End of October…4 Years Ago

Hi Faithful Readers! As a result of a visit from my parents last week, I wasn’t able to post all of my thoughts from my first blog, Peaceful Ponderings. Thus, without further adieu, posts from the final days of October 2007:

October 26, 2007 – A Baneful Ban

You must be wondering, “Wow, this so-called, self-professed liberal has had a blog for a month now and has not mentioned the abortion issue even once?” Well, fret not, loyal reader, because here’s the post you’ve been awaiting with bated breath.

According to BBC.com today, Nicaragua is in the midst of a life and death battle, the women at the center of it all. The country has implemented a new law, forbidding abortions on all grounds, even in cases of rape and when a mother’s life is at risk. Doctors and women who perform or undergo abortions are liable to be imprisoned for up to 6 years. This presents a strong dividing line between the Pro-Choicers and the Pro-Lifers. As a Pro-Choicer, I believe that an action like this on the government’s part is truly wrong, causing more deaths annually than necessary. Should a mother die in childbirth, it is likely that the child will die as well; in the least, the child will be born motherless.

Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the law is that women who conceive out of rape cannot abort. The article entitled “Divisions deep over abortion ban,” reports on a young girl who has gone through this situation: “She sat beside her mother as she relived the moment she was raped at the age of 11. Her daughter, who is now nearly two, was conceived as a result of the attack” (Dreaper, BBC.com). Can you imagine being a mere child and having a child of your own, a permanent reminder of a grisly incident you will never live down? What’s worse for this particular young mother is that her rapist attacked again, two years later. Without a law protecting her, she had to turn to other means because, as she herself said, “’I had to have the abortion because with my age I couldn’t have two children.’” Not only does she lack the right to rid herself of an unwanted pregnancy at an impossible young age, but her attacker has not been reprimanded for his crimes. “’I’m angry because I know who my attacker is. He is 22 years old. I see him in front of my house and he is just laughing.’

The issue is exacerbated in a country like Nicaragua, with less access to proper medical treatment than in the US (although, the US is not without its healthcare issues, believe you me). Illegal abortions are most likely riskier than in the Western world, but when you are 13 years old with a child and another on the way, you will do what you have to do.

What’s most troubling is to read about a Pro-Lifers response to such circumstances. Instead of sympathizing with the victim – not the child, but the woman – many feel that these women will be learning a valuable lesson, even if they choose to seek abortions outside of the realm of the law. One Nicaraguan obstetrician said, “’Yes, people are still going to have abortions but now they will self-consciously know they are doing something wrong, as defined by the law.’” You can almost hear the note of justification in his voice.

Luckily, not all physicians follow the same line of thinking. The opposite view is conveyed well by Dr. Arguello, head of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine: “’As a physician, you feel as though you are nothing,” he said. ‘This government is saying – if you are pregnant and it might harm you, it doesn’t matter – keep going.’” What kind of government can condone such a law when it is hurting its people more than helping?

One Nigaraguan opponent of the law put it perfectly in yet another BBC.com article on the same issue: “’They are forcing women and girls to die. They are not pro-life, they are pro-death’” (“Nicaragua votes to ban abortions”). I suppose a Pro-Lifer could respond that Pro-Choicers are pro-death, taking the life of an un-born child. But, at what cost are we talking about? If we are forcing children to have children because they don’t have an option otherwise, how many lives are being saved? If anything, two lives are forever maimed: the young mother whose future is destroyed, and the baby who has no one to properly care for him/her.

As the age of girls coming into puberty is growing lower and lower across the globe, these are matters of significant importance. Back in February a 9 year old Nicaraguan girl was battling this ban after becoming pregnant after a rape (“Raped Nicaraguan girl aborts baby”). 9 YEARS OLD. I honestly do not understand how anyone could make a valid case in favor of a 9 year old having a baby. Try me!

There is currently a controversy in the US over the sale of birth control pills to middle school girls, directly responding to this drop in the age of first menstruation. Earlier this week the NY Times reported on just this happening in a Maine middle school (Zezima, “Not All Are Pleased at Plan to Offer Birth Control at Maine Middle School,” 21 Oct 2007). Many are up in arms, seeing the allowance as a message condoning sexual activity for 6-8th graders. What we are really experiencing is a Catch-22 situation: middle schoolers are becoming pregnant, so birth control should be available to them; but, if birth control is available, more young girls are liable to be sexually active. Opponents are inquiring about the long-term effects at beginning the pill at a young age. My response? What are the long-term effects of having a baby at a young age?

The same premise underlies both issues: nobody likes abortion, nobody wants 12 and 13 year olds to be having sex, but, nevertheless, it is happening and it is better to have options for these people rather than restrictions.

***

October 27, 2007 – Are you a ‘Classist’?

In many ways, we all are and yet, I doubt the majority of us would define ourselves as such. People who are racist usually know they are because (even though race is a man-made trait, not found in our genes) skin color is visible. Even homophobic people generally know when they dislike GLBTs, even if it can be more difficult to pick us out of a crowd. But when you are classist, I would venture to guess you don’t acknowledge it; even more, I doubt you even know you are.

As of late I have been experiencing classism more than ever before. It’s become clear that the classism of my elders is brushing off on me and my decisions in terms of who to befriend and where to go. You see, I would probably be considered your typical, upper middle-class citizen, living in the suburbs in a two-story house on a double culdesac, and, most importantly, never in want of anything. My parents have done an incredible job providing for our family. Most of the people in our town can say the same thing.

I also live in a town that borders one of the poorer areas of the state. It is usually the place to go at night if you are looking for drugs or wanting to get mugged – at least, according to those in my town who never go there.

But, nevertheless, I have been going there more and more over the past couple of months. One of my friends happens to be dating a man who lives there and, as a good friend usually does, I have wanted to hang out with them. Surprisingly, I have not had anything stolen from me, nor have random people solicited me for illegal substances. As a matter of fact, the people I have come to call friends are much more interesting and fun to be around than many of those who live around me.

This being the case, I’m forced to step back and wonder why I have been dissuaded from entering the so-called “bad part” of the state. Sure, the poorer people tend to live here. Why? Because it is cheap of course. In fact, the majority of residents tend to be immigrants – illegal or otherwise – who have come from a variety of places, mostly Central and South America. They have endless stories of hardship and they appreciate what the United States can give them then the majority of native Americans I know. They are grateful, compassionate and friendly if you only open yourself up to them a little.

There was an article in The New York Times several months ago that dealt with the issues of classism in our society, specifying the invisibility of the phenomena and how widespread it is. Author of A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Ruby Payne has dedicated much of her life to this issue. She currently tours the States, giving speeches and workshops on the class gap, questioning the reality of class by opening peoples’ eyes to truthful stereotypes. “In poverty, the present is most important. In the middle class, it’s the future. In wealth, it’s the past. The key question about food in poverty: Did you have enough? In the middle class: Did you like it? In wealth: Was it presented well?” (Tough, “The Class-Consciousness Raiser,” 10 June 2007). It’s easy to laugh at such evident satires, but then you have to look at Payne’s observations a second time to realize that, wow, this is true. As the article stipulates later, “class cluelessness is rampant.

When was the last time you thought about your class and what it meant to your life? Even if you don’t consider it often – if ever – I guarantee it is a factor that has shaped your life, possibly more than any other factor. “Your class, Payne says, determines everything: your eating habits, your speech patterns, your family relations. It is possible to move out of the class you were born into, either up or down, she says, but the transition almost always means a great disruption to your sense of self. And you can ascend the class ladder only if you are willing to sacrifice many of your relationships and most of your values — and only if you first devote yourself to careful study of the hidden rules of the class you hope to enter.” How very true. For example, going with my friend to visit her boyfriend, I rarely if ever tell my parents where I am going (and I usually do, since I am still living at home). I know they will judge me and attempt to keep me home or, at least, tell me not to go there. My friend is no different. After dating this man for 4 or 5 months, she still hadn’t told her family. She knew they would dissuade her from continuing the relationship.

But why? The people who live next to us are no different than we are. Many of them are more worldly and better people than those I know with wealth. They appreciate the money they have and they are much more responsible with it. They also know it is not the be-all, end-all of life as we know it. They cherish their relationships and friendships over material items. I respect them. I wish, in many ways, that I could have had the more difficult life they have come to know as their own because I know I would be a stronger person in many ways. Thus, I continue to see these new friends of mine, learning from them every time I’m in their presence. Claiming to be an open-minded person should be classless, should it not? Payne describes how she’s been in every class in some form or another, and how she’s learned different things from each. The most important, however, is how to move between the classes fluidly and non-judgmentally. The more we all learn to understand each other, the more our differences will give way to the similarities that are at the center of everything.

***

October 28, 2007 – The Death of a Solution

I just watched a 2006 documentary I’ve been meaning to see for a very long time and now I am enraged, infuriated, frustrated and very sad. The film is WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR and it is a must-see for every car owner out there today. The premise is simple: Writer/Director Chris Paine “investigates the events leading to the quiet destruction of thousands of new, radically efficient electric vehicles. Through interviews and narrative, the film paints a picture of an industrial culture whose aversion to change and reliance on oil may be deeper than its ability to embrace ready solutions” (www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com).

Seeing is believe and after you see this film, your stances on oil, politics, the environment and consumer culture are bound to change.

I am guilty as all of us are of driving a car with a gas tank that eats a hole in my pocket every month. I go to the gas stations and grumble about the ever-increasing prices, but I fill up my car nonetheless and drive it no less than I am used to. Sure, I try to avoid the so-called “bad-boys” of the oil industry, choosing a Gulf station over an Exxon or a Mobil, for instance. Each time I feel a little worse that I am only perpetuating the system, paying the price that’s asked of me instead of trading in my car for a more efficient vehicle. But, are there any? If there were another solution, wouldn’t the majority of us give it a shot?

It is true, you can buy hybrids right now that use electricity and gasoline to make your car run. There are even hydrogen fuel cells in the works. But, what about the electric cars that were seen a decade ago, mostly in California? Why did they not last? Why were they rounded up and systematically destroyed even when there were plenty of willing customers to buy and drive them (and even those only the customers who caught wind of the under-advertised invention)? There are many reasons, and Paine has narrowed them down to several suspects: The Government, Oil Companies, Consumers, Batteries, Car Companies, Hydrogen Fuel Cells, and California Air Resources Board.

I won’t go through them all because it is truly more beneficial to watch the documentary, but I will narrow it down and give you my views. For me, I think the oil companies are directly linked to the federal government, putting pressure on lawmakers so as to ensure their own continued profits. All of the rest of the evidence is there and has been there for many years now. There are batteries that can be put into cars allowing them to travel over 300 miles on one charge! I think that would get just about anyone where they need to go in the course of a day.

The car companies are at fault as well. There was nowhere near enough advertising of the electric car when it was briefly on the market, first off, and advertising is key for attracting consumers. If they marketed them properly they would have seen the profits that were to be made. If car companies start thinking about producing new electric car models now with increased media coverage, I have no doubt that they will be a hit. To be sure, now that Climate Change is become more evident to us all on a daily basis, awareness is up and more citizens would surely be attracted to the thought of a gas-free, energy efficient vehicle for their next purchase.

I suppose the one aspect of the movie that irritated me most was how obvious it was that the people controlling these companies (cars and oil) did not (do not) care about the health of the planet and human beings enough to take more of an initiative. When it comes down to it, those in power really are money mongers, holding their wallets tight to their sides until and only if a profitable option comes along. The time has come for a change. These people are digging us all an early grave in some way, shape or form. So, what can you do?

Here are some suggestions, aside from using your car less and your bicycle more:

1. Check out www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com and the Take Action link. Paine has listed a variety of advocates for electric cars, including Plug In America, Hybrid car sites and different articles and documentaries on the subject.

2. You can sign the Plug-In Partners petition to automakers here: http://pluginpartners.com/whatYouCanDo/onlinePetition.cfm.

3. If you’re as fed-up with our dependence to oil as I am, go towww.participate.net/oilchange where you can easily get in touch with Congress and oil companies to voice your complaints.

4. Make a promise to buy a hybrid the next time your due for a new car. Why not look atwww.hybridcars.com for options.

5. Find out how to drive green, even with your current vehicle by going towww.greenercars.org. You will learn valuable suggestions like, “Follow the speed limit! Driving 75 mph instead of 65 mph will lower your fuel economy by about 10 percent, and can dramatically increase tailpipe pollution in many vehicles,” and “When possible, plan your trips to avoid rush hour. Stop-and-go driving burns gas and increases emissions of smog-forming pollutants.” There is also my personal favorite: “Try using the vents and opening windows to cool off before you turn on the air conditioner. Air conditioner use increases fuel consumption, increases NOx emissions in some vehicles, and involves environmentally damaging fluids.”

Little steps is what it’s going to take. We can all do our part.

***

October 29, 2007 – To Bee or Not to Bee

How many honey bees have you seen this past summer? You may not have noticed, but there has been a dearth of bees in gardens all over the United States within the past year. If you’re allergic to the insect, this might first seem like a positive change. But once you realize how important bees are to all life on earth, that primary reaction will fade and you will be left hoping that the problem can be fixed…fast.

This is an issue that came up earlier this year and the uncertainties behind the phenomenon are not being cleared up as quickly as hoped. The matter was presented on 60 Minutes last night, and the problems associated with the bees, or lack there of, are potentially devastating. Every spring and summer, honey bees are responsible for pollinating every single plant you can think of, including the crops we rely on for sustenance. You can imagine what it would mean, therefore, if there were no longer any honey bees to complete this task – there would not be any earth-grown food for us to consume, nor any other animal or insect that depends on these crops to survive. According to Natural Resources Defense Council, $15 billion of fruits and vegetables are at risk. The death of the honey bee could mean the death of all or most life on this planet.

The subject was tackled by Andrew C. Revkin in the September 7, 2007, issue of The New York Times. “Virus Is Seen as Suspect in Death of Honeybees” laid to rest rumors that the deaths were related to cell-phone wavelengths, a popular theory several months ago. “Now, one bee disease, called Israeli acute paralysis virus, seems strongly associated with the beekeeping operations that experienced big losses, a large research group has concluded, although members of the team emphasized that they had not proved the virus caused the die-offs.” To be sure, there is still a lot of unknowns in these cases because the research has only just begun. The newly coined “colony collapse disorder” is most-likely the result of multiple factors coming together, with the virus as the number one suspect.

Although there is little the common-person can do to aid the problem, other than growing more plants and flowers at home, it is important to be aware of the problem and give a little more respect to bees. They truly are amazing insects, not only because of their pollination, but their other abilities as well. Did you know that they carry an electrostatic charge, which helps pollen stick to their legs? How about honey – did you ever stop to think how they make that?

According to a Lansing State Journal article from 1997, “Bees actually have two stomachs, their honey stomach which they use like a nectar backpack and their regular stomach. The honey stomach holds almost 70 mg of nectar and when full, it weighs almost as much as the bee does. Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honeystomachs. The honeybees return to the hive and pass the nectar onto other worker bees. These bees suck the nectar from the honeybee’s stomach through their mouths. These “house bees” “chew” the nectar for about half an hour. During this time, enzymes are breaking the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars so that it is both more digestible for the bees and less likely to be attacked by bacteria while it is stored within the hive. The bees then spread the nectar throughout the honeycombs where water evaporates from it, making it a thicker syrup. The bees make the nectar dry even faster by fanning it with their wings. Once the honey is gooey enough, the bees seal off the cell of the honeycomb with a plug of wax. The honey is stored until it is eaten. In one year, a colony of bees eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey” (“How do Bees Make Honey”). Pretty remarkable, no?

And the amazing facts keep coming. Here is a list from  www.goldenblossomhoney.com:

1. The honeybee is not born knowing how to make honey; the younger bees are taught by the more experienced ones.
2. Some worker bees are nurse bees. Their job is to feed the larvae.
3. A honeybee visits between 50 and 100 flowers during one collection flight from the hive.
4. In order to produce 1 pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited.
5. A hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey.
6. One bee colony can produce 60 to 100 pounds of honey per year.
7. An average worker bee makes only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
8. At the peak of the honey-gathering season, a strong, healthy hive will have a population of approximately 50,000 bees.
9. It would take approximately 1 ounce of honey to fuel a bee’s flight around the world.
10. A Cornell University paper released in 2000 concluded that the direct value of honeybee pollination to U.S. agriculture is $14.6 billion annually.
11. We should appreciate honeybees for their honey and pollination services. 80% of the pollination of the fruits, vegetables and seed crops in the U.S. is accomplished by honeybees.
12. Honey is the primary food source for the bee. The reason honeybees are so busy collecting nectar from flowers and blossoms is to make sufficient food stores for their colony over the winter months. The nectar is converted to honey by the honeybee and stored in the wax honeycomb.
13. The United States has an estimated 211,600 beekeepers.

Obviously, others know more about this subject than I and I do not want to get the facts wrong. Allowing them to speak for themselves is much more beneficial to my readers.

The more you read about bees, the more interesting they become. Not only are you more dependent on bees for food than you ever thought, but you are surrounded by them in advertising and media as well. We’ve got Honey Nut Cheerios, BumbleBee Tuna, the Spelling Bee, California newspapers the Sacramento Bee and the Fresno Bee, Bee Magazine…you get the idea. And now, , Jerry Seinfeld’s baby, is going to be coming out in theatres this Friday. All-in-all, the bee has some great press going right now. Let’s hope this bodes well for their future.

Don’t forget, even for those with allergies, nearly all species of bee are non-aggressive, some without any stinging ability at all. The next time you find one zipping around you or your food, just let it be (no pun intended). As long as you are calm, you are out of harm’s way.

***

October 31, 2007 – Scaring Your Votes Off

Yes, it is Halloween, and most bloggers are probably posting about the holiday in some way, shape or form. Despite the fact that I awoke to find my car had been egged (who knew kids still did that?), I have another topic with scarier repercussions than one night of mischief and mayhem: the Republicans running for president in 2008. Oooohhhh! Be afraid, be very afraid.

BBC.com posts today “US religious right faces 2008 dilemma.” For a loosely-defined Democrat like myself, such a headline makes my heart skip. A dilemma for the opposition means points for our side. This becomes clearer when you continue reading. The article focuses on Rudy Giuliani, a moderate Republican, with stances many of his right-wing constituents do not approve of. The dilemma is thus whether one should vote for the candidate with values that meet their own, or for the candidate most likely to meet whomever is the front-runner for the Democrats. As far as Giuliani goes, he would be considered the latter as the leading candidate who supports gay rights and the right to choose.

To be sure, this might be a problem on the other side of the table as well. If we are talking politics, the more moderate the candidate, the more likely winning the overall election. If Giuliani appeals to social values of the left, even while being fiscally conservative, he could potentially draw votes away from the Democrats, even while losing Republican support at the same time. This could help Giuliani in the long run, or, as the debates and campaigning continue, could spell a drop in the polls.

The Democrats are in a very similar position considering that our two top candidates are minorities in their own right who have never been elected to office before: a Black man and a woman. Who is more likely to be elected despite their minority status in a country with biases against both? It is really going to come down to experience, issues and plans of action.

 

Perusing both Obama and Clinton’s sites, there are a few stances I am particularly interested in, including the environment and Climate Change, Health-care and LGBT rights. On www.barackobama.com, each of these issues are tackled to some extent, providing the reader with speeches and individual pages on all of these. On www.hillaryclinton.com, however, I was extremely disappointed to see that there is NO mention of LGBT constituents whatsoever. Really Hillary? I thought you were a champion for our community, so why would you not campaign to them on your website? Not to say that this is the only issue I care about, but it is definitely an important concern. When someone like me is wavering between these two candidates with a lot of similar beliefs, knowing that Barack Obama has a tab catering to LGBT voters entitled  Obama Pridmight be a clincher.

It took me several hours of weeding through video after video on Clinton’s site before I found even a mention of LGBT rights in one of her live webcasts. I was definitely happy to hear her stances in favor of passing legislation against sexual orientation discrimination, as well as her promise to implement civil unions. But if she is a “wholehearted” champion for gay rights as she claims, why is she not devoting at least a little site space aimed specifically towards the community? I must say, I’m a little disappointed.

According to Mark Halperin from Time.com, Clinton has presented herself well to the gay community before, specifically during the Democratic debate held on August 9, 2007 by LOGO – the LGBT cable television channel. Halperin reports, “Attuned to her audience, [Clinton] bashed George Bush, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich, pointed out the first Marine wounded in Iraq sitting in the crowd and, rather than responding strictly to the panelists, addressed the full room with major doses of Clintonesque eye contact. Was focused and empathetic during an emotional exchange with questioner/rocker Melissa Etheridge about the Clinton administration’s incomplete efforts on homosexual rights. Remains the nomination front runner with another strong performance.” Considering that the article said nothing about the other debaters, including Obama, Edwards and Richardson, one must assume that Clinton is currently the LGBT community’s favorite candidate at this point.

The campaigns continue, and I hope there will be more focus on LGBT issues in the year to come. As of now I am divided in my decision of who to support, and I think as the primaries move closer, we will see more from all candidates on this issue as well as all others. Nobody should be too hasty to jump on either bandwagon just yet.

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Filed under Abortion, Classism, Environmentalism, LGBT, Politics, Social Justice, Women

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