Friday, August 3, 2018

Blogrolling In Our Time*

Say hello to Have Coffee Will Write.  Because anyone who groks the truth-telling goddess that is Stephanie Ruhle is A-OK in my book.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

When right-wing evangelicals don't have legal abortion as their punching bag, what then?

July, 2022: 

It's the middle of the second year of Donald Trump's second term.  The US is now allied with Russia and North Korea, and there is a cold war with the rest of the developed world.  Thanks to Russian manipulation and outright hacking of the 2020 election, the GOP now controls the state houses of 48 states, with only New York and California still being marginally held by Democrats.  Poll taxes have been restored throughout the south, and ID cards that are not drivers licenses are no longer valid for voter ID, not that it matters, because the groundwork is being set for permanent Trump family rule, with Ivanka Trump taking on an ever larger role, as her father is now prone to memory lapses and the kind of rages consistent with early stage dementia.  With an overwhelming GOP majority in both houses of Congress now, the legislative branch now served simply as a rubber stamp for Trump family decisions and policies.

The Mueller probe was ended in early 2019, when the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision,  decided that a sitting president could not be indicted for crimes committed before taking office and that state laws that attempted to supersede federal laws could not do so.

Soon after the 2020 election, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suffered a recurrence of pancreatic cancer.  She valiantly held on for one more Court term, but after the election, she succumbed to pneumonia after being hospitalized in December of that year.  Now part of an intractable right-wing Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer, now 83, decided that he did not want to spend the last part of his life writing dissents and he retired in April 2021.    The Democrats offered their customary objections to the inevitable hard-right nominees, but after the disastrous 2020 election, which saw the Kirsten Gillibrand/Kamala Harris ticket fall with the worst electoral result since the George McGovern debacle of 1972, taking dozens of downticket races with it, no one, not even what was left of their own party, takes them seriously anymore. 

The new court's order of business was a Florida law that had been stopped by a circuit court which would declare every fertilized egg a full-fledged human, would require police investigations of all miscarriages, and make an abortion of any kind, even removal of an already-dead fetus, a capital crime with both doctor and woman at risk of the death penalty.  After a contentious debate, which saw Justices Kagan and Sotomayor failing to convince their colleagues that such a law could make a menstrual period a capital crime, since up to 40% of fertilized eggs never implant.

Once the Florida law was upheld, Roe v. Wade became moot in all states except New York and California, because state legislatures elsewhere rushed to implement their own Florida-type laws, knowing that the Court would be friendly to their cause for at least another thirty years.

Following the Florida law's upholding, conservative legislators then set their new goal as repeal of Griswold v. Connecticut, which legalized contraception.  Despite heavy advertising by the pharmaceutical industry, the new Court, in an opinon written by one of the new Trump appointees, Amy Coney Barrett, declared that since religious faith supersedes man's laws, and that pregnancy represents God's will, that any attempt to prevent it is against the will of God.  Justice Elena Kagan wrote a passionate dissent invoking the establishment clause, but with a majority of the Court being conservative Christians who believe that the Founders intended this to be a Christian nation, the religious argument prevailed.

The decision was hardly a surprise, since the Court had already upheld a North Carolina law, that had failed to pass the state legislature in 2013, but was revived successfully in 2020 with the new composition of the Supreme Court, declaring Christianity as that's state's official religion.

Returning to July 2018:

Donald Trump is motivated by one thing and one thing only:  adulation.  In the evangelical community, he has found the perfect all-you-can-eat buffet for that kind of adulation.  This community has forgiven him the same sexual peccadilloes for which they had pilloried Bill Clinton 20 years earlier.  They forgive him his greed, his thievery, his enrichment of his family coffers at the taxpayer's expense -- all because he has promised them that he will end abortion once and for all, and gone even beyond Saint Ronald Reagan in that he has said that there should be some sort of punishment for women who have them.

Abortion has been the low-hanging fruit for GOP politicians since the late 1960s.  Most of them have given lip service to opposition to abortion, but until Trump came along, with his insatiable appetite for a constantly-replenishing plate of worship, they all knew that legal abortion was their best friend -- because it gave the so-called "values voters" something on which to focus besides the massive transfer of wealth from those very voters up to people like, well, Donald Trump.

The scenario above could very well happen.  The laws mentioned have already been attempted in various states.  The North Carolina legislature really DID try to get Christianity declared as the official state religion in 2013.  So-called "personhood" laws have been attempted in a number of states.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg can't go on forever.  Neither can Stephen Breyer, who is 78 this year.  It is entirely probable, even likely, that the Democratic Party WILL decide to nominate a Gillibrand/Harris ticket in 2020.  There is no way that such a ticket can win, not with white women in the south and the flyover states unbothered by Trump's misogyny, and especially not when Russian election interference is still going on in 2018.  So it is very plausible that Donald Trump may get to name FOUR Supreme Court justices.

So what then?  With abortion being THE right-wing issue for over forty years, what happens when they get what they want?  What happens if they even get capital punishment for abortion providers and women?  Obviously more women will die from back-alley and self-abortions.  More unwanted children will be born and live miserable lives with parents who don't want them and have no social safety net to provide things like basic nutrition.  Those are the social and public health costs.  But what of those evangelical voters?  Abortion has been their signature issue, and often their sole focus, ever since Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973.  When they get what they want, and when they even get Griswold v. Connecticut repealed, and all of the most-used contraceptives are deemed to be abortifacient (even though they are not), and when young women, their heads shaved to better adhere the electrodes, are shown on Fox News led off to their executions because fertilized egg was found upon microscopic examination of their tampons, what then?  What do the evangelicals want next?

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Emily Hayward died today

I didn't know her. 

Neither did most of her 52,175 YouTube subscribers.

As ever less of our lives become private, and as companies like Google and Facebook seem to know more about us every day, I've noticed that the "Recommended For You" section of my YouTube page is showing a lot of things to which I never subscribed.  Back when Mr. Brilliant was sick, I did a lot searching for information about cancer.  And because of the work I did until recently, I was always looking for various published papers about disease assessment for various types of cancers, since there are differences between the way, say, solid tumors are measured vs. hematological cancers.

But Google, who now owns YouTube, decided that I would be interested in looking at videos by what is known as "cancer vloggers."  These are people with cancer who document their journeys on video, from diagnosis through treatment, and whatever comes beyond. So one day I clicked on a video by a young woman in the UK named Emily Hayward, who had been battling metastatic melanoma for seven years, since she was seventeen years old.

There were over 250 of her videos. 

I haven't watched all of them.  I know what a time suck YouTube is.  But something about this young woman's ferocity grabbed my attention, and kept it there. 

Emily Hayward was a fitness instructor and cancer warrior.  Diagnosed with melanoma in 2011, lymph node metastasis in 2013, and distant metastases in her liver, lung and brain in 2015, she spent nearly a third of her life battling one of the most dreaded cancers.  It does not appear that she was a sun worshipper; she described herself in one of her videos as "always moley" -- but one of those moles went bad, and today claimed her life at the damnably unfair age of 24.

She was also a lesbian, whose wife, Aisha Hasan, knew she had melanoma when they first got together.  They were married two months ago, both fully aware that their married life would be short.  I think that for me, as compelling as seeing Emily deal with her journey with a toughness and determination that I'm not sure I would have, it was also Aisha, whose wisdom about life and death, and whose stalwart good cheer, loving attitude and level-headedness in the face of what she clearly knew was going to be a shortened life with her soulmate, who grabbed my heart.  I wish that I could have been the kind of caregiver she was.  I wish I could have been like her.  It is one of my greatest regrets that I wasn't.

In the last video before Emily's death, Aisha says before they head out for the latest scan results, "You're going to walk in there with the same amount of stuff in your body as when you walk out. Even if they say you've got 26 tumors, you have those 26 tumors in you right now, and yet you've been to the it doesn't really matter.  You're still in control of it, I'm still in control of it.  They're just helping by telling us the facts."  Who among us is that wise? Who among us even has the presence of mind at such a time to even be able to think that way?

Five days before her death, Emily was at her beloved gym.  She was able to even write a farewell message on her Instagram page, right down to her trademark opening, "What's going on guys?":

What’s going on guys? After 8 long years of kicking cancer in the ass my body got tired, I achieved everything I wanted to and more. With all my loved ones around me I have now peacefully left you all. Thank you all for your love and support, but most of all thank you for always following my journey and believing in me. Love you all, peace Em 
We talk about people "losing their battle with cancer."  It's a terrible phrase; it makes it sound as if they just didn't TRY hard enough.  The way you win the battle with cancer is not by simply surviving to see another day, or another year, or another fifteen years.  It's by living the life we've got with the people we love, going out on our own terms, and living on in the hearts of those we love, and sometimes, even those we don't even know but who we have touched somehow.  It appears that Emily Hayward was able to do just that. 

Not all cancer vloggers are young, but most of them are.  Some of it is the tendency that young people (and even the not-so-young) have to share everything about their lives.  But for these young people with these horrifying prognoses, there's more to it than just conventional oversharing that young people seem to do these days.  These are people who are too young to have found their ultimate place in the world yet.  They haven't had even the option to have children.  Some, like Sophia Gall, who died earlier this year, never even get to finish high school.  But what they do have is a furious desire to leave their mark; to make their lives meaningful, to let the world know that they were here...and to be remembered.  If their time here is going to be short, they want to make it count, and their message to all of us is to treasure every day we have, because we never know what tomorrow will bring.

You've taught us well.  Now rest, warrior woman.

(Follow Emily's journey here.)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Suicide Isn't Painless

Last night I was Google-searching, trying to find some little nugget of news that would allow me to believe that Anthony Bourdain did not mean to end his life, but that it was an erotic asphyxiation experiment gone wrong, the way it did for David Carradine.  I want to believe the latter because then I can be angry instead of so damn sad. Because then I can rail about men and their dicks and not have to think about how the world is now even darker than it was two days ago.

I spent last evening watching a series of CNN talking heads reminiscing through their shock at the death of their colleague, interspersed with clips from Parts Unknown, followed by a binge of YouTube clips until midnight.  That just made things worse. 

Bourdain was more than just a celebrity chef, a travel writer, a memorist, a foodie, and an almost Hemingway-esque figure of conventional masculinity who could also be a vocal advocate for #metoo.  He was nothing less than the Poet Laureate of food:

"It is indeed marvelous
An irony-free zone
Where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.
Where everybody, regardless of race, creed, color, or degree of inebriation is welcomed.
Its warm, yellow glow a beacon of hope and salvation
Inviting the hungry, the lost, the seriously hammered
All across the South
To come inside
A place of safety
And nourishment.
It never closes
It is always...always faithful
Always there...for you."

Do you know what that's about?  Well, here's your answer, about 23 seconds in: 

Who else could write this about Waffle House, of all places?  Those roadway food joints that beckon long distance truckers and interstate vacationers, now forever tainted by yet another angry white incel asshole.

Or this:

"The Mediterranean Sea itself trembles
The ground shakes beneath the wheels
Of our heavy metal thunder
Back in Beirut after all these years
The first time I was here did not end well
But it made no difference to me
I love it here
In spite of everything
I love it here"

Who else would write this about BEIRUT, of all places?

Type in "Anthony Bourdain" into YouTube and just pick a video....any video.  Every one is a  gem of poetry and deliciousness and breathtaking visual beauty, as if the humdrum travelogues to which we're accustomed were suddenly being experienced on hallucinogens, our perceptions ticked up a notch.  Strangers become friends, ugliness and desolation becomes art, and the food that fries and simmers and is dished up by people whose faces show the trials of their lives in the dark alleys of the world becomes the nectar of the gods.

Ask most people what they would do if they won the lottery, and they say "I'd travel the world."  For most people, that means seeing the major world sites that we know about.  Anthony Bourdain at the time of his death had built a career that most people can only dream about.   Yes, his celebrity and the resources provided him by virtue of having a television show allowed him to be welcomed in places most of us would not dare venture, and invited into people's homes to actually share in the lives that real people live in countries all over the world.  But where most people might look at the overall magnificence of some edifice somewhere in the same travel photos everyone takes, Anthony Bourdain would find the little fresco hidden in the corner that most people never would notice, of someone ancient cooking something over a fire, and then go out looking for that something in an alley in the worst part of town -- and find it.

We look at others, particularly people who have fame and money, and think their lives are charmed, that they could not possibly have any inner pain. Ordinary people, yes.  My mother attempted suicide when I was nine years old, but had I been old enough to really understand it (and if we'd actually been told about it at the time, but we weren't), it would not have been surprising, given the number of times I'd seen her sprawled on the steps crying.  My mother survived.  Her sister, who took the same dose of the same sleeping pill four years later, didn't. 

My aunt was to all outside appearances the perfect 1950s housewife.  Trim, pretty, with a handsome husband and three smart, active sons, she kept a tidy home, baked cookies, and wrote down recipes in meticulous, tiny handwriting.  Her suicide took place on Mother's Day, of all days.  I think it was meant as a giant "Fuck you" to her own mother, rather than to her children, but I will never be sure.  I am not in contact with any cousins from that side of the family, and I can't say I blame them for wanting no reminders of what their mother did. 

Even Mr. Brilliant was not immune.  I now believe that he battled intermittent depression for much of his life, but in 1989, after quitting his job to take a computer programming class at NYU School of Continuing Education and being told by the instructor that no one without a degree would pass the course, he went into a tailspin that resulted in me bodily stopping him from driving up to the George Washington Bridge and jumping.  And when he became ill with bladder cancer, his first instinct was to go to an assisted suicide state (not that he would have passed the psych test these states require).  It was really only after the first of his surgeries for moyamoya that he started to feel hopeful about the future (which makes the fact that he had a stroke a month later almost to the day that much more heartbreaking).

So yes, we get it when ordinary people are destroyed by their own thwarted dreams.  My family members with depression all had broken dreams of one kind or another.  Mom had been a talented violinist.  My aunt had a degree in physical chemistry from Temple University.  Mr. Brilliant had built a career as a computer network whiz out of nothing only to find himself aged out of it, scrambling from one short-term contract to the next.  But what of someone like Anthony Bourdain, who from all outside appearances had the kind of larger-than-life life that so many dream of but never even think they can achieve?

Days before he died, Bourdain bought a John Lurie painting titled "The Sky Is Falling, I am Learning to Live With It." 

Did this painting, which could be interpreted as a mind crumbling, speak to what was going on in Bourdain's mind?  Does it reflect the kind of "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold" feeling of dread so many of us feel in the age of Trump, only he, this TV avatar of articulate tough-guyness, was somehow less able to deal with it than we have been (at least so far)?  Had he received a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimers, or Lewy Body Dementia, or some other disease that would gradually take away his ability to travel, to eat, to taste food, to do what he was clearly born to do?  Or is it simply another case of a genius unable to live in his own head?

Most of us who lose someone we love have a certain amount of anger towards the person who died:  "How could you leave me?"  It's irrational, and our rational mind usually deals with it fairly quickly so we can do the work of grieving.  In the case of suicide, it's more difficult for that anger to dissipate.  Suicide is abandonment writ large -- not only did the person leave us, but did it deliberately.  And why? 

And that is part of why losing Anthony Bourdain hits harder than some other celebrity suicides.  Because this was a man who transcended national borders.  He visited countries we're supposed to think of as enemies.  He was welcomed into people's homes.  He showed us that no matter what our politicians think, people are people and that cooking food, serving food, trying new foods, sharing food, brings us all just a little closer.  It becomes that much more difficult to think about being at war with Iran when you've seen Anthony Bourdain share a bounteous and delicious meal with an Iranian family.  None of that was enough to keep him with us.  So in an age when hate and division is on the rise, being cooked up in the dark alleys of the minds of white nationalists, we are left to wonder:  What did Anthony Bourdain see coming that made it all seem futile?  What did he see coming that we haven't yet perceived?

And so here we are, scouring Google to find some kind of explanation -- an erotic asphyxiation experiment gone wrong, an unknown, potentially fatal neurological disease, something, anything, so that we don't have to think that someone who could navigate the rural roads and urban alleys of the world and make it just a bit kinder, a bit warmer, a bit more nourishing, was unable to navigate his own mind. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Friday Cat Blogging for June 1, 2018

If between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you don't have enough time suck in  your life, may I introduce you to Tiny Kittens Society?  This is a rescue in Canada that for three years has been doing TNR (trap, neuter, release) and rescue in a colony of over 200 feral cats in Canada.  Pregnant females are rescued and their kittens born in safety and comfort.  The kittens are then adopted out, the moms spayed, and if they can be socialized, they too are adopted out.  Otherwise they are released back to the colony, where they will produce no more litters.

And of course they have their own YouTube channel, including a 24/7 Kitten Cam of their latest litters.  At the time of this posting, there are nine kittens, born to two females they rescued in March.

You're welcome.  Or, I apologize.  You pick.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Blogrolling In Our Time

Reviving a feature from the old place...

Say hello to No More Mister Nice Blog, who we should have added a long time ago, and   Vixen Strangely of Strangely Blogged, who is, strangely, driving traffic to the old place.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

You Can't Stop the Beat

 Photobomb of the Year
Something very important happened today. 

Cynics always roll their eyes at a "royal wedding", particularly one involving male members of the British royal family.  There's something so retrograde, so sexist, so downright primitive, about the idea of two people going into a church and when they come out, one of them is a princess, whatever that means. 

And yet, this transformation of some ordinary girl into a princess; that most often most toxic of female iconography that's nearly impossible for any little girl to escape, has a stranglehold on even our culture.  I don't know why "princess" has such a hold on a country that's never had royalty.  We can't really blame the Brothers Grimm, for the original, pre-Disney versions of their fairy tales have some pretty macabre elements, like Cinderella's stepsisters cutting pieces off their feet to try to fit into the glass slipper. I suppose we can blame Walt Disney for it, and the siren song that the Disney theme parks use to lure in American families. 

No matter how cynical you are, there is something about these extravaganzas that draws us in and keeps us in no matter what happens in the aftermath.  We all know now what an utter clusterfuck the marriage of Charles and Diana was, even from its misbegotten beginning.  And yet, despite the knowledge of how utterly miserable both of them already were on the day when Diana seemed more like just a support for a massive, crumpled dress than a 20-year-old who already knew her husband loved not her but another, we still call that a "fairytale wedding." 

I'm not sure why British royal weddings hold us so much in thrall.  When we look at the British monarchy in historical context, or at least the historical context we know from televised miniseries, a royal wedding is hardly a harbinger of eternal bliss.  Just ask Anne Boleyn.  But let there be a royal wedding, especially this one. and we go bonkers.

Why this one?  Because if Diana was "the people's princess" (ick), then her sons have been "the people's sons," especially Harry.  Of "the heir and the spare", it was Harry, the embodiment of yet two more collective consciousness archetypes, the Lost Boy and Lovable Scamp, who has always had the hearts of royal-watchers.  It is his good fortune to have inherited his mother's telegenicity as well as her ability to connect with people, because in his youth, his self-destructiveness in the face of unresolved grief would have forever stained a less charming young man.  But Harry has always been able to pull off being that "lovable scamp," so it is hardly surprising that he would choose for a bride a mixed-race divorcee with a similar mind for public service.

But it's one thing to choose a spouse that the stuffiest traditionalists might regard as "scandalous."  It's quite another to include in your very Anglican royal wedding ceremony not only the ancient Celtic pagan ritual of handfasting, but also elements from American black churches.  From the perspective of this admittedly very white (if culturally Jewish) blogger, the heightened emotionality brought and wrought by the amazing sermon gifted to the couple, and indeed to all of us, by Rev. Michael Curry, is what elevated this ceremony to something approaching the Divine. 

And this is where this whitest of rituals, the Anglican royal wedding, embraced diversity and the heritage of its newest member.  From the minute he opened with a quote from the Song of Solomon (and not the part you might think), and then segued effortlessly into quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Curry did not just talk of the power of love, but imbued the cavernous room with its power:

There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even oversentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. There’s power, power in love.
Not just in its romantic forms but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it.
And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love. And our lives were meant and are meant to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.
Ultimately the source of love is God himself, the source of all of our lives. There’s an old medieval poem that says, “where true love is found, God himself is there.”
It was moving, it was glorious, it was joyful, it was subtly subversive,  it made me weep with joy and brought me almost to the point of saying "OK, I'll convert!!"  It was also very much of the glimpses white people get to see of black churches, and by the time Rev. Curry remembered that "we got to get y'all married", it felt as if something amazing and strong and unifying and just perhaps lasting had shifted in The Force, that the earth's axis had just maybe tilted a bit back in a kinder, more loving, direction.  Yes, some in the audience seemed profoundly uncomfortable, but it's something the stuffed shirts in attendance needed.  And then all this was followed by Karen Gibson and the Kingdom Choir singing a gorgeous rendition of "Stand By Me" (a song written by a black guy and two Jewish guys) and as a recessional, Etta James'  "This Little Light of Mine".  And when it was over, one had the sense that not only had Donald J. Trump not been invited to the wedding, but that the ceremony had included after all, the nose-thumbing at him that was avoided when it was decided that the only way to avoid inviting him was to exclude ALL foreign dignitaries.

I was never one who got sucked into the Cult of Diana.  Yes, she was pretty and glamorous but by 1980, when her wedding took place, I was long past believing in fairytales.  She struck me back then as a girl who'd set her cap for a prince long ago and had too many spangles in her eyes to realize how cold a fish she'd attached herself to.  Yes, I admired her good works, but to me they were part of the noblesse oblige one would expect from someone to whom so much is given.  And yet, in seeing the man her son Harry has become, and how it is he, not his brother, who has inherited her ability to charm everyone he meets, and in seeing the gauntlet he and his bride threw down today in the company of their family, their friends, and the entire world, I could not help but think that somewhere in the great beyond, Diana is getting the last laugh after all.

  Mazel tov,  you two crazy kids.  Now go forth and do wonders.