Further thoughts

Follow-ups to a couple of recent posts, plus other assorted thoughts.


Salon explains why the answer is not more guns:

But perhaps the biggest problem is the philosophy underpinning notions to arm more people. Goddard of the Brady campaign said it best in an interview: “The idea behind concealed carry is a kind of ‘defend yourself and your family and fuck everybody else’ mentality.”

… “America is not going to shoot our way out of the gun violence problem, and that’s what these people are calling for. And I think that’s dangerous and I think that will lead to more of us being killed by bullets,” Goddard said.

Read the whole thing. Seriously. I quoted the philosophical points, but this is one of the best evidence-dense debunkings of pro-gun bullshit that I’ve seen lately. If you’re going to argue for gun control, you need this information. Another article responds in similar detail to why the NRA’s plan for putting (more) armed guards in schools is a terrible idea.

For a more historical perspective, read Tony Horowitz on the similarities between the NRA’s idea of maximum guns and the proponents of expanding slavery.

In short, the NRA has become a neo-Confederate movement that sees Federals as foes, and that stokes the paranoia of its followers by claiming, as LaPierre did this year, that Obama’s re-election marks “the end of our freedom forever.” That’s more or less what Fire-Eaters said about Lincoln in 1860.

The argument about gun rights in this country has a much longer, more twisted history than most people are aware of. It also cannot be separated from the history of race – I had no idea about the Black Panthers’ aggressive use of gun rights (and the NRA’s calls for gun control in response). It looks to me as if the idea of “gun rights” has shifted from its historical roots in a way very similar to the transformation of Republicans from the party of Lincoln to the party of angry white men, mostly southern.

And on that note, Goblinbooks says something like what I said about how defending oneself against tyranny with household guns is nonsense, but does so much more stylishly.

Love spells:

I don’t think I said this clearly enough last time, but the reason that I’m so concerned about when love spells become rape is not just the magical implications, it’s the practical actions that we take as a result of the way we think. When we in the magical community fail to call out certain kinds of manipulative magic as part of rape culture, we’re enabling not just the thinking, not just the magic, but the actions.

If we say, loudly and clearly and repeatedly – because it’ll take a lot of repetition – that thinking of someone else as an object for your manipulation into bed is rape culture, we’re working to eliminate the so-called gray area where a lot of opportunity rapists operate.

If we leave wiggle room for people to think these kinds of spells are not rape, then that same kind of thinking is going to be used to justify totally mundane actions that lead to rape. If you’ve already done the spell to get her into your bed, why not offer her one more cup of wine after Beltane? What’s to stop you from seeing her stumbling, mumbling, not-really-consent as the manifestation of your magical prowess? Or maybe offering her a ride home, and then taking her to your house, or letting yourself in her place, and, well, encouraging her a little bit….that’s just taking action in accordance with your spell, right?

No. That’s rape. The magical actions and the mundane actions are products of the same thinking, and one will encourage the other. We have to discourage both.

This is very similar to the situation I encountered when trying to explain to people why things like DC 40 and other Christian Dominionist “prayer efforts” are dangerous. Even if you don’t believe in magic, these kinds of actions that specialize in raising emotional energy and directing it towards a purpose have tangible, physical manifestations. People vote based on Christian Dominionist thinking and actions. People rape based on rape culture. The thinking and the doing are both important, and if we’re going to change things, we have to work on both.

Why the s0-called fiscal cliff is a feminist issue:

Women get lower pay all their lives. Then they tend to live longer. When we’re talking about further impoverishing our nation’s seniors, we’re disproportionately talking about women. Talk to your political representatives and tell them to push back against the chained CPI and raising the Medicare eligibility age, which would actually cost more. Tell them to raise the cap on Social Security taxes (that is, tax income over $110,000 for Social Security) and solve this puppy without putting more people, and more women, into poverty.

Science, climate change, and cash:

If you’re younger than 27, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month. Never.

Therefore any memories you have that you’re using to judge how much our weather is shifting over time are themselves already skewed.

This enables people like the Kochs to make gut-based appeals that cover for their lack of solid science. I haven’t read the whole report there yet, but I have been following a few other stories about how the Kochs and their cronies are so very deeply invested in convincing us, by hook or by crook, that we should keep making them rich and making our world hotter.

Notice the similar dependence on appeals to uninformed instinct between the Kochs’ denial of climate change and the NRA’s denial of gun violence. Our memories make it easier to disbelieve that the climate is changing, because our memories themselves are shaped by that changing climate. Our instincts tell us that we’d be better off if we were armed, because our instincts are shaped by the culture of violence, complete with magically perfect good guys who, as far as evidence can find, don’t actually exist in real life.

Life is messy, and complicated, and understanding it takes real work. But that understanding can be the first step to change. Won’t you try with me, as the light begins to return in this new year, to take those first steps, to change?

After Thanksgiving, support the rights of workers

It’s appropriate that American Thanksgiving falls in the Samhain season. Part of the work of Samhain should be bringing in the harvest and being grateful for it. I see Thanksgiving as a way to continue the work of the season.

For many of today’s Pagans, this “harvesting” is largely metaphorical or figurative. We don’t have to lay down enough food to last the winter and decide which parts of our herds to slaughter. But there are lots of people in our world today who have to gauge their resources to the last penny, and then some, and who struggle year-round to make ends meet.

A prime example is the plight of Walmart workers. Walmart, owned by the richest family in America, has an extensive list of offenses: paying workers a pittance; failing to provide benefits, such that workers have to rely on additional government assistance; unsafe labor environments; discriminating against women; and trying to prevent workers from organizing in order to improve their situation. I’m not going to go into all the details; here’s one of many other posts where you can learn more.

This Thanksgiving, as we meditate on our gratitude and strive to find ways to share with those less fortunate, we have a prime opportunity to put our values into action:

Walmart is trying to start Black Friday early on Thursday evening. Don’t go.

Walmart workers are striking on Black Friday. Don’t shop at Walmart on Friday. If you can, check out the Corporate Action Network or OUR Walmart to find other ways to support them. There’s also an Occupy-organized fund to provide money for food for striking workers.

At PaganSquare: Who do Pagans boycott?

Over at Forging Futures in the PaganSquare, I argue that boycotts are a magical tool that we ought to be using in self-defense a lot more often.

Two women in North Carolina

In the wake of the passage of Amendment One in North Carolina, I’m going to give homage to two women who were important to me. Their interactions with me continue to give me hope that the people of NC are not entirely as hateful as the legislation they just passed.

One of them was my freshman composition teacher. That’s a position rather like being a nurse’s aide in the hospital – theoretically of massive importance, but practically full of mundane drudgery dealing with other people’s crap. She was considerate and polite, putting up with our nonsense and with several flavors of youthful stupidity. She wore a gold band on her left ring finger, and in a class conversation, I once gestured to it and referred to her “husband.” She was kind enough to tell me after class that I was mistaken. I had to process that for a bit; gay and lesbian people were simply not on my mental radar.

Another time, I was sick after class and had to stay put and rest a bit. She stayed with me and talked with me to help me stay calm, and she told me about getting together with her partner. She ended with saying that they would get married if they could, but they can’t; they wear the rings anyway. I nodded, thinking that was a stupid hiccup in the law that would probably get fixed sometime.

I simply couldn’t see any reason to discriminate; I didn’t exactly become an ally at that point, but I became a lot less of a jerk. Looking back, I realize that I was part of the unending torrent of anti-QUILTBAG yuck that she had to deal with. It wasn’t her job to do QUILTBAG 101 with me for the umpteen thousandth time in her life, but she did, and she did it beautifully. I bless her and honor her for it.

The other woman was my doctor for most of my undergraduate career. She was Roman Catholic, in a committed partnership, and while I knew her, she and her partner adopted a little girl from China. I told her that I thought that was great – not that she needed my approval, duh, but I was fumbling towards being an ally. I didn’t know what it was, but the rainbow triangle on her office door made me more comfortable seeing her.

When I wanted birth control, she was the one I went to. We talked about the options and decided that an IUD might be the best way to go. I had been indoctrinated with the “IUDs cause abortions!” lie, and she took my concerns seriously. She gave me some scientific reading that dealt with the truth of the matter, and discussed it with me, and I agreed. She put in the IUD that kept me safe and healthy for many years. I bless her and honor her for it.

Of course, the final irony of all this is that it was also in college that I realized I am what I call fundamentally bisexual. You might describe it as being a Kinsey 1 or 1.5. I never “came out” as bi because I’ve only had one intimate same-sex relationship, and it was never public. Functionally, I’m an ally, not a QUILTBAG person. But knowing that affects how I think, and how I feel, and how very, very angry and sad I am about the state where I lived for many years and met these wonderful women telling them and everyone like them that they are second-class citizens and will be forever if the assholes have their way.

My heart goes out to all the QUILTBAG people in North Carolina and elsewhere who are hurt by this travesty of a law enshrining theocratic hatred. As Hecate has pointed out, our hope today is that this setback is only a part of the bending of of the moral arc. In honor of these women and all the other people who have bent my personal arc, I recommit to getting out there and giving the universe some of what she calls dulcet, reasoned encouragement to bend, and soon. Now. So mote it be.

Party like it’s 1929

I think the Witches’ Pyramid can be understood as a cycle: being silent and listening to the answers to tough questions, like “Why does the commissary take food stamps?,” is a way to gather knowledge to move into a new cycle of action. As I listen, this is what I hear:

It’s 1929 again. The only question is whether it’s 1929 in the US or in Germany.

We have the knowledge to deal with situations of extreme economic inequality and resulting social unrest. And we also know what can happen if we don’t use it.

The Tea Party and similar sentiments are a pack of lies peddled by rich and powerful interests who are succeeding in getting the 99% to actively work against their own best interests. Falsehoods about anyone being a “self-made man” and relying on no one but oneself are not just lies. They’ve been transmuted through political alchemy as bad as the worst of dark biology, weaponized into memes that infect the general population and replicate themselves, hijacking otherwise good and reasonable people and making them into agents spreading a disease that will cripple nearly everyone – especially those infected.

I mentioned previously the myth of how anyone can succeed in American society. Myths are valuable; even when they’re not precisely true, they can inspire and lead us to do more and be better, especially by giving hope. Today, that myth is a lie and it is being used not to give hope but to take it away. It is being used by the 1% as a weapon to hurt people, to ignore the 99%, to try to get the 99% to buy into the status quo, to continue being the 99%. That story is as mythical these days as “winning the lottery,” and a society where success is a lottery is an unfair, unjust society. As Noah Smith wrote:

A winner-take-all society is not very conducive to hard work; I’m not going to bust my butt for 30 years for a 1% shot at getting into The 1%. But I am going to bust my butt for 30 years if I think this gives me a 90% chance of having a decent house, a family, some security, a reasonably pleasant job, a dog, and a couple of cars in my garage. An ideal middle-class society is one in which everyone, not just anyone, can get ahead via hard work.

The fact that this is a winner-take-all society – and is becoming more so – is why conservatives can’t get people to work hard, and why progressive action towards social and economic justice is the only way to make hard work fashionable again – by making it worthwhile. That means social and economic justice.

The hard-core conservatives who are driving the movement these days aren’t just looking back to the (mythical) 1950s. They don’t just want to conserve the status quo. They want to undo the last century of progress and take us back to the Gilded Age, to the time of obscene economic inequality and injustice that gave rise to Hoovervilles and the Bonus Army. They’ve had tremendous success at doing so, and the news coming out of Occupy encampments reads eerily like the stories of a century ago, updated with pepper spray instead of WW I-era vomiting agents. Better living through pharmaceuticals, I guess.

Economists can give you thousands of charts that show the regression to 1920s-type income inequality, lack of social mobility, and so on. But I know that history doesn’t just go backwards. People will not simply submit to rolling back the last century, and when I look at what happened after that previous episode of upheaval, I am sore afraid.

We have the knowledge to work with this kind of situation. We’ve done it before. Back in the day, being progressive – meaning making sure that people weren’t sold chalk-water instead of milk – was a Republican value, and Teddy Roosevelt signed the law that created the FDA. (Incidentally, this is why I have zero patience for the forms of libertarianism – especially in the fusion form of the Tea Party – that would have us all pretend we can be Jeffersonian small farmers again.)

Back in the day, being progressive meant making sure that old women didn’t end up eating cat food just because they had the temerity to outlive their husbands but be too weak to work. We invented Social Security to prevent situations like that. Fred Clark has investigated one aspect of what it means, ethically, for someone to argue that “he who will not work, neither shall he eat,” unless that person actually believes that some people should starve to death, but the sad truth is that some people can’t work. You can either accept that reality and get busy coping, or deny it and get busy helping to kill those people.

We have the knowledge to deal with these problems. But many powerful groups are actively working to ensure that we don’t use it. This deliberate obliviousness is one of the most dangerous currents in contemporary US politics.

If we don’t use that knowledge, if we pretend obliviousness to the actual problems or their potential solutions, someone will have to come up with an alternate story for how and why so many people are so bad off. The 1% are already using their expert narrators to create a story about how it’s Those People’s Fault, to turn the blame on anyone but themselves.

We know from history that it is entirely possible for them to use social unrest as an explanation for why society must become even more militarized, more authoritarian, more unequal, and more dangerous for everyone. I do not want to see that happen.

That is why, as a Witch and as a citizen, I stand with the Occupy movement. I will continue to support calls for economic and social justice with all the means at my disposal: economically, personally, and magically. I put my will and my daring in action in support of badly-needed reforms and continue to follow the Witches’ Pyramid.

What will you?

Why does the commissary take food stamps?

The Witches’ Pyramid is a saying about the steps to take action: to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent. I’ve said before that I believe this is a cycle, and that being silent means listening, paying attention to the outcome of what has happened so that you can gather new knowledge to shape your next actions.

The silence of the Witches is not passive. It’s the silence that comes from asking questions and then listening, really listening, to their answers, because those answers guide the knowing, the willing, and the daring to make real changes happen.

Today, I ask: Why does the commissary take food stamps?

Take a look at this story from the Washington Post about military members needing help to feed their families for Thanksgiving. They don’t mean that dad’s having trouble cooking his first turkey while mom’s away on deployment (although that’s an issue, too). They mean that many military families have trouble affording food. It’s not just at Thanksgiving; all year round, commissaries take WIC and SNAP and other kinds of “food stamps.”

What does it say about our society that the amount of money it takes to get someone to risk her life is less than the amount it takes to feed her family?

We have a story, in this country, about how anyone can get ahead through hard work and all the other good Puritan values. At times, that story has given hope to people, so much hope that they would come across the ocean to settle in a new land. It still gives so much hope that people struggle to enter the country without papers just so they can have a shot at that kind of success – or just enough to feed their families, maybe.

The military has traditionally been the bedrock of that story. “Look,” people say, “anyone can join the military and get three hots and a cot, and maybe even work for 20 years and then collect a pension afterwards.” After WW II, it was true that many, many people were able to get an education, get a job, and raise a family, largely thanks to the start the military gave them.

Today, that story is a lie.

This is what I learn from asking why the commissary takes food stamps.

People are enlisting in the military not just to have a chance at a college education and a pension. They’re enlisting in order to have their rotten teeth pulled and to get enough money that with food stamps and the commissary discounts and the help of a food bank they might be able to feed their kids.

There’s something that happens when the people with the guns don’t have enough to eat. It’s called a revolution. It’s not pretty.

Telling people to “get a job” when there are no jobs – and when those jobs, even at the risk of your life, don’t pay enough to feed your family – is a variation on “let them eat cake.” It’s the noise made by people who aren’t listening.

Today, as a Witch, I’m listening to the silence, and I’m trying to find the will and the daring to deal with the knowledge that comes from asking a simple question: Why does the commissary take food stamps?

Standing up for Women’s Health

Gray tabby cat sitting on corner of a poster that reads "I stand with Planned Parenthood"

Bianca stands for Planned Parenthood

Yesterday’s rally and lobbying effort was an exciting day for me. I walked the halls of Congress, mostly looking for the signs with maps of the buildings, and stood up for human rights, sometimes in front of people who disagreed with me, with interesting results.

The lobbying I did was to visit the offices of Congresspeople from my state. I would introduce myself, say what I was there to discuss, and then ask the receptionist if there was a staff member to whom I could present my position. I got to talk to a couple of staff members, but usually the receptionist just let me sign the guestbook and noted my position and that was it. (I wrote about the nitty-gritty of that in another post.)

I visited ten lawmakers’ offices, and although it took me the first few visits to figure out how to begin to present myself effectively, I felt that by the end of that, I had made an impact in two or three offices. In one, I noticed that the receptionist was recording my words verbatim, and her manner changed a little bit when she was writing down the most personal part of what I said. It wasn’t huge, but I think she suddenly realized that this is a life-or-death issue for me, personally and individually.

I achieved my personal goal for the day when I was telling a staff member about why I’m opposed to the “conscience clause” exception to EMTALA that’s in one of the bills under consideration right now. I told him very honestly that I’m afraid of that exception because it means that if I need emergency medical care but get taken to a hospital or a doctor with a religious objection to abortion, even to save the life of the mother, they can literally stand there and let me bleed to death. I’m afraid of that. His face paled slightly, and he said very quietly, “That’s a good reason.” I can only hope he tells my story to the representative.

After that, I decided to do something that is either the best or worst thing I did all day, and possibly both: I went to counter-counter-protest.

In training, we were advised that there would be counter-protesters out in a few locations with anti-abortion messages, and were advised to ignore them. The group that I saw had large banners set up with bloody, misleading, and despicable propaganda, plus a gentleman with a megaphone and three or four people trying to hand out flyers to passerby. The outright lies on some of the banners (“If you have an abortion, you’ll get breast cancer!”) irritated me, and I had this lovely giant pink sign that said “I stand with Planned Parenthood” from the lunchtime rally, so I took the sign over to the corner with the anti-abortion banners and did what it said: I stood.

I stood just barely off the sidewalk with my back to the banners, facing the corner where a lot of staffers and a some lobbyists were walking by to get from one office building to another, and held the sign, silently. The man handing out flyers approached me once he realized what I was doing, and he was joined by another woman; they lectured me and harangued me, insisting at first that I must not know how awful Planned Parenthood really is. That actually heartened me; the fact that they were peddling outright lies made me more sure and certain in what I was doing. The big sign also helped – at first I was holding it up almost like a shield between me and them.

I had been trying not to make eye contact, and after a few minutes, I started repeating a short chant to myself very, very quietly. That especially helped me ignore them when they were throwing rhetorical questions at me.  Suddenly one of them saw my lips moving and said, “Is she…praying???” The other one said, “Oh my god!” as if they couldn’t imagine prayer was possible for anyone who didn’t share their convictions. They looked at each other, horrified, and backed away.

After that they mostly left me alone, although one woman with a heavy Eastern European accent came over and walked around me in a circle chanting parts of the rosary a few times. It was the first time I’d ever been prayed at by someone, but I had expected it, so it didn’t so much bother me as make me vaguely amused, especially that they were addressing Mary while I was thinking of my own image of the Goddess. (More reflections on the spiritual aspects of my work are in a subsequent post.) A cop came over and made sure I intended to be peaceful and quiet, and had no problem with me when I assured him that I did. Later on, once they decided I wasn’t going to respond to them, a couple of the anti-abortion crowd actually came over and had each other take pictures of them standing next to me.

Then came the guy with the videocamera. He said he was independent; I didn’t exactly believe that, but I decided, bravely or stupidly or both, to let him interview me. It was simultaneously terrifying and exciting, and while I’m sure I screwed up many, many times, I think I did okay at achieving my goal, which was to provide a different and hopefully more reasonable example compared to the anti-abortion protesters with megaphones and bloody banners. I was extremely glad that I had read some material on how to deal with the media, and that I had done so much personal preparation and putting together talking points and responses and so on. I learned a lot, very quickly, about dealing with videocameras and the people behind them. Finally, note to self: Next time I go out to save the world, I should wear sunscreen. I hope I wasn’t as pink on camera as I was later in the evening.

Overall, it was an exhausting and exhilarating day, and I’m glad I did it. I think I made a difference. I know I made a difference by standing in front of the anti-abortion banners, because half a dozen women who walked by made eye contact and smiled and nodded, or gave me a thumbs-up, or thanked me aloud. And for even more, I saw a little bit of relief in their eyes that I was there, silently telling them that they did not need to feel isolated or overwhelmed when faced with the ugly pressure and lies of the anti-abortion protesters. For those women, on that corner, I made a difference, and it was worth it.