Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Sweet Spot 6 – Chocolate Pound Cake

 
 
 
This is our family’s go-to cake recipe when we want to be decadent.
 
 
Chocolate Pound Cake

½ pound butter

½ cup shortening

3 cups sugar

5 eggs

3 cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla

1¼ cups milk

 

Cream butter and shortening with sugar. Blend well. Add eggs, one at a time, beat well after each. Sift dry ingredients. Add alternately with milk. Add vanilla. Grease and flour a tube pan. Add batter.  Bake at 325 degrees  for 1 hour 25 min.

 

Minute Penuche Frosting

2 cups brown sugar

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup shortening

 

1.      Bring to full rollin boil, stirring constantly and boil for one minute

2.    Add vanilla and beat  until thick enough to spread (or pour)

The Sweet Spot 5 – Bravery, Compassion and the White Album

 
 

The American people are today’s sweet spot, with their penchant for wanting to pitch in and help, with their willingness to sacrifice self for others.  Today’s sweet spot is about average people who end up doing heroic things. Our soldiers are a great big sweet spot because they leave their families and go to lands that are foreign and hostile in order to keep their families and all of America safe, to forge a better life for people who are oppressed, and to train troops to defend that better life once it is established. Our soldiers and their families have paid heavily because fighting is a deadly profession and one we all wish would become unnecessary. In the Iraq war 4,487 U.S. soldiers were killed and 32,223 were seriously wounded as of January 31, 2012. Reports on Iraq show that 991 soldiers required amputations and 797 experienced the loss of at least one major limb. In Afghanistan 2165 soldiers were killed and 18, 230 were wounded as of February 5, 2013. Reports on Afghanistan show that 724 soldiers required amputations and 696 experienced the loss of at least one limb. 103,792 soldiers have been diagnosed with PTSD and 253,330 have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Thanks to the media we get to watch our brave vets as they deal with lost limbs and other traumatic injuries, such as burns. We don’t get to follow those with the injuries which are less easy to see, like PTSD and the TBI. We do know the devastating backlog of paperwork in the Veteran’s Administration which apparently has not moved to digital records and is so snowed under that they may never get there. We know that this backlog is preventing many vets from getting the care and attention they need. I am in awe of the way our soldiers deal with serious injuries and find ways to get on with their lives. They are a sweet spot in my life (and probably in yours). The Veteran’s Administration, on the other hand, needs to hire some of our young people who are underemployed but have the tech skills the VA needs to make their records available in electronic form. The VA does many wonderful things, but they are not eligible for my sweet spot due to the delays in taking care of the needs of our struggling vets.

So vets – sweet spot, VA – not so much.

Americans are also very compassionate and giving. When there is a disaster they contribute money and resources to the wounded city or area. These natural disasters have been large and frequent. Americans volunteer to go help devastated Americans, who have lost everything, clean up and rebuild. We try to be present for each other in times of strife. This behavior also constitutes a sweet spot that we can look to when we need reassurance that people are basically good, or when we feel overwhelmed with fear, evil, and negativity. I am not just talking about our first responders, who are brave and reliable, but also about ordinary citizens who pitch in with money and even physical labor when needed. I am talking about all those Americans who run or walk to earn money to keep our charities in business, all the Iron Men competitors who raise funds to fight disease and birth anomalies. I am also talking about all those residents of a local area who attend or contribute to benefits for Americans with extraordinary medical needs. Our charitable impulses have that quality that I am defining as sweetness and these are the stories that inspire our warm feelings when we hear them on the news, or read them in the media, or take part in them in our communities. When the America people act in this fashion, they are the sweet spot.

On a lighter note:

The Beatles White Album is in my sweet spot today for managing to be so relevant almost 40 years after it was released. Think about some of the musical offerings on this album. We have Back in the USSR(Edward Snowden), we have Mother Nature’s Son ( we’re still working on that environment), we have Happiness is a Warm Gun (the NRA) and the Revolution songs, Revolution, Revolution 1, Revolution 9 (I think we can all see how this is still relevant).  Will the Beatles remain relevant as long as Shakespeare has? That remains to be seen. But for today they are also in my sweet spot.

 

 

The Sweet Spot 4 – Books

There are certain books I read that I read for a dose of sweetness in an often cynical and devious world. I don’t mean that the writing is saccharine in any way. It is that the author has found a way to write a book readers will find interesting even though the main characters in the book view life more optimistically than many of us. They can accept the evil that people do without condemning the entire species. They are often people we would think of as simple, in the sense of not complicated, with a common sense approach to life’s dilemmas and an innate wisdom in resolving them. Often the issues they solve are not their own tragedies and peccadilloes but those of others. The # 1 Ladies Detective Series by Alexander McCall Smith are stories about a “traditionally built” detective in Botswana, Africa who has a style of detection that is full of the kind of “sweetness” I am talking about, even though she is often able to ferret out some people doing very bad things. She sets them straight while visiting orphanages, raising two adopted children, keeping her secretary in line, helping her husband who owns the garage next door, and sipping bush tea. The Miss Julia books are also in this vein.

 
 
So anyway, I was in yoga class and I met Rev. Diane Bradshaw, a retired United Methodist minister. As we talked we found out that we were both writers and I also found out that Diane had written a book. By now, in fact, she has written two. These books have that same sweetness that I have been talking about and they are both available on Amazon, although there are only two copies left of the first one. She wrote the first book after her second husband died of Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband, Arthur Bradshaw was a veteran so she linked up with the VA for help with his treatment. She decided to keep a journal as this disease made its slow progress through the family’s life. It gave her an outlet for an excess of feelings, many of them resulting from the uneven care her husband received in the VA hospital. Arthur went through a period of belligerent violence which forced Diane to have him cared for in the hospital. She got sick and had to get strong again. But all along it was her goal to bring Arthur back home where he was happiest and she got a lot of help from the VA in this regard. Anyone who is caring for a loved one with a progressive and lengthy disease will find this book interesting and it may help them deal with the red tape they must deal with to keep a loved one comfortable either in the hospital or in the home. It is a brave book by a brave lady. This book is called I Am Arnold.

 
 
Diane’s second book describes her upbringing in the Roxbury section of Boston with a divorced mom and five children. Roxbury, which was a lower middle class neighborhood with little diversity when she was born, changed gradually to become a poor neighborhood full of diversity and a much more dangerous place than it was when her childhood began. Her mom was strong, and a good provider. Although they did not live a lavish lifestyle they were a solid family and once the children got involved in the structure of the Salvation Army they traveled a path that delivered them into productive adult lives. Diane talks about each of the five children in her family and we learn what happens to Diane and the other four children. There is no complicated plot. It reads like one of those ethnography books that were so prevalent in the 70’s or 80’s which described the rules used in various tribal societies. It is interesting as Diane’s story, but it is also interesting as a peek into a previous age in an America city. This book is also available on Amazon. Diane in her turn had a family of five children, many of whom we meet in the first book. The second book is called The Girl From 21 Wakullah Street.

 

Sweet Spot 3 – Senator Wendy Davis

 

Today, Wendy Davis is my sweet spot. Senator Wendy Davis is a politician in Texas. I have been following this story for a few days because Texas is right smack dab in the middle of the war on women. There is a bill waiting for a vote in the Texas legislature that would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks, even though the federal law does not find abortion problematic until 24 weeks. Many states have been attacking the right of a woman to make decisions about her own health and her own pregnancy by going after abortion rights piecemeal. These states have been passing laws that chip away at this issue of the number of weeks into a pregnancy when an abortion may happen; some states cutting that number to 16 and one state even proposed a limit of 6 weeks. TRAP laws, that require clinics that provide abortions to meet new criteria that are designed to be more rigorous than the clinic can reasonably comply with, are forcing clinics out of business.

So, right now, this week, Texas is making its run against Roe v. Wade by writing a bill that would specify that very 20 week number we have been talking about and which would close 80% of the clinics in Texas that perform abortions and which would also close all of the clinics in West Texas. The bill was introduced in the Texas legislature after a heroic attempt to stop it by Democrats who lined up to exercise their right to speak out about the bill. Hundreds of women came to the legislature and signed on to speak for the allotted time and then passed the torch to the next women in line. It was democracy in action. It made me proud that these women refused to accept their possible fate quietly and that they took the time to fight. The legislature was unable to bring the bill to a vote on that day because these women talked until they closed down.

The bill had to sit for 24 hours before there could be a vote and then it must be voted on before midnight tonight for some reason which I can’t remember. I think the legislative session ends at midnight. The only thing that can prevent the Texas legislature from voting on this bill is if someone filibusters it, all day, until midnight tonight. The rules for a filibuster, Rachel Maddow informs us, are very harsh in Texas. Only one person can filibuster; no one can help. They must talk nonstop and what they speak about must be on topic. They must stand the entire time; they are not allowed to lean on anything. They cannot take a break even to use the facilities. Wendy Davis, who completed a successful filibuster last year which halted an anti-education bill, is 9 hours into a filibuster today and tonight, even as I am typing this, to stop this bill that wants to take away the rights of women. She is wearing her pink sneakers and she is there, still talking. I will go to sleep and she will still be talking to fight for the rights of women. Cecil Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood is there to cheer her on but she cannot help her with her filibuster. Wendy Davis is quite a heroine to me today and she is my sweet spot. I hope she makes it until midnight, but I will understand it if she can’t.

Post Script

Senator Wendy Davis almost made it for the 13 hours, but the legislature declared, sometime in the 11th hour that Wendy Davis had 3 strikes (she spoke off topic twice, once about Planned Parenthood (?) and once about ultrasounds from a law that passed in Texas last year (?), and she leaned once) they used their rules to stop the filibuster. The Democrats that filled the visitors section of the chamber then went nuts until after midnight and Wendy Davis and the women of Texas won anyway (probably a temporary victory) because the legislative session ended and no vote was taken. The bill is dead for now. Thank you Senator Wendy Davis, for your extreme efforts to help the women of Texas and the women of America you are definitely my sweet spot for today.

The Sweet Spot 2

Not everyone sees toddlers as sweet spots. Ambitious people immersed in their career who do not happen to have any toddlers at the moment may not find toddlers at all interesting or entertaining. But I have always found toddlers very endearing. They can, of course, turn your neat, organized life into chaos, but they learn something new every day and you just never know what they will say. They turn almost instantly from babies to toddlers, mobility I guess is the key, and they remain toddler-like until they are about four. Slowly they slide out of our arms; they no longer want to be held or cuddled, unless they are tired, or hurt, or ill. Then we will be called back into service until the crisis is over and as soon as it passes they are once more on the move.

Listening to toddlers learn language is always fun and we often find it difficult to hold back our laughter when they try out a word that is less than acceptable in public. The way they begin with one word, then graduate to two word phrases and then make the leap to complete sentences can be something we take for granted until we are astonished by something these toddlers just come out with. Watching them sort out their verbs and the way they learn to add the appropriate endings is actually a lesson in natural language acquisition. Aren’t toddlers amazing? So many lessons to learn, colors and numbers and sharing and socializing with other children; those years from 18 months to four years old are just jam-packed with amazing changes.

The sweetness of young children is, of course, not apparent all of the time. Sometimes when they are fighting and screaming or saying no over and over while they stage a temper tantrum we think we may have been temporarily insane to want to raise a child or babysit a child or even hang out where children are present. There is a certain high-pitched scream that toddlers give out which literally gives you the chills and sets your teeth on edge. But when toddlers are smiling, when they are happily being toddlers they are one of the absolute best sweet spots in this life.

Since my mother and father had eight children and thirteen grandchildren we are now harvesting a crop of “greats”. We have six toddlers in the family right now who are all in their toddler years at the same time and we also have a few more out-of-towners who come on holidays to swell their ranks. They used to rely heavily on the adults to entertain them and feed them and get them over their initial shyness. However, since they have reached critical mass they now entertain each other (and us) until some tiff or slight or toileting accident sends them running back to mom or dad. Once dealt with they are gone once again and they seem to really enjoy each other’s company although it is impossible to understand how.

I know there is a sort of standing joke about people wishing their friends did not post quite so many baby pictures on Facebook, but I have never minded those baby (and toddler) pictures. It is as if I get to go along on these toddler/baby outings without actually being required to go. I get the cute stuff without the tantrums or the tears.
Anyway, toddlers are one of my sweet spots and maybe also one of yours, so here are a few samples of toddler cuteness to brighten your day.



Sweet Violet, is the newest member of our clan and, of course, a future toddler.

The Sweet Spot

I have spent a lot of time lately keeping an eye on Washington, DC.  The dysfunction in our Congress is enough to turn me permanently cynical and tends to bring anger and frustration to the forefront of my emotional repertoire.  But lately some of the “sweetness “of life has been seeping into my senses. Maybe it is because it is summer and the scent of lilacs is still fresh in my mind and the peonies and roses are sending out their ambrosia, and the fresh, fresh smell of newly cut lawns greets me every time I step outside. Perhaps it is because water has become a liquid again and I can refresh my body in its weedy scent or its salty air. I can stretch my body out on the water’s gelid surface and feel my muscles pull me through the waves.
One day I just went to my back door to open it to get my mail and I couldn’t open the door because my back yard looked like a Disney movie. There was a brown bunny with white circles around its eyes chomping on the weeds under my raised flower bed. There were birds browsing through the lawn looking perhaps for insects, just one or two ornamentally scattered. There was another bird perched on my wicker loveseat looking for all the world as if he liked this vantage point. And there was a brown squirrel, tail crooked over back flitting here and there between the birds. I didn’t want to disturb this lovely sylvan scene so I waited for a while before I opened the door. Finally I opened the door quite quietly and not one of those animals even noticed. They didn’t hear me close it either. They just kept making my backyard look like Bambi or Cinderella and the “sweetness” of it made me want to hold on to the moment. Of course, I did not have my camera with me I am sorry to say.




The problem with life’s sweet moments is that they are often fleeting and may even be surrounded by less sweet events and interactions, but then there is that moment and in that moment seems to exist the entire meaning of life. Sometimes an entire day can be filled with sweetness or an entire evening or even, perhaps, a weekend. If life was this sweet all of the time would we appreciate it? Would fireflies make us linger a moment in wonder if we saw them every night?

The sweet spot is probably not the same for everyone, but I hope each one of us has one. It’s in that evening when you have dinner under the night sky and the air is perfectly balmy and bug-free and no one can leave the table. Everyone is so engrossed in the moment that no one notices time passing, content to be in that moment.

It’s in the sight of crisp white sailboats against blue sky and water.

It’s on the screen porch or at the summer cottage.

I want to think about sweet things this week before we get back to why there was an amendment attached to the farm bill to cut food stamps, or what the Supreme Court will decide about marriage or affirmative action this week, or if the immigration bill will ever meet with majority approval. Hopefully I’ll get enough of sweetness this week to refresh me so I can jump back into the fray.

Toad Vomit

 

All these Republican guys have been sitting out in the piney woods, or on their estates, or wherever they hang and they have been thinking these poisonous thoughts that are now constantly spewing forth. Maybe we are in the phase where they are puking up all their snakes, or toads, or slugs, or whatever nasty thing has been lurking in the corners of their minds and once all this vomit is out on the table for all to see we can dispose of it, wash it away and these angry old guys will feel renewed.

There was a ballet movie, of all things, called The Turning Point, in which a mom accompanies her teen-aged daughter to New York City because she has won a spot in a ballet company. One of the daughter’s teachers and mentors will be an old friend that her mom went to ballet school with. These two women took separate paths. One became the ballerina; one the mom. But there was a moment when these women could have switched places. The one who became the mom was good enough to have been a ballerina, and the one who had a famous career always believed that her friend stole her future husband and that it would have been her fate to be the mom. Each woman, in her heart of hearts harbored ill-will towards her friend and when they finally were reunited, with a new prize in the middle of them (the daughter) their animosity started to spill out. They called the cruel things they said to each toads.

 

Then there is that moment in Harry Potter when a spell goes awry and Ron starts up-chucking one slug after another.

These are the images that come to mind when I listen to these Republican men talk about the ridiculous things they have come to believe about rape and women and then they just go on letting it all out, all over the media. These are men of privilege with expensive college educations. They are in charge of government committees and they express ideas that make us smack ourselves in the side our heads. I hope they didn’t get these ideas in church.

Whatever, I say let them unload all these toads they have stored up, apparently for years, and perhaps when we have listened to it ad nauseum they will finally put it aside. Then, and I say this with great hope in my heart, sanity will return to Washington, DC (well at least as much sanity as we used to find there).

Takers — For My Sister

 

This article is for one of my sisters. She truly believes that there are a fairly large number of “takers” in America who are abusing the social safety net that is supposed to back up the poor and our seniors. I decided that I needed to update my database in relation to how the social safety net is working since benefits are being put on cards. The government doesn’t use welfare checks anymore. They use cards that theoretically can be swiped at participating ATM’s. The welfare recipient then has cash in hand to buy life’s essentials and support the family and can spend that money like any other citizens, without stigma. One problem with this system is that people can spend this cash on alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs and still leave their family wanting. Another problem with this system is that the government farmed this business of ATM cards out to private corporations like CITI Bank and these corporations are taking fees out of people’s welfare checks at ATM’s (when the machines actually work), or at banks when the ATM’s don’t function as planned. While this is interesting and worrisome, it doesn’t really get at my sister’s point about whether or not America has collected a fair number of “takers”. So here’s the link for that welfare card article and we will push on.

Then I found an article from npr.com that looks more like it contains the information we need to get to the bottom of this. The article is called Unfit For Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America by Chana Joffe-Walt. It begins “In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.

Obviously this is what my sister has been talking about, although she was not sure if welfare was the problem, or disability, or both.

This article goes on to say – “The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. Yet people relying on disability payments are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. The vast majority of people on federal disability do not work. Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.

In other words, people on disability don’t show up in any of the places we usually look to see how the economy is doing. But the story of these programs – who goes on them, and why, and what happens after that – that is, to a large extent, the story of the US economy. It’s the story not only of an aging workforce, but also of a hidden, increasingly expensive safety net.

The author tells this little anecdote from research conducted in Hale County, Alabama:

Sonny Ryan, a retired judge in town, didn’t hear disability cases in his courtroom. But the subject came up often. He described one exchange he had with a man who was on disability but looked healthy.

“Just out of curiosity, what is your disability?” the judge asked from the bench.
“I have high blood pressure,” the man said.
“So do I,” the judge said. “What else?”
“I have diabetes.”
“So do I.”

There’s no diagnosis called disability. You don’t go to the doctor and the doctor says, “We’ve run the tests and it looks like you have disability.” It’s squishy enough that you can end up with one person with high blood pressure who is labeled disabled and another who is not.

The author tells us”

As far as the federal government is concerned, you’re disabled if you have a medical condition that makes it impossible to work. In practice, it’s a judgment call made in doctors’ offices and courtrooms around the country. The health problems where there is most latitude for judgment — back pain, mental illness — are among the fastest growing causes of disability.

Research suggests that whether or not a disability is declared sometimes depends on the level of education completed by the “sufferer”. If the applicant has a college degree (meaning they could obtain a sit-down job) they might not qualify, in the doctor’s mind, as disabled, while a worker without college might, once again in the doctor’s judgment, qualify because the only kinds of jobs s/he could do would be physically challenging. While people might qualify for a job that would accommodate their disability if they were retrained, we have no such programs for disability applicants.

Here’s what a staff member said to a displaced worker in a retraining program in Aberdeen Washington:

“Scotty, I’m gonna be honest with you,” the guy told him. “There’s nobody gonna hire you … We’re just hiding you guys.” The staff member’s advice to Scott was blunt: “Just suck all the benefits you can out of the system until everything is gone, and then you’re on your own.”

Scott, who was 56 years old at the time, says it was the most real thing anyone had said to him in a while.

There used to be a lot of jobs that you could do with just a high school degree, and that paid enough to be considered middle class. I knew, of course, that those have been disappearing for decades. What surprised me was what has been happening to many of the people who lost those jobs: They’ve been going on disability.

Joffe-Walt’s conclusions on this topic:

“That’s a kind of ugly secret of the American labor market,” David Autor, an economist at MIT, told me. “Part of the reason our unemployment rates have been low, until recently, is that a lot of people who would have trouble finding jobs are on a different program.”

Part of the rise in the number of people on disability is simply driven by the fact that the workforce is getting older, and older people tend to have more health problems.

But disability has also become a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills. But it wasn’t supposed to serve this purpose; it’s not a retraining program designed to get people back onto their feet. Once people go onto disability, they almost never go back to work. Fewer than 1 percent of those who were on the federal program for disabled workers at the beginning of 2011 have returned to the workforce since then, one economist told me.

People who leave the workforce and go on disability qualify for Medicare, the government health care program that also covers the elderly. They also get disability payments from the government of about $13,000 a year. This isn’t great. But if your alternative is a minimum wage job that will pay you at most $15,000 a year, and probably does not include health insurance, disability may be a better option.

But, in most cases, going on disability means you will not work, you will not get a raise, you will not get whatever meaning people get from work.[3] Going on disability means, assuming you rely only on those disability payments, you will be poor for the rest of your life. That’s the deal. And it’s a deal 14 million Americans have signed up for.[4]

Kids

I did not know this but families in America receive extra funding for school children with disabilities who need special help in school.  If they are honest they use this money to hire tutors or teacher aides to help their children with their schooling. But less than scrupulous parents with overtaxed family budgets find ways to incorporate some of these funds into the family budget. Once the family becomes dependent on these funds they are less likely to encourage success in school, as this will cause the funding to go away. This may be one of those cases where, by attempting to help people, we actually hurt their children and doom them to repeat the economic realities of their parents.

Here are the author’s conclusions on this subject:

I haven’t taken a survey or anything, but I’m guessing a large majority of Americans would be in favor of some form of government support for disabled children living in poverty. We would have a hard time agreeing on exactly how we want to offer support, but I think there are some basic things we’d all agree on.

Kids should be encouraged to go to school. Kids should want to do well in school. Parents should want their kids to do well in school. Kids should be confident their parents can provide for them regardless of how they do in school. Kids should become more and more independent as they grow older and hopefully be able to support themselves at around age 18.

The disability program stands in opposition to every one of these aims

Welfare and Disability

In 1996, Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law. The number of people on welfare has declined ever since this time. However when you place the graph of welfare decline against the graph of disability increases you can see that we just may have moved people from one program into another.

When someone is on Welfare it costs the states money, once they are on disability the Federal government pays, so states actually pay private companies to go through their welfare rolls and find welfare recipients who might qualify for disability payments. These companies will even help those they find fill out the paperwork, they will help them collect documentation from doctors, and they will get them into the Social Security disability system.

If you want to read about the role of those disability lawyers advertising on our TV’s that’s in this article also.

The author concludes the article by saying:

Somewhere around 30 years ago, the economy started changing in some fundamental ways. There are now millions of Americans who do not have the skills or education to make it in this country.

Politicians pay lip service to this problem during election cycles, but American leaders have not sat down and come up with a comprehensive plan.

In the meantime, federal disability programs became our extremely expensive default plan. The two big disability programs, including health care for disabled workers, cost some $260 billion a year.

People at the Social Security Administration, which runs the federal disability programs, say we cannot afford this. The reserves in the disability insurance program are on track to run out in 2016, Steve Goss, the chief actuary at Social Security, told me.

Goss is confident that Congress will act to keep disability payments flowing, probably by taking money from the Social Security retirement fund. Of course, the retirement fund itself is on track to run out of money by 2035.

Goss and his colleagues have worked out a temporary fix under which the retirement and disability funds will both run out of money by 2033. He says he hopes the country will have come up with a better plan by then.

So it looks like my sister has a really valid point about this. How would we ever resolve this without unraveling the whole social safety net? Perhaps if we become a society that cannot provide a living wage to all of its citizens we will have to find a way to permanently support groups of people who do not work. There are, of course, people with disabilities so severe that they will never work, but as for supporting people who could work if they were given retraining for a job that did accommodate their disability, well that is not a good thing for the health of our society. And as for supporting “fakers” and “takers”, well that just makes us angry. Creativity needed here! What would be a good way to make sure that disability payments go to those who are actually disabled?

Bottled Genies and Time Machines: The War on Women

 
How do you put the genie back into the bottle if she doesn’t want to go? This is the philosophical dilemma of the Republican male. These old white men are yearning for a past; a past that only existed in a Norman Rockwell print or a 50’s TV show. They want the America of the Dick and Jane readers back. They want nuclear families; man, woman, children. They want sweet cottages on green lawns with red wagons and sprinklers. They want lilacs and roses and clothes lines and women next to those clothes lines pinning up clothing. They want women who don’t go out to work; who stay home and nurture children and husbands. They wish they could un-invent the birth control pill, make abortion illegal, maybe take away that right to vote that made women so uppity. This would put an end to all the strife and violence and anger and poverty and waste in America.

 
We would need a time machine first, a time machine that un-did slavery. If we could go back in time and put each ancestor of each African America back in their homeland then we would never have started down this path of mixing up the world’s people, these old white guys imagine. But this is patently ridiculous as your ancestors are the very people who profited from owning slaves. You get no time machine. You get no do-over.  You get no little white cottage, cream cheese America, which never existed anyway, but which was doomed as soon as you turned people into slaves and brought them to America, a place they surely did not want to be. Thank God they are free now. If they don’t share your white cottage dream then it is hard to fault them. So this is the world we have and we have to learn to live in it. If you can’t put the genie back in its bottle what are your chances of making a time machine? Well, maybe someday, but will it really matter by then?

Women are not going to let their genie be returned to the bottle either. We are not giving back the right to vote and once we have that all of the rest follows. You fought your wars and sent us into the factories and the offices and now we are not going back into the kitchens, parlors, etc, unless that is what we want to do. You can undo laws allowing legal abortion, reverse Roe v. Wade or just restrict it out of existence, but women have always known when a birth was not propitious, when it was not the right thing to do or not the right time to do it. In their desperation they will do dangerous things to abort an unwanted child. They have always done it and they always will unless you use force to make women carry to term. What would that do to your white cottage life? Oh, yes, that was always a problem with that white cottage life. What looked orderly and sweet on the outside was often chaos and pain inside.

The world we have now is complicated and contentious, but I like that it is a world in which we try to tolerate each other and create space for each other and where we occasionally support and enjoy each other. It isn’t easy to balance self-interest and all of the social interactions that make life worth living. Our lives are not neat, sweet communities with the houses, the churches and the schools, and the little diner. Our lives are full of schedules and hastily assembled meals and shopping malls and scratching out a living week by week until maybe we have a little more play in our budget and we don’t have to scratch quite so hard. We do have people in America from everywhere around the globe and this is changing the face of America from that cozy old country quilt to something that looks more like a Jackson Pollack painting. I can see how it would be disconcerting to old white men; it is actually a bit disconcerting to all of us. But, going backwards won’t work. It is not the answer. That genie is never going back in that bottle. The time machine, well that is probably farther in the future than space travel. Please, stop trying to turn back time. Accept diversity and let women take care of their own lives. Just because abortion is legal does not mean that any woman is required to have an abortion. But if you take the right to have an abortion away many women may be required to either have an unwanted child or abort the child herself. Neither of these acts benefits society.

Wikipedia has a pretty good entry about the “war on women”, a term that has been in use since 1991 and, which from the beginning, described the Republican agenda around women’s issues. In March, 2011, Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz began using the term “War on Women”, but she did not create it. You can follow the progress of the term’s use in the first section of the Wikipedia article on the subject.

Wikipedia, while not containing anything more current that the 1st quarter of 2012, tells us that in 2011 in our State legislatures 1100 provisions restricting women’s reproductive rights were passed, and that in the first quarter of 2012, 944 more restrictions were approved.

These restrictions focused on the following areas:

·         Mandatory ultrasounds

·         Narrowing time when abortions may be performed

·         Limiting insurance coverage for abortion

·         Personhood Laws

·         Targeted regulation of abortion providers – TRAP laws

·         Birth Control

·         Defunding Planned Parenthood

·         Rape

·         Domestic Violence

Too bad all of the ingenuity being shown in this pointless fight against women hasn’t been put to better use. If the GOP is ever are able to push this genie back into the bottle and turn all us women into little “Stepford Wives” I don’t believe it will bring  them the results that they expect and I don’t think that genie will stay there for very long. How can women vote for this GOP? Elect Democrats in 2014. Stop the “war on women”.

 

US Involvement in Syria

 
 
Drat! Those American ideals are pulling us back into conflict in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Obviously, when nearly 100,000 people are killed anywhere on the planet we are grieved and angered. We want the carnage to stop and we all think about whether America should help stop it. In this case we have people who are also fighting against an authoritarian leader who they want to be free of. It is written in our DNA that we will feel sympathy for the rebels. We are always the Rebel Alliance fighting against the Empire in our hearts. But – we have just slowed down the devastating parade of maimed soldiers arriving back in the US everyday from our recent endeavors in the Middle East. These soldiers have not even been processed by their government to receive their benefits. We have not yet finished mourning our dead soldiers who still arrive under their flag-draped caskets. We have hardly given a breather to our soldiers who have been at war seemingly forever. Our heads and our guts say that we should help this rebel army; our hearts can’t bear to do it.

There is a question of whether or not we will make America irrelevant in the Middle East unless we stay involved with freedom fighters and offer military support. Humanitarian support does not count apparently. We only get points if we put blood and guts in the game. But we haven’t earned any points by bleeding on the sands of the Middle East so far. The opinions of both Iraq and Afghanistan seem distinctly tinged with anti-Americanism. Perhaps this “revolution” in the Middle East is not as far along as we would like to think it. Deposing an authoritarian leader does not mean that Syria is ready to be a democracy or that the country ever will want to be democratic. There is also the point that we could make our democracy look a bit more appealing if we want to persuade people that our form of government works best. That might be a good place to start. Although our politicians often give us idealistic reasons for entering a war, their real reasons are often quite a bit more pragmatic. I’m not sure what those pragmatic concerns are but they are the ones that make us less than proud sometimes.

There are several complexities to consider when it comes to jumping into the conflict with Syria on the side of the rebels and we have heard those before. The rebels are not one unified group and, in our experience, which has recently become very personal, we have learned that once the rebels win the war a new civil war will often have to be fought among the various rebel groups to decide which group will get to formulate the new government, or perhaps a coalition will arise (not likely). And in Syria we also have elements of terrorists groups which we have no desire to support; not to mention that we would be pitting ourselves against Putin and Russia.

Call me crazy, but it seems as if there is a preponderance of reasons not to involve ourselves in the revolution in Syria but that word revolution has such a pull on the American psyche that we are almost powerless to resist the siren call of people who are oppressed and longing to be free. I am glad that I am not the President. I don’t want us to get more involved in Syria, but I understand why we probably will.