A Few Words on Reactions to Celebrity Deaths…

[Originally posted on Feb 12, 2012. This was a somewhat viral post at the time, thanks to it being cross-posted on Jezebel. Re-reading it, I’m saddened thinking about what has since happened to her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and I’m sad that nothing in internet posting has changed in four years. If anything, it’s gotten worse…]

When a celebrity dies, social media blows up and follows an amazingly consistent pattern.  Keep in mind, I have done some of these myself. I think most of us have at some point or another:

Round One of Posting: “What? [Insert name here] died!”

Round Two: “RIP [Insert name here]”

Round Three: Posts links to something the deceased did that the posters thought was amazing

Round Four: Other parties decide to chime in: “[Insert name here] was a [drug addict/creepy alleged pedo/tyranical CEO of a company that makes an Operating System people are brainwashed to like and I was brainwashed to hate].” I’m presuming they then find the highest mountain with wi-fi access to climb atop to then proclaim, “I’m going to save my grief for someone who deserves it!”

Round Five: “100,000 people die each year from [starvation/earthquakes/war/listening to Michael Bolton while driving on a windy cliff]. Why don’t you care about them?”

Round Six: “Check out this great video of a cat yawning!”

Here’s the deal, people: there is nothing wrong with being sad someone died, and thankfully we, being the advanced species we are, have the capacity to have sympathy for more than one person at a time.  In fact, we can have sympathy for an unlimited number of people and things.  Wow – Amazing, right?  All this time, conventional wisdom told us we had to hide away our spare grief in cigar boxes, old shoes and mattresses because we thought it might run out at a really inconvenient time.  After all, how much would it suck if the family dog or other loved one died, or we watched Titanic for the 50th time, and we had no more grief to give? “Well, shit, Jennifer; this would normally be the time I’d hug you and tell you I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m all out of grief and sympathy.  I really shouldn’t have burned the last of it on Whitney Houston.”

“I told you not to waste it; she was a crack addict, you know.”

Why are people sad when a famous imperfect person dies?  You can ask the people who are posting the RIPs, and they each may have their own unique response as to why they are sad; perhaps they have a great memory associated with one of the creations of that imperfect person.  Maybe they really are that person’s Number One Fan.  Or maybe, they’re like me.  Every time I’ve felt sadness over a famous imperfect person’s passing, it’s because I feel they’ve been robbed of the life arc I wish everyone could have but few are lucky enough to receive.  On the final curve of this life arc, we overcome our demons, find peace and joy, create more beautiful things with our inner strength and wisdom guiding us, and we die peacefully in our sleep when we are old and grey.

I think of how talented and lovely Whitney Houston was in the “How Will I Know” video.  When I watched that video today, I thought about how the young, vibrant person in that video had no idea what was coming in her life – I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have predicted her future would bring years of substance abuse and a publicly tumultuous marriage.  I’m sure she didn’t predict her final moments would involve drowning in a hotel bathtub, leaving behind a slew of rumors about her addiction and a beautiful young daughter who she didn’t say goodbye to.  I’ll admit, while I have always felt her vocals were about as close to perfection as you can see in pop music, I was never really a fan of her music.  Yet, I’m sad for her, and I am sad that yet another person didn’t have a beautiful and graceful final curve to their life arc.  I’m sad that the world still looks at addiction and other mental illnesses as stigmas.  I’m sad every time I read or hear someone state “fuck them” when they see a person falling hard.  I then get angry, because everyone who says “fuck them” is creating a barrier between those in need of help and the resources they desperately need.  “Fuck them” prevents people from admitting they can’t fix their life on their own.  “Fuck them” is what causes governments to cut funding to mental health facilities and programs.  “Fuck them” is what causes families to be afraid to seek help in the community, or to give up after the first few backs have been turned.

The person who passes may “just” be an imperfect celebrity, but to me? Their passing reminds me of all of our failures and all of the beautiful things that could have been created by those who left us far too young.

Hope for a Beautiful America: A Road Trip for Independence Day

[Originally posted on Jul 1, 2012]

On this fourth of July week, I look out at a blue sky with cotton-like cumulus clouds floating over the Rockies – the majestic range of purple mountains we sing about this time of year in praise of the beautiful country we live in.  We arrived here after taking a road trip up from Phoenix to the Vail Valley.  I can’t think of a better way to spend this holiday than by experiencing 800 miles of the American Southwest by car.

We left the sweltering heat of Phoenix and headed up the I-17, a route familiar to many Phoenicians who escape the heat by traveling to to the cooler, smaller town of Flagstaff, Arizona.  As anyone in the southwest will tell you, the government’s definition of “forest” is a loose one when you see the national forest signs and nothing but two foot tall brush as far as the eye can see.  On this trip between the two cities, you experience the change of climates and see the forests truly develop – the brush become bushes, the bushes become six foot tall trees, and the trees become enormous pine trees, greeting you as you enter Flagstaff.

We headed east on the I-40 to pick up the US-89, driving past dormant and extinct volcanos that make up much of northern Arizona.  One of the areas we drove past is a favorite destination of ours – Sunset Crater National Park.  At Sunset Crater, you still see the black lava from an eruption that took place less than 1000 years ago, along with the forest life that found a way to grow beyond its ashes.  Next to Sunset Crater, you also have Wupatki National Monument – ruins of a civilization who thrived after the eruption, thanks to fertile soil created from volcanic ash.  When my parents saw this area a few years ago, my father commented that it goes to show that specific things die and species become extinct, but Mother Nature always has a greater plan, and there’s nothing we can do that will get in her way.

Past Flagstaff and just past the easternmost part of Grand Canyon National Park, we hopped onto the US-160, which takes you into deep into the Navajo Nation.  In a few days we will celebrate our freedom and independence, yet the history of this land serves as a reminder of how easily it can be to move from the oppressed to the oppressor.  By the mid-to-late 1800s, the U.S. Government and the Navajos had ongoing problems with raids, violence and violated treaties.  The U.S. rounded up the Navajos and placed them in an internment camp with other tribes – 10,000 people living in an inhospitable area that was only 10 square miles.  Food was in short supply, the water wasn’t clean, and disease ravaged the camp.  Eventually, the U.S. established a larger boundary for reservation land, giving the Navajos back a lot of the land they were taken from, and those who survived were allowed to return home.

I know this time of year we don’t want to talk about our country’s historic failures such as this, but I think we need to – what makes America great is that it is in the hands of the people.  No matter how badly Texas lawmakers don’t want you to think critically, it is human nature to do so, and the success of this country lies in our ability to think for ourselves and to take a stand when we see oppression.  If you are on the left or the right, that previous sentence has got you thinking of two completely different things.  That’s fine, I suppose, but as we watch the fireworks, as we sing “Yankee Doodle,” let us remind ourselves of the founding fathers and the revolutionaries who died not for our complacency, but for our activism.  They fought for the belief in a government for the people and by the people.  Not for and by the 1%, corporations or lobbyists, and not so we can passively elect political party caricatures to represent the signer of their largest campaign check.  As I drove through land that tells a tale of a darker American history, I’m reminded we cannot afford to sit idly by when a government supports fear mongering and inhumanity.  As all of history has shown, one thing always leads to another, and complacency will ultimately lead to an inhumanity comparable to the Long Walk of the Navajo.

History is a combination of triumph and loss, hope and despair.  This road trip through history is no exception, as evidenced by the wonderful national parks we encounter.

Author Wallace Stegner once wrote, “National parks are the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”  Following this road trip from Phoenix to Colorado, you encounter some of the most exceptional national parks in the country.  In addition to Sunset Crater and Wapatki, you’re reasonably close to the eastern end of the Grand Canyon, and aren’t too far of a drive from the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.  After driving through Navajo Nation and onto the 191, you end up in Moab – a quintessentially charming Utah town once famous for its uranium mining back in the Cold War days.  Moab serves as a gateway to two other great national parks, Canyonlands and Arches.  These parks represent the love and respect we have for our land.  As we drove past deep red rock formations and copper-rich green mountains, I felt grateful for living in a country with such a variety of beauty within its borders.  Our geology is as diverse as our people, and we are inherently lucky for both.

The Colorado wildfires remained on our minds through the trip.  We took a brief detour around the Four Corners to go into southern Colorado, and the hazy air and smoke plumes were heartbreaking to see – it really seemed as if the entire state was on fire.  As Arizonans, we are all too familiar with the danger and devastation of wildfires – to date, Arizona has lost land greater than the size of Connecticut to wildfires.  Even considering that, what is happening in Colorado is like nothing we have ever seen.  Our hearts go out to the communities affected by these fires, and we hope for fast containment as well as the safety of the firefighters.

Driving past Grand Junction on the I-70 gave us a remarkable view of the Pine Ridge Fire, a fire believed to be caused by a discarded cigarette.  As we drove east on the 70, we saw white and black plumes fill the sky.  Freeway signs warned that the fire was nearby, but we were not in danger by any means.  As we headed into De Beque Canyon, we were surprised to see exactly how close we were to the outer edge of the fire – you could clearly see the flames from the freeway, small pockets of them, gradually cascading down the steep slopes of the mountain.  We spotted two helicopters doing remarkable work to fight this fire.  The pilots would lower the chopper down to the Colorado River, which separates the mountain from the freeway, to the point the chopper would be level with the cars on the freeway.  They would scoop up water from the river, then carry it over to the fire line, piloting perilously close to the edge of the mountain to attempt to aim the giant bucket of water to fight the flames.  These choppers were doing this over and over, for who knows how long.  Just imagine – these pilots are putting their lives at risk because someone mindlessly threw a cigarette out of a car.  This is a typical story for wildfires – it seems when they are not caused by arson, they are caused by self-centeredness; a discarded cigarette, a campfire improperly extinguished… the beautiful America we sing about is taken for granted far too often.

Now that we are at our destination for our fourth of July, I am glad we decided to trek through the hauntings of our history and our present to get here.  Like all history, the history in this region is one of beauty and ugliness, greatness and shame. We must accept it all and embrace the spirit of those before us who took a stand for better life and better government.  We must continue to show commitment to preserve the beauty of our land, live consciously rather than mindlessly, and speak loudly when the voices of others have been muted.

In other words, as we celebrate this fourth of July, let’s all be great Americans.

Photos copyright 2004-2012 Anne-Marie Pleau and Chris Giard.

Mental Health Parity: This is a Really, Really Good Thing

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is a new regulation going into effect on the national level that is going to help millions upon millions of Americans: insurance companies will be required to treat mental health and substance abuse the same as general physical ailments.

This is huge. And it makes me want to tell you a story, because this is something I have personal experience in:

My first job out of college was working for a California company that provided mental health case management and claims administration as a carveout to local HMO providers for professional services. Mental health is a very nuanced field in healthcare, and at the time, most HMOs would contract with a company that specialized in that area to handle their members’ needs. The HMOs would pay either as a fee-for-service (which is to say, the carveout would receive a certain amount of money per procedure), or, they would pay a monthly capitation rate (which is a lump sum estimated on the number of lives covered). To make money on a fee-for-service, the carveout simply had to pay the provider of the service less than what they received from the HMO. To make money on capitation, the carveout had to make sure that payments to providers each month were less than what they received from the HMO each month. Of course, the providers had to be contracted with the carveout, so those rates were previously negotiated.  This is a fairly predictable thing, as the carveouts typically only handled professional fees (doctor’s/therapist’s visits), which means they were shielded from those huge-dollar, unpredictable hospital bills.

With all of the problems I saw in the company I worked for, I can honestly say that despite the obvious temptation to shortchange care for a larger profit margin, I never saw them do this. They’d cut corners in every way imaginable, but in the end if someone needed care, they got care. That said, I saw a system that was designed to fail: the Pre-Parity California System.

At that time, all mental health was considered a “specialist” benefit. You know how on the back of your insurance card, you have a lower copay for general office visits and OB/GYN visits, but a higher copay for specialists? Mental health providers fell under that specialist category. If you had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, or any other mental illness, you had to pay that higher copay whenever you saw your mental health providers. In these more serious instances, that meant you had to pay a copay once a month for your 15-minute medication management session with a psychiatrist, and you had to pay a copay no less than once a week for your 45 minute counseling session with your therapist. With things like severe depression or anxiety, it’s not unheard of to have a therapy session two or three times a week. Keep in mind, if you were on an HMO like our patients were, your doc had to obtain an authorization to see you, and “renew” that authorization every 6 visits (which is why so many providers hate HMOs; on the other side, it does provide a check that can ensure a provider isn’t fraudulently billing or just dicking around in their sessions).

The worst example of this process I’ve seen came from an insurance I’m going to call Acme Health. This is a huge national provider that had and has a presence in California. Their specialist visit copay in 1999 was…get ready for this…$50/visit. Fifty damn dollars. Now here’s the kicker – due to our agreement with the HMO group connected to Acme Health, we were contractually obligated to take that full copay amount from the member. Why is that worth mentioning? Because our medication management reimbursed at $45. So because the patient was using their insurance, they actually paid more out-of-pocket than what we charged for the session. Once a month, for a session that lasted up to 15 minutes, no more. If you did medication management, you almost always had to supplement it with counseling, so add $50 per week to a counseling session with a masters-level therapist, who was reimbursed at $65 per session. So in one month, you, a person who is schizophrenic or severely depressed or what have you, just spent $250 on your mental health on top of what you pay monthly for your premium. Your insurance paid $60. Do you see where this comes across as somewhat immoral and outrageous?

I was working for the company when California passed their own Parity Act. The act stated that any treatment for specific diagnoses (all severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or severe depression) had to be handled the way a general office visit would, meaning members only had to pay their office visit copay and not their specialist copay. Those people who were paying $50 a visit, now only had to pay $10 a visit. Rather than spending $250 a month on their care, they were now only spending $50 a month (plus that premium, of course). Think about that when you hear Big Insurance panic – and they will. They were making a fortune off of the mentally ill in California, and then they were cut off.

The Parity Act killed businesses like the one I worked for – why pay someone to manage something that you are now managing like a regular office visit? We folded in under a year due to the passage of that act. I had no problem with that. When you hear Big Insurance say they can’t stay in business because of this government interference? Just look at Acme Health – they are still in business today, and are one of the largest and most profitable insurance providers not only in California, but in the nation.

Breast Cancer: The Divide Between Awareness and Progress

This past Sunday, New York Times Magazine had an insightful cover story entitled “Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer” by Peggy Orenstein. The title jumped out at me for very personal reasons: my best friend is an Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) survivor. When she was first diagnosed in 2009 (at the age of 34), I saw the pink ribbon as a symbol of hope and solidarity. Times have changed a bit.

From 2009 to the present, my friend had chemo, a double masectomy, some lymph nodes removed, radiation, reconstructive surgery where they used muscles from her back to create breasts, a part of her lung removed when her cancer metastasized, and then a hysterectomy because they found estrogen in the tumor in her lung and it confirmed to the doctors that she can’t have estrogen in her body if she wants to have any shot of keeping the cancer away. During all of this, Races for the Cure came and went, a local TV station threw annual telethons where they gave out pink canvas bags emblazoned with their station’s pinked-up logo to donors (costing $6 for shipping, by the way), and pink-infused football games trampled on in all their pink-cleated glory. All the while, no new information, or at times any information was really given to the public about breast cancer. Good luck if you wanted to hear even a mention about IBC, which happens to be among the most lethal forms of breast cancer. I began to wonder when the hell these multi-million dollar outfits were going to actually educate the public on breast cancer beyond Mammographies!Pink!Self-Exam!GOPINK! Pink!PinketyPinkPinkPinkAware!  Behind all of this pink shit, you start to wonder if “awareness” and education are two completely different concepts. For this reason, Peggy Orenstein’s article piqued my interest.

One of the most interesting aspects of Orenstein’s article is her criticism of the “awareness” campaign’s predominant focus on mammograms. After her cancer was detected on her first mammogram, Orenstein was a loud and vocal supporter of them; why is she changing her tune now? Through her research, she came across studies that indicated that women were often over-diagnosed and received unnecessary treatment, exposing them to harmful chemicals and unnecessary procedures. She found that the push for mammograms barely made a scratch on the statistics for women with lethal forms of breast cancer, and for certain age ranges, the mortality rates haven’t changed at all since mammograms became widely used. She points out an interesting fact that is often lost in the messaging: breast cancer alone does not kill you. It kills when it metastasizes to other organs, and there is no evidence linking the size or age of a tumor to when cancer metastasizes, challenging the idea that early detection prevents metastasis.

Now this isn’t to say that we all need to stop doing our self-examinations and just give up on supporting the cause; I also don’t want to discount what Susan G. Komen and other breast cancer charities have done to destigmatize breast cancer. The danger of their overfocus on Pink Awareness is it not only promotes a message that conflicts from multiple scientific findings, it also gets in the way of progress by putting the Brand of Breast Cancer Awareness before education, research and development. In all the years of pink cleats and pink yogurt lids, what exactly have we learned through this campaign? Through this messaging, who has learned that IBC usually doesn’t show up in the form of lumps, but rather a change of texture to your skin? Or who has learned that there are four genetically distinct breast cancers, and that they all respond differently to treatment? And how much of this money raised has gone to research to find a cure? Orenstein reports that the most recent financials available for Susan G Komen show that 16% of the money raised in 2011 went towards research. While that amount is no small potatoes when looking at how much they bring in, it seems to be a remarkably low percentage for a company who sued to trademark “For the Cure.”

As Susan G. Komen looks to find its footing after a year filled with abysmal PR, they find themselves standing in front of an excellent opportunity to take the next progressive leap for the cure: to step away from the information-free ubiquitous wasteland of pink branding, and replace it with a ubiquitous voice and funding source for research and champion for those fighting breast cancer – not just those who have fought and survived, but those who are fighting and struggling to win the battle – a group Orenstein notes is absent from the awareness campaigns.

This last point is important to me. Through these years, I saw my friend fight for her life both physically and mentally. I watched her dig deep and survive – surviving in a way that transcends any illness. This is another thing they don’t tell you about on the yogurt lids: they don’t tell people how hard it is to emotionally recover from cancer. I’ve seen my friend find herself in a very dark place, and I’ve seen her claw her way out of it like the fierce badass mofo she is. It’s hard work to do that, but damn it, she’s done it. Because she’s my badass friend. She is one of many fighters who have had IBC or metastasized cancer and it’s time for us to fight for them and get the breast cancer awareness back on track.

Sources and recommended further reading:
Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer
The National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet on Inflammatory Breast Cancer
NEJM: Effect of Three Decades of Screening Mammography on Breast Cancer Incidence

Help Me Understand

It’s easy to sit here and type out my opinions. It’s easy to let the rage and frustration I feel take over and shut myself off from the world until the latest tragedy becomes old news and we’re back to talking about Anne Hathaway’s crotch shot at a premiere or Lindsay Lohan’s legal troubles. I debated what I was going to write today. I’ve struggled with writing as of late, because I am not in a place to write funny and happy things. I’ve felt exhausted talking about issues, because there are too many people who don’t want to have a conversation.  They want to scream and plug their ears until they have their way. It’s just too much some times.

Suddenly, here we are. As I read my Twitter and Facebook feeds responding to a national tragedy, I realize that there is a way of thinking in this country I simply cannot comprehend. I need to understand this:

Help me understand why you think the real solution to preventing a tragedy is to arm kindergarten and first grade teachers.

I keep seeing this over and over. See, in my mind, I separate the right to bear arms from a mandate to bear arms. When I imagine a world where a kindergarten teacher feels they must carry a gun on them while they standing in front of a class of 5 and 6 year-olds in a suburban, sleepy Connecticut elementary school – and in this case, it would need to be a gun that could defend against a person in a bulletproof vest armed with a semi-automatic weapon – I don’t see a world of Freedom or Apple Pie or a God Blessed America with a Right to Bear Arms and a cherry on top; I see a world that is in a lawless, militant state; a state where no place is safe and every house has a panic room with steel walls that are a foot thick.

Why do I see this?

Because any world where a kindergarten teacher feels that they must arm themselves in order to go to work is a world where gun ownership is not a right, but a mandate. It is a world where a sweet 27 year-old with a winning smile and a gentle soul has to strap on a Glock in case a day of fingerpainting is disrupted by the possibility of engaging a madman in a gunfight. Wow. We really want to go there?

Since we’re all a fan of slippery slopes, answer me this question: say we allow teachers to bring guns to school. Say some of those teachers and administrators don’t believe in owning guns and choose to not carry. Say a gunman still enters the school and guns down people.  If the “fault” of the latest massacre is not allowing a person to bear arms in a school, who is at fault when an individual chooses not to carry? Before you bring up the argument of “well, derp, nice try, but someone would carry and they would Wyatt Earp that crazy mother fucker and shoot him down before anything happens,” let me remind you of something:

Several people had the right to carry a gun at the event where Jared Loughner shot and killed a number of people in Tucson. At that event, people either made the choice not to carry, or in the chaos, people forgot they were carrying or felt it would be ineffective. Keeping this in mind, can we agree that MOAR GUNZ isn’t really a solution?

While on this subject, I need your help understanding one other thing: Why is it when any challenge is brought up in regards to waiting periods, limits on arming those who are severely mentally ill, or simply disagreeing with a MOAR GUNZ philosophy, it is automatically assumed that people want to repeal the 2nd amendment?

Newsflash: Most people in this country don’t want to repeal the 2nd amendment. Check out the polls. It’s not going to happen. The problem is, we can’t even start the conversation about what we can do in a civil manner without the NRA cock-blocking the discussion with hyperbole, rhetoric and fear-mongering.  Can’t we have a civil conversation about this? Can’t we discuss why pro-gun advocates hate having a small waiting period before purchasing their guns, and why someone like me sees waiting periods as completely benign? Can’t we sit down together and attempt to come up with a solution that does not infringe upon the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping guns out of the hands of those who intend to use these guns to take away the rights of others?

Unfortunately, we all know the answers to these questions. For those who are responsible gun owners who do not want their rights infringed upon, I will tell you this: if you can come up with solutions that do not involve mandating gun ownership – be it developing a health care system that better supports the mentally ill, whatever – now is the time to share your ideas and be vocal on those solutions. Both sides want these tragedies to stop – if you can find a solution that doesn’t require me to carry a gun, I will stand by you and support your ideas and your rights.

JMHO: Sorting Out the Internal Conflict

Note: In case you’re wondering about the weird graphic, I’ll be honest with you – I really don’t feel comfortable being yet another site to splash a Sesame Street image on this story.

I’m having a hard time with this Kevin Clash thing. For those of you who haven’t followed the story: Two men have accused Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo on Sesame Street of having sex with them when they were underage. There is a lot to the story that I won’t even get into here, so get thee to Gawker and catch up on all the sordid details.

I believe many people are having a hard time with the controversy because the allegations are just so contrary to the image they held of Clash.  We all like to think we’d have a sense for these things, and by all accounts, Clash doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to pray on underage teens.  But what do we know? When do we ever know? I don’t want to believe it, but I don’t want to disbelieve something simply because it doesn’t align with my preconceived notions. There is so much going on with this story, I will do my best to answer the questions across the internet and running through my mind.

Is it possible that a guy who is such a beloved figure could do this?
Yes. On more than one occasion, we’ve seen beloved celebrities do things we never expected they were capable of doing. So yes, it’s possible.

Is it possible that the accusers are fabricating this story for fame and money?
Yes. Also on more than one occasion, we’ve seen people make up false stories for their own benefit; this is nothing new.

Why do I feel like shit for even entertaining the thought the accusers are making this up?
Because you know that there are a lot of victims of sexual crimes out there, and these victims do not have a voice. You feel that by questioning a public story, you are not only shaming the alleged victims, in a way, you’re further silencing victims of sexual crimes.

This is where the issues get really tricky; no one wants a victim to stay quiet.  We want to create a culture where people feel safe to come forward. Conversely, we don’t want to convict a person before they ever had their day in court. Here is the problem with crimes of this nature: it is very difficult to prove or disprove them. The best we can hope for is the evidence will become clear either way, and that nothing will obstruct the truth from getting out there. That may never happen.

So what am I allowed to feel?
It’s okay to feel conflicted. In this day and age, we want to be judge, jury and executioner the very second a story falls on our ears. This is especially true of crimes involving children and teenagers – we don’t want to let them down or allow the crimes to continue. It’s a nice thought that our swift court of public opinion protects people, but it doesn’t.  Let’s value the time spent for fact-finding, and see what facts present themselves before we persecute anyone. This doesn’t just apply to this controversy – it’s a good exercise to practice on any sensationalized story. We all have some type of prejudice when we read a story, whether it is looking for someone’s failure or ignoring someone else’s faults. We sometimes act like our opinions are this giant Jenga tower that is about to collapse if one piece is pulled out. Bottom line? It’s okay to feel conflicted, but keep your mind open to the possibility the truth will shake the tower.

If the accusations are true, is this really a crime? I mean, a 16 year-old knows what he’s getting into. And I hear gay men like hooking up with young men.
Wait, what? I am seriously reading a lot of this, and pardon the French, this is the most bizarre apologist shit I’ve ever seen. So first of all, let’s put aside what people “hear” about the gay community. It is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, there is an age of consent in this country and while it varies from state to state, if you have sex with someone below that age (and in some cases, are a few years older than the person you are having sex with), you are committing a crime and chances are you know you are committing a crime. Never mind what should and shouldn’t be, because at the moment it doesn’t matter. If Clash had sex with teens who were below the age of consent, he committed a crime. He also would have to have known that working on a children’s show and having sex with minors would create a pretty big fucking mess in his life if it got out. I really hope he didn’t do this, but if he did, I’m sorry, I can’t excuse his behavior by pointing to f-ing Belgium and saying that 14 year-olds are totes game over there.

So, okay. If he did it, it’s a crime; but is it bad?
To me? Yes. I have yet to find a 30-something or 40-something in a relationship with a teen who didn’t use the relationship as a means to control, manipulate and royally mindfuck the person. Totally anecdotal I know, but that’s what I’ve seen and it’s shaped  my opinion. There are a lot of different opinions out there, but only you can determine if you think it goes against your moral code or not.

Can we joke about this? I mean, come on – tickle me Elmo?
Every morning over the past few days, my alarm goes off, and I wake to the sounds of the local morning zoo cracking joke after joke on this story. Every morning I groan and feel the bile rise in my esophagus. Yes, it’s a free country – you can joke about it, but unless you have Louis C.K.- level skills of making horrible things funny, I wouldn’t find it amusing.

Can we make fun of TMZ and how fucking horrible they are?
Yes. Oh my God, yes.

Just my thoughts. What are some of the questions running through your mind with this ordeal? Any opinions you feel haven’t been voiced yet?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remember the Ladies

“I long to hear that you have declared an independancy – and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”
- Abigail Adams, 1776

As I watched the election results roll in last Tuesday, I couldn’t help but think of this quote by Abigail Adams.  While Tuesday was not what Abigail Adams had in mind with that quote, the 2012 election is definitely the election that remembered the ladies.  Over the past couple of years we saw overreaching laws against women’s rights emerge at the local level and attempts by lawmakers to redefine biology, rape and take away a family’s privacy in the form of explaining/justifying contraception usage to employers.  As I’ve mentioned previously, we are witnessing Evangelical politics’ extinction burst before our very eyes, and it is wrapping its mangled claws around anything it can to stay relevant and keep women “in their place.”

Judging by the election results, I was happy, relieved, proud and hopeful to see not only a push back against these ideas, but to see an unprecedented number of women elected to federal office with a number of “firsts.” Some notables are:

  • Consumer watchdog and Daily Show favorite Elizabeth Warren replacing Scott Brown in Massachusetts. This is the first time Massachusetts elected a female senator.
  • Democrat Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Republican Deb Fischer in Nebraska are also first-time female senators for their respective states. Baldwin will also be the first openly lesbian senator.
  • Democrat Tammy Duckworth from Illinois will serve as the first female member of Congress who was injured in combat.
  • The two wins in New Hampshire by Ann McLane Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter mean New Hampshire’s entire delegation is made up of women.
  • Arizona’s own Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly-bisexual member of congress, and personally one of my favorite Arizonans. Anyone who has seen Kyrsten in action knew she was going to go places. I can’t wait to see her take on Washington.

I mention these women because I hope this indicates a trend where these wins will no longer be notable, but commonplace.  We have quite a way to go but this seems like a big step in the right direction towards diversity.

Beyond electing a diverse group of women into Washington, voters sent a message to candidates who proved to be apathetic and uneducated on rape and women’s rights: The man who said women’s bodies had a way of “shutting down” a pregnancy from rape, the guy who equated rape to having a baby out of wedlock, and the guy who said a pregnancy from rape was a gift from God were all defeated.  Exit polls indicated that 61% of those who voted against Akin attributed their vote to his comments about rape.   It would appear that men and women in this country who believe in both science and the separation of church and state understand the dangers of electing those who believe in neither.

Does this mean “we’ve won”? No; this fight is far from over.  When dealing with ideas that people hold dear to their hearts it would be foolish to think that they would simply put their tail between their legs and hide in a corner.  History shows that quite the opposite occurs – the belief becomes stronger and the voices become louder.  We saw this most recently in 2008 with the fanatics who screamed, protested and accused the president of being some Kenyan-born, Muslim, Hitlerwannabe extremist, Manchurian, OrlyTaitified, Militant Christian Extremist, Witch Doctor, Angry Black Man, Middle-East Apologist, Abortion-Loving, Drug-Dealing, Intellectual, didn’t earn his admission to Harvard, unAmerican, vegetable-growing, NOBAMA, OBAMINATION, dictator freak with big ears.

Did I miss anything?  Wow, that seriously felt like I just performed a seance and was possessed by one of the superPACs recently killed in this election cycle. Shudder…

Anyway…point being, history and psychology show when someone’s belief system is challenged they don’t fold, they double-down.  What does this mean for the ladies? Expect to see more ballot measures and bills introduced on the state level limiting a woman’s right to choose or access to contraception.  Expect to find additional ballot measures and bills disguised as one thing (“protecting women’s health” is a popular red herring) but have an underlying effect of achieving these goals.  This is what is going to happen, and for those of you who “sent the message” last Tuesday, know that your work isn’t done.  Smaller off-cycle elections are coming up to try and undo some of the work of this election.  Additionally, states like Arizona and Mississippi simply do not have the votes to stand against these intrusions. What can you do? My advice? Be loud, be active, educate yourself and provide support in whatever way you can to continue the efforts you believe in.  Whether that is for reproductive rights or simply for rape education is your choice.  Whether it is donating your time or your money to causes that align with your views is also your choice. These things sneak in when we are complacent – the only way to fight successfully is to never be complacent.

Remember the ladies.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking Inventory of Beliefs

The events over the past week have left me largely speechless.  Like many of you, senseless tragedies like the shooting in Aurora remind me of how little I understand in this world.   As someone who is agnostic and will remain agnostic until the day I die, the beliefs I hold and do not hold are sacred to me.  This weekend, I’ve found myself taking inventory in these beliefs:

First off, I believe there is nothing wrong in believing in God or an afterlife.  If you can believe, I may even be a little envious of you.  The fact of the matter is, I simply cannot believe in those things.  My brain is no longer wired that way.  And I believe there is nothing wrong with that, either.

I believe tragedy provides us with an opportunity to be better people.  I don’t believe in fate or predestination, but I believe in us.  I believe that we are wired to survive.  We are wired to do better and be better, and there is something in us that keeps us pushing and persevering no matter the odds.

I believe we only live once.  We only experience this world once – and whatever becomes of us after death, be it afterlife or nothing, we never experience what this world has to offer ever again.  We can only feel the warmth of a kiss, see the setting sun turn the sky into a masterpiece of oranges and reds, or listen to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos a limited number of times.  The idea that an individual can rob another of those experiences is beyond tragic and sickening. There are no words to describe it.

I believe it’s times like this where we have to reach down and cling to our sense of humanity rather than our sense of vengeance.  I absolutely believe in the importance of justice, but with all the sensationalism and politicizing, we’re losing sight of the future.   At what point are we going to take mental illness seriously and connect those in need to the help they so desperately need before something horrible happens?  When are we going to remove the stigma and the red tape that keeps friends and family from finding help for their loved ones?

Right now, I don’t have the answers for the things I don’t understand.  I usually try to find answers and possibilities and present them to you on this blog, but I simply have nothing today.  All I can offer is a few links to help you if you or someone you know is in need of help.  Maybe at some point in the future I can do more. For now? This is all I’ve got:

Suicide Hotlines by State (http://suicidehotlines.com/)
60 Tips for Living with Schizophrenia (http://www.schizophrenia.com/family/60tip.html)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (http://www.nami.org/) [This is a very good general resource on coping, support and recovery]

Grief Recovery Support Groups (http://www.griefshare.org/)

HB2036: When Republican isn’t Conservative and Pro-Life Isn’t Pro-Life

As part of evangelical politics’ extinction burst,  we are witnessing a bizarre war on women in this country.  My home state of Arizona, in an attempt to retain its Heavyweight Champion Belt in Yosemite Sam-ism, recently took the lead in this war by introducing overreaching, extremist legislation that would make Barry Goldwater turn in his grave.  I’m assuming that a few of the elected cockroaches in the state capitol building realized that their lives were still incredibly shitty after driving out all the “illegal Mexicans”, and decided to make women number two on their Shit List.  It couldn’t possibly be because they are horrible people who make horrible decisions, could it? Never! It’s got to be the Mexicans and the bitches.

While I gave Governor Jan Brewer a polite golf-clap for suggesting Debbie Lesko’s anti-birth control bill appeared to be a gross invasion of privacy, I take back any and all praise when she signed the other oppressive, anti-woman bill, HB 2036 into law.  While sites like Mother Jones have done a decent job of covering the part of the bill making abortions after 20 weeks illegal, there are a number of disturbing points within the law’s 27 pages of requirements that aren’t getting a whole lot of attention.  For example:

- A provider must provide the patient with the gestational age of the fetus and list the risks associated with abortions. Sounds simple enough if not a bit redundant, right?  The state takes it 900 steps too far by overriding actual medical science and requiring a doctor to use their definition of gestational age and disregard the true age of the fetus when it can be more accurately determined.  A provider cannot list the risks of the procedure based off of fact-based science.  No, the state tells the provider specifically what to tell the patient, because some representative read a couple of articles, and surely that gives them more knowledge than the person who spent years and years of schooling and continuing education on the matter.

- The provider must tell the patient in person that “medical assistance benefits may be available for prenatal care, child birth and neonatal care,” the father of the child is liable to assist in child support, and there are public and private agencies to help the woman if she chooses to not have an abortion.  Because discussing what the state might do for you is the responsibility of a doctor.  Oh, and these state “benefits” aren’t exactly “available.”  More on that later.

- The state requires the provider must offer to describe the state-mandated ultrasound in detail to the patient, and mandates what physical features the provider is required to describe to the patient on the ultrasound.

- The patient must have a 24-hour “reflection period” between seeing the abortion provider and going back for the abortion, because the state is assuming you horrible ladies are incapable of considering the ramifications of this procedure and need to be put in a time out. Since many abortion providers were driven out of the state on prior laws, this 24 hour period is also designed to create another hurdle for disadvantaged women in rural areas, since they’ll have to travel quite a distance for the procedure, pay for a hotel room they can’t afford, and take time off from a job they can’t lose. 

- Non-pregnant taxpayer/voter? You think you’re off the hook? No, the state is using your taxpayer dollars to maintain a website that “describes the unborn child” to the woman.  This description must show and describe fetal development, and must include all of the same items the doctor is required to tell the patient.  Despite the fact that this information is already one easy Google click or library visit away, we are putting a few people on our cash-strapped government payroll to do this.  Oh, and the web site must be “objective, nonjudgmental and designed to convey only accurate information about the unborn child at the various gestational ages.” Remember,  the doctor has to use a state-defined version of “gestational age,” not the objective, non-judgmental accurate version. Because you’re using two different definitions, doesn’t that cause a misrepresentation of fetal development by 2-3 weeks? I see what you did there, Arizona. Clever, clever…

If the provider doesn’t do everything as strictly defined in this law, he or she can lose their license and be sued by a host of people.  So let me get this straight, Arizona Republican Legislature:

- Your party’s platform is supposed to be for tort and malpractice reform, but you just wrote a law making it easier for an OB-GYN to get sued.  This causes malpractice insurance to go up in our state, and will drive specialized care out of Arizona – a state that is already desperate for specialized care in rural areas.  Good job.

- Another aspect of your party’s “limited government” platform is to not create redundant laws.  While many of the provisions of this law are being touted as protecting a women’s health, every aspect that protects the woman’s health in this bill (the quality of the clinic, informing the patient of medical risks, etc.) is already covered in other laws as well as in medical licensing standards.

- You strip taxpayer dollars from services that can actually help Arizonans (again, more on that later), but you just mandated that the state pay for some stupid web site that provides information that can be found elsewhere without costing taxpayers a dime.

- Your party claims they don’t want to legislate people’s lives, and well…here we are, yet again.

Way to be a conservative.  So let’s talk about the word “Pro-Life.”  What does that word mean to you? Because I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

As I mentioned above, the new law wants healthcare providers to talk about the services the state “may offer” to moms.  The key word in there is “may,” because here’s the colossal fail that that resides in “may”:

- In 2011 Arizona cut services for children with developmental delays and froze health insurance for the poor.  Because of these cuts, 85,000 children were on the waiting list for KidsCare.

- Thanks to our poorly funded health programs, Arizona is currently ranked 47th out of 51 in the country for children who are insured, 44th for parents who are insured, 40th for children who have had a preventative medical visit in the past year, 45th for children with preventative dental visits, dead last for children with special health care needs in need of referrals, and 40th for children who are at a moderate to high risk for developmental or behavioral delays.

So we’ve established that Arizona pretty much sucks at providing adequate health care to these babies they want to save.  How else does Arizona protect its children? Haha, good one.  Yet again, needed services were cut from the state’s budget because we’re so goshdurn conservative, and yet again, CPS remained grossly underfunded.  We expect master’s level counselors with a mountain of student loan debt to accept a nearly unlivable wage, be responsible for more kids in one month than most people will know in their lifetime, fight the red tape war every day, only to get persecuted by state politicians when a kid dies.  Sign me up! Representatives actually have the gall to go on our local news and state that they “don’t want to throw money at the problem.” You say throwing money at a problem;  I call it FUNDING A NEEDED SERVICE. To-may-to, To-mah-to, I guess? A recent report showed the fruits of our non-labor, non-money-throwing actions and the results were damning:

- CPS currently has a backlog of 8400 cases, with cases dating back to last summer that still have not been investigated

- We have 11,535 children in state custody

- There is a 20% increase in neglect reports

- There is a 10% increase in the number of kids entering foster care, yet the number of foster homes continue to decline, meaning there are children waiting longer in group homes and crisis shelters.

We’ve got kids suffering and dying thanks to the state’s lack of funding and care, yet these same people are claiming they want to save a few fetuses…for what, exactly?  So you can let these fetuses become babies and give them the chance to experience the joys of behavioral and developmental problems, or for you to kill them slowly through your profound apathy and class warfare against the poor? So you can stand behind their mother in the supermarket line – the mother you coerced into having a child – and judge her when she uses her food stamp card? So you can then cut food stamps funding to put your shaming on paper? So you can feel better about yourself in your Paradise Valley McMansion, because you showed that woman – God blessed you and damned her.  How dare she expect the state to help her after the state promised there’d be services available? How dare she take a penny from you to try and feed that child or take her baby to the doctor for a checkup.  Doesn’t she know you have valets to tip?

She should have been abstinent.  Oh that’s right, we’ve learned that doesn’t really work.  She should have just practiced safe sex.  That’s what someone said in sex ed.  Oh, that’s right, you made Arizona’s abstinence-focused sex ed optional.  You also have laws pending preventing her right to receive birth control.  She should put her child up for adoption…and let those kids in foster care, group homes and crisis shelters wait even longer for a place to go?  And for you to slut-shame her when you find out she’s *gasp* an unmarried woman?  Or *confused gasp* is married and doesn’t want to keep her child?  Well, she could just go and get an abor…

Oh.  Oops…

Portrait of a Whore Pill-Popping Godless Harlot

First of all, I am a human.

Second, I am a woman.

I love, I sympathize, and I like helping people.  I believe in the American Dream.  I really do like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, although I do not care for that song.  At all.  I cry when I read a sad story about someone I don’t even know.  I have a feeling if you and I sat down for tea and didn’t talk a peep of politics, I’d like you.  I’d even make you some of my famous banana bread.

I am imperfect.  I occasionally act like a know-it-all, but I know I have a lot to learn.

I was a registered Republican for many years, believe it or not.  I dated and lived with a man for nearly eight years before marrying him.  Our nine year anniversary is at the end of May.  We make an odd pair, he and I, but every day is interesting.  I love him, I respect him, and I am proud of him.

I am not a Whore Pill-Popping Godless Harlot, I am you.

Okay, I’m not exactly like you: I did take the whore pills for about 15 years, so I guess that would qualify as whore pill-popping.  Allow me to give a little background on this one:

See, when I was a teenager, I got the worst kind of cramps imaginable.  It felt like someone scraped the insides of my uterus with a box cutter.  It would hurt so bad, it would somehow impact the nerves in my legs, and my thighs would throb with pain.  My skin would go ashen, and I would throw up.  By the time I hit college, it generally got better, but there were days I felt so much pain, I couldn’t leave my bed let alone my room.  It would be easy for me to say this was the sole reason I went on the Pill, and you’d probably agree that is reasonable.  If I said that, I wouldn’t be entirely truthful.

I also went on the pill because I made a choice.  I did not want to have children, and I was well aware of the statistics for children born to young mothers.  Did you know that sons of teen mothers are more likely to go to prison, and daughters are more likely to become teen mothers themselves?  Nearly 80% of teen mothers wind up on welfare.  If I did want children, I’d want them to have the best chance possible.  There are so many unavoidable obstacles in raising a child – don’t you agree we should do our best to avoid those we can?  That’s why a lot of women take the Pill for contraceptive purposes.  These aren’t just teens, or even unmarried women.  Many women on the pill are wives and already loving mothers.  They take the Pill because they understand the financial and emotional realities of being a parent, and want to provide their existing children the best opportunities possible.  The Pill helps a husband and wife plan their family for success.

When I made my decision, I realized I had to take my health, my life, and my well-being into my own hands, rather than in the hands of another person.  I made a responsible choice to take the Pill – the most effective form of birth control this side of sterilization.  When I went on it, I had been with my future husband for a while, and we had a long-term monogamous relationship.  It made sense to take this next step.  I also liked the idea of not being bedridden from pain every month.

See, what worries me about your anti-birth control agenda is you’re shaming a young woman when you should be applauding her.  She is making sensible choices and putting her needs and the needs of her potential future children first.  She knows she’s not in a position or condition to have children and as a result, she’s setting up a better life for her future children down the line, if she chooses to have any.

Here in Arizona, there is a proposed bill that explicitly singles out birth control as an acceptable thing to discriminate against on health plans.  Not only does the bill single out birth control from an unending list of things health plans provide that an employer can have a “religious or moral objection” to (such as the non-procreation-sex-promoting Viagra, or you know, blood transfusions), it exhibits remarkable ignorance on how benefit plans are designed and on the Pill itself.  It is also designed to shame the woman: she would have to not only provide her employer with proof she was taking the Pill for non-contraceptive purposes, the bill allows the employer to charge the employee for all fees incurred by her employer while they confirmed she wasn’t a Whore-Pill Popping Godless Harlot.  Oh, dads aren’t off the hook either – they can look forward to explaining to their employer that their 16 year-old dependant has crippling cramps and is not in fact, a Godless Harlot.  They can also enjoy paying the fees for the interrogation into their family life and determination of moral character.

Is this what we’ve come to?  Shaming women for being responsible about their bodies and their future? Arizona, a state with the 5th highest poverty rates in the country, 2nd highest teen pregnancy rates, and low high school completion rates, thinks it’s a good idea to create thinly veiled social legislation shaming a family for determining what is best for them?  How is this limited government again?

I really want to believe you are someone who means well but are so removed from the every day reality of hard-working young American women and their families, you are simply making ill-informed statements and decisions.  We can work together on that one, because I’d like to think you want to be educated on the reality of your constituents.  My fear is that despite your touting first amendment rights, you actually want to marry church and state as long as it is your religion that marries the two.  If that is the case, I am afraid we cannot come to an agreement.  I just request that you explicitly tell your constituents the truth behind your actions rather than cherry-pick justifications for forcing your religious beliefs on others via public office.

Now that we have come to this, I recognize you would still probably see me as a Whore Pill-Popping Godless Harlot.

But I know I’m still you, I’m just lucky to be on this side of your bubble.