. Many viewers, concerned for the gnome’s safety and survival, have become outraged.

In response, an international movement has formed to liberate ALL garden gnomes. Movement tactics thus far have included Campus Outreach and a German embargo. Click on the title to view one of the sites.

It’s heartening to discover what you’ll find if you lean your head out far enough from Desolation Row.

Teenage Marriage

"'The median marrying age for women in the late 1950s was about 19, according to David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University and an emeritus professor of sociology there. But a marriage between 19-year-olds — or even 17- or 18-year-olds — then would not have been described as a “teenage marriage,” he said. It was too routine to be given a special label.

There is no way to know how many of those unions were prompted by a pregnancy — a phenomenon that has decreased sharply in the population in recent decades as the marriage rate itself has declined, sociologists say.

Studies show that today teenage marriages are two to three times more likely to end in divorce than are marriages between people 25 years of age and older. The most comprehensive study on marriage and age that sociologists cite was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001, from 1995 data, and it found that 48 percent of those who marry before 18 are likely to divorce within 10 years, compared with 24 percent of those who marry after age 25.'"

(Click on the title for more from today's New York Times)