Friday, February 27, 2015

Living in the Alternate Universe

Some time ago, I stopped watching TV news when I was on vacation.  I left my laptop at home, and wasn't even tempted to turn the radio on.  Too much bad stuff going on, and after all, I was going on vacation to get away from it for awhile.  But every now and then I give in and turn on NPR when I'm in the car, mostly after a few days away from it all.

This is how it went this past week:

After four days without news, sometime around noon, the woman on NPR was excitedly telling us about what she was seeing at a real ISIS training camp.  She was breathlessly describing what an amazing, high-tech, state-of-the-art facility these horrifying murderers (my words) had built.  After a couple of minutes, I turned it off.

A couple of hours later, I was headed back to the resort, and I tried it again.  It sounded like the same woman (Do all NPR commentators sound alike?) explaining how to use cell phones as explosive devices.  Martha Stewart of the jihad.

On my way to breakfast before heading home this morning, and I gave it one more try.  This time it was an article about Wyoming's legislative efforts to get guns in schools.  Of course there were those who advocate that if everyone has a gun -- problem solved.  They ended, however, with a more moderate voice.  This voice of sanity suggested that it wasn't feasible to have armed officers in all the schools, but that the bill should allow anyone with a carry permit to carry into a school only with the permission of the school.

He then continued, "Of course, in an ideal world..."

Okay folks, complete that sentence.  Because I would have filled in, "... in an ideal world, we wouldn't need guns in schools."  Or, " an ideal world, guns would be kept out of dangerous hands."

But NO.

"In an ideal world, we could afford to have armed officers in every school."

It truly felt like I was living in an episode of the Twilight Zone, where I was on vacation in one world, and another bizarro world kept trying to break through.

Then I went to breakfast.  It is a lovely little place that has outdoor deck seating with huge outdoor heaters by each table and a lap blanket over each chair for those nippy mornings.  I overheard pleasant conversation about real estate and vacation weeks and golf and entertainment packages.  I thought about how far most of us are removed from the reality of war and weapons.  Just as none of us sitting there with blankets over our laps eating our eggs benedict really felt the cold of inadequate food or shelter, or what starving really feels like.

Or of a child caught in gunfire at school or at home watching his mother try to defend herself from his violent father.

No, we don't.  And that's why we find all this talk about ISIS technology and Second Amendment glory days so damned exciting.

Out of touch, and in charge.  Now that's the real story.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Inevitability of Zombie Cows

The Ironic Cherry... reads...

My most recent hero is Paolo Bacigalupi.  In January I wrote a review of his newest book, The Doubt Factory, which took on in no uncertain terms the corporate product defense industry, those guys who brought us decades of bought scientists explaining why smoking was not hazardous to our health.  Okay, it wasn't really a review so much as me telling you you have to buy a copy for every young adult you know, and read it yourself before you gift-wrap it.

Well, the good news is, there is a whole backlog of books by this author that I haven't read yet.  And I am on it.

The Doubt Factory is a young adult novel written primarily for high school aged teens.  Zombie Baseball Beatdown is decidedly directed toward middle schoolers.  While there is nary a girl in this story, I am going to say that girls I know wouldn't want to miss it.

Bacigalupi doesn't just get the voice of the characters, adults as well as the kids, he manages to tell a truly comic tale with major serious topics.

The main character is an American of Bengali and German descent, with one best friend a Mexican with undocumented immigrant parents, and another best friend with an alcoholic dad.  The main industry in town is the cattle processing plant, the creepy and oxymoronic "Milrow Meat Solutions."  Foul smells and secrecy, rumors of new types of drugs tested on cattle to fatten them up, and the cover-up that involves deporting attempted whistle-blowers whirl around the lives of the kids who are just trying to play baseball and stay out of the way of the town bullies.

The only place that this plot can logically go is:  zombie cows.

With one hysterical scene after another, Bacigalupi doesn't fail to make the allegory entertaining, but very real.  The USDA and the FDA look the other way, and the sleazy corporate lawyers take care of any annoying problems with the help of the many "farm protection laws" throughout the country.  We know all about the mysterious foodborne illnesses that have become a way of life, and "pink slime" is still around.  So what's not to believe about zombie cows?   

It's a quick and fun read, so after you buy a copy for all the middle schoolers in your life, be sure to give it a read before you wrap it up.

Monday, February 16, 2015

When Family Violence Is More than Violence

On Tuesday, February 17th, the South Carolina Senate will be hearing S 3, Criminal Domestic Violence Offenses and Penalties.  Unlike the House version, H 3433, the Domestic Violence Reform Act, the Senate bill has teeth.  Most important, the Senate bill prohibits any person convicted of an act of domestic violence from owning or obtaining a firearm.

An important question has come up, the same question that comes up when laws are being considered that would incur greater penalties on "hate crimes" than otherwise:  Why do we need to make this distinction at all?  An attack on another person other than for self defense is still an attack; a murder still a murder.  The same suffering is imposed whether the rage was fueled by racial hatred or hatred of women or of homophobic rage.

I agree, completely.  But in the case of family violence, there are conditions that are unique that must be addressed.

A family, in close quarters, is particularly vulnerable to a dysfunctional member of that family.  Moods and habits are absorbed in some way, by each individual in that household.  Most of us see family as a support system, but a volatile family member can make home a frightening place.  And people who experience bouts of rage may be more out of control when others around them are intimidated and afraid.

A women alone against a man in a rage (and yes, the situation does happen in reverse), because it is her home, is often made to feel trapped, afraid of the revenge to be exacted if she fights back.  The law has too often lagged too far behind in protecting a woman in her home when her spouse or partner has been threatening, even attacking.  So that women are often overly compliant, and the abuse becomes habitual, and escalates.

Where there are children in the family, the abuser wields even more power.  The woman not only has to juggle the moods, threats and aggressive behaviors in an attempt to protect herself, but to protect her children.  She may become even more compliant to try to calm down the aggressor, the aggressor becoming even more violent.

Now add a gun to this mix.  A man with a gun and rage and poor impulse control is a terrifying way for a woman and children to live.  And if he has hurt any member of the family once, that gun is an undeniable symbol of the power he has over them all.  Mostly powerful because of its potential to destroy, in an instant.

If a women is courageous enough to get to court, and the abuser is convicted of assault, we know that while the abuser often claims remorse, it is very likely that when things get "back to normal" the violence begins again.  An order of protection may be filed, but that does not quell the rage of the attacker.  Access to a gun means the ability to "get even," in the eyes of the abuser.

Yes, it is true that in our society, guns are going to be accessible to anyone that looks hard enough.  But to a person whose problem is one of impulsive rages, having a gun be out of reach may be what saves a life.

And here in South Carolina, we consistently rank in the top ten states in which women are killed by a spouse or partner and in 2013 we were ranked #1.  It is unquestionably easier to kill with a gun, and far more likely if someone owns a gun or knows he can buy one.  Where the overwhelming majority of murders of women were caused by guns, it makes sense that our lawmakers should do everything in their power to take those guns away.  When someone has been convicted of domestic violence, there is absolutely no excuse for that individual to have legal access to a weapon.

I agree that, all things being equal, any instance of domestic violence, or any attack based on rage against a person because of race, religion, sexual identity, should be treated the same as any other attack.  An assault is a violation regardless of the cause.  A murder destroys not just one life but the life of those who surround her (or him).

But in a state where the Second Amendment is misinterpreted at a fever pitch, and guns are now allowed in bars and restaurants, and there is a bill this year to allow guns at private and public colleges, a strong bill that takes guns out of the hands of those who have used violence against a family member is a very big step to making all of South Carolina safer.

But to do this, we have to be louder than loudmouths like Thomas Corbin, South Carolina state senator who made international news when he professed that, according to HIS bible, women are lesser humans, and yes, specifically, a "lesser cut of meat."  This, people, is one of the senators who will be voting on S 3, and his display of ignorance came in reaction to that bill.

We need to send Corbin an email telling him we support S 3, and he needs to support it.  We need to be sure to email our own senators and tell them to vote Yes on S 3 on Tuesday.  And we can send an email to ALL senators at one time urging them to vote Yes on S 3.

Go to to find Corbin's email address as well as that of your own senator.  Click on the name to send a message (or click on "All senate members" to email all).  Then just fill in the blanks.  Type "S 3" in the subject line, and then make the message as short or long as you need, but be sure to include "vote Yes on S 3."

Here is the message I just sent to Senator Corbin:

 Senator Corbin: 
I believe you are probably unlikely to threaten your spouse or loved one with a gun, and that is why you were able to talk about women so callously that you made international news.  But since there are men who have uncontrollable rage and do strike at women and children, and will be more likely to use a weapon if it is available, I trust that you will vote YES on S3. 
Thank you.
Join me in giving Senator Corbin the opportunity to do the right thing.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

When 20-Week Abortions Are Banned

There are some rumors that H 3114, the bill that would ban abortion at twenty weeks, could come to a vote in the South Carolina House this week.  Debate began on it last week and was adjourned to this Wednesday, February 11.  I know I have only been tracking bills in South Carolina for a couple of years, but it seems to me that some bills just don't want to be tracked, and there are ways to keep the public from learning when and where and what happens next.  This is one of those bills.

The twenty week ban is a sneaky proposition.  Its premise, the "pain-capable" nonsense is false science; legislators, prompted by a National Right to Life model bill, bring up the same outlier research, and ignore the consensus of the medical and scientific community, that is, that pain receptors are not developed until 24 weeks at the earliest.  This is the kind of fake science that slings about emotional and suspect terms like "unborn baby" and "preborn" (which never fails to remind me of the "pre-owned" leased-car-for-sale euphemism).

This is the kind of science that is used when cigarette manufacturers try to prove cigarettes don't cause cancer, and fracking doesn't pollute the environment.  A doctor, a scientist, a "medical expert" is paraded about.  (Remember the joke about "What do they call the medical student that graduates at the bottom of the class?"  "Doctor.")  And the testimony is repeated, and becomes "fact."

And then there are the not just false, but crazy, claims that we have heard from actually elected officials, of masturbating fetuses:  "If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe they feel pain?"  Yes, laugh so we don't cry at the horror of these bizarre fantasies wending their way into legislation which could destroy lives.

If this bill passes in South Carolina, what effect would it have?  In fact, for most of us, it would have no effect at all.  Because the reality is that an abortion at or after twenty weeks is extremely rare.  It occurs when there are severe complications in a wanted pregnancy.

Let me repeat that:  At twenty weeks or later, an abortion is extremely rare, and occurs when there are severe complications in a wanted pregnancy.

But the inflammatory rhetoric has resulted in most of us assuming that late-term abortions happen all the time, that they are frivolous, and that actual viable human life is snuffed out at the whim of the woman and her abortion doctor.

It was exactly this type of deception that brought us the "partial birth abortion" con job, and the subsequent federal law of 2003 which the Supreme Court upheld in 2007.  The term "partial birth" is not a medical term but a successfully inflammatory political one.  Given its success, it is not surprising that the next step on the war to ban abortion would be to save the "pain capable" twenty week fetus.

And what would happen if that bill were to pass?  For most of us, nothing.  Because the procedure is rare, it would not affect most of us.  But for the small percentage of women who suffer through the awareness that something serious is wrong with their pregnancy, this law would be a travesty and a tragedy.  It means doctors feeling the cold breath of the law watching and demanding documentation, and the possibility that they will be falsely accused of committing murder.  For the woman, it will mean adding to the crisis the fact that the government is surveilling her medical decisions.  It may mean that she is unable to make the decision to abort as soon as possible, adding days and weeks of agony to this already horrific situation.  It could mean that she is not allowed to have the abortion at all.  

In Georgia the law grudgingly allows for "medically futile" pregnancies, but not for exemptions for a woman's emotional or mental condition.  State Representative Terry England felt that there should be no exceptions:

“Life gives us many experiences,” England said in response to concerns that a woman would have to carry a fetus to term that was not expected to live. “I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive -- delivering pigs, dead and alive. … It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.”

And in the US House of Representatives, Texas idiot Louis Gohmert agrees, actually telling a witness during hearings that she should have carried her pregnancy to term even though it had been determined that the fetus had no brain function.

This nightmare scenario that dim-witted legislators and the anti-abortion movement like to call life-affirming, means the possibility of carrying a fetus to term that will not be able to sustain life, or will be so severely disabled that it would require a life-until-death of pain and surgical interventions.  It would mean a family torn to shreds in emotional despair and financially devastated.

None of us begin a pregnancy assuming the worst could happen.  If it does, the last thing we need is Wendy Nanney or Lee Bright telling us what we should do about it.

So we need to shout, all of us, against this bill.  We need to call and email our legislators, over and over, and tell them why this bill is false science, and that it is not the business of our legislators to determine medical issues.  We need to fight for those who may need someday to have the freedom to choose a late-term abortion.  It is indeed a rare occurrence, but it is something that could happen to any of us.

Spread the word by email, Facebook or Twitter.  Write or call your legislators.  Write or call any legislators you know.  We people of reason really do outnumber those on the other side of this war on women's medical freedom and privacy.  Now is the time to let them know it.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Get Out Your Pitchforks

I have been trying to be quiet through this latest episode of mass hysteria.  I really have.  But at the risk of raising the wrath of every single one of my friends, I am going to have to speak my mind.  Because that is what I do.

I usually enjoy Chris Hayes' liberal rants.  His young face gets all puffed up and he starts to stutter.  He is outraged, but he tends to wrap his outrage up in reason.  Except when it comes to vaccinations.  Then he becomes the 21st century yuppie parent, screeching about how my kid is going to infect his kid.  And since the latest "measles outbreak" it has been all-measles-all-the-time on All In with Chris Hayes.

It's not just Hayes, though.  For weeks we have been bombarded with the terror inspiring word of "100 cases" of measles, brought about by those bad parents who irresponsibly and selfishly chose not to have their kids vaccinated for measles AND THEN WENT TO DISNEYWORLD.  I have been listening, hard, to these news reports, waiting to hear of the 100 cases spreading into the thousands, or to hear how many of those hundred have died from the disease.  The answer, as far as I can tell, is none.

Then, two days ago, I heard that the worst fears had been realized:  five infants had been confirmed to have measles.  Before I began to write, I gave it one more try.  When I googled "measles," I learned that a "Baby Had Been Confirmed as First Victim in New Jersey."  Oh my god.  It finally happened.

But no.  The report goes on to say that the one-year-old has since recovered.  Everybody in the building, the town, the state and the country, however, has been alerted.  I can be fairly certain that if there had been a death it would be front page everywhere.  Not that it couldn't happen.  But in developed countries, where overall health and hygiene are good, measles is rarely fatal.

For those of you youngsters, like Mr. Hayes, even your parents are not likely to remember when measles was just a childhood disease.  A kid broke out, itched, ran a temperature, and stayed home from school for a week.  And then they got better.

Back in the 80's, when my daughter was born, there was a healthy debate about the value of vaccinations versus allowing natural immunities to develop.  That debate seems to have been hijacked by the debate over vaccines causing autism.  And over the past couple of weeks, even when anti-vaccine proponents have been interviewed, I have not heard a single word spoken about natural immunity.  So here it is.

An infant has a weak and developing immune system.  Nursing contributes to adding mother's immunities to the baby.  And just as a childhood disease like measles is likely to be worse in an adult, healthy babies tend to experience milder symptoms.  When my pre-school daughter got chickenpox at four years old, her six-month-old brother also contracted the disease.  While she itched and had a fever, her brother didn't even notice he was sick.  And they both now have lifetime immunity to chickenpox.

Which brings me to the point that I keep waiting to hear.  If you are vaccinated, you need to be re-vaccinated.  The immunity is temporary.  If you allow this childhood disease to run its course, however, you have immunity for life.  So that pregnant women who have had the measles as children need not fear contracting measles, which is truly dangerous to the development of a fetus.

Now, it also appears that drug companies are griping, and vaccine supporters are touting, the "fact" that drug companies are not making a fortune on vaccine.  A cursory search did not come up with any numbers, and it's true that we don't have to pay much for vaccines.  But drug companies have done an amazing job of hiding the cost -- and the profit -- of the most commonly used drugs.  Government subsidizes a lot of the cost of vaccines, which means drug companies still get paid.  It may be that they don't make the mint that they make on far too many much needed drugs.  But vaccines are the steady, guaranteed profit-maker.  Drug companies are more likely to balk at having to waste money researching more desperately needed vaccines for third world countries than to complain about reaping that steady US vaccine market.

Now, if MSNBC wanted to rant about what is endangering lives in America, they might want to take a look at overmedication.  There was a peep in the media a few years ago about the over prescription of antibiotics, and then it went away.  But in fact, prescribing antibiotics when an illness could just run its course, has led to the development of, oh, let's call it a master race of infections.  And you don't need to be the one taking the antibiotics to reap the rewards of being infected by these master bugs.  And the drug companies continue to make stronger antibiotics and the bugs that survive the drugs continue to get stronger and harder to eradicate.  Much like using Round-Up to kill weeds until you have master weeds that need ever stronger poisons to be killed.

It amazes me when smart people who tend to be rational go nuts.  I am thinking about the hysterics in the 80's over "catching AIDS" (and I hate to admit, I was one of those, although eventually I did succumb to reason).  Or how about last year's ebola scare, when healthy people where coming back from Africa, even parts that were nowhere near the reported outbreaks, and faced anger and outrage and even -- thank you Chris Christie -- quarantine.

The most idiotic argument, the one that is expressed every single time vaccination is "discussed" is that your unvaccinated kid is going to endanger my vaccinated kid.  Well, no.  If your kid is vaccinated, and the thing works the way you claim it works, your kid will be spared the scourge of the dreaded measles.  Or, if the kid comes down with the measles, it should be a mild version, and (if you're really lucky) it will be enough to immunize the child for life.  Wouldn't that be grand.

Anyway, I would like to conclude by saying:

JUST CALM DOWN.  If we were poor people who lived with poor health and poor hygiene, our children would be more vulnerable to extreme symptoms.  In that case, I would say, by all means get the vaccine.  And if you really believe that drugs trumps the body's ability to fight any disease, go for it.  But please stop trying to make it sound like children are dying in the streets from this disease.  Be smug in your superior parenting if you like, but stop trying to make it sound like people who disagree with you are arming themselves with deadly germs and coming after your kids.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Difference Between a Gun and a Tank

No, that's not the beginning of a joke.  There are differences between guns and tanks, and there are similarities.  And they are on a continuum that costs not just millions of taxpayer dollars, but trust between citizens and government, and in far too many cases, lives.

I remember when the nation first heard about S.W.A.T.  Presumable, these dudes were well trained, cool-headed (and good-looking) heroes that assessed the need for force after all other options had been considered, then proceeded to save the lives of innocent people being held hostage by the truly bad bad guys.  I recall a gripping book by Ed McBain and a TV series.  And the glamour of it all continued to evolve over the years.  While violence across the country has diminished, the fear of violence has grown, feeding the desire for bigger and tougher police forces, bigger and better armed S.W.A.T. teams.

And the problem becomes, "If all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail."  Police are all armed with high powered weapons, and come to expect that any encounter with a civilian could be a deadly one.  Not too many years ago, tasers became the new toy on the block, and before that, pepper spray.  Because they are considered the "safe" alternative, what we found was that they were used not just more indiscriminately, but with abandon.  Peaceful demonstrators, the mentally ill, and just about anyone an officer (or other official, or even non-officials) thought to be a threat, came away hurt, and sometimes lethally.  No, it doesn't take a gun, but you might ask George Zimmerman:  it's always easier with a gun.

Here in South Carolina, we celebrated Columbia's acquisition of the military grade armored vehicle -- the tank -- that cost taxpayers $658,000.  Other than showing it off in parades, only the police chief that requisitioned that and other military grade equipment could imagine a practical use.  In fact, Sheriff Leon Lott foresees such equipment being used in shoot-outs with the bad guys.  Just like on TV.

He calls it "The Peacemaker."

Radley Balko in The Rise of the Warrior Cop, writes about how insidious these weapons of war have become since 9/11.  Every home town thinks they need tactical weapons and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, happily called MRAPS, for that distant possibility of the terrorist invasion.  Down here in the South, some of our more wild-eyed legislators like to think we citizens might could use them when the feds try to take over.

Back in Richland County, Sheriff Lot paints his tank "U.N. Blue" and sets it in parking lots, at fairs and parades, just to let us all know that it is citizen friendly.  Get us used to seeing it around.  Let the kids climb up in it like they do on the firetrucks.  But in fact, more and more, those big weapons are being used on citizens for suspected crimes like possession of marijuana and illegal poker games.  Homes smashed into, pets shot, neighborhoods traumatized, because those hammers just need to find some nails.  Or, as Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing says:

Don't even think about running an illegal bingo game in Richland County, South Carolina. 

After the August, 2014, Ferguson shooting and the military response to protests, Richland County, South Carolina's Sheriff Lott pointed out on the one hand that "his department aims to maintain trust and transparency with the community;" on the other hand,
While Lott said the militarized response of the police in Ferguson was not the thing to do, he said the Richland County Sheriff’s Department owns every piece of equipment – for land, sea and air – that has been seen in response to the protests and looting in Ferguson.
So in other words, as long as he displays his officers in their tactical body armor and his MRAP and assault weapons at churches and fairs, we should feel confident that all this military equipment is going to be used to protect us.  And I am afraid that in America in the 21st century, that deluded attitude has been accepted.  We've become extras in a Die Hard movie, sans Bruce Willis and wisecracks, waving flags as we wait for the parade, excited by the big blue tank, just before the violence begins.

And some of us are fighting this treacherous wave, because we know if an officer of the peace can shoot an unarmed man reaching for his driver's license for a seat belt violation, an undertrained and unnecessary S.W.A.T. team will someday be more than willing to assume the need to use those big old expensive weapons in a neighborhood like yours.

Read more here: