Thoughts on Simplistic Thinking

Goby the Fish

I can think specifically of a few times when teachers worked to indoctrinate me.

The first time was in elementary school. Those were the days when anti-littering propaganda… well, littered school hallways and classrooms. And yes, I was one of those kids who, under the age of ten, was out in the streets lecturing people for littering, yelling out the car window from the backseat at passersby who dropped cigarette butts or napkins on the sidewalk, picking up pieces of trash and railing at the ilk of those ruining our world. I must have been adorable.

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Oh boy. Dare I? Thoughts on Abortion

Wow. Abortion has certainly topped the news cycle lately, thanks to a law just passed in New York and a bill in Virginia that prompted a controversial comment by the governor of that state, who is now embroiled in a blackface controversy that has put his future at stake. 

Needless to say, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with opinions, from both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, on the topic along with countless links to support this point of that point.

As a libertarian, I am pro-choice. I would not elect to take away a woman’s right to choose. But I also see it as a health issue and not a government one. But that’s a different discussion. But as a human, a woman, I am pro-life. So I tend to stay out of abortion discussions.

One thing is clear, the two sides are talking past each other, and so no one gets anywhere. 

Those who are pro-choice say a woman has a right to choose because it is her body and only she has the power of deciding what making decisions about her body. Abortions are necessary for the true freedom of women, freedom from having children at any given point in their lives if they find themselves pregnant, whether by accident or due to rape or incest, if they so choose. Of course, this is simplifying it all. But I don’t want to get into an argument about all of the reasons a woman has sovereignty over her own body and what occupies it. 

Those who are pro-life believe abortion is murder, plain and simple. 

And how could there possibly be any compromise between these two viewpoints? 

Well, there certainly can’t be as long as the pro-choice position is that those who are pro-life only seek to control women’s bodies. And that men are not allowed to have an opinion about this. I assume you can see how those attacks will fall on deaf ears. Because the people being attacked think abortion is killing. They truly aren’t trying to control women. That’s not their goal. They are trying to save babies, as they see it. And because they think it is murder, yes, men can also have that opinion. So when told they just want to move backwards to a time they could control women’s bodies is just…confusing.

I also can see why someone who is pro-choice would see it that way, because forcing a woman to go through with a pregnancy she doesn’t want absolutely is taking the control of that decision, and hence her body, away from the woman in question. But there is a conflict in the hierarchy of values of the two groups in question.

Those in the pro-choice camp value a woman’s sovereignty over her own body over the fetus of an unwanted pregnancy.

Those in the pro-life camp value the life of the unborn baby over the woman’s choice.

And I used different terminology on purpose. 

Unfortunately, a serious, respectful discussion of these values rarely occurs. Or at least, I never see it.  

Lately, I have become more interested in the topic of abortion because of the recent headlines. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and hearing. And a bit of digging, as usual, reveals that people are not speaking carefully or precisely about what current laws actually already allow and what the new proposed laws change. The ten-second soundbites are outlandish (a word I am not sure i have ever used, but it popped into my head and seems so accurate).

For example, what the governor of Virginia said on radio show (fast forward to around 38:30 – I didn’t want to post the comments out of context) about the third trimester abortion bill that had been introduced shocked me, along with millions of others. It absolutely appears that he is saying after a baby is born, the doctor and mother can decide what to do with the baby. And he gives that as an example of a third trimester abortion.

Surely, reasonable people can understand how his comments would be confusing. So if he misspoke or if he simplified a much more nuanced situation, a further clarification would clear things up. Unfortunately, much of what I have seen on the issue has been a doubling down.

And then there is the condescending tone that screams “You’re an idiot if you don’t understand what he meant,” followed by the accusation “you only want to control women’s bodies,” given simply for asking for clarification.

The craziest thing happened to me, as I struggled to figure out what the governor meant and what exactly the bill in Virginia was proposing, because I was becoming concerned about my own pro-choice position from what I was hearing.

I was invited to a local political lecture by a friend, and a quick dinner beforehand. I was unaware a third person would be joining us. Turned out, this man and his wife own an abortion clinic in Virginia. And they have been extremely active politically. My friend told me she was at the Washington DC Women’s March this year with them, and it was like being with rock starts. Everyone knew them and their work.

So I asked. And asked. I did apologize for inundating him with questions at the end of the dinner. I expressed no opinions. I was just striving for understanding. And it was probably one of the most productive discussions on abortion I have ever had.

He revealed that he (and he made it sound like many in his community) were angry that the bill had even been proposed in Virginia. Turns out, the difference between current law and the proposed law was that as the law now stands, three doctors are required to certify a third semester abortion. This bill would reduce that number to one, the woman’s primary doctor. It also would take out the words “substantially and irremediably” from the statement allowing abortion if the pregnancy “substantially and irremediably impair[ed] the mental or physical health of the woman.”

I just wonder how many people were aware of the current law. I know I wasn’t. Turns out, it could be argued that this bill is not a huge change. My dinner friend was upset because he said it really wasn’t necessary to even bring this bill forward. He could think of only two cases in the last five years that might apply. But under the current law, they were both able to get three doctors approval and obtain the abortion. So in fact, they didn’t really need the new law. Now, he also stated that he only performs up to 13 week abortions, so it is possible there are other cases he is unaware of. He said it is also possible if someone didn’t get the three doctors to sign off, she could have travelled to another state where laws are looser.

But what the bill accomplished was putting abortion on the front page, and turning the discussion to an emotional, reactionary war. And Governor Northam’s comments didn’t help that. 

I asked my dinner mate a question I’ve been wondering about. In all the talk about having to do a late term abortion to save the mother’s life, I have been confused. Isn’t that what a c-section is for? After all, when I was pregnant with my son, believe it or not, my life was at risk TWICE during the pregnancy. The first time was at 26 weeks. I had to go through emergency exploratory surgery because doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. All tests on the baby showed that he was mine. I was the problem. I actually had to sign papers saying that it was ok if I lost the baby.  Which I did. I was in unbearable pain, pain I didn’t think I could survive. 

Turned out, I was bleeding internally from a ruptured ovarian cyst. My son rested peacefully in my uterus while all hell broke loose around him. But after surgery the doctor told me that had he been at risk, they would have removed him and rushed him to NICU. But there was no need to. I came out still pregnant with twenty staples from my belly button wrapping around to my side. The scar is pretty horrendous!

The second time, my water broke early, at 35 weeks. I was admitted to the hospital for observation. It’s a long story as to why I was still pregnant and in the hospital on bed rest five days later, but on the fifth day, I yelled out in pain, resulting in a rush of nurses to my side. The baby looked fine. Heartbeat was strong. No labor. But I was howling in pain. Soon I was screaming “Fuck” as loud as I could. I asked to make calls to say goodbye. I knew I was dying. The last words I remember hearing came from the anesthesiologist as he put me under. “This doesn’t look good.”

When I finally awoke and had some semblance of consciousness, I was told that if we had not already been in the hospital, both my son and I would have most assuredly died. Instead, I had a healthy, albeit tiny, baby boy and I should recover fully. The doctor told me that the placenta had attached on a weakened section of the uterine wall. In my previous pregnancy, the placenta would not expel and doctors had to cut it out. They thought perhaps it was that spot where the placenta attached. It broke through the uterine wall, and once again, I was bleeding out internally.

An emergency c-section saved both me and the baby.

So I asked. Isn’t that what a c-section is for? An emergency? The mother’s life (or the baby’s, for that matter) is threatened? He also informed me a bit about the medical emergencies that might lead to a late abortion, but he also admitted that it really isn’t about that. These late term abortions are really about nonviable fetuses, those without a brain, for example. 

These are the discussions that need to be a the forefront. Discussions that would actually promote understanding. They might not change anyone’s mind. In fact, I doubt they would. But they might get us to see each other as  reasonable, sentient beings rather than as demonic enemies, which is seriously what it feels like today in the United States.

Things like this aren’t helpful: Tucker Carlson interviews Monica Klein of Seneca Strategies.

And honestly, neither are articles like this: “Abortions at or after 24 weeks are sometimes needed medically. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

If I were still in the classroom, I would bring this article in for my college freshmen to discuss. My first question would be “How would you describe the tone of the article?” I would follow that up with asking for examples of words that reveal the tone.

My second question would be “Who is the intended audience?”

I would suggest that the tone is condescending and sarcastic. Here’s an example: “I have written about 3rd trimester abortion so much that I am stunned at the basic inability to grasp what is happening.” The author is Dr. Jen Gunter, and OB/GYN who has a blog and Twitter following. When I saw this article, which someone shared on my Facebook newsfeed, I had never read anything she had written nor even heard of her. So to assume I have read what she has written on the topic multiple times and that I am just a dolt who cannot grasp her meaning reveals a misunderstanding of reach. 

I think for most of the population, and correct me if I’m wrong, the issue of abortion is not a day to day topic I am talking and reading about. Obviously, for others, it’s their business to be experts about the medical side of abortion as well as the legality in all fifty states and federally. So to assume that the reader is an idiot who simply can’t grasp what is happening is a gross mischaracterization. I promise you I am not an idiot. This just isn’t my area of expertise, and it isn’t an area I haven’t been busy investigating in my spare time. I have other priorities, other things going on in my life, other pet projects. That doesn’t mean I cannot learn. I actually want to learn. 

Or how about this line? “Here are the facts about abortion at or after 24 weeks and the facts and I don’t care if you believe in them or not. They are still true.” She even adds that “Apparently some doctors don’t really grasp this [the facts], so here we are.”

As an academic, I cannot imagine accepting a paper on abortion stating this about the facts used as evidence. Nor would I accept facts on an essay from a source that claimed this. Not that this is a college research paper or that the author is interested in being quoted in college research papers, but …still.

You can read the article yourself and find other examples of the condescending tone. But that leads me to the second question. Who is her audience? It doesn’t appear to be doctors, in order to educate them on medical terms and procedures. She insults them. It’s not anyone who is pro-life. The entire article is designed to prove what idiots they are. I would consider myself philosophically pro-choice. I am not an activist, and I don’t participate in protests. But I want women to have the right to choose an abortion through the first 13 weeks. I am not exactly what I think after that. So an article like this might help me clarify my own stance on second or third trimester abortions. But this article isn’t written for me either. I am turned off by the first sentence when she mentions all the lies circulating about the New York law. A few sentences later, she states, “This has sadly been an opportunity to mischaracterize and even lie about what women who are 24 or more weeks pregnant go through when they need an abortion and I find this deeply offensive.” Or perhaps it is misunderstanding? Why isn’t that a possibility? Pretty much everyone who is not an abortion activist that I have spoken to in the last couple of weeks is completely confused. Is Governor Northam really saying that if a baby has severe deformities and is born alive that a discussion will ensure about what to do with that baby? And what constitutes severe deformities as opposed to non-viability, which he also mentioned? What is wrong with getting clarification on that? 

Buried deep down in the insults is actually some useful information that I didn’t know and had wondered about. But I doubt many in my position would be willing to get that far in the article. 

So the only thing I can imagine is that her audience is people who already completely agree with her position, not only on abortion but that those who disagree and those who might be confused about procedures and laws are tiresome morons.

I’m just not sure where we go from here…

Thoughts on Reading vs. Listening to Books

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 2.36.46 pmThe question posed on Facebook went something like this (and I paraphrase): Is listening to an audiobook the same as reading a book? If one listened to an audiobook, can that be added to a “books I read this year” list?

My initial response went something like this: No, they are not the same, but I suppose you can put it on the list.

But as people chimed in, and as I was given more time to think about this, I realized that the answer is actually not that simple.

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Lessons from Orange County and The Real Housewives

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It’s all worth it. All of it.

One of my guilty pleasures is the Real Housewives franchise. And the Real Housewives of Orange County Reunion wrapped up this week. Yes, the show is filled with ridiculousness and drama, some of which is certainly played up for TV through strategic editing and forced confrontations. But it has actually been very educational for me, which might sound strange coming from a college professor. But it has been educational in regards to interpersonal relationships and to understanding personality types.

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Thoughts on an English Teacher’s Correction of Trump’s Letter

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When I taught at a Los Angles community college, I was the paid editor of our accreditation reports during my tenure. The first draft was cobbled together with the writings of fifty or so people, and my job was to create a consistency of voice and word choice. And grammar. After all, some people hold steadfast to the Oxford comma while others insist it is superfluous. I had to decide which was right for this publication.

One common inconsistency in the document was the use of capitalization. This is where I, with my Masters of Arts (capitalized as per AP Style) in English, got my real education on capitalization rules. One “rule” as I understood it was that only titles are capitalized, not positions or offices. And the accreditation report was about positions, certainly not the people who currently occupied those positions For example, “the senator” is not capitalized but “Senator Smith” is.

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Being Witness to the Power of a New Day

Cap-1001Every day, I wake up in awe. Every day. Every day I set my alarm for a half an hour before sunrise, and when the alarm rings, I struggle to open my eyes before turning toward the window at my left. Through trial and error, I have discovered that by this point, a faint glow will line the horizon. There have been a couple of mornings where cloud cover hides that glow, but most mornings, the orange color that swells and deepens as the earth rotates to reveal the sun propels me out of bed.

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Thoughts on the Recent News Regarding Sexual Misconduct and Bullies

People seem to be repeatedly shocked at the revelation that men who have been been accused, some with indisputable evidence, of various levels of sexual misconduct, from harassing to rape, are the same men who have claimed they support women and women’s rights. The hypocrisy, the masses accuse.

But that isn’t exactly what I’m seeing. I am reminded of my experience with bullies.

For about five years, I taught at a middle school in Los Angeles. And as in every middle school across America, there were kids who were bullies and kids who were bullied. I learned a couple of interesting things about bullies through my years there.

  1. Some bullies were protected. Even bullies of teachers. Inevitably, those bullies had influential families with a lot of money and threats of lawyers.
  2. Some of the worst bullies were teachers. I had a co-worker when I was a tenured college professor who previously had worked at a middle school. His theory was that many of those who chose to teach in a middle school were themselves bullied in middle school, and this is their attempt to bring closure to that. After my own experiences, that seems reasonable. I was personally bullied by a couple of teachers, and I know others who were bullied at levels far worse than I was. The administration, who consider themselves the toughest around on bullies, refused to accept the possibility that teachers were also bullying. And yes, I did report what happened to me – not everyone did. But, I was not really believed. I think I wasn’t taken seriously because I was not perceived as a victim in general. It was clear that anyone who was considered weak or a victim was always automatically believed.
  3. Standard anti-bully practice included an assembly each year to draw attention to this issue. Of course, I support any effort to reduce the amount of bullying at school. But these did little, if anything, to stop the bullying.

Let me expand a bit on those assemblies.

What I saw as the failure of these assemblies is that the worst, most obvious examples of bullying were trotted out. There was always talk of the importance of not making fun of the disabled, for example. I remember one story of a child in a wheelchair being bullied, I guess, for being in a wheelchair. Do I not doubt this happened? I’m sure it did. But only the most despicable kids at school would do that. Most bullying is not so easy to see. Kids talked about this after the assembly, and some took it upon themselves to keep the message moving forward. They made posters, they talked to kids in study hall. Teachers assigned projects in classes.

And yes, all of that is good. Please don’t misunderstand me. My point is that the majority of bullies at that school were not making fun of the disabled. But what they were doing was just as terrible. They were making life hell for the student sitting next to them in English class. And that student had all sorts of reasons to justify how he acted, and none of them were because he decided to be a bully. And if a bully makes fun of a child in a wheelchair, well, that was not him.

The other problem was a PR issue. Typically, the anti-bullying assemblies were conducted by organizations who had been hired by the school. It wasn’t the teachers and staff talking to their own students. That might be fine too. They have certainly done all kinds of research and focus groups to determine how best to present this information to middle school kids. But at the end of the assembly, our principal simply couldn’t help himself. He did his thanks, and asked the students to applaud to show their appreciation. And then he said, “This was really great information. We of course don’t have bullying here at our school, so I am grateful for that, but let’s thank them for coming out.”

Seriously? So anyone who may have had a fleeting question about how he was treating a classmate and whether or not it was bullying (which I doubt anyway) was now just told that it is not by the principal. The student who is getting bullied and may have considered reporting it was just told that he is not being bullied. It doesn’t happen there.

I also understand a little about bullies because my ex-husband is a bully. I never called him that, probably because to do so would have labelled me as his victim, and I never felt like I was his victim. I just thought he was an asshole. But he was a bully. And I have had many other people who have come in contact with him call him as much. But he would never identify himself as a bully.

After our divorce, he made a habit of calling me names, constantly: buffoon, idiot, imbecile, ignorant, evil, just to name a few. When I would ask him to stop calling me names, his response was always that he did not call me a name and that he would never call me names. He doesn’t do that. He would follow that statement with, “It isn’t calling names when it is the truth.” So he wasn’t a bully. He was an advocate for truth. Other times, he would claim that he was joking. “God, can’t you take a joke?” More on that later.

When my ex punched a man in line at 7-11, he didn’t punch the man because he was a bully. He punched him to teach him a lesson to save the rest of the world from this man’s rudeness. Whenever he felt slighted, which was most of the time since he believed the world was out to get him, he lashed out to teach someone a lesson. He threatened, he ridiculed, he got physical. But his target always deserved it. People walk on eggshells around him, measuring every word and reducing contact as much as possible.

To tell him that he was (is) abusive and a bully would fall on deaf ears. He considered himself noble. So any generic message sent out to bullies would never resonate with him. And my guess is that this would be true with most people that you and I would consider bullies.

This brings me to the latest onslaught of accusations of sexual harassment to sexual assault to out and out rape. While there have been a few who have issued apologies, even though people argue that some of these aren’t really apologies, those apologies are revealing.

Louis CK writes, “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was O.K. because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first.” There it is. In his mind, he got consent. So any condemnation of sexual abusers would not resonate with him. He was above that. He would never sexually harass a woman.

Al Franken says this in the middle of his first, easily criticized, public apology: ““I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t.” This is a man who just as recently as last week posted on Facebook about the bravery of the women who have come forward with their stories about Harvey Weinstein. And he thanked them. This is also the same Al Franken who last month was working on a sexual assault bill.

He doesn’t see himself as disrespecting women. In his actual apology he states that he doesn’t respect men who do not respect women, yet he is apologizing for not respecting women. Does anyone else see the disconnect?

When faced with the photo of him grabbing at Leean Tweed’s breasts, Franken claims it was a joke. Sounds familiar. Come on? Can’t anyone take a joke?

Others have said, “That isn’t who I am,” when admitting the truth of recent accusations. Again, the disconnect. If you sexually harassed or assaulted a woman, then that is exactly who you are. Who else could you be? How else can we judge who someone is but by their actions? Would you encourage your daughter to date a man who has abused women because he assured you that is not who he is?

This is why even as recently as a month ago, Franken can stand against the enemy because he has not identified himself as part of that group.

What this means is that no number of sexual harassment workshops or courses online will reach those who need to be reached. The people who do not behave this way can’t imagine that anyone does behave this way. And those who need to be spoken to do not see themselves as the perpetrators presented in these classes.

Part of the problem, and I myself have attended many workshops and clicked through online courses on sexual harassment as required by my work, is the clumsy examples of misbehavior that are provided, especially in the animated online videos. It is difficult for me to take them seriously and to see myself as the woman in any of the scenarios. I can only imagine most men feel the same way. When the cartoon man puts his hands on the cartoon woman, the entire exchange is so awkward and unrealistic. So it is easy to say, “Well, I would never do that.”

I do not have an answer to any of this (although I do have a thought, which will have to wait for another day). I just want to point out that we do have a problem. Simply scolding and demanding an end to bad behavior is not enough. Men, and bullies, need to first see themselves for who they are in order to change. Perhaps the best way to do that is to single out these men with the specifics of what they have done. It has yet to be seen if even that will change what seems to be a sense of entitlement that can justify nearly any behavior.

Meeting Challenges Head-On

IMG_3373One of the decisions I made for 2017 was to do things that are difficult. One night I was thinking that it had been too long since I did something that was really hard for me, where I really challenged myself.

I felt this was especially important because I have finished one major writing project (my screenplay) and have not started another yet. Well, the screenplay is not “finished,” exactly. But I like the draft I have, and I am taking a break from continuously nitpicking at it. I figured I could use some distance from it while I wait to hear from people who are looking at funding it.
Any decisions in that regard have been put on hold for a few months to wait and see what this Trump presidency will do to investments in entertainment, if anything. That’s fine. I get it.

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The Fear of Those Who Are Different (and the power of writing) Part 2

This is the second in a series. To read part one of The Fear of Those Who Are Different, click here.

protestorsA story I relate to my classes each semester regards a proposal made a number of years back in, I believe, the Oakland Unified School District. It stated that the required literature assigned to high school students must be written by authors who reflect the gender and race makeup of the student body. So, for example, if the required reading included ten novels, and fifty percent of the student body were female, then five of those books would need to be written by women authors. And if sixty percent of the student body were Hispanic (which was the word of choice at that time for people who came from countries whose primary language was Spanish), then six of the authors would need to be Hispanic. And so forth.

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The Fear of Those Who Are Different (and the power of writing)

hateMy daughter was home from college for winter break, and after watching yet another news story about a horrible crime steeped in hatred, we found ourselves discussing how much hatred there seems to be in the world. My daughter resignedly asked if I thought there would be a time when people are simply accepting of others.

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