My Day in Court

I went to court today.  The path there really starts with my inability to mail things, or to go into an office to take of anything, especially government things.  Back in the days before finances all went online, I probably paid more money in late fees on things than I did in interest.  I would sit down, balance the checkbook, open all the mail, write all the checks, put them all in their envelopes, even put the stamps on the envelopes…and then they would sit there for days, or even weeks, never making it to the mailbox.  I don’t know why that’s a problem for me, but I know it is, and I deal with it.  I generally don’t rely on mailing things if I can avoid it.  I pay bills online, I correspond online, I don’t send out holiday cards, etc.  As each segment of the economy has moved online, I’ve gotten better at making payments on time.

Unfortunately, this inability to get things mailed tends to extend to things like renewing the car registration, which in Michigan doesn’t even entail an inspection.  All I have to do is get it renewed before my birthday each year.  However, my birthday being right after Christmas and all, money tends to be tight, and often that renewal gets pushed right up until the deadline.  Until this year, once I got a single day past my birthday, I could no longer renew that registration online, instead having to rely on my inability to mail things.  At least twice since we moved here, that block has kept me from renewing my registration for extended periods.  This most recent time, I went an entire year with expired tags.  Unlike some libertarians, this is not actually a conscious act of activism on my part.  It’s just stupidity, although I’ll admit that once it gets to be June or July and I still haven’t gotten busted, I kinda want to see how far I can go.

I got busted last month, about a week after my birthday, my tags having expired January 7, 2013.  The cop actually ran my plates elsewhere and then followed me home, pulling in behind me to block me in the driveway and then turning his lights on.  Before those lights went on, I had no idea there was a cop on the block, and it scared the crap out of me.  He issued the ticket for the plates on the van that I was driving, warned me about the tags on the car, and left.  I proceeded to have a little meltdown, because I always end up in a near-panic state anytime I have to deal with the police.  (Always have; every ticket I’ve gotten since I was 16 has caused a meltdown, which is most of why I’m such a meticulous law-abiding driver.)  Then I went to check, and lo and behold the state had just started allowing late registrations to be paid online!  Hallelujah!  Both vehicles were registered less than 30 minutes after the ticket was issued.

As I looked over the ticket to see what I would need to do about clearing it up, I noticed something odd.  Can you spot it?

Death TicketHere it is a little closer:

No, really. Death TicketDeath?  What is that?  Somebody died because I didn’t buy the appropriate sticker from the government and affix it to my vehicle?

Now we’re in a different ballgame.  See, I was just going to go in, show my proof of registration, and pay whatever they wanted.  That would be stressful enough.  But the Death Ticket?  That demanded that I go into court and at least show it to an official.  How could I not?  A little research showed that I could ask for an informal hearing with a magistrate and the officer involved without incurring additional court costs or fines.  More research did not turn up figures for Ingham County but did indicate that nearby jurisdictions in Michigan had a 50-70% no-show rate for the officers at hearings, which would result in a default judgement in my favor, so my odds looked pretty good.  The hearing got scheduled for today, and my brother agreed to come with me for moral support.  I fully expected to end up in the same panic-mode triggered by getting the ticket in the first place.

I was in the court building once before, but it was a good 8 or 9 years ago.  Since then, they’ve installed the now-ubiquitous TSA-style metal detector doorway and x-ray machine.  Right off the bat, they said I had to take my purse back out to the car because I had knitting needles in it.  This always brings to mind an image of a grandma stabbing some random stranger to death with her pointy sticks, yarn dangling beneath.  I refuse to consider this anything but ridiculous as long as all of these checkpoints allow you to bring in all the sharpened pencils you want, and in the absence of any verified incident of actual knitting rage.  I am tempted, the next time I go to court or anywhere else like this, to bring in a large purse containing nothing but my wallet, my phone, and a gross of extremely sharp pencils.

I got in just in time, as they were waiting for me.  They.  The officer was there, which pretty much killed any chance of the ticket just getting dismissed. (He told me later that attendance is 100% required for every hearing for Ingham County officers, so fair warning to any other libertarians or voluntaryists in the area.)  Still, once we got into the hearing room and started talking, I pointed out the Death box to the magistrate.  Neither the officer nor the magistrate realized the box was checked.  Obviously, it was a mistake, the magistrate was not interested in dismissing the ticket for that alone, and I was not interested in taking the matter to a formal hearing where that kind of technicality would matter.  What I found fascinating, though, was that neither one of them had any idea of what happened to the data in those checkboxes in their system.  They couldn’t tell me whether the Death was still in the system anywhere, whether it was used in any highway fatality statistics, whether anybody would be able to pull it up in connection with my name, nothing.  The officer did promise me that he would look into it and make sure the record was amended.

In the end, the magistrate was also not interested in reducing the fine, as they sometimes do, because it had been a full year since I paid registration fees, so he ordered me to pay the full fine.  The full fine for this infraction is apparently $115.  Since the registration on the van runs about $135, and the registration for the car runs $120, this means that I still came out ahead by over a hundred dollars.  I consider that a win.

So ends the saga of the Death Ticket.  Now I just have to deal with coming off the panic-mode adrenaline rush, which is actually physically painful these days.

Random Thoughts

  • Someday, I want to buy a whole bunch of My Brittle Pony horse jerky from my supplier in Scotland, go into Hot Topic, and secretly pin a bag to each and every My Little Pony t-shirt for sale.  Then hide and watch.  That store has become such a disappointment over the past decade or so.
  • This article explains better than I ever could why I do not support hate speech, hate crime, and anti-discrimination laws, even though I am a pansexual polyamorous woman and a member of an often-hated and vilified minority religion.  By the time we are ready and able as a society to actually legislate these things, society in general and as a majority is in agreement with them, and those who have not changed their minds yet will just dig in harder and fight back when we try to force them or silence them, perpetuating the very thing we wish to destroy.
  • In an effort to unify English Braille codes around the world and combine literary Braille with computer Braille, the United States blind community is officially adopting Unified English Braille over the next few years. I find it very interesting that many of the changes mean more cells will be required to type a given line of text, because many contractions are being dropped and whole-word contractions are now being spaced instead of bunched together.  My husband’s biggest objection to using Braille in his daily life is its bulk.
  • Corneal abrasion notwithstanding, when you happily play without complaint on the computer, and then suddenly start yelling as though you’re being stabbed when I make you get off the computer, my confidence in your pain level reporting accuracy is somewhat diminished. This comment inspired by my fifth child’s behavior the other day.
  • Why can’t I just kiss and snuggle all my friends whenever I feel like it?  Not fair.
  • I have drawers and boxes that seem to reproduce useless cables like tribbles while eating every cable I actually need to use.  Last check found 12 mini-USB cables in one drawer but not a single micro-USB cable, which was what I needed.

Socially Acceptable Venting

I’ve been having a pretty tough day today with Kender. I’m taking advantage of the few brief moments here and there when he is silently pouting to type this out.  I need to get this out, even (or maybe especially!) on a bad day like today, because sometimes I feel like I have no voice.

We have made and still make a lot of alternative choices in our lifestyle and our parenting.  We chose to have children with a disabled parent.  I used medications to reset my hormones and restore my fertility instead of continuing to use fertility drugs.  We chose out-of-hospital births. We chose breastfeeding and cosleeping, cloth diapers and rags.  We chose to use convertible carseats  from the beginning instead of carriers, and slings instead of carriers and strollers much of the time.  We chose natural medicine as much as possible, with personalized vaccination schedules and avoidance of antibiotics.  We chose to homeschool, even when we found out our children had disabilities.

Every single one of those choices is outside of the mainstream, and so whenever we are having trouble with pretty much anything, those are the first things that people suggest we change.

It doesn’t seem to matter if the problem would even be fixed by the solution suggested.  To people who do not share our choices, our choices are the problem.

It reminds me of the problems that fat people face when going to the doctor.  No matter what their health complaint is, they are told the answer is losing weight.  I’ve been told this myself.  I’ve been told that I should lose weight in order to fix a medical problem that causes weight gain…now there’s an infinite loop for you!  Other people have been told to lose weight to fix anything from strep throat to broken bones.

If Kender were in the government school system, it would be completely acceptable for me to complain about the IEP process, about the school refusing to teach him Braille or to use a cane, about how many medications he needs in order to be nice and quiet and compliant, about how getting the schools to actually provide him with an education is a full-time job.  When we homeschool, though, we’re not allowed to complain about how expensive Braille materials are, or how difficult it is to contain him, or about being tired, or anything else.  No matter what my difficulty is, to some people the answer is that he should be in school.  As if somehow that would make all the problems go away, rather than magnifying them or replacing them with an entirely different set of unsolveable problems.

When our lifestyle choices are questioned, there is no consideration for our individual concerns.  There is no consideration for where we live, our past experiences with the establishment, our goals in life, our children’s unique needs.  Everything comes down to, “You are different, and you do not deserve any sympathy or help until you conform and become like everybody else.”  Every problem is reduced to some choice that we’ve made that is obviously the source of all our problems.

Fat and sick? You must become the socially-acceptable Not Fat before you can be treated for your health problem.

Libertarian and lost your job? You are not worthy of charity if you do not support government programs.

Homeschooling a disabled child? The only possible solution is government school.

Trying to find out what makes your child tick instead of medicating him? Sorry, does not compute.

Dealing with a difficult situation and have no support system? You need to change your religion so you can go to church and get help.

Do people who respond this way have any idea of how demoralizing it is to be told these things? How dehumanizing and impersonal it feels to be told that you, your personality, your preferences, your life, your SELF are the source of all your problems?

It’s no wonder that some of us draw into ourselves, that we withdraw from online message boards and real life support groups.  When every time we reach out, we are slapped in the face, eventually we are going to stop reaching.

Cultural Appropriation

I’ve been hearing a lot this year about this thing called cultural appropriation.  Things that I have heard fall under this label include Westerners practicing yoga poses, anybody north of the border celebrating Dia de los Muertos without authentic hispanic lineage, people who work with gods or religions that don’t match their racial heritage, people wearing clothing or fashions that don’t match their racial heritage.

I see a theme here: people doing things that don’t match their racial heritage.

You may say, “Oh, but I don’t mean race! I mean culture!”  As far as I can tell, it’s the same thing.  And it’s really starting to annoy me.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say.  There are beautiful things in every culture, every religion, every part of the world.  Adopting a style of dress, a style of hair, even beautiful writing, when this is done out of a love of and fascination with the item, it is a good thing.  So what if that character or kanji is just some word in another language? The writing is beautiful, and the tattoo brings enjoyment to its wearer.  So what if that headscarf comes from a religious culture that many see as oppressive to women? It can serve a functional purpose and it can be beautiful as well.

There is a distinct difference between imitation or enjoyment and ridicule.  There is a difference between adopting a practice you admire and making fun of somebody for doing things differently.  I think most people doing yoga poses and routines see strength and flexibility as qualities they admire, and yoga as a means of improving those qualities.  The fact that they are not practicing the spiritual aspects that originally went along with the physical ones doesn’t detract from those goals, nor does it take anything away from those who do practice the spiritual side.  Most people wearing moccasins see a comfortable and functional pair of shoes that they want to wear.  They do not need to have Native American heritage to wear these articles of clothing and derive enjoyment and satisfaction from them, nor does that casual wearing take anything away from those who see moccasins as part of their cultural costume.

There is also a difference between cosplay and ridicule.  One of the things that bothered me this fall was the constant barrage of messages saying don’t dress up like this, that costume is racist, this costume is racist, etc.  The definition of racism is, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” There is a difference between wanting to dress up like a Disney princess and thinking that Native Americans are an inferior race.  There is a difference between using costumes to portray a sad or scary event, like the murder of Treyvon Martin, and approving of that event.  (Because seriously, do you think all the little vampires also running around town really approve of drinking blood and killing and wish it would happen more often?)  Most people who dress up as Marvel-Thor have no interest in mocking heathens; they just see a fictional character they admire.  If darkening my skin to create the Sea Folk costume I used years ago is racist, so is wearing fake freckles to be Pippi Longstocking, or wigs, or any other change in physical appearance to assume a character…hmmm, kind of negates the whole point of dressing up to me!

Also along the theme of costumes, there is Halloween itself.  Every year, I hear witches and pagans somewhere complaining about all the wicked or ugly or whatever stereotype witch costumes, or even everything surrounding Halloween, calling them inappropriate because “real witches” don’t match the fictional stereotype that’s been used for the last hundred years in movies and theater and books (where are the people protesting the Oz franchises?), and because Samhain is a sacred holiday.  Whatever.  Little kids going around and trick-or-treating doesn’t bother me.  It doesn’t take anything away from my enjoyment of Samhain as a day for the dead and thinning the veil.  Those kids don’t have to have any knowledge of history, comparative religion, or anything else to enjoy their holiday and their candy and their cosplay and their fun with friends and neighbors.  That green-faced witch isn’t real, she’s a character from a book.

If nobody ever used anything that belonged originally to somebody else, things would never change.  And things always change.  Change comes, evolution happens not just physically over eons, but culturally over decades, or even faster.  My whole religion was derived from cultural appropriation, things taken from this tradition and that religion and this tribal custom and that family legend, all of it pulled together into something completely new.  Does that invalidate all of modern Wicca?  To me, it is a beautiful thing, that all these elements were able to come together and create a new whole that provides meaning and satisfaction for hundreds of thousands of people around the world today.

There is no such thing as a pure culture, one that has never borrowed anything from anybody else.  Every religion, every culture around the world has elements that originally belonged to another tribe, another set of practices.  Every time two tribes come together, commerce occurs not just in goods, but in people, ideas, fashion, gods, every aspect of life.  That blending and mixing eventually creates something new, when then will blend and mix with the next thing it encounters.  All of this is wonderful, and I never want to see it stop.

IEP Torture

We had reasons for homeschooling from the beginning, reasons that had nothing to do with disabilities, especially since we had no reason to expect any disabled children. (Remember how the doctors told us Brian’s blindness was not genetic?) We had reasons like my experience being the smart one, the geek, the outcast, the loner, the one who was picked on.  We had reasons like Brian’s experiences with exclusion and bullying and how he resolved them (with violence, not recommended).

What I hear from other parents of autistic and blind children and their dealings with the government school system just makes me more determined to keep my children home, no matter the cost.

I have had a touch of dealing with the government schools and the IEP process myself.  When we first started suspecting that Caitlin was on the spectrum, we approached the local school district for an evaluation, wondering if some kind of therapy would be beneficial to her and help her bridge that social-interaction gap.  We were told that she was on grade level for all her academic accomplishments, and therefore she didn’t, and never would, qualify for any services no matter what her disabilities were.  Later, when she was in third grade, we put the triplets and Liam into school for about six months to see if it made my life any easier.  At that point Caitlin had her official Asperger’s diagnosis, and again I approached the school requesting services to help her with her social and interpersonal skills, to help her integrate and belong.  I was told she didn’t need any help, but that they would keep an eye on her and let me know if she did.

As much as ten years later, I am still finding out from Caitlin about the things that happened to her that I was never told about, despite my explicit requests for an IEP and services.  The times she was actually pulled out by the special ed teacher along with the deaf and developmentally-delayed children.  The times she was excluded from recess, the bullying she put up with.  None of this was ever communicated to me by the school or her teachers, who apparently thought it was okay to change their stance and suddenly provide some kind of services without consulting me first.  I may never know what all happened to her, what all they did to or for her, because she really was unable to tell me about it at the time.

The next time I dealt with IEPs and government school services was when I found out I had blind children, especially with Kender.  I found out that all the teachers for the visually impaired (TVIs) and orientation and mobility (O&M) teachers had non-compete clauses in their contracts forbidding them to do private work.  Beyond that, they were so overloaded and overworked that most of them couldn’t have taken on private students even if they had wanted to, and the schools were laying off and buying out more teachers every year.  When we sat down to do IEPs for Jarod and Kender every six months, the process was excruciating, requiring all sorts of detailed evaluations. Kender had to be marked off on developmental skills checklists that were completely inappropriate for a blind child (recognizes faces? knows his colors? follows along with picture books?).  As Kender got older and it became obvious (should have been from the beginning) that we were going to insist on homeschooling him even though he was blind, the teachers stopped really trying to provide services and instead spent all their time trying to tell me all the reasons he should be in school.

I hear so many awful stories.  IEPs that are routinely broken by the schools. Teachers who belittle and abuse their students.  Children with autism and sensory processing disorders who are restrained with force. Visually impaired children who are denied access to Braille instruction because the TVI doesn’t even know it anymore. Visually impaired children who are denied access to O&M instruction and how to use a white cane because the school doesn’t want to deal with it. Autistic children who are passed from grade to grade with no real instruction, then given a “certificate of completion” instead of a high school diploma before being abandoned to spotty adult mental health services.

What makes me so sad and furious is all the parents who believe that their only option is to work within this system that seems so determined to thwart them and abandon their children.  Parents who have been convinced that only the government and its specially-trained certified instructors are capable of teaching their special-needs children, even though the evidence shows they are often neither fully trained nor willing.  So many parents believe that teaching their normal, healthy, on-target children is a job that can only be accomplished by professionals.  It’s even worse among special-needs parents.  So they believe they have no choice but to stick with this system that is broken, and because they are a captive audience, the system has no incentive to improve services.  It’s a vicious cycle, resulting in a downward spiral of worse services and worse education, turning out more and more children who are incapable of functioning as independent adults, and neither side is willing to break out.

My only thought when I hear parents telling these IEP horrors stories is Why? Why do you stay with this system? Why don’t you just pull out? Why would you sacrifice your children to this game the government schools want you to play?  I don’t understand staying in.  I’m out, and I will stay out.  I won’t play that game.

The Sex/Gender Dividing Line

Ever since the dawn of the human species, there has been division by gender. Men hunt, women farm. Men fight, women have babies. Men run businesses, women stay home and look pretty.  Now, as we move through the 21st century, so many areas of life are equal.  We have women in politics, in boardrooms, in the pilot’s seat.  There are men who stay home, who knit, who garden.  People of all genders and sexual orientations are becoming more and more open and accepted in our society.  We think we are so evolved. Why then do we still divide so much of our lives on gender?

I’ve never really understood this.  Gender is used as a proxy for so many things: strength, aptitude, sex appeal, morality, etc.  Why do we need this proxy, especially as more and more people exist outside or between the age-old duality?  I can remember looking at all sorts of things as a child, from bathrooms to the front lines, and I never understood.  I will state up front that I stand on a boundary line here, as a cisgendered pansexual woman who has often had an interest in historically all-male pursuits. Sometimes, though, it is those of us who walk the line or stand outside it who can actually see the problems inside.

An easy example to attack is the use of gender as a proxy for physical ability.  Sports teams and events are segregated by sex, and many professions (particularly military specialties) are completely closed to women. We are told this is because women are weaker.  In order for women to be able to compete in sports at all, we must provide them separate teams. We can’t allow women to try for those military jobs at all.  What do we do, then, for the men who are weaker, or the women who are stronger?  What do we do for those who are transgendered? This has already caused problems in places like the Olympics, where it seems every round has one or more athletes whose gender is being questioned.

Wouldn’t it be more reasonable, then, to simply segregate by the actual characteristic instead of the proxy?  We already have a tiered system in baseball, where you have minor league and major league teams.  Do the same for the other sports, like basketball, instead of setting up separate “women’s” leagues, and allow everybody to compete and settle down into whatever level they are physically suited for.  Let women take the same training and tests as men for military-style positions (this is already being done in some places for firemen and police, I believe).  Don’t lower the standards, don’t change the obstacles, just allow the women who can to compete and try and be evaluated on the same standards as the men.

A more difficult and touchy subject in sex segregation is locker rooms and restrooms. The only valid reason I have ever heard given for segregation in these places is sex.  (Things like body comparisons and seeing unusual body parts really don’t hold water to me, because everybody looks different. Are we going to segregate circumcised and uncircumcised boys, or large-breasted women from those who have almost nothing to show?)  Apparently, being naked or half-naked can induce sudden sexual action between opposite sexes, even when the people in question are sweaty, smelly, defecating, bleeding, urinating, etc.  Also, according to this logic, the people who would become suddenly sex-crazed in gender-inclusive restrooms and locker rooms also would suddenly lose all concerns about privacy or witnesses, and there would never be any defense against sexual congress or even assault in these environments.

Really?  Forget about alternative sexual lifestyles and identities, just think about the attitude this reveals toward ourselves and others.  It’s like believing that we all turn into animals in the locker room and bathroom, or the idea that a rape victim deserved it if she dressed slutty because the man just couldn’t help himself.  I can’t wrap my brain around the concept.  It sounds as crazy to me as the Victorian idea that the legs of tables and chairs must be covered, lest the men in the room become excited by the vision!

It’s not like people don’t take advantage of every other opportunity to get it on.  I’ve lived in several co-ed teenage living environments, from Texas to North Carolina, and even where there were no obvious opportunities, we found them.  If you want to talk about assault, people get raped everywhere, from offices to back alleys.  We don’t segregate every possible facet of life by sex on the off-chance that it might stop a sexual assault.  What makes restrooms and locker rooms so special?  As a woman who can remember being interested in seeing other girls naked all the way back to age 8 or 9 at least, I can say that in restrooms and locker rooms, I’m not interested in anything except getting in and getting out. I think most of us are the same way.

Privacy can be provided by stalls and curtains, just as it is now in most women’s locker/rest rooms today.  Those who want privacy can have it.  Those who would rather get in and out fast and don’t care who watches can stick it out in the open, just like they can now.  Any heebie-jeebies would be cured in a decade or two, maybe less, once the social conditioning caught up.  Drawbacks? Very few.

The positives to eliminating sex and gender dividing lines? An elimination of exclusion for a whole swath of people, from cisgendered women who have the ability to be strong and fast, to transgendered people who don’t have to choose a place and face backlash no matter their choice, to those of us who are not straight heterosexuals but are left wondering what we’re supposed to do with an environment that is supposed to be sanitized of sexual attraction.

I welcome discourse on this, especially if anybody has points that I may have missed here.

The Meaning of Patriotism

backlit us flagI know a lot of people for whom the word “patriotism” is polarizing.  They either love it or they hate it, but both sides have the same images that come to mind: The American flag flying over a scene of devastation, police and military carrying the flag into conflict, America charging in to save the world, the federal government, 4th of July parades, fallen and injured military and police heroes. For the side that loves patriotism, these are glorious images, scenes that bring thoughts of apple pie and security and justice.  For the side that hates patriotism, these scenes bring thoughts of fear, thoughts of police states and American imperialism, racism and jingoism.

I think of patriotism as something different, and my memories surrounding the events of 9/11 provide an example.  I see patriotism as meaning a great, extended family, one we love, hug, and protect.  All families have black sheep and skeletons in the closet. All families have members they might be embarrassed or ashamed of. That doesn’t stop them from being family.

On 9/11, I saw America suffer an enormous psychological shock.  We went from seeing terrorist attacks as something that happened to other people, to seeing them happen on our doorstep.  In a way, we were like a healthy, athletic family, who suddenly loses a family member to cancer.  It was nothing we could prevent, it was nothing extraordinarily likely to happen again, but it was really bad, and suddenly it was happening to us, not just others.

Like many people who suffer personal tragedy, America let that shock lead to some unfortunate consequences.  I remember that trick-or-treating nearly went extinct that year, as people let grief, fear and suspicion drive them inside their homes.  I took my triplets around, wearing costumes and carrying buckets for the first time ever…and we were the only ones out. Very few people had their porch lights on, and those who did seemed surprised and unprepared for trick-or-treaters.  It was nothing like Halloween 2000, when we ran out of candy three times and I actually put little mouse ears on the triplets and took them door-to-door just to collect candy so we could hand it out again. Halloween 2001 was like living in a world that had lost the ability to play.

The biggest thing that stands out from 9/11 for me, though, is what happened that day, that night, and for a few weeks after.  America really came together as a family. We hugged, neighbors, coworkers, strangers, everybody we could see.  Those close to the destruction dug in and helped with the aftermath, and those farther away looked for ways to send help. We flew flags, not out of ferocious pride but out of grieving pride, spiteful pride perhaps, to say that our family was strong enough to withstand this blow. Like singing Amazing Grace at a funeral, we sang our national anthem and other patriotic songs, finding meaning and release in the well-known tunes and words.

It was a brief island of unity in a sea of division.  Ever since those few brief days, we have gone back to bickering and fighting. Democrats versus Republicans, statists versus libertarians, whites versus blacks, Christians versus Muslims…you name it, there’s a dividing line near it that people are fighting over. We forget what we have in common, and like the bickering family at the Thanksgiving dinner table we lose our common identity in our race to tear each other down.

But once, we remembered.  Once, we came together and embraced what we shared.  To me, that is what patriotism means.  That is what I think when I see the flag and hear our national anthem.  Maybe one day we’ll find it again, without needing a tragedy as a reminder.

Religious Freedom and Holidays

Here is another post that is important for Christians to read, because it brings up something that many Christians just never consider. Yesterday’s post over at The Wild Hunt got me to thinking about accommodation of religious holidays in the workplace and how we tend to deal with that in our society.

Think about the way we treat holidays in our society at large.  Only Christian holidays are official, national, government holidays.  The banks close, the stock market closes, the government shuts down for these holidays, and everybody is pretty much forced to stay home and take the day off, regardless of whether they are observing the holiday.  Most people don’t think about this or question it at all.  Of course we’re closed for Christmas and Good Friday.  It’s just taken for granted.

It is so taken for granted that it even applies to majority non-Christian companies.  My first full-time job was with a Jewish law firm.  All of the partners and most of the associates were Jewish, along with a sprinkling of the support staff.  Attorneys would regularly take trips to Israel and bring us back presents.  Observances of holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were obvious, the men showing up to work in yarmulkes, subtle differences in behavior.  But you’ll note that they did come in to work, even though by strict Jewish law they should not have.  The firm did not close, even though most of them were celebrating these holidays.  The firm did, however, close on Christmas and Good Friday.

That is how ingrained these Christian holidays have become in our culture. Even non-Christians feel compelled to observe them, if only by closing their businesses.  What does that say about freedom of religion, true freedom?

Some types of business will give the excuse that they close because the government is closed, or the stock market is closed.  I’m sorry, but there is still work that can be done on those days.  When the Patent Office closed on a regular business day, we used the time that we couldn’t officially file documents to clean up the file room, take classes to update our knowledge of patent law, work on the servers, etc.  It was a slower day, but there was certainly still work to do, and we were still expected to show up.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to abolish federal recognition of holidays, and just let people take off for the holidays they observe? Have a designated number of holidays that each person can take off, no questions asked, and ask for requests to be made for holidays at the beginning of each calendar year.  That way, the company can plan for days when the majority of their workers will be home, and move work flow around to accommodate absences. Christians can take off their holidays, Jews can have theirs, Wiccans can have ours, everybody can be happy.  The holidays would be truly “no questions asked,” so if you don’t want to observe any holidays or you’re atheist, then you can pick any days you want, your kids’ birthdays or Texas Independence Day or anything else.

Then we can save the government holidays for things that are government-related, like Independence Day and Memorial Day.

The Burning Times

burntwitches1My Christian friends need to read this, especially those who consider themselves missionaries or who support foreign missionary work. My conservative friends need to read this, especially those who consider certain religious regimes like Saudi Arabia to be our allies. This post is not just for Wiccan or pagan eyes, for us to share amongst ourselves.  This post is for everybody.

The Burning Times have never ended.

Earlier this year, a controversy erupted over a couple of Facebook pages advocating witch-burning. Through massive collective effort by pagans around the world, Facebook finally became aware of the nature of these pages and took them down, agreeing that the pages were a violation of Facebook’s own terms against hate speech.

Let’s be clear about one thing up front: Hate speech is not simply speech you disagree with, or speech that hurts you emotionally. True hate speech, the kind that constitutes a crime, the kind that violates Facebook’s Terms of Service, the kind that I will fight against, is like yelling fire in a crowded theater. True hate speech is speech that intends to move people to action, specifically action that will cause harm.

I am not one to jump on the hate speech bandwagon.  I’m not going to protest the KKK or Westboro Baptist Church. I’m not going to complain when somebody says “nigger” or “honkey” or “spic.” (Actually, I’m more likely to completely miss things that others point out as racist or bigoted.) I do not subscribe to politically correct speech. My favorite comedians and talk show hosts are those who pride themselves on offending as many people as possible.  I myself am not easily offended.  I will laugh at sexist jokes, mock porn, and make fun of people who nit-pick every word and phrase they hear for some way to take offence.

When I first saw the “Witches Must Die” pages, my first reaction was to roll my eyes, maybe even engage in a little crazy-poking with others in the comments before moving on and forgetting the whole thing.

Then I stopped and looked closer.  I saw many pictures of apparently African people and places.  I saw English being used like a second language, with what appeared to be bits of African languages sprinkled around. I remembered all the stories I’ve heard and the gruesome pictures I’ve seen about witch persecutions in Africa.  Children who are tortured, abandoned, maimed, even killed, sometimes by their own parents, out of a conviction that they have been possessed by demons, corrupted by the devil, and become witches themselves.

That just made “Witches Must Die” hate speech in my mind.  It appears to be African in origin, so it is already in a place where people are, in fact, hunting down people, labelling them as “witches”, and subjecting them to torture and murder in the name of Christianity.  Further incitement of this behavior and belief is not funny.  It is not humorous.  It is not something to roll your eyes at.  This is hate speech, this is speech that could lead to somebody’s death.  So I reported it myself, and was happy to see the page come down shortly after.  Similarly, if I ran across something that advocated the death of any other group, like blacks or transgenders or nerds, I would report those as well.

I suspect that many, if not most, Christians in America are unaware that these things are still happening. (That would certainly explain the initial reaction by Facebook, which blithely dismissed all the hate speech reports as though the whole page were just a joke.)  The fact is they have never stopped.  The common saying among pagans today is, “Never again the Burning Times,” but that implies that they ended at some point.  They did not.

Evangelical Christianity spreading among African and South Pacific cultures is one place where the Burning Times continue.  Christianity seems to become a different beast entirely, once the missionaries have come and gone.  Ideas of the devil become conflated with local demons and evil spirits. Cherry-picked phrases, once badly translated into English and now again badly translated into native tongues, become twisted.  Verses like Exodus 22:18 become a tool for local preachers to exercise power and control over their congregations…and the witch hunts are on. Larger-than-life personalities like Helen Ukpabio continue to spread their version of the gospel in a sort of reverse missionary style, and churches following these witch-hunt practices are growing in the United Kingdom and even touching the United States.

Another place where the Burning Times continue is in the Middle East.  Granted, there is not much burning involved here, as these regimes mostly use beheadings.  There are many Islamic regimes where being a non-Muslim carries a death sentence.  Here I think Christians are more familiar with the dangers, and I know they speak to each other about the risk of missionary work in those areas, and try to help converts escape. Yet the same people who will go to church on Sunday and listen to and empathize with the stories of new Christians facing a death sentence in Iraq, will then go to work on Monday and talk about how Saudi Arabia (which also has a death sentence for religious belief) is our ally.  I don’t know how they miss the obvious conflict in these views.

It is important to be aware of all of these things.  Remaining ignorant of the Burning Times allows them to continue.  Knowledge is power.  When things like witch hunts and public beheading of witches remains in the shadows, when people just roll their eyes and dismiss them as rare, unlikely, or even not real, they can continue, because when you dismiss something, you don’t act to stop it.  When you don’t stop it, it grows and festers.  We shouldn’t wait until the cops shoot our dog or flashbang our house at 2 a.m. before we protest militarized police and the drug war.  We shouldn’t wait until it’s our children in government custody before we protest government overreach and corruption.  We also shouldn’t refrain from protesting the Burning Times just because they’re not happening here.

Not “Never Again the Burning Times,” but “STOP the Burning Times.”

Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning

News travels at varying rates in different circles, so you may or may not have heard that the soldier responsible for the famous Wikileaks postings about Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 has announced a desire to transition physically and socially and live as a woman.  This announcement was made shortly after a sentence of 35 years in Fort Leavenworth was handed down.

I have seen some comments circulating around about this.  One theory is that a guy might do this to get into the women’s prison for the rest of his sentence.  Another is that a guy might do this to get out of the federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison he’s already in.

office space prisonAnother theory, one that appeals at least a little to the anarcho-libertarian in me, is that somebody might do this just so they could continue screwing around with the system, wasting court time and government money.

To anybody who is still expressing these ideas, I want to present a couple more.  First, think about the treatment a trans-woman is likely to get from her fellow inmates in an all-male prison.  With or without physical reassignment, her choice to transition socially is going to mark her out as a special target for violence and rape. Would you voluntarily sign up for that, just to “stick it to The Man”?

Second, if you really think that a cisgendered, heterosexual, military male would willingly undergo either a) the sexual abuse from male inmates, or b) the hormone treatment Chelsea has requested, with its accompanying permanent physical changes, just for the chance of moving to a women’s prison and getting laid…you really haven’t thought this through.

Chelsea Manning has been up shit creek ever since her involvement in the WikiLeaks affair came out.  Her ordeal is only going to get worse, and I wish her the strength she will need to survive and come out the other side.