Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In Case Anyone's Still Worrying about This—

I thought I'd remind you that making same-sex marriage legal will not cause churches to lose their tax exemption status. In fact, you may be interested to know that Marriage Cases—the ruling that Prop 8 tries to overturn—specifically made that point. "No religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs." You can read it here; start halfway through page 116 and read through the end of the paragraph on page 117.

Here's an explanation from a friend who's a lawyer in California, in reference to this article that was posted in a Facebook group:
Tax exemptions. No religious organization has ever lost its 501(c)(3) federal income tax exempt status for failure to recognize same-sex marriages. Any suggestion to the contrary is misleading or an outright lie.

However, some religious organizations have missed out on other tax benefits due to their acts. Most prominently, one church in New Jersey was receiving a special property tax credit because it had facilities that were open to the public. When it denied a lesbian couple access to that facility, it lost that property-tax credit.

This was an act of local state tax agency. Not only that, New Jersey isn't a same-sex marriage state. So if the problem is New Jersey's stance on same-sex marriage, then we should enact marriage equality everywhere.

One could make an argument (not an unreasonable one) that the New Jersey tax case should have come out differently. But ultimately, whatever one thinks of the merits of that case, it was not about legal marriage. So it's a total red herring. Most of the rest of the page [the article linked above] is based on misleading claims about antidiscrimination laws.

Catholic Charities did not run afoul of marriage provisions in Massachusetts law. It did run afoul of antidiscrimination provisions.

(Religious groups having to accept new definitions of marriage. [This is one of the claims made in the article linked above.] Um, under what statute? This is left vague because it's a a bullshit claim.)

Marriage equality doesn't require religious institutions to interact with people in any particular way. For instance, Jehovah's Witnesses are legally allowed to marry, but Mormons aren't forced to interact with them in marriages. 

However, many jurisdictions (Massachusetts and California among them) have anti-discrimination statutes stating that businesses may not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. And that is that law that got Catholic Charities in trouble. It didn't have anything to do with same-sex marriage.

That's also the law that the New Mexico photographer was sued under. And the law under which a lesbian couple sued a California doctor. Now, an argument can be made that those statutes are too broad, and that there should be more exemptions available.

But that's not the issue here. The issue is that those acts are being deceptively framed as consequences of gay marriage. They aren't. They're the result of anti-discrimination statutes. Those statutes are not affected by marriage laws. 

(In fact, once again, look at the states involved. Many of them, like New Mexico with the photographer, are not gay marriage states at all. So the argument can't hold water, "defeat gay marriage or this will happen.")  

This is an incredibly misleading line of argument, and it's used a lot. The claim, "Prop 8 must pass or Calif doctors will have to treat lesbians" is misleading. Calif doctors have to treat lesbians anyway; Prop 8 does not affect this at all. 

And this article is one you may have seen before, by BYU law professor Morris Thurston, explaining much of the same information. It's his response to "Six Consequences the Coalition has Identified if Proposition 8 Fails," that document that was going around in 2008. I just happened to be reading some online conversations about this the other day, and I thought I'd share.

It's funny how we're having the exact same conversations we were having four years ago, isn't it? You'd think we might have made some progress, with all the talking everyone's doing. I guess that's probably the problem, though—talking isn't much good if no one's listening.

While we're on this subject, I would like to make sure I go on record as saying that even though churches are still free to discriminate against gay people even if Prop 8 is struck down, I think it is very wrong of them to do so. Frankly, I don't believe that homosexuality is a sin any more than I believe that black people are inferior to white people. I think it's a deeply, deeply rooted cultural prejudice for which people have used religion as justification in exactly the same way that people have used it to justify war, misogyny, and discrimination against interracial couples. Jesus never talked about it, as far as we know—and as the Old Testament also condones slavery, polygamy, rape, and murder while forbidding things like wearing certain fabrics and eating shellfish—I'm just not seeing it as an acceptable basis for this kind of "moral" discrimination. 

All of which only matters to the extent that I want to get my feelings out there, because as far as marriage legislation goes, it doesn't matter whether or not you think God condemns homosexuality. The United States is just not a theocracy, and we do not allow one religion to write the rules for all Americans. Even if you honestly believe that you are acting in gay people's best interest—or society's—by trying to keep it illegal, neither God nor the Constitution nor your fear gives you the right to do it. Grownup human beings have the right to marry whomever they please, and there is nothing to be lost but your own sense of superiority if they are finally able to claim that right. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan—9/10

I can't tell you how good it feels to finally be able to say that I've read this book. I still think of 10 Things I Hate About You whenever I hear the title, and it makes me feel like I'm in on something now that I've read it. It's definitely one that I would recommend, for so many reasons but - if nothing else - for the reason that it was such an absolutely earth-shattering book at the time it was originally published, and it had a truly enormous impact on history in the United States and around the world. People aren't kidding, either, when they say that even now, fifty years later, it's still surprisingly relevant. Many parts of it have a definite historical feel to them, but there's also an uncomfortable amount that could have been written last year.

One thing that especially stuck out to me, and that's mentioned in Anna Quindlen's introduction at the beginning, is the magnitude of research that went into the writing of this book. Betty Friedan did a ton of research, and there had basically never been anything of the kind before this undertaking. She talked to a lot of American women. She read through the magazines and newspapers. She talked to professors, doctors, psychologists, advertising executives, magazine editors. She compiled the numbers, and she gave definition to the unknown thing that had been plaguing American women for two decades already—"the problem that has no name." Betty Friedan gave it a name, and in doing so, she lit the spotlight that would begin the feminist revolution of the sixties and seventies. 

If you're interested in checking it out but aren't sure you can undertake the whole thing right now, I think the first ten chapters will give you a really good grasp of the whole situation. The first three chapters set the stage, for those of us who weren't alive/adults in the 50s, describing "the problem that has no name." Chapter eight, "The Sex-Directed Educators," describes the kind of education girls were getting at the time, and how it differed from the educations women had gotten in the late 30s and early 40s. Chapter nine, "The Sexual Sell," is probably the most fascinating chapter in the whole book—it contains the results of her analysis of, and interviews with, the advertising industry. You would not believe how much of our cultural  ideas about women's "place" and "role" stems from very specific marketing techniques designed to manipulate housewives into (1) retreating from the workplace so men could take their jobs, and (2) just. buying. stuff. Seriously—this chapter was shocking.

Chapter ten is called "Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available," and ends up describing a lot of how I feel about the subject. Chapter eleven contains some fairly appalling statements about homosexuality—how it's caused by overbearing mothers, and all that kind of Freudesque nonsense—and I didn't care much for it. I also thought it was particularly ironic that, after she spent all of chapter five discrediting Freud's misogynistic and sex-obsessive theories, Friedan relies on them in discussing homosexuality. And chapter fourteen, "A New Life Plan for Women," contains some really fantastic ideas for the future that I'm disappointed to say I don't think have ever been put into practice.

You really should read the whole thing if you can, if for no other reason than that it's hugely historical and represents one of the biggest social changes our country has ever seen. This is one big "to-read" that feels really good to check off my list.

How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran—9/10

Well, you've been wondering, and so I am not going to keep you in suspense: Yes. This book is amazing.

Caitlin Moran is British, she's a feminist, she's a music journalist, and she's hilarious. I promise, that is really all you need to know.

What's that? You want to be enticed? Well, all right. In the first place, before you read this book you must watch the video that is essentially a trailer for it. You need to have her voice in your head, and you can't really get a better teaser than this.  


More enticements? On the subject of how the media obsesses over women's bodies and talks as though a woman's entire self is reflected in the pounds she is or isn't gaining over the weekend:

Lily Allen, Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston, Michelle Obama, Victoria Beckham, Amy Winehouse, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Madonna... There can't be a magazine-consuming woman in the Western world who's not been called upon to speculate on the mental and emotional health of these women on the basis of a single bad photo of her. I've read more about Oprah Winfrey's arse than I have about the rise of China as an economic superpower. I fear this is no exaggeration. Perhaps China is rising as an economic superpower because it's women aren't spending all their time reading about Oprah Winfrey's arse. If I knew more about China, and less about Oprah Winfrey's arse, I could probably argue a direct cause-and-effect.
 And on the subject of what sexism is really about:
I don't think sexism is a "man vs. woman" thing. The Man is not The Man simply because he's a man. Sometimes, The Man is a woman... As I start to watch men and women interacting in the adult arena—in work, relationships, and marriages but mainly, to be fair, in the pub—I don't come to believe, as many people do, including the Goddess Greer, that men secretly hate women... No. Even though I'm quite drunk half the time, and often wearing so much eyeliner that I am technically blind, I don't see it as man vs. woman at all. What I see, instead, is winner vs. loser.

Most sexism is down to men being accustomed to us being the losers. That's what the problem is. We just have bad status... For men raised prefeminism, this is what they were raised on: second-class citizen mothers; sisters who needed to be married off; female schoolmates going to secretarial school, then becoming housewives. Women who disengaged. Disappeared. These men are the CEOs of our big companies, the big guys on the stock markets, the advisors to governments... The entrenched bias against the working, liberated female will only die out when they do. Even those men born postfeminism... however much they might believe in the theoretical equality of women and respect those around them, are scarcely unaware of the great sweep of history that went before. A quiet voice inside—suppressed but never wholly silenced—says, "If women are the true equals of men, where's the proof?" And it is not just a voice inside men. It is inside women, too.

Even the most ardent feminist historian, male or female—citing Amazons and tribal matriarchies and Cleopatra—can't conceal that women have basically done fuck-all for the last 100,000 years... We have no Mozart; no Einstein; no Galileo; no Gandhi. No Beatles, no Churchill, no Hawking, no Columbus. It just didn't happen. Pretending that women have had a pop at all this before but just ultimately didn't do as well as the men... gives strength to the belief that women simply aren't as good as men, full stop. That things should just carry on as they are—with the world shaped around, and honoring, the priorities, needs, whims, and successes of men. Women are over, without even having begun. When the truth is that we haven't begun at all. Of course we haven't. We'll know it when we have.

I love basically everything Caitlin Moran has to say about modern feminism. But now some words of warning: There is language in this book. (You may not know that the British use the f-word about as casually as Americans use "shit," but it's true. They do. Watch Bridget Jones's Diary and you'll see.) 

There is also a lot of talk about vaginas, pubic hair, and masturbating. Hardcore feminists tend to address these subjects pretty bluntly—which I must admit, I think is unbelievably refreshing. I am hoping not to scare anyone off with these cautionary statements, because this really is a truly fantastic book that addresses so many essential issues in an absolutely gut-bustingly-hilarious British way. More than once, I had to stop reading before I wanted to, because Mike couldn't sleep with me laughing aloud in the bed next to him. (Incidentally, he is now reading the book himself. Started even before I finished, so I had to keep taking it back from him. And I love when he stops to read me the very same passages that had made me laugh.)

Really, really, you should pick it up. If your library doesn't have it, submit a purchase request. (Mine doesn't, but I just bought my own copy anyway because I knew I wanted to have it.) Check it out, and let me know what you think when you do.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Matinee Idol

Today hasn't been my day. I think it's actually the first day in over a month that I have been in a bad mood, because my new job is just fantastic and it's impossible to be in a bad mood while I'm at work. 

It hasn't been the worst day, it's just not been a great one. When I got dressed this morning, I put on my favorite sweater and discovered that there's a hole in it, right on my stomach and very visible as the sweater is dark purple and the tank top I was wearing underneath was white. This is terrible timing as winter is just starting, and I have only two sweaters. I don't really like the other one, which is a little bit ugly and has a really wide neckline (something I will never understand in a sweater) so I end up not being able to take off my scarf the whole day because my neck gets cold. I was planning on finally being able to buy a couple more sweaters next paycheck, so that I could have a decent number of sweaters for the first time since my last favorite sweater was ruined two winters ago. But now when I buy those new sweaters it will just be like I'm replacing the stock I had, not adding to it. I felt kind of depressed all morning because it seems like the universe just doesn't like me to have good clothes; something always happens to them, especially my favorite ones. I'm really clumsy, so I spill stuff a lot and it always happens to be stuff like spaghetti sauce or oil - or I tear things, which is what happened to my sweater on one of the bookshelves at work a couple weeks ago (only I didn't notice it until today, because it was the first time I'd worn it again since it had been washed and it was the washer that made the hole visible). 

Work was good as usual, though, so I forgot about it and had a mostly good day there except that it was so cold (I wore my hoodie and scarf over my sweater and didn't warm up at all until noon, an hour before my shift ended) and I had a headache that just lurked vaguely the whole time. 

Then I came home and got on Facebook to discover that my sister Dafni has been posting pictures all year long that I haven't been seeing in my news feed except for when she tags me in them or someone else - like my mom - shares them. I don't know how my settings got all messed up, but I discovered the same thing about my other sister Talia's status updates a few weeks ago. It was kind of an unpleasant shock to learn that she'd been posting pictures of my beautiful family all year and I'd been missing them, and then when I was going through and looking at them I just had this crushing wave of missing them all and I started crying horribly, which made the headache flare up into a full-on, have to lie down even though having my head on the pillow hurts too kind of headache. I took Excedrin (which I try to only do for extreme headaches) and drank a ton of water and started reading some junior fiction to get my mind off of it, and eventually the headache went away. 



I discovered that, somehow, I like Rufus Wainwright even though I don't like his voice. I'm not sure how that works but it's true. And that's where the name of this post comes from - it has nothing to do with anything, but I couldn't think of anything to name the post besides "blech" and I'm pretty sure I already have posts with that same name floating around out there somewhere on the internet, and incidentally I wonder how Blogger creates the URLs for blog posts that have the same name. I suppose it wouldn't be hard to experiment and figure out, but I don't really care that much.

Mike made dinner and then we went to Ross to try and exchange one of the two shirts I'd bought last week, but in the one week since I was there, they completely ran out of every single long-sleeved shirt in the brands I'd discovered fit me well, and I couldn't find anything else that worked. So that was kind of disappointing. We went to Barnes and Noble and I got a mocha, which was delicious, except that I guess the fact that I'd taken Excedrin already today made the caffeine dose a little too high and I got kind of shaky. And sleepy (which is funny, but yes, that's what caffeine does to me (when it has any effect at all; usually it doesn't) - it makes me tired, not energized). We went on a short walk when we got home, but now I'm going to bed because I'm tired and I work tomorrow morning, and Mike's taking the opportunity to go see The Expendables 2 at the dollar theater. 

In more interesting news, this was a brilliant week for finishing amazing feminist literature: How to Be a Woman, The Feminine Mystique, and The Vagina Monologues all done. And I've started The Woman's Bible, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and read a biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and several picture books about amazing women in history, and a children's novel by Sylvia Plath, and I went to Counterpoint last Saturday and spent the day with Mormon feminists like Joanna Brooks and Margaret Toscano. I think that is the most feminism that has existed in one week... ever. And it was awesome.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Around the World on Eighty Legs, by Amy Gibson—9/10

I think this is my favorite of the Beehive nominees (possibly behind Dear Hot Dog, but possibly before it). The poems are funny and clever and they fit really well, and the illustrations made me laugh more than once.

From the Andes to the Amazon: South America (and Beyond)
Pirahna 
Not only
are his jaws
ferocious,
his table
manners are
atrocious.  

From Malaysia to the Himalayas: Asia
Tiger
His roar
could shake the forest floor,
but tiger opens not his jaws—

He steals on silent, padded paws
and leaves the talking to his
claws.

Down Under and Out Back: Where Other than Australia?
Dingo
An Aussie farmer
had a dog,
and dingo
was his name-o.

The flock of sheep
he liked to keep
was never quite
the same-o.

He wasn't dense.
He built a fence
through hard and heavy
labor—

A dog that's penned
is man's best friend.
(Good fences
make good neighbors.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Brain Dump—and Then, Real Posts!

Mostly, actually, it's just two thoughts that I've had half-written for a couple weeks now, and then I will be trying to post a little bit more often with some things I've been thinking about.

Thought #1:
If your idea of the "correct" family would be destroyed by women having equal rights in the law, then your idea of the correct family is by definition a sexist one.

Thought #2:
I've said before that I think using the word "evil" in political discussions is very inappropriate, because that is an absurdly strong word to apply to someone you most likely don't even know personally, and not a judgment we are qualified to make about others. You know what else I think about it? I think it doesn't even matter if someone actually is evil. I still believe that it is very, very unlikely the person you're calling evil is actually evil. But, essentially, it doesn't even matter if they are.

It's like talking about Hitler and Nazis. There are legitimate comparisons that can be drawn there, in political discussions—ones that are more subtle (and more relevant) than the good old hyperbolic Gestapo reference. But it doesn't matter. Because you CANNOT bring up Hitler in a political debate without being immediately discredited. You call someone Hitler, and you're done. It's a ridiculous exaggeration, a shameless emotional ploy, and it's just not acceptable in rational conversation. That's how I feel about the word "evil." It doesn't matter if you truly believe a person is; it's not something that can be objectively proven, and it's not a legitimate point against someone. So, totally aside from how reluctant we should be to make such an enormous judgment about someone... It's just not going to get us anywhere. Let's try something else.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Being Poor

This post by John Scalzi was in my Facebook news feed today. It was shared by The Christian Left, a group I follow, and it caught my eye because the line they quoted jumped out at me for the unbelievable coincidence:
Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.
That happens to be me right now. I've never had my wisdom teeth out, because the top two haven't come in at all, and the bottom two have been lurking (mostly) bearably for a few years. Every so often, though—once a year, or maybe once every six months—the one on the right gets so swollen that I can't chew, and hurts for days on end. But I can't afford to get them taken out, and this time I can't even afford to go buy more ibuprofen when I run out, so I've been going without whenever I can and just trying to deal with the pain.

You should read the article, but I'm going to pull out some of the lines that struck me as being especially poignant (or relevant to my own life).
Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.
Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.
Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.
Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.
Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.
Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.
Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.
Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.
Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.
Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.
Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.
Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.
Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.
Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.
Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.
Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.
Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.
Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.
Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.
Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.
Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.
Being poor is seeing how few options you have.
Being poor is running in place.
Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.
And my own addition: Being poor is learning that when you used to think you were poor because you had to eat at Taco Bell, there was so much worse that things could actually be.

Do you know what the most ridiculous part of all this is? With how bad things have been for Mike and me, we are still so much better off than hundreds of thousands of people in this country. Yes, it has been absolutely awful having to live with our parents for three and a half years of the five that we've been married. Each time we've been crammed into one bedroom with only just enough space to walk around the bed, most of our stuff filling up the garage or another bedroom with boxes. But we had our parents close by, and they had enough room for us to stay, and so many people don't have that. If we didn't leave near our parents, we would be living in a homeless shelter right now. No, Mike's knee has still not healed from his injury in May, and yes, it has kept him from taking some better-paying jobs. But so far he's been lucky enough to be able to manage. Not everyone is. Yes, Mike and I both have depression and anxiety and can't afford therapy or medication or even St. John's Wort from the health food store. Yes, it has affected our ability to hold down jobs, and yes, that has caused us to get behind on student loan bills that collectively make up about fifty percent of our income. But so far, somehow, we've been able to play catch-up. Not everyone can.

This is why I get so angry when people talk about America's "entitled" poor. Once and for all, I just have to say this: If you seriously believe what you say about 47 percent of this country being lazy and entitled people who refuse to take personal responsibility for their lives, you are either being deluded, or you are a very unkind person. That's all there is to it.

Most of the people I know are not unkind people, I don't think. So that leaves us with option one: You are allowing yourselves to be deluded. IT IS NOT TRUE that people on welfare don't work. IT IS NOT TRUE that they just refuse to take responsibility for their lives. IT IS NOT TRUE that they think the government owes them. And IT IS NOT OKAY for you to be posting judgmental status updates about how "if you can afford to buy cigarettes, you shouldn't be on welfare." If you are not poor enough to be on welfare yourself, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. You do. not. know. what another person's situation is. You do not know what kind of help they have coming from other people in their lives. You do not know what their needs are. You absolutely do not know what their motivations are. And if you think that you are behaving the way Christ told you to behave, you are mistaken. Jesus Christ did not tell you to help only those you think deserve it. He did not tell you to care more about not having a "nanny state" than about helping people have food to eat. He did not tell you that only you as an individual are allowed to help the poor, and not society as a group.

But he DID tell you not to judge. He specifically did tell you that.

So just. Stop. Doing it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien—8/10

I liked this even better than The Lord of the Rings (which I haven't technically finished, but I've read The Fellowship of the Ring and most of The Two Towers). With a few exceptions, The Hobbit went faster and had more compressed action—which isn't necessarily a thing that makes me like a book, but in this case, it works to make the book more readable.

I love the way Tolkien writes dialogue, and I love the whole Middle Earth world. The one thing that didn't quite click for me about this book, though, is that the premise didn't seem compelling enough. In LOTR, Frodo must take the ring to Mordor because if it's not destroyed, all of Middle Earth will be. The whole reason for the journey in The Hobbit is that some dwarves want some treasure. I think we're supposed to understand that for dwarves, treasure is that compelling a force—and there's some business about reclaiming their family's territory, etc. I can sort of see that. But I don't see why Gandalf would have recruited Bilbo to go on such a dangerous journey for no larger reason than that the dwarves need a burglar. (And why do the dwarves need a burglar? I never understood this, either. Bilbo turns out to be immeasurably valuable to them, but that comes as a surprise; in the beginning, they don't think he'll be very useful. So why did they bring him along in the first place?)

Also, a question that keeps coming up when I watch the movie trailer—why wouldn't Bilbo have told Frodo about this journey? Why would he keep it a secret, when he's told Frodo about other adventures? I'm thinking of the beginning of the trailer, where Bilbo's voice-over says, "While I can honestly say I've told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it" and then the music goes all ominous, as though this is a painful part of Bilbo's history that's about to be shared. I don't quite understand the basis for that, unless it's just something they added to the movie for drama. (But for the record, I'm looking forward to the movie so much, and I really did love this book.)


Published 1937. Widely banned from school libraries in the 1960s and 1970s. Burned en masse in New Mexico in 2001, and still challenged often in public schools.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Because It's Not About You

It's been a long time since I've participated in a discussion where this kind of sentiment was expressed:
“It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people yourself is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness. People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed and sheltered. If we’re compassionate, we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.”
-Penn Gillette
What's amazing to me is how many people seem to think that welfare is about charity.

In the first place, this business about charity at gunpoint doesn't make any sense. It's inaccurate. Government safety nets are not forcing people (at gunpoint or otherwise) to be charitable. There is no law saying, "Americans must donate x amount of their income to the poor." There is, however, a law saying that Americans must pay taxes. And then as a country, we decide what to do with those taxes. Deciding to use those taxes for something that could be described as "charity" does not mean that you are being forced to give to charity. It just means that part of the definition of charity overlaps with a governmental responsibility.

And like I've said before, I do believe this is a governmental responsibility. The Declaration of Independence says that we believe life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights, and that "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" (emphasis mine). Being able to feed, house, and maintain the physical health of your family falls directly under that category of life

Governments are instituted for the purpose of securing these rightsso, things like welfare and health care absolutely are issues the government should be involved in. "The consent of the governed" is necessary to decide how it should happen, but that doesn't mean that an inadequate solution (like "individual charity") should be adopted just because the majority wants to act in its own self-interest. These rights are "unalienable" for all peoplenot just the ones who make enough money. 

Our country is not a flat-out democracy, where majority rules no matter what; there are basic rights for every person that cannot be infringed upon, even by the majority. We also have a free market, where profit is considered the highest good. But we have founded this country on the belief that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—not just the ones with enough money—and that specifically goes against the idea of a free market. So that is the balancing act required by a nation like ours: to have a pseudo-democracy where the decisions are made by the people (aka the majority), but also to secure certain rights for all citizens, which sometimes means acting against the will of the majority. (See civil rights, suffrage, etc.)

This statement at the top—it's operating under a totally false assumption. The purpose of safety nets is not to force people to be charitable or compassionate. If you fight against the idea of the government making sure poor people can still access the basic necessities of life, people might ask why you are not being compassionate, especially if you talk about Christian values a lot in your other political discourse. But that doesn't mean the reason we institute welfare programs is to force you to be compassionate. Welfare isn't about teaching you to be charitable. It's about keeping people from starving just because they can't make enough money to survive in our free market economy.

We pay taxes because a government has to have money to be able to serve us. Then we decide how the government uses those taxes. That's all this process is. The idea of the government forcing you at gunpoint to give charitably is just not even relevant, because paying your taxes is not charity. No one cares if you get "moral credit" for contributing tax money to welfare (and you're right, you probably won't if you're fighting against it). Because this isn't an issue of your moral growth. It's an issue of Americans' right to live even if they are poor.

What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones—6/10

This book was not as engaging as other young adult romance I've read—Sarah Dessen, E. Lockhart, Judy Blume, Louise Rennison, Laurie Halse Anderson, Lauren Myracle, Carolyn Mackler, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, even Stephenie Meyer all do it much better—but I have to admit I do like the ones that are written in free verse because it's easy to just breeze right through them. I can see myself maybe reading more of this series at some point, but it's not something I feel the need to pick up immediately.

Like the books by the authors I listed above, What My Mother Doesn't Know is all about a young girl's high school experience. There's no outside force, no bigger social issue or saving-the-world plotline like in The Hunger Games or Uglies; it's just the story of a teenager's everyday life, love interests, and problems with her parents. Sophie's first few relationships are shallow, impulsive teen flings, but I think the relationship that's in progress when the book ends actually shows a lot of growth and maturity on her part. The guy is someone who gets made fun of a lot, and who Sophie herself has always avoided and considered weird, but you see her make almost unconscious choices to change her behavior toward him until finally she realizes she has feelings for him.

According to Wikipedia (and an ALA article that I can't get to because it has a redirect loop), the source of the challenge is most often the "poem" called "Ice Capades," in which Sophie is entertained by the reaction of her bare breasts to a cold window pane.


Published 2003. Thirty-one on the list of most challenged books for 2000-2009.
Reasons challenged: nudity, offensive language, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Starting With Alice, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor—8/10

I didn't know this book was a prequel, but for my first time reading the series I suppose it works just as well as beginning with the original first book. After just one book I understand why this series is so popular, and I went and checked out the other two prequels the day after finishing. I'll probably be reading them this week since I only have two shifts at work.

Alice is an adorable character, and I love her dad and brother, too. The family has just moved from Chicago to Maryland, and Alice is starting third grade in a new place. At the beginning of the book she gets a Barbie doll, and her brother points out that real girls don't look like Barbie, so she strips down and compares herself in the mirror before deciding that Barbie is a stupid toy (this might be some of the nudity to which the challenges refer, or it could be something from the later books; I don't know yet). The Alice series and I were already off on the right foot at this point. It's your average young-girl coming-of-age type series, and I've only read this one book so far, but if the rest of the series is as good, I'm planning on loving it. I only wish I'd gotten to read them when I was Alice's age.


First book in the series (The Agony of Alice) published 1985. The books in the Alice series were the second-most challenged books in the decade of 2000-2009, and fourteenth-most from 1990-1999. 
Reasons challenged: nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint.

My Mom's Having a Baby!: A Kid's Month-By-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler—8/10


I have to admit that I don't have a ton of patience for people who freak out about books like this. It's "a kid's month-by-month guide to pregnancy." It's a nonfiction book for children about how human beings reproduce. Yes, there is going to be mention of the reproductive system. What kind of children do we want to raise, that we think we should be able to explain pregnancy to them without it occurring to them to ask how the baby got in the mommy in the first place?

The first review on the book's Goodreads page made me laugh, so I have to share it with you. This was my favorite part:
Nudity: check. Well, I was surprised too, when we went from a description of the “twenty teeny, tiny buds inside his mouth that will become his teeth” and turned the page to find dad and mom in their birthday suits. No, I was more than surprised, I was offended! How dare you just throw that nudity in my face! Surprises in stories are great, but you still have to put a little effort into the suspense building, the lead up, the foreshadowing. You can’t just go from teeth to a description of fallopian tubes. RESPECT THE READER.

Sex education: in a book called “My Mom’s Having a Baby???” Come on! At least warn a person! Talk about out of left field…
Until I finished reading the review, I have to tell you—I honestly thought those two paragraphs were written sarcastically. In fact I still sort of wonder. "Respect the reader?" "Sex education in a book called My Mom's Having a Baby???" Well, see my previous paragraph. Yes, I think sex education is a one-hundred-percent relevant piece of information in a book about pregnancy, and I think the warning came in the subtitle: "A Kid's Month-By-Month Guide to Pregnancy." Because you know how people get pregnant? Yes. They have sex.

And for the record, "dad and mom in their birthday suits" = illustrated drawings of nude bodies with body parts diagrammed, like you would find in an anatomy book. I feel like the woman who wrote this review was forgetting the fact that this is a nonfiction book about pregnancy. It's not a story, and there doesn't need to be "suspense" (??) or foreshadowing. It's told from a little girl's perspective, because that's what makes it a children's book. But the content is factual, and if a reader is surprised by that in a nonfiction book, I'm gonna have to say that I think that's on them.

This is an excellent book for explaining the process of pregnancy to children. Yes, it's very straightforward (which is, of course, why it's on the banned books list). It uses words like penisvaginacervix, and testicle. And it does give a very open description of how a baby is made.
Mom says that when a man and a woman love each other so much that they want to make a baby, they lie really close to each other and hug and kiss. All this hugging and kissing feels nice. It makes the man and woman want to get even closer to each other.

The man puts his penis between the woman's legs and inside her vagina. After a while, a white liquid shoots out of the man's penis and into the woman's vagina. The liquid is full of millions of sperm. They swim up the woman's vagina, through her uterus, and into one of her fallopian tubes. If a sperm and egg join together, nine months later, a new baby will be born!
So I can certainly understand a person not wanting to read it with their own children. Many parents aren't comfortable with that kind of detail on the subject, and if they don't want their child to read this book, that is absolutely their prerogative. But they don't get to say that no one can read it. And that's why we have Banned Books Week.


Published 2005. Fourth most challenged book in 2011.
Reasons challenged: nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.