Janet Porter wants me to die

That’s the message she rallied her supporters to send to the Ohio legislature today. And Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Mike Huckabee all agree with her.

Trigger Warning: difficult pregnancy, death

I used to live in Ohio. If I were still there, this bill would scare me out of my wits. I have a disability which means that trying to carry a pregnancy to term would kill me, probably long before a fetus became viable outside the womb. As a result, I did the smart thing: I had my tubes tied.

Tubal ligation is the most reliable form of contraception available for women, but it’s still not perfect. There’s a minute chance that I could get pregnant. If I do, with my tubes tied, it will be an ectopic pregnancy.

Ectopic pregnancies are a medical emergency; they cannot be carried to term. The only treatment is to end the pregnancy, medically if possible, surgically if necessary. If left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy will cause the woman to have severe internal bleeding. She will likely die.

I would likely die – because Porter’s “heartbeat bill” and the “personhood amendments” would make it illegal to treat ectopic pregnancies, as well as ban in vitro fertilization and certain kinds of birth control. When Porter and the politicians who support her argue for these pieces of legislating, they are arguing that if I, or any other woman, ends up in that situation, she should be left to die.

This is worse than the occasional audience member yelling “Let him die!” when the Republican debate turned to the topic of helping the uninsured. That’s bad enough, but this is worse. This isn’t just about not providing financial support. This is about making it a criminal act to give me the necessary health care to save my life.

Don’t be fooled by the slick language and the “heartbeat” schlock. If this bill passes it will not only be a tremendous setback for women’s rights, it will put women’s lives in danger. Maybe your mother’s, maybe your sister’s, maybe your daughter’s. Maybe yours. Definitely mine.

NARAL was right when they called on politicians to “stop the war on women” by supporting Planned Parenthood earlier this year. This is another front in the same war, a war I was conscripted into when I was born, by virtue of having a uterus and a disability. Janet Porter and her supporters want to strip away the little bit of protection that modern medicine has been able to devise to keep this accidental confluence from killing me. If they do, by the vagaries of chance, I still might dodge that bullet. But not everyone will.

By the way, Janet Porter is in with the Christian Dominionists up to her eyeballs. So when they talk about praying for a “culture of life” in the US (a dogwhistle for outlawing abortion and probably most birth control), they’re talking about wanting to let me die. My opposition to Christian Dominionists isn’t just religious: it’s about protecting my own life and the lives of others. When these folks have support from and influence with several of the contenders for the Republican nomination for president, I can’t sit back and ignore them any more.

Navy Chaplains, Damn Lies, and Statistics

In the latest example of stunning dishonesty from conservative Christians who want to view themselves as persecuted, a group of Navy Chaplains has apparently enlisted a damn liar statistician to “prove” that they’re being discriminated against by not being promoted to higher officer ranks as frequently as chaplains from other Christian denominations. I have an alternative explanation: maybe they’re not being promoted because they aren’t doing their duties as well as other chaplains.

The Christian Post illustrated this article with a photo of former chaplain James Klingenschmitt praying while in uniform. Klingenschmitt loves playing the martyr and frequently claims that he was kicked out of the Navy “for praying in Jesus’ name.” Actually, he was kicked out of the Navy because he disobeyed a lawful order. He, like all military personnel, was forbidden from wearing his uniform at a political event in order to prevent the impression of military approval or endorsement of a political group or message. Klingenschmitt wore his uniform to a rally; he disobeyed an order, and he was court martialed for it. In fact, the photo on the CP’s site is almost certainly the very event that led to Klingenschmitt’s court martial.

None of this is mentioned in the CP article or the photo’s caption. Either they are very badly failing at their journalistic endeavors, or they’re deliberately using a disgraced ex-officer as their prime illustration of some Christians who claim to be discriminated against, and lying by omission.

The lawsuit concerns promotions to O-4 and above (Major or Lt. Commander and above), which are the first competitive promotion boards. If these chaplains really see themselves as following in Klingenschmitt’s insubordinate footsteps, it makes perfect sense that promotion boards might evaluate them as underperforming officers. Chaplains who make it their mission to undermine and even disobey military regulations, direct orders, and their own oaths as officers to the Constitution and its principle of religious liberty probably aren’t impressing their superiors with their outstanding performance.

This is just one more stunt by conservative Christians in the military that reveals their true colors. Chris Rodda of the wonderful Military Religious Freedom Foundation has a piece in the Huffington Post about the much larger and better-organized Officers’ Christian Fellowship. I speculated a while ago about how much consternation a similar Pagan organization would raise. I didn’t know at the time how evangelical the OCF was.

I would never want Pagans to adopt similarly fundamentalist attitudes or act to oppress others’ free exercise. But in the face of such oppression ourselves, we have to stay alert. We have to be active to debunk the lies, whether they’re told through statistics or false claims of discrimination or martyrdom. We have to be willing to work personally and politically to protect religious liberty for all Americans, Christian and non, military and civilian, alike.


(Although I tipped my hat to Mark Twain in the title, as a mathematician and sometimes statistician myself, I would like to point out that statistics is not all damn lies; it’s actually a wonderful field that does a lot to uncover truths and can be used to make the world a better place. Sadly, it can also be abused by unethical people like this. If there’s a deity of statistics, perhaps zie will lend a helping hand – or a randomized sample – to making sure that this kind of nonsense gets disregarded.)

Why No Tarot Under 18?

I’m honored that Alison Leigh Lilly and Jeff Lilly spent time on their inaugural podcast of Dining With Druids discussing my draft of a Tarot Code of Ethics. One of the issues they examined is why I will not read Tarot for people under 18 without parental consent. The short answer is: The Constitution.

I am not a lawyer, and unfortunately I can’t find a short discussion of this easily, but as far as I understand it, the general consensus of US law, including Supreme Court cases, is that parents have a right to control the religious upbringing of their minor children. People who involve children in religious or spiritual activities without the consent of the parent can, theoretically, be charged with infringing on the religious rights of the parent.

Mainstream religious denominations generally don’t have to worry about this; it’s doubtful that a parent will prosecute a Methodist minister just because their Episcopalian teenager visited the Methodist youth group. But Paganism and Wicca are not mainstream religions and parents might be quite angry to find that their child was involved with related activities. Therefore, the parental-consent-when-under-18 is basically a self-defense, exactly on par with the self-defense statement that I cannot and will not provide medical advice.

This is a sad but true fact of life for Pagans and Wiccans today. The short answer may be “The Constitution,” but the long answer is “The Constitution, courts, parents, and fear.”

Alison and Jeff also highlighted the ways that the ATA’s code and my rough draft of expansions and adaptations sort of dances around the question of whether Tarot is “woo” or not. (Yes, Jeff, I use that term too!) I see the code as trying to acknowledge and defuse fears, concerns, and misconceptions. It doesn’t yet address those questions adequately, so I’ll keep working on it.

Obviously, I should have put that final paragraph up front and enlarged on it a bit; I see Tarot as a basis for spiritual counseling on a variety of levels, and so this code of ethics does in fact straddle the approaches of pastoral or spiritual counseling and the approaches of psychotherapy. I see my Tarot practice as spiritual because I do discuss matters of spirit, belief, and religious practice in Tarot readings. Moreover, the expertise that I provide to querents when I read Tarot is based in my studies and experience as an aspiring, developing priestess.

There’s also an issue of regulations involved. Since I don’t think I use psychic powers or do fortune telling as commonly understood, I hope that by making that explicit I can avoid the more onerous regulations related to those areas of commerce. I have only begun to look into this, and in fact I owe it to the Wild Hunt’s ongoing series on Psychic Services and the Law to be aware of the issue at all.

Thanks to the Lillys for giving me more to think about regarding the ethics – and metaphysical nature – of Tarot!

Draft of Tarot Code of Ethics

I’m firmly committed to the Code of Ethics of the American Tarot Association:

  • I will serve the best interests of my clients, conducting my professional activities without causing or intending to cause harm.
  • I will treat all my clients with equal respect, regardless of their origin, race, religion, gender, age, or sexual preference.
  • I will represent honestly my Tarot qualifications, including educational credentials, levels of certification and experience.
  • I will keep confidential the names of clients and all information shared or discussed during readings, unless otherwise requested by the client or required by a court of law.
  • I will recommend clients consult a licensed professional for advice of a legal, financial, medical, or psychological nature that I am not qualified to provide. If trained in one of these areas, I will clearly differentiate between the tarot reading and any professional advice additionally provided.
  • I will respect my clients’ right to refuse or terminate their reading at any time, regardless of prior consent.
  • I recognize that all ATA members have the same rights and obligations, and I will always respect and honor my co-members.

I would like to expand on a few of these points, though, and develop my own statement of my ethics with respect to Tarot. Eventually, I’d like to codify these into a one-page statement that I would have available to anyone who considered having me do a reading for them.

Age limit: I will not read Tarot for an individual under the age of 18 without parental consent. (If I have previously received parental consent for the minor to study with me or receive religious instruction with me, and the parents knew at the time that I read Tarot as part of my spiritual practices, that will count as parental consent.)

Honesty: I will read to the best of my ability, and will honestly admit when I cannot interpret part of a reading.

Confidentiality: I will not maintain confidentiality in cases where I believe the querent poses a serious risk to him- or herself or to others. (This is how I interpret the “court of law” part of the statement above, but it might not seem the same to others – what do you think?)

Confidentiality, again: I reserve the right to discuss insights into the cards that come about in a reading, as long as those insights are presented without identifiable client information attached. (Compare this to medical privacy: a doctor might say, or write a journal article about, “I had a patient once who had XYZ happen…” and this is not considered a violation of privacy as long as the doctor does not include information sufficient to identify the patient. Similarly, many professional readers include insights such as “I once had the Ten of Swords mean this, that, or the other…” without identifying clients or violating privacy. Would most querents find this acceptable?)

Confidentiality, yet again: I reserve the right to refuse to do a reading that, in my professional judgment, encroaches on the privacy of a third party not present at the reading. (Other people often come up in the context of a reading. That’s not the issue here; my point is that I won’t try to read your partner’s, boss’s, or best friend’s mind for you. How can I state this more clearly?)

Refusing and terminating a reading: I reserve the right to refuse to read for anyone at any time, and to terminate a reading, regardless of prior consent. If I do so, I will return any payment made to me.

I use Tarot as a device to help querents reflect on their current situation. I regard reading Tarot as a form of spiritual counseling in which I help querents understand themselves and their lives better, so that they can make the best choices for themselves to shape their future courses of action. I do not believe Tarot can “predict” the future, nor do I rely on “psychic” skills to read Tarot. The cards are a starting point for a conversation between me and the querent, and throughout, the querent remains in complete control of his or her life, choices, and the consequences thereof.

What going to the Hill is really like

Before I went to lobby for women’s rights and health care, I did training with the coalition of groups that cooperated to put together the entire effort. The training was focused on having groups attend scheduled visits with lawmakers or their policy staff members, and on working with undecided or opposing politicians at least as much as with those who already support the position.

When I got there, I was handed a packet with a list of three lawmakers in my state who consistently vote pro-choice and advised that I could individually to go to their offices and thank them for their efforts. I thought this approach was not the best use of my effort, and when I asked if there was something more active I could do, the NARAL folks helped me make a list of Republican members of the House in my state so that I could go to their offices.

I still ended up doing “drop-in” visits to offices, not scheduled visits with lawmakers or staff members, and I was still working on my own, but I thought it was a better plan. I got the impression that volunteers who signed up through Planned Parenthood had some different organization going on; all the ones I saw were working in groups, at least, and I think some of them had appointments. I’m not faulting NARAL’s work, I’m just wondering what I could have done differently to be more active in the lobbying work.

Anyway, the training had mentioned drop-in visits but didn’t really focus on them. Here’s what I wish they’d told me, and what you can expect if you ever decide to drop in on your legislator’s offices – it’s easier than you might think, actually.

You go into the Congressional office building (not the Capitol; there are a number of office buildings arranged around it) and walk through a metal detector, but the setup is not as strict as airline security. (No pat-downs.) Then you’ll find the office, which is usually behind an impressive and old-looking wooden door with a sign on it or next to it. The door is usually shut, but you don’t need to knock; just let yourself in. There will be a reception desk of some sort near the door, and the person sitting behind it will be a young person, possibly of early college age, who doesn’t know much more about what’s going on there than you do. You have a few minutes to talk to that person, and then you leave.

The training reviewed talking points with us, but I found on the first couple visits that in spite of that plus all my individual preparation, I didn’t have a ready-to-deliver introduction or opening. So I sat down and figured one out for myself.

What I ended up with was a very brief introduction about how I urged the legislator to support women’s reproductive rights and health care, and then I would ask if there was a staff member available to talk to me. It was a very busy day on the Hill, so there were few, but even if that didn’t get me a face-to-face, it generally got the receptionist to pull out a piece of paper and write down a short bit of what I had to say, as well as instructing me to sign the guestbook.

My final complaint about the preparation was that we should have had handouts. Several receptionists would have been happy to take printed material to pass on along with my contact information, but I hadn’t been supplied with any, so they and I generally compromised on them jotting down a few notes, but prepared material would have been much more effective.

Finally, I can’t say this enough: Practice. Practice until you can say your opening while whistling Dixie in your head or wondering who told that young man that a lime-green bowtie was a good idea for anyone, ever, because it’ll happen. Stop outside the door and repeat to yourself the title and name of the lawmaker you’re going to be talking about. (“Senator, um, Smith, I mean, Bowles, um…well, your boss, anyway, he or she really ought to…” doesn’t quite cut it.)

Practice fragments of your talking points, or sentences, over and over again so that you have them on the tip of your tongue. That way you don’t sound like a Chatty Cathy doll who can only say one thing, but you stay on-message even while extemporizing. You can fit your message to the time available, because you have to stay responsive and adaptable all the time. I didn’t have to do much responding to counterarguments, but that’s another place to practice until your brain can go faster than your mouth, which is harder than it sounds.

I hope that helps anyone who is thinking about trying to engage in a little active democracy. If you have other tips, I’d love to hear them.

What strippers taught me about unions

Most of what I know about unions I learned from Live Nude Girls Unite! That’s a film documenting the successful labor-organizing efforts of the strippers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady peepshow in 1996 and 1997. (A summary of the workers’ experience can be found at the film’s website.) I somehow grew up without much exposure to unions or the country’s labor relations history, and while I originally started watching the documentary as part of an effort to learn more about sex workers, I came away with a whole different perspective on labor relations and what unions are all about. The film does talk about the unique difficulties faced by sex workers at their jobs and in the effort to unionize, but in the end, it’s much more about labor relations than about the peepshow.

I have to wonder whether unions have been so successful in this country that they’ve removed the public outrage that fueled them in the first place, making themselves seem obsolete. A lot of people who aren’t in a union tend to think that either unions exist to protect workers from egregious abuses by employers, like child labor, or to get lots and lots of money for union members. For the first point, many of the horror stories about 19th-century capitalism are too remote to cause serious concern these days. We have child labor laws, and anti-discrimination statutes, and the EEOC, people say; workers don’t need unions to protect them anymore, because all those abuses are illegal now. The experiences of the strippers in San Francisco belie that argument and show how many subtle forms of employer discrimination and harassment are available. Even if the employer’s offense is blatant enough to be prosecuted, winning a lawsuit years later does nothing to put food on the table if you’ve lost your job in the meantime.

More than that, the organizers of the Exotic Dancers’ Union show how unions are actually about managing a key commodity in capitalism: information. Labor relations between large employers and individual employees are inherently unfair, because the large employer has lots and lots of information available to it: information about wages, benefits, and experience in previous negotiations with hundreds if not thousands of employees, experience that gets refined and codified into job offers, contracts, and negotiating tactics. Individual workers can make an effort to get some of that information, especially by looking at compiled information about “industry standard” compensation, but it’s much harder for the employee, whether considering a new offer or renegotiating an old one.

When workers organize, they can aggregate their experiences. They’ll know if management is playing favorites, whether some workers are getting less compensation or benefits than others, and they’ll know if management has an overarching pattern of behavior. Understanding that pattern is the first step to being able to work against it. Yes, unions let workers agree on their collective bargaining positions and even organize work slowdowns or strikes, but that’s not the primary purpose or benefit of a union. Unions exist to level the playing field, to make negotiations more open and fair, and to promote the flow of information that makes capitalism work.

I’d even argue that unions are one of the ways capitalism adapted itself so that Marx’s predictions of doom didn’t come to pass. As Adam Smith pointed out, unequal access to information and inequalities in negotiations make capitalism spin out of control. Instead of the general strike that Marx and others envisioned, workers organized. Smaller-scale strikes did happen, but organized workers were the first step to eliminating some of the worst excesses of unrestrained capitalism in the 19th century and putting it back on a more sustainable track.

And finally, yes, unions have negotiated some major benefits for their members. But those benefits have been a big part of helping workers join the middle class. Back when the auto bailouts were happening, an acquaintance decried the higher labor costs wrapped up in American auto production and blamed them for making American companies unable to compete with foreign ones. I pointed out that a lot of that labor cost went to health insurance and pensions; people in the countries with more “competitive” labor costs shouldered the collective burden of a social safety net through much higher taxes and government programs.

Those costs have to be paid if we’re going to maintain a thriving middle class in this country. It’s not about ensuring lavish lifestyles – did you see the Daily Show segment on teachers’ lives in Wisconsin? It’s about retirement and health care, and at a time when conservatives are simultaneously attempting to dismantle the social safety net and trying to break unions, it’s hard not to conclude that they would be just as happy to see the middle class disappear.

What strippers taught me about unions is that the past isn’t as far away as we think, and that in an “information economy” with a huge service sector, unions are just as relevant as ever.

(NB: As I mention above, this is not an area where I have a lot of experience or academic study; if I’ve stated things that are so blatantly obvious that they don’t need repeating, please excuse me. I welcome corrections and refinements from more serious students of economics and labor history as well.)

Response to the NRA’s nonsense

Crooks and Liars has a video and transcript of Lawrence O’Donnell from MSNBC responding to NRA lobbyist Wayne LaPierre.

People in Tucson were shot and killed thanks to the relentless lobbying work of Wayne LaPierre and his blood-drenched organization.

Wayne LaPierre has devoted his adult life, every day of his adult life since 1977, every working day, to making sure madmen in America can fire as many bullets as they want without having to reload.

That is as blunt as it gets. And it’s true. The piece also has some excellent statistics on the impact of the assault weapons ban.