Friday, May 30, 2008

dumbstruck with the sweetness of being

My sleep is all messed up again, so this morning at about 5:45, as the sun was just starting to shine through the haze on the horizon, I took a walk around the block with my trusty camera. I took fewer pictures than I would have liked, since apparently civilized people get up and go to work as the sun rises, and I thought I might get caught examining someone's garden as they came outside, and I chickened out.

Here's a few of my favorites though. I really am fortunate to live in a place where people have space to grow gardens; well, I suppose I'm fortunate to live anywhere at all.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

With all the poise of a cannonball

I have been reading a book of short stories by James Tiptree, Jr., aka Alice Bradley Sheldon, science fiction author and gender-bender extraordinaire, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Tiptree included gendered themes in most of her stories, and its got me thinking about this idea that women are innately less violent than men.

Also, it was just memorial day last Monday, and I have been watching the first couple seasons of Battle Star Galactica, which has introduced me to the indomitable Kara Thrace. I'm not sure I will be able to finish watching BSG, I'm that in love with Thrace, and the President, and all the other women in that show who love to fight. Seeing such a positive portrayal of war, and particularly female soldiers, just about breaks my heart with the desire to be a soldier.

Its crazy, I am aware of that. I hated the Army when I was enlisted, I hated being ordered about by incompetent people half as smart as I was, and even if I was completely physically fit there are a dozen other reasons why I could never join the military again, starting with my disgust for the war criminals at the top of the chain of command and working out from there. Nevertheless, there is this tug on my heart that is hard to explain. I want to fight.

The human urge to destroy is discouraged in women, we are supposed to be nurturers and care-givers and all that, but I don't believe that this is a biological fact. Were the social pressures reversed, I am convinced that women could be-and are- just as vicious and destructive and violent as men are supposed to be. No one human is immune from the desire to kill.

So, as compelling and interesting as Tiptree's stories are, the Memorial Day piece (or piece that I read on Memorial Day anyway) that made the biggest impression on me was this article from 2 Dinar, The Casualties of War:

In reality, I was, and remain, wracked with guilt and insecurity- different than survivor’s guilt and far less noble. This is the guilt of leaving to pursue another career when the Corps needed strong leaders like me. The guilt of not having gone all-in when gambling with my life; of not having been catastrophically injured. The guilt of not having killed and the guilt of not living with the timeless veteran’s regrets about his killings. The guilt of being indifferent to the hundreds of opportunities available to me because they all bored me and all I wanted to do was fight.
War is a powerful thing, sweet and compelling. I'm not sure why- I have a dozen theories, about population pressures and sin, ecological change that spurs migration and religious stereotyping- but the fact remains. In spite of everything I know about how life ought to be, sometimes what I really want is a situation where I can get away with starting a fight.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Count every beautiful thing we can see

Elizabeth asked her readers- her friends- to go out this weekend and do something living. I scrounged up some batteries for my camera and went to the park. I got some really crappy pictures, and this one.

These plants are dry and brittle and brown. Dead.

When I uploaded this photo and saw it full size, I was reminded of this piece of art, a sculpture by Richard Johnson titled "Parasite (The Thing Within My Spine)." Wheelchair Dancer pointed me to this exhibit of artwork on pain, and I've been meaning to write about it in terms of the success of the representation of physical pain in art, but I've been putting it off because although most of the art in this exhibit is very good, only a couple pieces even come close to actually evoking physical pain. This sculpture is good- seriously, go look at it, read the artist's description- and I love that this photo resembles it, because in this photo Pain is Beauty.

I need that today. I guess this doesn't really fit the directive to go out and do something fun; this post is fundamentally depressing. But, my head feels like I've been run over by something larger than a golf cart but smaller than a semi-truck, my throat is on fire with heartburn and the antacids are doing nothing, my hands are bruised and aching, my neck is radiating pain down to my lower back, my hips are out because I walked around the park this morning, and like a goddamn idiot I went and got a massive sunburn on top of everything else. I am the incarnation of pain, I am panting with it, and in this picture pain is elegance, delicate and architectural.

Friday, May 23, 2008


I've written a lot on here the past couple of months about religion, and my generally negative view of the whole deal, so I though I would mention something to balance that out a bit. Although I don't believe that religious stories about the world are true in some larger, factual sense, that doesn't mean I don't see any value in telling these stories. Religious ideas can motivate people to horrible cruelty, but they can also motivate kindness and wisdom. One of the more common instances of this is when people use religion to focus the impulse to help other people. Religious charity is sometimes an excuse to bribe or coerce people into accepting a religion, but not always.

One of the better examples of this is World Vision. They are explicitly Christian; you can donate money to them specifically for the purpose of distributing Bibles and so on, and their newsletters are chock full of Bible verses. But they also do things like distribute emergency food aid in disaster areas, and support long term development in impoverished areas worldwide by building schools, roads, medical clinics, water pumps, and giving out micro loans and small business training/advice to help people start businesses. There are secular charities that do these things, too. But I would hate to see the world deprived of even one organization that gives people practical help to improve their lives, and in this case religion is what drives this charity.

I sponsor a kid through World Vision. She turned four a few days ago, lives in a village in Sri Lanka, and is pretty much the most adorable thing in the world. Today I figured out how to get her picture online, hence this post!

Subodhani K.

Disability and Citizenship

(This is sort of for BADD, except that was a month ago. Clearly, I'm much too slow for the internet.)

I am an anarchist at heart. It is an impulse that goes deeper than rational thought; I don't know how it got there, but it is definitely lodged somewhere deep in the back of my brain, this idea that the essence of government is coercion, which is immoral. Perhaps this is the result of my rejection of the paternal God of my childhood, perhaps I simply read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at too impressionable an age, but whatever the reason I am an anarchist.

I am suspicious of government in all its forms. Even when I know, rationally, that governmental power is required to accomplish a good goal, the incarnation of government irritates me. Sweating pot-bellied men in orange vests on the freeway demanding that everyone drive 45 mph, incomprehensible instructions on tax forms that make my eyes blur painfully, impersonal and disinterested bureaucrats at the Social Security office or the DMV who make you sit in a hard plastic chair waiting for your number to be called while they go to lunch: I hate it all. This morning I read that the improved GI Bill had been passed in the Senate with a veto-proof margin, and even though I am strongly in favor of social support for veterans I still cringed when I saw that the bill passed because it was attached to all kinds of other government spending, because the fact is, you could show me that a spending bill was perfectly efficient and effective in funding only good programs, and I would still be uncomfortable with the amount of money and power that was being funneled through the government. I'm an anarchist, I can't help it.

I used to assume that my gut reaction to government was evidence that government was actually a bad thing. In my freshman year at college, I worked on a campaign for a Libertarian Party candidate for state Rep, and in 2000 and 2004, I voted for the Libertarian Party ticket from local city elections to President. Any agency monitoring my library records would have put me on a watchlist: I read things on tax protesting and survivalism, Ruby Ridge and basic bomb making (I was just curious, I swear), secession and how to obtain official citizenship from obscure countries in the South Pacific that will give you a free passport and let you do just about anything you want.

I still think a lot of this stuff is very interesting. A few months ago when there was news about parts of the Lakota Nation filing papers to revoke the treaty they signed with the US a hundred or so years ago and effectively secede, I was cheering them on. I'm pretty sure now, though, that whatever my gut feeling on the matter is, any kind of social structure requires a government with coercive power- a monopoly on violence as anarchists are so fond of saying- in order to remain stable. And although I still feel that coercion is wrong even if a majority approves it, I think in most cases coercion in the form of taxes, regulations, and government-provided services is actually a lesser evil than pure individualism.

The thing about anarchism is, to the extent that it is asocial, its very foolish. When you're young and healthy and idealistic, its possible to believe that you can transcend society. But you can't. Not even a pseudo-Aspie like me can ever really truly be alone; everyone relies on other people. As soon as you have two people in the same space, you have interactions between them, compromises and annoyances, all the things that make up a society.

Societies can't be avoided, so they must be managed. The anarchist says that societies don't need to be managed by any authority: they will organize themselves along natural (usually economic, either free-market or communist) laws. But people don't really work that way. When I was healthy I could believe that people would naturally help those around them if they saw that there was no other social safety net to help the helpless. I really believed that there would be enough people who cared on a personal level that no coercion would be necessary, that the impulse to charity, which is very real, would be enough to make society a friendly place.

Obviously I was naive. It took illness to teach me that without law, enforced literally if distantly with the barrel of a gun, society is more than happy to take from any productive person as long as she can work and then when she can't fit into a pre-formed space in the economic machine toss her out on her ear to die cold and alone. People do have good in them, but, as any starving child in Africa can testify, out of sight is out of mind and society works to maintain the comfort of the many by hiding the pain of the few. Before I got sick, I didn't understand the reality of living with illness, so I didn't understand the role society is able to play in making life accessible to the ill, and I didn't understand how difficult and necessary it is to channel the impulse to charity through society into actual physical benefits for those who are in need.

Anyway, this is really long and possible a bit incoherent. The point is, at heart I'm still an anarchist. My votes, though, go to Democrats, and although I may cringe at the veterans' benefits/spending bill that was passed the other day, I know intellectually that this bill is a good thing, because I am disabled, and being disabled has made me a better citizen.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Our Dear Leader

I've seen this a lot of places on my reading list lately: Shakesville, ginmar, Sadly, No!, Obsidian Wings just off the top of my head- I guess it's a popular news item this week. I don't really have anything new to say about it that hasn't been said better by others, but I couldn't resist adding my voice to the chorus.

It amazes me that at this point anyone can sincerely think that President Bush deserves to finish his term in the White House instead of in a dank prison cell somewhere. Well, I guess you could make a decent argument for incarcerating him in a high-security mental ward, since there's evidence that the man is clinically insane.

Here's the quote, via Politico, the site that did the interview:

For the first time, Bush revealed a personal way in which he has tried to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers and their families.

“I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” he said. “I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

Bush said he made that decision after the August 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, which killed Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top U.N. official in Iraq and the organization’s high commissioner for human rights.

“I remember when de Mello, who was at the U.N., got killed in Baghdad as a result of these murderers taking this good man's life,” he said. “I was playing golf — I think I was in central Texas — and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, ‘It's just not worth it anymore to do.’"

He gave up golf. To "be in solidarity as best [he] can" with the families of soldiers who've died in the war he started for nothing, with the soldiers who will spend the rest of their lives dealing with prosthetic limbs and phantom pain and life-altering nightmares of death because of his ignorance and incompetence and vanity, he gave up golf.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You know these days no one's exploited

I'm not a very good blogger; I missed Blogging Against Disablism Day, and now via Elizabeth I see I've missed Blogging for CFS/ME Day, which is too bad, as I swear I have intelligent things to say about disability and particularly about CFS.

I'm not going to talk about disability today, though. I'm going to talk about Lolita, and radical feminism, and what it's like to believe a certain idea is true.

I go to a book discussion group at my local library. We meet once a month, about four or five conservative, oldish women and me, excessively butch and progressive ; this month's book was Lolita, which of course is the story of a young girl and the pedophile who maneuvers himself into the role of her stepfather and then takes off across the country on a road trip designed to facilitate her repeated rape. And then he murders the guy who (sort of) helps her escape.

Its a horrible story, but the discussion was pretty interesting. Nabokov was a fabulous writer, so there's all kinds of literary allusions, metaphors and tricks to dissect, and the story of course raises all kinds of questions about the nature of insanity, evil, and sex. There are details throughout the book that hint at a story behind the story; I believe the literary device is called the 'unreliable narrator.' So the book group was a good time, but we didn't get into the aspect of the book that I thought was most interesting, which was the problem of consent to sex in a coercive, dependent relationship.

Although Nabokov doesn't necessarily accept it himself, he puts in the mouth of his protagonist the idea that the child Lolita, at age 12, seduces a grown man out of her own free will. This is what the term lolita has come to mean: a sexually cunning girl child who aims to seduce adult men.

Of course the legal standard is that it is impossible for a child of twelve to consent to sex, and I rather think that this is correct. However, when Lolita is only a bit older than the age at which she is said to have seduced Humbert, she runs away from him while on a trip. And I got to thinking, if I approve of a life-changing decision like choosing to run away from the only support you have, in a state you're unfamiliar with, without any money, what is the basis for my rejection of the idea that someone of that same age can consent to sex? Because if running away is an acceptable thing, the issue is clearly not one of mental competence or the ability to make wise decisions. So what is it about sex that makes me so sure that a twelve year old can't choose to do it?

I don't usually consider myself to be a radical feminist. I haven't even read a lot of the philosophy behind radical feminism, but my contemplation of this question makes me think that I probably ought to start reading Dworkin and whoever else wrote on this question back in the day, what I guess is called first-wave feminism. Because I suspect that the answer to why I think sex with children is unacceptable lies in the balance of power between adults and children. Children are dependent on their adult caretakers. No matter what permutation that relationship takes, a child can never be sure that she has power of any kind. A child's "no" is often meaningless, and I think this is the key to why I think a child cannot consent to sex. Of course, from what I know at least (my knowledge of Dworkin is heavily reliant on blogs like I Blame the Patriarchy, which isn't meant to be a course in philosophy, so what I know may not extend very far), one of the key tenets in the "sex-negative" school of feminist thought is that women can't consent to sex while a patriarchal society that denies women the ability to meaningfully refuse sex persists.

I'm not ready to subscribe to the idea that all heterosexual sex is rape- I think there has to be room somewhere for the unique dynamic between two people that may negate the effect that culture has- but I think I finally see where that idea comes from. Feminism is not something that comes naturally to me, not really. I don't really feel patriarchy in my gut. I believe that patriarchy exists because I've seen its effects often enough that I'm convinced that its a real phenomenon, but I don't really feel it on a close, personal level even when those effects are a part of my life. Its too easy for me to assume that the way both men and women interact with me is influenced by other things- my illness, my personality (which borders on Aspergian) - for me to automatically think that patriarchy in my life is really patriarchy. Reading Lolita has been like opening a window, and I think now I understand a little bit better what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century.

Monday, May 12, 2008

By land, by sea, by dirigible

I got my paraffin melter today, a nice young UPS man brought it to my door, but it was a bright and beautiful day even before that. In spite of everything, I'm so glad to be alive.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I am the stuff of happy endings

Arches National Park, Utah

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

Quite a few years ago, my family and I visited Moab, Utah. Possibly more than once, for probably more than a week- I don't remember exactly. I've been thinking, though, that it would be neat to go there again. The past couple of weeks we've been packing up stuff in this house so that we can have a giant garage sale, clearing things out so the house can be sold. Grandma is finally accepting that she needs to live in assisted living care, so the house is going to pay for that, which means Michael and I are out a place to live.

Things are kind of dissolving into chaos at the moment, but I'm oddly OK with it. Its occurred to me that not actually having a place to live might be just the excuse I need to take the roadtrip of all roadtrips. Not that gas prices this summer are conducive to roadtripping, but the idea of just taking off and seeing where I end up is incredibly enticing. And if I were to do this, I would go to Utah first I think. I could sleep in the back of my car, and spend days slowly creeping about these gorgeous canyons, maybe bring a sketchbook and work on pretending I'm an artist.

The practical, responsible me thinks that this is a very bad idea for any number of reasons, but on the other hand, it's not like I have a job or anything holding me to a specific place. I am interested in seeing the world, and although I am sick and poor these days, I don't have any particular reason to think that I will be less sick or poor five years from now, so if I'm going to travel anytime, why not now?