Friday, October 26, 2012

Planning for the election

Am I the only one desperate to put this election behind us?  Just imagine ... we'll be able to watch a YouTube video without getting interrupted by attack ads.  We'll be able to log into Facebook without seeing dozens of memes making fun of things we or other people believe.  We'll probably even be able to find other things to talk about besides politics!

You guys, it's gonna be great.

Meanwhile, I have to get ready.  Would you believe, I've never voted in an actual poll in a major election?  I always voted absentee before.  I first walked into a poll to vote for the Republican primary a few months ago.  Now what I know what our polling location looks like.  On the other hand, we were the only people there.  I imagine presidential elections are a lot more crowded!

A big problem with elections is that most people really do think of it as "the presidential election."  But in most areas, there will be several other things on the ballot.  Do you know what yours will contain?  I found a list of the people and issues I'll be voting on here.  Check yours so you're not caught flatfooted!

 Here in Virginia's Sixth District, we will be voting for one Senator, one Representative, and two ballot initiatives.  For senator, we can choose between George Allen and Tim Kaine.  For Representative, we can choose the incumbent, Bob Goodlatte, or the challenger, Andy Schmookler.  Our first ballot initiative is about limiting eminent domain.  Currently, the government may seize our property not only for public use, but to give to corporations in order to "stimulate the economy."  The referendum will limit the use of eminent domain to seizures for public use only.  The second initiative will let the state legislature delay opening its session for a week in case their usual first week contains a holiday.

The first initiative, I'll be voting yes on.  I think it's unfair to seize property from one individual and give it to another one with more money.  In fact I don't care much for eminent domain at all, though I do see the point where it comes to roads, for instance.  The second initiative isn't at all important to me, but if the state legislature wants holidays off, I see no reason to say no.

The senator and representative are tougher to choose.  I've been reading through their websites for days.  I don't just want to vote along party lines -- mainly because neither party represents me at all -- but the candidates appear that they do just vote along party lines.  Other than their party, there is very little to distinguish them.  One has rhetoric that will appeal to liberals, the other rhetoric that will appeal to conservatives.  So when one says, "The environment is Virginia's most precious resource," I nod my head and say, "Yes, definitely.  So I should vote for this guy."  But then the other says, "I want to make it easier to start up a small business and put Virginians back to work," and I say, "Oh, never mind.  Work is important too!   I should vote for him!"

George Allen seems like a nice guy.  But what in the world do I have to go on besides the fact that the rhetoric he uses appeal to me?  Sure, I check everyone's voting record at On the Issues.  But there are so many issues.  I watched a debate between Schmookler and Goodlatte and I seriously changed who I was favoring every time someone's time limit ended!  They both sound so intelligent, so sympathetic to my concerns, so willing to do the right thing!

And when it comes down to it, it doesn't even matter what they think or whether they seem like nice guys.  In reality, the only thing that matters is how they vote.  And I know how things work in the legislature.  No one says, "This law was defeated because Senator X doesn't believe in Y issue."  They say, "Well, this year the Democrats will get everything they want because they hold a majority in both houses."  It doesn't matter who the individual legislator is.  They all vote along party lines almost all the time.  This is why I was told that, even as a single-issue voter, I couldn't vote for a pro-life Democrat because he'd vote along party lines anyway.  It was better to vote for a pro-choice Republican because he could be counted on to vote where he was told to.

This, of course, killed any hope the pro-life movement had, because as soon as you vote for people regardless of whether they support your issue, you remove any incentive for them to support your issue.

There's just so much going into it, you know?  On the one hand, I want to vote for those who say things I agree with and not vote for those who don't, because I want to encourage them to say those things.  But that's no good if it doesn't match their voting record.  And I want to withhold my vote from anyone who supports one of my dealbreakers -- like abortion or unjust war -- but they ALL do that.  Every candidate supports at least one thing which I consider unconscionable.

The reason for this, of course, is that they vote along party lines, and no party stands for me.  This one supports killing unborn babies; that one supports killing unarmed Iranians.  This one says we aren't even going to bother fixing the deficit until the economy recovers (and it won't if they go on this way); that one says we should be worried about the deficit but is constantly voting for more expenditures.  This one voted for the PATRIOT act, that one voted for TARP.

It is possible that some candidates of a given party are better than others.  I know there are pro-liberty candidates up for election -- but are any of them in Virginia?  I don't know; I don't know how to find out.  I do know Bob Goodlatte co-sponsored SOPA, a very anti-liberty move if you ask me.  But I only know because John told me.  It's not like he says so on his website.

I consoled myself in the presidential elections with the knowledge that the president doesn't make law.  But you know who does?  Legislators.  And they're just as bad.  I'm finding this choice is even harder than choosing whom to choose for president -- because there are fewer options and less information available.

Yet my choice could make a difference.  I believe both of these elections are tossups.  What if I vote for Goodlatte and he helps pass some awful internet-censorship law?  Or what if I vote Schmookler and he helps run us into economic collapse?  As far as abortion goes, how do I know which choice will result in fewer abortions?  That's not a trick question.  Of course the Republican might vote for some abortion restrictions.  But will it prevent total abortions?  For instance, the partial-birth abortion ban didn't prevent a single abortion.  It just caused abortionists to choose other methods.  It's a way for legislators to gain pro-life cred and for voters to feel that they really made some progress by preventing a particularly nasty way of killing babies.

Meanwhile, Democrats are constantly insisting that the only way to reduce abortions is by making sure there is enough help available that mothers will never need an abortion.  Which sounds great except that women do still get abortions for non-economic reasons, and anyway, I'm not sure it's actually possible to provide so much aid that being a single mother won't be a financial burden anymore.  Considering the sheer number of single mothers, if all of them are on welfare, who will pay into the system?  But if they aren't all on welfare, that means every single mother has to do two jobs, all the parenting plus all the wage-earning.  Free daycare might help, but it doesn't solve the problem.  All the same, I'm sure more help might reduce the number of abortions, which is something the Republicans haven't managed to do in all this time.

On a third hand, if better economic conditions would help prevent abortions, hadn't we better try to fix the whole economic system rather than do a patch job?  And to do that, won't we need to balance the budget, end the Fed, and have a stable currency?  And neither party wants to do that.

I don't want to be one of those people who walks into the poll only thinking of their presidential choice, and they pick random candidates for the other offices, based on their party affiliation or even the sound of their name.  If I am uninformed, I won't vote.  It's that simple.  Unless I have some clear idea of who would be better, it is unfair to the other voters to walk into that poll and skew the numbers by voting based on a hunch, a prejudice, or a poorly-researched opinion.

But I really could make a difference and I really do want to vote.  The problem is, the current situation makes it very difficult to know whom to choose.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Zombie tomatoes

I have had excellent yield from my tomato plants this year. At least the first part of the summer, I did. But something weird happened after the first flush of tomatoes. First, I was getting split tomatoes, so I harvested them green and ripened them indoors. Then the green tomatoes started to get brown spots and rot before they ever ripened. The vines slowly died, but they kept bearing rotten tomatoes. A nearby friend had the same issue: a large patch of what appeared to be dead tomato plants, endlessly bearing rotten tomatoes.

My first thought is some kind of deficiency. The tomato bed was unamended; it was lawn until this year. But then it might also be some kind of disease.

Anyway, when life gives you green tomatoes beginning to go brown, you can just sauce them. I did six pints, and am quite proud of my yield, even though I would have preferred red sauce.

What you do is saute an onion in some olive oil until translucent, then add your chopped green tomatoes. No need to peel them unless you want to. The tomatoes should release enough juice to slowly turn into sauce - you'll need to simmer for a few hours. Then add some garlic, cumin, jalapenos (or Tabasco), and plenty of salt. You can make it as spicy as you like; just keep tasting it. Cook awhile longer and blend or mush it up. You can pressure can it or just keep in the fridge.

It's good on enchiladas, empanadas, white chili, corn chips - really anywhere you use salsa.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Parenting through play

I was going through my drafts today (I should do this more often!) and found this old post from almost a year ago.  I'm not sure what more I thought it needed before posting, so I'll just post it as-is.

Last month, the natural parenting carnival topic was "parenting through play." I was so excited about it, because I've been learning a ton about this topic lately! But I was tired, we went camping, and the time just got away from me. So I decided to go ahead and write the post anyway, because I have some interesting things to share.

Usually, when I hear about toddler discipline, the big complaint is, "He makes everything into a game!" And the advice is to be very serious so they know you're not playing. That hasn't been very successful for us, to understand things. This kid thinks getting a spanking is hilarious. He loves seeing that what he does has a predictable effect, and he'll keep on doing whatever thing it is, just to get that interesting reaction -- even if the reaction is something you'd think he wouldn't like.

So what I've been doing lately is working with, and not against, his desire to make everything a game. He loves to learn things with a game -- like "guess that letter" and "open and shut the cupboard a million times" and "wow, if I spin the toilet paper, it unrolls" ... you know, the classics. I figured it might be helpful to teach him things like, "When Mama says sit, you sit" and "When Mama says stop, you stop" through games.

I think I've mentioned before that we have a big problem with this kid climbing on chairs and standing on them. He loves to do it, but it puts him in range of all kinds of forbidden stuff, plus he might tip over. So I was trying to teach him to sit on chairs. I would say, "Sit!" and he would laugh hysterically and say, "Stand!"

I know that looks like defiance. But I thought about it, and thought that maybe what he was thinking was more along the lines of, "Silly Mama. I'm not sitting. I'm standing!" He just didn't know what to make of a command. So I started to come over and sit him down, saying, "Sit," every time he stood up on a chair. He now understands that he's supposed to sit! However, he enjoys that game so much that he stands right back up again so that I'll make him sit again. He's learned the skill, but I don't actually want to play sit-and-stand on a teetering chair all day. So part II of the game is that if he stands up again, he has to get down. And then I chase him away from the chair, and he runs around laughing. I move the game away from the chair and to something that isn't dangerous. I don't want standing on chairs to be a game. Luckily, it does seem to have worked -- he knows he has to sit if he wants to stay on the chair (which he loves to do) but if he wants to play, he can get down from the chair and I will play with him.

Another big one is the "stop-go" game. We need to play it again, I think, because he may have forgotten all about it. It's just a very simple way to teach the meaning of the word "stop." He loves to walk on the street, and I mean loves. And he also loves to push the stroller. But with my hands on the stroller handles, he has to stop and go when I say. So that was an easy way to teach him. We would be going along, saying "go-go-go," and then I would say "stop!" and stop short. After a few seconds, it's back to "go-go-go." Later he learned "run" and "walk" as options, too, and he mostly does the one I ask for.

The big trick in making these games work, and not turning them into other games (i.e. "let's do the opposite of what Mama says, that's hilarious!") is to laugh hysterically every time he does the right thing, and to have no reaction at all to the wrong thing. If the wrong thing happens too much, we stop the game and I go do something else. And if he keeps doing something I won't allow him to do, even when I'm not playing with him, I take him into another room and distract him with a different game.

This post was really neat to come across because I've been feeling frustrated.  Why doesn't Marko listen when I tell him to do things?  Why is he so badly behaved?  But when I look backwards, I realize I've taught him loads of things.  He knows not to climb on specific things (some things are allowed now that he is a good climber).  He knows to hold my hand in the parking lot and the street.  He knows not to open the gate and wander out of the yard, even though he can now do so.  He knows what things are unsafe (knives, hot ovens, etc.) and avoids them.  If he finds a knife that's left in his reach, he handles it carefully and brings it straight to me.  If he does something dangerous, all I have to do is yell for him in a scared voice and hold out my arms, and he freezes and comes running to me.

He hasn't learned any of these things by being punished.  Not that there are never any consequences for things, because there are.  If he's driving me totally nuts, sometimes I put him in his room by himself for awhile.  However, I am realizing that he never seems to learn anything from this.  Those things that have gotten him sent to his room over and over, he still does.  Those things that I explained to him, or practiced with him, or made into a game, he knows.

I can't believe I was once afraid I would never be able to keep my child safe without spanking him.  Now I wonder why I ever thought that would help.  And I feel very, very proud of him just now.  Yesterday, we went to the store as usual, and I had Michael in the sling as usual.  I've worried in the past what I would do when Michael got too big to carry (as he's rapidly approaching that point -- he's over 20 pounds!) and had to ride in the cart.  How would I trust Marko to behave himself if he isn't buckled into the cart?  Well, today he didn't feel like getting in the cart right away, so I decided to let him walk beside me.  Not only did he not get into things, knock down displays, or run wild through the store -- he actually was really helpful finding things and loading them into the cart!

I've been feeling like I must be an awful mother, but now I'm realizing I may just be too close to things to see clearly.  I've made a ton of progress.  And I have two happy, relatively well-behaved kids.  I must not be a total failure after all!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What I learned from dystopian fiction

So The Hunger Games has given me a taste for dystopias.  I've read a few before; they can be dark, but I love what they say about human nature, politics, and the dangers for humanity on every side.  Each creates a universe where the bad guys, as the author conceives of them, have won -- and so they show who those bad guys are, how they might win, and what we had better be very careful not to give up.

My examples are 1984, Brave New World, The Giver, The Hunger Games, Matched, and A Handmaid's Tale.

1.  You can make a dystopia out of almost any philosophy.  You can make communist ones (1984) or consumerist ones (Brave New World, The Hunger Games).  Utilitarianism, a fairly harmless-seeming ethical system, gives rise to The Giver and Matched.  And A Handmaid's Tale is fundamentalist Christian.  (Not very good Christians, you discover eventually.)  I am not sure you could manage a libertarian dystopia, since after all freedom is the one thing you can't allow in a dystopia.

I think the thing to remember here is that anything, if forced on the unwilling, could become a nightmare.

2.  As inconvenient and full of pitfalls as the family is, there just is no other good basis for society than marriage, marriage which is contracted freely, involves love, and begets children.  The dystopias where this ideal is strayed from are the most frightening ones.

3.  We are never more than a few steps from dystopia ourselves.  This bit from A Handmaid's Tale made me stop dead:

You had to take those pieces of paper [paper money] with you when you went shopping, though by the time I was nine or ten most people used plastic cards. . . . I guess that was how they were able to do it, in the way they did, all at once, without anyone knowing beforehand.  If there had still been portable money, it would have been more difficult.

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency.  They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.

Keep calm, they said on television.  Everything is under control. . . .

That was when they suspended the Constitution.  They said it would be temporary.  There wasn't even any rioting in the streets.  People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction.  There wasn't even an enemy you could put your finger on. . . . Newspapers were censored and some were closed down, for security reasons they said.  The roadblocks began to appear, and Identipasses.  Everyone approved of that, since it was obvious you couldn't be too careful.

Can you believe that was written in 1986?

4.  A person is a person is a person.  Any philosophy that tries to get around this, to suggest that some persons aren't really persons, or that some persons must be sacrificed for the good of other persons, ought to be highly suspect.

5.  Freedom is absolutely necessary to our nature.  Without freedom, nothing we do is meaningful.  Freedom includes the ability to make mistakes.  Any free society will have flaws and even crimes; any system that attempts to rid us of any flaws will end up infringing inexcusably on freedom.

6.  It is frighteningly easy to subvert a democracy.  It is incredibly difficult to overthrow tyranny.

7.  A tyrannical government need not monitor every aspect of your life (though of course it's scarier if they do).  All they have to do is motivate you, either with love or with fear.  If you love your family, you won't want to make a fuss for fear the rulers will take it out on them.  And if there is something you fear, you won't take the slightest risk.  They don't need a camera on every street corner, if they can give you the idea that anyone you talk to might be a mole.

Or there are drugs and hypnosis.  They can do that, too.

8.  Growing your own food is incredibly subversive.  In at least two of these books, growing your own food is explicitly banned.  Why?  Matched explains, "It's forbidden to grow food unless the Government has specifically requested it.  They control the food; they control us.  Some people know how to grow food, some know how to harvest it, some now how to process it; others know how to cook it.  But none of us know how to do all of it.  We could never survive on our own."

That makes me feel even prouder of my bedraggled tomatoes.

9.  There is no such thing as a perfect society.  Every single society you could create, even if you had the freedom to build one absolutely from scratch, would have problems.  "The greatest good for the greatest number" is pretty impossible.  On the one hand, humans are too limited to figure out what this would be; and on the other, the only way to do it would involve cruelty or injustice to some segment of the population.  Our political philosophy must always keep this fact in mind: the best we can do is give people the ability to pursue their happiness.  There is absolutely no way we can guarantee that everyone will achieve it.

10.  There is something indomitable about the human spirit.  Suppress it in one area; it pops up somewhere else.  Deprive it of freedom; it will fight until it regains it.  Even if tyranny is never overthrown, people discover that they are still free if they can make even the tiniest choices, even just thinking subversive thoughts is enough to maintain their dignity.  And that is what people everywhere have done, in the face of overwhelming force: they keep their hearts and minds free.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Two things

1.  My computer is all busted and that is my current excuse for the no posting.  Those of my acquaintance who are good with computers are unsure whether it can be revived ... or whether all the files can be saved.  3,000 or so pictures of Marko and 5 years of writing are at stake.  I am very anxious about this.

So now I'm reduced to using John's computer.  Isn't it funny that it used to be enough for a family to own one computer, and now everyone is so used to having their own?  If we can't fix my computer, I'm kind of thinking we won't replace it.  But maybe a netbook ....?

2.  I recently finished The Hunger Games.  Yes, it is just as good as everyone says, but no, I'm not going to tell you anything else about it.  I've been plugging my ears when anyone talks about it for months, so I didn't spoil it for myself while I waited for it to become available at the library.  I wouldn't even read the back of the book.

Anyway, it was wonderful wonderful wonderful, really drew me in, made me think, etc., but now I'm in that slack zone where all you want is another book like the one you just read.  Any recommendations?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Book Review: Tiger Mother and Home Alone America

What I do these days at the library is breeze past my favorite shelves in the adult non-fiction section, grab what looks appealing, and then let myself be dragged to "where the toys are," as Marko puts it.  I steal a glace at the YA section to see if the next book of the Hunger Games is in (it isn't) and then I plop in the play area and leaf through my books to decide what to check out.  My "sections" of the non-fiction are gardening, farming, babies, homeschooling, families, and miscellaneous parenting stuff.

This week's picks were Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Home Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Daycare, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes.  So, one about overparenting and one about underparenting.

Tiger Mother surprised me.  I was prepared to hate it, because I can clearly see that tiger mothering is about as un-me as it's possible to be.  100 math worksheets after school?  Three hours of violin practice?  I refuse to even teach my son his letters, because I want him to work on normal toddler skills first and I believe there's plenty of time for him to learn to read.  (I could read at four, as most of my siblings have ... and honestly, it's no great shakes.  Just two more years of reading books instead of having them read to me.)

But instead, the book was astonishingly humble.  The tone I got from Amy Chua was, "Well, I thought this was the way to go ... but it didn't really work all that well ... and look how crazy I got about it ... well, what do I know?"

For me, it was mainly a lesson in "what not to do."  Chua pushed her daughters into music, where they both excelled.  The one just plugged along and did well, without a whole lot of pushing needed (though she got it anyway).  The other, though ... she fought the whole project, kicking and screaming, her whole childhood.  She was brilliant, and ended up being a prodigy on the violin.  It seemed she really loved it.  But she eventually put her foot down and refused to keep up with it.  One of her final words in the book is, "You ruined the violin for me."  And from what Chua writes in her book, it seems she really did kill her daughter's joy in the violin -- after all those years of getting her good enough at it to love it.  Chua is honest enough that you can clearly see where she went wrong ... the fights that she insisted on winning, where the only winning strategy would have been to let her daughter win.

I don't believe, as you know, in going head-to-head with a stubborn child.  I say this, but isn't it usually the case that a stubborn child comes from stubborn parents?  Right now I am trying, and trying, and trying to potty-train Marko.  I could give up, but he refuses to give up.  So I stick with it, but it's such a careful balancing act.  If I don't remind him, he forgets.  If I push too hard, he digs in his heels.  I have never worked so hard to gently influence this child in my life  And yet my own stubbornness pops up again and again, and I shriek, "NO!  Not on the floor!  In the potty!  You have to go in the POTTY!"  The second I do it, I know I've made a big mistake.  And I'm right ... he refuses to sit on that potty for the rest of the day, and every time I turn around he's ripping off whatever protective clothing I've put him in.

If you are blessed with a child like that, all you can do is love them and work with them.  Have you ever tried to swim across a river?  If you battle the current, you're just going to end up with a faceful of water.  If you don't battle the current, you'll be swept out to sea.  The only option is to move across it, angling toward shore, so that you're always working with the current and not against it.  That's the way it is with a child like Lulu Chua (or like Marko).

That is my conclusion from the book.  Amy Chua's is a little different.  She says, in short, "Well, I might not have been the best mom ever, but at least my children are successful."  And yet, I think the main problem is that she never seems to give any reflection to her definition of success.  Her children are successful because they get straight A's, are musical prodigies, and get into good colleges.  She considers herself successful because she went to Harvard and eventually became a law professor at Yale.  And yet she admits that her first interview at Yale, she was so overwhelmed with anxiety that she became too tongue-tied to make a good impression.  She also admits that she went into law for no particular reason, because it seemed like a good subject to choose, but found herself with no enthusiasm for it and no particular ideas for papers.  Meanwhile her husband, also a Yale professor but raised by a much more laissez-faire system, loves law and writes 100-page legal papers for fun.  One doesn't get the impression that Chua does anything for fun, ever.  That just doesn't fit my definition of success.  I want my children to find out what they love, and do that.  You don't need a pushy tiger mother to tell you to practice violin for three hours if you love it so much there's nothing you'd rather do.  I think part of why I'm so happy with my life is that I've determined that there is nothing I'd rather do.  I don't have to be the best at it, or win the most accolades.  I love it; it's its own reward.

The other book I read, Home Alone America, was more scholarly.  What it lacked in eloquence, it made up for with statistics.  The basic thesis: we've justified spending less and less time with our kids, whether because of divorce or because of double incomes, on the grounds that our kids were all right -- only they're not all right.

Overall I agreed.  The chapters about aggressiveness in daycare, behavioral drugs in school, sex, divorce, and boarding schools were all pretty impressive, building a strong connection between how much time kids get to spend with their parents and how well they do.  The focus was mainly not on how kids turn out when they grow up, but whether they are happy and successful as children.  There were two sections I had reservations about, though: the section on mental illness and the one on obesity.  For obesity, yes, I can clearly see that children who are home alone all afternoon will be eating more junk and playing outside less than children whose parents are home.  But blaming the entire obesity epidemic on that fact is a bit much, considering we are also given very suspect dietary advice, and considering the many unhealthy foods that we are led to believe are good for kids (take breakfast cereal, for instance).  And in the mental illness section, I can see how kids with a tendency to ADHD would do better with a parent around during the day than otherwise ... but the author gives absolutely no evidence for her suggestion that absent parents are to blame for the autism epidemic.

The section on punitive boarding schools for "troubled" teens was fascinating to me.  It also made me think that maybe I've complained too much about my own experiences ... as bad as they were, there apparently are lots of kids who have it way worse.  Apparently these schools are becoming more and more popular -- increasing tenfold in the last ten years.  Many are in foreign countries to avoid government scrutiny.  And their methods are so abusive they have (as our school has) forums full of angry adult graduates, even while parents give glowing testimonials on the school's website.  Eerie.

Another thing I found a little iffy about it is that the author goes on and on and on about how bad daycare is for kids under five, and how bad after-school care is for kids over six, and how bad boarding school is for teenagers ... but she never mentions school itself as a problem.  Her own children, she mentions, are in school or she wouldn't have time to write this book.  But what magical thing happens at six to make kids magically ready for a six-hour separation from their parents?  As she mentions, being in foreign territory with groups of other kids is a stressor ... are we sure that much stress is good for kids?  I suppose there is no method to study this, though -- homeschooled kids are such a minority.  If all schooled children had the same illness, we would assume it was just a feature of being a child.

One thing she says, though, is definitely true: it's a bit taboo to talk about this stuff.  Since many mothers don't have a choice about leaving home to work, and since many couples really can't seem to stay together (even if one partner may be trying their hardest), no one wants to hear that daycare or divorce are bad for kids.  This is especially true when so many adults have been raised this way themselves, and take it for the norm.  However, she writes, if there's really no choice, there's no need to feel guilty because it isn't our fault.  Her book is to urge those who do have a choice to stay with their kids, not just for the sake of their own kids, but because society as a whole benefits from having more adults around where the kids are, keeping an eye on things.  It's definitely an idea I can get behind.

In the end, both of these books left me feeling like I'm doing the right thing.  Not battling Marko tooth and nail may mean he'll never be a concert violinist, but perhaps it won't stop us from getting along well.  And staying home to be with my children really is a valuable job, even if not everyone in society appreciates it.

Now if only my hold on Catching Fire would come in ...

Catholics and healthcare

I miss the days when I could go to Mass and never hear a word about politics.  Here in the diocese of Arlington, the priests aren't shy about preaching on abortion, birth control, divorce, homosexuality, or whatever hot-button issue other priests avoid, but they did use to try to steer around politics.

Alas, those days are no more.  For several months now, we get the healthcare mandate preached about every Sunday.  Sometimes it's also in the petitions.  It does no one any harm, but it also doesn't do any good either.  After all, the Affordable Care Act isn't up for a vote.  It's law now.  And Joe Pewsitter is, on average, against it already.  So they're kind of preaching to the choir.

The one bit of harm it does, though, is breed panic.  I guess I'm a little removed from that level of panic, because I don't obsess over the healthcare bill on a regular basis and I don't have a lot of friends who do either.  But apparently there's a lot of panic going around.  On this Simcha Fisher article (if you don't read Simcha, you should), there are so many comments admitting that the writer is scared, worried, terrified .... convinced that this healthcare bill is going to send us all back to the catacombs.  The question on everyone's minds is, "Will we give in to this law and risk eternal damnation, or will we refuse and go singing to the scaffold?"

Um.  I know that martyrdom is always a possibility.  And there are so many unjust laws in our country nowadays that you can barely count them.  But I don't think this healthcare bill is going to put us over the edge.

First off, I just plain don't think it's immoral to pay for insurance that covers birth control.  As far as I know, individuals have been doing so for some time, we just generally don't know about it because few people really know what our insurance covers.

Let me explain.  Our Catholic faith forbids using contraception.  It also forbids participating with another's sin.  The Catechism, at #1868, says, "We have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
- by protecting evil-doers."

There is a difference between material cooperation and formal cooperation.  Material cooperation is when we supply some assistance to someone who is doing something evil, but without intending them to do the evil deed or approving of it.  For instance, if I hire a man to mow my lawn, and give him $100, and he uses that $100 to buy ammo for his gun so he can shoot his wife, I did help him to shoot his wife.  But it's in a remote sense, because I didn't want him to shoot his wife.  Formal cooperation is when we supply assistance specifically so someone can do an evil deed; for instance, if I bought the ammo for the man and said, "Here.  I know you and your wife aren't getting along.  Go ahead and shoot her."  Since we approve of and intend his evil deed, we share responsibility for it.

As far as I can see, supplying health insurance which happens to cover contraception is material cooperation, and very remote material cooperation, i.e. there are many intermediaries between us and the sin.  It's as if we pay our employees a paycheck, and they go and spend it on birth control.  We can't stop them from doing that, even though we disapprove of it.  It seems to me conscience would be served simply by saying, "Dear employee, your insurance coverage includes contraception.  Contraception is sinful for these reasons, so please don't use this coverage."  If they use it, that's not on you -- that's on them.

Another important factor is that our cooperation is not voluntary.  Instead, it's mandated by law.  In this way it's similar to paying taxes, even though some of that tax money goes for birth control or abortion.  We pay our taxes, but we also turn around and advocate for an end to these practices.  And I believe that's what we should do in this case.  On the one hand, comply, because it is the law and because it is not actually sinful for us to comply.  On the other hand, advocate strongly for an end to this law.

My second reason not to worry is that it seems to me there are other options.  What about healthcare sharing ministries?  These are cooperative groups that pay for each other's medical bills.  People who participate in one of these are exempt from the individual mandate to buy insurance.  If you are concerned about the healthcare bill, this might be something to look into.  The downside is that two of the three organizations I know of, Samaritan Ministries and Christian Care Ministry, require you to sign onto a belief statement which includes a faith-alone clause, so it seems to me a Catholic couldn't join.  The third,  Christian Healthcare Ministries, has no such requirement.  I think, though, that it might be very worth someone's while to make a version like this for Catholics.  You'd need someone with a bit of startup money, which is why I didn't start it this last weekend out of my house.  But I keep trying to plant this idea around so that a rich person takes it up.  There are enough upset Catholics and bishops that it seems the network would take off in a hurry.

More about healthcare sharing ministries:

Healthcare sharing ministry (USA Today article)
Alliance of Healthcare Sharing Ministries
Christian Care Ministry Medi-Share program

In any event, I don't think we have to be singing on the way to the scaffold just yet.  Instead, let's do what we always do: preach the Gospel in and out of season, be salt and light, be in the world and not of it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Some more links

Yeah, I know.  I'm a terrible blogger.  Not only have I not been posting, but I left comments sitting for about a week before replying!  I'm not sure why I've been so absent.  Time has just been passing so incredibly fast.  I think it must be because I'm busy.  But busy doing what?  Just building tinkertoy airplanes, cleaning up messes, and washing all of Marko's pants daily?  Yeah, maybe that's it.

I still have no time for a "real" post, but here are some excellent links I've been reading.  That should give you a sense of what's been on my mind: all but one are political.  But heck, it's October.  The only reason anyone isn't thinking of politics is because they're actively trying to ignore it.  (Which is awfully tempting.  If I see another political ad during Marko's nightly YouTube music video watching (yeah, I know, not healthy, but it WORKS and he goes to sleep, unless of course Robomney are there yammering on about the economy, in which case he snaps awake and starts to whine) I swear I won't for either of them!  Haha.

Obama vs. Romney Immigration Reform: Why Immigrants Make America Stronger, Not Weaker
"In an article on FactCheck.Org Viveca Novak goes even further, reporting that countless studies show "immigrants grow the economy, expanding demand for goods and services that the foreign-born workers and their families consume, and thereby creating jobs." What is more, Novak suggests that economists have found strong evidence that immigrants as a whole "increase average wages for American-born workers." Simply because our economy is in shambles and jobs scarce does not mean we should jump to the conclusion that illegal immigrants are in any way adding to the problem."
I'm for immigration.  Of course, because illegal immigration causes all kinds of problems, like a lack of security and injustice for "invisible people" who are afraid to go to the police if they're exploited, it has to be legal immigration.  But you know why people are so bound and determined to sneak in illegally?  That's right ... because it's so dang difficult to do legally.  It's awfully hypocritical for current Americans, who obviously are all (except the Native Americans) immigrants, to refuse entry to more immigrants.  Immigrants made this country great.  And anyway, if we keep not having babies, we NEED immigrants to keep ourselves afloat.

The End of Debate As We Know It?
"We are approaching — and may already have arrived at — a point when debate is useless because the terms of the debate have no common reference point in reality. Words like “rich”, “poor”, “middle class”, “ally”, “tax”, “family values”, and, most pointedly, “freedom” have red definitions and blue definitions.  No debate is possible about where we should turn when there is no agreement on where we are and where we need to go. We no longer argue for our proposed solution, we merely advocate for our reality." 
 Do you get this sensation when you're arguing with someone of the opposite political position as you?  That sense that you guys are both using the same words but meaning absolutely different things?  One thing that would help to combat this is to make more friends, and read more blogs, that disagree with you.  I mean disagree with you drastically.  And at the same time, make sure they are people you respect.  On the one hand, they can help explain to you what they mean when using those words.  And on the other, you will be forced to admit that it is possible to be a good person and disagree with you.

Dear Congressman Ryan
"So if it’s true that you want to help the poor in accordance with the infallible and authentic social teachings of the Catholic Church, then why don’t you come to the assistance of the poor  — not by proposing big new government programs, but by demanding that the government stop persecuting the poor? Why not harness the entrepreneurial aspirations of low income people so they can create their own jobs?"
 This article is amazing.  First off, it calls Ryan on his lack of care for the poor (he's something of a Randian).  And then it points out all the ways the Republican party doesn't care about the poor.  Not that they're against a ton of programs -- that's fine.  But if they don't want to keep the programs, they will instead have to get rid of the dozens and dozens of laws that discriminate against the poor and make it easier for them to run a drug ring than a roadside hotdog stand.  If they do neither one, the only other option is to let poor people starve to death ... which, as this article points out, is just plain un-Catholic.

An Invitation.  Because I Love You.
"You know when you eat something fantastic or see something wonderful, you can't wait to tell everyone about it?  You feel sad that anyone is going through life without having eaten that fantastic food or seeing that wonderful thing?  And you want to say "I know you've been eating margarine and margarine is fine, but trust me.  Butter is the thing.  You've GOT to try butter.  Once you try butter you'll never, ever, ever go back to margarine.  Trust me!".  That's how I feel about the Church.  The Church is my butter.  Delicious, glorious, life-changing butter."
 Do you read Dwija?  You should read Dwija.  She is awesome.  This is the sole non-political article today.  I'd like to extend her invitation as well: if you have the slightest interest, the Catholic Church does have a neat little program (RCIA) that you can go to with zero commitment to find out more.  Find out when it is at your local parish and just show up.  Or ask a Catholic friend to bring you.  Ask me, if you're nearby.  Because Catholicism is like butter; you can't just let people go on eating margarine without anyone ever telling them that butter is available too.

Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama
 "Is anyone looking beyond 2012?

The future I hope for, where these actions are deal-breakers in at least one party (I don't care which), requires some beginning, some small number of voters to say, "These things I cannot support."

Are these issues important enough to justify a stand like that?

I think so."

 Lately most of the third-party articles you read are by conservatives.  So I keep hearing that third-party voters are "stealing votes from Romney" and that they are too conservative for the Republican Party.  Actually, liberty is an issue far beyond left and right.  The left wants to control you in one way; the right in another.  Most of us would really rather not be controlled, and so when we vote right or left, it's only as a concession.  I wonder what would happen if everyone who wanted liberty actually voted for it.  Could we make a change?

In other news, I took captchas off the comment box.  (At least I meant to; please tell me if they keep appearing because I can't tell.)  So if you've been longing to comment but can't figure out the captchas (as apparently my parents have been), here's your chance.  Go ahead and comment wherever you want.  I'll just delete spam manually if I get any.  Oh, and it's fine to comment on centuries-old posts -- I still see those comments and respond to them!

ETA: Forgot to post these two!

Marriage: America's Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty
A ton of facts and studies that support what I've been saying recently -- having married parents is really, really important for kids.

A collection of interviews with grown unschoolers
In case you've ever wondered, "Does unschooling really turn out happy, fulfilled people who can also hold down a job?"
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