Friday, October 30, 2015

If You Call Yourself a Christian and You Are Against Planned Parenthood, Then You Are a Hypocrite

As an atheist, I really shouldn't say too much about Christ, other than he did exist and he seems to have been a great person. Some of the ideas he taught were revolutionary for his time.  For this he has my respect as an historical figure in the same way that I respect Aristotle and Homer. Cognitive disconnect happens to me when I interact with some people who call themselves Christians but don't don't seem to act at all like Christ. He taught (in Matthew 19:24) that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!"and yet, you see millionaire barkers, with thousands of "Christian" followers, on television pontificating for cash. Not very Christ-like! I get the same feeling when I see people who consider themselves Christians bashing Planned Parenthood on social media. 

In 1970, our Republican President, Richard Nixon, signed into a law the Family Planning and Population Research Act which amended the Public Health Service Act. Title X of that law funded Planned Parenthood to provide family planning and contraceptive services. This passed with bi-partisan support. This was back when our Republican Party was actually conservative and assisting in family planning was a good fiscal idea. A good way to keep people off of welfare is to assist them in not being parents until they are ready. President Nixon stated "no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition." Much has changed in American politics. You would be hard pressed to find a Republican who would say anything close to this now.

Even though the Republican Party has been going backwards on this subject, America, in general, has come a long way. When Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn, as a birth control clinic, in 1916, she was thrown in jail for distributing obscene material under the Comstock Act. Contraceptives and literature about birth control was put in the same category as pornography and sex toys. This legal case became nationally famous and the attention it brought to the cause led to changes in legislation in birth control and sex education. Probably the biggest thing it did was lighten us up on a subject that we were so uptight about. We wouldn't even talk about it.

When you hear the term Planned Parenthood, you immediately think of abortion. This is a victory for the right wing in America. This is extremely unfortunate because only 3% of what they do is abortion related. Even though abortion is a legal medical procedure, for over 40 years, some people still have a bug up their ass about it. In 2013, PP provided services to 2.7 million patients most of whom are poor women, 16% of whom are under the age of 20. They had over a million patient cancer related visits, over 4 million visits related to sexually related diseases and over 3 million contraception related visits.

With the Hyde Amendment as of 1976 (only three years after abortions were declared legal nationally), only 97% of what Planned Parenthood does is still federally funded. The 3%, aka the abortions, are not unless they are a result of rape, incest or the health of the mother is threatened. This article in the Washington Post documents it well with some good visuals. About a quarter of their overall funding comes from private funding from such funds as the Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation and Buffett Foundation. The Hyde Amendment was named after Henry Hyde a Republican congressman from Illinois. His name is almost synonymous with hypocrite.  He was one of the congressman who lead the charge to impeach President Clinton for his extramarital affair. During the hearing it was discovered that Hyde also had an affair.

Why is opposing Planned Parenthood hypocrisy if you are a Christian? Because if PP closed, it would hurt the poor the most. If we cut all federal funding to PP, they would still perform abortions because the funds are coming to them from private sources. It is the other services they provide that would be cut: the STD testing and treatment, contraceptive and cancer screening etc. Many of their patients are on Medicaid who service the very poor. A lot of health care providers don't take Medicaid because of the amount of administrative work it requires and the poor reimbursement rates. Planned Parenthood is one of their only options for care. I could be wrong about this, but what I know about Christ, is that he would want to help out the teenage girl, who has no money, with her chlamydia. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Song Dissection: Roads To Moscow

I thought of blogging my interpretations of some of my favorite Beatles or Bowie songs, but the Internet is full of these.  Rock n' roll is so chock-full of great songs, why pile onto the massive amount of Beatles fandom when I can tackle something more obscure. While listening to my Classic Rock play list on my iPod today while doing my errands, I heard Al Stewart's Roads to Moscow and I doubted that there was anything on the net that gave an interpretation of this song. When I got home and started googling. I found some sites that actually documented the history of the song, the World War II battles and such, but interpretation of what the song is about, I did not.

Al Stewart is a folk rock musician most famous for his song Year of the Cat from 1976. He is Scottish and is one of those UK musicians you can actually hear his accent when he sings (like Todd Rundgren or Robin Hitchcock) most likely because his singing is more like talking than singing.

Many of his songs, like Roads To Moscow, are historical in nature. It came out in 1973, on the Past, Present and Future album, a few years before his biggest hit got international air play. The song (lyrics below) is a first person narrative from the perspective of a Soviet soldier in WW II. The first verse highlights the events of June 1941 when Germany forces destroyed 90% of the Soviet air force in about a week.  The second verse recounts the German retreat through Ukraine, later that summer after the Battle of Moscow. The third verse brings us into the winter as the Russian troops march into Germany towards Stalingrad. The last verse is the saddest among them where he returns home, after four years of fighting, only to be arrested and thrown into a gulag.

The verses mostly tell the historical events and don't tell much about the state of mind of our narrator. For that you must look to the chorus. With all these events happening around him, all that he is ever "able to see" is "fire in the air, glowing red silhouetting the smoke on the breeze." He is in a forest but the only natural things he sees is "fire" and "smoke." He is isolated, not seeing much of the battle or the history unfolding around him. He is more of a pawn than a knight, slipping, crawling through fields and moving through shadows. As the town of Orel burns, they turn their backs on it. This was the point in the war, where Hitler thought Russia was defeated. General Guderian, creator of the blitzkrieg and Panzer commander, "stands at the crest of the hill." He, the leader, looks at the wreckage of Orel and reflex on the carnage, not the soldiers with their backs turned. The pawns have to move onto the next fight.

The second chorus replaces "smoke" with "snow" for here is where the war takes a turn, for the German war machine was not prepared for the Russian winter. "Snow" will be the savior of the Russian army and of Moscow as the Nazi troops fail to take her. The German army approached Moscow in a 200 mile long semi-circle. On December 5th, they decided to retreat for they did not have the strength to take the city. In the last chorus, "the city" awakes from a dream. It could be Moscow or Berlin, but at this point, it could be Tokyo or New York or any other city in the world because this is one of the big turning points of the war. The under-armed and starving Russian army are the not the push-overs that Hitler thought they were. Yet, our narrator is still feeling insignificant. All he sees is the "eyes" of the city. What are the eyes doing? Are they watching him? Judging him? All he wants to do is go home, but he never gets there. We never get home from war and we are always prisoners of history.

Apparently, Al Stewart claimed that he based the song on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Nobel Prize winning author's life is similar to our narrator's. He served as a commander and artillery officer for the Red Army in East Prussia. He witnessed war crimes against German civilians, pillaging of some very weak and elderly civilians and gang rapes. He wrote about it in letters home criticizing Stalin and was arrested at the end of the war for it. He spent eight years in a labor camp. Not "forever" like our narrator, but the similarities are there.

I doubt if you will hear this song on the radio any time soon. The only time I've ever heard anywhere other my MP3's is on Radio Paradise.  So if you do ever hear it, maybe I will help with your appreciation a little, I hope.

"Roads To Moscow"
by Al Stewart

They crossed over the border the hour before dawn
moving in lines through the day
Most of our planes were destroyed on the ground where they lay
Waiting for orders we held in the wood
Word from the front never came
By evening the sound of the gunfire was miles away

I softly move through the shadows, slip away through the trees
Crossing their lines in the mist in the fields on our hands and our knees

And all that I ever
Was able to see
The fire in the air, glowing red
Silhouetting the smoke on the breeze

All summer they drove us back through the Ukraine
Smolensk and Viasma soon fell
By Autumn we stood with our backs to the town of Orel
Closer and closer to Moscow they come
Riding the wind like a bell
General Guderian stands at the crest of the hill

Winter brought with the rains, oceans of mud filled the roads
Gluing the tracks of their tanks to the ground, while the skies filled with snow

And all that I ever
Was able to see
The fire in the air, glowing red
Silhouetting the snow on the breeze

(Ah, Ah, Ah) [x4]

(Ah, Ah, Ah) [all thru bridge]
In the footsteps of Napoleon, the shadow figures stagger through the winter
Falling back before the gates of Moscow, standing in the wings like an avenger
And far away behind their lines, the partisans are stirring in the forest
Coming unexpectedly upon their outpost, growing like a promise
You'll never know, you'll never know, which way to turn, which way to look you'll never see us
As we steal into the blackness of the night you'll never know, you'll never hear us

And evening sings in a voice of amber, the dawn is surely coming
The morning road leads to Stalingrad, and the sky is softly humming

Two broken tigers on fire in the night
Flicker their souls to the wind
We wait in the lines for the final approach to begin
It's been almost four years that I've carried a gun
At home, it will almost be spring
The flames of the tiger are lighting the road to Berlin

I quickly move through the ruins that bow to the ground
The old men and children they send out to face us, they can't slow us down

And all that I ever
Was able to see
The eyes of the city are opening
Now it's the end of a dream

(Ah. Ah, Ah) [x4]

(Ah, Ah, Ah) [thru this section]
I'm coming home, I'm coming home , now you can taste it in the wind the war is over
And I listen to the clicking of the train wheels as we roll across the border
And now they ask about the time that I was caught behind their time and taken prisoner
They only held me for a day, a lucky break I say
They turn and listen closer
I'll never know, I'll never know, why I was taken from the line with all the others
to board a special train and journey deep into the heart of holy Russia

And it's cold and damp in the transit camp and the air is still and sullen
and the pale sun of October whispers the snow will soon be coming
And I wonder when, I'll be home again and the morning answers never
And the evening sighs and the steely, Russian skies go on,

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Good Guys and Bad Guys

They are experts at social media. They know how to use it to recruit our teenagers, to prey on the most vulnerable among us, the young, confused and socially isolated. They live among us, we don't see them but they sneak into our homes convincing our loved ones that they will gain respect if they join their ranks. No, I am not talking about terrorist groups or other radical groups, I am talking about a group sanctioned by our government and paid for by our taxes. I am talking about the military recruiter ... the peddler of glory, phony heroics and "Be All You Can Be" jingoism. Convincing the young and vulnerable that there is glory to perform in horrendous acts under the guise that we are the "Good Guys."  The Good Guys invaded Iraq in 2003, a country that was not bothering us, whose government had no ties to terrorism. The Good Guy destabilized an entire region of the globe.

I see the Good Guy/Bad Guy rhetoric everywhere in the media. Our public discourse over war, heroism and ethics has been thrown into the intellectual realm of comic books. I am not talking about modern complex comics. Graphic novels and plain old comic books are far more sophisticated than the crap on the 24 hour news cycle. I am talking about the old corny comics. As if there are good guys like Captain America and bad guys like The Red Skull. In the 24 hour news cycle our only  choices are between white or black. Gray is not an option. The bad guys are the terrorists, the school shooters or the looters. The good guys are the American soldiers and the person who took down the shooter.  But we know (don't we?) that life is more complex than that. Situations are bad, not people. There are exceptions of course, but there are a lot more factors involved rather than just the polemic good/bad dichotomy. Yes, surely, the act of a terrorist is bad, but is someone who has been living in extreme poverty, who has been isolated and radicalized, bad? Or are they just victims of a really shitty situation? What good is the media doing, by labeling the "good" and the "bad" rather than just telling us the facts and letting us decide? Are they just being lazy or do they believe in this simplistic view of the world?  Are they properly performing their duties as the fourth estate or are they simply contributing to the noise?

If we are going to split the world into good guys and bad guys, we need to change the rules.  Lets agree to call someone, on-line, who convinces your child to join ISIS to be a bad guy.  But we must also agree to call the recruiter for the US military who is using the same tactics, appealing to the same emotions and needs ... a bad guy. The recruiters are not only on social media, but they sponsor events in your community, they recruit in schools, they have booths at NASCAR races and sporting events. Their biggest selling point, we'll pay you to get educated, you get to travel and oh ya, you can carry a gun and kill brown people. Then when you come home, we'll clap for you when you attend baseball games in your uniform and call you a "hero," ... if you survive that is. They'll call you one of the Good Guys ... even if you spent your days in the military kicking in doors of completely innocent people, terrorizing them or perhaps shooting them from a rooftop. Like most Western nations, our nation's record is not even close to being good in the Middle East. If you volunteer to help our government commit their crimes, I see nothing good about that. It is just not that simple. Labeling them "good guys" and "bad guys" is oversimplifying the issues to a dangerous degree.

The bad guy nomenclature is also used in reporting of our many mass shootings here in the states. Of course, most of these people aren't "bad" people but mentally ill. Calling them bad is a good way of not confronting the issue. We have a very poor health system here in the United States, particularly when it comes to mental health.  We also have a lot of guns and extremely lax laws. This is the real "bad" here, a bad combination.

Then of course, the worst use of the "bad guy/good guy" dichotomy is when head douche-bag at the NRA (National Rifle Association), Wayne Lapierre, stated that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." I would suggest that if you are in a church, college campus, elementary school or movie theater and you have gun ... then you are the "bad guy."  The "good" guy with the gun is out hunting or wearing a uniform playing defense.