Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ain’t I a Woman?

The other day I pointed out Lynn Conway's website and photo to a friend for some reason. At first he thought she was cisgendered, and then he said something like, "She doesn't look trans." So I clicked on her Successful Transitions site, to kind of point out that she's not the only one, by a long shot. He thought just about everyone on the page looked like she was trans, and said, "Most of them would have a hard time finding someone who would put up with that."

Ouch.

My friend Tobi might call it "transmisogyny."

It's things like this that make me wish I were a lesbian. Women just don't seem to have that obsession with the physical bodies of their lovers – the personality, the inner beauty, seems more important than the physical. I know it's true for me. I sometimes feel quite attracted to guys who are not very physically attractive, because I like their personhood – their passion, their intellect, their generosity, humor, whatever. Characteristics other than physical beauty can be very sexy.

But apparently not to men. My friend is educated, liberal, accepting of gays, lesbians, and trans people. Yet his abhorrence of the idea of a man finding a woman like me attractive purely dripped from his words. And despite their obvious femininity, they all seemed like men to him. Any guy readers out there, does this resonate with you?

Why?

Many of these are beautiful women, with successful, interesting lives. Why should a man have to "put up with it" at all? Why can't men just see us for who we are? Why not celebrate it? Why this focus on birth gender?

What does it say about our culture, that the bodies of women are considered of so much more importance than their persons?

As Sojourner Truth might say, "And ain't I a woman?"

Friday, August 28, 2009

Political Science 101

I have a bad habit of going onto conservative blogs and starting conversations. It's my means of breaking out of my own liberal echo chamber and attempting to expand my understanding and horizons, while also pushing others to break out of theirs. Something I've noticed repeatedly on these forays is that conservatives (at least the ones on the blogs I visit) really don't understand political/economic systems very well. Typically they look at the current health care "reform" bill being proposed, and call it "Marxist" or "socialist." So, if any of you conservatives ever come visit me here, here's a short lesson to clarify the issue for you.

Socialism, especially as Marx espoused, is the when the state owns and operates the means of production and distribution. A completely socialist approach to the health care system would be as follows: 1) Nationalize the hospitals; eliminate private ownership of hospitals and clinics. 2) Make all health care providers employees of the state. 3) Nationalize pharmaceutical companies – the folks who research and make drugs. 4) That pretty much eliminates the need for health insurance. Everything's paid for by the state, anyway.

Fascism, on the other hand, allows for private ownership – but ensures that that ownership belongs to a certain class. As Benito Mussolini puts it, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power."

So when Obama and other government officials meet with pharmaceutical and insurance lobbyists behind closed doors to negotiate how "health care reform" will not only be acceptable to them, but will make them primary beneficiaries, that's fascism. When the government requires citizens to purchase private insurance, that's fascism.

In fact, we've been seeing a lot of fascism in this country over the last 30 years or so. Now, it's SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) in Washington for lobbyists to write the majority of legislation, which our congresspeople then sponsor. That's why these bills are so long and complicated – they are designed by and for the wealthiest corporations in the world. And it's completely bipartisan. This is what Reagan did, in things like quietly privatizing the military. (Currently a large percentage of the American military system is composed of corporate mercenaries.) Clinton had NAFTA, GATT, and Hillarycare. Bush had the PATRIOT Act, no-bid contracts, the Iraq invasion and occupation, and so on. Now Obama's signed on with this very fascist health care plan.

Of course, we don't call it fascism. That wouldn't be PC at all. Instead, the conservative media lapdogs (Rush, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, et al) slam "the liberals" and call it "socialism" when liberals do it, and "conservatism" or "common sense" when Republicans do it – as if the problem were this large liberal section of the American people. And liberal voices retaliate, and a vicious and divisive political discourse cripples any resistance possible from a united grassroots movement of citizens who have a common interest in tearing down fascism in this country.

The irony is that people on both sides think their leaders have their own best interests at heart, and care about liberty for the masses. Not so. The leaders care about maintaining their positions, and because We the People are ignorant, angry, and misinformed, and don't recognize our common interests and humanity, we let them.

I feel sad when I see the vicious rhetoric so common on various blogs, because it ensures that we won't listen to each other or find common ground. Instead, it aids the very people who are bleeding our freedom away. It is deeply self-destructive.

Bibliography:

Bernays, Edward: Propaganda

Johnson, Chalmers: Blowback – the costs and consequences of American Empire

Gatto, John Taylor: The Underground History of American Education

Briody, Dan: The Iron Triangle: Inside the Carlyle Group

Marx, Karl: The Communist Manifesto

Rand, Ayn: Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

Hartmann, Thom: Unequal Protection and What Would Jefferson Do?: A return to democracy

Omerud, Paul: Butterfly Economics

Singer, P.W.: Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry

Mill, John Stuart: On Liberty

Palast, Greg: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Hayek, F. A.: The Road To Serfdom

plus a whole bunch of books on WWII that I read before I started keeping records, and so can't cite individually.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thoughts on Homeschool Curriculum

We got a letter from the local ESD (Education Service District) recently. They used paper, envelope, postage, and about 250 words to say "Please tell us if you move your homeschooled kid out of the district or enroll him in school." An email would have sufficed, and saved the district a buck or two and us the recycling. I asked Trinidad if he wants to go to school. "NO!"

The other day the kids got to wondering how long a blue whale is. So Kristin and they found a tape measure and went out to the street to measure. It was only a 25' tape, so they learned how to add the measurements together to get the whole. It stretched from the fire hydrant at the corner across our neighbor's lot and almost all of ours. Then they measured how high they climb in the willow tree (25') and how high the treehouse is (10').

We practice a form of homeschooling called "unschooling," which operates without any curriculum at all. It's a system pioneered by John Holt, author of How Children Fail, How Children Learn, and Learning All the Time – books which were influential in developing our homeschool style. As unschoolers, the boys are not involved with any homeschool group – there is at least one local group, which offers some classes and gatherings – and they are perfectly happy to be outside the school system. Instead they have a remarkable amount of freedom, and with it, a remarkable amount of opportunity.

But without curriculum, how do they learn what they need to know?

It does create some disjointed learning processes. For instance, the boys really got into math last winter. They printed out blanks, and then filled in times tables. They got some math workbooks, and spent hours doing the problems, from simple addition to some basic division. Then, as summer harvest and the house addition began to absorb our time, and their friends started summer vacation, math fell by the wayside. The kids were too busy playing with their friends in the kid-pack that floats from house-to-house up and down our street, Kristin too busy harvesting, me too busy building. Last night, as they played Scrabble, I noticed that they'd forgotten a lot of their addition. I helped them out for awhile. When I got tired, they still wanted help with the math, so I found an addition workbook and said they could add up the score on the margins. They got distracted and started working on the problems in the book while I went to bed. And rapidly regained what they had lost.

I got to thinking about it.

How do we, as adults, learn what we need to know?

We learn when we are ready, when we need to know. Nobody tells us we have to – the need is there, it stimulates the desire, we seek the knowledge, and we learn. I didn't learn much in school. I was interested in history and geography, and read books like Bruce Catton's Civil War, and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, that enabled me to frequently spot the inaccuracies in my school textbooks. High school history was so pointless that I used to hide novels inside my textbook and read them during class. I learned nothing about carpentry – I learned that on the job. I didn't learn to tie knots, splice line, sew web, maintain diesel engines, or start a fresh-water maker in school – I learned that working on a fishing boat. I learned nothing about design and architecture, my chosen field – I went to college, and followed it up with on-the-job training. I didn't learn to run a business until I started one. When I started work as a building official, I knew almost nothing about building code – now I can cite probably hundreds of code regulations.

Kids are no different. When Sam was five years old, he loved Magic Treehouse books. When his parents didn't have time to read to him, he needed to learn to read. He taught himself, with help from us. Now, at six, he reads at the 8th or 9th grade level.

But what if he had been in school? The demand to learn would be there, but the need might not. Or, he might have been too busy studying things he wasn't interested in (science?) to teach himself to read. I suspect he would have learned to read anyway. The need to learn is intrinsic to our human curiosity. If we aren't interested in something, if it doesn't have meaning in our lives, we won't learn it – or at least, not very well. If we are interested in it, if it has meaning in our lives, we will learn – and almost nothing can hold us back.

Feminism is the philosophy that women are people, too. Unschooling is the philosophy that kids are people, too.

School curricula, by removing the learning from the context, the readiness to learn it, the need for it and the meaning behind it, lowers the intrinsic motivation to learn. It is destructive. The best curriculum is to follow your heart.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care Redux

The more I consider the health care system "reform" currently being debated and opposed so ardently by conservatives, the more opposed I am to it – though not, I suspect, for the reasons they'd quote. In my last post, I said I was agnostic after looking at all the good things that are being proposed. Many of the things Obama and the Democrats are trying to do are not only worthwhile, but morally imperative. However, the very attractiveness of that led me to miss the key point: it addresses the symptoms of the health care malaise, without addressing the underlying problems that create the symptoms. Because of that, it is doomed to fail.

The problems of our current health care system are as follows: 1. It is an extremely complex system, in a situation where simplicity is proven, all over the world, to be more effective and far more efficient. 2. It allows outrageous rewards for malpractice suits, which drives outrageous costs for malpractice insurance. 3. It prohibits the public payer from negotiating prices with the providers. 4. The payer in most situations is motivated by profit (not need) in a system where profit is maximized by denying (not providing) the services needed – effectively rationing health care and reducing choice far more effectively than even this bill would allow.

This bill actually addresses none of these problems. Instead, it takes a quintessentially Republican approach to legislate better results out of a failing system: Government officials meet with corporate industry officials behind closed doors to craft legislation which is then crammed down the citizen's throats. Benito Mussolini would approve; he'd call it fascism – "the merging of corporate and state power." It is a mystery to me why the folks who supported Bush oppose this plan – it is exactly the kind of thing that he would support and promote.

At the risk of being boring and redundant, the solution is simple: 1. To deal with problems #1 & 4 above, expand Medicare to include everyone, and reform the paperwork process to make it simple, easy, and able to process in multiple ways (digital, hard copy, etc.). (This has the added benefit of increasing everyone's choices on doctors, providers, and so on, because every provider is a preferred provider, and there is no out-of-network unless you leave the country.) 2. To deal with problem #2 above, limit malpractice suit rewards. 3. To deal with #3 above, require Medicare to negotiate prices. 4. To additionally deal with #4 above, cover alternative health care (acupuncture, Christian Science, etc.) and preventative care.

The current reform plan on the table operates from the same assumptions and paradigm as the current system, and merely attempts to legislate better results. But without reforming the system, we won't get better results. As Einstein said, "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." While doing some things to mitigate the symptoms of our current insane system, this plan will hurt vulnerable populations – small business and the middle class – while providing huge, usurious profits to huge, corrupt corporations. It will delay genuine reform. Liberals should stand side-by-side with our conservative brethren and sistren in opposition to it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Health Care Reform Bill

Caveat: I don't have time to research H.R. 3200, the House version of this bill, or any of the others, completely; so this analysis is based on reading the summary, scanning the text, and commentary from other sources. My analysis may have major holes in it. However, a conservative friend asked me to comment on it, so I'll give it a try.

First, this bill is almost 500 pages long. A basic principle I like to go by, articulated by Albert Einstein, is, "Everything should be made as simples as possible – but not simpler." Clearly, this bill fails that simple test.

The bill does have a lot of good points. It eliminates exclusions for pre-existing conditions. It limits out-of-pocket expenses and doesn't limit payouts. It covers preventive services. It provides health insurance for everyone. It requires the rich to pay more than the poor and middle class. It guarantees coverage for everyone. It includes mental health services. And so on.

My objections are as follows:

1. It's way more complex than it has to be. (See comment above.) It establishes a new bureaucracy, the "Health Choices Administration," with additional layers such as the "Health Insurance Exchange." It establishes a new public health insurance provider within this, I think as part of the Exchange. In addition, it seeks to fill the prescription benefit hole with this new insurance, so that people covered by Medicare then have the additional complexity of multiple payers for the same product, essentially doubling the paperwork. Every one of those is completely unnecessary and redundant. We've already got two public plans, Medicare and Medicaid, which is one more than we should have. Medicare has its problems, but it is run very efficiently. In fact, providing insurance is one of those places where government can excel, exceeding the efficiencies and effectiveness of private insurance because it is not motivated by profit, but by service.

2. The Health Insurance Exchange is supposed to compete with private insurers. Big mistake. I'd rather see something like the old-age insurance (Social Security) system: it is available for all, and if you want supplemental financial planning services, go for it.

3. It requires employers to provide coverage, based on payroll, not profitability. Really bad idea. We should be divorcing employers from providing coverage, not requiring more. Almost all other developed nations (those with which we trade) have single payer public health insurance; employers in those nations don't have the added cost of providing coverage. It's just one stupid way to make our own industry less competitive on the global market. Besides, it can really hit small employers hard, especially if their payroll is bigger than their profit. Expect marginal businesses to go under.

4. It doesn't mention "medically necessary." It should. Any procedure, service, or product considered medically necessary should be covered. That includes Sex Reassignment Surgery.

5. It imposes a tax on individuals without a health plan. That's okay, but I'd rather see a single-payer system that basically taxes everyone.

6. If it is true that people will be fined if they don't purchase a health care package, that is a major objection. "Nothing of benefit to the individual is obtained through coercion." (Socrates, I think?) I can think of no way to increase resistance to this bill better than this. People hate coercion, and rightfully so. I hate it. "Give me liberty, or give me death!"

7. Cost is not adequately addressed. (See update and link to Field's post below.) Without giving the public health insurance entity full ability to negotiate prices and without limiting the extent of malpractice suit penalties, cost cannot be adequately addressed. And creating redundant public bureaucracies adds a completely unnecessary level of cost, just for administration. It's stupid and counter-productive.

This health care reform bill is nowhere near as bad as some of the conservative commentary I've seen on it. For instance, one such objection is that it rations your health care. This exhibits the privileged ignorance of those who make this objection. Health care is already rationed, usually by income level. Poor people often have no coverage. Trans people can't obtain medically necessary procedures that are available to others. In fact, private insurers ration by pre-existing condition, exclusions, maximum payouts, preferred provider networks, and every other means they can legally access. This bill may well ration health care, but by eliminating maximum payouts, pre-existing conditions, and income refusals, it significantly reduces existing rationing. Another objection is that a government committee will determine your treatments and benefits. So what? Under private care, you've got an insurance executive, whose paycheck depends on reducing benefits provided to you, making those choices. And guess which one can be held accountable? (Hint: it's not the executive.) Making things better does not necessarily constitute making things perfect, but that's no reason not to do it.

Going back to Einstein's quote, the solution to the health care mess is way simpler than this bill. All we need to do is make Medicare available to everyone, with the following reforms: a) require it to negotiate prices. b) simplify the paperwork – everyone is covered, every provider a preferred provider; list the products and services provided to the patient on one sheet of paper, submit for payment, and you're done. c) limit malpractice suit payouts. d) cover alternative systems, such as acupuncture, naturopaths, homeopathy, and Christian Science treatment. Medicare is an efficiently run, existing agency; expanding it is simple, efficient, and effective. You could fit a far more complete reform package into a 25- or 50-page bill.

In sum, this bill is nowhere near as bad as the conservatives would make it out to be. It's also nowhere near as good as some liberals are making it out to be. It has some major problems, but also some really good stuff. Having looked at the actual bill, however briefly, I've modified my opposition. I'm agnostic. It will make some things better, but it will also create new problems which are obvious and predictable, and leaves other problems unaddressed. Whether there is a net social benefit to the bill is unclear to me – there may be one, and there may not. If it passes, we'll just have to wait and see.

One thing is clear, however: This health care reform bill could be a hell of a lot better.

Update: Field Negro is one smart cookie. When he posts something like this, I tend to believe it - and I agree with his commentary, especially about having each other's backs.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Party Day and Pride

I've been busy this year, building an addition on our house so that I'll have my own room. And an office, and a second bathroom, and a big-ass shop/storage room where Kristin can store her harvest – row upon row of neatly labeled ball jars filled with goodies from our garden and every stray fruit tree in a 14-block radius. This means I'm working four ten-hour days at work (I love the flexibility at my job!), and spending three-day weekends working on the house. The trusses are finally up, and the roof sheathing is going on. Needless to say, not much time for blogging, hence the erratic and rare nature of my posts. It also means that Kristin has taken over almost all domestic chores, including even doubling up on watching the kids.

Yesterday, however, two events coincided to give me a day off. A day of relaxation – what a concept!

First, it was our local PRIDE day – a party not to be missed. And, second, it was the day that one of my girlfriend's daughter had a birthday party at Skate World. I don't get to see my friend often enough because of our work schedules and the different circles our children usually travel in, so that was a must-go for me, too. Bonus – B isn't Kristin's friend, and Pride isn't Kristin's thing (though she did enjoy it later on), so she got a much-deserved day without kids.

I balanced it all by taking the kids to Pride for its opening two hours, then going to the birthday party, then back to Pride where I was supposed to meet Kristin and she'd take the kids so I could help out for awhile at the Human Rights Commission table – though when I got back, the table was gone and Kristin ended up spending the rest of the time with us there.

It was a good day for the boys. They plucked free candy from nearly every bowl at the festival, and then we found the Balloon Man! An artist with balloons with a big rainbow hat made of them, he rapidly blew up and twisted long, skinny balloons into fantastic shapes. Trin got a fish on a pole, Sam a jester's hat, along with others. Other kids got an alien, or a monkey with a gun or a peeled banana. At Skate World they got to exercise their roller blades and eat a cake shaped like a hamburger; and then back to Pride where we ended up joining Kristin and going around as a family. I got to relax, chat with friends, play with my kids, and reload for another strenuous day on the roof.

Pride is an interesting event. (In the past, certain groups would come to protest – ironically, usually protesting abortion more than homosexuality. For the last two years, they didn't show up. I guess they finally put one-and-one together and got two: I can think of no female demographic less likely to have an unwanted pregnancy than lesbians. But I digress.) There are people of all ages, from tiny babies to bent old folks with walkers or wheelchairs. People of all colors – often brilliant colors dyed into hair or tattooed into skin. Camp and music and grace and vulgarity and humor and talent, and men and women holding hands and kissing their partners with freedom not found in most of society. There is a sense of freedom, joy, almost family. Here, for one day of the year, we are free to be who we are. Tomorrow, we will go back to disguising our relationships, to restraining ourselves, to modifying our behavior to deflect the sneers, the slurs, the abuse, and simply to avoid offending our neighbors, many of whom violently object to the reality of our existence – and especially to any public display of affection, no matter that they smile indulgently to see the same behavior exhibited by other-sex couples with far less monogamy and history than many of the couples at Pride share.

This is the attraction for me. It is an oasis of openness, of truth, where the stress of the need to hide is gone. Here, people do not need to indulge the social conventions that all too often oppress rather than liberate. Yet there is restraint. This is a family event. It is a chance to see that we, and our families, especially our children, are not alone, and that the people with whom we share our conditions are typically honorable, interesting, witty, fun, intelligent, often talented, and widely diverse. It is a place for peace, honesty – far more honesty than I see in most of the circles of those who condemn us – and yes, pride. We are more than okay. We are good.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Luna

When I grew up back in the '60's and '70's, I didn't know that transgenderism existed. Not only was the ranch in Wyoming isolated from that kind of information, our entire culture buried it. The media never mentioned such phenomena. No books, especially children's or young adult's, reflected it. Trans people existed neither in fact nor fiction, and that isolation shut me off from any hope of understanding why I was different from my peers, and what that difference was.

Things have changed since then. A plethora of books have emerged, explaining the phenomenon of trangenderism from a variety of viewpoints. A list of some of them adorns the bottom of this webpage. Yet as much as these informational books clarify, they do not bring my experience to the mainstream with the power of fiction. The reason they do not is this: Non-fiction reveals facts; fiction reveals truth. Non-fiction explains intellectually; fiction explains viscerally. True understanding of another human being cannot come through the intellect; it must be experienced viscerally, emotionally. And while much fiction is void of that visceral truth, much also is not.

That's a rather long lead-in to this short review, but, I think, important. Because Julie Anne Peters, a lesbian author in Colorado, has written just such a book. Titled "Luna," the story of a young trans woman coming of age, told through the eyes of her sister, illuminates the trans experience. Written for young adults and told realistically, it makes the experience of people like me accessible to all – and most especially, to young people of the age when my own confusion and isolation were more than I could bear. That confusion and isolation led directly to drug and alcohol abuse and an emotional shut-down that took many years to overcome.

Had this book been available to me, had I read it then, how many things could have been different?

It's a moot point. What's done is done, and I now have a rich, fulfilling life. Had I transitioned earlier, I would not have my two beautiful sons, nor would I have the lovely relationship I share with Kristin. I regret nothing for myself.

But I am very glad that this resource is available to young people today.

Luna. Buy it. Read it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hmmmm....

Can't resist posting this quote that showed up on a friend's signature line:

"The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 to heterosexuals.
This doesn't mean God doesn't love heterosexuals. Only that they seem to require much more supervision."
-Lynn Lavner, comedian, musician
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our
Beloved's.
~Hafiz