Category Archives: Politics

Dragons and Bombs; or, Parental Thinking on Your Feet

Driving down a country road yesterday to pick up Papa and Napoleona:

SillyBilly asked, “Mama, what if a big dragon were coming here? What if it was flying up here from the south . . . from Los Angeles?”

Mama: “Hmmm . . . I wonder where it would land — in the mountains?”

SillyBilly: “Mama, what if a fighter jet flew over us and wanted to drop a bomb on us?”

We then talked about how we have air traffic control and the military that would prevent that from happening (as well as the unlikelihood of Pocatello being a major bomb target). And then he asked me, why do people want to drop bombs?

I said I couldn’t really imagine wanting to do anything like that myself, but sometimes people just are angry, or fearful, or don’t like other people, and they don’t know what else to do.

Then I said that sometimes there are “good” reasons. Like when we decide to participate in a war because we think what another country or their leader is doing is wrong. Like when, long ago when is grandparents were young, a leader of one country thought that he should invade and take over other countries, and also kill lots of people in his own country because he didn’t like who they were. Our country thought that was very wrong, and one way we stopped it was by bombing that “mean” country. Now we’re friends with that country again, and they don’t do that kind of thing any more.

SillyBilly asked if there were any wars going on right now. I said yes, there are always some happening somewhere. He asked me why.

I said, I guess it’s because people forget, or haven’t yet learned, how to be nice to each other and work things out. People are still sometimes afraid, or angry, or hateful.

I think I’ll wait a few years before I tell him about his own ancestors who were killed in that long-ago country that we bombed, and why it happened.

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What Was Your Job Description Again, Senator?

“I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate—not prepared to have that record decided by that jury.”

–Arlen Specter, US Senator from Pennsylvania

“Mr. Specter said he would not be an automatic Democratic vote, though he will be pulled in that direction since he now faces the prospect of running in a Democratic primary.”

New York Times, “Specter Switches Parties,” 4/28/09

Uh, senator? Your job is to represent Pennsylvania, not to preserve your career at any cost.

Changing party affiliation is perfectly reasonable, if one no longer agrees with the tenets of one’s current party and sees a viable alternative in another. Changing party affiliation just to preserve one’s job smacks of crass self-preservation. It makes you sound like you care more for your title than for the people you represent.

Call me naive, but I like to think that politicians at least consider voting their consciences over political concerns. Senator Specter seems to be baldly admitting that his affiliation and indeed his voting record will depend more on pandering to future election wins.

Now, I understand that there is a relation between representing the majority opinions of the local electorate and winning their votes. But to put it so bluntly, instead of expressing one’s hopes that one’s legislative decisions will represent one’s constituency, is unseemly in my opinion.

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Mixed Bag

Manual breast pump
Image via Wikipedia

Today’s New York Times Opinion section included the article “Ban the Breast Pump” by Judith Warner in her weekly column “Domestic Disturbances.”

Inflammatory title, no?

Even more inflammatory to me are some of her basic assumptions. Warner begins by describing her feelings, and those of other mothers, that using a breast pump is “miserable,” “a grotesque ritual” that made her “feel like a cow,” and that it “brings together all the awfulness of being a modern mother.”

I’m fine with those feelings. They’re perfectly valid, as feelings always are. And having spent many hours with a breast pump myself, I can agree that it can be quite odd, sometimes painful, and almost factory-farm-cow-like. In my case, I was pumping because my newborn son was in the hospital for a month and had to be fed (when he wasn’t sedated and unconscious) via a nasal tube. For others, it’s part of the harsh reality of going back to work before their child has transitioned fully into eating solids.

But.

Warner then goes on to contrast using a breast pump with a “semblance of [the mother’s] physical dignity” and says that we’ve “made such a fetish of breast milk.”

I think she’s taking her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety a bit too far. Her perceptive observations —

Maybe we’re even at a point where it’s permissible to insist that the needs of a mother and the needs of her baby, rather than being opposed are, in fact, linked, and that the best way to meet both is to scale down the demands now put on mothers and beef up support for them.

Why, as a society, have we privileged the magic elixir of maternal milk over actual maternal contact, denying the vast, vast majority of mothers the kind of extended maternity leave that would make them physically present for their babies?

— are detracted from by her word choices throughout the article. I understand the desire to write a strong piece and to provoke the reader. But it’s an overly large leap from “I didn’t like it” to “It’s yet another device of patriarchal oppression.” And I don’t like the underlying assumption that my “dignity” was compromised by a free choice I made. Warner seems to assume that all women use breast pumps because they are forced to by society at large, either through financial considerations like not receiving sufficient maternity leave, or peer (and medical) pressure to breast feed at all costs. She wags her finger at second-wave feminism (something I might do as well in some cases), forgetting that feminism has brought us the ability to choose these things. And to choose whether or not to accept societal pressures in the first place — something people tend to forget while they cast themselves as bound slaves instead of free human beings.

I chose to breastfeed, and use a pump when necessary, for my two children because I thought it was best for all of us. Both Warner and journalist Hanna Rosin, who Warner quotes in her article, seem to think there is no scientific data to support the nutritional and child-development superiority of breast milk over formula. Whether or not that is true (and I doubt that it is), there are plenty of other reasons to choose breastfeeding and pumping. For other mothers, formula is a good decision — mothers unable to breastfeed, mothers whose workplaces or type of work cannot accommodate pumping, or mothers who simply choose not to for emotional or other reasons. (I once knew a wonderful mother who was literally disgusted by the idea of breastfeeding. She had a real psychological block against it, and if she had nevertheless chosen to breastfeed, I’m sure the situation would not have been beneficial for her or her children.)

I agree with Warner that we have not quite fulfilled feminism’s promise of equality as long as we assume women must conform to already-existing social structures like short, unpaid maternity leaves. But to cast using a breast pump in such a derogatory light does no woman any favors.

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I Cried Today

as I watched the I Have a Dream speech with my kids.* Truly one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Then I wondered what Dr. King’s sermons must have been like, so I yet again put my trust in the Google.

I found the text of his sermon at the National Cathedral of 31 March 1968, entitled “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution.” This sermon amazed me in its similarity to much of what Rudolf Steiner said about consciousness, nationalism, and brotherhood in economics.

This struck me as profound and still a lesson we need to learn, thirty years later:

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

And then this from later in the sermon, which if we but change a few proper names is eerily applicable still today:

[The Vietnam War] has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can’t hardly live on the same block together.

The judgment of God is upon us today. And we could go right down the line and see that something must be done—and something must be done quickly. We have alienated ourselves from other nations so we end up morally and politically isolated in the world. There is not a single major ally of the United States of America that would dare send a troop to Vietnam, and so the only friends that we have now are a few client-nations like Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and a few others.

obama-hope

I hope that we are approaching the day when the content of our characters matters most. I hope we are approaching the day when the United States can find some sort of moral compass. I hope that we can continue to work toward one goal King gave in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

To close, words from the National Cathedral sermon on hope:

Let me close by saying that we have difficult days ahead in the struggle for justice and peace, but I will not yield to a politic of despair. I’m going to maintain hope as we come to Washington in this campaign. The cards are stacked against us. This time we will really confront a Goliath. God grant that we will be that David of truth set out against the Goliath of injustice, the Goliath of neglect, the Goliath of refusing to deal with the problems, and go on with the determination to make America the truly great America that it is called to be.

❖❖❖❖❖❖

* Yes, the kids sat through the 17-minute speech. Mostly. We had wanted to volunteer today at the Idaho Food Bank, but the minimum age is 7 in the warehouse, so we’ll have to wait until SillyBilly’s next birthday. The kids asked to celebrate MLK Day in some way, so I thought we would go right to the source.

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When Good Ideas Go Bad

Have you heard of the PROTECT Act of 2003? This is a complicated piece of legislation that intends to prevent child abuse.

I think we can all get behind that general concept, right?

But . . . there’s a problem, specifically with the sections about child pornography.

In general, the intention was that child pornography, particularly on the internet, should be prevented and those trafficking in it punished. And here we are talking about images of real children. This kind of material is not covered by the First Amendment.

Sure. All good, so far.

The problem comes in section 504 (a), which expands the definition of “obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children” to include “a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting . . . [that] lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”, whether one “knowingly produces, distributes, receives, or possesses with intent to distribute.” said representations. And then add on section 504 (c): “It is not a required element of any offense under this section that the minor depicted actually exist.” (1)

Now that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. There are several problems here:

  • Who determines whether the representation has value?
  • How is it child abuse if the depicted minor doesn’t exist?
  • With a work of art, how do we tell whether the person depicted is a minor?
  • Since when does the government get to tell artists what they can create and what art individuals can possess in their own homes?

So here’s a potential scenario: If you decide to draw a picture of what appears to be an underage child in a sexual situation, even if you never show it to anyone and even if it is purely a product of your imagination, you could be convicted of a felony.

If you drew the picture, your punishment would be “imprisonment for 5 to 20 years for a first offense, for between 15 and 40 years for persons with certain prior offenses, and a fine of up to $250,000”, and if you give the picture to someone else, their penalty for possession would be “imprisonment for up to 10 years for a first offense, for between 10 and 20 years for persons with certain prior offenses, and a fine of up to $250,000”. (2)

And here’s a real life scenario:

Christopher Handley, a manga collector from Iowa, has been charged under the PROTECT Act because he received a package in the mail that included alleged child pornography. The mail in question was seven Japanese comic books. After the postal inspector received a warrant to open the package, Mr. Handley was arrested and the 1,200 comic books in his collection were seized as evidence. Some of his collection included lolicon and yaoi manga, both of which depict young people (or people that appear very young) in sexual situations.

Evidently the district judge handling the case has determined that the applicable sections of the PROTECT Act are unconstitutional, but that Handley may still be tried for the obscenity charge.

As Neil Gaiman has said about the case, “Nobody was hurt. The only thing that was hurt were ideas.”

Now, this is not art I would be interested in creating or looking at. But I will not say that someone else does not have the right to create it or look at it. And I will not agree that drawings, cartoons, sculptures, or paintings, or even needlepoint for heaven’s sake, are the same thing as a photo or video of a child. Putting a child in a sexual situation and taking pictures or videos of it is wrong. Creating something out of one’s imagination is not wrong, and in my opinion should be considered free speech.

❖❖❖❖❖❖

1. Text of S. 151 PROTECT Act, Library of Congress. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c108:6:./temp/~c108Mi6YrK:e83707:

2. Federal Child Obscenity Statues, US Department of Justice. http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/ceos/obscenity_stats.html

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The Shipbreakers of Alang

There’s this little piece of software/social networking/website recommendation engine/incredible time waster called StumbleUpon. You tell it what you’re interests are, and it finds applicable websites, blogs, images, videos, and so on. I like stumbling for photos, especially white sand beaches in Bora Bora just waiting for me to arrive and order a fruity drink.


But I digress.

Yesterday evening I decided to stumble about a bit, and the first site that came up was a photo essay about the Shipbreakers of Alang. Evidently this is the world’s leading site for shipbreaking, where huge tankers, container ships, and other ocean vessels are broken down to be recycled for scrap.

By “broken down” I mean with sledgehammers, saws, chisels, and bare hands, for the most part. These men work in unimaginably unsanitary, dangerous conditions, doing incredible physical labor for fourteen hours a day. They are exposed to toxic chemicals, life- and limb-threatening accidents, and infectious disease. Next time I feel put upon by some annoying part of my suburban, middle-class life as I lounge about on my comfy chair using my laptop, I’ll remember these people and get some perspective.

It’s hard to decide what to think about this. The men are freely choosing this work, and some say the wages are better than what they can get elsewhere. But the conditions are so horrible, and the environmental impact is potentially significant — not only are there absolutely no safety measures taken (some workers don’t even have shoes, no less hard hats), but their work releases petroleum products, asbestos, and other nasties directly into the air and sea onsite.

There is also worldwide concern that ship owners (and governments, particularly in the West) are knowingly violating international treaties and legislation designed to prevent transporting hazardous materials across international boundaries, particularly into the Third World. Other groups are working to solve associated human rights issues such as child labor and workers’ rights.

More information can be found here about these issues and proposed solutions.

* * * * *

Photos by Gabuchan.

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Tired of It

An online article in the Christian Science Monitor a few days ago (about someone suing the pharmaceutical company Wyeth for insufficient warning language on a drug label–a musician who lost her arm because of side effects!) contained these two sentences:

Forty-seven states and an array of consumer advocacy, medical, and other groups have filed friend of the court briefs supporting Levine. Wyeth has received supporting briefs from drug industry lobbyists, business groups, and the Bush administration.

I am tired of our political system being so overtly and completely allied with lobbyists and corporations. While I agree that our government should be concerned about the financial health of businesses large and small in the interest of the overall health of our economy, it’s disheartening to feel that our elected officials cater more to business entities than the citizens they truly represent.

I’m sorry, but I think human beings’ needs are more important than business needs. While I can’t say whether the suit described in the Monitor‘s article has merit, it’s yet another instance when lobbyists, business groups, and the federal government are all allied together, seemingly united against individual citizens.

I look at it this way: if my house were on fire, I’d grab my kids, not my computer, even though I need my computer to earn money. My kids are incalculably more important.

I’d just like my elected officials to think in a similar way sometimes.

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Proud

Many others have said it, but I too am proud today. Proud to have participated, to have voted, to have done my civic duty. To have made a difference for our country, I hope.

I’m also proud to be living in a time where a Black man with Muslim ancestry can be nominated for president of our country. Maybe next time it’ll be a woman. The US still has its problems, but what an accomplishment for a country that throughout the last one hundred years had disenfranchised Blacks and women.

We brought SillyBilly with us today, and I hope in twelve years he will be in his own little booth, doing one of the most important things a citizen can do, and in fourteen years, his sister, too.

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Human Nature

I’m editing a book by a political scientist on “loss of faith in our social and governing institutions.” Seems pretty relevant right now!

I can’t got into detail about the author’s work as it has not yet been published, but I can write about a quote she included that caught my eye:

Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains upon your account; and should I labour with you upon my own account, in expectation of a return, I know I should be disappointed and that I should in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here then I leave you to labour alone; You treat me in the same manner. The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security.

David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, 1882, pp. 288-89.

I think this kind of lack of faith in others, this lack of kindness and reciprocity between individuals is still with us today, possibly to a greater degree than in Hume’s day. It seems to me that many aspects of modern culture contribute to this pervasive tendency:

  • the impossibility of understanding the creation and activity of objects around us, which contributes to a pervasive feeling of powerlessness
  • the isolation created by our forms of housing, transportation, and leisure activities
  • materialism, which encourages us to think of money and possessions rather than people and activities
  • our culture of fear, magnified by ubiquitous media sources that overemphasize violence and human failings

In particular, we have developed an “us vs. them” attitude in so many parts of Western culture — be it Christians vs. Muslims, citizens vs. immigrants, conservatives vs. liberals, pro-life vs. pro-choice, rural vs. urban, and so on. The problem with this kind of dualistic thinking is, well, that it’s simply wrong. Assigning a single value, or even a few related values, to an inherently complex human being is just fallacious and overly simplistic. But it does make it very easy for us to decide how to think about and treat others:

  • “Pro-choice people are condoning murder.”
  • “I won’t shop at the corner store because the owner is a Muslim.”
  • “Conservatives only care about themselves and don’t want to help others.”
  • “People who don’t support arms control are just crazy.”

Of course, one of the most obvious and publicized dichotomies is in the US political system: Democrats and Republicans own the show, with independents, Greens, Libertarians, and others just a footnote in the process. So we have grand pronouncements by our representatives and candidates claiming to “reach across the aisle” to work in a bipartisan manner. As if it were such a great effort to listen to others and try to work out compromises that benefit everyone as much as possible.

But as Eve recently said, “There is no aisle.” We seem pretty schizophrenic in this country: one minute we’re all “united we stand”, the next we’re “bipartisan”, and then sometimes we’re fierce individualists. Those things are all true (or can be), but in the end, we’re all human beings with the same basic needs. We could all be helping one another on a local, personal level, and we could all do more to understand what “the other” is thinking, feeling, and experiencing. If we got back to dealing with other human beings in a personal way, recognizing our unique identities in addition to our commonalities, I think that would do much more to enhance our feeling of “mutual confidence and security” than any walls we might build or legislation we might enact.

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Smart Political Email

I’m not that involved with political groups, but email makes it easier to participate (or at least stay informed) in small ways. So I’m on a few mailing lists, and once in a while I might participate in a poll or send an e-letter to my congressional representative.

Karl Rove

Image via Wikipedia

Today I got one of the funniest, most eye-catching bulk emails ever:

Dear MoveOn member,

Time to relax!

Obama is way ahead in the polls. It’s time for you to take victory for granted, and to stop paying attention.

And take it from me, Karl Rove: there’s definitely no need to spend one more minute making calls to recruit Obama volunteers.

You’re probably thinking, “But Karl, why would you—the mastermind behind the stealth get-out-the-vote program that powered George Bush’s victories—be advising us not to make phone calls for Obama?”

That’s a good question. (And by the way, I prefer “Evil Genius” to “Mastermind.”) It’s true that voter outreach can tip an election. But hey, Obama’s ahead in the polls, and they never lie.

So relax! Do some yoga. Check out the new season of Project Runway. Sip white wine lattes, or whatever it is that you people like to drink.

Barack does not need folks in Pocatello calling MoveOn members in battleground states to get them out for Obama. So there’s finally time to tie-dye the seat covers for your Volvo. In fact, you probably shouldn’t even bother to vote.

Please forward this to all of your Democrat friends. Don’t send it to Republicans, though.

Thanks in advance for not doing all that you normally do,

–”Karl Rove”

P.S. Again—no volunteering! Don’t click this link to make a few minutes of calls right now, from home, and give a big boost the Obama campaign!

http://pol.moveon.org/obama/teams/index.html?id=14461-8925850-PKP1A5x&t=4

P.P.S. Okay, okay. This is Adam Ruben writing now, from MoveOn.org. Our lawyers made us promise to tell you that Karl Rove didn’t actually write this message—but we’re pretty sure this is what he’d write if he had.

Want to support our work? We’re entirely funded by our 4.2 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here.

Most of the time I don’t read these emails, as I’m not interested in hosting voter-inspiration parties or making lots of phone calls to drum up support for candidates. But this time, I read the whole thing.

Now, where can I get some tie-dye seat covers? (And a Volvo to go with them?)

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