THIS BULLSHIT

Okay. Look. I wasn’t expecting that much. I knew it was small  — five feet in diameter. I knew it was trendy, and therefore I didn’t expect much.

BUT THIS IS SOME BULLSHIT.

My burrito blanket arrived today.

That’s the first thing, actually. Because I ordered it from California Burrito Blanket six freaking weeks ago, on April 12.

2019-05-28 16.42.23

$29.95 felt steep. But my wife, Toni, lives for burritos. She survived college by making her own burritos. She taught me how to make burritos, and we eat them once a week at least. She also loves blankets, and being wrapped up and cozy.

And for the last month or so of her time as a teacher, which just ended last week, I had been giving her little presents. Nothing serious, just little prizes every morning when I woke her up, because she hates getting up and she hated going to work, and having me give her a little toy or a stuffed  animal or something made it a little easier. Mostly it was things I bought at Wal-Mart or Target or some such — Walgreens’ post-Easter sale was a gold mine. So I wanted one thing that would be a big final prize, to give her on her last day. And that’s when this thing went viral, and then showed up in my feed on Facebook. So I clicked on the link, and I bought it.

Here’s what I ordered:

Can you see there where it says “100% microfiber?” Right: I figured it was one of those sort of velour lap blankets you can buy anywhere. It looked fun. I thought Toni would love it.

It arrived today. (A full week after I meant to give it to her —  but that wasn’t the problem.) Here’s what was in the mail.

 

Huh, I thought. Kinda — thin. Not very big across, either; about the size of a DVD case. Very light. So I opened it up, and there, encased in more plastic, was my wife’s final Thank You For Teaching gift.

20190528_143602

The picture doesn’t do it justice, for two reasons: one, it does not look like a tortilla, it looks like a bloody sheet that was laid on top of a murder victim, or maybe a close-up of melanoma: it’s vaguely beige, and the “scorch marks” are far more red than brown. Here’s my attempt to show it as a shroud, with myself as murder victim — and also, this is why you cannot take pictures on the floor when you have dogs. (Also note I had to take the above picture while my wife held Roxie back, because she wanted to stand right in the middle of it and wag her tail. Adorable. And I’m trying to be mad here.)

10942

Also, I think this one captures the other problems with this “blanket:” one, you see that sheen? That’s because it isn’t microfiber, it’s freaking polyester; and IT’S ONE-SIDED!

Here’s the reverse:

20190528_143652

 

And two, the biggest problem of all: THIS THING IS THINNER THAN A GODDAMN KLEENEX!

Here’s me holding it. YOU CAN READ MY UCSC T-SHIRT THROUGH THE GODDAMN BLANKET!

10941

IT’S LIKE FUCKING PLASTIC WRAP!! See that dark mark over “slug?” That’s one of the bloodstains — I mean scorch marks.

What’s that, you say? That’s just the white side, which is clearly not meant to be on top? Surely it isn’t transparent from the burrito side? AU CONTRAIRE, MOTHERFUCKER:

10940

I’ve seen emergency camping blankets, those things that are essentially tinfoil, that are more comfortable than this plastic rag.

This is no blanket. It’s not even a burrito: it’s a stained tablecloth. Here, look:

 

20190528_143831

It even makes Roxie sad. See her sad face?

 

So, ladies and gentlemen, please: DO NOT PURCHASE THE BURRITO BLANKET. Especially not from California Burrito Blanket. My assumption is that when it went viral, as there was probably no way to copyright a blanket that looks like a tortilla, a thousand other companies jumped on board, including the company I bought it from, and they produced the cheapest pieces of shit I’ve ever seen. And of course, Facebook was more than happy to push their shit on my timeline. I have no doubt that there are far higher quality blankets out there, but obviously there is no way to tell in advance which one you are mail ordering. At some point these things will be in actual stores, and you can pick it up and feel the quality yourself before you buy it. Like I should have done.

Fucking internet.

Advertisements

This Memorial Day

On this day, perhaps I should be thinking about those who laid down their lives in defense of this country, our people, and our ideals. Those who gave all, who made the supreme sacrifice. And I am: but first, I am thinking about those who still live, but who nonetheless gave all, who sacrificed more than anyone should ever have to. I am thinking about those who loved them, as well, their friends, their families; and I am thinking about all that those survivors lost, as well. I am thinking about the unbearable price that all these people paid: and I am wondering if it was worth it.

I think sometimes, for some people, it was.

But other times, it was not. The price was too high, the benefits bought by sacrifice worth too little to justify it. Especially in the wars of the last several decades, the wars of adventure, of conquest; wars carried out for political reasons, and rationalized with lies.

Today, for all of those men and women who fought and suffered, lived and died with their burdens — and for those who live still — I must reiterate my case that the only rational, the only humane, the only justifiable act this country can take is to end all of our wars, to cease all foreign aggression, to step down and eventually eliminate the U.S. military, leaving only a strong national guard to protect against actual threats to our land and our people. Our forces that protect our allies should remain as an obstacle to aggressive acts against other sovereign nations, but the threat and use of force to prevent global conflict should not come from one country: else it is not peacekeeping, but warmongering; not an attempt to protect sovereignty, but an attempt to create an American hegemony — and so it has been for a century. It must stop. We cannot continue to pay for the aggrandizement of our nationalist pride and the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us against. The price is too high.

But don’t listen to me: listen to the words of the ones who paid that price, who pay it still.

Last week, the U.S. Army’s Twitter account shared a short video featuring an American soldier explaining what he has gained from his service with the U.S. Army.

And then they asked an open question: How has serving impacted you?

I think they did not expect the responses they got. But they should have. There should be no surprise here. Nobody should know better than the military what cost is borne by veterans and those closest to them. What is perhaps most upsetting about this is the number of these people who suffered at least in part because they did not get help. But what we should pay the most attention to is the fact that this suffering is borne by those we ask to fight for us.

And the one fact that should stand out above all others is this: we must stop asking them to bear it. We must. There is nothing we gain that is worth this.

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

 

I would like to ask you to do something, to honor our lost warriors on this Memorial Day. Go to any of these links — easiest to start with the first one, but they all go to the same place — and read the entire thread. (Click on the bar at the bottom of each tweet, with the blue text link.) Read what all of these soldiers say, what all of their family members and loved ones and friends say, about how the US Army has impacted them. It won’t be easy. But nothing can be as hard as what they went through, and I think the least we can do is listen to them, read their words, and pay attention.

Pay attention.

Pay attention.

Pay attention.

 

 

 

They’re not all bad. Some people who posted are proud of their service, some had positive experiences in the military. But again and again and again, the soldiers and their families talk about misery and pain, neglect and misuse, and death.

It is clear from this thread that veterans need far more help and support than we are providing. If we didn’t already know that. It is clear from this thread that the empty thanks and praise we offer them, calling them heroes, while we ignore their real suffering, is even worse than simply ignoring them would be. If we didn’t already know that. It is clear from this thread that the only right and good thing to do is stop doing this to our own people, our own brothers and sisters, who are willing and able to volunteer, to fight, to do what is right. We must stop taking human beings and turning them into casualties.  We owe it to all of them, past, present, and future.

We must stop.

We must.

My thanks to those who have fought for all our sakes. My grief for all that have suffered.

This Week

So it’s been a solid three weeks since I last did this, but I don’t intend to just give it up after two habit-testing attempts, so here it comes back again. The intervening three weeks have really been more about survival: I had to finish the school year, I had to grade, I had to sleep, I had to keep my spirits up. So that’s the habit I’ve been trying to maintain every week for the last three weeks: sleep, work, live.

I’d like to report that I stuck with all three things every day for the last three weeks. I suck at sleeping — which is not news —  but it’s not a question of habit, it’s a question of stress; when I wake up at 2 or 3am, when I’m stressed, I start thinking about the thing that is worrying me. Believe me, if I could break that habit, I would; now that it is summer, the habit will be broken for me, which is nice, but kind of not the point of these posts, these attempts. I am good at the habitual grading of papers every single day; but that’s not a habit I want to maintain — and it too has been ended for me this past week. Living and keeping my spirits up? Sure, that’s a thing I want to keep doing. I’m sure it will be quite a bit easier now.

So I’m moving on to new ideas.

If you recall, three weeks ago I decided to give up snacking, particularly gum, per my wife’s suggestion. I did it for the week, and it wasn’t terrible: though I admit I cheated a time or two, once because I honestly forgot that I was doing it for the week, and I grabbed some chips at Costco and snacked on them; once at school because I wanted the snack and I said, “Screw it.” I also ate donuts at school because donuts were available — it was Teacher Appreciation week, when we don’t get a raise and people don’t treat us any better, but they do bring us food and shit — along with cake and a few other gift-snacks. So it wasn’t  a perfect abstention from snacking.

I never chewed gum, though. Not once. So, success.

Really, the main point was not to munch on my salty snacks once I got home. They’re my main food vice, and there are times when I get out the bag of Cheez-its and forget that I’m eating them until I’ve downed way more than I should have; that’s the habit I was looking to break, really. And that I did not do.

But like the video game stoppage the week before, it didn’t really amount to much. I didn’t feel healthier, I didn’t feel better, I didn’t lose weight — but I also wasn’t miserable, and I didn’t fall asleep at 8pm, which is one reason I do snack sometimes, because it keeps me awake. Basically I proved to myself that I don’t need to snack, but that I am a bit happier when I do.

The last week or two has actually been something of a better test: because I really haven’t snacked unless I’ve been hungry or craving something; and more than once, I decided to avoid snacks because I didn’t want to ruin my dinner. And that has been — just fine. So maybe because of the week without evening snacking, and maybe just because I’m steadily growing more aware of what I eat and how I eat it, I think I’ve actually got a pretty good handle on my snacking.  So again, success.

This week I think I’m going to go with exercise. I go to the gym, and I ride my bike; but in both cases I’m very on-again, off-again. A little bit because my wife likes going to the gym with me, and she hurt her wrist pretty seriously back in January and has been recovering ever since (It’s her drawing wrist, so we’ve been taking it very seriously), so she hasn’t been able to do much gym time, which often means I don’t go, as well. But I’ve also come to understand that I can go without her and it doesn’t actually bother either of us too much, so I have to give up that excuse. Again, it’s been rough trying to survive for the last month, so I haven’t really gone, and now that the school year’s over I want to get back into the habit. I also want to spend some of this summer getting into better biking shape because I’d like to get myself to work like that as much as I can next year.

So that will be this week: every day I will either go to the gym, or I will ride my bike. I will probably give myself an exception this coming Saturday, as we are going to move starting that day, so my “exercise” will be cleaning and/or lifting heavy things. But we’ll see. Between now and then, it’s every day workouts for me. (Yes, I already did one today. It hurt a lot. Part of the reason I want to get back into the habit more.)

I will report back next Sunday. Hopefully.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about lists.

I am generally opposed to lists. If asked to name my top ______ (five, ten, one hundred) favorite ___________s, the number given is always either too small or too large, and I’m stuck taking things off the list that belong there, or stretching to think of something that isn’t too bad which I can include  with the truly great ones. And of course I always think of better examples once the list is finalized. My wife is a list-maker when it comes to tasks she has to complete, and every time she does it, though it obviously helps her keep track of things, looking at the full list makes her more stressed, because she naturally thinks of ALL of the things she has to do. I’ve found that marking items off of a list is satisfying, but finishing the list is a letdown, because by the time I’m done with the list (if it’s not 2-3 items long, and if it is 2-3 items long it feels like a waste of time making a list) I’ve forgotten the joy of completing the first tasks I marked off, so I have this huge list and I just feel like I did this one last thing, and that’s it.

So I don’t like lists. When it comes to tasks I need to perform, I prefer to do them when I think of them. It allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment regularly, rather than finishing a task and marking it off only to run my gaze over all the other things I have to do, which tends to decrease my sense of accomplishment. True, this does mean that things get lost — I haven’t worked on my novel in two months, because I just kept having school tasks — and my time management is terrible. But I don’t think the efficiency gained from lists is worth the heartache.

All that said, I needed to do something lighter for my blog today, after yesterday’s abortion horror show; so, for no good reason and in no particular order, here is my bucket list.

*See the entire world. All of it. From the highest mountain peak to the lowest valley. I want to see all the ugly parts first, and then all the beautiful ones. I’d like to finish up with seeing all of the ugly places that have become beautiful in the time I’ve been looking at everything.

*Learn to speak every language, and visit every country and culture.

*Meet the youngest and oldest persons in every country and culture. Also the happiest and the saddest, the best and the worst. Keep looking until I find one person who is both extremes of a single category.

*Meet the most famous artist and the least famous but most talented artist in every country and culture, for every art. Like and appreciate the least famous one every single time.

*Learn about and understand every religion. Accept that all of them are false, and that the world would be better off without them (Hey, wait — I already did that last part! I can mark this off my list! Go me!).

*Spend time with the Dalai Lama, because even if religion is toxic, he’s the coolest man in the world. If possible, take drugs with him and watch him ascend to a higher plane of consciousness right in front of me.

*Read every book.

*Separate all the books into good books and bad books, and eliminate all the bad books. Remove them from the world, and from human consciousness so the authors of the bad books don’t have to feel bad about themselves for being on the bad list. (But I will remember.)

*Travel to the center of the Earth. Ride a dinosaur.

*Be named the sexiest man alive, and refuse to accept the title.

*Grow gills and immunity to pressure, and then swim everywhere in the ocean.

*Take the perfect nap.

See every band I love live. Buy all the t-shirts and deny seeing the show every time someone comments on them.

*Eat the perfect meal, and decide that I like donuts and coffee better.

*Sample all of the finest coffees in the world, create my own blend that is the perfect mix of the very best coffees, the drinking of which will allow one to follow the Dalai Lama to the higher plane.

*Master typing so that I never again make a mistake and have to hit the backspace key.

*Experience life as a woman.

*Smash the patriarchy.

*Experience life as a dog.

*Eliminate all hatred and prejudice. Also, Mitch McConnell. With extreme prejudice, like prejudice’s last hurrah is all heaped on that fucking guy.

*Experience life as a sloth. Or maybe a hummingbird. I dunno, though — do you think they get annoyed easily? Like are all hummingbirds Type A personalities?

*Put my consciousness into a machine and travel into the virtual world.

*Go to Wonderland. Have tea with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. Have a rap battle with either or both of them. Win.

*Slap Donald Trump unconscious. Shave his head. Braid his hair into a mystical gag that he will never be able to take off, so that no one will ever have to listen to him speak, ever again. Curse him with eternal life until he actually learns to listen to everyone else.

*Burn the military-industrial complex to the ground. Salt the earth where its bones lie.

*Eliminate the need for government world wide, creating a perfect system of justice so that everyone can live in peace and harmony without being exploited or neglected.

*Discover a previously unknown tropical island, preferably one hidden by a mystic cloud of mist or one newly formed by volcano but old enough to have grown vegetation. Build a sprawling estate on it, with secret rooms, palapas  to enjoy the cool ocean breezes, underground grottoes with brightly colored mineral deposits in the walls and cool ponds to swim in, and hammocks and bookshelves in every room.

*Rescue all the dogs  and let them all stay with me on my island. Bring everyone who abuses dogs there so all the dogs can stare at them disappointedly  until they understand the weight of their guilt– and if they never do, let the dogs tear them to pieces and then feed them to the crabs.

*Learn to play every musical instrument, and then make beautiful music every night under the stars to serenade my millions of rescued dogs.

*Write the very best novel that I can write. Appreciate it for what it is, and don’t regret it for what it is not.

*Love my wife forever, and actually make her understand perfectly how much I love her, without having to use weak words and silly gestures of affection to do it.

 

*Go to other planets. Start over again.  (Bring the dogs. And my wife.)

This Morning

This morning, unfortunately, I am thinking about abortion.

And since I’ve been doing it for four hours, now, while I’ve been writing this, it is no longer morning. I am not happy about this. But why should I be?

None of us should think about abortion. None of us should have to. There should be no unwanted pregnancies. Birth control should be universally effective and universally available, and no one should ever be a victim of rape.

To be clear right from the outset: the simplest and most effective way to eliminate unwanted pregnancies, and therefore to put an end to abortion, is to give every man a  vasectomy as early as is practicable. Vasectomies are simple, safe, reversible, and extremely effective birth control. [Information here]

However: since not every vasectomy is reversible — and in fact, it is easier to reverse a vasectomy the sooner it is done after the initial procedure, which tends to put a damper on my “as early as practicable” plan — even this system does not ensure there will be no unwanted pregnancies. There is no way, with our current understanding of medicine and fertility, to ensure there are no unwanted pregnancies without additional unwanted consequences.

Therefore we have to think about abortion.

I would like to limit this post to the logical, rational aspect of the debate. The rational argument regarding abortion hinges on definitions, and on rights, and essentially, it all comes down to one question: is abortion murder? Because if abortion is murder, then the pro-choice argument can’t proceed; there can’t be a legal nor a rational argument for murder. If abortion is not murder, then a woman’s right to choose can override the needs of the infant.

This was pointed out to me in a recent Facebook debate, and the person who commented to this effect also pointed out that the abortion debate never comes to a final decision on this critical question — neither side. And indeed, though the overall debate where that comment was made went on for scores of posts, not one person touched that specific comment  that tried to get to — or at least point out the way to — the heart of the matter. I suspect that the reason is because we have such a hard time separating the two aspects of this debate, the logical and the emotional; which is why I’m going to do it here. Because logically, I think it is clear that abortion is not murder, but emotionally, it certainly feels like it to a lot of people — people who generally come down on the pro-life side because of that feeling.

That’s why I’m starting with this argument: because I think it is simpler. Not easier to deal with or accept, but simpler to make and to understand. And because it is not easier to deal with, I’m spending all of this time hemming and hawing, hedging and prefacing everything I want to say. But enough waffling. Here we go.

(One brief note: because I am trying to remove emotion, I’m going to use the term “infant” or “child.” Fetus and baby are both too charged and aligned to specific sides of the debate.)

Is abortion murder? It is not, for two reasons: the definition of murder, and the unique status of the unborn child within the mother.

The definition of murder: “Murder occurs when one human being unlawfully kills another human being.” Wex Legal Dictionary  Therefore, since abortion is currently legal in this country, abortion is not legally murder.

Of course that’s an oversimplification. But there are two considerations that also prevent abortion from being murder. One is the mother’s intent in killing the infant. Murder statutes contain some element of intent: first degree murder is generally predicated on the idea of “malice aforethought,” or premeditation and intent to harm. While abortion is of course premeditated, there is clearly no malice present. Women who get abortions are not intentionally seeking the death of the infant: they are seeking the termination of the pregnancy. I can’t really imagine a scenario where a woman seeks an abortion with malicious intent, abortion sought expressly to harm the infant; such a scenario would require a highly disturbed woman, one I would term a psychopath, and such an extreme case does not define the standard. I presume in most cases, women regret the inevitable death of the infant as a necessary but horrible part of the intended goal.

So at most, an abortion is some form of manslaughter, unintended homicide, or accidental death. But I would argue that it is not any of those: rather an abortion is justifiable homicide (if it is homicide at all, which I’ll get to in a while with the question of fetal personhood) because the mother is acting in self-defense.

Wex defines self-defense this way: “The use of force to protect oneself from an attempted injury by another.  If justified, self-defense is a defense to a number of crimes and torts involving force, including murderassault and battery. ” Law.com offers a fuller explanation:

self-defense

n. the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or members of the family from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor, if the defender has reason to believe he/she/they is/are in danger. Self-defense is a common defense by a person accused of assault, battery or homicide. The force used in self-defense may be sufficient for protection from apparent harm (not just an empty verbal threat) or to halt any danger from attack, but cannot be an excuse to continue the attack or use excessive force. Examples: an unarmed man punches Allen Alibi, who hits the attacker with a baseball bat. That is legitimate self-defense, but Alibi cannot chase after the attacker and shoot him or beat him senseless. If the attacker has a gun or a butcher knife and is verbally threatening, Alibi is probably warranted in shooting him. Basically, appropriate self-defense is judged on all the circumstances. Reasonable force can also be used to protect property from theft or destruction. Self-defense cannot include killing or great bodily harm to defend property, unless personal danger is also involved, as is the case in most burglaries, muggings or vandalism.

Source

An abortion is a woman’s attempt to protect herself from harm. She may justifiably use force to do it, even lethal force, which is necessitated in this instance, because there is no way to stop the pregnancy without killing the infant.

Absurd, you may say; an unborn child is not a danger to its mother. But of course it is. It is a danger to the mother’s health — and quite a serious one — and a threat to the mother’s life: 700  women die each year in the U.S. from pregnancy or childbirth. [Source] 26.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. (Three or more times the rate in other industrialized Western countries, by the way. Makes one question the argument that America respects the sanctity of life, particularly since the majority of deaths in childbirth are preventable. Information here.

But there’s more than that. Because life is not the only right that a woman has to protect: she has a right to liberty, as well.

Pregnancy is enslavement. It is biologically, as the infant uses hormones to control the mother in every possible way, causing biological changes that last for the rest of her life; it is, without the right to abort, legally enslavement, as a woman is required to surrender her bodily sovereignty to the child. I think there cannot be any argument that one would have the right to use force to defend one’s self against enslavement. The right to liberty is not less important than the right to life: both are inherent, both are inalienable, both are necessary components of our existence as distinct individual persons.  And in pregnancy, these two rights — the mother’s right to liberty and the child’s right to life —  are in conflict. For the child’s right to be protected, the mother must lose her right, and vice versa.

There is no way around this conflict. Perhaps someday we will have the technology to remove an infant from a woman at whatever stage she wishes to terminate the pregnancy, and then gestate that child to full term; but our attempts to create an artificial womb are extremely preliminary — and if we do ever manage to produce such a device, it will only exacerbate the issue of overpopulation, particularly within the already burdened foster care system. But regardless, we can’t do that yet, so for a woman to terminate a pregnancy — the only way to retain control over her own body, her own person — is to kill the child.

Most people who are pro-life but not anti-woman argue that the woman’s consent to sex is what removes her right to liberty, that this is essentially a contract she has entered into and she must surrender her bodily sovereignty as the “consequence of her action;” but this falls apart for several reasons. First, consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy, and consent to pregnancy is not consent to carrying an infant to term and giving birth, and carrying an infant to term is not consent to motherhood. That is not how consent works. Consent must be informed, positive, and constant: contracts have termination clauses. The contract is only legally binding as long as both parties continue to agree to it. A more fraught but more appropriate analogy is consent to sex: if at any point a person having sex removes their consent to the continuation of the sex, it is no longer consensual; it becomes rape. Instantly. We can argue about whether both parties are  aware of the removal of consent and therefore whether the rape is prosecutable — but there’s no question of its definition. Consent to sex one minute does not even imply consent to sex the next minute: how could it possibly imply consent to nine months of pregnancy? To a lifetime of motherhood?

Furthermore, consent has to be informed, and not based on deception or fraud. Contracts cannot be put forth as promising one thing, but actually promising something else: if I sign a contract but don’t read the fine print, it is legally binding — but not if I was told I was signing a contract to buy a toaster, when in fact I was signing a contract to give away my car. Not even if the fine print said so. Subsequent consequences are also not part of a contract: if I agree to teach for the next school year, it does not oblige me to teach for the year after that, not even if that is expected, not even if that is what  the school wants, not even if that is what happens 99% of the time. So unless the woman intentionally, knowingly, before the  sex  act, consents and expresses her consent to pregnancy, then that consent is not implied by consent to the sex act.

People argue that pregnancy is a natural and expected consequence of sex, but it isn’t: because the cause and effect relationship is not direct. Each instance of sex does not create an instance of pregnancy. Even when people are trying, and doing everything possible to get pregnant, it frequently requires more than a single instance of sex to produce a pregnancy. Sex increases the probability of becoming pregnant, and that is all. It is, of course, a necessity for pregnancy to happen (Except in the case of artificial insemination), but that doesn’t tell us the probability of pregnancy happening from a sex act. Imagine if we could always know, with certainty, when pregnancy would result from sex: if a tiny imp popped up next to a couple right before sex and said, “Hi! This sex act will result in a pregnancy,” can you imagine how often that sex act would not occur? If that surety existed, then we could logically argue that a woman’s consent to sex was also consent to pregnancy, because the consent would be informed, the consequences known and assured; but it doesn’t work that way. So while there is some reasonable expectation of the probable results, they are not sufficiently causally connected to associate consequences with them. The best we can do is argue that the known chance of the increased probability of pregnancy implies some logical consideration of the probable results, but since we can’t make an informed prediction of pregnancy, we certainly can’t say that a woman should lose her unalienable right to liberty based on a possibility.

An analogy: if I walk into the street, there is a known chance that I will be hit by a car and killed. If someone drives their car down the street, there is a known chance that they will hit and kill a pedestrian. Neither result is possible without that initial choice to create the conditions necessary for the result, but the choice to walk into the street is not the choice to be hit by a car, and the choice to drive down the street is not the choice to hit a pedestrian: if I get hit by a car when I only intended to walk, it would not be suicide; and if someone hits me when their only intent was to drive, then it wouldn’t be first degree murder with malice aforethought. There are subsequent choices with direct connections to the result, which are the determining factors: if I walk directly in front of the car without allowing it time to stop, then it does become suicide; if the car sees me and refuses to stop, it becomes murder. Even though the initial choice of walking or driving was a necessary pre-requisite for the later choices, that initial choice does not imply the later choice. There are also conditions entirely out of each person’s control that are determining factors: how fast the car is moving, how quickly I cross the street, the visibility, our separate reaction times, the functionality of the car’s brakes and the surface of the street, and so on, so on. A thousand things that determine whether I live or die, and even though my choice to walk into the street is necessary  for me to be hit by a car, it is clearly not the only cause of it.

Coming back out of the analogy: a woman becomes an intentional carrier of a pregnancy to term when she chooses to do so — in other words, when she decides not to have an abortion, she becomes a mother, at least of her unborn infant. She did not choose to become a mother when she had sex: because otherwise there would be women who chose to be mothers (by choosing to have sex) yet did not become pregnant and do not have children, and that removes all sense from the definition of motherhood.

So here we are: consent to sex does not logically imply consent to pregnancy (A brief repetition of that argument, because it is crucial: if consent to sex implies consent either to what is possible afterwards, and/or what is best for the child, then consent to sex should also imply a commitment to child-rearing on the part of the father, because that is what is best for the child. In other words, if a man has sex with a woman, he is marrying her and agreeing to provide her with a stable home and life partnership. Also, if the mother dies in childbirth, then it should be considered either suicide, as she consented to the possibility of her own death when she consented to the sex act, or murder on the part of the man who impregnated her and created that result with his choice to have sex with her, since pregnancy and death in childbirth are known potential consequences of the sex act, which could not occur without the sex act. These would be logically consistent positions. Does anyone hold them?), and therefore a woman who has sex cannot be considered to have given up her right to liberty  voluntarily. The conflict between mother and child is a conflict between two unalienable rights, the child’s right to life and the mother’s right to liberty, neither of which is necessarily more important than the other, but either of which would justify the loss of a right to the other party — that is, if the child’s right to life is paramount, then the mother should justifiably lose her right to liberty; if the mother’s right to liberty is paramount, then the child should justifiably lose its right to life. Simply saying “Wait nine months and the conflict will be resolved” is not acceptable; imagine if I was holding a gun to your head and threatening your life, but I promised to stop after nine months — clearly that doesn’t mean you can’t fight back against me to remove the threat  to your life, nor, I would argue, to your liberty.

So who wins?

The final piece of this argument is personhood. Only living persons have unalienable rights to life and liberty — though it is an interesting argument that the dead have the right to bodily sovereignty because we cannot legally take their organs to save the living — so if the mother and child are both persons, then it becomes difficult to argue who has the right to decide the outcome. (Not impossible, and I’ll try to get to that one too. Hold on.) But here is the final answer: An unborn child is not a person, and does not have a legal or logical right to life.

This is something of an ugly position, and even I don’t like all the implications of it. But it is impossible to determine otherwise. Because personhood, as a legal concept, has to come with autonomy: there is simply no way to legally protect a person’s rights if that person cannot be separated from another person in a meaningful sense.

Let’s begin with twins as a test case. First, the argument that a unique genetic code, created at the moment of conception, is the defining characteristic of personhood, falls apart with identical twins. Because there you have two people with identical, non-unique genetic codes, and yet they are not considered the same individual in two bodies, even though monozygotic twins came from a single fertilized ovum — which supposedly gained personhood at the moment of conception, before the moment of separation into two separate twins. But if I marry one twin, I am not simultaneously married to the other; if one commits a capital crime, we do not execute them both. Unique genes are not the standard for personhood. Also, let me note that mothers and children exchange genetic material during pregnancy: and so the mother is a part of the child and the child is a part of the mother on the most basic level. (Also let me note, for the sake of fairness, that this exchange of cells is probably quite beneficial for the mother, much of the time; but it can also lead to serious consequences, including cancer and an increased chance of future miscarriages. The article has more. Microchimerism. Fascinating stuff.)

So if the child is part of the mother and the mother is part of the child, then the pregnancy should be seen as somewhat akin to conjoined twins. There’s a video I watched, from Steven Crowder, in which Mr. Crowder (A pro-life sophist — change my mind.) asks his pro-choice opponent how many hearts a pregnant woman has, how many toes, how many spinal cords and so on. He was trying to get the young man he was debating to accept that the mother and child are two unique, separate individuals: but clearly they are not. This article and this article both show how intertwined the two beings are: the infant relies on the mother for everything, from oxygen to nutrition, and invades the mother’s body via hormones in order to serve its needs to her detriment; at the same time, the mother receives health benefits from the child as part of the gestational process, in order to protect the child. It is not reasonable therefore to call the child a parasite — but neither can they be separated and both live.

Like conjoined twins. And I would ask Mr. Crowder: if conjoined twins share a torso, how many hearts do they have? How many lungs? How many livers? If we imagine a case where two conjoined twins share a single liver– which was indeed the circumstance of Chang and Eng Bunker, the eponymous Siamese twins — then we have two persons, two individuals, with one liver; thus it shouldn’t be any more distressing to accept that twenty fingers and twenty toes and two hearts can very easily be contained in one person, when one person contains a second being. Clearly we define personhood not by number of organs and not by unique genetic code. These are elements, naturally, but not exclusive ones.

The way we define personhood philosophically is through two elements: body and mind. The body must have autonomous viability — in other words, it has to be able to exist on its own — and there must be a unique mind and sentience. If I think of a future where my mind has been destroyed by disease or misfortune, even if my body continues to survive, I would not conceive of myself as the same person I am now. Similarly, if my mind and thoughts were removed from my body and put into a different body, then I would not be the same person I am now. These seem self-evident to me. I am aware that pro-life people do not want them to be: because the only logical conclusion from these two elements of personhood is that an unborn, pre-sentient child, which would not be viable outside of the womb, is not a person. But that’s the problem with logical argument: the conclusions cannot be escaped, even if they are against what we would wish.

Here’s the other side of that: it implies that a sentient unborn infant does have some sort of personhood, at least potential personhood; this means that elective abortion in the last trimester should not be legal, and if sentience in the developing infant is provable prior to that, then abortion should not be legal post sentience. That leaves us with one question: what to do in the case of medical necessity, where the life of the mother is at risk should the pregnancy continue through the third trimester?

But you see, despite what fanatics may argue, this has already been resolved, in the only way that makes any sense: in the case of a viable infant, labor would be induced or (much more likely) an emergency C-section would result in a premature infant who is then cared for in the NICU. In the case of a non-viable infant, one that could not live on its own, late-term abortion may be the safer course for preserving the mother’s life: and since a child that could not live does not have the same right to life that the mother does, not being a full person as it lacks one of the two necessities of personhood, then the law must allow for such a procedure in such an extreme circumstance. This is precisely the legal status of abortion at this very moment in this country: abortion is legal while the child is non-sentient and non-viable, and therefore is not a person; abortion is legal after sentience only when the mother’s life is at risk and the child is not viable. If the child has both viability and sentience, then separation is possible without death, and that is the right solution.  The goal is and should be to find a medical solution to the problem, a way to separate mother and child while preserving the rights of both.

But when that solution is not available, then the mother has the right to abort the child.

There are a last few loose ends: one is whether or not my definition of personhood implies that I would lose the right to exist were I in a vegetative state, whether I am a full person if I am brain dead. The answer is that I would not be a full person without sentience, but first, that sentience is not always detectable and so there should be some benefit of the doubt (This is why abortion is often limited to before 20 weeks of pregnancy, to give the benefit of the doubt to the infant who may be sentient; there is still some debate to be had over this, but it is a particular issue and not what I’m talking about today), and second, that I would retain the right to live only so long as I was not impinging therefore on another person’s unalienable rights. If my survival required that someone else be chained to my bed so that they could provide me with constant CPR, to blow air into my mouth every thirty seconds forever, to constantly push blood through my heart one hundred times a minute, in order to make up for my lungs and heart that could not sustain my life, then clearly I would die, since I have no right to make someone else breathe for me, to make someone else’s heart beat for me. If a machine could do it, well and good; and so for the theoretical artificial womb of the future.

But I have no right to make someone else breathe for me. To make someone else provide me with nutrition straight from their blood stream, to carry my body within their own, to risk certain injury and pain and suffering and damage in order to provide me with a life I could not have on my own.

Another loose end is the question of a woman’s right to bodily sovereignty, and whether or not continuous informed consent is still necessary up to the very end of pregnancy, or if a mother could choose to have an infant removed after, say, eight months of pregnancy simply because she no longer wishes to be pregnant. Logically, I would say that a woman could very well make that choice so long as it would not risk the rights of the child, who if viable and sentient has some right to personhood; but as I understand it, there is an unacceptably high risk to the child if it were to be surgically removed at the mother’s say-so. So there is some gray area when it comes to consent on the mother’s part as well, and at some point– around the point of viability and sentience, around the 6th month of pregnancy and the start of the third trimester — she does in fact lose some of her ability to choose. She can no longer choose not to be pregnant without taking the child into consideration.

But that’s the last point I want to make. If there is anyone who can reasonably be asked to make the decision for the child, it has to be the mother. Who else? Who do we ask to make decisions for born children, including decisions that many people might disagree with? Who, for instance, decides to give a child up for adoption? Despite the fact that such a choice clearly runs counter to the ideal of a nuclear family and the Western adoration of children? Even though the child may absolutely oppose such a choice? We ask parents to make those decisions for their children, because we assume that they are the ones most qualified and most likely to do the right thing for their own children; because children are not capable of making an informed, rational choice. Why would we ever take that choice away from a mother? Who else could possibly make it better?

It is, therefore, not only a woman’s right to choose: it is a woman’s responsibility to choose. Hers before all others’. Even the child’s.

This Morning

This morning, I am done with grades. This morning is the last of my school year.

This morning I received notification that California has approved my application for a teaching license. This doesn’t change my immediate plans, I will still be staying in Tucson for the next academic year; but it gives us more options for the year after that. It also shows, I think, that my sordid past is now behind me, because if even the champion nanny state approved me, I don’t think anyone will say nay because I was mean on a blog almost ten years ago.

More importantly, this morning is the last of my wife’s career as a teacher. She returns now to doing what she always should have been doing: making art full time. She has been a wonderful teacher, who has helped many students to improve their skills, gain confidence and interest in art, and especially to see the world in a different way; she will be sorely missed at school. But this is the best thing for her, and this is what is right: because look. Just look.

 

 

 

So congratulations, Toni. You have more than earned this. I am so proud of you for what you have done as a teacher, and I’m even more proud that you are walking away from it to dedicate yourself to art. You amaze me every day.

Especially this morning.

This Morning

This morning I’m thinking about advice.

I give advice quite often. I’m a teacher, so my students ask my opinion on — well, everything they think I’d be willing to talk about. They ask about English, of course, about what advice I can give them to improve their writing, or which book I think they should read, or how they can raise their test scores or their grades. But also, because they like and trust and respect me, they ask about their lives, and they ask for my opinion on that, too: what do I think about dating. What do I think about partying — read, drinking and using recreational drugs. What do I think about college. Sometimes they ask me about whatever nonsense they can think of just because the longer they keep me talking, the less actual schoolwork they have to do that day. And knowing that, I generally let them distract and derail me, because I think they have every right to take a hand in steering where the class goes, and if they want to waste a day, they probably have a reason for wasting the day; I think their reason for wasting the day probably has more behind it than my reason for wanting to go ahead, which is generally, “Because I thought we would.” When it’s a more serious reason — they need to prepare for the AP test, for instance — then I’m less flexible and they don’t push as hard. It works out.

Anyway, that’s just in my job. I also have friends who are younger than me and who are newer teachers, and they ask me for advice because of my experience. I keep this blog, and in the process of expressing my opinion on matters, I almost always give opinions that lean towards advice, that at least indicate what I think people should do, if not tell them outright. My wife asks me for my opinion, though that doesn’t actually come out as advice, I think; just my opinion. I don’t think I’m smarter or wiser than her, so I don’t tell her what to do. (I’ve given her teaching advice, but not much because she doesn’t need it. I give her writing advice on the once-every-five-years occasion when she has something she needs to write.)

Also, since I am a white male American, I do have my mansplaining moments. (I actually talked with a guy on Facebook who doesn’t believe that mansplaining happens, nor manspreading. Called them things that feminists made up to insult men. I don’t know how people can be that oblivious. Especially with manspreading: have you ever been on public transportation?

Image result for manspreading

Oh, but he’s reading a book, so it’s all right.

What I wanted to do today is to give some advice to the advisers. Because I know I’m not alone, but I have recently become more aware of my bad habits when it comes to advice; I think other people should be more aware of their bad advice habits, too.

The first is the mansplaining tendency. (I also manspread, but I’m a teacher, so I don’t generally share space with other people — I sit behind my desk or in my Lecturin’ Chair at the front of the room, while all my students are in their individual desks facing me. I also don’t take public transportation. When I do, I sit as compactly as I can. I think I probably forget to do the same in shared seating like at movie theaters and such, and if you’ve sat next to me and had less space because of me, I’m sorry. Feel free to punch me in the kneecap.) This is the sexist version, but there are a thousand versions that have nothing to do with gender: I am far more often guilty of teachersplaining than I am of mansplaining. I try to explain things all day long, so I slip into the habit and end up explaining things to people who don’t need the explanation — one of the best was early in my teaching career when I found a funny passage in a book, read it out loud to my wife, and paused halfway through to explain a word. The look she gave me before she very dryly — and very patiently, though still at the far edge of that patience — said, “I know what it means, Dusty,” has stuck with me ever since. But though I don’t explain things to her very often (I do sometimes, but it’s more like I’m talking out loud, or trying to make things clear in my own head, and it only sounds like I’m explaining something condescendingly — so like if she said, “Do we need to take the car in to the mechanic?” I might say, “The guy who fixes engines? Sure, we can do that.” It’s not that I’m explaining to her what a mechanic is, it’s that I’m clarifying that the car needs a tune-up and not that we need to take it to Firestone to get new tires. It’s a dumb example, but fitting, I think. I’ll ask my wife. She knows better than me.), I do it all the time to my students, and to other teachers, and to almost anyone who will give me the space to ramble on about what things mean or how they work — like my very kind and patient readers on here, because the only thing I do as much as teachersplaining is definitely blogsplaining.

This problem is also exacerbated by the fact that some people really do need the explanation. That dude who thought that mansplaining wasn’t really a thing needs a lesson in what mansplaining is and why men do it. Americans need lots of patient explanation from people who have been other places in the world and understand more about how the world works outside of these four walls — I mean, borders. (No, I mean walls. Also, Mr. Trump could really use some explanation in how walls work, and how they don’t.) White people need some –racesplaining? Colorsplaining? — if they hold any of those beliefs about white people being oppressed. And so on.

But it is a problem, nonetheless, when people try to explain things that don’t need explaining. It’s condescending and insulting, and it wastes huge amounts of time — especially because lots of people probably just wait it out, the way most women do with most men. Aware that they’re being condescended to, unwilling to turn the current discussion into a fight about said condescension when the condescender is just trying to help. But that’s the thing: help is not always necessary, and when it’s not necessary, it is actually a burden. A simple analogy: if you’re trying to climb out of a pool, and someone crouches down on the lip and tries to haul you out, that person is much more of a hindrance than a help because they’re in the way of you leaping out of the pool and onto the lip like a beached whale, and there’s no way they can get enough leverage or enough of a grip to actually lift your weight without simultaneously giving you an atomic wedgie.

So think of that. Think of whether or not someone needs your help, and if they don’t, maybe just try to stay back and out of the way.

That’s probably the best advice I can give to myself and to those others who give too much advice: not everyone needs your (my) help. People who do need help don’t need it all the time. Sometimes a person who is talking about a problem just needs to talk it out, just needs to express their thoughts in order to vent emotional steam or to clarify exactly what should be done, because thoughts are amorphous but words are definite, and so the process of putting things into words often makes the thoughts more clear.

In case you didn’t understand why people talk.

(See how annoying that can be?)

When someone just wants to express their feelings, all you need to do is listen, and make clear that you are listening, that the person is being heard. That’s actually all you need to say: “I’m listening. I hear you.” Express an opinion: “That sucks. That sounds really hard.” Maybe even a hope: “I hope it gets better.”

And how do you know if they actually want advice? It’s easy: they will ask. If you are listening and they know you are listening, and they want to know what you think they should do, in my experience they will almost always reach the end of their thoughts and then say, “So what do you think I should do?” That there is your signal to leap into advising action. Go nuts. Say everything you think. It’s your time to shine.

Then there’s one more thing you need to remember, especially if you are a parent or a teacher or someone of authority giving advice to young people: advice is not instruction. You can give advice, you can be heard and understood — and then the person you gave the advice to may do exactly the opposite of what you told them they should do. They will do it consciously, fully aware that what they are doing is not what you advised, and that you would probably disapprove of their actions. If you’re lucky, that simple act of defiance is not their actual goal, but even if it is, there’s nothing you can do but take it. I mean, if you are an authority figure, you can punish them for not listening to you; but that’s not going to go anywhere useful. If what the young person did was stupid, I would maybe say I was disappointed that they did the stupid thing I told them not to do, but since they already knew that when they did it, it wouldn’t be a strong point.

Young people make choices. They do so based on what seem like reasonable criteria at the time. You telling them that their choice was wrong, based on entirely different criteria, is not going to matter, unless they also think their choice was wrong; and then the best thing you can do is try to help them figure out better criteria. So when I threw a party in high school and WAY more people than I invited showed up, and they wrecked my house, I didn’t need to know my mother disapproved of what I did; I already knew that. I didn’t need to know that what I did was wrong and stupid; I already knew that. What I needed was a way to ensure that having fun with my friends did not turn into an open invitation to people who were not my friends to come and screw up my fun. I needed to be able to stop people before they came into my house, and say, “Go away, you are not welcome.” I did in fact learn to do that, though not because my mother helped me work it out.

I think the best thing we can do for young people is be as honest with them as we possibly can, and try to help them find good criteria for decisions. Try to get them to have a plan in case things go wrong. Help them to know what to do in an emergency — seems like good advice regardless, since emergencies come up even when we don’t make bad choices. We can’t stop them from doing wrong things, or from making bad choices; all we can do is try to help them understand what went wrong, and how to deal with it afterwards. They’re going to learn from their mistakes, and not from our advice.

Which means maybe we should stop giving it.

Maybe I should stop giving it.

I’m listening.