Shocked and amazed

There is a play by Moliere (The Bourgeois Gentleman, 1670) in which an unsophisticated character is astonished to learn that he had “been speaking prose all my life, and didn’t even know it!”

Like him, apparently, about half the population of the United States—the male half— is shocked and amazed to learn that the other half of Americans have been living with sexual harassment, pressure, innuendo, and sexual assault, since puberty or before.

Once we wise up to the situation, as women or girls, we mostly realize that we are in fact prey and men are the predators. Wherever we go some of the men around us are undressing us mentally, fantasizing about doing things to us, just waiting for the moment alone in the elevator, or the back office, or behind some bushes, or in his car, when they can act on these impulses. Of course until the looks or leers or remarks or lecherous acts begin, we might not know for sure about a particular man. But if there are half a dozen men in your workplace you can feel pretty sure at least one of them is in this category, and a certain intuition may pick up on clues. Or perhaps someone else, male or female, will bravely let fall a remark about being careful around so-and-so.

But they’re still the ones with the power even if you’re forewarned. It is not merely that most men are physically stronger than most women, it never comes to that in most of these events. It is that men with power, even a little bit of power, target women that they have power over. It might be the woman’s timid personality, it might be her youth and inexperience, or the man’s position. He doesn’t need to be Harvey Weinstein or Bill O’Reilly or Donald Trump or Bill Cosby or Bill Clinton, doesn’t need to be famous or rich. If you’re a counter worker or a sales clerk or a babysitter for his kids or someone whose life will be made very difficult if you speak up, that is all that is necessary.

And let’s face it, the flood of accounts of abuse that have come out over the past couple of years, over the past couple of months, mostly haven’t come as any big surprise to people who’ve been around these men or known of them for years. But the women knew what reception they’d get if they spoke out.

At least if you’re raped or humiliated by a rich corporate guy you might be able to get a lawyer and negotiate a settlement which will of course include a non-disclosure clause. Your silence for his immunity and continuation of the behavior. But right there, in that sort of case, it’s not just the woman and the man who groped her and made her feel demeaned who are in the know: quite a few people know something or everything, her lawyer and his corporation’s lawyer, and the bosses and co-workers of those people, and his corporation’s financial officer and risk management person and on and on. Maybe she tells her best friend, or her sister (not her husband, that’s a quick ticket to being damaged goods in his eyes) or maybe she just makes nonspecific warning remarks to other women she sees being drawn into the attack zone.

But mostly women keep quiet. And so, it seems, do boys and men who’ve been harassed or assaulted. As with children who are mistreated or sexually abused, the power and credibility is all on the other side. The coach, the scout leader, the church youth group pastor, the friend of your dad’s, your uncle or grandfather—when they deny it who will believe you?

It’s a jungle out there, guys, and it’s mostly you XY chromosome humans making it that way. Women as prey, women as property, women as less than whole powerful people; we’ve always lived with it. Now you men know about it too, or should I say, have no excuse for pleading ignorance any more. What happens next?

Predatory men will not go quietly

 

 From splinternews.com:

On Tuesday night, The New York TimesPolitico, and The Atlantic all published stories detailing numerous sexual harassment allegations against Leon Wieseltier, the New Republic’s famed literary editor for over 30 years before he left the magazine in 2014. Wieseltier had been accused of “workplace harassment” on an anonymously crowdsourced list of “Shitty Media Men” that was circulating among women in the media. Over the past week, after the list was brought to the public’s attention, a group of female ex-TNR staffers started exchanging emails about their own “Leon stories.”

“I wouldn’t call it an ‘open secret,’ it was just the way he was,” one former female TNR staffer told me. “Open secret implies that anybody else in management understood it was shameful and shouldn’t be done, which was definitely not the case… It was a culture there, there were a lot of other problems. There’s a reason why someone like Leon has lasted as long as he has at a place like the New Republic—that doesn’t happen by accident.”

This was the statement that Wieseltier provided to Politico, which first broke the news:

For my offenses against some of my colleagues in the past I offer a shaken apology and ask for their forgiveness. The women with whom I worked are smart and good people. I am ashamed to know that I made any of them feel demeaned and disrespected. I assure them that I will not waste this reckoning. And I am profoundly sorry to my extraordinary collaborators at the journal we began together that the misdeeds of my past have made it impossible to go forward. My gratitude to them is boundless. 

" I am ashamed to know 
that I made any of them
feel demeaned and disrespected."

Good choice of phrasing, there. Women, their feelings, all that stuff is quite foreign to me, a powerful male animal. I’m shocked, shocked, that any of them could have felt that way. 

So much smoother than, “I am ashamed that I thrust my hand down the front of her clothing and grabbed her breasts”. So much less disturbing than, “I am ashamed that I pushed her up against the wall in a dark corridor, reached under her clothing to put my hand inside her underwear, and…”.

And so much less susceptible to criminal charges, too!  

These men are unrepentant alpha males, at least where women are concerned.

Weaseldick

Sometimes they even look the part, mane and all. (Photo of Wieseltier)

Note, in the excerpt above from Wieseltier’s disdainful self-exculpating statement, that he begins by offering a “shaken apology”. Shaken, surprised, caught unawares. The apology of an innocent man, who finds the rules have been changed without him knowing: he thought it was civil to force a woman, physically and by the power of his position and the circumstance, to submit to an assault of her person. Of course he did. He was  “the New Republic’s famed literary editor for over 30 years”, how impossible that he could have been aware that his unwanted “advances” were brutish and criminal.  Poor unschooled fellow, ignorant of the nuances of language and social behavior, he couldn’t have known.

The Oxford thesaurus, in the online entry for “civil”, says:

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/thesaurus/civil

O my sisters, O my brothers, must women remain the never-to-be-freed slaves forever? 

As a young woman forty years ago I thought so. Nothing so far has caused me to change my mind. 

Beyond Harvey Weinstein

When are we going to stop thinking about rights in regard to this group today (women) and that group (say, male actors harassed sexually by male executives) tomorrow?

Yes, some groups suffer more from certain kinds of harassment than others do, and sometimes specific legal protections are imperative. But must we work our way through each kind of discrimination with every conceivable group? There really isn’t time for that. How about generalizing it to two rules:

  • Respect the rights of other human beings in your words and actions. Insults and vicious gossip are cruel. Zip your lip, walk away.
  • Obey the law, which establishes minimal standards that are usually pretty clear. Assault is illegal. Compelling someone to submit to unwanted sexual activity is illegal.

No need then to teach your children, or yourself, to be kind & respectful to people who are a different color/religion/gender/nationality/political party, who support a different team or speak English with a regional or foreign accent, who are richer or poorer than you, more or less educated than you…See what I mean? The list of differences goes on forever. Cut the crap, be civil and compassionate to everybody. You can still disagree with them but you don’t get to insult them or assault them. Can you live with that?

[My last post was 3 years ago almost. If you are curious why, the “Speak, nosleepingdogs!” page, on the black menu bar above, explains.

How did your Senator vote on the $1.1 trillion Spending Bill?

Another US government shutdown was averted when the Senate approved the budget bill on Saturday,  Dec. 13. Voices were raised on both sides calling for No votes: Ted Cruz wanted the bill to do something about President Obama’s allegedly unconstitutional executive order on immigration enforcement, and Democratic progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders denounced the bill’s loosening of regulations on big banks. In the end, the bill passed 56 to 40. There’s a rundown on provisions of the bill at the Washington Post.

I wanted to know how my two senators voted, and had a bit of trouble locating that information. If you have the same question, there’s the official roll call here.

On that page, don’t be confused by the title of the bill, as I was. This really is the “omnibus spending bill” title:

H.R. 83: To require the Secretary of the Interior to assemble a team of technical, policy, and financial experts to address the energy …… needs of the insular areas of the United States and the Freely Associated States through the development of energy action plans aimed at promoting access to affordable, reliable energy, including increasing use of indigenous clean-energy resources, and for other purposes.

GovTrack explains it,

    This bill became the vehicle for passage of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 [pdf], which was approved by the House on December 11, 2014 and by the Senate on December 13, 2014.
    The bill was originally introduced on January 3, 2013 by Delegate Donna Christensen regarding clean energy in insular areas. It passed in the House on September 15, 2014 and the Senate on September 18, 2014, but the Senate made changes and sent it back to the House.
    The House subsequently replaced the entire text of the bill with the appropriations act and passed the bill in that form on December 11, 2014 (House vote), sending it back to the Senate for a final vote, which occurred on December 13, 2014 (Senate vote).
    The text of the original [energy-related] bill was put into a new bill, H.R.5803, which passed the House (again, in a sense).

And, if you are wondering about the reference to the “Freely Associated States” in that misleading title, they are the Federated 
States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of the Marshall Islands
(RMI), and the Republic of Palau. They were part of a trust territory administered by the US after World War II, and left that status after choosing to become chose to become “
sovereign nations in free association with the United States”.

Anyway, we have a federal budget…until the next showdown: it expires Sept. 30, 2015. And poor Homeland Security only gets funding through Feb. 27, 2015. Why? Because it runs most of the immigration-related stuff, so this allows for a whole new drama then, about the President’s Executive Order. Makes me tired just figuring it all out. 

Oh, and my senators? Both Oregon senators voted Nay, because of the banking regulation issue which relaxes rules concerning the sorts of transactions that led to the Great Recession of 2008. I emailed them my approval. We need a budget, but we need financial-system reform too.

 

Pogo;

Religion, contraception, and health insurance

In the US, there are two ways most of us get health insurance: through Medicaid (53 million enrollees) or Medicare (nearly 45 million), or through an employer (148 million).

That’s 44% of us relying on health insurance through our jobs, and the federal government has regulated this area for a long time, including mandating the inclusion of certain types of care. Nixon signed the Health Maintenance Organization Law of 1973, designed to encourage the formation of HMOs to provide medical care and contain costs. HMOs were required to deliver “basic health services” including mental health (maximum of 20 visits), medical treatment and referral for alcohol and drug abuse or addiction, home health services, and preventive services (vision care and preventive dental care for children, and family planning services). Other providers of health care for employees

Another 16% of the population receives health care through Medicaid, which is paid for jointly by the federal government and each state. States design their plans but must obey federal rules, which since 1972 have required that states include “family planning and supplies furnished (directly or under arrangements with others) to individuals of child-bearing age (including minors who can be considered to be sexually active)” to Medicaid eligible individuals. Though Medicaid coverage of prescription drugs is generally an option for states, contraceptives are specifically included under the mandate and therefore are required for all state programs. [This information is from a joint report by the Kaiser Foundation and the Guttmacher Institute; at the end of the post there appears an excerpt which summarizes why family planning was mandated.]

So, there is nothing new about the federal government requiring health care organizations such as HMOs to offer contraception, and every person or business paying state or federal taxes is supporting contraception dispensed by Medicaid.

What’s new is the government requiring that employers offer health care, and that the health care include contraception. Previously, we must suppose, religious organizations opposed to contraception have chosen health care plans that don’t cover it. Now, for good public health reasons (see the report excerpt at the end), that loophole is being closed.

Obama’s response to criticism of this requirement—criticism marked by hyperbole, e.g. calling it a “war on religion”, and a violation of freedom of religion—has been to say that the services must be offered, but no religious organization has to pay for contraceptive services: the insurance company must absorb the cost itself. Catholic bishops still object, and say they will take the issue to court, partly because some religious organizations are self-insured; no insurance company is involved. But as we have seen, if the churches are paying any taxes (sales tax, property tax on buildings they own and rent out, etc.) they’re already paying for Medicaid’s family planning, from counselling to IUDs and pills. If their court case succeeds, will they then file to be exempted from taxes that support Medicaid?

If Obama’s accommodation is the right solution, then surely we should exempt the Christian Science church from paying for health care insurance at all! And following this precedent, the rest of us should demand the same sort of line item veto for our income tax so we can opt out of paying for this or that war, for the agencies enforcing laws about civil rights and equal employment, for the next bank bailout, for federal aid to schools that teach sex education or evolution, for whatever we don’t personally like or need. The Tea Partyers will love this!

Coffee dyed paper

Below is the excerpt from the Kaiser Foundation/Guttmacher Institute report, Medicaid’s Role in Family Planning (2007).

Medicaid  family planning, excerpt from Guttmacher report at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/IB_medicaidFP.pdf

Cymbalta and fibromyalgia, my experience

Since being diagnosed in 1992 I’ve tried quite a few medications hoping they’d help the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Only two have made the cut; most of the others had no effect, or (like pregabalin and Lyrica) were too sedating to find out if higher doses would work.

Currently I take only two medications for fm: a very low dose of trazodone, an old (generic and cheap!) anti-depressant, to help me sleep, and a new anti-depressant, Cymbalta. The Cymbalta is actually for depression. I began it after the previous anti-depressant, Celexa, stopped working. I didn’t know it had stopped working, I thought I was just feeling how I felt. Dark horizons closed in on me and I saw that life really was merely a period of pointless suffering, so I told the doctor who prescribes for my depression that I thought I might as well quit taking anything and just experience reality. Afterwards I was embarrassed at my lack of insight into my own mental processes, but by its nature depression’s a condition that disables self-analysis and replaces it with the exquisite existential pain of being alive and aware. This is why depression thrives on the isolation it so effectively induces.

To be honest I must say I still feel there’s a strong intellectual case to be made that “life is merely a period of pointless suffering”… except that the medicated me retracts the word “merely”. And knows that the intellectual perspective is not the whole picture. Like an extremely protracted wait in an airport, life can be viewed as just something to endure, or you can notice what’s going on around you, help out some other travellers, go explore a different part of the airport, meet other people, and so on. Then, indeed, you die. But in the meantime, why not make the most of where you are? There are pleasures to be found, skills to master, a marvellous natural world of birds and bugs and clouds, and considerable satisfaction in doing something that lessens the overall quotient of crappiness and suffering. It’s even possible to find other people whose company you enjoy, people you love.

But without a functioning anti-depressant, I did not feel this way. So is it the “real me” speaking now, or just a chemical? Or was it a chemical imbalance that made me feel even worse than this guy (Joe Btfsplk, from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner)? Irrelevant hair-splitting. Unproductive line of investigation. Phooey on it.

Joe Btfsplk, Al Capp's character with a black cloud over his head always raining misfortune on him

Okay, so, Cymbalta works for me (for now) as an anti-depressant, but what about the fibromyalgia connexion? It’s touted as a drug that helps with fm pain, which is why my doc and I agreed on using it despite its expense. At first I noticed no difference. Pressure is still pain, it hurts to hold onto the steering wheel or lean against a wall or sit or stand. Then the doc asked me, after using it for the better part of a year, if it had helped the fm. Didn’t really think so. Later, I looked back over what has changed in that period and there’s one huge thing: I have been able to stick with an exercise plan of walking, to the point where I could walk 2 miles with the first mile being all uphill. And when I challenged myself after a while to walk the uphill mile without stopping I found I could. Always before, no matter how gradually I increased the exercise, within a couple of weeks (or less) my pain and exhaustion would spike so much I’d have to stop for 5 or 6 days. You never get any “training effect” that way. You’re always struggling and always being knocked back to the starting point. This fantastic feature of fibromyalgia (and of chronic fatigue syndrome) is called post-exertional malaise.

Unlike my previous anti-depressant, Cymbalta (Duloxetine) doesn’t just increase the amount of serotonin available in my system, it does the same thing for norepinephrine. What does this mean? Here’s a clue: norepinephrine is also called noradrenaline. It’s secreted by the adrenal glands and, along with adrenaline, it has actions throughout the body and also in the brain, mostly aimed at revving you up—increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar; raising the metabolism; in general, preparing the body “to take immediate and vigorous action”.

Since even the researchers aren’t sure exactly how anti-depressants “work”, I’m not going to delve into it any further here. Suffice it to say that some part of norepinephrine’s action enables my body to deal with exercise more normally, and adapt to it. My walking muscles have gotten stronger, my aerobic endurance has increased, and I’ve even gotten to where at the top of the hill when I branch off onto a level road to cool off before the descent, I feel really good! Like I could walk for hours! That’s something I never thought I’d experience again, the enjoyment of physical exercise and of getting a little fitter each time. It’s probably partly the oft-mentioned endorphins that those smug runners get, and partly personal satisfaction at achieving the goal once again.

Each time it gets a tiny bit easier. At first when I started doing the uphill half without stopping I was flogging my body onward, unconscious of anything around me, totally absorbed in persevering. I had to sit down at the top, out of breath and exhausted. Now, I walk on for another 15 or 20 minutes (not uphill—yet!) without difficulty and then head back. Sometimes I have minor muscle soreness that lasts a day or two, and one knee protests that it is too old for this, but I’m not in pain and drained of energy for days as I used to be (prior to Cymbalta) after doing short level walks.

The catch about Cymbalta is the expense. I take a high dose, 160 mg/day, and it costs about $10 a day. (Last quarter the manufacturer, Eli J. Lilly, made profits of $1.2 billion on total revenue of $6.25 billion; 20% profit, not bad.) My insurance, the Medicare Drug Plan, covers most of it and so do some regular health insurance plans. It’s prescribed for depression, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and some forms of chronic pain. There will be no generic version until the patent expires in 2013. Online ads for generic cymbalta should be regarded as scams, as if someone wanted to sell you $20 bills for $5. It can’t be the real thing from the manufacturer, and you have no idea what it might be.

There is an organization, The Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which “helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage get the medicines they need through the program that is right for them. Many will get their medications free or nearly free.” This organization is sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research companies. There is no charge for getting help from the PPA. You can find more information about them here. Your doctor may know about other ways to save money on prescriptions; ask! Also, inquire about free samples to get started and see if it helps you.

For the first time ever…

My blog has been dormant since early this year. During this period my husband went through four shoulder surgeries, and is now facing spine surgery. In a later post I’ll describe parts of all this which may be useful to others. But for now I am going to ease back into blogging with a short simple post.

As an older adult, I feel it’s not too often I do something for the first time ever. But Friday, while pursuing the sedentary pleasure of reading in the shade on our deck, I got to sit in the shade of trees I helped plant! And it felt good.

Over the years I have planted trees here and there, even sprouted acorns and popped them in the ground, knowing I would not be around to admire them when they got really big. I remember thinking once that I hoped someone somewhere was planting trees for me. Of course it’s true, “someone else” (including a host of squirrels, bluejays, and other animals which transport and hide seeds) has planted all the trees we gaze upon, eat the fruits of, and climb. But now, thanks to fast-growing seedlings from our two old birch trees, I sat in shade my husband and I had planted. It really did feel different, quite satisfying.

Birches make lots of little seeds which glide on the wind, sprouting wherever they encounter a moist spot. The slender trees now shading me started as little guys that I potted up to adorn the front deck; after a few years they outgrew their pots and were planted as a group. They’re prettier that way, and because the nature of birches, it takes several to make a sizable area of dappled shade.

Birches IMG 2160

We also have planted our own aspen grove, five that we bought in big pots, and they are doing well. Our hot dry summers and fast-draining soil (that’s a flattering term for it) aren’t ideal for either aspens or birch so I water them once or twice a week in the summer, and that seems to be enough.

Aspens IMG 2164

I always marvel when I see houses without any trees: no shade, no windbreak, no fruit, none of the other comforts that trees offer us.

If your surroundings are lacking in trees, don’t wait for Arbor Day next spring. Plant some this fall and they’ll be ready to grow in spring. Get some advice on what does well in your region (use natives as much as you can) and what fits your needs with regard to questions such as year-round shade or not, growth rate & eventual size, likes to be in a lawn or not, species that provide food for birds or butterflies, blooms or fall color, amount of leaves and seeds to be raked if that is an issue, and so on.

Look for nursery sales as they pare back their holdings before winter; you can get some good deals. Or, just start your own. Some trees are pretty easy to grow though you’ll wait longer to sit in their shade, of course. Willow cuttings will grow readily if they get water; acorns can just be pushed into the ground and some will grow. There’s an inspiring short tale (The Man Who Planted Trees, by Jean Giono) about a shepherd who over many years revivified a desolate area by planting acorns each day as he followed his sheep. It’s fiction, but full of truth. Tree roots help stop erosion, their leaves cause the rain to fall more gently promoting absorption by the soil, their shade cools streams for wildlife and shelters other seedlings, their flowers, leaves, and seeds are food for many animals, and their presence gives birds, insects, and mammals places to live, breed, and hunt.

Trees in fall color, surrounding Monticello

As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I never before knew the full value of trees. My house is entirely embossomed [embosomed] in high plane-trees, with good grass below; and under them I breakfast, dine, write, read, and receive my company. What would I not give that the trees planted nearest round the house at Monticello were full grown. “ (in a letter to Martha Jefferson Randolph, July 7, 1793).

Two months before his death, at the age of eighty-three, he designed an arboretum for the University of Virginia. Such an epilogue to years of planting at Monticello was perhaps inspired by Jefferson’s own adage: “Too old to plant trees for my own gratification I shall do it for posterity.” (This and more about Jefferson and his tree-planting here; the aerial photo is of Monticello.)

6 things you should know when planting a tree, from Arbor Day Foundation

To which I add: Leave the soil at the bottom (that will be beneath the root ball) undisturbed to avoid settling. If the tree is bare-root, gently spread out the roots over a cone of soil. Don’t stake unless really necessary, for instance when planting on a slope. Finally, water it in, and water regularly for the first couple of years or more depending on your weather. More tips here.