Archive of ‘Political Topics’ category

The Frustration of Procreation: Part One

This week I’m discussing two things that have been bothering me. I believe, at least for me, that writing is my catharsis, and because we all share in the human experience, I also believe what I’m going through is not unique to myself. It always helps to know that other people are going or have gone through some of the same stuff as me. I know I may upset some people with what I write, and as this is never my intention, I apologize. So with that in mind, here we go.

The first thing that has bothered me for a while is people’s reaction to my pregnancy and choice to procreate. For some people, I have received positive feedback, and I appreciate this. However, I cannot count the number of times a friend or family member will look at me with scorn, scoffing how having children is the last thing he/she wants to do. Some of these people then go on to tell me in full detail how much they dislike children and the people who have them and how their lives change because of it. I’ve even had people upset that I’m having a boy instead of a girl. I get so many jokes directed at me because of my choice to procreate and have felt such a lack of support from some of the people I thought would be much more supportive. This making-a-baby process is turning into a lonelier endeavor than I ever anticipated.

Procreation!

I believe in everyone’s right to have or not to have children. It is not only a choice but a right. I stand behind anyone’s decision not to procreate and fully support people in this decision. Honestly some of the people who have been so harsh in their assertion that they never want children make me happy because I can see how they would not make good parents and am glad they, too, have come to this conclusion. (Let me be clear that this is not the case for every person who has asserted that he/she does not want children. I can see some of these people as great parents, but I respect their decision not to bring life into this world.) It’s not for everyone, and a woman’s worth is not linked to her use or disuse of her uterus. Hell, I also experienced quite a lot of critique when Hans and I were not having children. With that being said, I try very hard not to critique anyone’s decision about children, and I would love that same support. You may decide that children are not for you, but I have made a different decision. Both decisions are right and in no way wrong.

I’ve found that certain people no longer want to be close to me, thinking in some backwards way that the decision to have kids is something that can be contagious. Friends have held me at arm’s length, even making me an example of how much they do not want to procreate, and then have said such hurtful things as having to sit in a further chair so that they do not catch the “baby bug.” WTF? I’m assuming such things are said for humor instead of springing from actual belief, or at least I hope they are. If you truly believe your decision not to procreate could be swayed by something as easily as sitting next to a “breeder” then your decision was not that solid to begin with. I am not a disease. This baby growing inside of me is not a mistake that can make others endeavor to make this same mistake. Stop making me feel as though I am diseased and no longer worth as much because of my decision.

The second thing that has bothered me is Hans’s work policy about parental leave or rather lack thereof of a policy on paternity leave. He is afforded no time off for his wife having a baby, and this is from a business that deals with human resources. In fact, this company is originally based in a country that allows quite a bit of parental leave for both parents, so why they have changed their policy for their American workers is beyond me. Let me be clear that we are not looking for a paid vacation or a handout. We believe raising a child is a partnership; it is just as important that Hans has time to bond with the baby as it is for me. I want my husband to be as active in my child’s life as I am and so does my husband. I am well aware that I will not be back to 100% health right away (recovery can take up to six weeks after bringing forth a new life), and I would be up a creek without a paddle without the aid of someone else. Thank goodness my sweet mother has agreed to come up for a week or more to look after both myself and our baby boy. Hans will plan to take off a week if possible and work from home for a month, but there are no guarantees to this.

I don’t understand how there can be no policies in place for parental leave. Currently, employers do not have to offer any paid parental leave for either mother or father, and the amount of unpaid leave for both is up to 12 weeks without his/her job being in jeopardy (although this only applies to roughly half of the population as the Family and Medical Leave Act excludes small businesses and most part-time workers). The United States is one of only two countries out of 185 for which data was available that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave to new mothers. The United States “ranks last among developed nations in providing government support for working parents… The nation that ranks first, Estonia – whose GDP, at $22 billion, is also a fraction of our $16 trillion economy – guarantees new moms more than two years of paid leave, while their jobs are guaranteed for nearly four years. Other nations with generous parental leave policies include Norway, which offers 35 weeks off at full pay; Poland, 26 weeks (100 percent pay); and Bulgaria, 32 weeks (90 percent pay).” It seems that we are a productive country but not a procreative country.

I don’t understand how a country that touts the idea of a nuclear family can have few if any policies to support this belief in the importance of family. People will go to bat against a woman’s right to have an abortion but will do nothing to help her after she makes the “right” decision and the child is born. How can we expect men to step up to be good fathers if there is no support for them? To be clear once again, Hans and I are not looking for a government handout. However, I do not think it is right that parental leave is not an option for Hans (and would not be for me in many jobs I’ve formally had). Paid leave has been shown to help “companies retain workers and lower the cost of turnover,” not to mention the benefits it offers to both the parents and child. Why then is paid parental leave nonexistent in our country, the supposedly “greatest country in the world”? To be great, we must strive to have responsible, intelligent people to continue to make this country what it was and hopefully will be in the future, and this requires not only parents who will raise their children to the best of their abilities but also the support of the government, showing that raising children is important and one of the nation’s priorities.

Fix all the issues

A “Serial” Problem

My husband has asked me multiple times to listen to the podcast “Serial.” I’m not big on committing to listening to anything, as I believe listening is a more difficult skill than reading, but I finally caved in to his request. I just finished the last episode of Season One today, and I can’t stop thinking about this. For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about, “Serial” is a spin-off of “This American Life.” It focuses on the murder of Hae Min Lee and the question of what really happened with this murder. Adnan Syed is behind bars for first-degree murder, but did he really do it? This story of a true crime was told episode to episode each week for twelve episodes. At first, I didn’t think I would get into it. I’m not a fan of true crime stories. Yes, I like Criminal Minds and Law & Order, but I like them because I can remind myself that these are not actual events that took place. They’re fiction and far removed from reality. “Serial,” however, focuses on a real teenager who was murdered and dumped in the woods.

As I got into the series and listened more and more, I realized that the reason I do not listen to or watch true crime stories is because I empathize too deeply. The first time I watched the last recording of Hae Min Lee on YouTube I cried. I didn’t know how invested I was until I watched that video that my husband sent to me. The world had already become obsessed with this podcast, and I quickly did as well.

The last episode was a letdown for many people. Sarah Koenig, the host and executive producer, didn’t end on a definitive guilty or not guilty stance. We, as a society, are so used to conclusions being succinct and neatly wrapped up that this last episode left us disappointed. Why listen to this whole podcast if you don’t even find out whether Syed is guilty is not guilty? However, so many great stories are open-ended. When I read the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I felt cheated. The story was too neat and tidy at the end. I could have made up my own mind about what Harry and the crew did after the defeat of the Dark One. Open endings make us think. They leave us thinking about the story way past when it ended, and this is what “Serial” has done.

“Serial” is set up as more of a story-telling podcast than a journalistic podcast. We hear Koenig putting in her two cents about what she is feeling and thinking; in journalism, these feelings are usually exempt, reporting just the facts and nothing else. Perhaps Koenig’s feelings have swayed audiences into thinking one way or another about Syed. I know they did for me. I waffled about Syed’s guilt just as Koenig did. I thought he was not guilty and then guilty almost at the same time Koenig expressed her feelings. Because this was set up as a story rather than a journalistic piece of work (they even sell it as “one story told week to week”), we felt for the people perhaps in a way we may not have had it been simply a good piece of journalism.

But the bigger issue presented in this podcast is not whether Syed is guilty or whether Jay, the witness, was lying. The bigger issue is people’s ignorance or misunderstanding about reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is defined as the following: “The standard that must be met by the prosecution’s evidence in a criminal prosecution: that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby overcoming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty. If the jurors or judge have no doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, or if their only doubts are unreasonable doubts, then the prosecutor has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the defendant should be pronounced guilty.” This means that the prosecutor must show how the crime happened without any doubt or logical explanation of another way it could happen. The crime happened this way and no other. Many times jurors go into trials with a prejudice against the defendant (whether this is conscious or not). They assume that he/she is guilty solely because he/she is on trial. In our court systems, we tout the line “innocent until proven guilty.” In most cases, though, it is really “guilty until proven innocent.” Syed’s case was full of reasonable doubt; there were many different logical explanations that could be derived from the facts. However, as admitted by a juror in the series, Syed was assumed guilty simply because he was being tried. People trust the police to do their jobs for the most part, and do not take into account that it’s more a job of clearing one’s desk than of uncovering each and every fact. Detectives are overworked and underpaid. They simply do not have the time and resources to uncover every fact and give it the attention it deserves. They tend to find one person to attach a crime to and do not look for alternatives or uncover more stones. Is this an excuse? No, but let me just say that everyone involved in catching a criminal and trying said criminal is human and, therefore, full of flaws.

Adnan Syed did not have a fair trial. According to how our system works, he should have been acquitted based on reasonable doubt. There should have been that one person, a person akin to Juror 8 in Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, who said this was too important a case to not review all the evidence. A person to say deciding a man’s fate in two hours that includes a lunch break isn’t really giving the case the attention it deserves. A person to say all the evidence here is circumstantial (meaning evidence that does not directly tie the person to the crime and that requires a leap of faith and reason to believe it is hardcore proof of guilt), and there is reasonable doubt. A person to remind every other juror that Syed was innocent until they all decided on the verdict of guilty rather than looking and pondering whether he could be proven innocent. Sadly, this person didn’t exist for Adnan Syed’s trial, and this makes me wonder how many other trials lacked a Juror 8.

Do I believe Adnan Syed killed Hae Min Lee? I have no idea. I want to believe Syed didn’t do it because I like to think of the good in people and keep that rose-tinted outlook that people are not capable of such heinous acts. However, I know this is idealistic rather than realistic. Part of me hopes Syed is guilty of Hae’s murder because I can’t bear the thought of him in prison for so many years for a crime he didn’t commit. At least if he is actually guilty than those years served are for a purpose. However, I am aware that our prisons are full of innocent men paying a debt to society that they do not owe. Our system is flawed, really flawed, but I can’t offer a solution besides the education of reasonable doubt and circumstantial evidence and trying to push prejudices aside. The one thing I am sure of after listening to “Serial” is that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Syed. The state’s case was not strong enough. The reasonable doubt based on circumstantial evidence should have led to a verdict of “not guilty” regardless of whether Syed was guilt.

What It Seems from the Outside

In the wake of recent trials and events that have transpired within the past 24 hours in our country, I will keep my opinions to myself. However, I wish to remind us all to walk in other people’s shoes. Things are not always what they seem from the outside. This decision may ignite more hatred and fear, but this needs to stop. People are people, no matter the race, religion, sex, gender, or sexual orientation. Peace is the only balm needed in many cases.

My stepfather recently told me a story when I was down for my great-uncle’s funeral. (Forgive me, Brian, if I get some details wrong. My memory isn’t what it used to be due to age and pregnancy.) When he was a young boy growing up in England, he used to walk past this house everyday going to school. It was impossible to see into the other houses in the neighborhood, but because this house was sitting on a hill just right, anyone walking by could easily see into the window. The house belonged to an elderly man, and what made this man unique was that he dressed in women’s clothing when he was in the house and would dress in the respectable men’s clothing when he left the house. Pretty soon, people started to complain about his “deviant” behavior. (Remember this was a different time when cross-dressing was unheard of.)

The police received so many complaints that they had no other alternative but to talk with the elderly man. They went to his house and eventually had to break in because there was no reply. Being an elderly man, the police were worried about him. They found him dead. As the coroner was called and the police started to poke around, they discovered the man had been wearing his deceased wife’s clothes. His own clothes were ratty and torn with only one outfit in acceptable condition. This outfit he used to go out when he needed to and would have to wash it every time, leading to a diminishing condition as well. Because he had no other clothes and an income too small to buy new ones, he had been wearing his wife’s clothes while in the house because he thought his house, like all the others in the neighborhood, was not able to be looked into from the outside. He didn’t mean any harm by what he did; it was simply a necessity.

All of the people who thought him such a deviant had not stopped to consider why he was dressing in women’s clothes. They had not taken a moment to really think about him as another human being, just like them, and to take a walk in his shoes. Things weren’t what they seemed from the outside, and what a difference it would have made if people would not have judged so quickly.

I, like most people, am quick to judge. I am quick to say what is right and what is wrong, usually based on my own political beliefs and lifestyle. I enjoy hearing other people’s views, but I laugh to myself with superiority about how wrong they are. What would happen if I took a moment to consider where the others are coming from? What would happen if I tried to sympathize or empathize instead of being quick to point out exactly what is wrong? Wouldn’t it be grand if we put our judgments down and took up love instead?

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Government in my Uterus

By now I’m fairly certain that we have all seen the ruling of the Supreme Court that certain companies are not required to provide contraception coverage within their health plans. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Store (yep, it’s a “wood” store so let’s all get a laugh about that) challenged this mandate and won. While I lament the loss of one of my favorite craft stores (as I will no longer be a customer), let’s take a moment to really evaluate the hypocrisy and simple wrongness in this. As a Christian, I believe in the necessity to think through why we make “religious” decisions and even question the foundation for many “religious” mandates. We, as Christians, must be logical.

So why exactly did Hobby Lobby and Conestoga object to contraception coverage? And does science support them? Huffington Post explains, “The owners of those companies believe that those types of birth control are forms of abortion because they could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, despite the general scientific consensus that the contraceptives are not equivalent to abortion.” I don’t think I need to explain the fallacy in this but just for fits and giggles. An abortion is defined as “the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo before viability.” How then does birth control prevent pregnancy? “Birth control pills contain hormones that prevent ovulation. These hormones also cause other changes in the body that help prevent pregnancy. The mucus in the cervix thickens, which makes it hard for sperm to enter the uterus. The lining of the uterus thins, making it less likely that a fertilized egg can attach,” as The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains. All of these pass the religious test to the best of my knowledge except the fact that birth control (think the morning-after pill) prevents a fertilized egg from attaching. Some religious persons believe that a fertilized egg is a fetus, a tiny little human, and this is abortion. However, it takes between five to six days before the fertilized egg is even within the uterus much less implanted within the uterus lining. In fact, “an examination by The New York Times has found that the federally approved labels and medical Web sites do not reflect what the science shows. Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, leading scientists say. Rather, the pills delay ovulation, the release of eggs from ovaries that occurs before eggs are fertilized, and some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming.” The science just doesn’t support that birth control equates abortion.

Let’s now take a look at the “religious” reasoning behind what companies like Hobby Lobby will not cover and what will be covered. Birth control is out. (Sorry, ladies. Hope you all believe the same as the companies’ owners.) However, Hobby Lobby will still cover vasectomies and Viagra. (Woohoo for the men. You’re free to get your freak on.) Does this not add up to you? Let’s remember that the whole reasoning behind not covering contraceptives is that these are methods of abortion. Abortion is against God’s will. He gave you that fertilized egg, so you must keep it. The Bible says we are to go forth and procreate. That is God’s will as well. However, if it is God’s will to have women procreate, then is it not God’s will for men to procreate? If a man has erectile dysfunction, is it not then God’s will for him to no longer procreate? God gave you ED; therefore, it is God’s will for you to keep it in your pants and no longer spread your seed. God is trying to prevent these flaccid men from experiencing the joy of sex, much like the abolition of birth control prevents women of experiencing the joy of sex. Why then are pills and pumps still covered for men while birth control is not? The same goes for vasectomies. If the entire reasoning behind not paying for employees’ birth control is that these are methods of abortion, (which is, of course, against the will of God), then doesn’t it then follow that vasectomies are against the will of God as well? Vasectomies prevent men from procreating, just as birth control methods for females do. Birth control methods for females do not allow an egg to release; vasectomies cut, clamp, or seal the vas deferens so that no sperm is released. Vasectomies are permanent; pills, IUDs, etc. for women are not permanent. If you want to get down in the nitty-gritty, both appear to be against God’s natural will.

Furthermore, birth control is taken for a number of medical reasons that may not even relate to having sex. Vasectomies are only done so that procreation does not happen and serve no further medical purpose than to simply help the frisky men not make more frisky beings. For any employee who uses contraception for reasons other than the prevention of pregnancy, I guess you’re screwed (pun intended). Over 58% of women say that in addition to pregnancy prevention they take birth control for other medical purposes, such as menstrual cramps, migraine prevention, treating acne, and other menstruation side effects. Women also take birth control to lessen the effects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which “entails irregular menstrual cycles that can last for months, can cause iron deficiency, anemia and infertility.” As a personal anecdote, I started taking birth control pills when I was fourteen. My periods were so intense that I was missing at least two days of school every month. The birth control pills provided the relief I needed, and I no longer missed school days due to menstruation. Was I having sex at the age of fourteen? No, I was not. The decision to have sex was not influenced by being on birth control. In fact, I made a pact with myself to not pop that cherry until I was out of high school. Birth control was only a means of relief from my monthly visitor named Scarlett. When I eventually got off birth control years later, I was shocked by how bad my periods became. The relief was no longer there from my menstruation.

I know many people are saying that this ruling is solely motivated by religious purposes. It has nothing to do with women’s rights. This would be the case if the companies’ owners who believe a certain way were the only ones not partaking in contraceptives. When they cross the line, however, of potentially preventing their employees from getting contraceptives, they are then forcing their religious views onto all of their employees. There is a reason why companies are not allowed to ask for gender, race, or religion when they hire. It is freedom of religion for their workers. And yes, it is possible to shy away from companies who do not provide the healthcare package one may desire. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose where he or she works. Science disproves that birth control is abortive. The reasoning for providing some medical things for employees but not others does not hold up. But more than that, these companies are slyly forcing their religious beliefs upon their employees. This is not a case that was won for religious freedom; it is a case that has now taken away religious freedom.

Here’s a link to an interesting article on why birth control should not require a prescription if you feel inclined to read more.

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Thoughts on My Brother’s Keeper

Last Friday, I checked my Facebook feed as I always do and saw that Obama had launched the group “My Brother’s Keeper“. Unfortunately, I only found out about this because of the multiple negative comments about how this is prejudice to white males since MBK focuses on young men and boys of color and helps them stay out of prison. The trolls were having a field day with this one. Usually I don’t get involved with debate or take a stand on anything remotely political on Facebook. My husband and I talk frequently about politics, and I don’t feel the need to broadcast our beliefs to the public. I vote and donate to the causes I believe are worthy. On this case, though, I had to speak up. Sometimes, enough is enough.

After researching what My Brother’s Keeper is in various news sources and then researching statistics on the demographics within our prison system and how our prison numbers are relating to other countries, I felt justified in my opinion that Obama did not form this group out of prejudice. He formed MBK based on the overwhelming statistics of men of color versus any other race in prison, the systemic issues with this, and his own personal experiences. The Huffington Post cites that “one in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in every six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males.” There are many reasons for this disparity among the races and prison time. I’ve read that this may stem from the war on drugs, racism among cops, juries, and judges, the economic situation of the different classes, copying what you see around you, and the general stereotypes we all see played out in television, movies, books, and music. Whatever the reason, research shows that more men of color are in prison. This is reason enough to form MBK.

However, there’s another piece to this. The United States leads the world in the number of incarcerated individuals. The NAACP website cited that the United States leads the world in incarcerations with it being 5% of the world population but 25% of world prisoners. Furthermore, “from 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled—from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people.” In the state in which I live—Georgia—it is currently ranked as the fifth largest prison system yet it is only the eighth biggest state based on population and the 24th biggest state based on land area. The average annual cost per inmate in Georgia is $16,888. (Find out more about your specific state here.) These statistics show that not only are more men of color incarcerated than white men, but there are also quite a bit more incarcerated than other countries. There are so many people incarcerated that our prisons are overcrowded. Again, there are a plethora of reasons for our high prison numbers, such as tougher crime legislation and the reasons listed in the above paragraph. Whatever the reason, though, the truth is that our prison system is overcrowded and only getting worse. This is yet another reason to try to stop feeding our hungry prisons by creating groups like MBK.

By creating a group for the largest race groups that are currently incarcerated, Obama is trying to improve the lives of young men of color and alleviate the monetary strain of our prison system by preventing the creation of another generation of criminals. Does this not seem to be a worthy cause no matter who initiates it? White males are not the most pressing issue to our prison system so this group wasn’t created with them in mind. There are a number of ways to help prevent crime and bring awareness to the prevention of crime. For more information, click here or Google to find local groups in your area.

The most important thing I’d like everyone to get out of this post is the importance of eradicating ignorance. We must educate ourselves about the issues around us and not just take what we read on Facebook as truth. It’s also imperative that we speak up against the prejudice we may see, hear, or read. Things are not going to change unless we bring certain issues to light and intelligently talk about the issues. While I don’t always agree with what our president does, I do appreciate this effort.

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