Monthly Archives: August 2012

Media Distortion and Partisan Politics

Today, an article by CBS leads with the following statement:

Republicans emphatically approved a toughly worded party platform at their national convention Tuesday that would ban all abortions and gay marriages, reshape Medicare into a voucher-like program and cut taxes to energize the economy and create jobs.

Here is what the platform in fact says:

The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. It opposes using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or to fund organizations that perform or advocate abortions. It says the party will not fund or subsidize health care that includes abortion coverage.

As I’ve written in the past, I’m a moderate Republican, or Libertarian who votes Republican.  I believe in a woman’s right to choose.  And in the past year, I’ve grown more and more disenchanted with the Republican Party’s drift to the right on social issues.  But CBS transformed the Republican Party’s statement, that an “unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” into a total ban on abortion.

If that is what the Republican Party meant to say in their platform, they would have said as much, or completed the sentence with something like:  “. . . therefore, we support a complete ban on abortion.”  Even Todd Akin, to the far right on abortion rights, supports the legality of abortion in some very limited cases.  The platform clearly opposes public funding for abortion.  If the Republican Party opposed abortions in all circumstances, I don’t think they wouldn’t even need to bring up the public funding issue, since there would be no abortions to fund.

Romney has stated his position on abortion:

“My position has been clear throughout this campaign,” Romney said. “I’m in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother.”

While it concerns me that the media distorts Republican positions, it mishandles the Democratic Party in much the same way.  For example, when President Obama announced his support for gay marriage earlier this year, Fox ran the following headline:

 

Obama Flip Flops, Declares War on Marriage.

Fox switched its headline shortly thereafter to a somewhat less partisan one:

Obama Flip Flops on Same Sex Marriage.

Let’s examine the original headline.  First, the use of the word “flip flop,” which remained in the updated headline, is unnecessarily provocative.  A more favorable commentator might say, “Obama reexamines beliefs and supports equal treatment of gays.”  Or the headline could read, “Obama changes opinion on gay marriage.”  The latter headline, I might add, is value-free and accurate.

And in the case of gay marriage, it is very telling that many Republican commentators view support for gay marriage as destructive to traditional marriage, or marriage between a man and a woman.  Republicans often speak of liberty.  But Republicans who oppose amendments that allow gay marriage seem to place their own moral values over the liberty of individuals to seek the same legal benefits granted heterosexuals.

Democrats, on the other hand, also speak of freedom, but limit that freedom as it applies to business and industry. When it comes to liberty, I am not sure that either the Democrats or the Republicans apply it with any consistency to their party’s platform.  Each side picks and chooses what we should and should not be free to do, just as reporters pick and choose how they present complex issues.

That brings me to the reason for this article.  The obligation of the media is to report on the news objectively.  Editorials are an exception, of course, but even an opinion piece is more persuasive if it provides the facts first, without a partisan filter.  The problem with a straight-up news piece that leads with a distortion of the facts is that everything that follows is subject to question.  Instead of informing and educating, this sort of writer filters the truth and in doing so, loses the chance to change the minds of his or her readers.

If a writer really believes in her argument, she should provide the facts that both support and belie it.  A fearless writer, after all, is unafraid of being proven wrong.  And a civilized debate is one in which the participants seek not victory, but truth.  To me, that best serves the public discourse.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on media distortion and the public discourse. Please be respectful and civil as you analyze the issues.

 




Reactions to the Life and Death of Neil Armstrong

I was born in 1971, so I didn’t get to see Neil Armstrong announce that “the Eagle has landed” until I was nine years old.  It’s funny, because this was years after the original landing on July 20, 1969, but like so many people, I remember where I was when I watch the Eagle land and Armstrong utter his famous line, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 

It was a spring day, and I was sitting at my desk in Ms. Labor’s class.  She was the teacher of our split 4th grade-5th grade G&T class at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville, Maryland.  Watching a movie was a special treat, even better than listening to Ms. Labor, with her deep alto voice, read to us from some thick novel like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Anyway, the entire class sat there, spellbound, as the black and white images celebrating science, ingenuity and bravery unwound before us.  But the movie was not just about the actual landing.  We were gifted kids, after all, and Ms. Labor taught us to think critically.  What followed the landing on the video was the public reaction to it, and believe it or not, a significant minority of commentators dismissed the landing as a military-industrial conspiracy, hogwash or an example of man’s atheistic hubris.

Burned in my memory is this clip of this red-faced man from Dundalk, which is a working class, immigrant neighborhood that houses factories, check-cashing places and porn shops right next to Baltimore.  This guy sat there, puffing on a cigar, and in this nasal accent that felt like fingers dragging on a chalkboard, he held a thick piece of steak up to the camera.  It was hard to understand what he was saying because of his low-class speech patterns that reminded me of Eliza and her father from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, but the gist of it was that the government had taken video of a ribeye steak and passed it off as the moon.  Kind of like Star Trek’s Enterprise, you know?

All of us were shocked by his ignorance.  And from this segment of the movie, I took with me a lifelong lesson about the importance of logical thinking.  As a corollary to this, I received a glimpse into the uneducated and ignorant common folks who simply could not comprehend or accept scientific achievement or the human ability to conquer the impossible.  Hopefully, this sort of ignorance would go away by the time my generation was Ms. Labor’s age.

Fast-forward to yesterday.  Neil Armstrong, at 82, passed away into the next frontier.  To celebrate his life, I created a poster based on the Armstrong family’s wishes that we “wink at the moon” in homage to Neil, and as of the moment I’m hitting the publish button, it has been shared more than 2,500 times on Facebook.  I’m happy that it’s getting shared this much; really, I am.  This is the right way to grow—by celebrating heroism, scientific achievement and human greatness.  And the vast majority of fans, friends and followers have responded with kindness and respect, which is how we’re taught to act when someone dies.

And while I have been cheered by the majority’s take on Armstrong’s death, a still-significant minority has reacted like this:

Sorry, but I don’t get why I should thank Neil Armstrong for the moon? That’s a rediculous [sic] statement.
I think it’s awesome that he went to the moon, but that is completely independent of appreciating the moon itself. –Ramsey R.

I didn’t respond to this statement, because it’s plain boorish, and as my Facebook Page has grown, I’ve seen more and more of this sort of ignorant and unpleasantness.  Or one on the other pages that shared my poster, Bedeempled Brain, a woman named Lisa K. wrote the following:

Next time you gaze at the moon please give thanks to GOD because he created such beauty. Besides that its [sic] not true that men went to the moon. Wake up people and use your brain!

And then a woman named Kazza T. added:

Yes amen Lisa, God did make the moon and all other things seen and unseen. We can’t really be certain that they did walk on the moon. There is [sic] so much lies and deception in this world. My condolences to Mr. Armstrong’s family and friends.

At least Lisa offered her condolences to the Armstrong clan.

What’s my take on this?  I always think of Alexander Hamilton’s quote, “Your people, sir, is a great beast” in times like these, but I refuse to let the minority of cranks and ignorant, uncritical thinkers, not to mention haters of the good, to ruin my happiness or steal my joy.  I will not give credence to conspiracy theorists or even try to argue with their claims that we never walked on the moon.  You can’t reason with fools.  What I will do is to honor the greatness of one man, who acted on behalf of all humanity, one summer day so many years ago.

And tonight when I finish my long run as darkness settles on this great Earth, I will recall the following message from Armstrong’s family:

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

 

 




Confusing Science and Politics: What is Legitimate Rape?

It’s low-lying fruit, and everyone else is wailing away at it like little kids swatting at a stuffed piñata, but I’m going to jump into the latest misogynistic controversy involving Missouri Rep. Todd Akin.  The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Akin justified his opposition to abortion rights for victims of “legitimate rape” on the grounds that these victims have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy.

Not wanting to be accused of exaggerating, I’ll let Akin speak in his own words:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare.  If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

After tightening my facial muscles and thinking about this for a millisecond, I said aloud, “Say what?  What the hell is ‘legitimate rape?’”  Apparently Akin would ignore all instances of acquaintance and/or date rape.

According to the National Institute of Justice, a sub-agency of the Department of Justice, “about 85 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; about half occur on a date.”  Sadly, half of these college students do not define these sexual assaults by acquaintances as “rape.”  Filled with guilt and self-recrimination, the victims assume that when there is no obvious physical injury, or when alcohol is involved, no “legitimate” rape occurred.

Make no mistake: date rape, or rape by acquaintance is still rape—legitimate rape.  The key question for determining if rape occurred is whether the alleged victim consented to the sexual intercourse.  There can be no consent if a woman if unconscious, or under the requisite age to give legal consent.  A husband can rape his wife; a father can rape his daughter; a brother can rape his sister: no matter the circumstances, sexual intercourse absent the consent of the victim is still rape.

Now, I’m a pro-choice Republican.  And I understand that there are members of the Republican Party who think that abortion should be prohibited no matter the circumstances.  I know I should dodge this issue, but given my personal history, I must speak on behalf of all those who have been abused or raped. When the underlying sexual act was done to an unwilling participant, and this leads to an unwanted pregnancy, we cannot morally ask the victim to carry the baby to term. The pregnancy occurred without consent, it is cruel and heartless to ask the rape victim to carry a baby to term.  Hell.  It’s bloody medieval if you ask me.

I found it fascinating that Akin tried to argue that a woman’s body shuts down during “legitimate rapes.”  I’m not going to waste too many words on refuting this patently absurd contention.  Let us take official notice of the biological fact that a woman cannot shut down her vagina or somehow make her reproductive organs prevent sperm from reaching her eggs.  Akin’s argument is idiotic, but it’s even worse than that: it’s evil, because it switches the responsibility for preventing inception to the rape victim.

Let’s say a woman was raped by a stranger.  According to Akin, her body, if acting properly, would actually prevent the sperm from reaching her ovaries.  If the “legitimate” rape victim became pregnant, therefore, it would somehow be because she didn’t try hard enough, or her body failed her by not rejecting the sperm.  Under Akin’s bizarre construct, the same woman could not seek an abortion—after all, she failed, or her body failed, to prevent the pregnancy from happening.

Is this the best argument Pro-Life activists can assert in cases involving rape or incest?  To me, this kerfuffle shows how intellectually bankrupt the extreme right wing has become.  I pray that the Republican Party moves toward the middle during the upcoming convention.

Friends, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, or Independent, take a close look at the candidates in your local races.  Let’s try to elect people who have an elementary understanding of biology and a rational justification for his or her political and philosophical beliefs.  I understand and respect that some people oppose abortion under any circumstances.  But let’s not elect politicians who confuse science with politics or who lack the ability to think rationally.




Ruminations on Past and Future: Another August Day

8:44 AM.  Voices and hands and feet echo and bounce off the walls and I awake to another day in August.  I shake off my nightmares and all of their painful psychological detritus.  I should have known the nightmares would come back again.  I just met with a new therapist and while it’s old for me, it’s new for her, and as I bring her into my past, I drag that past back into my mind’s eye.  It doesn’t matter how far I get from my past.  There will always be times it binds me like an eagle’s talon in my sleep.

Shhh.  I’m safe now, I think, gazing out the window and stepping over books and magazines that I tossed on my bedroom floor just before I slipped off to sleep the night before.  “Get dressed and brush your teeth,” I order, and I wonder if it’s true that I show them no love, allow no smiles, and bear them no affection?  Is it really a terrible legacy I leave my beloved?

In truth, I think not, but the pain of not knowing is underscored by the unbearable visions I receive while I sleep. I dream these dreams as the night fights against the damn-it-please-come-soon morning light.

11 AM.  My son comes into my room, bubbling over with indignation.  “Mama, Maddie just hit me.” He points to his arm. “Right here.”

Typing at full speed, I glance over. “Uh-huh. That’s not nice.”

His voice takes a melancholy turn.  “Yeah.”  He hops up and down and then his tone brightens. “Can I hit her back?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Can’t.”

He paces around me demanding answers to his questions as I type and yet again I count the days until summer ends.

1:30 PM.  After we conclude a trip to Kohl’s that only stands out for its lack of tear-my-hair-out-bad-hilarity, I sit next to my six-year old at Wendy’s.  I’ve taught them the meaning of “numbnut” after a minivan almost crashes into us in the parking lot.

My daughter, almost 9, smirks at me.  “Can I say ‘numbnut’ at school?”

Brushing my still-blonde, but so close to brown hair out of my eyes, I shake my head and shrug and grin all at once.

“It’s better than idiot, right?”

I sip my diet coke and look at this child of mine, with the still-blonde, but so close to brown hair and before I can answer her, my youngest son bumps into me, lost in thought, and staring at the closed-circuit TV set.

“Is Wendy’s going to be here always?”

I look around and think.  My other child, the blue-eyed son who bears his father’s name, has a serious look about him, but he’s just hungry.  I cannot seem to give an easy answer.

What lasts forever?  I see chairs and tables and children and people I don’t know, and none of us last forever.  But this isn’t really the question he’s asking me.  I want to reassure him without lying to him.  I want us, our love, our family, to last as long as we can; I want to be here as long as I need to be and as long as he needs me.  And yet, dear son, beloved light of my heart, there are no guarantees, no promises, no sure things.

I close my eyes and a flash, a fast-moving series of images, zoom from one synapse to the next, and in that millisecond, I see a fire burning, a nuclear bomb falling, and please God, I pray, make it so that I don’t see or feel us burning.  I’m not afraid in that moment, the moment that I hope is just unfounded fantasy that will never come to be.  I’m at peace, sitting here with my three children inside of a Wendy’s on an August afternoon, secure in knowing that this day, this moment, is all I can really be sure of.

It’s enough.  It’s enough for me.  And it that I know I’m free.

I smile over my straw.  “I hope so, son.  They do a good business here.”

“Yep.  Not like Ho’s Dynasty,” pipes up my daughter.  She’s talking about our favorite Chinese restaurant, which just closed down.

I take this in, my eyes making contact with each set of blue or blue-gray eyes in these children of mine, and I flash an easy smile.  “Yes!  Well-said Maddie!”

A tiny child toddles past me and we exchange winks.

As I clean up the table and crack jokes with my daughter, I think about all of this.  I don’t make up the rules that govern our lives or dictate how many days we have left.  All I have is this moment, with this family, and a quiet faith that there will be enough moments.  When it comes to the future, our future, it really is that simple.

“Sodas.  Trash.  Let’s go,” I chirp.

“And watch out for numbnuts in the parking lot,” adds my daughter.

I hold the door open and look both ways before we cross the blacktop and head home.




Circle of Life: Taking it Easy

 Yesterday morning, I ran along the banks of Burke Lake.  I followed a route that took me through the woods, over tree roots, and through a few cobwebs that had grown overnight.  I jogged past the main marina, where young men in maroon shirts, hair tousled and shoes untied, set out canoes and rowboats for tourists and Fairfax County locals to rent throughout the slow Sunday.  Just like the prior Sunday morning, notes from the Eagles “Take it Easy” rang out from a boom box, and I grinned at the old music and the rising sun.  As I grinned, one of the maroon-clad kids grinned back at me, and bid me good morning.

“Great morning for a run!”  He hurled a Frisbee through the air and a cool breeze caught it and sent it over flying overhead.

“It sure is!”  I replied, slowing to a walk.

I reflected on the Frisbee and the music and the meaning of it all as I stopped at my water fountain, and yep, it is my water fountain as much as it is anyone else’s.  It seems special to me, because it’s saved me from the heat and the pain of all the miles I run so many mornings, afternoons, and darkening twilights, but I share it with thousands of others and that makes me feel connected to untold strangers and a few friends too.

The same small black ants from last week and last year and the years long since passed crawled over the silver metal as I pushed the wide thick button and poured water into my yellow, plastic water bottle with the side compartment for my keys.  They really aren’t the same ants but they look the same each time, and I wonder why generations of ants inhabit the same place, just like a new generation of young men catching Frisbees behind their backs listen to the music I first discovered on a sunny summer morning more than two decades ago.  The mountain creek-cold water flows into my cup and I lean over and swallow water as fast as I can, and I pause to splash it on my face, which has turned pink from the exertion and from the extra pounds I am carrying on my middle-aged frame.

Before I keep running, I take a deep breath and try to inhale the moment, to capture it forever in my mind like a photograph that includes sound and smell and feel.  It’s impossible to both live in this moment, already past, and to inhabit both past and future, but I try.  The lake is blue, and the sunrise hails a glorious future, and the young men, so young, will grow older and one day, they will bring their own children to this place, and the Eagles will be playing from someone else’s radio, and a new generation of tiny black ants will crawl on the water fountain.

And who knows?  Perhaps they will see a little old lady, clasping the hands of her boisterous grandchildren as they race toward the water, still blue, and they will remember the way they were.  And then, with a sigh and a smile, they will nod at me and we’ll gaze into the stiller waters that reflect what we have, and still could, become.  The circle of life has neither beginning nor end.  Like each one of us, it is complete.




Is There One Way to Write?

When I started this blog, I promised to be honest.  Of course, being honest doesn’t mean saying whatever the hell is on my mind, either.  If I’m not getting along with someone I love, I’m not going to go public with it.  My relationships mean more than my audience reach or edification.  But I can talk about me, if I’m losing my mind, or losing my shit, as I prefer to say (or did prefer until a few people challenged me for having my characters cuss too much) then I might as well talk about it with you.

I used to write this mind-bendingly honest stuff when I started my Facebook Page.  8,000 fans later, I wonder if maybe I’ve lost myself in the never-ending search for greater popularity.  This need to find an ever-greater number of LIKES on my page speaks of hubris and dependence on others to define my own self-worth, so I resist it, oh man, how I resist it.  Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate being liked.  In fact, I love it . . . right up until I find that I’m forgetting what makes me—me.

And that’s where I am now.  It’s not just my Facebook Page, or even my blog here, which is much smaller.  It’s my book.

I’m almost done with draft three, which consists of fixing inconsistency in POV (point of view). Mostly this is an easy fix.  I have three main characters and each scene either needs to be written from the perspective of one of the three characters or it can be written from third-party omniscient POV.  The thing that is confusing me to the point where I want to send the entire manuscript to the trash is if I’m in third party omniscient, how much can I show of each character’s thoughts and feelings?

I’ll figure it out, no doubt.  But I don’t want to lose my mental stability in the process.  I’m trying so hard to hold onto the essence of what makes these scenes true and real and (I hope) beautiful . . . and now I hold this Exacto-knife to each scene, cutting the excess.  But I’m scared, so scared, I’m cutting the essence, the muscle, the dimples that make a face special—OUT along with the fat.

I’ve studied both the science and the art of writing and I’m an artist, not a scientist, when it comes down to it.  I write according to feel and I try to hear my characters in each word I fashion.  I think great writing is almost a mystical process, one that unites mind and heart and soul with a seamless tap of fingers on keyboard.  There are some right and some wrong ways to go about writing, but if I had to define what makes a book great, I’d have to respond that it sounds or reads or even feels right.

Some people speak of magic formulas and objective guidelines to writing novels.  And for sure, there are rules and guidelines, but so often, these rules and guidelines exist to be flouted.  For me, citing and obeying too many rules and techniques can reduce the magic of writing to a mathematical formula, or what my friend The Monster in Your Closet calls “The Dread Writamatician.”  And when I try to apply these formulas to my manuscript, I skate into a place of angst and frustration that feels all too close to mental instability.

That’s why I quit writing so many years ago.  I could not reconcile objective standards with my inner definition of beauty, and I fucking lost it.  Really—lost it.  I made it through all of that, but only after I chose surviving over living my dream, and if I have to make the same choice, I think I’d choose a balanced, sane life over art again.  But it’s not an easy choice.  I love my art that much.

So where am I?  This third draft is pretty much making me crazy.  I’m scared and frustrated and for some reason, angry, and I don’t know why I’m angry.  I think I’m angry with myself, to be honest.

But that said–I’m fine.  Well, no, I‘m not at all fine, but I will be fine after I get over this funk.  I know I’m putting too much pressure on myself and I’m closer than I’ve ever been to sending Ripple to the trash bin.  I won’t.  Instead, I’ll go for a run and I won’t stop until this pain of creating makes me feel too much like destroying.




Helping Break the Code of Silence, One Tiny Brick at a Time

I have written about the Code of Silence as it relates to PSU, and in Tuesday’s guest post, my friend and fellow blogger, Dawn Sticklen, has written about how it has affected her community.  What I have not written about is how it has affected (and still affects) me.

I don’t like my own story. So I create ones in which I do not feel weak and disempowered. In Ripple, I create a fairy tale: a father rapes his 15-year old daughter, Phoebe.  Phoebe’s mother, though failing to prevent the abuse, protects Phoebe from FUTURE harm as soon as she finds out about the abuse.  And in helping Phoebe heal, Helen, a workaholic lawyer, finds redemption for failing to protect Phoebe.  No one is perfect in Ripple, but action and disclosure breaks the silence.

This isn’t about me.  It’s about what’s been done to so many others by so many. I know it’s done. But they can’t let go of it. They churn it over again and again in therapy.  They like to think they’ve healed, but time is an uncertain companion, just as the abuse we suffer. Some of us get over it quickly. Others bury it until it haunts them. Some thrive. Some suffer.

The worst thing is it’s ugly.  Either an abuse victim is telling lies, or their abusers committed great harm. sins.  No one who wasn’t abused, and even some people who were abused, wants to believe that there is evil in our world.

I told a friend the logline from Ripple, and she asked me if the story was realistic.  “Do fathers really rape their daughters?”  Yes, my friend, they do.  Parents abuse their children all the time, in more ways than one.  It’s ugly, and messy and confusing to hear someone’s story, but it’s even uglier and messier and confusing to tell your own story.  The only thing worse than telling your story is to face the disbelief of others.

That’s what abuse victims face, readers, when they try to break the Code of Silence.

P.S. I couldn’t leave this on a sad note, not after watching some good news on NBC.  Earlier today, Kayla Harrison became the first American to win a gold medal in Judo.  Kayla was sexually abused when she was a 13 year old girl by an ex Judo coach.  And yet, she triumphs.  She is, my friends, a Rebel Thriver.




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