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Happy International Women’s Day

8 Mar

My gift to you this IWD are the following tweets, in the order they appeared in my feed. This is by way of amusing you (I hope), demonstrating my lack of dinosaurosity (I may be old, but I know a hashtag when I see one), and putting together a really quick post so I can go back to recovering from the chaos that is home improvement and writing about my miserable childhood (to be published some day, perhaps soon).

@craigkielburger:

Around the world, women spend 200 hours a day cumulatively collecting water. #internationalwomensday

@JimmyChooLtd:

Wishing all women around the globe a happy #internationalwomensday.

I’ll leave you with the happy image of women, water jugs on their heads, tottering through the third world in their Jimmy Choos.

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Daily Prompt: Right to Health … Wow what a question for an Australian

8 Feb

So often, Americans compare our healthcare system with the Canadian and, somehow, find the Canadian comes up short. Franky, many Americans find any healthcare system other than ours lacking in something yet we continue to rail about high costs, insurance premiums, HMOs, etc., etc., etc. And we justify our system by retailing random tales of dissatisfied citizens from other countries.

Here is a tale from a satisfied citizen of another country: Australia. Here in the States, we don’t often hear about Australian health care. I somehow believe that Americans might listen to an Australian, given our similar histories.

Daily Prompt: Right to Health … Wow what a question for an Australian.

No More Words

17 Dec

images-4Big Bird will get no support from me. The National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts aren’t on my charitable donation lists either. And I’m not giving a cent to another politician, not even the liberals.

I am giving my money to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. I am giving them money because dead children can’t watch Sesame Street, study the humanities or create art. I am giving money because I, and other supporters of gun control, have been yapping and moaning for years and nothing has changed. I am putting my money where my mouth is.

Nothing happens in this country without money. The latest presidential election cost more than two billion dollars. That’s a hell of a lot of lettuce with not much sandwich to show for it. If you think money doesn’t matter in the gun control debate, look at what’s happening on the other side. Blake Zeff, at CapitalNewYork.com wrote:

The N.R.A. has an estimated yearly budget of $220 million, and spent $64.5 million over the last decade to influence federal elections, targeting wayward legislators for defeat and providing an implicit threat to others that they mean business.

The leading gun control group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, spent $3.1 million in 2010, the most recent year for which they have an annual report online. Its spending over the last decade on federal elections? Just over half a million dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In other words, in the last decade, the NRA has out-spent the Brady Campaign by more than 2000% in federal elections. Yes, 2000%. With clout (read: money) like that, is it any wonder candidates are afraid to piss off the gun lobby? Clearly, gun control doesn’t have a big gun in this fight.

I don’t want to debate the fine points of gun control right now. You can read a thought-provoking piece by Nicholas D. Kristoff of the New York Times that addresses the issues and offers some possible solutions.

I don’t want to debate the fine points not because I’m a chicken. I don’t want to debate the fine points because there is no sense debating the fine points if we don’t have the financial backing to scare the crap out of our elected officials.

My dinky donation won’t make a huge dent in the 2000% disparity. Remember, though, that donations of $250 or less make up the greatest part of financing for almost every campaign and non-profit organization.

Right now, the Brady Campaign has a form you can fill out to send condolences to Newtown. Don’t do it. Instead, click to make a donation. Hugs may feel good, but they won’t change policy. In politics, it’s money that talks.

What I don’t get is this . . .

29 Oct

There are so many things I don’t get these days. Like people who comment on comics they view online. Go check out Arcamax comments. People actually comment on strips like Baby Blues and Zits as if the characters are real.

And, if you’ve been reading me for a while, I don’t get chubby guys doing outdoor activities topless.

But the thing that I don’t get more than any other, is how any one who wants to see fewer abortions, fewer teen pregnancies, fewer women sink into poverty because of an unplanned pregnancy can possibly support de-funding Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is the biggest preventer of unplanned pregnancy in the United States. They provide contraception, cervical cancer exams, referrals to mammography and a wealth of other services to women who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

That Planned Parenthood has become a political football is ludicrous. In fact, funding of Planned Parenthood was initially proposed by Richard Nixon, a Republican, and received strong bi-partisan support by Congress. Planned Parenthood receives federal funding primarily through two government programs: the Title X Family Planning Program and Medicaid and is prohibited from using any of that money to fund abortion services.

Anti-abortion activists claim that any federal funding of Planned Parenthood enables the group to keep from using resources for abortion services. Good! The services Planned Parenthood provides that are federally funded are highly effective at preventing unplanned pregnancies and abortion.

In 2009, Planned Parenthood received $360 million in federal grants and contracts. None of that money funded abortion. In fact, it’s estimated that Planned Parenthood prevents more than 600,000 unintended pregnancies every year. And no other provider, federally funded or not, is able to provide healthcare services to clients as inexpensively.

Richard Nixon recognized the costs to the country of unintended pregnancies and said “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.” It was true in 1970 and it’s true now.

So, I just don’t get why anyone, pro-choice or anti-abortion, would want to cut $360 million dollars to shrink a 17 trillion dollar deficit when that cut is guaranteed to increase costs in other areas.

This Is My Country, Part 2: We Pledge Allegiance

16 Aug

AP Photo

During my student teaching assignment, I stood every morning with my students and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Every morning, I managed to cough during the “under God” part. I’m sure the kids thought I had a cold or allergies, but the truth was, I couldn’t say the words without feeling like a hypocrite.

See, I don’t believe in big-G god. You know, the white guy on the cloud dispensing justice. The creator of the Universe, the guy who put dinosaurs and people on the Earth together then decided to kill off the dinosaurs and cover that little slip up by making it look like dinosaurs died ever so much longer ago than they really did. I like to think of God playing a little prank on archaeologists. Just his way of having fun. Immortality’s gotta be boring as (wait for it) hell.

I also don’t believe that the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation, but that’s a discussion for another post.

So, my saying “under God” is not going to happen without a fight. I know I could just say the words as if they don’t really matter. Who really knows what all those words mean, anyway? Certainly the children who say them have no idea what they are really saying. But I do. And I can’t make myself say the Pledge the way we currently say it.

But Americans, by and large, love their flag. They love their flag so much that they even get kind of snotty when someone—say, a politician or an athlete—doesn’t wear the flag.

Back when Barack Obama was running for President the first time, some media pundits decided to pick on him for not wearing a flag pin. Everyone else was wearing a flag pin but Barack wasn’t wearing a flag pin. That meant he wasn’t proud of his country. He said some stuff about living American values that didn’t really get anyone to settle down so he started wearing a flag pin.

Recently, some unnamed pundit-y guy on Fox (“unnamed pundit-y guy” means I can’t remember his name) decided that the TeamUSA women gymnasts weren’t American enough because they didn’t have little flags on their $500 custom-made leotards.

Photo: buzzfeed

Now, I watched the gymnastics. I watched a lot of the gymnastics. There were white leotards, red leotards and blue leotards. All of them were encrusted with white Swarovski crystals that twinkled like stars. If you paid even a little bit of attention, you could see that the top of the “V” in their uniforms was actually the top half of a star and radiating out from the star were stripes. Get it? Red. White. Blue. Stars. Stripes. Sounds like the American flag to me. I guess the pundit-y guy missed that ‘cause he was so distracted by Gabby Douglas’ messy hair.

The American value I am most proud of is our freedom of speech, speech in all it’s forms. I am free to not say “under God.” I am free to call my President a spineless wienie if I like. I am free to say that George Bush was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. I am free to protest anything my government does that I don’t think is American or even humane.

One of the things I am free to do is to burn my flag. When my country does something so heinous—say, expanding a war from Vietnam into surrounding countries—I am free to protest in a way that clearly shows how angry I am. The Supreme Court has ruled, more than once, that constitutionally okay to burn the flag in protest because the burning is protected political speech.

While the Supreme Court would have my back should I decide to burn the flag, there are plenty of Americans who would likely shoot me in the back. Or at least want to.

I understand where the whole idea of pledging allegiance comes from, thanks to reading “Game of Thrones.” Way back when, before anything, kings didn’t have armies. When they needed to go to war, they gathered up other nobles and influentials to “pledge” to be on their side. Every body had their own flags to indentify their group of warriors, so an army might have lots and lots of flags in it, but everyone was pledged to fight for the big guy and gather under his flag.

Wearing a flag doesn’t make you more or less American. Acting like an American—choosing our own leaders, defending the right to free speech and the pursuit of happiness—these are what make us American.

We can imagine no more appropriate response to burning a flag than waving one’s own, no better way to counter a flag burner’s message than by saluting the flag that burns, no surer means of preserving the dignity even of the flag that burned than by – as one witness here did – according its remains a respectful burial. We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.

— Justice William J. Brennan, from his majority opinion in Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Is Gun Control a Hopeless Case?

26 Jul

I thought about not posting today. Not just not writing. No guest post; no re-blog. No “I’m taking a vacation, see you next week.” Nothing. See, I spent the week wondering what I would write about the Aurora shooting. It seemed I really should write something about the Aurora shooting. It’s a tragedy and not recognizing it feels callous. Writing about funny things my kids say, weird places my dad thinks he’s been and other trivialities seemed disrespectful.

I don’t believe I’m a callous person nor disrespectful, so then why have a struggled so much to find something coherent to say about what happened on July 20?

Because I’m not surprised it happened. And I’m not surprised at the aftermath. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Northern Illinois. Strip malls. Fast food places. Someone goes crazy with guns. The media goes crazy reporting on it. Some people say we need gun control. Some other people say guns don’t kill people. It goes around and around and nothing changes except the people who die.

I tried to find a place of righteous anger. Nothing relieves a sense of helplessness better than a good head of steam. I couldn’t find a thimble full of steam, let alone a head.

I’ve been a gun-control advocate for a long, long time. When I read the Bill of Rights, I agree with the dissenters in Columbia v. Heller and don’t leave the “well-regulated militia” part out of the Second Amendment. I have no problem requiring guns to be registered. I register my kids for school every year, filling out the same stupid information on the same freaking forms even though none of it has changed from the year prior. Though I firmly believe my children are shortening my life, kids aren’t generally considered lethal weapons. Surely someone wishing to own a gun can endure the inconvenience of registering it.

I have supported handgun bans, too, and certainly got in line to ban assault weapons. Someone wants to rape me or take my purse, they don’t need to shove a machine gun at me or hold a pistol to my head. They’d convince me with a knife. Hell, I’m so small, I could easily be overpowered by just about any determined criminal.

As with all issues that interest me, I researched gun control before forming my opinions. So, when the same old “no guns, yes guns” points and counterpoints got trotted out over the bodies of the Aurora shooting victims, I revisited gun control issues.

And now I feel helpless. We can ban gun sales. We can stop manufacturing guns. We can make it illegal to own guns. (Oh, shut up! Yes, you can keep your rifle for hunting and shooting the heads off home intruders. Tuck it under your bed with your slippers.) We can do all of these things and we will still have too many guns.

We like to say things that will always be with us are like cockroaches. But cockroaches are biodegradable. Guns aren’t. Guns are like pennies. There are billions of pennies floating around the world and unless someone gathers them all up and melts them down, they will continue to float around. Same with guns.

I’ve heard a joke about lawyers that goes something like this: if you took all the lawyers in the world and put them at the bottom of the ocean, what would you have? A good start. If we took all of the guns in America and put them at the bottom of the ocean, I think we’d have a good start, especially if we start with the assault weapons.

But we will never get all of the guns to the bottom of the ocean. We will never even agree that a good number of guns should be at the bottom of the ocean. Until we have the economic, political and civic will to understand that guns and their proliferation are a problem for those who want to own them and those who don’t want anyone to own them, we will be awash in guns and the concomitant violence.

What makes me feel even more hopeless in considering the Aurora shootings is that we need terrible tragedies to force us to consider the consequences of being the most heavily armed society in the world. And such tragedies have little to do with the true costs of having so many weapons so readily available. Someone as clearly unstable as James Holmes would definitely have found a way to make a murderous spectacle of himself whether he did it with guns or machetes.

The highest cost to us of gun violence takes place all day, every day. Caring for a single gun shot survivor—from the time he hits the ER to the day he dies—can cost more than $600,000, not including lost wages and other indirect costs. Gun violence doesn’t just cost us in health care, but in costs for increased security, such as metal detectors; costs to prosecute, defend and incarcerate offenders; and in the emotional and psychic costs of raising children in a violent, unpredictable world.

There is no way to make sense of a heavily armed man walking into a movie theater and shooting as many people as he can. We can spew our entrenched beliefs about guns and gun violence at each other all day, every day and it won’t begin to prevent another James Holmes. In fact, choosing to discuss gun violence only when it is demonstrated in its most spectacular form disrespects all victims, whether they were shot in a movie theater or an alley.

This Is My Country, Part 1: Americans are Ignoramuses

5 Jul

My husband and I were doing something we frequently do together at home, fretting over the economy and trying not to spiral down into the deepest pit of depression where we decide it’s better to curse the darkness than light a single candle. The kids were around but I figured they were oblivious. They ignore us when we are talking to them, why wouldn’t they ignore us when we aren’t?

I realized that my daughter wasn’t just occupying the same space when I asked my husband, only half rhetorically, “How did we get here? How did the country get so screwed up so quickly?”

And my daughter said, “Obama.”

My brain did a whiplash U-turn from “Poor us! We’re going to hell in a hand basket” to “Who the hell told you it’s all Obama’s fault?”

“Who told you it’s all Obama’s fault?” I asked.

“Oh,” she giggled nervously, “he’s just the only one in government that I know.”

Skipping over the part where the federal government is completely responsible for everything wrong in my country presently, I said, “That’s the only person in government you know? What about your governor? Didn’t they teach you who’s Governor of Illinois?”

She avoided my gaze, shrugged her shoulders and asked, “Sarah Palin?”

“What!?” I asked? “Why would you think that Sarah Palin is Governor of Illinois?”

“That’s the only other name I know,” she said, laughing. I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved that Sarah Palin isn’t our Governor or appalled that my daughter doesn’t know anything other than Barack Obama is our president and therefore responsible for all that is wrong in it. This, after just completing fourth grade where the civics units covered the United States government.

Thinking my son might be a little more knowledgeable about his country’s government, I asked him who the Governor of Illinois is.

“Blagojevich?” I gave him points for naming someone who actually held the office, then probed his knowledge of our judicial system. I thought he might be able to name a Supreme Court justice or two since we’re on the heels of a significant and widely reported decision.

“Name a Justice of the Supreme Court,” I said.

“The Justice League?” he suggested.

I knew my country was filled with civic ignoramuses, but I didn’t know I was raising some. Our dinner table conversations aren’t always politically tinged, but my husband and I talk about all of the day’s news, not just how Katie Holmes should have seen it coming. That means Supreme Court decisions, drone bombings, Finnish family leave policies and the presidential election are hanging out there with who wants to see Brave and whether or not our son can go bowling that night.

American ignorance is legendary. I don’t need to recite the figures. You can read them here. We are the country, after all, that went to war in Iraq, looking for weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.

We are the people who demand more and more cheaper and cheaper stuff, then complain when the manufacturing jobs dry up and move where people will work for less than we will.

We are the people who are willing to send our sons and daughters to pay in blood for freedom around the world, but won’t pay an extra penny in taxes to pay for their deployment.

My vexation sloshes over onto Facebook, where I regularly correct people who post memes declaring that kids can’t pray in school or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m tired of explaining that it’s perfectly ok to cross yourself before a test and pray you get a good grade, but it’s not ok for the teacher to cross herself before a test and lead the class in prayer. I’m tired of explaining this to people who would be first in line at the principal’s office if a student did her private prayer on her knees and wearing a hijab. I’m tired of explaining this to people who wouldn’t want their child taught by a teacher who doesn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance because of the “under God” part.

Yes, I realize I sound tremendously judgmental and arrogant. I can’t help myself, though, because I love my country and the principles on which it was founded. I love our get-it-done approach and our generosity. I even love our naïveté, the way so many of us think that if you can dream it, you can be it. We’re the Nike country, ignoring the subtleties and attacking every problem with a “Just do it” bravado. But we’re youngsters, isolated for so long, and now more than ever immersed in world of interrelated complexities.

We went to the fireworks this year with our daughter. In our town, one of the local radio stations puts together a soundtrack to play along with the display. Lots of people watching the fireworks with us had tuned to that station, so we were all listening to the medley of America-themed songs, from Born in the USA to David Bowie’s Young American. When they got to The Guess Who’s American Woman, I leaned over to my husband and said, “Do they know this is an anti-America song?”

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