Thursday, April 27, 2017

Re-run from "Boxing Day" 2009: Abortion (and Combatting VD)

            If you've ever argued with a significant other over whether toilet seat lids belong up or down, or whether toilet paper should be mounted to deliver the sheets "over" or "under" — if you've ever gotten into a nasty little spat over bathroom trivia, then you have the concept, "What you're arguing about? That's not what you're arguing about." More exactly, what you're arguing about is only one of the things you're arguing about.
            When Americans argue about abortion, we're also arguing about, among other issues, the oppression of women and young people, the difficulty of seeing special value in human life absent a God to assign that value, the place of religion in politics, the meaningless futility of life in a universe purged of the Sacred, the value of play and pleasure, and population issues centering on the policy of "pronatalism": encouraging the birth and rearing of children.
            But if the crucial point is to reduce the number of abortions in the US to as close to zero as possible, then we need to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, which means, as a practical matter, that we in America have to get serious about birth control.
            If we are to reduce unwanted pregnancies, fertile girls and women must have easy access to birth control — and ditto for boys and men. Fertile humans must be encouraged to use birth control and insist that their partners use birth control and, while both are at it, take reasonable precautions to reduce the risk of venereal disease (VD, a k a STDs [Sexually Transmitted Diseases]).
            Reduce the risk to zero? That's impossible. But anything worth doing is worth taking a risk to do, and most post-pubescent people find sex eminently worth doing. Sex is less risky than SCUBA diving and requires less training. But even as one needs to trust a dive partner, one needs to trust — and protect — a sexual partner; and even as only the profoundly stupid dive drunk or take other dumb risks, even so Americans need to be indoctrinated that only the profoundly stupid take unnecessary risks with sex.
            When I reached puberty back in the 1950s, my father gave me a box of condoms and the fatherly advice, "Until you know what to do with it, keep it in your pants." The advice was good since my parents and their friends had made sure my friends and I would "know what to do with it": no sex education in school, but we got a short-course at home and from medical folks the parents pooled their money to bring in for a lecture and discussion.
            Sex education in schools can spend a day or two making sure boys and girls know that conception is probable when sperm meets egg, and learn the various ways to prevent that meeting. And they can take a couple weeks on STDs and preventing catching VD or spreading it.
            More important, though, is getting people to actually use birth control and "safe-enough" sex. We're getting down to the nitty-gritty here: making contraception and disease prevention materials readily available, and indoctrinating Americans — starting with adolescents — to use them.
            Feminist women should continue pressing the argument for contraception (and "contragestion") for girls. I'm male, so I'll argue for indoctrinating American males to use condoms any time we engage in copulation and aren't actively trying to make a baby. (Gays included: unprotected anal intercourse can spread HIV and syphilis.)
            Part of the indoctrination can be religious, and I have no objection to condom packages coming with large cautionary labels such as "WARNING: SEX OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE MAY LEAD TO DAMNATION." Other parts of the indoctrination, though, must include the macho and arguably sexist appeal that real men don't allow women to control men's reproduction and, until they want children, real men "Wrap that Willy!" The indoctrination should include the definitely "age-ist" idea that virile young men — as opposed to weakening old men — can use condoms without losing their erections.
            If the overriding issue is minimizing abortion, and reducing VD an important goal for public health, then — given that couples will couple — then development of a "male pill" would be good, and there's much to be said for encouraging vasectomies, but, for the foreseeable future, condom-use will be crucial. So, for the foreseeable future, condoms should be as available for purchase as candy bars, and maybe more so: fornication may damn you to hell, but it doesn't encourage obesity or tooth decay. If reducing unwanted pregnancies is crucial, and reducing VD very important, we should use advertising, marketing, and carefully-crafted propaganda to push contraception.

            Let's get serious: a large-scale public campaign encouraging guys to "Wrap That Willy!" would violate taboos, but it would be deeply moral.

Monday, April 24, 2017

About that Christian Mercy …

           John M. Crisp introduces an excellent column on "Solving the puzzle of children, war" (17 April 2017) with the Christian trope contrasting the "god of wrath and battles" of much of the "Old Testament" with the kinder, gentler God of the New.
            It's not that simple. The peace-and-love Jesus of the Beatitudes goes on to say, figuratively, "[…] I have not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matthew 5.2-12, 10.34). And both figuratively and Prophetically, John of Patmos presents a kick-ass Christ in his Apocalypse, "clad in a robe dipped in blood," with a "sharp sword with which to smite the nations" and "tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God," crushing the unsaved like grapes (Revelation 19.13-16). Later in the Book of Revelation, we get beautiful visions of "a new heaven and a new earth," for the saved. "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars" — and later members of the wrong church, or those God just chose to damn — "their lot shall be in the lake that burns" forever (20.1, 4; 21.8).
            In history, in A.D. 1099, the takingof Jerusalem to climax the First Crusade included a massacre near Temple Mount where Christian sources concede or brag, "[…] the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles [...]" — or bridles and knees. "None of them" — Muslims in the area — "were left alive; neither women nor children were spared." The Jews of Jerusalem were burned.
            Deusvult; God willed it.
            So there's Jesus's " mercy and peace" that Crisp says, "we've never really tried"; and that lack of trying goes far back. Since antiquity, many have accepted Jesus only once that wimpy preaching gets toughened up.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Manhandled United Air Passenger, Manipulation, and Me

On the passenger forcibly removed from the United Airlines flight:

I'm finishing up travel arrangements for a trip later in the year, and there's no easy way to get from Calgary, Alberta, to the Greater Oxnard (California) Area by rail, so I'll be taking a plaGne. (The rest of the trip is Amtrak and a fancy-shmancy train operation in Canada.) So I've been thinking about United and overbooking and, egotistically, me.

Over-arching thought: I don't like to be manipulated. I prefer bribery to coercion, but I really don't like when people try to get me to do what they want me to do without ordering me, if I accept their authority, or convincing me. Also, I'm old, and my "heirs and assigns" are doing well and don't need a whole lot of money from my estate.

If we're talking a relatively minor delay and/or enough money to make a movie — and if any of you have a few hundred thousand bucks lying around, I've got a project — if we're talking a a few hundred thousand dollars to maybe a couple million — I know people with bigger projects — oh, yeah, I can be bribed! Short of that, though, I might get stubborn if booked for a flight and would just tell the airline to offer increasing bribes to people who need the money, 'cause whatever their algorithms say, I'm not the person to ask to get off the plane or, far more likely, not get on.

Similarly with coupons, "miles," "points," "loyalty programs" and other marketing bullshit. I saved money for forty years because I wanted security in retirement, but also freedom. And freedom includes being able to tell people who want me to do what they want me to do for trivial to small sums — Thanks, but no thanks.

I will accept a free gift, freely offered, e.g., upgrade to the magical world of Business Class or whatever the class is that lets you wait in "The Admirals' Club"; but relatively small bribes? Nah, it's not priceless but worth a lot to me to tell a large corporation to screw themselves.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Conservatives Needed

And, you know, there is no such thing as society. 
There are individual men and women, and there are families.  
           —  The Right Honourable Margaret Thatcher
Tory Prime Minister, United Kingdom, 
31 October 1987

            I've been mulling over the headline in my local newspaper, The Ventura County Star, for 13 April 2017, "Local group kicks off in bid to empower conservatives" and recalled Aldous Huxley's comment in his preface to the 1946 re-issue of Brave New World, "For the last thirty years there have been no conservatives […]."
            Huxley overstates, but he had a point about much of the 20th century, one still relevant today.
            Conservatives reject the general statements "Change is good"/"Thrive on Change" and insist that change is inevitable and often necessary but "Continuity is good" as well, and "If it's not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change."
            Conservatives insist on people as both individuals and members of societies and on "the continuity of the generations," where each generation is obligated to past generations and to posterity.
            So, what are the great generators of change? Three are revolution, war, and capitalism. A real conservative is suspicious of all three. Others may praise "creative destruction"; real conservatives count the costs of revolutions, wars, and capitalism.
            What are individuals' duties to society? They include contributing our fair share. And society's duties to posterity? Those including bequeathing our descendants a sound economic system, a livable world, and natural resources for them to use.
            American conservatives face complexities since American tradition includes strong individualism, capitalism, revolution, and a religious mix with a lot of radical ideals on social justice that would make necessary many changes.
            Some things though, are easy: conservatives should be for socially responsible environmental conservation and socially responsible public expenditures and budgets.
            And since even the easy things are difficult for so many, it's understandable that there are few genuine conservatives. 

* * *

            Conservatives serve another useful purpose in balancing liberals and radicals on how they "image" society and government. Since the Enlightenment, what became the Left (for a while) saw the world in mechanistic terms whereas conservatives favored organic. If you talk of "checks and balances," you're picturing a mechanism — and mechanisms can be tinkered with. If you talk of "the body politic" and "head of state" and "members of society," you're thinking more biologically — and however careful you need to be tinkering with mechanisms, you need to be a whole lot more careful trying to tinker with living things.
            So conservatives traditionally have held a kind of ecological view, where "Everything is connected to everything else" and (therefore) "You can't change just one thing." Even with machines but more so with organisms, it's hard to tell the final results of any change. With a drug, "There aren't 'side effects'; there are a range of possible effects, some of which you may not want." Even so, thinking in images of organisms keeps one cautious about change. With machines, indeed, "If it ain't broke, don't 'fix' it"; but less is at stake than with an organism, where messing up may result in death.
            I see myself as a variety of conservative; many of my readers will see me on the Left. And we're correct: (1) See below. (2) In a nice irony, 19th-c.-style Radicals are part of the recent Right; as often as not, for a variety of reasons, American old-style conservatives are on the Left. And America needs more of us old-fashioned fogies. 

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. — Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party," 1848, chapter 1

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Censors to the Right of Them, Censors to the Left Volley and Thunder

      I've participated lately in some ListServ and Facebook discussions of what a professor can get into trouble for teaching nowadays, and two closely related works that came to mind were Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange (1962) and Stanley Kubrick's 1971 CLOCKWORK ORANGE film, at least as I taught them at conservative Miami University at Oxford (Ohio) — in John Boehner's Congressional District, alma mater for Paul Ryan — in the late 20th and very early 21st centuries.

      They are interesting works to teach.

      In my classes, the film was much more controversial than the novel even though Burgess cheerfully admits in his preface to the reprint we used that his novel is heretical in Christian terms and most of my students were pretty orthodox Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants (with a few theologically radical evangelicals thrown in). The 21-chapter British version of the novel — unlike the initial 20-chapter US edition and the film — is "Pelagian," Burgess says, claiming for human beings an essential goodness and the freedom to choose the good. St. Augustine of Hippo would not have approved, and Augustinian views on Original Sin and a variety of innate, essential depravity are orthodox in Christian tradition — and my generally pious students didn't give a rat's ass. What concerned those who disapproved were the images of sex and violence in the film, and Burgess's once damnable, burn-at-the-stake heresy was no big deal.

      As I said: interesting.

      Also interesting and highly instructive were my students' fairly typical perceptions of the sex and violence in the film.

      To start with something memorable, the Rape Scene in the film and how my students remembered the rape but sometimes forgot that this is also the Crippling Scene. Kubrick's camera pays a lot of attention to the rape of Mrs. Alexander, a woman in young middle age, but it also shows in graphic detail the beating of Mr. Alexander, a man entering a vigorous old age — until that crippling beating and being forced to watch the rape. (Adding to the trauma, Mr. Alexander tells us that the rape killed his wife, but we only have his word for that, plus the problematic trope of rape being lethal to virtuous women. We can be confident, however, that Mrs. Alexander has died.)

     My students' attenuated concern for Mr. Alexander got me asking myself for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE a question from studies of Christopher Marlowe's plays on how audience's perceive violence. So I sat down with a stopwatch and timed the on-screen violence in the film and asked my students for their estimates of how much time we got to see violence against various characters.

      One of the reasons I'd probably get into trouble teaching Kubrick's film is that I think it ethical for a critic to sit with a stopwatch and get some numbers on who on screen is messing over whom and to what degree and for how long. Period. However much in Trumpian times the Left has endorsed fact-base studies, there were academic attacks on Empiricism in the late 20th/early 21st, and I suspect some of that ill-will toward number-crunching horrors still remains.

      It depends on how you evaluate such things, but the major victim of violence in A Clockwork Orange (novel and film) is its nasty antihero, Alex. My students were surprised with this because (I would argue),
            * In the tradition of audiences going back to that of the first English theatrical blockbuster, Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great, my students judged violence to a large degree in terms of the victims' worth, and Alex was an attractive but still violent, dangerous, and misogynistic little shit who had it coming. Except with Tamburlaine most of the audience apparently identified with a noble superman, the serial mass murderer Tamburlaine, and not his banal victims.
            * My students sometimes didn't see violence committed by the State and other authorities as violence. I told them that the State's claim was a monopoly on legitimate violence, but that the traditional idea was to allow that violence is violence, and they didn't argue the point; still, they didn't see justified violence as violence. Alex's acts of violence were violence; the violence of State authorities against him were in some sort of unnamed limbo.
            * Etc.

      My students' attitude was something like that mocked in the 1960s with the joke, "I hate violence and them violent demonstrators. Violent people should be taken out and shot!"

      Returning to A Clockwork Orange as novel and film would be interesting nowadays for how different groups would value the value put upon freedom by the story and the question of how much freedom should be restricted to protect decent folk from young monsters like Alex and his drugs. Not to mention how much young readers should identify with decent older people as opposed to guys nearer their age, however despicable those guys — or how much old teens and 20-somethings should be on the lookout for, and push back against, youth-bashing. And it would be fascinating in terms of victims.

      US President Donald J. Trump at least claimed to be appalled by the violence of killing babies with poison gas in Syria, so he blew up property and (enemy) people with Tomahawk missiles, and then went on to use in a related battle the MOAB ordnance: a very large explosive device. Justified or not we can argue about; what I find downright fascinating is the many Americans would not see Mr. Trump's actions as violent. It's unlikely Americans generally could have a rational argument about the actions of the all-too-real Mr. Trump; it's possible we could have one about Burgess's and Kubrick's fictional Alex.

      Or not: I'm not sure one could nowadays — or at least not this off-White male "one" — could teach A Clockwork Orange; and that would be unfortunate.  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Couple Quick Semi-Heresies from the Left on Trump Voters


       It's a basic point, academically expressed as, "People are 'multiply situated' and are rarely one thing." Now, it doesn't always seem that way for a reason I learned in some problematic lessons back in high school. Lesson one came when I was dumb enough to mutter aloud my dismissing of another student as a "TNSJ." I was overheard and pressed on the point and explained the initialism meant, "Typical" Chicago "North-Side Jew." The person asked me if I was not a "typical North-Side Jew," and I responded with something less reprehensible than my first comment: "I hope I'm not a typical anything." 

      We can miss that "All people are 'multiply situated'" because some people go beyond adolescence living stereotypes of "Professional FILL-IN-THE-BLANK." For them, my advice would be to dial back their "professionalism" to where they can say that "BLANK is my main identify and for good reasons" — e.g., being oppressed for it — "is my current priority.

      Now a fair number of Trump supporters are professional Americans, patriots, Christians, and so forth, and that is in the normal order of things. So is, in a group that large, a fair number of bigots, racists, and just assholes. If we judged every group by its worst people no group outside a congregation of saints — and a small congregation at that — could avoid condemnation. 
      What is more interesting among Trump voters is that a fair number seem motivated by issues of the White working class without being members of the actual working class, which in the USA is pretty heavily non-White anyway: 45% or so, and rising. A fair number of Trump voters seem to be not working class but insecurely middle class economically and motivated by fear of becoming working class. With some justification, they may fear they're in "zero-sum games" with people they (a) formerly didn't have to compete with, period, and (b) now have legal protections on the job and elsewhere that they lack. 

      The competition with new groups — women, non-Whites, new groups of immigrants — is something they're going to have to get used to, given the demographic trends and the rules of decency. But, there is this much of a legitimate and pressing complaint by various subdivisions of "White": The Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution needs to provide "equal protection" to everyone to some degree — in our multiple identities — and job protections like tenure need to be more general and less elite. Many Trump voters are motivated by "the politics of resentment," and the answer to that resentment isn't to bring others down but bring large groups of people up. Employers have too much power over most workers, period, and the "workers of the world" are distracted from that by getting divided up. For strong historical and political reasons, different groups have gotten needed extra protections, and that help can generate understandable envy. 

      We humans are multiply and complexly "situated" and have different roles. Most of us, though, for much of our lives, are workers, or unemployed. Whether you labor with mostly with your muscles or your mind, you still sell your labor, and you spend much of your time and devote much of your life to one job or another. Elite workers as Professional Professionals need to see that they — we for most of my life — probably supported Bernie Sanders and voted for Hillary Clinton but potentially share economic insecurity with middle-class Trump voters and share issues of economic power with workers generally. 

       An unnamed Lord says in Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well,

The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and
ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our
faults whipped them not; and our crimes would
despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.
And even so for our acts and words. I said a stupid, bigoted, self-threatening thing, but when challenged I was able to formulate something I believed and was able to expand upon the idea: "Only pigeons belong in pigeon holes," and there is problem if someone can legitimately be put into one. People sometimes can be with a smidgen of fairness because of a problematic line from another teenage Chicago North-Side Jew of the 1950s, dismissing a guy on the fringe of our group as living the stereotype of "a professional Jew": i.e., someone who not only put Judaism at the center of his life, but put Jewishness as the essence of his being — and let people know it.

* * *
      One area, though, where we need more group identification: age and generation; indeed we need again some Professional Youth. Young Americans are insecure and may not make it into the upper-levels of the working class. Transferring money from education and job training to health care and prisons (etc.) generally helps older people — especially those on Medicare — at some cost to younger people; ditto for declining to invest in the environment and infrastructure. Trump supporters tend to be fairly old, White, insecurely middle-class voters, and their representatives know what they're doing in making it difficult for, among other groups, young people to vote. And young people don't help if/when they demand candidates they can get all enthusiastic over. 

          Young people: The Trump administration is not your friend. But there was a backlash against the young starting in the late 1960s, and "the Youth" of that period are now pretty aged, but the backlash continues and has revved up, and you weren't helped much by the William J. Clinton administration either. Yes, you need to be forced to contribute to health insurance — but only if it's truly universal, such as Medicare for all, and only if that kind of transfer of money is offset by those investments in education and job training that you need now, and in protections for the environment and conserving of resources that only you will live long enough to enjoy.