when the status quo frustrates.

The Texas School Board Is At It Again

Friday, March 19th, 2010

All I can say is, thank God my kids aren’t being educated by the Texas public school system. Much like Sarah Palin, they lend themselves to easy mockery–but unfortunately they can’t be discounted; they did win at least part of their battle to cheat the children of Texas out of a thoroughly factual science education (State education board approves science standards: New standards remove specific references to age of the universe) Like kids today need to know how old the universe is anyway! Tchaa!

Now that science has been gutted as well as they could manage, the Texas school board is turning its gimlet eye upon our history books, with fairly predictable results. Here are a few of my favorites from the Proposed Revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 113,Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies, Subchapter C, High School Curriculum, with the Board’s deletions shown crossed out and additions in bold –hope you enjoy them as much as I did:

(4)
History. The student understands the emergence of the United States as a world power between 1898 and 1920. The student is expected to:

(A)
explain why significant events, policies, and individuals, including such as the Spanish-American War, U.S. imperialism expansionism, Henry Cabot Lodge, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and Theodore Roosevelt, Samuel Dole, and missionaries moved the United States into the position of a world power;

(8)
History. The student understands the impact of significant national and international decisions and conflicts in the Cold War on the United States. The student is expected to:

(6)(D)(A)
describe U.S. responses to Soviet expansion aggression after World War II, including the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Berlin airlift, and John F. Kennedy’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis;

‘Cause when we do it, it’s quite different from when those nasty Commies do it!

(B)
describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government ;

(Notes from the Board meeting: Back when McLeroy was chairman of the SBOE, he sent a list of hand-scrawled editing instructions to the board-appointed curriculum writing committee, made up mostly of educators (the exception was McLeroy’s appointee, contrarian conservative gadfly Bill Ames). It included a note on this standard…it read: “Read the latest on McCarthy — he was basically vindicated.” …McLeroy said he got his ideas from a book by M. Staton Evans, a conservative writer, entitled Blacklisted by History. A Publisher’s Weekly review says Evans is “given to conspiracy thinking—an approach that, by its nature, yields claims that can neither be confirmed nor falsified. Defense attorneys and debaters like Evans follow different rules than historians—they try to score points, not to advance knowledge.” TFN quotes what it calls the leading scholar on the subject, Harvey Khler, a professor at Emory University and author of Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. “The new information from Russian and American archives does not vindicate McCarthy. He remains a demagogue, whose wild charges actually made the fight against Communist subversion more difficult.”)

Sixty years from now, Texas will also be teaching its children that the Patriot Act is the only reason why we’re not all now facing Mecca with turbans on our heads five times a day at gunpoint. Civil liberties are so overrated. Can’t wait!

(C)
identify the causes of World War I and reasons for U.S. entry involvement in World War I, including propaganda (information disseminated by an organization or government to promote a policy, idea, or cause) and unrestricted submarine warfare;

Can’t have the kiddies learning about the government engaging in propaganda to garner popular support for engaging in a war on foreign soil! They might apply that knowledge somewhere outside their history class, you know.

(E)
evaluate the explain the roles played by significant military contributions of leaders during World War II, including Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Oveta Culp Hobby, Benjamin O. Davis, Chester A. Nimitz, George Marshall, and George Patton; and

Women and black people are overrated too!

(D)
identify the roles of significant leaders who supported or opposed of the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Betty Friedan, George Wallace, and others;

Well, I guess it wasn’t possible for them to delete the black people from the Civil Rights history bloc, but hey, at least they managed to get rid of the women!

(10)
History. The student understands the impact of political, economic, and social factors in the U.S. role in the world from the 1970s through 1990. The student is expected to:

(A)
describe Richard M. Nixon’s role leadership in the normalization of relations with China and the policy of détente;
(B)
describe Ronald Reagan’s leadership in domestic and international policies ,

Because kids in high school won’t understand otherwise that the President is a “leader” and think instead that the Presidents’ “roles” are what they ate for breakfast..? I’m actually kinda surprised they didn’t go ahead and amend the above to say HEROIC leadership! or possibly Chuck Norris wears Nixon-and-Reagan pajamas to bed every night! (which now that I think about Chuck Norris’s political views, he probably does)

(C)
discuss the role analyze the impact of third party parties candidates such as Ross Perot and Ralph Nader on presidential elections ;

And for a contrast to the pedestal being raised for previous presidentially-related folks, we now see who deserves to have his name cast down forever into oblivion BLEHHH! ..third parties are clearly inspired by Satan anyway.

B)
identify analyze the causes of the Great Depression, including the impact of tariffs on the decline in worldwide trade, buying stock on margin, the stock market crash speculation, and bank failures, and actions the flawed monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System;

Whatever causes the US economy to collapse have a few issues, be it farther back in the past OR IN RECENT TIMES DAMMIT, it so isn’t the fault of Free Enterprise!

And last but not least:

(B)
describe the impact of significant examples of cultural movements in art, music, and literature such as Tin Pan Alley, the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat Generation, rock and roll, the Chicano Mural Movement, and hip hop , and country and western music on American society , including;

(Notes from the Board meeting: “I’d like to delete hip-hop and add country,” said McLeroy. Some board members, particularly African-American member Lawrence Allen, D-Fresno, did not take kindly to the suggestion. “What exactly do you think hip-hop is? You might be deleting something you know nothing about,” Allen told McLeroy. An extended debate ensued, and McLeroy lost.)

How To Take a Quote Completely Out of Context

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

I haven’t written much about religion lately, mostly because I am the midst of a personal spiritual journey–saying so just like that here sounds remarkably pretentious, I can’t help but notice. :) BUT the point is, until I’m done…well, I don’t suppose I’ll ever quite be done, but…until I’m rather more settled on the precise direction of said journey, I haven’t wanted to try to tease out any coherent sentences on the topic. But I really couldn’t resist this.

As Jeff at Alas, A Blog says, it is pretty interesting to see Jesus presenting the Constitution of the United States to the admiring multitudes a la Moses and the Ten Commandments…er, what a creative idea! On so many levels. But really, my favorite part is the collection of quotes included on the page, demonstrating that no matter what somebody says, you absolutely can twist it around to mean whatever it is you really want it to mean! (Also, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Abraham Lincoln? Not a Founding Father. Born, as a matter of fact, 22 years after the signing of the Constitution…I guess all that ancient history just starts to blur together in the minds of idiots the zealous…)

My favorite quote is the one presented from Thomas Jefferson, to wit:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed from their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God?” — Thomas Jefferson

HA! CLEARLY Jefferson is saying that atheism is a threat to the liberties of our nation (!!11!) Believe and believe NOW, ye heathens, or the wrath of God and State shall fall upon thee..!

…um. Well. Actually…no…if you want to see the whole, entire quote:

“The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execrations should the statesman be loaded who, permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part and the amor patriae of the other. For if a slave can have a country in this world, it must be any other in preference to that in which he is born to live and labor for another: in which he must lock up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as depends on his individual endeavors to the evanishment of the human race or entail his own miserable condition on the endless generations proceeding from him. With the morals of the people, their industry is also destroyed. For in a warm climate, no man will labor for himself who can make another labor for him. This is so true that, of the proprietors of slaves, a very small proportion are ever seen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure, when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?

Slavery, folks. Slavery was the threat to the liberties of our nation, and Jefferson was actually decrying the Christianity-based reasoning that far too many proponents of slavery used to justify keeping other human beings in a state of mean and miserable servitude. But context, schmontext! The word “God” is in there, dammit, and that’s good enough for us..!

Sigh.

It’s Banned Books Week!

Monday, September 28th, 2009

I love Banned Books Week! Some of my favorite books of all time are banned books…I mean, check out this list of classics! Admittedly, a lot of the banning action took place decades ago, but lest anyone think we’ve relaxed our deathgrip on the minds of our children in this new millenium, here are a nice collection of more recent incidents to sneer at:

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Sallinger: Removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in Summerville, SC (2001) because it “is a filthy, filthy book.”

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck*: Banned from the George County, Miss. schools (2002) because of profanity.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Challenged in Foley, Alabama (2000) because of the depictions of “orgies, self-flogging, suicide” and characters who show “contempt for religion, marriage, and the family.” The book was removed from the library, pending review.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: Burned in Alamagordo, N. Mex. (2001) outside Christ Community Church along with other Tolkien novels as satanic.

If you’re interested in the most up-to-date reporting on the 2008 open season on communication of unapproved ideas, the American Library Association puts out a yearly list of the books that are challenged, restricted, removed or banned–see if your favorites are on there too!

Leaving you with the bittersweet taste of irony, from January of this year. Enjoy!

*I might sympathize with an attempt to ban it from required reading lists–yes, it was on mine in high school–based on the fact that it sucks ass and there are at least one hundred more interesting and compelling novels that could immediately and happily replace it…but no, I have to defend John Steinbeck’s biggest load of crap evar based on principle. A shame, but there you have it.

Polanski arrest worse than Nazi aid

Monday, September 28th, 2009

A woman named Joan Z. Shore from Belgium founded an organization called Women Overseas for Equality. Sounds like a good thing, right? I mean, I tend to be for equality whether or not you and I are separated by large bodies of water, but unless she’s straight-up old-school colonialist about it, I can endorse being concerned about the combination of Women, Equality, and Oversea-ness.

Now, last I checked, America was overseas from Belgium. And it has women in it. And sometimes those women are raped by famous movie directors who flee the country when a judge catches that person acting like an a-hole after making a plea deal that will get him off scot free.

Now, I could be completely hammer-to-the-head insane, but doesn’t it seem like “equality” is meant as a synonym for “justice,” and that justice for a woman who is raped is, at the very least, to see her attacker brought to justice? I realize Polanski’s victim just wants the case gone, but there’s also the question of the broader social implication of just letting rape go if you’re famous and rich enough to evade the law for a couple decades. That doesn’t seem like much equality to me.

Apparently Joan Z. Shore disagrees. But before we get into that, let’s be clear about something: The Swiss used to be cool.

I used to admire [The Swiss] — their clean, orderly, decorous way of life. Their stubborn independence and self-reliance. I forgave them for the years they never joined the United Nations, and even now, not joining the European Union.

I always love talking about a nation’s people like they’re identical beings popped right off the national assembly line. Who doesn’t love the Borg?

There was so much affection wafting from Shore towards the Swiss that she even waived the Wand of Dismissal o’er the Swiss collaboration with Nazi Germany:

When I learned, years ago, that they had blithely allowed German military trains to transit their country during the Second World War, while claiming Swiss “neutrality,” I was shocked, but tried to excuse them on grounds that they were protecting their country from invasion and armed warfare.

But now? This Roman Polanski extradition is, objectively, the most heinous act in the history of the multiverse.

Arresting Roman Polanski the other day in Zurich, where he was to receive an honorary award at a film festival, was disgraceful and unjustifiable. Polanski, now 76, has been living in France for over thirty years, and has been traveling and working in Europe unhindered, but the Swiss acted on an old extradition treaty with the U.S. and seized him!

So, we have understandable Nazi compliance, but “disgusting and unjustifiable” extradition of an admitted rapist escaping punishment. This seems like a clear-headed view of the situation.

Making this an even more sensitive equivocation by Ms. Shore, Polanski was a Holocaust refugee. I wonder what he’d say if you put this question to Polanski himself: is it easier to forgive a country for turning over a wanted criminal or for letting the Nazis ship troops and supplies on its railways?

I won’t answer for him, but I will say this: Switzerland may be brought to their knees by Shore’s uber-classy, enlightened call to action.

I suggest, in the finest American tradition, we protest this absurd and deplorable act by smashing our cuckoo clocks, pawning our Swiss watches, and banning Swiss cheese and chocolate.

And let them yodel all they like.

Sounds like a person totally invested in equality to me.

Whackjobs

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Really.

About 12 people were carrying guns, including at least one semi-automatic assault rifle, outside a building where President Obama was speaking today.

CNN’s Ed Henry reported seeing a second man with an assault rifle, but that has not been confirmed.

These reports come less than a week after two people brought guns to a presidential event in Portsmouth, N.H.

Another man in Portsmouth was spotted carrying a gun in a leg holster outside the school. The unconcealed weapon was legal under New Hampshire law and he was not arrested. Later, when asked why he brought the gun, he replied, “That’s not even a relevant question. The question is, why don’t people bear arms these days?”

“These days..?” What days, exactly, were those in which people routinely walked around town with a gun (or two) hanging out of their trous? Um, yeah, if you guessed that for at least the past 100 years that would be never, you are correct. As a matter of fact, the last time this was a phenomenon that could be routinely seen anywhere in the United States was in the late 1800s in the western territories, and even then, it wasn’t your standard everyday citizen who carted an arsenal along with him as part of his daily routine–it was, well, the criminals. Ie, those who intended to terrify the standard everyday citizens into doing what they wanted them to do, which generally consisted of activities that were directly in opposition to those standard, everyday citizens’ best interests.

Pathetic. Lame. And yes, scary, because there’s nothing scarier than a deadly weapon in the hands of a total flaming moron, I admit. It’s bad enough that those types are allowed to operate motor vehicles, frankly. However, scary is not the same as intimidating–intimidation only comes into play if the persons generating the scary are not simultaneously inspiring a generous helping of contempt in the bosoms of their targets. As the law enforcement personnel present on the scenes consistently say: “If we need to intervene, we will intervene at that time.” (The Y-A-W-N! accompanying those statements is unspoken, but pretty damn hard to miss.)

Oh, well. These types are prime candidates for acquiring themselves Darwin Awards at a much higher rate than the rest of the population; I think we can just sit around and wait for natural selection to take its course. And hopefully they won’t accidentally blow off anyone else’s foot before inevitability catches up with them.

Happy Independence Day (and Belated Canada Day)

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Happy 4th of July everyone! Today we celebrate the day that our Founding Fathers did a very brave thing by mailing a copy of the Declaration of Independence to the King of England. Of course, since mail in those days was really slow, he didn’t get it for months later, but, this is the day where there was no turning back for the country- there would be independence or there would be a war.

When I lived in Washington, there was always a joint party on either the 2nd or the 3rd with Canada, where both countries celebrated our respective days and our long and enduring friendship. In North Dakota, it was the same thing, except it was held at the International Peace Garden. So, even though it was three days ago, I want to give a shout-out to Canada, and how they gained their independence by filing the correct paperwork (in hindsight, I wish the early Americans would have thought about doing that.)

All joking aside, today is the day that I really think about what it means to be an American. For all of the complaining that some conservatives say about liberals and our patriotism, I think that in a very real way liberals understand that it’s not the dirt that we were born on that makes us Americans. The United States is not great because we have the largest economy, nor is it great because we have arguably the most powerful military on the globe. We are great because we are a shifting, arguing, debating, fighting experiment of democracy. We are not a perfect country, and should never pretend we are, but the ideals that we have are worth striving for, and worth struggling over and yes, worth being proud of.
(more…)

William Saletan makes me sick.

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

I’m not kidding. Every week, day in and day out, I see his articles on Slate; I usually manage to restrain myself from clicking on them—on the rare occasions I fail to do so, I’m almost always sorry. Past failures of cognition on his part have included this fine series on how black people are genetically stupider than white people and how wrong it is to pillory scientists who take this as their conclusion and then creatively deconstruct as much data as possible to support that, for instance. Or this one, where he pooh-poohs the notion that it might be humiliating or even detrimental to your health to have your contraceptive prescription refused and praises “crisis pregnancy centers,” which have a well-known history of tricking women inside by pretending to be Planned Parenthood and offering both medically unnecessary ultrasounds and no trained medical advice whatsoever.

What I’m saying is, I knew better but I clicked on the link to his latest masterpiece (entitled “Rethinking the age of sexual consent”) anyway. And yep, barely got into the thing before I happened across this gem:

The original age of consent, codified in English common law and later adopted by the American colonies, ranged from 10 to 12. In 1885, Britain and the states began raising the age to 16, ostensibly to protect girls’ natural innocence.

Let me be blunt, Mr. Saletan: It’s not only a shame that a dumbass like you actually gets paid to write articles, it’s unbelievable. Do you ever conduct any research outside of the confines of your tiny brain? Here, let me do your work for you–and oh, my God, I have to say, as a working journalist (which I am not! yet I knew about it) you really, really ought to have heard about this at least one time in the whole course of your professional life.

(more…)

Rita MacNeil, Communist menace

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Mountie
How quaint! Too bad he’s spying on you.

I’m no fan of the RCMP, one of our glorious national symbols. They had a historical role in abducting indigenous children from their families so that they could be tortured, brainwashed, and frequently killed in residential schools. More recently, they’ve been responsible for an out-of-control taser epidemic that has included the violent sexual assault of a young girl.

Occasionally, though, their role has been laughable as well as simply evil. Yesterday, for example, it came out that they spied on the Canadian feminist movement in the 1970s, apparently on the lookout for commie infiltrators.

Instead, they found Canadian musical icon Rita MacNeil.

Rita MacNeil
Communist menace Rita MacNeil

This is particularly funny if your knowledge of MacNeil comes primarily from catching the odd Rita and Friends on CBC when you were a kid, but apparently she wrote a lot of “women’s lib songs” back in the day.

The article is a scream. Some choice quotes:

While the Mounties recognized the groups were out to “stop so-called exploitation of women,” as one officer put it, the force was much more concerned about the apparent infiltration of the movement by avowed Communist interests.

So-called.

The memo on the Winnipeg conference describes one session as “consisting of about 100 sweating, uncombed women standing around in the middle of the floor with their arms around each other crying sisterhood and dancing.”

I am really glad it wasn’t my tax dollars paying for Mounties to go see Rita MacNeil in concert.

The Mounties, used to keeping tabs on organizations run by men, didn’t know quite what to make of the long-haired women in scruffy blue jeans.

“They were at a loss to understand their strategies, their goals, their tactics,” said Sethna, who teaches at the University of Ottawa.

Blue jeans, as we know, are a feminist and lesbian uniform.

Anyway, my country is apparently laughing its collective ass off today, but I hope some people will pause in their well-earned giggles and see the reflection of this absurd “intelligence gathering” in the present day War on Terror.

“Men” and “mankind” apparently not being defined to include “ambulatory wombs.”

Monday, July 21st, 2008

After having spent my adult life variously not being a mom, being a married mom, being a single mom, being a mom who stayed at home and being a mom who worked outside the home, I have come to the conclusion that if you are a fertile woman of childbearing years, no matter what you’re doing in terms of marriage and motherhood and career, you’re wrong. To wit:

1. You’re married, you get pregnant, choose to give birth, and decide to stay at home with the baby.

Lazy! Self-indulgent! and just GIVING away all the advances women have made in terms of career equality! Get a job!

2. You’re married, you get pregnant, choose to give birth, and decide to work outside the home without the baby.

Selfish! It isn’t all about YOU and YOUR fulfillment anymore, you have a child to think of now! you just don’t want to have to live within your means! You need to raise your OWN child!

3. You’re married, you get pregnant and choose to have an abortion.

Murderer! If you didn’t want to have kids you should have gotten your tubes tied! If you have a husband and a home, there is no excuse for not stepping up to the plate and carrying that life you created to term!

4. You’re married and you choose not to get pregnant.

Immature! Self-centered! Look at Europe–do you want to see our culture crash too? It isn’t all about you, you have a duty to society! It’s time to GROW UP and take on your responsibilities!

5. You’re not married, you get pregnant, choose to give birth, and decide to stay at home with the baby.

Leech! It isn’t society’s responsibility to care for your child conceived due to your irresponsible behavior! Get out there and get a job!

6. You’re not married, you get pregnant, choose to give birth, and decide to work outside the home without the baby.

Slut! Our culture is collapsing because of the explosion of all you single mothers! Why didn’t you give that baby to a real family that could raise it properly instead of shoving it off onto strangers!

7. You’re not married, you get pregnant and choose to have an abortion.

Slut! And now you think it’s okay to take another human life so you can just erase your careless, selfish behavior! You spread your legs, now you need to step up the the plate and take your medicine like an adult!

8. You’re not married and you choose not to get pregnant.

What’s wrong with you? Are you that ugly and unpleasant that no man wants to commit to you, or are you just a selfish whore?

(more…)

The Minority People Care a Lot Less About

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008


“Geronimo,” or “Something people say when they jump out of airplanes.”

It’s funny because I think if I wasn’t actually of Native American ancestry, I’d write more about them–as it stands, though, I suppose I feel like there is much less excuse for my lack of real in-depth knowledge about the history and culture–I’ve always had an odd reluctance to study more, as well. One reason for that sounds very strange to me (and it’s my reason! so it shouldn’t, but it does anyway): I’m afraid to get even more upset about it than I am from my basis of general historical knowledge only. After all, a full quarter of my relatives from my paternal grandfather on backwards, that is who they were–an exponential climb every generation–yet I have never met personally anyone who is a full-blooded Apache. Not once. The only person I have ever known who was even half was my father.

And mostly, people don’t care. They are either entirely ignorant or they think all Native Americans live on reservations and operate casinos. And they don’t even know what “reservations” really are, other than that’s where Native Americans can be found. Why not?

Probably in part because there are so few of them left. Of the approximately 300 million US citizen currently floating around, only about 3 million of those self-identify as Native Americans, or about 1%. According to Wikipedia, eight out of ten people of Native American ancestry today (including Yours Truly) are of mixed blood, and that number is expected to rise to nine out of ten by 2100.

The other part, of course, is that the government as a whole has been quite dedicated to wiping them out, either literally or culturally, for a very long time now, and that hasn’t really changed, either. As recently as 2000, the Washington State Republican Party adopted a resolution of termination for tribal governments–it’s even hard to believe they’d want to bother, given the statistics in the previous paragraph, but clearly for some, the desire for complete destruction is still quite strong. The Jim Crow laws with their “one-drop” policy of racial classification are thankfully gone–however, the “blood quantum” laws for Native Americans, which to my knowledge very few people are even aware of, still exist and are even in use both intertribally and on the Federal level today. (A cute anecdote–when I was about a year and a half old, a woman from the Bureau of Indian Affairs came out to visit my mother to get the paperwork started on my “blood quantum” legal status–apparently she knocked on our apartment door and my mother, me slung over her hip, answered. The woman took one look at the tall, white-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed woman with the little white-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed baby girl in her arms, muttered something about “sorry, wrong address” and just turned around and left.)

Something pretty cool happened back in May, though–

The Crow Nation welcomed Sen. Barack Obama Monday afternoon before thousands of people, marking the presidential candidate’s first campaign visit to a U.S. reservation.

Obama was invited to visit the tribe’s homeland after leaders of the Crow, or Apsaalooke, decided to endorse the Illinois senator last week.

Obama’s visit to the Crow Reservation marks an unusual presidential campaign foray into tribal lands. Bobby Kennedy is arguably the last known presidential candidate to do so, campaigning on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation in 1968.

That’s pretty different. And not only is it different, the vast majority of American voters couldn’t really care less–so clearly it wasn’t done to impress anybody important, was it?

And apparently on his website, Obama promises to “appoint a National American Indian Policy Advisor to serve as a member of his White House staff and create the National American Indian Advisory Council.” Far as I know, that’s a complete first in terms of presidential candidates period.

Gives lie to the title of this post. I’m humbled, and heartened.

Note: I haven’t posted any stats here about Native Americans and their truly hideous, as far as I know the very worst among any group classified as a “minority” in America, numbers on, say, violence and alcoholism and failure to graduate even high school and living below the poverty line, etc. etc.–if there’s an interest, let me know and I’ll throw up some links.

Peak Banana

Monday, May 26th, 2008

I don’t like bananas, but even if I did, I wouldn’t eat them. United Fruit, the reason that we have the bananas that we have today, is basically the template for ruthless, evil corporations, pursuing unimaginable profits as the cost of human rights and the environment.

Within the next few decades, short of a scientific miracle, the bananas that we’re used to will cease to exist. That’s also United Fruit’s fault, incidentally. Check out Johann Hari’s fascinating article on the subject.

Is there a parable for our times in this odd milkshake of banana, blood and fungus? For a hundred years, a handful of corporations were given a gorgeous fruit, set free from regulation, and allowed to do what they wanted with it. What happened? They had one good entrepreneurial idea – and to squeeze every tiny drop of profit from it, they destroyed democracies, burned down rainforests, and ended up killing the fruit itself.

Anyway, it turns out that the banana-as-we-know-it is not so much the atheist’s nightmare:

…as it is a freakish creation of mankind’s greed and cruelty. Sorry, Kirk Cameron!

The Medicalization of Childbirth

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Last week, I finished watching “The Business of Being Born“. Ricki Lake did this documentary to highlight the differences in treatment she had with her two children. One was done at the hospital, and ended up as a Cesarean. One was at home, with a midwife, and it was videotaped.

Interspaced between this was some history of childbirth, particularly in the United States. Starting at around the turn of the century, births shifted from something that was at home, to something that was done at a hospital. This shift was not because medical science was particularly good at childbearing (or really, because it was even as midwifery) but because an interesting intersection that we all know and love: capitalism, sexism, and racism. Doctors at the time went on a massive advertising campaign, aimed at telling women that other women were not as good at delivering babies as they were. That these Russian, German, and other immigrant women just wanted your money, and you were a bad mother if you didn’t go to the hospital to get a delivery done there. Interestingly enough; it was not actually safer to go to the hospital, if you were in labor. Midwifery had been around for awhile, women knew how to deliver babies. They, at the very least, knew that you washed your hands before you went to the next birth, something that doctors at the time considered immaterial. Midwifes also knew to listen to a pregnant women when she was in labor, as opposed to putting up a sheet and ignoring her. They also knew that squatting, or in water, was an easier and safer way to give birth then lying on one’s back, where you have to not only have to work against your body, but gravity (but hey, with your legs like that, it was easier for the doctor).

It then went on to talk about “twilight sleep” or “zombie sleep”. For those of you who are unfamiliar (and I certainly was before I saw this) twilight sleep was when a women came to the hospital, and then was injected with morphine and scopolamine. Now, supposedly this was to kill pain; but what it really did was put pregnant women into an alternate state of mind, so that they forgot the labor pains. They also forgot the labor. And how to control their own body. Women had to be tied down to the bed, (with sheepskin, so that they wouldn’t leave big bruises or scratches). Watching the videos were again horrific: a women, tied to a bed, thrashing about, with a curtain at her midsection, and four white guys staring intently at her uterus. For something that is normally held as one of the most feminine of experiences, it was eerily impersonal.*

The movie then continued to show the difference between medical birth and midwifery. For one thing, the births done with a midwife seemed a whole lot less painful. The midwife was there the whole time, as opposed to a doctor who showed up at the last second. The position seemed more comfortable as well; if the woman wanted to get up and walk around, she was allowed to. If she wanted to squat, she squatted. With a midwife, they listened to what the women said she wanted. With the doctors, it seemed as if the doctor told her what she wanted.

Not to say that the movie was Luddite, at all. Every midwife there said that she was grateful that there was the knowledge of obstetricians out there, for the complicated births. But they all made mention that, 9 times out of 10, women did not need to go to the doctor. That first and foremost, those doctors are surgeons, and sometimes do unnecessary cesareans out of misplaced concern, or because of time constraints, that is not actually healthy for the mother or the new baby. They compared infant mortality in the United States with other countries in Europe where it was far more common to have a midwife, and lo and behold, the US has more infant deaths then Europe. However, they never proved a causal relationship; there are a variety of reasons why that might be.

Among the problems of medicalization they talked about, one was talking about how the introduction of medicine was playing weird problems with women’s hormones. First, a women is given an epidural, for the pain. But an epidural numbs more than just pain, it also makes it more difficult to have contractions. So then, a women is given pitocin, which is a synthetic form of oxytocin (the birthing hormone). Pitocin has some major problems though: first, the contractions it causes are longer, and stronger (and therefore more painful). Also, it can constrict bloodflow to the uterus, so that the fetus has less oxygen flowing to it. So, to numb the pain, they give the women another epidural. And this starts the cycle again, until the fetus goes into distress (and the mother is also pretty distressed at this point as well). At this point, they rush the women to get a Cesarean, leaving a scar in the women, an increased risk of infection, and a now-distressed baby.

A few things struck me watching this film, in no particular order:

1) Why does any women ever (well, with Tom Beatty make that any person) ever get and stay pregnant long enough to give birth? Seriously, even with the midwife, water births, were it just seemed like a grunt and slip, and “ooo, baby” it still seemed painful, long, and full of viscera. This movie made me hug my orthotricyclin like no one’s business.

2) This movie was far too crunchy for my tastes. I can see why childbirth is a unique experience for women, because it is generally just women that can do it. But seriously, I prefer the ideas they mention at the end a lot better: where hospitals have birthing centers, where midwifes work. You can have your birth in a water way, or at the very least squatting, but you are still at the hospital if you are that 1 in 10 case that needs emergency help.

3) What is it with some guys and their seemingly uncontrollable urges to take women’s experiences and define them/ control them? First you have medical doctors saying that women don’t actually know what’s going on for pregnancy, and then you have guys making laws about when it’s okay for us to have an abortion, and guys who think that birth control is emasculating, and guys who seem to think they know what happens during PMS better than women. It’s really annoying; I don’t assume to know what it’s like to have blue balls, why should they assume they have any IDEA what it’s like to go around in a feminine fleshy meatbag?

This movie is one that I think people should definitely watch** (if you have a netflix account, it’s instantly downloadable, by the way). It shows a very interesting perception of childbirth, from women’s point of view.

*Interestingly enough, the feminists at the time held up scopolamine as a liberation. The movie made mention that at the time, childbirth was still thought as something that should be as painful as possible, for the “curse of eve”. The feminist at the time, saw this as an opportunity to not have to suffer through childbirth, and jumped on the opportunity to show that no, childbirth was painful because there wasn’t the medicine to fix it, not because of any Biblical curse. Next time an anti-choicer shows up saying that early feminists were against abortion (which they should have been, because at the time an abortion had more of a chance of killing you than childbirth), point out that they also supported drugging women during childbirth. We are all a part of the time we grew up in, bound by some of those mindsets and technologies.

**If you’re like me, you’ll watch most of this movie through slits in your fingers. Seriously, think horror movie viscera, and then imagine in that in your most sensitive parts.