Every news story these days has a comment section which erupts into a slug fest between the politically left and politically right. The same arguments are made this time as last time, the same "proof" is offered this time as last time, and no one is convinced, and nothing changes.
What annoys me most is that neither side seems willing to debate their real point of view, they rely instead on dishonestly framing the debate.
On the right I wish they would admit, "Hey, look, if someone could could snap their fingers and get rid of all guns there would be a lot fewer homicides and suicides, but guns are a lot of fun, and people die left and right from driving cars and eating fattening food, so we've decided we're comfortable with the number of deaths from guns. And besides, it might theoretically make our government a little afraid of violating our rights, though admittedly they seem to be violating a lot of rights and we're not doing anything about it."
And on the left I wish they would admit, "Hey, guns are really scary. We're not hunter gatherers any more, and people who collect and shoot guns, especially at cute little woodland creatures, seem a little mentally disturbed to us. And if you want to carry them all the time, everywhere, and buy your kids Hello Kitty themed shotguns we really think you have a problem. We know there are so many guns in the country that banning them won't really do a lot, but it'll do something, and more important it'll feel like we're doing something. And maybe if we can damage the gun market now in a hundred years there will be less of them around, and maybe then society will be safer. And the sort of guns people have now haven't kept up with the hardware the government has, so give up on the argument that it'll keep us free from tyranny."
If both sides lead with that it would feel more honest to me, and at least make the debate potentially more productive.
The news is filled with people bemoaning the ACA (aka Obamacare). I am not one of them. My situation has greatly improved. I was a single guy, no kids, early forties, paying $650/month for a HIPAA plan with very high copays and $5,000 deductible. I am now paying $370/month for a platinum plan (10% copay) with $500 deductible. I couldn't be happier.
I have always been a non-smoker, non-drinker, non-drug user, and reasonably healthy. But no insurance company would give me an individual healthcare plan, not since I was 25. I was rejected without explanation by many companies. Presumably they rejected me based on pre-existing conditions, but my pre-existing conditions were trivial, some mild depression and anxiety, but never hospitalized for that or anything else. I finally got insurance through work, and was able to transition to an individual HIPAA plan after becoming a consultant. I could not switch to anything better or cheaper, though, still no company not forced by HIPAA to take me would have me. And I looked into the "high risk" pool coverage (the only other option) that California offered and was shocked to find it was a) expensive, b) had a long waiting list to get in, c) provided really low and weak coverage. So, until the ACA rolled out January 1, 2014 I was stuck.
The news reporting of others' experience with ACA plans has me a little confused. The vast majority of people seem to have had really lousy policies which didn't offer much coverage and they are now complaining that they are forced to buy a more comprehensive policy and thus pay more for it. I have somewhat limited sympathy for those situations, because I think the reality is that those cheap policies often just wind up shifting the cost to everyone when someone who has one of those policies gets seriously ill, finds their policy doesn't provide adequate coverage, and goes bankrupt or otherwise requires the hospitals and debt agencies to eat the loss when they can't pay their bills. The people buying those policies may claim that it's the right plan for them, the right price, and that it's just what they need, but I have to believe on a macro scale that's just not born out, that the rest of society takes a financial hit for their stinginess. If you know that to be false, please correct me. For the remaining minority of people making the news whose prices have gone up significantly without an increase in coverage, and without any offsetting tax reduction, I do feel very badly, and hope cheaper options become available, or other corrective measures are taken.
If nothing else, I am very glad that the health insurance system was finally forced to move away from the cruel and capricious system of excluding people because of pre-existing conditions, it was a savage system that usually unfairly penalized people who had no hand in their conditions, leaving them to fend for themselves or pay dearly for rotten coverage. Whatever people may say about the ACA, at least it did away with that...
I wish that we lived in a world where people could always control what their dollars directly and indirectly funded, but we don't, and Christians only seem to care when it's their money and something they believe is immoral. Would most Christians support another person's "rights" not to have their income tax fund foreign wars/actions they morally oppose? The vast majority of Christians would certainly not, and for that reason I cannot support their right to pick and choose their healthcare funding according to their morals. If they want to broaden the debate, and argue that everyone should be able to refuse to contribute towards things they believe are immoral, then I'll be happy to support their cause. Until then, we might as well all be stuck in the same boat, until we together pick a course that gets us to a better land.
P.S. - Of course beyond issues of morality, there are lots of other purely lifestyle related costs we make others pay for. If a couple chooses to have 5 children that can incur public schooling costs of $600k (from kindergarten through high school), that burden is disproportionately covered by those who choose to never have any kids or have just one. As a society we have decided to pool our resources, accepting the many potential inequities, injustices, and betrayals of personal conscience. We can't have it both ways.
Ignoring implementation issues and the specific terms of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), I really don't understand how any sensible person can fail to see the logical necessity of having an entire society covered by health care (at least to the level of catastrophic health insurance).
The simple facts are these:
- Anyone can become ill.
- Being ill is expensive, being seriously ill is incomprehensively (life destroyingly) expensive.
- Many people do not have health insurance.
- U.S. hospitals are required to provide life-saving health care to people regardless of ability to pay.
- U.S. hospitals also provide health care with non life-saving conditions who they expect to pay.
- Until the ACA many people were unable to get insurance or had severely limited policies because of pre-existing conditions (many, if not most, of which were absolutely not a result of poor diet, lifestyle choices).
- U.S. hospitals cover the cost of non-paying patients by raising costs for paying patients, depressing nurse and doctor pay, and thereby effectively taxing everyone who pays for medical services.
- People who go bankrupt because of high medical bills cost shift financial burdens to everyone (from unpaid bank/car/school/credit car loans, etc.).
- Younger people require less health care than older people; but young people (who do not die prematurely) will all to a person become old people.
The system we've had from the eighties until now has been very shoddily constructed. The concept with any insurance is simple, distribute the risk across the largest pool of relevant people, so that they can all can be protected at a price they can afford. The issue of what is the relevant pool is certainly up for some discussion. Those issuing the insurance want to collect enough premiums to cover the risks they are securing (and make a profit), sell as many policies as possible to ensure that their risk is distributed / mitigated and profits maximized, and eliminate as many bad, ongoing risks as possible.
Unlike any other kind of insurance I can think of (e.g., car insurance, homeowner's insurance, life insurance) , a person need do nothing more than exist in order to potentially require others to pay for expenses (medical in this case) on their behalf. It makes sense to require owners and operators of cars to have car insurance because they have created a situation in which they are very likely to create potentially catastrophic expenses for themselves and others by the use or misuse of a car. And while pedestrians who do not own/operate a car can and do cause some car accidents, the events are few enough that society has decided to let that risk be absorbed by drivers, not everyone (in other words, if a pedestrian causes a car accident, the car insurance (depending on policy) would help the driver, and separately sue the pedestrian). But simply being born is all that is required to potentially cost others in society tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. A baby might be born into the world to parents without insurance and immediately require $200k of life saving care, an uninsured 18 year old might require expensive cancer treatments and have no family support.
I hear people say, "I'm 23 [or perhaps 53], I'm unlikely to get sick, I don't need health insurance. I'm self-insuring." But that is just ignorant, they are not self-insuring. They have no capacity to cover catastrophic costs. If that 23 (or 53) year old suddenly finds out they have an aggressive cancer that requires tens or hundreds of thousands in treatment, the odds are extremely high that they will not meet their financial obligations and may escape them through bankruptcy. We all would pay for that person's decision not to have health insurance, through higher medical costs, through higher bank and credit card costs (if they went bankrupt).
And if we can acknowledge that everyone needs insurance and should have it throughout their life, then the notion that young people are paying rates higher than the benefits they collectively will receive in the short term, in order to subsidize older people's premiums, becomes somewhat moot. What does it matter? They could divide up total lifetime health care premiums by the 77.5 years (or so) we're expected to live and charge that amount to everyone, so it is completely consistent from age 1 to age 77. But it makes more sense to me to charge less when people are younger and have fewer resources, and more when people are older and are more likely to have more resources. Further, it makes even more sense to adjust the premiums somewhat so that they do not continue to grow insanely high as you get very old, when people have a fixed income; this requires shifting some of those costs to those who are younger. I fail to see any ideological, moral, logistical problem with this.
I cannot imagine anyone suggesting we charge an 80 year old a premium based on their actual one-year likelihood to require major medical help, it would cost them far more than they could afford. Likewise why would we imagine charging a 23 year old only what he's likely to cost medically in the near term? Insurance only works as a concept if people are in it for the long haul.
I think Obama has made a mess of the current and critical ACA 2014 debut, between the website failures and the grossly misleading statements about people being able to keep their health care (I am one who was notified that I am losing mine), but I can only still conclude it was the right thing to do and we're long overdue for having it. If the Republicans wanted a different solution they had decades in power under several Bushes and a Reagan in which to implement something, and they did not; I'm not even aware of any serious, sensible solution they've proposed which acknowledges that everyone must have coverage for all their lives if the system is to work.
Am I missing something?
Every year it seems like I receive an email forward from irate Christians wanting to remind me about how Christmas is being co-opted by the gay, feminist, atheist, capitalist agenda who are hell bent on taking the Christ out of Christmas... This year I couldn't help but respond to the most recent forwarder, my dad, who had attached his own screed. This is my response.
You poor, poor American Christians. How oppressed you are with your undefeated record of electing 44 Christian Presidents (unless of course you conveniently think Obama is Muslim), your vast 89% majority in Congress, your significant 77% majority of the US population. Oh, but of course maybe those aren't "true" Christians. Funny, they look pretty good on paper with 61% of the population believing that evolution is a lie, and 45% of the population believing the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.
But you go on with your hypocritical lives, your convenient selective memory of the Old Testament and the New. Keep quoting the Old Testament to stop the queers from their equality, your marvelous quotes about slavery kept those uppity Negroes in chains for a few hundred extra years. And don't worry, I'm an atheist so I don't have the mandate to stone you for working on the Sabbath, for eating shellfish, getting tattoos, or association with menstruating women. And I'll try to resist quoting Matthew 5:17-20 and all that stuff about, "Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished." I'm just an amoral, compassless heathen apparently bent on doing all I can to make some tasty s'mores while I watch the world burn.
Oh, and as for Jesus Christ ruling forever, good luck with that. Hope He has a bit more staying power than the Sumerian religion, the Babylonian religion, the Assyrian religion, the Egyption religion, the Greek religion, the Roman/Mithra relition, the Germanic/Norse religion, the Maya religion, and all the others that have faded into history. All those religions sure seemed convinced they were the real deal, and I'm sure all their followers sure were pretty miffed when you people started taking the Zeus out of Zeusmas, the Isis out of Ismas, etc. So I get it, you are right to be outraged. Shout "Merry Christmas" or "I love Jesus" at whoever you want as loud as you want, nobody will punch you in the mouth like they would me if I yelled out "Merry Jesus is a Myth Day". But you're right, you're the oppressed, distressed, offended people here. I keep forgetting that.
It's a funny thing, outraged Christians sure sound a lot like outraged white males, probably because so many of them are. A few thousand years of ideological domination and the subjugation of others just never feels like enough, does it? Even when you accept the notion that equality is probably inevitable you sure do grouse about the thought that women, blacks, gays, foreigners might temporarily get 'unfair' educational, career, financial advantage. How dare the pendulum swing even a tenth of a degree in their favor, what an affront to a system you'd so carefully rigged over centuries with all your social and religious mores.
Funny thing is, I'm actually all for you loving your Lord. I want you to find spiritual sustenance wherever you may. I am not the least bit offended nor do I shy away from your Merry Christmases. There is much to respect about the modern interpretation of Christ, certainly a lot more than the interpretation which brought us inquisitions, crusades, the burning of misidentified witches, and whatever horrors future interpretations may bring. It just irks me when you whine about your lot, at the notion that others might dare for a few moments here or there to be as loud and as obnoxious as you felt quite comfortable being during various parts of your continued Western World domination.
Be gracious winners, not whiners. Your majority rule hasn't ended yet. Try to enjoy your declining years, it sounds like you are the ones confusing a trip to a big box department store with a trip to a church. I read nothing about the exchange of big screen flat panel TVs in the New Testament. I can't imagine mixing up the joy at my savior's birth with the joy of unwrapping a toxic toy made by children in China. If you expect God to be found in Best Buy or City Hall you're bound to be increasingly disappointed, try visiting your perpetually-renewing local house of worship instead. All public traditions get co-opted, by non-believers, by capitalists, by the ignorant, by people who simply see a good birthday party and want to attend without giving a damn whose birthday it is. I didn't turn your Christmas into a business proposition, that was you believing folk who made a religious celebration commercial, who took to exchanging increasingly expensive items as a proxy for religious passion.
This atheist wishes you all a very Merry Christmas, in the truest sense of it. Enjoy Christ, love Christ, celebrate Christ this December 25th. And quit your bitching about people at the local mall or city hall or school awkwardly trying to make room for others at your table of largess. But, do let me know if any of those folk wander into your church and try to make your pastor take the Christ out of Christmas, that's when you'll have my full support.
> On Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 10:40 PM, My Dad<*********@msn.com> wrote:
> Powerful, alarming,sad,sobering, all-too-true message. In response, I AM thinking of, and invoking a message of:
> Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father...the Prince of Peace...and He shall
> reign forever and ever...and the Kingdom of this world shall become the Kingdom of OUR GOD AND
> OF HIS CHRIST, AND HE SHALL RULE FOREVER AND EVER....AMEN...AAAAMMMENNN...AND...AMEN!!!
> PEACE, Indeed!Thank you...(I am sending this to many)
> From: Somebody
> Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2012 18:46:53 -0500
> Subject: Fwd: Fw: Your First Christmas card
> To: Lots of people
> MERRY CHRISTMAS
> YOUR FIRST CHRISTMAS CARD
> Cleverly done!!!
> Twas the month before Christmas
> When all through our land,
> Not a Christian was praying
> Nor taking a stand.
> Why the PC Police had taken away
> The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
> The children were told by their schools not to sing
> About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
> It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
> December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.
> Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
> Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
> CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
> Something was changing, something quite odd!
> Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
> In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
> As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
> At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
> At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
> You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
> Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty
> Are words that were used to intimidate me.
> Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
> On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton !
> At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
> To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
> And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
> Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
> The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
> The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
> So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
> Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
> Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
> Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS,
> not Happy Holiday!
> Please, all Christians join together and
> wish everyone you meet
> MERRY CHRISTMAS!
> Christ is The Reason for the Christ-mas Season!
> If you agree please forward, if not, simply delete.
I've always been a big believer in physiognomy*. I cannot prove it scientifically, nor do I believe it would necessarily hold up to scientific scrutiny, but it has always felt true to my experience of people. People who look nice usually seem to contain niceness. People who look mean usually seem to contain meanness.
I have never felt let down by this intuitive assessment tool, until Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began showing up in the news. My physiognomic response to seeing his likeness is to feel deeply warm feelings towards the man, somehow seeing in the contours of his face a disarming humor, charm, kindness; there's just something about his look to which I respond very strongly positively. And yet I cognitively know that the man himself seems by all accounts to be a pretty bad man. Whether its his alleged nuclear weapon ambitions, his arguable election tampering, his brutal crackdowns on his people, his baffling denials of things like homosexuality and the Holocaust, I find little good to say about the man. And yet even still I see a photo of him, smiling or not, and I am still deceived into feeling something warm and fuzzy.
Thank goodness I rely more on logic than feeling when it comes to decision making... and thank goodness I have few decisions I need to make related to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
*Physiognomy (from the Gk. physis meaning "nature" and gnomon meaning "judge" or "interpreter") is the assessment of a person's character or personality from his outer appearance, especially the face. The term physiognomy can also refer to the general appearance of a person, object or terrain, without reference to its implied characteristics. Wikipedia
Asked by a reporter if he supported abortion in the case of rape, Congressman Todd Akin replied with his now infamous quote:
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
In those few sentences Congressman Akin managed to offend in not just one but three very different ways:
- He implies that there are legitimate and non-legitimate rapes.
- He claims that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare.
- He doesn't seem to emphasize punishment.
And while most of the political world was quick to shun him, with even his closest allies calling for him to drop his bid for re-election, I can't help but feel annoyed by the mindlessly reactionary responses. I'm no friend to Republicans, I disagree with most of the claimed conservative values, but I am no more a friend to the Democrats and progressives when they seem unable to look at things rationally and instead seek refuge behind politically correct positions and chants.
I don't think most congressmen belong in congress, and I see no reason to think any differently of Congressman Akin, but that doesn't mean I find his statements worse than they are.
Let's take a look at Congressman Akin's offenses in turn.
Congressman Akin's statement about legitimate rapes does certainly imply there must exist illegitimate rapes. Most of the furor surrounding this quote seems to rest on this point. But while I understand that his statement could suggest the disgustingly archaic viewpoint that women invite, allow, or invent almost all of the sexual assault they report, it seems far more reasonable to imagine he meant only to exclude those who fit this last criteria. A congressman could make a statement like, "If it's a legitimate robbery then this bill will force the insurance companies to pay up." without anyone getting even remotely upset. It acknowledges the existence of the same phenomena, false reporting of a crime. His poorly phrased statement seems to be trying to address his response at the (majority of) cases where rape was not falsely claimed.
The reality is that some percentage of all reported crimes are wholly false, the alleged criminal act did not occur at all. The heinous crime of rape is not immune to this deceit. A few studies have been done to try to determine what percentage of rapes are false but to date there are no universally accepted statistics. Frequently mentioned statistics seem to range anywhere from 2% to 12%. The most common figure I've seen on sites supporting women's causes is roughly 6%. The Violence Against Women journal included a study based on a thorough review of college rape investigations and puts the number of false allegations at 5.9%, as mentioned in this blog entry of the title False Rape Allegations Are Rare. I've seen many quotes from people on the left saying exactly the same thing, that false claims of rape are "rare". "Rare" is the key word here, as they are applying it to something which they agree happens roughly 6% of the time.
The phrase "illegitimate rape" should clearly never be uttered because it offends and is taken with historical context to de-legitimize those who have been raped. But we must as honest men and women acknowledge that a small percentage of rape claims are not true, and must allow others to acknowledge this fact as well, and be able to refer to them in discussion, even when it involves charged topics like abortion. We cannot simply shout down our adversaries for poor phraseology, those are the chief argumentation tactics of the Rush Limbaughs and the Howard Sterms.
As an aside, I was stunned when I first learned that ~6% of rape accusations were wholly false. The figure is touted by women as a positive, as though the number was impressively low, which is likely because of the historical context of the public apparently believing that most rape allegations are false. But I grew up assuming that 99.9% of rape allegations were true, not comprehending that anyone could or would make up such a thing, and so for me to discover that 6% were false was shocking and vastly more than I would have ever imagined.
Pregnancies from Rapes are Rare
Congressman Akin's claim that women's bodies have some mechanism by which it can prevent unwanted fertilization of an egg is not supported by science or medicine. While many wish to see it as an evil statement, born of a desire to blame the woman should she become pregnant, such an explanation is not required. It may be plain but unremarkable ignorance.
What I find most infuriating about the anger at Todd Akin is that it suggests that all those condemning him know so very much better, and I am very sure most of them do not! Those pillorying him may assume better, may have guessed better, or may just know better how to toe the politically correct party line, but very likely most of them are no more scientifically or medically informed or grounded.
Considering first exactly what he said we find rank hypocrisy coming from many of his accusers. His claim (leaving out for a moment his incorrect explanation) is that pregnancy as a result of rape is rare. And in that he is correct if we use the definition of "rare" that all those who are most vitriolic towards Akin are. Various studies have strongly suggested that 5 - 8% of women who are raped become pregnant as a result. If we consider that many advocates for women argue that false rape accusations are rare at 6% then surely we would expect them to consider pregnancy as a result of pregnancy at 5-8% to be a similarly rare occurrence. If they did, however, this aspect of Congressman Akin's comment would not be worth mentioning. To have useful discussions and dialogue we must be consistent in our use and interpretation of language, to make language or math political is idiocy.
But let's look at his erroneous explanation of why pregnancy from rape is rare. Taken at its core his statement requires that women are less likely to become pregnant as a result of rape than consensual sex. On this point he seems proven entirely wrong, studies have only suggested the opposite. But his (and others') expectation that rape would be less likely to produce pregnancy is easily explained, logical, and almost certainly the common belief until recent studies began to show otherwise. There are many objective reasons to suspect rape would be less likely to result in pregnancy. I am sure most of his attackers are no better read on the available studies than he was. As such, lets consider not his logic, which apparently depended on only one particular doctor's viewpoint, but on the overall expectation which exists to draft most people's expectations. Included in these facts:
- Rapists often do not ejaculate. While exact numbers are hard to come by I saw some things which said that only 10% of the time was semen recoverable from rape victims, meaning the attacker did not ejaculate, withdrew before ejaculating, or wore a condom.
- Rapists use condoms as often as 10-15% of the time.
- Stress is widely believed to increase miscarriages and many have assumed stress hormones would interfere with conception, implantation, and fetal development. Rape marks the beginning of a long and horribly stressful journey back to any sort of normal.
- Rape is (generally) a single event, relatively short in duration, whereas consensual sex is more likely to be prolonged and repeated.
Taking just the above objective facts a reasonable person would conclude that pregnancy as a result of rape should occur much less often than from consensual un-protected intercourse. And if we know that the average likelihood that a woman will become pregnant as a result of unprotected consensual sex is 5% then surely many reasonable people would estimate a rape would result in pregnancy at a rate one order of magnitude less than with consensual sex.
That "reasonable" guesstimate happens to be wrong, as has been established in studies, but the conclusion was not the result of stupidity. There were, however, some key factors that were overlooked:
- Rapists more often prey on victims during their most fertile years, so the overall rate of pregnancy from one incident of intercourse within that age range is higher than 5%, making pregnancy from rape also higher.
- Unknown evolutionary forces might be at play giving aggressive males an advantage at fertilizing women. This is wildly speculative, but has been offered as one possible explanation for what otherwise seems unexpected. No studies I'm aware of support this as yet.
I don't want to discourage people from trying to understand the world in which they live using the facts available to them. We should not call the conclusions people come to nor the people themselves "stupid" as a result of a genuine attempt to figure things out as best they can. People are only stupid when they choose to ignore facts which might have otherwise altered their positions.
Todd Akin is no more nor less intelligent than most of his detractors, no more or better informed. We must be able to present him with new evidence and only deem him worthy of contempt if he fails to update his view based on superior evidence.
Punishing the Rapists
When I heard the offensive quote what offended me the most was in fact the last part of the oft repeated quote. He seems to show so little interest in the prosecution of the guilty. "I think there should be some punishment..." sounds so anemic, as though he feels forced to grudgingly acknowledge some mild punishment is expected. His statement is something I'd expect a disinterested father saying to a supermarket cashier after his child was caught with a pack of gum he didn't pay for. If I were of a mind to be outraged by my interpretation of the first part of his quote then this line would absolutely be the nail in the coffin for me. Not only does he seem to think many victims deserved what happened to them, not only does he not acknowledge the problem of further traumatizing victims and populating the planet with children born from violence, but he proves he doesn't think it's a real crime by barely conceding that any punishment is warranted. I likely am reading way too much into this portion of his statement, but in part that's my point. Others who found this quote offensive were apparently willing to give this part of his statement a pass, assuming he really meant something different, or at that this wasn't the worst of what he said, when for me it was. I have yet to hear anyone even mention this part of the quote in the discussion.
Rape is in no way to be tolerated, and I cannot fathom how our legal system permits the freeing of those who are found guilty of heinous crimes such as rape, molestation, kidnapping, murder, etc. In my view, society should be forever protected from people who have demonstrated certain criminal tendencies. Having felt the intense violation and fear that comes from being a victim of far lesser crimes, I can only begin to dimly imagine the horror one might feel as a result of this sort of sexual assault. I do not support Todd Akin or anyone espousing archaic views about women, sexuality, gender, etc. I just want to ensure that all of us can communicate about these topics, can freely discuss them without the ignorant, knee-jerk politics or political correctness that only entrenches people further in their ignorance. Only through that openness is there any hope for them or for us.
The other day a significant thing happened, the Queen of England shook hands with Northern Ireland's ex-IRA chief, during one of the Queen's gratuitous diamond jubilee events. It provided me a moment to reflect on just how little I understand about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Despite a fair bit of reading and an ability to regurgitate the basic positions and facts of both sides, what lingers in me is confusion over just what the fighting really accomplished, from inception to resolution. It feels to this ignorant and uninvolved soul like the end to hostility was more a product of collective ennui than radically reformed positions. Northern Ireland got some new autonomy, clarifications, and assurances, but the fundamental and critical question of whether or not Northern Ireland was to break off from the UK and become part of Ireland remained wholly unsettled; this issue was left for future generations to sort out. That the people of Northern Ireland should decide their fate seems inescapably logical and would have seemed inevitable, whether by this bombing-forced peace settlement or some less passionate changes in the political landscape decades from now. And if the fate of Norther Ireland is unresolved in the present in both scenarios, then was this recent conflict and its recent resolution necessary? What really was profoundly new or novel in this achieved peace?
Either way I am happy of the outcome, that normal life has returned to Northern Ireland, and that its people feel better about their lot.
Our Declaration of Independence clearly documents our unalienable rights as including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Our right to "Life" necessarily requires we have access to appropriate medical care, without which all our other rights are rendered wholly inconsequential. That our nation, so long a positive example to the world, so long basking in a level of prosperity envied by the world, has this long failed to provide adequate protections for its citizen's health is an outrage. Fortunately the Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of the universal heath care mandate mechanism, seeing it rightly as a kind of tax, one which can be collected from all its citizens. Health insurance is unique among all forms of insurance in that every citizen ultimately requires it. We may not all own houses, or cars, but we all possess the spark of life, and we all endeavor to keep it lit.
And of course on this day the voices from the right are loud and furious, many asserting as they have before that Obama and this health care law have betrayed our Founding Fathers, betrayed our foundational mandate of limited federal government, and ushered us into socialism. How conveniently they pick and choose what they see as "acceptable" federal involvement and social aid. And this is why I find their position hard to take seriously. The right accepts without question (or at least serious debate) the existence of so many large federal and social concepts whose existence our Founding Fathers did not foresee. They accept the necessity of a standing army, despite the fact that none existed in the days of the Founding Fathers. They accept the necessity of the FBI, CIA, state/locality (and federally subsidized) police and fire services. They accept the necessity of various federal and state education systems, transportation administrations, building code enforcement, vehicle and driver licensing systems. They accept (if only because they must) the Social Security and Medicare system. All of those things are relatively fine, but the notion of providing everyone with health coverage is evil, socialist, and marks the beginning of the end of America. That is absurd. If the right truly cared about the uninsured they enjoyed quite a few recent presidencies in which they could have taken some action, any action; they chose to do nothing.
Thomas Jefferson was an impressive thinker and writer, vital to our American Revolution, but I've never been quite sure how our society should remember him, how we reconcile his good with his bad. My negative knowledge of the man is limited to his most glaringly obvious, by modern standards, failings: slave ownership and sexual relations (producing children) with one slave in particular, Sally Hemmings.
Many people feel that we must forgive historical men their historical context, asking, "If slave owning was the norm at the time of the American Revolution how can we judge a man harshly for owning slaves?" The primary difficulty I have with that line of thinking is the use of the "norm" as a measuring stick. History is replete with examples of barbarous atrocities committed by those observing societal/cultural/historical norms. If any forgiveness is to be granted our collective ancestors I think it must be based not on what was normal but on what those individuals knew (or should have known) and what they themselves believed (versus what they did).
In the case of Jefferson the question becomes, what did he know and believe about slavery? Did he know (or should he have known, i.e. was the information readily available to him that) it was wrong to own another human being? In determining these matters we have the benefit of Jefferson's own words.
Here are a few examples:
"Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, or morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both." -- Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, 1816
And yet despite recognizing bigotry for what it is, he sees black people as inferior, if not by their color than by the situation they are in, as indicated by this quote:
- "For men probably of any color, but of this color we know, brought from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves, and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising young. In the mean time they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them."
And yet if it were merely their situation and not their skin color, why would he not try and assist them in elevating their situation and restoring to them the necessity of their thought, as others did and would. He elected not to.
Ultimately he wholly acknowledges the untenable nature of slavery, saying:
"Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free." -- Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, 1821
But instead of helping to hasten their expected freedom, he fought that future. And while he supported the concept of gradual emancipation, he wanted emancipation tied to deportation, to ensure that his wealth and that of the nation he helped found was not lost to the possible righteous fury of the men "We the People" kept enslaved. He states it clearly:
"...there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery]... we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. -- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia
Further, he strongly discouraged his friend and protege, Edmund Coles, from freeing his own slaves in a letter titled "Slavery and the Younger Generation". Jefferson wrote:
- "...the hour of emancipation is advancing, in the march of time. It will come; and whether brought on by the generous energy of our own minds; or by the bloody process of St Domingo [slave revolt], excited and conducted by the power of our present enemy, if once stationed permanently within our Country, and offering asylum & arms to the oppressed, is a leaf of our history not yet turned over."
Coles, unlike Jefferson, freed his slaves, taking them to present-day Illinois, a free territory, and giving each head of household 160 acres of land. Coles even provided many employment to ensure their transition into freedom was successful. Jefferson could have done this as well, but he chose not to.
And despite Jefferson clearly preferring and planning for a Whites-only nation, and writing about the evils of mixed-race marriages (miscegenation) with words such as, "Their amalgamation with the other color produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent." Jefferson engaged in at least one prolonged relationship with a slave, and produced mixed-race children (perhaps as many as six).
And one must not consider his relationship with Sally Hemmings, nor any other female slave, to have been anything less than a form of rape. How can property "consent"? How can a woman who has been "rendered as incapable as [a child]" (his words about black people) consent? She may not have fought his advances, may even have encouraged his advances, but at no time did she have the freedom to do much else.
Jefferson kept hundreds as slaves, and counted very much among them were his lover and his many children; not even upon his death were they freed. He sought in death as he did in life to ensure that this nation would not quickly release its claim to their bodies and their souls.
And yet most modern folk forgive Jefferson entirely, dismiss his ownership of fellow humans as normal for the times, making him no less worthy of celebration and praise. And I can't help but wonder, if these people are willing to forgive a man willfully ignoring his informed conscience, his own avowed principles, even to the point of bearing children with a slave and keeping those children in bondage, what then would cause a figure like Jefferson to lose respect? I can imagine few things worse than slavery and rape. Would he have needed to rape a child for his legacy to be seriously tainted? Likely that would not do it either as there is a good chance he did rape a child, at least in the context of our current view on such matters. His relationship with Sally Hemmings began when he was 37 and she was somewhere between 14 and 17. She was sent to Paris (as companion to his daughter) at 14 and was pregnant with his child at 17.
And so I suppose little would, could, or has diminished Jefferson in our nation's eyes, and that makes me uncomfortable, less for the past than for our present crop of popular sinners who should feel emboldened, knowing their own legacies will be similarly forgiven.