Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rick Perry, who can barely speak it himself, wants USA to be "English-Only"

So, the Republican wannabe President Rick Perry announced that he wants the USA to make English our official language. English-only laws will NEVER work in Louisiana. We have LOTS of people (who were born and raised in the USA) who speak French as their first language. French and Spanish are much more American than English. Both French and Spanish were in use before the English-speakers decided to colonize these lands. These English-only pushers are mostly lazy jerks who are too stupid to see the value of being multilingual and keeping this nation multilingual as it has always been. I mean, if it bothers you THAT much that other folks in this country don't speak a language that you can understand, then the intelligent response would be to learn some new languages. If you think that's too much work for you to be expected to do, then you've also provided a pretty good reason why other Americans shouldn't be expected to learn English.

Too many people in this country are like dinosaurs. Their mentality is so rigid that it's going to cause their own extinction. Today's children are much more accepting of differences than the older generations tend to be. I think the world will be the better for it.

I'm multilingual. I speak English, Arabic, pretty basic French and Spanish, too. I could catch on to French rather easily, because even the English-speakers use so much of it down here in Louisiana. I took a few French and Spanish classes in high school and around 4 semesters of Arabic in college. I periodically practice with Rosetta Stone to keep from forgetting the basics. It has enriched my life as an American in more ways than I can list.

My own American-born-and-raised teenage daughter speaks English, some German, a good bit of Japanese and Chinese, and can understand basic Arabic and French. She taught herself the Asian languages and now she's teaching herself German. She also took 2 years of Latin in high school. She's going to be prepared to compete in a global market in ways that monolingual folks just can't. If a company can hire an American who can speak several languages or an American who can only speak English and refuses to learn anything else, why in the world would they choose the monolingual applicant? You English-only advocates will only manage to shoot yourselves in the foot, but who am I to stop ya'?! If you're proud of your ignorance, go right ahead and flaunt it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jack Kevorkian and Carol Loving: Self-Promoting Partners in Crime

Stephen Drake, who maintains the Not Dead Yet commentary blog wrote about Time Magazine's sloppy and inaccurate obituary for Dr. Jack Kevorkian (the serial killer of people with disabilities) in their "Person of the Year" issue. After reading Drake's post, I went to post a comment on the magazine's web edition of the obituary.

I read it and took a look at the comments that had already been left by others. One of them stood out. It was from Carol Loving (I know, the irony is just too much for me to address).

What I find bewildering about this article is the lack of factual knowledge about the doctor and his method of assisting the dying. I guess that is a sign of the times.
Dr. Kevorkian is the man of the century, the 20th century.
The most honest and dignified account of his service to mankind has been incorperated into a play, created in 2009, at Western Michigan University, in collaberation with Tectonic Theater Project.
The play is GOOD DEATH: A Community Conversation. In August of this year, the play received stellar reviews in Edinbugh, Scotland. It has the power to inspire all who see the performance.
We will see euthanasia follow the good works of Dr. Kevorkian !

Carol Loving, Author
My Son, My Sorrow: The Tragic Tale of Dr. Kevorkian's Youngest Patient
I almost have choked upon reading this! This woman had a son, Nick Loving, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. When her son became depressed about his limitations and became suicidal, she wrote to Jack Kevorkian asking him to help her kill her son. Now, she has a book all about how wonderful Kevorkian's work was. On her website, where she advertises her availability for interviews, she also mentions that she's currently in the process of "working on a novel based on the right to die". Well, isn't that just wonderful! Anyway, I decided to reply to her comment on the Time Magazine page. I know how comments that are critical of ableism tend to get deleted on websites, so I decided to post it here, too. Everything below this sentence is what I said to her. I added a link to the sentence where I made an accusation, so that the reader can see that I wasn't just making this up.

By the way, I think it's pretty sickening how you go around on the internet advertising your book (about how you helped Jack Kevorkian kill your son) and looking for someone to offer you a film deal for it. The title of your book says it all. It wasn't YOUR sorrow. You're still here. You're not the one who experienced Lou Gehrig's disease. You didn't even bother to help your son see it through to the end. Instead, you helped Kevorkian speed up the end and now you can go on with your life without the stress of being his caretaker.

I am eternally grateful that my husband and my parents didn't have your attitude when I was diagnosed with an incurable bone cancer in my chest. Instead of giving in to my feelings of hopelessness, they insisted that the life I still had was valuable and worth living. It took a little while, but I began to see the truth in what they were saying. Not long after that, the doctors told me that a new form of radiation technology had been developed and that I was the perfect candidate for it. To orthopedic oncologist's surprise, the combination of radiation and surgery was enough to stop the progression of my cancer and here I am eight years later.

I feel such anguish for those people with disabilities who didn't have loved ones that cared enough to help them hold on. Science advances so quickly now that new treatments are always being developed and if you keep living just a little while longer, there's a very good chance that your quality of life can be improved.

I've seen my daughter graduate from elementary school, then middle school, and now she's 2 years from graduating high school and starting college. I would have missed so much joy, if my family had allowed me to give in to the depression that I felt after receiving the cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, no one considered my life to be "their sorrow". They considered it a blessing, because it allowed us to learn just how valuable a commitment to love and hope can be.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

For the Gazillionth Time, Why the Rich Should Pay More Taxes

Today, I ran across someone online arguing that giving people unemployment checks makes them dependent on the government and that we shouldn't make the ultra-rich pay more in taxes, because it's wrong to target people based on income. This is pretty basic, but it's obvious that it needs to be spelled out for some folks.

My family lives in a private neighborhood with a fancy paved brick entrance. My daughter babysits and tutors a couple of kids. They live on our street, so she can walk to their house and bring them over here or stay at their house and carry out her job teaching them to read. Our city contracts out the garbage collection services that we pay the city to provide. The garbage collection company sends its workers down this street and their trucks break up our nice brick paved entrance to our nice private neighborhood. Both businesses (my daughter's and the garbage collection company) use this street. They don't use them to the same degree or with the same frequency or effect.

When the entrance gets so messed up that that it must be fixed, who should be held responsible for the damage? Should my daughter be held responsible for the damage? If her tennis shoes happened to kick a loose brick fragment, you might be able to make the argument that she's also responsible for the condition that it's in. However, would it be ethical to make her pay as much as the garbage company should pay for the repairs? I think that would be ridiculous. It's obvious that her feet aren't heavy enough to have the same effect as a huge garbage truck driving over the entrance.

Fortunately, the folks on this street can afford to repair the damage to our paved entrance without having to bother with making the city pay for the problem that their contracted business caused. However, what about the wear and tear that these heavy trucks put on public streets? When those streets need to be fixed, the city will have to pay for it. It will get the money to pay for it through taxes. Should the guy who has no car and has a one-man business that he runs out of his house be forced to pay as much in taxes as the guy who owns all of these garbage trucks that go rumbling through every street in our city? Making the garbage truck owner pay more in taxes isn't targeting him because of his income. He's being made to pay more, because he is using a lot more of the city's resources.

The owner of the corner store near my old apartment buys the ingredients for his po'boys from Sam's Wholesale Club (I've seen him in there doing it). He's going to use the streets to get his goods from his supplier and back to his store. He uses his car. It's, maybe, a 15 minute drive. However, Sam's uses trains and 18-wheeler trucks criss-crossing the country and the state to get their goods from the supplier to their multiple stores. Is it unfair to make Walmart/Sam's pay more in taxes than the guy who sells sandwiches? I don't think so. It's ridiculous to treat all Americans as if they use America's resources equally. Walmart/Sam's and the garbage collection company use put more wear and tear on the streets of my city, than the small-business owner with an at-home office or a single family-owned corner store.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Glamour Magazine Pretends Like it Cares About Women's Self-Esteem

So, Glamour magazine decided to place a photo of a "plus-sized" model, named Lizzie Miller, in their September issue. It has garnered a lot of attention, because women that size (12-14) are almost never seen in the modeling world or featured in a style or fashion magazine. Even the Today show brought the model and the editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine on to their show to gush over how amazing it is that they put this one photo in their issue.

I'm glad that the interviewer pointed out the fact that the magazine didn't put her on their cover and didn't feature her in a photo spread. They just stuck this one photo on page 194.

Earlier today, I saw some comments made about this article from the perspective of a former model. She brought attention to the problematic way that people are talking about how Lizzie Miller is a real sized woman and that she looks like real American women do. Being svelte doesn't mean she isn't a real woman.

I had some of the same feelings about this. I'm a size 4-6. My 16 year-old daughter is a 2. I was around a 2-4 before I became pregnant with her. Neither of us have ever dieted. It's just how we are made. We are real women, too. We have also been short-changed by/in this culture that says that one particular body type should be what we all aspire to.

Lots of people feel like it's perfectly acceptable to make comments about our bodies, as long as they think they are making compliments. I absolutely despise the men who think that, because we're thin, we'll find their comments about "fat" women amusing and feel flattered not to be considered a part of that category. People make all sorts of anorexia nervosa jokes to my daughter, as if that's a subject that people should feel free to joke about. I mean, if she did have anorexia, I think that those comments might even exacerbate the condition.

It's bad enough for my daughter, who then feels like she's under pressure to prove to them that she does eat as much as others and even a bit more, because she's an athlete and she has to replenish her body regularly to stay at peak performance.

The thing she hates the most is when moms will tell their daughters that they should find out my daughter's secret to how she stays so thin. I had a hard time believing that this had actually occurred multiple times, until I heard the other girls in their circle talking about the mother's comment, too. I can't even begin to imagine what it would feel like to know that your own mother thinks your friend is better looking than you. It certainly doesn't help the girl's friendship.

Being multi-ethnic/multi-racial means that in many ways she is positioned on the margins of different communities. This adds an extra layer to the pressure, because in her black circle of friends, she's often told that she needs to "put some more meat on her bones" and she gets teased by guys and girls who tell her she has no butt. The message is that she would be sexier if she gained some weight. In her white circle of friends, she's surrounded by girls who are dieting or simply dissatisfied with how much they weigh. It's absolute madness!

Meanwhile, I'm trying to teach her to love herself just the way she is. Sometimes, it feels like the message that I'm trying to get across to her is completely drowned out by all of the viewpoints coming from society. I don't want to see "plus-sized" models in magazines. I want the entire magazines to go away. Occasionally putting a few average-sized women in their issues doesn't change the fact that they are still contributing to the sexualization of children and the objectification of women and girls.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Theism isn't what makes me different from Christopher Hitchins

An acquaintance of mine sent me a link to an article in Vanity Fair that was written by the renowned atheist, Christopher Hitchins. The person told me that he found the article interesting and he thought that I would, too.

It was rather sad, to me, actually. I had almost the opposite experience from the one described in the article. Right now, I'm in another bout of serious health problems. I've been sick since October. First, it was an upper respiratory infection. Then came the gastroenteritis, followed by a throat infection. Then I developed a yeast infection and now they've found cysts on my ovaries. It has not been an easy couple of months. Yet, I am happier than I ever was before I became disabled. Learning to live with what many would see as "indignities" has given me insights that I could not have learned any other way.

Proton therapy is rough, but it's actually a lot gentler than traditional radiation (By the way, I think it's also offered in Massachusetts and most certainly in several other centers around the world). When I was in radiation, I remember looking at my back in the mirror and seeing just what fried skin looks like. I remember The German peeling and snipping ragged strips of half-sloughed skin off of my back, so that the edges wouldn't keep "catching" on my shirt and ripping away the skin that was still attached.

I remember not being able to swallow without pain, when even the prospect of having to eat made me want to cry--and sometimes I did. I remember when life was lived in segments measured by doses of narcotics. From two hours after I took two Percocet, it was a pain-filled countdown until I could take my next dose.

To some extent, this is still the case. I love food. I do not love eating food. Eating food carries the risk that I will spend hours in the bathroom, as my body attempts to expel more than I've even managed to take in during a given meal. I still live between doses of pain meds, though I'm now only using Lortab and I've managed to cut my daily intake down to half of what it was at the beginning of 2011.

Yet, I'm happier than I was before this crazy journey began. I spent most of my relatively non-disabled years (i.e. the pre-cancer period from birth until my early 20's) periodically attempting suicide and settling for dissatisfying relationships of one kind or another. I was a victim of childhood sexual assault and the child of a single parent and, as you know, stuck in a religious cult of the worst variety.

It was a very lonely life. I never felt like I fit in anywhere. There was no one to confide in. The penalties for stepping outside of the strictly-regulated life that was demanded by the cult were severe and permanent. Being true to myself wasn't even a consideration. There was no "myself", really. It was all "we". Even in prayer, I wasn't an individual. I was taught, "In Jesus name, we pray. Amen." We. Hah! And, I never felt "good enough". I just couldn't figure out how to please everyone who I thought was entitled to control my life.

But cancer changed that. One of the quickest things I learned was, just like the outer layer of the skin on my back, I could live without a lot of stuff I once thought essential. Cancer was freedom. I no longer felt obligated to keep certain people in my life. Once I learned that I was nearing the end of this life, I felt absolutely no guilt about not returning phone calls, not entertaining or indulging self-centered users, not going to church 3 times a week. I decided to devote myself to creating lasting memories for the people that I was going to leave behind, the people who I really cared about.

Maybe, having a mission helped to save me from the darkness that Hitchins seems to feel. I decided that I didn't want to have been born, lived, and died without ever having figured out who I was, what I really believed, and what I wanted my daughter to know about me. I was going to make this dying process one filled with love and laughter and closeness.

I was able to give my daughter real advice, instead of the bourgeois sanctimoniousness that so many parents instill in their children. I only had a little while, so we had to get down to business. I couldn't wait until she was 20 years old to start having frank discussions with her about sexuality and spirituality.

I found complete sexual liberation. If I was going to try something, then there was no sense in putting it off. I had someone who loved me and wanted to spend the rest of my life with me, no matter how long or short that life would be. So, why not?! He has never made a single demand of me. He's never even asked me to try anything outside of what I'd felt comfortable initiating. If ever there was someone that I could feel secure with, as I reveled in my sexuality, it was him. That's not something I wanted to waste. We spent all sorts of snatched moments, between doctors visits and treatments and bad days, making each other gloriously satisfied.

It's not all rainbows and butterflies, of course. My limitations still frustrate me. I'm not dead yet, but I still have this sword of Damocles hanging above my head at all times. However, it doesn't make me feel diminished in the way that Hitchins describes. I suspect that is also the result of something I did differently from him. I went out and found true community with those like me.

Hitchins seems to be trying to preserve what he had before. I've chosen to adapt to where I am now. Before his cancer, Hitchins had a community of like-minded folks. He was a leader in the atheist community. However, that community is not very welcoming for people with disabilities. It has a long, long history of ablism and I'm not just talking about the kind of ablism that involves shelves placed too high for wheel-chair accessibility or television directors using cancer as the default way of eliminating characters they no long have any use for. Don't get me wrong. That stuff is annoying. However, this community that Hitchins claimed was in possession of the solution(s) to nearly all of the world's most significant problems regularly engages in an entirely different category of ablism. I'm talking about the type that advocates the "culling" of people with disabilities, asserts that our lives are inferior and proclaims that we should not be allowed to decide what sort of meaning(s) our life holds.

The atheist community (i.e. those who define themselves as atheist) isn't the only one that engages in ablism, but it is a lot worse than many others. There are some who are trying to change that, but it hasn't resulted in any significant changes in the egregious ablism that is so common in that community. Those with life-threatening disabilities have specific issues that are even distinct from those experienced by people whose conditions are not as threatening. That makes it even more unlikely that Hitchins was going to find his community very helpful at this point in his life.

Pre-cancer, I was involved in a lot of anti-racist work. I still believe that racism should be fought. However, when I did become seriously disabled, I found that the anti-racist movement did not offer all that I needed at that point in my life. My anti-racist friends were sympathetic and caring, but I eventually had to accept that our lives were on diverging paths. I simply couldn't make being anti-racist the identity that my life revolved around.

Thanks to the internets, it wasn't long before I discovered the fact that there is an entire community just for folks like me. Before that time, I never even considered the idea that, just as there is a black community and a feminist community and a Christian community, there is also a disabled community.

Not only did it exist--it was also wonderful! It didn't just accept me. It nurtured me. Instead of being work, it was being a family. It spoke to my soul or whatever you want to call that most intimate part of one's being. Without any need for explanations, it embraced me. It seemed tailored just to what I needed and just who I was.

However, if you're not a part of the disabled community, you might not understand what it is. It consists of people whose bodies set them apart, in one way or another, from what societies have decided should be considered normal. To some extent, it also includes those who are partnered with, have children or parents who fit that description. There's more to it than that, though. From that group, the disabled community is comprised of those who assert that difference is good and vital to the world, not something that we should seek to eliminate or "cure". In the disabled community, every life has value because life has value.

I can not, in one post, describe the richness and depth of this community any more than I could, in one post, describe what it means to be a part of the black community or the American community. It is this community that taught me self-love to a degree that I never experienced before. It is this community that showed me, better than any other, why diversity is important and all of the many reasons why it's so important. It is this community that helped me to understand that tolerance shouldn't be the goal for society. What we need is acceptance. That understanding led me to a place where I could plant my feet and make my stand in this world. I could do it, regardless of whether I was able to stand at all. In my bed, in the hospital, leaning over the toilet seat, on my worst days, I am still a valued and powerful part of this community.

Hitchins doesn't seem much interested in the disabled community, even though he could certainly be an atheist and be a part of it. After all, I am more than just a person with disabilities. Since he began treatment, he has had less time to devote to his preaching work on behalf of atheism. This poignant article discusses what the prospect of losing his voice or his ability to write would mean to him. It saddens me to read it. I want to reach out to him and say,

"You are more than your abilities! You are wonderful, because you are, you exist! Your life has value because, despite odds almost too grand to even measure, you came into this world! You are a flame that, together with mine and many others, brightens this vast and mysterious universe! Isn't that enough?!"

But, maybe for him, it isn't. That, more than a belief or disbelief in a god, is what sets us apart.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

In Defense of Mic Check Direct Actions

Azizi on Pancocojams wrote a blog post about a recent trend she's noticed since the 99% movement has gained steam. She's speaking out against the way that she's seen people using the "mic check" in direct action protests.
"The human microphone system, the call & response method of repeating statements, isn't being used for its original purpose of helping people in large groups without access to microphones hear what is being said. Instead, it's being used to disrupt communication from someone the group doesn't agree with, and it's being used to garner publicity for the protesting group's cause or causes....My bottom line is that if "mic check" is supposed to be a means of enhancing communication, I'd count that protest use of mic check a failure, since it's usually difficult to understand what the protesters are shouting. But beyond that, I don't like the use of "mic check" to disrupt other's speeches or other people's public appearances (even the speeches or public appearances of persons I vehemently disagree with like Glen Beck). I think that "mic checking" people is contrary to the right of free speech. Besides, it's just rude."
I guess I should first address the issue of free speech. The right to free speech doesn't mean you have the right to be heard. If someone talks over you while you're making a point, it's not an example of someone taking away your rights. It's just them exercising the same right at the same time. Maybe rudeness matters to some people. I can dig that. I was born and raised in Louisiana, so I have had all of the laws of courtesy drilled into my head from an early age. Still, there are times when rudeness just doesn't matter to me.

I had to be rushed to the emergency room at a hospital earlier this week, because I was really sick and couldn't keep my medicine down. When I got there, they had to immediately set up an IV-bag and start administering a bunch of drugs, just to try to get me stabilized. I don't remember a single one of them asking me if I'd like something to drink or offering me a glass of tea. Of course, they could also point out that I didn't exactly ask for their permission before I proceeded to use their bathroom.

My point is that there are times when rudeness isn't a highly-prioritized consideration. If we focused on avoiding rudeness, at all costs, then the world is not going to be a very desirable place to reside. There isn't a single social justice movement in the world that can't rightfully be considered "rude" according to the views of many folks who witnessed them take place. I'm sure it mattered to them, but those who were fighting for rights had more important considerations. For those who are protesting, that someone might be rude to Beck and his acolytes matters very little in the grand scheme of things, especially when one considers how little they care about the rudeness of their own behavior.

The other part of her argument has to do with the efficacy of this particular form of direct action. To address that, I think it would help if we clarified things a bit. If we're going to be honest about the origin of the human mic check, it certainly can't be attributed to helping people in large groups understand what's being said. It's origin in this country can be found in the African American church over a century ago.

It was a means of participation between the congregation and the speaker. It can be heard in the gospel music that birthed the Jazz Age. This call and response was typical in early jazz music. Back then it was derided as cacophony and tribal and certainly not "real music". The jazz musicians and aficionados were considered the trashy troublemakers upsetting the natural order of things.

Still, they continued their call and response music for each other, not for their critics. I think that's important to recognize. It was never meant to attract those who didn't see the value of jazz styling. Nevertheless, it had value. It changed America, despite the critics. This call and response music became known as the first truly American form of music. To be honest, it changed the world in many ways. It became the protest music of its day. It was the voice and sounds of those who were alienated from the "natural order of things". It was the music of the youth. It expressed their values, even when it meant that they would be seen as socially unacceptable.

After a while, the call and response aspects of jazz fell out of use. It is even used less in the African-American church(es) where it was first found. It was replaced with less participatory music. Now, it's seeing a resurgence. It is being reborn in a new period of protest by the societal underclasses. Some use it one way. Some use it other ways.

If we're going to be purists, then the only acceptable use of this style of communication is within the confines of the Black churches of the south. But why should we be purists? The essence really hasn't changed. Those who use it for the large crowds at rallies and those who use it for direct action at bookstores are still using it for the same thing it was always used for. It is still essentially a means of communication and participation for and by those who have something to say. Some will find it attractive. Others will be repulsed by it. However, the response(s) by outsiders does not determine the legitimacy of its role in any of these settings.

I'm really skeptical about this idea that protesters need to win over the non-believers. I don't think that's even possible. If someone cares about justice, then they will be attracted to just causes. If someone cares more for the retention of the status quo, then they aren't going to join these protesters no matter how politely they go about expressing themselves.

Some folks thought that the counter sit-ins were pointless and even unnecessarily provocative. Others felt differently and they participated in it. They didn't go in there expecting to change minds. They went in and sat at those counters to show where they stood on this issue of "separate but equal" societies. In the end, it was a combination of strategies that effected the changes we benefit from today. We needed Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

People in the media tried to get MLK to speak critically of Malcolm X, but he pretty much refused to do it. It wasn't HIS way, but he knew that they all had to choose their own path. He never told Malcolm to change his ways and adopt his strategy.

Today, I don't really identify as one of the 99%. I choose to cast my lot with the "Un-Percent" folks (Check out a brilliant indigenous American activist named "Ian Ki'laas Caplette" on Facebook, if you want to know more about it). So, I'm going to fight for social justice in the way that my heart leads me. Not everyone is going to see much point in how I protest, but that doesn't determine its legitimacy. Likewise, not everyone is going to feel moved by mic check protesting. However, judging from its increased popularity, it's obvious that some do.

Mic check protests are direct acts of people standing up and making their stance known. It's not a promotional act. If so, they'd be turning out glossy books with smiling white guys on the front of them, like Beck and Hannity and O'Reilly produce. In fact, it's the antithesis of that. It is the protesters way of saying, "No! Contrary to what Beck and his cronies are telling you, things are not okay. We can not continue to pretend that there's plenty of time to sit around and allow predatory capitalism and unchecked consumerism flourish in our world."

So, even if nobody else listens, even if they say protesters are going about it all wrong, the one thing they won't be able to say is that nobody tried to warn them. They won't be able to deny that we spoke out. And even if the world refuses to change, I and those who used their preferred method of protest can go into oblivion with peace of mind, knowing that we did try.