Why not...

My last of twenty-seven years in the secondary classroom, my baby just now in college, a government and economy looking like something out of Duck Soup, a pituitary tumor, chronic migraines... Hell, why not write a blog?

(My students are now gone. I'm now a civilian and really no longer a "lame duck." I hope the readers of Mama Duck will come to my new blog for some new writing and new directions. My new blog is at: Writing Isle to Isle.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

I've got a new blog!

 I do have a new blog. It's called Writing Isle to Isle. The new blog is really about writing and will follow my midlife adventures of moving from one island to another. But like Lame Duck, it will be a mixture of political commentary, essays, humor, and even recipes with playlists. Now that I'm officially retired from teaching, I'm really no longer a lame duck and don't wish to post false advertisements. So please, link up and join up. I'd love to keep you as a reader.
Mama Duck.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I got dumped by my doctor yesterday

I got dumped by my doctor yesterday. My endocrinologist to be exact. I’ve been with the guy since 2004, and I’ve given him some of the best years of my life. I don’t like the way he did it either. It was all too reminiscent of the way a guy I’d dated way back in another lifetime scuttled off. I called him. A woman answers the phone to clean up the mess. Phone breakups are bad enough. But to have a proxy do the deed for you—well, as they say where I grew up, that’s pure chicken shit.

There I was yesterday with my list of to-do’s. I’d waited until the school year’s clutter of grades, goodbyes, speeches, and room cleanings got done to do the things I needed to do for myself. (What’s fucking new?) I made my mammogram appointment. Check. Dermatologist appointment for a skin cancer screening. Check. Endocrinology appointment for the yearly check of my prolactin levels and probable MRI. Not check. The conversation went like this:
Receptionist: “Medical Specialties.”

Me: “Hello. My name is (blah blah blah) and I’d like to make an appointment with Dr. Nowheretobefound. I’m a patient of his.” I efficiently offered up my date of birth and spelled my last name.

Receptionist: “Dr. Nowheretobefound is no longer in the clinic. He has retired. He has referred his patients to Dr. Replacement. I can schedule you with him next week”


Me: “Dr. Nowheretobefound has retired?”

Receptionist: (In a voice as antiseptic as alcohol) “Yes, Dr. Replacement will now take his patients.”

Me: “Is Dr. Replacement an expert in pituitary disease? I’m not interested in starting all over again with somebody who is not an expert in that field.”

Receptionist: (Still saturating the wound with alcohol) “Dr. Replacement is who Dr. Nowheretobefound has chosen for his patients.”

Me: “Excuse me, but Dr. Replacement is not who I’ve chosen for my doctor. Sorry to be a self-advocate, but I don’t know this new doctor or his expertise. I need a pituitary expert. Is he a pituitary expert?”

Receptionist: (Alcohol is now evaporating) Ma’am, there is a pituitary program at Harborview associated with UW.

By now I’m overwhelmed and imagining only the Harborview emergency room—the regional trauma center that daily bustles with drug overdoses, car wrecks, and all the urban tragedies that I can generally ignore in my whitey tighty island world.

Me: “Thanks, but I guess I need to shop for a new doctor.”

I hit the end button on my phone and stare at it dumbly. I felt like I needed what I couldn’t have: chocolate, wine, and Oreos. I wanted to hear a cadre of best female friends tell me “honey, he was never good enough for you!” I turned to my husband instead.

“He retired,” he stated for the record after hearing my side of the phone conversation. I nodded. “Wow,” he said with that cautious but very sympathetic tone he uses when he sees I’m on the verge of a meltdown. “I’m sorry honey.”

“Shit,” I huffed as I plopped down to the computer and started researching the pituitary specialists the Puget Sound. I got lucky in my research and found what I think will be good care at the Swedish Pituitary Center. When I called there, the intake receptionist took a great deal of time with me and got much information in anticipation of an initial phone appointment next week.

Of course, that appointment is dependent upon all of my records arriving from the University of Washington and a referral from my primary care doctor. The records department clerk at UW was very helpful, and put my request in immediately. My primary care physician, however, has gatekeepers that could guard the president (and would spend less money on hookers). It took repeated attempts to get through the phone system because they were so busy. Then, when I explained that I just needed a referral, they wanted me to schedule an appointment to get it. “Oh, God, no,” I said, “there’s no doubt about my condition, I’ve had this tumor, and neurosurgery for it, and it’s grown back. I just need a referral so I can have an appointment after my endocrinologist retired. This is nothing new. Please, just get this request to my doctor.” I will have to check tomorrow to see if that message got through. I understand the need for protocols, I do. But I don’t like feeling like an intruder on my own care.

Finally, I don’t like being passed from doctor to doctor without so much as a postcard. How hard or expensive would it really be it inform patients of a retirement or departure? I mean really. Do I look like a woman who just hops into the office of any doctor I meet?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Address to the Class of 2012

This past Saturday, my husband and I were honored to be chosen as the graduation speakers for the graduating Class of 2012. The following is the speech we gave. Because it is a tandem speech, yellow highlights indicate when I spoke, and the regular text indicates when he spoke.

We are honored to stand before you today—Class of 2012, relieved parents, bursting-with-pride grandparents, fellow educators, administration, school board members, and this supportive and generous community. It’s your combined efforts that are celebrated today in a ceremony in which graduates dress in identical robes and mortars, sit politely through speeches, toss those identical hats, and then head off in different directions. We’re about to toss our hats as well.

We’re all on an edge of an unknown sea. Our hats are off, we’re kicking off our comfortable shoes, the known routines and grounded connections, and wading barefoot into uncertain times, where we’ll take a deep breath and dive into our new selves. It’s both scary and exhilarating. But we’re island people and we can swim. And if we can’t swim, we can always catch the next ferry.

For the past several months the air has snapped electric with advice about your futures. You’ve waited anxiously for college acceptance letters, and then heard your parents gasp when they saw the actual price of next year’s education. And all the while you wished the future would just hurry up and arrive and the nightly Crime and Punishment pages would just… disappear. We’ve had similar experiences and feelings—unsolicited advice about what we should or shouldn’t do with our lives once we’re done with teaching, and so many weekends I wished that stack of papers to grade would just… disappear. When asked “how many days until graduation?” most of us had no idea, for we were frankly too busy with our senior years.

But now it’s here. You’re graduating. So I guess we retirees are too in a sense. And while it took you a cool 12 years to meet that day, it took Becky Shigley 39 years.  Greg McElroy presided over an award winning school newspaper for 18 years before graduating today. Cindy has been at it for 27 years. I’ve been a perpetual junior in high school for 29 years, and this year I’m finally a senior. You’re obviously far more efficient than we are.

Not only is this class more efficient, but they are truly wonderful thinkers. In fact, the Class of 2012 epitomizes the habits of mind, or the attributes that human beings display when they behave intelligently.

Habits of mind is the name for a new curricular concentration our school district is taking, one in which learners nurture 16 different characteristics that are taught, focused, articulated, and practiced. Relax. We’re not going through all sixteen in this speech. But we thought we’d share some examples of how the Class of 2012 has exhibited some of the more important habits of mind.

The first habit of mind we’d like to talk about is persistence, and let’s be honest, what commencement address would be complete without some reference to persistence?

You have the persistence of a rowing team that is willing to daily plant your bottoms in a cold, damp shell, rain or shine, awaiting the coxswain’s orders that will take you your 12-16,000 meters for the day. And if you’re very successful, you’ll be at nationals instead of your own high school graduation.

It’s the persistence of the senior wrestler, who escapes from the defensive position on the mat, gets two points for a reversal, and after sweat, exhaustion, and strategy ends the match pinning the opponent who took him (or her) down at the start. Persistence.

It’s the dogged Riptide editors and reporters whose stories speak a bold truth to power.

It’s the “Can’t I get just another ½ point on this Marbury v. Madison written response? I mentioned the Judiciary Act of 1789 in the third part…okay, not the second part, but in the third part where I mentioned judicial review too…just another ½ point?” (…The lesson here is that persistence doesn’t always lead to more points.)

Persistence is the cast of Legally Blonde practicing their choreography for “Positive” over and over until they get it right; or Erica Walker playing Poulenc’s Sonata for Oboe through God knows how many oboe reeds, or Dylan Basurto practicing the trumpet for various performances until his chops fail. Persistence is what it takes to be good at something. To be really good at something. Getting it wrong and wrong and wrong until you get it right every time.

Another habit of mind is what is known in the education world as metacognition. More simply put, it’s “thinking about one’s thinking.” Metacognition is our ability to know what we know and what we don’t know. Donald Rumsfeld’s famous 2002 comments about the existence of WMD in Iraq offer a standard rubric for understanding Meta-Cognition.  He offered three axioms to explain:

“[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know, that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we know we don't know.

But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things that we don’t know, we don't know.”

Let’s explore these.

First, there are the Known Knowns- the things we know, we know. “I will have to write interactive notes on this reading assignment.” Or, “I know Camille’s interactive notes will be the most detailed and truly interactive notes I see when I’m stamping readings.”

Neah knows she has one sick tree climbing up her calf. (For the grandparents in the crowd, sick is now a good thing.)

Then, there are the Known Unknowns- These are the things that we know, we don’t know. We are aware of our lack of knowledge in these areas. For example I know I have no idea how to do quadratic equations. Had Poppa Sears been my teacher, perhaps I’d be able to. For the Class of 2012, they faced their own known unknowns when they asked themselves questions like: “How will I manage to pass my first Scored Discussion?” or “Would it be a good idea to go out and get a law degree before I take the AP Gov written response final?” The good thing about this category is that with awareness and Google, we can fix that which we don’t know.

The third Rumsfeldian category is the Unknown Unknowns- Those things that we don’t know, we don’t know. Or to put it another way, unknown unknowns are things we don’t know even exist. You probably weren’t aware, for example, that I have a full-time, two-person secretarial team that works in my classroom at night managing all of my bookkeeping, correspondence, grading, photocopying, and lesson planning. (I trust they’re union.)

But unknown unknowns are what can clobber you in life, and military strategists back to Clausewitz know this. In real life unknown unknowns are the things that follow no rules and are profoundly unfair. They are the spot on the screen that your doctor tells you is breast cancer, or the kind of lung cancer that means your sister won’t be around in five years. Or a financial crisis that cost you a job and a home. Or a midnight car crash, the kind every parent in here fears more than any cancer or financial pitfall. Graduates, there will be unknown unknowns in your lives. You will need somebody close to prop you up when you fold after they hit you. Keep friends and family close.

There’s yet a fourth category, and although Rumsfeld did not include this, it is probably the most relevant of all the combinations. That’s the unknown knowns. Unknown knowns are things we know, but we are either unconscious of or unaware of knowing.

Perhaps they are prejudices that color our reality. Perhaps it is our desire to see our history as a myth, or have it explained in soundbites. It may be looking in a gilded mirror and not seeing the reflection of our own unearned privileges.

Unknown knowns are self-serving. They are the ways in which we can stay numb, stay ambivalent, and remain blind to the plight and needs of others. And the unknown known doesn’t seem to want to do the hard work to get to know itself. Martin Luther King Jr. said “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

But the Class of 2012 is extraordinary in shaking hands with the unknown knowns. When it mattered you have shown a remarkable determination to peel away the myths and stories that offer comfort and safety in order to better understand your world. You seem to innately understand the dangers of ignoring inconvenient truths. You face the unpleasant realities within those truths. You have the skill to recognize the artifice of the frames and you possess the courage to do something about it. And you understand that when you close your eyes to the things you don’t want to see, that human feeling ceases to exist.

This brings us to another habit of mind at which you certainly excel, and that is empathy. Although your country has not given you a lot of recent role models to follow with our coin-operated Congress, the Kardashians, or the “Real” Housewives of New York City, you seem to listen fully to those around you and hear what is said beneath the words that are spoken. You demonstrate a sense of caring and community that comes from an interconnectedness that you obviously feel and extend to others.

Last year when I took a leave of absence to be with my dying sister, you reached out with words of concern and letters of condolence. Your support for me meant that I could be in the moment with Sue knowing that you were helping my substitute provide meaningful instruction. Some of you will remember that the American Studies final was a scored discussion on the Great Depression. Peter Serko painstakingly set up a Skype link for me to watch the group discussions remotely from Connecticut during the final exam schedule with a three- hour difference.  What I saw from an intermittent Internet connection from three thousand miles away was one of the most sophisticated, intelligent seminars about FDR and the New Deal that I have seen from a student discussion in over twenty years of conducting this type of assessment. I have neglected to fully express my appreciation for both your empathy and your commitment to excellence until now. Better late than never.

We’ve both personally experienced your empathy. When you walked into class and I had my sunglasses on with yet another migraine, you would quietly close the door and talk in hushed levels. Thank you for that. You’ve also given support to Amy Dubin during her battle with cancer, and now reach out to Papa Sears as he struggles with his own serious health problems.

Your empathy extends beyond the local. So many of you have expressed anxiety about what you’ve learned this year in Humanities. The rose colored glasses have been removed, and you fear for the future and wonder how you’ll make a difference in our troubled world.

Howard Zinn said “the future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” Your hearts and your heads are connected. You’ll be okay. You will improve your corner of the world.

Finally, humor is an essential habit of mind. And we’ve loved laughing with you. Real humor starts, we believe, with the ability to recognize one’s own folly. We have to laugh at ourselves. But we also have to continue to find humor in the absurd.

And what could be more absurd than having to come back for three days after your graduation?

Doesn’t this seem like a Daily Show sketch to you?

Just sayin’.

But we are here to graduate. And that is serious business. (We start putting on robes and hats.)

We both say with our robes and hats: So let’s get on with it!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My last day of teaching

It’s 4:20 am of the last day I’ll have in my teaching career with students. There will be another week or so cleaning out my room, students dropping in, grading, creating files for the next teacher, but this is the last day I’m effectively and affectionately “Powell” or “Ms. Powell.” I’ve been that person for 27 years, and it’s been a good run. Today I’ll say some final words to my seniors. Give them some final words of hope and wisdom that I’ll no doubt garble with tears, some cookies I’ve baked, and some farewell hugs. I’ll watch them do the senior countdown at the end of the day. And although on Saturday my husband and I will be their faculty speakers at their graduation, today is the last day I’ll have a classroom filled with students discussing, questioning, listening, coping, sometimes whining about the amount of work, or laughing. I’ve ended my career with an extraordinary group of kids, the kind of class every teacher whose been around long enough knows comes through the system on rare cycles.

I’m drinking coffee right now because I awoke with a migraine. A God damn self-inflicted migraine. One that came from having one of the cookies I made for them last night. I knew better, but some how I still fall into magical thinking with these food triggers. Surely I wouldn’t get a migraine from a small cookie I prepared for the government classes of 2012, not on the last day of class. And this is after I’ve tried to teach critical thinking my entire career. After I’ve tried to move students away from the superstitious, the blind spots, the dark ends of the political spectrum. Perhaps this is one more example that I’ll share with them-- that lessons are really never truly learned. That we have to be vigilant even when we think we know something well, for that’s when something can walk up and clobber us upside the head—literally in my case.

What final advice will I leave my students today? I think this is what I’ll tell them today:

I’ve often left song lyrics with past classes before. One set I need to share with them is one from a song by Guy Clark,
“You got to sing like you don't need the money
Love like you'll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody's watchin'
It's gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.”

I love this song Come from the Heart, by Guy Clark. He borrowed, I think, some basic lines from Twain or older writers and crafted them into a song. It’s packed with sage advice that goes back to the ancients.

First, dance like nobody’s watching. The truth is, they are. People can be judgmental as hell and it’s something you’ve cut your teeth on here at high school. While it gets better, as the public service ads say, you can never entirely rid yourselves of judgmental people. But you’ll hit an age where you no longer give a shit what people think of how you dance. You’re not there yet. I hope you hit it younger than I did. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Next, sing like you don’t need the money. The truth is, you will need the money, and choosing a path better include both your head and your heart. It’s no fun to struggle just to put food on the table or have a roof over your head. But likewise, don’t just become a cog in a joyless system. You’re all better than that. And you deserve better than that. Put your heads and your hearts into your choices. Sometimes that distance between the two is a long one, but as long as you keep them connected, you’ll be okay.

Next, love like you’ll never get hurt. News flash--You’re going to get hurt. You’re going to love and think you’ve found the absolutely most perfect match and you’ll pour yourself into that relationship and that person will gobble you up and spit out what’s left of you. You’ll end up wondering if you’re worthy of love.  You are. But mope for a while, then get pissed, then get strong, and always have friends and chocolate and good music. Eventually you’ll find someone who not only takes your breath away, someone you respect enormously. Someone whose values are in line with yours. That’s the person you build a life with. But do this after you’ve made enough mistakes that you know for sure “that is the one.” You need those mistakes to know. You’ll get better at spotting the mistakes earlier—they’re the ones that don’t make you feel good about yourself or find little ways to belittle you in front of others. Shun those. It’s going to hurt getting to that “one” but it’s worth it. I speak with experience on this.

The core message of this song is about passion. Be passionate. Care deeply. Care deeply about your friends, your family, your work, your community, your country, and your world. Don’t spend your life in perpetual ambivalence. You won’t have the energy to put time into all of those at once, because life also requires balance. Passion isn’t about doing it all. Passion is about caring enough to do it well. If you’re saving the world and a stranger to your own family, you’d better stop and introduce yourself to your family first.

I finally offer you the usual advice: get an education and be a student of the world as well. No one is truly educated unless they’ve traveled. Go see the world. There are many ways to do it. Go work in the place. You don’t have to have a fortune to travel, just the ability to smile and want to learn another’s ways. And, if you don’t have common sense when you go, traveling will by God force it on you.

Also, don’t drink and drive, brush your teeth no matter how drunk you are, and be kind to animals. I’ll have other things to say at graduation. But for now, know you’re loved and keep me posted on your lives. You know where I’ll be.
Hey, I’m on Facebook, and now that you’re graduated, it’s cool to friend me.
 I am so honored to have been your teacher. I look forward to now being your friend.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's Not a War on Women, It's a Crusade!

Armor of God PJs, for Parents Who Want to Teach Their Children the Crusades Were Fun

By now you’ve all heard the news—the Republicans have their Jockeys in a pucker because they don’t like that folks are saying they’re waging a war on women. And they’ve brought out their mighty mouths to denounce the accusation. RNC Chairman, Reince Priebus, unwittingly confirmed that even Republicans like cannabis saying “Now if the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, then every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, so then we’d have a problem with caterpillars.” Accusation—women—caterpillars. I get it, man. I vaguely recall having those conversations in college after a few bong hits. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon would be playing in the background, and an ant on the windowsill could progress to ant arms races, ant d├ętente, and was it possible ant colonies utilized Sun Tzu’s Art of War strategies. I so get you, man.

Caterpillar Logic clearly needed backup--some reliable “Old Glory” spin. So RNC spokesman Sean Spicer pulled the “if you disagree with us ‘true Americans’ you must be a traitorous flag burner” trump card, a little trick he picked up serving master Bush. Spicer said about the war on women phrase “It’s not only bad, but it’s downright pathetic they would use a term like ‘war’ when there are millions of Americans who actually have engaged in a real war. To use a term like that borders on unpatriotic.” Oh applause, applause, Sean! Where’s my flag so I can raise it? After saluting it, I’ll salute you, Sean. God, you do make me hungry for apple pie! I’d say communications-wise, “Mission Accomplished!” Oh, I’m sorry. Did that little piece of 2003 Bush rhetoric fail to include all of our soldiers who’ve died in that senseless war since that little stunt on the USS Lincoln? Also, I guess accusing Obama of waging a “war on religion” must be different. But I digress…

Let’s face it. These two choir leaders (and all their FOX surrogates in choir robes singing the same hymn) have a point. Is this really a war waged on women? I think I’ll go out on a liberal limb here and agree that “war on women” is inaccurate, for what’s going on in this country is nothing less than a religious crusade. Now the Democrats can’t say that, because saying anything with even a whiff of Christian critique in a country where 4 in 10 people believe that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old is about as clever as putting Palin on a presidential ticket(1). But I’m not a politician running for office, so I damn well can.

The great thing about a crusade is that it gives the crusaders pretty much full authority to do anything they want, because it is in the name of God. Pope Urban II, the initiator of the First Crusade back in 1095, after promising “a remission of all sins for all who die in the service of Christ,” did the equivalent of an 11th Century fist pump and yelled “Deus vult!” Or “God wills it!” (He’d have made a hell of an NFL coach I think.) Off to Constantinople and Jerusalem some 100,000 dashed to kill infidels; crusaders made up of the rich, poor, criminal, and saintly. No need to wait to cross the Bosporus and Dardanelles for their God-willed task. Hell, Jews lurked right there in Europe. So Crusaders butchered and burned thousands in unimaginable attacks on their way to “save” the holy land. In a traveling orgy of savagery, once the crusaders made it to Jerusalem, they spared no one. Fulcher of Chartres, a French chaplain, described the carnage in the holy city.
“Within this Temple [Solomon’s] about ten thousand were beheaded. If you had been there, your feet would have been stained up to the ankles with the blood of the slain. What more shall I tell? Not one of them was allowed to live. They did not spare the women and children.”(2)
While atrocities occur in all wars, this war was in the name of God. These were zealots high on bloodlust, and their acts still scar relations between Muslims and Christians.  God willed it, my ass.

It may seem a bit extreme to start my argument with sins committed a millennium ago. But I think it’s good to let history remind us now and then that things can get mighty out of hand when a bunch of guys (or women for that matter) strap crosses on their chests and act on the divine authority. The Christian Crusades morphed into inquisitions. While most students have studied the horrific Spanish Inquisition, fewer have heard of the Albigensian Crusade, a twenty-year period of terror in Southern France from 1209 to1229 to eliminate Catharism, compliments of Pope Innocent III. (I would have suggested a different name.) Among other Cathar practices that irked Innocent, these “heretics” included women in their clerical ranks and had no problem with contraception. Upon church orders a half million people--men, women and children—were murdered in the Languedoc region of France. Both Cathar and sympathetic Catholic. In fact, it is from a Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury that we get a particularly callous saying, one that’s been repeated in wars since. When laying siege to Bezier, a confused crusader asked him how to distinguish the Cathars from the Catholics. He answered “Kill them [all]! Surely the Lord discerns which [ones] are his."

Another “Innocent Pope”, Innocent VIII, issued the Bull Summis desiderantes on December 5th, 1484. That bull in effect gave two depraved German inquisitors the equivalence of a rave New York Times Book Review for their truly frightening work the Malleus Maleficarum or The Hammer of Witches. The handbook detailed how to detect, torture, and kill witches, instructions that facilitated the deaths of thousands of women. Scholars cannot agree on estimates culled from extant records, but responsible figures ballpark no less than 60,000 women burned between the period of 1500-1650.(3)


 Christian Crusades, inquisitions, a handbook on how to torture women from the era most consider the renaissance—what on earth do these have to do with Republican policies affecting women today? And no, I’m not listening to Pink Floyd.

First, let’s start with an extensive (and statistically responsible) study from 2006 that found “roughly half (49%) of conservative Republicans [said] the Bible should trump popular will.” Another 29% of moderate Republicans agreed.(4) Let me repeat that for it bears repeating. Half of conservative Republicans and damn near a third of moderate Republicans think that the Bible—or let’s be clear—what they think the Bible says—is more important than democratic rule. That’s a lot of theocratic Republicans out there. Now, who constitutes the base of the Republican Party? That’s right. Evangelical Christians. And 60% of them believe that the Bible should win when it conflicts with the will of the people.(5) The press talks a lot about the Republican Party’s rightward swing, but few if any tackle the real truth—that the war on religion is coming from the uber-religious. And they control the new, evangelically directed Republican Party. That party is now some weird love child spawned by Ayn Rand and an Old Testament patriarch. And the pearly gates of this tax-free club would likely stiff Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, or even Ronald Reagan.

Second, what beliefs drive these people beyond the idea their interpretation of the Bible is more important than majority rule? This is where women come into the picture, and poor Eve is our diva of double standards. For those wishing to keep women’s sexuality in careful check by their husbands or law, we need first to look at the often cited I Timothy 2:14: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” So, Eve (not Adam) was deceived. Woman is gullible and in need of protection; man is rational. (Newt Gingrich the obvious exception.) But all you have to do is read Genesis to remember that Adam quite willingly gobbled that fruit down as well. Yet woman bears the responsibility.

So it’s a woman’s fault alone if you walk through an apple orchard and find nothing but cores, but that doesn’t equate with female authority. Au contraire for according to the evangelicals, 1 Corinthians 11:3-9 clarified her subordination: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man... For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.” Ah, Paul (or subsequent Pauline interpreters of Paul), so much for following Christ’s path of treating women equally.(6) Of course, that doesn’t stop the Southern Baptist Conference and the Vatican for latching on to Paul’s narrow views and keeping women from the pulpit.

American women, especially poor women, are caught in the crossfire between biblical literalism and privacy. And even though Jesus never spoke on abortion or contraception (although abortifacients were certainly used in the era and women used the era’s contraceptive methods), the Christian right cherry-picks passages from the Old and New Testaments in order to clean up these female practices. Fuck privacy. Privacy is for presidential candidates whose financial records are in Swiss accounts. Privacy is between men and their doctors. Privacy is for property owners and corporate patent rights. For these biblical literalists, when Jesus said “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,” (Matthew 25:40) these folks see a zygote. They don’t see a poor woman without financial or emotional support who has sought human comfort with a man who could give a shit about her. Nor do they see a married woman who has to make a painful choice 22 weeks into a pregnancy when she discovers the child she desperately wants is dying inside her and cannot be saved, but the law the state just passed does not allow the doctor to induce labor. No, she must wait agonizingly until the child actually dies and an infection ensues, which could take weeks. Why? Because in Exodus “Thou shalt not kill” prevents killing. These are the same people that want us to bomb Iran to preserve Israel. Go figure.

But what evidence is there that an actual crusade is being waged? That would require evidence of many crusaders and many attempts to quell these female infidels. Senator Barbara Boxer offered up a laundry list in this week’s Politico.(7) I’ve condensed and embellished her list below. As Jefferson would say, “to prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.”

1.     In the House of Representatives, Republicans have introduced 30 bills that would restrict a women’s reproductive health care.
2.      At the state level, nearly 500 bills that define and limit women’s health care have been introduced in 39 states. Who introduced these bills? You guessed it. Republicans with a small percentage of them introduced by conservative Democrats.
3.      And then there’s “personhood legislation” sponsored by—*gasp*—119 House Republicans and another 19 of McConnell’s minions in the Senate. These are zygote-happy bills that outlaw abortions and give no exceptions for a woman’s life or health. And, duh, they would in effect make some forms of birth control illegal. These laws would also bar doctors from saving women when they have ectopic pregnancies. Yeah. Pretty sure that’s what Jesus would have wanted.
4.      Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (is it just me or does this guy remind you of one of the Seven Dwarfs?) just happily penned a repeal of the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which protected women’s equality in the workplace. Yeah, equal pay for women can really hurt business and the economy. The Seven Dwarfs must have been working in a Right to Work mine. Oh, and by the way, when Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (Obama’s first bill passed in 2009 once taking office) 36 Senate Republicans voted no. But then women will be home raising kids, so no problem.
5.      Then there’s the ongoing crusade against Planned Parenthood. This is a crusade being waged at both the federal and state levels. Good ole’ boy, Rick Perry has strapped a big red cross to his Carhart jacket and signed a “tiered priority system” that ensures Planned Parenthood clinics would be the last to receive any Title X funding. This, of course, violates the Social Security Act. But the Federal Gubmint can’t tell Texans what to do. Hell, they could just secede from the union. Meanwhile, 130,000 women are without healthcare.(8)
6.      Transvaginal ultrasound laws. These by-God got my attention as you’ve read in a previous blog post. Virginia’s Republican legislators pretty much played the doctor on TV with this law. But Virginia is just one state. Crusading Republicans wishing to intimidate women and put (I guess) biblical rods up women’s vaginas have introduced and fought for bills in Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wyoming and…hell yeah, Texas.(9)
7.     One of my personal favorites (not listed by Boxer) is Arizona’s “tell your boss why you’re on the pill” bill. “Replicating but broadening the federal push to let employers deny women access to birth control….the bill stipulates that, unless a woman brings in a note proving she is not using it to avoid getting pregnant, an employer can deny birth control to any woman in the workplace.” Seriously, women need a note from their employers to get their insurance (which they work for) to cover contraception. And why? According to female sponsor Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, “We don’t live in the Soviet Union.” There’s a red news flash. She went on to say “My whole legislation is about our First Amendment rights and freedom of religion.” Whose rights, Debbie? Employers’ rights? Or the religious rights of employees? Hey, those women don’t have to work there, right? Don’t you just love when people force their religion on others and scream about their religious rights being taken from them?(10)
8.       The crusade extends beyond our borders. Since the Senate must ratify all treaties with a 2/3s majority, here’s one that the Republicans won’t seem to budge on: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. You’re probably saying, yeah, but it must be really controversial. It must be for good economic reasons. No, the usual stuff—reproductive freedom discussions, equal rights amendments discussions, etc. The text does not require that, but Republicans grasping their Bibles in one hand and James Dobson’s phone number in the other decided it’s better to fall in line with the other “progressive nations” that have not ratified: Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau and Tonga. Hey, Republicans. Didn’t your moms ever tell you that you are judged by the company you keep?(11)
9.       One more example…and there are many more. Arizona, again. I’m sick of the rain, but there is no amount of sunshine that state offers that could lure me to retire there. A newest piece of legislation that’s causing a kerfuffle is one that will protect doctors from any medical malpractice should they chose to withhold information to their pregnant patients that could lead those women to seek an abortion. While I was shocked to learn about this, I was more shocked to find out that doctors in Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah, Idaho, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and South Dakota can already act like they don’t see something seriously wrong on an ultrasound, or Tay-Sachs disease in a Chorionic villus sampling, or any variety of tragic reports from amniocentesis. No, the doctor’s religion and moral code trumps that of the woman and her family.(12)

Having written this, I know many who read it are going to squirm. Wow. Let’s not attack the Christians, after all, most of us are Christians. I hear you. My mom taught me early on to never make fun of someone’s parents or religion. “Their parents,” she used to say, “is beyond a kid’s control. And a person’s religion is deeply personal and their own business.” Those two factors in a person’s life were off limits for criticism as far as she was concerned.

But my Mom also taught me to stand up for myself. She liked the saying “what’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander.” I do believe it is troubling and even paradoxical to be intolerant of the intolerant. And I accept religions as long as those religions do not attempt to force those beliefs or practices on me. But I think we’re at a point in this country when we have to call bullshit on those extreme elements that have captured legislatures and want to impose their theocratic rule on our daughters’ bodies and earning capacities. The First Amendment's Free Exercise clause is not there to allow people to impose their religious beliefs on others. Unless we start calling this what it is and call these people out, that part of our Constitution is gravely in danger of being reinterpreted to mean “free exercise of a particular form of Christianity.” And that’s not a constitution that is good for women or men.
(2)  The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials. Second Edition. Edited by Edward Peters. University of Pennsylvania Press. Philadelphia, 1971. www.clas.ufl.edu/users/sterk/Practicum/fulcher.pdf
(3)  Why Witches Were Women by Mary Nelson
(4)  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Politics-and-Elections/Many-Americans-Uneasy-with-Mix-of-Religion-and-Politics.aspx
(5)  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Politics-and-Elections/Many-Americans-Uneasy-with-Mix-of-Religion-and-Politics.aspx
(6)  Jesus radically departed from the tenets of the day by teaching women. In one instance, when visiting two sisters in their home, one sister became flustered when making preparations while the other sister sat at his feet to listen to his teachings. He at that point told the flustered woman to chill on the Martha Stewart tasks and focus on learning. (Luke 10:38-42).
(7)  Barbara Boxer, “Foul Play: War on Women Real.” Politico, (4/15/12) Available at: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0412/75143.html
(8)  Amanda Peterson Beadle, “Texans Rally Against Defunding of Planned Parenthood, Which Would Leave 130,000 Without Health Care,” Think Progress. Available at: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/03/07/439979/texans-rally-against-defunding-planned-parenthood/
(9)  Kate Sheppard,“Mandatory Transvaginal Ultrasound Laws: Coming to a State Near You,” Mother Jones. Available at: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2012/03/transvaginal-ultrasounds-coming-soon-state-near-you
(10)                 Annie Rose Strasser, Arizona Senate Committee Endorses ‘Tell Your Boss Why You’re on the Pill” Think Progress, Available at: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/03/14/444111/birth-control-to-control-birth/?mobile=nc
(11)                 This convention has been around since 1979. The text defines discrimination as follows: "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."
(12)                 For a list of Arizona’s bills with pdf texts, see: http://www.azpolicy.org/current-bill-status. A doctor’s opinion on such bills may be read at: http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/03/09/az-allowing-doctors-to-practice-bad-medicine

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hey, Rush, Your Apology’s Not Accepted. You attacked all our daughters!

Okay, I know how this is supposed to work. You’ve had the beee-sponsors squeezed out of you like birds out of the snake that you are. And after gushing out your over-fed dinner, fixed for you by white guys just like you, you wipe your reptilian lips and say, “In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack.” I’m supposed to say, “ahh, he’s contrite. Let’s all be friends.” And I sit here and watch those birds stagger back to life, looking around for another corporate mouth to crawl into, and I say “You didn’t mean a personal attack? Are you fucking kidding me?! You suggested Sandra Fluke post sex videos on line so you could watch! Was that a way to say, 'Howdy?! I deem you an equal'?!"

You’ve been perfecting the ad hominem attack and making a fat king’s ransom out of ripping others for so long, you never thought an attack on a young woman who attends law school would trip you up, did you? You’ve called the First Lady “uppity,” called the President’s economic program “reparations,” and race baited happily to your whitey tighty demographic. They’ve devoured your comments about illegal immigrants being “invasive species,” and your boys’ club relished your description of any group of women who won’t sit down and take any shit as “feminazis.” Hell, you even scorned somebody suffering Parkinsons. Only from a reptilian brain could come that little number about Michael J. Fox! But now you over-stuffed yourself, because you went after our daughters. And here’s a lesson for all you bloviating bullies out there, if you go after our daughters, you’ve got some damn angry mother bears standing right behind them.

See not only are moms protective as hell, but we've all been there. We made it to junior high right as Title IX was just getting started and watched it reluctantly be enforced by smug male administrators throughout our high school years. We got called all those names—slut, prostitute, cunt, you name it—just for breaking into the boys' clubs of better paying jobs or more interesting careers. We got patted on our asses, derided, put down, chided, told we were “too pretty to be doing what we were doing” or “too pretty to talk like that or have that opinion.” At my university in 1978, when I tried to change my major to history and political science, the dean in charge of signing off on the change told me “You’ll never get a teaching job because you don’t coach football.” I told him to sign the damn form and I’d worry about getting the job. Later in my career when I fought that type of discrimination, I once confronted an all male hiring board with the question "have you ever had a woman in your department? And don't you think not having a woman in your department could be perpetuating the idea that women aren't historically or politically important?" Yeah, I was a bitch. And I got that job.

We were also there before Roe v. Wade or available birth control. We watched young girls in our small towns “go away for the summer” and come back chastened and quiet. Others bore children early and stayed in those towns without a hell of a lot of options. All the while the chirpy church ladies were reading Marabel Morgan’s Total Woman and wrapping themselves in cellophane for their husbands and Jesus. Piously and primly lip-sticked they’d literally interpret scripture for us on Sundays telling us about the dangers of sin. Yeah, we understand the hypocrisy of the Fundamentalist Right when it comes to women. Been there, seen that.

We’ve listened to our friends who’ve survived rape. Not metaphorical rape, but rape. The real terrible thing. And we watched those friends cope with what that means in a woman’s life. With what that takes from a woman. We’ve watched the amazing strength of those survivors. We don’t like language that demeans women, period. It’s all part of that whole culture, and we by-God know it.

And Rush, we were around when Anita Hill testified before the white male Senate Judiciary Committee after Clarence Thomas had been nominated to the Supreme Court in 1991. We watched and got pissed then when a white boys’ club grilled a professional and intelligent African American woman on deeply personal sexual issues. White male senators “shocked” that something like “sexual harassment” even existed.

So you political parasite feasting on the blood money you make from rancor and hate, you’ve gone after one of our own. For every time a woman is publicly scorned and reduced to a sexualized snark for having an opinion, we all are—and in the words of the Dixie Chicks—

“We’re not ready to make nice
We’re not ready to back down…”

So save your PR-written apologies. They're no good here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Welcome to Gilead: Now Spread Those Pretty Little Handmaid Legs for Your Transvaginal Ultrasound.

The problem at my age having read a shit load of both fiction and politics is sometimes I get the two worlds crossed. Take this week. I guess I thought I was living in 2012 America—quirky, polarized, crazy as hell in the South, sure--but still bound by the Supreme Court ruling in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey,, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). You remember, that pesky little no “undue burden standard” left us by Sandra Day O’Connor when she was the swing vote darling on the Supreme Court? What was undue burden? Well, it was O’Connor’s grand bargain, tenuously upholding a woman’s right to choose an abortion if need be, but it prevented states from placing any "substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability." I went to sleep last night thinking that decision was still in place and that birth control was a standard and accepted feature of women’s health. I slumbered in a blissfully ignorant state where the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause protects more than just corporate speech. It protects my daughter’s privacy.

But good gynecological gawd! I awoke this morning, not in America, but scared shitless in Gilead, Margaret Atwood’s cautionary theocratic and authoritarian hell for women. If you haven’t read that book, The Handmaid’s Tale, you’d recognize the setting—it’s a lot like Texas, Oklahoma, and now Virginia. These are the clever uber-patriarchal states that have passed “transvaginal ultrasound laws,” which require women to submit to having rods with cameras rammed up their vaginas for no medical purpose other than to shame the women and edify the Republican right. Seriously, this week’s news is so much like Atwood’s 1986 “scare-your-Victoria-Secrets-panties-off” world where fundamentalists are in power and female suffrage, contraception, abortion, hell even women’s literacy are verboten that I’m sporting a red robe tonight. The Gilead she portrayed put dissidents, non-Christians, and homosexuals to death. In this dick-led dystopia, pollutants damaged the nation’s inhabitants to the point of mass infertility. So those in the high echelons who were eggless or with sperm that preferred to hang out and pray rather than swim used “handmaids” for procreation. Those “lucky” women with a good crop of eggs were treasured brood sows for barren, upper crust Christian couples. Offred, named for Fred, the commander who owns her (Of Fred—get it?), must endure monthly couplings when Fred mounts her like a sweaty, panting missionary while she lies between his seething wife’s legs. Yuck. The image of Rick Santorum in this role is doing me a hell of a lot of emotional damage that might only be remedied by a full Saturday of George Clooney movies and a Costco pack of D cell batteries. Without such an intervention, I might become completely asexual.

But let’s explore these “transvaginal ultrasound laws.” Of course, they’re not called that. No, they’re dressed up in nice little Orwellian dresses like Virginia’s law, which claims it’s all part of “informed consent for abortion.” But when women “consent” to the abortion, those “Commanders of the Faithful”—that top tier crowd of men quite pious and planted in Virginia’s legislature-- have written the law so that women also “consent” to having their vaginas probed by a ultrasound wand. In other words, no camera up your vagina; no abortion. There’s no consent at all. 

This procedure, of course, is entirely unnecessary. In fact, according to the American College of Radiology and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, “for first-trimester ultrasound scanning, ACOG recommends trans-vaginal or trans-perineal scanning if the trans-abdominal exam is not definitive. ACOG offers a list of 12 “indications” for doing this type of scan, which include attempts to confirm a suspected ectopic pregnancy, to assess for fetal anomalies, to evaluate vaginal bleeding or pelvic pain, or to estimate gestational age.” (VA Ultrasound Bill at Odds with Medical Standards) Abortion simply didn’t make their list. So the only reason to write such a procedure into law is to humiliate and intimidate a woman seeking an abortion.

Virginia, of course, is not alone in passing these state in your woo hoo laws. And who's really surprised that Texas has one? I mean really. In Texas, the “OfRicks”, or women whose vaginas are now property of the state should they choose abortion are required to sign this “consent” form:


Talk about the progressive part of Gilead! At least in Texas, if you've been raped, a second penetration of your vagina may be waved with the above clause. Those boys are so thoughtful down there. Across the border in Oklahoma, that's where you'll find some tough fundamentalist sons-of-bitches though. By God, rape is no excuse there! No whining! No sympathy. Suck it up! Here comes the wand. The commanders are fully in charge in the "Sooner State."

And hell, I haven't even started talking about the "personhood laws." Laws that make birth control that prevents implantation after fertilization illegal, not to mention thirty other scenarios I can't even begin to write about. Blood pressure....eating binge...too many side effects for me at this point. (Deep breath and sigh.)

Clearly we’re all living in a scary land. Our daughters are nothing more than “two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.” (The Handmaid’s Tale)  Rick Santorum, about three hairs to the right of Pope Benedict XVI, says of contraception:  “It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative.” Today Darrel Issa, “Chair-commander” of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, framed nicely an investigation on women’s health coverage entitled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State:  Has the Obama Administration trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” That he didn’t allow women to testify made it clear what kind of rules we’re to operate under in Gilead.

As Offred tells us in The Handmaid’s Tale, “I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.” The sad, fucking truth is that this is real, and it’s up to us as women to stand up and get mad. So call your legislator, sign a petition, and get ready to march in comfortable shoes, cause ladies, we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do!

So get busy. Here's a way to start.  
1. Send your senator an email:    Senate emails
2. Send your member of Congress an email:House email link
3. You might send a note to Representative Darrel Issa and let him know that women should be a part of any discussion of birth control: Representative Darrell Issa

4. A boycott of Virginia and letting Governor Bob McDonnell know why you won't be visiting might be a nice touch:Governor Bob McDonnell, Virginia 
Of course, that's just a start. There are other ways...but no need wasting a good snit.