On Being Pro-Life

The last couple of months have opened up a world of experiences involving pregnancies and births, including the birth of my own son, whom we adopted a month ago. It's been an experience of overwhelming love and compassion. And it has made me think that the pro-life, pro-choice rhetoric debate is an impoverished and shallow perspective on abortion and sentience.

The experience of abortion among people I know, love, and respect, has not been a monolith. Some think of it as a liberating experience that saved their lives from the trappings of poverty, abuse, bad relationships, toward opportunities. Others experienced it as a horrible trauma. Both of these experiences, and any shade in between, are valid and worthy, and neither receives the kind of supportive validation we would hope for across the political spectrum.

It is absolutely possible and valid to make a philosophical case for and against sentience before birth, and both sides make good, valid arguments. I have no problem what…

Is It Okay If I Eat Meat?

This has happened to every vegan on the planet: you make plans to eat with a nonvegan friend who loves you and cares about you, and in an effort to be considerate of you s/he asks, "is it okay if I eat meat [in your presence]?"

Today I had to explain to a friend I love and admire why asking this question is worse than not asking at all, and later posted something about this on Facebook. I had an interesting discussion/argument with several meat-eating friends, which helped me solidify and shape my thinking about this. Here's an effort at an explanation.

First, the actual answer: No, it is not okay to eat meat. Whether the meat is eaten in my presence or not is beside the point. Animals are exploited, tortured, and slaughtered regardless of the outcome of this horrific process is made explicit in my presence. The whole question is misguided: it is not that it is wrong for you to eat meat when you are with me. It is wrong for everyone to eat meat, no matter who they are wi…

The Xenophobia of Everyday Life

As we all watch the news in disbelief, seeing our country turn into Nazi Germany before our eyes and the man in the White House condoning the most vile ideology produced by the human race, my thoughts go to a much more minor and mundane incident that happened a few days ago.

No one was a monster and nothing turned to tragedy. And yet, I find myself still thinking about it.

I was at a fitness instructor training for an acrobatic discipline. It was rigorous and required physical and mental concentration and effort. There was to be a practical exam at the end of the training, in which we were to teach a complicated, multi-step sequence of poses and transitions to the general public while spotting them for safety. With or without justification, the students were stressed out, fearing they would forget something or mess up the sequence. Some of us were truly gifted athletes and yoginis, whose ability to demonstrate poses exceeded their ability to spontaneously come up with rich and precise…

If You Miss Me in the Mississippi River...

Yesterday the news reported a distressing incident in Switzerland. Jewish guests were astonished to find the following signs at their Swiss hotel:

To our Jewish Guests: Please take a shower before you go swimming and although [sic] after swimming. If you break the rules, I'm forced to cloes [sic] the swimming pool for you.  To our Jewish guests: You are allowed to approach the fridge between the hours: 10.00-11.00 in the morning and 16.30-17.30 in the evening. I hope you understand that our team does not like to be disturbed every time.
Apparently there's a bit of context to each of these signs (and you can read about it by clicking the above link), but it naturally does not justify this disturbing display of antisemitism.

Reading the piece, I was reminded of Jeff Wiltse's book Contested Waters, in which he reviews the history of swimming pool segregation and desegregation in America. As a (now semi-retired) swimmer who often reflects on the accessibility of swimming, espe…

Scorched Earth: The Destructive Power of Righteous Anger

Tennessee Williams' shocking play Suddenly Last Summer is one of his efforts to confront, with an overwhelming amount of courage and honesty, the horror of sexual dissociation. Young Catharine, suspected of mental illness and under threat of lobotomy, is injected with a truth serum, and under its influence tells a terrible story. Her cousin Sebastian, who traveled with her abroad, exploited her to lure young men he could have sex with (as he had exploited his mother before her.) Eventually, a heated, incited mob of hungry, abused children, chases Sebastian in the streets of Spain and exacts a terrible revenge: they mutilate and murder him and even feast on his flesh. The story is too much for Sebastian's relatives to handle. It horrifies us, as well, and at the same time captivates us, as horrible things often do. There's a reason why cultural heritage is universally infused with stories of mobs and sacrifice. The classic, of course, is the Greatest Story Ever Told. The lu…

Trump, the No-Self, and the "Empathy Scale"

Shortly before the election, David Brooks published a fascinating piece titled Donald Trump's Sad, Lonely Life. Among other things, he writes:

Imagine you are Trump. You are trying to bluff your way through a debate. You’re running for an office you’re completely unqualified for. You are chasing some glimmer of validation that recedes ever further from view.  Your only rest comes when you are insulting somebody, when you are threatening to throw your opponent in jail, when you are looming over her menacingly like a mafioso thug on the precipice of a hit, when you are bellowing that she has “tremendous hate in her heart” when it is clear to everyone you are only projecting what is in your own.  Trump’s emotional makeup means he can hit only a few notes: fury and aggression. In some ways, his debate performances look like primate dominance displays — filled with chest beating and looming growls. But at least primates have bands to connect with, whereas Trump is so alone, if a tree f…

Who To Believe?

A few weeks ago, a trusted friend forwarded me an email from the mother of one of the inmates at Corcoran. There was a heatwave, she explained; there were no fans in the rooms and, with no ventilation, life for the inmates (many of whom were segregated) became unbearable. Several people were hospitalized. She wanted us to write to the warden.

I did. I was careful to denote that I had no personal knowledge of the conditions, but cautious not to mention the sender of the email, out of fear of retaliation. A couple of days later, my friend forwarded me another email from the original sender; apparently, her son received some relief and said, "I don't know what you did, mom, but they came to check the temperature."

Several days after these events I received a detailed email from the Corcoran warden. He wrote that the information I had was false and that I was misleading people, and attached a detailed heat protocol for the prison.

I had to sit back and breathe a bit. Perhaps…