Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Someone ought to set up a benefit concert for the absorbed zygotes

Big day today for the reproductive rights battle in Mississippi (and possibly the country):

Mississippi voters are casting ballots Tuesday on an amendment to the state constitution that would define life as beginning at the moment of conception.

Initiative 26 would define personhood as "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

Though the text of the amendment is simple, the implications if it passes couldn't be more complex. If approved by voters, it would make it impossible to get an abortion in the state and hamper the ability to get some forms of birth control.

If the amendment passes, it will end up in front of the Supreme Court as a direct challenge to Roe v Wade. Naturally, this can put reproductive rights supporters on edge, but it's inevitable this would happen. Anyone that has followed this debate closely knew that it wasn't ever a question of "if", instead one of "when". If Mississippi doesn't pass this amendment (the last poll I checked this morning had it fairly tight), another amendment will come along, and another, and another. The goal among some of the factions of the anti-choice movement, no longer content with just bullying women by passing legislation that treats them like idiots (waiting periods), makes reproductive health a luxury of the rich (Hyde) or forces unwanted medical procedures on them (mandatory ultrasounds), is the quest to up the ante by taking on Roe itself. I'd argue they always have wanted this, but the tight structure of the establishment GOP prevented them from gaining too much ground. When a party uses these issues as nothing more then political fodder, the worst thing in the world would be to get what they claim to want. However, with the rise of movement conservatism and a bizarre sense among the right that nothing could possible be too fringe to pursue, anti-choicers are starting to eye the ultimate trophy to their own self-righteous grandstanding. And Roe is, overall, a pretty weak ruling.*

What they are missing is that there's a reason the more institutionalized, old guard misogynists are staying far away from personhood amendments such as the one coming out of Mississippi - this could end up spectacularly backfiring on the anti-choice movement, who has seen some great gains within the last decade when it comes to oppressing women. It's not that the ultimate goal is to overturn Roe, it is, but if the court is presented with the question of whether or not a zygote is a legal person, and as such, a protected entity, it's not going to be able to make exemptions here and there based on the whimsy of anti-choicers on a state level. This could be a major setback. The more activist wing of the anti-choice movement are prematurely banking on SCOTUS agreeing that zygotes are persons; but the truth is that bestowing personhood on nothing more then the requirement of something being a fertilized human egg leads to so many legal quagmires that SCOTUS would have a hard time handing the anti-choice crowd a victory. This would hold true even if we had reached a point where the courts stacked with right-wing ideologues in order to favor these sorts of rulings (which we haven't yet, although we are moving in that direction quickly, because Republicans, unlike Democrats, understand the importance of the court system while liberals stupidly vote for Nadar or don't vote at all so they can pat themselves on the back and feel all awesome and non-conformist and shit).

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour amusingly points out some of the legal problems with Initiative 26 (while naively chalking them up to a problem with word usage):

“Some concerns that I had were about out of what I call ectopic pregnancies where the fertilized egg lodges outside the womb, say the fallopian tubes,” he said. “But there’s no question that the wording down here is what concerned people, not the idea that life begins at conception, but that the wording of it is.”

It's not a problem with the wording, Governor. It's a problem with the idea that you can establish legal personhood with something that is so fickle. Yes, if we legally define "person" with the fertilization of an egg, ectopic pregnancies are indeed legal persons. As are Hydatidiform moles. There is no way around that. And let's not even get started on the legal issues that will arise when we consider twinning (one fertilized egg dividing and developing into two separate entities long after personhood is granted) and chimeras (one fertilized egg absorbing the other, can we charge zygotes with murder yet? Probably not, but I bet we can charge the mother with creating a "hostile womb environment" that led to the death of that legalized and now absorbed dead person or something).

That's probably why it's a really fucking bad idea to classify "person" in this manner. And unfortunately for the anti-choice crowd, as it stands now, SCOTUS is probably going to agree.

I also feel that once we start taking it to the federal level it will start getting the attention that has been long lacking in recent years. My mother and I were discussing the Mississippi amendment this past weekend, she expressed frustration over the success of the GOP War on Women and the seemingly lack of care that these issues are getting - "I don't think women today realize how hard we fought for those things" is what she tells me. I realize some will think that statement is ridiculous, as we are seemingly embroiled in never-ending culture wars and abortion is just one of those topics where everyone needs to put in their two cents while at the same time really wishing you'd just shut up about it already. But it did stall for a while. I liked to joke after Obama was elected that hey, at least we might have a few years of peace where I don't have to talk about Hydatidiform moles again. And we did get that, if only briefly.

But a false sense of security or complacency often leads to apathy. Although the anti-choice movement is flawed in many ways, their ability to organize is not one of them, they never tire out. Which is why, as 2010 saw a massive wave of social conservatives flooding back into public office, we saw an increase of legal barriers to reproductive rights targeted at women even when it seemed absurd to do at a time when the concerns about the economy seemed to transcend the culture wars. In fact, the timing seemed so absurd that pro-choicers didn't really do anything to prevent it. 2010 was an election that was touted as being about the poor economy and job market, yet I think we saw more legislation passed regarding reproductive issues then we did any other issue. And the reason this happened was because while pro-choicers were trying to be the responsible ones, focusing on the things that matter instead of this culture war bullshit - the right wing was still doing the culture war bullshit. The fact that we set it aside because we were just too serious to deal with it right now just made it all the easier for them to be successful.

I feel this pattern has been consistent since the days after Roe. I mean, technically women have the right to an abortion, so we can relax now, correct? Like with most issues in this country, progressives have this stubborn idea that if we won it in the past, it can't be taken away. We won, fair and square. So we stop arguing, we stop fighting, we start to make a base camp at the bottom of whatever the next uphill battle will be and let the fire at the old camp burn out. The losers of history, however, have no need to do this. In fact, being the underdog is an amazing motivator. So while the slogans and campaigns and soundbites and protests for reproductive rights fade from the public eye and disappear from pop culture, the slogans and campaigns and soundbites and protests of the fight against reproductive rights have saturated it. And this is why you have so many well-meaning, starry-eyed teenagers of the newer generations waxing poetic about saving babies and posting this on The Facebook:

While having no clue what this sign means:

We are so accustomed to living in a society where we can take our reproductive rights for granted that it is hard for us to go back and remember what it was actually like without them. We can take to heart the pleas for "compromise" with anti-choicers because we have easily been able to ignore what the darker consequences of their movement really means for the rights of women, and what that says about their actual motivations. And we can cringe slightly while reproductive rights are chipped away at but be okay because after all, Roe is settled law, is it not?

Not really. For now, it's fine, but eventually, we cannot depend that it will just always exist to protect us. We need a wake up call. So perhaps the time is perfect for the anti-choice zealots to jog our memories about what sort of society they really want us to live in. So all I can actually say in regards to to Mississippi's Initiative 26 is this: Bring it.

*I'd rather pass the ERA. I feel women's protections in regards to reproductive health are due to their equal rights as citizens rather then an interest in protecting their privacy. Which is why, when discussions of personhood became repetitive and less of a challenge for me, I started arguing from the standpoint of zygotes being people - because hey, why not? - and found that it's not that clear-cut, you still have to argue successfully why special laws are necessary that ensure that pregnant women, and only pregnant women, are required to waive their rights away in order to sustain the rights of another. We see this demand for sacrifice in no other area of law. I think Ruth Ginsberg is attempting to create a safety net for women using this same sort of logic in case we do eventually lose Roe, her dissent in Gonzales v Carhart leans strongly towards the angle that this is overall an issue of equality.

Friday, November 4, 2011

30 Day Music Challenge: 01

I'm not sure where the idea originated, but I'm stealing it from Stereophone, which I should point out will probably feature better music choices and better writing than this little blog will, so perhaps if anything you can use these music posts you'll encounter for the next 30 days as a reminder to go read Stereophone. I won't mind, as I'm really just doing this as a distraction while I give up some of my vices this month and I feel this will be better for my overall mental health than screaming at someone about how I will totally find out a way to reach through my monitor and rip their fucking eyes out if they use the words "job creators" one more goddamned time (although that will be quite necessary at times as well).

But ahem, I am reaching to transcend the anger and cynical nature and run-on sentences that have consumed my life up until this point, so for now, it's thirty days of tunes. Thirty days of meditation and healing, thirty days on a deep and spiritual journey full of love for the self and for others, and thirty days of introspection and self-examination eventually leading up to fulfillment and inner peace. And so we dig in and start our travels off with:

Day One: Your Favorite Song.


No seriously, did I just go back to 7th grade? Oh, I'm going to go buy posters and hang them on my wall because this song is like my favorite song ever and then I'm going to make a mix-tape with just this song on it because if my heart could write lyrics they would sound like whatever is at the number three spot on the billboard top ten list for this week and fucking seriously. Who the hell actually has a favorite song? How do you even define "favorite song" for something like this? I mean, I have a favorite song on a daily, weekly, or sometimes hourly basis, but there's never really "one" song to rule them all for ever and ever. I would actually go so far to suggest that if you have a favorite song, you just have it to tell people that it's your favorite song in hopes they'll be impressed by it. I don't feel a need to impress any of you fuckers.

Look, I have songs that I love because they remind me of my favorite places, or my favorite people, or my favorite seasons, or years, I have songs that I love for the melody or instruments used and songs that I love the for they lyrics or even songs that I love for those brief four measures where everything jives just so perfectly before going back to being utterly forgettable, I have songs that I love when sitting in Irish bars and songs I love when driving my car at night and songs that I love when dancing around my house and songs that I love to sing to the dog and songs that I love to daydream to and songs that I use to unwind.

But no, I don't have a favorite song. I'm honestly at a loss for what to put here. I guess I'll just go with this one because (a) it's Greg Dulli (b) there's a wicked piano in the background (c) it's naughty (d) so it's fun as hell to sing along with and (d) I just heard it while driving today.

More deep thoughts and self-discovery tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The lost art of civility

There's an interesting article up in the Times today regarding the decline of "Southern Manners". Interesting due to where it starts off:

One August night, two men walked into a popular restaurant attached to this city’s fanciest shopping mall. They sat at the bar, ordered drinks and pondered the menu. Two women stood behind them.

A bartender asked if they would mind offering their seats to the ladies. Yes, they would mind. Very much.

Angry words came next, then a federal court date and a claim for more than $3 million in damages.

The men, a former professional basketball player and a lawyer, also happen to be black. The women are white. The men’s lawyers argued that the Tavern at Phipps used a policy wrapped in chivalry as a cloak for discriminatory racial practices.

And where it ends:

“I will not give up,” she said, firm in her belief that Southerners still want to raise children who are kind and well-mannered.

“They must,” she said, “or my classes wouldn’t be full.”

I'm not sure how you start off with the use of civility/chivalry for racist means and then end in a wistful tone about how the South is fighting to keep this culture alive. Anyway, Amanda Marcotte tears down this bullshit quite well, so I've really nothing to add to that aspect of it.

But I have encountered the "civility" argument time and time again, and after being accused countless times of being uncivil myself (I'm pretty blunt. I swear. All of which, I'm informed, is quite unladylike), all I really have to say to that is, you know what? Fuck Civility.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about this in the sense of just being decent to your fellow human beings (this is a good thing). Not in the sense that we should just be inconsiderate as hell to everyone (although this seems to be the trend). Just that civility, as we commonly define it, is quite meaningless. I find that overall, it's not about being a decent person, it's about appearing to be a decent person while being kind of a scumbag.

Once upon a time at a site I wrote at I decided to run what I thought was a clever experiment. This was back when the John Edwards affair scandal broke, and as usual, Republican pundits had some very trenchant analysis of the situation. Rush Limbaugh, for example, speculated that perhaps if Elizabeth Edwards used her mouth for other things other than talking, poor Johnny wouldn't have had to bang the assistant, or babysitter, or whomever he was banging at the time, I forget.

This is what we would call an offensive statement. Now, I don't care much about Rush Limbaugh, he does what he does. Nor am I an advocate for censorship (I prefer to let things like this stand as starting off points for discussion). But keep in mind that during this time on the site, we were lucky to have the "conservative coalition outrage patrol", who felt their main purpose was to find offense at swear words on the site written by liberals and would shriek and scream about them until the article was changed or pulled down.

So I thought I'd do a little light trolling with this one. As someone that is aware of all internet traditions, I pulled a shorter, and although I went into detail in the article as to why Rush Limbaugh's statement was offensive, my title was fairly direct:

"Rush Limbaugh to the Ladies: Less talking, more dick sucking".

Oh god, the outrage. You'd be amazed as to what a title like that can do for your page views. Naturally, many folks came on to tell me that wasn't what Rush Limbaugh was saying at all, that I was putting words in his mouth to make him look worse then he was, that the title was vulgar, that it needed to be changed. It was actually one of the few articles that the site pulled from me (although it was reinstated). And for every complaint, I just asked the same question - is it the words that you find offensive or the idea behind them? Is your beef actually with me, or with Rush Limbaugh? Because let's face it, "Less talking, more dick sucking" and "Perhaps you would keep your man if you used your mouth for other things besides talking" are very similar statements - so much so that they are actually the same statement.

So I asked the outrage police - if I change the title to reflect Limbaugh's actual quote, can we then talk about why what he said was offensive? I was assured that we could. If I just took "dick sucking" out of there, we could have a nice, "civil" conversation about it. So I changed the title. As predicted, once that happened, no one came back. Tumbleweeds. The offensiveness of the statement that women need to shut up and sexually pleasure their men because that's all men really want from them anyway was magically eradicated with the removal of the words "dick sucking".

Anyway, I just bring it up because when it comes to civility, this seems to be the pattern time and time again. This is not to say that there aren't things that people say that are offensive. Just that I find what they are actually saying is to be more offensive then how they say it. I can't even begin to tell you how many "civil" debates I've sat through with some folks pontificating the inferiority of certain biological traits that some other folks have. And I guarantee you, even if there's not a racial slur or blatantly misogynist statement or any disagreeable language to be found anywhere, they are some of the most vile discussions I've ever sat through. They are usually worse for the fact that the folks discussing them assume somewhat of a intellectual superiority over everyone else merely for their ability to not swear, they'll gather in a circle jerk, grab out their thesaurus and discuss why members of group X are weak, or morons, or illogical, or violent, or whatever other negative trait you can muster up in such an educated and civil tone, and then it's back pats all around because of how civil and rational and totally objective the discussion is and aren't they all just awesome for being so intelligent and discussing these sorts of "touchy subjects" so civilly?

At which point the observer is pretty much tearing their hair out and wondering, in all caps, WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED THERE? There really is no other response to this situation then to tell these folks to fuck off. But that's the other nifty thing about pretending to adhere to a standard of "civility" - Would you like to take a guess as to what you are called when you go that route? Yep, that's correct. If you dare to actually take on a certain "tone" when responding to people that have just talked about how your biological traits automatically make you inferior to them, well, then you are just being totally uncivil and are not worth listening to. Perhaps you should choose your words more wisely next time if you want to be taken seriously, thanks for proving my point about how I'm totally better then you (snicker snicker nudge nudge).

And this really hits to the heart of why I find the whole civility debate tiresome. It's never about civility. Instead, it's about shutting down conversation. It's about getting away with being a douchebag while still coming off as a good person. It's a way of dismissing someone without ever actually addressing what they are saying. It's about what benefits you, and only you, not about what is beneficial to others.

Which I don't find civil at all, really. Good riddance.