Monday, January 26, 2004
About a week ago, I was talking to a 75-year-old woman, who in the last three years has had four strokes, a hip replacement, a knee replacement, and who is in nearly constant pain from arthritis. Her life before all this was not easy, either. She’s old world traditional and has primarily lived the life that her society, family and church told her to live, keeping the customs and manners of an age that both limited her decisions and her concept of the world, but that also taught her a sense of responsibility toward others.
She taught high school History and English for over 30 years while raising three kids, frequently staying up correcting papers until three in the morning and then getting up at six. She could have taken an easier teaching approach, as others did, but as she saw it, it was her job not only to teach all the students how to read and write capably, but to give them a sense of the deeper meanings of character and life inherent in good literature.
She can’t move around easily, so she spends a lot of time in her only comfortable chair, reading or watching TV. She says that she’s absolutely horrified at the direction this country has been going. When our president comes on TV, she mutes the sound because it makes her nearly physically ill to hear such a powerful leader wear the cloak of goodness while he lies and manipulates the American people toward ends that are antithetical to what this nation is supposed to be. (It’s also a little more than perturbing to her that the man who represents this nation to the world can’t even string a grammatical sentence together.) She’s always ready with multiple criticisms of this country’s domestic and foreign policies. I suggested to her once that if she doesn’t love it, she should leave it, but she protested that she can hardly leave her chair.
She was complaining when I last saw her about a recent news event in her state of Wisconsin. She gives what little money she can to charities and politicians that she thinks have some integrity, but generally she feels helpless to institute much change anymore. So I told her I would write about that upsetting news event on this website, that her dismay about it would be carried to other people. She smiled.
The person she has a beef with is a Catholic Archbishop who decided to issue an order just before he moved out of Wisconsin. Archbishop Raymond Burke said that politicians who are pro-choice can no longer receive communion. His communications director—at a news conference—said that the Archbishop’s letter also serves to remind women that if they use birth control, they also should not take communion. “They didn’t say anything about men using birth control, of course,” the traditional, aging American citizen complained. But she’s not even Catholic. Why should all that upset her so much? “Politicians who are Catholic will automatically be suspect now, no matter what their views are, because it brings up the question of whether their main allegiance is to the Constitution or to the Pope. We went through all that with JFK, and it was a legitimate concern.”
But shouldn’t religions have the right to tell their followers not to allow anyone to have an abortion if they truly believe that embryos and fetuses are human life? “They can tell their followers not to have abortions, certainly, but to enforce their personal beliefs on others isn’t right. And to force church rulings upon politicians takes us back to the Middle Ages.”
I don’t remember everything she said after that, but here’s how I see it. If a Catholic politician wants to remain in "good standing" with the Catholic institution (and I honestly don’t think there’s much of a correlation between religious institutions and God), then he should openly declare that he’s running on church-approved platforms only, and those who want to vote for that, will. But it should be upfront so people can make informed decisions. Of course, as everyone knows, such a political run would be very unlikely to succeed. What’s more likely now is that those Catholic politicians will keep their real agendas hidden. So if a politician is Catholic, how would we know what their real agenda is? This brings up the same problem the nation had during JFK’s run.
( I have to include an aside here: For some reason, the mainstream media didn’t report much on the fact that bishops and priests were threatened with excommunication from the church—and supposedly God herself—if they made priests’ molestations of children public or followed the law of this country by reporting them. We need separation of church and state for many reasons!)
As far as the whole abortion thing, I’ve personally got a problem with people who can get so fanatic about an embryo and think nothing about real living children or women. Half a million women died last year from pregnancy and childbirth complications. Are the anti-choice people doing anything about that? Anything about the half a million Iraqi children under five who died as a result of US actions? Anything about poor single mothers in this country? Job training? Education? Jobs that pay enough to live halfway decently? Shelter, food and healthcare for the many homeless kids we have? Tell me why nearly all of the anti-choice people support politicians who make it harder for kids to survive once they’re born. Nobody knows when a “potential human being” becomes an actual human being, but one thing we all agree on is that actual living children and women are human beings. What happens to their rights once they’re born?
If you think you’re anti-choice across the board, I’d like you to imagine a scenario. A ten-year-old girl is raped by her grandfather and is going to need lots of counseling to try to get her life back together; she’s even become suicidal. Then it’s discovered that she’s six weeks pregnant from the rape. She can be given Mifepistone pills that will terminate the pregnancy without her even knowing that she was pregnant. If she were forced to go through with the pregnancy, everyone in her town and school would know what happened. Her own life would be in danger both from physical complications due to her size and age and from psychological trauma. Would you force this girl to go through with the pregnancy? If not, you’re admitting that there are some gray areas, which is one thing the vast majority of people agree on.
Someone in the Bush administration, not so long ago, sneeringly asked how often pregnancies occur from rape or incest. He might have done some research before speaking. I can tell him how many: a very conservative estimate is 13,300 in this country alone per year. Many such rapes aren’t even reported for various reasons. Even if you allowed for abortion in cases of rape or incest, what would happen to the girls and women who didn’t want to go to court to tell their stories of anguish, then be forced to go through a trial regarding the rape, being attacked by the rapist’s defense attorney, all to get some stranger’s permission for an abortion? The government does not have the right to insinuate itself into the personal lives of its citizens to such a grotesque level. (And how come it’s the people saying they want less government who actually want the government to intrude more and more into people’s personal lives?)
I’ve been appalled by the number of young women these days who are anti-choice because of the propaganda thrown at them in schools. The federal money thrown out to school districts if they teach “abstinence courses” ensures openings to Christian fundamentalists in the public classrooms. In the school district where I live, they’ve had a guy come in to these classes and relate supposedly being at a late term abortion with his girlfriend. He graphically described (the rare) late-term abortion to the class, crying on cue class after class. Nearly all the students at the end of these classes said they had become completely anti-choice. I’m willing to bet this guy is an actor belonging to an anti-choice group who’s paid for his services. This is my tax money being spent this way, and I’m disgusted by it. Who has the right to presume they know the personal lives and circumstances of others and tell them what to think and do (especially through deception)? Isn’t that self-righteously arrogant?
Isn’t the fact that the Archbishop’s office singled out women as sinful for using birth control rather transparent that what’s really going on here is an attempt to go back to controlling women more—religiously, socially and politically?
So here are the two American citizens at logger-heads: the aging, complaining former high school teacher and the godly scion of religious power. If they were both running for some political office, I know which one I’d vote for. And thanks, Mom, for giving me this Monday’s letter topic.
Monday, January 19, 2004
Don’t you ever get depressed at how slowly things change? This letter’s not gonna be funny, but you got some funny last week. It’s the official Martin Luther King Jr. Day and all I can think about is how bad things still are. I’d like to not have to dwell on that so much, but too many people are just wandering around in lala land, thinking stupid sh*t like that racism is all gone now. (Our beloved president said that.) I get really impatient with people who are willfully ignorant because that means that some of the rest of us have to try to carry around the weight of reality more. And when we point out unpalatable facts to the lala people, they think we’re not nice, we’re too sensitive, we’re too political, we’ve just got personal issues, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Maybe the not-lalas would like to get lala once in a while, too. Did you lalas ever think of that? OK, I’m laughing out loud now, but I still mean what I say.
MLK was a great man, but I’d personally like to see a Malcolm X Day. Malcolm scared a lot of white people because for a while he said that violence in self defense was justified—even for people of color. Let’s look at the contradictions, the double-standards here . . . It’s all flag-waving, soprano-singing patriotism to “defend” our country by invading another one that hasn’t done anything to us, and killing lots of innocent people in the process. It’s also supposedly justified—even praise-worthy in many circles—for a storeowner or homeowner to kill someone coming onto their property to rob them. Somehow, these things are understandable and acceptable (at least with the subtle assumption that the people defending themselves are white). But if there’s a long and ongoing history of people being attacked and murdered for the color of their skin, you’re supposed to remain passive, nonviolent in the face of bodily danger? That sounds lala to me.
Here in Minneapolis, a black man was recently raped by two white cops with a toilet plunger. I’m not going to say “allegedly” because I believe the man. I’ve heard too many first-hand stories, and I know that kind of sh*t does still go on, all over the country. I was amazed at how the local media worked the story, suggesting that the man faked it—even despite the medical evidence and obvious traumatic reactions! They kept emphasizing that for a period the man seemed all right—before he later collapsed. (That sort of thing is common with traumatic reactions.) They also emphasized that he dealt drugs. (I guess dealers aren’t supposed to have human or constitutional rights, unless they’re white anyway.) So what’s more important? A human being or some material things kept in a home or store (or oil kept under another country’s ground)?
What do you think? If this man had a chance to defend himself, should he have? Or should he have remained “nonviolent”? If he’d gotten ahold of a gun in the midst of the rape and killed the cops, what do you think would have happened to him? Why? If these ideas and questions disturb you, welcome (however briefly) to not-lala land. Those of you who permanently reside in lala land, the not-lalas get to go take a break now. See you next week!
Addendum: I just read this over and yes, of course things aren’t really so neatly tied up as lala and not-lala. I also must confess I actually have many lala stamps in my psychic passport, otherwise you’d probably find me in a padded room somewhere. Nevertheless, I stand by everything I’ve said.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
I just woke up, sat at my computer and thought, “Oops, Monday and I need another letter.” A week goes by fast. How is everyone doing? I hope you thought outside your usual boxes at least once this past week. I know I did.
Anyway, so I went to the kitchen to get a bowl of cereal and come up with something to write about. As I was getting the milk out, I saw the notice on it that says basically that bovine growth hormones haven’t been shown to do anything nasty to us. I got pissed (again) because they only put that notice on the milk that doesn’t have bovine growth hormones, just to confuse us at the behest of the dairy industry lobbyists. Then somehow I sprang from that to the DPT shots given to infants in the US, and thought I’d write about that. There’s a lot of evidence that the “P” or Pertussis part of that shot can cause death or retardation in a small number of kids, but they don’t tell you that, do they, so you can make your own informed choice about it? One pathologist I used to know told me that even though he knew it was probably the DPT shot causing some infant deaths he got, he’d just put “Infant Death Syndrome” on the death certificates—as the other doctors did. Then I thought of a couple other things, too, but none of them were quite right. (If you want info on the above topics, please research them. I recall one book I read while deciding what to do about the shot for my kids that was good: DPT: A Shot in the Dark.)
Now I think I know why none of those topics were really good. I don’t want to have to research anything for these letters. I want to just casually say whatever comes to mind. Please feel free to do your own research on the above, though, or argue with me about them!
I think I’ve been too political recently, though; humor would be good once in a while. I’m just gonna pull up an old humorous slam piece I did once about telemarketers. (If you’re a telemarketer, please take this in good humor; I used to be one, too.)
I’m a cranky consumer. I’m maladjusted in malls, I scowl at catalogues and advertisements, and I used to snap at sales calls waking me Saturday mornings. Then I happened upon a happy technique to deal with these pit bulls with baking soda smiles and lingerie voices.
It started quite innocently. I chanced to have a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses drop by on Saturday morning. I crawled back into bed after quickly dispatching them by trying in turn to convert them to Satanism, only to have the phone ring, a call about siding. Yes, I’d recently bought a new home. No thanks, I already had vinyl siding. How was I supposed to know how old it was, and no, I hadn’t recently checked under any of the panels for wood rot. Free estimate? No, I . . . He just wouldn’t quit.
Then it came to me, something like a wind out of nowhere, flames of fire dancing on my head. I intoned, in a newly honeyed voice, “It says in Psalms 13, verse 54, that thou shalt make thy house out of cedar and red spruce.” Could he give me an estimate for redoing my house in cedar and red spruce? Stutter, gasp, well not actually, but . . . “The word of the Lord is the word of the Lord, and who will quibble with it? Is siding worth one soul in the eyes of God?” Then, with a real stroke of genius, I began pressing him to attend the next Jehovah’s Witness meeting.
These people are not trained to hang up. I kept him wriggling like a worm for ten minutes. Then I slept the Saturday morning sleep of the righteous. I began to actually look forward to my sales calls.
Problems with my water? Man, was I ever glad she called. Yes, yes, yes! There was entirely too much of it. The whole downstairs had disappeared and I’d had to put in a pier. Oh, hard water? No, I only wished it were so I could still walk around downstairs, but it was just regular water.
Monday, January 05, 2004
Okay, so I took a week off from the letter-writing. Did anyone notice? I think it'll take awhile for visitors to be coming weekly to check out these letters. Besides, it was the holidays and I've got a printer's deadline coming up. Plus, I'm still waiting for some other people to start handing in essays to go here. When I have more time, I intend to just go up to someone homeless on the streets, or someone muttering-mad at a coffee shop, and ask them to write something to go here. (So, yes, you want to keep coming back here to check out all the interesting words and ideas.)
Do you ever have arguments in your head? Quite frequently, if I'm reading something or watching TV or a movie, I start arguing with the author or the scriptwriter or the newscaster or character or whoever. (I'm so bad that I've even argued with songs.) When I sit down to write things like this, I just pull up one of those arguments and start getting pissed off all over again. Then I feel like I'm Link fighting a bunch of Gannons.
Yesterday, I got pissed off at the media again, so I'm gonna take off on a tangent to my last letter. (Check it out if you haven't read it. And okay, that also means I don't have to do research for related resources again; I admit that. But I really do have this printer's deadline looming.) Anyway, I almost never watch the news anymore, unless it's BBC, because it's so distorted. I honestly think The Daily Show is more honest than any network news you'll get in this country. I get more in-depth news from reading my alternative magazines, ones that aren't owned by the same few corporations that own most of the media (as well as most of the politicians). But if some event happens suddenly, the only way I know about it is if a friend tells me or I walk past a newspaper headline. I figure I'm actually more in touch with reality that way, not having someone else tell me what is or isn't news, or how large a certain story or event should be in my own sense of the reality of the world.
An example: the recurring news about U.S. soldiers dying in Iraq. Every time I see one of them, I think of all the soldiers over there who are angry and know they've been lied to about the whole situation, but who can't talk about the chance of giving up their lives or being maimed for something as trivial as oil. Even their wives and husbands can't say anything; if they do, it hurts the soldiers' careers. You won't hear those stories on mainstream media, but those soldiers' thoughts and feelings and experiences are at least as real as the stories the media cover.
I found it very interesting that I knew about the faked papers supposedly tying Saddam to trying to buy uranium in Niger a full two months before mainstream media began covering it. I mean, we're talking about a MAJOR story here. The president stated this as a fact in his State of the Union address, even though U.S. intelligence had totally disproved it a full year before, and the CIA had told the Bush administration not to say that. A slip of the tongue? A mistake? Can any of you possibly really believe that? The State of the Union address has more people going over every word of it than any speech anywhere in the world. I knew about that charge being false from reading alternative magazines, and other people in the world knew that, too, but the U.S. media didn't even bring it up for a full two months afterward, and even then nobody had the guts to call it what it was: a deliberate lie and a manipulation of the American people, including of the soldiers risking their lives.
You want to talk about supporting our troops? Does anyone see the irony here? Supporting the troops doesn't mean lying to them and risking their lives to get a few fat cats richer, or refusing to give the troops raises, or lengthening the amount of time they have to suffer over there, or cutting money for the Veteran's Administration. Yet the politicians who always yell, "We're the real patriots and we support the troops" are the very ones doing all these things. Right here in Minnesota, we've got a few thousand vets who are on a waiting list for treatment at the VA hospital, and some of them are in critical condition. It's disgusting. There's a difference between those who talk the talk and those who walk it. But most US citizens just watch the words and the flags waving, and let the media think for them. Don't be fooled that easily!
When I see the stories about Iraq, I also stubbornly think of another thing nobody cares to talk about on the media: the fact that the lives of people in the U.S. are not worth any more than the lives of other people in the world. I know it's considered "unpatriotic" to think that, but come on! Are we really that delusional and that arrogant? I don't think most of us are. We've killed nearly 10,000 innocent civilians in Iraq since March. In the decade before that, with the first Gulf War and all the "depleted" uranium we dumped on the country, and the economic sanctions, and our continued bombings of things like water facilities, international agencies figure that as a direct result of U.S. actions about half a million Iraqi children under the age of five died. (Where are the anti-choice people on that one? Don't actual living children matter, too?) Those people's lives were worth just as much as your life, your lover's or spouse's life, the lives of your own children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. Aren't they? Think about it.
Why isn't there even any discussion about the deaths of Iraqi civilians, or reporting of the numbers, or debate about the decisions made to bomb certain areas where it's absolutely known that some civilians will die? We're not even discussing it because what? It doesn't matter? It matters to me and I think it matters to a lot of other people here, too. We're citizens of this country and can be held partly responsible for these deaths of innocents. Who are you voting for? Are you not even voting? What are you doing? If you don't give a rip about people dying unless they're U.S. citizens, do you really think that's what the founding fathers had in mind? How can you feel superior to other human beings for being born within certain geographical boundaries? Like "Hey man, you're an American? Congratulations. That must've taken a lot of intelligence, courage and hard work. Good for you!"
I think I really just went off on a lot of tangents I didn't intend to go off on . . . So yesterday, I went online to check my mail and a news story headline jumped up that was very familiar to me, just variations on a theme: "Be scared! Be terrified! The terrorists are coming to get us." I think I actually said "F*** you" out loud. The world is a scary place, I get it. Bad sh*t happens all over the world all the time, even here, even without it getting any news coverage. I get it. But don't you dare exploit what happened on 9/11 to repeatedly try to scare us into saying, "Oh, please give us a Daddy figure (must be Bush) who'll act all macho to 'save us', saying, 'Bring 'em on!'." Dear U.S. media, please stop insulting my intelligence (even if I'm not sure if that last bit of punctuation was correct or not).
Hello?!?**??!! (I can't swear on the main part of this or the site will get filtered out of some systems.) Once you get the large picture, you'll start catching on to all those Madison Avenue advertising techniques that have crossed over into the "news" and politicians' lives. Did you know a lot of politicians spend mega-bucks on advertising types-to learn how to walk, talk and look to get you to like them? And too many of us buy into that. You know, like that one seems strong or that one over there seems cool or I just like how that one talks. And the media is not going to help us out by giving us much substance-like discussing why in the last three years this country has gone from the largest economic surplus in U.S. history to the largest deficit. (And the Dems are known as the great spenders? Say that again.)
Oh my god, I've been at this too long and this thing has turned into a monster. But I feel a little less pissed off for getting this out. How about you? Go ahead and post a message, and stop in next week for another letter.
Some relevant links to check out (also check the ones from the last letter):
Civilian Deaths in Iraq