Archive for August, 2012


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.

Jamelle Bouie, at The Plum Line, offers a compelling case for why THIS election actually matters more than most, and a common take on Medicare changes proposed from the right:

a complete overhaul of Medicare that would end its promise of guaranteed health care for seniors, and move it to a system where — ultimately — you get the care you can pay for.

via Yes, this campaign is negative and nasty — and that’s a good thing .

… which is not news, just a jumping off point for MY rage, as in:

If I don’t get the Medicare I’ve promised my entire working life, can I sue for benefits I worked for but never received?

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that I will have to cough up another $6,500 bucks a year that would have been otherwise covered by Medicare.  Say I start collecting Medicare at age 65.  Let’s assume that I live a long time, like most in my family, and that I make it to 90 years old, a somewhat pessimistic estimate given the rather large number of my relatives who’ve lived into their late 90s or even early 100s.  That puts me at about 25 years on Medicare.

Okay, I understand that with the “premium support” (aka Lousy Voucher) program covering less and less each year, I’d likely have to put out more that $6,500 as the years went by, but for this discussion, let’s say it stays at about $6,500 for the duration.

That’s $162,500.

That’s a wompin’ butt-load of money for most people.  It certainly is for me. And so, dearest Government of mine, I’m puttin’ you on notice:  I might just be coming after those lost benefits, should Medicare-as-we-know-it fall to the wayside.  And guess what, I bet I can get a whole lot of my fellow citizens to join in.  Because, you know, we worked for it.  We paid into the pool. We contributed to our future, on the understanding that we’d be taken care of.  And you know what? I expect to get the benefits I was promised.

Another reason that the reassurances to “those 55 and older” read like betrayals to those of us 54 and under, and generally just piss me off.

[edited 8/22/12 for clarity in first paragraph]

I see a lot of this sort of thing, both from the GOP headliners, and the chattering classes:

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have had some success in obscuring the health care debate by pointing out that Ryan’s proposal does not change Medicare for people currently over 55 years old.

via The next frontier in the case against Paul Ryan – The Plum Line – The Washington Post.

Oh…kay….

But I’m 53. So, ya know, what’s that gonna do for me?

I’ve been paying into Social Security and Medicare for about 30 years now. There’s been some modicum of security in the idea that, if all else fails, at least I’ll have health care, eventually.  And I paid in to that system, each and every paycheck I received, deducted from my pay on the promise of that old age security.

Needless to say, I’m not too warm to the idea of a check I’m supposed to put toward the best of the rotten health care plans I can find.

If I can find one. Because of, you know, pre-existing conditions.  That was something you wanted to chop off the health care tree as well, wasn’t it, Misters R & R?

*sigh*

Ann Friedman:

In the dating world, an infatuation with Ayn Rand is a red flag. You might not see it right away: Your date is probably conventionally attractive, decidedly wealthy, and doesn’t really talk politics. But then you get back to his apartment, set your bag down on his glass-topped coffee table, give his bookshelf the once-over — and find it lined with Ayn Rand.

You think back to your conversation at the bar: He treated flirtation like a conquest, a rationally self-interested sexual manifest destiny. He had some dumb pickup-artist questions and maybe a questionable accessory (a cravat? a fedora? a weird pinky ring?) but you overlooked these things, because he was quite charming.

But that dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged tells you everything you need to know. He sees himself as an objective iconoclast. He’s unapologetically selfish, because it’s only rational, he says. Sure, he grew up with money but he worked to get where he is today. He’s all about individual responsibility but he just isn’t, metaphorically, into wearing protection.

via Paul Ryan Is Your Annoying Libertarian Ex-Boyfriend – The Cut.

I suppose I’m posting the link and the first three paragraphs just so I don’t forget this article.  I’m not sure I ever had an annoying libertarian boyfriend, but I had numerous such friends (not romantic), and many of them ex-friends because of their annoying libertarian qualities, so it strikes quite the familiar chord. Ryan does really seem to be That Guy.  That Guy You Couldn’t Quit the Room Fast Enough Over.  THAT Guy.

And at first he seemed so charming.

She nailed it. Wow.

Eugene Robinson, on the “little people” who mean so much in the lives of us ordinary folk, and apparently mean so little to those who live  life exclusively in the stratosphere of the 1%:

It may not be the driver’s job to help with algebra homework, but he or she bears enormous responsibility for safely handling the most precious cargo imaginable. A good bus driver gets to know the children, maintains order and discipline, deals with harassment and bullying. Romney may not realize it, but a good driver plays an important role in ensuring a child’s physical and emotional well-being — and may, in fact, be the first adult to whom the child proudly displays a report card with all A’s.

via Romney and Ryan’s disdain for the working class – The Washington Post.

My own bus driver experience rings clear and true, 40-some years later.

Stan, the bus driver, first picked me up when I was in Second Grade, when I rode the Junior and High School bus to my “new school” while my family was waiting on moving into our new house. I didn’t ride the regular bus with the other third graders. I rode the older kid’s bus, a weird route that managed to pick me up out of the school’s area, and deliver me safely to my new school.

And Stan made that happen.  He sat me right behind him. He talked to me all through that intimidating ride with the older kids. He watched me walk to the school. He was patient. He was nice.  I can still see his face.

After we moved, he wasn’t my bus driver for a while. But when I went to Junior High, Stan was still driving that bus, and was the driver all through the next five years.

There are so many memories: Stan coaxing that old creaky bus up a steep, winding, icy hill, slipping, restarting, always managing to get all the way up the hill eventually – and the soundtrack all the while: the screaching brakes, the whining clutch, our gasps and squeals and cries of fear.  And then us all being grateful – some cheering, some just silently sweating out the success – when Stan finally topped the hill, and we trundled on through the flatter roads.

Stan broke up fights.  Stan sat people so the timid ones wouldn’t get bullied.  Stan pulled the bus over to the side of the country road till the “bad kids” settled down.  Stan rarely raised his voice. Or maybe he never raised his voice – I can’t actually remember a single instance, though he’d have had plenty of reasons.  I do remember him shaking his head, I do remember a lot of sighing.

Stan was the bus driver that most of us wanted to please, because Stan was the guy who looked out for us, and did it in a very calm, confident, quiet kind of way.  He really was a model of compassion, of reason, of perseverance, of humor.  He really was a public employee who influenced me greatly.

So, Stan, here’s to ya!  And here’s to the fabric you helped weave for me and for so many of us.

Thanks, Stan!

Ryan’s angst

Love this characterization, not in small part because there’s something of the earnest teenager about Paul Ryan:

The press is already accurately framing the pick as a clash of visions. But what’s more important is that Ryan’s vision remains vague. We still don’t know in any meaningful detail how he would achieve the deep cuts necessary to make that vision work.

Which raises a question: How aggressively will the news media scrutinize the true substantive nature of his vision? The press has done a great job pinning Romney down on the real implications of his tax plan, largely thanks to that unsparing Tax Policy Center study. Ryan, by contrast, has been widely accorded the presumption of fiscal “seriousness,” mainly because he looks so earnest and genuinely despairing in those videos that show him stalking the halls of Congress in the grip of existential deficit angst.

via With Ryan pick, Romney doubles down on economic radicalism – The Plum Line – The Washington Post.

My emphasis. Because it cracked me up.

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