What He Said– What I Heard

There are ‘dog whistles’, subtle signals that only the base can hear. Mitt Romney isn’t even bothering with that– just going straight to Birtherland. So no one ever asked him to show his birth certificate? Yeah, Mitt, I’ll bet that no one follows your wife around the store when she goes shopping, or asks you in your own country ‘where you’re from’? Why would that be?

Never in my life have I ever heard a president’s nationality questioned until we elected our first black president. If Mitt Romney thinks the meaning of his ‘joke’ is lost on Black Americans he will find out different in November.

Washington Post thinks Mitt was blowing a dog whistle too.

When the driver made my mother-in-law go to the back of the bus in Selma, Alabama, he didn’t ask for her papers, or where her father was born. It was all about color. Too often, it still is.

(thank you, Public Domain Clip Art)

Dismantle the Master’s House

Hello, Sisters and Brethren,

We got too much anger, hurt and snark coming at our Body Politic, which is running out of bandaids and wishes everyone would stop throwing darts. FYI, most of the US is not following the fine points of what our elected representatives are up to, and this is too bad. Because most of the US just wants simple justice and common sense. But if you were born into a Democracy, it is your responsibility to be one of the People the Government is Of. And if you elect fools you will get stupidity. And even worse if you don’t vote at all.

What, exactly, is stupidity?

One definition from Merriam Webster Online Dictionary is-

: dulled in feeling or sensation : torpid

Here is a related word, ‘stupor’–

: a condition of greatly dulled or completely suspended sense or sensibility ; specifically : a chiefly mental condition marked by absence of spontaneous movement, greatly diminished responsiveness to stimulation, and usually impaired consciousness

Of course, some people are really dumb, and many more just don’t care. Some are impaired by bad choices or bad luck. But some very smart people can be misled by deception and distraction…

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. —

Matthew Scheidt’s attorneys are trying to prevent a 3-hour-long tape from being played during his upcoming trial. He is accused of impersonating a physician assistant and even treating patients.

The 17-year-old even admitted to performing CPR on a patient to fill in for a doctor.

“I swear to God I did not do nothing. I would not have done. I felt so uncomfortable even doing that. And, you know, the only reason why I did do it was because there was nobody else in there. And I’m not going to let her die,” Scheidt said during the interrogation.

During the hours of interrogation, Scheidt admitted that he should not have worn the physician assistant badge and that he did deceive doctors at Osceola Regional Medical Center.

How did very smart professionals get punked by a 17 year old? Distraction, deception. They were probably all maxed out busy, juggling a thousand competing priorities in their day, wondering how they would cover all they were responsible for. They probably did not focus their attention on the young-looking guy in the white coat with the badge. A visitor walking through would be more likely to have the eye for something not right in that guy. They might look past the white coat and see their teenage son’s punky friend walking by.

You don’t brake at every intersection at rush hour. You have to assume that when the light is green you should go.

We trust our lives to life as usual. We base our social life on half-conscious assumptions. It’s woven into our shared reality. If you love English you appreciate and work with the spin and slant that can be worked into the most innocuous-seeming sentences. It’s unspoken assumptions. Some of us are very sensitive to words, others have a different lens for seeing the world.

We are in an election where a deeply divided America struggles with competing visions of what our common reality will be.

Sometimes the differences are thrown into sharp and painful contrast.

Rep. Todd Akin’s phrase, ‘legitimate rape’ was too honest for the Republican Party. I’m not of the ‘no rape is legitimate’ rejoinder that focuses on that one unfortunate word. I do think I understand what he meant. He meant that any woman who was forced into sex should be able to show dire physical injury comparable to what he imagines he would suffer if he had to fight off sexual assault. This type of reasoning goes back to ancient times, as when the good Patriarchs of Israel wrote The Law…

Deuteronomy 22:23-24

English Standard Version (ESV)

23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

For the Good Patriarch, it’s common sense that a cry for help would bring rescue. But for the less powerful, it’s clear that violence, deception, coercion and seduction could be fatal. The world of the Old Testament was a world of purity and execution by stoning, a world of slaves and servants and wives whose husbands held the power of life and death. The wisdom of the Old Testament is that human nature has not changed much in 5,000 years and we can learn from the past.

It’s a huge cultural shift to acknowledge that sexual violence, bullying, coercion and humiliation are crimes against personhood. It’s a huge shift to take it on faith that there is worth and dignity in every person, and we don’t gain by excusing the abuse of power. It’s a huge shift to defend the rights of people who do not act the way we wish the righteous would– the woman in the city too scared to scream, the child afraid of getting into trouble.

So snarking at Todd Akin won’t change hearts and minds. Too much focus on his too-explicit words distracts from the fact that there is no difference between his agenda and that of the Republican Party except style. Underestimating the power of the unspoken assumptions woven into our culture leaves us open to being punked. You cannot dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools.

The problem is, the master’s tools are most of our toolbox. We are products of our culture. We have to reach into the box for Justice, Civility, Dignity and Freedom. We won’t use those tools to reinforce the old inequalities. At best we will be living in the People’s House under construction. Sharing rooms with people we didn’t expect to have to deal with.

This is a plea to remember where we came from, and not to underestimate the hold of the past, or the power of the people who fear the dismantling of the old world.

Circular Firing Squad

I was gonna stay out of this, since I have to be at work in an hour, but incredibly, even Sarah Palin is piling on…

Sarah Palin slammed GOP Senate hopeful Todd Akin’s decision to continue his bid for the Missouri seat and suggested that she might back a third-party challenger in an interview on Fox News Tuesday night.

“He’s inviting himself back into this general election that’s coming up, and he’s going to get defeated. And that’s unfortunate,” the former Alaska governor said on “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.” “That is why we have to think pragmatically about this, and we have to think, well, what’s another option? Is a third-party another option? If it is, let’s go. The status quo has got to go.”

Todd Akin’s real mistake was to put in crude terms what will most certainly become the official platform of the Republican Party– a personhood amendment that bans terminating a pregnancy from fertilization on, with no exceptions for rape or any other circumstances.

Since there’s no way to track the moment of fertilization, anti-abortion activists endorse a disproven belief that emergency contraception might prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Therefore they want to ban the ‘morning after’ pill. (see here for more on the science.)

Emergency contraception is the standard of care for rape victims who come to the emergency room. This standard is not always followed.

In 2008 I wrote a post, Crime and the Politics of Sexual Assault in Alaska, that demonstrates how politics corrupts legal and medical care for crime victims. I never said Sarah Palin wasn’t very smart, and it’s no accident that when she was mayor in Wasilla, AK, rape victims had to pay for their own forensic exam and emergency care. This would give Mayor Palin deniability if she should ever face a challenge from the anti-abortion Right.

There’s really no daylight between Todd Akin and the rest of the Republican Party. Akin disclosed his fantasy that a certain level of physical violence has a contraceptive effect, the Republican party says that’s crude. Both say that a woman’s personhood and agency come second to a pregnancy, or even a potential conception regardless of circumstances. Texas may succeed in closing down Planned Parenthood in the state, no aspect of women’s care matters more than banning abortion. Toward the goal of total purity on that issue, the most extreme would ban all artificial birth control.

This is far from the mainstream of the American public, and no Republican president has been able to fulfill this agenda.

But in Wasilla, in emergency rooms, in times of crisis these policies harm women and abandon those who deserve the protection of law. ‘We’ll pray for those people’ is not an answer.

AND ANOTHER THING: It’s clearly unfair to pile on Rep. Akin’s use of the phrase ‘legitimate rape’. He obviously meant that a woman has no right to claim rape unless she is visibly beat up or threatened with a weapon by a person who has no social status. That’s another outrageous statement, but a whole other blog post is needed to address it.

“I Pray for Them” is Not Good Enough

Congressional candidate Rep. Todd Akin has put a religious spin on his pseudo-science about women having some biological powers that protect them from getting pregnant if they are victims of ‘legitimate rape’. In an appeal to Christians who value forgiveness, he tries to distract from the plain meaning of his words, backed up by his actions in Congress. He has made a campaign commercial for the base…

“Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them,” Akin says. “The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims.”

Akin continues: “The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”

I would ask Christians to consider that forgiveness doesn’t require voting this man back into Congress. I would ask them to consider that denying a woman emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after rape is respecting her life. Giving her compassion and praying for her is not enough.

Talking tough is not enough. We have a long history of justice denied for victims despite harsh laws. We have a long history of harsh laws being used to imprison innocent men. Rape has many victims, yes, and one casualty is our peace of mind. If the only answer is death to the rapist then society will refuse to prosecute the husband, the brother, the son. Rapists are not usually so outwardly criminal that they don’t have a circle of people who see them as ‘a nice guy’.

It’s an evil act, yes, and an ugly truth. As long as we cling to a past that separates the virtuous women from the impure, the ones whose humanity is lesser because they deserve it, we will give cover to crimes. Predators in society, like predators in the wild, choose the unprotected. It’s necessary to face facts we would rather bury, and defend the rights of people who make choices we would not make. It’s necessary because we are fighting a crime and putting a few individuals in prison is not the whole answer.

Promoting respect for women, because we are equal human beings, is the answer.

I wondered last night if I was making assumptions about Rep. Akin’s religious pandering. Today shows that he’s out there claiming the blessing of forgiveness to hang on to religious voters.

There’s a segment of the religious Right that dwells on forgiveness, but overlooks repentance. It’s like the Ted Haggards who get caught in immorality but think they can reclaim their pulpit and collection plate after a few expressions of remorse. It’s like the many religious groups who found it expedient to cover up sexual crimes in their own community while exhorting victims to ‘forgive’. Anything can be used as spin in politics.

Todd Akin does not intend to change his actions or votes against a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, or even to prevent conception after rape. But he has compassion and will pray for those people. He feels real sorry for them.

No woman wants to think that they will ever be in a situation where this will be personal. But if we let law for women be made by men who don’t know and don’t care about reality, and who confuse condescension and pity with respect, we will abandon the women who need real help and the standard of medical care.

Bible Verses for Todd Akin

‘Gaffe’, how did this Frenchified word get into American politics? We needed a way to point out that someone smart who has to meet the public and give speeches for months of sleep-deprived campaigning will inevitably say something regrettable.

Here are the Merriam-Webster dictionary examples of ‘gaffe’…

He realized that he had committed an awful gaffe when he mispronounced her name.
committed a huge gaffe when she started drinking from the finger bowl

A cynic joked that a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth. There are slips, Freudian slips, and entire detailed statements where it’s hard to interpret the words to be anything but what they mean. Congressman Todd Akin’s outrageous statement about rape, and the weird idea that an innocent woman can’t be made pregnant against her will isn’t an accident– it’s a belief with a history in our culture and roots in the more extreme corners of the religious right.

These kinds of beliefs provide cover for rapists who use intimidation and prey on the vulnerable. Tina Anderson was only 15 when she was raped and made pregnant by a much older man in her church.

Fifty-two-year-old Ernest Willis of Gilford apologised on Tuesday saying he was ‘sorry and ashamed for this thoughtless act of sexual misconduct.’
But he did not admit to forcibly raping the teenager.

Miss Anderson, now 29, told The Associated Press she felt vindicated.
She said she was never really believed that the sex was not consensual until a court found him guilty.

The teen was forced to face hundreds of churchgoers at Concord’s Trinity Baptist Church and say sorry for getting pregnant.

She said: ‘I felt completely humiliated. I felt like my life was over.’

The then-pastor of the New Hampshire church, Chuck Phelps, arranged for her to move in with a Baptist family in Colorado and place her infant daughter up for adoption.

She said she believed ‘for years’ what the church leaders had told her which was: ‘The rapes were her fault and she must learn to forgive and forget.’

During cross-examination Anderson lashed out at defence attorney Donna Brown for ‘badgering her’ about discrepancies in her recollection of the sequence of events that summer.

She said: ‘You cannot remember when you are 15-years-old and scared out of your mind. It doesn’t mean I was lying. I felt like my life was over.’

The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy 22 20 gives instructions on when a husband may have his wife stoned to death for being unable to prove she was a virgin on their wedding night. The penalty for getting raped in the city is death, because presumably the woman failed to call for help.

Imagine a woman forced to drink poison because her husband suspects she has been impure. Numbers 5 23:29

23 ‘The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall [k]wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her [l]and cause bitterness. 25 The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, that the water which brings a curse will go into her [m]and cause bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will [n]waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive [o]children.

29 ‘This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, being under the authority of her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the Lord, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. 31 Moreover, the man will be free from [p]guilt, but that woman shall bear her [q]guilt.’”

Imagine the terror that woman would feel, drinking the cursed, dirty water. This is what is known as an ordeal. If she gets sick from the dirt or the power of suggestion– well that proves it. No mention of how many times a husband can demand this ritual, as often as the spirit of jealousy calls to him apparently.

The net is full of better writers than this one, once again explaining that rape is a crime. Brave women are coming out and talking about their own survival. This reminds me of the periodic emergence of Roman Polanski from his European bunker, forcing the woman who survived his assault as a child to once again ask the press to please go away. It should not be necessary to refute these bad ideas over and over, but here we are.

The Republican Party may be racing to distance itself from Todd Akin’s remarks, but it’s important to know that they are not his alone, and do come from an important part of the Republican base. He’s not the first to pass judgment on who is ‘really raped’ and who deserved it. His real gaffe was to expose the contradictions between the wing of the GOP that will frankly say that they would force a woman to continue a pregnancy caused by rape, and the much more moderate American public. When you breach the consistent position that abortion is forbidden in any circumstance, you open the door to circumstantial morality. If you believe, as I do, that life is circumstantial and that there are many hard decisions that belong to the people most affected, you can live with grey areas.

What is contemptible about Todd Akin’s statements is that he won’t face the reality that a rapist is not usually a deranged man jumping out of the bushes. That’s why Ernest Willis was able to prey on a child in a church and engage the pastor in covering up his crime.

And as Black Max at Daily Kos points out, if you believe the pseudo-science that a woman’s body has some contraceptive powers against rape, pregnancy proves that she was asking for it. In the old days, like about fifty years ago, the forces of law and order would just disappear the girls to reform school.

It’s only different now because so many brave women spoke truth in the face of personal destruction. Their witness stands against obstinate ignorance. Like they say, you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. If anyone presumes to represent the people, they have to face the consequences when they slander half the population.

AN AGENDA: Emergency contraception is the standard of medical care for victims of rape. Too often this standard is not kept because of a mistaken idea that emergency contraception is a form of abortion. The belief that any victim of a violent crime should have to prove themselves by showing visible injuries, and that only ‘forcible rape’ is real, and that a victim of ‘forcible rape’ can’t get pregnant supports the agenda of denying contraception even in the most dire circumstances.

Here’s more from CNN on Congressman Akin’s views…

Akin, a six-term U.S. congressman, touted his socially conservative values on the primary campaign trail.
He opposes abortion in all circumstances and has said he also opposes the morning after pill, which he equates to abortion.

Believing that no decent woman would ever find herself in an emergency room needing emergency contraception is necessary to make these views seem less than oppressive.

Kayaks on the River

View from Providence Place Mall
View from Waterplace

This weekend I was invited to kayak on the Narrow River in Narragansett. If even I can do this without drowning it’s truly a day at the beach. We saw herons, gulls, crabs and minnows, grass and speedboats and surfboard type things that people were riding. Next time I’ll try one of those.

Walking home from work today I saw the kayaks of the inner city, first saw them by the railroad tracks under Providence Place Mall. I think that was the Woonasquatucket River, flowing from the green fields of Olneyville. That looks like fun.