Beginner's Heart

national humanities conference

I’m going to Birmingham tomorrow! And my posts — if I break free to make them 🙂 — will be from there for the next few days. I have the IMMENSE good fortune to be part of the Oklahoma delegation to the National Humanities Conference this year. How cool is THAT?

And to be going to Birmingham, this anniversary year, the city where so much civil rights history has been made…wow. How humbling. Speakers, sessions, activities… they all sound like the best possible history lessons. For someone whose master’s focused in part on African American literature, to get to see Nikki Giovanni, for instance… Another big WOW!

It’s Alexander Pope who said the proper study of mankind is man. I don’t think even cranky Pope would mind me being a tad more inclusive with his epigram ~ The proper study of humankind is the humanities. Medicine, history, literature, philosophy, film, scholarly research… The humanities are a rich smörgåsbord‎ of human endeavour. And I get to spend a three-day weekend immersed in them!

So check back over the next couple days. I promise you a ringside seat to what I learn.

obamacare pie chartThis is by way of good news. It’s also a counter-narrative to all the horror stories about the Affordable Care Act.Because once a journalist, always a journalist, I guess. And someone needs to put some honest facts into the conversation, so far dominated by scarey demagogues.

To the left is Jonathan Gruber’s pie graph about the Affordable Care Act’s impact. Jonathan Gruber is the MIT economist behind the architecture for both Romneycare in Massachusetts, and the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare (sometimes even affectionately). Gruber may be the one person who really understands the ACA inside & out.

If you look, you’ll notice something that will probably surprise you: only 3% of Americans are potential ‘losers’ under the ACA. Meaning, only about 3% of Americans will have to buy a more expensive (but also higher coverage) insurance plan.

I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but please bear with me. You’ll also see that 80% of Americans are pretty much unaffected by the ACA. They get to keep their current plan. Another 3% may have to buy a new plan, but it won’t be much different — in price or coverage — from their current plan. Surprised? You certainly don’t hear this much, do you?

Now here’s the real kicker: 15% of Americans who are currently uninsured will NOW be able to buy insurance coverage. Children with birth defects — pre-existing conditions — men & women with asthma, people whose insurance has lapsed, college-age children who are going to class instead of working a FT job with benefits… All of these (and many more) now will have affordable medical care reform

Why aren’t we hearing THESE stories?? Where’s the coverage of Debbie Basham or Marlane Cygler, both of whom now have health insurance? What about Richard Streeter, who may die because he couldn’t afford health care until the ACA? Or the anguish of his doctor, who had to tell this man who’d put off a colonscopy (because he couldn’t afford it) that he has advanced colon cancer? You have to WANT to find those stories: media isn’t making them easy to locate.

Digression: I was a journalist at a top-50 daily newspaper for 5 years. During that time I did everything from take copy hither & fro, to obits, to city desk, to various beats. I even won a few state prizes, and attended a couple of national conferences.

Which is by way of saying that I actually know a little about journalism. 🙂 And a little more about writing. But I do NOT know why we only hear about the 3% of Americans who are having problems with the ACA.

In Oklahoma, that figure may be higher. But it’s not the fault of either Obama or the ACA. Lay the culpability at the door of those responsible: the state ‘leaders’ who refused the Medicaid expansion. A recent Tulsa World article noted that the state’s rural hospitals are in rural hospitalsserious peril. You have to wade through the article to paragraph #38 or so before you find out what would be the biggest help to these imperiled hospitals: Rick Snyder, vice president of finance and information services for the Oklahoma Hospital Association, said the biggest single thing Oklahoma could do to help rural hospitals would be to expand Medicaid.

Why isn’t THAT bigger news? Surely a VP of the OHA is a credible source?

A follow-up editorial to last week’s article notes that more than 140,000 Oklahomans will remain uninsured because OK Governor Mary Fallin refused the federal Medicaid expansion. Oklahoma can’t afford the 10% or LESS costs that don’t even BEGIN until three years from now. But we can afford to cut taxes for the wealthy — something that has no impact whatsoever on the thousands of Oklahomans uninsured. Many of whom are women, children, the elderly. The most vulnerable of our citizens. Who will be unable to pay their bills when — not if — they require any medical care. Why isn’t THAT news??

Not to mention horror stories, like ‘the doctor shortage is because of the ACA!’ No. As Dr. Reid Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says, “the Affordable Care Act didn’t create this crisis.” Or the people who complain they now are forced to buy insurance. Well, yeah. So that the rest of us don’t finance your inability to pay your medical bills. Remember the rural hospitals going broke? You’re the reason.

Not to mention insurance companies sending out scam notices that warn clients their coverage will lapse. Where’s the coverage of this kind of hysteria-inducing fraud? Or conservative columnists making up stories just to scare people.

Here’s a quick & easy guide to all the GOOD that comes from the ACA (courtesy of my husband, the amazing Internet researcher). And don’t ask me why this information isn’t more readily available. Again, you apparently have to WANT to find it. But it IS out there, and you should go look it up yourself, just to be sure.

The ACA: Affordable Care Act

There used to be a term for the kind of journalism that didn’t bother with facts. That cared only about sold papers/ sound bites/ commercial time. Yellow… Yellow journalism. Meaning it had no real grounding in facts. It’s back in vogue, I guess. I wish people would do the research the media elides. I wish folks would take the time to find reliable — credible — sources.  I wish they wouldn’t fall for cheap sensationalism. But after years of teaching research to incoming freshmen, I’m not counting on it. 🙂  Still, we can dream…

waspI rescue wasps.  Even the big ones. Even yellow jackets. Even though a nest got in to my hair when I was a child & stung me sick.

I also brake for squirrels, mice, and anything running across the road. And I’ve been known to fish spiders out of shower stalls, various bugs out of dog dishes, and pick up threadling earthworms when they’re on pavement.

All of this makes me happy.

Everything is connected, you see. Me, the wasp that just fell out of the air onto the desk where I’m writing, and the giant wolf spider I moved (carefully) out of the shower yesterday, so she wouldn’t drown. We breathe in & we breathe out. And the air the spider and the wasp exhale  becomes part of the air I inhale. It’s the neatest web!

I’m not telling you this for approval. But maybe instead of stomping the next creepy-crawly you see…? You could get a broom, catch it in the bristles (it’s easy), and put the poor befuddled crawly outside. The wasp was so happy to fly free! As was the spider, spiraling down into the safety of the wastebasket. And the bat I once spent an hour saving from the ceiling fan? Ecstatic.

imageSince my earlier post on the Daisy Coleman case, I’ve received many emails from women (& men) who wander — as I do — how to undo rape culture. How do we fight it? And I confess: I don’t know.

The Buddhist in me does know that only compassion works, ultimately. Wrathful compassion is a good tool here. As is teaching. But in the long run, what needs to happen is a cultural sea change. A shift in the very foundations of American culture, much of it built on a disrespect of women, at best.

At worst? Women in many religions, groups, and families are seen primarily as baby factories. They have no rights to birth control, no rights to daycare for the children they often are dumped with, no rights to equality on many cultural fronts.

Many of my family, friends, & colleagues will dispute this, I recognise. Anti-choice voices argue that they are not against women, but for the unborn. Except that policies to support the unborn, once born, are routinely dismantled by these same voices, in the form of support for women & Children. Anti-choice advocates are the very ones behind the recent cutting of SNAP benefits, the primary beneficiaries of which are women & children.rape apologists

Religions that protect religious figures who prey on the defenseless also send a message: that only the powerful deserve protection. Women are rarely the powerful. While faiths that refuse to ordain women send yet another message: women are not truly linked with the godly. They are, at best, to be honoured as baby machines.

Please note: I stayed home with my two sons until they were almost 5 and 9. I absolutely believe that good parenting is a critical job. But it is NOT a gender-specific job. Nor is it ALL women are capable of. Here lies the fallacy, and the grievous wrong. Religions that teach a woman’s place is solely in the home, subject to the sovereignty of her husband, perpetuate an attitude of male privilege.

Religion is a deep & powerful influence in the world today. Maryville, Missouri, is only 17 miles from Conception Abbey, in nearby Conception, MO. It’s quite possible that Matthew Barnett and his family see themselves as godly people, despite his horrific treatment of Daisy Coleman.

So where do we begin? Changing the patriarchal nature of most religions is beyond even a large group of concerned believers. One thing we can do is stop blaming victims. We can stop telling girls that if they do ANYTHING, they are at fault: drink, sneak out, wear a short skirt or makeup… The list of what girls are ‘guilty of’ is long. And such a list is NOT helpful: it merely reinforces the idea that girls are at fault when boys rape them. As does the media when it laments accountability that ‘punishes’ rapist boys.

imageAs an excellent article at argues, America desperately needs “conversations about central issues: cultural entitlements and a deficit of empathy.” Rape culture is twinned with male privilege, the status quo in almost all elements of American culture. Salon notes: “Our culture essentially gives rapists the message that they’re entitled to be believed and respected; their victims aren’t.” This attitude will not go gently into that good night.

When I look to undoing a cultural wrong, I begin with my own life, as most Buddhists do. I have raised two wonderful sons –neither of whom would ever question women’s right to say no, to be respected, to be treated as fairly as they are. A friend once told me she was sorry I had sons, not daughters. I responded without hesitation: I’m raising feminists, Kerrie. What are you doing? I’ve taught human rights and social justice in every classroom I’ve been in — trying to model them, trying to make them tangible and explicit. Do I fail? With bells on, often. But I continue to try.

Wrath against injustice has always come easy for me, but compassion has been a great deal more difficult a stretch. Wrathful compassion is a lesson I practice daily, but it’s also an instrument I do not play well yet. I can tell, though, that it’s one I have an aptitude for. And I think it will serve all of us us well against rape culture.rape culture

Because it does no good to say Matthew Barnett is an awful man. Certainly what he and his friends did to Daisy & her friend is beyond terrible. But there obviously are people who see good in Barnett, despite his actions (and no one disputes his actions — only his culpability). And there are rape apologists everywhere — witness the media support for Barnett.What is our course of action when people we think are ‘good people’ do terrible things? How do we juggle the horror of the action with the person behind it? How do we turn around a culture where a 14-year-old girl is blamed for her own tragic rape?

I’m still working to figure this out. I would love to hear from each of you on how you deal with this challenge. Because my beginner’s heart is finding this all very difficult. I’m still far too heavy on the ‘wrathful’ and not nearly close enough to compassion.




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