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So there’s this article on Fusion titled “Nameplate Necklaces: This s*** is for us” (alternate title: “White Girls: Stop wearing nameplate necklaces”). Obviously, I came across this article because I read Fusion all the time. Just kidding. Obviously, I came across this article because some other white person I follow on Twitter was drawing attention to how crazy it is to add nameplate necklaces to the list of things that are considered cultural appropriation. I’m not actually sure if there is a limit to what “should” be considered cultural appropriation. Being white, I can’t really understand what it’s like to have one’s culture appropriated. I suppose, as a woman who was born female, I can imagine it’s sort of like when Caitlyn Jenner wins Woman of the Year when she’s only been a woman for about 15 minutes. Actually, it’s probably even more like Bono being Woman of the Year when he’s never been a woman for any minutes. Then again, who am I to judge? I don’t know Bono’s life! So I’m back to not really understanding how horrible it is when a white girl wears s*** that’s for women of color.
For the record, I’ve never owned nor worn a nameplate necklace. On the other hand, I don’t know how many things I have worn inappropriately–things I thought I was only wearing but was actually appropriating. I’m suspecting the number is low because I’m pretty white, culturally speaking, and have very little in the way of personal style. I don’t think I’ve ever been cool enough to appropriate something. The only thing I can think of is when I attended my brother-in-law’s wedding in Japan and I wore a kimono for the traditional Shinto ceremony–but that was at the invitation of the Japanese bride. It’s not a thing I would have thought to do on my own, but when someone invites you to her traditional Shinto wedding in Japan and offers you, as a soon-to-be family member, a kimono, it seems like it would be rude to say, “No thanks.” On the other hand, if I just up and decided on my own to wear a kimono someplace, that would probably be considered cultural appropriation.
On our first trip to Japan, my husband and I were visiting a shrine, and a (Japanese) man approached us and pointed out that a nearby tree was known as the “marriage tree.” He brought us over there and showed us how to pay our respects to the tree, or how to bless our marriage via this tree ritual; I’m sorry to say that between the language barrier and my faulty memory, I can’t tell you the precise nature of what he was showing us how to do, and it’s not my intention to sound disrespectful. (Maybe the guy was just messing with us. But he seemed sincere.) To be honest, bowing to the tree felt a little weird to me—not in the sense of “this is foreign and I don’t like it” but in the sense of “I’m not Japanese and I don’t know crap about Shintoism and I feel like a fraud.” But to the man, he was just sharing his culture and inviting us to appreciate it.
So maybe that’s the “get out of jail free” card. If someone invites you to participate in their culture, that’s okay. Maybe if one of my black or Latina girlfriends gave me a nameplate necklace for my birthday, that would also be okay. (Or she could just be messing with me. But friends don’t do that to each other, do they?) The problem is that if I wear my nameplate necklace out in public, no one’s going to know that my friend of color gave it to me. They will probably assume that I am appropriating WOC’s culture, and knowing this, how can I in good conscience wear such a thing? I mean, I could say, “Actually, my friend, who happens to be a WOC, gave it to me for my birthday,” but even I know that’s just what a clueless white person would say. If I were the offended person, I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, I’m sure some of your best friends are black!”
Actually, I don’t think I have any friends of color who would give me a nameplate necklace for my birthday. This is all just hypothetical. It’s something that theoretically could happen. I mean, I never expected to be wearing a kimono to someone’s wedding either.
For the record, the kimono was very beautiful. I’m not sure I pulled it off, what with my red hair and big feet.  (Those shoes are the worst. I’m sorry if that’s racist, but at least I won’t be appropriating that part of the culture again if I can help it.) I can understand why someone would want to wear something from another culture because it is beautiful. I guess I can also understand why it gets on a WOC’s nerves when Carrie Bradshaw starts wearing a nameplate necklace and suddenly nameplate necklaces are cool because a popular white girl wore one, even though WOC have been wearing nameplate necklaces for years. But I also can’t help thinking it’s kind of like when hipsters sniff that they liked something before it was cool, and now that it’s cool, it’s been ruined. WOC were enjoying their nameplate necklaces before white girls ruined it for them. I hate to lump anyone in the same category as hipsters, but I just can’t think of a more pertinent example offhand. I understand why it’s different: hipsters are not historically people who have been marginalized by the larger society; they marginalize themselves, on purpose. So of course it’s not the same thing. I get that.
Here’s the thing: I enjoyed reading that Fusion piece, for the most part. I appreciated the author explaining the significance of nameplate necklaces to her and other WOC. It would never have occurred to me that nameplates were a black/WOC thing. I was unaware. I’m glad to be aware of her experience and feelings. What I don’t get is the same thing I don’t get about hipsters being miffed that their favorite band now has thousands of fans who weren’t there from the very beginning: why does it bother you that other people like what you like, even if it’s for different reasons?
I’m sure some people would say that question proves I absolutely don’t get any of the stuff I previously claimed to get, if I don’t get that last part. But I’m trying, I really am. As I said, I’m white—I’ve got the white privilege, I’m lousy with white privilege, along with tons of other privilege. I have zero experience with someone taking an aspect of my culture that is dear to me and cheapening it or whatever else one does when one culturally-appropriates. I can’t even think of a single thing on earth that I think of as belonging exclusively to my demographic group’s “culture.” My husband comes from Scandinavian stock; I can’t decide if this makes him more or less “white” than I am. I have no particular interest in genealogy—it doesn’t do anything for me—but I can trace my ancestors on both sides back about 200 years to…England. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this, as it was an accident of birth I had nothing to do with. (It is kind of a bummer when they have those celebrate-our-diverse-cultural-heritage potlucks. You can’t eat the Magna Carta, amirite?) But to me, everything that’s great about English culture is part of the cultural heritage of every American. It’s not like I own it, as a person of English ancestry; I share it with a host of people who are not of English ancestry, racially speaking. I don’t even think of myself as a person of English ancestry, i.e. that my ancestors lived in England is not a conscious part of my identity. As a white person, I have the luxury of not thinking about my race unless I start writing crap like this.
But like I said, I’m trying. I’m trying to empathize by drawing whatever parallels or hypothetical parallels I can to my own experience. I suppose that as a woman, I am part of a historically marginalized group. Unfortunately, the closest I can get to imagining something like cultural appropriation in that context is my above Caitlyn Jenner remark, which veers uncomfortably close to anti-trans sentiment. I admit that I get a little bent out of shape when Caitlyn Jenner is named Woman of the Year for publicly wearing a dress and painting her nails. Women have been wearing dresses and painting their nails for years, but someone who used to be called Bruce does it and suddenly it’s Woman of the Year stuff. I don’t care if someone who is biologically male wants to live as a woman, regardless of whether she wears a dress or not (women can do anything!)—it’s no skin off my nose, after all. But when someone who lived as a man and enjoyed the privileges of man-living for 60 years claims she’s “just as much a woman” as I am, please forgive me for saying, “Oh, honey.” I mean, what else can I say? I’m happy you’re happy, Caitlyn Jenner, but a newly-transitioned woman winning Woman of the Year is like Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize immediately upon his inauguration: you just haven’t earned it yet, baby. (Alluding to Smiths songs: just what a white girl of a certain age would do.
I say that, and I own it, but I also realize it sounds pretty mean—I reckon it sounds really mean to any trans woman (or person) who has had to suffer through things that I will never understand because I haven’t experienced them. Yet I also notice that this means 45 years of living as a woman, having experiences that a trans woman has never had, qualifies me for exactly zero pronouncements on the nature of womanhood. So trying to relate to the whole “appropriation” issue via my womanhood is a fail.
As a Mormon, I guess I qualify as a religious minority. Historically, Mormons have been marginalized. Some would argue we still are (though I would not, not really). And Mormons are definitely a culture as well as a religion. I’m not sure how one would go about appropriating our culture. It’s kind of hard to nail down in the first place, not unlike our theology. But as long as we’re imagining something super-unlikely, let’s suppose that some not-Mormon person took something that was sacred to us and cheapened or commercialized it. Let’s say some non-Mormon celebrity (famous and therefore influential, sadly) started wearing Mormon temple clothes in public because they thought it looked cool. No one would ever do that, but let’s say they did. Most Mormons would instinctively call that disrespectful and gross, but that’s because it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it for reasons other than mockery. One has to imagine someone wearing Mormon temple clothes because they actually thought it did look cool. It takes a lot of imagination. (You could strain something and hurt yourself, probably.) I can only imagine that my reaction to this sort of thing would be to think a) they look as ridiculous as I do, and b) we appropriated all that temple stuff from the Masons, so they probably have first dibs on being offended.
Anyway, they already made The Book of Mormon musical, which wasn’t appropriation but satire, and plenty of Mormons got their noses out of joint over that because a) Mormons generally don’t appreciate satire and b) Mormons don’t like to be made fun of, especially not with F-words. I did not see The BofM musical, nor do I care to—I have a reasonably high tolerance for irreverent humor, but a fairly low tolerance for scatological humor, which is the same reason I don’t like to watch South Park—but I thought (and still think) that righteous indignation/outrage was a foolish response. It makes us look small, and frankly, insecure. I’m pretty sure Jesus said if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you’re going to trash or mock my religion, maybe you’re a jerk (or maybe you’re just misunderstood—I don’t know your life!), but that’s on you, not me. If you want to have a real conversation about my religion, I’m happy to converse with you; if you’re going to be a jerk, go be a jerk without me.
I can say these things about Mormons because I am one and I understand the Mormon experience, but I can’t say to a woman of color, “Your thing about nameplate necklaces makes you look small and insecure,” because I’m not one and I don’t know her experience. I don’t understand her feelings. Is it even possible for me to understand her feelings to the extent that I can understand why she would get bent out of shape over white girls wearing nameplate necklaces? Is there any point in trying to understand, or do I just accept that as a white girl, I have no business wearing a nameplate necklace?
So I’m back where I started, a middle-aged white lady with a free blog and no clue. Where does one draw the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation? Is there a line between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation?  If so, where does one draw that? How do you know when you’re appropriating something? I’m not really looking for someone to tell me this whole “cultural appropriation” thing is ridiculous. I know some not-(completely)-ridiculous people who have very strong feelings about it, but can’t really articulate the difference between appreciation/exchange and appropriation. I’m not invested in the idea that I should be able to wear a nameplate necklace or a kimono. I’m not even a fan of any sports teams with Native American mascots. On occasion, I enjoy Vietnamese food, but then I read an essay by a Vietnamese-American who was upset that Vietnamese food was trendy now, but white people used to make fun of her lunches when she was young. My instinct is to think that person might need therapy to deal with her issues, but I’m open to the idea of that not being fair. When I was a kid, I thought bologna sandwiches were delicious. I think bologna is gross now. I still like Spam, though. Hawaiians also like Spam. Who liked it first? What does it all mean? I don’t know.
 Even my red hair is, technically, appropriated. I was born a brunette, but I think red hair is beautiful and I like the way I look with red hair, so I dye it red, even if it’s wrong. I have extremely fair skin and burn easily, so I almost feel as though I’ve earned it, but that’s just what a clueless fake-ginger would say.
 I was reading some non-Mormon person’s Twitter feed and they were saying how their son wanted to ask someone to Homecoming, but apparently, expectations have changed such that it’s no longer okay to say, “Will you come to Homecoming with me?” You have to do something creative, like with balloons or baked goods or whatever. I was, frankly, astonished. I thought only Mormons did this. (We love theatre! And arts & crafts!) Now it’s what everyone’s supposed to do? Is this the Pinterest-ization of our culture, or has Pinterest simply facilitated the widespread appropriation of Mormon culture? In either case, I don’t actually care. Do what you feel, kids.
 I went to a recipe exchange a million years ago, and a friend of mine, who was from Idaho, shared this recipe called “Hong Kong Chicken.” It was a dish her mother made all the time when she was growing up. It consisted of rice, chicken, and cream of mushroom soup (basically). So…where did the Hong Kong part come in, exactly? My friend said, sheepishly, “Oh. Well. You see, most of what we ate was made with potatoes. But this was made with rice. Hence—Hong Kong.” I thought this was adorable (and hilarious). I shared this story with someone recently, and they thought it was offensive, maybe borderline racist. Well, goodness—uneducated about Chinese cuisine, sure, but racist? Can’t we just be glad that we live in a world where more people are eating rice? Maybe Idahoans should be offended when other people belittle their attempts to try new things!
I found this article through STFU, Parents that tells about a mother of five who is pursuing a master’s degree and brought her infant with her the first day of class, only to be told that bringing infants to class was against college policy. “I just didn’t even think it would be a problem,” she said–so imagine her shock when it was.
The STFU, Parents lady (whose name I forget) pointed out that the mom in question was a BYU graduate, “so that explains a lot.” Ha ha, yes. Yes, it does. Even so, this mom said that back at the BYU, there were “occasionally” children in class. She didn’t say children were a regular feature of BYU classrooms, and yet she showed up her first day of class with an infant and all her baby gear in tow, not because of any childcare emergency, but because she just “didn’t even think it would be a problem,” implying that she was just intending to bring her infant to class every time–presumably because she’s breastfeeding, and that would be more convenient (for her). (And the baby, of course.)
I have mixed feelings about this because on the one hand, it’s nice when people accommodate mothers, particularly breastfeeding mothers. It’s nice when women are able to get some work done along with caring for their infants, who don’t always need intense, one-on-one attention. I learned how to do a lot of things one-handed (including diaper changes) when Mister Bubby was an infant because the little dude always had to be held. I had to hold him always. I call him the “little dude” because “little bastard” seems a little harsh, at least in retrospect. At the time he was pretty much ruining my life. Well, anyway–point being, he was happy (i.e., quiet) as long as he was being held, so in theory I could have gone to a college class and taken notes (I only write with one hand anyway) while holding him. I can see why maybe a mom would think it would work to take a baby to class, especially if the baby in question were one of those “easy” babies I’ve heard so much about. It’s nice when people see babies and children as just part of normal life–rather than the part of life that has to be walled off from all the other parts of life. Say what you will about Sarah Palin (for example), but I loved seeing pictures of her carrying her baby in a sling whilst carrying on the business of being governor. (I often wonder what might have happened in an alternate universe where Sarah Palin remained governor of Alaska and John McCain just picked some random white dude to be his running mate. But that’s getting off the subject.)
So there’s that, on the one hand. On the other hand, I’m hip to the fact that there are some places babies just don’t belong. I’ve never been one of those people who gets upset when folks have adults-only events, for example. (I don’t mean “adults-only” like an orgy or something, but every time I write or say “adults-only,” I feel like I have to clarify that I only mean that just adults are welcome.) Frankly, I have always been the type to prefer adults-only events to bring-the-whole-family events because so often bring-the-whole-family events turn into manage-your-kids-in-a-novel-environment-until-finally-it’s-time-to-go-home-THANK-GOD events. When I couldn’t get a babysitter (which was often), my attitude was “doesn’t it suck that I can’t get a babysitter,” not “doesn’t it suck that people won’t let me bring my kids.” When given the choice, I always opt not to bring my kids. We’re all happier that way.
In general, I think people could stand to be more patient with kids, and also with parents of kids, because kids happen and that’s life. I don’t think people are entitled to a child-free environment at all times. If you want to live in society, you should be willing to put up with some babies and kids, even the ill-behaved ones, because we all start out as kids, some of us were ill-behaved, and most of us grow out of it but not until we learn to behave better (or just get older). Parents shouldn’t be expected to keep their kids at home until they are perfect. Not only is it unrealistic, it wouldn’t result in raising good, productive citizens. Kids need to be out in the world and exposed to different situations, and the rest of us just need to suck it up and deal with some occasional crying, whining, or other disruption.
HOWEVER, parents do need to be considerate of other people’s needs. There are situations where bringing your child(ren)–who are apt to cause some disruption–is just plain rude. Sometimes people bring their babies to movie theaters, which I guess I don’t have a problem with provided the baby sleeps the whole time. (I do wonder about the effects of the Dolby Surroundsound on their little ears–movie theaters can be loud.) I myself would never have dared to bring an infant to a movie theater because a) there was no freaking way a baby of mine would sleep the whole time and b) assuming I did have a baby who slept all the time, it would be just my luck that the one day I choose take them to the movie theater would be the one day they decided they had colic or something. That is how my minds works. In general, I don’t think babies belong at movie theaters or concerts or plays or other entertainment events that are intended for adult, i.e. able to sit still and not make noise, audiences. If they just sleep the whole time, awesome. Congratulations, your baby is awesome! I am retroactively jealous of you. But if they start crying and you don’t leave, you’re being rude.
(None of this applies to a family-friendly movie, concert, or play or whatever. Unless your baby is really really super loud and you don’t leave. Then you’re being rude to all the other babies and kids who are trying to disrupt the show in their own ways.)
Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid disrupting other people’s lives. Sometimes you just have to take a baby or young child on an airplane. I know, I’ve done it. Lots and lots of times. And believe me, karma has paid me back SIXTEEN-FOLD for all the times I, as a young childless adult trying to sleep on red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Greensboro, NC, resented all the babies who were flying (and not sleeping) with me. Sometimes babies cry. Sometimes children throw fits in stores. Sometimes they make messes when they ought not to. Blah blah, I’m cool with the fact that sometimes babies and children just suck. Let me tell you: now that I no longer have young children of my own, there is no greater feeling than to witness a child misbehaving in public and being able to say, “Ahh, not my problem.” IT’S AWESOME. But back to the point–I get that disruption-by-child is a part of life. No one is entitled to escape, even if they never had or don’t plan on ever having children. If you were once a child, you owe some kids and their parents a little slack. BUT if you don’t anticipate the possibility that your baby or child might be disruptive or otherwise somehow inconvenience others, and your attitude is always “they should just suck it up,” you’re being inconsiderate and narcissistic. The world doesn’t revolve around you or your special snowflake.
I don’t doubt that the mother in this article had planned and prepared to make class time with her baby go as smoothly as possible. Maybe it would have gone smoothly. And the more women are allowed to keep their babies with them (and not have to hire a sitter), the more opportunities women will have. So my inner feminist is very sympathetic to letting moms bring their babies to class. But I’m also sympathetic to people who argue that they paid to be in this class too and they don’t appreciate someone just assuming they can bring a baby–an obvious and predictable distraction–to class. (Everyone who commented on this article was sympathetic to people who have childcare emergencies and maybe have to bring their kid to class once, but no one liked the idea of just routinely bringing kids to class, which is the issue the above article and this blog post are addressing.) So I’m conflicted.
Would a baby distract me? Eh, maybe not. I’m used to that sort of thing. Would it have distracted me back in the day when I was not yet used to these things? Not sure, but possibly. I honestly don’t know. I went to a Baptist college and no one brought their babies to class. On the other hand, I go to church with Mormons every Sunday, and say what you will about Mormons, but we’re very accepting of babies and young children. As a result, our services all have a generous amount of background noise. (Unless you’re in one of those rare congregations that is short on young children, in which case it’s like being at a funeral, only less interesting.) I’m not usually distracted by anyone’s children not my own. They have to be really, really loud. But I know other people are more sensitive. (My childless teenage daughter, for example–not that she has any room to complain, as she has historically been the most disruptive individual in the chapel, long after the time when such behavior could be excused as youthful exuberance. But that’s another story.)
So I’m ambivalent. What do you gentle readers think? Is it cool for someone to bring their baby to class, as a matter of course (ha ha, get it, COURSE)? Or should they suck it up and get a sitter, just as common courtesy? I can’t quite decide.
First, a trip down cinematic memory lane. [(Relatively) Mild Language warning : turn down the volume or don’t play at all if little pitchers have big ears or you yourself are especially sensitive. Also, worm guts.]
It may come as no surprise to you that I don’t own a gun. There are no guns in my home. There were no guns in the home I grew up in. My father grew up on a farm in Idaho, so I reckon his home had guns. At least one. I mean…you’d need one to shoot a horse or something, right? I seem to recall him mentioning a rifle at some point. Anyway, my father did not take any guns with him when he left Idaho. My mother’s family did not own any guns. My mother was afraid of guns because her ex-husband threatened her with one once. That will do it, I think. I’ve never had any particular desire to shoot a gun. I was never any good at those shooting games either. We did play with water pistols, though. I think somewhere in our family album there’s a photograph of my father crouched behind a wall with a water pistol, ready to ambush one of his unsuspecting children. But that’s neither here nor there.
It is highly unlikely that my husband and I will purchase a gun any time in the foreseeable future, because it would not be safe to keep one in our house as long as our autistic son is both curious and clever enough to figure out how to retrieve it from its secure location. I believe that it’s possible to store guns in a home safely. But Elvis was unscrewing the child locks at age two. He’s almost ten now, and he’s not only smarter but his manual dexterity has gotten much better. I don’t trust him with a gun. Not because he has violent tendencies, but because he’s never seen the damage an actual gun can do. He understands danger, and he understands pain. He has a panic attack every time one of us uses glassware because he’s seen glass break. If he understood what a gun could do, he would be the world’s safest person to have around guns. But he doesn’t understand what a gun can do. More to the point, he doesn’t understand death. It would be extremely foolish for us to own a gun under these circumstances, considering that we don’t really need one.
We live in a very safe neighborhood. No one is stalking any of us (that we know of). No one has threatened us. The government has definitely overstepped its bounds in recent history, but not in a Stalinesque way (yet). So I think we’ll be okay.
That said, I have nothing against guns personally, and nothing against the idea of owning them. I can easily imagine scenarios in which I would prefer to have a gun than not have a gun. I think that one of these days it would behoove me to learn how to use one. I’m not super-anxious to do so because shooting a gun does not hold any special allure for me. I don’t have some badass lady action hero fantasy I’m dying to live out. (I can’t speak for my husband. And yes, I meant for that last bit to be as ambiguous as it sounds.) It just seems like a practical skill that could potentially be very useful. Especially when the Apocalypse starts to come ’round.
I know people (admittedly, not many) who keep guns in their home. I don’t have a problem letting my children play over there because I know these people aren’t idiots and they store their guns safely. I don’t worry about any kids getting their hands on them. I also don’t worry that my friends are secretly psychotic and could turn on us at any moment. I trust that they use their guns for legitimate, legal purposes.
I remember hearing about the school shootings in Jonesboro and at Columbine. Jonesboro was right before I had my first child. The story broke while I was at work–at a newspaper, as it happened, so I remember it coming over the wire. Columbine was after I’d quit my job to take care of my daughter full-time, and I had nothing better to do than listen to news/talk radio all day. So I heard these stories at the same time everyone else heard them. I remember being profoundly affected, emotionally, by both of them. I was especially horrified by Jonesboro because the shooters were so young–eleven and thirteen years old. I specifically remember thinking how horrible it must be to be the parents of those boys. How do you raise a murderer? How do you go on with your life after the child you love has taken the lives of other children, or the life of anyone? Can you love your child after that? I can’t even think about it. Columbine broke my heart because I heard the live reports and the voices of the survivors still frantic or in shock over the experience. And I was angry, too. Because what makes a kid think it’s okay to murder his classmates and teachers? What makes him think that doesn’t make him a monster? Or what makes him think it’s okay to be a monster?
Those last questions are kind of dumb. There isn’t a good explanation for why some people choose to do evil. It isn’t something non-evil people can understand. And because we can’t understand it, we can’t really predict it–except in the sense of being cynical and pessimistic enough to understand that evil is bound to happen and it’s mostly luck that keeps it from happening to us. (Is that cynical and pessimistic, or is it just realistic? It depends on your point of view.)
Here’s a thing I never wondered in the midst of any of these school shootings: How on earth did these kids get their hands on those guns? I assumed they got their hands on them the same way any murderer does, i.e. by buying or stealing them–in other words, whichever way was easier. If they’d used plutonium, I might have wondered, hey, where’d they get that plutonium? Not because it’s illegal for most citizens to own plutonium (just as it’s illegal for middle schoolers to buy guns), but because plutonium’s kind of scarce and its homicidal features require a certain level of education to use effectively. There aren’t a lot of legitimate home uses for plutonium. None that I’m aware of, in fact. But guns are fairly prevalent in this country, for better or worse. They’ve always been prevalent here because it’s always been normal for Americans to have their own guns. I reckon back in the day on the frontier, it would have seemed pretty stupid for a person not to have a gun. At least, that person would probably not have survived for very long. (Unless they wanted to join an indigenous tribe, but then they still would have had to fight off the other white people who chose not to join up with the indigenous peoples…and who would have had guns. Of course, the indigenous peoples would also have had guns, eventually, so it’s not like you could have just opted out of the gun culture without putting yourself in grave danger. But I digress.)
I no longer listen to news radio or watch television. I get all my news from the internet, and contrary to popular opinion, I do not spend all day on the internet. So the first I learned of the Newtown massacre was on Facebook–which is a horrible place to learn about anything. I read the news story, but my reaction was not as visceral as it was with the school shootings in the ’90s, simply because I was not experiencing it “live” the way most of America was. It took a bit longer to sink in, but I couldn’t stop it from sinking in. How terrified those children must have been. How devastating for those parents waiting to hear if their kids were safe, only to learn that they would never be reunited with them. Most of those kids probably had presents already waiting for them under Christmas trees, and those presents will never be opened. Again, what kind of monster murders children? But not once did I wonder, “Where did that bastard get the gun?”
He stole it from his mother, as it happened, but what does that prove? That she should have been wiser about where and how she stored her guns? That she never should have taught her son how to use one? I’m not really comfortable criticizing murder victims, so I can’t go there. I’m really just angry at murderers. But maybe I’m missing the point.
Plenty of people have asked, “Why do you NEED an assault weapon?” But far fewer people ask, “What IS an assault weapon?” Well, it depends on who you ask. If you want a legal definition, it depends on which law you’re referring to. “Assault weapon” has no consistent, specific definition. An assault rifle is fully automatic, i.e. it fires multiple rounds (bullets) continuously when the trigger is pulled once. This is the “machine gun” effect like you see in gangster movies. Full-automatic firearms have been severely restricted since the 1930s. You can’t just go out and buy one. The military has full-automatic firearms. Also, people who make movies about people who use machine guns. They are not the first choice of either hunters or criminals; they are just too much trouble (and too expensive) to get. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004 did not include assault rifles or other full-automatic firearms because full-automatic firearms were already as regulated as they could be and criminals weren’t using them. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban covered certain semi-automatic firearms that possessed the cosmetic features of a full-automatic firearm, not the operational features. If it had the operational features, it was classified as a Title II weapon, the regulation of which fell (and continues to fall) under the National Firearms Act of 1934.
Most guns used in crimes are semi-automatic firearms. Most guns used for any reason are semi-automatic firearms. The technology dates back over a hundred years. If you want a gun to kill people, you should probably buy a semi-automatic. By the same token, if you want a gun to defend yourself (or others), you should probably buy a semi-automatic. I would argue that you definitely NEED one, if you’re planning to defend yourself against somebody who is using one to kill you. Do you need one with the cosmetic features of an assault rifle? Eh, probably not, but then again, why not? As long as you’re not going to shoot an innocent person with it, I don’t really care.
So there’s also the issue of high-capacity magazines. Why does anyone NEED a high-capacity magazine? Well, you tell me. Maybe there’s an optimal number of rounds that one should be able to fire before having to reload. Ten, apparently, is too many. Is five too many? I wouldn’t know. I’ve never needed any bullets, ever. So I have a hard time doing the calculus here, not only because my calculus is super-rusty, but because I don’t really think it matters how many rounds are in your magazine unless you are having a shootout with a bad guy, in which case you would optimally have at least as big a magazine as he does. I don’t know. I don’t have strong feelings about the magazine issue. Make it seven rounds, make it five–I really don’t think it will make much difference. Especially not if the guy brings two guns. Which he might. (It’s been done before.) Especially not if he’s shooting at a bunch of unarmed people.
After Newtown our neighborhood elementary school had a meeting with the principal about school safety and security. Our current principal has been big on school security from the get-go; some parents thought he went a little overboard. But some parents at this meeting demanded that more be done in the wake of this recent tragedy. They wanted armed guards. They wanted armed teachers. I mean, this is the suburbs, but it’s the Portland suburbs. I wouldn’t have expected so many PTO moms to be on the same page as Wayne LaPierre. I reckon individual communities can decide for themselves what type of security their schools need. Personally, I don’t think our neighborhood elementary school needs an armed guard. If we’re going to hire more personnel, I’d just as soon they give us back our librarian and music teacher (and okay, maybe the P.E. teacher too).
I think we’ll be okay without armed guards. At the same time, I’ve never really understood the point of gun-free zones, except to advertise that you’re unarmed. It doesn’t bother me that no one at our school is armed; the odds of a horrifically violent incident are still rather slim, regardless of how close to home the evening news hits. At the same time, it wouldn’t bother me to learn that so-and-so who teaches fifth grade carries a semi-automatic pistol around with him. Does he have a concealed carry permit? Has he been trained to use a firearm? Then I’m okay with it. That’s assuming he’s safe to be around children to begin with. If he’s a homicidal maniac, then I don’t trust him with a stapler around my kid–or with his bare hands, for that matter.
I understand why people get freaked out about guns. My mother was a little freaked out by guns, as I told you. I don’t find them especially cuddly myself. On the other hand, if some criminally-minded person were assaulting me, I don’t think there’s anyone else I’d rather see than some normal person with a gun. Under the right conditions I find the presence of guns very reassuring.
I really like it when police officers have guns. In some countries the police don’t carry guns, and I don’t really understand how that works. I guess it works if the criminals don’t have guns either, but I can’t envision an America with zero guns. Maybe we’d be a better, more peace-loving country with fewer guns, but it’s a little late for that, considering there are hundreds of millions of guns in the U.S. and no way to get rid of all of them unless we repeal the Second Amendment and take extreme police-state measures to confiscate all of them. Even then, I am skeptical that we would be able to get rid of all of them. (And what would we do with them then? Melt them down and make a sculpture dedicated to the brotherhood of man? I guess that’s an idea.) The easiest ones to get will be the ones owned by law-abiding citizens. Criminally-minded gun-owners will probably not give theirs up quite so readily.
But let’s say we manage to round up all the guns, even the ones owned by criminals. I’m not super-comfortable with a society where only the government has guns. That seems kind of creepy to me. Yes, I realize other countries do it like that, but if I wanted to live in those countries, that’s where I’d be. I know, I sound like Archie Bunker now. Well, fine. I don’t feel like Archie Bunker. I feel like a paranoid liberal with a healthy distrust of executive power. If it’s possible for paranoia to be healthy. I don’t know. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of issues over the years—abortion, taxes, capital punishment, education, universal health care…tons of issues—but my position on gun control is basically the same as it was when I was sending money to Amnesty International and ordering anti-Bush t-shirts from the back pages of The Progressive. People scoff at the idea that Americans would ever need to protect themselves from their government, but I don’t see what’s so Idaho-redneck-survivalist about it. What if Mitt Romney had won the election? Wasn’t he going to put us all back in chains? (I jest, but for a lot of people, it isn’t a joke at all.)
Yesterday I read this article comparing gun-rights advocates to abortion-rights advocates. The two groups are similar (the argument goes) because they react to every proposed regulation as though it’s an assault on liberty itself. So the NRA and other Second Amendment enthusiasts can seem a little kooky at times. “Waiting period? Gah! Hitler!” (Not unlike “Waiting period? Gah! Handmaid’s Tale!”) But at the same time, gun control advocates tend to talk as though there are no laws regulating guns, or that the only thing standing between us and peace on earth is the right gun regulation. You know what I say to a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban? Meh. It didn’t decrease crime while it was in effect, and crime hasn’t increased since it’s expired. So, yeah. Meh. We already have hundreds of laws regulating guns. Guns should be regulated–they’re dangerous! But anyone who’s inclined to knock off a liquor store or murder his fellow citizens isn’t going to be too persnickety about buying his firearm from a licensed gun dealer. So good luck with that. Law-abiding citizens already jump through plenty of hoops to get their guns. It’s the people not jumping through the legal hoops that are the real problem, and setting up more hoops for the law-abiding citizen isn’t going to be any skin off the criminal’s nose.
There are two issues here: 1) the practical problem of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous persons and 2) the right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms. No one’s proposing anything new. Not that I’ve heard. We’re talking as though there’s something new going on—a new assault on gun rights, or a new restriction on gun sales that will actually have some effect on gun-related crime—but there’s nothing new. It’s the same old stuff, for the fifty billionth time. I get bored, but only because otherwise I’d tear out my hair.
This morning my orthodontist informed me that my lower teeth were now in just the right position, and I would no longer need to wear the orthodontic elastics. (Those are the little rubber bands that connect the upper braces to the lower braces. For those of you who do not have orthodontic experience.) This is good news, but I’ve had the elastics off for…about six hours now, and I have to say, it still feels wrong. Also, I had fluorescent elastics and it was kind of fun to decide which color I was going to wear every day. I will have to get used to my teeth being slightly lower-profile. I suppose it is good practice for when the braces finally come off, which I’m sure will feel much wronger.
The orthodontist also said that it will be four to six months before my upper teeth are in the right position for me to go ahead with my jaw surgery. I have to say, I am looking forward to having the jaw thing corrected. I’m not looking forward to being on a liquid diet for six weeks (yes, I know, not a liquid diet the whole six weeks, but a liquid diet for so long and then an ultra-soft diet, blah blah–“significant texture deprivation” is the operative phrase I’m looking for), but I am looking forward to having my jaw in the right place. I’ve always known my jaw was messed up, I’ve been living with it for years, and I had gotten used to it. But now, not only have I had all my jaw-related problems laid out for me by professionals, but my teeth coming into their proper positions is making those problems all the more noticeable. Particularly the problem of my lower teeth rubbing against the soft tissue behind my upper teeth. That is annoying. Also, I am constantly aware of my overbite. It doesn’t look any worse, but it feels worse. Partly because of the lower teeth-soft tissue problem, but also because without my teeth being tipped out, I’m very aware of the gap and I find myself wanting to correct it by moving my jaw forward, and that makes my jaw sore.
The airway problem (the fact that as a result of my lower jaw being too far back, I don’t have much of one–an airway, that is) is not really any more noticeable than it was before, but that was my primary motive for getting the surgery in the first place, and I’m looking forward to seeing how a larger airway will improve my life. I’m hoping that it does improve my life. I’m hoping that it means I will sleep better and have more energy during the day. Having more energy during the day would improve my self-esteem because I’d get more done. And I could look back and think, “The fact that I got anything done at all during those years of restricted airway-having is nothing short of a miracle!” and my self-esteem would be retroactively improved as well.
I hope I am not setting myself up for disappointment. I’ll be really happy when I’m no longer aware of my overbite. (Happy about that small fact, anyway. I’m sure I’ll find reasons to be unhappy about other things. I don’t want you all to worry about me turning into some kind of Stepford Madhousewife.)
I was on the Facebook this morning and Slate informed me they’d published this “lovely essay about not having children and being proud and happy about that fact.” Usually–in my observation–when people are “proud” of not having children, it’s because they’re environmentalists who believe that not producing more humans to destroy the earth is a more responsible decision than churning out planet-killers. That’s a really obnoxious reason to be proud, but Slate told me this essay was “lovely,” so I thought I’d see what this person’s deal was.
Personally, I always assume that if a person doesn’t have children, it’s because they can’t have children (for whatever reason) or they don’t want to have children (yet or ever). I don’t really care because whether or not they have kids is no skin off my nose. I understand that other people feel more invested in other people’s reproductive lives. I have several friends who are childless/child-free. One of them feels hassled by her parents because they think she just doesn’t want a family enough to do what it takes. Which in her case, I guess, would be in vitro fertilization and single parenthood, but I don’t think that’s quite what they have in mind. Also, I used to be single and childless. I know, I was still young at the time–I got married at 26 and had a baby before I was 27–but I was also Mormon, so that makes a difference. In Mormon culture 26 is like, say, 34 in the normal world. Technically there is still time to avoid dying alone, but you shouldn’t bet on it. I jest only a tiny bit. So I sympathize with childless/child-free (whichever term one prefers) people who feel “judged.” The fact is that you are being judged. Some people are judging you openly, others in secret. Hence, the need to write some manifesto explaining yourself.
The problem is that people who care about the fact you don’t have children–the people who are judging you openly and irritating the crap out of you–aren’t going to moved by any of your reasons for not having children, no matter how good you think they are, because the kind of people who would tell you your business are the kind of people who think they know better than you. So you think they would listen to you because…? They just never thought of why you might not want to have children? Unlikely.
When someone says they don’t want to have children, I assume one or more of the following to be the case:
1. They aren’t prepared to make the financial or emotional sacrifice children require.
2. They don’t enjoy children.
3. They prefer a more flexible lifestyle than is possible with children.
4. They are afraid they won’t be good parents.
5. They just haven’t felt the burning desire to have children.
I used to not want children. My reasons were numbers one through five, but the most important one was 5. If you have a burning desire to have children, reasons 1-4 for not having children are relatively small hurdles. Yes, even the one about not enjoying children. I didn’t particularly enjoy children before I had mine. When you are struck by the burning desire to have children, you always assume that your children are going to be better than other people’s. (Usually you’re right. Ha ha. Well, it’s true, isn’t it?) I liked other people’s children much more after I had my own, and I like them even better now that mine are getting older and the developmental stages that used to annoy me I can now view with detached bemusement. (Especially since I don’t have to take them home with me.)
I didn’t think the aforementioned essay in Slate was all that “lovely.” It wasn’t un-lovely or anything, but I just didn’t find anything particularly compelling about her story. So she doesn’t want kids, never has. Okay. I’m glad she’s at peace with it. She doesn’t exactly dispel any stereotypes, though. She says she can sometimes see the charm of children, but also that children can be annoying. (Newsflash!) She says it’s taken her 32 years to learn how to take care of herself, so she isn’t convinced yet that she can give her life over to taking care of someone else. Frankly, it was easier not to judge her before she explained herself. (32 years to learn how to take care of yourself? Isn’t this what’s wrong with our country?)
Maybe it’s just sad that people feel the need to justify such a personal decision. In my experience, I’ve felt the need to justify decisions I was insecure about, but maybe I’m just projecting here. Maybe it’s been too long since somebody hassled me about a personal decision. Maybe I just don’t pay enough attention to people anymore. Probably because I was tired of feeling hassled by The Man.
Maybe this whole blog is a justification for all of my bad decisions and I’m just not self-aware enough to know it.
Except I AM self-aware now. Does this mean I’m still insecure? Well, I already knew that.
Well, now I understand everything. This woman didn’t write to explain herself to people who care too much. She’s just commiserating with other people who feel hassled about not having kids. Which means this lovely essay wasn’t written for me at all. Which, if I’d thought about it, I could have guessed. I guess I’m just a sucker for the word “lovely.” Well played, Salon. Well played.
Now I have to get spinach out of my braces. Not that I feel the need to explain why I’m ending the post here. I just want you to feel sorry for me.
At this point in time I feel mostly bored with politics and political discussions. Who’s running for president again? Just kidding. I am just barely keeping up with the news. I mainly just know what is going on at the Facebook. I assume Facebook will tell me if any major tragedy strikes. Also, if it’s someone’s birthday. I don’t know what the rest of the world is doing, but on the Facebook people are, apparently, still hung up on the birth control issue, i.e. the government mandating that employers pay for insurance that covers contraceptives. Did I say that even-handedly enough? Because I don’t want to make anyone mad before I’m ready.
As to whether or not insurance companies should cover birth control, my opinion is “whatever.” The health care system in this country in 2012 has a lot of problems. I tend to think that this is not the one most deserving of my attention.
I took birth control pills for a few months back in 1997. Was taking them when I got pregnant with my first child, actually. Ha ha, what a funny time to look back on (now). As I recall, my insurance company paid for them. I mean, I had a $10 co-pay, so I assume my insurance company paid for whatever they cost above that. It’s possible that the cost of the pills was $10 even, but that seems unlikely. If my insurance company hadn’t paid for them, I might have been pissed. Because, you know, it’s medical. What is medical insurance for if not to pay for a medical expense? If I have to get a doctor’s prescription before I can buy them, how is that not a medical expense? So yeah, I get the outrage. However, it’s been a lot of years and a lot of dealing with insurance companies, and I’ve faced the facts of life:
1. Insurance companies don’t want to pay for anything. (That much is a duh.)
2. We’ve become dependent on a system of health care where a third party is supposed to pay for most things, which has increased the amount of things we expect to be covered but also the amount of things insurance companies try not to pay for.
3. The more things insurance companies have to pay for, the more expensive insurance gets. Your personal feelings of indignation over what ought to be covered don’t really enter into this equation.
So this is actually a complex problem, the whole health care/insurance thing, and far too complicated for the scope of this blog post–or any blog post of mine. If I wanted to write about the complexities of the health care and insurance industries and how government relates to all of that, I would hopefully not be giving that skill away for free. So pay me some money and I’ll give you my opinion on how we should manage the health care/insurance thing. Meanwhile, whatever.
No, all I want to write about here is the personal irritation I feel about how people have framed this debate, especially as seen on the Facebook, which hosts lots of indignant people with strong opinions who think their logic is unassailable. This isn’t for money or a good grade that I can put on my transcript, so I’ll just make a list of arguments that bug me.
1. Insurance companies pay for Viagra, so why not birth control pills?
On its face this seems outrageous. I mean, why should old guys whose penises have stopped working still get to have sex? It’s called Mother Nature, dude. Survival of the fittest. Deal with it! I mean, stuff like hearts and livers and kidneys and even gall bladders should be expected to work properly, but your penis? Really? You must think a lot of yourself. Newsflash: No one cares if you never have an orgasm again as long as you live! (Except maybe your wife, but then, what is she doing with an impotent jerk like you?)
Actually, there’s a reasonable explanation for why insurance companies would pay for Grampa’s Viagra but not Suzy’s birth control. Note: I only said it’s reasonable, not that you’ll like it. The reason is that Viagra (and other drugs designed to treat erectile dysfunction) helps a man’s body work the way a healthy man’s body works. If a man can’t get or sustain an erection and it isn’t due to some psychological problem, he has a health problem. Not one he’s going to die from, but one that
he may feel he’s going to die from will seriously impact his quality of life. By contrast, birth control pills (and other hormone-based contraceptives) make a woman’s body work in a way that healthy women’s bodies aren’t supposed to work. A healthy woman is supposed to be able to get pregnant. IMPORTANT NOTE: I did not just say that a healthy woman is supposed to get pregnant, only that she is supposed to be able to get pregnant. A woman who can’t get pregnant has a health problem. Not one she’s going to die from, but one that, if she wants children, she’s probably not going to just shrug at and say, “Oh well.”
Viagra treats a health problem. Birth control pills, while perfectly safe (for most women), are not generally associated with treating a health problem. Of course, they can be and often are used to treat health problems. VERY IMPORTANT ASTERISK–more on this in a moment. (Patience, grasshopper.) But getting pregnant is not a health problem. It’s not a disease. Have we forgotten that chapter of feminism? Healthy women who haven’t gone through menopause can get pregnant. Of course they might not want to get pregnant, which is where birth control pills come in, but for the woman who is taking the Pill for contraceptive purposes, she is not attempting to make her body work the way it’s supposed to but attempting to make it not work the way it’s supposed to.
Believe me, mes enfantes, I have no moral or philosophical problem with contraception or people using contraception to their hearts’ content. I’ve used it myself. Religiously. I think it’s the best thing since sliced bread and the internet. Access to birth control is good. Access to indoor plumbing is good, too. Couldn’t live without either one. Can’t imagine why anyone would want to.
Of course, there are non-contraceptive uses of birth-control pills. If you believe the Guttmacher Institute (and you may not, but whatever), the majority of birth-control pill users take them for non-contraceptive purposes, including reducing menstrual cramps and other “side effects” of menstruation (including migraines) and treating endometriosis and even acne. These are all health problems, so in principle, health insurance that purports to cover treatment for endometriosis and chronic pain related to menstruation and, yes, even acne ought to cover birth-control pills. You will get no argument from me there. No, absolutely none.
But–and here I finally reach my point–this line of logic doesn’t lead to arguments about an old man’s Viagra. Why on earth would you bring up Viagra unless you were just really upset that insurance companies enable beyond-their-prime men to have sex while perfectly healthy young women (who deserve to have sex and are a lot more pleasant to think of than impotent men) are not receiving any assistance with enhancing their own sexual experience (by not having to worry about getting pregnant)? The implication is clear: Viagra is only covered because the evil insurance companies care more about letting dirty old men have sex than allowing healthy young women to have sex and not worry about getting pregnant. Well, probably they do, for the reasons I just mentioned above.
But if you want to tout hormone-based contraception as a medical expense, maybe you should keep Grandpa’s sex life out of it. Don’t imply that you’re begrudging him his Viagra. For an effective argument, you might try something like “They cover insulin for diabetics and Prozac for people with depression–why not birth-control pills for women with endometriosis or chronic menses-related pain (or even acne)?” And of course, since there are women whose health and even lives may be threatened by a pregnancy, you could also say, “They pay for my grandpa’s pacemaker, so why not my birth control?” (A bonus to this approach: When Rush Limbaugh accuses you of being a slut who wants the taxpayers to pay for your slutty sex life–which he probably still will–he’ll look even more like a jerk.)
Of course, an insurance company can decide it doesn’t want to pay for birth-control pills to treat endometriosis or any other health problem because insurance companies have the legal right to suck. But as I said before, that’s a separate issue. Not for this blog post (which is discussing annoyance with rhetorical tactics, not outrage at injustices).
2. Covering birth control is cheaper than covering pregnancy and childbirth and health care for the resulting children.
True. But not a good argument for providing everyone with free birth control–because generally speaking, people don’t get pregnant because they lacked access to contraceptives. Unplanned, unwanted pregnancies are usually the result of people a) using contraceptives incorrectly or b) playing Russian Roulette with their fertility because they couldn’t be bothered with using contraception. Don’t let your own prejudices run wild with this last sentence. I’ve known married, middle-class women who engage in “b” with alarming frequency. Fortunately, those women could afford to have more kids, financially and emotionally (although the “emotionally” part was more eventually). If you’re a woman of limited resources, you really have no business with “b.” If you become pregnant, I blame you, not your insurance company or the government. And here I go off on a bit of a tangent–but only a bit, because I can’t tell you how many times I have seen comments like this on the Facebook: “I’d rather pay for birth control than for women getting pregnant to collect more welfare.” First of all, that person is revealing kind of an ugly streak. Second, they don’t seem to understand human nature very well.
I never find myself wishing that my tax dollars had gone to pay for someone’s birth control instead of her full-blown pregnancy and resulting baby because as the wording of “b” makes clear, you can offer someone contraception–even free contraception, contraception that may reside in their very own home a few feet away–but you can’t make them use it all the time. I don’t feel sorry for myself because my tax dollars are going to be spent on this woman and her child; I feel sorry for this woman and her child because she made an unfortunate choice that significantly increased their chances of living in poverty for several years if not the rest of their lives. I assure you my tax bill can handle your poor choices; I’m not sure you can.
So there’s one reason I don’t like that argument. The other reason is that we’re talking about insurance companies (so far), not the government. First of all, most people just don’t seem to get how insurance companies work. Without getting into issues that are beyond my pay grade (i.e. blogging for free), let me break it down for you: The more things (procedures, drugs, etc.) that insurance companies have to pay for, the higher premiums they have to charge (unless they want to go out of business, which most don’t). The more insurance companies cover the cost of these things, the more insulated consumers become from the cost, the higher the cost gets. If insurance companies have to cover all kinds of contraception at no additional cost to the consumer (aside from higher insurance premiums), there will be no incentive for drug companies to lower their prices or to stop them from going up. If the customer doesn’t care what it costs (because she’s not paying for it) and the insurance company can’t refuse to pay for it, why shouldn’t the drug companies charge as much as they want? And don’t think for a minute that they won’t. (Or have we forgotten this chapter of capitalism?) This is especially sucky news for the uninsured, but also sucky news for the insured because (can you guess why? I’ve already mentioned it) they will pay higher premiums.
Second of all, I don’t want to live in a society with the mentality that paying for contraception makes dollars and sense whereas paying for pregnancy and babies should be avoided. Pregnancy and babies are really important to humanity, even if not everyone wants them at every stage of life. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon that says they’re too expensive and insurance companies shouldn’t be such chumps. (If people are allowed to get hysterical and claim that opposing the contraception mandate is a slippery slope to Handmaid’s Tale territory, others of us should be allowed to get hysterical and claim that the mandate is a slippery slope to a world where only rich people are allowed to have children.)
I haven’t even touched on the issue of religious freedom, which is in fact a relevant and important issue, but it seems to be lost in the effort to point out how hypocritical and stupid insurance companies are for not covering birth control. But I don’t have time for that. (Technically, I don’t have time for this, but I’m bored and want to avoid work.)
Here’s my bottom line: Why are we spending time arguing about a government perk that serves already-employed, already-insured people who probably can already afford their birth control? Most forms of contraception are not that expensive. Yes, there are fancy-dancy versions of the Pill for women who for some reason can’t take the cheaper versions, but most forms of contraception serve most women well and are not that expensive. To make birth control pills even less expensive and increase access for those who don’t have insurance, they should be made available over the counter (with pharmacist screenings for safe use), as is already done in several countries. Not only would the increased price awareness among consumers lead to competitive pricing, but women wouldn’t have to pay for the doctor visit necessary for a prescription. Poor, uninsured women win (along with all the other women who would like some birth control pills). (Of course, a woman who needed birth-control pills for non-contraceptive purposes would still need to see a doctor to know that she needed them.) Another plus: Rick Santorum would have to get elected and go full Handmaid’s Tale/Third Reich on us in order for the public to lose access to birth control pills. (That is not nearly as likely a scenario as Facebook would have you believe.)
Well, I could probably go on, but I’m already at 2,425 words and the kids will be home soon. So I guess this concludes this edition of Inflammatory Friday. Next week: Abortion!*
What is the deal with Occupy Wall Street?
I wasn’t too clear on what it was to begin with, but I didn’t take it too seriously because I live in Oregon, where people are always protesting or setting up urban camp sites, so big whoop. However, as time went on and OWS just kept showing up in the news, I tried to figure out what it was all about. I hear stuff, I read stuff–but none of it really makes sense to me. I get that they’re upset about the banks being bailed out, and it appears that they’re also upset about student loan debt and the fact that the top 1% of earners have so much more money than everybody else, but beyond that, I just don’t really get it. What is the point? What are they trying to accomplish? What will persuade them to stop occupying wherever they’re occupying?
I don’t really want a conservative’s take on it. I know that conservatives think it’s stupid. I’m a conservative, and I think it’s stupid, but that’s mostly because I’m so frustrated that I can’t ascertain the purpose of what they’re doing, and yet it keeps going on and on, so maybe I should try harder to understand it, and then I can feel like I know enough to judge whether it’s actually stupid or just misguided or if there’s some legitimate point to a movement whose methods simply aren’t my cup of tea. (I don’t like camping.)
I know I have non-conservative readers who can explain this to me. Pretend I don’t know anything about Occupy Wall Street. Pretend I am scrubbed free of ideology and have no pre-conceived ideas of what it’s all about. Just tell me what it is and what it’s for. What are they trying to do?
I am using “thither” as an adverb–as in “that’s where Thursday went.” You don’t hear a lot of people using “thither” anymore, as an adverb or otherwise. It’s pretty much a dead word. I don’t know that it needs to be revived, either. But it’s alliterative, and I’m feeling that today.
Why am I feeling alliterative? Because I can’t think up a title for this post. It’s pretty much going to be about nothing.
This morning I spent three hours cleaning out the refrigerator. Just so you understand, I did a really good job. I won’t tell you about all the moldy stuff I found. Except I will tell you about the moldy Foitella that I bought for Sugar Daddy as a Christmas gift. It cost $22 for a wee jar, and I think I dumped at least $18 worth of it down the garbage disposal. I think my husband is congenitally incapable of eating perishable food in a timely fashion. I will probably not buy him another jar of Foitella…until Christmas rolls around again and I can’t think of anything else to buy him.
Three hours still seems like an awful lot of time to spend cleaning a refrigerator. Well, it was really filthy. Disgustingly filthy. I deserve an award.
As it happens, I did get an award. My sweet husband–he of Foitella fame–called me on the phone this afternoon and asked if I’d meet him at the Banana Republic so I could try on this dress he thought would look good on me. So being the obedient wife that I am, I did as he requested, and now I have a new dress. How does it look on me? Awesome. Thanks for asking. Trust me, that one word is more accurate than any photo could be. (I don’t photograph well.)
And the best part is that he didn’t even know that I’d cleaned out the fridge. He just sensed that I deserved an award. Actually, he’s not that sensitive. He’s just a nice husband who occasionally gives me things that I don’t deserve, and it’s just a coincidence that today I did deserve it.
You know what’s better than first-world problems? First-world benefits!
He’s not coming home tonight, which means I can get away with feeding the kids crap for dinner. Which reminds me, I have seen these news ads for Carl’s Jr.’s hand-breaded chicken tenders and whatnot on public benches. Yeah, public benches. You know what I mean, right? Those benches that are just out there in public, like at bus stops? Why does “public bench” not sound like a real thing? I don’t know. But I assure you, it is. And there are ads on such things, which is where I’m seeing the Carl’s Jr. ads that I’m talking about. One of the ads says, “Because machines make terrible chefs,” and another of the ads says, “Because machines make crappy co-workers.” Two things:
1) I don’t know that machines make crappy co-workers. I mean, certainly some machines do, but the majority of machines I work with do a very good job, and there is little in the way of “office politics” with machines. At least that is my experience. I’m sure there are many of you out there who would gladly trade at least one of your co-workers for a nice robot.
2) Since when is “crappy” appropriate copy for an advertisement that appears in the public space? I guess Carl’s Jr. is supposed to be the “edgy” fast-food place, and I suppose they don’t have a history of genteel advertising–and who am I to talk, when I use the word crap all the time? But like I tell my kids, just because I say it doesn’t make it okay. I don’t know. It just seems like another symptom of our society’s decaying moral fiber. No class, I tell you. No. Class.
I guess there might be a third thing: 3) Machines don’t necessarily make terrible chefs. My waffler makes a much better waffle than I ever could by hand. Machines get a bad rap, all in all. Except for those evil Cylons on Battlestar Galactica. But even some of them might have been good chefs. It’s hard to say, as the show didn’t really focus that much on its characters’ culinary lives. But I digress.
Getting back to my original point, I still don’t know what I’m going to make for dinner tonight. I will probably have to go to the store and buy some food. I will have to take Elvis with me, and that promises to be more trouble than it’s worth. Elvis has a new obsession with the automatic doors. He wants them to open just for him. So he will stand there, several feet away from the door, and wait as long as it takes for them to close again so that he can run up and make them open just for him. Of course, the more people going in and out of the store, the longer it takes for the automatic doors to shut. They may start to shut, but as soon as someone trips the sensor, they’re going to open right back up again. Elvis finds this very frustrating. Do you know how many people go in and out of a grocery store on your average afternoon? A lot. The doors stay open most of the time because people are always going in and out. It’s a problem, if you’re autistic and crazy.
Talking of which, I have one of Princess Zurg’s friends over at the house this afternoon. She’s staying for dinner. I hope she likes crap. In any case, it will be crap prepared by a real human, so I guess I’d better get on the stick if we’re going to eat before midnight. Gentle readers, adieu.
So I read about this story a while ago–the Iowa boy who refused to wrestle a girl at the state championships–and I wasn’t that interested, but yesterday I read this opinion piece by Mona Charen, and now I’m curious because she makes a couple of unsupported assertions. Granted, they probably went unsupported in the piece because they seem to be based on common sense, but sometimes reality does defy common sense–or at least people in real life defy it, or deny it, or whatever. I must admit that I know next to nothing about the sport of wrestling, and absolutely nothing about the realities of co-ed wrestling–the situation on the ground, or on the mat, as it were. That’s why I’m opening the questions up to my blog readership–all twelve of you–hoping to get more information on which to base an opinion. Because since I can’t eat, it looks like I will be forced to spend my free time forming opinions on things that don’t really matter to me.
The first assertion Mona Charen makes is that boys are at a tactical disadvantage in co-ed wrestling because they can’t touch the girls’ breasts, but the girls can touch the boys’ chests all they want/need to. Theoretically, a boy might hold back on his best moves for fear of accidentally touching the no-touch zone and thereby getting slapped with a sexual harassment charge. That makes sense, doesn’t it? But is it really true? First of all, in co-ed wrestling, are the girls’ breasts really off-limits? Second, do the girls really have an expectation that their breasts aren’t going to get touched at some point? Third, how much do the boys find themselves touching each others’ breasts? How much breast-touching happens as a matter of course in wrestling? I just don’t know. Given that girls have been wrestling on co-ed teams for at least 20 years, one would think that this issue would have cropped up at some point–if it’s an issue. Which brings me to fourth, has a boy wrestler ever been disciplined for touching a girl wrestler’s breast? The information has to be out there somewhere, but something tells me that “co-ed wrestling sexual harassment” isn’t something I want to Google.
Mona Charen’s second assertion is that contrary to what all these egalitarian-minded folks claim, co-ed wrestling is necessarily sexual because teenagers are always thinking about sex. First, is it true that teenagers are always thinking about sex? Sure, they think about it a lot. Boys, especially, I’ve heard, think about sex a lot–every few seconds, according to some reports. But always, even while wrestling? Wouldn’t that lead to a lot of sexual confusion among single-sex wrestlers? Second, does it matter at all if the girl you’re wrestling is attractive or not? It’s been claimed that sex is the last thing on these wrestlers’ minds because wrestling is just so, so very physically and mentally challenging that there just isn’t time or energy to think about sex while you’re doing it. But if the girl you’re wrestling is really attractive (to you), is it really impossible that there could be anything sexual about full-body contact in that context? I’m not trying to be a smart-ass. I’ve just never engaged in non-sexual wrestling, so I honestly don’t know, and I need you all to enlighten me.
Personally, I’m old-fashioned and tend to think that if my son were a wrestler, I’d rather he refused to wrestle girls. Unless he were in some kind of death match with an evil girl villain. Those types should always be foiled, and if it means you have to be a little less of a gentleman, well, that’s just how it goes. But I think evil girl villains are more likely to be into martial arts. At least that’s the way it seems to be in the movies. Kick-boxing girls are hot, btw. There’s nothing non-sexual about that.
In totally unrelated news, this was this morning’s poll on National Review Online:
Mike Huckabee Suggests He’ll Be More Inclined to Run for President if His Book Does Well. Does This Make You More Likely or Less Likely to Buy It?
Results so far: 5% More Likely, 95% Less Likely
I voted Less Likely, even though there technically isn’t a way I could be less likely to buy his book. It’s the principle of the thing. But that’s a subject for another day.
Let’s talk wrestling!
I have not commented on the horrific incident that happened in Tucson on Saturday because I didn’t have much to say about it, except that it was horrible and it just breaks my heart. What else can you say about things like that? Well, apparently you can say a lot of things–things that never even occurred to me because I was so focused on the fact that some bastard had just murdered or injured eighteen people, including a child, that I forgot all about my American duty to speculate about the shooter’s motives and whether or not he may have been inspired by some right-wing political rhetoric. (Or any political rhetoric.) When somebody goes on a shooting rampage, I immediately assume the person is mentally disturbed. That is my charitable assumption. My less-charitable assumption is that the person is evil. But I am an American–“mentally disturbed until proven evil” is my motto.
So, yes, I’ve been silent, up until this morning, when I read this piece by David Brooks which pretty much sums up my thoughts on the whole matter. And I posted it on Facebook because, silly me, I thought the assertion that taking care of schizophrenics will do a lot toward solving the problems of violent schizophrenics going out and shooting people would be relatively uncontroversial. I try not to be political on the Facebook; it’s really not worth it. To me this isn’t a political issue, at least not in the left-right/liberal-conservative sense. A mentally disturbed young man shot and killed a lot of people. This sort of thing transcends politics. It’s not about what books he read or what his pet peeves were. It’s about the fact that he was mentally ill and untreated. That’s why he got himself a gun and shot people. Not because of anything Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh or Adolph Hitler or Karl Marx or George Orwell said, and not because the gun was just there, ready for the taking–but because he was psychotic. Sometimes people are.
Of course this turned into a thing, and said thing is still probably going on as I type this, but it just occurred to me that OBL would be totally pissed if she knew I was off talking about crap on the Facebook instead of blogging, and since my unofficial, semi-realistic goal of 2011 is not to piss off OBL, I decided I would just go ahead and blog about this because it turns out there is more to say than, “This is really horrible and breaks my heart.”
Here’s what sucks about mental illness: it doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that some people’s brains get sick, and it’s especially unfair–to the afflicted individual and everyone around him or her–when someone’s sick brain tells them to hurt other people. We want to make it be something else, something more complicated–or maybe simpler–than a sick mind; we want to make it something we can be angry about, instead of just heartbroken. We want to blame people, not diseases.
I remember when Andrea Yates murdered her five children. I was obsessed with that story. I had to know why she did it. Then I had to know how a woman so deeply disturbed was allowed to be alone with children–or by herself, for that matter. As it turned out, there was plenty of blaming-of-people to do in that case, but what angered me was when people turned it into a discussion of how stressful it is to be a mother, especially a stay-at-home-mom, especially a homeschooling mom, and how we couldn’t really expect her not to snap under those conditions. Well, you’ll get no argument from me that Andrea Yates was living under stressful conditions that would make anyone snap, but the thing is, she didn’t just “snap.” She had a psychotic break and murdered her children–because she was schizophrenic and wasn’t being treated.
Because Andrea Yates used a bathtub and not a gun, no one thought to blame the weapon. But whenever some mentally-disturbed individual goes on a murder spree with a firearm, the conversation always comes back to gun control. Okay. I know I’ve blogged about gun control before, but since I can’t remember when or where that post is (or those posts are), I will have to repeat myself. It’s not that I’m some gun-loving fanatic. I don’t own a gun; I don’t anticipate ever owning a gun; more to the point, I don’t anticipate ever needing to own a gun. I’ve met some gun laws that I liked. These are deadly weapons, after all, so I should think some regulations are in order. My position on gun control, which has always been my position on gun control–from the time I was a pinko-bleeding-heart liberal to my current stint as a right-wing hatemonger–is that it doesn’t do what its advocates want it to do; more to the point, it can’t do what its advocates want it to do, which is to significantly reduce the number of people who murder each other. The thing about murderers–about all criminals, really–is that they really aren’t too keen on following the law in the first place. Once you start seriously thinking you’re going to murder somebody, your respect for the rule of law is reduced to the point where it’s really not worth quantifying. No one with murder in his heart starts formulating a plan and gets frustrated by his inability to buy a gun legally and therefore gives up on his homicidal tendencies. Yes, some murderers get their guns legally; but if they can’t get them legally, they get them illegally. That’s how murderers roll. If they want to use a gun, they’ll get one and not be too hung up on filing their paperwork correctly.
Now, just because murderers can get their guns illegally anyway doesn’t mean that there’s no point regulating guns and they should just be readily available to any old person and sold in vending machines on the street or come as free gift when you open a checking account or buy a gym membership. Obviously, a civilized country needs rules about purchasing guns, and those rules need to be enforced. What the rules should be we could argue about all day long, and we may or may not agree on much, but I don’t want to have a discussion on the finer points of gun legislation. Not at the moment, I mean. Because at the moment I’m pre-occupied with this story about a mentally disturbed individual who murdered people. It’s true that if he hadn’t been able to buy a gun, he wouldn’t have been able to shoot people. But he did get a gun, and he did shoot people–because he was mentally ill and not receiving treatment.
If he hadn’t been able to buy a gun, do you think he would have said, “Oh, well, guess there’s nothing I can do”? Do you think he wouldn’t have found some other way to kill people? Maybe not those particular people he killed on Saturday, but this person was a time bomb, if you’ll pardon the expression, waiting to go off; he wanted to inflict damage, and he was going to do it because he was mentally ill and not receiving treatment. That’s the first cause here. If Andrea Yates can inspire a discussion about the dangers of homeschooling, can’t this person inspire a discussion about how to recognize mental illness and make it easier for people to get treatment and easier for relatives–and the state, when necessary–to force people to get treatment when they present a danger to themselves or others?
As for the tone of our current political discourse, everyone needs to get a grip and understand that it is no more uncivil than it’s ever been. If you knew what politicians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used to say about each other, oh, my dears, you would be scandalized. Let’s flash back to 1998, when Bill Clinton was being impeached and Alec Baldwin goes on some late-night talk show (I want to say Conan O’Brien’s, but I don’t really remember) and said that if we were in another country we’d stone Henry Hyde to death and kill his wife and children for what he was doing to the country. Now, was that appropriate? Hint: it’s a rhetorical question. Was there any violence perpetrated against Henry Hyde or his family? Fortunately, no. Did Alec Baldwin really mean that we should kill Henry Hyde and his family? I very much doubt it. But if someone had assassinated Henry Hyde, would Alec Baldwin have been responsible? One could argue for some measure of culpability, I suppose, but ultimately the answer is that anyone who takes their citizenship tips from an apoplectic Alec Baldwin on the Conan O’Brien show is a mentally disturbed individual and/or evil, and that is a problem in and of itself. Alec Baldwin is another story. Probably a whole other blog, but anyway, I don’t have time.
My point is that until an otherwise sane pillar of the community goes on a killing spree and says, “Well, Sarah Palin said we should target this person for defeat,” or “Rush Limbaugh said we need to get this person out of the Congress,” color me skeptical on the notion that our political discourse has just gotten out of hand to the point that it’s inciting violence. We live in a violent country. Most of the violence–the vast majority of it–is not politically motivated in any way. And all I want to say about Jared Lee Loughner is that his political leanings are irrelevant because his politics were incoherent–because he was mentally disturbed and probably psychotic. Sometimes people are. And we don’t take their treatment seriously enough. There’s certainly a whole other blog to be written on that topic, but not today. For now, I’m done.
When I first read about the new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which will excise all instances of “n—–” and replace it with “slave,” I thought, “That’s lame.” That was a couple days ago. I was a little pre-occupied with some other stuff. This morning I have showered and unloaded the dishwasher and eaten breakfast and my five-year-old is still asleep, so I’m thinking, “What shall I blog about?” and what’s on my mind is this lame publishing company that thinks it can write a better version of Huckleberry Finn than Mark Twain did.
Now, it’s not as though the original version of Huckleberry Finn is going to be phased out or something. This is just an alternate edition, kind of like an abridged version of a really-long-novel-that-doesn’t-really-need-to-be-that-long (does it? because I’m a little short on time). And in the words of Keith Staskiewicz, who wrote the EW article linked above,
The original product is changed for the benefit of those who, for one reason or another, are not mature enough to handle it, but as long as it doesn’t affect the original, is there a problem?
I think there is a problem. It’s one thing if you want to take “s—” out of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” for the radio edit–because let’s face it, what does that song even mean? I don’t know. It’s her s—. (And it’s bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.) Not much violence is done to the artistic intent if you replace “s—” with, say, “stuff,” although one might well argue that “stuff” isn’t quite as musical as the other. But I digress. We’re not talking about a pop song that half of you reading don’t even remember and the other half of you might be angry with me for putting in your brain because now it’s going to be stuck there all day. Am I sorry? No, because I was making a point, which is that we’re talking about the seminal American novel that everyone has to read at some point in his or her education because it’s important. And if you change the language in which it was originally written, it’s not like an abridgement–it’s like a bad translation that fails to capture the essence and intent of the original. It is an inferior product.
“Nigger” is not interchangeable with “slave.” If it were, “nigger” would not be offensive, or “slave” would be spelled “s—-.” (Not to be confused with “s—.”) “N—–” has a connotation that goes way beyond “slave.” A black person wasn’t called a “n—–” because he was a slave; he was called a “n—–” because of white racism. White racism justified black slavery, but beyond that, even black people who were technically free were not equal under the law or in society. Replacing “n—–” with “slave” not only screws with the novel’s voice , but it severely diminishes Twain’s anti-racism message. Good golly Miss Molly, this is like Huck Finn for second graders–I feel ridiculous having to spell this out on a blog post intended for grown-ups, but it wasn’t second-graders who censored Huckleberry Finn; it was well-intentioned adults who ostensibly care about bringing a literary classic to a wider audience.
But these well-intentioned adults are missing the point. If you are too immature to handle the N-word in historical and literary context, you are too immature to appreciate Huckleberry Finn. You may as well just watch the TV movie starring Ron Howard and Donny Most because the finer points of the novel will be lost on you.
As I said in my tiny-rant on the Facebook this morning–oh, how I hate to repeat things I’ve already said on FB, but I only have so many original thoughts–it’s like taking out the “F— You” in Catcher in the Rye and replacing it with “Go jump in a lake.” Say what you will about the literary merits or moral value of Catcher in the Rye, but such a Bowdlerization would render that climactic scene fairly meaningless. Writers choose their words carefully. (Even I choose my words carefully, sometimes.) Because writers know that words matter. How you use words matters. When you use certain words instead of others matters. That’s why we have writers and why we have censors. There are times when putting things a bit more delicately is appropriate, or at least benign. It is not appropriate or benign to re-write Mark Twain.
I think I understand how offensive the N-word is. I move in circles where there is very little vulgarity spoken aloud. I find the F-word extremely jarring when it is spoken aloud, but if someone said the F-word in front of me, I would be merely jarred–as opposed to if someone said the N-word in front of me, in which case I would be horrified. Because the N-word has connotations that are beyond vulgar or offensive. That is why it’s so important that the N-word stay out of our polite discourse but stay in Huckleberry Finn. It does us no good to pretend that the word wasn’t commonly used in the nineteenth-century South or that it doesn’t have a history the pre-dates rap music.
I’ve been known to protect my children from a lot of things I consider vulgar and offensive. (I won’t let them watch America’s Got Talent, for example.) Our house is the Euphemism Capital of Suburban Portland. But my children are going to read the real Huckleberry Finn, if they’re going to read it at all. Anything less would be unacceptable.
Krusty the Clown: Now, boys, the network has a problem with some of your lyrics. Do you mind changing them for the show?
Anthony Kiedis: Forget you, clown.
Chad Smith: Yeah, our lyrics are like our children, man. No way.
Krusty the Clown: Well, okay, but here where it says, “What I got you gotta get and put it in ya,” how about just, “What I’d like is I’d like to hug and kiss ya.”
Flea: Wow. That’s much better.
Arik Marshall: Everyone can enjoy that.