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Friday, December 6, 2013

Targeting Christian Conservative women

Last night, Shonda Rhimes had Christian conservative Vice President, Sally Langston, kill her closeted gay husband for having sex with a man, getting caught at it, and threatening her political career.

Set aside for a moment the question of whether she ever really had a chance running for President on the Independent ticket, or of winning over women voters by suddenly disavowing her life-long, passionate opposition to abortion and marriage equality. She believed she had a real shot at being her country's first female President. Until her political opponents managed to manipulate her husband into a situation where he was tempted, and gave in, to having sex with a man.

I suppose I should have seen this coming. Perhaps it is the only obvious conclusion to this character's storyline, given the way that Rhimes has been constructing this trope all along. But somehow, after ruminating on this new twist in Scandal, it all just feels wrong to me. After all, it wasn't enough to make Daniel unfaithful in his marriage.  No, he had to be unfaithful AND secretly gay. And filled with self-hatred about that. Because he's a Christian conservative. Because that's how all gay Christian conservative men are, right? 

Have we become so cynical about Christian conservative women that we believe the only way one of them would get this far in American politics would be by selling her soul? Do we believe that they are so angry at the hypocrisy required to maintain their Christian conservative facade that they are capable of murder when confronted with inconvenient realities? 

Or are we so addicted to the ratings and the "twists" and turns of this television show, that we will throw any group of Americans under the bus to keep viewers shocked and begging for more? And why ARE we begging for more?

People are torturing each other, turning on each other, mired in life-long secret imprisonments and cover-ups, blatantly manipulating each other with sex... and viewers can't wait for the next episode. So the writers and producer keep amping it up, until we find ourselves here, escalating a storyline that highlights one of our culture's favorite political stereotypes, the closeted self-hating gay Christian male and his long-suffering, denial-based politically-aspiring wife. But have they gone too far?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Jane Devin and Elephant Girl

I love this book. Jane Devins's ( memoir is gritty and raw and painful to read. Her life-long struggle to escape poverty, a poverty she would not experience had she not been so badly abused by the adults around her during her childhood, is difficult to witness, even if only in writing.

For most of my life, people who have heard my story have told me I should write a book about it. Maybe some day I will, but I will never be a Jane Devin. As much pain and struggle as I can point to in my own childhood or young adulthood, I could not help but feel grateful that my childhood was not as challenging as Jane's. and I am filled with admiration for her strength and her ability to survive and thrive and pursue her dreams.

And I doubt I will ever have the courage to change my life the way she has changed hers. I have friends who have done it, stripped their life of materialism and walked away from the constraints and comforts of the stereotypic American work life. I think that takes a lot of courage and imagination.

The world may be full of Jane Devins that we never hear from... How I wish they could all find their voice and we could learn to listen for them.

Monday, September 9, 2013

And now, in the "no duh" social research news...

If you are unfamiliar the conditions faced by lower income African Americans in general, or with nursing homes in poor black neighborhoods in particular, this might be news to you.  But if you had poor Caucasian parents, like I did, who relied solely on Medicaid for their healthcare all their lives, and then for their long term care as well, then your parents probably lived in a Medicaid-only or predominantly Medicaid-occupied nursing home, like mind did.  And if that was your experience, this article will probably just confirm what you already know to be true.  That poor African Americans, particularly because they are likely to rely on Medicaid and live in nursing homes where most of the residents rely on Medicaid and are also African American, receive worse care than residents in other nursing homes.

For the first six years of her time living in skilled nursing facilities, my mother lived in one of the poorest nursing homes in our county.  The facility was on the south side of the city, in a predominantly black neighborhood, and many of the residents were also black. That facility is now operated under a new name and new management, after having gone belly-up a few years ago.  We moved her into a different facility when the news hit the paper that they were in dire straits. But we had been seeing the problems for awhile. Low staffing ratios, high turnover in the social services department which resulted in staff who were not familiar with my mother's mental illness or concerns, difficulty getting administrators and nurse managers or physicians to take our concerns seriously.  The certified nurses aides were the best thing about that facility, but there were too few of them, and they would leave as soon as they could for work in better facilities.

In the new facility, which was still pretty heavy in terms of Medicaid recipients, but had a resident population that was mostly Caucasian, my mother got better care. No facility is perfect, especially if there are a lot of Medicaid beds, because funding and therefore staffing are always concerns. But she was happier, the nurse managers and social workers were long-term employees and very familiar with her concerns and needs. She spent the last 4 years of her life there (until 1 year ago this week), and was much more content. And when it was time for my Dad to be placed in a facility, he requested to be placed there as well.  And he died there (3 years ago this week, actually), and they took relatively good care of him while he was declining and while he was dying.

So, you can see why the study discussed in this article, which analyzed data collected between 1994 and 2004 from over 11,500 nursing homes across the United States, confirms for me what I already knew on a personal level.  That it's rough being poor and old, or poor and old and mentally ill, and it's even rougher being poor and old and African American.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Letting go of my parents... And of my regrets

It's September, the month my mother was born, the month my parents were married, and the month they each passed away - on the same day, two years apart.

My mother has been gone almost a year, and my father, three. For so many years, I have carried the burdens of guilt and obligation. Guilt for my mother's mental illness, for my parents' unhappiness, for leaving them to save myself as a teenager. Guilt over what happened to me after leaving them. And after years of personal work to let go of the guilt, there was the sense of obligation for their care and well-being as they became more frail and unwell in later life.

In total, I spent twelve years bearing the obligation for that care. Voluntarily bearing it. I complained, I resented, I enlisted what sibling help I could get, when I could get it. After my first breast cancer diagnosis, I was advised to give up some of the responsibility for their care, but no one else was offering to take it on, so I kept going. After my second breast cancer diagnosis five years later, I gave up the responsibility of  being their health care proxy and power of attorney as soon as my sister offered to take that on. When she hinted at my resuming those roles a few years later, I refused.

Although I was not their proxy or POA, because I lived in the same city, I was the one showing up in the ER or nursing home when they had a health crisis. I was the one pushing for my Dad's transfers to higher levels of care when everyone else would have left him be. It was my brother John and I who lived here and visited them both regularly. In my Dad's last year, I read to him every week after he lost his eyesight. And I sat by his side for his final days, watching him die, trying to keep him calm and comfortable.

After Dad died, things got harder. I visited Mom less because it made me so sad to be with her and her overwhelming grief. I spent those last two years feeling both obligation, which I failed to fulfill, and guilt for that failure. Sure, I showed up if she needed me, or if there was a crisis, or if I felt strong enough to bear her sadness, but it wasn't often enough.

Since Mom died almost a year ago, I have been freed of the burden of obligation. At first, I didn't know who I was without it, and then I spent some months allowing myself to relax in the freedom from having to worry about them, resent them, feel responsible for them, compromise myself for them. 

In its place, I have instead been nursing regrets. Regrets for the things that happened to them in their lives, for the things that should have happened but did not. Regrets over things I should have done, or should have done better or more often, or with more sincerity or affection.

I think that in some ways, nursing regrets is just another way of clinging to people we have already lost. I can't ever bring them back, nor can I rewrite history to make their lives better or happier or less poverty-stricken. Regrets don't make me feel better about myself or my own life, or about my time with them. I think they just fill some of the space that used to be occupied by obligation and guilt, and which has been left empty by their deaths.

This morning, as I was walking before my AA meeting, I decided that it is time to let go of these regrets. I need to fill that empty space with something else, something positive, like more love for the people around me, or more confidence in myself and my abilities, or more passion for my work, or pursuing more creative outlets, or maybe volunteer work with people or animals I care about. I think I might feel a little lost for a while without these regrets and the connection that they are to my parents. I will miss my parents more, I'm sure. 

But I am ready for this next stage of my life without them. Wherever they are, if they are aware of anything about the life they had here, I do not want regret to be a part of that awareness. Not for them, and now, not for me.

Monday, June 24, 2013

It's about power, not sex, whoever the victim is

There's a new article in the New York Times this morning about sexual assault in the military.  Before the homophobes in Congress try to twist this issue into being about how lifting the ban on homosexuality being a mistake, we should consider this quote from the article:

"Many sexual assaults on men in the military seem to be a form of violent hazing or bullying, said Roger Canaff, a former New York State prosecutor who helped train prosecutors on the subject of military sexual assault for the Pentagon. “The acts seemed less sexually motivated than humiliation or torture-motivated,” he said."

Rape, whatever the gender of the victim, is about domination, violation, humiliation, and physical or emotional abuse. Straight men who hunger for the domination and humiliation of the people who rank below them in the military can probably act on that motivation easily enough, regardless of whether or not they feel physically or sexually attracted to one gender or the other.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dunkin Donuts sexist crap

On the way into work this morning, I head two radio spots in a row for Dunkin Donuts.  I'm paraphrasing here, but you will get the gist of what happened:

Spot 1:
Man: what are you doing?
Woman: blowing on my hot chocolate to cool it off
Man: you're drinking it through a straw... from a cup... that says "hot chocolate coolata" on it...
Woman: oh yeah (giggles)

Spot 2:
blah blah blah chicken sandwich blah blah blah
Woman: now that's some information I can really sink my teeth into
Man: you mean chicken
Woman: (happily) I stand corrected

What do these spots have in common, other than being about Dunkin Donuts summer specials?  Oh yeah, the woman isn't that bright, and she's thrilled to have the man correcting her. Thrilled.

Maybe I wouldn't have noticed it if I had heard just one of them on their own, but two in a row, it's kind of painfully obvious that DD thinks women are idiots.  Or, they are advertising to men who think women are idiots.  Either way, it sucks. I would bet that if these were TV spots, they would have the actress be a blonde. Creeps.

Just when you might hope that modern day businesses see the merit of treating female consumers like we are intelligent individuals, some sexist crap like this comes out and you realized that most of America hasn't left the dark ages yet.

That's right - Dunkin Donuts sexist crap  - google that!

(I'm a little irked)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Brithdays and regrets

Happy birthday, Dad.

So many years, out of just bitter resentment or perhaps the typical self-centeredness of being the child, I did not do much to celebrate my father's birth.

Now that he is gone, on this, his birthday, I am filled with regret about that.  Regret for the years that my anger won out and I refused to acknowledge his birthday at all. Regret for the years that I sent some lame store-bought card in the mail, but could not be bothered to visit.  And regret for the years that I might have been sitting with him in the same room, saying all the right things, but not feeling the love in my heart or any real gratitude for his life.

Were it not for his birth and his absolute refusal to succumb to the burdens of poverty and neglect during his childhood, and to his own poor health during his adolescence, I would not even exist.

Were it not for his stubborn insistence on loving my mother, even after realizing that she was mentally ill, and keeping his commitment to marry her, they never would have had children, and I would not exist.

And were it not for the survivor's strength which I believe I inherited from both of them, I would not have made it through my own challenges and struggles to still be here.

So thank you for all of that, Dad, and happy birthday.  Wherever you are, I hope Mom is with you, celebrating.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Are we looking at a flu epidemic or a new stage of societal development?

This year's flu season started early, and has hit the US with a vengeance.  But does that make it an epidemic, or is the media hyping it up? Certainly it is nothing like the 2009 Swine flu pandemic, which killed 302 people around the world. Are infectious diseases like different strains of influenza becoming more deadly to humans?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say we are looking at the worst flu outbreak in 10 years, and just recently, the mayor of Boston declared a health emergency over the number of flu cases (700) and deaths (18) they have in that state.

The demographic transition theory tells us that as societies become more developed, their death rates drop, particularly infant mortality.  People live longer, and then fertility rates drop. Death rates drop, in part, due to the elimination of infectious diseases - mostly because of improved sanitation and public health. So far, demographers who developed and who use the theory have tracked societal development through four stages. The US and other developed nations are in stage 4, with low fertility, increased longevity, population older on average, chronic diseases playing a much more significant role than infectious diseases.  Other counties, considered to be "rapidly developing," like China, Japan, and Korea, are moving though stage 3 very quickly into stage 4, which is why they are struggling to catch up to the aging of their populations.

What is not clear in this theory is what stage 5 or stage 6 will look like.  I often wonder, especially in light of the history of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and with the swine flu and avian flu pandemic scares of the past few years, and now watching this year's flu season here in the States, if stage 5 of the demographic transition will see a return of infectious diseases as a major influence on population health.  Food for thought. Which I would write about some more, except that (speaking of food) it's way past time for lunch, and I still haven't eaten.

In the meantime, watch out for this year's flu; it's a mean one.  Particularly for children and the elderly.   Eighteen children have died of the flu so far this season.  This type of statistic for the elderly is not reported by the CDC, although all four reported flu-related deaths in Boston have been among the elderly.

Here is some helpful information from the CDC on the 2012-2013 flu season.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Dalai Lama - religion or ethics in schools - what is really missing?

I heard this message from the Dalai Lama when he spoke here at Syracuse University last fall, and I have been mulling over it since then.  And certainly, I have been thinking about it in the wake of the Newtown, CT shootings.  Fundamentalist Christians are always quick to blame these horrific criminal acts on the absence of God in schools - more specifically, the removal of enforced prayer in the classroom or the introduction of student freedom to pray or not pray according to their own beliefs.  How they equate this freedom of religion in public school settings as the banishment of God from the schools, I am not sure.  I would think that an omnipresent, omnipotent God would be wherever it wanted to be, wherever it was called upon by believers, regardless of our human rules.  And I certainly think that God would be watching over innocent children, at the very least.

So, to me, the answer is not the reintroduction of enforced Christianity in public schools. Because that's what Fundamentalists are clamoring for.  They are not saying we should have Buddhism, or Islam, or Judaism, or any other faith, practiced in public schools.  They are talking about Christianity only, since they think their God is the only True Lord and Savior.

Anyway, the Dalai Lama has some very good ideas about secular ethics, or the teaching of a code of ethics that is not reliant on any one religion. And I think he has a very good point. The following is an excerpt from an article entitled Beyond Religion:

"Today, however, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate. What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics.

This statement may seem strange coming from someone who from a very early age has lived as a monk in robes. Yet I see no contradiction here. My faith enjoins me to strive for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, and reaching out beyond my own tradition, to those of other religions and those of none, is entirely in keeping with this.

I am confident that it is both possible and worthwhile to attempt a new secular approach to universal ethics. My confidence comes from my conviction that all of us, all human beings, are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good. Whatever we do, we do because we think it will be of some benefit. At the same time, we all appreciate the kindness of others. We are all, by nature, oriented toward the basic human values of love and compassion. We all prefer the love of others to their hatred. We all prefer others’ generosity to their meanness. And who among us does not prefer tolerance, respect and forgiveness of our failings to bigotry, disrespect and resentment?

In view of this, I am of the firm opinion that we have within our grasp a way, and a means, to ground inner values without contradicting any religion and yet, crucially, without depending on religion. The development and practice of this new system of ethics is what I propose to elaborate in the course of this book. It is my hope that doing so will help to promote understanding of the need for ethical awareness and inner values in this age of excessive materialism."