Monday, June 30, 2014

Today Five Members of the U.S. Supreme Court Moved Us Closer to a Theocracy

Today the Supreme Court ruled that private, family-owned businesses--in this case, Hobby Lobby--could opt out of paying for contraceptives if their objections to them are based on the owners' religious beliefs.

The case came to the attention of the Supremes when the Affordable Care Act included this mandate:

Birth control benefits:
Plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace must cover contraceptive methods and counseling for all women, as prescribed by a health care provider.
These plans must cover the services without charging a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible when they are provided by an in-network provider.

Covered contraceptive methods:

All Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods prescribed by a woman’s doctor are covered, including:
  • Barrier methods (used during intercourse), like diaphragms and sponges
  • Hormonal methods, like birth control pills and vaginal rings
  • Implanted devices, like intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • Emergency contraception, like Plan B® and ella®
  • Sterilization procedures
  • Patient education and counseling
Plans aren’t required to cover:
  • Drugs to induce abortions
  • Services related to a man’s reproductive capacity, like vasectomies
Hobby Lobby argues that they don't want to pay for any services that might cause the end of life.  They consider FDA-approved morning-after pills--like Plan B--abortion pills, even though the pills have to be used within 72 hours after intercourse.  Within three days.  They consider certain IUDs as obstacles in the path of fertilized eggs.  (Fertilized eggs are apparently babies in their eyes.)

If the owners of Hobby Lobby want to believe that life begins at conception, let them.  It's a free country.  They can believe anything they want to believe, religious or otherwise.  What they can't do--or shouldn't be able to do--is to push their religious beliefs on their employees.  One of the benefits of the newly minted Affordable Care Act was a mandate to provide free contraceptive care for women who need it.  Hobby Lobby balked and decided they shouldn't have to pay for something that might keep women from having babies. 

When the Right Wing came up with the loony notion that life begins at conception, they opened the doors to misusing religion to force women to give up the ability to forestall pregnancies. There is no legitimate religious basis for denying women the right to free contraception.  None at all.

Contraception isn't, by definition, abortion, except in the minds of those looking for any excuse to involve themselves in deciding for women when they should have children.   When contraception is the obvious and most humane solution to unwanted pregnancies, there is no humane reason not to make it available and free. 

So what I'm seeing from those five men on the Supreme Court is yet another example of ideology as law.  ("Corporations are people" being the most jaw-dropping and the most precedent-forming.  Hobby Lobby couldn't have won without it.)  They're treading on dangerous territory.  They're giving judicial approval to religious solutions for societal issues, and, as the judicial branch of a secular government, they're knowingly abusing their authority.

But worse, they're telling women that when it comes to reproductive protections, religious theory trumps their right not to be burdened by the worry of unintended pregnancies.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in her dissent, said this:
Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.
Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations...The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.
We are a country made up of diverse cultures and religions.  We welcome them, we encourage them, we give them the freedom to live within their own cultures and worship within their own religions.  At the same time, we expect the freedom not to have to follow along.

But this Supreme Court, in the name of free speech, just forced us to give in to specific religious beliefs.  There was a time when that would have been inconceivable. 

Lord knows, we were safer then.

(Cross-posted at dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What Does The Death Of Cursive Mean?

As someone who dreaded Penmanship class, and who always–and I mean always–got poor grades in it, let me just say if writing in cursive goes away I’ll be right up there in front mourning the loss.  (Cursive:  flowing letters all connected to make one word.  What we used to call “handwriting”.)

We learned the Palmer Method in grade school, where every letter had to follow a pattern and fit between the lines, and where loops and curlicues had to loop and curl, but not too little or too much.  Just right.

cursive palmer method 

So much pressure!  I choked.  I couldn’t do it.

But some time after the 6th Grade, after penmanship was no longer required and I could relax, I realized that if I could barely read my own writing there was no chance that anyone else could either.  I began looping and curling on my own, starting with row after row of connected capital S’s.  I spent hours over the course of many days looping and curling, not worrying about staying within the lines, and before long I found to my amazement that I was creating letters and then words that were actually legible.   It wasn’t exactly true Palmer Method–it was better.   It was a variation on the theme of Palmer and it was all me.

Maybe it’s because handwriting came so hard for me, I don’t know, but I’ve been taking the news of its imminent demise pretty hard.  I’ve noticed over the years that fewer and fewer people were actually writing in cursive and more and more were printing, but I had no idea there was an entire movement bent on killing off that lovely, traditional form of English handwriting.

In a USA Today article called “Is Cursive’s Day in Classroom Done?” I was shocked to read that 41 states do not require the teaching of cursive penmanship.  When did this happen?  To the casual observer it might seem obvious that cursive should go the way of the quill pen.  It takes up valuable class time to teach it, and, since the advent of the computer and digital keyboards, pecking has already taken over for block printing, which took over for cursive writing.

Nobody wants to actually write anything by hand anymore but when they have to they want it to take longer (In speed trials between cursive and printing, cursive wins, hands down) and look like the plain letters kindergartners use before they’re ready to try real handwriting.   I get that.

There are already young people out there who learned to read and write block print only and can’t read or write cursive.  That’s astounding, but apparently true.  When a witness in the George Zimmerman trial, a friend of Trayvon Martin’s, was handed documents written in cursive she was embarrassed to have to admit she couldn’t read them.

But in a Washington Post article, “Cursive is Disappearing from Public Schools”, there was this:
Deborah Spear, an academic therapist based in Great Falls, Virginia, said cursive writing is an integral part of her work with students who have dyslexia. Because all letters in cursive start on a base line, and because the pen moves fluidly from left to right, cursive is easier to learn for dyslexic students who have trouble forming words correctly.
Another side of it is that there is an art to writing in cursive.  With a stroke of the pen we can set ourselves apart.  Whether our handwriting is beautifully executed or more akin to chicken-scratching, it’s all ours.  Nobody else can do it like we do.

I admit that I do most of my writing on a keyboard now.  It’s so much faster and ridiculously easy to correct.  It has become second nature to think and type at the same time.  I will even admit that electronic word processing has changed my life.   But when I want or need to write by hand I like nothing better than to be creating a sentence that, at least visually, couldn’t have been written by anyone but me.

But in that same WaPo article, here comes this guy:
Steve Graham, an education professor at Arizona State University and one of the top U.S. experts on handwriting instruction, said he has heard every argument for and against cursive.
“I have to tell you, I can’t remember the last time I read the Constitution,” Graham said. [in answer to the claim that if the teaching of cursive dies out there may come a day when people won't be able to read the original manuscript of the constitution] “The truth is that cursive writing is pretty much gone, except in the adult world for people in their 60s and 70s.”
Well that would be me, buddy, but I’m not such a stickler for traditional anachronisms that I want to keep this particular kind of handwriting around for old time’s sake.  (Though, of course, that’s a part of it.)  No, I want to keep it around because to kill it off severs one more part of us that is unique and individual and takes some effort.

We’ve done enough of that already.

Update:  My former friend Frank from the website "Frankly Curious" has taken issue with my piece here and has curiously chosen to take me down a peg or two.  Over handwriting, of all things.   It's here.   Give him a thrill.  Read the damned thing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hate And The "Patriots": Like Watching One Long Horror Movie, Wondering Who Dies Next.

In an insightful article about the upsurge in anti-government hate groups and the murderous rampages they spawn, John Avlon calls them "Hatriots"--those people claiming that true constitutional patriotism requires them to disavow, disown, and destroy the United States government--and anyone who gets in their way.

Yes, they're crazies, they're loons, they're nasty-wasties.  (They're not sewing circles, they're hate groups)  But they're out there, they have an endless, unregulated supply of firearms, they have the support of dozens of lawmakers commending them for making good use of the First, Second and 10th Amendments, and, with their new-found "legitimacy", their hatred is escalating.

They're an increasingly violent mob, spurred on by the NRA, by Right Wing radio and television, by Right Wing books and magazines, and worse, by Right Wing politicians who go into politics with the express purpose of taking down the very government currently paying them extraordinarily well for their efforts.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 939 known hate groups active in the United States. (PDF file list of groups and chapters, state by state)  Adding group chapters to the list brings the numbers up to nearly 2000.  Think about it:  Two thousand chapters made up of multiple thousands of people who have made a conscious effort to validate hate and spread it around.   They see the current government (the liberal Democrat part; the Barack Obama part) as a fascistic, socialistic, communistic, treacherous force to be reckoned with.

Because the Supreme Court of the United states (apparently "the good guys" now) validated their right to bear arms, because they have been led to believe it's only a matter of time before their religious rights, their free-speech rights, their rights to privacy, their very lives, will be taken away; because they have been led to believe that the current president, Barack Hussein Obama, is the most evil president ever--they believe it's only a matter of time before they'll be forced to start the long overdue, wholly justifiable but messy process leading to revolution and renewal.

I hate horror movies--I don't find being scared out of my mind entertaining at all--but if I could be convinced this is the plot of a horror movie and not reality, I would embrace it for the sick entertainment it is. I know better, of course, which means I'm far more terrified than I could ever be sitting in a darkened movie house telling myself through chattering teeth that it's not real, it's all pretend, it'll be over soon.

Yesterday I spent about an hour reading Jerad Miller's Facebook posts.  (Jerad Miller, with his wife, Amanda, walked into a pizzeria on Sunday, June 8 and shot two police officers dead.  They ran across the street to a Walmart, where they shot a customer dead before dying themselves.)  His posts, for the most part, were the stuff of a huffy-puffy man/boy full of high-minded "patriotism", interspersed with internet word games, theories about secret chemicals invading our bodies, and quiet calls to rise up and revolt against an out-of-control government.  I've read far worse in dozens of political comment sections.

A snippet:
"I know you are fearful, as am I. We certainly stand before a great and powerful enemy. I, however would rather die fighting for freedom, than live on my knees as a slave. Let it be known to our children’s children that free men stood fast before a tyrants wrath and were found victorious because we stood together. That we all cast aside our petty differences and united under the banner of Liberty and Truth.
May future generations look back upon this time in history with awe and gratitude, for our courage to face tyranny, so that they could live happy and free"
I’m way beyond just background checks and licensing guns now. I want laws with teeth.  Carrying military-style assault weapons into public places is not normal behavior.  I want Congress and the President and the Supreme Court to put on their brave hats, their battle helmets if need be, and get to work.  Domestic terrorists are operating openly in our midst.  They're strapping on their big guns, strutting among us, forcing us to accept that living out their own bad boy fantasies supersedes our fears. 

If the law says they're free to take their guns to town, if guns on the streets become as common as cell phones, okay then.  Let's allow them in every city, county, state and federal building in the land--in every chamber, including that of the Supreme Court. Why not?  What is there to fear?

It won't happen.  Nor will it come to pass--until it's too late--that our leaders will take these threats against our government seriously.  But if our own lawmakers aren't willing to take on the anarchists, there are plenty of  good citizens who will. 

Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, an infantryman and military historian, is one of them.  After the Las Vegas shooting last week, he wrote a startling piece for Esquire called, "That's It.  I'm Coming Home". (Printed in its entirety with his permission.)

This is too much. We have Tea Party political activists shooting cops from behind, in the head, then covering their dead bodies with the Tea Party “Gadsden” flag and shouting, “The Revolution begins now!”

No. I am coming home. I need to be there and be part of the solution. Moms Demand Action is getting some traction, but they can use the lean-in of a few U.S. Army Airborne Infantry Rangers. I am only sorry that I did not stand up to this threat to our nation before. I am sorry. I was busy.
I have been overseas in Afghanistan and in NATO nations for half a decade while the insanity of the National Rifle Association expanded and exploded, and the NRA became, essentially, the tool of death in the United States. They made mass killings normal.

Well done, NRA. But this shit is too much.

Constant cop-killing, by people who echo the NRA talking points and the conspiracy theories of the Internet wackos.

So I will come home, and perhaps some of those 3,000 nutjobs who sent me hatemail might want to meet up, because I am more than fricking willing, you whining, little boy-toys who need guns. So many of you have threatened me that I am literally booked, but any of you who feel you have been left out, go ahead. Book a date. You bring your gun to try and convince me that you are not a complete and total idiot, and if you bring a gun, let us see which tool works best.
Wimps need guns. Come and get me.

Bateman, pictured, is an infantryman and a Military Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Oh, and if you try to go lethal, to convince me that your rhetoric is more intellectually compelling than my own written words, I am going to be giggling at the Las Vegas odds on you, with your guns, and me.

So there is that. Bring it on, little boys.

The opinions here are only those of somebody that thinks a “Patriot Movement”—one which executes police officers—is not working in the service of the nation. They are only the opinions of someone who believes that “Tea Party members" who shoot policemen in the head— executing them at point blank range and then declaring that the “revolution” is starting before placing a Don't Tread on Me flag atop the dead bodies of the police officers you just killed in cold blood—are not good.

You may believe otherwise. If you do, screw you.
Last December Bateman received death threats from some folks in the "Free Speech, Give Us Liberty, Don't Tread on Us" movement after his column about the Supreme Court's ruling on the definition of the Second Amendment appeared in the Esquire Digital Edition.  It hasn't stopped him from fighting against the lunacy that is the current gun culture. 

Members of the gun reform group, Moms Demand Action, have been subjected to spitting stalking and rape threats by bullies who can't for the life of them seem to be able to argue persuasively any other way. It hasn't stopped them, either.

Everyone from Gabby Giffords to the families of the Sandy Hook victims have been attacked for their simple pleas for a common-sense approach to gun usage.  It hasn't stopped any of them.

The "They're coming to take our guns" crowd are cowardly bullies.  Their only argument for open carry is "Cuz we wanna!" Their only weapon is a convenient interpretation of the Second Amendment.  They make a public stand by taking their guns to Target, where they pose for pictures in the aisles with bags of Oreos or in the infant department with an assortment of teethers as a backdrop.  To show, I guess, that they're just like us.  Only they're not.  Some of them are play-acting and some of them are dead serious.  The problem lies in not knowing who is who.
  And when one of their own doesn't realize they're only just funnin' and takes their vast conspiratorial fantasies seriously, shooting to kill, they take no responsibility and accept no blame. They pretend to be patriots but look and act like "homegrown terrorists".   And when they've scared enough people into finally demanding that the government take some action, they hiss and pout and get their feelings hurt.

They're the real patriots and anyone who doesn't agree is a fascist and a commie and a stinkin' liberal traitor.   Read any of the comment sections to the links I've provided and see if you can come away from them still thinking we have nothing to fear, that we're not at gun nut crisis mode.  I admit their crazy notions terrify me--but what terrifies me more is the thought that they kept on, they got worse, more innocent people died, and nobody tried to stop them.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland, Featured on Mike's Blog Round-up at Crooks and Liars)