Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On corporeal punishment

Okay, so I'll let Think Progress set this up for you:
On Thursday, Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall (R) spoke at a press conference against state funding for Planned Parenthood. He blasted the organization for supporting a woman's right to choose, saying that God punishes women who have had abortions by giving them disabled children:
The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” said Marshall, a Republican.
“In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”

I'm not going to even bother refuting his actual statement, because it's so completely asinine in every respect. And I'm not going to discuss at any length the complete insensitivity to parents of disabled children who are dealing with the stress of raising a child with special needs and who love those children desperately, because that's obvious to anyone who has half of a functioning heart and a sliver of a conscience.

What really jumped out at me was the fact that once again, someone from the "party of life" characterized a baby as a punishment for a woman's sins. Traditionally, it's been a somewhat abstract approach, where a woman commits the sin of gettin' down, and her "punishment" (usually just characterized as "the normal consequence") is the shame of pregnancy and the burden of responsibility for a human--or what most people call "parenthood." If you didn't want a kid, you shouldn't have fucked! That's the price of sex, slattern! That baby is going to be your millstone and the constant reminder of your sins against... whatever. God, or society, or something.

This time, we have a wackaloon taking it further, saying in so many words that these children are actual, literal punishments for women's sins. They aren't people. They aren't much-loved family members. They aren't precious lives worthy of care and protection. Fuck that noise. This is what you get, whore. Don't you wish you'd kept your damn legs closed (or at least accepted your just punishment then)? Now God hates you, and he's sending down his divine vengeance in the form of a human being with thoughts and feelings, whom you're expected to view as penance for your transgressions. If you'd done right by the Lord, you'd have had a good "normal" child, but instead you get this worthless broken one.

I'm not by any means trying to make Bob Marshall the spokesperson for his party; he's obviously a member (if a member in a position of some prominence) of the loony fringe. But his statement is another example of the conservative/Evangelical view that a child isn't a person to love and care for but an object of shame and a seven-pound, eight-ounce weapon to keep your sins ever in your mind. An object, a weapon, isn't alive, and a "culture of life" that sees a baby as those things isn't a culture of life at all.

Every baby should be loved and wanted, even those conceived unintentionally, even those with disabilities. No woman should be forced to bear a child that would be seen--that should be seen, according to conservatives--as a punishment. And no woman should be told that the child she chose to have is actually nothing more than God's divine wrath.

(h/t Pandagon)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

On a brief memorial

Okay, so this is going to be brief not because I don't care or have the time but because it seems untoward to wail and beat my breast over a man about whom I haven't given more than a passing thought in more than a decade, and because, unlike my granddad, this man likely has hundreds of people who are looking back and thinking the exact same things that I am without needing prompting.

Jim Fletcher died of a heart attack last night. He was one of my teachers in high school, teaching English and humanities, and he was one of two teachers out of those four years who made high school even remotely bearable. He was, in retrospect, a complete sonofabitch--years later, his students can still say "underwater basketweaving" and "fries with that burger" and "sweetness and light" (which line was always delivered with the deepest sarcasm) and everyone understands and laughs while at the same time cringing at the memory of being on the receiving end of those barbs. He was the type of teacher who would drop a textbook on his desk--loudly--to wake up a sleepy class, and he was known to actually shoot students between the eyes with a Nerf gun for giving stupid answers.

And yet he was the favorite teacher of more students than I can count. When I was named Star Student for the high school my senior year (yeah, geek, I know), I named Mr. Fletcher as my corresponding Star Teacher--and was informed that he'd already received that honor at least three times in the past. Students always studied for his classes if for no others not because the material was hard (although it was) but because that's just how you take a class with Mr. Fletcher. In humanities, he taught an entire unit on comparative religion, and he offered extra credit to students who stole Gideon bibles as reference materials when we studied creation myths. At one time, he had about eight bibles with my name and the names of everyone else on the Academic Decathlon team (yeah, geek, we've established that) after a trip to regionals, where we emptied Mary Katherine's suitcase to hold all of the bibles we stole from every hotel room we could find. I'm probably going to hell for that.

I don't think I've ever met a teacher who had a deeper love for his subject than Fletch, and he instilled that love in his students, if only for a few semesters at a time.

I can't speak for anybody else, but I worked harder than I'd worked before or since not because I feared his ridicule (although I did) but because I craved his approval. He was a hard man to impress--he wasn't the type to withhold approval just to put you in your place; he just had really high standards and wasn't going to gush over anything that didn't meet them. The best note I've ever--ever--gotten on a paper was from him. "You're too young to be this cynical." I got an A-. I might as well have gotten a gold star, or maybe an Academy Award, for the pride it instilled in me.

This post has gotten a lot longer than I intended, and I did intend to keep in brief for the reason given above--I haven't really thought about him in years, much less gotten in contact with him. The news this morning really kicked me in the stomach, largely out of a sense of guilt that a man who'd been so very, very important to me during those hellish four years dropped completely out of my consciousness until he was dead.

But as I was mooning around the kitchen in my post-Catholic guilt, The Boy pointed out something valuable: You're supposed to forget. High school is a time when you learn the things that will make you a successful and productive human being, and then you leave high school and try to do that. You're meant to look forward, not back--teachers prepare you for the future, and that's where you're supposed to go. So while I still feel guilty about not thinking more about such a significant--lifesaving, even--influence on my life, it can be argued that it's a tribute to his work as an educator. He prepared me like no other to go out into the world and conquer it. (Whether this has happened is debatable.) And on this occasion to look back, it's good to know that I'm in the company of so many other students who share that experience.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

On settling

Or, Marry Him Now, Woman, While You Still Have Your Looks, Because Who Will Want You When You're a Spinster Hag With Shriveled Ovaries and an Aura of Hopelessness?

Okay, so it was back in March of 2008 that Lori Gottlieb published an essay in The Atlantic magazine titled, "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough." One might imagine that, with such a title, the essay would advocate looking for more of a business partner than a romantic partner to share marriage and family. In fact, one would be correct, because that's precisely what she advocates in so many words and more.

I only mention it now because Gottlieb has recently released a book by the same name, expanding on her former advice to let go of all of your standards for fear of never finding a man who will love--scratch that, tolerate you enough to live with you, make a baby with you, and then disappear into the office for 80 hours a week to leave you to play with your baby. She now has new, fresh advice to let go of all of your standards for fear of never finding a man who will love--scratch that, tolerate you enough to live with you, make a baby with you, and then disappear into the office for 80 hours a week to leave you to play with your baby.

Gottlieb is a single mother. She conceived (in a "fit of self-empowerment") a baby from a sperm donor and now, in her mid-forties, regrets her decisions because all of the families in the park seem so happy and, hell, even her friends who are married to men they hate are better off than she is, because at least they're married. To men they hate. And she very much regrets not marrying the men she found intolerable when she was younger, because then, she'd have a husband. Not necessarily one she was in love with, not necessarily one she wanted to interact with, but certainly one to... be married to. I guess.

She's so secure in her fear of alone-ness and desperation to marry at any cost that she can't believe any woman of a certain age could feel any differently. In her essay, Gottlieb asserts, "[E]very women I know--no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure--feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried." Of course, it must be argued that she doesn't know me--and that I'm still ten months shy of the magic number--but I honestly don't fear eternal spinsterhood, despite my advanced age. Maybe I should enjoy my remaining 313 days before the panic sets in.

Or maybe I'm just "in denial or lying." Good call, Lori.

I will agree with her argument that the little annoyances--bad movie-theatre manners, lousy sense of style--aren't great standards on which to judge and ultimately chuck a guy. So many of my married friends are never able to say, "His video game habit/naugahyde beanbag chair/filthy car/inability to hit the hamper from a foot away bugs the crap out of me" without finishing, quite sincerely, "But I love him to death." Which is a pretty good sign that they've made good choices and done a good job of looking past the minor details to appreciate the whole man. Gottlieb seems to be taking a different approach; while she also would opt to overlook the ugly ties and inability to cook, her proposed alternative doesn't really address anything related to, say, love, or passion, or happiness.

"[I]f you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go."

'Kay. So when you say "settle," you mean settle... for any guy who's willing to marry and impregnate me.


But yeah, that's pretty much her thing. She tells us, "Don't worry about passion or intense connection." "Settling will probably make you happier in the long run." "[O]nce you take the plunge and do it, you'll probably be relatively content." (Emphasis mine.) She says, "Marriage isn't a passion-fest; it's more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business" and refers to "uninspiring relationships that might have made us happy in the context of a family" (emphasis also mine). Because, by her reckoning, all of this beats the hell out of being by oneself.

"[I]f you rarely see your husband--but he's a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, and he provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own--how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One?" Yes, America, why should we give gays the right to marry when it could threaten the sanctity of unions such as these?

Gottlieb even goes so far as to bring up Mary Tyler Moore and Rachel Green (of Friends fame) and Carrie Bradshaw (Sex in the City). O how they could be married now if only they had settled! What if Rachel had just gone ahead and married the boring orthodontist? Why oh why didn't Carrie jump on Aidan while she had the chance (since Big will certainly never be seen with a kid slung in a Baby Bjorn)? After the newsroom goes dark, won't Mary find herself single, friendless, miserable, and alone? Why did these stupid women not settle?

I actually do know precisely why Ross and Rachel (and Carrie and Big) weren't settled and content. I also know why Mulder and Scully didn't hook up, why Burn Notice's Michael and Fiona keep coming together and drawing apart, and why Buffy and Angel struggled so much with their love: Because that's what it says in the script. If they put their inner children in time-out and settled down to make the relationships work, it would be boring, not in the sense that happy marriages are boring but in the sense that content people don't make good TV. Maybe, if they'd both gotten over themselves, Ross and Rachel could have found a relationship abounding in both passion and contentment. Yawn. Click. But that's what some refer to as television. If you're divining deep sociological truths and the secrets to eternal love in the 22 minutes of a sitcom, you're already twelve kinds of wrong.

I have a suggestion for Gottlieb and the many single friends to whom she constantly refers as anecdata to bolster her own otherwise-unbolsterable claims of single fortysomething misery: Maybe you're single because you're obnoxious. Maybe your superficiality glows off of you like a Byzantine halo. Maybe when you're on a date with a guy, he can tell that you're mentally listing his every fault and weighing them all against his potential to pay for your kid's soccer uniform. Maybe he sees you tearing up over the photos of happy families that come in picture frames and notices the way your fingers dig convulsively into his arm at the sight of a father carrying his son on his shoulders at the park. Maybe he saw your copy of No Time to Be Picky: Land That Pathetic Schlub Before You're Barren on your bookshelf. Maybe he saw the words "Last Resort" flash up next to his number on your cell phone. It's called desperation, Lori, and it smells like White Shoulders and prenatal vitamins.

I also have some words of advice for Gottlieb and co. And while it might be too late for them, they might be too far gone, others may be able to learn from it and avoid their fate.

(A disclaimer: My knowledge of relationships stems from a mere thirteen-ish years in the dating world, only two of which have involved blissful happiness, so it's entirely possible that, in thirty years (or ten years, or five) I will find myself proven horribly wrong. When I talk about satisfaction in marriage and happiness in the future, I do so as someone who has never been married and who (God willing) has a whole lot of future ahead of her. But I like to think that my past trial and error have given me at least a little bit of valuable perspective. I do invite the contribution of anyone with more experience to correct my assertions and assumptions where appropriate.)

When I started dating, I was looking for someone who was tall, handsome, smart, funny, looking to have a family, ambitious, and respectful of my desire to have a life and career of my own. This is because I was sixteen. I also was looking for someone who was George Clooney. Over time I dated a number of guys: Guys who were handsome but obnoxious, guys who were family-oriented but not terribly feminist, guys who were funny but not terribly bright, guys who were ambitious but not George Clooney. I put myself out there, tried a few things, and edited my list as I went--that's not settling, it's experiencing the world and learning more about myself and what I wanted, what I was going to hold out for.

After that experience and more than a few mistakes, my list had changed a lot:

- Someone who challenges me intellectually - because that will keep me sharp, and I'll never get bored
- Someone who loves exactly who I am without feeling the need to "fix" things about me, even little, tiny things - because that will make me feel comfortable and secure without fearing that he's eventually going to find me so hopelessly flawed that he has to bail. Besides, if I love and accept him and he loves and accepts me, I'll be far more inclined to try and adjust those little, tiny things myself
- Someone who doesn't just tolerate but actively appreciates my little quirks and foibles - because those are the things that make me me, and my idea of love doesn't involve anyone who merely tolerates me
- Someone who makes me shiver when he kisses me (and this one's my aunt's fault. Blame her)

And even if those standards were unrealistically high, there was no way I was going to back down from them, because I couldn't see myself possibly living my life any other way.

(Incidentally: Nailed it.)

So some hard-won advice to all who can hear (er, read) my voice (er, blog, or whatever):

- Don't lower your standards; just think about what's really important. Think about the things you value now and the things that are going to make you happy in the future. And you know what? If, in the end, you realize that you will never be truly happy without a man who will look good on your arm and make beautiful babies and enable a lifestyle that provides luxuries and puts you in contact with all of the right people, go ahead and hold out for that. I'm not going for that myself, and I sure as hell don't understand it, but I'm not going to tell you how to live your life.

- Decide for yourself what happiness in life really means. A husband and a picket fence and 2.5 children might truly be a priority for you, or it might just be societal pressure to live the cookie-cutter life that is everyone else's definition of success. If, on careful consideration, you find that's your definition too, hold out for it. But if you think about it honestly and decide that your definition of success doesn't involve kids, or it involves both kids and a career, or it involves a partner who loves you deeply but doesn't hinge on a ring, go for that. If you settle for the wrong guy out of desperation to satisfy some societal standard that doesn't actually appeal to you, you'll eventually find yourself unsatisfied with the life you're living and the person you're living it with. Are a blood diamond and a picket fence really worth that? Your call.

- Learn to love yourself. At the very least, learn to like yourself. Learn to enjoy your own company, and learn to recognize your traits that make you a good friend so you can find friends who enjoy doing things other than moaning about how single they are. If the only thing driving you is the fear of being alone, you're going to be searching for someone who will fill a hole in your life rather than someone who will complement it. Learn how to be a complete person on your own, and the addition of another person to your life will make it better, not good enough.

- Don't be afraid to make mistakes--because like just about everything else in life, love is a skill to be learned over time. Learning to ride a bike involves a few skinned knees; learning to play the piano involves some truly dismal performances (trust me); hell, learning to pick out your own clothes involves going out in some outfits that will make you cringe in retrospect. And those things pale in importance next to the concept of lifetime happiness. You're going to have crappy dates, you're going to have relationships that later make you wonder what you were thinking, you're going to fall for a guy/girl who ends up not loving you back. Chalk it all up to a learning experience and maybe figure out how to laugh at it later, because if you hold yourself back for fear of failing, you're never going to learn how to succeed.

- Don't fall for the old trope, generally delivered by older generations, that you can't really know what you want now and that in ten years, you'll regret your disdainful nonpursuit of the picket fence. Maybe you will, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll chuck it all and follow their lead and be blissfully happy, and maybe you'll regret it and feel trapped. Hell, maybe they'll look back ten years from now and realize that they aren't really happy with the choices they've made. Scientists have yet to invent a way to see into the future, and making choices that seem wrong now in case they'll feel right in the future is a risky gamble.

Don't despair. Despair isn't attractive. Besides, I can't speak personally to the challenges of dating after forty, but I do know of a certain forty-plus who managed to find true love with a woman of stunning intelligence, sparkling personality, and timeless beauty, and I daresay he wouldn't describe the process using gory-drunk-driving-accident-resulting-in-full-paralysis metaphors.

And the greatest of these is love--of yourself. Don't be such a whiny, pathetic, desperate, needy little clinger that you can't even stand your own company. See yourself as someone worthy of actual love and friendship, not just a childcare-and-garbage-removal contractual arrangement. Or don't, and learn divide your time equally between bitching with your friends that at this point you'd be willing to marry the next solvent, fertile asshole who came along and wondering why you're still single.

Monday, February 01, 2010

On malice vs. stupidity

Okay, so stupid people ruin everything. I was all ready to run with a post in the wake of the ten Baptists in Haiti arrested on charges of child trafficking. On Saturday, news networks were reporting that the ten Idahoans had been stopped crossing the border into the Dominican Republic with 33 Haitian orphans between the ages of 2 months and 12 years, some of whose parents died in the earthquake and some of whom were abandoned by their parents before the quake. Laura Silsby, the group's leader, says the kids came through a Haitian pastor and that while they didn't have adoption papers for any of them, they felt they were doing the right thing and had planned to go back and arrange paperwork later.

Oh, it was a good post. It was all about "othering" and the way we look at people in developing and underprivileged countries. I was going to pull up the "animal shelters" bit from a while back. I was going to point out that if this were earthquake-flattened Salinas, there's no way these people would have been tooling around the city in their bus, scooping up wandering children and carrying them to safe, happy new homes across the border in Nevada, because Californian orphans are actual people, whereas Haitian orphans are cute little brown puppies who speak a cute, funny language and would look adorable in the stroller of any white American family that would have them and plucking them out of the rubble would really be doing everyone a favor. I would point out the dumbassitude of trying to carry children across a national border without thinking that any paperwork would be involved.

And then I watched the news today and cursed the gods that I was going to have to scrap that bad boy and start over.
As a group of American Baptist charity workers waits to hear if they will be tried on child trafficking charges for attempting to take 33 children out of earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the Associated Press has learned that not all of the children they were transporting were orphans.

"One (8-year-old) girl was crying, and saying, 'I am not an orphan. I still have my parents.' And she thought she was going on a summer camp or a boarding school or something like that," George Willeit, a spokesman for SOS Children's Villages, said. SOS, an Austrian-based charity working in Haiti, now has custody of the children.

Willeit said the children arrived "very hungry, very thirsty." A 2- to 3-month-old baby was dehydrated and had to be hospitalized, he said. Workers were searching for their families or close relatives.
And thus the Americans' story begins to unravel and the "aw, shucks, were we not s'pose to do that?" defense becomes shakier.
"Our understanding is that they had lost parents in the quake or possibly some had parents abandon them before the quake," said Laura Silsby, a member of the group.
[Central Valley Baptist Church pastor Drew Ham] insisted the children had been verified as orphans and had come from established orphanage in Port-au-Prince, although he couldn't provide the name.
And yet CBS didn't have trouble at all finding the village full of (not-dead) parents who had signed their children over to the Americans, who had promised the kids schools and swimming pools and tennis courts.

Or they can just ask the kids:
Thirteen-year-old Chesner said his parents were approached by a pastor, believed to be a Haitian American, and some "white missionaries" who he later recognised on the bus which took the children to the border. Chesner said: "They told my parents that the environment and hygiene was not safe with dead bodies after the earthquake. They wanted to take me to a camp in Dominican Republic. I did not know how long I was going for, and I am happy to be back in Haiti because I want to see my mother."
And then there's Laura Silsby's confusion about paperwork:
"They really didn't have any paperwork ... I did not understand that that would really be required," the leader of the arrested group, Laura Silsby, told CNN.
Although human-rights activist Anne-christine d'Adesky might disagree:
Mrs. Silsby said her authorization to collect Haitian orphans and bring them to the Dominican Republic was from an unnamed Dominican official, according to Ms. d'Adesky's email [to U.N. authorities]. "I informed her that this would be regarded as illegal even with some 'Dominican' minister authorizing, since the kids are Haitian," Ms. d'Adesky wrote, adding that she directed Ms. Silsby to U.N. agencies helping the Haitian government handle orphans and adoptions. In a telephone interview, Ms. d'Adesky said she recalled Ms. Silsby's response: "We have been sent by the Lord to rescue these children, and if it's in the Lord's plan we will be successful."
So we're going to have to assume that no, it actually wasn't in the Lord's plan. The Lord's plan probably included trained, accredited, documented aid workers who weren't galloping idiots.

Arresting officials also note that Silsby told them that the group was taking the kids to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic--while in reality, the building is still in the planning stages and the plan was to put the kids up in hotel rooms until the facility was built. Complete with swimming pools and tennis courts, one can assume.

(Y'all, this stuff is all verifiable. If you're going to lie, at least lie about stuff they can't check.)

Now, I'm not going to try to figure out their motives here. I have no reason to think that Silsby and co. had any intention of selling the kids into slavery or as exotic pets to high-bidding Americans. But I feel perfectly comfortable raising an eyebrow at their actions after they started lying about them. In making the Heinlein's Law determination regarding stupidity and malice, lying about your actions offers more than enough reasonable doubt to start the needle swinging.

Yesterday's post was going to close with a comment about how it's important to follow your heart, but you have to let your head be in charge of it or else you find yourself in a Haitian jail on charges of child trafficking. Today, though, I can leave them with only this: You tried to smuggle undocumented children across a national border, you lied to officials about how and where you got them, and you lied to the parents about why you were taking them, where they were going, and what was going to happen when they got there. If it turns out that your motives were the tiniest bit ulterior, I hope they throw the damn book at you. And even if it turns out that this whole massive cockup really was some honest(ly stupid) mistake, I hope you all get at least a few months in jail for being idiots. At the very least, it'll make the streets safer for our children.