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For a woman who doesn’t have health insurance through my employer, is past childbearing, hasn’t met a sperm in person for about 30 years, and isn’t much affected by religious organizations, employment-based or otherwise, I sure can get my shorts in a bunch when it comes to the “should a religiously affiliated organization cover contraception” debate.

First of all, YES! they should. And their whining about offending their religious sensibilities really doesn’t track with me.

My main reason? that health insurance coverage? that’s not some gift bestowed by the company on the employee. That’s part of their pay, their compensation for the job they do.  It makes no more sense to me that the church (or church affiliated group) can dictate how a woman can use her health insurance than how she spends her paycheck once it lands in her very own hands.  Are they going to restrict her from buying contraception with her pay? of course not. Well, I suppose they might WANT to, but they basically can’t, and shouldn’t be able to.  Health insurance, being compensation for work done, should be exactly the same: if the coverage is offered in the plan (which it would be under the ACA provisions), the employer has no right to draw back on that compensation.

Second, plenty of religious organizations have no spiritual or dogmatic issue with contraception coverage.  Are we supposed to treat some religions different than others?

And third… well… seriously? This is the line in the sand these organizations are going to draw? With all the threats around the world, and even here in this Christian-friendly nation,* of actual harm to actual people, you’d think the churches might find something a little more meaningful to focus on. I’ll throw out a liberal handful: hunger, poverty, education and war spring easily to mind, but there are plenty of other things that would seem to trump the faux outrage over shelling out some bucks for health coverage that women will just use their paychecks for anyway.

*sigh*

This is why I don’t “do” religion.  Oh yes, there’s that problem where I don’t believe in deities, but the big one is the silly fits some believers wind themselves up in trying to defend silly extrapolations of religious fervor.  Once again, I am reminded of Woody Allen’s line from “Hannah and Her Sisters” – if Jesus came back right now and saw what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.

*yes, I do not believe in the war on Christianity. Big surprise, huh?  I don’t know, what with it being the most common religious affiliation, and what with all of DC going Christmas-crazy every year, and the whole economic cycle being tied to the Christmas celebration cycle, and churches getting tax breaks, and prayers over congress, inaugurations, and what have you… well, I’m just not convinced somehow.

I have no wacky uncles. Leading up to Thanksgiving, the interwebs were full of advice on how to deal with your crazy tea partier uncle and the theories he was sure to bring to the dinner table.

This year, as usual, I was blessed with a distinct lack of crazy uncles, and a table-full of mostly intelligent, liberal to lefty people who backed Obama, believe in universal health care, science and history, think the Republicans have been irresponsible troublemakers for the better part of 4 (or 12, or 30) years, and have no patience for the tea party, in the form of Uncle Jim or anyone else.

For this, I am truly thankful.

To be sure, in my family there are wacky uncles, and aunts, and cousins galore I’m sure, who are holed up in their tight little worlds, still trying to figure out how to get that Kenyan Muslin Usurper out of the White “It’s called that for a reason, ya know” House. There is a whole arm of the family in Eastern Washington and elsewhere who, I’m sure, are planted firmly in front of Fox News on a pretty regular basis, and who take their talk radio from the likes of Rush and Hannity.

But they’re not sitting at my dinner table. And I’m not really sorry about that. There was a time in the 1980s when my brother was a big fan of Rush Limbaugh and the right wing nut jobs of that day. Even though he railed wildly on extreme themes, was dangerously lacking in fact checking, and was downright rude to my girlfriend (he didn’t speak directly to her for 2 years), you could, sort of, have a conversation with the guy. Because he was a thinking man, after a while he shifted his views to more of a progressive Libertarian stance, and eventually  worked hard to get Obama elected in 2008.

Even back then, conversation was at least possible.

But the New Millennium version of the family right-wing nut job is a lot harder to deal with, and I’m very happy not to have the arguments of this era over the holiday meal. My larger extended family of right-wingers does their holiday on their own these last few decades (probably with Fox News tuned in somewhere in the background). At my own Thanksgiving table, we sit much in accord with each other, and it improves both the conversation and the digestion.

There are differences, to be sure, along our Democratic-to-Libertarian spectrum, but it’s founded in basic common ground: government, though prone to the failings of any large bureaucracy, can do good, and is how we pool our common interests and resources. All people are valuable. Religious freedom is serious stuff, and has nothing to do with protecting extreme Christians from having to acknowledge the very existence of other faiths or no faith. Women (and men) should be able to determine their own medical needs. A family is a family, straight, gay or otherwise. Education is valuable. Science is based on careful research and analysis. The world is not 6000 years old.

And I’d like to think that if a whacky uncle or three sat down at the table, we’d all be strong minded enough to actually have a great conversation together, to agree to disagree, to keep it sane out of sheer numbers, so many of “us” speaking truth as we see it to “them.” And I’d like to think we’d change some minds, open some doors, sweep the blight of right wing media lies from Uncle So-and-So’s thinking.

But I must admit, I’m glad I don’t have to.

I voted this last Friday, dropping my ballot into the box at the county Elections office down the street. I’ve followed the campaign pretty avidly, and I’m keyed up, waffling between optimism and terror that some statistical oddity, some stealing of the the vote, some awful twist will hand Romney the White House. Not just a GOP a White House, but a soulless White House.

I was incredibly on edge about the 2008 election, but in some ways this seems tighter, more determinative. The stakes do seem higher. While in retrospect I think McCain could have been an awful president, at the time I didn’t so much fear him as the Republicans already in the executive branch. I sincerely wanted Obama as president, but was feeling more grim than alarmed at the idea of McCain winning. And I was pretty sure he wouldn’t, for all the Sarah Palin related reasons you can supply.

This time it really is alarming to think of a Romney presidency. The man has no moral core when it comes to governance; he swings where the winds of opportunism guide him. He can be bought.

Compare that to an administration that, despite the heaviest partisan opposition I can remember, got quite a number of things done, changes that expanded civil rights, job opportunities, the manufacturing industry, put constraints on the health insurance industry and opened paths to getting health care coverage, and, oh yeah, some military stuff and dragging the economy away from the brink of complete collapse.

Oh yes. I enthusiastically, proudly, confidently cast my vote for Obama.

The Clinton Magic

Jamelle Bouie reflects on Clinton’s wonderful speech at the DNC convention in Charlotte:

What made this speech great was Clinton’s ability to forge a connection with viewers through this mix of charisma, intelligence and deep policy knowledge.

via Big Dog, Unleashed.

I loved the speech. Figuring (correctly) it was supposed to be a 20-or-so minute speech, I was never bored for the three quarters of an hour it actually took.  I don’t think the audience was either – I saw a few people shifting from one foot to the other, but I never saw anyone looking bored.

I love Clinton – I confess I’m an unabashed Clinton supporter, have been since he first appeared on Arsenio Hall’s show in 1992 when he was waging his unlikely but ultimately successful campaign. That show sold me – google it – and I’ve been a fan based on policy level from just before his nomination and ever since.  And – please note, trend watchers – I say this in the absence of many a woman’s strange attraction to the Big Dog. That’s not why I adore him.  No, I adore his mind. Honest.

In any case, one of the many things I adore, and something that played strong and true at the DNC, is that Clinton NEVER talks down to his audience. He always assumes that we have the ability to understand the deep stuff, the nuanced stuff.  I don’t imagine he thinks his audience is predominantly well-educated, particularly in the subtle workings of the economy, yet he always talk to us as if we can understand. He might use slightly less wonkish language, but he never seems to doubt our intelligence.

You know, I imagine that I’m not the only listener to respond this way. And Clinton’s assumption of our intelligence – not education, but intelligence – plays not just to our own self-importance, but more importantly, to our ability to think about what this election means, in the deepest sense, to the voters.

Love ya, Big Dog. Thanks so much!

Andrew Sullivan has been tracking the Ad Wars between the Obama and Romney campaigns.

New research from Kantar Media’s CMAG paints a dramatic picture of the unprecedented amount of ads that voters are being exposed to this cycle – as much as three to twelve times as many as in past elections:

via Ad War Update: The Ad Election – The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast.

It occurs to me that this will be the first presidential election in which I won’t be inundated by campaign ads. I won’t even be coming home to robo-calls from Susan Sarandon and Robert Redford, now that I’ve been land-line free for 3 years.  I won’t be completely ad-free, but my main contact with campaign ads would normally be the TV – and in the light of the recession and the fact that I work when most of my fave shows are on, and tune into them on websites, not on cable… well, suffice it to say: it made the best sense to dump all the expensive cable packages, and I won’t be seeing many ads this year unless I intentionally que them up online.

Weird. And somehow comforting!

But I will still miss my celebrity voice mails….

Ta-Nehisi Coates comments on a New York state assemblyman’s sexual harassment of his staff, after the accused grudgingly admitted he made a “mistake” – really? You think? Prompting this from my new favorite blogger:

Sexual harassment laws were basically invented for people who think “I’d like it better if you didn’t have a bra on” qualifies as management-speak.

via Why We Have Sexual Harassment Laws – Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Atlantic.

And part of what I love is that the writer is a man.  20 years ago, I would have been truly amazed to read this coming from most male writers, certainly the ones writing for magazines like The Atlantic. Now, I am pleasantly surprised to find a succinct line of criticism, which could have just as easily come from a female perspective.

Things do change!

“Something that ordinary men do”

…..We refuse to accept that nice guys rape, and they do it often. Part of the reason we havent accepted it is that its a painful thing to contemplate – far easier to keep on believing that only evil men rape, only violent, psychotic men lurking in alleyways with pantomime-villain moustaches and knives, than to consider that rape might be something that ordinary men do. Men who might be our friends or colleagues or people we look up to. We dont want that to be the case. Hell, I dont want that to be the case. So, we all pretend it isnt. Justice, see?

Actually, rape is very common. [....] Its so common that – sorry if this hurts to hear – there’s a good chance you know somebody who might have raped someone else. And theres more than a small chance he doesnt even think he did anything wrong, that he believes that what he did wasnt rape, couldnt be rape, because, after all, hes not a bad guy.

via Laurie Penny: Its nice to think that only evil men are rapists – that its only pantomime villains with knives in alleyways. But the reality is different – Commentators – Opinion – The Independent.

[emphasis mine]

Good post, keying off the author’s reaction to Julian Assange’s supporters defending him against rape charges.

And where it took me was to a conversation – many connected conversations, actually – between myself and a college buddy, Jack. He would tell me, all men look at every woman and assess her sexually, even if all it amounts to is “too old, too young, too ugly, too married” – whatever the result, his point was that men assess women sexually all the time. He suspected it was hard-wired, shaped by social attitude and custom, but hard-wired in essence. Fact of life, maybe a sad one, but something to remember when thinking about how men interact with women, and with the world around them.

His other point was that any man – and he included himself – is capable of rape. And that for most men, himself included, the sense of right/wrong, the breaking of a kind of  interpersonal social contract (this was an interdisciplinary political science program we were enrolled in, after all), the shear horror of hurting another person, keeps them from committing rape.

That was scary stuff to hear. I don’t know that Jack was right in every detail of what he spoke about, but I do think he was correct, essentially. At first it made me nauseous – and Jack knew that it would have that kind of effect on me. The first time we spoke of these things (I remember it well, sitting late at night in the common room at an lake-side academic retreat in the foothills of the Olympics) Jack was very gentle – I think he knew the effect on me and another woman sitting with us. But he wanted us to know – not to terrify us or impress us or some other twisted “guy” thing. He wanted us to know because he thought all women should be aware of that, but there were few women he could talk to about it. Mandy and I heard it in the sense I think he meant it: an offering on a subject that is too scary to talk about most of the time, something men don’t talk much with each other about, and especially scary for men and women to talk about together.

But we did. And Jack and I threaded that hard truth through many conversations afterwards. I’m still having that conversation, mostly within my own head, because there are few women, and fewer men, who want to talk about it.  Still, it resonates, because it holds truth, because it helps me think carefully about rape, not knee-jerk style as the tendency runs in us quick-assessment humans.

Thank you, Jack. Thanks for trusting me with that insight you have about yourself and other men.

Writing it, reading it there on the screen above, seems weird. I’m thanking this guy, who I’ve only had occasional contact for the last 3 decades, for telling me that all men have a propensity to rape? that all men assess women (or men) sexually all of the time? Well … no. I’m thanking him for being willing to talk deeply with me and any one else willing about something so essential to the subject of rape, but too threatening to talk about openly for most people. I thank him for being the catalyst that took a suspicion in the back of my mind, and pulling it out into the air, where it was still scary, but less threatening, somehow.

It’s one thing for a woman to tell another woman that she thinks all men are capable of rape. It’s another thing for men and women to talk about it together. It reminds me a little of how hard it is for an honest conversation to happen about white racism in a mixed race group of people – not impossible, and after all, we’ve been working on this one for a while, but still hard. White guilt confounds honest discussion about race – “but I’m not a bad person!” or “some of my best friends/ political activism/ church work/ reading/ musician/ actor/etc” just being the start of a whole line of defensiveness which can waylay a good conversation on race. Discussions about rape between men and women are a bit like this. Awkward, defensive, faltering.

But you have to start somewhere. The conversation that Jack and I started in 1984 seems a long time ago in some ways, very present for me in others. After the initial nausea came anger, resentment, and a lot of deep thought. I think the best thing I pulled from all that was the conviction that if all men are capable of rape, most men are capable of learning – and do learn – not to rape. And if we talk deeply, honestly about all kinds of rape, not just the stranger-in-an-alley version, we have a better chance of raising up successive generations of men who “get it.” Who don’t rape. Who don’t turn their eyes when other men rape. Who teach their sons and nephews and students where to draw the lines between their desire for sex or power, and actually harming someone.

Some hard conversations lead through dark places to hope, to gradual change, to better … human communities? well, whatever the lingo, to groups of humans who hurt each other less.  Maybe less and less as the millennia churn by.

A girl can hope.

When Todd Akin first scoffed at the notion that rape victims can get pregnant, he defended himself by pointing to the medical judgment of someone named Dr. John Willke, former president of the National Right to Life Committee, who has been pushing this argument for many years.

Indeed, just this week, Willke told the New York Times rapists don’t impregnate their victims because, “This is a traumatic thing — she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight. She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.”

via Romney and Mr. ‘Spastic Tubes’ – The Maddow Blog.

[Insert BIG HEAD-SLAP here]

Ohhhh…kaaaaay….. so does Mr Spastic Tubes (love it!) think human women pop out an egg when we have “legitimate” sex? And how big does he think a little sperm is, that our “tight tubes” could keep them out? Or does he have that Fallopian tube and vagina thing mixed up? Is it possible he has never actually investigated the arrangement of the female pelvis?

This is why we can’t have nice things. Or even shabby functional things.

Ta-Nehisi Coates put out a short and thoughtful post on Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments on how women magically destroy sperm during “legitimate rape” (vs. ???) – and TNC nails the attitude that makes trying to have logical discussions with these folks nigh to impossible:

At any rate, I think what’s interesting here is the assumed power. I have the right to objectively define pregnancy from rape as rare. I have the right to determine separate legitimate rape from all those instances when you were in need of encouragement, wearing a red dress or otherwise asking for it. I have the right to manufacture scientific theories about your body — theories which reinforce my power. If the body doesn’t “shut that whole thing down” then clearly you weren’t raped, and there’s no need to talk about an abortion. And even if I am wrong on every count, I still have the right to dictate the terms of your body and the remaining days of your life.

via Rape, Abortion, and the Privilege of Magical Thinking – Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Atlantic.

TNC writes about his own response to this redefining of rape, and how it relates to the use of abortion:

Whatever qualms I have about abortion (and increasingly I think it isn’t even my right to have qualms) the idea of putting medicine in the hands of people who think that, in the instance of rape, the female body can “shut that whole thing down” or “secrete a certain secretion” to prevent pregnancy is utterly terrifying. [emphasis mine]

Couldn’t agree more, even while possessing a difference experience than TNC.
And about what I bolded in that quote: Mr. Coates, you ABSOLUTELY have every right to feel qualms. You probably can’t even stop those feelings if they crop up – you can counter them, test them, explore them, but you can’t very well stop that kind of thing.

But you can refrain from imposing rule, regulation and condemnation based on those qualms. And that’s a major difference.

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish blog, an angle on Social Security and Medicare which I hadn’t considered for a long, long time:

A reader writes:

Many analysts assume there will be a war between the generations regarding who benefits and who pays for social programs like medicare and social security, both programs open to the vast majority of elderly, retired, or disabled Americans.

This misses a key point of both programs.

My own case as an example. I get both medicare and social security now that I’m 67 years old. But my first benefit from the programs came when I was 19. My parents sent me off to college, and sent my sister the next year. This would not have been possible without social security and medicare, which were available to my grandparents – the first generation to come of age under these programs. Without these programs, my family’s money would not have stretched to cover my college costs. It would have gone, as it did in countless generations before, to taking care of elderly parents and grandparents.

via The Coming Generation Wars, Ctd – The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast.

The future years for my mother – and for me, as a potential caregiver, or at minimum, a sort of family overseer – have been weighing on my mind. She’s 77, still working about 30 hours or more a week. Thank goodness for Medicare, for Social Security, for all the things that got her to a relatively healthy, and definitely active seventh decade.

But if all of that wasn’t there, could I take care of her? Certainly not in the style to which she as managed to accustom herself. The modern manifestation of the New Deal and the Great Society have affected me, not so much as a direct recipient, but as the child of those who did, and who are now reaping the benefits of the bargain they made:  Work hard, let us take some out of your earnings toward your future, and you will be taken care of, and not be a burden to the next generation.

Also, for some reason, I keep thinking of The Grandfather and The Grandmother in the sickly sweet but fascinating children’s novel, Heidi. There’s more to that story than would appear, below its surface. Family is almost always willing to sacrifice. The question is, how much do they actually have to give? And for some, it’s precious little, though they’d willingly give it all.

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