That's a real danger that hasn't gone away -- and if Conservatives have their way, it's a danger that will increase. Mississippi wants a law that will make the fertilized egg a legal person, so that every miscarriage will become a crime scene, every woman who loses a pregnancy a suspect.
Or, well, you know: every poor woman, every brown woman. I don't imagine any of the law-makers women will have to worry much.
It's a NYTimes story, so if you've used up your quota for the month, you might not be able to get to it (though I've heard there are work-arounds).
But the key point is a brief one, though you should certainly read the story and watch the linked video if you can. It is that the crack baby epidemic that those of us who came up in the 80's and early 90's remember so much hysteria being raised about -- those crack babies that were going to overwhelm our country, destroy our educational system, turn our nation into Escape From New York -- well, they didn't exist.
The entire media frenzy was based on one study of 23 babies, whose symptoms (another researcher, who did the follow-up study notes) could equally well be explained as caused by the fact that the infants were born prematurely and to malnourished mothers.
Furthermore, thirty years on, the 23 infants in the initial study aren't showing anything like the dire predictions the initial study foretold. (Also, no huge epidemic of crack babies has overwhelmed our nation, obviously.)
So why was the media -- and our country -- so willing to buy into this crack baby story?
Yeah, you guessed it. Those People who were using crack, they were poor and they were black and they were doing drugs instead of working and they were having babies and they were going to expect Us to Take Care of Them!!
That story again.
Why does it matter? Well, crack babies were one of the reasons the War on Drugs got stepped up to the extent it did; and two, crack babies were one of the big reasons it became acceptable to prosecute pregnant women for child abuse, under the theory that they were abusing their fetuses by doing drugs.
And, despite the fact that the evidence does not exist to support the claim that doing drugs while pregnant harms the fetus, and despite the fact that poverty is much more harmful to a fetus than drug use could ever be (not to mention much more harmful to actual existing children), this practice continues.
In Sitka, because they are fond of them,
People have named the seals. Every seal
is named Earl because they are killed one
after another by the orca, the killer
whale; seal bodies tossed left and right
into the air. "At least he didn't get
Earl," someone says. And sure enough,
after a time, that same friendly,
bewhiskered face bobs to the surface.
It's Earl again. Well, how else are you
to live except by denial, by some
palatable fiction, some little song to
sing while the inevitable, the black and
white blindsiding fact, comes hurtling
toward you out of the deep?
We spent Saturday in Fayetteville, which is possibly our favorite thing to do on this planet.
My parents (who have a condo there) were in town, plus the Kid just had a birthday, so we went up so they could take her out for lunch, which we had at Ella's, one of our favorite places, housed in an old women's dorm on the UA campus.
But first! The Farmer's Market on the Square, where five or six musicians were busking today, and scores of people with their dogs. We got new potatoes, asparagus, and some lovely strawberries.
Last time we also walked in Wilson Park, which we love for a lot of reasons, most of them this castle, but today we ran short of time: I had to return back to the condo in time to discuss weighty financial matters (re the Kid's college fund) with my father, so.
Still, it was a nice day, nice weather, and Fayetteville is such a great town.
The deal is, I answer ten questions about a work in progress. I'm going to talk about Triple Junction, which is the first book proper in the series Martin's War. Those of you who have read Broken Slate know that's a prequel to this series.
1.What is the working title of your next book?
Triple Junction – it’s a geological term, traditionally meaning
a place where three divergent boundaries meet (like an ocean, a ridge, and a
continental plate); but more loosely now means any three boundaries. Generally
they’re unstable and lead to change. Here – obviously – I’m being all
2.Where did the idea come from
for the book?
I’ve been working on this idea awhile. It’s my successful
slave revolt/successful revolution story.
The main impetus was C. L. R. James’ The Black Jacobins, which details
(wonderfully) the Haitian revolution. I’m writing a five-book far-future SF
series, which follows the events of a successful rebellion and revolution about
the contract labor on the planet Julian.
3.What genre does your book fall
Definitely space opera.
4.What actors would you choose to
play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m terrible at this.
Not only do I watch almost no TV and very few movies, but I can’t
remember faces or names. Someone talented, I guess. And since my main characters are mostly POC,
I’d want them not to be white-washed.
5.What is the one-sentence
synopsis of your book?
On a far-future settlement planet, Martin Eduardo battles an abusive contract labor system as he works toward revolution.
6.Will your book be
self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm working on this as we speak.
7.How long did/will it take you
to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The first draft, about two months. I write the first draft fast (always) and
then I revise extensively.
8.What other books would you
compare this story to within your genre?
tough one. I’m heavily influenced by
Cherryh, and Tepper, by Eleanor Arnason, by Joanna Russ, by Suzy McKee Charnas,
by Kage Baker, by Octavia Butler, by Cecelia Holland; but I wouldn’t say this
book is exactly like any of theirs. I
certainly owe all of them plenty.
9.Who or what inspired you to
write this book?
As I said above, reading C. L. R. James, and then about
fifty other books I read because I had read that one – about slavery, and about
other sorts of forced labor. Douglas
Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name was also a big influence. It’s why I have contract labor and not slaves
10.What else about the book might
pique the reader's interest?
Well, I’m also interested in cultures. I started out as an anthropologist, not an
English professor, and one of the reasons I write SF is so that I can write
about different cultures. I was interested in writing about the revolution on
Julian, but I was also interested in creating a workable, believable far-future
culture, one that is not 1970s suburban America culture (as so many SF
cultures, it seems to me, are). I’m
having a lot of fun with that.
So this year we're putting in a garden*, here in the Fort.
It's the first year we've tried -- for several years after we moved here, NW Arkansas had a fierce drought; and then we had the summer when it rained non-stop (I mean just seriously non-stop, torrential daily downpours, everything washed away) and then it was the summer two years ago when the temperature was 114 degrees for a month solid, and not much cooler than that the rest of the summer either, and when we stepped outside I swear you could smell the world toasting...
But this year, it's looking green out there. Like...maybe?
So we dug up a small patch, the kid and I. We have nice earth in this backyard, as it develops. Big fat earthworms came up with every shovelful. The ground smells so lovely. The kid kept squealing. (This is her first garden, or anyway the first she remembers.) "What's that?" "It's a bug!" "Is that -- that's a larva!"
And then yesterday when we actually planted, it was worse.
The Kid: Do what now?
Me: Poke your finger down, to about your first knuckle, and --
The Kid: Put my hand in the dirt?
Me: Um, yeah.
The Kid: In the dirt?
Me: Well, yes. Look, I'm afraid gardening does require you to get your hands dirty.
The Kid: --- --- ---
Me: You can wash them after.
The Kid: (whose idea this garden was, by the way)(darkly): You could have warned me about this.
*What are we growing? Tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, carrots, corn, and cantaloupe. Dr. Skull asked whether we wanted to put some flowers in. Chicks love flowers you know. Maybe I should.
Since I live here in Arkansas, where we also serve free breakfasts to our students in poverty, and where we have been doing that for years, and where we have a program known as Backpacks for Students, which sent students home with backpacks filled with food during the holidays (when school is not in session, and they won't get their school meals), I tilted my eyebrows dubiously, but kept reading.
Here is why Prager thinks there is no need for free breakfasts in public schools:
First, the program was created to solve a problem that does not exist.
It is inconceivable that there are five, let alone 200,000 or the projected 450,000, homes in Los Angeles that cannot afford breakfast for their child.
Second, it both enables and encourages irresponsible, uninterested, and incompetent parenting. Given how inexpensive breakfast can be (not to mention the myriad public and private programs that provide food for poor households), any home that cannot provide its child with breakfast demands a visit from child protective services.
Third, even where decent parents are involved, free breakfasts at school weaken the parent-child bond.
And fourth, the free breakfast profoundly weakens young people’s character. When you grow up learning to depend on the state, you will almost inevitably — even understandably — assume that the state will take care of you. And you will grow up also assuming — as do Europeans, who give far less to charity than Americans for this very reason — that the state will take care of your fellow citizens, including your own children.
(Bold is mine. Because HAHAHA. Talk about having your causality reversed. Europeans have fewer people living in miserable fucking poverty, because they have a less destructive social system, so they give less to charity, you fucking miserable shit. Yeah, that's really a bad thing.)
Clearly Prager has no idea what poverty means.
Poverty does not mean, Prager, that you don't have enough money to go out to dinner on Friday night, or that you can't buy the bigger version of your Buick, or that you have to fire one of your fucking gardeners and maybe have your son mow the lawn instead.
No, poverty is having two kids and living on less than $18,000/year. That's in a city -- Los Angeles -- where the rent for a two bedroom apartment is seldom less than $900/month, even in the worst parts of town. Which will leave you the princely sum of about $700 a month for every other expense in your life and your children's lives. Say you spend $200 dollars on transport and such luxuries as clothing, medical, utilities, your phone -- and yes, you have to have a phone, and so on -- for the entire family, mind you, and let's hope no one is actually ill, because that won't be nearly enough, if so. (Forget entertainment. You have libraries and parks and boredom when you're this poor.) That leaves $500 a month for food. Which is how much per meal?
(And don't forget taxes, because some of this money does go for taxes, even though you're desperately poor. In Arkansas, the sales tax rate is nearly 11% on everything, even our food. I don't know what it is in LA. But since you're earning the $18,000, some of it will come right off the top in payroll taxes, so you're not really bringing home $18,000. Of course, you'll get it back in EIC at the end of the year -- usually. If you don't owe student loans or child support or any other debts that will give the IRS reason to confiscate it. But in any case you have to live until then.)
So! Say you have about $400, which is probably likely. How much does that give you day per meal?
A little over four dollars, per meal, for the entire family; or thirteen dollars a day.
Dennis says it's easy to feed a family on thirteen dollars a day. He links a site that gives Breakfast Ideas for a Buck! and claims that any parent who "give a child breakfast is not too poor; he or she is too incapable of being, or too irresponsible to be, a competent parent."
Raise your hand if you are thoroughly convinced that (a) Dennis has never provided breakfast for any child in his life except maybe on the occasional Sunday morning while his little woman was at a prayer breakfast with her coffee buddies, on which occasion he took the little darlings out to the nearest (expensive) restaurant and (b) he actually thinks buying a Burger King Ham Omelet sandwich is a cheap breakfast. (Dennis. Son. A cheap breakfast is boiled grits with an egg mixed in. An a little pepper. That's about 30 cents, and that's what I ate all through graduate school. You don't know from cheap.) Plus (c) Dennis has never held a job that required him to use public transport. Ever. In his entire life.
This entitled bit of crap column reminds me of all those sites and all those blogs I have been on in which claim it is easy to live on thirty-five cents a day. "Why, I did it when I was poor!" people claim in the comment sections. "Once I lived on rice and peas for an entire summer when I was in graduate school!"
Or: "When my wife and I were first married, we were between paychecks once, we lived on crackers and peanut butter for a month. Why can't kids today try that!"
Whenever I read shit like this, I know I'm reading someone who knows absolutely nothing about what actual poverty this like.
My suggestion? As a cure for this fatal case of privilege? Take away Dennis's wallet, his giant house, his soft job, his nice suit, and dump him in the worst neighborhood in LA for about two years. Give him a job washing dishes, at $16000/year. Let him see how soft the poor have it. See if he learns anything at all.
I'm dubious, but he might be educable.
Update: Charles Pierce also talks about His Holy Ignorance: The Tyranny of Liberal Pancakes.
So ever since the kid learned to read she has had the habit of reading in very bad light -- as in dusk, as in nearly dark -- and I have been constantly telling her (with more and less profanity) to turn the light on, please, does she want to ruin her eyes?
Over the past few years she's been arguing with me.
Me: Will you turn the light on? Jesus, you'll go blind reading in the dark!
The Kid: (with some annoyance): I can see just fine.
Me: You're going to have to use those eyes for a long time, you know. Fuck's sake.
The Kid: Anyway, that's a myth. It's a big myth. How much light you have has nothing to do with what happens with your vision. It's all genetics.
Me: Where did you hear that, Tumblr? Just turn on the light.
The Kid: You can look it up.
(I turn the light on for her, with a huffing noise.)
You may or may not have noticed (from my irregular blogging, Fb, and twitting hours) that I am suffering from insomnia of epoch-shaking proportions these days.
Well, I am.
Luckily, there is more media than ever before in the history of homo sapiens to keep me occupied at three a.m. in the morning.
These past two nights I watched (in a marathon of watching) Call the Midwife, which I am recommending to you with only tiny caveats.
This show comes to us from the BBC, so we're already inclined to like it, and we are not disappointed. High production values, lovely attention to details, and from the opening scene -- when our young midwife nurse who has just qualified comes down to the East End of London in 1957 (pre-birth control era, pre-legal abortion, just barely post NHS) to find she is to work out of a convent -- we are hooked.
Our two main characters are Jenny Lee and Chummy, both of whom are new midwives -- they have just qualified -- and both of whom are new to the world of the East End. Jenny Lee is upper-middle-class, fleeing some sort of love affair; Chummy (Camilla Fortesque-Cholmeley-Browne) is very much upper class. The other characters are mostly nuns, except for two other lay-midwives who have been in the East End for quite some time.
So it's partly a fish-out-of-water story, and partly the drama of the East End, and partly nostalgia/horror, and it plays really well. I won't give spoilers, except to say that Chummy is the reason I like the show as much as I do. Unlike Jenny, who is conventionally attractive and has a conventional storyline (oh, which boy should I love? Oh should I chose work or true love?), Chummy is very much not the usual story. She is clumsy, unattractive (very tall, overweight, not witty), but deeply good-hearted and forthright. Her entire lack of self-pity and her determination to soldier on makes us like her character more and more as the show progresses.
Also, we're shown through her character that clumsy and tall and kind of gawky and sort of ugly does not mean stupid and useless and loser. I really, really like this in the show.
The caveat: The show is kind of sentimental, and though it hints at the real costs of a world without birth control, it seldom delivers on the actual impact.
For instance: we're shown a woman early on who has had 22 pregnancies, and is now pregnant with her 23 child. All 22 of those children are shown as healthy and happy and fine and well-fed. The woman herself is beautiful and slim and lovely and young-looking. The 23 child delivers a month early: but this is fine! It survives! So does the mom.
For instance: We're shown multiple women in their forties who find to their dismay that they are pregnant once again. But! All these pregnancies turn out fine, and the women end up happy with their babies.
For instance: We're told that a hundred to a hundred and fifty babies a month are born in the East End, and we're shown swarms of children running the streets, but all these kids are also shown (usually) as happy and healthy and well-fed. Only very seldom do we see any kids or their parents unhappy or dirty. No one ever seems unhappy about having yet another baby.
For instance: although we do see one case of eclampsia, it is in a rich young woman who has moved down to the East End for reasons that are not at all clear.
One exception -- an Irish fifteen year old prostitute who flees her pimp who would have forced her to have an abortion; the nuns help her hide from the pimp, and we do see that the Church takes her baby from her against her will; and we do see the emotional fall-out from this.
But aside from this quibble, it's worth watching.
Update: I've watched the second season now, and that season is more realistic about the effect of living in a world without birth control (although, as Historiann notes in her comment below, it frequently undercuts its realism with an unrealistic happy ending). For instance, there is an episode where an impoverished woman in her forties with eight children finds herself pregnant with yet again, and tries multiple ways to abort the fetus, before finally hiring an back-alley abortionist. The episode is quite realistic about everything a woman in her situation would have suffered, right up until the final scene, which goes for a an unlikely (semi)-happy ending.
Still! Passes the Bechdel test, multiple women as the main characters, all the central stories are about women, all the main characters -- women characters -- have not just jobs but professions, and in one plot strand, a main character takes a position elsewhere, and her husband leaves his job to follow her. Nor is that presented as at all odd or unlikely or remarkable.
All this, plus a great deal of commentary (not beaten into us, just as part of the plot) on women being seen as and treated as and expected to be part of the sex class, and what results from that.
Over in Bama, a news team does a report on the changes in the law on Plan B -- how it will now be legal to sell it over the counter to anyone 15 years old and older -- only to find (1) a single pharmacists (male, white) in their area who says he will still keep it behind the counter and (2) every other pharmacist they talk to who says they have never carried it and still won't carry it.
Oh, various reasons.
Some choose not to. (Freedom of choice: get it? It's their choice to keep women from having that choice!)
Another claims to think it's just not right to put the medicine into the hands of 15 year olds (never mind that they've never carried it, and that this touching concern for 15 year olds means keeping the medicine out of the hands of all women, so color me unconvinced about this excuse, son).
My favorite claim, though? They just have never needed the drug.
So last Friday the Chair of my department came tapping on my door to tell me she'd been hearing from the students in my class all week about the infamous class.
"Oh, my," I said. Or words to that effect. (I am known throughout the department, or, well, through the university, as That Professor Who Says Fuck A Lot.)
The Chair laughed. "No, no. Well. I've been hearing from both sides of the issue, but mostly from students who think you handled it well. And I think you handled it perfectly. Which is mainly what I wanted to say."
"It was," I said, and hesitated. "It got rough."
(A short digression while we discussed the student's presentation. Another digression while we discussed the need for a class in gender studies, so that we could, justifiably, educate our students on issues like abortion rights.)
I told her my plan to use Our Bodies, Ourselves for a follow up class, and include the sections on abortion.
Which, in the end, is what I did: that section, the section on birth control, the section on pregnancy and childbirth, and the section on violence against women. I also told the students that if we had had more time, we would have been reading the whole book, and that they should read the whole book. I gave them a brief history of how the text had come into being, and why it was such an important text, historically and politically.
"It's not like we didn't know -- humankind didn't know -- how babies were made, or how to keep pregnancy from happening," I said. "This is not arcane knowledge. We have known how to stop pregnancy, and how to cause abortions, since Mesopotamia -- since 2000 B.C.."
"So what happened? How did we lose this knowledge? Well, a number of things. First, after the Black Death, the Catholic Church* made both abortion and birth control not only a sin but a crime -- it hadn't been before then.
"And since the Catholic Church controlled the Western world at that point, information about both contraception and abortion soon became lost or arcane knowledge.
"With the rise of industrialization and the Age of Enlightenment, this knowledge became less arcane; but in 1870 in America the Comstock Act made it illegal for anyone -- even your doctor -- to give you information about birth control."
You should have seen my students at this point. Their eyes were huge.
I paused. "You can imagine what the results of this law were."
"What about midwives?" one of my students demanded. "Didn't they -- couldn't they--"
"Well, that was one reason for the law," I said. "Anthony Comstock and those like him did not want women -- and it was women who angered him -- sharing knowledge about how to control their own fertility."
At this point I wrote the name Margaret Sanger on the board.
"Margaret Sanger," I said, "one of the early activists in the birth control movement. She was a nurse on the lower East Side on New York City, in the early 20th century. As a child, she watched her mother die of cervical cancer. Her mother was fifty years old. She'd had twenty-two pregnancies. Eleven live births."
The class gasped.
"My great-grandmother," I said, aside, "died at sixty, of a stroke. Seventeen pregnancies, nine live births. Eight kids survived to adulthood. That's how it is without birth control. Anyway. As a nurse, Sanger saw all these women, not as rich as her mother, but -- just like her mother -- suffering through one pregnancy after the next. Dying, like her mother, because they couldn't prevent pregnancy. The story she tells us is of a woman who tried to abort herself and nearly dies from it. Who begs the doctor to tell her how not to get pregnant again. The doctor tells her to abstain from sex."
I looked out at the students. "Why is that not good advice?"
They laughed. Not pleasant laughter.
"It's not always up to the woman," one of my students said. Not pleasantly.
I looked back up at the white board. "Sanger tells about coming back a few years later and finding that woman dead from a self-induced abortion. So."
The class was silent.
"So. That's one reason we need to keep birth control available. But what are some other reasons?"
I walked them through the reasons: if we all have five or six or nine kids, there is no way we are going to school or getting jobs that mean anything or that can do anything in this world (and -- without birth control -- we will all, in fact, have six or nine kids); that without birth control, we do not have ownership of our bodies; that without birth control, we will have to let someone, usually men, but someone provide for us and for our children, since we will not, in fact, be in any position to have a job that pays enough to support both us and all those children; which means we will not have equality, political or otherwise.
"And why do people oppose birth control?" I asked. "Because that's an interesting question. I mean, you can see why the Pope opposed it -- sort of you can see this -- in 1484. The Black Death had just happened. Half the world was dead. Labor is getting all uppity and demanding fair wages. The Scientific revolution is happening. Who knows what might happen if we don't breed some more ignorant teeming masses, and fast?"
This got a laugh.
"But why would anyone be against it now?" I spread my hands. "Who uses birth control?"
Two students raised their hands, and then one of them laughed. "Oh! I thought you meant-- "
I laughed too. "No, go ahead! Who uses birth control or has used it or plans to use it?" I raised my hand, and so did everyone else, including the student who had given the Pro-Life presentation, I will note. "Yeah," I said. "Everyone. It's like 99.5% of the population, right?"
"Even Catholics," one of my students said. "Hell, 25% of abortions are gotten by Catholics."
"Right, we'll get to abortion," I said. "The thing is, when you educate women about birth control, what women do is, they control their births. My great-grandmother had nine babies. My grandmother had four, my mother had four, and I have one. This is what we see happening. Why does this bother -- I won't say everyone -- but some people?"
"Women in control," said one of the students.
"Women with options."
"Women as competition."
I sat down on the desk and took a breath. "Now. Why do we need abortion?"
Not even a pause. Because this was what they had been waiting for.
The student who had spoken about control -- one who had asked for this lecture -- held up the picture of Geraldine Santoro, on page 339 in OBO. (It's an upsetting picture, so be warned.) "So this doesn't happen again," she said. "This. This is why."
Another said, "Because of what happened to my friend. I used to be against abortion. I did. I did. Because my mother was, and I just, I believed what she said. But my friend got pregnant, and her boyfriend made her do -- do --do all this stuff, trying to -- and she nearly died. When if she had just been able to get an abortion at a hospital**, she would have been fine. So I'm pro-choice now. That's why. That's why we need abortions."
"Because I was on birth control," said the student who had the medical abortion, "and I got pregnant anyway."
"Right," said another student. "Because birth control fails. It does. That section we read on birth control--" She thumped Our Bodies, Ourselves. "That's what it says. Almost all of them -- well, all of them, really -- they can all fail! And then what?"
"Even abstinence," I said. "I liked the section on abstinence. It's 100% effective, it's the best method. Except it too can fail."
"Because you can get raped," the first student said.
"Or because you just might not be good at it," the other said.
I grinned a little. "Humans do turn out to be surprisingly bad at not having sex."
I paged through the book. "But speaking of rape. Yeah. I also had you read the section on women and violence because that does tie into this. Also because the section on violence against women is important, it wasn't just for its connection to birth control and abortion. But."
I had their attention again. In fact, I think this is the most attentive they have been all semester. I should lecture on birth control and rape all the time maybe.
"But this is really what this is, the effort to take control of our bodies away from us," I told them. "It is, in fact, a kind of violence. Forced pregnancy. Denial of the control over our fertility. Refusal to allow us to say when or if we will conceive, or when or if we will have sex. These are violent acts, even if they don't come with a slap or a punch or a gunshot."
"War on Women," someone said, only half aloud.
"Well, there's a reason we call it that," I agreed. "I know the stories they tell you can look benign, even sweet -- family values, mama at home in the kitchen baking cookies, getting back to basics. And there is nothing at all wrong with the choice of a woman having kids, or staying home with a child. What you don't want to lose sight of is the real aim of those who want to strip women of that choice -- to force their choice on women."
Since we've been talking all semester long about what that means (forcing people to act without their consent) they got what I meant just fine.
I haven't gotten any feedback on this class yet, from the Chair or anyone else, but it went well, I think.
Lots better than I thought it would, the night before, when I was chewing down Xanax.
*Speaking against witches, by which the Church meant women who practiced medicine and midwifery, in its proclamation Summis desiderantes affectibusin 1484: [these persons] have slain infants yet in the mother's womb, ...these wretches furthermore ...hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, whence husbands cannot know their wives nor wives receive their husbands.... This decree gave the Inquisition the right to hunt down and punish anyone responsible for aiding in contraception or abortion.
**Arkansas requires parental consent. Also, good luck finding a clinic here. (This, BTW, found while I was researching clinics in AR, is why I love Scarleteen so much.)