Another week, another “Obama interrupted by a heckler” story. Only this time it was Michelle who received the honors. At a fundraiser in Washington, Michelle Obama was repeatedly interrupted by Ellen Sturtz, a gay rights activist demanding Michelle make President Obama sign an anti-discrimination executive order. Michelle Obama unceremoniously, but effectively shut her down by saying “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have a choice.” The other people in the crowd chose the First Lady.
While I sympathize with her cause, someone should tell this woman, and, “Get Equal”, the group that put her there, that their tactic is a waste of time and energy (and money).
Heckling has probably been around forever. The inability for people to distinguish appropriate and inappropriate times to speak up are universal to the human condition and there will always be a person who can’t help him or herself. The use of “plants”, people put into a situation where they are specifically meant to cause a ruckus for the advancement of some agenda, is newer but still not unheard of. Presumably it is meant to bring attention to a pet cause or injustice by hijacking the spotlight from a person who already has attention. Ellen Sturtz knew this would be talked about on twitter and in blogs, that’s why she did it. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell her that her cause isn’t the type to be aided by heckling. Gay Rights has about as much attention as any cause in the country right now. Heckling doesn’t work passed that.
In this way, heckling is like terrorism. It typically doesn’t work, it’s counterproductive to the intended goals of the person employing it, but it is incredibly common. As with terrorism, heckling is a sure way to sever any chance of ever coming to a compromise. It takes the debate away from the “issue” and into the realm of personal violations, vendettas and pride. Terrorism emboldens the victims and makes them dig in their heels because any concession is now viewed as a “win” for the other side, a side that has just violently “wronged” you. Instead of listening to the terrorists’ demands, the victims end up invading Afghanistan. Heckling elicits a similar response. Instead of listening to your concerns, the victim ignores them on principle.
The mock outrage that Ellen Sturtz expressed after the event was really the puzzler. She not only made herself look extremely rude, but if she were taken at face value (she shouldn’t be), she’s also idiotic. What did she expect Obama to do? Tracy Clayton at theroot.com put it best:
Sturtz…stated that she was “taken aback” by Obama’s response, because apparently the idea that she would do anything besides hand Sturtz the microphone and get her husband on the phone is surprising.
But like terrorism, heckling is (relatively) cheap. It doesn’t take much to get a lot of attention. If attention is all you want, whether for recruitment purposes, or simple megalomania, then it is an attractive choice. But to say with a straight face that you did this for gay rights is disingenuous. For one thing, you are heckling Michelle Obama, not her husband. She, presumably, has some sway when it comes to his opinions but probably very little in actual policy outcomes. Second, you are screaming at a President who has done more for gay rights than any other President in history and likely even the rest combined. Let’s face it, even the folk hero, Bill Clinton, presided over a presidential term that saw “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” AND “Defense of Marriage Act” passed. And George W. Bush was worse. You could be frustrated at Obama’s slowness in fully getting behind the gay rights movement (I certainly am), but this isn’t exactly the Iraqi citizen defiantly throwing a shoe at George W. Bush, Obama is a misplaced target.
So on the whole, this act of rudeness accomplished nothing. Fortunately for Ellen Sturtz, her goal of equal rights will most likely succeed anyway (and a new poll shows most people think that it is inevitable), but she will have done nothing to help it come about. If she really wanted to help she would find ways to work with an administration that has shown a willingness to work towards equality rather than grandstanding and alienating the people she needs to help her achieve her goal.
For goodness sake, sit down, shut up, and do something.
Yesterday, a Salvadoran woman had to have an emergency caesarian section to deliver a baby that had no chance of survival. Here is the horrible reason why it came to this:
A seriously ill woman denied a medical abortion has had a successful cesarean section to deliver a baby that doctors have given little chance of surviving, El Salvador’s Health Ministry announced late Monday.
The 22-year-old woman, known only as Beatriz for privacy reasons, underwent the operation in the afternoon after 27 weeks of pregnancy, the ministry said. Her baby girl was born without a brain.
“No one can say how long she will live,” Morena Herrera of the Feminist Collective for Local Development told The Associated Press. “It was painful to see the little creature. That’s what the grandmother told us, and the doctors confirmed it.”
The country’s Supreme Court last week prohibited an abortion for Beatriz, who suffers from lupus and kidney failure and whose lawyers said the pregnancy was threatening her life. Her plight drew international attention and a ruling from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights that El Salvador should protect her life and help her end the pregnancy.
That’s right. A baby without a brain was given the right to life over the (very fully brained) mother. Have we all lost our minds?
Of course, El Salvador is known as one of the toughest anti-abortion countries in the world. Abortions are almost never considered, but shouldn’t this be a little nudge to the rational thinkers there that maybe a blanket anti-abortion policy can have pretty awful unintended consequences? You would think.
But before we are quick to judge El Salvador for its backwards and barbaric social policies, let’s take a moment to remember that there are serious presidential candidates in the United States who are praying (literally) that our abortion policy looked like that.
Both Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have, through interviews and legislative pushes, demonstrated that they are firmly committed to outlawing abortion under any circumstances, including when the mother’s life is in danger. A life is a life, they reason – in that simplistic way that only an ideologue can say with a straight face.
Michele Bachmann, when not out right lying about Obamacare or on a muslim witch hunt, did her part to propose several bills in the House of Representatives that recognized the “pre-born” (a nonsense term, meant to play to our emotions, just like “pro-life”) as having equal protection under the 14th amendment. What it was really meant to do was get rid of abortion through subterfuge. And if an embryo is protected under the 14th amendment, then suddenly it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that the mother should be made to suffer if the child could conceivably live.
What’s not being discussed is the VAST differences in subjective quality of life for the two concerned parties. An embryo does not feel (at least not in a meaningful way), but the mother does. The fetus does not fear death or experience existential dread at the possibility of nonexistence, but the mother does. The “pre-born” does not have a network of loved ones and family who depend on him or her for emotional and possibly financial support, but the mother’s does. So what’s going on here? Why the obsession with pre-natal people and total disregard for post-natal ones?
It comes down to the soul. That little, indefinable something. The 21 grams of spiritstuff. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are convinced that the soul is imprinted onto the first human cell and that destroying that means destroying a little part of God’s plan. This narrow theological view is then applied to an entire society of people who perhaps don’t share the same idea, but can’t, or won’t, shout as loudly.
It’s time we started thinking about quality of life, and not just quantity. People aren’t content to just exist. We want to live well. Rightfully so. I would rather live in a world that had less people but more happy people. We can also benefit from a great share of resources, and benefit the rest of the planet by our reduced impact. Pro-lifers like to cite some scare statistic like “over 50 million people have been murdered by abortion”, but I bet the animals whose habitats would have been destroyed to make room for them are grateful they never made it past the clump of cells stage. Again, these cells are not people, and while they are “potential people”, that doesn’t entitle them to anything. If that were the case, then we couldn’t even stop there. We would have to give equal consideration to even potential potential people. In that Universe, even having a menstrual cycle would be a tragedy. “There goes your baby brother,” a father would say as his whole family solemnly watches the tampon go down the toilet.
Even though Michele Bachmann shrewdly decided that she can’t win her upcoming election and has decided to pursue her passion of earning millions in the private sector, there will be others out there, waiting, biding their time. And when they stand up, and try, yet again, to chip away at Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood or birth control, we must have the intelligence and commitment to rationality to meet their eyes and remember the lessons of El Salvador.
After the devastation brought upon the town of Moore, Oklahoma (and many other communities during “Tornado season”), it is not uncommon to see a reporter make a passing reference to “God’s will” or “God’s Grace” or “God’s mercy” or “God’s whatever”, nor is it uncommon to see a still shell shocked survivor of unimaginable carnage express thanks to God for his or her survival and protection. Playing the God card is probably as old as news itself. It’s an easy way to express gratitude and elicit support from an audience who doesn’t know anything about you. But as lovable goofball Wolf Blitzer learned this week, you can no longer take a person’s presupposed religiosity for granted.
There are a lot of things I love about that video. First, Wolf Blitzer’s shameless ploy of getting her to tell the camera that she is thankful to God for getting her through the ordeal is exposed as such and backfires spectacularly. I always enjoy seeing Wolf Blitzer publicly humiliated for reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on but, I assure you, are deeply felt. His performance on Jeopardy was pure bliss.
But I also love how graceful her response was. She informs Wolf that she is “actually an atheist” and then they laugh off the misunderstanding and move on. She’s what an atheist looks like. Wolf Blitzer inadvertently stumbled on an average atheist that many of his viewers probably didn’t know existed. You mean they aren’t all devil worshipers? You mean they can be motivated by love of family, experience intrinsic joy of life, and raise a happy baby? Weren’t they all supposed to be untrustworthy haters of God?
Well of course not, but the stigma of atheists as suspect and contemptible or, even worse, sneering, arrogant fools remains deeply ingrained in our society. It’s why I suspect she qualified her nonbelief with “And I don’t blame anybody for thanking the lord.” Sometimes even announcing your atheism can be perceived as vaguely offensive to theists. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What this tornado survivor represents is a growing reality in this country that is largely underrepresented in the national conversation: Atheists are living among us and they are growing in number. A lot. According to the Huffington Post:
“[A] poll, called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” found that the number of Americans who say they are “religious” dropped from 73 percent in 2005 (the last time the poll was conducted) to 60 percent. At the same time, the number of Americans who say they are atheists rose, from 1 percent to 5 percent.
That 5 percent may not seem like a lot but consider that in 2005 it was 1 percent and you have a fairly massive shift taking place. I also think that the shift will mirror that of the gay rights movement that has experienced a renaissance in the last decade due to a complete transformation of public perception and you’ve got a recipe for that number to begin to rise even faster as people who were not religious but afraid of being perceived as not religious become more confident in their identity. Not to put too fine a point on it, but people like this Tornado survivor, in many ways, are the Jason Collins’ of Atheism. I know, I know, but hear me out. Where Collins proved there were gay people who played basketball and even more importantly it wouldn’t mean an end to your career if you told people, this video proves without a doubt that there are indeed atheists in foxholes. This woman experienced what was probably one of the most terrifying events in her life and she emerged as much an atheist as ever. The fact that she never once brought religion up until Wolf Blitzer tried to cram it into her mouth is testament to the fact that being an atheists doesn’t mean you have a malevolent agenda, you just don’t believe in a god.
This is all good news. We, as a society, are moving in the right direction. Even in the video Wolf recovers nicely from his misstep and the two parties are able to laugh it off. No one is being burned as a heretic. Her child isn’t being taken from her. She isn’t being persecuted (I hope). It all points to us living in an increasingly tolerant society that has largely moved passed the violence and enforced hegemony that plagued earlier days and continues to plague many societies around the globe. But there is a dark side to this video as well and I recognized it immediately because I’ve experience it myself.
In the video, Wolf tells her “You gotta thank the Lord, right?” and then “Do you thank the Lord?” and there she pauses, and then stumbles around a bit for words before saying “I’m actually an Atheist.” And I recognize that pause and it breaks my heart. I’ve done that pause, and that stumble for words. I’ve even been guilty of the qualifier “But I don’t blame anybody for thanking the Lord!” That’s because being an atheist is hard to admit. It really is hard. By saying you are an atheist, you are disappointing or angering a lot of people. Especially if you have to say it in public or, in this case, to a national audience who, for all you know, has been praying for you and your baby and until now assumed God was on your side. You are about to be judged. Even well meaning, tolerant, accepting people are about to judge you and make assumptions about you and possibly feel a pang of threat from you. Atheism is a strange identity because unlike many other – but by no means all – identities, its belief structure is enshrouded in the assumption that other people’s beliefs are wrong (as another example, see vegetarianism). That’s its whole point. It would cease to exist if religion did. It’s a identity comprised of a non-identity. And it is therefore offensive to people whose identity is comprised of adherence to religion.
That pause is really “Do I really want to do this?” And it’s a shame. It’s why I roll my eyes when I hear a pundit on Fox News declaring that there is a war on Christmas, or the persecution of Christians or that Tim Tebow is worse off in sports for his Christian beliefs than Jason Collins is because of his homosexuality. The language they use and the emotions they feel are NOT those of people who have known pervasive persecution, but of people who have never experienced anything but getting their way 100 percent of the time and now are afraid of losing that “God given” right. It’s a feeling of loss, not of never having had. As a Christian, you may have been ostracized at school for not being “cool”, or not invited to the neighborhood drug and baby sacrifice potluck because you’re too uptight (I kid), but you get to go home knowing that you are holier than thou (I mean that literally), and you live in a society that explicitly and implicitly supports that idea through the basic assumption that Christianity is morally superior to other viewpoints. It’s why the President swears the oath of office on the Bible, and why school boards want to put the Ten Commandments up in classrooms. We are a culture who has learned to “tolerate” other views but not give them equal moral footing.
A weary teenaged cashier telling you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is not oppression. Letting gay couples marry each other does not impoverish your beliefs. Your god is still on money, in the Pledge of Allegiance and invoked at every presidential speech. Acknowledging that there are people that exist that don’t share your views does not somehow make them under attack, because in reality there have always been people who don’t share your views but until recently Wolf Blitzer hasn’t stumbled across one brave enough to think about the question “Do you thank the Lord?”, pause, and with courage, say “Actually, I’m an atheist.”
Maybe some day she won’t even have to pause.
In off the cuff remarks made to our nation’s finest news source, TMZ, Dennis Rodman made some interesting comments about North Korea. First, he stated that he was planning on returning to the country in August. Second, he said he planned on getting Kenneth Bae, the American currently sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea for unspecified crimes (possibly for preaching Christianity), released from prison by personally convincing Kim Jong Un to let him go. Finally, he went on a bit of a rant about Obama’s inability to do all this himself, saying:
I’m not a diplomat, man, I’m just trying to go over there,” he told TMZ. “But I’m going to do one thing for you. We got a black president can’t even go talk to him, how about that one? … I’ll put it like this, Obama can’t do s**t. I don’t know why he won’t do it. So do that bulls**t.
Not sure how being a black president makes not talking to a country that we haven’t talked to since the 1953 ceasefire makes a difference but Dennis Rodman is not happy. Also, like a true friend, he is just trying to get the two sides to talk, like that time my two best friends were fighting and I had to say “hey, Chad may be dreamy but he is NOT worth the three musketeers fighting like this! Let’s hug this out!”
Dennis Rodman also stated that he doesn’t “do politics”, which I guess absolves him for overlooking the vast human rights violations that Kim Jong Un is committing – part of his inheritance from his father – on his own people. The reality that Dennis Rodman is ignoring while he talks hoops courtside with “Kim” is that the Dear Leader is presiding over quite possibly the most tyrannical government in current existence. The majority of his people suffer from malnutrition and border on starvation (largely due to U.N. sanctioned that prevent most trade from entering or leaving the country). The great architectural marvels that Dennis saw while he was there hid a world of such abject desperation that it’s almost unimaginable. North Korea has some of the largest, and most secretive, prison camps in the world (Kenneth Bae may be at one of these now), which survivors and former guards have described in chilling detail here.
When Dennis Rodman says he doesn’t “do politics”, what he really means is he doesn’t want to look. He obviously had a great time in the country, and enjoyed the star treatment that he doesn’t often get to experience in America any more, and seems to sincerely think of Kim as a friend but this doesn’t change the facts that he is essentially being used as a propaganda tool to add to the prestige of Kim Jong Un’s court. Being seated next to a (kind of) basketball star, photographed laughing and chatting, it serves as a re-enforcement that he is so respected on the world stage that even great celebrities come to pay tribute (I doubt the average North Korean family has been keeping up with modern basketball or they would have invited Lebron).
Rodman’s visit (and planned second visit), also reflects the madness that is the current diplomatic relations between North Korea and the West. Because no official talks have, or can, occur between the two parties, its up to whoever is willing, and desperate enough, to visit North Korea on their own. And Dennis Rodman doesn’t even “do politics”. Bizarrely, he also may be Kenneth Bae’s best chance at getting home. It’s unclear exactly how much pull Dennis Rodman has with Kim Jong Un but the young leader may be content to release the prisoner in the hopes of securing more visits from Rodman and his friends. It’s a long shot, and one even Dennis Rodman seems hesitant to be cocky about but hey I’m sure Kenneth Bae will take anything at this point.