I'd like to think that some day, the Catholic Church will be nothing but a bunch of men yelling about how unclean women are while the women who were once Catholic shake their heads and wonder what took them so long to leave an institution that seems to hate them.

Suppose you're a woman, a nun, working at a hospital as an administrator, and as part of your job, you're asked to help decide whether the hospital can perform an abortion on a woman who's 11 weeks pregnant in order to save her life. Now at 11 weeks, the fetus is nowhere near viable, and the mother can't survive long enough with this fetus inside her to get it to viability, so the options really are 1) do an abortion and save the mother or 2) let them both die. The nun chose option 1. She's since been rebuked by the local Bishop and has been reassigned to different duties.

Lest you think my title was unfair, here's Bishop Olmsted's reasoning on the matter:

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Diocese, indicated in a statement that the Roman Catholic involved was "automatically excommunicated" because of the action. The Catholic Church allows the termination of a pregnancy only as a secondary effect of other treatments, such as radiation of a cancerous uterus.

"I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was performed several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese," Olmsted said in a statement sent to The Arizona Republic. "I am further concerned by the hospital's statement that the termination of a human life was necessary to treat the mother's underlying medical condition.

"An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means."

Olmsted added that if a Catholic "formally cooperates" in an abortion, he or she is automatically excommunicated.
The arrogance in that statement is overwhelming. Forget a health-of-the-mother exception--Olmsted doesn't even see a life-of-the-mother exception for rape--and yet Olmsted is described in the very next paragraph as "the voice of moral authority over any Catholic institution operating in the diocese." I don't see anything moral about that stance.

There's nothing moral about telling a woman who's alive today because medical professionals did their job that she should be dead based on your misogynist and archaic value system. There's nothing moral about telling all women that it's better that they die rather than have a fetus (one that has zero chance of survival in this case) removed. There's nothing moral about telling a woman that her current life is worth less than the potential life she's carrying around inside her. At least, there's nothing moral about that to me.

What about the Cubans?

This morning, The Miami Herald reported that Republican candidates for statewide races had come out firmly in support of Arizona's recent immigration laws, and have suggested Florida should follow suit. (Rubio isn't quoted in the Herald, but he's in support of the law as well.) But I think this could very well backfire on all of them--could, I emphasize.

A big part of Florida's problem with immigration has to do with the different ways we deal with the various groups who show up on our shores. If you're from Cuba, the law says that if you make it to land, you can stay, and in a year you can apply for residency. If you're from anywhere else and you come here in less-than-legal ways, you're out of luck, assuming you get caught. And your chances of getting caught is, of course, dependent on how you look. Let's put it this way--if you go to one of the many Irish pubs in the area, there's a decent chance that someone working there is here on a tourist visa or has overstayed a visa or just came in through some other means. In other words, they're illegal. But the chances they'd be asked for documentation by a local cop should Florida pass an Arizona-type law? Practically none.

But Cubans? If Florida adopts this sort of law, some Cubans can expect to be confused for Dominicans and other Latino/as, if only for this reason--not every cop is going to discerning enough to differentiate between them (assuming the cop makes an attempt in the first place). So there's a big chance for insult, right alongside the insults that every other legal Latino/a immigrant is likely to face.

But if that's not enough to convince you, then think about this. Arizona is already getting economically pummeled by boycotts. Our economy is beyond fragile right now, and we can't handle a hit to our tourism industry in the best of times. We need people to come here not only from the rest of the country, but from other countries, and if we become Arizona 2: Immigration Bougaloo, we'll see an economic hit that makes the bursting of the real estate bubble look like a hiccup.

So there's two good reasons to not adopt an Arizona-type immigration law. The problems Arizona faces with racial profiling are multiplied here, and the potential economic hit is too much to bear. How much confidence do I have that Florida Republicans will come to their senses and not do something like this? Not much.

Dear Republicans:

To the RNC in particular, which is acting pretty stupidly right now, I have some words. I understand that, for any political party, the nomination of someone to the Supreme Court is an opportunity for fundraising, and that the party is going to go to some pretty outlandish lengths to raise outrage, even when there's nothing to get outraged about. But this is pretty freaking stupid, even by that measure.

In its first memo to reporters since Kagan’s nomination to the high court became public, the Republican National Committee highlighted Kagan’s tribute to Marshall in a 1993 law review article published shortly after his death.

Kagan quoted from a speech Marshall gave in 1987 in which he said the Constitution as originally conceived and drafted was “defective.”...

“Does Kagan Still View Constitution ‘As Originally Drafted And Conceived’ As ‘Defective’?” the RNC asked in its research document.
You know who else felt the Constitution, as originally drafted and conceived, was defective? The people who wrote the damn thing. That's why there's a method for amending it written into it. That's why they added ten amendments to the damn thing almost immediately upon ratification--because it was defective. It lacked some things they felt were necessary. And it's been amended an awful lot since then, in order to meet the needs of a changing society.

Marshall was talking about the 3/5ths compromise as a defective part of the Constitution, but let's go with something nearer and dearer to Republican hearts--the right to bear arms. Not in the Constitution as it was "originally drafted and conceived." It came later, in the form of an Amendment. Given that, conservatives should be first in line to acknowledge that the original Constitution was defective.

This is one of the main reasons I'm tired of people who deny that the Constitution is a living document, and who argue that the original intent of the Framers should be the end of the discussion. The Framers obviously knew that they were putting together an imperfect document, and that the needs of the country would change over time. That's why they made it possible to amend the thing. To deify the Framers is to do them a disservice. We do ourselves a disservice as well, because we assume that a group of men who lived over two hundred years ago have a better grasp on our world than we do today. How does that make sense?

Tina Harden brought the books back, she says because she'd brought attention to the issue, and not because of the attention she'd received. Or the fact that others had donated more copies of those books to the library (so many that the library is refusing to accept them now). Or that public opinion was pretty solidly against her. Nope--she'd done what she set out to do, she claims, and now it's over.

Oh, and she'd like that $85 fine waived now too, please.

"It's not that I lost the books or I didn't feel like turning them in," she said. "I want us to work together. Hopefully they have the same goals as I do."
The Seminole County Library Services Manager has said they can't waive the fines, and I hope she sticks with that. There's a principle at stake here, and it's not the money. The $85 is nothing. I don't know Harden's financial status, but even if she couldn't afford the fine, there are enough people out there who support what she's doing that someone (or a group of someones) could pay it without blinking.

The principle is that there has to be some cost, some payment you have to make if you break the rules, even if (maybe especially if) you're breaking them in what you consider a good cause. If I chain myself to the fence outside the White House to protest DADT or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm doing so knowing that I'm likely going to spend some time in jail, and probably pay a fine and court costs. I'm not going to get to dodge that simply by saying I did so as a matter of conscience. And if I think a book should be removed from a library (which I wouldn't) and take it upon myself to do so, then I bear the expense of that, whether it means I get sent to a credit agency for a bad debt, or lose my library privileges, or have to pay either late fees or for a new book. That's the deal. If you don't pay a price, you're not really making a statement. You're just being a douche.

Gone for the Green, Green Grass

About a month ago, I went down my driveway to go to work, and I saw my neighbor had torn up his lawn. It wasn't just a part of the lawn, and it's not a small lawn: we're talking a half acre of land turned to naked dirt. Our neighbor has a lawn maintenance business, so I knew he'd done this himself, on purpose. But I was mystified as to what would bring a man to take such drastic measures. Had there been some toxic spill on his lawn that required draconian clean-up? Was he installing some massive new sprinkler system that meant digging up the whole plot? Turned out, he'd dug up his lawn because he had weeds. He'd decided it was easier to re-sod his entire property with fresh-farmed Bermuda grass than to try to get rid of those weeds. A few days later, his yard was (once again) a flat plane of green.

It no doubt annoys my neighbor, but my yard is ALL weeds, 100% pure natural Native Florida wild-growing groundlings that float in on the wind. My landlord pays our neighbor (the same one who tore out his own lawn) to come over once every couple of months and beat them back with a weed-wacker, but if he didn't, they would grow about a foot high. And stop there. They ain't bamboo.

Although we do have a stand of lovely bamboo in the front yard, which I love: it shades the house in evening and provides a little privacy. But our neighbor who takes care of the place, who de-turfs at the first happy dandelion, hates the bamboo. If it were up to him, our yard would look like his, complete with a sign warning:


Comical in its over-politeness (I picture a lab on his hind legs reading this over the rim of his glasses, a newspaper under one arm), but the message is clear: this is a household that cares about its lawn. Don't tread on this.

I will admit I feel a constant glare of disapproval coming from that house. This is a free country, and every family maintains its property the way it chooses, but one person's "au natural" is another person's "au neglect." One person's shady, privacy-granting bamboo is another person's nuisance.

It reminded me of a short (27 minute) documentary I'd watched recently, about grass. I met the filmmaker, Isaac Brown, at an artists' conference, and he generously handed out DVDs. Most of us are busy, and most of us are not looking for new things to be outraged about, but after watching Gimme Green, I definitely feel it's worth at least 27 minutes for us all to become aware of what our lawns (or our neighbors' lawns!) are up to.

I love the length, by the way. Compare that 27 minutes to a TED video, which is usually about 18 minutes, and those are just "person on a stage with slides" videos -- Gimme Green moves and travels, it gives us great "characters" and great visuals. It's perfect for the web. Go here to watch the full movie, but here is the trailer:



There's a fellow in the film who shows the film makers his yard: it's lovely. Lots of tall trees (probably ficus?) protecting a cool, shady ground where grass won't grow: a great place to sit and relax, a cool comfortable haven from the hot Florida sun. But then the man points out that he's being hassled by his neighbors and code enforcement. They want him to cut down his trees and lay squares of sod. It seems to run in the face not just of individuality, but of common sense: in Florida, where it is steamy and hot, a flat plane of green grass is a useless patch of work: you must mow it and maintain it and you will derive no joy from it. A cool shady grove is not just his choice, it's a wise choice.

But as the film's interviewee's frequently imply, that flat, useless product of pointless labor we call a "lawn" is a signifier about one's relationship with a god, or his neighbors, or the state of one's life or mind, and what it seems most to signify is "a nice, safe nothing": that there is nothing unique (and therefore nothing threatening) about the person or his mind, that his "god" is a mindless platitude (safe), that his concept of his neighbor is of nice, safe strangers, that his life and mind are nice, safe blanks, too terrified of a thought to do anything unexpected. The flat lawn is the blank slate of the subconscious, sitting in the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, made obvious through a ritual so accepted as necessary that people who live in desert places sacrifice their water to it.

I'm not going to sum up the film or give a blow-by-blow, but I do want to point out that the film primarily takes place in two places, Florida and Arizona, and that these two places are as different as can be. Florida has its droughts, but it is generally a wet and sunny place; things grow here. But when we learn that in Arizona (in the desert, where massive projects have already diverted all the water than can be diverted and it is running out) that households are pouring three times as much water onto the ground as they drink or use to flush the toilet just to have those plots of grass -- grass that has no business being in a desert at all, it smacks of the same madness that drove the Easter Island people to destroy themselves.


Hey, those Easter Islanders may have cut down every tree and destroyed their civilization, but look at that sweet lawn!

It seems to be an article of human nature that we will destroy ourselves for our totems. In one society that might mean a giant statue, but in ours it means (at least in part) a clean square of green.

This is the fourth in my series on Florida Artists, especially the ones I just met. Previous posts here and here and here. Cross-posted to The Electronic Girl

It's Not All About You

Amy told me about this yesterday--Tina Harden is an Orlando mom who thinks she ought to be able to decide, unilaterally, which books belong on the public library's shelves.

Longwood parent Tina Harden was so disturbed by references to sex and drugs and foul language in the world of fictional teenager Jenny Humphrey that she is ignoring overdue notices and phone calls from her neighborhood library and its bill collector.

Harden refuses to return several books connected to the Gossip Girl series that detail Humphrey's life, even though she's had them since 2008.

"If I turn them in, they will be put back into circulation and they'll be available for more young girls to read," said the mother of three, who keeps the four books hidden in a closet. "Some material is inappropriate for minors."
I'm going to make a quick prediction here--the daughter that Harden is trying so desperately to "protect" from these books is going to try all those things that Harden is trying to protect her from, possibly in very public and foolish ways. That's what teenagers do.

Harden has every right to restrict her daughter's reading material. I think it's a little silly and a little late--Harden, after all, didn't discover the nature of the books until after her daughter had checked them out and read them--but that doesn't mean she has the right to steal from the library just because she disapproves of the content of those books. Harden justifies her actions this way:
That's not good enough for Harden, who said that as a taxpayer she should have a say in which books land on the libraries' shelves. "They're supposed to be public servants," she said.
There's a couple of interesting things going on in this argument. First, there's the idea that being a taxpayer gives you the right to set the rules for everyone else. The fact is that Harden, just like everyone else in the community, gets to "have a say" in which books show up on the shelves. You can "have a say" by donating books, by requesting certain books be carried, or by objecting to certain books. What you don't have is the final say--the librarians do--and that's what's cheesing off Harden, because she obviously feels that they're not good enough to make those decisions.

Why do I say that last part? Harden said "they're supposed to be public servants," and in the context of this disagreement, that seems to me to throw a lot of weight on the "servant" part of the sentence, as though the librarian is supposed to be the serf who bends to your every literary demand. But she neglects the "public" part of that construction, or rather, she narrows it. I figure it works this way:
The librarian is a public servant.
I am a member of the public.
The librarian is my servant.
The flaw in that argument is apparent to anyone who doesn't think the world revolves around their arrogant asses. You are not the public--you are only a member, and there are other members with equally valid positions, some of which may gasp! differ from your own. And that's why we give public servants a fair amount of autonomy, because they have to balance all these competing interests.

If there's a good thing to take away from this, it's that the library has come off as completely reasonable in the article, and the journalist illustrated the important and difficult jobs that librarians have, especially given the cutbacks they've had to endure the past few years. I'd be interested to know just how Harden votes when it comes to taxes that support the library her daughter frequents.

Note: this piece ran earlier today at The Rumpus.

Joe Lieberman is introducing something he calls the Terrorist Expatriation Act--TEA Act for short, though the redundancy seems lost on them--which would make it possible for the State Department to strip the citizenship from anyone they determine is "involved with terrorist activities."

Lieberman claims that he's simply trying to update existing law. Current law makes it possible for a citizen to be stripped of their citizenship if the state can prove that the citizen intended to revoke it. One way of doing that is by joining the armed forces of a state engaged in hostilities with the US. Lieberman's legislation would expand that to include "providing material support or resources to a Foreign Terrorist Organization, as designated by the Secretary of State." So why is this such a big deal?

It wouldn't change the action that got the undershorts of Lieberman and many others all twisted up, namely, the Mirandizing of Faisal Shahzad. Due process rights extend to everyone arrested in the US, citizen or not. You'd think a US Senator would know this. What this legislation would allow, however, is for people like Shahzad to be tried by military tribunals instead of civilian courts, at the discretion of the State Department, and that's what he's really after.

It's hard to come to any conclusion other than that Joe Lieberman likes the trappings of democracy, but not the hard work of it. Any chance he gets, he's in favor of trading trials for tribunals and saying that law enforcement isn't up to the task of convicting and punishing those who would use terrorist tactics as a way of disrupting our day-to-day lives. Lieberman is, as today's NY Times Editorial pointed out, "co-author with Mr. McCain of a bill that would require that anyone arrested on any terrorism-related charge, including American citizens, be declared an enemy combatant and tried in a military court."

Lieberman, and those who side with him including Senator John McCain and Representative Peter King, are cowards. (Peter King is a hypocrite too, of incredible proportions, but that's another story.) The Framers of the Constitution included certain protections because they had seen just how much an unchecked state could abuse those under its power. They could have limited due process rights to citizens only, but they didn't. They took the more difficult path because they felt it was necessary to the existence of a free and open government (even if that government was only free and open to white male landowners at the time).

Here's what I think really puts Lieberman's position in perspective, though. Who do you think said the following about Shahzad?

He's a citizen of the United States, so I say we uphold the laws and the Constitution on citizens. He has all the rights under the Constitution. We don't shred the Constitution when it’s popular.
Some ACLU lawyer? Some hippie law professor from Terrorist Coddlers University? Some poet with no idea how the real world works? Nope. Glenn Beck. When the rodeo clown is making more sense than you are, you need to seriously reconsider what you're doing.

Oklahoma's full of liars

Someone else must have pointed out the glaring contradiction in the reasoning between two of Oklahoma's recent abortion laws, but it bears repeating here. The ultrasound law is based on the idea that women should have every piece of information possible before having an abortion, even if that information is obtained via an extraordinarily invasive procedure. That law's implementation has been delayed temporarily while the state retains the services of Teresa Collette to defend it. Collette said this: "It would be remarkable if a women would undergo a medical procedure and a doctor would not have an obligation to describe the procedure and the results of that procedure to the patient." Indeed, that would be remarkable. In fact, that makes the bill sound somewhat reasonable, if you ignore the whole invasive procedure against the patient's will part of it.

But let's assume, against all evidence, that the state of Oklahoma and Professor Collette are arguing in good faith. Why, then, this?

Under this new law, a doctor may withhold information, mislead or even blatantly lie to a pregnant woman and her partner about the health of their baby if the doctor so much as thinks that fetal test results would cause a woman to consider abortion.
This is HB 2656, passed at the same time as the first law, and whose veto was overturned at the same time. So the state mandates an invasive procedure--the ultrasound wand has to be inserted vaginally if that will produce the clearest image--ostensibly because the doctor has an obligation to describe the results of all tests and procedures to a patient, while simultaneously giving the doctor the option to lie to the patient about the results of that procedure if he or she thinks those results would cause the patient to consider an abortion. If Oklahoma isn't the Republic of Gilead yet, it's real close.

It's possible--even likely, I'd argue--that the legislators who voted for these measures didn't see this contradiction when they voted on, or even when they wrote this legislation, because it's very obvious how they feel about women. Women, in their minds, are incapable of coming to the "correct" decision on an abortion, and so must be forced into that decision by whatever means are available. If that means they have to make doctors rape their patients with an ultrasound wand and turn the screen toward them while describing what they're seeing, it's a small price to pay as far as they're concerned. And if a doctor thinks that telling a woman that her fetus might be born with SMA or Down's Syndrome would cause her to consider getting an abortion, well, the doctor knows better, and the woman should just deal with the consequences.

Not that this should be surprising. After all, one of Oklahoma's Senators is a doctor who was accused of sterilizing a woman against her will and thought there was an epidemic of lesbianism in Oklahoma high schools. Okay, that second one isn't really relevant, but it does show the kind of people who can get elected to statewide office in Oklahoma. Oklahoma politicians respect women the way radical Muslims do--women can't be trusted to make their own decisions about their own bodies and so must have that ability taken away whenever possible, contradictions be damned.

I'm tired of this excuse

At Balloon Juice, it's called "hoocoodanode," the excuse that lots of people come up with in a weak attempt to cover their asses when something bad happens. It's all the more frustrating to hear when what happened was pretty predictable. The one that sticks in most peoples' memories is from Condoleeza Rice in 2001 with her "no one could have predicted someone would fly planes into buildings" (I'm paraphrasing from memory here) when in fact the author Tom Clancy had written just such an event into a novel some years earlier. Forget the PDB--a fiction writer had come up with just such a scenario.

And the list is miles long. The latest version comes from BP spokesman Steve Rinehart who said "I don't think anybody foresaw the circumstance that we're faced with now." Well, the governments of Norway and Brazil did, Steve. They require another failsafe above and beyond what your rig had on it, which means that they felt what you had might not be enough in the case of a catastrophic failure. Guess who was right? That's not to say that the actions Norway and Brazil would have absolutely stopped this sort of failure, just that they saw the potential for a problem and decided to require one more level of security.

I'm not saying we can plan for every eventuality (though I grew up hearing stories about the odd things the US military had planned for, just in case--I bet there's multiple plans of action in case a UFO shows up on top of the White House, for instance), but we ought to stop taking a Titanic-esque view of our technology. Anything can fail, and fail badly, so we ought to try to plan out ways we can deal with worst case scenarios. Take a look at this bit from the first piece I linked above:

BP did not build the containment devices before the spill because it "seemed inconceivable" the blowout preventer on the rig would fail, Rinehart said. 
I'm going to pass up the opportunity for a Princess Bride joke here and instead say that it was also inconceivable that the Titanic would sink, but it happened anyway. Or actually, that it wasn't inconceivable. It was unlikely, perhaps. It was improbable. But not inconceivable.

And I'm not just nitpicking over words here. We need to do a better job of conceiving potential disasters, because we're capable of doing incredible damage to our eco-system, damage we might not be able to rebound from one day. We need to do a better job of figuring out if the potential damage from a worst-case scenario is worth the short-term economic benefits.

I keep thinking about a sign I often see behind the desks of office workers, which says "failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part," and very often I agree with that sentiment, even if I'm the one who failed to plan enough. But in these sorts of cases, the failure of people in places of responsibility to plan can cause an emergency for me, and for all of us.


My daughter lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and she went to the beach this morning to see what effects the oil spill were having. So far, this is the only animal she's seen washed up, but it certainly won't be the last. She told me that it was dead. I'll pass along more photos as she sends them to me.

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