Apples and Oranges

You can’t directly compare conditions a hundred or two hundred years ago to today.  At first glance, this seems obvious, and yet I consistently see people doing this.  The comparisons are made when we talk about vaccination, obesity, infant mortality, childbirth methods, autism, child labor, and probably half a dozen other topics that I can’t grasp at the moment.  The argument usually goes like this:  “A hundred years ago, before we had x, bad outcome y happened.  Today, if we didn’t have x, bad outcome y would happen all over again.”

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

First off, when you talk about anything involving health, you have to consider the whole picture of health, not just a piece of it.  Absolutely anything and everything that makes us sick today is more survivable than it was a hundred years ago because of a broad spectrum of basic health care improvements, including antibiotics, good nutrition, basic sanitation, and an understanding of germ theory.  These four things alone probably account for 90% of the increase in longevity and the decrease in mortality across all age groups. Whatever happens to you, you are less likely to die of it now than at any point in history, period.

This means you can’t take some one advance and say that removing or changing it will suddenly throw us back into the dark ages of health care.  If women go back to planning to have all their babies out of the hospital, neonatal and maternal mortality will not climb back to 1900 levels.  If we stop vaccinating altogether as a society, children will not die of the measles and polio at 1900 levels.

Socially, culturally, we are not the same society that we were a hundred years ago.  We’re not even the same culture as we were in the 1970’s when I was born.  The level of acceptance for “others” in our society today is so high it would have been absolutely unbelievable back then.  Information is readily available to anybody in search of it, one way or another, faster, cheaper, more accurately, and more efficiently than ever before.  Low birth and death rates have led us to cherish every life more dearly, to care more about every individual.

You can’t say that if laws against child labor were repealed we would suddenly have children working and dying in coal mines again.  You can’t say that if hate crime laws were repealed we would have a spate of lynchings.  Society doesn’t function the same way now as it did back then.  Trying to make these arguments is no more intellectually honest than a conservative saying that if gays are allowed to marry that suddenly nobody will live in nuclear families anymore and Christians will be forced to live in polygamous marriages with dolphins (or whatever the last crazy argument on that one was).

We live in a chaotic world, a world full of thousands, millions, even billions of factors, all interacting in billions of different ways.  There are eddies and currents, whirlpools and waterfalls, as information, disease, human interaction, and evolution mingle.  One person can make a difference in the lives of millions of people, and yet sometimes millions of people believing a thing can’t seem to make a difference for anybody outside their direct sphere of influence.  Ripples expand, waves reinforce each other and cancel each other out.  The beauty in this chaos is that so many different things can happen, so many different ideas can be tried out, forces tested, evolutionary paths explored in nature and in society.

But in a chaotic world, the same conditions never exist twice, and the same action almost never produces an identical reaction.

An Abundance of Love

My facebook feed has been full of posts about Leelah Alcorn, a teenage transgirl who committed suicide by stepping out in front of a semi on the highway.  I have a friend with a trans child who felt this story hit her like a physical blow in the chest.  It shows that the alternative of a dead child is a very real possibility when parents do not support their LGBTQ children.  For me, it reminds me of Guy Sterling, a friend in high school.  He committed suicide, too, after being thoroughly rejected by his family and peers for the crime of being gay in small-town Texas.

When I think of stories like Leelah’s and Guy’s, I can’t help but think about what the parents are probably feeling. They’re terrified by the Protestant vision of neverending hellfire and damnation, terrified that their only child will be lost to them forever, convinced that they can save their child if they only try hard enough. They believe that if they “give in” and accept their LGBTQ child, they’re condemning their child to that eternity of suffering. It’s not a lack of love. It’s an abundance of love combined with what their religion is teaching them. We can’t fight that by just saying they don’t love their child. They do. They love their child so much they will do anything for their salvation.

Sometimes what parents do to try and “save” their children ends up looking to the child like persecution, control, and rejection.  This isn’t limited to LGBTQ children.  It doesn’t always end in suicide, thankfully.  It still can leave horrible scars to the mind and soul, scars that are very difficult to heal.

I was raised Protestant.  I was baptized twice, first as a Baptist, then again as a Presbyterian.  I went to church with friends, sung and even toured in youth choirs, dated the occasional evangelical.  When I discovered Wicca and witchcraft at age 15, the country was in the grip of what would later be known as the Satanic Panic.  My mother was terrified for me, I think.  She doesn’t like to talk about it now, but I know she had books in her room with titles that ran along the lines of “Satanism and Your Teenager.”  When I brought Buckland’s blue book home, so engrossed in my discovery that I couldn’t put it down, she insisted that I never bring that book in her house again, that evil book with the giant pentagram covering the back cover.  When I told other family friends that I was a witch now, and they came to her terrified that I had sold my soul to Satan, she begged me not to say things like that.  When I moved in with Brian before we got married, all the books on Wicca that I had left behind in my room mysteriously vanished.

My mother was trying to save me.  I was learning and embracing a new-to-me religion that called to my very soul, spoke to my connection with the world.

15 is also the age when I went to college.  After my two years with TAMS were up, I had made many friends among the regular college students, friends who would still be there at UNT after all my TAMS classmates left for farther horizons.  I wanted to stay at UNT, continue on as a regular college student and pursue a CompSci degree.  Several of my friends were moving into an apartment for the summer, and I wanted to join them.  It took a gentleman’s agreement between me and my roommates, since at 17 I could not sign the lease, but they let me in.  I got a job so I could pay my share of the rent.  I had a car.  I had a bank account, albeit one many miles away in Austin.  I was determined to live like any other college sophomore or junior in that town of music majors.

Granted, I was also an undiagnosed Aspie.  I had never worked out self-regulation skills to help me handle things like chores and cleaning.  My hygiene was probably questionable.  My possessions were a mess.  My job was, ironically, working in the daycare at a church, of all places.  I had a pet snake that I actually didn’t know how to care for.  My bank account got bollixed because I had to mail in deposits, and I mistimed writing checks on the deposits and had a series of bounce fees.  I spent an inordinate amount of time on the computer, either working on typing in my Book of Shadows or hanging out on IRC, in #wicca or #hottub.  I struggled with depression, knowing I was different but not yet understanding how and why.  I had a lot of life skills yet to learn, and I was going to have to learn them the hard way.

It’s a good thing I didn’t find out I was bisexual until several years later.  That could have been the fatal straw, added on to everything else at the time.

My parents wanted to save me from that.  They wanted to bring me home, take care of me, send me off to college again to be the successful <insert money/power career> they dreamed of.  They saw all the problems and wanted to fix them, wanted to fix me.  I saw them trying to control me, trying to cut off my choices, not listening to me.  It came to a pretty dramatic climax that summer.

Somehow, though, my mother was able to get around that.  I don’t know how, but she’s still my mother.  She calls me and listens to me, comes to visit for holidays, goes out to the movies or the casinos with me.  She came to my first wedding, made my wedding cake.  She came when I was pregnant, came when I was having babies, held all my babies.  She came to my second wedding, the one I held mostly to share with my father.

My father took it all as a personal affront.  He said my actions were the same as me saying I didn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore, despite my insistence to the contrary.  He has spent the last 22 years treating me mostly as an acquaintance rather than a daughter.  He doesn’t visit unless I’m on his way to someplace else, or unless somebody is dying.  He didn’t come to my weddings, although he goes to his girlfriend’s children’s weddings.  He did not hold my babies.  He has never visited for the holidays; he spends them with his girlfriend’s family.

Something in what my mother did holds the secret here.  Somehow, despite her belief that I was going down in flames and in need of rescue, she was eventually able to accept me as an independent human being capable of making my own decisions, choosing my own path, accepting my own consequences.  Somehow, she was able to continue being my mother even when she disapproved of my actions.  There’s more than love there.  There’s some kind of strength needed to love something so much you can let it go, so much you can continue to give love and support no matter what.

We can’t just tell Leelah’s parents they don’t love her, because they do.  We have to find a way to teach how to love somebody and let them go, no matter what.  I don’t know how to do that when Protestant Christianity or other restrictive, eternal-damnation religions are involved.  Do you?  Do you know how to tell somebody that their religion is wrong, or that they must ignore their sincere beliefs, ignore everything they hear from their Bible and their church and their community?

How Can I Fight?

I’ve posted an article or a link here and there, where some other author has responded to recent events in Police State America.  I haven’t said much myself, partly because I don’t feel like my white-assed, privileged words could possibly be worthwhile in a conversation about racism, partly because I really don’t have anything to say there that isn’t being said already by, like, everybody.  Racism is wrong.  It still exists.  There are conscious and unconscious racists.  I have privilege.

I get all of that.

And there’s not really a damn thing I can do about it.

(No, I am not going to censor my language this time.  Everything about this situation fucking sucks, and white-washing my language isn’t going to help.  Get pissed off.  Please.  You should be.)

Oh, sure, there are things I can do.  I can pray to my gods for peace and balance and justice (and I hope your god(s) can save you when mine go on an injustice-fueled rampage!).  I can constantly examine my thoughts, check myself and my every word, gesture, and bit of body language every time I encounter a person of color.  I can educate my children, do my best to relay my feelings, teach them that everybody is equal no matter how much melanin is in their skin or how much curl is in their hair.  I can also do my best to relay the (sometimes conflicting) things I have heard from persons of color about how we should behave as white people, what we should say, the language we should use, etc.  I could fill my facebook feed with copied pictures, join a crowd with a sign that nobody will see.

That conflicting thing?  Sometimes it makes me just want to hide in my house.  It makes me afraid to open my mouth whenever I go skating, sometimes it even makes me question my clothing and hairstyle choices.  It makes me afraid to say anything, because sometimes it feels like whenever I do say something, half the people I know are going to jump on me and tell me I’m doing it wrong.  I’m going to piss somebody off no matter what I say.  I’m sure I’m pissing people off right now.  (You’re welcome.)  Damned no matter what I say or do.  So why not just be a hermit and avoid the whole issue?  Shut my face, bow down under my privilege, not do a damn thing.

I can’t do that.

But what can I do?  I can’t read minds, and I can’t force them to change.  No matter how much legislation is passed, making laws won’t change people’s thinking.  Only time, education, and exposure can do that.  No amount of me making signs, sharing memes, or otherwise shouting from the rooftops, “RACISM IS WRONG!!!” is going to change the mind of an actual racist, nor is it going to make life any better for anybody suffering from systemic racism.

What I can do, what I can do to make a difference more quickly and have a concrete, positive effect on lives, is work to reduce the opportunities for the government to sanction racially-motivated violence. The whole reason cops end up using tactics like racial profiling is because they are trying to enforce victimless crimes.  If one consenting adult buys an intoxicating substance from another consenting adult and uses it, nobody is going to run to the cops and say, “Save me! I’m wounded! I’m in danger!”  If two people have sex and money changes hands, neither party is then going to run to the cops and ask them to intervene (unless they’re mortally stupid).  Libertarians refer to these and many more as “victimless” crimes because there is no victim to press charges.  Police have to hunt down all this hidden activity. If they’re racist, that’s a tool their brain is going to use to hunt it down, and when their employer sanctions and encourages violence in the enforcement of these laws, that violence is going to be applied in racist proportions.

For every victimless law and regulation I can get taken off the books, that’s one less opportunity for the police to interact with anybody, of any color, one less opportunity for racism to express itself, one less opportunity for the judgement call of the state enforcers to be applied in racist proportions.  Every license that isn’t required, every fee and inspection that isn’t required, is a thousand fewer opportunities for white cops to arrest black civilians for noncompliance and nonpayment.

Racism is wrong.  If I ever see or hear somebody speaking or behaving that way, I will call them on it.  But I’ll be damned if I’ll sit on the sidelines and let the bureaucratic nightmare continue to swell and expand, and let the police state continue to get better armed and better defended in court, because some people want to pretend that racism is the only problem here.  The less the government intrudes into our daily lives, the fewer opportunities there are for racists and bullies to use force against people they don’t like. The fewer opportunities there are for bigots to act against any marginalized population, whether race, religion, sexual and family preferences, or what fucking books they like to read. That’s a concrete outcome.  It’s something I can help with.

Yes, I have a racial privilege to even begin to think I can approach a highway checkpoint and refuse a search, to even begin to think I can go into court (like I did) and challenge a traffic ticket, to stand on my front porch and refuse to let government officials into my home (did that too).  So what?  If I’m going to have privilege in an unequal, racist world, shouldn’t I try to do something positive with it?

Better than keeping my mouth shut, and better than being lost in a sea of identical voices.

Links and Things

I don’t have a loud voice shouting to get out today, so instead here are some little voices.

  • My middle child loves to go out in the rain.  As soon as a downpour starts, he’s at the front door asking to go out in it.  I love being able to say yes.  Yes! Go dance in the rain!  Revel in Mother Nature!  Get wet and muddy and laugh about it!  What is life if you can’t go play in the rain?

    My neighbor caught this shot of my son in the rain.

    My neighbor caught this shot of my son in the rain.

  • Michigan State Police Say Most Speed Limits Are Too Low.  Most people realize that you’re not safe out there on most highways if you’re driving the speed limit.  I realize it.  Yet I’m one of those assholes driving the speed limit, partly because I have panic attacks whenever I have to deal with the police, partly because I can’t bloody well spare the cash to pay the government squeeze for the privilege of driving safely with the flow of traffic.  I get tailgated.  I get cut off.  I get honked at.  Thanks to the speed limit laws, I’m stuck.  Government needs to back out of micromanaging driving and concentrate on the truly dangerous, as in so many other areas of life.
  • The Ingham County Fair was last week.  The older kids all went on their own one day, most with free tickets from the library and allowance money for rides, one because a friend took him.  I wasn’t planning to take Kender until my mother offered to do it, but I’m sure glad that she did, and we did.  With A’Kos, Kender waited in lines, allowed operators to help him on and off the rides, asked for more rides, and generally behaved like many other kids there.   It was so wonderful to see him riding the rides, holding on and smiling.  While handling A’Kos in crowds comes with a bit of stress of its own, overall the experience was so much better than taking Kender alone would have been.  Instead of melting down, Kender would just occasionally bend over and give A’Kos a hug.
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Fake a Disability

20140715 Kender at zoo - 1

Without AKos, this trip to the zoo would not have happened for Kender.

“Hey, did you know that [insert disability here] people get to [insert special access here]?  We could do that, too, because the government says that businesses aren’t allowed to ask questions.  Here, you pretend to have [insert disability here] and I’ll [get fake certification/baldly lie/pretend nothing’s wrong], and then we’ll get [insert special access here], too!”

Handicapped parking. Special access to rides without waiting in line. Special test-taking accommodations. Front row seating. Service dog access.  Whatever the accommodation, I’ve seen folks lie and cheat their way into gaining access.  I’ve seen little pet chihuahuas in their service dog vests purchased online.  I’ve seen the looks when we jump a line or take our reserved seating.  I’ve even had friends brag to my face, in front of my blind husband, about how they were parking with grandma’s handicapped plate.

Only a poor simulation of what you might see

Only a poor simulation of what you might see

Stop and think for a moment about the difference between your life and what your life would be like disabled.  What if you were visually impaired?  Put some broken sunglasses on, and put some tape around the sides so you can’t see around them.  Just for good measure, splatter some paint across them, and maybe give them a prescription that’s wildly inaccurate for your eyes.  You can’t take them off or fix them, not ever.  Walking down the sidewalk, you can’t see that bench sticking out just far enough to hit your shins.  You also don’t notice the chairs in the restaurant, the shipping pallets in the store, the little kids running in front of you, the holes the gophers dug in your lawn.  Every step you take comes with the possibility of pain and embarrassment, and because you have some vision you might try to forgo the mobility cane, forgo the obvious label and free up a hand because, after all, you can see a little.  Going to the movies, a live show, comedy or a concert, attractions at Disney?  You’re only going to be able to see bits and pieces, a flash of light here and a moving shadow there, unless you’re lucky enough to talk your way into the front row where you can see more detail, maybe somewhat approach the experience of everybody else who paid $5/10/50/100 to be there.  Waiting in line for a ride?  You can’t see the cute movies on the TVs overhead, you can’t see the decorations in the bushes, you can’t watch the ride and the faces of the riders as you approach your turn.  All you are doing is standing there, nothing to look at, for an hour or more.  How about that parking lot?  Imagine parking at someplace like a Ren Faire and walking a half-mile or more across a rough field when you can’t see the rocks, the tree roots, the way the ground goes up and down every couple of feet.  Can you make it without a sprained ankle or bloody shin, even with a mobility cane?

Still think it’s pretty cool that you used somebody else’s parking space?  Still thinking about lying to get a disabled wristband at the park?  Still grumbling when you see us get seating up front, while you watch the show from behind us with your perfect vision?

a small piece of the form we send to our police department every year

a small piece of the form we send to our police department every year

How about autism, that condition you think your kid can mimic for as long as it takes to get that special access card?  If you only have neurotypical children, it is so difficult to convey the reality of raising a child with autism.  Think about trying to potty-train a child when you can’t reason with them, can’t talk to them, can’t explain anything (in our case, you couldn’t even show him), can’t read it in a book, can’t watch it in a movie or TV show, can’t play a computer game about it, can’t use stickers and charts and earn delayed rewards, can’t talk about the difference between big kids and babies, none of that, you can’t do any of it because your child can’t talk, can’t understand rewards, can’t understand future and past, none of it. Think about having to make sure your child has a diagnosis and is registered with your local police department just to protect yourself (or your child!) from going to jail and your child from the foster care system.  Think about trying to go to the store, go to McDonald’s, go to a park, do any of the normal things you don’t really even think about with a toddler in a 6-year-old body.  Think about trying to figure out if your child has an ear infection, a stubbed toe, or gods forbid something like appendicitis, when your child’s only way of expressing pain looks exactly like the way he expresses frustration, impatience, fatigue, and confusion, via a total meltdown that involves hitting, biting, screaming, and destruction of property.  Try, just try, waiting in line for an hour with this child who doesn’t understand what’s at the end of the line.

Right now, federal law protects you when you lie and cheat your way into the accommodations that help make life just a little more bearable for those of us with disabilities.  Businesses aren’t allowed to ask you if you really need that alleged service dog, they aren’t allowed to ask for proof that your child is autistic before granting access.  It’s not going to stay this way, though.  The more these accommodations get abused, the more businesses are going to fight back.  Already, we’ve seen our access to accommodations get taken away completely as parks like Disney take away the ability to skip lines at the rides (because waiting for an hour outside of the line is no better for an autistic child than waiting for an hour inside the line, and skipping the lines for many was the difference between riding one ride and leaving, and maybe riding as many rides as everybody else before going home to have their meltdown).  Handicapped spots are getting moved farther down the parking lot, only requiring a ramp to qualify, nevermind the actual distance involved.

If businesses had their way, many would probably already be denying access to service dogs.  Incidents that happen across the country with untrained dogs make it dangerous for businesses to allow access.  You may still be protected by the terms of the law for now, allowing you to declare your own service dog and make your own identification, but that’s not going to last.  All it takes is enough people to be upset about this to change the law.  What will happen then is the question.  Will the law be changed to simply require us to provide proof of disability, certification of our dogs with numbers a business can call to verify training?  Or will dogs and other service animals be suddenly outlawed, all access protections taken away, leaving those of us who need these animals to go out into the world at the mercy of businesses jaded by their experience with fake service dogs?  As it is, children who deal with the government school systems do not have the protections you would think, and I have yet to hear of a school that did not put up some kind of resistance to having a service dog come to school with their child.

“But you’re a libertarian!  What would you do without any government protection?”

Kender with AKos, calm and not screaming

Kender with AKos, calm and not screaming

I’ve never had a problem explaining myself to people with questions.  Want to know exactly what Kender’s service dog does for him and why he’s with us?  Ask away!  Better yet, just watch.  Every minute they are walking together, you can see how A’Kos keeps Kender going.  You can watch them curl up on the floor instead of Kender having a meltdown.  You can watch A’Kos make Kender smile.  I’d rather it didn’t happen, but you might even see Kender get away from me and A’Kos track him down.  A’Kos is working whenever we are away from home.

Other service dogs’ skills may not be as patently visible.  In a free and voluntary system, we would still have our dog from 4 Paws for Ability with our certification and identification cards, as we do now.  We would still provide phone numbers for businesses to contact 4 Paws for Ability if they had questions.  Many libertarians foresee the kinds of ratings systems used on Amazon and eBay expanding to cover more and more kinds of businesses and services, so that you could hop online and see what kind of ratings 4 Paws has, whether they are legitimate or have been labeled as an ID factory.  You could train your own dog, certainly, but your self-issued certification would need to have some backing by a third-party with a reputation for valid certifications in order for anybody to truly respect it.

And I think I would be more okay with that system than the one currently in place.

Municipal Water

Once upon a time, there was no municipal water system.  People collected water in barrels, dug wells, or gathered from streams and lakes.  City folks had city wells and cisterns.  Everybody had to lug the water around, from the source to the house.  Because it took so much effort to acquire the water, it was used conservatively.  Everybody in a house might share the same tub of bathwater.  Dishes and clothes were washed in small tubs of water.  Washing was infrequent, saved for absolutely necessity.  Water wasn’t used for elimination at all.

There were downsides.  Stored water could get infected.  Wells and rivers could carry disease.  Disposing of human waste in big cities was a big, smelly problem.  Everything was smelly, to an extent that modern-day humans mostly wouldn’t believe.  Everything was usually dirty.  Large amounts of physical effort had to be expended just to bring drinking water to the mouths of those drinking it.  These conditions still exist in many under-developed parts of the world today.

Suddenly (very suddenly when you look at the expanse of history), some bright engineers came up with municipal water.  Bit and pieces of the modern municipal water system can be traced all the way back to ancient Rome, but it wasn’t until the last couple hundred years that the system as we know it came to be installed everywhere.  Suddenly every home had as much water as the occupants wanted, with no effort at all.  All they had to do was turn the tap, and they could have buckets and barrels of water.  Fees for using the system were relatively low, and the public health benefits of municipal water, sewer, and treatment have been undeniably tremendous.  Cholera and other diseases are virtually unknown in the Western world as gallons of water whisk every body elimination off to be treated, out of sight and generally out of mind.  The streets no longer smell of human waste.  We have so thoroughly eliminated our natural body odors through frequent washing that now we regard any trace of it as shameful and constantly cover ourselves with various fragrances in our soap, our perfumes, our lotions, our antiperspirants, our shampoo and hair spray, the detergent we wash our clothes with and the softener we dry them with, even our toothpaste and mouthwash.

It has been so long since our civilization has had this easy access to water that we can’t imagine living without it.  Many cities now actually make it illegal for their residents to manage their own water, to disconnect from the municipal water supply.  Some places make it illegal to dig wells.  Some outlaw rain barrels and cisterns.  Some just plain outlaw not having the water turned on.  In order to live in these places, a person is required to connect to a system that requires them to pay money for it.  Most of these regulations fly under the radar of public scrutiny because none of us question the system anymore.  We take for granted our ability to have abundant, even exorbitant amounts of water at the touch of a lever.

Make no mistake, money must be paid to maintain this system.  Municipal water does not fall from the sky.  It must be carried by pipes which must be forged and installed, replaced and repaired.  It must be collected from wells or rivers or aqueducts, run through machines to sanitize it and treat it, add fluoride and chlorine and sometimes even salt to it.  Water flow must be measured by meters which must be made, maintained, and monitored.  Sewage must flow through pipes without leaks and be treated in a plant staffed by workers and filled with machinery that must be made, maintained, and repaired endlessly.  The modern municipal water system is a huge monster that must constantly be fed with the work of other humans, and these humans must be paid for their efforts.  TANSTAAFL.

All of this brings me to two situations that came to my attention last week.  The first made international headlines as a humanitarian crisis when Detroit began shutting off water to residents who had not paid their bills in months.  Calls went up around the globe for Detroit to turn this water supply back on.  Let’s put that another way:  Access to this system was declared a right by protesters everywhere, and Detroit was bullied by public pressure to provide free, unlimited access to a not-free system to people who had already gone months without paying for this access.  Rephrase it again:  Detroit residents were deemed to have a right to the fruits of others’ labor through their free access and use of a system that requires time and effort to maintain.  I don’t like the idea of a family not having water any more than anybody else, but we can’t beat around the bush here.  That water is not free.  It doesn’t just fall from the sky.  Declaring that somebody has a right to tapwater is the same as declaring that they have a right to place an unpaid demand on somebody else’s time and effort.  It makes slaves out of the workers who build and maintain the system.

It seems to me that one way to reduce the impact of water shutoffs in a city where a significant portion of the population is unable to pay for municipal water is to teach them to do without it.  Remove any regulatory obstacles to homeowners going off the water grid so they do not face fines and penalties they can’t pay for not being connected to the water they can’t pay for.  Spread education about rainwater collection, water usage conservation, ways to reduce usage and sewage like composting toilets and garden irrigation with gray water.  Not using municipal water doesn’t have to mean a return to the champerpots and sewage-filled streets of five hundred years ago, not with the advances in knowledge and technology that we have made since then.  For much less than the cost of maintaining a water connection to home that do not pay, residents could receive the equipment and education needed to live safely and sanitarily without that connection.  Whether paid for by the water utility directly (perhaps through fees charged when a user first connects to the system) or (preferably) through a private humanitarian fundraising initiative, teaching responsible off-grid living would solve the problem of access to water for Detroit residents without making slaves of its workers.

The second news story that caught my attention concerned the drought conditions in California.  The climate in California and the rest of the southwest has been wetter than historically normal for the last 200 years or so.  During this wet period (wet being relative; nobody thinks of that area as being wet!) these states were settled in huge numbers.  Many of the settlers there brought attitudes about landscaping with them from their former, water-abundant homes: green grass, non-native water-hungry plants and trees, landscaping more suited to Florida than the deserts of California.  Attitudes about this “proper” style of landscaping are so strong that many cities and neigborhoods have regulations requiring this style of landscaping, with fines assessed on those who do not maintain healthy, green lawns.

Now the California region is reverting back to its historically-normal climate, which is significantly drier than the cities there have learned to expect.  Life in the Southwest, always precariously balanced in lands of extreme heat and scrub desert, now faces a shortfall in the water they have been using to maintain their lifestyles.  Water gets diverted to farmlands and vineyards, drawn off for bottling, leaving less than a bare minimum to flow into the strained municipal water systems.  Water rationing, something residents of Central Texas have taken for granted every summer for decades, has finally hit the Pacific coast, with the state of California calling for residents to reduce their water consumption.  Guidelines have been set forth that are so specific that residents are instructed not to allow water to hit the sidewalk or their house when they water their grass, and the state is preparing to enforce these guidelines with fines later this summer.

These state-wide conservation orders don’t mean much, though, to some areas with green landscape regulations in place.  How bizarre is it to receive a fine from your city for a brown lawn, and the threat of a fine from your state if you dare to water it?

The attitudes leading to the brown-lawn fines stem from the same source as the attitudes over the Detroit water shutoffs.  Access to municipal water has been so cheap and abundant that it is deemed an infinite resource, free for the taking and unlimited in supply.  No thought is given for the source of the water, the effort required to build and maintain the system that delivers it, or the scarcity of the water in any given region.  Once again, to deem this type of water a right makes slaves out of the workers who provide it, and to require its use along with its payment makes slaves out of the consumers.  Never mind the fragility this reliance creates in our society.  The more we rely on these interconnected systems, the more devastated we will be by any damage or threat to those systems.  The responsible response to both of these situations is to continue moving in a direction of less choice-reducing regulation and greater access to self-sufficiency for all who choose that path.

Literature Outside Its Time

One of my favorite authors of all time is Robert Heinlein.  I discovered his books the year after he died, and I read them voraciously throughout my teenage years.  Through his books, I learned about things as varied as being resourceful and self-reliant, the value of honor and integrity, libertarianism and voluntaryism (though I didn’t learn those words until later), and polyamory.  All of this was packaged into some amazing science fiction, with many different planets, spaceships, and even time lines.  What’s not to love?

Plenty, according to criticism I’ve been hearing just in the past few years.  Most of the criticism seems to be accusations of misogyny.  It’s always a little upsetting to hear that somebody else hates something you love.  The first reaction is defensive.  I have to admit, though, that I have noticed more and more things in Heinlein’s books that are a bit bothersome as the years go by.  He doesn’t have a lot of fully developed female characters in much of his early work (with some notable exceptions).  You can see a lot of evidence of ideas that women belong in the home, that girls are just pretty sidekicks even if they are smart, as well as language and attitudes conveying racism.  I can certainly see where the critics are coming from.  The more time that passes between the writing of one of his books and my reading of it, the more I can see these problems.

My response is that Heinlein’s books were a product of their time, and they were in fact pretty visionary and free-thinking…for their time.  Most of his writing was done in the 40’s and 50’s, in the form of short stories and serial novels for science fiction pulp magazines as well as juveniles aimed at teenage and preteen boys.  There was zero publishable market at the time for female leads, strong women, feminism, or parity between the races and religions (civil rights for blacks didn’t come about until the 60’s, rights for women didn’t really begin to flourish until the 80’s, and both are still works in progress today).  It would never have been published.  The language used and the treatment of female and non-white characters in Heinlein’s books, therefore, reflect the time in which the books were written and the market the books were aimed at.  I think it is a little unfair to apply the culture of our time to the literary works of another era…and the early-to-mid 20th century was most definitely a completely different era, irregardless of how many people are still alive who lived through that time.  Today, I can pick up any science fiction magazine and find stories where women and girls feature prominently or as main characters, stories that would pass the Bechtel test or whatever its literary equivalent is.  But those stories simply would not have been publishable in 1941.  John Campbell would have sent it back with orders to change it.

This is not true across the board.  This post does a very nice job of finding all of the wonderful examples where Heinlein was able to push the boundaries of sexism and racism beyond his culture a little bit, to give us a taste of things to come (although even the great Heinlein didn’t get a lot of this published until he had already established himself as a name).  This is something Heinlein was very good at, looking into the future and seeing some of the ways the culture could potentially evolve.  It is something all good science fiction does.

There are so many great messages buried in the science fiction of the 20th century, whether it is Heinlein, Asimov, H.G. Wells, or any of the other greats.  None of them would pass modern feminist or civil rights muster by today’s standards, but I don’t think that diminishes their messages.

Today, it’s hard to imagine what taboos are left.  You can find books in any given bookstore about virtually any subject.  Culture is swiftly moving towards acceptance and tolerance of just about any lifestyle or belief that doesn’t hurt others.  You can look at writings of the early 20th century, though, and find that the people living then felt the same way.  How wonderful is our time, how free! How many different ways can people live now, how many religions and cultures and methods of dress!  The same refrain, repeated again and again every few decades.  I’m not naive enough to think that we really have come of age.  There’s going to be something that will set our time apart once another hundred years have passed, something that we take for granted now that our descendants will find abhorrent.

I wonder what it will be.   And I wonder how our own literature and legacy will fare when our descendants judge us by that thing we cannot now see.

Not Just Birth

An article recently on what choice in childbirth really looks like for individual women caught my attention. The most vocal folks who debate birth options seem to believe that whatever position is right for them should be the position everybody takes. Hospital birthers decry homebirthers as borderline child abuser, likening the home birth to squatting alone in the woods around a campfire. Home birthers act as if hospital birthers are just in denial, and every doctor is lying and every hospital birth is an intervention waiting to happen. These voices may not be the majority, but they’re the ones who get the attention, polarizing a debate into black and white when it should be more about shades of gray.

This doesn’t just happen in the childbirth community. In every aspect of our lives, everything gets boiled down to statistics, numbers, and right versus wrong. Smoking, drinking, and drugs. Guns, bullying, and violence. Education, government versus private versus home schooling. Western medicine versus alternative medicine, vaccination, early childhood development. Regulation and public safety versus agriculture, raw milk, brewing, running a business of any kind. Racism, feminism, neurodiversity. Every single one of these issues gets boiled down to black and white sides. Either you want to outlaw it, or you want everybody to do it and what about the children?

Ad hominem and red herring attacks are everywhere today. Speak out against abortion or admit to enjoying flirting and catcalls and you’re siding with rape apologists and supporting the patriarchy. Support a woman who chooses to abort her baby rather than die trying to carry it, and now you’re advocating free-for-all sex on every corner and the total dissolution of the institution of marriage. Or something like that. It’s hard to make sense of it sometimes. Every time somebody says, “Everybody who ….” or “All those who …” I just want to jump in and say, Wait, you don’t know that. I want to point out all the instances I know of that don’t fit.

This is why I am libertarian in my politics. If you ask me if I support a new regulation, a new law, a new anything that involves the government telling other people what to do, chances are I’m going to say no every time. All these black-and-white people out there will probably say that means I think starving children and poor sick people should die and it’s a-okay if the whole planet is engulfed in oil and smog. Forget probably; I’ve had that said to my face. It’s not true. The fact is that I know nearly every situation is unique, and every time you try to apply a single rule across the board somebody is going to get hurt, somebody is going to fall through the cracks. I believe it is better for each person to decide what best to do in their situation, not to have somebody hundreds or thousands of miles away looking at them as a statistic and deciding whether or not to use government force to bend their life one way or another.

Is Rape Insurance Worth It?

(or, what I do when I’m bored on a Saturday morning)

Insurance, n.: coverage by contract whereby one party undertakes to indemnify or guarantee another against loss by a specified contingency or peril.

There has been a lot of talk lately about what has been dubbed the Rape Insurance law in Michigan, which recently went into effect. The law came about because sincere pro-lifers did not want to be party to abortions through paying their money into an insurance pool that covered them.  The idea was to separate the insurance pools for pro-life and pro-choice supporters.  Those who believe in supporting choice for others, or who believe they would/could make that choice for themselves, could elect to purchase the abortion coverage rider, and those who believe it is wrong in any circumstances would be comfortable that their money was not paying for any abortions. This is not a bill having anything to do with insuring against rape. It discusses insuring against the need for an abortion.

There are some gray areas.  Situations where the mother’s life is in danger are in one possible gray area where even some on the pro-life side believe a woman should be able to have a life-saving abortion.  Situations involving miscarriage are another: A procedure known as a D&C is commonly used when a woman is diagnosed as miscarrying, and some have classified this as a kind of abortion and used that classification to deny service or payment.  As far as I can tell, the “rape insurance” bill covers the first gray area with an specific exemption when the mother’s life is in danger. I have not been able to find any evidence that it covers the second gray area mentioned above, but the only reports I’ve seen are from opponents of the law claiming that it “could” prevent payment for medically-necessary D&C procedures; without evidence, I have to discount that claim.  So the only thing left to discuss at the moment is what everybody generally considers an abortion: ending an established pregnancy that does not appear likely to end on its own and does not threaten the mother’s life.

We’ve defined the bill; now let’s define insurance.  What we call “insurance” when it comes to health care today really isn’t.  The “insurance” we now all are required to carry is more of a health maintenance plan, a payment plan, a way to distribute all health care costs among the population.  Insurance, on the other hand, is like a bet between the insured and the insurance company: the insured is betting that they will require expensive medical care, and the insurance company is betting that they will not require this expensive medical care.  If the insured is right, they get back more in payments for health care than they paid in premiums.  If the insurance company is right, they never have to pay more for that health care than they received in premiums.  Both parties are in it to make money, essentially.

Remember that nobody who has not bought into the insurance pool is covered for any procedure whatsoever.  You can’t say that your premiums are going to benefit another person who can’t pay because that person has to pay, or they aren’t in the pool.  So I just had to wonder: would it be worth it to me purchase the rape insurance rider, so that my health insurance would pay if I needed or desired any procedure resembling an abortion?  (Assuming that I felt this was a path I could ever take, of course.)

The only cost I’ve seen so far suggests that the rider would be 32 cents per month, or a total of $153.60 for a 40-year reproductive life from 12-52 years of age.  (Since there would never be a need for an abortion before menarche or after menopause, obviously purchasing the rider during these periods of life would be a losing proposition for a woman.)  This would provide insurance coverage for an abortion equivalent to other insurance coverage.  With my own health insurance plan, this means that I would pay 100% for an abortion before meeting my deductible, 10% if I have met my deductible but not my out-of-pocket cap, and 0% if I have met my out-of-pocket cap for the year.  We usually meet the deductible by April, and about half the time we hit the cap before the end of the year.  Depending on when my need for abortion would occur, 25% of the time I would pay 100%, 63% of the time I would pay 10%, and 12% of the time I would pay nothing at all.

The average cash cost of an abortion in Michigan, pharmaceutical or surgical, appears to range from $300-$700, so I’ll take the median of $500 for my calculations.  With my insurance coverage, I might have to pay all of that $500, or only $50, or nothing at all.  Assuming my abortion need would be equally likely to occur at any time of the year, my statistically-probable cost for the abortion is $156.50.

Statistics say that I have a 25% chance of being raped at some point in my life.  Only half of my life includes reproductive years, though; any rapes occurring outside that 40-year span could not result in a pregnancy.  In addition, there are only about 5 possible fertile days in each menstrual cycle, and each sex act during a fertile period has only about a 25% chance of resulting in a pregnancy.  Assuming that I never use birth control, and discounting any time that I spend actually pregnant, postpartum, or in lactation-induced amenorrhea (which for me this life was actually a total of 6 years), that leaves me with 2400 fertile days over an 80-year (29,200-day) lifespan, or 8.2% of my life.  I have about a 0.5% chance of suffering a rape that results in a pregnancy.

I’m going to discount right here the possibility of having a pregnancy where the baby was sure to die after birth.  I have disabled children already as well as children who had a pretty good chance of dying at birth, and I can’t personally imagine not giving any child every possible opportunity to beat the odds.  That’s not to mention that I just don’t participate in most of the testing that would result in that kind of in-utero diagnosis.  So I’m going to save myself the math on this one.

So, I have 0.5% chance of needing a procedure that is likely to cost me $500 without insurance and $156.50 with the insurance.  The insurance will cost me $153.60 over my reproductive lifetime, which means that if I need this procedure once, I will likely pay $310.10 for it with the insurance coverage, possibly as much as $653.60 if I need it at the wrong time.  If I choose not to purchase the additional coverage, and I instead place that 32 cents into a savings account every month like the one I currently have, I would have $156.71 at the end of 40 years (boy, do interest rates suck these days!).

I have to say, that’s a tough call.  I have very, very, very little chance of personally requiring an abortion, and I can’t see a circumstance where the cost of the abortion would be prohibitive, especially knowing there are places that operate on a sliding scale or payment plans for times in my life when cash was tight.  The odds are in my favor that I will come out ahead by not purchasing the rider, and the insurance company has a strong incentive to offer this rider because they are likely to come out ahead on anybody who purchases it, especially considering that anti-discrimination laws and people who just don’t pay attention mean that the rider will probably be purchased by more people incapable of getting pregnant that by those who are.  Recent reports state that most insurance companies were not planning on providing this rider as of the time the law went into effect; however, I suspect that most were simply waiting to see if the law was going to be killed before going into effect, so they could save themselves the paperwork and programming to implement the special rider.  I can’t see most companies forgoing this opportunity to make more money, so I expect most companies will be adding this rider to their available policies very soon.

A Lone Libertarian Walks Into a Bar

There’s a social event going on, and she’s excited to be there.  All the people she knows have filled their tables, though, leaving her to find a chair at a table full of strangers.  With strangers, you never know how the conversation will go.  She knows she shares religious and most likely sexual mores with everybody in the room, but politics?  The percentage of Democrats, liberals, and progressives in this crowd probably approaches 99%.  Any conversation could go wrong.

She finds a table, and slowly the conversation builds.  As the subjects trend into dangerous political waters, as they always do, she remembers to keep her mouth shut.  She thinks not twice, but perhaps ten times before offering any comments or asking any questions.  She starts to wish that the dinner and social hour were over already, that it was time for the loud music leaving no audio room for anything more than shouted one-liners that might be only half understood.

Suddenly, one of her companions at the table mentions a familiar name.  “Did you say Walter Williams?” she asks.

“Why yes, I did!”

She holds her breath.  Could it be? Cautiously, she probes further.  “Ludwig von Mises?”

The hoped-for response comes. “Murray Rothbard!”

Both of them grin excitedly now.  The masks are gone, the pretense is dropped, the danger is finally passed.  No more the fear, the anxiety.  They can speak openly now, heedless of the ears around them.  The names come fast and furious–Matt Gillespie, John Stossel, Friedrich Hayek, Walter Block, Ayn Rand, Rose Wilder, Frederic Bastiat, Ron Paul, Geoff Neale, Robert Heinlein, Milton Friedman–as they trade information and find agreement on so many things.

For one brief, shining moment, the Lone Libertarian is alone no more.  She has a companion, a real person who actually shares all of her views.  It is brief, but its impact is lasting, leaving hope for more to come.