Saturday, June 10, 2006

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Over on Bitch,PhD, as an outgrowth of comments on non-commenting about a grad-student survey, Dr B. posed the question of, essentially, civility in discourse:

"...So. The readers of this blog are a pretty diverse group, actually. And mostly, I hope, more interested in discussion and conversation than in simply reinforcing prejudices (our own, or other people's).

And we all know that the current political climate is a … nightmare. What do you believe? Where do we overlap? Where do we differ, and why, and what does that mean? And what in heaven's name do we have in common?

And can we manage to talk about all without taking offense, or being offensive? ...

Her post covers more than a few data points on the issue, but she manages to get across her view, and her question’s basis. The comments thread is diverse (and growing like a weed) and, like Twin Peaks coffee from the RR Diner, is “Damn fine.”

That said, I don't know if the current climate can be made to support actual dialog over any extended basis.

The very first comment to her post illustrated some of what I see is a deep symptom of the issue -- there are factions on both the right, and the left, who don't want a dialog.

From my own (lefty) perspective, it is obvious that those on the right of the aisle (of course!) seem to be the more of a multitude who don't want to seek a common ground, but there are lefties who are just as much buttheads as anybody on the right.

But (and here my progressive bias shows), it also seems that a certain faction of the right-wing, who I will label, for want of a better term, as being "pseudo-conservatives," are actively interested in forcing their views on everybody else without even a pretense of dialog or compromise.

Some of them admit this, and claim it as a virtue, saying they are "being more honest" in their espousal of these views. I don't know if "honest" is the proper phrase, or "naked and scary."

As a case in point, last year, when I was somewhat new to publishing my own blog, there was a blogger who made an open invitation to both sides of the aisle to come to her space and dialog about a particular issue, and to do so in a controlled and non-violent manner.

It worked, for about 3 days.

Then the rightists decided that, essentially, they would *not* tolerate any dialog with those from the left unless it was on the terms of unconditional surrender to all the stipulations of the right. The expressed, collective, opinion was that there was no need for tolerating the expression of differing viewpoints. That to do so would be to somehow sully the purity of their thought. And, yes, that seemed to be the collective opinion. And the writer who had issued the invitation decided to join the collective.

There are some on the left who make the same claim. From what I can see, however, most who make that claim from the left are usually engaged into dialog with others from the left, and if they persist are usually ignored (by the left) or given a pat on the hand and told to come back when they can deal with the prospect of dissent in the ranks.

Of course, as I alluded above, this is informed and colored by my own political perspective, where I style myself as "progressive."

I grew up in a blue-collar household in Boston, firmly entrenched in the teachings of the post-Vatican II spirit.

(And if you want to see "Christian bashing," view how some the "religious right" express, in unguarded moments, their feelings toward Roman Catholics -- "Papist Cult" and "Whore of Rome" are among the gentler descriptions)

For me, being "Christian" means being a liberal, means being someone who believes in the social compact that members of a society owe responsibility to other members of that society.

Because of issues I have with the “conservatism” I saw take over that church, and the unwillingness of even the “old and enlightened” hierarchy to realistically address the place of women in the Church, or the simple anti-survival stance the church took toward both “artificial birth control” and abortion, I left off dealing with organized religion of any stripe for a good number of years, until I was serendipitously introduced to the Episcopal Church (“Anglicanism” to you readers on the European side of the pond). And, bless their pointy hats, they’ve even got me teaching Sunday school.

However, that RC upbringing skewed me pretty firmly towards concerns with “social justice,” “Equality before the law,” and a firm conviction that, “if the poor will always be with us,” it didn’t mean I either had to accept or feel comfortable with that dubious reality.

But part of the process of belonging to a Christian denomination that *was* considered fair game for “attack” (even though it is the single most populous denomination in the country) is that you learned to listen to “the other side” and offer counters to their thesis, or else to respectfully disagree.

Somehow I think that, in a public political climate characterized by Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Karl Rove and the aftereffects of Newt’s Contract On America, the “respectfully disagree” path is not an option. And I really don’t know what will be.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Updates To some Continuing Stories

Looking back over my archives, I see a couple of places where I should probably issue updates to articles I’ve written here.

President George W. Bush is joined by legislators, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, as he signs the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. White House photo by Paul MorseIn late October of 2005 I wrote about Retrograde Gun Control, and Bill S397, “The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” which prohibited liability lawsuits against gun and ammunition manufacturers and gun dealers when the guns and ammunition made/sold is used in an illegal act.

The bill was signed into law by Pres. G.W. Bush on Oct 26, 2005, and prevents lawsuits based upon misuse of firearms to be brought against the manufacturers and sellers, and also stopped action on all suits that were either in the courts or pending. Note that the same logic that this bill uses to provide the shield against lawsuits (that manufacturers or vendors should not be held liable for misuse by those operating the equipment) was exactly the logic that was used to *bring* suits, by the music industry, against the peer-to-peer networks, claiming that the software providers were responsible for the acts of independent third-parties.

The full text of the law (Public law 109-92) can be found here, at the GPO website.

Massachusetts National Guard shoulder patchesIn January and March of this year I wrote about the lawsuit to force the Massachusetts National Guard to pay the expenses for food, transportation and lodging for postings to provide infrastructure security, to the tune of $100 million.

Since my first reporting, one of the complainants, Capt. Louis P. Tortorella has died, and he, according to court documents, was insolvent and his home close to foreclosure, presumably due to the thousands of dollars he, effectively, advanced to the state government when he paid his food and lodging expenses out of his own pocket, expecting the National Guard to actually reimburse him for the per diem payments he was entitled to by law. The suit continues to go forward.

Armed Forces Radio and Television ServiceIn October I reported on a dustup when, with less than a week’s notice, the DoD reversed a decision to air the middle-of-the-road-to-progressive radio talk show hosted by Ed Shultz on Armed Forces Radio.

A second reversal came after a raft of stories that tied the cancellation of the scheduling to reportage that noted that one of President Bush’s “unstaged Q&A session” with some troops in Iraq was really as scripted as a professional wrestling bout.

Two months after the cancellation, Shultz’s radio show was finally available over the cable-tv and satellite audio feeds available to armed forces personnel on military bases throughout the world. I haven’t been able to determine if the show is available through the broadcast service available to be heard off-base.

Yearbook photograph of Dominique SamuelsIn May I wrote about the dearth of non-local reportage in the rape and murder case of Dominique Samuels.

On 05/12/06 Boston Police arrested Roderick Taylor as a suspect in the case. The prosecution’s theory is that Taylor raped and murdered Samuels after a party at the house she shared, first positioned the body in the victim’s bed to make it appear she was just sleeping, then returned several days later to take the body and burned it in an attempt to destroy evidence.

All this is ripe for tabloid exposure. But there’s still nothing carried on outlets outside of New England.

A quick Google search using the terms “Dominique Samuels murder” still returns only Massachusetts local outlets, one bit on CNN (who was interviewing a Boston Herald reporter) and one of the aggregators for independent papers, which picked up coverage by the Boston Phoenix. It looks like it’s still a case of “murdered while black = spike the story”


What Happens When There *Is* No Plan B?

Over on Feministe,  Jill has a post up that comments on a WaPo article about a middle-aged woman, married with children, who found herself coping with an unwanted pregnancy.

To me, the WaPo article points up that (as in most matters) the current administration in Washington, in the effort to placate the very small numbered, but very vocal and exceedingly well-funded theocrat-wannabes, has followed their usual practice of not bothering to look at consequences for their actions.

In this case, it’s a direct consequence of the FDA’s bigot-inspired refusal to allow Plan B to be marketed over-the-counter that is causing an abortion.

It also points up another consequence, which has been shown, time and again, from the viewpoint of less-than-wealthy women, that the restrictions on abortion, if not targeted directly at poor and the young, do affect the poor and the young disproportionately.  Dana L, the author of the WaPo story, finds that, since she did not have access to Plan B in its prime window of opportunity (72 hours after intercourse), her unwanted pregnancy was going to be terminated by an invasive procedure.

Dana L. was able to afford the time, and expense, to travel from Virginia to Washington DC and have her abortion terminated in a Planned Parenthood clinic there, while her husband took her two young children to visit the Smithsonian.  She notes that, except for a woman who was the parent of one of the other patients at the clinic, she was the oldest person there.
All the while, I was thinking that if religion hadn't been allowed to seep into American politics the way it has, I wouldn't even be there.  This all could have been stopped way before this baby was conceived if they had just let me have that damn pill.

After passing through the metal detector inside the building, I entered the Planned Parenthood waiting room; it was like the waiting room for a budget airline -- crammed full of people, of all races, and getting busier by the moment. I was by far the oldest person there (other than one girl's mom). The wait seemed endless. No one looked happy. We were told that the lone doctor was stuck in Cherry Blossom Parade traffic.

He finally arrived, an hour and a half late.

The procedure itself took about five minutes. I finally walked out of the building at 4:30, 6 1/2 hours after I had arrived.

You know, one of the things I have seen in threads on this article (and the various places where the original article, and the post in Feministe are linked) is the commentary about how being concerned about this woman's dilemma (which actually shows that the issue is *not* just of concern to those who are "economically challenged") is misplaced because she’s affluent, “it’s her own fault” and "women in African countries are suffering genital mutilation."  

If someone who is relatively well-heeled has to jump through these hoops, think of what someone on the low end of the economic totem pole has to do.  Someone who can’t afford the  two days off from work to satisfy the waiting period and likely lie to their boss about the two days of sick time because they may get fired if the real reason for needing the time off were known, or cannot afford the babysitting fees for someone to watch the kids while she goes to the clinic (if she can find someone to take the money if they ever find out why she needs the time) or simply cannot afford the money to buy the travel to get to a clinic they can use that is outside their own area, because anybody providing services in her area has been hounded out by death threats.

And as for the genital mutilation, well, you know, realistically?  I, personally, can do just about squat for some woman in Africa or the Arabian Peninsula who is being mutilated by her family in the name of “being pure” and “conforming to cultural norms.”

However, I, personally, can, by voting and badgering my elected representatives, do something about what is happening *here,* in the United States.

Thank you, but I’ll fight the battles I actually can, by voting and donating to groups such as NARAL, who aren’t perfect, but at least they are trying to do the right thing.

Monday, June 05, 2006

And I Didn't Even Use Duct Tape On Them

My wife (known to various blog venues as LedasMom) has just spent a weekend in the wilds of Nebraska, for a mini family reunion with some of her mother’s family.  

She left on a 6:30 AM flight on Saturday, and her return flight got her back into the airport at about 8:30 AM  today (Monday).  

Yes, the Monday 2 days after the departure.  

No, it was not a lot of time.    

However, because the boys were abandoned at the work house left at home with me, it gave a chance for she and her mother to spend some time together without having to chase the boys around.  I suspect, however, that at least part of the attraction was simply to have any time without having to chase the boys around.  Or to have to chase the hubby around to get stuff done either.

So, in the tradition that probably dates back to picking up pretty shells and rocks when Ooogha was coming back to the camp after the two weeks away on the mammoth hunt, LedasMom brought us back some tchotchkes from Nebraska.  

The key to a good tchotchke is to pick something that will be appreciated by the recipient.  So, the boys got refrigerator magnets with the outline of the State of Nebraska, which they are already fighting over.

And what, you ask, did she bring back for hubby?

I give you – the legendary Tom Swift, Jr.!

Illustrated by Graham Kaye, 1954
Illustration credited to Edward Moritz, 1963Illustration credited to Charles Brey, 1963

Actually, I’ve got to admit that I have never read any of the Tom Swift books, in any of the various incarnations of the series.  The closest I’ve come is by reading Tom Swifties.  I’ll have to get back to you about what my impressions are of the text, but I will say that I recognized as extremely familiar the artwork for the covers and interior illos right away.

Even if the writing turns out to be abysmal, it will still be interesting, in light of the number of artists, writers ans scientists who count the Tom Swift and Tom Swift jr. books as influences to first capture their own imaginations.