Friday, October 26, 2012

The one who mounts

In Eumenides, the final play of his Oresteia trilogy, Aeschylus brings on the god Apollo to free Orestes from the burden of guilt he has carried since killing his mother Klytemnestra.  (He had no choice after she killed his father, her husband Agamemnon.)  Apollo drives off the Furies with these words:

Here is the truth, I tell you -- see how right I am.
The woman you call the mother of the child
is not the parent, just a nurse to the seed,
the new-sown seed that grows and swells inside her.
The man is the source of life -- the one who mounts.
She, like a stranger for a stranger, keeps
the shoot alive unless god hurts the roots.

   (translated by Robert Fagles)

It's easy to understand why this theory of procreation obtained in the ancient world:  Semen is visible to the naked eye, but centuries would pass before anyone saw a human ovum.  Now we know that men and women are equal contributors to the genetic makeup of their children, knowledge which brings a thicket of legal issues from viability to parental rights to the odd notion that women should control their own bodies just as men do.  This last seems to be particularly frightening to fundamentalists of all kinds.

Last summer the experts predicted that the 2012 presidential election would be a referendum on the issue of same-sex marriage, still legal in only a handful of states and the District of Columbia, one of those Kulturkampf bugle-calls that have the power to stir up voters.  By way of illustration, the television "news" showed video of citizens lining up to participate in a homophobic promotion announced by a chain of chicken restaurants, patiently waiting to sample the Buffalo hate wings.  This was meant to spell doom for Barack Obama, who supports same-sex marriage, and the inevitable election of anyone who doesn't.   Well, it's late October and no one has even mentioned same-sex marriage for at least two months, partly because the Republicans, with incomparable stupidity, have turned the election into a referendum on rape.

I thought this had been settled long ago.  Rape is illegal in all the states and the District of Columbia, and in such outposts of the empire as Guam and American Samoa.  Rape is also illegal in every country in the world.  Nobody is in favor of rape except rapists,. who must have been bemused to find themselves getting support from the family values party.   I know I was.  "Bemused" may not be the right word.

The latest chapter in the GOP's long divorce from reality began a few weeks ago, when their Senate candidate in Missouri, Todd Akin, explained why his party's platform has a "no abortions-no exceptions" plank.  Republican "moderates" believe abortion should be allowed in cases of incest or rape, or when the health of the woman would be endangered, but not Akin, who has enriched our language with the phrase "legitimate rape."  In such cases, he says, pregnancy cannot occur because "the woman's body has ways of shutting that whole thing down" (that he was quoting some doctor is even more disturbing).  The only women who need abortions are not victims at all, but sluts who allege rape in order to force their insurance companies to pay for abortions, or for the "morning after" pill if they can find a pharmacist enlightened enough to fill the prescription.  (Many refuse, and guess what?  The Roberts Court says that's just fine.)  False rape reporting, like voter fraud, is one of those phantom menaces that only Rightzi paranoids can perceive; in the real world, rape is under-reported because most victims are unwilling to face the ordeal they know they will be put through, especially if the case comes to trial.

It turns out that Akin represents the lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe.  His fellow Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana is willing to concede that rape can result in pregnancy, but when it does it's "god's will" and the victim can just lump it.  Again, no abortion, no exception, amen.  A soundbite that outrageous was guaranteed  more airplay than Prince William's wedding, but I'm still waiting for someone to ask Mourdock (and Mitt Romney, who filmed an enthusiastic commercial for him) the obvious questions -- the place, if you like, where issues of economy and taxation slam into notions of morality..  What are your plans for the unwanted babies who will result from these rapes?  A few women may choose to raise these constant reminders of the crime, but I suspect most will not.  Will your Department of Health establish a chain of orphanages, hiring thousands of people to care for the children while thousands of others investigate prospective adoptive parents?  What will the additional expense do to your promise to liquidate the Cheney-Bush deficit?  Does this means the rich will have to pay taxes after all?  Have you checked with Grover Norquist, the Koch brothers, Donald Trump, and all the other moochers who think they should continue to fatten off this country without paying for its functions?  Why am I talking to the insane as if their answers would make sense?  And Akin and Mourdock are only the beginning:  there are dozens of Republican candidates (and some Democrats, and even some women) who share their views on "personhood," the granting of Constitutional rights to zygotes.  We're through the looking glass, people, which is not surprising when you remember that we're dealing with the Mad Tea Party.  How about enforced ultrasounds for women seeking abortions?  From the party that wants to get the government off our backs and into our wombs.*

If these troglodytes are elected -- at the national level, they already control many of the states -- we will return not to the good old days before Roe .v. Wade, but to Athens in the fifth century BCE.  Women will be flowerpots where men plant their seed, with or without consent, and the Uterine Police will make sure they remember to water and weed until the little miracle is born.  After that, I'm willing to bet, the state will lose interest.  It's the will of god (Apollo?), so let him take care of them.

*In Communist Romania, women of child-bearing age were required to report for monthly medical exams to determine if they were, or had been, pregnant.  This was not for religious reasons, obviously, but because the state made money selling unwanted babies to adoptive parents in other countries.  Not all of them, unfortunately -- thousands led wretched lives in Dickensian orphanages.  It is grimly amusing to contemplate right-wing Christians walking in the footsteps of a Communist dictatorship.     



Sunday, October 07, 2012

Little Boy Brown

I want to say a few words about the debate.  No, the other debate, the first encounter between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, candidates for the Senate in Massachusetts.  I thought it was more enlightening than the over-hyped bout in Denver.  That thing was like a Superbowl -- by the time it started, I was tired of it.

Straight off the bat, Brown ignored the economy, the war, the sorry season of the Red Sox, and went after Warren's ethnicity.  Apparently she's part Native American but lacks glossy black hair and war paint.  In other words, she's lying about her mother's Delaware and Cherokee ancestry.  This is old news in Massachusetts -- when Warren revealed her family background, one right-wing paper dubbed her "Fauxcohontas."  Everybody knows what Indians look like, and she doesn't.  QED

At first I thought Brown was making a subtle and important point about the absurdity of racial categories -- what's the point of having them when you can't tell what people are until they tell you?  This is not exactly news, either.  Mark Twain wrote a novel about it.  It's a subplot in Show Boat.  We're a seriously mixed-up people, and always have been.  On reflection, a little too subtle, too cerebral for a member of the Mad Tea Party.  So what was going on? 

A week later I read a magazine article about the Senate race and there it was.

Scott Brown went to Tufts.

I'm no expert but people tell me that when you apply to Harvard, Tufts is your safety school.  Nothing wrong with Tufts, but it's not Harvard.  It must have been infuriating that this...this squaw was appointed to the faculty of the Harvard Law School when Scottie couldn't get past the director of admissions.  Couldn't be that she earned it by becoming a nationally recognized expert in consumer debt law, by co-writing a book about it, by helping to craft legislation.  She must have "checked the box," thus reaping the cornucopia of benefits which America has showered on undeserving minorities (and women) for the last half century.

This is a constant gripe of the right, and not just the Archie Bunkers, the working class Americans for whom I actually have a lot of sympathy, the ones who are competing with more people for a smaller piece of the pie.  It goes all the way up to the one percent.  In the course of the infamous "forty-seven percent" chat, Mitt Romney made a sort of joke (for him) about how much easier his life would have been if only his father had been an ethnic Mexican instead of an American born in Mexico.  The $50,000-a-platers chortled, thinking of their highly-paid maids and gardeners, I suppose.  The 47 percent think they're victims, said Romney, but you and I, we're the real victims.  They are obsessed with the idea that somewhere, some eight-year-old is getting a free hot breakfast at school and they have to pay for it and it just isn't right.  Scott Brown is a Senator, a member of what has been called "the world's most exclusive club," and he's still pissed because he didn't get into Harvard.  It wasn't because he wasn't good enough -- it was because Harvard, in the name of multi-cultural affirmative action (a string of obscenities on the right), gave his place to a disabled Micronesian lesbian.  And now the world makes sense.

I remember the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when several hundred people from New Orleans were being sheltered in the Houston Astrodome.  Someone asked Barbara Bush what she thought of it all, and she gave that same chortle and said, "Well, these people are underprivileged, so it's working out well for them."  Because there's nothing the poor like better than sleeping on cots in an abandoned baseball stadium.  It's their version of sailing around the Greek islands.  They get everything -- food, water, blankets, even donated clothing -- and all it costs is everything they had in the world.

It's almost funny.  They can't accumulate enough.  They start fake populist "parties" to knock their tax bills down to zero.  They're surrounded by moochers and redistributors and socialist demagogues and nobody is grateful for all the jobs they create, if only for maids and gardeners. 

They want their country back.